The room was darker than most, candles only sparsely lit enough so that no one walked into the alchemy table in the middle of the room. She saw the wizard sitting in the corner, reading a tome; she thought of the words Viola had said to her as well as the warning Calixto had spoken as she gazed at the older man dressed in dark robes most commonly used by necromancers and those who practiced darker magic. He looked up at her as she walked in; he gave her the impression that she was intruding upon his time. “Wuunferth? I was hoping you could help me with something?”
“If I must,” he answered, his voice rough and deep. She held the writ out toward him, but he waved if off, saying, “I know who you are, and I know what that is; I know more about the goings on in this palace than the palace gossip mill.”
“So, you know why I’m here?”
He shook his head. “Not really. I don’t know why you’d be asking me about the Butcher.”
“I have reason to believe I know who the Butcher is. I just want to be sure before I go to the jarl with my findings as well as my suspicions.”
“And I factor into this how?” he asked.
“What do you know about the Wheelstone?”
He looked confused. “I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
She began to describe the amulet she had sold to Calixto, watching the wizard’s face for any flicker of fear in his eyes or body language, but all she saw was a dawning understanding of what she described. When he began to shake his head, she asked him what was wrong.
“What you describe is not called the Wheelstone.” He got up and rummaged through his shelves until found a dusty book and, opening its cover, began flipping though the pages until he found what he was looking for. Turning the book around, he pointed to a drawing and asked, “Is this the amulet you are talking about?”
Meliandra snapped her wrist, an orb of light appearing above her head, and looked at the rendition. After a moment she said, “I can see it looking like this at one time, but that’s not what it looks like now.”
“What you saw is called the Necromancer’s Amulet. It once belonged to the Altmer necromancer, Mannimarco.”
“Isn’t necromancy your area of specialty?”
For the first time, he showed emotion and it took her by surprise. “I beg your pardon? Necromancy? I am a member of the College of Winterhold, in good standing! They haven’t allowed necromancy for years!”
“Really? Then why did I find your journal and the amulet in the Butcher’s lair?”
“What?” he asked, bewildered. “I’ve never kept a journal, I can assure you.” He shook his head. “Who in Oblivion told you that the amulet was called the Wheelstone?”
The wizard shook his head. “Ehhh… Calixto and his books are often confused about such matters. It happens to the best of us.” He walked back to his seat, sat down and looked back at her. “You know, I’ve been noting a pattern to when the killings happen. Now that we know they’re tied into some sort of necromantic ritual, I think I know when the next might occur. Let’s see,” he began to mumble. “From Loredas of Last Seed until a Middas of Hearthfire… it will happen soon. Very soon. Keep watch in the Stone Quarter tomorrow night. That’s almost certainly where the killer will strike next.”
“You sure about this?” she asked, skeptically.
He shook his head. “Do you really have any other option but to see?”
She frowned, knowing he was right, then walked out of his rooms.
Ulfric had not been happy when Meliandra had nothing to report at the end of the day, nor was he pleased when she informed him that she now had no intention on questioning his former lover the next day. Instead she planned on doing some hunting, perhaps some training, she had said. And no matter what he said, she had openly defied his orders. He had since spent the evening and part of the next day brooding over the thief and how he let her get away with her defiance when he’d throw anyone else into the stockades. Then in the early hours of the next morning he had been awakened by Jorleif informing him that Meliandra had found and killed the Butcher preventing the murder of Elda, the innkeeper. “She did?” he asked, a smile encroaching on his lips.
“Yes, but not without a fight.”
“As one would expect, but I’m sure Meliandra came out of this just fine.”
Jorleif shook his head. “Wuunferth saw to her wounds and sent for a more trained healer.”
Ulfric stood and began to dress. “Where is she?”
“I’m sorry, milord, I’m not sure. Perhaps the chambers you put her in?”
The jarl nodded. “I’ll locate her,” he stated before dismissing the steward. He draped his cloak across his shoulders as he exited the chambers he had occupied since he had returned after his father’s death. He made his way down the passageway until he came to the chambers of his youth where he had put the Breton, and, finding it empty, thought where the thief might be, then headed to the far end of the east wing of the palace.
