Karliah

The trek to Winterhold from Snow Veil Sanctum was proving to be a long one – made longer by the seemingly endless awkward silences that continued to manifest between the two women. Karliah certainly couldn’t fault her for being suspicious. She had, after all, shot her with what amounted to a toxin-coated arrow. It wasn’t exactly the most ideal way to begin any sort of relationship with someone. Admittedly, her motives had switched in an instant the second the woman had come through the heavy doors ahead of Mercer Frey. She had fully intended to plant the arrow in the central portion of his chest; to watch him collapse to the ground and finally to interrogate him. Make him confess to his crimes against the Guild…to his crimes against her…and Gallus. Poor, sweet Gallus.

But she knew…soon after they had entered the catacombs, she knew Mercer had arrived to seek her death. He had planned to bury the past completely, bringing along the woman Marieka to act as a shield. Had she been killed in the process, Karliah knew Frey would not have shed a tear or given her a second thought. He destroyed all hope of doing this cleanly…she had worried the woman would have perished because of her. It would seem though, that the gods clearly had a sense of humour – and one that Karliah would never understand. And now, this woman who merely hours earlier was on death’s doorstep, was striding silently beside the Dunmer, ultimately trying to get back to Riften in as close to one piece as possible. But first…they needed to reach Winterhold.

“I don’t blame you, you know,” Karliah said suddenly.

“Blame me? What could you possibly have me to blame for?” Marieka shot back.

“For being wary of me,” she replied. “What you’ve heard…it’s not easy to stomach.”

“No,” she began, “and neither is a poison arrow to the chest.”

“That is a misnomer. It was actually a toxin.”

“Bah! Semantics,” the Breton muttered. “The fact remains that you shot me.”

“Need I remind you that by shooting you, I also saved your life?” Karliah calmly explained. “Without that toxin slowing the blood in your veins, the exsanguination would have been…fatal.”

Marieka went silent for several moments. The reality of her near death experience had hit her several times already, causing her to request some time to rest. Karliah recognized that the woman’s injuries would have required her to need a moment of respite; but the look upon her face suggested that her reasons ran deeper than the physical.

The distance between the Sanctum and Winterhold was great, but no more than a half day’s walk. Or it would have been, had the weather been more hospitable to the two women. As it was, the winds howled into their faces, making it exceedingly difficult to maintain a brisk forward motion. Coupled with the blinding snow, the walk was one of the most challenging Karliah had remembered having in a very long time. And she had been walking the miles across Skyrim for an even longer time than that…

They persisted on through the day, arriving at Winterhold many hours after nightfall.

As they ascended the steps to the Frozen Hearth, Marieka was the first to speak.

“Karliah?”

She stopped at the top of the steps and looked at the woman. “Hmm?”

“I’m…sorry.”

The Dunmer looked at her, puzzled by her apology.

“It is absurd that I maintain this disdain for you over the incident with the toxin. You in fact did save my life, and for that I am forever in your debt,” Marieka explained.

“Your debt shall be cleared once we understand what Gallus’ journal says and I can return to Riften to warn the Guild. Until then, I will still hold nothing over your head for what I did to save you,” Karliah advised. “Now let us enter the inn quickly, lest we finally catch our death of cold so close to our destination.”

Marieka smiled weakly as the Mer held the door open for her. They entered the inn quietly – the lateness of the hour meant most, if not all, of the occupants were sleeping. Luckily, the proprietor of the inn, Dagur, had not quite settled in for the night.

“Welcome to the Frozen Hearth,” he said kindly as they approached. “I’m about to turn in for the night, but if you weary travelers seek hot food or cold mead, I’m sure I can accommodate either request.”

“That is appreciated,” Marieka replied. “We, however, come seeking contact with a particular individual – Enthir of the College. Is he here?”

“Afraid not,” Dagur replied. “He’s been gone for a few days now. Don’t know where he travelled to, but he did say he’d be back by now. You’re both welcome to stay the night to wait for him. We could use the business.”

Karliah nodded, tossing a number of septims on the counter to cover their accommodations for the night.

“I’ll show you to your room,” he said, emerging from behind the counter.

The two followed him and he brought them to a small room with two beds in it.

“Thank you,” Marieka said.

He nodded to her and began to walk away, muttering to himself. “Sure hope that Enthir gets back soon. He always manages to bring me interesting trades. It’d be a shame if…”

As his voice trailed off, Karliah closed the door behind him. “We shall wait here until the mage returns. It will do you good to rest with that wound.”

“I’ll survive,” she replied, sitting on the bed furthest from the door. “After all, with a good night’s rest, I will be able to heal myself in a more proper manner. That being said, it pains me terribly. The next time I see that treacherous bastard, I plan to gut him.”

“I’m afraid there is a long line of individuals who are ahead of you in that regard,” Karliah said, for the first time allowing her face to display somewhat of a smile. She lowered herself gracefully on the other bed and began to remove her boots.

“What are your plans?” Marieka asked. “Once we figure out what information the journal holds, that is.”

“We’ll need to return to Riften, to inform the Guild,” the Dunmer replied.

“We?”

“I don’t expect they will be very welcoming of me,” she advised. “I suspect that Mercer would not have brought you with him had some of the more senior members of the Guild not trusted you by now. I believe their trust in you will give them the pause that I need to stay their hand long enough to present what we have found. Will that be a problem?”

“No,” she replied. “I don’t think so. Though I hope you are right. I worry this may not work out as you anticipate.”

“Have faith, Breton,” she counseled. “Once they hear of Mercer’s deceit, they will understand. Particularly once they hear that he attempted to murder you. Perhaps one or two of them may already call you friend?”

“Perhaps…”

Karliah eyed Marieka closely as her eyes became unfocused when she stared at nothing in particular. She was biting her lip as if in careful contemplation. The wistful sound of the woman’s voice as she said that single word told her that she was right. She had taken a liking to someone in the Guild – though who, or whether the affection was reciprocal, was unknown. It mattered not – she suspected that would become clear to her soon enough.

“Sleep well, Marieka,” she said, causing the other woman to start.

“Oh,” she exclaimed. “Yes…you as well, Karliah.”

The women made themselves comfortable in the hard beds of the inn as Karliah extinguished the candlelight in the room. Sleep did not elude them for long and soon, the quiet in the room was replaced by soft measured breaths and dreamless slumber.


Nearly a full week had passed by the time Marieka and Karliah prepared themselves to enter the cistern beyond the Ragged Flagon. The meeting with Enthir proved somewhat fruitless. The mage was unable to translate the journal as they had hoped, but he provided them at least with someone who might be able to help. The journal had been written in the Falmer language, and he knew of an individual – a Court Wizard who fancied himself more of a scholar – who studied the language extensively.

The required trip to Markarth was trying for Marieka. She spoke little of it upon her return to Winterhold. Regardless, she was successful in obtaining information that Enthir used to translate the text of the journal. With the translation in hand, Karliah became excited at the prospect of returning to the Guild…to the family she was exiled from for so many years. They left immediately, deciding to hire a carriage for the long journey to Riften.

It had all led to this moment. They stood a distance to the Flagon itself, some of the Guild’s members noticing their presence, but remaining unalarmed.

“Who will know of you here?” Marieka asked.

“The most senior members,” she replied. “Delvin is still here I suspect? And Brynjolf, of course.”

The woman nodded. “Yes, Delvin…he’s still here. And…”

Karliah noticed the Breton’s breathing became increased. The vein in her neck even visibly pulsed more quickly. Her skin flushed; a bead of sweat upon her brow dripped down her face.

“Are you nervous, Marieka?” she asked.

“I…yes,” she replied.

“You should not be so worried,” she advised. “We will tell them of Mercer, and—”

“It’s not that,” Marieka interrupted. “It’s just…never mind. We should hurry before everyone becomes more suspicious of our presence than they already are.”

The Dunmer instantly understood that she was nervous about who they were about to see. There was no sense in attempting to decide who the object of her concern – and perhaps her affection – was; she would likely know in moments.

The two hurried through the tavern, ignoring the looks from those patrons at the tables throughout. When they arrived at the door to the cistern, Marieka’s hand paused when it rested upon the handle. Her hesitation was brief, but measurable. Finally, she breathed deeply and opened the door.

She walked ahead; Karliah remaining slightly obscured from view behind her. Several figures nearest the reservoir itself turned around at the sound of their footsteps echoing through the cavernous expanse.

“Marieka!” It was Brynjolf. Karliah would have known his voice anywhere. “What are you—”

His pause suggested that he had spotted the figure behind her. The way he attempted to peer around her confirmed it. His eyes had widened; shock overtaking him. He and those he stood with drew their weapons, ready for a fight.

“No…no, Marieka. Why did you bring her here? Why did you bring that traitor back to us?” he seethed, venom injected into every word. “How dare you bring her here…”

Karliah’s eyes moved between Brynjolf’s face and that of Marieka. The expressions of betrayal and heartbreak that fell upon them respectively informed on only one thing: it was Brynjolf who held Marieka’s heart.

She could encourage their pain no further and immediately stepped in front of the woman.

“Brynjolf,” she cautioned. “You know not the whole story. Lower your weapons and I will show you proof that I did not murder the man I…that I did not murder Gallus. I will show you proof that you have been betrayed. We have all been betrayed.”


Karliah sat at the edge of the cistern, reflecting upon how smoothly her plan had been carried out. Brynjolf, Delvin and the others quickly accepted her explanation – particularly with the evidence of Gallus’ journal and the empty vault. The Guild was on edge. They would not settle until Mercer had been called to account for his actions.

And so she sat quietly watching the reunion between Brynjolf and Marieka from afar. It may not have been clear to some of the others, but she knew of hidden love in the Guild. She experienced it. She and Gallus had spent many nights exchanging stolen glances and tender kisses under cover of darkness. And her trained eyes saw the subtle nuances of their actions. He stood a little too close to her; his eyes and fingertips lingering a little too long where they fell. If the emotion displayed at the beginning of their near confrontation hadn’t been a dead giveaway to what was between them, then these moments would have pushed aside any doubt Karliah had.

She didn’t want to stare, though couldn’t help but do so. What she saw reminded her of happier times…times from so many years before. The tender caress of a cheek made her ache for her lost love. She closed her eyes for a moment, fighting back tears twenty-five years in the making as she finally returned home. When she opened them, she glanced back once more to observe the stolen moments by the door. Brynjolf reached for Marieka’s hand and squeezed it. She turned and began to walk away, but he refused to let go…not until she had turned back to him one final time. As the gap widened between their fingertips, she turned and headed through the door.

The Dunmer quickly turned her gaze away from his direction. In her periphery, she spied him approaching where she sat. They would finally have a few moments to themselves – after so many years. When he reached her, she stood to greet him. He immediately wrapped his arms around her petite frame, to which she returned the embrace. His head rested atop hers and he leaned towards her to speak.

“Karliah…I…words will not ever do justice to the amount of pain in my heart I have for what we’ve done to you,” he murmured into her ear. “Sorry is far too weak of a word.”

He loosened from the embrace and they pulled apart, yet he kept his hands upon her shoulders.

“Brynjolf, it wasn’t what you did. How could you have ever known the betrayal that was carried out?” she asked rhetorically. “I will not hold you responsible for this.”

“We should have investigated,” he insisted, dropping his hands to his side. “There had to have been something we could have done to learn the truth.”

