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Double Life

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It was times like these that make Lucia wish she didn’t have a sister. Sofia was not her blood sister, mind you, but adopted, like her. Her mother brought Sofia home from Windhelm, saying she lost her family much the same way that Lucia lost hers. Windhelm was very different from Whiterun. The people there, it wasn’t so much that they were mean, but they were afraid and lashed out at their countrymen over suspicions and rumors. They ignored their unfortunate and would have sent Sofia to the orphanage in Riftin. Mama’s face scowled when she mentioned the orphanage. It must not have been a very nice place.

 

Mama said she couldn’t in good conscience let Sofia stay in Windhelm, selling frostbitten flowers on the street to survive, so she came to live with them. They had gotten along great and quickly came up with games to play when Mama would leave the house to them when she could travel. They didn’t mind when Mama would leave. She was never gone longer than a handful of days, and it was certainly better than not having a home. There was food filling the cupboards and they knew how to care for the fire so they were always warm in their small home. Mama was also sure to leave them a small bag of coins for emergencies. Besides, she always brought a bag of gifts and sweets for them when she returned, and would play with them all day and let them stay up late so she could tell stories of her adventures.

 

Sophia was not much older, but being newer to the family than her, Lucia considered herself the oldest. Most of their arguments started with who was actually the big sister, and therefore in charge, before it quickly escalated to scuffles in the dirt. It wasn’t until Lucia had socked Sophia right in the mouth, loosening a few of her teeth and leaving an impressive swollen lip right when their Mama returned from her latest travels that dear sweet Mother deiced that something needed to be done. After spending a few hours next door at Warmaidens, she had brought back a present for them. Two small wooden swords had been held out to each of them, grip first. In their excitement, their hands shot out to snatch the gifts from their mother’s hands. The larger gloved hands did not relinquish the gifts, instead tightening their grip and forcing her children to look up to her face.

 

Orcs were rather scary to most children. Protruding tusks, usually more than one scar along their leathery green skin, and their deep raspy voices usually sent young children running, and made more than one adult uneasy. But their Mama, Shelur gra-Shat, Lucia considered her quite beautiful. Her skin was a smooth pale green and her tusks were white and even as they curled up from the bottom corners of her mouth and inwards slightly towards her buttoned nose. Her hair reminded Lucia of the first snowfall of each winter. The kind of white you forgot could exist after the dry weather of summer and humid rains of spring. It wasn’t coarse or brittle like the white hair of some of the elders in Whiterun. It was soft, and made Lucia think of down feathers when it wasn’t pulled back up high on the back of her head in a small ponytail. Her face was slightly longer with high defined cheek bones, and while she was tall and broadly built, she was not over muscled like many of the man orcs that Lucia had seen.

 

When she truly thought about it, perhaps Mama could be a little scary, if it weren’t for her eyes. Though they shone in contrast to her skin, clear ice blue eyes held nothing but warmth. The skin around her eyes would crinkle when she would smile, disarming the usual frightening effect of her smaller sharper rows of teeth being bared. Back then… after her real Mama and Papa died, and she lived on the streets? Lucia would beg from person to person, but rarely look up from their boots. She didn’t even realize she was begging from an Orc until the stranger had crouched down holding out a small pouch of septims. She shrunk back at first, but once she saw the care and affection so clearly swimming in those blue eyes, Lucia realized she had nothing to fear.

 

The case was slightly different now, as those eyes turned hard and serious. She knew Sophia saw it too as they had both flinched back before their Mama spoke in her stern and slow growl.

 

“No more throwing fists at each other. Understood?” Without turning away from their mother, Sophia and Lucia glared towards the other from the side. Sighing, the mother of the two continued, “I may be an Orc, but you are both Nords by blood. If there is anything I have learned from traveling through all nine holds, it is that when Nords fight, they do so with honor. But there is little honor in punching your sister in the face over petty arguments, so we solve this like Orcs. From now on if you have an argument you cannot solve, you will both fight using these. They hurt much more than fists, but if you are going to fight each other and insist the other has done you wrong, then you may enact a blood price. If you can look at your sister in the eye, and inflict harm upon her, then so be it. If you can intentionally aggravate each other knowing that what will result is only pain, then so be it.”

