Revealed

He shook his head in wonder about how he hadn’t picked up on her true ability; she had been secretive enough about who she was in the first place.  He had never come across anyone with the skills she seemed to have, and he desired to have her working for him.  He frowned as he wondered aloud, “Why didn’t you tell me who you were?” She had had opportunities to bargain with him when she was his prisoner, she could have offered her services as well as the Guild’s aid in his fight against the Empire and he did not doubt her loathing of the Empire to be assume her loyalties laid with his enemies.  He grew more and more curious of this woman and no matter what he discovered about her, his curiosity refused to be quenched and began to grow into an obsession.  He wanted to know all that he could about this thief; what else was she hiding from him?

He was determined to find out no matter what the cost.

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Ulfric stood in the war room glaring at the blond Nord standing before him telling him that he had not found the Breton thief and had no idea where she might be.  He had promised the man to hear him out before reacting; his first reaction had been to Shout his frustration at Ralof but held his tongue.  He took a deep breath and asked for Ralof to continue.  As he listened, his eyebrow arched, and he began to smile, but he was not prepared to hear what Ralof would tell him next.

“Sir,” he said matter-of-factly, “we thought that Meliandra was just some petty thief with the Thieves Guild that got lucky with a bit of magic and potions.”  He shook his head with a look of appreciation on his face.  “She is so much more than your average thief; she’s the one who killed the previous Guild Master and replaced him.”

“Ambitious thief, isn’t she?” Ulfric stated dryly.

Ralof shook his head.  “Apparently, the previous Guild Master, a Mercer Frey, had betrayed the Guild and had gone rogue.  Meliandra and a couple other members went after him and she’s the one who cast the killing blow.”

The jarl crossed his arms, a thoughtful look on his face.  “So, she did what needed to be done then?”

Ralof nodded.  “It appears so, my Lord.”

Ulfric began to speak again yet hesitated when a scout came into the room, a look of urgency about him.  “Yes?” he asked, irritation edging his voice.

“My apologies, Sir, but you asked to be notified if the Breton woman was seen?”

His eyes bore down upon the scout.  “She’s been seen?”  Ulfric responded.  At the scout’s nod, he demanded, “Where?”

“Along the road from Riften headed here; about a few hours south of us.”

The jarl smiled, the thoughts in his head forming ideas and plans for his own future role in the history of Skyrim.  He thanked and dismissed the scout, then turned to his officer.  “Good work.  Get some rest and report in tomorrow to Galmar.”

Once Ralof had departed, he headed to his chambers and his private study.  He had assumed that the Breton woman was more than what she had presented herself as, it had to take more than a good grasp of magic and potion making to have gotten her past all of his palace’s defenses and into his personal armory.  He had just never imagined that she’d be even that good to be that high up within the group of thieves.

He shook his head in wonder about how he hadn’t picked up on her true ability; she had been secretive enough about who she was in the first place.  He had never come across anyone with the skills she seemed to have, and he desired to have her working for him.  He frowned as he wondered aloud, “Why didn’t you tell me who you were?” She had had opportunities to bargain with him when she was his prisoner, she could have offered her services as well as the Guild’s aid in his fight against the Empire and he did not doubt her loathing of the Empire to be assume her loyalties laid with his enemies.  He grew more and more curious of this woman and no matter what he discovered about her, his curiosity refused to be quenched and began to grow into an obsession.  He wanted to know all that he could about this thief; what else was she hiding from him?

He was determined to find out no matter what the cost.

#

He followed the barmaid from Candlehearth, his lips curling into a chilling smile colder than the snow on the ground of this frozen city.  He felt the comfort of his knife in his hand, knew that it yearned from the taste of flesh and blood, and he was willing to feed it if it aided him in his bloody endeavor.  He had acquired plenty of bone and flesh as well as jugs of blood, but he had failed to find any sinew worth using nor had he found marrow worth a damn.  His time was drawing close, he needed to act soon.  The girl was the perfect specimen, he knew those tendons in that young body would be supple and ripe for his needs.

Slowly he crept closer to the woman, her blood calling out to him to adorn his blade, a willing volunteer for his flesh magic, a magic that would prove his superiority over those fools in Winterhold.  This would prove to the entire world his brilliance and garner him the respect he had been so long denied.

He began to withdraw his knife, ready to make the kill here in the middle of the city when a set of guards appeared from around the corner.  He quickly withdrew his hand from his pocket, empty, waving to the guards in greeting, cordial in tone while in his mind he began to rant and rave at the timing these imbeciles had, a night wasted was more than he could afford, but circumstances demanded he try again on yet another night.

#

It was nearly time for the evening meal when the young Breton walked into the throne room of the Palace of the Kings, her amber eyes seeking out Ulfric’s, meeting them without flinching.  He kept his face a blank as he watched her walking toward him, intent on demanding an explanation of where she disappeared to while keeping her in the dark that he knew her secret.  He sat up straighter in his throne as he watched the woman approaching, his eyes vacant of expression.

“Apologies, my Lord, for my unexpected absence,” she stated in a calm voice as she stood before him.  “I give you my word, it will not happen again.”

“Is there some reason I should believe you, thief?”  he demanded.  “Why would I trust a word that comes forth from your lips?”

She spread her hands in a sweeping gesture as she answered, “Because I stand before you facing your ire when I could have gone into hiding.  But I am no coward so here I am.”

Ulfric smiled at her words, knowing the truth that laid within them.  “Good, you have brains as well as beauty.  Then you won’t have any problem telling me where the fuck you’ve been for the past week?”

She looked around at the people gathered for a meal with the powerful jarl, then looked back at him.  “If it would please my Lord, perhaps we could speak in private?”

He saw the look of distrust on his general’s face; he waved it off as he returned his gaze to the woman before him.  “Give you a private audience?  Why would I do so?  You have given little reason to trust you, Meliandra.”

She took a deep breath.  “If you will grant me the liberty of speaking freely with you in private, I promise you will begin to trust me.”

He stood up, his size suddenly becoming greatly imposing as she realized how much he towered over her small frame.  “Come, I’ll grant you your private audience, but be aware, thief, I will not tolerate anything but the truth from you.  You have tried my patience as well as testing my hand.”

Nodding, she followed the aged ruler into his war room.  She watched as he dismissed his guard with a wave of his hand then watched as he crossed his arms as he gazed at her, a hint of a smile on his face.  “You have not been very forthcoming with me, Meliandra.”

Confused, she stared at him.  “I’m sorry, I don’t follow you.  What do you mean I haven’t been forthcoming?  I agreed to tell you who I was and who I worked for.  I agreed to bring you Appius and I did so.  What am I not being forthcoming about?”

“Why don’t you tell me,” he paused before adding, “Guild Master?”

Her reaction was immediate, her face paling, a nervous swallow followed by a shifting of her weight as she avoided his eyes.  “You think I’m the Guild Master?”

“No, I don’t,” he answered, “because I already know that you are indeed the Guild Master.  Don’t try to deny it, Meliandra.  Your own man in Riften gave you up to Ralof.”

She took a deep breath and met his eyes, a slight defiance in her own.  “I’m going to have to have a talk with Brynjolf.  Yes, I am the Guild Master.  That was not information I was wanting to give you at this time.”

“Regardless of you wanting it or not, I now know.”  He uncrossed his arms and walked toward her.  “Would this be the reason why you and your companions at Candlehearth left town abruptly?”

“My companions?” She chuckled.  “You mean Vorstag, a hired blade, and Lydia, a woman sworn to protect me.  Forgive me for wanting to keep them out of the details of the jobs I do.  They do as I say, no questions asked.”  She met the jarl’s eyes again and continued speaking.  “As for my whereabouts, let’s just say that I made the mistake of crossing paths with the Dark Brotherhood.”

“Well, if you’re standing here in front of me, I am going to assume that it was a favorable outcome on your part.  But, what about the Brotherhood?  Are they going to be seeking you out?”

