“My Jarl, you can't just turn round and say no to her, she's a very important woman!” Proventus sighed, exasperated at his Jarl's stubbornness.
“And what am I then?” Balgruuf snapped from his throne in the Blue Palace. “Last time I checked, Proventus, I was Jarl of Haafingar and High King of Skyrim.”
“Yes, my lord, of course,” Proventus said, bowing as he always did when his High King got tetchy. “But this is the Thalmor Ambassador, it would be a grave mistake to disrespect her and...”
“You like those damn parties so much, why don't you go!” Balgruuf shouted, exasperated. “You and Bryling went to the last three quite happily!”
“Yes my Jarl, but I'm only a steward, not the High King, your continued absence is starting to raise eyebrows...” Proventus trailed off, not liking the look in Balgruuf's eyes.
“Damn Elf's barely got any eyebrows left to raise,” Balgruuf growled. “Bloody witch-elves, coming here, arresting anyone they like on trumped-up charges...”
“Sir, I think your own wife might like to attend,” Proventus said carefully, and that did stop Balgruuf in his tracks. Yes, yes she might. Damn it.
“Fine, fine, we'll go to the next one,” Balgruuf sighed. “Can't have our elven overlords get their noses out of joint, can we? Draft a suitable reply, make it sound like all your stories of the previous ones have made me simply desperate to attend.”
“Will do, sir,” Proventus said, sounding rather more cheerful. “Was there anything else?”
“Yes, a couple more things – that Wolfskull Cave issue. Don't look at me like that, Proventus, Varnius wouldn't have come if he hadn't thought it was important.”
“Sir, Sybille was adamant her scrying had revealed nothing in the area, are you sure it's not just beasts?” Proventus sighed.
“Scrying's unpredictable, you know that,” Balgruuf said with a shrug. “And beasts don't cause strange lights. Write a letter to Kodlak Whitemane, have him send some of his people to investigate – if it's just beasts, they can deal with it. If not... well, they can probably take care of it anyway.”
“Yes, my Jarl,” Proventus said, mentally going over the state of the treasury and wearily realising he wouldn't be ordering any more Firebrand wine in the near future if he had to pay the Companions' fees. Still, he'd been intending to write to Adrianne anyway, this letter for the Companions could go with it. “Will that be all, my lord?”
“Yes – oh, one last thing. See if Rikke's available for drinks any time this week. She owes me at least three bottles of mead for stealing my housecarl's affections.”
“I'll tell her that, but you can hardly stop an Imperial Legate spending time with her wife, even if she is your housecarl,” Proventus sighed. Balgruuf just rolled his eyes. He was glad Irileth was happy, he really was, he'd even given them Proudspire Manor as a wedding gift, but all the same, it meant Irileth's attention was now diverted elsewhere and Balgruuf wasn't sure how to feel about that. Irileth had been his friend and companion for years, decades, and it irked him a bit to see her with Rikke. Still, not like it had left him lonely... or unprotected. His own second wife was a force to be reckoned with too.
Closing court for the day, Balgruuf headed for his own apartments, a luxurious private suite in the Pelagius Wing. It had been said to be haunted for years, but Balgruuf had grown tired of half his palace essentially lost to him, and called in the College of Winterhold to investigate. Mirabelle Ervine herself had turned up with an entire team of mages. The investigation had lasted barely two days before Mirabelle had staggered out of the place, clutching a strange staff but announcing the place had been exorcised. Balgruuf had paid her handsomely for her trouble and not had any problems with the place since. He'd even seen an unexpected improvement in Nelkir's behaviour afterwards, a nice side-effect.
“Papa!” Dagny cried, launching herself from her chair and running to hug her father. “Papa, do you like my new dress? Mama made it for me!”
Dagny's real mother had died years ago, and Balgruuf still missed Freydis. A vampire attack had killed her right in Solitude marketplace and Balgruuf, half-crazed with grief, had sent men after every known or suspected vampire den in the hold, a venture which had turned out to be costlier than expected when he'd found an entire castle of them off Haafingar's western coastline. Still, being High King had its perks and he'd rounded a force up from across all Skyrim to slaughter the bastards. It had worked, just about, although if Balgruuf never had to speak to that Isran fellow again, it'd be too soon. But there'd been no vampire attacks in any city in Skyrim since, and Balgruuf had made his peace with his first wife's death. He'd even moved on and found a second, and she'd turned out to be a godsend.
Some had said he was crazy. Some had sworn she'd eat him alive. She'd done no such thing. She had however taken charge of three grieving, unhappy children and lavished them with the love and attention their busy father couldn't, changing them from three spoiled brats into three of the sweetest children in Skyrim. And if some people thought the High King marrying an Altmer had sent out unfortunate political messages, well, Balgruuf could live with that.
“It looks lovely, Dagny,” Balgruuf told his daughter, giving her a cuddle. “Where is your mother, I need to compliment her on her talent personally.”
“Right here, dearest.” Taarie emerged into the main family parlour in her latest creation, an attempt to meld Alinorian high fashion with the practicalities needed in Skyrim's harsh climate. All of which meant fur linings and most skin covered up, but enough fancy silks and clinging fabric to make Balgruuf want to rip the thing off her and whisk her off to bed. As he had done ever since the day when she'd turned up in court in one, asking the Jarl's opinion and did any of his household want to place an order?
It hadn't been the dress he'd wanted, but he'd sent the kids over the next day to get outfitted, started making excuses to go over himself, and one thing had led to another. He hadn't thought he'd ever marry an elf, still less an Altmer, but on the day he'd said his vows to her in the Temple of Divines, he'd been the happiest man in Skyrim.
If it meant occasionally having to swallow his pride and escort his beautiful wife to parties at the cursed Thalmor Embassy, then Balgruuf considered that a small price to pay.