“Would you stop pacing?” Dirge growled. “You’re driving me mad.”
Brynjolf halted his steps for a moment, looked at the Imperial and scowled at him. He then immediately returned to his pacing, ignoring the man’s request.
“Well, can you at least go somewhere else and pace?”
“Gods damn you, Dirge!” He swiped a dagger from a nearby table and whipped it at the man’s feet.
“You missed,” Dirge smirked.
“No. I didn’t,” Brynjolf replied and trudged off to the cistern.
There, he at least found a number of his fellow thieves that were busy doing something other than watching him. Most of them, anyway.
The exception, as usual, was the leader of the Guild, Mercer Frey. No matter how engrossed the man ever managed to become in whatever he was involved with, he never failed to sense when Brynjolf was…unsettled.
“What’s the problem now?”
The Nord eased on to a stool near the counter Mercer stood behind. He leaned forward, lowering his head into his hand.
“It’s nothing, Mercer,” he replied. “Just thinking about…job that I…”
“Brynjolf, you’re not even speaking in full sentences. Please. Tell me this is not about the Breton.”
He looked up at the man and sighed. “Of course not.”
“I have no idea how you’re so successful as a thief, because you are a terrible liar,” Mercer said.
His face displayed resignation. “Fine. So it’s about the Breton. I was positive that one had…something.”
“Oh, she had something, all right. Your balls in her grip, apparently,” Mercer quipped.
Brynjolf narrowed his eyes at the man. “Fuck off, Mercer.”
He chuckled. “She probably just found someone better to do. Oh, did I say someone? I meant something.”
“Remind me why I bother talking to you again,” Brynjolf mumbled. He stood up and began to walk away.
“Look…Brynjolf…I don’t know if this has anything to do with anything, but rumour has it that there’s a new Thane in Riften. Not from around here either. Did some messing around with one or two of the Skooma dealers, which of course impressed our Jarl,” he said.
“Why are you telling me this?” Brynjolf asked.
“Do you need me to paint a picture for you? There’s a new noble in town. Don’t you think that’s a perfect occasion to break into the place and clean it out before the owner even shows?” Mercer prompted.
The Nord sighed. “Where’s the home?”
“Honeyside,” Mercer said. “You’d best get over there before the new housecarl’s assigned. There’s only a small window of opportunity where things will be easy pickings.”
“Ah, you know me. I like a challenge,” he said with a smile. “Thanks for the tip, lad.”
For what it was worth, it’d at least give him something to do. He decided he’d have a look at the place…see if anyone had moved anything in yet. No sense breaking into a house that’d be full of empty crates, cobwebs and dust. He made his way through the cistern, back to the Ragged Flagon and out the passage to the graveyard that only the thieves in the Guild knew of. As he exited, he discerned that it was likely close to midnight – a perfect time to do some reconnaissance work.
As he made his way through the streets of Riften, he started to think about the girl again. She’d been a perfect thief that day in the marketplace. Snuck her way into the merchant’s lockbox and stole the ring without anyone the wiser. She’d even taken to planting it on that Dunmer that had crossed the Guild. Never even questioned why – she just did it. He’d no idea what she had looked to get out of it…perhaps the thrill of the act. Who knew? Why did any thief steal? It was just what they did.
When they’d met up at the Bee and Barb that evening, he’d told her how pleased he was that she’d followed through with the tasks. Gave her directions to the Ragged Flagon even…though not through the nicest part of town. He didn’t think that would have mattered considering how she handled herself. Either way, she showed interest in being introduced to his way of life – she definitely showed interest. He truly thought she’d be back. But months had passed. She’d moved on for certain. Gods, she might even be dead for all he knew.
As he neared Honeyside, a pair of guards stood near its entrance. He waited for a short while, but when they didn’t seem to have any intention of vacating, he decided to check another way in. He leaned on the rail overlooking the dockyard and noticed the home seemed to have its own dock. Why he’d never noticed that before, he wasn’t sure, but he noticed it when it counted, and that suited him fine. He continued along the walkway and when the guards turned away from his direction, he slipped over the rail and into some bushes. Carefully scrambling down an embankment, he eventually found himself on the dock looking up a stairway to the home’s back porch.