“You had no reason to suspect Mercer,” she said. “And it was a long time ago. I am working to put the past behind me. It has been the only thing that has allowed me to survive these long years alone. And I am almost there. I will soon make Mercer pay for his transgressions.”

“I have every belief that you will,” he advised. “I have sent Marieka to seek evidence of Mercer’s whereabouts. With luck, we will know where he is headed by nightfall.”

“You sent her off?” Karliah exclaimed. “The poor girl’s been run ragged these past weeks! She should be resting.”

“She insisted she be the one to go,” he clarified. “I asked her if she was certain and she maintained that she was. I can only wonder what happened to steel her to do this.”

“I’m sure she will tell you eventually,” she replied, not wishing to overstep her bounds.

He nodded.

“Where did you manage to find her, Brynjolf?” she wondered. “She is quite different from many of the others I recall being part of the Guild.”

“That she is,” he replied. “Would you believe I was about to attempt to rob her, and I caught her doing the same to the proprietors of the Bee and Barb?”

“Interesting,” she said, an eyebrow raised. “Though she does give off the air of naïve wanderer, doesn’t she? I’d have figured her for an easy target as well.”

“Trust me, lass,” he said. “She is no easy target.”

“Yes, but she is a terrible sneak. I’m quite confident she set off every trap in Snow Veil Sanctum. And does the woman own a dagger? For she seems to prefer blowing things up to silence. I am sure that not a Draugr remains there, for they have all been awakened by her wanton destruction. I do not suggest sending her anywhere that requires any level of stealth.”

Brynjolf chuckled.

Karliah smiled an easy smile at him. “You love her, don’t you?”

“What?” He put on a good look of shock at least.

“Brynjolf, we’ve been apart for many years, but I’m not stupid. I saw you with her. You love her.” She eyed him carefully, watching his face to search for betrayal of his emotions.

“No…we…sure, we have a…thing. But it’s not love,” he said flatly. “She doesn’t want to bring feelings into it. I don’t either. Besides…she is married to another. It’s…complicated.”

“It’s always complicated, Brynjolf. Look…you might be able to deny it to yourself, but I know what I saw,” she persisted. “And you and I both know that marriage doesn’t mean a thing when it comes to love.”

“That was a long time ago, Karliah,” he replied. “I’ve put it behind me and would prefer not to be reminded of it.”

“Of course,” she said. “It doesn’t change the fact that you need to admit to yourself what your true feelings are for the woman. Be fair to her. Be fair to yourself.”

“I—,” he began, but did not finish.

“Brynjolf, what Gallus and I had…it was life-changing. It was beautiful and pure. We fought for it. And still…so long after his death, I’ll never love another,” she said, her eyes glassy. “Do not pass on what you know is in your heart simply because you believe she does not wish it so.”

“Are you saying I should ask her if she has changed her mind?” he questioned.

“I’m saying you should search your heart. And if you find what I am sure you will find, you should ask if she feels the same,” she advised. “Though, asking her is a waste of time if you value my opinion. What I saw tells me she more than feels the same way you do.”

“Just how long were you watching us?” he asked, narrowing his eyes at her.

“Long enough.”

“I’m not sure this is a good idea,” he said.

“Brynjolf, you daft Nord! What would it do to you to lose her?” she demanded, clearly frustrated by his stubbornness on the subject.

“To lose her? What are you talking about, Karliah?”

She could no longer hold back the truth of what had happened at Snow Veil Sanctum. “Mercer tried to kill her. He stabbed her and left her to die. If it weren’t for…” She cut herself off and sighed.

His entire demeanor changed in an instant. His eyes squeezed to thin slits and his hands balled into fists.

“What did you just say?” he growled. “That bastard…that fucking rat! When we find him, I’ll cut his fucking heart out.”

“Ah,” she said. “That’s the fire I expected to find within you, Brynjolf. Now tell me that you don’t love her.”

“Why didn’t she tell me?” he asked aloud, despite not truly requesting an answer.

“Perhaps she was afraid of your reaction,” Karliah replied. “You need to keep a level head during this. You know how dangerous Mercer Frey can be. He’s proven yet again that he has no regard for any of us. Keep your temper in check, lest you end up like Gallus with poor, dear Marieka living with the regret of not telling you how she truly feels.”

“I appreciate you telling me,” he said coolly. “Mercer Frey has made his choice. And I intend to make him regret every bit of it until the moment I force the last breath from his body.”

Karliah smiled. Mercer would pay. She – among a growing list of others – would see to it.


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Farkas

The moment the girl walked into the hall of Jorrvaskr, he knew that he had seen her before. It took some time, but Farkas eventually recalled where he remembered her from. Months ago, the Companions – of which he was a part – were tasked with responding to a complaint from Severio Pelagia. The man reported a giant had been harassing him and attacking him as he worked on his farm. He’d not been able to work the land for weeks and his cabbage crop was close to eradication. Aela and Ria joined him, making the short hike south to the farm to investigate and ultimately deal with the massive pest.

As luck would have it, Severio had noticed the giant had a particular pattern, and shortly after the three arrived at the farm, it wandered on to the man’s property just as he predicted. It was a fierce foe and despite their incredible prowess in battle, gave the Companions some trouble. The gargantuan creature caught Ria’s leg with its massive club, hobbling her and sending her reeling backwards. With its attention on the wounded woman, Aela seized the opportunity to launch a volley of arrows, striking her target several times in its leg. Farkas was also able to attack the giant, moving in close and slicing a swath down its back with his broadsword.

While the two weaved in and out as if in a dance with the huge creature, a crackle of energy hurtled past Farkas’ ear, striking the giant in its chest. His concentration thrown, he spun around to see a young woman in the distance – apparently the source of the magic. He returned his attention to the giant and they continued to battle with it until at last, one of Aela’s arrows struck it in the throat. The great creature staggered for a moment, gasping for breath before crashing unceremoniously to the ground. Farkas leaned forward, regaining his stamina following the skirmish, but Aela seemed invigorated by the presence of the stranger.

“You there!” she called out.

The woman approached the pair warily. “I apologize if I intruded,” she said.

“Nonsense, mage,” Aela replied. “We welcome your assistance.”

“It appears your friend may require more,” the woman said, motioning to wear Ria writhed in pain. “I know some healing magic. It will not be perfect, but I may be able to ease her pain enough to allow her to walk with assistance.”

Aela nodded, permitting the woman to pass them and approach Ria. The two watched as she knelt down before the Imperial, carefully examining her leg. She looked back over her shoulder at them. “I’m Marieka, by the way.”

“Aela. This is Farkas and the woman who doesn’t much care for your introductions right now is Ria,” she said with a smirk. Ria shot her an angry look as she winced from the pain.

“While it is lovely to meet you, I will need some help. Farkas? Can you please hold her still? I will need to set the bone.”

He quickly approached the two, crouching behind Ria and helping her sit back against him. With his hands on her shoulders, he looked up at Marieka and nodded. He got a very good look at the markings on her face. Where Aela painted marks across her face before battle, this woman had a pattern of dark colouring around her eyes and on her chin permanently. He thought it strange that someone would choose to mark themselves in such a manner that would endure.

She nimbly repositioned the snapped leg and immediately summoned a healing spell to ease the woman’s pain. Permanent growth of the bone would take much more time and she was spent from the attack on the giant, so she looked around for something she could reinforce her attempt to mend the leg with. Finding nothing truly suitable, she requested that Farkas attempt to split the giant’s club to create a splint. He obliged and she quickly secured it to the woman’s leg.

“I would recommend that you try to keep your weight off of that leg as best you can,” Marieka advised Ria, who nodded, looking very grateful for the assistance. She looked at Aela and Farkas. “Are you heading to Whiterun?”

They both nodded.

“I’m headed there myself. Would you mind if I joined you? I can perhaps help carry what Ria cannot,” she suggested.

Farkas looked at Aela who shrugged at him. “Don’t see why not,” she replied. “Ria could certainly use the help.”

They prepared to leave for the city, but not before Severio showered them with praise and coin. Farkas helped Ria to her feet and acted as a crutch for her, allowing her to hop alongside him for the duration of the journey home. Marieka was true to her word, carrying Ria’s weapons and gear, despite treading awkwardly from the additional burden.

“You know, Marieka,” Aela began, “we could use someone like you.”

“Oh?” she replied. “Do you three often find yourself out fighting giants?”

“There are many more than three of us in Whiterun,” Farkas said. “We are a group of warriors and hunters. Our order has been around for generations. A fighter must prove their worth to become a Companion.”

“If you’re interested, come with us to Jorrvaskr. Speak to our Harbinger, Kodlak Whitemane. He will judge you worthy if you are suitable,” Aela suggested.

But the woman parted ways with the three when they entered the gates of the city. She’d apparently changed her mind to have shown up without warning, so many months later. It was definitely her. Farkas would know those markings anywhere.

He eyed her from afar, watching as she looked around and tried to get someone’s attention. She approached the hall’s caretaker, Tilma. The weathered old woman listened to her speak then pointed across the hall – in the direction of Kodlak Whitemane. So she is here to join us…

Farkas was uncertain that she would be suitable. He knew of the tests that she would face. And while she was obviously a capable mage, he’d yet to see her use any steel. Skill in battle was not always dependent upon combat in close quarters, but the Companions were fighters. They brawled; they did not depend upon the conjuration of magical properties from their fingertips. He just didn’t see how she would even want to be a part of this group. Yet, here she was…presenting herself for inspection.

Kodlak summoned Vilkas to his side. There it was; she was to spar with his own brother to test her mettle. When Vilkas reached Kodlak, the elder man spoke to him briefly. The expression on Vilkas’ face spoke volumes. He was obviously not impressed by the small woman; didn’t believe she’d make an impression upon him even if he gave her the opportunity to do so. Still, he humoured the man and headed for the training yard behind Jorrvaskr. She followed behind, staring straight ahead. She dared not make eye contact with any of the Companions within the hall.

The curiosity of Farkas got the better of him, and he too followed the pair out to the yard. In fact, he was not alone. Several of the others found that their footsteps let them outside as well. They observed from a distance, standing upon the covered terrace as Vilkas handed Marieka a sword and demanded she attack him. She appeared awkward and inexperienced; swinging wildly at the man and missing her mark completely. Vilkas goaded her, all but laughing at her attempt. A few more swings yielded similar results and the man chuckled heartily.

“Perhaps this isn’t the life you’re looking for, girl,” Vilkas said. “We’re looking for someone who can hold their own.”

She handed the blade back to him. “I’m sorry I wasted your time,” she said quietly, her voice carrying much further than she probably wished it to.

Farkas looked down at the ground as she spun around slowly and began to walk shamefully away from his brother. Vilkas was far crueler than he needed to be in some situations and he felt sorry that the man had put her through the public humiliation. As she followed the path that would lead her away from Jorrvaskr, Farkas felt compelled to speak to her. Perhaps she did deserve a chance. He pushed through the crowd of onlookers and hurried down the steps.

“Brother! Where are you off to? Certainly not to follow that whelp, I hope,” Vilkas called out as he passed him.

He ignored the man, quickening his steps in an effort to catch up to the woman. It was not difficult to do so – she dragged her heels as she walked; her emotion showing in her gait. He rapidly caught up to her pace and he slowed when he walked beside her.

“Leaving awful quick, aren’t you?” he asked.

She glanced sideways at him briefly, before her eyes stared straight ahead again. “I’m not wanted. I thought it was rather obvious.”

