Laila worships Anuriel.
Many that come to Mistveil Keep see her as a sort of glorified servant, there to answer questions and do as asked. But Laila knows Anuriel, knows her intimately, inside and out, and she knows that, if she were dying, she would name Anuriel her successor in a heartbeat. Anuriel is good, and wry, and sees much. Without her, Laila would not be Jarl Laila Law-Giver - she would still be the skinny, sickly woman she was for the year after her husband's death.
Laila wishes she could show Anuriel all that she feels, but Anuriel does not want to hear it. Some things she permits - things like kissing and touching and taking each other apart - but she never sleeps in Laila's bed, never looks at her the way she does late at night, soft and wondrous, if anyone else is about.
Maybe it should be a secret, but Laila hates whispers and sneaking. This is Riften - if the Jarl herself is not truthful than who shall be? Nor does Laila like being used, as she feels sometimes when Anuriel leaves her chambers too soon afterwards, without a word of goodbye, or convinces her, not with logic and words, but with talented golden fingers and a deft tongue. But whenever she brings it up, she is silenced with a kiss, or a hasty departure. She lets herself be distracted. She treasures Anuriel too strongly to risk losing her.
Laila makes a mistake.
It's quiet, soft enough that Anuriel might not hear, but she does. It is whispered across the golden skin of her neck, whispered between kisses, because Laila has been thinking it, screaming it in her head between one guest and another, watching her lover in the chair beside her own and crying it with her gaze.
But she has never said it aloud.
It is a mistake, because Anuriel does not want to hear it. It slips out against Laila's will, and she cringes when she feels Anuriel stiffen and draw back.
"I am sorry, Anuriel, please-" she begins, but Anuriel shakes her head.
"No, Laila," she snaps, backing away. "You do not love me." She turns to the door, hesitates with her hand on the wood."You must not."
She is gone before Laila can ask what she means.
Laila stays up for the rest of the night, berating herself and cursing her treacherous tongue. She paces her room, stares into the fire, even ventures out onto the balcony to gaze out at her city. She sits on her bed with her legs folded, as if she were a girl again, and resolutely does not cry.
When it is morning, she dresses, makes her way downstairs, and takes her seat in the ornate throne reserved for her. Anuriel is already seated, back straight and head held high as always. She does not look at Laila even when she takes her place beside her.
She does not look at Laila at all that day, and speaks only when she must. Laila tries to tell herself that she might be ill, or her mind might be elsewhere, but she knows that it is her fault, and her lapse may have cost her something very precious.
She struggles to stay awake all day, the missed sleep of the previous night catching up with her, but that night she resolves to wait again, all night if she has to, just in case Anuriel comes. She lasts until midnight, then falls asleep in front of the fire, Surfeit of Thieves falling from her hands to the polished floor.
Anuriel does not come.