Black Temptation

“For fucks sake, Mel! I didn’t sign on for this!”

She stared at him, a glint in her eye he had never seen before; a shiver creeped up his back.  She removed her coin purse and dropped it next to him.  “Then go home, Vorstag.  I don’t need to be worried about you having my back when I’m pulling jobs.”

“That’s the thing, Mel,” he said as he stood up, grabbing his pack before looking at her.  “You’re not pulling jobs for anyone but yourself.  There’s no contract with the Brotherhood to be eliminating Legion officers and you’ve put as much distance as possible between you and Ulfric, even when you’re in Windhelm.  You’re slaughtering these men for your own twisted sense of loyalty to the Stormcloaks.  I want no part of this.”

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He could hear Galmar barking to the soldiers in the training arena as well as the sounds of metal on metal; the stench of sweat heavy in the air as he made his way into the room.  He immediately saws his general at the front of a group of new recruits, bellowing what was expected of them as Stormcloaks.  “Milk-drinkers will not be tolerated here; we are not a rabble of farmers with pitchforks and shovels! We fight as soldiers against the tyranny of the Empire and we will throw them out of our lands!”  Galmar met Ulfric’s eye and finished speaking to the group of soldiers before approaching the jarl.  Ulfric began to walk the length of the arena, watching those there train, paying attention to their form, how they handled their chosen weapons, making his way past the group of archers perfecting their aim, some kneeling, some standing.  He stopped, looked at Galmar, and spoke.

“I’ve received communications from the jarls of Dawnstar, Winterhold, and Ivarstead; there has been an increase of Imperial movements throughout their holds, never near capitals, only the outskirts.”

“Have they been able to send spies out?”

“None have been successful in crossing lines.”

Galmar nodded with a frown on his face.  “Do you have a proposed course of action?”

The jarl nodded, knowing exactly how his housecarl was going to react to his words.  “I have sent for Meliandra.”

“That Breton thief who tucked tail and ran from here?!” Galmar asked incredulously.

“She has been locating people that Susanna connected Mila with,” Ulfric stated evenly, the argument nearly six months old with the man in charge of his army.

“Of course, she has,” he grumbled, “she’s eliminating everyone that can tie her into the conspiracy.”

“Enough, Galmar!” he snapped.  “I will not tolerate any more of these baseless accusations that Meliandra has anything to do with Mila’s attempt to have me captured and turned over to the Empire.”

“Baseless, my ass! And you know it, Ulfric.  You just refuse to see it because you’re using the wrong head!”

“Enough!” he bellowed, his deep voice bouncing off the walls.  He glared at Galmar, anger blazing in his eyes.  “You really want to know why Meliandra was suddenly gone after she killed the Butcher?”  His voice came out as an angry whisper as he continued, not allowing Galmar the opportunity to answer.  “I saw her before she left, little did I know she was going to leave though.  But we were right here, in this arena; I was going to give her a lesson on how she grips her sword.”

In his mind’s eyes, he could see the events of that day playing back to him, him standing so close to her he could smell the honey mead she had consumed, looking into those amber eyes with their specks of green and losing himself again and kissing her.  He remembered how she broke the kiss, a mixture of shock, surprise and guilt on her face as she backed away from him, saying, “No, this is wrong, I can’t,” before rushing out of the arena.

He looked at Galmar.  “She left because I offended her; I overstepped my boundaries and she left.”

Galmar eyed him, then grumbled.  “If you say so.”  Clearing his throat, he continued.  “You know where the thief scurried off to, then?”

Ulfric shook his head.  “No, I don’t.”

“So you have a courier running all over Skyrim looking for her?”

 

Again, Ulfric shook his head.  “No, I sent the courier to Falkreath.”

“Falkreath?  Why?”

Ulfric looked at him in the eye and replied strait faced, “Because the thief is also an assassin with the Dark Brotherhood and the Brotherhood makes their home in Falkreath Hold.”

#

Vorstag listened to the Imperial soldier sitting at the bar next to him as he waited for Meliandra at this remote inn in the forests of Falkreath close to the border of Whiterun; he was growing tired of his companion’s behavior as of late, these blatant attacks upon Imperial troops were becoming more and more dangerous for her, as he was discovering as he listened to the drunken soldier sitting next to him.

“There’s stories going around the camps of a wench thirsty for blood.”

“Say again?”

“There’s some wench making her way through various camps,” he burped loudly then continued.  “She fucks the soldiers and then she cuts their throats.”

Panic gripped Vorstag.  “Any idea who this bitch is?”

The soldier shook his head, “Probably just some Stormcloak loving whore.  All I know is that if I’m getting myself a piece of pussy and that bitch pulls a knife on me, I will have no problem cold-cocking her and dragging her ass out to the middle of the fucking camp where each and every one of us can have a go at her whore ass.  And once we’re done with her, we’ll make her an example to all those rebels.”

“Death to the Stormcloaks,” Vorstag said as he drank from his tankard.  “I better get out there before I’m missed,” he said as he stood up, dropping some gold on the bar.  “Take care of yourself.”

He walked out the door into the dark of night, the stars the only source of light tonight and only when the clouds weren’t hiding them.  He headed to the agreed upon location to meet up with Meliandra, his thoughts disturbed.  He cared for Meliandra like she was his sister, they had become good friends, but he could not stand by and let her destroy her life.  He knew he was going to have a serious talk with the assassin, a prospect he did not look forward to.

