The distant rhythmic clanging of metal hitting metal could barely be heard through the walls of the Breezehome where the Dragonborn lay in her bed. The Nord had finally caught a break and was able to relax for the night. With Kodlak, the former Harbinger of the Companion's passing she had taken on the role as leader of her fellow Shield-Siblings, and had decided that one night of peace and quiet was just what she needed after the hellish events of the past week. Despite being the seasoned soldier that she was, it was still taxing on both the mind and body to fight streams of Draugr in ruins and Keeps that were filled with the members of the Silver Hand.
Even still she could not rest, the beast blood within her, coupled with the call of duty to investigate the dragon attacks that plagued Skyrim would not allow it. The past three hours of the night had passed by with Haze simply laying in her somewhat comfortable bed listening to the sounds of the forge next door. Although she knew that the shop had long since closed up for the night, the blacksmith that tended it was still hard at work.
Adrianne Avenicci...the Imperial smith who did not claim to be the best blacksmith in Whiterun, though in Haze's mind she should. They met the first time the Dragonborn had wandered into the city and overheard the woman arguing with a town guard concerning an order of weapons.
Despite not being one to get involved with the affairs of others Haze felt bad for the other woman. She could tell by simply looking at her that she was a superb blacksmith, the perfectly crafted iron mace strapped to her hip was evidence enough of that. Yet she was treated so rudely by this guard, and if it had been Haze he would have received a steel wrapped fist straight to his teeth. The former soldier was most certainly not known for her patience, or tolerance of other’s disrespect.
Still, Adrianne had taken the job of making swords for the Imperial Soldiers, honest enough work, though obviously a tough one even for a blacksmith of her prowess. Smithing work wasn't really Haze's forte, but she had spent time around forges in her time and fought with enough shabby weapons out of necessity to know when one was well made.
Adrianne had immediately returned to her workbench outside Warmaiden's, and Haze approached as though she was a simple customer.
"Got some good pieces out here if you're lookin' to buy, more inside." Adrianne said in a chipper voice that was underlined by her still very clear frustrations. Though Haze was sure she could only tell because she had witnessed the event.
With a curious eye the Dragonborn and ex-Imperial soldier picked up a rather fine steel sword that was propped up against the wall of the shop. "How much for this one?"
The blacksmith's eyes lit up momentarily and a slight smile graced her features that made Haze feel just a bit better about herself. "That one? For you..." Adrianne looked her over and nodded slightly, as if approving of the idea of selling the weapon to her. "Let's say ten gold. Special price since you look like you won't lose it to some thug on the roads."
"You have a deal." Haze said as she reached into her coin purse and fished out twenty Septums and handed them to the Imperial. "I will use it well."
Without another word the Dragonborn turned away, but not before catching a glimpse of the Blacksmith's slack jawed expression at her generosity.
From that day forward Haze had made a point of it to bring all of her weapon and armor needs to the Imperial. Whenever she brought back the armor and weapon remains of her enemies or pelts from the animals that often proved to be a nuisance in her travels she made sure to drop them off at Warmaiden’s. Whenever she did so the Nord often stopped to talk to Adrianne about the happenings of Whiterun, and share tales of her adventures.
Over time Haze had grown fond of Adrianne. At first it had been nothing more than admiration and respect, but after speaking with her nearly every day for the past month that admiration eventually grew to feelings that Haze couldn't quite understand. Romantic feelings were completely foreign to the Dragonborn since she had never experienced them before. The first sign of trouble was when she had to leave to go and return Wuuthrad to it’s rightful resting place in the Tomb of Ysgramor. Because it meant that she would not get to visit the blacksmith for at least a week.
When the time had come for her to leave on that particular mission Haze had ordered her Shield-siblings to wait at the gate so that she could stop by the shop to deliver a collection of furs to her favorite blacksmith. However she was disappointed to find that she had been called up to Dragonsreach for a visit with her father. This was the first time that the Dragonborn had been forced to venture inside Warmaiden’s and speak with Ulfberth War-bear the co-owner of the shop. It was also the day the she learned that he was also Adrianne’s husband.
