It was the second time that day that he had found himself standing at Marieka’s doorstep…hesitating. To be honest, he wasn’t even sure if she were inside. He hadn’t chased her when she ran off after the confrontation with the guards. He didn’t think that would be what she wanted. He wasn’t even sure if she’d have wanted him there at that moment, but he had to try. She couldn’t be alone – it wasn’t right.
Is this what she had been running from since he’d met her?
He moved towards the railing that allowed a view of Lake Honrich and leaned against it, staring off at nothing in particular. The day that had been beautiful, clear and full of sunshine was starting to change – a typical occurrence for Riften. He could see the clouds rolling in across the lake, headed towards the city. Soon enough it would be raining and the fog would form again, ushering in the darkness of night.
He turned around and stared at the door again. He doubted she’d even respond if he knocked. He looked up towards the sky for a moment, wondering why he kept debating about this. He should just…knock.
As he looked ahead down the path between Honeyside and the bunkhouse it neighboured, he noticed something moving around in what appeared to be her property’s side yard. He inclined his neck to the side to see past the obstruction of a small stone fence, but whatever had moved was gone. Creeping quietly towards the yard, he quickly crouched down until he reached the fence. Slowly, he stood up to peer over the fence to see…a chicken? Talos, he was chasing a chicken now? He shook his head, but as he watched the bird briefly, he noticed its surroundings. Marieka had a small garden full of vegetables and flowers – no doubt useful in both cooking and alchemy. He surveyed the plants when one caught his eye. Its petals blazed the colour of flames and it appeared to have a small bird flying out of its centre. It was something he’d rarely seen, especially in Riften. He walked towards the plant and snapped one of its stems off. He wasn’t going to be romantic…and he didn’t know if she was the type of woman who liked to be presented with gifts of flowers, but by the gods, if he could take her mind off of what had just transpired for a moment, then it would be worth it.
He returned to the front door of her home, took a deep breath and knocked on the door. Not too loudly, but not quietly enough to be missed. When some time had passed with no response, he tried again. Louder this time. More insistent.
“Marieka!” he called through the door. “I know you’re in there. Please let me in. I just want to talk to you…”
Actually, I don’t know if you’re in there. If I really wanted, I could let myself in. And to be honest, there are a few things that don’t involve talking I could think of if you really want to forget what happened…
He gripped the flower in his hand loosely as he continued to wait.
“Come on, lass. I still have your supplies from the market out here.”
He fidgeted nervously, trying to avoid the gaze of a passing guard.
Yet still…no answer…
He pressed up close to the door and lowered his voice.
The sound of shuffling could be heard from within.
“Go away, Brynjolf.”
He heaved a sigh of relief. At least I know she’s here…
“Why won’t you let me in, lass?” he asked.
“Why do you need me to let you in? Why don’t you just break in like you did the first time?” she spat through the door.
“Ouch. That one hurt.”
“So tell me you don’t deserve it,” she replied.
“I’m not saying I didn’t,” he said.
He pulled away from the door slightly. She continued to remain silent.
“Can I at least bring your supplies in? If you don’t want me to stay once I’ve done that, then I’ll go,” he offered. It would at least give him a chance to try…something…
Several long moments later, the door handle turned and the door slowly opened. She stood inside, holding the door open, but did not look at him. He bent over and picked up the supplies he’d been carrying for her when she’d run off from him and entered the house.
“Thank you,” he said. He looked at her – her eyes were bloodshot. She’d had plenty of time to cry. He hadn’t immediately gone to her home after she ran. Instead he found a bench in the market and sat down on it, replaying what had happened. Gods only know how long he sat there.
Rather than commenting on the obvious, he continued into the house. Despite not having any idea where anything was supposed to go, he began to unpack her purchases, finding new homes for each of the items along the way.
He tried not to notice as she all but glared at him from the door.
“I suppose you aren’t going to be leaving anytime soon,” she said, though not necessarily to him. Without waiting for his response, she pushed the door hard, letting it slam shut.
As he continued to place items where he saw fit, he noticed that she was shadowing his movements and correcting their placement in frustration. He smiled to himself and stifled a chuckle. He didn’t mean to laugh at her expense, but her movements had all been accompanied by groans and growls that he couldn’t help but find terribly charming. Eventually she grabbed a rather small phial of some sort of concoction out of his hands and pushed him aside.
“Just…leave it,” she hissed through her teeth.
He attempted with all he had in him to keep a straight face when she glared at him, but his façade was starting to crack. She stopped with clenched fists and looked at him dead on.