“That’s one man’s opinion,” he retorted.

She stopped, causing him to halt his steps as well. As she turned to face him, she crossed her arms in front of her. It was evident her guard was up immediately.

“I’m sorry…I don’t recall your name,” she said bluntly.

“Farkas,” he replied. “And you are…Mar—…Marina?”

“Marieka.”

“Right. Sorry about that.”

“Yes…well, Farkas, apparently I’m not wanted by the man whose opinion counts in your…group,” she said.

“Now wait a moment,” he said. “It isn’t just one man who makes the decisions for us all. You ran too quickly.”

“That was…incredibly embarrassing for me,” she admitted, letting her arms fall to her sides. “I’m no warrior. When your friend Aela invited me to speak to your…to Kodlak, she knew that. Why would she have asked me to come if the first and only requirement is to fight with a sword or bow?”

“She saw something in you, Breton,” he replied. “The potential to add something to our group. I admit, it took me some time, but I saw it too. You’re a strong fighter…in your own way.”

“Tell that to Vilkas,” she said.

“Ah yes…let me apologize to you for my brother. He doesn’t always get along well with everyone,” he replied.

“Your brother?” she said, slightly shocked at the revelation. “Though, I suppose now that you mention it, there is some resemblance there. Other than the fact that he’s an ass, and you don’t seem to be.”

Farkas smiled at her. “That wouldn’t be the first time I’ve heard that.”

“Be that as it may, I don’t understand why you’ve followed me out here,” she said. “I obviously am not cut out for your line of work.”

“At first I might have agreed with you. But the way you jumped in to help back at the farm…” he reminded her. “Though, I do want to know why you came back to us in the first place.”

She shrugged. “I don’t know. I thought I could be useful. Perhaps earn a little extra gold on the side. Does it even really matter?”

“It matters,” he replied. “I’d like to speak to Kodlak for you. He may still be interested in having you around for certain things. There are plenty of jobs that you could handle. Magic can be really intimidating. Especially to me.”

“You’re not afraid of magic,” she scoffed.

“Well, I sure don’t understand it,” he replied. “Actually, there’re a lot of things I don’t understand.”

She sighed. “Do you really think it would be worthwhile?”

“Of course!” he exclaimed. “I know Ria wouldn’t turn you away. Not after you basically saved her leg.”

She bit her lip tentatively. “I don’t know. I may need to think about it.”

“Yeah,” he replied, “take your time. We won’t be going anywhere. And there will always be plenty of people who need a shakedown.”

She laughed at his enthusiasm. “All right then,” she said. “I’ll give it some consideration. But only because you make it sound like so much fun.”

“Oh trust me,” he replied, his eyes twinkling with excitement. “It’s the most fun you can have in Whiterun. And after a successful day of intimidation and beatings, we tend to throw back a bottle or two of mead.”

“You don’t say,” she said. “Never took your lot for drinkers.”

“Really?” he asked incredulously. “Most people say it’s the only thing we know how to do right.”

“I was joking, Farkas.”

“Oh. Right.”

“I, uh…I appreciate that you followed me out here,” she admitted.

“Let’s just say that you’re not the first person that Vilkas has embarrassed in front of everyone,” he replied.

“It’s tough being the thoughtful, friendly brother of an ass, isn’t it?” she asked.

He nodded with a smile. “See? I knew there was a reason I thought you should join us. You understand me already.” He looked over his shoulder back towards Jorrvaskr. “I should probably get back to…”

“Oh, yes,” she said. “Please…don’t let me keep you. I’ll think on your offer over the next few days. And I’ll return to you regardless of my decision.”

“That is fair,” he replied.

“Thank you Farkas,” she began. “You didn’t have to do this. But I appreciate it.”

“Anytime,” he said. “Listen, Marieka…a few of us were planning to head down to the Bannered Mare tonight. Aela will be there. And Ria. I think they would be happy to see you…especially Ria.”

“Will your brother be there?” she asked.

“I don’t know really,” he said, “but don’t you worry about him. I’ll keep him in line.”

“I’ll think about it, Farkas. Thanks for the invitation.”


Farkas and several of the Companions – including his brother – surrounded a large table covered with bottles of mead at the Bannered Mare. They had been celebrating nothing in particular for the better part of an hour, their level of rowdiness increasing so much so that Hulda had begun to shoot them disapproving looks.

They continued their merrymaking and revelry, drinking and cheering throughout a lively conversation. Stories were told and the mead flowed easily. Patrons in the tavern came and went without the group paying anyone any mind. At least that was the case until the one time the door opened wide, bringing with it a gust of wind, a chill to the bone…and a familiar face.

“Well, well,” Vilkas said smugly. “If it isn’t the whelp…”

Farkas turned to face the doorway, discovering that his brother spoke the truth. “Oi! Breton!” he called out to her with a wave.

Her face lit up with a smile and she began to walk towards them. She hesitated momentarily when she spotted Vilkas among them, but pushed aside her reluctance in favour of the camaraderie the group ahead of her seemed to be offering.

With the Companions, if you put in your fair share, you were accepted. It was all rather black and white. Sometimes all a person needed was a chance. Farkas wasn’t always the best judge of a person’s character, but with Marieka, he felt certain. She would make a good addition to their group. Perhaps not in the traditional sense, but in her own way.

He reached behind to the table nearby, pulling up another chair so she could join them. She slid easily into it, acknowledging the group.

“Aela…Ria…I’m afraid I don’t know you two…Farkas…” she nodded to each of the group in turn until she came to Vilkas. “Ass…”

Shock claimed the man’s face at the woman’s affront. He made to open his mouth in retort, but no words came out.

Farkas laughed loudly at his brother. “What’s the matter, Vilkas? Have you nothing to say to that?”

Vilkas growled low in his throat. “Shut up, Farkas.”

“Perhaps you should head back to Jorrvaskr,” Farkas chortled. “After all…aren’t we looking for people who can hold their own?”

He looked at Marieka who smiled slyly at him. The others joined in welcoming her to their table, passing her a bottle of mead as Vilkas stormed out of the tavern.

“I don’t mean to push for an answer – especially since you asked for a few days to think things over – but you wouldn’t happen to have made a decision yet, would you?” Farkas asked her.

“In fact, I have made a decision, Farkas,” she replied. “I would be happy to join…should you wish to take me on for a time.”

He chuckled enthusiastically. “Good!” he exclaimed. “And if you promise to continue to put my brother in his place, we’ll take you on until the end of your days.”

She raised her bottle into the air. “To the future. May it always be full of surprises,” she toasted.

The others joined her in the toast.

To the future, indeed…


Previous | Index | Next

Brynjolf V

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.

Still nothing…

“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.

“Marieka. Please.”

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.

A pause…

“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.

“I just…”

“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.”

“Promise?”

“Promise.”


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.


Previous | Index | Next

Brynjolf IV

“Where is that bloody Nord?”

Mercer’s voice echoed through the cistern’s expanse as he threw open the door that led to the Ragged Flagon.

“Brynjolf! Where the fuck are you?” he growled.

The ‘bloody Nord’ in question lifted his head up – barely – from staring into the rippling water in front of him. He lifted his hand up to signal his location to Mercer.

“I’m over here, Mercer. Now quit hollering at me,” he replied.

“Oh,” he snapped back. “We’re just going to laze about with our little toes in the water, are we? Do you think coin rolls into this place because we put on a smile and ask it nicely to?”

“Well, actually,” Brynjolf began, “I do have some success with that.”

“Shut up,” Mercer demanded. “Black-Briar’s got her boot on my neck about your dainty Breton recruit and you need to find her!”

He sighed and scratched at his neck distractedly. “I haven’t seen her for weeks, Mercer. I’ve no idea where to find her.”

“Word is she’s back in town. Spotted going into her house. And considering thieves tend to not use keys…or the front door, it’s got to be her,” he snorted.

Marieka? Could she really be back in Riften? He hadn’t counted the days since she’d left. No, it was nothing like that. But he also hadn’t exactly made himself available to the women of this Hold since she’d left either. Not the way he used to. That girl had a reign on him that he didn’t want to admit to – yet, he knew it wasn’t love. Perhaps that’s what made it all the more enticing. A strictly physical relationship that would come and go as it did. If that’s the way it was to happen. He had no idea if she’d even wish to see him again. Her intentions were not clear enough when they last spoke.

She left several days after their last encounter. But their interactions since the night she joined the Guild were…apprehensive at best. She seemed distant. Perhaps even a little regretful. He couldn’t read what little emotion she allowed to creep on to her face. At the very least, she spoke to him. It wasn’t as though she had completely abandoned communication with the man. Yet none of it was what he expected after the moments they’d shared.

Brynjolf suddenly felt a sharp slap to the back of the head.

“Gods!” he exclaimed.

Mercer crouched down next to him and roughly grabbed his shoulder. “When you’re finished daydreaming, perhaps you could get your arse off the cold stone and at least fake that you’re paying attention to my request.”

He grabbed the back of his head angrily and looked at Mercer. “I’m going.” He lifted himself up from the edge of the walkway and headed to the chest that rested at the foot of his bunk. As he unlocked the chest and rifled through its contents, he could feel Mercer approach him.

“Tell her not to fuck this one up,” he cautioned. “You know how important Maven is to the Guild. If anything goes wrong…”

“I’ll tell her,” Brynjolf replied without taking his eyes off of the contents of the chest. He eventually found what he was looking for and replaced the lid, locking it up tightly. He wondered why he bothered to do this – anyone in the Guild worth their salt would be able to get in anyway. But he hoped at least that there was enough respect among thieves that they’d never dare.


As he emerged from the underground of Riften into the daylight, Brynjolf shielded his eyes from the sun that was shining more brightly than usual. The fog that typically covered the city in a thick haze had burned off completely, and though there were clouds in the sky, he could count them on one hand. He meandered slowly through the streets, dallying far longer than he should have. If Maven Black-Briar requested the presence of Marieka, he should have made a greater effort to let the woman know. Yet there was uncertainty in his step; hesitation to meet with her again. What would he say to her? They’d not known each other long enough to become friends, yet he found his way into her bed…figuratively speaking. He didn’t regret it…not a moment of it. He merely hoped that they hadn’t gone so far as to not come back. He wanted to be her friend. Or…was it something else that drove him to her?

This is ridiculous…

He scolded himself for acting like a man much less mature and experienced than he was. He was always able to leave feelings out of any ‘relationship’ he’d gotten himself into. And it seemed that she wanted to leave feelings out of it, but for some reason, the feelings were intertwined so deeply in this that he couldn’t peel a single bit of them away. It was strange…this thing he’d found himself in.

In the market, he caught the eyes of several fellow thieves. They were out in force that day, following marks and studying shops for later use as targets. A slight nod or an aversion of eyes was all that was necessary to show their respect to the upper levels of the Guild. It was something that Brynjolf always thought gratuitous, nevertheless was appreciated. Something that he needed to remind him he was still useful. Perhaps it was that very reason that drew him to Marieka – she found him worthy of her time. Like he was still relevant. Young lass like that certainly didn’t need the approval of an old man like him. He chuckled in spite of himself; if Vex caught him waging this internal war with himself over his age, she’d gut him.

“You’re not that bloody old, Brynjolf,” she’d remind him. “Sure, your bones break easier and you’re starting to creak when you climb the stairs, but you’re not dead.”

