As Brynjolf lay in his bunk in the darkness of the cistern, he listened to the water running through the cavernous expanse. It dripped and gurgled as it ran over the rough ground that served as its bed. He hoped that by focusing on the sounds that he’d be able to put whatever had happened at the Riften home of Marieka some hours before out of his mind.
Unfortunately for him, the quiet echoes of the water were doing nothing but allowing him to concentrate on exactly the thoughts he was trying to forget.
He closed his eyes and stretched out to the length of his bunk, placing one arm under his head, and the other on his chest. He breathed deeply and rhythmically, hoping to put himself into enough of a trance-like state that eventually sleep would overtake him.
Creaks and groans of the structure he and his fellow Guild members resided in were not helping at all.
Things seemed pretty hopeless.
He groaned quietly before throwing the arm that was resting on his chest up to cover his eyes. Right. As if covering my eyes will block these visions out of my mind…
He pulled his arm from his eyes and was about to roll over when he felt a hand clamp down over his mouth and a breath at his ear.
“I wish to join your Guild. Teach me everything you know…”
His eyes shot open and darted to the figure crouched immediately at his side.
She moved a finger from her free hand up to her mouth to advise him to keep hushed before pulling her other hand from over his mouth. He flipped over on his side to look directly at her.
“What are you doing here?”
“I just told you,” she whispered back.
“You couldn’t have waited until daylight?” he asked.
“Thieves work best under the cover of night. I thought it was appropriate,” she said.
He sat up on his bed. He wiped at his eyes to attempt to refocus them to the dim light. He looked across to where Mercer normally slept and did not see the man in his bed.
“I’ll take you to Mercer,” he said. “It looks like we’re not the only ones who are awake right now, lass.”
She smiled in the darkness and stood as Brynjolf got to his feet.
They walked together until they arrived at the door of a small room off of the cistern that the leader of the Guild often worked in.
“Wait here,” he said and she nodded her agreement.
He knocked at the door and waited for Mercer’s response. The man opened the door and looked out. He saw Brynjolf and looked past him to see Marieka also standing there. He nodded at the man and allowed him entry.
Once inside, he explained Marieka’s wishes – that she still wanted to be a part of the Guild, despite how long it had taken for her to return. Mercer was skeptical, yet intrigued. He saw the only solution to be her taking on her first job – a job that even the Guild’s best members had not yet been able to crack. Brynjolf protested that it would be too much for her first attempt…that she could be killed. But Mercer ignored his pleas. If she were to join, this would be the job that would make her.
The two men exited the small room, and Mercer sent Brynjolf away while he explained the job to her. He watched from afar as she listened intently to him, nodding and apparently asking questions at points. Soon after, she gathered up the information he presented to her and headed back in Brynjolf’s direction. He made to stand up from where he sat, but she caught his eye and motioned for him to stay.
“Good luck, lass,” he called out quietly after her. “When you return, I’ll teach you everything I know.”
She smiled as she disappeared from his view.
Gods go with her…bring her back to me safe…
The hours dragged by. So many hours dragged by. Half the day had come and gone before she returned to the cistern again. But at least she had returned in one piece. She was injured somewhat, but nothing that couldn’t be fixed up. He gave her his bed to rest in, and sat nearby the entire time she slept.
Mercer gave him suspicious glances occasionally, but he was pleased with the results of the job she completed, so he had no complaints.
When she awoke later, he watched her eyes flutter open. She was unaware of her surroundings for a moment, but then her eyes fell upon him and she smiled.
“So…am I a member of the Guild then?” she asked.
He nodded. “Welcome lass.” He took one of her hands into his and smiled at her. “When you are ready…whenever that may be, I shall train you to be a better thief.”
She sat up in bed. “I’m ready.”
“Are you sure, lass? You were injured. You should rest,” he suggested.
She shook her head. “No. I’m ready.”
He took her throughout the cistern and into the Flagon…introducing her to all the members of the Guild that happened to be about. Some were wary. Most were warm. Almost all were impressed that she completed the job she was given at Goldenglow Estate. She was gracious to all for their welcome…even those who were not particularly welcoming.
“Come Marieka,” Byrnjolf eventually said. “I have one last thing for you.”
He brought her into a smaller room that sat between the cistern and the Flagon. He lit a torch inside the room and retrieved a set of armour that Tonilia provided him with moments before.
“This is for you,” he said, handing her the armour. “You’re one of us now.”
She smiled up at him as she took it from him. He motioned to a screen in the corner of the room. “You can try it on over there, if you like.”