He gathered some deadwood and started a small fire once he got to the meeting place.  As he sat on a boulder near his campfire, he stared into the flames, watching them dance as his thought drifted to the brunette housecarl back in Whiterun and longed to fall asleep next to her once again.  The past six months he had been getting to know the housecarl more and more whenever they had found themselves close to Whiterun and had slowly begun to come to the realization that he was developing deep feelings for her.

The sound of footsteps broke through his thoughts; a dagger was in his hand almost instantly as he made chirping sounds then listened for the response which came immediately.  He poked the fire before him, moving the embers around, breathing life into the fire, waiting for Meliandra to make her way to him.  He held a bottle of mead out, knowing Meliandra would be wanting it after her late-night escapade of blood letting in the Legion’s camp.

“We need to get out of here before you’re seen,” he said as the bottle was taken from his hand.

“Why?” she asked, snapping at him.

“Soldiers are talking about the killings of their comrades.”

She snorted as she took a pull off the bottle.  “Good,” she retorted, turning to look at him, “maybe they’ll turn tail and run away like the milk-drinkers they are.”

“By the Nine, Mel!” He snapped at her, his eyes angry as he stared at her.  “They want your blood. And milk-drinkers or not, they’re not going to be nice about it.”

“Are you saying that you think that those scum sucking cowards can take me on?”

“Just because you’re Dragonborn doesn’t mean you’re immortal!”

She laughed.  “I’m willing to find out if I am.”

“For fucks sake, Mel! I didn’t sign on for this!”

She stared at him, a glint in her eye he had never seen before; a shiver creeped up his back.  She removed her coin purse and dropped it next to him.  “Then go home, Vorstag.  I don’t need to be worried about you having my back when I’m pulling jobs.”

“That’s the thing, Mel,” he said as he stood up, grabbing his pack before looking at her.  “You’re not pulling jobs for anyone but yourself.  There’s no contract with the Brotherhood to be eliminating Legion officers and you’ve put as much distance as possible between you and Ulfric, even when you’re in Windhelm.  You’re slaughtering these men for your own twisted sense of loyalty to the Stormcloaks.  I want no part of this.”

He turned and walked off, leaving Meliandra standing there in silence.  She shook her head when he was out of her line of sight then stared at the coin purse still sitting in the dirt where she had dropped it.

#

The hammer truck the iron repeatedly, a blade slowly forming.  He had been working on this piece all night, more out of frustration than of necessity.  Astrid was angry.  Again.  The arrival of the recruit months previous had turned their world upside down.  This new recruit that Astrid had brought in, the young Breton, Meliandra, had proven herself to be proficiently adept at the art of stealth and equally proficient in the art of murder.  Astrid, became uneasy with how well the Breton had been accepted by the others after that.

Then when the Keeper arrived with the corpse of the Unholy Matron things began to change within these halls forever.  The Night Mother, long silent spoke to one of the family, proclaiming Babette to be the Listener.  Though she’d never admit it, Arnbjorn knew she had been hurt when the vampire opted to make the Breton her advisor and enforcer.

He stopped mid-swing as a familiar scent hit his nose; he turned his head to see the person of his wife’s consternation.  “You’re back,” he said as he returned his attention to the sword he was forging for one of the Brotherhood.

“You sound disappointed, Arnbjorn,” Meliandra purred, standing an arm’s length from the werewolf.  She looked around the cave.  “Where’s Astrid?”

He looked at her again, a restrained look in his eyes.  “In our room.  And she’s not in a good mood.”

“Has there ever been a time she was in a good mood?”

“Yes,” he said as he began to work his forge again.  “Before you came to us.”

The Breton laughed.  “She’s the one who invited me.”

“Something she regrets every day.”

She laughed again.  “Too bad everyone else feels differently about that,” she said as she placed her hand on his shoulder and leaned forward, her lips brushing against his ear as she continued, “Even this big, bad wolf.”

His nostrils flared as her scent assailed him, a low rumble rolled out from the pit of his stomach as he dropped his hammer and the sword, spun around, and grabbed both of her wrists.  “You tread on thin ice, Meliandra,” he snarled.

She pulled her wrists out of his grip, a smirk on her lips.  “What’s the matter, Arnbjorn?  Astrid have you on a short leash again?”

“I love my wife,” he said pointedly to her.

Meliandra smiled, patted his shoulder and began to walk away as she said, “Keep telling yourself that, Arnbjorn, keep telling yourself that.”

In The Dead of Night

The Nord thrust himself into the Breton once more, filling her with his length; he was insatiable with this raven-haired beauty beneath him, but his release was imminent.  His strokes became hurried and demanding; he needed to claim this woman as his and only his.  Her breasts, so creamy white, jiggled vigorously as his climax approached rapidly.  The sounds of her pleasure growing louder pushed him over the edge and with a final thrust, his seed erupted inside of her, the force of his orgasm spasmed through him as he collapsed onto the bed next to her.

“You know how to steal a man’s heart, darling,” he breathed heavily.

Meliandra smiled as she sat atop him, straddling him between her legs, her long, black hair draping across her breasts.  “It was never my intention to steal your heart.”

“But you did,” the blond responded.  “From the moment I laid eyes on you, you had me.”

She leaned down and kissed his lips.  “I find that I seem to have that affect on people.  Which is good, really,” she said sweetly as her hand found its way to the dagger she had secreted away when the Nord had not been paying attention.  As his eyes questioned her, she drew the edge of the blade across his neck, spraying the legate’s blood across her.

“Death to the Empire.”

