Book Two, Chapter Twenty-Two: What Happens in Riften, Stays in Riften

You know you can’t keep lettin’ it get you down
And you can’t keep draggin’ that dead weight around.
If there ain’t all that much to lug around,
Better run like hell when you hit the ground.
~Ok Go, “This too Shall Pass”

“If my Lydia would promise to let J’zargo take her to Senchal someday, it would be most pleasing to J’zargo, yes?”

“Yes, I’m sure Elswyer would welcome me with open arms.”

“But Nords are exotic, after my Lydia spreads a some coin around and shows a little skin—“

“Oh…just a little skin?”

“As much as you wish.” J’zargo grinned, thinking back to the warm sands of his homeland, as he and Lydia finished setting up camp for the evening.

Lydia snorted as she pictured herself approaching Balgruuf and resigning her post to embark upon a holiday to the jungles and beaches of southern Elswyer, where she would eat sweet tropical fruit and grilled fish caught spearfishing in the warm waters of the Topal Sea. The look she imagined on the Jarl’s face both horrified and amused her and she would be lying if she said she didn’t find the notion of renouncing her position with such reckless abandon somewhat appealing.

Upon leaving Winterhold, she expected that she would be balancing her increasing distress over Elspeth and Trygve against the irritability that J’zargo’s arrogance and impertinence would inevitably inspire.   She thought back to their task in Dawnstar, where she had to constantly rein him in, lest he run amok, killing priests for Daedric artifacts or raiding sacred ruins. But for the most part, he just told stories of his life in Elswyr, most of which were rather mundane. And yet, it was so fascinating and so unlike anything she would ever experience in Skyrim that she found herself wondering if perhaps she longed to escape, to pursue the life of adventure she wanted in her youth, away from the stress and anxiety that a life of dutytended to impose.

“All right,” she said finally, “when the dragon crisis is over and when Elspeth has—“ she paused, certain that the Khajiit mage did not need to know anything of Elspeth’s destiny, “when Elspeth no longer needs me.”

“Elspeth will always need you.”

“Yes,” she sighed, her tone dropping a bit. “And the duties of the housecarl are lifelong—more or less.” She looked away from him as she sat back on a log just outside their tent and started to rummage through her satchel for some food. She wasn’t particularly hungry, but she needed a distraction, lest her face reveal the distress that her duties inspired these days. She pulled out some dried meat and some rolls she picked up in Kynesgrove.   When she looked up to offer some to J’zargo, he was watching her intently, as if he was a little concerned.

“What?” she asked, forcing a light chuckle. She wanted him to believe that his curious and concerned looks did little more than amuse her.

He was quiet for a moment, studying her as he moved some kindling and logs around before igniting them with a spell. When the fire was burning steadily, he scooted back and joined her on her log. “My Lydia seems troubled,” he replied. “And this is troubling to J’zargo.”

“Oh really?” she narrowed her eyes suspiciously at him.

“J’zargo is offended that you would regard this concern with such surprise.”

“I’m sorry,” she replied. She was unaccustomed to this kind of concern from him, but she had no reason to think he was being disingenuous.

“What is it?” he asked.

Lydia paused for a moment, thinking about what she wanted to say. She never intended to confide in him, but as she found herself traveling closer to the Rift, on a quest more like those of her early days with Elspeth, she felt her burdens shift from the stress of keeping Elspeth out of trouble to the guilt of not missing her friend and being relieved at having some respite from her duties.

“It’s just not what I expected it to be,” she said finally. “I always thought when Balgruuf finally appointed a thane, a real thane, they would be someone larger than life, a hero.”

“And the Dragonborn is not those things? She is very powerful, no? Chosen by the gods?”

“True, but she’s not quite there yet. I’ve known her—well, I’ve known about her—for a long time. But I never thought I would be her housecarl.”

“You care about her very much. Is it not wonderful to be in the service of one you love?”

“Yes,” she said. And no, she thought. “It’s just….” Lydia had no idea why things were so difficult all of a sudden. Before Elspeth was dragonborn, Lydia loved traveling with her. It felt like a partnership. It was different now and Lydia understood that it had to be, but she wasn’t sure what was so troubling—that they were no longer equals or that Elspeth still treated her as one, that she wasn’t fully accepting of her new station, that her expectations of Lydia were still rooted in friendship and maybe they shouldn’t be. “Sometimes I don’t know if I can be a good friend and a good housecarl.”

