by AJ Marks
Zoe glanced around the party which were going with her to Solitude. What started out as a small group with only Jordis, Leah and her had grown larger as Brelyna decided to head there to look for some herbs nearby. Aela, upon hearing she was headed there, mentioned doing some work there as well. Finally the young merchant, Ysolda, asked to go with them to do some business but had been afraid of going with herself.
Looking down the path Zoe spotted an overturned cart and looked over at Aela who also noticed it. They shared a glance both knowing what it probably meant before looking at the others
“Hold up,” Zoe stated.
“What’s up?” Leah asked, moving up beside her.
“Trouble, Aela, with me, the rest stay here,” Zoe said to them as she looked at the cart.
“Yeah, typical set up, overturned cart, they are probably nearby watching to see what we do,” Aela said.
“Ysolda, stay close to Jordis, she can protect you,” Zoe said. “The rest, be ready, come on Aela.”
“Lead the way, I was feeling restless,” Aela stated.
They approached cautiously looking for anyone who might spring out. Normally she would just burst in and spring the trap, but this time she had others to worry about.
Laas Yah Nir!
Zoe whispered the shout watching as Aela looked strangely at her, but it had the desired effect. It was a whisper of a shout instead of being loud so one could see nearby people or creatures. She looked around quickly spotting the trap.
“Two in front of us, one off to each side and one behind us,” Zoe whispered to Aela who prepared for the upcoming attack. Even as they moved forward one stepped out probably to make their demands.
“Well, well, well, what do we have here,” a tall man said dressed in steel armor as he looked them over. “I’d say we hit the jackpot.”
“I’d say you stepped on a hornet’s nest,” Aela replied back to him, ready for anything.
“Not from what I see, a group of lovely women. You’ll be a nice distraction from the troubles we’ve been having lately,” he replied back to them.
“Looks can be deceiving,” Zoe said, now ready as well. “I’d suggest you let us pass, or we’ll take what you have instead.”
The leader laughed before changing to a snarl while drawing his broadsword. In one motion he moved towards Aela who took out her bow.
Zoe drew her own duel swords before heading into the battle. She was a bit unusual in duel weald swords but she focused on attack, not defense.
Zun Halli Vilk!
The disarming Shout caused the leader to drop his sword giving her an opening. She pushed her attack slicing in a fury of attacks. Arrows flew from all around as she dealt the death blow to the bandit in front of her, feeling an arrow deflect off her armor. Aela had dealt with another bandit and the one in back was engaged against Jordis and Brelyna. Zoe took off towards the next bandit, a female.
She struck fast and quickly defeating the next bandit and looked around to see the rest had been dispatched as well.
“Well, that wasn’t enough to even get the blood flowing,” Aela said, obviously disappointed in the battle.
Zoe shook her head before going through the bandits looking for anything useful they might have had taking what gold they had before heading back to the others. They started moving again as Ysolda recounted what happened and impressed with everyone’s actions.
“So, you weren’t hurt?” Leah asked, giving Zoe a look over.
“Nope, you?” Zoe asked back, Leah wasn’t really in full fighting armor with so many in the group.
“We only had one attacker, and Brelyna and Jordis had him taken care of before he even got close to us,” Leah replied. “I did see you take an arrow.”
Zoe looked over to see Leah glaring at her as she spoke.
“It hit the armor, deflected right off,” Zoe replied, glad she had worn the Deadric armor. She hoped it would intimidate the Thalmor better than some other choices of armor.
“Okay,” Leah said, taking a look at the armor.
“At this rate we should make Solitude tomorrow,” Aela stated.
“If the weather holds, should be,” Zoe said looking up at the clouds. There wasn’t any storm clouds at the moment but that could change quickly. She really didn’t feel like slogging through the rain or snow.
She looked forward to reaching Solitude.
Zoe made her way into the palace having decided to go there upon reaching Solitude to let the Jarl know she was there. It was the reason she was there, though walking through the streets she noticed several people who recognized her said hello. Leah had giggled at how many said hello.
Now she walked up to the throne along with Leah and Jordis and spotted the Jarl, Elsif, her steward Falk, and court wizard Sybille along with General Tullius and Rikki his second in command. They turned at her approach.
“Ah, Zoe, glad you could come,” Elsif said with a smile on her face and Zoe noticed the relieved look she had.
“I got word you wished to see me,” Zoe stated, giving the Jarl a smile back.
“Yes, we’re expecting a contingent of Thalmor in the next couple of days,” Elsif replied back to her, confirming what Jordis said.
“Damn Thalmor, can’t stay out of our affairs,” Tullius stated. “Things were just starting to settle down and they how to show up.”
“Now general, we’ll wait to see what they have to say,” Elsif said calmly a bit of a surprise to Zoe. The young queen appeared to be growing and gaining some confidence which was nice to see.
“What is there to say to them, you are the High Queen, it’s been decided,” Tullius said.
“Oh, I didn’t know that,” Zoe said. “Congratulations.”
“Thank you,” Elsif said. “I have a lot of work to do to earn the others trust though.”
“Of course,” Zoe said.
“They are probably coming to make sure the treaty is upheld,” Rikke said speaking up in the conversation.
Zoe realized this is what made things difficult. The people up here had little love for the Thalmor despite the rebellion and who won. Many of the winners didn’t have much use for them either. It was this distrust and dislike of the Thalmor which the Queen had to worry about, and not appearing weak to the people in Skyrim. If she did another rebellion could happen.
“They are probably worried about their attacks on their guards wondering the area,” Falk said.