The Butcher’s Farewell

His footsteps echoed in the stone passageway, the sound bouncing around him.  Soon he began to hear the distinctive sound of a weapon hitting wood repeatedly coming from the training arena; a knowing smile touched his lips as he walked into the large room to see the young Breton practicing her swing upon a wooden dummy.  This time it was his turn to watch the Breton while she was seemingly unaware of his presence.  He watched the lithe figure as she struck the mannequin with her sword, both admiring her while critiquing her form.  His mind wandered as his eyes followed her body, entranced by her movement, so fluid and natural.

Before he knew it, she had turned around and looked at him, he walked toward her casually.  “I understand you took care of the Butcher.  Windhelm owes its thanks to you, Meliandra, as do I.”

“He gave me no choice but to kill him; it was a kill or be killed moment.”

The room was darker than most, candles only sparsely lit enough so that no one walked into the alchemy table in the middle of the room.  She saw the wizard sitting in the corner, reading a tome; she thought of the words Viola had said to her as well as the warning Calixto had spoken as she gazed at the older man dressed in dark robes most commonly used by necromancers and those who practiced darker magic.  He looked up at her as she walked in; he gave her the impression that she was intruding upon his time.  “Wuunferth?  I was hoping you could help me with something?”

“If I must,” he answered, his voice rough and deep.  She held the writ out toward him, but he waved if off, saying, “I know who you are, and I know what that is; I know more about the goings on in this palace than the palace gossip mill.”

“So, you know why I’m here?”

He shook his head.  “Not really.  I don’t know why you’d be asking me about the Butcher.”

“I have reason to believe I know who the Butcher is.  I just want to be sure before I go to the jarl with my findings as well as my suspicions.”

“And I factor into this how?” he asked.

“What do you know about the Wheelstone?”

He looked confused.  “I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

She began to describe the amulet she had sold to Calixto, watching the wizard’s face for any flicker of fear in his eyes or body language, but all she saw was a dawning understanding of what she described.  When he began to shake his head, she asked him what was wrong.

“What you describe is not called the Wheelstone.”  He got up and rummaged through his shelves until found a dusty book and, opening its cover, began flipping though the pages until he found what he was looking for.  Turning the book around, he pointed to a drawing and asked, “Is this the amulet you are talking about?”

Meliandra snapped her wrist, an orb of light appearing above her head, and looked at the rendition.  After a moment she said, “I can see it looking like this at one time, but that’s not what it looks like now.”

“What you saw is called the Necromancer’s Amulet. It once belonged to the Altmer necromancer, Mannimarco.”

“Isn’t necromancy your area of specialty?”

For the first time, he showed emotion and it took her by surprise.  “I beg your pardon?  Necromancy?  I am a member of the College of Winterhold, in good standing!  They haven’t allowed necromancy for years!”

“Really?  Then why did I find your journal and the amulet in the Butcher’s lair?”

“What?” he asked, bewildered.  “I’ve never kept a journal, I can assure you.” He shook his head.  “Who in Oblivion told you that the amulet was called the Wheelstone?”

“Calixto.”

The wizard shook his head.  “Ehhh… Calixto and his books are often confused about such matters.  It happens to the best of us.”  He walked back to his seat, sat down and looked back at her.  “You know, I’ve been noting a pattern to when the killings happen.  Now that we know they’re tied into some sort of necromantic ritual, I think I know when the next might occur.  Let’s see,” he began to mumble.  “From Loredas of Last Seed until a Middas of Hearthfire… it will happen soon.  Very soon.  Keep watch in the Stone Quarter tomorrow night.  That’s almost certainly where the killer will strike next.”

“You sure about this?” she asked, skeptically.

He shook his head.  “Do you really have any other option but to see?”

She frowned, knowing he was right, then walked out of his rooms.

#

Ulfric had not been happy when Meliandra had nothing to report at the end of the day, nor was he pleased when she informed him that she now had no intention on questioning his former lover the next day.  Instead she planned on doing some hunting, perhaps some training, she had said.  And no matter what he said, she had openly defied his orders.  He had since spent the evening and part of the next day brooding over the thief and how he let her get away with her defiance when he’d throw anyone else into the stockades.  Then in the early hours of the next morning he had been awakened by Jorleif informing him that Meliandra had found and killed the Butcher preventing the murder of Elda, the innkeeper.  “She did?” he asked, a smile encroaching on his lips.

“Yes, but not without a fight.”

“As one would expect, but I’m sure Meliandra came out of this just fine.”

Jorleif shook his head.  “Wuunferth saw to her wounds and sent for a more trained healer.”

Ulfric stood and began to dress.  “Where is she?”

“I’m sorry, milord, I’m not sure.  Perhaps the chambers you put her in?”

The jarl nodded.  “I’ll locate her,” he stated before dismissing the steward.  He draped his cloak across his shoulders as he exited the chambers he had occupied since he had returned after his father’s death.  He made his way down the passageway until he came to the chambers of his youth where he had put the Breton, and, finding it empty, thought where the thief might be, then headed to the far end of the east wing of the palace.

His footsteps echoed in the stone passageway, the sound bouncing around him.  Soon he began to hear the distinctive sound of a weapon hitting wood repeatedly coming from the training arena; a knowing smile touched his lips as he walked into the large room to see the young Breton practicing her swing upon a wooden dummy.  This time it was his turn to watch the Breton while she was seemingly unaware of his presence.  He watched the lithe figure as she struck the mannequin with her sword, both admiring her while critiquing her form.  His mind wandered as his eyes followed her body, entranced by her movement, so fluid and natural.

