A light snow fell as Ulfric stood atop the sentry wall of his city, looking across the river at the two figures making their way toward Windhelm. It didn’t take long for him to notice that it was Meliandra and a sellsword he had seen many times at the inn. Her return told him that she had completed the mission he had sent her on and that made him anxious to learn what she had discovered. As he turned to head back to the palace, he saw Galmar approaching him; he took a deep breath and greeted his housecarl and friend. “Out for a walk as well?”
The general snorted. “No, unlike you, I train to clear my head, not get stuck in it by walking around in circles.” He looked over the wall as he stood by it. “I see the thief has returned.”
Ulfric looked at him, his eyebrow raised, but ignored the intended slight and responded, “Yes, I was just about to return to the Palace to debrief her.”
“I really would prefer if I handled that, Ulfric.”
Again, the jarl looked at him, his eyebrow raised once more. “And why would I do that when you’re convinced she’s an Imperial operative?”
“Because your own view is clouded by the lust of your loins.”
Ulfric glared at him. “Do you doubt my ability to rule, Galmar?”
“Of course not, Ulfric, he answered quickly.
“Then hold your tongue when you think you can question my authority.”
“Yes, my Jarl.”
Ulfric began to walk toward the Palace grounds once again, grumbling loudly, “I have my own concerns about the Breton to deal with.”
He walked into his personal study finding the Breton standing at a table and helping herself to his mead. Smiling mordantly, he said, “By all means, do help yourself to my mead.”
Smiling at him in return, she replied, “I’ll have one of the Guild bring you a case of Maven’s finest, Black-Briar Reserve.”
He laughed. “That Imperial loving kiss ass?” He shook his head. “No thank you.”
She shrugged. “Your choice.”
He half smiled as he sat at his desk. “Well, if you’re going to drink my mead, I’d suggest that getting me a tankard of it would be an acceptable way of showing your thanks.”
She looked at him through the corner of her eye, a smile appearing on her lips. “Of course, my Jarl.”
The look of seduction flashed briefly across her face before she turned her head, pouring him the tankard he requested; he felt his desire stir deep within him and silently he groaned. She had taken the time to remove the thick layers that had warmed her Breton blood, now revealing the sleeveless bodice she wore with pants made of leather; his eyes took in her slender frame with her muscular tone with the cream coloring of her skin and his thoughts took him down that path of wanton desire. He watched in silence as she turned and walked toward him, a tankard in each hand. Leaning slightly toward him, she placed a tankard before him; he was given a view of the fullness of her breasts as she leaned toward him. He met her eyes as he said, “Galmar would probably advise me to have one of my servants drink from this first,” and picked up the tankard.
“Poison is not my style, sir. I assure you, the mead is untouched and safe.”
He took a swallow, his eyes never leaving hers. “I should hope so, Meliandra,” he stated with a smile. “Now, I assume you have news to report?”
She reached into her satchel on her hip and produced the letter she had stolen from the Legion camp and handed it to him. “I believe this is what you’re looking for, sir.”
Opening it, he read and as he read his smile grew until it was touching his eyes, a laugh escaping his lips. “Indeed, it is,” he finally said, folding the letter and placing it in his drawer. “The Jagged Crown. Do you know the story of the Crown?”
She shrugged. “Vaguely.”
“I assumed that would be the case.” He sat back, drink in hand, a thoughtful look to his eyes. “What my father told me was that it was made from the bones of dragons and that it carried part of every king or queen’s power that ever wore it, from the time of King Harald all the way to King Borgas. When Borgas was killed in Valenwood in 1E 369, it was believed that the crown was lost. Yet, a legend tells a tale of King Borgas’s body being secreted back to Skyrim and that he was reburied with his crown, the Jagged Crown. But because of the War of Succession, that location was lost to history.”
“Until now,” she said, looking toward the drawer that he had placed the letter in.
“Apparently.” He took another drink of mead. “Do you know where Korvanjund is?”
“I believe so, I’d have to check my map to be sure.” Her eyes narrowed slightly as she eyed him suspiciously. “Why?”
“Because I’m going to have you join Galmar and the rest of his contingency when they head there tomorrow.”
“With Galmar? The man who doesn’t trust me as far as he can throw me?”
