The guard stood aside, motioning for Meliandra to enter. She nodded to him as she passed him, her eyes scanning the chambers of the jarl, and seeing no sign of him in the bedroom, headed to his personal study where she found him sitting at his desk, reviewing communiques from men in the field. He barely looked up at her as he motioned to the chair in front of his desk, mumbling to her that she should have a seat. Sitting in the chair, she glanced at her surroundings looking for a hint of the man before her and what his true personality might be but found starkness dotted with trophies of animal heads, bookshelves filled with trinkets with odds and ends tucked between stacks of books worn with age. She brought her attention back to the jarl to realize he had been watching her, a smile to his eyes. She cleared her throat and sat forward. “You wanted to know what Mila revealed under my questioning.
The smile diminished slightly as the older man sat back in his own chair, the fur robe opening slightly to show that he wore nothing upon his chest, revealing scar across the broadness of his chest, some obviously caused by arch magic. “Yes; what did that lying bitch have to say?”
“She hates you; she blames you for her father’s death.”
“Her father’s death?” He looked confused as he looked at her, his brow furrowed. “He was dead before I even laid eyes on her. How am I the one responsible for his death?”
“Because you sent him to the front line where he was killed, and she is convinced that you did so intentionally, so that you could be with her father’s wife here in Windhelm.”
He sat forward, resting his arms on the edge of his desk and lacing his fingers before him, his face perplexed. “Her father’s wife? So, she’s the child of an affair?” At Meliandra’s affirmative nod, he continued by asking, “And who was her father?”
He stared at her in disbelief. “Appius’s father?” She answered by giving another affirmative nod of the head. He turned his head to the side, ran his hand across chin and gave his beard a slight tug as he did so; an amused look came upon his face as he shook his head slightly, his voice carrying a hint of irony to it as he spoke. “So, that old codger was getting him some action on the side.” He gave a hollow laugh as he turned to look back at the thief. “Jongas was a good man, don’t get me wrong. He was a good soldier and was extremely loyal to my father and, up to a point, loyal to me, though he was always highly critical of me and how I run this city.”
“So, you fuck his wife as a way of being a thorn in his side?”
He sat back in his chair, a stern look on his face. “Not that it is of any of your concern, but Jongas’s wife came to me. You see, Appius’s mother died in his youth and Jongas decided to take for himself a young girl for a bride, one who quickly found that life was boring when her husband spent most of his time on the battlefield far from here. She had come to me, saying how she had no idea how to be a mother to a son nearly the same age as her and begged for me to send her husband home. I asked her why I should bring one of my best men home when I needed him on the field.” His eyes grew distant for a moment as he related his memory. “She was desperate for him to come back here, so desperate that she took her clothes off before me and said she’d give herself to me.” He shrugged. “I brought Jongas home, but it wasn’t long till she was asking me to send him back because she found that she preferred to warm my bed whenever she needed attention.” He looked back at her. “Judge me however you choose, it does not matter to me. I’ve bedded many soldiers’ wives in my years and I probably will bed more in the years to come.”
She looked him in the eye as stated flatly, “Far be it from me to say anything one way or another when it comes to my employer’s sexual conquests. The fact of the matter is that when he was sent to the front lines from his previous post, Mila began to hate you. When her mother found out that Jongas had been killed, she began to loathe you. She truly believes that you sent him there intentionally.”
He laughed mirthlessly. “He was sent there intentionally.” He gave a slight shake of his head, his eyes again taking on a slightly vacant look as he seemingly looked into the past. “He was sent specifically because he had previous experience with the people involved as well as having intimate knowledge of the area. He was the best choice for that particular mission. It was a series unfortunate events that led to his untimely death, something that no one could have prevented. His loss was felt by many; how would his death have been a benefit for me?”
Sighing, the Breton replied, “Jongas’s widow.”
A grim look shadowed his face. “Risna?” He ran his hand down his beard, a hard, cold look in his eyes. “Do you know where Risna is?” he asked.
Ulfric nodded. “Yes. By her own hand. Apparently, she believed that Jongas’s death was punishment by the Divines for her transgressions with me and her guilt was overwhelming her so much that she felt death was the only atonement for her. She made it a point that it would me to find her body.” He raised an eyebrow and posed a question to the Breton. “If she shared a father with Appius, why wouldn’t he tell her that Risna was dead?”
“Is this something that you want an answer to?”
He shook his head. “No, not really.” He steepled his fingers before him as he looked at Meliandra. “She still lives?”
The Breton nodded. “That is what you wanted, sir.”
“Where is she?”
“In the cell. Healers have made sure her wounds are clean. She will not die from them.”
He nodded solemnly. “Were there any others?”
“She has not given any more names.”
Ulfric’s anger suddenly flared. “You don’t know if there are any more involved?! That is information that I must have, Meliandra! You will go interrogate her further.”
She stared at him. “As much as I’d like to end her life, if you want to keep her alive, you must give her the time to recover from yesterday’s questioning.”
“I need answers, damn it!” he snapped at her.
“And you won’t get any if her body expires from the amount of torture that I put her through!” she snapped back.
His anger shone brightly in his eyes as he stared at her. After a moment he said angrily, seemingly resigned. “You’re right. You’d make a horrible soldier. You don’t follow orders.”
“You’re damn right.” She stood up and glared at him. “I know what the fuck I’m doing so I’d appreciate it if you’d let me do my fucking job.”
With that, she stormed out leaving the jarl staring after her in disbelief.
