The Song of Deirdre – Chap. 37


The Nightgate Inn


Editor’s Note: I feel it prudent at this point to restate the content warning contained in the introduction to this work: “As for romance, while the author depicts loving relationships regardless of racial or gender boundaries, it is all done in the utmost taste, appropriate for any reader who has attained to his or her middle teens. … Of course, each reader will respond in their own way. Devotees of Dibella may find the scenes of romance so tame as to entice a yawn, while Vigilants of Stendarr may find themselves reaching for their flint and tinder.” Consider yourselves warned. And please, feel free to leave a comment below.
–Laurentius Aaronius


“Whoa!” I heard the wagon driver call to the horses, jostling me from my sleep. It was dark, but lights burned in a building nearby, and Stormcloak soldiers were dismounting all around the wagon in which we rode.

“We can’t make Windhelm this day,” the wagon driver said. “This is the Nightgate Inn. I hope it’s not too rustic for your liking.” I almost laughed.

Then I made to get out of the wagon and nearly screamed. Somehow, the welts covering my body had only grown worse in the two days since our escape, and now they cried out in a unison of pain as I moved. What wickedness had those torture wands contained? Lydia was stirring as well, and now she surprised me by giving a little cry of shock and hurt. She gritted her teeth and seemed to sink further within herself.

I rummaged hastily through my knapsack until I found the bottle of liniment. I had collected the ingredients for it during our flight across the marshes of Hjaalmarch, and brewed them into a salve at the Stormcloak camp where we sought shelter. It had to be ready by now. It seemed the only hope to cure these devilish hurts.

“Help!” I called weakly, and one of our captors or guards – for I knew not whether we were their prisoners or their guests – came over and helped me get Lydia down from the wagon. We hobbled toward the inn.

The past two days of flight from the embassy – limping, barefoot, up and over the great ridge that formed the backbone of Haafingar Hold; stumbling into the potato patch at the Solitude Sawmill; Hjorrun giving us shelter there and a boat ride across the Karth River, after returning us our things stored at Katla’s Farm; the long, grim march across the marshlands, gathering ingredients for the liniment along the way; finally stumbling upon the Stormcloak camp – it had all been a blur, one long extension of the nightmare that had begun in the Aldmeri embassy.

Only one thing stood out for me in the fog of memory, just as it had stood out like a beacon above the fog of the swamps of Hjaalmarch: the brightly lit Blue Palace, high on its arch of rock spanning Solitude Bay. That promontory loomed ahead and to our left as we began our crossing of the marshes, then seemed to watch over our progress as we made our way past it on the south. The sight had made me think bitterly of Elisif, sitting up there in the light and the warmth, surrounded by all the comforts a queen could expect. And how she had treated us! Lydia and I had risked our lives and our freedom to save her city, yet she hadn’t spoken even a word to the emperor to help us in our time of need.

Then a sky rocket had gone up from the palace, a golden streamer showering sparks of red and blue, and I realized it was the night of Vittoria Vici’s wedding. No doubt the emperor was there as well. In that moment, as cold and miserable as I was, and after what Lydia and I had been through on the emperor’s whim, I did wish I had spared none of them. Mara forgive me, but it’s the truth – I wished them dead, that Lydia and I might have avoided both the Thalmor’s torment and that dreadful journey.

“Are you well, my thane?” Lydia had asked me then, and I realized that I had stopped to stare up at Solitude when the firework went up.

“It’s nothing,” I said. “We must push on.”

But Lydia was staring up at the city too, not at the palace, but at Castle Dour. Despite her hurts, weariness, and shivering from the bone-chilling damp of the marsh, she smiled then, and seemed cheered somewhat. I knew she was remembering our kiss after the battle with the dragons. Then I felt only chagrin. Why would I waste my time on bitterness and jealousy when I had so much for which to be grateful? I still lived, Lydia still lived, and soon, trusting to the Nine, we would be out of this dismal marshland. To love, and be loved in return – what more did I need? I took Lydia by the hand and we walked that way for a time, until the rough ground made walking hand in hand too difficult.

