A turbulent storm had rolled through the northern lands of Skyrim late the previous day, the fierce boreal winds bringing a blistery snowfall that blinded any who ventured out from the shelter of their homes. This having followed a smaller storm made Ulfric edgy knowing that these storms were the cause of Meliandra’s delayed return to his city. Frustrated, the jarl had retired to his chambers early and had remained there until morning. As he laid in his bed staring at the ceiling that morning, he hoped that the weather would be cooperative enough to bring the Breton back. Not only did he feel she was the best suited for this mission, but he needed to satisfy his obsession and see her again, despite her running from his kiss.
Throwing the snow bear fur blanket off him, he sat up, the cold bite of the air hitting his half naked body, the crispness making him more alert as he swung his toned legs off the bed and stretched, the muscles in his back and shoulders rippling beneath the still taut yet aging skin. He felt the age in his bones, saw it in his eyes as he glanced at his reflection in the mirror on his wall. Again, he found himself fearing that he would leave this world childless, no heir to pass the throne to. Once again, he felt a pang of anger and loss at the memory of the discovery that his former lover Mila had killed the unborn babe he had put in her.
He began dressing, opting for one of his thicker cloaks to combat the chill he felt more and more as he grew older. He slipped his rings upon his fingers and left his chambers. The sconces lit the passageways with flickering light, casting shadows that danced upon the stone-faced walls as he made his way toward the entrance to the main hall. He noticed there were a few more maids in the hall than usual but he chalked it up to the expected arrival of Meliandra and continued walking on. It wasn’t until he heard the crackling of a fire just beyond the door to her chambers that he realized the real reason he had seen more maids.
Pushing the heavy door open slightly, he saw the raven-haired assassin asleep in the large bed, the fur blankets covering her body, one arm tucked across her stomach while the other was stretched across the bed. As both an assassin with the Dark Brotherhood as well as being the Guild Master for the Thieves guild, he knew she had anything but a peaceful life, but as he gazed at her lying there before him, he would never have known it by the look of peace and serenity on her face. Looking upon the painted lips, he remembered the taste of mead upon them as he had given way to his temptation and had placed his lips upon hers; he yearned to imbibe of those lips once more.
“Are you going to just stand there and stare at me?” Meliandra’s sarcastic voice said, breaking the silence.
Startled for but a moment, he found himself at a loss for words. He shrugged, a slight smile appearing upon his face as he stepped into the room, closing the door behind him, leaving it slightly ajar. “I was not aware that you had returned; forgive me for the intrusion.”
She opened her eyes and looked at him, amusement clearly written on her face. “I wouldn’t be very good at my job if people always knew that I was there.” She sighed as she sat up, the furs dropping from her revealing her half-dressed lithe figure. She met his eyes as she continued saying, “Once the storm let up last night, I made my way here. Jorleif was up when I got here and saw to my immediate needs.”
He nodded, watching her as she walked over to a chair that held a leather knapsack and began rummaging through it. His eyes could not help but follow the length of her legs, appreciating the defined muscle of her calves; in his mind he saw her legs wrapped around him and he forced the ensuing images from his head as he cleared his throat. “Yes, Jorleif is a blessing and always has been invaluable to my family.”
“I can see why,” she answered as she pulled clothing from her pack and began to dress. “So are you going to tell me why you sent for me?”
Nodding, he responded, “Straight to the business at hand. Good.” He sat in a chair by the door and continued, “I need you to do some reconnaissance on Legion troops.”
She smiled as she laced up her boots before pulling a tunic over her head. “Sounds like fun. What am I looking for?”
Ulfric sat back in the chair, steepling his fingers before him. “Orders.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Can you be a bit more specific?”
“We’ve had reports of Imperial movements on the fringes of holds loyal to our cause. Despite men being sent in to infiltrate the enemy’s camps, none have succeeded.”
“And this is where I come in.”
Ulfric nodded, a smile on his face. “Very astute, Meliandra.” He folded his hands in front of him, continuing, “Seeing how you’re the only person to ever break into my personal armory and walk out with my father’s rings, you are by far the most qualified to get in and out without being seen.”
She smiled at him, a mischievous look in her eyes. “Getting into Legion camps are not a problem.”
“Oh?” he asked, curious. “Why is that?”
She smiled. “A woman has her ways.”
“Wait, are you…” He trailed off a moment as he recalled some of the reports he had come across. “You’re the one that’s murdering Legion soldiers, aren’t you?”
Her smile remained yet he noticed the shadowed look that came to her eyes. “A few less soldiers that you need to worry about.”
