Lydia was up and eating breakfast at the long table in Dragonsreach when Jarl Balgruuf came down, bleary-eyed and tired. Why did he think that sneaking out to the Bannered Mare was a good idea last night? It was never a good idea and yet, he did it anyway. At least once a week. He shook his head and focused on Lydia. Her cheerfulness was apparent and although the contrast between his weariness and her energy was evident, Balgruuf was very pleased to his young housecarl in such good spirits. It had been awhile.
“Good morning Lydia,” he said, taking a seat next to her. “Are you ready for your trip?”
“I am my lord,” she replied. “I am meeting Nabirye at the stables in an hour. I only stopped by to see if there was any other business I should attend to while I am there.”
“Of course.” He rubbed his forehead and thought for a moment. “When you are finished with the needs of the temple, stop by Mistveil Keep and talk to Anuriel, Jarl Laila’s steward. The Rift has had some problems, lots of bandits and such. Offer your services.”
“I will,” she replied, smiling.
“You seem awfully happy to be leaving,” he said. “Is life in my court really so dreadful?”
She would never admit it to Balgruuf, but she was happy to be leaving Whiterun for a spell. But more important, this was her first official assignment as a housecarl and for that she was most excited.
“I am just happy to have a task,” she said. “I want to be useful to you and to the hold.”
Balgruuf laughed affectionately. “There is one other thing…” he began. Lydia had been so serious lately, so focused and determined. He wanted her to know she didn’t have to be, but expressing such sentiments in the confines of Dragonsreach seemed presumptuous if not inappropriate.
“What is it my lord?”
He took a deep breath and leaned back, crossing his arms across his chest. “The priest in Riften, Maramal, is a very, shall we say, moral individual. He will talk endlessly with you about the blessings of Mara and it can be rather comforting. But don’t take everything he says to heart, particularly about the city. Riften is corrupt and there is lots of trouble to be made. But for someone with a good head on her shoulders such as yours, it can be a lot of fun. Before you come home, make sure you stop by the Black-Briar meadery and the tavern. Or just talk a walk around Lake Honrich. The Rift can be rather nice this time of year.”
She was a bit surprised by this directive although she probably shouldn’t have been. Jarl Balgruuf had always taken an interest in her personal well being, ever since her mother died. “I will do that,” she agreed.
“Good,” he said as he turned to the breakfast that his servant, Gerda, laid in front of him. Just as he started eating, Proventus, his steward, approached them with a stack of letters and papers, which he dropped on the table, nearly knocking Lydia’s tea over.
“Oh dear, I’m sorry,” he said as he rifled through his papers. Finally, he took out several and folded them into a stack together. “Lydia, would you mind taking these missives over to Jorrvaskr on your way out this morning?”
Lydia paused for a moment; she had been avoiding the Companion’s mead hall for over a month now. Before she could say anything, however, Balgruuf cleared his throat. “Don’t bother Lydia with such tasks. We’ll have someone send it over later.”
Proventus looked perplexed. “But she’ll be walking right by.”
“Proventus…” said Balgruuf quietly, but sternly as he narrowed his eyes at his puzzled steward.
Oh my gods, does Balgruuf know too? Lydia’s stomach lurched and her face flushed at the thought. She sat up immediately. “I’ll be happy to bring them over,” she said and took the missives from him.
She left Dragonsreach, clutching the missives nervously. She walked slowly down the stairs and when she reached Jorrvaskr, she took several deep breaths before going inside. The last time she was here she had come to see Vilkas, to confess feelings for him that she had been harboring for a long time. She had been training with him for years and they had grown quite close. Or so she thought. When he didn’t reciprocate, she was devastated. But she would have been simply heartbroken if that bitch Njada hadn’t been eavesdropping and told the entire drunken mead hall what she’d just heard—or rather, her version of it, which made Lydia seem far more pathetic and needy than she might have otherwise. It had been utterly humiliating.
The mead hall was empty but for their maid Tilma, who smiled warmly at her, and Farkas, Vilkas’s twin brother.
“Lydia!” he said, his tone somehow both excited and uneasy. “I was starting to wonder if we’d ever see you again.”
“Yeah…” she said, not quite certain how to respond. “I just came to bring these over.” She held Proventus’s missives out, which Farkas took. There was a long pause in which they stood there just staring at each other awkwardly until they were interrupted by the sounds of the back doors opening and people entering the room. Lydia didn’t wait to see who was there. “I need to leave,” she said, as she opened the door and stepped out.
