Part 71 - Bannered Mare

It all went better than anyone could have planned it. Uthgerd issued her usual challenge and one of the sailors accepted. Clarisse winked at Clark and told him to watch the fight.

The sailor was unarmored, and very quick on his feet. He just danced around the Nord, who was slowed by her steel plate, and she couldn't land a single blow on him. "Take off the armour, silly," Hélène goaded.

"Do it. I can wait," her opponent agreed.

Uthgerd wasn't wearing a lot beneath the plate, and the men were all appreciative when it was removed. She got a lot of requests for a wrestling contest from the sailors, most of whom would help her apply the oil, too.

"I want a fist-fight, dammit. And that's what we're doing." She took a swing at the sailor, who had been expecting it, and ducked underneath.

A loud slap made her straighten up quickly. "That's put some colour in your cheeks!" a voice called from the crowd. Two more cheeks reddened in response, and the caller found himself flat on his back with a sore chin before he realised his mistake. That made Uthgerd feel a lot better, even if Sinmir probably didn't right now.

"That's good enough," Uthgerd decided. "Now maybe a bit of wrestling is in order. Who wants some?"

Of the many offers, she picked the sailor who was supposed to be her fisticuffs challenger. It was strange for her to be doing this without a few bruises to consider, but she didn't mind that. She just wanted to let off a bit of steam first, so she wouldn't overdo things.

And she seemed to have set an example for everyone else tonight. Clark and Olfina were on one side of her, and Jon Battle-Born on the other, with her sailor's captain. Everyone in the bar seemed to have found someone to play with. And she couldn't hear the bard singing, so he must have been distracted too.

"So how did you get on last night?" Saadia asked Ysolda, who was sitting at her usual table near the door.

"I didn't have to," she replied. "I don't think my feet touched the ground all night. When those two sailors picked me up and both ... Well, let's just say that apart from a brief spell when I was completely upside-down, ... " she just couldn't describe it all properly. Saadia laughed and took the tray back to the bar.

Clark and Lydia were sitting at the bar, listening to the chatter around them. Nobody had mentioned Jon and Olfina being seen together, and most were recounting their own experiences, which obviously didn't include either. When either name did crop up, Clark and "that captain woman" were mentioned, too. A few of them knew Clarisse's name, generally the ones she'd favoured.

The couple were at Breezehome, and the next order of business was getting them back out.

"I'll just let Jon out the front door," Lydia suggested. "That shouldn't look unusual to anyone who knows me."

"I don't know. If there's only one man leaving, won't people remark on that?"

Lydia gave Clark that look. "What about Olfina? will you be seen letting her out the back door?"

"We don't have a back door," Clark reminded her. "No, Saadia can come down with a crate of wine, and she and Olfina will leave together with the empties. Everyone will assume they missed Olfina bringing the other crate. That means Jon has to leave first, so that Olfina's missed arrival was after that. If I accompany Saadia, then it was you and Jon at Breezehome, while Saadia and Olfina were here with me."

"Do we have enough bottles to fill a couple of crates?"

"Saadia and I will be bringing mostly empties. Just a few full ones in case anyone asks. The important thing is that we have an empty crate for Olfina to return."

Before Olfina left Breezehome, Saadia got the chance to ask her how things had worked out.

"Jon told me that Clarisse was much better at it than I was. And then he suggested that we needed a lot more practice, because I was the one he wanted. We couldn't do that if we didn't go away together, and I know he meant to Solitude."

"Your family will never let you leave with Jon, but they might let you go away if there wasn't any connection. Clarisse and her crew will be moving on soon, maybe there's a way you could go along with them?" She asked Clark what they would be doing next.

"We're all going to Windhelm, to look into the pirate situation. The privateers have a charter to wipe them out, and let the East Empire Company get the Morrowind trade going again. Some of that trade will be mine, so I have an interest in their success. Since Olfina's been seen with me already, maybe I'm the decoy again." He paused for a moment, considering what else he had going on. "The Dragonborn should be arriving soon, and we won't be leaving until she does. We need her to tidy up Saadia's issues, and you can help with that, Olfina. You'll be another reliable witness."

"To what?"

"To Iman's being taken away by a dragon."

"Who's Iman? And how do you know what dragons are going to do?"

"Iman's a woman who looks a lot like me," replied Saadia, "except that she has a scar on her cheek, and I don't."

"But you do have ... or I thought you did, but I don't see one now."

"Exactly. You're starting to understand. And the Dragonborn has a closer affinity with dragons than anyone knows," Clark continued. "There will be a dragon, a friendly one, seen to the east of the city when we leave. You'll see it, too, because you'll be with us. You'll be able to tell everyone that Iman's no longer among us. And then we'll continue our trip to Windhelm."

"What happens in Windhelm?"

"Once you've been seen there, either I, or Diablita, will escort you to Solitude. I have a house there, and you can stay there until you and Jon sort out other arrangements. The others will deal with the pirate problem, which is real enough."

"I think it will work. My family won't mind me going to Windhelm. That's just about as opposite to Solitude as you can get." Olfina pondered a bit more. "If they ask me about my involvement with the Thane of Whiterun, I'll avoid answering, and they'll think whatever they want to. I'm not going to tell them any lies, but I don't have to tell them anything."

"You could probably tell them the truth, and they'll think it's a joke." Saadia told her. "Maybe you'd say 'Mother, I'm going to Windhelm so I can be with Jon Battle-Born, who's in Solitude.' Sounds credible to me."

Olfina laughed. "You're right there. Put that way, I could do it."

Clark thought it better just not to mention Jon. "This trip has nothing to do with him, remember."