Katla stepped inside The Rest’s Finest and immediately regretted it.
She stood out, as if she were a giant stepping into the store. She’d been in Wayrest a week now and was still marveling at the city, including the shorter height of most of its citizens. It’d always struck her as odd that Breton women were so short, and the men were a tad shorter than Nord men.
After all, Bretons’ ancestors were High elves and Nedic humans. High elves were the tallest of the people of Tamriel. Nedes were ancestors of Imperials, too, and known to be at least of average height. How the Bretons had turned out so short compared to their ancestry confused her.
As a tall Nord woman, she stood out. She was of a more slender build than most Nord women, but she had the height. Standing in the store, she realized she was the only Nord within, though she’d seen plenty in the city. Wayrest was the important cultural, political, and port city in High Rock. She’d seen every race here. Even Orcs.
Katla scanned the store, partly for safety.
You’re in the heart of the beast, remember? The cult started here.
Yes, the Order of the Fire Queen had started here. Wayrest was Tara’s birth home, as it was the birthplace of the Geonette family. Katla’s research had indicated they’d started back late in the First Era.
Never nobles, they nonetheless had always been a successful merchant family. The family farm, located somewhere outside the city, had started early in the Second Era.
There will be cultists here. Be careful.
His voice caught her ears and Katla looked towards it to lay eyes on Tara’s father, owner of The Rest’s Finest.
He was big for a Breton, wide-shouldered, barrel chested, above average height. He looked to be only an inch shorter than Katla. His hair was raven black, with streaks of gray running through it. His eyes struck Katla as beady, buried in a thick jawed face.
Not in the moment, though. His voice was loud and boisterous as he showed another Breton male some ornate carved wood desk. In this moment, he came across as a charming salesman.
Katla took a moment to take in the store. It was large, feeling at moments filled to the brim with furniture, clothes, jewelry, and odds and ends. Everything was arranged carefully, though, and once one finished taking in all there was to see, the store had plenty of room to move around freely, and not feel claustrophobic. You had space to admire everything at your own pace.
Everything here was a luxury, Katla realized. Either not practical, or of the highest quality. Breton culture was, perhaps, the most artful and civilized out of the human races. Nobility and politics was a long running game here. Cyrodiil might be the seat of the Empire, but High Rock seemed to hold the true heart of kings, queens, and knights.
Her brief time in Wayrest had revealed architecture of wood and stone, on a grander scale than the cities of Cyrodiil. Pointed towers, statues galore dedicated to this noble or that. Bright banners of signage and family crests that had quickly been lost on Katla.
Katla stepped closer to a nearby collection of dresses, hanging on display. The fabric here was fine silk, linen, and other delicate fabrics. These were the dresses of nobles, for an appearance at a fancy event. They were beautiful, and nothing like Katla had seen or owned before.
She wanted one. To own a truly gorgeous gown, to take a moment and turn and dance in it for Tara at some frivolous party? How wonderful would that be, even for one night? To be carefree for a day.
A glance at the price knocked her back to reality. Yes, this store was for nobles to shop in, not Nords barely scraping by.
“May I help you?”
Katla jumped. Tara’s father had appeared next to her.
A smile spread across his face and he held out his hand. “I didn’t mean to startle you. My name’s Bedore Blaton. Are you interested in one of these beautiful dresses?” he asked.
His eyes were a dark gray, with a hint of blue. If his face had not been so heavily jawed, he might have been handsome.
She put her hand in his offered one, meaning to give it a simple shake.
Bedore gripped her hand firmly, though, and brought it to his lips. He bowed and kissed her knuckles.
“A pleasure to meet you, Ms….?” he asked.
Katla swallowed her disgust at the gesture and rising realization of who she was talking to. The hand that had gripped hers had beaten Tara as a child. This man before her had beaten Tara and used magic to suppress, no, oppress her. This man had tried non-stop to marry Tara off to a noble. Of course his store catered to such nobles.
Katla felt anger rise within, flushing her face. The nights she’d held Tara while she cried and recounted the beatings, the abuse, the constant state of feeling out of herself, and a burden to her family for reasons she didn’t understand. This man was the cause of that. Her mother deserved blame, too, but Bedore Blaton was the main reason Tara exploded in anger, and still woke from nightmares, all these years later.
Katla swallowed her own anger. He couldn’t know who she was. She had no idea if Mira had written and revealed her name to him. She felt she could trust Mira, but one never knew when a mistake might be made.
“Ms. Ella Tallowhand,” Katla answered, thinking of her mother’s name, plus the family name a cousin had married into. That was all that had popped in her mind at the question.
Bedore’s eyes shifted and he tilted his head slightly, as if the name had made him curious. His smile increased. “What a…wonderful name,” he said.
Katla felt hairs on her arm rise. She’d said something wrong.
“These dresses are only as lovely as the woman who wears them. I believe royal blue would be stunning on you,” Bedore said. He reached for the dress Katla had been admiring the most.
“Oh, they’re beautiful, but I’m not ready to purchase today,” Katla stammered.
“I am considering a new desk, though,” she said. She needed to look like she had come to shop. Something to dissuade any suspicion he might have. She quickly moved towards the small collection of wood desks in the store. The Breton man Bedore had spoken to earlier was still standing and admiring the ornate desk.
Katla chose the one furthest from him, a small desk, less ornate, though still carved beautifully and made of a rich, almost black wood Katla had not seen before. The desk looked like the type one might find in the entry hall of a noble’s house, where courier letters were set before being sorted through and read.
“This is beautiful and the perfect size,” she said, trying to sound interested, and discerning.