Before he knew it, she had turned around and looked at him, he walked toward her casually.  “I understand you took care of the Butcher.  Windhelm owes its thanks to you, Meliandra, as do I.”

“He gave me no choice but to kill him; it was a kill or be killed moment.”

“To be honest, I didn’t even inquire as to the identity of the Butcher when my steward informed me of your success.  Who was the culprit?”

“Calixto Corrium.”

“The Imperial who ran that odd museum?” he asked.

She nodded as she replied, “That’s the one.  Strange, odd man; I spoke to him at the scene of Susanna’s murder and even questioned him about an amulet I had found at Hjerim.  He tried to frame Wuunferth for the murders in fact.”

“I will make sure you are rewarded well for this.” He indicated the sword in her hand.  “Yours?”

“Yes.”  She held the Nightingale Blade out toward him.  “Would you care to give it a few swings?”

Slightly smiling, he took the sword from her and examined the weapon, testing the sharpness with his thumb.  “Very nice,” he stated as he stepped back a few steps, and gave the sword a swing.  “Nice weight.” He handed it back to her as he said, “Spar with me.”

“Excuse me?” she asked in surprise.

“Come now, Meliandra, surely you cannot be afraid to test your mettle against mine, now are you?” He chuckled as he eyed her.

She reddened slightly.  “No, Jarl Ulfric, not afraid.”

“Then spar with me.  I want to see if your fighting skills are as good as your thieving skills.”  His eyes smiled, his voice light as he joked with her.

She smiled despite herself.  “Oh, they are, my Lord.”

He drew a sword, putting some distance between them.  “Let’s see then, shall we?”

And with that, he swung.

#

She reacted quickly, naturally, her own sword blocking the strike from landing.  A smile spread across her face.  “Trying to catch me off guard?  You’ll need to try harder.”

His voice was light-hearted as he responded, “If I wanted to catch you off guard, you’d be on your ass right now.”  He blocked her swing, easily.  “I know you have more sting than that! Why are you holding back?” His sword landed against hers, a resounding clang echoing off the walls.

His strike vibrated through her causing her to drop her arm slightly.  Her eyes widened for a brief moment before she retaliated, striking at the jarl, harder than she had before.  “Who says I’m holding back?  I’m just warming up.”

“Warming up?” He laughed.  “What were you doing when I walked in, then?”

“Blowing off steam,” she countered with a smile.  He struck again, but this time the force of his blow knocked the sword from her grip and before she could react, she found his blade in front of her, just inches from her throat.  Her eyes looked at the sword in front of her, then at him, a smile still on her lips.

He held the sword there for a moment before lowering it, his eyes revealing an impish glint to them.  “Pick up your sword.”

Keeping her eyes on him, she squat down and retrieved the Blade, then stood back up, still watching him carefully.  When he sheathed his sword, she began to follow suit but stopped when he held his hand up and shook his head.

He walked toward her, saying, “Your form is good.  To an extent.  Hold your sword as if you were going to strike me.”  At her hesitation, he stated again, this time more firmly, “Hold your sword as if you were going to strike me.”  She quickly gripped her sword and held it up at an arch.  He walked around her till he stood behind her.  “You should grip it lower, just half a hand’s length.”

“I have always-“she started to protest.

“Have you always had this sword?”  She shook her head.  “Of course not.  Now, move your hand.”  She frowned but did as he said.  “Now, swing as if there were someone in front of you.”  He watched her as she repeated his commands, then, telling her to stop, he approached her again, this time standing right behind her.  He reached over and, covering her hand, held the sword, and began to explain to her why moving her hand would improve her skill.

He turned to look at her to find her staring at him intently; her eyes soft, the light of the sconces reflecting in her amber eyes that upon seeing this close he realized had specks of green in them.  The closeness of her to him had an effect upon him he didn’t expect.

He let go of her hand and cupped her face, drawing her to him.  Dipping his head low, his lips met hers, and finding them to be welcoming to his, kissed her deeply.

Searching for Clues

He looked at her, his height imposing to her frame, short even for a Breton.  He could not deny to himself that every day he saw her, he found himself liking her more and more, his physical attraction causing him to take leave of his sense more often than not.  He took her chin in his hand and tilted her head up, looking into her eyes, a smile on his lips.  “Meliandra Valeria, you’re going to prove to be more valuable than I thought.”  With that, he released her chin and continued walking out of the arena.  

She went through the drawers in the room Susanna the Wicked had occupied during her time in Windhelm, looking for clues as to who this woman was, see if there was any connection between her and her killer.  She found bottles of elixirs in the box on her dresser; sniffing them cautiously, determining the contents to be somewhat harmless.  Noting the markings on the bottles, and knowing the lifestyle the woman had had, she came to the conclusion that the elixirs were to either prevent or terminate a pregnancy.  She rummaged through the drawers of the dresser and found only clothing.  Upon opening the door to an end table, she saw a stack of journals; something told her these were important as she took them out and sat at the table in the room.  Bringing the candle closer to her, she opened the first journal and began to read.  As she read in silence, her eyebrow rose and fell with both surprise and suspicion.

For a few hours, she sat reading, turning the pages in silence, stopping only occasionally to stretch.  By the time she had read the last page of the last leather-bound journal, she knew she had to bring them to Ulfric, what they contained would not calm his paranoia of conspirators, but it would prove to Ulfric that allowing her to look into this Butcher matter had been for his benefit in the long run.  She gathered them together, putting them in a small backpack and nudged the dozing Nord on the bed.  “Come on, you can get your beauty sleep later.  I need to get these to the jarl.”