Ah, he regretted not bedding that one in his time. Not that she’d have let him.

He rounded the corner of the Bee and Barb…the corner than put Honeyside into his sight. He continued on over the bridge that crossed the canal that bisected the city, considering just how he’d enter her home. He could use the back door as he did when he didn’t even realize it was hers, or…

He could knock. What a novel idea…he wondered when he’d done it last. Most places he visited ended up being accessed through a broken window or with a lockpick. This was almost…civil…

And why not? This was a civil visit. There was nothing particularly dark about it. He could deliver his message during the day. He’d not have to be with her when she went to Maven. No, this was merely a friendly appointment between associates. Friends, even. So he went to the front door.

And stood there.

He lifted his hand to knock at the door, but stopped.

What am I going to say to her? He scratched his head with the raised hand. I don’t have to say anything. I just have to deliver the message. Whatever else is said, will be said…

And with that, he knocked.

Nothing more than a few seconds passed as he waited, but each felt like an entire epoch has transpired. Ready to turn tail and retreat from his mission, he heard the creak of the door handle as it slowly turned to reveal…

…a woman he had never seen before.

“Yes?”

“I…am…” He backed up for a moment, eyeing the house in front of him suspiciously. “This is the house of the Thane, is it not?”

“Yes,” the woman replied. “You address her housecarl. Now what can I do for you?”

“Of course,” he replied. Her housecarl… “I seek an audience with the Thane. Can it be granted?”

“It could,” she began, “if she were here.”

“Oh,” he replied, disappointed at the news.

The woman continued to stand in the doorway, almost annoyed at the man’s presence.

“Is there…something else I can do for you?”

“Perhaps you know when she’ll be back?” he suggested. “Or better yet, would you mind if I waited for her here? I have an important message to deliver to her.”

“No.”

“So…no to the first or the second?” he asked.

“Nord, you are infuriating,” she growled. “What is your message?”

“Well, I cannot give you the message. It is only for Marieka,” he said. “Are you sure I cannot wait?”

“No.” The door immediately closed.

Brynjolf sighed and made to turn around. As he began to walk away, he heard the door open again.

“What is your name?”

He turned back around. “Brynjolf.”

“Well, why didn’t you tell me that in the first place? Come. Come in. You cannot wait inside, but there are some comfortable chairs on the porch. I will bring you something to eat,” she said.

Somewhat dumbfounded by her sudden change of heart, he followed the woman into the home. She led him through the Breton’s bedchamber, and his memories of the night he broke in to find her flooded back. The door to the porch opened and he went through it.

“Here, have a seat, Brynjolf,” she said. “My name is Iona. If you need anything, please call for me.”

“Wait,” he said. “Why did you change your mind about letting me in?”

“Thane’s orders,” Iona replied. “Though she neglected to mention how handsome you were.”

As he sat down, the woman immediately turned around and headed into the kitchen to retrieve some stew and mead for the Thane’s guest. When she returned to the porch with it, she said nothing as she placed it on the table next to where he sat. He nodded in appreciation for the hospitality, and she again went into the house, closing the door behind her.

He looked down at the stew she’d brought him. It smelled appetizing enough, the faint whisper of beef and braised vegetables wafting to his nostrils. He took a bite and shrugged. Tasted good enough for him. Better than some of the slop he was sometimes served in the Flagon – not that that said much. But it was tasty. A few mouthfuls of stew and some mead later and he came to the realization that he still had no idea when Marieka would be returning home. Though as Iona appeared to be uncertain of that fact as well, he’d not bother the woman again.

After he finished the meal the woman brought him, he stood up and looked out over Lake Honrich from the porch. She had a fantastic view and he felt almost jealous that he couldn’t share it with her. He imagined she’d have absolutely incredible opportunities to view the sun setting over the lake, hoping one day he might be able to catch one or two of those sunsets himself. He looked down towards the water, noticing how clear it was that day. It was amazing what the sun could do to Riften. The normally glum and depressing cityscape was transformed as the sun shone down, sparkling in the reflection of the water and glinting off of the windows of the nearby buildings. In the lake, he could even see fish…whitefish, or perhaps some salmon. He also took note of a large slaughterfish swimming nearby – nasty, those things. He reminded himself to ask her permission to use the boat he saw tied up to her dock sometime. Ask her permission? Oh yes, there was definitely something about this girl.

As Brynjolf gazed across the lake, taking in the natural beauty of the lands that surrounded Riften, he lost track of the time that had passed. If not for the change in shadows on the ground, he’d have thought no time had passed at all. About to turn around to return to his chair, he heard shuffling from the path that led to the dock. He leaned over the rail of the porch to attempt to see the source, and eventually the source came into view.

Marieka was returning home from wherever she had been that day. He was just about to call out to her as she stopped near the boat, but her actions stopped him completely. She threw down her staff and packs and began to pull her gauntlets off. Her boots were next, followed in quick succession by her coat and trousers. Brynjolf raised an eyebrow as she stood on the dock in her underclothes and bent forward to pick up the articles of clothing she’d removed. She placed them all into the boat and seconds later, she dove straight into the water. It had to be frigid – the temperatures in Riften did not lend to casual swimming. Yet she bobbed in the water, seemingly wiping away at her skin. He only noticed as the dirt began to come off of her, but she was filthy. Covered in…something he couldn’t tell. It wasn’t mere dirt…but soot perhaps. Ash?

When she emerged from the water, he could see her shiver and she quickly retrieved her items from the boat and made her way to the stairs. He wasn’t sure whether to stand there as she approached or hide, so he chose the most logical position and hurried to sit back down.

As she reached the top of the stairs, her eyes widened at the sight of him.

“Brynjolf!” she exclaimed. “I…wasn’t expecting you.”

Her teeth chattered incessantly.

“Lass! What happened to you? You’re soaking wet and freezing!” he replied, standing to greet her.

“Yes, well…I’ll be right back,” she said and hurried into her home. A few moments later, she returned without her clothing and gear, but partially wrapped in a large blanket.

“So…what brings you here?” she asked, still shivering and barefoot.

He approached her and pulled the blanket tighter around her. He rubbed her arms through the blanket in an attempt to warm her. “Lass, you really shouldn’t be out here like this. You need to dry and get changed.”

She nodded and noticed the empty bowl and tankard that sat on the table. “Have you been here long?”

“I’ve barely noticed the time passing,” he replied, as she held the door to her home open to him. He walked through and into the bed chamber. “Can I start a fire for you in here?”

She shook her head. “Won’t be necessary,” she replied, holding out a hand towards the hearth. As the flame spread from her palm to the logs in the hearth, they caught and the room lit up. Its warmth began to radiate almost immediately.

“Ah, a talent most unappreciated,” he said.

She smiled. “Give me a moment, will you?”

“Of course,” he replied.

She walked towards the kitchen and he could hear her speak to Iona.

“Please, take the rest of the day off, Iona. I’m sure you have family or friends you must not have seen for some time.”

“Of course, my Thane. Will you be all right?”

“Yes, of course. In fact, why don’t you take the night and the morning of tomorrow off as well? Return as you see fit.”

Brynjolf’s eyebrow rose at her words. Just what did she plan to be up to for the next day?’

He heard some shuffling – he assumed it was Iona preparing herself to leave – followed by footsteps and the closing, and locking, of the front door. The soft padding of Marieka’s footsteps eventually returned to the bedchamber and he leaned back suavely against the wall from where he sat on a long bench.

“So…giving the housecarl the day off, are we?”

“Yes, well…she’s been guarding the house while I’ve been away. And now that I’ll be here, it’s only right that I give her some time to herself,” she replied curtly. “I suspect you believe I have other intentions.”

“Me? No,” he replied. “Wouldn’t dream of thinking otherwise.”

“So, you’re here for a reason,” she said, absently dropping the blanket to fall around her ankles. She picked up a much smaller blanket nearby and began rubbing it against her hair to dry it. He couldn’t help but notice that her underclothes were not leaving much to the imagination. She may as well have been naked for the dark mass of hair that showed through or the nipples made hard by the freezing water that made their presence known under the thin cloth. He felt himself stiffen at the sight. He licked his lips to prevent his rapidly drying mouth from sticking together as he thought of what words he wished to speak to her.

“Brynjolf?”

“Yes, lass?”

“Are you going to tell me why you’re here?” she asked. “Or were you just planning on staring at me until my clothes were completely off?”

He smiled slyly, recognizing she’d caught him. “How I’ve missed you,” he said.

“And I, you,” she replied. “But that still doesn’t change the fact that you apparently have something to tell me.” She removed the blanket from her hair, now wildly strewn about her head from the attempts to dry it. She bent forward to retrieve the large blanket from the floor and offered him a tantalizing view of her breasts as they spilled forward from the cloth that covered them.

He expelled a breath sharply through his teeth. “Yes…I bring a message from Maven Black-Briar. She wishes to see you.”

“Maven?” she repeated, readjusting the blanket to cover her completely. “What does she want with me?”

“I’ve no idea. She never tells us what she wants; only who she wants,” she replied. “And she apparently wants you.”

“She doesn’t seem to be the only one,” she quipped sharply, motioning towards his belt. The hardness in his trousers was becoming quite obvious.

“Ah well, you see, lass,” he began, readjusting his position. “You can’t just come waltzing into your own home with nary a stitch of clothing on when there’s a visitor about.”

“It is my house,” she reminded him.

He stood and approached where she was, standing in front of her. “Of course,” he said, his finger falling to the narrow piece of cloth that sat between her breasts. “And yet, here we are.”

“And where exactly is that?” she asked, looking up at him. “Because, I’m not sure if we were clear on that when we last saw each other.”

He stepped back from her. “Do you…not wish me to be here?”

“Brynjolf, if I didn’t wish you in my home, would I have advised my housecarl to allow you entry?”

He sighed. “Woman, you give nothing but mixed signals!” he exclaimed in frustration.

“I’d prefer you not to think my bed is so easy to enter,” she replied with a smile. “And isn’t the thrill of the hunt more enticing?”

The way she narrowed her eyes at him was…so seductive. Everything within him told him to attack the girl…to pounce on her and make her succumb to the yearning that had accumulated in the weeks since he’d last seen her. But he held back and merely took one step towards her. He took her chin in his hand and lifted her face up towards him.

“Glad to have you back, lass.”

“Now go…get out of here while I change out of these wet things,” she scolded. He exited her room and fell heavily into a chair in the kitchen.

“Do you wish for me to wait?” he asked.

“Yes, actually,” she called out from the other room. “I need to stop by the marketplace for some supplies. Would you join me?”

He looked around the kitchen, his eyes settling on the very well-stocked pantry. “Uh…supplies? If you’re sure you need them. Of course I’ll join you.”

“Good,” she replied. “I could use a big, strong Nord like you to help me carry my purchases.”

He shook his head. He didn’t think he’d ever figure the Breton out. “You know, you never did tell me why you were all wet.”

“Jumped in the lake,” she replied. “I was…dirty.”

His chuckling to her response prompted her to stick her head out of the door while she finished changing. Her hair at least had been tamed.

“Well, I was!” she replied. “Covered in all kinds of soot and…I mean, just dirt from…I was just dirty.”

She entered the kitchen, mostly dressed and carrying her boots. She sat in the chair across from him and pulled one on. He eyed her as she began the arduous task of tying it up.

“Soot? From a fire?” he asked.