He was a large man with a full black beard that wore heavy iron armor. On his back was a hammer the size of a baby and even though it would obviously pack a punch if one ever angered him Ulfberth was a kind man that obviously cared for his business and wife. When Haze entered the shop the Nordic man recognized her and greeted her with a friendly smile, and had assured the warrior that they would make it to Adrianne’s care. This was the least of Haze’s concerns, and at the time it hadn’t occurred to her that the feeling that welled up inside her when Ulfberth said “I’ll make sure my wife gets these” could have been jealousy.
Still she left the shop with a blank expression that belied the internal battle that was being fought within her. Now was not the time to struggle with the idea that she might have developed feelings for the Imperial. There was a task to be done. Kodlak’s soul was on the line and she could not be distracted with trivial emotions such as this.
The struggle within her hadn’t been apparent to her Shield-siblings either. None of them batted an eye at or even inquired about the idea of Haze struggling with any sort of emotions. In the time that they had gotten to know her they had all been long since convinced that the only emotion the Dragonborn was capable of was the tempered rage that she channeled when in combat.
Only one of them had picked up on anything being out of the ordinary, and that was Aela the Huntress. Her fellow Nord was the only one within the Companions that Haze could be considered close to. They had worked together to eradicate the Silver Hand, and through this had developed a slight bond. Though she did not ask aloud out of respect for her friend Aela had cast many curious and concerned looks her way when Haze snapped orders at the other Companions during their journey to the North. Each time Haze only faked a reassuring smirk that the other woman didn’t seem to buy.
Now, nearly a month later Haze laid in her bed unable to rest and the melody of the forge called to her. Or rather those feelings that she should be suppressing nagged at her and made it nearly impossible to think of anything other than Adrianne.
This whole thing was completely foreign to her. Never before had Haze ever even considered romance to be something she cared about. It was something that peasant folk did. Not cold blooded killers like herself who knew nothing beyond training and battle. It was no secret that Haze was a ruthless killer. It certainly wasn’t any form of cowardice or fear of battle that had earned her a high ranking among the Imperial army of Cyrodiil.
The only reason she didn’t stay in that position or possibly advance further was due to the happenings that eventually led to her sitting in a wagon in burlap clothing with her hands bound along with a horse thief, a Storm Cloak, and the Jarl of Windhelm. There was part of the Dragonborn that wondered if Adrianne would even continue to associate with her if she knew why Haze had been on that wagon bound for Helgen, and the executioner’s block. It was the one thing that she would never speak of to another soul...
What confused her further was what attracted her to the other woman in the first place. Haze had spent far more time dwelling on this idea than she cared to admit even to herself. Perhaps it was her strength, and not just her physique. There was a fire that burned in Adrianne’s eyes when she spoke of her work, or was showing the Nord her latest creations.
“All I ask is a fair chance.” She often said when the conversation turned to how her metal work compared to that of Eorlund Grey-mane, the blacksmith who worked the Skyforge and made weapons and armor for the Companions. It was this sense of honor that had originally made Haze admire the other woman.
Of course Haze couldn’t deny that there was part of her that was attracted to Adrianne physically as well. There was a beauty in the Imperial’s tanned skin and toned form that did not go unnoticed in the least. The best part of her physical features, at least in Haze’s mind, were her eyes. Though they were dark brown which would be considered plain to most, Haze often found herself watching them when Adrianne talked. They would brighten to almost the color of honey when she was excited by something or amused. Only once had Haze ever seen them when she was angry, and thankfully those piercing ambers hadn’t been focused on her at the time. Even as brave and powerful as she was the Dragonborn knew that Adrianne would be one hell of a combatant and would hate to be on the business end of that mace she carried.
Yet here she was, stricken by a woman who probably didn’t even think of her as anything but a little more than an acquaintance. On top of that, Adrianne was married so there was no possibility of ever being anything more. So why couldn’t she dispose of these feelings? It just didn’t make any sense.
It wasn’t that she hadn’t tried either. The entire week that she spent travelling to the Tomb of Ysgramor she had done everything in her power to ignore the feeling that plagued her. It was hard to describe. It was like the tickle that one got in the back of their throat during the first signs of the common cold. It panged and throbbed but it wouldn’t kill her. When tending to important things such as hunting or swapping blows with the ghosts of the ancient nords that haunted the tomb the feeling faded, and could have been mistaken for disappearing altogether. Yet as soon as there was a lull in the action and her mind was able to wander it raced directly back to the fond memories of her conversations with Adrianne. Or she would fancy the idea of speaking with her again, of what she might say when Haze returned with the glorious shield of Ysgramor that she had found in a chest within the tomb. About what she might think of her now that she was the Harbinger of the Companions.