“This one is confused. Doesn’t your willingness to lay down your life make you a good friend”

“I suppose, but…” She stopped for a moment and considered the wisdom in confiding things to J’zargo. He wasn’t inclined to gossip; that seemed to be the purview Brelyna and Enthirof all people. J’zargo would no doubt scold her for being ridiculous and simply remind her of her duty. Perhaps that was all she needed, a swift kick in the behind. “It’s just exhausting. I have to keep her safe—that’s actually the easy part as she’s more than capable of defending herself. But I also want to make her happy.”

“Happy?” J’zargo looked bewildered for a moment. “Why?”

Lydia was taken aback, not expecting that this is something she would need to explain. “Well, she’s my friend, why wouldn’t I want her to be happy?”

“Ah…but that is not what my Lydia said. You said you wish to make her happy. This is a different thing entirely.”

“I….” She paused and let out a deep breath. “Yes,” she admitted, her voice was flat as if she were resigning herself to something. But after a few moments she explained. “I feel like I owe it to her, I guess.”

“But why on Nirn do you owe someone else happiness?” It was baffling to J’zargo that someone would expend so much energy on another person’s happiness, when it was clearly at the expense of her own.

“I feel…guilty,” she admitted.

“Guilty? Lydia, truly the inner emotional turmoil of the housecarl is a sight to behold. J’zargo is intrigued. But why do you feel guilty? Lydia?”

By now Lydia wasn’t even looking at J’zargo. She wasn’t ignoring him, but she was playing with her hair, her eyes fixed on one of her braids, inspecting it as if there was something new about it. She pushed all her hair out of her face and leaned forward, her arms resting on her bent knees. “Because I used to hate her.” Lydia had most certainly never intended to confess this but she didn’t know how to explain it otherwise. “I know how terrible that sounds.”

“Not to J’zargo, but J’zargo despises everyone before he likes them.” He smirked a little and observed her quietly until she turned back to him. “But this troubles my Lydia.”

“It’s a long story,” she said.

“J’zargo has no other plans this evening.”

“All right,” she laughed. Lydia thought for a moment, not quite certain where or how to begin. There wasn’t anything particularly complicated about the story, it just seemed to go back a long time. Before Elspeth arrived, she had thought about it a lot, reflecting on her feelings, though she never intended to tell anyone. She’d never even told Hrongar and she told him almost everything. “I always wanted a sister,” she began. “My mother always said her sister was her best friend. Growing up, they did everything together. She was heartbroken when Runa left, but she understood why.”

Lydia stopped here. The story behind Runa’s departure from Whiterun and then from Skyrim was fraught with sadness and not really hers to tell. “Runa was a priestess of Talos and she went to study in Imperial City. After the war she refused to renounce and went into hiding with some Blades and others fleeing the Thalmor. We didn’t hear from her for a long time. When she finally wrote, she told us she was taking care of a young girl, the daughter of some people who helped her escape after the war. She visited once. I don’t recall ever seeing my mother as happy as she was then.

“There was supposed to be more visits, and Runa was meant to bring Elspeth along too. But it wasn’t until after my mother died that I saw her again. It was such a relief to see her and I assumed she would stay this time. I was her family after all.” She paused again, swallowing against a dull ache growing in her throat as feelings of guilt and regret washed over her. She looked up, worried that she was boring poor J’zargo to death, but he was still listening carefully, his countenance unchanged.

“But no, she had to return to Bruma. Elspeth needed her.” Her voice was shaking now and tears filled her eyes. “You have to understand. The illness that had taken my mother…almost everyone in Whiterun was afflicted. I was not of age yet, but I was too old for the orphanage but there was no place for me to go. Runa arranged for friends to take care of me, but I just didn’t understand why she wouldn’t stay. I felt abandoned I guess and I grew bitter. She wrote and I ignored the letters.”
“What changed?” he asked.

“Well,” she said after wiping her eyes and taking a quick drink from her water skin, “I noticed that when people started getting better, they all came by to see me. They paid their respects o my mother and brought food and gifts. Then as time went on, I decided to write to my aunt—I was still angry, but I felt I owed her a letter. I read the ones she sent. There was one, she talked about Xeri, Elspeth’s mentor, and her grueling training regimen. Runa was frustrated and worried about her young charge. And it occurred to me that I had all these people in Whiterun looking out for me and Elspeth only had my aunt.”