“No, I mean, just dirt,” she replied quickly. “Listen, it doesn’t matter. I needed to get clean. Why do you care?”

He shrugged. “Just heard about some recent dragon attacks ’round here. One of the local farmers lost their entire crop of potatoes a few days back. And some cattle. Tough times.”

“Oh.”

“I just wouldn’t want to hear that you’d been involved in something like that,” he said.

“It’s lovely to know you care so much, Brynjolf,” she said, pulling on the other boot and tying it up.

“I’d miss you, is all,” he said, albeit uncomfortably. “I mean, you have to admit, lass…we did have some fun that night.”

“That we did. Well, you’ve no fear. I wouldn’t get myself involved in such things. I have trouble enough with wolves and bears and normal wildlife in my travels,” she said.

“Speaking of which,” he replied, “why are you travelling alone again?”

“I haven’t had a chance to hire anyone to come with me to Riften yet,” she said quietly. “I can’t very well bring…”

“No, of course not,” he replied, knowing who she alluded to. “Yet there are plenty of sellswords who’d gladly watch your back. Myself included.”

“You’re no sellsword, Brynjolf,” she replied, finally sitting up in the chair. “Besides, your place is here…with the Guild.”

He sighed. She was right. There weren’t too many places in Skyrim that would be willing to take on an old thief. And it was comfortable here in Riften for him. People tended to look the other way where he was concerned – at least as long as he didn’t cross them.

He watched as she stood up and opened a strongbox on the shelf. She retrieved a small coin pouch and turned back to face him.

“Ready?”

He nodded and stood.

“Good. For it’s a beautiful day in Riften, and I can think of no one else I’d rather spend the afternoon with,” she said, smiling widely at him.

They exited the home and she locked the door behind them. She stood next to him for a moment, considering where to head first.

“Perhaps I should stock up on potions and the like first,” she suggested.

He immediately placed his hand at the small of her back and she looked up at him. She gave him a small smile before taking her first step forward. It seemed that she simply appreciated his touch, if nothing else.

They walked around, browsing at the shops both near the canal and above the pier. She was a discriminating buyer, using her wits to ensure she received a good deal, yet never really swindling any of the shop keeps either. She was fair. He supposed it was due to the fact that she was Thane – she couldn’t be seen as duplicitous or deceitful by the people she represented. Or at least that was the way a Thane was supposed to behave. Marieka was probably the first Thane in a long while to not behave in an unsavoury manner.

As her packs quickly filled up, they began to make the journey back through the market slowly. He relished in her company, simply enjoying her conversation for the time. He sensed that she didn’t seem to be in a hurry to return home either; and so their steps dawdled.

At several points, Brynjolf’s guard was raised as he noticed people quietly standing to the side as the pair passed, watching them. Some whispered to each other. He became concerned for a moment, not wishing to discredit her position in the city. A Thane with a common criminal was likely not a proper sight; yet he wondered how many of them knew that she was also a thief.

He shook off the worry and continued to walk with her. Just as he was about to ignore the looks and whispers for good, a pair of guards approached them quickly. They were cornered on the walkway where they stood, as other guards came up from behind them.

“You!” one of the guards shouted, pointing at her.

Brynjolf’s hand was immediately at his dagger, ready to defend her if need be. But no one paid him any mind. All eyes were focused on Marieka.

“You were at the attack. You helped take down the dragon,” the guard exclaimed.

“No,” she replied, shaking her head. “You’re mistaken.”

“No,” came a voice from behind. “I was there too. We all were. We saw what you did.”

She spun around and looked at the guards as they stood round her. None of them had weapons drawn. Brynjolf was nervous, but more so confused. What do they want?

“Look, I’m sure this is all a case of mistaken identity,” he interjected.

The first guard who had spoken ignored him, and approached her carefully – almost reverently. He took her hand and looked at her as she practically recoiled in horror. “It was you. You are the one the rumours have spoken of. I’d never have believed it if I didn’t see it, but you…absorbed it!”

She pulled her arm back from the guard and pushed past them. Brynjolf followed close behind, nearly knocking the two guards to the ground. When he reached her, he grabbed for her arm and pulled her back. When she spun around to look at him, he saw it. Fear. Her eyes were full of it.

“Marieka,” he said. “What…are you?”

She stood frozen for a moment, looking at him.

From behind him, the chatter from the guards rose up until it formed a single clear word…

“Dragonborn…”

She squeezed her eyes shut at the sound of it. She yanked her arm away from him and ran. As fast as she could, she ran.

Leaving Brynjolf, once again, standing alone in the crowd.


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Adrianne Avenicci

The sun had risen over Whiterun several hours prior, yet long shadows still covered the entrance to Warmaiden’s in darkness. For that, Adrianne was thankful. Long hours in front of the forge and furnace were not pleasant under the heat of the midday sun. Though she’d never seen herself in any other life.

She wasn’t the best blacksmith in the city, but she was proficient at it, honing her skills to always improve. She had good supplies and good pieces of equipment to use as well. It was doubtful she’d ever run out of business in Whiterun.

Wiping her brow, she stepped back from the tanning rack to look at her latest piece of leather. It would do well for some armour or perhaps a shield. But it could wait until she had some rest. It had been an exhausting morning, as orders had arrived from the Jarl’s court for additional equipment for the city guard. She likely had her father to thank for that. After all, what Steward wouldn’t promote his own daughter’s handiwork to his Jarl? Proventus had been a strong proponent for her work, and she’d never been found wanting for contracts once he had been made Steward to Jarl Balgruuf.

As she dabbed a rag across her brow, she looked north up the long street towards the market of Whiterun. It was a busy day. People milled about here and there; children ran through the city playing with their friends. She smiled to herself, thinking back to her younger days when she had no cares and did the same. But that was a long time ago, and she could no longer afford to have such flights of fancy. She continued to stare up the street until a door opened at a neighbouring home. It was the home of the city’s newest Thane.

The woman, Marieka, frequented her shop quite often enough; selling various weapons, or purchasing armours. They never spoke very often however, as she typically dealt with Ulfberth, her husband. She loved him with all that she was and he worshipped the ground that she walked on. Her father had worried about her when she decided to marry the man – not every Nord was willing to put up with an Imperial such as herself. But the two were madly in love and overcame the many obstacles that their partnership placed before them.

Before her thoughts drifted too far into memory, she saw the small Breton exit her home and look around. The woman immediately noticed Adrianne was outside and waved. She waved back, thinking it odd that she’d acknowledge her at all. Stranger still, she began to walk in her direction. She was coming for a visit.

“Lovely morning, isn’t it?” she said when she arrived at the door of Warmaiden’s.

“Certainly is,” she replied. “Listen, Ulfberth is inside if you need—”

“Actually, Adrianne,” she interrupted, “I’m here to see you.”

“Oh?”

“Well, you might have noticed that I travel quite a bit,” she said.

“Yes, you do,” the blacksmith replied. “And you bring us some interesting pieces upon your return.”

She smiled. “I face some interesting foes. But the reason I’m here is…well…”

Adrianne waited while she hesitated. She looked nervous.

“I wanted to ask you for some help. Maybe…train me a little at what you do?” she finally blurted out.

“You want me…to teach you how to be a blacksmith?” she asked, skeptical at the suggestion.

“I certainly don’t want to replace you, if that’s what you’re thinking,” Marieka replied. “I just…I want to know enough for when I’m out on the road. Enough to be able to take care of my equipment. Repair it if necessary. Things like that. I’d still come here whenever I’m in Whiterun. Oh! And I’d pay you for your time, of course!”

Adrianne mulled the idea over for a few moments. It couldn’t hurt. And in slim times like these, extra coin was always welcome. She shrugged.

“Why not?” she replied.

The Breton squealed with glee, as if she were a child receiving a present.

“This is fantastic! When can we start?” she asked.

She had expected the woman to be excited, but her enthusiasm was a little overwhelming.

“Tell you what,” she began. “I’ve got several orders to complete this afternoon, but you’re welcome to come back after dinner. The forge will be cooler by that time, so you won’t be overheated.”

“That sounds perfect! Thank you Adrianne! I look forward to it,” she replied, hurrying back home.

As Adrianne stood and watched the woman leave, she hoped that she wasn’t getting in over her head. She’d never trained anyone before, and was concerned that this whole thing would be a disaster.


An hour had passed since Marieka had returned to Warmaiden’s for her first training session with Adrianne. She suggested they start from scratch – melting down ore to create an ingot. Simple enough.

She demonstrated the smelting process, melting down some silver ore and pouring it slowly into the mold to create the ingot. Marieka watched intently as the woman showed her what to do. Though when it came time to pour the melted liquid into the mold herself, she allowed it to fill too quickly and the mold overflowed to the ground.

By the gods! This girl is daft!

“Perhaps smelting isn’t your strength,” Adrianne suggested, pulling her away from the furnace just before the hot liquid silver that was pooling up near her foot reached her boot.

“I’m sorry,” Marieka said. “I…I’m really nervous about this.”

“It’s okay,” she replied. “You’ll get the hang of it.”

She performed marginally better with the forge. At the very least, she was able to produce a blade from it. They started small – a dagger of steel. She heated the ingot, poured it into the mold – at a much more acceptable rate this time – and then hammered at it to form it properly.

“Not bad,” Adrianne said. “Now try sharpening it.”

The two women moved towards the grindstone. She showed the Breton how to carefully hold the blade’s edge next to the stone while pressing the pedal to spin the wheel. Unfortunately, the blade she created herself was not strong enough to stand up to the stone, and it snapped in half as she attempted to sharpen it.

“This is hopeless,” Marieka cried out in exasperation. “I knew this was going to be a challenge, but this…”

“Now just wait a minute,” Adrianne interrupted. “Did you expect to be able to do this all on your first try? That’s a little insulting. It’s taken me years of practicing…of honing my skills to get where I am right now.”

Marieka sighed. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean to imply that I could pick the skills up so quickly.”

“Here,” she said, handing Marieka a blade that she had created earlier in the day. “Try sharpening this one. Just go a little slower. You’re in too much of a hurry with everything.”

Ashamed, she took the blade and sat in front of the grindstone. She began to press the pedal to spin the wheel, and as the woman advised, slowly applied pressure to the blade against the grindstone. She dragged the blade along the stone a little at a time, sharpening the edge roughly. When she had completed both edges, she handed the blade back to Adrianne to inspect.

“Well now,” she replied. “See, this is an improvement. Right here on this side, it’s quite rough.” She pointed to the first edge. “But as you move to the end, and then on the other edge, the blade becomes finer…sharper. There’s definitely improvement here.”

Marieka’s face lit up at the positive comments. “So, I’m not hopeless then? You think some practice will help?”

Adrianne smiled. “Yes, I think you might be able to sharpen your own blade for yourself when you need to…one day.”

“Excellent!”

“The sun’s going down quickly,” Adrianne said. “And I’ll need to get inside to help Ulfberth close up the shop. Perhaps we’ll call it a day?”

She nodded in agreement. “Thank you again, Adrianne. Oh, and as promised…” She held out a coin pouch with the agreed amount. “There’s a…little extra in there for the materials that I was quite certain I would go through. Please let me know if you require more. I know I was a bit of a disaster.”

A bit?

“Of course,” the Imperial replied. “I’m sure I’ll see you soon.”

“That you will,” Marieka replied before hurrying home for the night.