“Oh, this is funny now?”
“I have to admit, lass…it is a little bit funny,” he replied.
She growled and looked away from him, suddenly noticing the flower he’d placed on the table.
“Well aren’t you just full of jokes today?” She picked up the flower and shoved it into his face. “How could you? After everything you just saw, how could you bring this in here?”
She looked to be on the verge of tears; her lip trembled as she stared at him.
“Marieka, what’s wrong? I…what do you mean? Do you not like flowers?” he sputtered, uncertain why she was enraged over the flower.
“Dragon’s tongue, Brynjolf? Really?” she exclaimed. “Out of anyone, I never imagined that you’d be so cruel.”
“I didn’t know that’s what it was…I wouldn’t have brought it if…” he whispered hoarsely, letting his statement fall incomplete.
She tossed the flower to the ground and stormed off towards her bedchamber, but he reached for her arm and caught her by the wrist before she made it out of his grasp. As gently as he could, he grabbed her other wrist and pulled her towards him, wrapping his arms around her and holding her in place. He felt her anger manifest into shakes and sobs as she protested his hold and beat her small fists against his chest.
“I didn’t want you to know…you weren’t ever supposed to know. This was going to be my one place…my one place where I was just a girl. Just a Breton girl. Why does this curse have to plague me like this? Why can’t I just be…”
Her voice trailed off as she wept into his chest. Her fingers gripped his coat tightly and she would have collapsed to the floor had he not held her up. He felt helpless. What answers did she seek? Was he even to be the one to give her those answers? She was pouring her heart out to him and he couldn’t even come up with a single word in response.
So he continued to hold her tight. He ran his hand lightly atop her head, stroking her hair softly. Gods, it felt incredible to be so close to her again. Under better circumstances perhaps…it could have been so much more.
He leaned his head forward, bringing his mouth close to the side of her head. “Marieka…I’m sorry…”
She continued to sob and began to shake her head.
“No,” she said quietly, trying to force back the tears. “No, it’s not your fault. I shouldn’t have…my anger, I shouldn’t have taken this out on you. I’m the one who should be sorry.”
He pulled back from her, placing his hands at the side of her face. “You take out whatever you need to on me. You remember that, lass. I’m here to be whatever you need me to be.”
She closed her eyes as he pulled her under his arm and led her to a nearby chair. He sat her down and retrieved another chair for himself, pulling it directly across from where she sat. As he sat on the edge of it, he leaned forward and took her hands into his. She looked back up at him.
“I didn’t mean to yell at you. You’ve always been so kind to me. What a way to repay that kindness,” she muttered.
He shook his head. “Aye lass, but you forget that I was going to rob you blind when we first met.”
A glimmer of a smile met her lips. “Yes, I remember.”
“See now, that’s better. You’re so pretty when you smile,” he said, placing a hand at her cheek momentarily.
“Brynjolf, I…I didn’t want to tell you what I was. I never wanted you to know,” she said sadly.
“Why? Why didn’t you want me to know?” he asked.
“Because, you…never expected anything beyond what you saw. You treated me normally. You don’t look at me like I have another head. You don’t look at me with fear in your eyes like some of the others do…as though I’m going to shout them to death just because I can. Even…” – she paused, sighing – “…even Onmund can’t help but look fearful most days. It’s never the same once people know. And I didn’t want things to change. I was happy with the way things were.”
“Things don’t have to change,” he said. “Nothing has to change at all.”
“But it will,” she protested. “It always does.”
“Marieka…look at me,” he said. She looked into his eyes, nervous about what she’d find. “Do you see fear? Do you see anything there that wasn’t there before?”
After a moment, she shook her head.
“And what makes you think that will change tonight? Or tomorrow? Or a fortnight from now?” he asked.
“Listen,” he interrupted. “I told you I would give you the escape you needed. And I meant that. Don’t go running from me now, just because I know something more about you than you wanted me to. I’m here for you, Marieka. I will be as long as you need me.”
Without a second’s hesitation, she stepped from her seat and leapt towards him, throwing her arms around his neck; her legs landing on either side of his. Her lips claimed his immediately. Shocked by her action, it took Brynjolf a moment to reconcile what had just happened, but he quickly recovered. He felt her hands move up into his hair as his moved to her hips. She placed hurried kisses on his neck, pulling herself closer to him, but then…stopped.