Lydia paused for a moment, wondering how much of Elspeth’s childhood she should reveal. “See the thing you have to understand about Xeri is that she’s absolutely insane. She creates warriors and she wanted Elspeth to be hard and cold, completely detached and ruthless.”

“Ha!” For some reason J’zargo found this highly amusing. “Elspeth is a skilled warrior, but hardened…no. J’zargo does not agree.”

Lydia glared at him. “No, she isn’t and that’s because of my aunt’s influence.” There was more she wanted to explain about Runa’s constant struggle against Xeri’s machinations—which bordered on abusive at times—but that wasn’t really the point. “My aunt wanted Elspeth to have something in her life other than fighting. She wanted her to experience life with affection and friendship. And so do I.” By now her face had softened and she looked back at J’zargo,

“And don’t you deserve something in your life other than sacrifice and devotion?”

“I’m a housecarl in Jarl Balgruuf’s court. Devotion and sacrifice are expected. I’m just doing my duty.”

“And did the Jarl personally charge you with getting Elspeth and Onmund into bed?”

“Wait, what!?” Lydia was flustered. “No, that’s not what I meant.”

“I know what you did for them. Inviting Onmund to your home was very generous. You’ve been a good friend,” he said. “But now it is time to be a housecarl. Unless you really think the Jarl expects you to see Elspeth bedded consistently.”

“No!” Lydia was horrified, but laughing nonetheless. “Balgruuf has no interest in who Elspeth is sleeping with. None at all. No.”

J’zargo snickered a little and let out a sigh. “How much does my Lydia know about Khajiit customs?”

Lydia thought for a moment and then looked a bit sheepish. “I’m sorry…I don’t know much at all.” She’d read the various pocket guides of the empire and those books were not terribly detailed. After that, it never occurred to her seek out more information.

“The Khajiit have a great many warriors, fierce and brave. But we are not interested in self-reflection. Some say our minds are not engineered for it. That is debatable. Yet we simply do what we do, and let the world be damned.” J’zargo shifted around on the log and studied Lydia’s reactions. She was intrigued; that much was certain. “My Lydia, she needs to take a lesson or two from the Ahzirr Traajijazeri.”

“What is that?”

“It’s the manifesto from the Renrijra Krin, freedom fighters, rebels, ah, criminal scum mostly.” At this Lydia looked absolutely appalled, but J’zargo quickly shook his head. “They had two tenets I believe all warriors should adhere to.” He looked up again to see if she was still horrified, but her face had softened a bit. “Vaba Do’Shurh’do.”

“Vaba Do’Shurh’do?”

“It is good to be brave,” he explained. “And my Lydia is nothing if not brave. And loyal.”

“Thank you,” she said, blushing a little.”

“And, more importantly, Fusozay Var Var.”

“Fusozay Var Var?”

“Enjoy life, for it is too short. And life in the service of others tends to be short.” He grinned and poked the fire a little with a stick. “My Lydia would find the rest of the Renrijra Krin’s tenetsappalling. Of this, J’zargo has no doubt. But those are good words to live by.”

“And that is how J’zargo lives,” she replied, her tone both teasing and affirming.

“More or less.”

“Fusozay Var Var,” she repeated quietly. Though such a carefree existence would never be hers, she rather liked the sound of that.

*****

Arriving in Riften was uneventful. Trygve had lent his key and Honeyside opened from outside the city. Being able to bypass the guard eased Lydia’s mind considerably. As a member of the College and in the company of a court housecarl, J’zargo should have had no trouble entering the city. But the guards, who were simply oafish at times, often liked to cause problems and Lydia was in no mood to deal with them this evening.

Iona greeted them and though surprised, she was not displeased to have company. Her demeanor was no less austere than it had been before, but she readily welcomed them inside and offered them some mead. After a brief exchange of stories, of Elspeth being Dragonborn and Trygve associating himself with Balgruuf’s court, and of Iona spending time with Runa, they retired, with Lydia taking Trygve’s room and J’zargo the small storage room next to Iona’s that also held a small bed.