He began to rub his forehead with his thumb and forefinger then looked at her. “I need you to do this without being seen. I do not need you to get caught, especially with a price on your head.”
She looked surprised. “What’s the bounty?”
A frustrated look spread on his face. “Two hundred. And knowing the Empire, they will take your head. Or have or forgotten what it was like to have the executioner’s axe above your neck?”
She glared at him, but he knew that he had made his point. “I need to take care of a few things while I’m in town, replenish some of my travel supplies, that kind of thing.”
He nodded, a smile in his eye. “How’s that swing of yours? Have you worked on your grip?”
She looked away from him but not before he saw a flash of red creep into her cheeks. “Some; I’ve switched up my choice of weapon as of late.”
He saw the ebony dagger on the end table and responded, “Preferring that sentimental piece?”
She chuckled slightly. “I always have that piece. And yes, I do know how to work it properly. But no, I’ve picked up a new set of weapons.” Looking at him, she continued, “Perhaps one day you’ll see me use them, but in all honesty, Sir, I hope you don’t.” She smiled broadly as she picked up her pack. “Now if you’ll excuse me, the sooner I get restocked, the sooner you’ll have the information you need.”
Meliandra walked past the Windhelm jarl as she exited her rooms, her head held high, her heart threatening to leap from her throat. He had not dismissed her, had not said that he was done speaking with her, yet she had taken the liberty to leave his presence, something no one of her lowly status got away with. Yet she knew he would let it slide, for she had seen the look in his eyes, the look of testing the waters one stood in, mixed the look of hunger. The way his eyes had lingered on her, the way they traced her image into his mind, she had seen those looks plenty from many a man. He was just one more.
But while she had had many men, many lovers, while she found herself attracted to the rugged, mature Nord, even longing to feel his hands upon her once more, she knew that she could not let Ulfric number amongst her lovers. If he ever found out her secrets, she knew she could never escape him or his anger. No, she knew she needed to keep as much distance between the two of them as possible, regardless of any feelings she might have.
Once she had made her way through the Palace and outside, she made her way to the market and spoke with Niranye. After making her purchases she went to Aval’s stall and bought some meats before heading to the Aretino home. Aventus was excited to see his benefactor again and exploded with his usual questions of what adventures she had had. His interest of her work made her smile, but it worried her. “Aventus,” she said calmly, “why do you stay here all alone? Why not go back to Honorhall now that Grelod is dead? Don’t you miss your friends there?”
The boy shrugged. “Yeah, I do, but… I don’t want to be adopted. I mean, I did, but not anymore.”
“Because, if I’m adopted I might never see you again.”
“Now why do want to keep seeing me, kid?” she asked, surprised.
“Because you’re the only person I know who can help me become an assassin and help others.”
She stared at him, her jaw slightly agape. “Why would you want to be an assassin?”
“Why did you become one?”
She shook her head. “My reasons are my own. You’ve got a lot of options besides an assassin.”
“What options are there for a runaway orphan? A stable boy forced to live with the farm animals? Living off scraps? Please, if my pa and my ma hadn’t died, I would be enlisting as a Stormcloak in a couple years, but… I’m supposed to be at Honorhall.”
“So, what? You’re going to stay here, living off my generosity?”
“I never asked for you to take care of me; you just keep coming here with food and stuff. What do you expect me to do? Let the food go to waste?”
She sighed as she stared at him, shaking her head slightly. “Good point.” She took a drink of her mead, thinking about the spot she found herself in. “Fine,” she finally said. “You win. I’ll make sure you have everything you need; I’ll think about the assassin part.”
The boy smiled broadly. “Yes!”
“I said I’d think about it.”
“Continuing to smile, he said, “Did you know that the other Shatter-Shield sister was killed?”
She glanced at him from the corner of her eye. “Oh? That’s too bad. Tova must be beside herself with grief.”
“Yeah, so much grief she killed herself.”
She looked at the boy, her eyebrow raised. “Guilt does funny things to people.” Smiling she said, “I should pass on my condolences.”
“You did it, didn’t you?”
She smiled at the boy as she picked out an apple and took a bite from it. She gathered her belongings and headed for the door. “See you next time, kid.”
The gates to the city shut behind her with a thud. Pulling the hood to her cloak closer to her face, she headed across the bridge out of Windhelm. Behind her, a sellsword, one she had met months ago when she had been investigating the Butcher murders. Finding him still in Windhelm at the inn and her being in need of a new traveling companion, she laid down the coin for his blade at her side. She knew she could not trust this man with the secret of her being Dragonborn; he talked too much. But for her needs, he would do.