She laughed, shaking her head.  “No, they won’t be trying to kill me.”

“You seem sure of yourself.”

“I’ve branched out my services.  I serve Sithis.”

“You joined the Brotherhood?”  At her nod, he said, “Yet you won’t join the fight against the Empire.”

“No, I won’t.  No politics, only gold.”

“Just like all Outsiders, you don’t give a damn about Skyrim,” he snapped.

“Outsider? Just because I’m not a Nord I’m an Outsider?!  I’ll have you know my mother was from the Reach, as were her parents before her and theirs before them.  My blood may not be tied to this land like yours, but my family has been here for generations.  Skyrim is as much my home as it is yours!”

“Got some fire to you, don’t you?”

“Most of my youth was spent hearing how I was inferior to other people, that my Breton blood wasn’t good enough for other people.  In recent months I’ve heard those same sentiments echoed in the words of those who wish to rid the land of those who don’t share those views.”

He smiled slightly.  “You misunderstand when we say ‘Skyrim is for the Nords’.  This land is demanding, not all can handle living here.  WE are a people that have adapted to the harsh conditions of this land.  While it once belonged to the Snow Elves, we tamed the wilds, we made it hospitable.  This is not a land for milk drinkers.  The Empire has grown weak, making decisions about our lives here when they are disconnected from the realities of our lives here while they lay in bed with the very people who work to stifle our way of life.”  He paused, motioning for her to follow.  “What has the Empire done to you to cause you harm?”

“They bowed to the Aldmeri Dominion.”

He looked at her a moment, searching her face, looking for the unspoken words that would reveal the source of her pain and anger, yet her face was a blank.  Deciding to put it aside for the time being, he spoke again.  “Very well.  Stay neutral in the war, but keep in mind that you are in my employ.”

“As if you didn’t make that clear by sending Ralof to Riften to find me.”

“You were nowhere to be found in the city.  What would you have done if you were in my shoes?”  he responded to her retort.  At her silence, he glanced at her, saying, “See, you would have made the same decision I did, Guild Master.”  She nodded, and they continued walking through the passageways up to Ulfric’s chambers.  “You have a job to complete for me, Meliandra.  And there are plenty more jobs for you to do for me and I promise, I will pay you well.  There’s only one thing I ask in return and that’s for you to not betray me.  I do not suffer a fool and one who betrays me is truly a fool.”

The jarl opened the door to his chambers to reveal two wenches in the middle of their sex play upon Ulfric’s bed.  He paid them no mind as he walked by although Meliandra’s attention was drawn to the brunette who had her face buried in the lap of the redhead, drawing moans of pleasure from the latter.  Ulfric smiled at Meliandra as she kept looking back at the pair.  “Castle wenches,” he said by means of explanation.

“And they have free access to your personal rooms?”

“Rory and Mila do; no other wench is permitted in my chambers unless invited.”  He motioned to the girls.  “I can have them leave if it is too much of a distraction?”

She shook her head, a look of disinterest on her face.  “Who am I to tell you how to run your palace?  I was merely… curious.”

He smiled again, a look of mirth in his eyes.  “Curious?”  he repeated, a chuckle in his voice.  He walked toward his study, indicating she should follow as he began to speak again.  “You still have yet to prove yourself to me, Meliandra.  I have the utmost faith in your abilities, and what I have seen of your skills definitely impresses me.  And while I have reason to believe that you share the same view towards loyalty that I do, I do not know if I can trust you to be loyal to me.”  He turned to her only to see that she had stopped short behind him, her head cocked to the side, listening as Mila purred to Rory, speaking the words Rory demanded to hear.  He watched as she walked toward the two women on his bed, the look of caution upon her face keeping him quiet, intrigued.  Without warning, her hand shot down, grabbed ahold of Mila’s hair and pulled the woman’s head up, looking at her intently.

“What in the name of the Divines?” Mila cried out.

Meliandra smiled wickedly.  “A castle wench?  A perfect cover for a spy feeding information to the enemy.”  She looked at the jarl.  “My debt to you is cleared.  Here’s your conspirator from Castle Dour.”

Good Intentions

He rubbed his eyes, his vision refusing to un-blur itself. “Meli?” he slurred.

She shook her head and went around the bar saying, “Vekel’s going to charge all of this to the Guild, you do realize this, right?”

He glanced down where Meliandra was looking and saw almost a case of mead laying scattered across the floor, all empty. He looked back at the Breton. “Aren’t you supposed to be missing?”

He knew it was late, how late he wasn’t sure, but late enough that Vekel would be complaining about how many bottles of mead were gone. Brynjolf drained another bottle as he thought about the conversation he had had with the Stormcloak soldier about Meliandra and he thought about his own conversation with the Guild Master about the Guild’s neutrality in this war. As he uncorked another bottle, he recalled the last time she had been at the Cistern, making love to her and how she had disappeared into the night. The more be thought about it, the more he recalled little details about her return, how she had Ulfric’s signet ring, how she had told him that she had a lot going on but wouldn’t go into detail even though he had offered to help her, how she had been distracted the entire time. He should have pressed for more information, but he had had other things on his mind at the time.

“Ah, Meli,” he said drunkenly to himself, “what kind of trouble did ya get yourself into?”

“Nothing I can’t handle, Bryn.”

From his spot on the floor, he looked up, the bottle in his hand almost slipping from his grip as he blinked his eyes, sure the alcohol was playing tricks on him. He reached for the edge of the counter to pull himself up, but his drunken state refused to cooperate with him as his fingers slipped off the counter edge, making him fallback. He rubbed his eyes, his vision refusing to un-blur itself. “Meli?” he slurred.

She shook her head and went around the bar saying, “Vekel’s going to charge all of this to the Guild, you do realize this, right?”

He glanced down where Meliandra was looking and saw almost a case of mead laying scattered across the floor, all empty. He looked back at the Breton. “Aren’t you supposed to be missing?”

She reached her hand down to help him home. “Missing? Why would I be missing?”. She pulled the inebriated man to his feet, steadying once he was upright.

“Stormcloak soldier was looking for you, said something about you doing a job for Ulfric?”

She blanched and attempted to keep her face a blank. “Oh, really? That’s good to know. Did they say anything in particular?”

He looked at her and for a moment he felt like everything was right, that Meliandra had come back home, that she had come back k to him. Then he saw the worry in her eyes. “You are in trouble, aren’t you, lass?”

She smiled at him as she replied, “It’s nothing I can’t handle, Bryn. Now, let’s get you to bed so you can sleep off the drink, alright?”. She started to lead him away from the counter when he stopped, staring at her. She could see the thoughts churning in his eyes and sighed. “Bryn-”

“No, Meliandra,” he snapped as he interrupted her. “What the fuck has been going on?” His voice began to betray the anger and frustration that had been building up within him. “You’re here for less than a night, just long enough to check in, fuck me, and then you disappear in the middle of the night with no clue as to where you have gone to.”. He slammed his fist onto the counter. “Dammit, what in Oblivion is going on with you?”

“Can we talk about this tomorrow when you’ve slept this off?”

“You mean so you can sneak off again? Fuck no. We’re having this discussion right here, right now, lass.”

She took a deep breath. “Fine. I’ll tell you. Just lower your voice, alright?” He crossed his arms, waiting. “When I picked up that job in Windhelm from Delvin, I let my curiosity get the better of me and checked out what the locals were saying was a haunted house. Turns out the townspeople we’re hearing a kid praying to the Night Mother for the Dark Brotherhood.”. She noticed how his eyes went large at the mention of the Brotherhood; she glanced at the floor for a moment, then looked back up at him. “I didn’t intend to steal the contract. I was going to ignore it.”

“Oh no, Meli,” the Nord breathed softly, worry edging his voice and creasing his brow.