Lydia slept so soundly that night she was reluctant to get out of bed the following morning. But she was still on duty and she needed to ask the Jarl about dragon sightings. Groaning, she rolled out of bed and put her clothes on slowly. She found Iona in the kitchen, looking tightlipped and focused as she prepared food: scrambled eggs, fried potatoes, and cured meat.   There was also a fresh loaf of bread, honey, butter, and a bottle of mead on the table.

“Good morning,” said Lydia, glancing over the spread. “Are you expecting more people?”

Iona looked up from the eggs she was cooking and offered a courteous, yet stern nod. “Oh no,” she said, looking around. “I was a little enthusiastic I guess, and perhaps I went a little overboard. Please, help yourself to the bread and mead, while I prepare your plate.”

The other Nord could not have appeared less enthusiastic if she tried, but Lydia didn’t dwell on this and she poured herself a tankard of mead and ripped a large chunk of bread from the loaf, which she ate slowly as she wandered around, taking her first real look at Trygve’s house since they had arrived. Observing the carefully organized dishes on the shelves, the spotless pantry, and the books in the sitting room, all of which were organized, not only alphabetically but also by genre, Lydia chuckled, thinking that there was no one else in all of Skyrim, nay Nirn, to whom this house could belong. There was neither a bit of clutter nor a speck of dust anywhere and she instinctively clutched her tankard close to her chest, as if Trygve were there watching, so if it were to spill, the liquid would hit her tunic rather than the floor or the books.

“The food is ready!” Iona interrupted Lydia’s thoughts and after quickly inspecting the floor around her for crumbs, she joined the other housecarl at the table.

“This looks lovely, thank you,” she said before tucking into her eggs.

“It’s a pleasure,” she replied. “I hardly ever have the opportunity to cook for other people.”

“Trygve doesn’t have guests often?”

Iona chuckled and then coughed, as if to cover the laugh up. “No,” she said, “We’re not here very often and well, guests are disorderly and Trygve likes his space to be well ordered. Though I suppose you know that by now.”

“Indeed,” she replied after washing some cured meat down with her mead. She studied Iona some more. The other Nord’s facehad softened somewhat though she still sat rather stiffly. “Have you known him long?” she asked.

Iona seemed a bit surprised by the question, but she simply smiled and nodded. “For most of my life,” she said. “We met when I was young. His mother was the healer in Riften and everyone knew her. And I once was betrothed to his best friend.”

“Trygve has a best friend?” Lydia was shocked and completely missed that Iona was speaking of something in the past, and her response should have been tempered by some sensitivity.

Iona simply raised her eyes at this comment and turned back to her food. “Jory died several years ago,” she said, her tone lowered a bit.

“Oh I am so sorry.” Lydia was mortified. “I…I didn’t know and…” Her voice trailed off as she was left silent, embarrassed by her own insensitivity.

At this Iona managed a slight, but sincere, smile. “I can’t blame you. It isn’t something that Trygve likes to talk about.”

Lydia merely nodded and poked at her food a bit before taking a long drink of mead and ruminating a bit. Trygve had always sort of baffled her and this new information gave her a bit of insight into his aloof nature. But at the same time it raised other questions—ones she had no intention of asking. And yet she wondered; what was he like before his friend died?

She chewed on her lip a little, wondering how much she could inquire without being rude. Naturally, she was curious about him; however, she also wanted some guidance and Iona was so focused and efficient. If anyone could help, it would be her.

“Do you ever find it difficult—being a housecarl to someone who was, or rather is, your friend?” she asked, keeping her tone low so that the question would not seem intrusive.

But as with most things, Iona was unfazed. “No,” she said, but as she drew her tankard up to her mouth she appeared to think about the question a bit. “He doesn’t actually expect much by way of deference. But Trygve’s always had an air of formality about him. I just follow his lead.”

At this Lydia nodded; she understood completely. Elspeth wasn’t exactly well versed in etiquette and protocol. Indeed, that was one of the reasons Runa brought Lydia into the fold in the first place, but this was before all the Dragonborn business. Once again, the thought of going forward with Elspeth on her own was simply daunting and she found herself immensely grateful for his companionship. “He’s very rigid at times. Balgruuf always tells me I’m too uptight about things, but Trygve he’s something else.”

Iona frowned skeptically. “You don’t strike me as uptight, not with the way you were carrying on with that cat last night.”