Then the feeling would return as soon as her mind decided to conjure up the memory of Ulfberth. From there her mind would turn from the happy memories to thoughts of Adrianne happily wrapped in her husband’s arms, and it made her sick to her stomach. This became a vicious cycle that only worsened until something or someone brought her back to reality with some task of importance.
But now she had nothing to occupy her mind, and it had predictably wandered to the same place it always did, and now it was accompanied by the symphony of the forge next door.
As though guided by some invisible hand she sat up from her bed and took the time to don her battered steel armor that she had wore since she arrived here in Skyrim. It had several dents and cracks in it from battles with Draugr and her encounters with the Silver Hand, yet still it remained in tact.
The gentle clomping of her boots on the floor of the Breezehome were enough to catch the attention of Lydia, her housecarl who had been assigned to her as a reward for defending Whiterun from a dragon attack. Though they had spoken a few times Lydia was not overly close to Haze, and hadn't made any attempt to learn anything about her. She was respectful and loyal and that was enough for Haze to at least give her a nice home to live in. Still the Nord woman did not question the Dragonborn as she passed by her room only eyed her curiously and offered a friendly smile as she made her way down the stairs.
Once outside Haze took in a deep breath of the crisp Skyrim air that carried the scent of heated metal from the forge. The ringing of metal could be heard clearly now and with each step it grew louder as the red haired Nord approached the forge. The light of the fire flickered across the stone walls of the city and illuminated that corner of the city like a beacon in the heart of the night. Save for the sounds of the forge the streets of Whiterun were silent, with not a person to be seen unlike the daytime when it was bustling with activity.
Adrianne was hard at work and oblivious to Haze's approach at first. The tall Nord took a moment to admire the other woman as she stoked the fire of the forge with a poker while carefully holding a hunk of metal within the flames that would within a few hours be a sword fit for the finest warrior. It was fascinating to watch her process, the way she meticulously pounded the steel into it's shape, careful to not allow for any cracks or ugly bends in the metal was like an artist with a paintbrush. But to Haze this was far more beautiful than any image splashed on a canvas.
A sword was a work of art that was an extension of both the creator and the one who wielded it. Finely crafted blades were the tools that turned warriors into kings, sons and daughters into soldiers, and adventurers into heroes. There was not a single painting Haze could think of that could have that sort of effect on the world.
It wasn't until Adrianne went to sink the metal into the cooling bin next to her that she noticed the Dragonborn. Most people would have been startled by the sight of Haze's bright blue eyes upon them, or been intimidated by her sheer size, but not Adrianne. Instead the blacksmith greeted her with a tired but welcoming smile and said, "Hello Haze, what brings you out here at this time of night? Emergency metal work?"
A chuckle rumbled in the Nord's chest. "No, my gear is in fine shape. I was just out for a walk."
"And you decided to come and visit the blacksmith? I'm flattered, but that is a bit strange."
Haze blushed slightly and ran a hand through her short red hair as she tried to hide it from the other woman. It was a bit strange that she would stop by here in the middle of the night. But it was a bit difficult to someone, much less a married woman, that the idea of watching her work was more enjoyable than trying to sleep.
"Also, your gear is not in fine shape. I can see that crack in the breast plate from here. One more hit and it will shatter like glass." The Imperial commented as she walked to her workbench with the brand new sword in her hand and set it down to be worked on.
"What are you talking about?" With a raised eyebrow Haze looked down at her armor and investigated the damage, and sure enough the blacksmith was right. "I guess it's a good thing that I came here then."
"It would be if I had the metal to spare at the moment. Every spec of metal I have has been being turned into weapons for the Empire." There was a frown on her face that spoke volumes beyond her statement.
"Is that why you're working late?" Haze asked.
With a sigh Adrianne picked up her hammer and began working the steel sword into perfection, and spoke slightly louder so as to be heard over the clanging. "Yes. The Empire has become more demanding as of late and I've got an order for fifty swords to be made by morning."
"What about Ulfberth, isn't he helping?"
