A/N: Sexual situations. NSFW, and not appropriate for children.
Ulfric’s body lay in state for three days, and dignitaries and citizens from all over Skyrim either attended the funeral or sent best wishes. After his father was buried, Dolff took the throne, assuming the role of Jarl of Windhelm; and although he kept the Jagged Crown nearby, he never put it on.
Coranil stayed in Windhelm for a couple of days to help out and ease the transition. The boy was taking his father’s death hard, and he needed all the support he could get. Dolff helped him in return; the two of them spent several long hours together, commiserating and talking about their memories of Ulfric.
When the time came to head back home, Coranil set out alone, and the trip was an arduous one. He was assaulted by a group of bandits who died quickly at his hands, but not before they managed to kill his horse. It tripled the length of the trip and gave him more time to do nothing but think. Any distraction would have been welcome, but aside from the bandits, Skyrim left him alone to his thoughts. He had been alone for most of his life but had never really been lonesome; but he’d also never had a friend as close as Ulfric, and he had never lost a loved one. His stoic Altmer demeanor only went so far, and he choked back tears several times as he trudged down the lonely road. At times, only one thought kept him going: this road led to Whiterun, and Kaawenyth was at the other end.
His last conversation with Ulfric kept running through his mind. Of all the things they could have talked about, Ulfric had picked Kaaley. Coranil had fallen hard for the Bosmer on the trip back from Yngol Barrow. He wasn’t even sure how Ulfric had known. Perhaps he had seen something in Coranil’s words and actions when he and Kaaley stopped at the palace after going to the ruin. Whatever the reason, his friend had stressed the importance of honesty and urged him to tell her how he felt. Easier said than done. Kaaley was a rogue, a free spirit, and although she liked to flirt and tease, and though they had developed an easy camaraderie on the way back from the ruin, there was no way she would have any romantic interest in a middle-aged Altmer she insisted on calling “Boss.” Coranil had never been uncomfortable talking to females, but he had also never felt this way about one, either. No, it was better to keep things as they were rather than lose her altogether by confessing his love and scaring her away. He needed her in his life, especially after the loss of Ulfric.
He arrived at the General Goods Store and settled in, then took over the shop from Sigurd around lunchtime. He hadn’t been there more than half an hour before Mila Valentia and Braith came in, gossiping as they browsed.
“I heard from Anoriath that Elrindir went to Riften,” Mila told her friend, raising her eyebrows meaningfully.
“It doesn’t mean anything,” Braith protested. “How do you know they’ve even been courting?”
“Of course they’ve been courting. She’s moved into the Drunken Huntsman. What else could that mean?”
“Oh, please! Kaaley is too feisty for Elrindir. She’ll get bored with settled life the minute they get out of the temple.”
Coranil felt as though he had been stabbed in the chest. He had known Kaaley had moved into the Drunken Huntsman; he had even recommended that she do so. But he hadn’t realized she had been in a relationship with Elrindir. Finding out now was overwhelming.
“What do you think, Coranil?” Mila asked him. “You hear things, and I know you’ve seen them together. It’s pretty obvious that romance is blooming, right?”
“What Kaawenyth and Elrindir do in privacy is none of my concern,” he replied condescendingly, “and it is none of yours, either. By now, you should be aware that I have no interest in idle gossip. Did you need something, or did you just come in to include me in your . . . sewing circle?”
“Mercenaries do not have sewing circles,” Braith argued with indignation.
Mila looked as if he had slapped her. “I’m sorry,” she said defensively. “We were just talking.”
Coranil knew right away that he should apologize to the woman. Had she been talking about anybody else, he might have responded differently, or at least been nicer about it. But the pain of learning about Kaaley and Elrindir was too fresh, and he couldn’t bring himself to even speak to Mila again.
The women looked around the shop and made a few purchases, and when they left, Coranil placed his elbows on the counter and buried his face in his hands. He took several quivering breaths, trying to maintain his composure and not give into the urge to curl up on the floor and weep. He hadn’t expected Kaaley to feel the same as he did, and he should have known she would have something with one of the brothers. They were Bosmer, like she was, and they had a lot in common. But that didn’t make it any easier to take, especially on the tail of losing his best friend.