“Carrying on? Excuse me?” She couldn’t tell by Iona’s tone if her comment was meant to criticize or if it was simply an observation. Recalling the previous night, she couldn’t think of anything inappropriate that had been said. They had arrived weary but cheerful as J’zargo had been telling her an amusing story of his last visit to the Rift when they arrived at Breezehome. “I think you are mistaken….” But Lydia’s voice trailed off, as she wasn’t quite sure what the other housecarl’s comment was meant to imply.

“It’s just very…well, casual I suppose. And it’s not a bad thing. It’s just different.” Iona shrugged placed her tankard on the table.

Lydia pursed her lips, determined not to take Iona’s observations as insults. After all, nothing she said was untrue. And Lydia knew she was not less serious and disciplined than other housecarls. It was only recently that she had begun to lose confidence. Otherwise, she was highly skilled, devoted, and resolute. And that was all that mattered, at least she hoped.   She sighed inwardly; now was not the time to be insecure.

They finished their food silently, until Lydia realized she had not seen J’zargo yet.

“Did J’zargo leave already?”

Iona shook her head as she began to clear the table. “I offered to walk him down to the Ratway, just to keep people out of his hair. Or fur, I suppose.”

“That is quite helpful, thank you.” Lydia was relieved; she needed to avoid the Ratway and she was pleased she wouldn’t have to explain why.

“He left to see someone in the caravan,” Iona continued, gesturing to the back door. “He said he would be back shortly.”

Lydia nodded and moved to help clear the table, but Iona shook her head and quickly stacked all the dishes and flatware, taking them in one pile to the basin. Lydia decided she needed to collect her thoughts a bit before starting her errands and excused herself to the porch.

“My Lydia!” J’zargo was sitting just outside the door, stark naked, with his legs propped up on the rail.

“J’zargo!” The Nord’s tankard clattered to the ground as she threw her hands over her eyes. “Why are you naked?”

“I went for a swim in the lake and I didn’t have a towel so I am just airing out a bit,” he explained, taking his robe from the back of the chair and casually draping it across his midsection. “You can look now.”

She peered slowly through her fingertips before bringing her hands away from her face, but as she knelt to pick up her cup she caught a glimpse of the curve of his bare backside against the edge of the chair. Groaning inwardly, and blushing furiously, she took a deep breath and let it out before standing and looking around awkwardly. Though his privates were covered, Lydia was still rather uncomfortable looking at his bare chest—which was broader than she imagined—and arms, which flexed as he stretched and put his hands behind his head, smirking the whole time.

She scowled, though she wasn’t angry, just a little flustered. “I’ll let Iona know you’ll be in when you’re dry. And dressed!” She turned back inside quickly, leaving the Khajiit chucking quietly to himself.

*****

Lydia’s first order of business was at Mistveil Keep. Anticipating another cold reception, she intended to find Anuriel, inquire about any dragon sightings in the hold, and leave. To her surprise, however, Jarl Laila was more than welcoming and invited her to sit. Not only had she forgiven Balgruuf for appropriating Trygve into his court, she seemed honored that her Thane—of all the Thanes in all the holds—was in the service of the legendary Dragonborn.

Of course, she shouldn’t have been surprised and though she was happy that the tensions between the Jarls seemed to be abating for a bit, there was much to discuss and for a while, Lydia felt as though she was acting more as an ambassador than a housecarl. There were so many questions. And the Laila’s own housecarl, Unmid Snow-Shod, wanted to know all about the attack on the western watchtower, right down to the last detail. He was especially concerned about Trygve’s role in the whole affair, and Lydia began to wonder if there was some rivalry between the two men.

After two hours of questions and storytelling, Lydia was finally able to extract herself from the conversation. She left the keep, letting out a deep breath as the heavy door closed behind her. Despite Laila’s positive reception and the court’s unadulterated enthusiasm, Lydia felt out of sorts. The excitement and reverence around the Dragonborn, the way they looked at her, the expectation that there was no greater honor when all she could think was there was no greater responsibility was simply exhausting.

Down in the market, she mulled over all the things she had to do before they left. She needed to replenish their supplies: food, arrows, potions. And, she should probably send a letter to Balgruuf, to apprise him of their locations and business to date. That would mean finding a courier—and a competent one at that.