There was enough darkness with the moon hanging as just a sliver of light in the sky. No torches or lanterns lit the area either. He snuck up the stairs and found the back entrance, pulling a lockpick from his pouch. It slid easy and the door clicked quietly, opening with a slight creak. The room he found himself in was quite dark, but recognizable enough as a bedroom. No one had sullied the linens on it though…perhaps the house was uninhabited yet.
He crept through the room towards a doorway. A light seemed to flicker beyond…maybe someone was here after all. As he reached the arch of the door, he saw a candle on a table next to a solitary chair. Dangling over the side of the chair was an arm holding a book. The arm must have had a very sleepy owner to have fallen asleep midway through reading, but Brynjolf didn’t care. He tossed a small pebble next to where the chair sat, testing how light of a sleeper the individual in it could be. The person moved slightly at the sound, moaning a bit in their slumber.
At least he knew it was a woman in the chair now. Or at least a feminine sounding man…
He crept into the dimly lit room, his eyes moving up and down the shelves, looking for treasures that could be easily grabbed and stashed. He was daring when people were home during a heist, but he didn’t press his luck that far where a Thane was concerned. A small pile of gemstones caught his eye on a nearby table by the window. He silently made his way over to it and began to inspect them. Placing them in his hand, he inched closer to the window to allow some of the ambient light of the faded moon to highlight the gems. He held them up, one at a time, into the filtered light, examining them closely.
As he was about to pocket them, he made to stand up from his crouched position and felt a sharp poke at his side.
“What are you doing in my house?”
“Would you believe, inspecting it for skeevers?” he replied.
The poke at his side became sharper, and he was convinced it was a dagger.
“Oh, that is rich.”
“I try,” he said. “What say we forget the whole thing? I put back what fell off the shelves and into my pockets, and no one will be the wiser. And then perhaps I look you up tomorrow and buy you a drink.”
“I bet you say that to all the girls.”
He felt the pressure from the blade at his side lessen, but only slightly.
“Only the pretty ones,” he said.
“And you haven’t even seen me.”
“You sound pretty.”
“Oh,” he said. “I like you. You’re feisty.” If he could just distract the woman enough, he’d be able to disarm her somehow and escape this situation.
“You don’t know the half of it…” Her voice trailed off a little. She sounded…distracted momentarily.
He seized the opportunity and quickly reached up with the hand closest to where the dagger sat, grabbing her by the wrist and pulling the arm away from his body. In a fluid motion, he yanked the woman back and spun her around until he was behind her; her back to his chest. He used her own weapon against her, pulling it close to her throat…ready to cut if need be.
“Going to kill me now? In my own home?” she asked.
Who is this woman? Remarkably cheeky for someone with a blade at their neck.
“You’re not exactly in a position to be such a smart arse, lass,” he reminded her.
“Ah, there it is.”
“There what is?”
“Just something I wanted to hear. Listen, I don’t know if I should be insulted or impressed that you are trying to break into my home. But I suppose that’s dependent on whether you consider me Thane or thief.”
“What in Oblivion are you talking about woman?” He had no idea what she was going on about. So he responded in the only way he knew how – he let her go and pushed her away.
“That’s better,” she said, rubbing at her neck. She began to turn around slowly, but the light did not illuminate her face until…
“Wait a moment…lass? That you?”
“For a thief Brynjolf, you’re not very perceptive,” she replied.
“Marieka! By the Nine, it is you!” he exclaimed. “Come here, lass!”
He barely waited for her to approach him before pulling her into an embrace. It was something she had not expected, for she’d not have approached him. When he released her, she backed away to a comfortable distance and looked up at him.
“What…why didn’t you come back? And how is it that you are Thane?” he asked. “I thought you’d have come back. Why didn’t you come back?”
“Hmm…you asked me that already,” she said with a smirk. “I don’t know. I’ve been busy.”
“Gods, woman! I invested a lot of time into you!” he exclaimed.
She moved to pick up the candle holder and began to carry it towards the bedroom.
“You did not. You barely knew me an hour before you offered me that job. What kind of time investment is that?” she said, shaking her head. She placed the candle holder on the bedside table and sat at the edge of the bed. She began to remove her boots as he leaned against the door frame watching her.
“I’ve done a lot of waiting for you. How long have you made me wait? Months!”