“Or the incident at their embassy earlier in the year,” Sybille stated.
Zoe remained quiet about that knowing she had been responsible for that. Out in the wild they could be hit by anyone, or anything, but the embassy she had done that to gain information about the dragons attacking Skyrim. Of course it didn’t help they attacked her as well.
“Well, we have been busy with dragons,” Leah said.
“Yes, but the rumor is that will start to die down,” Tullius said looking at Zoe.
“Reports are Alduin had been killed by your hands Dragonborn,” Sybille said.
“Yes, ended up in a strange place to have the final battle, but he is gone,” Zoe replied, not wanting to get into where she went at the moment.
“Then Skyrim is indebted to you even more,” Elsif said.
“Ah, I was only doing what I could,” Zoe said, knowing that she had been rewarded more than she ever hoped on her journeys up here. Add in the fact she felt uncomfortable still with being a hero and she avoided such things. “So, when do the Thalmor arrive?”
“I’ve received word they should arrive at the embassy today and will come down to meet with us tomorrow,” Falk said.
“Your support will be most welcome,” Elsif said.
“The travel was long, I’ll go and relax and be here for when they arrive tomorrow,” Zoe said.
With that she excused herself and made her way back to her house in Solitude. Walking down the path she noticed a man walking up to her house and stopped at the door to look back at them.
“Jordis, I wasn’t expecting you until tomorrow,” the man said, waving at Jordis who had a slight blush. This was getting interesting Zoe thought.
“Brandis,” she said, moving over to give him a hug and now Zoe knew there was a story here even as she waited. Jordis turned to them. “This is my Thane, Zoe.”
“Her lover Leah,” Leah said speaking up and stepping forward.
“Ah,” he said, as thunder rumbled overhead causing them to look up and see an approaching storm.
“Let’s go inside and you can tell me all about it while we’re dry,” Zoe said, stepping forward to the door.
Inside she noticed everything was organized, clean and well maintained.
“Let me go upstairs and change out of this armor,” Zoe said, as she and Leah headed off upstairs to her quarters.
“Seems like your housecarl has someone she likes,” Leah said as she helped Zoe out of her armor.
“Yeah,” Zoe replied, going over the reaction and greeting. It would be interesting as she didn’t recall seeing him the last time she had been in Solitude. However people were always coming and going through the port so it would be easy to forget him.
“Aside from that one bandit trap coming here was actually easy,” Leah said.
“Guess the increased patrols have started working,” Zoe replied back. With the guards not limited to protecting the cities from dragons they were able to patrol the main roads even more now.
“It will encourage travel, and with us being located close to the center of Skyrim our business should increase,” Leah said.
“Yeah, looking forward to some quiet time,” Zoe said.
“Adventured out?” Leah asked.
“In a way, and I don’t really want to get involved in any war against the Thalmor” Zoe replied, despite her dislike of them. It was interesting that no one at the Suite loved them, even Elise who was a dark Elf.
That bit of news had surprised Zoe, but even among the elves the Thalmor were considered bigoted and racist towards others.
“Well, shall we head down and meet this mysterious stranger of Jordis’?” Zoe asked, as the last bit of her armor had been stowed.
“Sure,” Leah replied. “Then perhaps a bit to eat and a bath, and some later activities?”
With that Leah wrapped an arm around Zoe showing her intentions.
“Insatiable,” Zoe replied back with a smile.
“Well, with you who wouldn’t be,” Leah replied making Zoe consider just staying up here than going back down. However they had company and she’d be a good host.
“Come on, you minx,” Zoe said to her.
“Minx, me, you forget how often you walk around nude back home,” Leah replied back to her causing an even bigger grin.
“Well, have you looked in a mirror,” Zoe replied. “A lot of your outfits you wear, might as well wear nothing at all, and the other customers, most roam around nude as well.”
“That’s besides the point, besides, I look sexier with a little bit still on,” Leah said, then made her way to the stairs adding a bit of sway into her hips.
Zoe shook her head then put on some clean clothes and made her way down to see everyone sitting around the table and she got her first good look at Brandis. He seemed to be a Nord, short brown hair and didn’t look to be a fighter.
“So, what’s the story?” Zoe asked, sitting down.
“Ah, I’m a bit new to Solitude, trying to set up a business,” he replied. “You might say I’m an aspiring chef.”
“What do you make,” Leah asked.
“Pastries,” he answered.
“Really good ones,” Jordis said speaking up as Brandis seemed to blush a bit.
“I hope we can have a sample while we’re here,” Zoe said.
“I think I can arrange for that,” Brandis said, making Zoe wonder how his would compare to the Suite’s pastries.
“He’s been staying here until he can get his business up and running,” Jordis replied. “It’s not like there isn’t room here, and this house does get a bit lonely.”
Zoe held up a hand to forestall any further outbursts and looked around the house.
“How long?” she asked, surprising them both.
“Um, been about a moon now,” Jordis said.
“And how’s the business?” Zoe asked, watching as his shoulders slumped a bit.
“Been having trouble raising the money, if Jordis hadn’t helped me out, I’m not sure where I’d be right now,” he said.
“The house is clean, and you don’t seem dishonest,” Zoe said, knowing he either spoke the truth or was a very good liar as she came up with a plan. “Tell you what, we’ll have some of your pastries for breakfast and if they’re good I’ll fund your business.”
She extended her hand waiting.
“Deal,” he said, with little hesitation.
“You won’t regret it,” Jordis said with a smile.
She looked forward to tomorrow.
End part 9