Vela walked along the cobble-stone path that cut through the rocky terrain of the Reach. She had been walking since leaving Whiterun nearly two weeks ago, but though she had the coin she had no desire to catch a carriage or purchase a horse. On foot she had the freedom to stray from the path, take detours and explore her surroundings as she pleased. She found solace in isolation, in the unsullied calm of the wilderness. Even in completing her latest mission for the Jarl she had set out alone. Companions merely broke the silences she relished.
She glanced up at the sun and smiled to herself.
The day was perfect, clear skies and quiet roads,and she was eager to enjoy it to its fullest.
Thank you, Kynareth...
Ever since she encountered the dragon called Mirmulnir in the plains of Whiterun, a simple clear sky had become a life saving blessing.
Now that Alduin was gone, there would be no more dragons emerging from their ancient tombs. All that was left was killing those that remained. It was a task that consumed her and at times she wondered if her dragon soul compelled her to finish off those that remained.
The imposing stone wall of Markarth came into view as she rounded the final bend in the road and crossed a small bridge.
Never in all her wanderings had she felt peace in any city or hamlet, but Markarth provided what she suspected was the closest she could ever feel. It was just as secluded as she was, tucked away in the far corner of Skyrim and guarded by mountains. The people were kind enough, save the occasional rant about "silver and blood", but compared to the rest of the province they seemed level headed. Windhelm was a haven for prejudice and she lacked the patience to tolerate it. Riften was overflowing with crime, something Vela also lacked the skills to live with. Whiterun had come close, but the bickering between the Grey-Mane's and the Battle-Born's made her think of children throwing tantrums.
Vela gave a short nod to the guard as he opened the gate to the city for her.
The market was busier than usual, but she suspected it would be after the threat of the Forsworn had been removed.
Hroki smiled at her as she passed, but Vela kept walking right past her. The young woman was far too naive for her own good.
She felt a familiar shadow step into pace beside her and she feigned frustration.
"Oh come on now," Yngvar gave a deep laugh, "are you not the least bit happy to see me?"
If it where anyone else, she would have lashed out as soon as they stepped too close. But Yngvar respected the distance she liked to maintain, so she permitted his presence. But she was not foolish enough to call him friend.
"You are as persistent as ever, Singer." Vela shot back in an even tone.
He smirked and shook his head, "Are all Dunmer as warm and fuzzy as you?"
"You need to get out of the city more often."
"Hmm, I'll take that into consideration."
She sighed, "Have you heard anything interesting coming out of the Keep since last I was here?"
Yngvar had a lot of friends in a lot of very influential places. He was a good person for Vela to know, as it kept her from having to tolerate dozens of others.
"Thongvor has calmed down a bit since the Hall of the Dead reopened." He shot her a knowing glance, "Apparently someone walked in and fixed the problem the Brother was having..."
Vela maintained an unreadable visage. "Good timing...whomever they were."
Yngvar laughed but didn't push her to divulge anything more, he had given up on that the first day he met her. "Tension is still thick between Thongvor and the Jarl though. Political bullshit at its finest, eh?"
They stopped just outside the Keep.
Yngvar looked from the huge ornate double doors to Vela. "You ever going to tell me what brought you to Markarth anyway? You showed up here, just another face on the street, then started hacking your way through everyone the Jarl told you to."
Vela furrowed her brow, not liking at all what he was implying. "I am not the Jarl's lackey, Yngvar."
"I didn't say that, just that you keep taking bounties like its no ones business."
"Fine, fine." He rolled his eyes teasingly, "You certainly know how to play hard to get."
"Word is the Jarl is going to appoint a new Thane to his court today."
Argis glanced up from his morning meal of porridge and stale bread. "And where did you hear this?"
Gunnar shrugged. "From one of the guards posted outside the throne room. He said he heard Faleen telling Raerek."
"Faleen is a housecarl, and she would be a poor one to openly discuss the Jarl's business around a damned guard." Argis shook his head in amusement as he took a large gulp from his tankard.
"Don't you trust me?" Gunnar asked with a smirk.
"You babble like a noble."
Gunnar titled his head back and laughed. Some of the others in the dinning hall looked up at them, but only Gunnar was laughing. None of the other guards and soldiers looked impressed. A young Nord from a fairly influential family in the Reach, Gunnar was pampered his entire life. Nords valued strength, not only physical but of the spirit, and skill. Gunnar was given the most menial tasks for a reason – he was obnoxious and largely undedicated to his work.