Adrianne chuckled to herself. Now that was an experience…


As the sun’s rays filtered into Adrianne’s bedroom window the next morning, she stretched and tried not to wake her husband as she exited her bed. She wrapped a robe around herself, poured herself a mug of goat’s milk and headed downstairs to step outside to greet the morning.

When she opened the door to step on to her porch, she heard a strange noise coming from the side yard where all of her equipment stood. She grabbed a dagger from the wall inside the door and inched her way across the porch to see what the noise could be. As she reached the end of the porch, her eyes fell upon a small form in front of the grindstone.

“Marieka! By the gods! What are you doing?” she exclaimed.

The Breton spun around with a large smile upon her face.

“Practicing!” she called out happily.

Oh for Zenithar’s sake!

Today was going to be a long day.


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Onmund II

Mere moments after he had settled down at the table for a few bites of freshly made stew, a tremendous crash from the upper level of Breezehome caused him to jump from his seat and hurry upstairs.

“Love?” he called. “Marieka, are you all right?”

Onmund ran up the stairs, taking two at a time and turning quickly at the top to open the doors to their shared bedchambers. When the doors had opened, his eyes beheld a sight he did not expect. Marieka was underneath a tray of uneaten food, dishes, and had managed to entangle her arm into the back of a chair.

He rushed to her side, carefully extracting her arm from the chair back and picking up the items that had crashed to the floor. He helped her to her feet and made for her to sit on the edge of the bed before kneeling in front of her and looking up at her.

“Marieka, what happened?”

She looked down upon herself and frowned, tears beginning to well up in her eyes. “I just…I wanted to get up…to try to eat. But I leaned on the tray and it began to flip…and I tried to grab it…and I tripped and fell into the chair. And I…”

He shushed her and took her hands into his. “Oh love,” he said. “You are too weak to be walking around. You need to stay in bed. Here…let me get you something to change into.”

She was covered in broth and water and some sort of liquid concoction that he had managed to brew up for her earlier in the day. It would do her no good to remain in the nightclothes that she was in. The furs and covers of the bed were safe from her catastrophic fall at least. He found a dressing gown – warm and soft – in the dresser in the corner of the room. He helped her out of her soiled clothes and into the gown. She looked up at him and smiled weakly.

“Thank you, Onmund,” she said quietly. “I haven’t been very useful lately.”

“I’ll hear none of that,” he replied. “You’re ill and you need to rest. Don’t even consider going off and adventuring around until you are feeling completely back to normal.”

He helped her back on to the bed and laid her down so she was as comfortable as she could be, then sat at the edge of the bed next to her.

“And you’d best stop putting the fire out. You need to keep warm,” he scolded. He lifted his hand up in the direction of the hearth and summoned flames to his fingers. A few moments later and a small fire filled it, warming the room. He pulled the covers up over her and leaned in to kiss her forehead.

“I’m so hot though,” she pleaded.

“You’re feverish,” he replied. “You need to let the sickness out, but it won’t happen if you keep kicking your covers off and extinguishing the fire. And you need to eat.”

“I’ve tried,” she said. “I have attempted to eat everything you’ve brought. But even your potions will not stay down.”

He frowned. “Shall I try another mixture? Perhaps some garlic and juniper berries this time?”

She shook her head. “No, I just…I think I need to sleep again.”

“Of course love,” he replied. He stood up and made to leave the room.

“Onmund,” she began, “if you have nothing terribly pressing to do at the moment, would you please stay?”

He smiled at her. “I will. Just let me bring these dishes down to the kitchen and I will be right back up to sit with you.”

He collected the dishes and reminded himself to bring up a cloth to clean up the spill. As he made his way past the small room in which Lydia slept, a feeling of something…guilt, perhaps, welled up within him. There had been several occasions that the two had laid with each other as his wife had been off travelling. He’d yearned for Marieka’s affection, but she was not there to give it to him. Lydia had seen the looks upon his face…the loneliness…the sense of longing. She confronted him regarding his feelings and they had discussed them – at length.

The first time, Marieka had been gone for almost a month. He’d not had an idea of how long she had planned to be away…or if she even yet lived. At least when she’d gone with Lydia, he had a sense that the women would watch each other’s back; they’d be safer. But his wife had taken to travelling on her own more often – times when she advised him she needed to be stealthy. Or if someone she’d tasked herself to help would prefer to tag along with her instead. And so he’d be forced to return home, to sit and wait until she returned.

“You are lonely,” Lydia had said to him out of the blue one day.

He looked at her and nodded. “I miss her. I worry about her.”

“She can certainly take care of herself, Onmund,” she replied. “You should know this better than anyone.”

“Of course,” he replied. “But that doesn’t prevent me from worrying that she has finally found a foe to best her.”

As the conversation continued, he opened up to the housecarl, letting loose so many of his fears and wishes. She made no moves to lead either of them to the position where they would ultimately find themselves that night. Yet, when they ceased their words, Lydia left to ascend the stairs to her room; and Onmund – for whatever reason – followed.

She stopped at the top of the stairs and he nearly ran her over as she turned to face him.

“Do you need something?” she asked.

“What…what do you mean?” he replied.

“I am housecarl to my Thane. I am charged with protecting her when I am with her. But I am also instructed to take care of her home when she is gone. You are part of her home. Do you need…taking care of?”

The question was not loaded. There was no seduction. No sweetness. It was practical. Business-like. The woman was tasked with a job, and she took it seriously. He suspected that she may have stretched her job description a little far in certain directions, but he…needed the touch of a woman. He wanted his wife, but she’d not been there to provide it. He did not love Lydia. Never even considered the thought.

Onmund nearly tripped up the last step as he ascended towards the woman, grabbing her by the waist and placing hungry, hurried kisses upon her lips. There was desperation in the way his hands fumbled over Lydia’s armour, attempting to remove it while the two staggered together towards her bed. The second they’d entered the room, he pushed the door closed and slammed her against it. His thoughts kept floating to Marieka…comparisons between her and Lydia. How much taller the Nord was…her muscular form compared to Marieka’s small and soft frame. The roughness of Lydia’s touch and her powerful nature – a bittersweet contrast to his wife’s subservient response to him when they were together like this.

He stepped back from Lydia for a moment; put his hand to his forehead.

“Onmund, what’s wrong?” she asked.

“I…I don’t know if…” he began, but shook his head to clear his mind of her. He needed this release. He worried constantly about his wife…it was all he could do to hope and pray that these few moments would allow him to just stop thinking about her.

His eyes met those of the woman in front of him and she pulled him back towards her. In moments, their clothing was tossed aside in favour of being wrapped in the other’s embrace.

And suddenly, he found himself in the present…in the kitchen, still holding the dishes Marieka had spilled to the ground. He placed them down on the table and staggered back a moment, reeling from the memories.

“Marieka…what do I tell you?” he mused aloud. He roughly ran a hand through his hair before picking up a cloth to return upstairs.

When he arrived at their room, she had fallen asleep. He quickly cleaned up the mess and piled her soiled clothes into a basket in the corner. He started for the door of their room again, ready to head downstairs, but thought better of it. He instead closed the doors, and then returned to their bed, gently lowering himself on to it next to her.

It was here that he was reminded why he’d fallen in love with her in the first place. Her vulnerability…her humility. Before she was Dragonborn, she was simply Marieka. Her confidence had grown by leaps and bounds in the recent months, but he couldn’t fault her for it. She’d have died at the hands of some bandit or soldier or dragon had she not allowed it to happen. But it was becoming harder to see that woman underneath her increasingly cold exterior ever since she left the monastery of High Hrothgar.

He reached out to stroke her hair, softly and gently. She stirred slightly and her eyes fluttered open.

“Where’s Lydia?” she asked quietly.

“I’ve sent her off for the day. To give her a change of scenery and pick up supplies,” he replied.

“Good.”

His heart leapt into his throat as her eyes closed again and she fell back into sleep. He wondered if she knew. He suspected she knew. For one of the nights he lay with Lydia, he thought he heard something outside of the Nord’s room. And Marieka had returned that night, several hours later. She was lightly intoxicated, but brushed it off as being due to a celebration upon her return. The next day, she had dragged Onmund back off to the College, and when they’d completed their task there and eventually headed back to Whiterun, they’d separated on their journey home. She told him she had business to attend to in Riften, and he hadn’t questioned it at the time. Though now, he could only wonder what brought her back there.

Had she a confidante to confess that she had seen him with Lydia in the most intimate of embraces? Had she perhaps even taken a lover of her own, to work through the pain?

He breathed a deep breath and looked back down at his wife. Weak and on the verge of breaking. It was at this time when he was able to display his true feelings to her…to remind her that he loved her. Would always love her. Even when it may not have appeared that way.

Perhaps one day he would summon the courage to tell her. To confess what he had done by succumbing to his primal needs. And at that time, maybe she would be able to admit the same. He prayed to Mara that it would not change things between them.

After all…they stood together in the face of danger when it counted the most. They faced down adversaries and had each other’s back. And to be honest, he wouldn’t care if she took a thousand other physical companions…so long as he was the one she loved.


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Belethor

It was hard to survive as a shopkeeper in Whiterun these days. Belethor leaned on the counter at his general goods shop, surveying his shelves around the room. They were much emptier than they had been the year before. Trade had slowed so much in the past few months; so much so that the Breton worried he’d be forced to let Sigurd go from his employ. Which was a shame, for the young man was always pleasant with customers, and did a wonderful job spreading word of the shop through the city.

He’d been fortunate enough that whenever he thought the doors of his shop would be closing for good, a savior would march their way into his store, making a large purchase or trading some rare item that provided a fortuitous windfall for the store’s supplies.

And more often than not, his store’s savior was the same person. The Breton girl who typically showed up every fortnight or so.

He had a feeling about her the first day she’d come into his shop. She was alone, looking weary from who knows what had befallen her before her arrival. She wore rags…essentially. Dirty and haggard, she browsed his shelves for a long time, before settling on a piece of light armour and a better pair of boots than the footwraps she wore. He felt sorry for her, but she wasn’t the first traveler…or refugee…or fugitive that had passed through his doors, and she’d not be the last. He wasn’t about to go giving a woman like her a discount just because she was down on her luck.

Everyone was down on their luck.

It was because of his resistance to provide special favours and give extra discounts to his patrons that most of the city’s residents saw him as a sleazy swindler – only out for himself. It wasn’t true. He may have joked about even selling out his own family members, but it was just to put a smile on the face of an unhappy person, browsing his wares. He wasn’t that callous. Or crass. Or any other words that the people of Whiterun frequently used to describe him.

It didn’t matter that he’d actually frequently given gifts of toys to the children that ran through the streets daily. Or that he’d provided supplies to some of his fellow business owners, even going so far as to build a rack for Arcadia to hang her dried herbal ingredients for her alchemy shop. He was kind…charitable…a good man…

Too bad he was the only one who seemed to see it.

Yes, Whiterun was definitely full of tough customers for a shopkeeper such as Belethor. Difficult to get, and even harder to keep. That group of warriors…the Companions…they were a tough group to draw in. But they were an important faction, and he fought hard to provide them with items they needed. In fact, the time the Breton first brought in pieces of dragon bone and scale, he put Sigurd in charge and ran the entire way to Jorrvaskr and its Skyforge to deliver the news to the smith, Eorlund Gray-Mane. The man immediately bought the entire stock of bone and scale happily, and had been a return customer of Belethor’s since then. Yet he seemed to be the only one. None of the others…none of the Companions ever showed at his door.

