The towering oaken double-doors of the Palace Hall of Dragonsreach banged open with considerable force, causing no small commotion as the sound reverberated about the relatively quiet building. Even in her panicked and angry state, the magnificence of the hall took Lydia's breath away. In front of her was an impressive stairway that lead to a huge open dining hall. In the center of the massive hall a roaring fire blazed, flanked on either side by two long wooden tables, each place set with the finest shining silver utensils and plates. Two levels were held by six impressive pillars that stood proudly behind the tables. Torches crackled from their brackets on the pillars, casting a warm light along the pristine carpets and beautifully crafted furniture. Looking small but nonetheless magnificent at the very far end of the hall, the Jarl sat upon his throne. The throne itself, from what Lydia could see of it, was set on a wide section of flooring that was raised a few steps above the rest of the hall. It was of modest but elegant wooden craftsmanship, and it was crowned by an ancient, grinning dragon skull. 

As Lydia took another step into the hall, the door slamming shut behind her, she was instantly berated by an angry servant woman. The woman abruptly stopped her sweeping and looked up sharply into Lydia's eyes with an angry glare. Lydia had faced many dangers in her time, but rarely had she seen anything as sharp or deadly as the gaze with which she was now fixed. 

"What d'ya think you're doin', burstin' through the door like that?" asked the servant coldly. "Ain't nobody high and mighty in these halls, exceptin' the Jarl. And don't you forget it!" At the same time, a Dunmer woman with shoulder-length rust colored hair noticed her and started in her direction, a hand laid threateningly on the hilt of her sword. Lydia walked up to he more confidently than she felt. 

"What do you think you're doing? If you do not have an audience with the Jarl, than I suggest that you leave immediately. What is your business in this hall?"

Lydia pushed past the Dark Elf woman, to her great shock, and moved towards the Jarl. The Guards jumped into action, stepping forward and drawing their weapons. Their shields were raised protectively in front of the throne. Meanwhile, the Jarl simply gazed at her, a placid and mild expression fixed on his face. 

"It would appear," he said, still gazing at her evenly, "that you have something of urgent importance to discuss. That, or you've come to kill me." Lydia stared at him in disbelief. She didn't know what she had expected of Whiterun's Jarl, but it certainly wasn't this mild and even tempered man. She hadn't really thought about it when she had burst through the door. Come to think of it, Lydia rarely ever thought things through farther than the next second. The Jarl looked at her expectantly. Lydia took a deep breath.

"It is my understanding," she began, attempting to match the Jarl's even tone, "that you took in some prisoners from a nearby bandit camp just a few hours ago."

"That is correct," the Jarl replied simply.

"I believe one of them was wrongfully imprisoned," she declared. At this, the Jarl simply sighed heavily, as if she had just said the very thing he had been expecting and was immensely disappointed that she had done so. He looked down from her eyes for the first time since she had met him. 

"I am afraid," he said, "that all eye-witness accounts confirm that every one of the prisoners currently held in my dungeon were seen attacking several men. Imperial soldiers, no less. I cannot simply let that slip past my security, you understand." His voice was heavy, as if he dealt with this sort of situation most often. Lydia shoved down the fury that had welled up inside her, willing it not to show on her face. She had the most distinct feeling that the Jarl could see through her as clearly as he could the windows that lined his hall. 

"I'd like to see the prisoners." she said as calmly as she could. She phrased it not as a question, but as a statement. She tried her hardest not to make it sound as if it were a demand, but she needed it to come across as firmly as possible. The Jarl looked at her steadily for a few moments; just long enough to make the silence slightly uncomfortable. Than, he sighed, relenting. "Yes, you may go. Take her to the dungeons so she may see the prisoners," he instructed one of the guards, whose weapon was still drawn and ready to strike. 

"Jarl Balgruuf, you think it . . . prudent to--" the Dunmeri woman said sharply behind her.

"I don't see the harm in letting her speak to them. I'll not let a woman asking to see prisoners frighten me," the Jarl replied. "And no, I won't even consider going back on my word. Not even in these dangerous times," he said, cutting off what Irileth had started to say. Sensing the finality of the decision, the guard sheathed his weapon, but kept his hand on it as he guided her down into the dungeon. As she descended the steps, she heard an angry outburst from the dark elf as the door to Whiterun's dungeons slammed behind her.

*     *     *

Lydia walked slowly and nervously down the dank dungeon hall. The floors and walls were made of the same monotone rough stone bricks. The place had the effect of seeming dark and ominous without being dingy or overly unclean. Every prisoner in each cell she passed glanced up as the guard escorted her by them. She watched them carefully, measuring their reactions. The guard positioned himself in the corner, leaning against the wall, his hand resting on the hilt of his sword. She sensed his tense muscles; how he held his shield firmly in what she would guess was a white-knuckled grip, how his eyes roved constantly around the room behind his full-face helmet. Lydia hadn't fully formed her opinion on Balgruuf, but he certainly held his security to a higher standard than most of the Jarls. With the guard's eyes follower her every move, she continued to make her way along the hall. 

The walk to Reydi's cell was not long. Reydi sat on the straw in the corner of the cell, fiddling with a stone pebble. Reydi, sensing the change in lighting as Lydia stood outside her cell door, glanced up quickly. As soon as she saw her, Reydi leapt at the bars, holding them tightly, a pleading look in her eyes.

"I didn't," she said frantically. "I'd swear it before the Council of the Nine myself. You have to believe me. I swear I didn't . . . " Lydia cut her off with a gentle shushing sound.

"Reydi, listen. I never believed you would kill those men. I know you would never side with this bandit scum, especially not against Imperial troops." Relief passed over her sister's face at her words. "I'm here to see about an escape," Lydia continued in a more hushed tone. "How did you get in this mess anyway?" Lydia asked. At this question, Reydi looked slightly pained.

"Look," she said, her eyes downcast. "I never told you where I went this morning. Or in the cave. I'm sorry." Lydia didn't understand. What was her sister saying?

"I've just been so . . . angry," Reydi continued. "Ever since the bandits killed mother and father, I've just felt so hateful towards every bandit I see. I can't help it. I see one and I think of them, laying by the cart . . . " she trailed off. "That night in the cave. I heard them, and went to look. Partially to make sure we were okay, yes. But there was something else driving me. I didn't know what it was at the time, but I do now. Lydia, I've tried to keep it back, but I have this . . . this hunger for revenge. They owe us. All the people willing to commit murder. There was a bounty posted on the post outside the Blacksmith's when we arrived. It called for the death or capture of a particularly nasty group of bandits holed up in Fort Greymoor. They'd been raiding farms and small villages in the suburbs of the city. I wanted to be the one to bring in the bounty. I had almost convinced myself it was just for the money, but . . ."

"Why didn't you tell me before?" Lydia asked, incredulous. "I would've helped you. How could you hope to take on an entire group of bandits yourself, Reydi?"

"Look, I'm sorry. I've not been thinking clearly. I found them, Lydia, and drew my bow before I could stop myself. They'd encountered a patrol of Imperial soldiers, moving through Whiterun with a prisoner. They had drawn their swords, and I had hoped to give the Imperials the upper hand. I loosed an arrow at one of the bandits. It was a killing shot." Here she looked up at Lydia, a haunted look in her eyes.

"It was a fluke. An accident, I swear it. He was there before I knew what had happened. An Imperial soldier. A young lad too. He stepped forward to fight. My . . . he . . . the arrow had hit him before the bandits got a chance to attack." 

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