The door opened a little while later, and Kaaley came sashaying in. “Ho, there!” she sing-songed. “How was your trip?”
“It was difficult,” he said stiffly.
“So what happened? What was the big emergency?”
He glared at her for a moment, loving her, hating her, wanting to shoot a fireball at her and incinerate the smug look right off her face, and wanting even more to cover that face with kisses. When he didn’t answer, her expression softened and showed more concern than smugness, and he found he couldn’t look at her anymore. He closed his eyes.
“Boss, what’s wrong?” she asked sympathetically.
“The High King is dead,” he said, barely above a whisper.
She gasped, and he opened his eyes to see her gaping at him. “Oh, no! That was so fast; we just saw him. So that’s why Jarl Thorald left town so quickly. Is Dolff all right?”
“What do you think? The boy is devastated. In addition to having to come to terms with the loss of his beloved father, he has to take on the job as Jarl of Windhelm at seventeen years of age.”
“Poor kid. How are you? Are you all right?”
“And why would I not be?” he asked coldly.
“You were very close with His Grace.”
“Yes, well, we shall not be discussing that today. Report. What has happened in town since I left?”
Kaaley shrugged. “Not much. It’s been quiet.”
“It is never quiet in a city this size. Perhaps you have been neglecting your job and have not noticed?”
“No, I haven’t. I mean, I did some hunting, but I never went too far from town. The jarl left town, like I said. He got back yesterday. A couple of travelers came in and did some trading, but they moved on. As far as I could tell, it’s been business as usual.”
“You did some hunting,” Coranil repeated, his voice dripping with venom. “Might I remind you that hiking all about Whiterun hold with that blasted hunters’ guild is not your primary function here?”
“I know that, but I didn’t realize you wanted me to stay in town every second. You haven’t said anything before. Especially when I followed you to Yngol Barrow and saved your life.”
“It is not about staying in town; it is about keeping your mind on business. I should not have had to tell you Ulfric had passed. You should have discovered it on your own when you were finding out why the jarl left and where he went. If nothing else, I would expect you to learn it just from listening to the town guards. They likely know more than you do at this point.”
“Coranil, what in Oblivion has gotten into you?” she demanded.
“Nothing has ‘gotten into me.’ You have been spending too much time socializing with your fellow Bosmer and too little time doing your job. People have been talking about you and Elrindir, and if they are taking note of your relationship, you are drawing too much attention to yourself.”
“Well, frankly, it’s none of their concern what I do,” she snapped. “They just need to mind their own business. And so do you.”
“It is my concern what you do, because I am your superior. The High King’s death has not changed that; we still report to his son, in case you were unaware. Do you think I care about your antics with that glorified innkeeper? If you want to run off to Riften and marry the bastard, that is your affair entirely. But you will continue to perform your duties to the letter or the consequences will be severe. Do I make myself clear?”
Kaaley folded her arms across her chest. “Crystal clear. But let me ask you this. If you pay such close attention around here, how often does something really happen? It’s not like you stick your nose into every citizen’s business, you know. Or are you an insufferable busybody and I just didn’t know it? You’ve got the insufferable part down pat.”
“I am insufferable? You waltz in here as though you own the place, puffed up and full of yourself, and tell me how you will do your job instead of taking instructions from me. Or you spend your hours at the Drunken Huntsman, drinking mead, telling hunting stories, or . . . whatever else it is you do there. Or you sneak in here after hours, for no other reason than to prove you can.”
“And it drives you crazy, doesn’t it? You change the locks, and I just break right in.”
“Your days as a thief are over, you impudent little wood elf,” he hissed, as though he were an angry sabre cat. He placed his hands on the counter and leaned toward her menacingly. “If you break into my shop again, or if I hear you are stealing elsewhere, I will have you arrested and thrown into Whiterun’s jail. Do I make myself clear about that?”
“You wouldn’t,” she said, barely above a whisper.
Kaaey’s face turned red, and Coranil could have sworn tears formed in her eyes. “Gods, you can be such an ass! I’m not listening to this shit anymore.”
“Then why not go back to the Drunken Huntsman where you belong? If I need you, I will summon you.”