A few moments later, she emerged from behind the screen in the armour.
“It’s perfect,” Brynjolf said as he looked at her.
“It’s armour,” she said, scrunching up her face.
“But it suits you, lass. Just as I think this life will suit you…whenever you choose it,” he replied.
“I appreciate your help, Brynjolf,” she said. “And I apologize for just how long it took me to return. And about earlier…”
“No need,” he replied. “You showed up and impressed. My reputation is safe for now.”
She smiled. “So, you had some lessons in mind for me?”
He nodded with a sly smile. “That I did. And you’re sure you’re ready for them?”
“Good. You obviously have a knack for certain types of thievery,” he began. “But one of the ways I’ve always been so successful is up close and personal with a mark.”
“Oh?” She raised an eyebrow at him.
“Of course. Using your wiles…your own charms against a mark is the easiest way to draw their attention from what you are doing. It also works defensively…it’ll make it easier to recognize if you’re being played,” he explained.
“I’m not…sure what you’re getting at,” she admitted.
“Here,” he said, “let me show you.”
He approached her and stood behind her, wrapping one of his arms around her waist, as the other found her face. He caressed her cheek…her neck…and she leaned back into him. He breathed warmth across her ear and heard a soft sight escape her lips. He pulled away quickly and she spun around, confused.
He lifted up his hand in front of her face…dangling the coin purse he had lifted from her belt while she gave in to his touch.
“Oooh,” she said, appreciating his work. “Sneaky…”
He handed back the coin pouch to her. “Why don’t you give it a go, lass?”
She looked at him through narrowed eyes, appearing almost contemplative. A few moments later, she stepped forward to him. She looked as though she appreciated the smirk on his face, rising to the challenge he presented her. She quickly placed her hands gently upon his chest, running them up towards his face. She had to stand on her toes to reach his height, yet somehow he found it endearing rather than clumsy. As her left hand moved across his cheek and found itself entangled in his hair, her right hand traveled from his face, back down his chest and under his arm, encircling him to land on the small of his back. She lightly pulled him towards her and brought her lips towards the side of his face. He felt them brush across his jaw, sending a shiver down his back. He became so focused on where her hands and mouth traveled that he had no idea if or when she’d managed to lift anything from him. So when she backed away from him suddenly, he began to feel around, assessing what might be missing.
He looked back at her to see her gripping his dagger between her thumb and finger. He shook his head and chuckled.
“Well done,” he said proudly. “I’d never even noticed when your hand got close to it.”
She smiled at him, returning his dagger to him. “This could be quite a bit of fun, I suppose.”
“You’ve no idea, lass,” he mumbled. “Doesn’t hurt if your mark is fetching though. Some are more difficult than others.”
“I’d imagine so,” she agreed. “Not everyone in Skyrim is as handsome as…” She trailed off, leaving her unspoken word dangling in front of him.
“Don’t say anything you’ll regret,” he purred into her ear, suddenly standing closer than she remembered if he judged by her reaction. Her eyes had widened, yet while she’d previously have stumbled backwards, this time she stood her ground.
“Perhaps you’d like me to attempt to steal something else from you today,” she said, her voice a mere whisper. Even she seemed uncertain if she was asking him or telling.
“I’m not sure I could hold back over that again, lass,” he replied. “It could be a dangerous proposition you make.” He looked down at her as though she were prey, towering over her. Yet her refusal to step back made his breathing ragged and uneven. He’d no idea if she was deliberately teasing him, or if she was naive enough to believe that she were as innocent as she played.
She pulled the hood of her armour down slowly. “Then perhaps you’d be kind enough to give me that other demonstration you were on about last night.”
Her words were honeyed and seductive. Like she’d become a different woman. Something in her had changed. Something she wasn’t telling him. And it made him want her even more than he’d let on.
At first, it was a hunt. He was a Nord and a thief…and Nord thieves conquered…taking what they wanted. Yet for some reason, he was intimidated by certain things about her…how independent she seemed…the emotion she showed. Once, he’d only wanted to bed the girl…take her for everything she carried with her. Then…this…
Suddenly the amount of restraint he had shown was washing away, replaced only by the burning of lust in his core. He wanted her…and by the Gods, she seemed willing to return the favour.