“Wait,” said Farkas as he followed her outside, bringing the awkward silence with him.
“Farkas,” she said finally. “I really do have to go. I’m accompanying a priestess and I need to meet her in a couple of minutes.”
He took a deep breath. “When you come back, let’s find a grove and hunt. Like we did when we were kids and would leave everyone else behind.” Lydia was touched by this gesture. Farkas was making a genuine effort to be a friend to her. They were close when Lydia was young. Farkas took her under his wing, teaching her to hunt and track. However, as Farkas’ attention was taken up by more and more by women closer to his age, they grew apart. They stopped doing things on their own, keeping their social interactions within the confines of Jorrvaskr and the Bannered Mare.
Lydia nodded and grinned. “Okay,” she said as she turned and left, feeling a little less anxious as she bounced down the steps and across Whiterun to the stables.
Nabirye, the Altmer priestess, was waiting. She had one final task to complete before she would be fully ordained in the service of Mara. The completion of her last task had brought her to Whiterun and Lydia was to accompany her, first to Gjukar’s Monument and then to the temple in Riften. They set out immediately by horse. Lydia would have preferred to save some time and ride over the tundra, but Nabirye was ill prepared for what they would meet there and the road was safer.
It was late when they arrived at the monument. They set up camp off the road and built a small fire. As the night wore on, Lydia grew bored and tired and it was a couple of hours after midnight when Nabirye grabbed her arm and said, “She’s here!”
Lydia looked up and saw a ghostly apparition by the monument. “Who is that?” she asked.
“That’s Ruki. I’ve been sent her to reunite her with her hjarta, Fenrig,” she explained. “Come on. Let’s go.”
Lydia followed Nabirye across the grass to the monument, where she approached the apparition.
“What are you doing here?” asked Nabirye of the specter.
“I’m searching for my Fenrig. He was marching with Gjukar’s men, who say they were wiped out here.” The apparition’s voice had an ethereal quality and it echoed in Lydia’s head. “I’ve turned over every body though and I can’t find him.”
Lydia looked around. There were no bodies. She thinks it’s the war, she realized. For some reason, the notion of Ruki being stuck in time made her really uncomfortable although she wasn’t sure why.
“Please help me look.” Ruki continued talking to Nabirye. “He has a bright red beard and hair.”
Lydia looked at Ruki and said, “The last war was here hundreds of years ago.” She was trying to be matter-of-fact but her uneasiness was obvious.
“Are you a fool?” The ethereal voice responded sharply. “Look at all the bodies around you. Even if you’re blind, surely you smell the blood!”
“Lydia,” said Nabirye, touching her arm. “Let me take of this, please.”
She nodded apologetically and Nabirye returned to Ruki. “We will help you find him,” she assured her. She closed her eyes and whispered a prayer. “Divine Mara, mother goddess, handmaiden of Kyne, on this eve I ask that you gift me with your wisdom, and lead me to the path between two souls so that I might renew a bond that has been severed by darkness and violence.” When she opened her eyes, she looked past Lydia and started walking briskly not looking around and not straying from her path.
About a mile away, in a small clearing behind a cluster of rocks, they came upon another apparition. It was Fenrig. Nabirye approached him. “You’re wife is looking for you,” she said.
“Ruki,” he said. “Where is she?” His voice was deep and had the same ethereal quality.
“West, in the plains over in the distance,” replied Nabirye, gesturing back toward the path from which they came.
“We’re expected to fight there tomorrow. Gjukar elected to camp here tonight. I don’t like it thought.” The echo of his voice was tinged with trepidation and dismay.
“Come,” said Nabirye, her voice was calming. “Let me take you to Ruki.”
“If she’s come this far from home, it must be important,” he agreed. “Lead on. I just need to report to camp by sunrise.”
Fenrig’s apparition followed Lydia and Nabirye back to the monument where Ruki was still moving around as if she were looking for him. Lydia leaned over and whispered in Nabirye’s ear, “They appear to be trapped in the same moment in time. Maybe this will work out for them after all.”
Fenrig approached his wife. “What are you doing here, Ruki?” he asked, there was still fear in his echoing voice, but also adoration
“I’m came here to find you,” she replied. “They said that Gjukar’s men were wiped out here. But I can’t find you! I can’t find you among the bodies.”