But she didn’t want to do any of it. She wanted a break, a long break where she didn’t have the weight of someone else’s world on her shoulders. As she pondered what to do first, she scanned the market, letting her gaze rest on the meadery and then the Bee and the Barb.

If she could not escape to the warm sands of Senchal, she could at least take the day off and resume her duties tomorrow. She strode over to the tavern with a renewed spontaneity and then laughed at the absurdity of it all, as if there was anything unusual about a Nord putting their obligations off for a few hours to enjoy some mead-soaked revelry.

And Lydia was nothing if not a true Nord.

“Fusozay var var,” she muttered under her breath and as she entered the building, thought about what a shame it was that Nords, with their shared love of revelry and brawling, were not more accepting of Khajiit. Glancing about the place, she wondered if Elspeth’s friend was here. What was his name, she wondered. Marcus? Mercury? At this point she would enjoy his attention. And with a drink or two, she might entertain his advances.

“Marcurio?” Keerava corrected when Lydia, now three tankards of mead in, asked after the smug Imperial. “I haven’t seen his ugly mug in weeks.”

“Oh,” she thought, trying to hide her disappointment, though it was probably just as well. She looked around again. It was relatively early in the afternoon and still rather quiet. She thought about the Bannered Mare and wondered if the excitement over the dragon attack and the Dragonborn had died down. Knowing Whiterun as she did, it wasn’t likely. “Do you have anything stronger?” she asked suddenly.

Keerava paused for a moment—as if she might protest this request—but only smirked a little. “I’ll send Talen-Jei over to mix you something.”

“Thank you!” While she waited, her thoughts wandered. She realized that not a single person in the entire tavern knew her. Strangely she found the notion rather comforting, which was unlike her. Generally, she preferred company.

From Telen-Jei she ordered a Velvet LeChance and then another, and recalled their last visit, when she had taken her grandmother’s name as an alias. She thought about how she could be whoever she wanted here, posing as a simple adventurer on her way to Forelhost. There was something exciting about that idea and as she sipped on her drink, she entertained fantasies of the yarns she could spin. By her third drink, she decided that should someone approach, she would be Briane, a scholarly adventurer on her way to Rkund to collect and study Dwemer artifacts. She would even drop Calcelmo’s name in there for good measure.

Tossing back the last of her drink, she giggled a little and contemplated another, though she was clearly quite intoxicated. Perhaps, she thought, it would be best to switch to water and order some food. Indeed, a nice venison stew with a loaf of fresh bread and honey-butter was exactly what she needed. Before she could wave Keerava down, however, she was yanked from her stool.

“Do…I…know you,” she slurred, squinting as she tried to remember if she had ever seen this woman, a seething, raven-haired beauty, before.

“You milk-drinking fuck!” The woman drew her arm back and smashed her fist into Lydia’s face. Too drunk to steady herself and with her head spinning, she staggered forward as the other woman punched her in the gut. Within seconds, she was on the ground, her face being pummeled by the woman straddling her waist and screaming. “This is for Vipir! And Rune! Where’s your fucking mage friend now?”

Vipir? Lydia tried to open her eyes and look up, but all she could do was cough and gag as the other woman continued to bash her face. Her head spun as the pain from the beating mingled with the dizziness of being intoxicated. Blood started trickling down her throat and her visual field began to grow dark when she heard more shouting in the distance. Several people dragged the woman away, kicking and screaming and another cupped Lydia’s face. Warmth radiated through her chin and nose, which helped a bit with the pain but not much with wooziness.   The healer helped her to a seated position, but the slight jostling was just enough to trigger pangs of nausea and within moments she retched, dribbling vomit down her chin and tunic before rolling over and expelling the rest of what she had in her stomach onto the floor.

“Lydia!” A familiar voice called out and she looked up as Iona crouched down, looking stern and disappointed. But she didn’t admonish her fellow housecarl for her current state; she simply shook her head. “Get back to Honeyside,” she said, her voice calm but firm enough for Lydia to know that protesting would not go over well. She nodded and stood. By the time she was upright, the patrons of the tavern had resumed their drinking and conversing. After tossing Keerava a coin purse with a little extra gold for her trouble, she left and staggered back to the house, where she stripped off her clothes and tried to rehydrate herself without triggering another bout of regurgitation.