“Ulfric?  Why him?” he asked, yawning as he got off the bed Susanna had once called hers.  She looked at him and he shook his head saying, “Yeah, never mind about that.  Stupid question.”

They made their way through the inn and out the doors into the cold winds.  She looked at the clouds gathering overhead, a shiver making its way through her Breton skin and she pulled her cloak closer to her body as she made her way across the stone boulders that made up the streets of Windhelm to the Palace of the Kings.  The guards at the palace were getting used to seeing her and held the door open for her and Vorstag; she barely inclined her head toward the tall Nord as they passed through, instead seeking out the jarl.

“What do you need, girl?” came Galmar’s gruff voice from beside her.

“Jarl Ulfric; I have information he needs to see.”

He glanced at the pack on her shoulder.  “Show him what?”

She met his eyes.  “It’s about Susanna the Wicked.”

“And…?”

She tilted her head and smiled.  “I think its best I show it directly to Ulfric; he is the one who gave me authority in this matter.”

He smirked.  “Have it your way, thief.  But know that I’ve got my eye on you.”

She watched as the older man walked to the barracks, a slight limp to his gait.  She spotted the steward and approached him as he reviewed a list handed to him by a servant.  He afforded her a glance as he addressed the maid, handing her the list back before turning his attention to Meliandra, a tired smile on his lips.  Asking where the jarl was, he directed her to the training arena in the east wing then proceeded to attend to his duties.

“Want me to go with you, Mel?”

“No,” she shook her head.  “Wait for me here,” she said as she headed toward the passageway Jorleif had indicated would lead her to the training arena.  Venturing in to the semi-darkened halls, she realized that she had traversed these halls the night she had been caught, but instead of going the same route, she was diverted in another direction.  Unlike last time, she walked in the light, taking a moment to look at the paintings and suits of armor along the walls.  Soon she came to a set of doors, slightly ajar; she hesitated before opening the door.

He wore only pants, no armor at all, his back to her as he held onto a bar secured into poles and pulled himself up, then lowered himself back down, then he repeated the action again and again.  His hair dripped sweat onto his glistening back as the muscles rippled with his exertion; she had not realized how broad his shoulder or how large his biceps were.  Her eyes lowered as she continued studying the jarl’s muscular body, paying attention to the fluidity of his movements.  She watched as he let go of the bar above his head, landing with a soft thud upon the ground.  Startled, she cleared her throat to announce her presence as she walked toward him.

#

He turned to see the Breton approaching him; he had been wondering how long she was going to be standing behind him, watching.  He glanced up at the greatsword hanging on the wall that had given him the view of her entrance, a slight grin tugging on his lips.  “Something I can help you with, Meliandra?”

She held a backpack out to him in her slender hand.  “In here you’ll find a set of journals I retrieved from Susanna the Wicked’s room at the inn,” she said, meeting his gaze.  “It appears that Susanna and Mila were acquainted, extremely well to be accurate.”

He took the offered pack, opened it and looked inside.  He counted the few volumes then looked at the Breton.  “You read all of these?” he asked flatly.

“Yes, sir.”

“Do I need to read these then?” he asked.

She sighed.  “I’d say yes, but the decision is ultimately up to you.”

He nodded, closed the pack, and handed it back to her.  “Was Susanna part of Mila’s conspiracy?” he asked as he picked up a jug of water and poured it over his head, cooling himself off from the heat of his workout.

“Yes and no.  Yes, in that she made the connections for Mila.  No in that’s the extent of her dealings as far as I can tell.”

He nodded then said, “It appears that allowing you to look into this Butcher was a good thing.”

She smiled.  “Yes.  And because we’ve given Mila a day with no questioning, she should be well enough to question again starting tomorrow.”

“Good,” he replied, turning to retrieve his tunic and, pulling it over his head, continued speaking to the Breton.  “Does she know that Susanna is dead?”

“No,” she answered.

“Then use it to your advantage,” he said as he stood next to her.

She smiled broadly.  “Of course.”

He looked at her, his height imposing to her frame, short even for a Breton.  He could not deny to himself that every day he saw her, he found himself liking her more and more, his physical attraction causing him to take leave of his sense more often than not.  He took her chin in his hand and tilted her head up, looking into her eyes, a smile on his lips.  “Meliandra Valeria, you’re going to prove to be more valuable than I thought.”  With that, he released her chin and continued walking out of the arena.

#

She stared after the Nord jarl, her blood simmering, but didn’t know if it was because she felt he was demeaning her or if because she thought he was going to kiss her, a thought she hated to admit excited her.  She caught up with him, falling two steps behind him.  “Do you want an update on the Butcher?”

“Do you know who it is?”

“No, but I- “

“Talk to me when you find out who it is.”

“But, sir- “

He stopped and looked her in the eye.  “If you need assistance about anything, go to my steward.  Is there something you don’t understand about that?”

Her eyes blazed back at him as she met his gaze and answered, “No, sir.  I’ll take my leave of you.”  And with that she stalked off to find Jorleif again.

#

He watched her stalk off with a smirk on his face, he had to admit to himself that he thought she was cute when she was mad, and his thoughts went to the many ways he would use to calm the fire behind her eyes.  He watched until she was out of his sight, slightly disappointed in seeing her leave, then headed to his chambers.  Perhaps Rory would be there waiting for him.