His footsteps echoed in the stone passageway, the sound bouncing around him. Soon he began to hear the distinctive sound of a weapon hitting wood repeatedly coming from the training arena; a knowing smile touched his lips as he walked into the large room to see the young Breton practicing her swing upon a wooden dummy. This time it was his turn to watch the Breton while she was seemingly unaware of his presence. He watched the lithe figure as she struck the mannequin with her sword, both admiring her while critiquing her form. His mind wandered as his eyes followed her body, entranced by her movement, so fluid and natural.
Before he knew it, she had turned around and looked at him, he walked toward her casually. “I understand you took care of the Butcher. Windhelm owes its thanks to you, Meliandra, as do I.”
“He gave me no choice but to kill him; it was a kill or be killed moment.”
“To be honest, I didn’t even inquire as to the identity of the Butcher when my steward informed me of your success. Who was the culprit?”
“The Imperial who ran that odd museum?” he asked.
She nodded as she replied, “That’s the one. Strange, odd man; I spoke to him at the scene of Susanna’s murder and even questioned him about an amulet I had found at Hjerim. He tried to frame Wuunferth for the murders in fact.”
“I will make sure you are rewarded well for this.” He indicated the sword in her hand. “Yours?”
“Yes.” She held the Nightingale Blade out toward him. “Would you care to give it a few swings?”
Slightly smiling, he took the sword from her and examined the weapon, testing the sharpness with his thumb. “Very nice,” he stated as he stepped back a few steps, and gave the sword a swing. “Nice weight.” He handed it back to her as he said, “Spar with me.”
“Excuse me?” she asked in surprise.
“Come now, Meliandra, surely you cannot be afraid to test your mettle against mine, now are you?” He chuckled as he eyed her.
She reddened slightly. “No, Jarl Ulfric, not afraid.”
“Then spar with me. I want to see if your fighting skills are as good as your thieving skills.” His eyes smiled, his voice light as he joked with her.
She smiled despite herself. “Oh, they are, my Lord.”
He drew a sword, putting some distance between them. “Let’s see then, shall we?”
And with that, he swung.
She reacted quickly, naturally, her own sword blocking the strike from landing. A smile spread across her face. “Trying to catch me off guard? You’ll need to try harder.”
His voice was light-hearted as he responded, “If I wanted to catch you off guard, you’d be on your ass right now.” He blocked her swing, easily. “I know you have more sting than that! Why are you holding back?” His sword landed against hers, a resounding clang echoing off the walls.
His strike vibrated through her causing her to drop her arm slightly. Her eyes widened for a brief moment before she retaliated, striking at the jarl, harder than she had before. “Who says I’m holding back? I’m just warming up.”
“Warming up?” He laughed. “What were you doing when I walked in, then?”
“Blowing off steam,” she countered with a smile. He struck again, but this time the force of his blow knocked the sword from her grip and before she could react, she found his blade in front of her, just inches from her throat. Her eyes looked at the sword in front of her, then at him, a smile still on her lips.
He held the sword there for a moment before lowering it, his eyes revealing an impish glint to them. “Pick up your sword.”
Keeping her eyes on him, she squat down and retrieved the Blade, then stood back up, still watching him carefully. When he sheathed his sword, she began to follow suit but stopped when he held his hand up and shook his head.
He walked toward her, saying, “Your form is good. To an extent. Hold your sword as if you were going to strike me.” At her hesitation, he stated again, this time more firmly, “Hold your sword as if you were going to strike me.” She quickly gripped her sword and held it up at an arch. He walked around her till he stood behind her. “You should grip it lower, just half a hand’s length.”
“I have always-“she started to protest.
“Have you always had this sword?” She shook her head. “Of course not. Now, move your hand.” She frowned but did as he said. “Now, swing as if there were someone in front of you.” He watched her as she repeated his commands, then, telling her to stop, he approached her again, this time standing right behind her. He reached over and, covering her hand, held the sword, and began to explain to her why moving her hand would improve her skill.
He turned to look at her to find her staring at him intently; her eyes soft, the light of the sconces reflecting in her amber eyes that upon seeing this close he realized had specks of green in them. The closeness of her to him had an effect upon him he didn’t expect.
He let go of her hand and cupped her face, drawing her to him. Dipping his head low, his lips met hers, and finding them to be welcoming to his, kissed her deeply.