He laughed. “That’s exactly the reason why, too.” At her confused look, he asked, “Do you want to earn his trust or to continue have him thinking that you’re a spy for the Empire?”
She stared at him for a moment then turned her head to look out the window, taking a drink from her tankard.
“What, Meliandra, you don’t care for my solution?” he chuckled.
“No, I don’t,” she answered. “But I don’t have much choice in the matter now, do I?”
“Of course, you do.” He smiled at her again. “You can obey my orders as your commanding officer or you can choose not to and suffer the consequences, the same as any other person who has sworn their allegiance to me.”
She snorted. “Yeah, that’s some choice there.”
“You’re the one who chose to swear your loyalty to me. Willingly.”
“Because that was the only way you’d let me investigate the Butcher, and it’s a good thing I did, too! I found more connections between Mila and her Imperial contacts.”
“Yes, you did. I thank you for that. But the fact remains, you swore fealty to me.”
“Yes, I did,” she responded. “And I keep the oaths I swear.”
His face softened. “You were betrayed.”
Nodding, she replied. “By many people throughout my life.”
“Those with a pure heart often are.”
She snorted again. “I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I’ve got a pure heart.”
Ulfric chuckled. “That could be said about myself as well.”
“Yeah. You fight for your people, more than others would.”
He leaned forward. “And what do you call what you did with the Thieves Guild?”
She laughed but there was pain echoing in that laughter. “Revenge.”
“Revenge?” he repeated, now confused. “Revenge for what?”
Her eyes shifted towards the ground. “Mercer Frey had betrayed the Guild in an unforgivable way. He had killed the Guild Master before him and had framed one of the Guild for the deed. He turned us against each other, he made us question each other and our loyalties to both the Guild and to each other.” Her voice took on a somber tone. “He manipulated me, made me a pawn in his game, and then he tried to kill me.” She looked back at him. “Yeah, I did do what needed to be done to restore the Guild and the faith we had in it and each other. But I wont lie; I was purely motivated by revenge.”
Something in her eyes changed, he saw it for the flicker of a moment that it was there. Suddenly he realized where her revenge had come from. “You two were lovers,” he said, flatly.
She looked him in the eye; the shadowed look had returned to her eyes but not before pain had registered. She nodded, saying, “Yes. We were.”
He rested his arms on the desk, clasping his hands in front of him. He cleared his throat, beginning to understand why she had run from him that night. “I had no idea. I am sorry.” He paused, searching for the right words. As he looked at her, he remembered, not for the first time, the taste of honey mead on those lips as he kissed them as she welcomed his embrace. For months he had wondered what had happned that night, what was it that had sent her running from his Palace and had kept her away. As the realization came to him, he saw that he had indeed crossed a line too soon and now felt the fool. “So when you ran from me that night- “
“No,” she interrupted sharply.
“No?” he repeated. “What do you mean, no? No what?”
“Not the reason I left.” Her voice was clipped as she began to shift in her chair, her discomfort obvious.
He looked at her, searching her face, trying to discern that part of her she kept hidden from him. She held the mask she wore tightly to her impassive face, not allowing him a glimpse behind her shadowed eyes, eyes that had watched him intently, eyes that he had seen with lust burning in them as they held his. He sat back in his chair, frustration written across his brow. “Then why, Meliandra?” She stared at the top of his desk in silence, chewing on her bottom lip. “I think I deserve a response, don’t you?”
She looked up at him, guarded. “I told you that night. It’s not right.”
“Why?” he demanded. “Have I somehow misread the looks you’ve given me when you thought I did not see? You were quite willing to kiss me back that night, I might add in case you have forgotten.”
She closed her eyes for a moment as she said, “It does not matter. No matter what I tell you, no matter what I do, I know what would happen, what will happen if I were to…reciprocate those feelings. The only thing that would come from… us… I know how that would end… no matter what, that path will have only one ending, and that’s one of pain. For the both of us.”
“You know this?” he said, sarcastically. “Because of what? Because others have done this to you in the past already? Are you that quick to just lump me into a group with those fools?”
“Again,” she snapped, “you assume what you do not know!”
“Then, please, Meliandra, please tell me why it is so wrong for us to be together if we both are attracted to one another!” he exclaimed in exasperation.
She stood up suddenly and stormed out the door, saying along the way, “You’re dangerous, Ulfric. I have too much at stake to get caught up with you like that.”