Hours later we had stumbled into the Stormcloak camp, in dire need of warmth and rest, receiving a welcome even less cordial than on our first visit. After the events in Windhelm, Ulfric had been wroth with the camp’s captain, nearly relieving her of her command. Now she hesitated to let us go on our way once we had rested and restored ourselves. But I hadn’t bothered arguing with her, I was that exhausted, and I could think only of mixing the ingredients I had gathered – willow bark, luna moth wing, and two varieties of mushroom – and then going to my rest. Lydia had already fallen senseless onto a pile of furs beneath one of the camp’s lean-to shelters. It would take hours for the salve to reach its full potency.

We had slept for a time, and then the captain presented me with a solution to our impasse. I had told her we were headed to Windhelm to see Delphine at the Blade and Dragon, and now she offered us a ride to that Stormcloak city in a returning supply wagon. I had been too insensible to notice as we climbed in back, but now it struck me that a contingent of ten soldiers was surely a very strong company to guard an empty wagon. But I couldn’t think of that now. I could think only of the pain coursing through my body and the relief I hoped to find in the bottle I held in my hand.

Inside the inn, we found Hadring at the bar and Fultheim at one of the tables, in his cups as usual. It all seemed just as before.

“Ah! The lasses have returned!” Hadring exclaimed, but there was no time for more as I cut him off.

“A room, we need a room!”

“And you’ll be glad to know I’ve put those doors on for you,” he said. Thank Talos for small favors, I thought as the innkeeper showed me to the room. One of the Stormcloaks helped Lydia along behind us and then set her gently down in a chair.

Hadring was about to go into the whys and hows of putting the doors on but I practically pushed him from the room and closed his prized door behind him. Then I unstoppered the flask and turned to Lydia. She was trembling in pain, her eyes closed, her lips quivering, trying not to cry out. It was almost harder to see her like that than to see her tortured in the first place. Whatever pain I was feeling, I could bear it, she was bearing so much more.

“I hope this works,” I said, and couldn’t quite suppress a sob of my own. With one finger, I smeared a little of the liniment on one of the welts on her neck. Then another, and another. “Does that feel better?” I asked.

She couldn’t speak, but only nodded.

I pulled off her boots and applied the balm to the bottoms of her feet, where the welts were particularly red and nasty looking. They had taken a lot of abuse in all the walking we had done. She gave a little sigh as the salve took its effect.

I helped her over to the bed and stripped off her braies and applied the liniment to the welts on her legs. Then I had her sit up and helped her out of her leather armor, her padded tunic, and finally her shift. And there she was, as naked as that day we had gone swimming together so long ago, the day I had been dreaming about for a week now. Yet I almost cried out to see what that implement of torture had done to her. Countless welts covered her, from her arms, down her sides to her belly between the points of her hips, and all over her back.

I began applying the balm to all of them. Her skin was as soft as I remembered it from that day in the Vilemyr Inn. Yet, as much as I had anticipated how nice her skin would feel beneath my fingers, I could take no pleasure in it – she was in such pain, and my hurts still pained me as well. I concentrated on my task. When I was nearly done, I looked up at her. Her eyes were open and she looked at me with more recognition than I had seen in days. Wherever she had gone to escape her pain, she had come back, and now she was smiling at me.

Last, I rubbed some of the balm into the scar where her little finger had been. It was a normal wound and had responded to healing spells, but the liniment couldn’t hurt. I kissed the spot and held her hand.

“Is the pain gone?” I asked.

“Not quite, but it’s much better. Just the usual sting of a cut or a burn, not like before.” She shuddered, then stretched herself to test the movement of her limbs. She flexed her left hand, getting used to how it looked with four fingers.

Then she looked at me. “But what about you? I can see you’re hurt as well.”