“The night I came back here… You were asleep and I had a few things on my mind. I decided to take a walk to try and clear my head, to try and sort things out. Well, I was passing Honorhall and heard a child trying not to cry aloud.”

Brynjolf closed his eyes as he said, “You killed Grelod.”

She nodded, her voice barely a whisper as she answered, “Yes; the guards saw me.”

“And that’s why you ran off.” When she nodded he asked, “So where have you been?”

“You asked me before what I did to get my freedom from Windhelm’s jail.” Brynjolf nodded, his eyes questioning. “I agreed to do a job for him, something he needed done but had yet to get someone who was able to actually get the job done. I was heading to the job from here, my intention was to leave the next day. Having the guards see me after killing the old lady…well, I had to leave town and lay low for a bit.”

“So this job for Stormcloak, you’ve finished it?” he asked.

“Yes and no.” At his confused look, she explained. “In the process of ringing back this prisoner Ulfric wanted, I discovered another player in a this conspiracy against Ulfric. I don’t know who this other person is and before Ulfric could find out from the prisoner, the guy killed himself. Since I’m the only person that has seen or heard this other conspirator, Ulfric has not released me from this debt.” She pulled her hair back as she rolled her head from side to side, relieving some of the strain in the muscles in her neck.

“What the hell?” Brynjolf snapped suddenly.

“What?” A confused look appeared on Meliandra’s face.

He reached toward her and, taking her chin in his hand, turned her head to reveal a large bruise on her neck in the shape of a handprint. “Did he do this to you?” he demanded, his anger flashing in his eyes.

“What are you talking about?”

“The bruise on your neck! He choked you, didn’t he? I’ll kill, jarl or not, I’ll fucking kill him!”

“No,” she answered calmly. “Ulfric did not choke me.”

He stared at her, his eyes looking her over. He no longer to be drunk, his anger seemingly sobering him up. He sneered suddenly. “Oh, I see. I know you, Meliandra. You’re a hellion, wild and untamed. You quickly give control to whoever it is you’re fucking.”. He let go of her chin, a look of disgust coming over him. “You let that bastard fuck you, you fucking whore.”

This time Meliandra snapped. “I didn’t fuck Ulfric and even if I had it would have been my choice. I don’t fucking answer to you, Brynjolf.”

“No, but if you’ve dragged us into this god forsaken war, you will be answering to the Guild.” He shook his head. “I don’t know what happened but you’re not the same, lass.”

“You’re right, Bryn, I’m not the same. Mercer made sure that the Meliandra you met at the Bee and Barb was dead; his blade might have only pierced this mortal coil, but it found it’s mark inside of me, killing the person I was ready to become.” She shook her head. “You’ll never understand.”

“It’s not for lack of trying, that’s for sure, Meli,” he snapped back. “It’s not like I haven’t tried to talk to you since we discovered Mercer’s betrayal.”

“What is there to talk about, Brynjolf? You and Vex? Me and Mercer? Me and anyone I’ve bedded? What more is there to say between us?”

Brynjolf shook his head, resigned. “You’re right, Meli. There’s nothing left for us.” He turned and walked towards the Cistern. “Finish the job for Stormcloak, do whatever it is you’re gonna do, I won’t stand in your way.”

Meliandra started at him, her emotions churning inside of her. How did things go from alright to horrible in such a short amount of time? Her plans had been to right her wrongs, instead everything disintegrated in front of her. As she watched him walk away she felt the coldness returning to her, hardening her heart again. “Good,” she said icily. She turned on her heel and headed out in the opposite direction, saying loud enough for him to hear, “It’s not like you love me or anything.”

Confrontations

There was a lone customer at the counter nursing a bottle of mead; Ralof joined him at the counter, ordering a mead for himself.  He sat in silence for a moment, going over everything he knew about the Breton, attempting to decide what his next course of action would be.  He knew he was going to have to get word to Ulfric that Riften had turned out to be a dead-end and that was something that he dreaded having to do, Ulfric was easily angered when confronted with an impasse.  He took a pull off the bottle, deciding to give it one last try and ask the Nord next to him. 

“You’ve been sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong,” came the man’s voice before Ralof could begin to speak.

“Excuse me?” came Ralof’s reply.

“Word is this, you’re asking the wrong questions around town.”  The redheaded man turned to face him, his eyes determined.  “Why are you looking for the Guild, lad?”

As she raised her hand to block the sun from her eyes, she saw the sandy-blond haired, well-built Battle-Born son leaning against the wooden pole outside Belethor’s store, his arms crossed as he smirked at her.  She quickly shifted her gaze to Vorstag and Lydia next to her, hoping that if she didn’t acknowledge the man, he’d ignore her.  She listened to Lydia as she ran down a list of the potions and food supplies they had just gotten from the Breton store keeper; she was aware of Idolaf’s approach and turned to him, annoyed.

“I know it was you,” he stated flatly.

“What was me?”

“That stole my grandmother’s amulet that she had passed onto my sister when she died.”

The image of the necklace flashed into her mind followed by the image of Idolaf above her caressing her body with his lips.  She pursed her lips, staring at him.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Idolaf.”  She began to turn back to her companions when the man grabbed her arm and stopped her.  Lydia immediately drew her sword while Vorstag drew his.  Meliandra stayed them with a wave of her hand, her eyes narrowing as she glared at the Battle-Born son.  “I suggest you remove our hand before my housecarl lobs it off.”

The Nord laughed.  “Housecarl?” He narrowed his eyes in return.  “You’re nothing more than a thieving whore.  You can either return the necklace and its amulet or I’ll have the guards put you in the dungeons of Dragonsreach!”

Meliandra laughed as she snarled loudly enough for the guards to hear her.  “I am the jarl’s thane; I demand you release me at once!”

“The jarl’s thane?”  He laughed again, his eyes glistening with amusement.  “I stand corrected!  You’re a lying, thieving whore.”  His grip grew stronger upon her arm.

“Idolaf Battle-Born!”

The sound of Whiterun’s jarl’s voice startled the Nord.  The group turned; Balgruuf had come from the direction of the city gate, a small contingent of guards with him that included Irileth and Hrongar and now stood facing the member of one of the longest standing families with a look of anger on his face.  “You will unhand Thane Meliandra immediately or you will be thrown into the dungeon yourself!”

Meliandra smiled at Idolaf as his grip quickly released.  The Nord stammered, “I am sorry, my Jarl.  I did not know.”

“See that it doesn’t happen again.”  The jarl turned and approached Meliandra, a smile on his face.  “Welcome home,” he said before he took her in his arms, kissing her cheek.  “I’ve been waiting for your return.”  He laid his hand upon her lower back as he said, “Come, let’s go to Dragonsreach and we can talk.”

Meliandra followed with a glance back at her companions, her eyes betraying the frustration that was growing within her.

#

The blond Nord walked through the gates of Riften, immediately remembering why he didn’t like the fishing city; there was a stagnant smell about the city that was only offset by the smell of the mead that the Black-Briar family brewed here.  His first order of business was to secure lodging for himself and his two companions, from there he would seek out Meliandra.  Riften’s jarl was sympathetic to the Stormcloak cause, but they still wanted to come in and extract the thief with little to no incident.  And the fact that she was a member of the Thieves Guild only added to the delicateness of the situation.  There were rumors of some sort of shake up within the Guild, that the Guild Master had gone rogue and was then eventually killed by a small group of Guild members.

He noticed the man hanging out by the gate, leaning upon the post and realized that he was being watched as well.  He gave a slight nod and a “Kinsman” as he passed and walked across the bridge to the inn.

It had been years since he had been to this city whose only real commerce was from the fishing or from the meadery and he would have gone longer without stepping foot into this cesspool of debauchery and thieves, yet this was the first step in finding the Breton.  Ulfric was determined to have her back in Windhelm, why Ralof wasn’t really sure, but he had sworn to follow the jarl’s orders.  He smiled to himself as he thought about Ulfric’s words of bringing her back to him by any means possible while imagining the young woman’s naked body beneath him.  The thought of having her under his watchful eye excited him.