After cleaning herself and her clothes as best she could, as she was still rather drunk, she went down to Trygve’s room, where she wrapped herself up in a blanket and curled up on his bed. Thinking back to Iona’s look of disgust and how stupid she must have looked, a representative of Balgruuf’s court getting her inebriated arse kicked, the weight of all her insecurities came crashing down at once and she started to cry.

She sobbed for a bit, doing her best to stifle the sound when she heard someone open the door and make their way downstairs. There was a soft knock on the door and Lydia quickly sat up, clutching the blanket to herbody, and wiped her eyes. “Come in,” she said, clearing her throat. She forced a smile, but when the door opened and J’zargo stepped in, her softened into a frown—not because she was disappointed to see him, but because she could relax.

“My Lydia! What is the matter?” he said as he closed the door and took a seat next to her on the bed. “What happened to your face?” He moved wisps of hair away so he could see her bruises, which, though faded from the healing spell, were still visible.

“Oh just a run-in at the Bee and the Barb. It’s a long story…not important,” she replied. His touch, though light, was comforting and she edged a little closer to him. “How did it go with Vex?”

“A bit difficult at first, but she told me that she sent Ranmir’s wife to Hobs Falls Cave. So, we go there next. I know where it is.”

Lydia nodded. “And after that….” But she stopped. There wasn’t really anything to say. After they investigated the cave, they would return to the college. J’zargo would resume his studies and Lydia would resume her duties. Her heart sunk a little at this. She was going to miss him. It wasn’t just his stories or their flirtatious banter; rather, it was his unconditional admiration for her—not as a housecarl or a warrior or even a true Nord—but simply as Lydia, the person she was before everything became overwhelming. The fact that he didn’t even know her back that made it all the more important.

“Does my Lydia need to talk?” He was worried and put his arm around her back, pulling her close.

She shook her head. She didn’t want to talk; she wanted to run away—take their leave and move to Senchal where they could eat all manner of tropical fruits, swim naked in the sea, and doze off after watching the sun set and—

Fusozay Var Var

She was tired of living by everyone else’s rules. For a culture that claimed to love revelry and lowering inhibitions, they had an awful lot of restrictions and taboos. And she wanted to break every last one.   She looked up at J’zargo who was still holding her close. Throwing all caution to the wind, she sat up and threw her leg over his lap, positioning herself so that she was straddling his lap. Taking his face in her hands, she pressed her lips to his, melting into his embrace. She bit his lip a little, giggling as she slipped her tongue into his mouth. It was, well it was weird, rough and with angles she wasn’t quite accustomed too.

As they began to grope and grab, untangling her blanket, undoing the ties on her robe, she became painfully and embarrassingly aware of where she was. “Wait,” she said, pulling her face away from his, though she continued to grip his waist with her legs. “I…we…I don’t.”

J’zargo straightened up quickly and pulled away. “It is okay. J’zargo is just confused. It seemed like you wanted—“

“Oh, I do,” she said, eager to reassure him. “But this is Trygve’s bed.”

“Ah yes, well,” J’zargo looked around a bit, “we could move to the floor.”

Lydia swallowed and nodded, “Yes…yes. That is…perfect.”

——————————————————————————————-

(A/N: I had a long author note planned, but suffice to say it’s late and I can’t remember a damn thing I wanted to say.  But yeah, Lydia’s got some baggage. I’ve got almost a full draft of the next chapter prepared so there’s that.))

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21 thoughts on “Book Two, Chapter Twenty-Two: What Happens in Riften, Stays in Riften

  1. I love how you’ve got her so conflicted, even confessing there’s a part of her that wanted to hate Elspeth, that maybe she even did a little. I also love J’zargo sharing his philosophy with her, telling her how fitting those two pieces of it describe the kind of woman she is, and then she just embraces it. Drunk, but I feel like she was fully aware of what she was doing. I don’t know why, but that makes it better because I want them to find something together. It’s such an unconventional romance, and she’s such a conventional sort of Nord woman, it just gives her so much depth. You almost have to wonder if this little awakening of hers is going to allow her to not change, but become the woman she is without regret.

    1. Lydia’s conflict was really the main focus of the chapter. In the original drafter there was a lot more banter, and J’zargo was more his typical self. But it just didn’t work. In part because there was no way that she would have slept with him after that. Nor would she have confided in him. So, I figured once J’zargo likes someone well enough, he’s rather nice to them. And he really likes Lydia. I felt that even before I decided to make them into this crack-romance.