Bah…what did it matter? He’d likely have to close soon enough. Business was not good. It wasn’t getting better. And he hadn’t seen the Breton girl for close to two months. With all the dragon bone she brought into the store, there was quite a real possibility that she had been finally slain by one. Or perhaps that she had moved on to another Hold in Skyrim. Or just found someone with better merchandise. Someone that could afford to give her a discount.

“Sigurd!” he hollered towards the back of the shop that doubled as his home. “Keep an eye on the place, would you? I need to get some air.”


The Bannered Mare. How did he manage to make his way here? Belethor started out “getting air” as he advised Sigurd…working away at the woodpile behind the store for some time. He then perused the market stalls, eyeing the new produce and meat for sale…admiring the steel of the Grey-Manes. Yet, inevitably, his unhappiness led his feet straight to where he could drown the sorrow best. Hulda’s tavern was the best in the city. Technically it was the only in the city, but no matter. It was a damn good place to get a drink. Or several if the occasion called for it. And the sad occasion certainly called for it that day.

If something good didn’t come to his shop soon…that would be it. There wouldn’t be much more he could do.

Naturally, drinking away your last few septims probably wasn’t the best idea. But what were a few mere septims going to do for him anyway? He may as well have invested in some fine mead.

Several rounds passed before he realized he had poured his heart out to Hulda, letting the woman in on some of his darkest secrets – like the time he had overcharged a woman, followed her to her home to return the coin, and the caught her changing out of her clothes after he broke into the house. The door was open – he just didn’t have the couth to knock first.

The woman had the patience of Akatosh. She listened to his troubles, poured his mead and didn’t kick him into the streets. Yet, eventually, even she tired of his long tales of sadness and struggle.

He picked himself up off of his seat and headed out the door of the tavern. Unsteady legs led him into the moonlight. By the gods, he’d certainly been away from the store for a long time. He hurried – or at least thought he had hurried towards home, wobbling unevenly through the streets.

“You there!” a voice shouted.

He spun around, trying to find the source of it. He saw three guards. They all pointed at him.

“I’m of mind to arrest you for public intoxication,” the three guards said.

Belethor hiccupped. “You don’t have to do that,” he slurred. “I live right over there.” He pointed in a vague direction that covered approximately half of the city.

“That’s it,” the guards said. “You’re coming with me.”

“You mean ‘us’,” he corrected.

The guards made to move towards him, but three women stopped them.

“You don’t need to do that,” they said.

“Yeah,” he interrupted. “Listen to these nice ladies.”

The guards looked at the women. Belethor squeezed his eyes shut and refocused them when he opened them up again. “Hey…where’d the other guards and ladies go?”

The woman shook her head. “I’ll take it from here.”

“If you’re certain, Thane,” the guard replied. He continued on his patrol.

“Thane?” Belethor repeated. “You’re a Thane?”

She nodded.

“Hey. I know you,” he said, finally recognizing her. “You’re the girl…the Breton…hey, did you know I’m a Breton? Because I’m a Breton. We have something in common. Do you come to my store because I’m a Breton?”

She sighed. “Belethor, why don’t you come over here and sit down on this bench?”

He complied and flopped down on to the bench and looked at her. “I know you from somewhere,” he slurred.

“Wow. You are…really intoxicated. How much have you—never mind. You probably have no idea.” She dug around in a pouch at her waist and pulled out a small vial of liquid. “Here. Drink this.”

“What is it?” he asked. But before she could answer, he had already slurped the vial’s contents completely.

“Oh!” She rubbed her forehead a little, hoping the liquid would straighten him out a bit. Coherence was a nice quality to have. “Well, it should hopefully help you see things a little clearer. And speak a little clearer. Perhaps help with your memory.”

He shook his head for a moment.

“Better?” she asked.

“Much better,” he replied. “This…this stuff is amazing. I need to sell this at my shop!”

She chuckled. “I’m sorry, but it’s a secret recipe. Perhaps one day we can go into business together and we can sell it as partners. But not until I settle down and stop travelling.”

“When will that be?” he asked.

She shrugged. “Only time will tell me that.” She looked at him pensively. “You know, in all the time I’ve come to your shop, I don’t think I’ve ever told you my name.”

“No, you haven’t,” he replied. “I’ve just called you the Breton girl.”

“You wouldn’t be the first,” she said with a smile. “My name is Marieka.”

He scrunched up his face. “That’s not a very Breton name.”

“Well, I didn’t pick it. My parents did. I think they smoked a lot of crimson nirnroot in their youth though,” she replied.

He laughed loudly. “You…you have a good sense of humour.”

“I practice a lot. I find a good skeleton or two and sit them in chairs. And I just constantly tell them jokes. If they fall over, then I know I’ve done a good job. And if they don’t, then I kick them. Repeatedly. Eventually, they always fall over.”

“You sure you’re the Thane?” he asked. “I’ve never known a Thane that didn’t walk around with a stick up their arse at least half of the time. The other half of the time, it’s a big stick up their arse. A very big stick.”

She smiled at him. “Turns out that all you need to do to be Thane is to slay a dragon. Did you know that?”

“Heeeey,” he said, “speaking of dragons. You wouldn’t happen to have any dragon bone or scales, would you? We are able to sell those so quickly that I can sometimes close the store for a week from the profits.”

She shook her head. “Sorry…I actually just got rid of the last few not too long ago. They’re very heavy you know.”

He nodded. “Yes, they are. But don’t you usually have that big muscly woman with you? Or at least the little scrawny man in the robes?”

“You refer to my husband,” she replied, laughing.

“Well, he is scrawny.”

“He’s a mage! Of course he’s scrawny,” she said.

“Well, that’s a shame about the dragon bits. Any chance you’ll come across another one soon?”

“Oh, I can practically guarantee it. I can’t seem to get to another city without one circling overhead and dropping out of the sky to welcome me,” she said.

“Very good,” he replied. “So then if you don’t get killed by the next one, remember Belethor’s General Goods is always open for you to sell them.”

“Of course, Belethor. I wouldn’t dream of bringing them anywhere else.” She smiled warmly at him and stood up. “I’m afraid I must take my leave, fellow Breton. I must be off on yet another adventure very soon. Do take care of yourself. And don’t drink so much. Things are never as bad as you think they are.”

“I look forward to your return, dear Thane,” he said gallantly. “Try not to die.”

“Always.” And with that, she turned and headed into the darkness of night.


As he opened the door to his shop, Sigurd immediately scolded him.

“Belethor! Where have you been? The store has been busy!” he shouted.

“Easy on the volume there Sigurd,” he replied. “I’m working off some head pain right now.”

“You smell like a meadery,” the man said, disgusted.

“Well, there’s good reason for that.”

“Anyhow, the Breton girl was here today. She was looking for you,” the younger man said.

“Yes, I just came upon her actually. She’s quite talkative. And funny,” he replied.

“And you forgot one more thing,” Sigurd said. “Generous.”

“What do you mean?” Belethor asked.

He hurried away and pulled out the bones and scales from what had to be three dragons, laying them across the counter.

“By the Nine!” Belethor exclaimed. “What kind of coin did you give the woman for all these? We can’t have had enough!”

Sigurd shook his head. “She just…gave them to us. Came in, asked for you, and when you weren’t here she said that she thought you’d appreciate them.”

The shopkeeper’s jaw dropped wide open. The world had a funny way of helping one out when they needed it most.

Or perhaps that was just one of Marieka’s finest qualities.


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Brynjolf III

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.

Marieka!

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?”

“I am.”

“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?”

“Hmm?”

“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.

“Onmund?”

“If that is your husband’s name…yes,” he said, brushing his fingers lightly across a breast.

“Yes.”

“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.”

“Marieka.”

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.


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Brynjolf II

“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.

Perfect…

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.

Caught!

“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.”

“Flatterer.”

“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.


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Mirabelle Ervine

The Hall of the Elements was typically a place of learning at the College of Winterhold. A peaceful place for lectures by Tolfdir and quiet instruction on the nuances of the restoration magics by Colette. Yet now, it was all but defiled. Some would say that Tolfdir’s expedition to Saarthal was successful; bringing with it the discovery of an incredible artifact full of energy and light. Though, whose bright idea it was to transport the large floating orb – the Eye of Magnus – to the middle of the Hall of Elements, Mirabelle didn’t know. She certainly would give them a piece of her mind once she discovered who they were.

Aside from the fact that Tolfdir had done nothing but stare at it for days since it was brought there – rendering him more useless than usual – it gave her a bad feeling. There was something about it that needed taking care of. Exactly the reason why the Arch-Mage Savos Aren sent one of the College’s newest apprentices off to seek out the Staff of Magnus from the ruins of Mzulft, she supposed. Except that Marieka had been gone for months now. She had no idea what the girl had been doing. And she’d brought another apprentice, Onmund, with her. If the two had somehow found trouble at the ruins and perished, she’d never have forgiven herself.

But if the girl was traipsing halfway across Skyrim, taking her sweet time in hunting for the staff…why, she’d kill the bloody mage herself.

The girl had better return to the College as soon as those little Breton legs of hers could carry her – they needed her. Well, they needed that staff. For it was not just Tolfdir who had become obsessed with the Eye…that damned Altmer Ancano had barricaded himself in the centre of the great hall, drawing more magic from the Eye as every second passed.

She stared at the Mer through the gate, watching as he all but merged with the great sphere.

“Still no response from him then?”

Mirabelle turned to see Savos entering the hall from the direction of his quarters. She shook her head. “No. He will not respond to me. He won’t even look in my direction,” she growled. “We must get in there, Savos. This cannot wait for the apprentice.”

“Without the staff,” he replied, “I’m not certain what we can accomplish.”

She shook her head again, disappointed. They should not be held hostage to this man. It was their College…they would have to reclaim it.

Just as she was about to open her mouth to scold the Arch-Mage’s resistance, the great doors to the hall opened, accompanied by a massive gust of wind, blowing snow and crystals of ice towards them. She pulled her robes tightly against her, turning to face those who entered.

“Marieka! Onmund!” Savos exclaimed. “You’ve returned to us!”

“By the Nine, girl! Where have you been?” Mirabelle shouted.

Marieka was on the verge of replying when Savos jumped between the two women. “We can discuss your whereabouts later. Where is the Staff? Do you have it?”

The apprentice looked down and shook her head.

“What do you mean you don’t have it?” Mirabelle questioned. “You’ve been gone for months! Where is the Staff?”

“Now, hold on a moment,” Onmund said, jumping to her defense. He stepped forward defiantly in front of Mirabelle, but Marieka gently pulled him back.

“Onmund…it’s fine,” she said quietly, yet her demeanour changed when she turned back to the woman. “We spent days in Mzulft. That ruin was full to the brim with Dwemer machinations and traps. Oh, and a Chaurus. Or twenty. I lost count after the first two of them we battled. Have you ever seen a Chaurus, Mirabelle? And I don’t mean in a book. I mean up close and personal. Where you feel their poison hit you and you want to rip the skin from your own bones to get rid of the agony you feel?”

“Point taken, Marieka,” she replied, narrowing her eyes at the younger mage. “You’ve faced insurmountable odds and come out on top. Yet, without the Staff. So what happened?”