“You got it.” She turned on her heel and stormed out of the shop, slamming the door as she went.
Coranil snarled in frustration and pounded his fists on the counter, then swept his arm across it, sending several pieces of merchandise flying across the room. His fury cooled quickly, though, and was replaced by regret and despair. What, for the love of Talos, had he been thinking?
Kaaley was in the wrong and should have already known Ulfric was dead, but the altercation should never have escalated so. It was worth pointing out but not tearing her head off. But he was jealous after hearing a vague conversation between two gossiping women, and he had been spoiling for a fight. He had done exactly what he had wanted to avoid, but instead of scaring her away by professing his love, he had alienated her by acting like a ruthless commander.
Or a superiorly bred mer. Perhaps he was insufferable.
He needed to apologize. Not now, though. She had a temper too, and rushing over to the Drunken Huntsman while she was still in a fury wouldn’t do any good. He would wait till morning. Coranil went to the door and locked it. He shouldn’t have manned the shop today, anyway. It had been a long trip, and he was tired. If he had just let Sigurd have the store for the rest of the day, none of this would have happened.
Grabbing some dried meat, cheese, and wine from the food shelves, Coranil retreated to his room upstairs to rest, brood, and grieve. But he found he couldn’t let it go, even just for the night. After a few hours, he got up and made his way down the street to the Drunken Huntsman in the hope of fixing things.
Kaaley wasn’t there. Only Jenassa, a local mercenary, was in the pub, sitting at a corner table and munching on a loaf of bread.
Elrindir, who stood behind the counter, nodded a hello to Coranil. “Good evening, my Altmer friend. What can I do for you?”
“Where is she?” Coranil asked, stepping up to the counter, resisting the urge to punch the Bosmer in the face.
“I’ve no idea. She burst in a couple of hours ago, picked up her weapons and some food, and burst right out, muttering Dunmer profanity the whole time.”
“And you didn’t bother to find out where she was going?”
“I know better than to question an armored female who looks as though she’s going to take down a dragon with her bare hands.”
“Blast,” Coranil muttered.
“I take it you had a spat.”
“One might say that. When you see her, tell her—”
Elrindir threw up his hands. “Oh, no! I’ve already told her, and I’ll tell you: I am staying out of this.”
Coranil stared at him for a moment before saying, “Fine. Just tell her I need to speak with her. Can you do that much?”
“That much, I can do,” the Bosmer relented.
With that, Coranil turned and left the inn, then went back to his room to brood some more.
* * *
Kaaley sat in the shade of a large pine tree with her back to a boulder, bawling like a little girl. She hated crying; it showed weakness. Fortunately, nobody was here to see her, because she couldn’t stop. She had left Whiterun as quickly as possible and headed south, stalking through the woods so loudly that even if there were anything to hunt, she would have scared it away before she could even get close to it. Finally, with tears streaming down her cheeks, she had just given up.
She was upset over Ulfric’s death because she adored the man, but it wasn’t Ulfric she was blubbering over. Why had Coranil been so angry with her? Okay, sure, she should have been more diligent, but it was the first time she had let something slip through the cracks like that. He had been so harsh with her, his golden eyes blazing. She loved those eyes, and she had never seen them so full of fury. Coranil was very controlled; he didn’t let his emotions get the better of him. It was inconceivable to her that he could get so worked up over her not finding out why the jarl had left town. It was almost as if something else was wrong as well. Maybe he was still upset over Ulfric. They were close friends; she supposed he could just be grieving. But why take it out on her? It wasn’t his style.
One thing was certain, though: if he thought she would stop breaking into his shop, he was dead wrong. If anything, she would do it more now. Threaten her. Hmph. She would show him.
As Masser and Secunda climbed high in the sky, Kaaley wiped her tears, gathered her gear, and headed back to town. She planned on heading to the Huntsman, getting a bath, and going to bed, but indignation still raged within her, so she decided to make a stop first. She carried a supply of chicken feathers with her for just such occasions.
The General Goods Store was dark and quiet when she let herself in, but a subtle creak of the floorboards hinted that Coranil was home and in bed, just turning over in his sleep. Well, she hoped he was sleeping well after his tirade, because she probably wouldn’t get much rest tonight. Frigging s’wit.