The two men sat by the warmth of the fire drinking mead and bullshitting about nothing in particular. The local sellsword expressed discontent at the lack of work he’d been picking up save for a few bounties put out by the jarl on some bandits but most of the gold he was awarded went to his armor. “If they want to kill each other, that’s fine with me, but damn, this war is making it so that no one dares go into an area of conflict. And best be careful who knows where your loyalties lie! I’ve seen too many friends turn against each other for supporting one side or the other.”
Vorstag raised his mug in agreement. “I’ve been from one side of Skyrim to another and back again recently. Tensions are running high everywhere. And now there’s talks of dragons.” He shook his head. “Dark days, my friend, dark days indeed.”
“Who you traveling with, kinsman?”
“Breton woman named Mel, from Riften.”
“Riften?” He shook his head. “I haven’t been there in ages. Last I heard the Thieves Guild had lost its hold even there, but it’s still a cesspool of crime.”
Vorstag smiled. “Stenvar, my friend, the Thieves Guild is very much alive and well there.” He took a drink of his mead. He started to speak again when a scream from outside was heard as a patron entered the inn. The two men looked at each other then put their mugs down and rushed out the door. Seeing a guard rush toward the graveyard, they rushed over to find the butchered body of Susanna the Wicked.
She was in the market when she heard the scream and immediately ran towards the source. As she rounded the corner she saw Vorstag on the other side, a tall Nord standing by him. She followed their gaze to the barely recognizable corpse of the barmaid. It was a gruesome sight, her abdomen cut open in such a way the skin and muscle folded back revealing the woman’s insides, or rather, the lack of. Her arms and legs were similarly cut, and she saw that the tendons were skillfully removed. In fact, every cut was deliberate and clean, no jadedness to the cuts. The stench of death grew stronger as she neared her travelling companion who stood close to the body. “I’d ask what happened, but that’s rather self-explanatory I see,” she said dryly.
“It’s the work of the Butcher,” the Nord man said.
Meliandra looked at him. “The Butcher?”
He nodded. “Susanna makes the third one.” He shook his head sadly. “She was a sweet girl, bit friendly with the sailors of you know what I mean.”
“She prostituted herself?”
“Yes, to any patron that had gold, but mainly sailors.”
Meliandra nodded, then looked to her companion. “Stick around, I’ll be right back.” She approached the guard and asked in an authoritative voice. “What’s being done to find this Butcher?”
The guard looked down at her. “We’re stretched thin as it is with the war,” he snapped. “Nobody has time to spend on this. Sorry, it’s not pleasant, but it’s the truth. If you want to help, ask some of these gawkers if they saw anything useful. I’m going to try and examine the body before the rats get to it.”
She spun on her heel and walked to the Imperial that stood not far from where she was standing. He was shaking his head with a sigh. “So sad when they have to die so young,” he said softly.
“Did you see anything?” she asked him.
“Excuse me?” he said before immediately continuing on. “Me? No. No…not really. I saw a young man running away but I really didn’t get a look at him.”
She nodded. “Thank you.”
Meliandra then approached the beggar woman and then the Priestess of Arkay, but like the Imperial, they hadn’t seen anything of any use. She returned to the guard who was reporting to another guard. She shook her own head as she reported to her own findings to the two guards.
“Just like always,” the guard muttered in disgust. “Nobody saw anything useful. Again. The fucking bastard’s escaped again.
“You know, there might be more to this, if you’d let me help.”
The guard laughed. “Look, friend, if you think you can do better than the legion of guards, be my guest. But first, you gotta speak to Jorleif up at the Palace. We can’t just let anyone go around claiming to be on official business.”
Meliandra smiled at the guard sweetly. “Jorleif? Sure,” she winked her eye as she continued, “won’t be a problem at all.” She turned, motioned for Vorstag to follow her and headed toward the Palace.
Walking through the doors she sought out Ulfric sitting upon the throne. When he saw her, his eyes grew hard; he sat up, his hand turned inward resting upon his thigh as he leaned forward a fraction, watching her as she approached him. She could tell he was still angry with her for her refusal to continue interrogating Mila; with a determined look in her eyes, her lips slightly upturned in a hint of a smile she stood before the throne and addressed the jarl. “I have a proposition for you.”
“A proposition? What kind of proposition do you have for me, Meliandra? I would hope that it benefits me, especially since you have already angered me today.”
“Oh, but it does, my Lord. You have a string of murders occurring in the city, a third victim found earlier in the graveyard, a barmaid by the name of Susanna. The guards tell me they’re stretched too thin with the war to investigate this matter.”
“They are,” he said tersely. “What is your point?”
“Grant me permission to look into this Butcher while Mila recovers, and I will get all the answers from her that you want.”
“What?!” she exclaimed. “You don’t want this Butcher found?”
“Of course, I do. And when we catch the bastard, we’ll hang him outside the city as a warning to all of what happens to criminals in my city.” He met her eyes. “Some people need reminding of things like this.”
Her eyes blazed. “Are you threatening me?”
He smiled at her. “As I said, some people need reminding of things, like who one owes their continued existence to.” He sat back in his throne, his eyes amused as he stared down at her, enjoying the power he held over her life. “Say I do grant you permission to look into these murders. What else can you offer me since you are already getting more information from that whore?”
She glared at him, knowing there was only one thing Ulfric wanted from her besides her continued interrogation of Mila. She knew that if she gave him what he wanted that there would be hell to pay once Brynjolf found out. She thought about the situation she had found herself in and everything that she had already seen and had been through and came to a decision. She met his gaze and answered him firmly.
“I’ll join the Stormcloaks.”