He walked into the inn and approached the bar where the innkeeper stood watching him.  “I’d like a room for me and my friends.”

“Twenty gold.”

“Twenty gold?  That’s robbery.”

The Argonian smiled at him, her pointed teeth making the sight slightly frightening to the Nord, and replied, “This is Riften.  Thirty gold for the room.”

“By the Divines!  You’d think I was asking to stay with the Thieves Guild for the night.”  He pulled out his coin purse and began counting.

“Forty gold now for the insult.”

Ralof opened his mouth a moment then quickly shut it.  He put the required gold on the counter, then looked at the innkeeper.  She collected the gold then secured it in her safe-box, pocketing the key in her apron.  She led them to a room upstairs, gave them a key for the room, then returned downstairs.

The trio unpacked their gear in near silence.  They had already discussed what they were going to do before they made it within sight of Riften’s walls.  Since Ralof was the one who had a relationship with her already, he would seek her out within the city while his companions would wait here.  He put on a cloak and ventured downstairs, his eyes sweeping over the patrons as he searched for the Breton thief.  He caught sight of the man he had seen earlier as he spoke to the brunette by the entrance.  He felt her eyes on him, following him as he made his way out of the inn and out toward the marketplace.

The sun glared into his eyes as he walked out; the sounds of a hammer hitting metal ringing in his ears.  He decided to see if Meliandra employed the blacksmith to fix her weapons or purchased armor and weaponry from him.  As he made small talk with the man he saw the brunette from the inn exit and walk into the marketplace, her eyes nonchalantly looking him over.  He kept her in his peripheral view as he said to the man, “A friend of mine said you do good work.  Meliandra?  You know her?”

The blacksmith didn’t look up as he continued working on a sword.  “Can’t say that I do.”

Ralof started to say more when he noticed the brunette handing a young child a bit of coin then watched as the child ran off to the lower part of the city.  The brunette looked directly at him before making her way across the bridge and leaning upon a post.  He turned back to the blacksmith to discover the man had disappeared.

#

Balgruuf rolled to his side, collapsing upon the softness of his bed, his breathing slowly returning to its normal pace.  Sweat glistened off his body, the smell of sex heavy in the air around him and the Breton.  He hadn’t given much time to talk, he had rushed through the formalities of court, granting Meliandra a home within the city’s walls, making sure that Proventus recorded it in financial records of Whiterun for all prosperity.

“What did you think of the climb to High Hrothgar?  Beautiful, isn’t it?”

“I haven’t gone.”

The jarl turned to stare at her.  “Then what have you been doing all this time?  Where have you been?”

Meliandra sat up, tossing the covers off her as she swung her legs off the side of the bed.  She allowed her irritation to creep into her voice as she answered the agitated jarl.  “I have had prior obligations that I have needed to take care of.  Sitting amongst a group of aged old monks just is not something that I have the time for.”

“You are Dragonborn!” Balgruuf sat up, taking her shoulder to turn her to face him.  “Do you realize what that means?”

She pulled away from him as she stood up.  “That I’m some sort of hero?” she snapped back at him as she grabbed her clothing and began to dress.

“You can take the soul of a dragon at a time when dragons are coming back!  You can save hundreds of lives!” He walked towards her.  “How can you ignore the plight of the peoples?  You have this ability, and the Greybeards can teach you how to use it!”

She glared at him.  “I am no fucking hero.” With that she walked out, slamming the door behind her, leaving the jarl staring after her.

The woman enraged him.  Could she not see he was trying to help her?  Could she not see that she was a person of great importance?  Could she not see that he wanted her as his?  He began pacing the length of his chambers, his thoughts on the tempestuous Breton.  He was bound and determined to make her his, for a union between him and the Dragonborn would ensure the protection of his city but would also guarantee his name would be remembered for ages henceforth.  But it seemed that the only way that he might be able to convince her to wed him would be for him to impregnate her, a prospect he admittedly greatly enjoyed.

#

Frustrated, Ralof stepped into the Black-Briar Meadery, intent on at least getting a bottle of mead after searching for clues as to the possible whereabouts of Meliandra for the past couple hours with no success.   Every time he brought up her name, the lips of the people became sealed shut and they could suddenly no longer spare him any more time.  He started to understand that their comprehension of who she really was, was very wrong.

There was a lone customer at the counter nursing a bottle of mead; Ralof joined him at the counter, ordering a mead for himself.  He sat in silence for a moment, going over everything he knew about the Breton, attempting to decide what his next course of action would be.  He knew he was going to have to get word to Ulfric that Riften had turned out to be a dead-end and that was something that he dreaded having to do, Ulfric was easily angered when confronted with an impasse.  He took a pull off the bottle, deciding to give it one last try and ask the Nord next to him.

“You’ve been sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong,” came the man’s voice before Ralof could begin to speak.

“Excuse me?” came Ralof’s reply.

“Word is this, you’re asking the wrong questions around town.”  The redheaded man turned to face him, his eyes determined.  “Why are you looking for the Guild, lad?”

He sighed deeply.  “I’m not looking for the Guild, only Meliandra,” he stated calmly as he took another drink of his mead.

“And why are you looking for her?”

Ralof thought a moment then answered, “Jarl Ulfric of Windhelm has requested her presence at the Palace of the Kings.”

The man’s face became set in stone.  “What does Ulfric want with the Guild Master?”

“Guild Master?” Ralof repeated, surprise edging his voice.  “Meliandra is the Guild Master?”  At the man’s nod, he continued, “That explains a lot.”  He took another drink then met the Guild member’s eyes.  “Look, I’ll be honest with you.  Meliandra agreed to do a job for the jarl, what it was, I don’t know.  All I know is that she’s supposed to be in Windhelm, but she’s come up missing.”

#

Meliandra couldn’t get her thoughts off Brynjolf and what he had said the last time she was in Riften.  She thought of the plans she had made for herself as a young child and she thought about making some new plans, ones that included a life with the Nord.  She wondered what it would be like to have a family as she absent-mindedly rubbed her hand across her stomach.

“You alright, Mel?” Vorstag asked.

She nodded as the pair walked down the cobblestone path out of Whiterun Hold.  “thinking about something Bryn said last time I saw him.”  She shook her head with a frown.  “I’m just confused and I don’t know what to do.”

“You know you’re going to have to sit down with him and talk to him about what happened.”

“Why?  So he can pity me?”  she asked sarcastically.  “So he can make more promises that he’ll fail to keep?”  She shook her head.  “He doesn’t need to know.  It’s better this way.”

Vorstag sighed as he nodded.  “Your choice, Mel.  It’s your life, your decision.  I have to respect that.”

She eyed him a moment as they walked.  “So, what’s the deal with you and Lydia?”

He smiled as he thought about the brunette they had left back at Meliandra’s new home.  “Oh, come on, Mel, I’m not about to kiss and tell.”

Her eyebrow raised.  “Seems like a bit more than kissing was going on when I came across you two yesterday.”

He chuckled.  “Yeah, guess you’re right, huh?” He shrugged his shoulders.  “It all depends on her.  I’d like to get to know her better.”

“I think you know her better than I do,” she laughed.

A large grin spread across his face.  “Mel, you’re terrible.”

She laughed.  “I might be, I just might be.”

A Kiss, Sweet Mother

The tall muscular guard sheathed his greatsword as the last draugr fell before him.  He picked the lock on the inner chamber door, then proceeded inside, making sure none of the dead that still walked lay in wait for them there.  Once he established that all was safe, he exited the tomb and approached the noble he was sworn to protect and informed him that it was safe to enter.

“Bring in the chest,” the noble commanded as he walked past him.

The bodyguard nodded then returned to the horse drawn carriage and removed the wooden chest with its gruesome contents.  He wrinkled his nose at the stench of a decaying corpse as he took a deep breath and held it as he carried the thing in.