#

Jorleif had directed Meliandra to Viola, the elderly spinster of Windhelm about the flyer about the Butcher.  Meliandra got the impression that the woman was somewhat of a busybody, that she knew more about the people in this city than people realized; she made sure to make a mental note of this as she found the woman walking to the marketplace.  Upon showing the woman the necklace she had found, she was directed to Calixto, the proprietor of an oddity museum.

She recognized the Imperial as she walked into the shop as the man from the graveyard; he seemed to be agitated and distracted at her entrance, something she noted in the back of her mind.  She took the necklace from the pouch on her hip and showed it to him.  “I was wondering if you could tell me about this?”

The man took the amulet in his hand and examined it.  “Ah, yes, I’ve heard of this.”  He cleared his throat then continued, taking on a lecturing tone.  “This, my dear, is the Wheelstone.  It’s really nothing, just a piece of ceremonial jewelry traditionally given to the court wizard of Windhelm.”

“You mean this belongs to Wuunferth the Unliving?”

He shrugged.  “One would suspect but I have never seen him wear it or even display it.  You know,” he said scratching his beard, “I’d be willing to buy it off you for a fair price if you’d like to sell it?”

“Shouldn’t I bring it to it’s rightful owner?”

The man’s eyes widened for a moment then calmly replied, “Like I said, I’ve never seen him with it, I don’t think he cares much for it.  Plus, one must be wary when they deal with that man; he is known to be a necromancer.”  He reached over and picked up a coin purse, and opening it, continued, “I’ll pay you five hundred gold for it.”

Meliandra gave thought to it then nodded her agreement.  “You’ve got yourself a deal.”

Minutes later she was heading back to the Palace, going over what she had uncovered in her mind, Vorstag silently following her.  Things seemingly added up, but she still felt like something wasn’t right with the entire situation at all.  She glanced behind her at Vorstag and asked for his thoughts.

He shrugged.  “Well, the old lady thinks it’s the wizard and then that guy at that curiosity museum reaffirmed her suspicions.  Sounds pretty cut and dry to me.  That wizard’s killing people.”

She nodded but remained silent, her thoughts churning as her gut told her that something was not right.

#

He stood upon the bridge looking down upon the city, watching the movements of the Breton thief below intently.  He knew she had a sexual relationship with Ralof, though it appeared that it was a mutual consent between the two that neither sought to further that relationship to anything more than fuck buddies.  His dick throbbed at the thought of her bent over on all fours, panting like a bitch in heat as she took his dick in that pussy of hers, pounding her hard as she gasped his name.  He imagined grabbing that raven hair of hers and pulling her had back with one hand as he fucked her, his other hand slapping her ass.

He lost sight of the woman and grunted, turning to head back to the Palace.  The image of the young thief letting Ralof have his way with her thrilled him, though he’d never admit to such a thing.  He smiled to himself; he did not trust this Breton, but he was beginning to enjoy having her around.

Hunting for a Killer

With a creaking, the paneling began to slip into the wall.  She crinkled her nose as the pungent scent of blood filled her nostrils as she stepped into the hidden room.  It was everywhere, the walls, the floor.  A bloodied effigy lay upon a pile of blood-soaked hay; it was obvious to her that some sort of magic had been done here.  Seeing a journal on the altar that had been constructed, she picked it up and looked through it.  A chill went through her when she realized what the clues were saying. 

“Fucking necromancers.”

Galmar stood at the door of the war room as he listened to Ulfric’s steward going over a list of the day’s events.  When he heard Jorleif mention Meliandra taking authority in the Butcher murders, he began to fume.  Waiting for the steward to leave, he went to the table and poured himself a tankard of mead and took a couple large swallows, staring at the table in angry disgust.  He listened as Jorleif left the room, the man’s smaller gait echoing through the passageway to the throne room.  Once the footsteps died away he turned to see the jarl watching him with an amused look on his face.  “You find something funny?”

“You disagree with me allowing the Breton to investigate these murders?”

“You gave that woman full authority?  She reports to you?  What the hell are you thinking, Ulfric?”

“I am thinking that my general is forgetting his place.”  He walked over, joining his friend, and, picking up a tankard, proceeded to pour himself some mead as well, while saying, “Is it not wise that whenever you are confronted with an opponent, you conquer him with love?”

Galmar snorted.  “There you go sounding like one of those monks on High Hrothgar again.”

“Watch your tongue; I was supposed to be one of ‘those monks’.”

Ignoring him, Galmar continued, “So, what do you intend on doing?  Wooing her until she pledges her loyalty to you?”

The jarl smiled.  “There was no need to woo her at all.”

“Wait… what?  You didn’t have to?  She’s already- “

“In exchange for the Butcher investigation,” Ulfric answered before Galmar could ask.  He took a swallow of his drink then continued saying, “Learn your enemy’s strengths, weaknesses, what you can use to your advantage, and how you can manipulate their next moves so that they play right into your hands.”

“What exactly do you want from this thief?”

An image of the Breton naked upon his bed flashed before him as he answered, “I’m not sure, Galmar, but something tells me that we want her on our side when the Empire comes knocking on our door again.”

#

She exited the Hall of the Dead and looked at Vorstag, her eyebrows raised in an amused look on her face.  “Was it just me or is that woman… off?”

Vorstag laughed then replied, “Come on, Mel, give the old gal a break.  She probably doesn’t get a whole lot of interaction with people.  I mean… living people.”

Meliandra stifled a laugh.  “You’re terrible, Vorstag.”