Despite the mere inches that rested between them at that moment, Brynjolf wanted the gap closed. He reached out and took hold of the belts at her waist, pulling her near to him. She gasped at the sudden movement…more so when his fingers introduced themselves to her half-tangled hair, crashing his mouth down on to her exposed neck. He bit at her jawline hungrily; she’d make no mistake of his intentions. He refused to let go of the belt and held her exactly where he wanted her to be. This entire experience was going to go how he directed it to. He just wasn’t sure what the feeling inside him meant when he began to consider how she’d feel about that. However, she seemed fine with it at the moment – he felt small hands pulling at the belts and buckles on his armour and smiled into her skin as she attempted – in futility – to undress him.
“Your armour,” she panted, “is ridiculous.”
He chuckled heartily as he loosened his grip on her belts and drove his hand under her thigh, pulling her leg up. Her calf and foot instinctively wrapped around his waist, and as he hoisted her up; her other leg mirroring the first’s actions.
“You’ll get used to it, lass,” he breathed into her ear. “Yours is very similar.”
“I…don’t even know if I buckled mine correctly. I could possibly be confined to it for the rest of my days.”
“You doubt my ability to break most locks,” he said, his thumb deftly working its way from buckle to buckle, loosening the clasps on her armour. She continued to work clumsily at removing his armour, but before she had unbuckled two of his clasps, he was already pulling a second of her belts over her head. He’d been pleased that he’d managed to maintain control of his hold on her – it’d have been terrible to have dropped the woman in his arms. When he had returned his attention to her, he saw the frustration covering her face at her inability to undress him at any speed. “You’re incorrigible, lass. Let me get it for you.”
She loosened her legs’ grip from his waist as he lowered her to the ground and swatted at him. “You’d best not insult me. You don’t know much about me after all. Why, I could have a whole range of powers at my disposal that would tear you limb from limb. Or perhaps I have a hidden talent that could cause you death by a whisper.” He continued to work at the remaining buckles as she spoke. He assumed she was getting at something with her comments, but he didn’t pry. If there was something to tell, she’d tell in her way.
Though he considered just how much she was talking while all this happened. Any other woman would have been completely enthralled by now, putting their mouths to…other uses. Yet he was actually enjoying the banter as they disrobed each other. Or…as he disrobed them both, since her fingers were seemingly of little use in this endeavour.
When he finally dealt with the last clasp, he spun her around and pulled her tight to him. She leaned her head back into him, expelling a harsh breath as he pushed his pelvis against her. Rather than wasting any further time on the front clasps of the coat, he pulled it up and over her head, holding it above her with her arms still stuck in the sleeves. His free hand landed quickly at her hip and wandered across her abdomen; thumb slipping briefly beneath the waist of her trousers. As the hand drew a line from her waist to her breast, he discovered she wore nothing under the armour – and it thrilled him. He heard a hitched breath as she finally slipped free from the coat, her arms falling behind her head and encircling him in a strange contortion.
Brynjolf’s head dipped lower towards her neckline; his lips brushing across her shoulder. Without warning, his mouth attempted mutiny…the most unwise words he’d spoken in his life, spilling from his lips.
“What would your husband think of this?”
He felt her immediately tense up, becoming motionless in his arms.
Stupid, stupid, stupid, Brynjolf!
He cursed himself silently, awaiting a response from her. Hoping he didn’t stick his boot in his mouth.
“My husband and I have an arrangement,” she replied, spinning in his grip.
When she faced him, he raised an eyebrow, prompting her to continue.
“And by arrangement, I mean that I’m ninety-nine percent certain that I discovered my husband in bed with my housecarl,” she said, looking away from him.
“Wait now, lass,” he said. “Your housecarl? But you’ve only just been made Thane. And you said your husband had gone to Whiterun.”
She looked back up at him, reaching up to grab a piece of her hair to twirl distractedly. “Well, I’m…Thane there too.”
He laughed loudly. “It would seem there is plenty about you that I do not know. How are you the Thane of two cities?”
“I’m a bit of a do-gooder,” she shrugged. “And apparently the Jarls impress easily.”
“You’d best be careful, lass. That kind of stature tends to make one a target.” He suddenly felt protective of her and his arms circled her form, pulling her closer. “So…what of the other one percent?”
“You said you were ninety-nine percent sure about…” he trailed off, not needing to say it.
“Oh, right,” she replied. “Well, there’s always the chance that my husband has a twin I don’t know of. Whose name sounds suspiciously like Onmund…”
He shook his head, smiling. “Marieka…you are…incredible. And I’m quite certain there’s something about you that you’re not telling me. Something that…defines you.”
She looked up at him, bringing a soft hand up to rest upon his face. Her fingers brushed the coarse stubble on his cheek and her thumb plied at his lower lip.