It was the later trait that offended Argis the most.
He turned and saw Faleen standing in the doorway. Argis wondered how long she had been there.
The men in the dinning hall stood and faced her, showing her the respect due her station. She had ruffled many feathers when she was appointed Housecarl over the other male candidates. But she bested them all in combat and strategy, earning the respect of the Jarl and the Hold.
Faleen nodded and they all sat down.
Argis approached her, entirely uncertain as to what she needed of him.
"Come with me."
It wasn't until they were well out of ear shot from the dinning hall that she spoke again.
"I have heard good things about you, Argis." She said in a very professional, stern voice.
He merely nodded, knowing saying anything would risk coming off as arrogant in front of her. And in truth, he preferred to speak as little as possible.
"The Jarl is adding a new Thane to his court today and he would have you serve as their housecarl."
Argis failed at hiding the surprise on his face, and was thankful she was walking ahead of him. Not only was Gunnar actually right about something, but to be asked to be housecarl to a Thane was an immense honor given to only the most gifted warriors. That he was being presented with such an opportunity made him proud.
"I would be their sword and their shield."
Faleen stopped and turned back to face him. He feared he had offended her, but nothing about her stance or expression told him that was so.
"This is more of a honor than you realize. You will be sworn to her service...and she is the Dragonborn."
Argis knew the legend of the dovahkiin well, as did all children of Skyrim. He had heard rumours of the rare individual that walked amongst them, but none were the same. In some she was a Nord who had sworn fealty to Ulfric, in others an old Redguard woman whose thu'um shook the mountains. Argis suspected from the beginning that each person changed the tale to reflect their own race. What each whisper had in common however was that this woman had slain the World-Eater, Alduin.
How she could still be so shrouded in mystery baffled him.
Perhaps there was a reason; some grotesque mutilation or dark secret that kept her race and name hidden? Was she not proud of what she was?
Argis nodded, "This is a great honor for Markarth."
"Indeed." Faleen said sincerely, "Such a person deserves the best as her housecarl, I hope you do not let us down in this, Argis."
Jarl Igmund sat up slightly in his seat as Vela approached him.
She skipped the formalities, "The Forsworn have been removed from Bruca's Leap."
Raerek looked uncomfortable, but Vela knew from the beginning that the old man wasn't all too fond of elves. It didn't offend her really as she wasn't all that fond of him.
"Excellent. You have proved to be nothing less than efficient in completing tasks set before you."
"I killed Alduin," she said bitterly, "Forsworn bleed just like you or I."
"And you are ever so eager to make them bleed." Igmund pointed out.
"For the right incentive, yes."
"I can respect that. You do not risk your life frivolously."
Vela offered a rare, small bow.
"And I am not blind to all you have done for Markarth and her people," Igmund straightened in his throne, "I would name you Thane of the Reach."
She smiled ruefully, having caught the concerned glance Raerek shot his nephew. It was obvious Igmund did not keep his steward informed of his decisions beforehand nor did he apologize after. Considering her disdain for people, Vela found herself respecting the Jarl for this.
Still, her immediate thought was to refuse Igmund's offer.
Markarth was the lesser of evils as far as cities went, but she didn't relish the idea of having more expectations thrust upon her. Completing contracts kept her busy and put coin in her pocket, but so far as she was concerned she was done serving Skyrim.
Igmund noticed her hesitation.
"Is a title not something you desire?"
"I did not set out to obtain one, no." Vela said after taking a moment to carefully consider her words.
Raerek gave a frustrated huff loud enough for the entire room to hear.
Igmund eyed his uncle curiously but did not let the old man's dramatics interrupt him, "Nonetheless I offer it to you now. You have done tremendous good for the Hold and while the title is mainly honorary, it is the highest honor within my authority to grant."
She nodded before she had a chance to convince herself otherwise. "I accept, my Jarl."
"Excellent," he snapped his fingers and a guard stepped forward carrying a long ornate wooden box, "take this as a sign of your new office."
The lid of the box was opened and Vela was met by the silver gleam of an expertly crafted bow. She knew without having to ask that it was the handiwork of the Jarl's blacksmith, Moth gro-Bagol.
"Tradition states that Thanes be given a blade," Igmund explained, "but I thought it best the weapon suit your skills. You are the Huntress of this hold, of the mountains. And we are honored to have you amongst us."