“Yeah, but you’re the one laughing.”

She balked at him.  “I am not.”  She pointed to the bloodstains on the stones heading toward the more affluent part of the city.  “You know, I’ve got a feeling that that’s from our victim…”

“Really?” he retorted sarcastically.  “So, what’s keeping us here, Mel?  I mean, besides looking for this murderer?”

She shook her head, her black locks swaying side to side slightly.  “Ulfric.”

“What do you mean, Ulfric?” he asked warily as they followed the trail of blood upon the stone path.

“The man is paranoid.  He trusts no one.  Well, he trusts Stone-Fist, but I don’t know anyone else.”  She shook her head exasperatedly.  “Because he’s been betrayed by people he did trust, he’s hesitant to trust me.  I think he still believes that I’m working for someone against him.”

“Well, let’s just find this guy and get out of this city.  Let’s get back to Riften.  Or better yet, let’s go back to Whiterun and spend some time at your house there.”

She laughed.  “Can’t wait to see Lydia again?”

He smiled at her, that lop-sided grin of his that made her laugh.  “I bought her a present.”

The Breton nodded as she pointed at the blood trail that led to the door of the house in the corner of the block.  “Seems to go to this house.  Look around, see if you can find anything amiss.”  She checked the door and found it locked, then she began checking the windows, only to discover they were dusty and unclear to see through.  She tried seeing if any windows were loose, and, finding none, swore under her breath.  She could try and pick the lock, but she was sure she’d be able to get permission to get into the house if she only knew who had the key.  Vorstag came back over to her and reported the same on his findings.

She shook her head as she glanced around.  Seeing an older guard making his rounds, she called him over.  She showed him the writ from the jarl and asked him who had the key to the house.

“Hjerim?  Tova Shatter-Shield has the key.  She lives next door, but I just saw her in the market, looking at the produce.”

Nodding, she dismissed the guard while signaling Vorstag to follow as she made her way back through the neighborhood and toward the marketplace just beyond the walls of the graveyard.  “I have a strange feeling about this whole situation.”

“What do you mean, Mel?”

Frowning, she shook her head.  “Just a feeling, nothing I can really put into words, just… something doesn’t feel right.”

#

He was disappointed and upset.  Susanna had seemed like the perfect choice, but still the magic had failed.  The more he thought about it, the more he realized he would need a pure source, and the harlot that now lay on a slab in the Hall of the Dead was nowhere near being pure.  The bodies were beginning to pile up; if he didn’t find a new donor next time, he was going to have to pack and leave for a while.  He paced his bedroom, his thoughts racing as he hurriedly came up with a plan.  He had possibly one more chance, but he would have to wait just a little bit longer.

#

The door made an audible click; turning the knob, she walked into the large house and looked around.  She coughed as she breathed in the stale, dusty air, the lack of a fire inside the home for so long made it cold enough to keep the chill in Meliandra’s Breton bones.  She saw a chest to the side against the wall; something was odd about it in this mostly empty house and walked up to it.  She squat on her launches and lifted the lid and looked inside.  Seeing multiple papers, she pulled one out, opening it and began to read; it was a flyer about the Butcher.  She tucked the notice into her pocket and stood up.  “Let’s look upstairs,” she said solemnly as she began to ascent the staircase.

Flecks of dust hung in the air, tiny beams of sunlight making their way through the long untouched windows.  She coughed softly, and an aggravated obscenity followed.  The landing was spacious and large; she could see there were rooms in the back and went to investigate further.  The first room held no clues; the second room, the main bedroom, it reaped the same result as the first room except the two of them were drawn to the bed that sat in the middle of the room with chairs stacked upon it.

They returned to the first level of the home, Vorstag looking in the kitchen while Meliandra searched the rest of the house.  In the back she found an end table with more of the pamphlets about the Butcher, obviously torn down from being posted by the looks of the rips in the papers.  She began to turn away when something caught her attention, making her look again.

The jade skull seemingly stared at her from its bone white setting; though it was obviously connected to the darker arts in magic, she could not deny the beauty of what lay in her hand.  She turned it over and over absent-mindedly as she looked around the room once more.  Checking the cabinets, she found only a few clothes as well as some odds and ends.  Opening the last cabinet, she immediately knew something was amiss; there were no shelves in this cabinet and the paneling on the back rattled when she opened the door.  Placing her hand on the back, she discovered as she had suspected, that the paneling hid something beyond.  Running her fingers along the sides, she sought the mechanism that would trigger the paneling to open.

With a creaking, the paneling began to slip into the wall.  She crinkled her nose as the pungent scent of blood filled her nostrils as she stepped into the hidden room.  It was everywhere, the walls, the floor.  A bloodied effigy lay upon a pile of blood-soaked hay; it was obvious to her that some sort of magic had been done here.  Seeing a journal on the altar that had been constructed, she picked it up and looked through it.  A chill went through her when she realized what the clues were saying.

“Fucking necromancers.”

#

He sat at his desk staring at the bed in the next room, his thoughts on the war raging throughout the land.  Reports of dragon attacks were becoming more frequent but there were no reports of any Dragonborn saving towns or people.  Despite all the stress, though, his mind kept returning to the dark-haired Breton thief with amber eyes who slept within the walls of his palace, just down the corridor from his own chambers.