“Oh, yes,” Bedore said. He pointed out the drawer, sliding it out, then showing her the deep carving on the legs. “The desk comes all the way from Gideon. One of a kind. Perfect for an upstanding citizen.”
Katla nodded as if fascinated. She examined the price and put a look on her face she hoped showed it was not a shocking number.
“I will have to consider it,” she said. Had she managed to sound like some conceited noble? She wasn’t sure. “You certainly have the most beautiful furniture and clothing I have seen since I arrived,” she added.
“Oh, from where did you arrive?” Bedore asked. His eyes did not hide their curiosity.
“I really must be going,” Katla said, hurriedly.
She needed to get out of here.
“Thank you so much, Mr. Blaton. I’ll be in touch.” Katla rushed out of the store. Bright sunlight blinded her briefly and she bumped into two young Breton women passing by.
“I’m so sorry,” she stammered at their stunned faces. She’d nearly knocked the blond one off her feet. She was usually so coordinated, deft. As sure footed as they came.
She took a deep breath and slowed, making her way to her room at the Cloudy Dregs Inn. She’d rented a back room, small and out of the way, to save money and remain as hidden as possible while here.
Gods, why had she come to Wayrest? She’d not realized how nervous the city might make her.
She’d come for research and to meet Mira.
She, Mira, and Tara had all written to each other and come up with a plan. They were to stay in touch with each other and share information. Mira and Katla were to focus on research into the order, while Tara’s main task was to guard the red soul gem, and kill any and all necromancers she came across.
Both Katla and Mira thought the cultists would stay focused in Skyrim, assuming Katla continued to live there. The question was if they knew Tara had the soul gem, or how involved she was with Katla. Best for them to stay separated while research continued.
Tara had argued otherwise, and complained she had nothing to do that was helpful or protective. Mira and Katla had stayed firm. Katla’s heart ached at the decision. How long before she’d see Tara again?
Katla got back to her room and sat in her chair. The rented room was simple, with a single bed, small dresser for storing belongings, a lockable chest for more important belongings, and a single chair and table. The furniture was soft and felt rich. Plush, in a way Nord furniture never was.
She pulled out the most recent letter from Mira and read it again. Mira estimated she’d arrive in Wayrest on the 11th of Rain’s Hand. She’d send a courier to Katla about where to meet.
“I’ll stay with my parents, on the farm, as a base,” the letter had said. “I have plenty of people to meet and greet, as I’m famous in Wayrest. Well, all of High Rock. The nobles and local mages always want to meet with me and discuss magic discoveries and ask for favors. I must keep up that appearance and play the game.”
Mira was savvy in a way Tara wasn’t, Katla had realized. She understood her influence and the importance of using it.
“My need to meet with many nobles will afford an easy reason to be in the city. It provides plenty of cover to meet with you. Spending my nights at the farm, though, will allow me time to reinforce my relations with my parents. Father, especially, will be mesmerized by my daily stories of charming the nobles. It should loosen his tongue.”
The plan seemed solid to Katla. She had to trust Mira knew her parents and how to handle them. Mira was focused on their father, which confused Katla some. The Geonette name came on their mother’s side. Their mother was a direct descendant of Tara Geonette, not Bedore Blaton.
Bedore Blaton. Katla shivered at the fresh memory of him. Why had she gone into that store? Mira had told her to lay low, to avoid meeting people. What had she been thinking?
She’d been curious. The horrors Tara had told her. She’d needed to see the man in person. To look into the face of someone who had done horrible things to the woman she loved.
What had she found? She always thought evil people had a look to them. That you could see the evil in them, like a mark, warning you of danger.
Evil didn’t work that way, though. People didn’t work that way. Had she not known his history, would she have been entranced by the kiss on the hand, the charming smile? He was almost handsome, and with that charm, Katla imagined she would’ve enjoyed being sweet talked into buying that gorgeous dress, or new desk. People held many sides at once. They didn’t tend to announce their dangers.
There was a reason his store was successful. He knew how to charm the nobles. How Mira was going to stay under one roof with such a person was beyond Katla. Then again, Mira had her own dark shame. Outwardly, and to Katla, she was well liked, respected, and seemed genuinely interested in helping. Yet, she’d done her part to hurt Tara.
Gods, what a fucked up family, Katla thought. How had Tara survived it?
You survived yours.
Katla felt tears sprout. Her parents. Necromancers. Seemingly good people with dark secrets. Were her own parents an even greater example of the many sides of evil?
No, Katla thought. There had to be more to this. Her parents had not abused her, or shown any sign of ill deeds.
They had the soul gem. They were trusted with the soul gem.
Maybe they’d stolen it. Maybe they’d left the cult and taken the soul gem, intent on destroying it and undoing whatever terrible things they’d done. Like Mira seemed to be trying to do with Tara.
Katla looked at the letter again. The 11th of Rain’s Hand. Two days from now.
Katla looked across her room at her ebony bow, on the weapon rack next to the bed. All the rooms in the inn had weapon storage. She was grateful she could keep it close, though wandering the streets of Wayrest with it would look odd. Only guards and knights seemed to carry weapons here. This wasn’t Skyrim, where you practically lived in armor.
Lay low, stay out of sight. She needed to do that.
She should write Tara. An ache hit her. She wanted to hold her. Tell her again how horrible her father had been. That she was safe from him now.
Should she tell her she’d met him? What would Tara think?
That you made a stupid mistake and put yourself in senseless danger, Katla thought. Tara was practical and protective.
She’d write Tara about the beauty of the city instead. About the sounds and smell of the dock district, of traveling across the Iliac Bay to get here. Tara loved being near water.
Best to send her something positive about Wayrest.
Katla pulled out fresh paper and started writing.