“Tell me again why I should turn one of my court’s housecarls over to you.”
“I believe the details were outlined in the correspondence you received.”
“They were. And now I want you to hear it from you.” Jarl Balgruuf the Greater had been so very pleased to hear from Runa, a woman whose family’s history in Whiterun rivaled those of the Great Clans Battle-Born and Grey Mane. He did not, however, trust the Dunmer woman who came to confirm the request. Although, he might have felt slightly more generous if her follow up had not come on the same day he received yet another request from General Tullius to garrison Imperial soldiers in his hold.
Xeri took a deep breath, “I am releasing one of my charges to Skyrim shortly. Her task here could be quite dangerous. And this is a young woman who hasn’t known much more in her life than a rigorous training and academic schedule. I’d like her to have someone who can help her navigate customs, culture, and,” she paused for a moment, “politics.”
“Huh. And this individual she is looking for is not a criminal, right? This doesn’t involve a bounty, does it? If it does, I can make a lot of trouble for you, and this charge of yours.”
“This individual is most certainly not a criminal,” said Xeri, reassuringly.
Balgruuf turned to his steward and said, “Proventus, what is your opinion of this request?”
Proventus looked carefully at Xeri, “I don’t think you should rush into a decision, my lord. I can only advise caution….”
“Right. And what about you, Irileth?” said Balgruuf to his own housecarl.
Whatever Dunmeri solidarity Xeri hoped to achieve with Irileth was quickly quashed: “I think it’s a terrible idea. We cannot afford to lose good fighters, especially now.” She glared at Xeri with an intensity she hoped would force her out of and away from Dragonsreach forever. Then she asked, “Are there are no other warriors in all of Skyrim you could hire for this?”
“I need someone I can trust. This charge is family.” However, the notion of leaving Dragonsreach and heading over to Jorrvaskr to meet the Companions was starting to appeal to her.
The room was quiet for a moment. Balgruuf was shifting in his throne now, his agitation obvious, and asked, “You raised this girl?”
Xeri couldn’t tell if she was wearing him down or making him angry so she considered this question carefully, believing that it might make a difference, “Runa raised her. I merely trained her.”
“Indeed,” Balgruuf said, “And Lydia, how do you feel about this?” His voice was noticeably softer when he addressed her.
“I am bound to your service, my Jarl,” she responded, “But, as this is a matter of familial duty, it is one I am feeling compelled to fulfill.”
“I understand that. Your family has a long history in Whiterun. I would be remiss in my duty as a Nord to deny this request, even if, as Jarl, I must take care not to lose valued members of the court.” He let out a sigh and said, “Very well, Lydia, I release you from your duties as housecarl. When the task at hand is complete, and as long as you and Runa’s charge maintain the integrity of this court, I will welcome you back to my service.”
“Of course, my Jarl,” said Lydia.
Xeri spoke up, “She won’t be any trouble. And perhaps one day, she will be of some use to you.”
“It would probably be best if she just went about her business quickly and quietly. Now, if you don’t mind, I have a city to keep.”
“Thank you, Jarl Balgruuf,” Xeri said and nodded as she and Lydia quietly turned and left Dragonsreach.
Outside they walked quietly through the marketplace back to Breezehome. Once they were safely inside the house Xeri said, “I didn’t think it would be that difficult. Runa said that Balgruuf was fair and of good humor.”
“He is.” Lydia put some water in the kettle and sat down at the table opposite of Xeri. She continued, “He never had any intention of denying the request. My mother caught all of his babies and saved the youngest one’s life when he was just a wee bairn. He’s always felt beholden to my family. And Runa was, or for that matter, is well liked and respected in Whiterun.”
“I don’t understand then, why he felt the need to scrutinize us—me, so heavily.”
“That wasn’t heavy. At least, not for him. For one thing, he didn’t require that you divulge any information on the so-called quest.”
“I suppose. He was irritable, however.”
“Skyrim’s civil war has been intensifying and the political situation is delicate. The Empire has been putting a lot of pressure on him. They want to station Legionnaires but he doesn’t want to give the impression of martial law or do anything that might provoke Jarl Ulfric.” Lydia stood up to prepare the tea. “It hasn’t been easy for him.” She paused and said, “I’m sure he feels compelled to assert authority wherever he can.” She considered her next statement carefully, “You, of all people, should understand that.” She handed Xeri a cup of tea.
Xeri sipped her tea quietly. “Yes,” she agreed, “I do understand.” She looked around Breezehome and smiled. It was a small house but it felt warm and safe and, most important, it felt like a home. After a few moments she asked, “Did you really save all of Runa’s correspondence?”
“I did.” Lydia went to a small room off to the side and returned with a stack of letters, which she handed to Xeri.
“Do you mind?” Xeri asked.
“Not at all.”
For the next couple of hours Xeri pored over Runa’s letters, smiling and making occasional comments such as “brilliant” and “lovely,” under her breath. When she finished she looked at Lydia, “Everything is in here. She just changed a couple of names and locations. It is as if she had a strategy in mind from the beginning. Who knew that she was such a tactical genius?”
“I am sure she just wanted to keep everyone safe while maintaining contact with us.”
“Of course. Still, the details of these letters are just, well…anyway, I don’t think there is anything I need to tell you that you don’t already know. Do you have any questions for me?”
“With all due respect Xeri, if Elspeth has been training for so long, why does she need me to protect her?”
Xeri sighed and looked into her empty tea cup, “It’s not protection she needs….”