Part 69 - Saadia

Jordis was looking unreasonably pleased with herself when she returned. "So your trip with Illdi was a success, and you recovered the instruments, I take it?" Clark inquired.

"That's not all we recovered," Jordis replied. "We brought back something for you, too."

She brought her hands from behind her back, and in each one was a small box with a Stone of Barenziah. "There was one in each cave. Just how many of these things are there?"

"Twenty-four in all. And I've lost count of many that makes. Gilda will know, she's keeping them at the Guild in Riften. There can't be more than about four or five left to find, and then we'll find out what they all do."

There were five men from the Red Witch's crew with Clarisse and Hélène when they rowed into Solitude docks. "Kematu will have as many men with him, if reports are accurate. And two women to six men is the way we like it."

The two women rode on Clark's wagon, and the men followed behind. His horse was slow, so they needed to make a couple of overnight stops on the way. After the first night, he understood why the women got to ride, and it wasn't just pulling rank.

"Is it like that every night on the ship?" Clark asked Clarisse.

"No, there's almost a balance in the crew, so we only get the chance to indulge on trips like this. The cook, the smith and the quartermaster are all men, and they'll be making the most of our absence, I'm sure."

As they rode the wagon the following day, Clarisse explained how things worked on the Red Witch. She'd decided that it would be a bad idea for the captain to show any preference among her crew, and having a rule that officers only sleep with officers would not have been popular with the First Mate. That would be much too restrictive for her. So there were institutional measures to encourage the opposite.

Loredas evenings were an all-hands deal, where it was expected that everyone would have as many partners as possible. Sundas, there was a lottery, with all the men's names in one hat and the women's in another. The stated purpose was to ensure that all the men got an equal chance with the Captain, but it also served the same for the rest of the crew. When there was an imbalance in the numbers, the rules called for three names to be selected as many times as needed.

Shore parties like this disrupted those arrangements, so they'd be made up of female officers and male crew, or vice-versa.

"The crew are content with those rules?" Clark asked her. "Don't they have favourites that they'd prefer to stay with?"

"Most of the week, they can if they want to," she replied. "But you don't become a pirate, I mean privateer, if you're the settle-down-with-one-partner type. You'd probably become a farmer, or an inn-keeper, instead. No my crew are all adventurers that work well as a team, and that carries over to a lot of other things."

By the time they reached Whiterun, Clark had a pretty good idea who Iman was.

Hulda owned the Bannered Mare, but she was getting on in years and ready to retire. So she'd started to let other people do the work around the tavern. Olfina Gray-Mane helped out with the bar duties, as the place could get pretty packed on some evenings, but couldn't do it all. Ysolda had hopes of taking the place over if she could raise the gold to buy it from Hulda, but she was spending all her time on trading, rather than learning the tavern business. So Hulda had hired a Redguard woman as cook and assistant barmaid some time back.

Saadia wore her hair short, unlike Rayya, and it was cut to cover the sides of her face, where Clark suspected it was hiding the scar that Clarisse had mentioned. He suggested that he'd investigate Saadia alone, so that the number of people suddenly looking for her didn't make her run off again. He was a regular patron of the Mare, although not a frequent one, so she wouldn't be alarmed if he spoke to her.

He sent the others off to Dragonreach to see if they could get anything from the Alik'r prisoner.

Saadia in her room.

Saadia was in her room, off-duty. Clark wasn't sure if he'd be welcome, but he knocked on her door, and she opened it. To his surprise, she wasn't wearing the bar-keeper dress she normally wore, but a traditional Alik'r outfit like Rayya sometimes wore. The same voluminous pants, fitted only at the waist and ankles, with a sash around her waist. A headscarf or hood was wrapped around her head. It covered her hair, and all of her face except the eyes.

Clark was unsure what this all meant, and he needed a reason for interrupting her off-duty time alone. He improvised, and asked for her advice on a suitable present for his housecarl. Something to remind her of her origins, for preference. That gave him an excuse to ask Saadia about her own.

He remarked on the headscarf, when he got the chance. Rayya had told him that it was to conceal her hair from strangers, but of course Saadia didn't wear it when she was working downstairs. And the housecarl didn't hide her face like that, either.

She admitted that she'd got a bit paranoid about hiding her scar, especially when the Alik'r mercenaries showed up. That confirmed that this was really Iman, and Clark managed to address her by that name a couple of times before she noticed.

"Would it help if you didn't have that scar?" Clark asked. "I think I could re-heal that for you. But I'd need to make a couple of Fortify Restoration or Magicka potions first, over at my lab in Breezehome."

Saadia wasn't prepared to leave the Mare, so he'd have to come back with the potions. It only took a couple of minutes, and she was waiting, with the headscarf removed, when he returned.

"I'd heard that there was a face-sculptor in Riften, who could do things like this. But I'd also heard that you needed to join the Thieves Guild first. And I don't want to change my whole face. I like the one I have."

"I can see why. Especially without a scar to spoil it. Now hold still while I work. I don't have enough magicka to use paralysis as well."

Clark had brought his hand-mirror over from Breezehome, as well as the potions. She wasn't unfamiliar with the device, like Gilda had been, but she'd come from a prominent family who could afford things like that. She was just as pleased with the result; and relieved, because now she could prove she wasn't the one the mercenaries were hunting.

He pointed out that although Kematu's men would only know about the scar, she still had other bounty-hunters looking for her, such as Clarisse. That would continue as long as the bounty remained uncollected. They'd need to come up with some story that would close that chapter.