How could he sleep after that? Didn’t their fight bother him at all? She had sat out in the wilderness, crying her eyes out; and there he was, lying up there in his bed, snoozing like a baby. She should make a bunch of noise just to wake him up.
But no. The feather would do the trick. She crept into the shop and stepped behind the counter. She usually just left a feather and swiped a sweet roll or a book or something, a trinket that wasn’t worth more than a couple of septims; but tonight, she decided to make a point. Coranil kept two strongboxes under the counter, and at least one of them was where he kept his change. Probably both of them. Well, if he was going to be an ass, she would too. She would clear out the strongboxes and really give him something to turn her in for.
The first one she pulled out and sat on the counter weighed very little, way too light to hold much coin. Now she was more than curious about what treasures it held. Unless it was a ruse. Maybe he had been waiting for weeks for her to get into this box and find nothing. It had a master lock, but she still didn’t have any trouble getting it open. When she saw what it held inside, tears threatened to well in her eyes again.
“Well, I’ll be gods damned,” she whispered as she peered at the seven white chicken feathers.
He had kept them all, had even placed a special strongbox under the counter to hold them.
Kaaley suddenly realized why he had been so angry. He had kept mentioning Elrindir and the Drunken Huntsman, had even said something about her going to Riften to marry him. Somebody had been gossiping. She had moved into the Huntsman, Elrindir had gone to Riften on an errand, and people had taken note. The townspeople loved to talk. Somebody had said something to Coranil, and he had gotten the wrong impression.
That wasn’t fury she had seen in his eyes; it was pain, and now she knew why. It was the same reason he had kept all the feathers.
She closed the strongbox and held it close to her breast like a doll for a moment before replacing it. Her hand went to the amulet of Azura hanging around her neck. How many times had she thought about taking it off? Rilynn would have wanted her to move on, to find somebody else, and she had promised herself that if she ever did find somebody else, she would stop wearing the amulet. She would still keep it, but the constant reminder of what she had lost was no longer needed. With a smile, Kaaley pulled the talisman from around her neck and set it on the counter. Leaving her bow, quiver, and knapsack on the floor, she went up to Coranil’s room, taking the feather she had intended to leave on the counter with her.
Coranil was indeed asleep, snoozing softly under a huge fur. Kaaley still couldn’t figure out how he could sleep, especially knowing what she did now, but she supposed everybody dealt with pain in a different way. If she had her way, she would never cause him pain again.
But it was time to wake him up. She undressed silently, then climbed into bed with him.
He was shirtless, wearing only a pair of linen trousers, and he was turned on his side facing her, a slight frown on his face. He was so beautiful.
Propping on her elbow, she reached out with the feather and brushed it lightly across his cheek. He wrinkled his nose and pulled his head back, but she persisted.
The Altmer suddenly opened his eyes, and his hand shot out, gripping her forearm so tightly that she gasped in pain, afraid he would break it. In that split second, he realized it was her and loosened his grip but didn’t let go. “Kaawenyth?” he murmured drowsily. “What are you doing?”
“I’m tickling you,” she replied simply.
Still not releasing his hold on her forearm, he said, “You’re—why in Talos’ name—why are you tickling me with that feather?”
She looked earnestly into his eyes, those gorgeous, golden eyes the size of dinner plates, and said, “Because I found the other ones.”
Coranil didn’t respond for a long moment, just peered back at her as though he were trying to sort out a puzzle. “What about Elrindir?” he finally asked with a tremble in his voice.
“Elrindir and Anoriath are like brothers to me, Coranil. Nothing more. It’s you I want; it’s always been you.”
He gazed at her for another moment, then released his hold on her arm and placed his hand behind her neck, pulling her to him and covering her mouth with his. Kaaley dropped the feather and wrapped her arms around him, relishing the feel of his lips, his tongue, and his lean body as it pressed against her. He shifted so that she was on her back and he was lying above her, and she gasped as his lips caressed her cheek and neck, then moved down to her breasts. Her nipples were sensitive, and he seemed to instinctively know just the right spot and just the right pressure to send an electric jolt pulsing through her.
