Part 77 - Housecarls

"No, being the housecarl doesn't mean you can't leave the house, and you already know that, or the Winking Skeever would be wondering where you are. So why do you get the idea that you can't go off adventuring when you get the urge to do so?"

"Because that's dangerous, or it wouldn't be any fun. And I have to look after myself, because I'm your housecarl. I can go out with you, because we'd both be taking the same risk. Or would be, if you weren't immortal. Still, you're looking after me, so it's less risky that way."

Jordis still seemed a bit confused about her duty to Clark. She'd sworn the standard oath when she took the job, but it had all taken a twist she wasn't expecting after that. She was sworn to protect him, but he didn't really need that. And he wasn't all that worried about Proudspire, because he was rich enough to replace just about anything. Besides, with his connections to the Thieves Guild, nothing was going to walk off without him knowing all about it, probably in advance.

The bit she did understand wasn't going the way she'd planned it, either. Becoming a housecarl was a calculated gamble. There was a good chance for a woman to get her position upgraded to spouse, and you knew you'd be getting a Thane, who'd already proved himself worthy. And they were usually well-off, too.

She'd given that idea up, and if she was honest with herself, housecarl was a better job for her than housewife. She had all the benefits, (at least when Clark was in town, which wasn't enough in her opinion,) and she didn't have to give up adventuring completely. She just wasn't sure how to play the role she found herself in.

Clark understood that, and reflected on how his other housecarls were dealing with the same situation.

Rayya had been made steward of his Lakeview Manor, so she was even more prone to feel herself house-bound. That property didn't have city walls around it, and giants, bandits and wild animals were always wandering by. He'd found it hard to convince her that it was well-enough built to be safe when the doors were locked, and she could go into town whenever she felt like it. But she enjoyed those unpredictable skirmishes, and the house itself was definitely comfortable, so she did her adventuring at home.

Iona had thrown herself into learning to smith. She'd decided that developing a useful skill was the best way to serve. It let her look after her Thane's friends, when he wasn't around to need her, and serve him by proxy. She'd become friendly with Mjoll, and was generally helping to balance out the Black-Briar influence on Riften, which was also in her Thane's best interest.

Lydia was just living in his house and having fun. She appeared to have the balance of concern for his property and treating it as her own about right. Of course, she'd look after his home; it was her home. She'd looked after Gilda for him, too, and that had all turned out well.

Clark decided that Jordis really didn't want the responsibility for making her own decisions. It hadn't taken long for her to decide that she preferred being a housecarl to being Meridia's Champion, although she'd happily use that sword on draugr when she found them. She just wasn't going hunting them unless Clark took her. He suggested that she ask the city guard to let her know when they came across any necromancers, as dealing with those would keep Meridia happy, too.

He set off back towards Riften, as he needed to coordinate the expansion of the stolen art trade with Gilda and Karliah. It only made sense to drop in to Whiterun on the way, and see what Lydia had been getting up to while he was gone. He wasn't expecting her to have found another of the Stones of Barenziah, right there in the city.

"I was surprised, too," she told him. "I'd agreed to clear the catacombs beneath the Hall of the Dead for Andurs. He'd left his amulet of Arkay down there a few weeks back, but when he went looking, he'd heard noises that made him think the dead were getting a bit restless."

"I thought it was his job to make sure they didn't," Clark asked.

"Me too, but I guess he can't do that while they're already up and walking around, especially as a lot of them were put down there with their favorite weapons. So he asked me to make sure they were really dead, before he did the rites again. He'd use the stronger ones next time, he assured me."

"And the Stone was down in the catacombs, I assume."

"Yes, just sitting in an empty alcove. It did make me wonder if the Stone had anything to do with the skeletons getting back up and walking around, so I showed it to Farengar, and asked him. He didn't think it could do that on its own, but since crystals often focus any magic that's around them, he couldn't rule out it having had an effect."

"Did you get a reward from Andurs?"

"Only fifteen gold, but I found a book while I was hunting skeletons, that taught me to block better, so it wasn't a waste of time, even without finding the Stone."

In Riften, Mjoll and Brelyna were waiting with two more of the gems. They'd found them while retrieving the staff for Arniel, or rather Enthir.

"And that's not all," Mjoll told him. "On our way from Rannveig's Fast to Sunderstone Gorge, we came across an Orc who'd just killed a couple of Sabre Cats. We were quite impressed, as he was only wearing fur armour, and carrying an iron sword."

"He told us that he'd been hoping that the cats would have killed him, but it didn't happen that way," Brelyna added. "He even asked us if we'd kill him. He wanted a good death, as he was too old to live."

"Well, after a bit of persuasion, we discovered that he'd propositioned one of the Chief's younger sisters, and she'd put him off by telling him he was too old for her. Apparently that had hit a raw nerve, as he'd been feeling that he'd missed his best chances when he was younger."

"He'd have done better if he'd chosen someone else," Mjoll remarked. "Younger sisters are usually in line to be married off to other chiefs, and have to stay, how shall I put this? Eligible? He'd have done better with the hunts-wife, or even the wise woman."

"I'm not sure he really understood how the strongholds operate," Brelyna offered. "Sure, the chief is the only one who's allowed to have children, but that really means only his wives can have them. I'm convinced that at least half the kids have other fathers. And the older sisters, aunts, cousins and so on who stay with the tribe, have decided not have children, not to sleep alone. They all know that spell, even if it's the only one they use."

"Where is all this story leading?" Mjoll resumed. "We managed to convince him that he still did have something to live for, and that he wasn't told old for it. He gave us a spell tome, as a reward, and Brelyna's been checking it out."

"I don't want to learn the spell myself, but I've been doing a bit of research on it," Brelyna told Clark. "Apparently, it will let the caster transform into a larger than normal Orc, with extra two-handed skill, and the equivalent of my Ebonyflesh spell. Quite a formidable option, for someone who's basically a magic-user, and doesn't go toe-to-toe with their enemies on a regular basis."

"I'm thinking of giving it to Aerin," Mjoll added. "He's really only skilled in Restoration, and wouldn't think of fighting anybody. But that means that bully Maul picks on him, whenever he feels like it. I think it would be very amusing if he got a nasty surprise next time."