He felt her forehead drop to his shoulder, and he pulled back from her a bit. He placed his hand on the back of her head gently.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
She looked up at him. “Nothing,” she replied. “I…I should go to Maven. She’ll not like to be kept waiting any longer than she has to.”
“No,” he began, “I suppose not.” He paused as she lifted herself off of him awkwardly. “Perhaps you’ll stop by the Flagon when you’ve finished with her?”
“Oh,” she said, disappointment in her voice. “I…suppose I could do that.”
“Lass, you don’t have to if you don’t want to,” he advised.
“I guess I just hoped that…you might stay here until I returned.” Her eyes were full of something he’d not seen for a while from her. Hope.
“You don’t mind?” he asked. “Because to be honest, I’d rather not head back there yet. Mercer’s in another of his foul moods and I’m liable to have my head bit off if I return with no news from you about Maven.”
“I don’t mind at all. Provided you don’t steal anything from me,” she said, narrowing her eyes at him. For a moment, he thought she was serious. It was then that he realized she was.
“Ah, I lost my desire to do that to you a long time ago,” he admitted. “Besides, you’re with the Guild now. We don’t cross each other. That’s not the way of things.”
She smiled briefly. She looked down and picked up the flower that she’d thrown to the ground earlier. “I’m sorry again about…this,” she said. “This was a…very nice gesture. It is a really interesting flower.”
“It seems full of secrets,” he replied. “Just like you.”
“We all have our secrets, Brynjolf,” she said. “Some of us just aren’t as lucky about keeping them.”
He reached out for her hand and squeezed it as she stood in front of him. “Good luck with Maven,” he said. “I’ll be here when you get back.”
Sometime after Marieka left to meet with Maven, Brynjolf had finished putting the rest of her supplies away – hoping at least that he had found better homes for them than previously. He wandered around her small home, eyeing some of the items she’d collected since she purchased it. There were all manner of interesting weapons and books and scads of alchemical ingredients about the house.
She was hardly here – he had no idea why she had so much junk just lying around. He considered that she was lucky she had joined the Guild. Place like this would have unquestioningly been a huge target.
He continued to look around, his eyes falling upon her bed. It looked incredibly inviting and he pushed down on it a little. It gave way as he applied pressure to it, yet it did not yield completely. It was tempting him to crash down on to it; to stretch out across it and just rest. And why not? With Maven Black-Briar, Marieka could be gone for hours, sent off on some ridiculous task to satisfy the woman’s whims and demands for immediate resolution.
He lowered himself until he was sitting at the edge of the bed. It was comfortable. Much more so than the bunk he slept in nightly. Or rather, tossed and turned in nightly. It couldn’t hurt to close his eyes for a few moments while she was off meeting with Maven. But it wouldn’t do to keep his boots on. He’d dirty the linens – which would be incredibly rude of him. He eased them off and placed them against the wardrobe. He pushed himself further back on to the bed, lifting his legs up and extending them across it. As he stretched out, he lay back slowly, his head landing on a soft pillow. The bed was an experience that he rarely had; only finding it during rare conquests of particularly wealthy marks. Riften’s walls didn’t hold many of those anymore, and as second to the Guild, he rarely travelled. This…this was an experience he was treasuring.
There was a small fire in the nearby hearth that spread warmth throughout the room, and as he lay there, his eyes closed. He put his arms behind his head and sighed.
I could become accustomed to this…
I didn’t want to tell you what I was. I never wanted you to know.
His eyes opened.
He had never felt so warm and comfortable in a long time. He was under a blanket and furs, and the dim light of burning embers caught his eye. He rubbed at his eyes, yawning a little and began to take in his surroundings. Then he remembered where he was – Marieka’s bed. Oh, he was right about this bed. He had no idea how long he slept, but the bed was so comfortable, it felt like hours. He rolled over and could see no light filtering in through the windows, so night had fallen at least. He continued to roll and his eyes fell upon her form, silhouetted by the light of a dying candle. She was partially under the cover, with a fur draped over her shoulders. Still in a seated position, a book lay in her lap, but she had long since fallen asleep while reading it. He smiled, thinking it was likely something she did often. Her head was slumped over after her neck had given up on holding it straight. Strands of hair shimmered where they lay across her face as weak candlelight beside her and the fading fire in the hearth merged and their light danced shadows upon her.
