Thursday, February 27, 2014

A Stranger in Skyrim 22

Chapter Twenty-Two: The Housecarl

In which Lydia is introduced.

The servant began to lead her toward the armory, as instructed by the Jarl. After a moment's hesitation, though, she reached out to grab the man's arm. "I know he expects me to pick out some armor but - that's not going to do me much good. Do you suppose I could select my rewards from the library instead?" 

"Of course, my Thane." The servant bowed slightly, changing direction. 

In the end, she made off with four dog-eared books, all spell tomes that Farengar helped her to pick out. Well - all except one. The thin black book she selected for herself, no one had seen her slip into her pocket. Flipping through it briefly had been enough to catch her interest, and damn it, she'd earned every bit of the reward she picked out. 

As she made to leave Dragonsreach, arms straining a little under the heavy tomes she'd selected, a black-haired woman in full plate approached her. "Can I help you?" Mariah asked, shifting the weight of the books in her arms. 

"Ah, my Thane. I am Lydia, and I am to be your housecarl." She bowed, formally. 

A pause as she processed that. "So - you're some kind of bodyguard, then?" 

"I - suppose you could put it like that. As you are my Thane, I am sworn to protect you, and all you own, with my life." The woman regarded her uncertainly. 

She nodded. "Could you help with these?" She offered Lydia the stack of books, intending for the stronger woman to take only a couple of them. 

"I am also sworn to carry your burdens … " The woman looked resigned as she took the stack. 

Mariah smiled. "Thanks. So - what all am I supposed to do as a Thane, if I may?" 

"To be a Thane is - it's an honor to be named such. There aren't really many duties or responsibilities; you've been recognized for the service that you've already given Whiterun. You're an important person here, a hero. Guards will even look the other way, if you tell them who you are." 

She ducked her head, embarrassed, as she headed for the door. "I don't think that'll be a problem, you know?" She really wasn't a career criminal - why did everyone assume she was? 

"Of course, my Thane." Mariah held the door open for Lydia. "What are we doing today?" 

"Well - I'm not supposed to do anything strenuous for a day or two; doctor's orders." She headed down the steps and across the waterway. There was a man there, standing in front of a shrine. He was shouting about Talos - wasn't that one of the Divines? 

Curious, she listened in. Maybe she'd learn something. 

"Aye, love, love!" The man shouted. "Even as man, great Talos cherished us. For he saw in us, in each of us, the future of Skyrim! The future of Tamriel!" He paused for a moment, for breath, taking a swig out of a flask that - she could only assume - contained some kind of alcohol. Drinking on the job, pfeh. "And there it is, friends! The ugly truth! We are the children of man! Talos is the true god of man! Ascended from flesh, to rule the realm of spirit!" 

He shook his head, angry. "The very idea is inconceivable to our Elven overlords! Sharing the heavens with us? With man? Ha! They can barely tolerate our presence on earth!" He spat on the ground, an indication of his disgust.  

"Today, they take away your faith. But what of tomorrow? Do the elves take your homes? Your businesses? Your children? Your very lives? And what does the Empire do? Nothing! Nay, worse than nothing! The Imperial machine enforces the will of the Thalmor! Against its own people!" 

It was food for thought, and she stood, listening to the entire lecture. She wasn't the only one. He was urging the Stormcloak rebels on, recruiting for them, it seemed. She had little interest in religion, but she didn't think it right, that this Empire was oppressing a people for a difference of opinion such as that. She'd read all about that kind of thing on Earth. She'd have to watch her step - it wasn't her war, but it was stupid to ignore the political climate. 

"Is this war as bad as it sounds?" She asked Lydia as they walked away. 

The woman looked at her, thoughtful, as she nodded once. "It's torn families apart. Old allies have turned to hated enemies over this - it's not quite open warfare yet, but everyone knows it's building up to it. And when it does …." Lydia shook her head. 

"Everyone will suffer. Not just these Stormcloaks, not just the Empire, but the average person, too. I want no part in that. War just isn't worth the cost." 

"Truly, there is nothing you value so much you would fight for it?" A raised eyebrow. 

Mariah shook her head. "It's not like that. I just - I think people should try to get along, despite their differences. Life is too precious to throw away like that." 

Lydia laughed, but it was a bitter laugh. "Things must be different, where you come from." 

"They really aren't." She sighed softly. "They really aren't." 


Mariah sat down on one of the benches near the temple of Kynareth. "Set those down - " She gestured for Lydia to set the books next to her. "I won't get any better if I don't study," she explained, taking the first heavy tome. Conjuration basics - Summoning for Dummies, it might as well have been titled. 

"You're a wizard, then?" Lydia asked it dubiously. 

She laughed. "Well, I'm trying to be. It's pretty much endless studying, as far as I can tell. But - I can do this," she summoned lightning to her fingertips, dancing the sparks across the back of her hand. "So it's worth it, in the end." 

Lydia watched with some interest. "We don't have a lot of wizards here in Whiterun - Farengar, of course, and there's a drunkard who frequents the Bannered Mare, too." 

"Well, I gather I have some talent for it." She shrugged her backpack off, settling it on the ground between her feet. 

"Mariah!" A small voice called, and a little body flung itself at her. She laughed, nearly toppling over as Lucia practically tackled her. "You're okay!" 

She smiled, hugging the child gently. "I am, thanks to you." 

"Oh?" The little girl looked up at her, wide-eyed. 

She nodded. "From what I can tell, Irileth found your potion in my things. It's what kept me together until they could get me to the healer." She squeezed the girl gently. "So I guess I owe you, huh?" 

"I guess so." 

She looked up and over at the housecarl. "Lydia, meet Lucia. You said you were supposed to guard me and everything of mine, right?" 

"Well … yes …." 

She nodded. "I want you to look after Lucia, at least while we're in town, all right? It's not much," she said the last to the girl, "But it's something I can do for you anyway." 

"Of course, my Thane." 

She leaned back on the bench. "Gods, but I'm tired." She yawned to emphasize her point. "But you don't get better at anything without practice." She nudged Lucia gently, to get her to let go. Then, she cracked the book open. 

"You can read?" The little girl asked. 

Lydia made a shushing noise. "That's rude … " 

"No, it's all right. I can read - do you want me to read to you? It's actually really interesting to learn from all these books." 

"You think so?" Lucia smiled brightly, leaning forward to peek at the pages. "I'd like to learn," she said wistfully. 

"Well - why don't we learn together?" She smiled brightly, flipping to the first page. "'This book is the first in a series dedicated to the study of conjuration ….'"