Part 2 - Whiterun

"Do you know any alchemy?" Clark asked. "If not, I'll explain the properties of each ingredient as I go."

"Only a little," Gilda replied. "We didn't have any equipment for it, but I'd learned about a few things I could eat to cure diseases or poison. And I know that wheat will restore my health, if I can ever hide it from my mother."

"Well, what I need to make is Fortify Restoration and Fortify Magicka potions. There aren't any ingredients with both effects, so I'll have to make separate potions. Longfin and Salt for Restoration, and Jazbay Grapes and Ectoplasm for Magicka." Clark made her watch how he ground and mixed the ingredients, and used the alembic to refine the mixture. "Now you try. Your potions won't be as strong as I can make, but you'll get there with practice."

He let her make a few more potions that she'd find useful. She wondered how he knew the recipes for some of them. Wouldn't only a woman need those? And did teaching her that last one mean anything? Not that she'd object. He was a kind, good-looking man, and she owed him for everything.

"Sit down in that chair," he instructed her, and he drank the two potions he'd made. "Now hold still for a few moments. This is a relatively simple procedure, because you don't have any nose muscles to pull it back out of shape. That means I don't need to use paralysis, as well."

Clark was already squeezing and bending her broken nose back to where it should be as he spoke. He didn't have much time before the potions' effect wore off, and he wanted to do a good job the first time. "There, that does it. Take a look at yourself, and see what you think."

Gilda looked puzzled. How can anyone look at their own face? But Clark was holding out something out to her. Something shiny and polished. It was a mirror, the first she'd ever seen. And when she held it right, her own face was reflected. That brought out a smile, but the sight of her teeth made it disappear just as quickly.

"I'd better straighten those teeth, too. Hand me the potions you made. This won't take as much magicka as the nose."

A few minutes later, she had a smile that was worth seeing. Her face was still gaunt, but well-proportioned, and with a bit of Lydia's cooking to fill out her cheeks, she could be quite pretty.

"Soup's ready" Lydia's voice called from the kitchen, as if on cue.

The soup was just the first course. Lydia had prepared grilled salmon steaks, potatoes, and leeks, and there were sweetrolls to follow. After all the stew she'd eaten at lunch, Clark didn't expect Gilda to finish it all, but he saw her reach for a second sweetroll. Lydia noticed, too.

"I expect you'll want me to help her with her weapons training and fitness," she asked Clark. "If I don't, she'll be filling that sack before long."

Gilda looked horrified at the thought, and took a long second look at the sweetroll she was eating. But she ate it anyway, took a swig of the wine to wash it down, and burped contentedly. "I think I'll know when to stop," she told them.

After another bottle of wine, they were ready for sleep. Lydia took Gilda upstairs. "This is my bed, but you can have it tonight," she told her.

"Where will you be sleeping?"

"I'll work something out," the housecarl replied with a wink.

"I really thought you'd lost all your taste in women when you came in with that one," Lydia told Clark, "but she's a lot prettier now you've fixed her face. Or she will be when she's got some meat on her. So do you want me to train her hard like a fighter, or softer like a whore?"

Clark ran his hands appreciatively over Lydia's naked body. "You know I like both kinds, and I've got a fighter already, and more whores than I can handle. So let her decide. She's going to train as a merchant, and that needs a bit of both. I have no idea what weapons she knows, if any, and that might make a difference, too. You need to be lighter and faster for one-handed, compared with two-handed, and archers need all their strength in their arms."

"But you like strong thighs, don't you?" Lydia reminded him.

Belethor has tusks.

Clark took Gilda into the market after breakfast the next day. He needed to check with Belethor about the mammoth tusks he'd asked him to find, and now he needed a dress or two for Gilda.

The Breton trader had a dozen tusks, more than Clark had expected. And the price didn't seem to be any lower, despite the supply. Clark didn't mind too much, and just made sure he got a better deal on the dresses. Belethor had a style that laced up, so it would fit her now, and could just be slackened off as she filled out. Clark bought one of each colour, and some nice boots to go with them.

Then they went next door, to Arcadia's, to restock Clark's alchemy lab. Clark sold a few potions, too, which let him pay for some Alchemy lessons for Gilda. He let her haggle with Arcadia over the potions she'd made last night. Clark was pleased to note that she got a fair price, even before he'd started training her in that skill.

The smithy was the other side of Breezehome so they checked in with Lydia to see what weapons Gilda would need to train with. Lydia already had a few stowed away, but she told Clark to get the best dagger Warmaiden's had. A merchant should always carry a good dagger.

Clark left Gilda with Lydia while he went to Warmaiden's. When he came back, Gilda was wearing one of the new dresses, and the two women were ceremonially burning her old one in the firepit, to mark the end of her old life. Gilda looked a little less starved in her new outfit, but she was still way too thin for Clark's liking. Still, her hips and shoulders weren't too narrow. If she could fill out her frame, she had promise.

She could make a start on that while he was away in Markarth. He had to go and negotiate with the Jarl, and the Guild of Prostitutes, for a permit to open a new brothel outside the city. There were a number of mines in the area, and the workers would need somewhere to relax. He had little expectation of taking over the one inside the walls, at least not yet. The Silver-Blood family had a stranglehold on trade inside Markarth, and that would have to be broken first. They were cunningly playing off everyone's fears of the Forsworn to keep out all outsiders, and Clark hadn't found a way to remove himself from that category.

"Aren't you taking either of us with you?" Lydia wanted to know. Clark had revealed to her long ago that Nocturnal and Azura had made him immortal, so she knew he wasn't going to get killed. But he still needed someone to protect him from injury and pain, and that was her job. And if he didn't need protection, shouldn't he be taking Gilda along for the experience?

"No, I need to negotiate with the Guild, and their officials are always women. I'll do better alone."

"Jarl Igmund's a man, don't you need help with him?" Lydia persisted.

"You'd only get into a fight with Faleen again. And Gilda's not ready for that level of work yet." Clark didn't have to explain what he meant by that. "Besides, the Jarl's almost on my side already. He's not one of the Silver-Bloods, and I think he resents their influence."

Clark departed for Markarth the following morning in his carriage. Lydia was still asleep when he left, and Gilda found her sprawled across Clark's bed when she went looking for her. "Isn't sleeping with the boss a bit unethical?" she asked her.

"No, it's fun! You should try it, once you've got something to offer. You won't get anything from him that way except experience, but that's valuable, too. You'll learn a lot from my Thane."

"I need to learn from you, first. Clark said you'd teach me weapon skills."

"I can make a start on that, and at least find out what you'll be good at, but I'll need to hand you over to a proper trainer, once I do. The main things I'll be doing are to help you practice, and keep you fit."