He trailed kisses down her belly and over the mound of soft hair, then pressed his mouth to her core. Kaaley thrashed as he licked the folds, and Coranil wrapped his arms around her hips to hold her still, making her squirm even more. She buried her face in the furs and yelled as her climax shot through her. Coranil continued his ministrations until the spasms dropped off, then moved up alongside her and kissed her, threading his fingers through her silvery hair. Even after the wonders he had just performed on her body, just the feel of his lips on hers made her heart pound anew. Gods, she loved this man.
She pushed him gently onto his back. “My turn.” She untied his trousers and slid them down over his hips and legs, then took him in her mouth, eliciting a pleasurable sigh from him. He tasted amazing, almost as sweet as he smelled, and she found herself moaning in unison with him as she moved her lips and tongue over his length. But she wanted more.
She moved up next to him and pulled him closer, spreading her legs, and Coranil knelt over her and slid inside her, kissing her, devouring her. Kaaley wrapped her arms around him and lifted her hips to meet his thrusts.
“Harder,” she pleaded. Her breath hitched in her throat as he slammed into her, and she bucked against him and dug her nails into his back.
Then the most astonishing thing happened. Kaaley was overcome with the sudden urge to bite him. It wasn’t uncommon in Bosmer lovemaking, but it meant a whole lot more than just sexual pleasure. Knowing full well what she was getting herself into, especially if his feelings weren’t as strong as hers, she sank her teeth into his neck. Coranil cried out, but not in pain. His back arched, and he buried himself to the hilt, his breath coming in shallow gasps. The taste of his blood on her lips and the sound of his moans and cries intensified her own ecstasy, and she pressed her face against his shoulder to muffle her screams and not wake all of Whiterun with her climax.
They finally lay together, kissing, caressing, warm and relaxed. He moved to his back and pulled her onto his chest, combing his fingers through her hair. He examined her wrist, on which a purple bruise had formed. Calling golden light to his hand, he held it over to the bruises and healed them. “I am sorry I hurt you,” he said softly.
“For earlier, as well.”
“I’m sorry about that too.”
Coranil grew still after a while, and his breathing became regular. Kaaley lay there quietly, listening to his heartbeat and feeling the gentle rise and fall of his chest.
She was just starting to doze off when his breathing escalated and became ragged. Coranil whimpered and shook his head, releasing his hold on her and gripping the furs tightly. “No more,” he choked, and he struggled against her, fighting to push her off.
“Coranil, shh,” she cooed, shaking his shoulders gently. “Hush, it’s just a nightmare. Coranil!”
He awoke with a start and looked around the room urgently, but then his eyes settled on her and he relaxed. “Sorry,” he said sheepishly.
“It’s all right. I was just worried about you. It’s not easy to get over, is it? I still have nightmares about the time I was captured.” She reached out to touch his mangled ear, but he jerked his head away. “So much pain,” she mused, opting to caressing the scars on his chest.
“Pain can be controlled,” he replied coolly.
“Uh-huh, until you go to sleep. Did my biting you bring that on?”
He stroked her cheek. “Not at all. That was . . . glorious.”
“I’m glad, because I don’t think I could have stopped if I’d tried. I need to explain it, but I’m afraid of how you will react. I mean, we’ve just made love for the first time, and while I think I know how you feel about me, we haven’t really talked about it, and I don’t want to scare you away, but you need to know before this goes too far, so it’s not just something I can let go—”
“Kaawenyth. You’re babbling.”
“It’s a Bosmer mating ritual,” she blurted out. “It’s not just a sexual thing; it’s more intimate than that. And it’s not something that can always be controlled. There’s just this overwhelming urge to—well, it’s basically claiming your partner as your mate. It’s physical, and it’s emotional, and it’s permanent, and . . . well . . . I love you.”
Coranil abruptly turned her so she was on her back. “I love you,” he whispered; then he bit her neck.
Kaaley’s heart soared, and her head swam as he pulled back and kissed her deeply. She could feel his hardness and guided him inside her, savoring not only the physical sensations but the emotional connection as well. Right away, the bond was stronger than the one with Rilynn, possibly because the Bosmer and Altmer races were more closely related. It didn’t matter why, though. What did matter was that she felt complete for the first time in years.