She took the flask from my hand and began applying the liniment to the spots on my neck that were most obvious. Then she began stripping me out of my clothes as I had done with her. The torturer had concentrated more on my back, and soon she had me lying on my belly, massaging the salve into my back and the backs of my legs. Her hands felt nice moving over my body. The pain went away slowly from each point she touched, and I thought I had never felt anything so good. She kissed my hurts here and there after she had applied the balm. Soon I began to feel a calm, drowsy feeling come over me and the pain subsided to just a slight stinging. I could only hope it wouldn’t come back, because the liniment was nearly gone.

Lydia was done finally and set the flask on the bedside table, then lay down beside me. “You know what, my thane?” she asked, stroking my hair. I looked dreamily into her dark eyes, so close to my own.


“I’m starved, aren’t you?”

I realized it felt as if I had never eaten before. “Famished!” I said, giggling. I don’t know if it was the liniment itself, or being nearly free of the pain after so many days living with it, or just being together after so much separation and torment and doubt, but we were suddenly giddy. We both jumped up from the bed and threw on our clothes, Lydia opting for her padded tunic and I for my mage’s robes, the only choice at hand.

“You’re going out amongst all those soldiers in just that tunic?” I asked. “You don’t want your armor?”

“No, why not?” she asked. I didn’t see why not, though it seemed remarkably unwary of her, and we went into the dining room, giggling.

The Stormcloaks looked up in surprise, we were so changed.

“Feeling better?” asked the wagon driver.

“Much,” I replied. “Hadring, bring us your best fish, and a bottle of Alto wine.” Then I remembered we had no money. In the desperation of our escape, we had thought it best not to burden ourselves with any of the gold we had left with our baggage at Katla’s Farm. “And put it on these fine soldiers’ bill.” Lydia laughed out loud, she thought that was so funny.

We sat at table amongst the soldiers while Hadring regaled us with the story of the installation of the doors as he brought us our food and wine. “Best thing I ever did!” he said as we tucked into our fish and potatoes. “But that’s not the only thing that’s changed around here,” he said, growing more somber.

I had just enough wits to ask what was wrong as I took a sip of my wine.

“I never thought I’d see the day that we’d have a murder in the Nightgate Inn.”

“Murder? Who was murdered?”

“Balagog, more’s the shame. Nicest Orc I ever met, and well spoken for an Orc, too. Paid for his room in advance. We thought he’d just gone missing a fortnight ago, then just last week we found his body stuffed in an empty ale barrel in the cellar. How anybody got in here and did that to him, I can’t imagine.”

“Do you have any idea who could have done it? Why would anyone kill Balagog?” These seemed obvious questions to ask, though I knew the answers. Giddy though I was, I couldn’t see how Hadring would benefit from knowing that the Thalmor were behind his best paying customer’s death.

“We haven’t a clue who could have done it. But strange to say, as we were going through his effects, thinking to contact his next of kin and all, we found out that he was this famous chef everyone calls the Gourmet. I can’t imagine what he was doing here. It’s all a mystery!”

“I wish there was some way I could help,” I said. Hadring took this as the usual kind of empty sentiment and went back to the bar. Lydia and I went back to our dinner, only a bit more somber. We already knew Balagog’s fate, and this news of it couldn’t really dampen our spirits. We ate like bears coming out of hibernation. We ordered more fish and another bottle of wine.

The soldiers stared at us with a mixture of awe and confusion. We had been two weak, wounded lasses when we staggered into their camp. Now, they didn’t know what to make of us. They kept trying to engage us in conversation, asking us about the dragons we had killed and if we had learned anything from the Imperials or the Thalmor. But we only had eyes for each other, often giggling at some private joke between us as we answered the soldiers’ questions. We found their ignorance of the dragons quite funny. Finally the soldiers left us alone, but kept glancing over at us as we stared into each other’s eyes. When we had eaten our fill, we excused ourselves and retired to our room.