The noble instructed him to destroy the carriage and kill the horse and then to return inside.  Detest the slaughter all he wanted, he obeyed with no hesitation.

When he returned to the crypt he found his companion kneeling on the floor, an effigy of a person encircled by candles before him.  A basket of nightshade petals sat beside him as he stabbed the body while chanting the words to the Night Mother’s prayer, summoning the Dark Brotherhood to do his deadly bidding.

An Invitation

He started to move on when a glinting caught his eye. He squatted down, reached into the snowberry bush and pulled out the ebony dagger Meliandra prized so much. “She would never leave this behind,” he said as he shook his head. He stood back up, placing the dagger in the folds of his cloak. He began to walk again but stopped short after a few steps. He stared at the tracks before him, how they had suddenly morphed from a large human’s footprints into a large beast’s paws. He looked up at Lydia and said, “This isn’t good.”

“Something’s not right,” Vorstag stated flatly as he looked at the door of the inn. “She should be back by now.”
Lydia glanced toward the door as well, nodding her head in agreement. “We should go find her. You know her habits a lot better than I do so you would have a much easier time tracking her.”
He agreed with the housecarl. “Do we have enough supplies?”
The brunette housecarl thought a moment, mentally reviewing her travel pack as well as thinking about what she knew her male companion to have in his. Slowly she nodded, “Enough for a day or two.”
The Nord nodded and smiled. “Good. I’ll pack up the room and you pay the tab. Then we go looking for Mel.”
“I pay the tab?” she repeated indignantly. “Why am I paying for the room?”
Vorstag’s smile took on the appearance of a smirk as he leaned forward and dropped his voice to a whisper. “Because you are the housecarl and I’m the hired hand.” With that, he stood up and walked to their shared room.
Lydia glared at the man. Her coin purse was quickly getting lighter while his was growing heavy. She rarely saw him spend any coin except for mead and stew; it was beginning to grate on her nerves. She was determined to speak to Meliandra about it when they found her.
She approached Elda, the older Nord woman looking down at the housecarl. “I want to clear our tab.”
“Uh-huh,” responded the innkeeper as she reached down and pulled out her journal, adding up the total the two owed her for the night. She prattled off a total and watched as Lydia counted out the gold.
Vorstag appeared next to the brunette, his pack on his back while holding hers in his hand. “We set?”
Lydia nodded as she took her pack from him and headed out the door into the frigid air. She pulled the hood up on the cloak she wore, the cold of Windhelm chilling her to her bones. They walked in silence along the bridge, Lydia silently fuming about things, wondering how she had ever ended up in a life like this. She had expected to be a housecarl to a noble, to someone who stayed at home and meandered around town, someone who attended parties and rubbed elbows with the higher class while thumbing their noses at the less privileged of people, not galivanting around Skyrim babysitting an ungrateful companion to her adventuring thane.
At the end of the bridge the two Nords stood, looking left, right and straight ahead, unsure which direction Meliandra had taken when she left. Vorstag examined the footsteps in the snow, looking for the Breton’s small and light steps. A few moments after he pointed at the path leading south heading toward the edge of the water. “There, that’s her gait,” he said as he walked toward the snow-covered path.
“Are you sure?” inquired Lydia, walking a few steps behind him.
“Yeah,” he said as he began to explain to her how the Breton had a certain step to her walk that left very distinctive tracks.
They walked for a while, keeping with the tracks that the thief had left behind. Soon Vorstag saw the second set prints that had merged with the path they were following. Pointing them out to Lydia, he said, “Someone was following her; from the footfalls, a heavy-footed person; see the deeper indentations in the snow?” He shook his head. “Her stalker outweighs her and he’s taller than her, his stride is longer. It didn’t take him long to overtake her.” He pointed to a cluster of prints, small ones that belonged to Meliandra and larger ones belonging to the person following her. He started to move on when a glinting caught his eye. He squatted down, reached into the snowberry bush and pulled out the ebony dagger Meliandra prized so much. “She would never leave this behind,” he said as he shook his head. He stood back up, placing the dagger in the folds of his cloak. He began to walk again but stopped short after a few steps. He stared at the tracks before him, how they had suddenly morphed from a large human’s footprints into a large beast’s paws. He looked up at Lydia and said, “This isn’t good.”
#
She was groggy; no matter how much she tried to open her eyes and wake up, sleep had constantly claimed her. Her head felt heavy and it pounded within the confines of her skull. Her stomach was clenched as a wave of nausea swept through her body, making her violently ill as she finally managed to sit up in a bed she did not recognize. Once the retching was done, she looked around, her vision slowly clearing to reveal a large semi-empty shack. Then she saw the assassin sitting atop a shelving unit, cleaning her fingernails with the tip of a dagger.
“Oh, good. You’re awake. Sleep well?” came the sickly-sweet voice from the masked woman.
Meliandra rubbed the temples of her head, mumbling somewhat incoherently. “What? Where am I?” She met the eyes of the Dark Brotherhood member. “Who are you?”
“Does it matter?” She responded as she sheathed her dagger. “You’re warm, dry…” she paused a moment before continuing, “..and very much alive. That’s more than can said for old Grelod. Hmmm?”
“You actually know about that?”
“Know about it?” she chuckled icily. “Half of Skyrim knows. Old hag gets butchered in her own orphanage? Things like that tend to get around.” The assassin leaned against the wall behind her. “Oh, but don’t misunderstand. I’m not criticizing. It was a good kill. Old crone had it coming. And you saved a group of urchins, to boot. But,” she sighed, “there is a slight problem.”
Meliandra remained silent, not liking the direction this was going.
“You see, that little Aretino boy was looking for the Dark Brotherhood. For me and my associates. Grelod the Kind was, by all rights, a Dark Brotherhood contract. A kill…that you stole. A kill you must repay.”
“I knew I wasn’t going to like this,” the Breton mumbled. “How am I to repay this debt?”
“Funny you should ask.” The woman’s eyes smiled. “If you turn around, you’ll notice my guests. I’ve ‘collected’ them from… well, that’s not really important. The here and now. That’s what matters.” She leaned forward. “You see, there’s a contract out on one of them, and that person can’t leave this room alive. But…which one? Go on, see if you can figure it out. Make your choice. Make your kill. I just want to observe…and admire.”
“I want no part of this.” She stormed toward the door.
“I’ll cut right to it.” The woman’s voice turned hard. “You murdered the old woman in the orphanage. You owe the Dark Brotherhood a kill. I’ve come to collect. One of these poor sods has a contract out on their life. Which one is it? Any idea? Make your choice. Make your kill. And then you get to walk away.”
Meliandra glared at the woman. “Fine,” she snapped as she reached for a bow and quiver on the table. “I’ll do it.”
The assassin’s voice went light again. “See. I knew we could resolve this civilly. A debt owed must be repaid. You understand that.” Well, get to it then. Pick your guest, and send the poor fool to the Void. I’ll give you the key to this shack and you’ll be on your way.”
Meliandra glanced at the three bound prisoners, back at the assassin, and then plucked three arrows out of the quiver. In one fluid movement, the thief nocked all three arrows and released them at once, each arrow finding and hitting their marks, a kill shot on each. She set the bow back down and looked up at the woman, her voice edged with irritation. “Satisfied?”
“Satisfied?” she repeated with a laugh. “Aren’t we the overachiever? Three possibilities, three victims. Must have been one of them, right? So, why take the chance?”
“You told me to kill. I killed.”
“Yes, yes you did. For you, my friend, seem to understand what’s truly important. When I give an order to spill blood, you follow it. No questions. No remorse.”
“Yeah. Okay. Am I free to go?”
“Of course. And you’ve repaid your debt in full.” She tossed Meliandra a key. “Here’s the key to the shack. But why stop here? I say we take our relationship to the next level. I’d like to officially extend to you an invitation to join my family. The Dark Brotherhood.”
#
“What do you mean you can’t find her?”
Ulfric’s thunderous voice boomed off the walls of his study. The guard before him, his face as pale as the snow outside, was visibly shaken, his fear, showing in his eyes. He shifted his weight uncomfortably as the jarl stalked around the room angrily. “She’s nowhere to be found within the walls of the city, though I was given some information from Susanna and Elda over at the inn.”
“And what did you find out?” the jarl demanded.
“Susanna said that the Breton had gotten room along with two companions. When I asked Elda, she informed me that the two associates had checked out and left yesterday afternoon. A guard who overheard me speaking with Elda stated that he had seen the two leaving Windhelm and heading to the south.”
Ulfric cocked an eyebrow as he repeated, “Heading to the south?” He stroked his chin, running his fingers through the length of his coarse, greying beard. “Thank you; you are dismissed.”
He paced his study, his thoughts going over what he knew of the girl and what he suspected of her relationship with Ralof. After a moment, he walked through the study and into his personal chambers, making his way to the door. The guard was making his rounds when Ulfric called him over, instructing him to locate Ralof and have him report to the jarl. He had a feeling that if anyone could find the thief and bring her back it would be Ralof.
Sometime later, the soldier appeared at Ulfric’s door, looking as fi he had run all the way to the Palace. “You sent for me, Jarl Ulfric?”
Ulfric nodded. “I need you to gather a group of men and track down Meliandra and bring her back to Windhelm. Unharmed.”
“Sir?”
“Her companions were seen leaving Windhelm headed south. She may have headed to Riften.”
“Riften, sir?”
Ulfric stated flatly, “She’s part of the Thieves Guild. Find her, bring her back here. I don’t care how you do it, just bring me that thief!”
#
Meliandra followed the river towards Whiterun, intending on replenishing what little supplies she had before returning to Windhelm. She hadn’t had much with her when the assassin had taken her. While she had managed to get this far with what little she had had, she knew getting all the way back to Windhelm without supplies would be difficult, and not knowing how the temperamental jarl had reacted to her sudden disappearance, she wanted to be prepared to make a run for it if it turned out bad, even if it meant revealing that she had the power of the Thu’um.
While she had made this long walk to Whiterun, she had given thought to what her course of action would be. She could steal a few items of value and use Mallus to fence the stolen items or she could take advantage of the jarl of Whiterun’s lustful desires for her and have him replenish her supplies. At this point in time, she didn’t care as long as she got back to that frozen city and its damnable jarl.
She crested a hill and recognized the tent in the distance. She sighed with relief knowing Vorstag and Lydia were there, perhaps she would be able to avoid having to go to Whiterun and have to deal with Balgruuf. She quickened her steps, anxious to see her companions, knowing they would have food and water; her stomach grumbled at the thought of food.
As she neared the tent, her ears began to pick up familiar sounds, but sounds she would never expect to hear from her traveling companions. She slowed her steps and crouched close to the ground, slowly making her way toward the tent. The opening soon came into her sight and what she saw caused her to stop and stare at the scene before her.
There, on the bed roll, lay her housecarl, completely naked while a nude Vorstag kneeled upon his knees between the spread legs of Lydia. Lydia’s pleasured moans seemed to urge him on, his hips thrusting faster and faster, her hands curled into fists as she clenched the fur of the bedroll. Meliandra shamelessly watched the two fuck on the ground before her, the two of them completely unaware of her presence. Ina moment’s time, Vorstag gave a loud grunt as he slammed himself into the housecarl and held himself there, his orgasm pulsating throughout his body until he gave one last grunt accompanied by one last thrust.
A moment later the thief stood in front of the opening to the tent, her presence still undetected by her companions. She cleared her throat and spoke loudly, startling Lydia. “Well that was entertaining. Glad to know that you two are getting along well.”
#