"Hmph, why would he? That would take away from his time counting the coins that he makes inside the shop." There was a slight growl in her tone, but Haze wasn't sure if it was hinting at frustrations toward her husband, or toward the weapon in her hand that appeared to be giving her some trouble. “Besides, I don’t need his help. I managed my forge on my own for years long before I ever met him.” The blacksmith paused for a moment in her speech as she took the blade over to the grinder where she sat but didn’t begin working quite yet. Instead she continued to talk to Haze with a look of appreciation of the fact that the warrior was willing to listen. “Still it would be nice to have a helping hand around here. But I have yet to find anyone who possesses the skills or at least the drive to learn the craft here in Whiterun who could fill the position.”
"I could help. " Haze offered. The words slipped out of her mouth before she could remind herself that the only thing she had ever made in her life was a crude bow that had snapped in half when she attempted to fire it.
This caught the blacksmith off guard as well and caused her to completely stop what she was doing and look at Haze with an expression that was a mix between shock and what might have been admiration. "I couldn't ask that of you, Haze. Not after how generous you’ve been. Especially after what you did when you first arrived here." A smirk formed on Adrianne's features that made Haze look away in as though she had no idea what she meant.
"Don't think I've forgotten about that. Twenty gold was twice what that sword was worth." With her smirk still playing on her lips Adrianne turned to Haze with a serious look in her eye.
It was one Haze knew well. It was the glint of pride and sense of duty and honor that came with being associated with a craft of any sort. Warriors exhibited the same look in their eyes when tasked with something that they felt was solely on their shoulders."Still...this is my job, and I could never ask someone to shoulder any of the burden for something I agreed to in the first place."
Haze remained silent for a moment, fearing that she may have overstepped her bounds with the Imperial. Then the Dragonborn looked into the dark eyes of the other woman, and something stirred within her. It was the same feeling that sparked the fire in her heart when she was engaged in battle. It prompted her to say in a soft voice that wouldn't have been heard by anyone else in Skyrim, "Then do not ask me." As the words left her lips the Nord drew in a soundless breath that she held as she watched the blacksmith's face and waited for what seemed like an eternity for her reply.
The breath was released as the edges of Haze's lips turned up into the faintest proud smile as Adrianne pointed to a pile of leather next to the tanning rack and said "Alright then, why are you still standing there? Get that leather made into strips."
Without question Haze immediately began working on the leather. While she worked the leather against the tanning rack and methodically began to cut it into the strips that would be needed for the swords she stole a glance over at Adrianne who returned her gaze and smiled back at her fondly.
The two of them made an efficient pair as they worked through the night. Adrianne took care of the larger tasks such as pounding the steel into shape and sharpening it to perfection while Haze tended to the smaller tasks. It was by the first light of dawn that they finished the last sword to complete the order. As Adrianne tossed the last perfectly crafted blade into the pile the two of them exchanged their final words.
The blacksmith thanked the dragonborn for her work and tried her hardest to pay for her services only to be denied. Still Haze did not get away without some form of reward. Instead of payment Adrianne demanded that the nearly destroyed gear that she wore be left with her for repairing.
Despite wanting to say no to this the redhead knew that she wasn’t going to be allowed to leave unless she gave in. So with a slight sigh and an amused look from Adrianne who knew she had won this particular battle the Nord stripped off her armor, leaving her in the simple black shirt and pants that she wore beneath it and left it on the workbench.
Back in the Breezehome, Haze sat at her kitchen table with a plate of food, and as she nibbled at her hearty breakfast she reflected on the events of the night.
It had been quiet between the two of them for the most part, although they did talk occasionally about the events that transpired within the Tomb of Ysgramor which the Imperial had been interested to hear about. During this time Haze had felt at ease. Simply being in Adrianne’s presence had been enough to put the ugly green monster in her heart to sleep for the moment.
It was then that Haze came to terms with her feelings for Adrianne. They were genuine feelings, and she knew that she cared for the woman, but there wasn’t any form of torture that could convince her to say it aloud. For fear of causing trouble for not only herself, but her friend as well. No, it was better to simply admire her from the side lines, and continue to care for her the way that she did. By visiting her often and helping out where she could. It was better to keep Adrianne as the good friend that she was rather than lose her to something that could easily be avoided.
With this realization came the peace of mind that she needed to finally lay her head on her pillow and allow herself to relax enough to lull into the closest thing to sleep that she could muster. Until she was awakened by the shouting of the town guards outside that was accompanied by a crashing sound of the walls of Whiterun being hit by flaming rocks hurled from catapults.
The Stormcloaks were attacking...