She sighed loudly, obviously annoyed by Mirabelle’s insistence. “We eventually found a member of the Synod…the group of mages that you advised me to seek out. Paramus?” She paused for a moment to check for recognition of the man’s name, but seeing none, continued. “I’m quite certain he was driven mad on account of being so isolated in the ruins and surrounded by the clawing and sounds of death. At least judging by the Falmer dead that littered the entire route to where he hid. He was not happy to see us…at least until we advised him we had exactly what he’d been waiting for – a focusing crystal. He needed it for his research in the…” She looked at Onmund for a moment.

“Oculory,” he offered.

“Yes,” she continued. “The Oculory. Without going into too many more details, he advised us that a tremendous amount of interference was preventing him from coming up with clear results. Interference that I could only assume came from the Eye.”

She peeked past the two senior mages into the main hall where the Eye was and noticed Ancano standing in front of it, energy passing between his and the orb.

“What in Oblivion is Ancano doing in there?” she exclaimed.

“This is exactly why we’ve been so anxious for your return, Marieka,” Mirabelle said through her teeth. “But we must know where the Staff is.”

“Ah, of course,” she replied. “Paramus advised us it is at Labyrinthian.”

Mirabelle turned towards Savos. “Labyrinthian? But isn’t that—”

“Perhaps we shouldn’t be concerned with the Staff at the moment,” Savos said. She and Marieka noticed he was suddenly acting more than suspicious. Yet neither questioned him. “We must get in there and stop Ancano.”

“Are you sure, Savos?” she asked. “You just mentioned that you didn’t know what we could do without the assistance of the Staff.”

“Let us try, Mirabelle.”

She nodded. “He has placed a ward, yet the two of us have not yet been able to break through it alone. Perhaps with your help, Marieka…”

The young mage nodded and stood waiting for their signal.

With the forces of lightning and ice, Savos and Mirabelle aimed their magic at the gate, prompting Marieka to join in with a third element – flame. The three elemental energies combined and overwhelmed the ward on the gate, shattering into thousands of pieces and allowing them access to face Ancano’s treachery.

The four mages entered the hall, Onmund holding Marieka back slightly.

“Ancano!” Savos cried out, his voice thundering like few had heard before. “Release your hold on this power!”

The Altmer glanced at the Arch-Mage, but only momentarily. He didn’t move and continued whatever it was that he was doing.

“You leave us no choice,” Savos said sadly, before throwing a powerful bolt of lightning at the Mer. Mirabelle followed suit, attempting to send a spike of ice at the elf. But before her magic hit the mark, an explosion of energy engulfed the room, throwing all of them backwards with such force that they were knocked unconscious.


Her eyes opened. Slowly.

Fingers on cold stone. Ringing in her ears…or…no. It was the ringing of the sphere…the gods-damned Eye that still hovered in the Hall. And Ancano…still standing in front of it.

Mirabelle moved to sit up, immediately grasping at her abdomen. She squeezed her eyes shut; the pain was just too much. She remembered…briefly…the explosion of energy. The sphere responded to their magic with a burst outwards. She was thrown backwards, spun in mid-air, and evidently crashed stomach first into one of the great stone pillars that supported the Hall of the Elements great expanse. There must have been broken bones somewhere. Where was Colette when she needed her most?

“Ungh,” she groaned, continuing her attempts to raise herself up to lean against the very pillar that likely caused her so much agony.

“Mirabelle?” came a whisper.

“Marieka? Is that you?” she replied weakly.

The young mage crawled over to her from behind the pillar she leaned on.

“What…what happened?” she asked, bewildered.

“The Eye,” she replied. “The Eye has powers we do not understand. Go…you must find Savos. He will know what to do. I cannot move.”

Stumbling a little, Marieka managed to get to her feet. “I will hurry back as soon as I can.”

As the girl and presumably Onmund left her – as she could see no one else but Ancano in the Hall – she glared at the Mer. It was he…he who had caused so much of this trouble. It did not matter that Marieka had actually found the sphere…or that someone else – probably Savos – had decided to have it brought to the College. No, Ancano had exacerbated the situation by…performing this ritual of his upon it. He would see justice, that was certain. She would make sure of it.

Her eyes closed briefly, yet she had no idea how much time had passed when she opened them again. All she knew was that Collette stood in front of her, staring in awe at the sight of Ancano connected with the sphere through some sort of magic she’d not seen before.

“Collette,” she murmured.

The woman turned to her quickly. “Mirabelle! I was afraid you’d succumb to your injuries. You didn’t come to when I attempted to heal you. But…here you are.”

Her voice wavered. She angrily wiped away a tear on her cheek.

“Collette, what has happened? Where’s Savos?” she asked.

Collette shook her head sadly.

Mirabelle felt herself tremble. She looked down at her hands which had begun to shake. She clenched her fists tightly and squeezed her eyes shut, as tears welled over.

“The young mages,” she whispered hoarsely. “Where are they?”

“They’ve gone to Winterhold. To protect the people of the town. The sphere…it…something came from it. I don’t know what.”

“It’s too powerful for the apprentices! They’ll be killed,” she exclaimed.

The healer shook her head. “Faralda and Arniel have gone with them. They’ll come back…I feel it. Let me help you up.”

Mirabelle shook her head vigorously. “No! My—” She felt her abdomen and chest, but the pain had subsided a little. Enough to move. “Did you? Did you fix this?”

She nodded. “Let’s get away from this orb before it does something else unexpected,” Collette wisely suggested.

The two women hurried out of the Hall of the Elements and into the College’s courtyard. The winds were furious; the snow blinding. She held her hand up to her face to shield it from the snow and could make out the outline of a huge skeleton lying in the middle of the courtyard. A…dragon? Here? She breathed a sigh of relief as she reminded herself that it was merely the beast’s skeletal remains and the women continued on. They turned to head towards the Hall of Attainment to shelter from the elements and rest until the apprentices returned. As they reached the door, she saw Marieka out of the corner of her eye and beckoned her over. She and Onmund followed the two into the Hall and to her quarters.

Mirabelle fell down on to her bed and Collette sat in a chair in the corner. “What happened out there?”

“Bursts of energy,” Marieka answered. “From the Eye, no doubt. But not nearly as powerful as the blast we felt. Onmund and I were able to help Arniel and Faralda contain the threat. They remained in the town to seek out survivors…see if their help was needed any further. I didn’t see any townsfolk injured.”

“Finally,” she said, “some good news.”

“What do you mean?” the young Breton asked.

“Savos. Savos is dead.”

Collette shifted uncomfortably in the corner as Onmund and Marieka looked at each other.

“How?” he asked, stunned. “How did we all survive, yet he…?”

Mirabelle shook her head sadly. “I do not know. And I do not know how we will stop Ancano.”

“The Staff,” Marieka said suddenly. “I will go to Labyrinthian to retrieve it.”

“You? You would do this?”

“You said yourself, Mirabelle. I was gone for far too long. It is my fault Savos is dead. It is only right that I retrieve the Staff,” she said, looking down. “What else can I do but retrieve it?”

Mirabelle didn’t mean for this. She didn’t mean for the girl to blame herself for the Arch-Mage’s death.

“No, my girl. This is Ancano’s doing. But you can stop him by finding the Staff,” she said. She got up off the bed and went over to a small dresser. Digging through one of the drawers, she pulled out a heavy-looking object. It was shaped as a horseshoe and covered in intricate carvings. “Savos gave this to me long ago. He told me that when the time came, I would know what to do with it. And so I give this to you. It will let you into places you will need to go.”

She placed the item into Marieka’s hand, and as the young woman pulled her hand away, something caught Mirabelle’s eye. She snatched her hand and turned it palm down; displaying a small gold ring on her finger. That finger.

“Are you…married?” She looked at Onmund’s left hand now, noticing a matching ring. “You two? You’re married? This is what you’ve been doing all these months?”

“Mirabelle, it’s not what you think,” Marieka protested.

“How can it not be what I think?” the woman spat. “You and him…off gallivanting gods know where, while we sit and wait in the shadow of Ancano’s deceit?”

Onmund stepped up again. “Now you listen, Mirabelle. You have absolutely no idea what Marieka has gone through. What we’ve both gone through. Yes, we stopped for a moment to be married under the gaze of Mara, but by the Nine! She deserves it! You’ve been sheltered up here at the College for so long that you don’t even know what’s out there. We could die at any moment…doesn’t she deserve to have someone by her side? Some sort of happiness?” He grabbed her hand defiantly and held on to it tightly.

“And you’re just the mage to give it to her, are you Onmund?”

Mirabelle turned away from them, ready to walk out of her room angrily. She was impeded by the appearance of Tolfdir in the doorway.

“Out of my way, old man,” she growled.

“Actually Mirabelle,” he replied in his quiet manner, “you may just want to stay to hear this.”

She backed up and allowed him entry. He approached Marieka and stood in front of her, taking her hands as Onmund let go of the one he held.

“I saw what happened in the courtyard, Marieka,” he said, looking into her eyes. “The dragon…you…absorbed its soul.”

Mirabelle’s attention was now focused solely on the old man’s words.

“You are Dragonborn.”

Her eyes were drawn in the direction of the older woman for a moment, and then returned to Tolfdir`s. She nodded slowly. “I am.”

“What?” Mirabelle exclaimed. “You? Dragonborn? How did this…?”

She shook her head. “It is also what kept me from returning to the College in a more…timely manner. I am sorry Mirabelle. I never meant for my delays to cause harm to you. To the Arch-Mage.” If it were possible, the small woman shrunk even smaller, saddened by the most recent developments. “I never asked for this. I didn’t want this Mirabelle. I only wanted to study magic. To have a friend or two I could count on. I don’t want to be a saviour. To be the only one that can…protect this land from its demons…”

Silence held the room after the echo of her words died. She squeezed the key to Labyrinthian in her hand and rushed out of the room past Tolfdir and Mirabelle. Onmund looked at the faces of the others; the old man’s being the most apologetic. He hurried after her until Mirabelle grabbed his arm and stopped him. He looked back at her; anger upon his face.

“Please,” she said, her expression pained. “I didn’t…I didn’t know. Please ask her to forgive me…”

Tolfdir looked at the woman, placing a sympathetic hand upon her shoulder. She released Onmund’s arm and he left to chase after his wife.

“She’ll come around,” the old man said. She nodded sadly, uncertain of whether his words rang true.


As the days passed slowly and Marieka had not yet returned, Mirabelle – now the senior mage at the College – was forced to make a decision. Ancano’s power was becoming too great – the Eye’s influence had grown. The College would have to be evacuated.

“Tolfdir,” she instructed the old mage, “you must get everyone away from the College. Get them to Winterhold. I will hold him; prevent that bastard Ancano from figuring out what you’re doing. He’ll not get to you.”

“Mirabelle,” he said sadly. “You can’t do this. You can’t sacrifice yourself to him. We can help you.”

“There is no other way,” she said. “You are too weak, old man. Your magic will never stand up to the power of that bloody Eye.”

He chuckled at her. “Even now, you insult me, my girl.”

“Yes,” she replied, smiling weakly at him. “Even now. Now go…”

He embraced her momentarily, before turning to head off to gather the mages of the College.

“And Tolfdir?”

“Yes Mirabelle?” he replied without turning to face her.

“Tell her I’m sorry. Let her know that I’m proud of what she’s accomplished. And that I believe in her. I can’t think of a more appropriate person to be called Dragonborn.”

She saw him nod slowly. “She’ll know.”

He continued on.

She shed a tear. The last she’d ever shed.


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