Debts

“The way I see it, you owe me your life.  I could have easily had you executed for stealing from me.  Instead Appius took your place.  And since he died before revealing who his cohorts are and you have already seen the one, you are still in my debt until I release you from it.  Therefore, you are being conscripted as a spy for me.  You bring me any information you find on the Empire, I’ll pay you what it’s worth.  If I send for you and your services, you will respond.”

Ulfric had finally stopped stalking angrily around his study.  It had taken a few bottles of mead mixed with Colovian Brandy to do so.  Meliandra would never admit to it but she had been tempted more than once to cast a calming spell upon the jarl but knew the magic wary Nord would probably not be very accepting of her actions, good intentions or not.  He had raged at the loss of his prisoner; he had raged at the fact that there was still at least one person in his confidence that was betraying him.  He cursed at his misfortune to have the answers right there in his hand only to have them slip through his fingers, leaving him back at square one.

Meliandra watched the jarl with interest as his voice boomed off the grey stone walls, paying keen attention to the rise and fall of his words.  She began to understand how he had gained the support he had as his personal rant played upon one keeping their word and remaining loyal to what was right and true.  As she listened to him, she began to see him from a different point of view.  So, when he changed the subject from Appius’s suicide to her, she found that she was a little more willing to speak to him a bit more freely than she had been before.

The jarl looked at the Breton, a slight smile hiding behind his lips. “Tell me, something, Meliandra.”  He sat forward in the chair he sat in to the right of her, a bottle of mead in his hand as he rested his arms on his knees.  “How the fuck did you get into my armory?”

She sat back and chuckled.  “Magic, sir.”  She paused a moment as she let the statement sink into the Nord before she continued, “My mother was a gifted alchemist and enchanter.  She had taught me from a very young age on how to mix potions and enchant items.  After she died, I had to do whatever I could to survive, whether it was permittable by law or not.  To avoid being caught, I honed my magic skills and became quite adept at what I could do.  I picked up some jobs along the way and eventually fell in with the Thieves Guild and I have remained with them; they’ve been rather good to me.”

The jarl nodded in understanding.  “You know, your skills would be beneficial to the cause here.”

She looked at him, her eyebrow arching as a smirk came to her face.  “The cause?” she repeated with a chuckle.  “You mean your war, right?”

“My war?” he questioned as he sat up straight in his chair.  “This is our war, the peoples of Skyrim’s war.”  He paused before continuing, “Unless your loyalties lie with the Empire?”

Her eyes turned cold as she spat her next words out. “The Empire holds nothing for me as long as they’re the Thalmor’s whore.”  She glared at him for a moment.  “Fuck the Thalmor.”  She took a long pull off her own bottle of mead she held within her hand.

Ulfric noted the contempt in her voice and smiled.  “Then join the fight, Meliandra,” he prodded.

She shook her head.  “Sir, I have to refuse.  The Thieves Guild has remained neutral and continues to be so.   My loyalties lay with the Guild.  I’m sorry.”

“Is there any way I can persuade you to join?”  he asked, smiling broadly at her.

Smiling, she glanced down at her lap then back at him.  “Sir, I’m not a soldier.  I don’t follow rules.  I’d be of no use to you on the field.”

He nodded.  “Fine.”  He took a drink of his mead then looked at her again.  “If I can’t use you in the field as a soldier, I’ll use you in the field as an informant.”

“What?!” she stared at him incredulously, knowing she heard him correctly but not believing her own ears.  “You can’t possibly be serious.”

He smiled and nodded.  “Without a doubt.”  He set his drink down as he continued, his voice heavy with the weight of his decision.  “The way I see it, you owe me your life.  I could have easily had you executed for stealing from me.  Instead Appius took your place.  And since he died before revealing who his cohorts are and you have already seen the one, you are still in my debt until I release you from it.  Therefore, you are being conscripted as a spy for me.  You bring me any information you find on the Empire, I’ll pay you what it’s worth.  If I send for you and your services, you will respond.”

“And if I don’t?”

Ulfric’s smile grew large yet the glint in his eyes showed only malice as he answered, “Then you will cease to be an asset to me and will be eliminated.”