“I tend to do that to people,” she replied, tossing a boot towards the wall. “Besides, I was going to come to find you at the Ragged Flagon tomorrow…had you just been a little more patient.”
“Patient? Lass, I’ve paced down in that bloody pub waiting for you to arrive every day since you left. I could no longer be patient.”
She paused and looked up at him. “Brynjolf…why did you expect me for so long? What did I do that told you I’d be there?”
“Because…you just…you seemed very interested in me…I mean…in the lifestyle I was offering to show you. And I spoke so highly of you to Mercer. He’ll likely not even wish to allow you into the Guild now. So I suppose you shouldn’t even bother.” He was stumbling over his words. Like a drunk. What was it about this woman? Was it that she seemed impervious to his normal tricks? Or that she could give as well as she received?
“You seem nervous, Brynjolf.” She continued to remove her other boot.
“Well, you did just catch me sneaking about your home. Which is lovely by the way.”
“It’s barely furnished. Regardless…the nerves don’t seem to be about being caught. Is it…me?” she asked, hesitantly.
“It might be. After all, lass…last we spoke, I did tell you I’d demonstrate another of my talents, if you’ll recall. And I have to say, I’m a wee bit unprepared. I hadn’t planned for the Thane to be a woman. Or you.” He started to breathe easier, feeling his confidence approaching levels of normalcy again.
She laughed and threw the second boot towards where the first landed. “It’ll not be necessary. Despite the state of disrobing that you now find me in, I’m not planning on being bedded by a Nord such as yourself tonight.”
“Well, that is quite a shame, lass,” he said as he walked towards where she sat. “After all,” – he paused, kneeling in front of her – “we are quite near a bed.”
“Yes…well…I don’t think my husband would approve,” she said.
“Your husband, is it?” he replied. He moved in closer to her, placing his hands on the edge of the bed, dangerously close to her thighs. “And just where is this husband of yours?”
“Well, I suspect he’s likely in Whiterun by now considering we both left the College at the same time…me taking this detour to Riften. And since I’ve been here about four days now…” She paused, calculating the length of time in her head. “Yes, I’d say he’s likely in Whiterun.”
In the time it took her to determine where the man was, Brynjolf had moved to a crouching position in front of her, hovering inches in front of her face.
“Well then, Marieka, I’d say he’s too far away from you to be of any use to you right now.” His hand was at the crook of her neck, his thumb along her collarbone.
“I do enjoy the way you say my name,” she said softly.
He moved forward, his mouth at her ear. “Marieka,” he whispered, his lips brushing across her cheek.
“Brynjolf, I will not be bedded by you this eve,” she said flatly.
His arms dropped to his sides as he fell back to his knees again and looked up at her sadly. “I must say lass…this is a great disappointment.” He lowered his head on to her lap, resting on her like a pillow. He could feel her warmth radiating, breathing deeply to inhale her scent. “I may need consoling to recover.”
“You are hopeless, Nord,” she said, smacking him gently on the back of the head. He noticed that her hand did not move from his hair.
“There,” he said, “that’s the way. Make me feel better about losing this battle, lass.”
From his vantage, he could see her face out of the corner of his eye. She looked wistful and stared into the darkness as she absent-mindedly began to stroke his hair. He brought his right hand up towards the back of her calf and placed it there gently. She was so warm…everywhere he touched her. It was a change from the normally icy Nord women he’d bedded. His other arm meandered back above the bed, daring move up the fine skirts she wore to land on the side of her thigh. As he drew his right hand up along the back of her leg, it too came to rest at her thigh under the thick skirts.
He lifted his head off of her lap and looked up at her, as her hand finally fell away from hair she’d been running her fingers through delicately. The candlelight silhouetted her from behind, highlighting the elegant frame of her neck and shoulders. He again moved towards her, as if to kiss her, but stopped suddenly as he recognized a tear had fallen on to her cheek.
“Lass,” he said softly, “why do you cry?”
She said nothing. He brought a hand out from under the skirts and reached up to wipe the tear from her face.
“I must rest now. It has been a long day. I trust you can find your way out, as you managed to find your way in.”
She pulled away from him and moved up towards the head of the bed. In full dress, she slipped under the covers. She did not watch him as he kneeled there, unsure of what to say or do. She reached out to extinguish the candle with her fingers…leaving him in the darkness on all accounts.