Carefully, so not to disturb her, he elevated himself slightly, moving the book from where it sat on her lap and placing it on the bedside table. He slid his arms under her back and her legs, easing her down until she was no longer sitting, but laying down with her head on a pillow. The sleeping robe she wore barely reached her lower thighs and was tied loosely at her waist, causing him to start momentarily when he noticed. Her breath sputtered quietly and she moaned a little in response to the movement, but quickly settled back into sleep. He thought to leave her there so she would sleep, and slipped out from under the covers.
As the fire died, so too did the heat from the room. Brynjolf noticed a small pile of logs piled next to the hearth and moved to pick some of them up to rebuild the fire for her. When he had managed to position them so they had caught, the flames grew a little, brightening the room. The light seemed to elicit a response from her as well, for he heard something of a whisper from her direction. As he stood up, he turned and looked at her, sleeping sweetly. Again, he turned to leave, but hesitated when he thought of the robe she barely wore. And the hours that remained until her housecarl returned to her.
It was too tempting for him to consider leaving any further…
He moved back towards the bed, unfastening his coat and removing it. He tossed it to the floor as he pulled back the covers and entered the bed beside her. He moved close to her, listening to her near-silent breathing; paying close attention to the rise and fall of her chest. It was mesmerizing. Brushing back errant strands of hair that insisted upon falling into her eyes, his hand lingered on the side of her face. He drew his finger along her jawline and up to her mouth, tracing along her lips softly. His fingertips fell back down to her neck, finding the edge of her robe and tracing it down towards her chest; his hand lightly resting upon her breast. She stirred at his touch; permitting a sigh to escape her lips.
He brought his lips towards her face, kissing her tenderly at her temple. As his breath ghosted across her skin, he moved his lips down her face and kissed her cheek. He continued moving lower down her body, kissing her jawline…her neck… He crouched low over her and pulled back the robe exposing her shoulder, and his lips also found their way there. He moved back in towards her, placing another kiss on her collarbone before bringing his lips in between her breasts. He heard her breathe in sharply at the very moment he felt her hands bury themselves into his hair. He looked up at her face and their eyes met.
“Brynjolf,” she gasped and he smiled in the dim light.
He placed his hands on the bed on either side of her, repositioning himself over her and straddling one of her legs. He hovered above her for moments, when he thought he felt her tugging on his hair effectively drawing him back towards her. He quickly obliged. Propped up on one arm, he pulled the tie of her robe completely undone and moved the edges of it away from covering her. He looked down upon her, the firelight flickering just bright enough for shadows to play across her exposed body. Diving back down to place kisses across her breasts, his hands roamed purposefully. One hand guided his mouth; the other traced lines up and down her side. She twitched and shuddered in his grasp. Her squirms drove him to further action, and his kisses soon blazed a path down her belly.
Brynjolf reflected on how quiet she was at that moment; he’d never known her to not speak and supposed she was still attempting to come awake fully from her slumber. Yet when she did whisper his name between the panted breaths, it sent a tingle through him all the more. It was as though she spoke to the very gods themselves. As he lifted himself over her, he found himself in between her knees. His hands moved to her thighs, gently plying them apart. She offered little resistance and he felt her shiver in response.
From his vantage, he looked up the length of her body at her. Her fingers had gripped the head of the bed and she looked back at him while he paused. Her eyes were wide in anticipation, uncertain of what to expect. He moved in, kissing along her inner thigh as he went; the heat from her core emanating on to his face. He could sense her apprehension in the way her muscles tensed against him. He was well versed in using his mouth to appreciate the female form, yet he recognized that this was clearly new territory for her. When his tongue found its destination, she gasped. The cry was like music to his ears and he continued to prod at her intimately while she squealed with delight. When he pulled back to catch his breath, he felt her hands pull him back in.
Well now, lass…it would appear you might be enjoying this…
She had all but wrapped her legs around his neck when he began to make his way back up her body. Her small hands grasped at his skin, pulling him quickly towards her. He reached down, loosening the belt and clasps to his trousers, pulling them away from his waist. When she saw him struggling with his clothes, she reached down to help push them away from him. She appeared anxious; desperate to have him close to her. Through both of their efforts, he managed to free himself of the trousers and immediately tossed them aside. She had pulled her arms out of her robe and wrapped them around his neck. He kneeled in front of her as she pulled herself up towards him and her legs encircled his waist. Their mouths met and he kissed her with a renewed hunger.