#

A murder had been committed in Riften.  The guards hadn’t been sure who they had seen running out of the orphanage.  Rumor had it that it was a member of the Thieves Guild.  Brynjolf heard these whispers but paid them no mind.  He knew the murder happened after Meliandra had left her room that night, that it happened after Vex had seen her leaving.  And while he knew it had been the Guild Master who had committed the murder, he did not know why it had happened.  He had not heard from her in the days that had passed, nor had anyone else in the Guild.

He recalled Karliah’s words at Irkngthand, that Meliandra had slipped into the darkness, and he began to see it as well.  He wondered what exactly it was that had sent her over the edge and more importantly, would he be able to bring her back from it?  Questions plagued his mind the more he thought about it, yet he could not tear his mind from those thoughts.

Vex watched Brynjolf torture himself and she hated herself for not being able to fix it.  After watching him drink himself into a stupor night after night, she made the decision that she would find some way to make things right, no matter what the cost.

#

She followed the blonde servant but barely listened to anything she was saying; she was raging inside at Ulfric and how he had taken advantage of how the situation had turned out.  And argue as she did, she finally had to consented to giving Ulfric what he wanted, her servitude to him.

When Galmar had come in to speak to the jarl, Ulfric had called for a servant then instructed her to bring Meliandra to a certain room.  He had then dismissed both the servant and Meliandra without so much as a glance.

She found herself resenting the man, the overinflated ego she sensed about him grated on her nerves.  He held power in his hands, but she also knew that his power was ebbing, the tides of war were overpowering him.  She knew he needed a miracle to win this war.

The servant opened a door and stepped aside.  “Your rooms, milady.”

“My rooms?” Confused, she walked in the room to see that there was a full-sized bed set upon a wooden frame, it’s size larger than what she would have expected.  It was furnished with merely the necessities, yet those necessities showed an elegance she would not expect for a guest’s room.  She noticed an open door just beyond the bed and went to inspect it, discovering it was a study, much like the one off Ulfric’s personal quarters.  There was even a private patio alongside the exterior wall.  She returned to the main room, seeking the servant’s answers to her bewildered state of mind.  “Are you sure this is where Ulfric wants me to stay?  In here?”

She nodded.  “Yes, milady.  I’m sure; Jarl Ulfric was very specific about it.”

“Why did he put me in here?” she wondered aloud.

The servant smiled slightly.  “He must appreciate you, milady.”

“Appreciate me?” She snorted.  “I’m strictly an asset to him.  I’m surprised he didn’t put me under guard.  And why do you keep calling me ‘milady’? I’m no noble.”

“An asset, milady?  I don’t think so,” the maid responded.  “He has only on rare occasions allowed anyone into these chambers.  For you to be put here, that’s a privilege and means that he sees you as someone much more than an asset.”

#

“What I’m saying is that something isn’t right about that girl,” Galmar said gruffly.

“There’s always something not right about anyone with you, old friend.”

“Yes, but this one is different, Ulfric.”  The aged general shook his head.  “Just the thought of her makes the hair on the back of my neck stand on end.”

The jarl chuckled.  “Usually that’s a good thing.”

“Thinking with your dick again?” Galmar countered.  At Ulfric’s raised eyebrow he continued, “You can’t tell me that you have not stared at her tits.”

A grin appeared on the ruler’s face.  “Stared?  No.  Noticed…, I’d have to be blind to not notice the endowment she has been graced with.”  He took a long pull off his drink.  “She does have a certain beauty about her, doesn’t she?”

“She does have an exotic look to her,” Galmar admitted.  “If I trusted her, I’d screw her.  But I don’t trust her and I don’t think you should either.”

“I shouldn’t trust her or I shouldn’t bed her?”

Galmar stared at the jarl.  “So you do want to fuck her.”

“Come now, Galmar,” he replied.  “I am a man.  I do have desires.”

“And that’s why you have your castle wenches.”

Ulfric shook his head.  “How many of the wenches have you bedded?  And how often?  How many of my inner circle have had those same women that have visited your bed?”  He shook his head again as he said, “No, a wench will not satisfy all of my desires.”

“They’ll satisfy enough of mine to make me happy.  Galmar took a drink and looked at his friend.  “But seriously, Ulfric, I wouldn’t trust that Breton thief with my life.”

#

The guard watched the stranger warming himself by the fire outside the palace.  He knew something about him was a miss yet the thought of approaching the tall Nord sent shivers down his spine.  He kept his distance from the shoeless man, the primal look in the stranger’s eyes creating a wide berth between the two in more ways than one.

He warily eyed the stranger as he finally ventured away from the warmth of the fire and into the shadows heading toward the docks.  He breathed a sigh of relief, finally losing the feeling of being stalked by a hunter.

The assassin stood just beyond the guard’s sight; he had toyed with the Windhelm guard long enough, the scent of his fear slowly elevating that brought a wolfish grin to the man.  He heard the slight sound of glass tapping glass, a sound that reaffirmed Astrid’s orders to have the Breton taken alive and unharmed.  While he wanted to show the Breton the error of her ways, he was bound to the promise he had made.

Babette had brewed a potion specifically for this job and had reassured him that he’d have no problem using it.  He simply needed to get the woman to inhale it’s fumes.  While they had not planned on the target being at the Palace of the Kings and this had changed his plan of action, he had quickly reformulated his plan.  He would bring this woman, this Meliandra Valeria, to Astrid.  He had sworn it.

Weighing Life and Death

The sun had broken the horizon eight hours into the journey to the snow eastern city of Windhelm. They had come across an abandoned wagon and had stolen a horse from Katla’s Farm outside of Solitude. Vorstag and Lydia had been taking turns driving the horse pulled wagon as Meliandra sat next to the bound Appius. Getting him out of Castle Dour had proven to be an adventure in itself; his room was mere steps from the main corridor, the same corridor that was traversed heavily by Legion officers making it impossible to sneak out that way. It took her only a short moment to devise a plan that got both her and the traitor out of the castle. Vorstag had questioned her while Lydia balked but neither one had a negative thing to say when the short Breton appeared at the window with the bound Nord slumped over her shoulder. They watched as the man fell as she tossed him easily over the side, the two of them holding an edge of an outstretched tent that they carried with them on their travels. They snuck out of the city undetected and after stealing the horse, headed toward Windhelm.

Appius had been jolted awake by a bump along the stone road. He looked at the Breton, an angry look sat on his face. “You’re not going to get away with this!”

Meliandra sighed as she fished an apple out of her sack. She rubbed the dirt off the fruit onto her tunic, then withdrew a dagger from its sheath on her waist. She glanced at the man as she cut the apple in half, then again quartering it. “What makes you think that I haven’t already?”

“Rikke will come looking for me!” he stated firmly.

Meliandra laughed. “I’m sure she will, once she gets her fill of Orc dick, that is.” She shoved a piece of apple into his mouth. “Eat; I won’t have it said that I starved you.” She took a bite of the apple and watched him watching her.

He finished the apple slice and glared at her. “Whatever Stormcloak is paying you, I’ll double it if you let me go.”

She snorted. “I’m not doing this for the gold.”

His eyes widened in confusion. “If you bring me to him, he will have me killed.”

She took a bite of the apple again, chewed it thoughtfully then looked at him. “Not my concern.”

“Do you have no compassion?” he cried out.

“Of course I do,” she answered. “Just none for you.”

“Just let me go! He’s going to kill me!”

She looked at him, her eyes narrowed. “If I let you go, then he’s going to kill me.” He began to speak again but she waved him off and said, emphasizing her words with a jab of her dagger towards him, “Look, I promised Ulfric I’d bring you back alive; I didn’t promise that you would have your damn tongue.”

Vorstag’s laugh echoed through Appius’s head for the rest of the journey back to the frozen city he had come to despise. He had feared an outcome such as this from the moment he had agreed to this and now seeing what his future held for him, he resigned himself to his dreaded fate.