 

Their faces go pale as the girls look from their sibling to their mother, not believing that she could be serious.

 

“I am not referring to physical pain, but to emotional pain. To think that you would aggravate your sister, your family, enough to the point where they themselves are so hurt that they would seek physical retribution? It should be enough to make you sick to your stomach to invoke such a feeling upon others, let alone in those you love.”

 

The gloved hands finally released the toy swords as their mother rose to her feet, her armor clinking softly. Sofia and Lucia both looked to the ground where the tips of each wooden blade dropped into the dirt as they held the toys loosely by their grips. Both knew what it felt like to be hit with sticks. Not all people in their home city were sympathetic to begging children. Understanding washed over Lucia then. If she were to beat her sister with a stick, she would be no better than those who had been cruel to them before they had been rescued. She shouldn’t be hurting Sofia, she should be helping her. Protecting her, like their Mama does for them. If Lucia really thought herself as Sofia’s older sister, then she had to act like it.

 

Lucia looked up to her mother, who was standing with her hands on her hips and single eyebrow raised, her elegant dragonscale armor making her look far more imposing than if she were wearing her tunic and leggings. Lucia stood firm and unafraid and met her stare with her own look of determination.

 

“Okay Mama. I understand.”

 

The icy blue stare softened slightly before she looked to her other child. Sofia was slower to look up, but also met her mother with steel in her eyes. Their Mama’s stern glare melted in that moment and squatted down to envelop them both in a tight hug.

 

“Now, that all being said, those swords are still yours to do and play with as you wish, as long as you follow these few rules” She held her hand off and ticked off each rule with a finger. “No swordplay in the house. No head shots. No fighting other children unless they also have swords. Only exception is if someone is harming, or threatening to harm, either of you.”

 

“What about you, Mama?” Sofia spoke up, causing their Mother to falter slightly.

“What do you mean, pup?” Mama’s brow furrowed in confusion.

“Well what if someone mean comes into the city and they start saying mean stuff about you? Like those Stormcloaks?” Sofia spoke with more anger than Lucia had ever heard coming from her sister. She gripped her toy sword hard when she thought about what Sofia said.

 

Lucia had only met a few Stormcloaks in the city, but she usually stayed away from them. They mostly just talked bad about the Empire and the Imperials and the Thalmore. There was one man who came through the city to talk to the Jarl once, who was wearing Stormcloak armor. Mama didn’t notice him, but Lucia saw the look on his face when he watched Mama playing with them and the other kids in the streets. She had never known what people meant by “If looks could kill” before, but after seeing that man, Lucia was a little more scared for her Mama any time she left the city.

 

“Oh, sweet thing.” Mama smiled and spoke softly as she reached out to rest her hands on her daughter’s shoulders. “Listen carefully, alright?” She paused until she was sure she had their undivided attention. “Your Mama is strong, and no amount of talk or empty posturing from some nobody soldier is going to be a problem for me.” Seeing the unconvinced looks on Lucia and Sofia’s faces, she leaned in close to whisper conspiratorially “I’ll tell you what. If you hear someone badmouthing your Mama, you come tell me and you can watch Mama take her own blood price on him. And if I’m away, you can keep a secret eye on him. If he starts causing trouble, you go tell my friend Adrianne Avenicci next door. Her father is the steward to my good friend Jarl Balgruuf.” She gave a wink to their shocked faces. “They can make sure the city guards keeps an eye on them and lock them away if they do anything bad.

“But in the meantime, why don’t you pups go practice on the dummy out back while I go drop my things inside. I’ll come out and teach you recruits how to use those new swords of yours.” She was barely able to stand up straight again before she suddenly had a child wrapped around each leg, hugging her tightly. A soft smile warmed her features and she gave a soft pat to Lucia and Sofia’s backs before they tore off around the side of the house.

******

The moment the children disappeared around the corner, Shelur looked over her shoulder towards the market where a Stormcloak soldier stood facing her, leaning against a post. His face was covered by his helmet, but she could feel his stare. All affection left her eyes as they hardened in warning, her hand casually resting on the pommel of her Nordic carved blade at her hip. The Stormcloak shrugged himself off of his post and casually walked up the steps, further into the city and out of sight.