Brynjolf saw no further sense in delaying the inevitable. He slid into her, holding her hips and pushing into her as far as he could. Her head fell backwards and she cried out – it was near a growl. It sent a nervous excitement coursing through his veins and his pace quickened. It was only the second time they had joined like this, but it felt like the most natural thing in the world. He squeezed her to him as he continued to thrust into her; the two falling back on to the bed. She looked into his eyes as he hovered above her, reaching up to wipe sweat from his brow. The way she looked at him…submissive…obedient…as though she’d do anything he asked her. It pushed him over the edge and headlong into release. He shuddered above her, grunting with a final push. He held himself over her as long as he could; finally falling down on the bed beside her.
When their breaths stabilized, he looked over at her, reaching out to take hold of the hand that she rested on her stomach. She replied to the movement with a smile.
“I…phew,” she breathed heavily. “I’ve never…I mean…Onmund has never…”
“Careful, lass,” he interrupted. “Comparisons lead us to tread in dangerous waters.”
“It’s not meant to compare,” she replied. “He simply has never…done that…”
Brynjolf looked up at the ceiling, a sly smile spreading upon his face. “Is he your first, then?”
Despite not looking at her, he could tell she shook her head.
“No,” she said, emphasizing that she’d responded non-verbally. “I was fifteen the first time. There was a boy that I grew up with in Wayrest. A year or two older than me. He was the son of a local fisherman. I…”
He sensed her hesitation. “Go ahead.”
“I was very…fond of him. So there was one night that he asked me if I would lay with him. And I was madly in love with him. Why would I have refused?” she recalled. “It was awkward…and terrible…and after…he ridiculed me. I was…devastated. He’d broken my heart. I vowed that I’d never let myself fall in love so easily again.”
“And did you?”
She pondered for a moment. “No, I don’t think so. Marriage came a little too quickly, I think. But love? That was quite natural actually.”
“It often is,” he said, a hint of regret in his voice. “At least, when you know enough to understand what love is.”
She propped herself up on an elbow and looked at him. “You told me you never married. But perhaps I asked the wrong question. Have you ever been in love, Brynjolf?”
“Aye,” he said softly, glancing at her. “That I have.”
She waited for him to continue. He didn’t.
“I won’t pry,” she advised, “but, should you wish to discuss it…”
“Marieka, I don’t mean to be evasive. I just…” His voice trailed off and he was thankful she took it as a signal to not push. Instead, she moved closer to him, curling her small frame under his arm. She pulled some of the furs up to cover them both. He leaned toward her, placing a careful kiss on her forehead. “Why did you come to Skyrim?”
“The College,” she responded. “I didn’t want to just join the Mages Guild in High Rock. I wanted to learn. Perhaps even one day teach magic. And, I suppose to escape. I’ve always been running from something.”
He didn’t ask what she ran from – he’d learned enough of what she was trying to escape that day.
“I suppose I should be happy that you haven’t run from me, lass,” he said.
She squeezed him tightly. “You are who I run to…not from.”
He returned her embrace and sighed. “I’ve learned not to hold regrets, but I wonder what would have transpired had you come to Riften before Winterhold.”
Their eyes met and he knew instantly that she understood where his thoughts were leading. But instead of responding, she changed the subject.
“I…have been considering that I should speak to Onmund about…this.”
“Are you sure that’s wise?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” she replied honestly. “I think he wonders. And I don’t want him to. And I don’t want him to feel guilt for what I know he’s done. I want him to know that it’s okay and that I understand. And then, perhaps we can discuss other things.”
“What other things?”
“Whether we should remain,” she began. “I believe…I mean, I think we should. It feels that we should. But perhaps that’s not for me to decide. Perhaps he wishes to choose another path. And shouldn’t he be given that option?”
He looked at her for a moment, stunned into silence. Despite all her indecision, her clarity could be astounding at times. How does one with so little experience seem to exude wisdom in matters such as these?
“Perhaps that course of action is wiser than I thought,” he finally admitted. “And where does that leave us?”
She sighed heavily. “I’m afraid that is a gamble. If he wishes for me to stay…and to end this…what choice have I?”
“There’s always a choice, Marieka,” he advised. “Whether we make the right one is another question altogether.”
Silence overtook them. Her crisis of conscience began to weigh heavily upon him. In the very real chance that the worst case scenario occurred, this…relationship…whatever this was…would be over. He wasn’t certain if he was fine with that. To him, that indicated that something was happening regarding his feelings for her. Those feelings that weren’t supposed to have existed in the first place. And he wondered if what she was considering meant that she had started to develop some feelings of her own.
Her words from earlier in the day took on new meaning as they echoed in his head.
I didn’t want you to know…you weren’t ever supposed to know.