      “I also love J’zargo sharing his philosophy with her”

      When I found that book on uesp with all that Khajiit stuff in it, I knew that I had to use it.

      “Drunk, but I feel like she was fully aware of what she was doing.”

      Yeah, she was.

  2. Great chapter! I do enjoy seeing Lydia not being a rock for once. Though, I still think you could have made J’zargo more obnoxious but then I guess it would have been harder for Lydia to hook up with him, so it all worked out well, and now I no longer wish to Fus Ro Dah his dumb ass off a cliff when I meet him….well, maybe…

    Will J’zargo ever tell Lydia he used his super Kahjiit Pheromone’s to seduce her?
    Will Iona track down and beat Sapphires ass for hurting her Housecarl sister in arms?
    Will Trygve know instantly that his room was defiled by the lusty, sweaty, animal sex aroma of J’zargo and Lydia?
    Will Lydia’s new, “YOLO”, philosophy help her get a handle on her baggage?

    All these questions will never be answered on the next, “Epic Disaster”
    =D

    1. I would have loved to write more obnoxious J’zargo and in the first draft he was a bit snarkier, but there was no way Lydia would have hooked up with him. I think J’zargo really likes Lydia though, so having him show is kinder side made a lot of sense to me.

      At some point, I’ll write up their Vaermina adventure and we can see J’zargo acting like a little shit.

    2. It makes me wonder if all his bravado isn’t just some kind of act, that under the surface he’s really just a nice guy. I love thinking about the characters in that way; it makes them so much deeper. Like… what if Lydia isn’t competition for him, so he feels no need to banter and challenge her the way he would another mage. Ahhh, excellentness.

      1. Well I’m writing about a Khajiit spellsword, who is in Skyrim looking for his long lost brother, and I’m having some trouble with the whole entering skyrim part. He’s not on the prisoner cart, and he’s not Dragonborn. As soon as I get the whole arrival part right the rest will be pretty easy.

      2. Sailed? From Elswyer to Hammerfell to High Rock, then caught the Dainty Sload and disembarked before all that nonsense with the Thieves Guild.

        Is the only survivor of Orphan’s Tear, which crashed?

        Since the docks are outside the cities proper, a Khajiit could travel that way.

        A Khajiit with means could also probably hire someone so that they could act as if they were hired as a companion, just to get them through town. If they had to go into a city. Or do some sort of bartering, Khajiit: I’ll get your family’s shield back from Humpback Troll Cave if you tell everyone I’m your servant until I find my cousin’s caravan.”

      3. There is nothing quite as satisfying as that moment when you’ve got your momentum and you’re watching the game just explode inside your own head. It’s so fun.

  3. Another good chapter! And I really need to run something by you sometime. I don’t want to reveal any *spoilers* but I had something planned in CoK down the line that was based off some of your earlier ch’s. And you just set it up so nicely in this last one that I think it could work out 🙂

  4. I must admit to being taken aback a little by this particular pairing, I’ve not read in a while but I do remember there being a little speculation a while back, I thought it was just for a bit of fun however. Whilst I can’t (and perhaps don’t wish to) see it developing into anything super-meaningful, unless J’zargo develops as a character a fair bit. What I do love about this chapter is his use as a sounding board for Lydia. His neutrality and almost common-sense advice really cuts through all the bullshit and helps us get a real further insight into Lydia’s hopes and feelings. I must say I really enjoyed this chapter in particular, despite there being little to no action and it not even featuring Elspeth.

    A little note on the last chapter, the one where Els becomes Arch-mage. That sex scene was perhaps the best one of yours I’ve read so far, without venturing too far into the inappropriate I gotta say it made me more than a little hot under the collar, beautifully written and really complex emotionally as well as physically intense.

    I’m so glad you’ve been carrying on writing since I last read, can’t wait to read the next chapter.

    1. I don’t think it’s spoiling too much to say that while I do have future/long-term relationship plans for Lydia, they do not involve J’zargo in any significant way. They started off as a total crack-pairing but as I was writing them I saw the potential for something more, and I think it’s just that he’s what she needs right now and it’s sort of a perfect rebound-friendship sort of thing.

      The chapter I’m working on now has some action, which I am really excited about since it’s Xeri doing a good deal of the fighting and she’s so freaking badass and fun to write.

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