#

The afternoon sun shone through the window of Ulfric’s study, bringing a touch of warmth to this blistery day. As a child he would have begged his father to let him play out in the snow, wanting nothing more than to engage in snowball fights with Galmar and Yrsarald. Things had been easy back then. As children they had little to worry about. Yet it seemed as if with the blink of an eye everything had changed in their world. His childhood forever changed when he was sent to live amongst the Greybeards, not seeing his homeland for over a decade and when he finally stepped foot in his beloved home, it was not as the carefree youth that he had once been, but rather a cold, hard, driven man with an intense loathing for the Mer.

He paced the length of his study, his thoughts on Meliandra and if she had been successful on extracting the traitor or if she, like all the others before her, had failed. He had received word that she had made it to Solitude and even made it into Castle Dour but he had heard nothing since. He had sensed something about her that was different and he believed that she would have been successful on this mission. He only hoped that his gut feeling was right.

He heard the sound of footfalls on the stone floors outside his chambers followed by a loud rapping against the solid wood door that he recognized as being his general. “Yes, Galmar?” he called out.

The gruff general opened the door and walked in, his face showing surprise. He approached the jarl; the closer the man got the more Ulfric could see the pleasure in the eyes of the man. “What is it, Galmar?”

“That Breton thief…,” he shook his head. “She’s back with Appius.”

Ulfric smiled broadly. “I knew she was the one to do it.” He picked up his cloak and headed for the door. “Where is she?”

“The war room. Appius is already down in the Bloodworks.”

Nodding, he continued walking, his smile growing broader still. “Good,” he said with a hint of prideful flourish. “I suppose I should go thank the thief.”

#

She paced the room. She wanted to take her leave of Ulfric and return to Riften. She wanted no more to do with this blasted cold and this jarl. She glanced at the map on the table and noted that the Stormcloak flags were far and few in between. She saw Ulfric only had the support of a few holds; it was evident that he was losing the war. She continued examining her surroundings, very aware that she was being intently watched by one of Ulfric’s guards standing in the corner of the room. Every so often she would pick something up, look at it closely while the guard’s hand would instinctively go for his sword, then she’d set it back down and smile at the guard.

Her heightened hearing picked up footfalls beyond the wood door; she turned as the gruff aged jarl walked through the door. His piercing blue eyes smiled at her; in that look she saw a smoldering fire, entrancing her with a fearful respect. He strode over to her, confident and sure. She found his imposing height both threatening and comforting as he stood before her.

“I knew you were the right person for the job,” he said. “Did you run into any problems?”

She shook her head. “Nothing I couldn’t handle, sir.”

He smiled as he withdrew her ebony dagger from the folds of his robe, once again examining the ornate details of the craftsmanship before handing it to her. “I’d say that you earned the return of your weapon then.”

She took her prized dagger in her hands, smiled and thanked him. She slipped the sheath into place on her hip, it’s familiar weight a reassurance to her; she looked the jarl in the eyes. “Does this mean that you trust me?”

He chuckled yet there was no mirth behind it. “Trust is earned, not given. But,” he paused, “you are on your way to being trusted.” He set his heavy hand gently upon her shoulder as he continued, “Walk with me.”

“Yes, sir.”

She followed as he exited the room, entering the large hall. Large banners hung from the wall, all proudly displaying the Stormcloak bear. A handful of nobles ate at the grand table, laden with roasted meats and jugs of Nord mead. She eyed each one, looking and wondering. Ulfric noticed this and questioned her. She shook her head and said softly so that only his ears would hear her. Even the smallest rabbits have big ears, my Lord.”

He glanced at her from the corner of his eye, his eyebrow raised and a curious look upon his face. “Very well.” They remained silent until they entered the passageways and then he turned to face her. “I admire your sense of confidential urgency so would you oblige me with an explanation of what all that was?”

“Before I apprehended Appius, I observed him speaking with someone about things here in Windhelm. Sir, he’s getting all of his information from someone who has access to the Palace.” She paused a moment before continuing. “And you.”

He searched her face intently, looking for signs of deception, and seeing none, asked, “Do you know who his contact is?”

She shook her head. “No, I’m sorry, sir. I did see her face somewhat and I am sure I would recognize her voice if I heard it.”

He nodded and began to walk again. “Then it seems as if I am still in need of you and your skills.”

She sighed and followed him to the Bloodworks.

#

He was cold in his cell. The frigid city in the north was experiencing a cold front making it colder than normal. Add to that the cells were drafty with no source of heat except for the sconces along the walls which put out hardly any heat. He looked at the hay pile and thought about his circumstances. There was little doubt in his mind about what fate lay before him; he only wondered how much time he had left before Ulfric passed his sentence.

Voices echoed off the stone walls; he recognized the deep voice of the jarl and became anxious. He quickly thought about the options he had before him and realized how few they were. A moment later Ulfric and the Breton entered the room.

“Appius, Appius,” Ulfric states as he spread his hands vastly before him. “Tell me these things I’ve been hearing are not true. I know that you would never sully your family’s good name the way rumor has it.” He stood before the gate to the cell, a slight smile playing tauntingly upon his lips. “Surely this is nothing, more than a big misunderstanding, right, Appius?”

He stared back at the jarl, confused.

Ulfric turned to the Breton and asked her to retrieve the key to the cell’; they waited for her to return. Appius swallowed nervously, knowing nothing good was going to come of this but not knowing what to do. A moment later, the ebony haired Breton returned to Ulfric’s side, key in hand. At his command, she unlocked the cell and stood aside. He swallowed nervously again as he watched Ulfric walk calmly into his cell. He knew Ulfric too well to think that the jarl truly believed in his innocence.

“My old, dear friend,” the rule said as he stood in front of him, “why don’t you tell me your side of the story and explain this situation – “

Suddenly Ulfric’s hand shot up and grabbed ahold of the traitor’s neck right below his jaw then slammed the man against the wall with a resounding crack, his eyes large with more fear than he had ever experienced in his life. A fire raged in the eyes of Ulfric Stormcloak and when he continued speaking, his voice was hard and thundering.

“ -before I rip your goddamn throat out?”

“My Lord,” he choked out.

“’My Lord’?” Ulfric repeated with a growl. “You dare call me your lord when you’ve been betraying me?!” His grip got tighter around Appius’ throat. “You worthless waste of skin! I have half a mind to throw you into River Yorgrim with boulders tied to you!”

“I know thing,” Appius managed to say.

Ulfric smiled, his eyes glinting. “Yes, you do. I want to know who your co-conspirators are.”

He shook his head in denial. “No one, sir. It was just me.”

Ulfric gripped his throat tighter as he snarled, “Do not lie to me, Appius! You were seen and heard conspiring with someone! Tell me what I want to know!”

With little air making its way to his lungs, he nodded what little he could. “Please, sir,” he rasped out, “release your hold on me and I’ll tell you everything.”

“Of course you will,” Ulfric responded as he released the man.

Appius fell to his knees and rested his hands in the hay beneath him. His eyes closed, the air burning their way through to his lungs as he asked for forgiveness in a quickly whispered prayer to the Divines.

He knew that the time had come.

#

Meliandra saw it a moment too late. She cried out as she saw Appius pulling the cork out of a vial. She quickly cast a paralyze spell that crashed into his chest, collapsing him to the ground. Ulfric spun around to see his prisoner start foaming at the mouth like a rabid wolf. For a moment, terror shone through Appius’s eyes before they went dull. Meliandra rushed into the cell and stood behind the jarl who was examining the small black vial clutched in the hand of the now deceased traitor. She pried the vial from the immobile fingers and gently sniffed it. “A fast-acting poison, sir,” she said. “He had nothing on him when I brought him down to the cell.”

Ulfric picked up the chair that sat in the corner of the cell and hurled it against the bars, his anger exploding just like the chair splintering into pieces.