“We haven’t fought yet….”
“But the bodies!” she exclaimed. “And the blood! Can’t you smell the blood.”
This went on for several moments and feelings of dread filled Lydia’s heart as she listened to the couple talking past each other, their ghostly voices tinged with sadness and confusion and terror. She grabbed Nabirye’s arm. “They aren’t trapped in the same moment in time. They are still apart. You’ve got to do something.”
Nabirye took Lydia’s hand in hers. “Just wait,” she whispered and gestured back toward the couple. They were still talking, but their words were becoming unintelligible. “Look!” she exclaimed quietly.
Lydia looked on as the apparitions began to lift up into the air, higher and higher. She gasped and didn’t take her eyes away until she couldn’t distinguish the two rising spirits from the stars in the sky.
“What happened?” asked Lydia, almost breathlessly.
Nabirye smiled and patted her hand. “They’ve gone on to the immortal plane.” She turned and walked away from Lydia who was still staring into the sky.
“Wait a minute!” Lydia darted after the priestess. “Wait…if he’s a warrior, he’ll go to the Hall of Valor in Sovngarde. And she’ll go to Kyne’s fields and they’ll be separated again. Did you bring them together just to pull them apart?”
Nabirye turned and gestured for Lydia to sit with her. “Their souls will rest where they are meant to.”
Lydia sat down beside her. “So, what happened tonight then?”
“A bond that was severed was mended,” she explained but Lydia still looked confused. “Lydia, love is a journey and all journeys end. What happens in the Aetherial plane is for other gods to decide. If they are separated, they will rest with the peace of having completed their journey together.” She smiled warmly. “That is the work of Mara’s divine loving grace.”
Lydia looked down at her lap. She wanted to understand what she saw, and also what how people like Ruki and Fenrig found each other in life. She had so many questions, but she didn’t know where to begin. Nabirye had been so calm and unassuming on their journey and on her quest—well, she was still calm and unassuming, but she prayed and she was filled with a power and strength and wisdom unlike any Lydia had ever seen. It was magical and yet, there was something rather ordinary about it.
“You’ve been hurt recently?” she asked.
She looked up suddenly. “How did you know?”
“I didn’t,” she said letting out a quiet laugh. “You’re at that age, there’s always a chance. What happened?”
“He was a friend,” she replied. “He paid more attention to me than other women. We were very focused on training though.” She thought back to all the work they had done together. When they sparred or when he helped her adjust her fighting stance, she resisted the shudders his touch sent across her skin as well as the ache in her gutthat watching him fight often inspired. She was always proficient and focused, and perhaps that was the problem. She continued, “Now, I think maybe in my desire to impress him as warrior, I failed to impress him as a woman.”
“What did you want from him?” Nabirye’s face was full of compassion. She was the kind of woman you wanted to open your soul to, perfectly suited as a priestess of Mara.
Lydia swallowed against the lump that was growing in her throat. Although the emotions were raw, the words were forthcoming. “I wanted him to let me get close to him. To break through that tough scowling guise. That’s all.”
“That’s all?” she asked. “When you say it like that, it makes love sound like a task, not a journey. Didn’t you want him to love you?”
This question surprised her and she wasn’t quite certain how to respond. “Yes…I guess so,” she stammered. She scrunched her forehead and shook her head although it made perfect sense. For so long she had only seen Vilkas in terms of letting her love him that she forgot that she also wanted to be loved. For someone to take her heart into his own.
“What you need to do,” she advised, “is open your heart to the possibility of love. Mara will guide you, but you need to let her. And as you do that, you open yourself to the experience of—”
“Two souls coming together?” Lydia’s voice had risen just a bit.
Nabirye grinned at Lydia’s uplifted mood. “Souls,” she agreed and then added, a bit nonchalantly, “And other things.”
She winked at Lydia who felt flutters in her belly and a warm rush of blood rise in her face. She let out a deep breath. Yes, she thought. She wanted those other things too, very much so.
Nabirye said good night and Lydia lay down on her bedroll, thinking about Vilkas. It still hurt, but it no longer wrenched her heart in the worst possible way. Perhaps she was starting to move on from the acute pain brought by rejection and humiliation to a dull ache that would be soothed with time.