“Brynjolf,” she said, “we’ve talked enough. Just fuck me.”
He never required a second invitation.
He immediately threw aside his coat, and they both proceeded to free themselves of their remaining vestments. They finally stood stripped before one another; bared bodies and souls. He breathed in harshly and attacked. His mouth…hot breath…panting, was all over her at once. Bit at her neck…sucked at her breasts…licked from her knee to her inner thigh. When his mouth finally crashed into hers, he recognized his hunger. He felt her reach down between his legs and near melted when he felt the tentative touch of her hand.
Tongues and lips and teeth and fingertips on skin. By the Nine, he could no longer wait to be inside of her.
He pulled her on top of him and they crashed to the floor, half landing upon a spread-out bedroll. She no longer felt the desire to tease him and slid down upon him in a fluid motion. She rose up and fell down along his length, panting and moaning with him in synchronous harmony. She leaned forward into his arms and they rocked together until he flipped her on to her back and took the lead. As he thrust into her, she wrapped her legs round his waist, claiming him as her own for those brief moments. His mouth sought out her neck once more; gentle kisses alternating with animalistic nips.
They continued on until he was spent; he collapsed at her side. Full of sweat and sweetness. Breathing. Shivering. Satisfied.
They lay together in the small, dank room; comfortable enough in the dying torchlight. She laid upon her back, looking up at the uneven stone ceiling; he on his side, head propped up as he supported it with his elbow on the bedroll. His free hand traced intricate works of art that would never be seen on to her abdomen and she shifted uncomfortably every so often when he inadvertently brushed across a sensitive spot.
“Do you love him?”
She glanced over at him, knowing who he meant, but asking anyway.
“If that is your husband’s name…yes,” he said, brushing his fingers lightly across a breast.
“Will you tell him of this?” he asked. Not out of fear…or nervousness…just curiosity.
“No. I’ll not bring him to Riften again. This part of my life…it’s for me,” she said, a piece of sadness echoing behind her words.
“You were married here…in the Temple, I assume.” It was not a question.
“We were,” she replied. A wistful smile settled on to her lips. “I don’t know why he suggested we marry. He saw I wore that ridiculous amulet…and just…I don’t know. We’d traveled together for some time by that point. Seen an incredible amount of death…and unhappiness. He told me how sad I often looked when we traveled. Thought perhaps that he might be able to offer me some happiness. And he has, don’t get me wrong. I love him. I trust him with my life. He’s defended me fiercely, from both physical and emotional attacks. But…I tend to think…”
She didn’t continue.
“Do you think perhaps you made the decision to marry too hastily?” he asked.
“I think that’s exactly what we did. He even said something about not knowing when our lives would come to an end. That we should be happy and have someone we knew would be at our side. And I agreed. I still agree, I suppose,” she said.
“It’s not what you thought it would be,” he said quietly.
“Not at all,” she said. “And now he finds comfort in the arms and bed of my housecarl, Lydia.”
He wanted to end her troubles. But didn’t know where to start.
“Have you ever married, Brynjolf?”
He shook his head. “No. And ruin my chance to bed so many women?”
She smiled. It set his heart to beat faster when she did. “Ah, and now I am counted among the ranks. Another notch on your bedpost.”
“You might have noticed, lass, there are no posts on my bed. And you’re no mere conquest, Marieka,” he said.
“Say my name again.”
She closed her eyes as he did…the smile on her face widening.
His hand landed upon her collarbone, his thumb and fingers on opposite sides of her throat. It felt slightly possessive, but she melted into his touch. As her eyes opened and she looked to him, her expression saddened; the smile left her face.
“I’m sorry if you’re looking for something more,” she said, breaking his gaze. “I can’t offer you love.”
He closed his eyes and smiled, shaking his head slowly.
I don’t need love. I just need you…
He took her hand into his, bringing it up to his mouth to kiss it softly.
She echoed his thoughts. “I don’t need love, Brynjolf. I need…escape,” she confessed, the words spilling out of her mouth as if they’d been waiting to do so forever.
He caressed her face; his rough hands surprisingly gentle upon her skin. She was trying to escape from more than just her marriage. She was trying to escape from some colossal part of her life that seemed to be consuming her. And he wasn’t certain that he’d ever find out what that part was…
“I’ll be happy to give it to you then, lass.”
He was content to be part of the darker recesses of her life…one of her dirty secrets. He’d always lived his life in the shadows. The Guild would offer her escape from whatever she ran from…and so would he. Gladly.