With the door closed behind us, we fell onto the bed laughing. I stroked Lydia’s black hair and she leaned over and kissed me. It felt even better than that first kiss on the parapet of Castle Dour. For one thing, she wore no steel armor. Only my robes and her padded tunic came between us, and she sought to remedy that straight away.

“You know, my thane, I believe you missed one or two spots on my back with that salve,” she said, grinning. In an instant, she was up and stripping off her tunic and then her shift. I admired her lack of shame at her own nakedness. It was like that day we went swimming together. What had she said? “There’s nothing to be ashamed of. We are both maidens after all.” At the time, I thought there could be nothing between two maidens, but Lydia must have known better. Had she been wooing me since that very first day of traveling together?

“All right,” I said and got the flask from the table. Lydia lay down on her belly, and I began applying the liniment to the few spots that were still angry and red. The others were nearly the color of the skin around them.

“Your skin is so soft,” I said.

“Mmmm, feels nice,” Lydia said. Her head was turned to the side, her hair covering most of her face, but I could see her smile.

“I never knew a woman could make me feel this way,” I said. “Or a woman’s body. I didn’t know it could feel so good.”

Lydia said nothing, so I put the flask aside. I began running my fingers up and down her bare back. “I suppose you think I’m naive,” I said. “You said, ‘It’s about time,’ after our first kiss. Which made me wonder, how long have you felt this way about me? Then there was the Temple of Dibella. I thought sure you wouldn’t go in because you knew what kinds of things they taught there – things between two women. I thought the idea was revolting to you.”

She was quiet, so I kept caressing her back and talking. “But then I wonder, how long have I felt this way about you? I surprised myself when I kissed you that night at Castle Dour, but then suddenly it seemed as if I’ve felt this way all along. Oh, my Lydia, I think I’ve loved you since you first said you would protect me with your life! And I mean love, not just whatever this is between your soft skin and my fingertips. Does that seem possible? Is it the same for you? Have you loved me all along?” She was quiet. And then I realized Lydia had never said anything about love. There had been no time for her to say much of anything. And then I began to regret my words, feeling I had said too much. “Do you even love me at all?” I asked, my voice quiet.

Then Lydia gave a soft snore. I pulled the hair back from her face and saw that she was sound asleep.




I awoke to find Lydia running her fingers through my hair. She smiled when I opened my eyes, then kissed me on the cheek. I had stripped down to my shift before getting in beside her, and I could feel her body warm against mine through the thin fabric. I felt I could stay there forever and just look into her eyes.

Yet I could see dawn light coming through the window. The Stormcloaks would want to be away soon – too soon.

“I’m sorry I fell asleep last night, my thane,” she said, kissing me on the forehead.

“You have nothing to feel sorry for!” I replied. “We were both tired. And the liniment and the wine, they must have had a strange interaction. How are your hurts?” The welts on her neck were now just barely visible.

“Much better! I hardly feel them. I feel like I could slay a dragon.” Then she gave me a mischievous grin. “Or better yet…” Then she kissed me on the mouth. Her lips were soft as I kissed her back, then I was surprised to feel her tongue touch mine. It was odd, but pleasurable at the same time. My heart beat rapidly as if I had run a league.

I broke off the kiss. “It is morning,” I said. “We must leave soon.”

“No, my thane, you are wrong, it is still night.” She kissed me again, and I kissed her back.

“But the light, coming in the window, that must be the light of dawn.”

“No, my thane, that is the light of the moons.” She kissed me again, and once more I couldn’t resist kissing her back. I felt a curious sensation in my belly and my thighs.

“But the chickadees, they are chirping outside our window. It must be dawn.”

“Silly thane, chickadees feed at night,” Lydia said.

I had spent enough sleepless nights in the woods to know this wasn’t true. Yet her kisses were so sweet I couldn’t argue. “Oh, I forgot,” I said.

Lydia kissed me harder then. Her arms pressed me to her, her hips driving into mine.

Then she sat up and pulled me up beside her, reaching for my shift. As she did, the cover fell away from her, and I saw her naked once more – her black hair against the whiteness of her neck and shoulders, her round breasts swinging free as she tugged at my shift, the flatness of her belly, the curve of her hip, the black patch of hair peeking out between her legs. My heart felt as if it would burst out of my chest. I felt faint, disconnected from my body.

I turned away from her and swung my feet down to the floor.

“My thane, Deirdre, what’s wrong?” Lydia asked, surprised, putting a hand softly on my shoulder.

What was wrong? I could not say. My arms and legs tingled, and I could not catch my breath. “I…” I stammered. “I … I’m afraid.”

“How can you be afraid?” she asked, hurt in her voice. “It’s only me, your Lydia. I am sworn to protect you. I can never hurt you.”

“It … it’s not that kind of fear.”

“What, then?”

“I don’t know.” I couldn’t explain it, I could only describe it. “My heart … it’s racing.”

She laughed then. “Oh, that!” She turned me toward her and put my hand over her heart. “Can you feel my heart? It’s racing too.”

I nodded. Her heart was beating near as fast as my own. “But I feel dizzy, faint almost, and a tingling sensation.”

“It’s part of making love,” she said. “Especially the first time.” She looked into my eyes and I wondered how I could ever have been afraid.

But then a thought struck me, the question I had tried to ask her last night. “But Lydia, I thought … At the Temple of Dibella, when you wouldn’t enter. I thought what they taught there … this, between two women … I thought you abhorred it.”

She laughed in surprise, then shook her head. “How could you think that?”

“But then when you didn’t return on time, and you told me you had been taking a bath … I thought that was just a silly excuse.”

“Oh, that.” She looked away from me, her face and neck turning a deep red. “It was silly, and for that, I am deeply sorry, seeing how much trouble it caused.” She summoned the courage to look back at me. “But don’t you see, I thought your visit to the temple might open your eyes, let you see how it could be between us. And I wanted to be ready when you returned, not covered in sweat, dust, and the blood of the Forsworn. I thought a little extra time at the temple would even be good for you. Why couldn’t you have stayed with the priestesses? You never did tell me.”

Now it was my turn to blush. I told her about the statue of the Dibellan Sisters and about the priestess’s offer to train me herself, how it had made me feel almost as I was feeling now.

Lydia laughed. “Oh, my thane, you are such a child. What you were feeling then, what you’re feeling now, the dizziness, the racing heart, the tingling, even the nausea you described – some call it lovesickness. But really, it’s just lust.”


She nodded. “Really. And I’m glad to know I make you feel that way. Because you make me feel that way too.”

My hand was still pressed against her chest, and I could still feel her heart racing.

“Here, let’s begin again,” she said. “This is nice, isn’t it?” she asked, and kissed me on the cheek.

“Yes,” I said.

“And this is nice, isn’t it?” She kissed me on the lips.

I could only nod.

“And what about this, is it nice?” She kissed me on the neck and nibbled at my ear.

“Yes,” I could only whisper.

“And this is nice, isn’t it?” She moved my hand from the place over her heart down to her breast.

“Oh, yes.” I was looking down at the roundness of her breasts and the strangeness of seeing my hand pressed against one of them, but she tipped my chin up so I had to look her in the eye. Then she gazed at me searchingly, lovingly, to see if I had any objection as she pressed me with one hand back down onto the bed. I had none.

“And what about this – this is nice, isn’t it?” She slid her hand up under my shift and pressed it against my belly, just below my navel.

“By the Nine, yes!” I gasped.

And she went on to show me all the ways she could be nice, until I learned why my mother might have had reason to scream sometimes in the middle of the night.

That was when the Stormcloak soldier burst in, slamming Hadring’s brand-new door against the wall.

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