What was it about her, this young Breton who captivated his thoughts, whose very presence both pleased him as well as irritated him?  Images of her played before him in his mind’s eye; he felt a yearning for her growing within him eliciting a deep sigh from the jarl.  The woman was a thief, an assassin, and she used methods of torture familiar to him from back when he had been held captive by the Thalmor during the Great War.  These were valid reasons for him to not trust her.  Yet for reasons he had yet to realize himself, he knew he could place his trust in her.

He saw Rory enter his room, dressed scantily as she usually did; he felt his cock twitch.  When she stood before him, he signaled to her that she should undress then he watched as her clothing came off.  He instructed her to touch herself, to pleasure herself then watched as she caressed herself.  She slipped her finger inside of herself and began to fuck her pussy slowly; his cock throbbed within his clothing.  He removed is pants, releasing his sex from its cloth prison, and began to rub himself.  The ginger watched him watch her as they each fucked themselves, her finger sliding in and out of her slit, noisily.  He watched as the wench worked herself into a frenzy, her orgasm flooding beneath her.

His cock was hard and completely erect as he ordered, “Suck me.”  She immediately obeyed him, kneeling before him and taking the length of him in her mouth.  He held her head as she bobbed up and down on him; his climax was fast approaching as he started to thrust against her face.  Crude vulgarities found their way out his mouth as she sucked his seed from him, a pleased look on the wench’s face for a job well done while he closed his eyes to see a raven-haired thief in her place.

Letter from Cyrodiil

“She’s a showoff,” the blonde stated matter-of-factly to her husband.  “Three hostages, dead in the blink of an eye.  And she didn’t even balk at it.  No hesitation whatsoever.”

“Sounds like someone I know.”

She smiled at him.  “I was never headstrong like she is.  She’ll probably end up dead because of that cocky attitude of hers.”

“Now, Astrid, don’t be wishing ill will on members of the family.”

She snorted.  “I’m not wishing anyone ill will, dear husband.”  She sighed.  “Anyhow, we have bigger concerns to address.”

“What’s that?”

“I received a letter from the Cheydinhal Sanctuary; seems like Cheydinhal fell and with only one survivor.  He’s making the journey here from Cyrodiil.”

He waited for a moment before he said, “You sound like there’s something that you’re not telling me.”

“Astute as always, husband.  This Cicero, apparently he’s the Keeper of the Night Mother.”

“The Night Mother’s Keeper?” he repeated, confused.  “Does that mean…”

“Yes,” she answered.  “He’s bringing the Unholy Mother’s corpse here.”

In A Corner

“I need answers, damn it!” he snapped at her.

“And you won’t get any if her body expires from the amount of torture that I put her through!” she snapped back.

His anger shone brightly in his eyes as he stared at her.  After a moment he said angrily, seemingly resigned.  “You’re right.  You’d make a horrible soldier.  You don’t follow orders.”

“You’re damn right.”   She stood up and glared at him.  “I know what the fuck I’m doing so I’d appreciate it if you’d let me do my fucking job.”

With that, she stormed out leaving the jarl staring after her in disbelief.

The guard stood aside, motioning for Meliandra to enter.  She nodded to him as she passed him, her eyes scanning the chambers of the jarl, and seeing no sign of him in the bedroom, headed to his personal study where she found him sitting at his desk, reviewing communiques from men in the field.  He barely looked up at her as he motioned to the chair in front of his desk, mumbling to her that she should have a seat.  Sitting in the chair, she glanced at her surroundings looking for a hint of the man before her and what his true personality might be but found starkness dotted with trophies of animal heads, bookshelves filled with trinkets with odds and ends tucked between stacks of books worn with age.  She brought her attention back to the jarl to realize he had been watching her, a smile to his eyes.  She cleared her throat and sat forward.  “You wanted to know what Mila revealed under my questioning.

The smile diminished slightly as the older man sat back in his own chair, the fur robe opening slightly to show that he wore nothing upon his chest, revealing scar across the broadness of his chest, some obviously caused by arch magic.  “Yes; what did that lying bitch have to say?”

“She hates you; she blames you for her father’s death.”

“Her father’s death?”  He looked confused as he looked at her, his brow furrowed.  “He was dead before I even laid eyes on her.  How am I the one responsible for his death?”

“Because you sent him to the front line where he was killed, and she is convinced that you did so intentionally, so that you could be with her father’s wife here in Windhelm.”

He sat forward, resting his arms on the edge of his desk and lacing his fingers before him, his face perplexed.  “Her father’s wife? So, she’s the child of an affair?” At Meliandra’s affirmative nod, he continued by asking, “And who was her father?”

“Jongas Fridthjof.”

He stared at her in disbelief.  “Appius’s father?” She answered by giving another affirmative nod of the head.  He turned his head to the side, ran his hand across chin and gave his beard a slight tug as he did so; an amused look came upon his face as he shook his head slightly, his voice carrying a hint of irony to it as he spoke.  “So, that old codger was getting him some action on the side.” He gave a hollow laugh as he turned to look back at the thief.  “Jongas was a good man, don’t get me wrong.  He was a good soldier and was extremely loyal to my father and, up to a point, loyal to me, though he was always highly critical of me and how I run this city.”

“So, you fuck his wife as a way of being a thorn in his side?”

He sat back in his chair, a stern look on his face.  “Not that it is of any of your concern, but Jongas’s wife came to me. You see, Appius’s mother died in his youth and Jongas decided to take for himself a young girl for a bride, one who quickly found that life was boring when her husband spent most of his time on the battlefield far from here.  She had come to me, saying how she had no idea how to be a mother to a son nearly the same age as her and begged for me to send her husband home.  I asked her why I should bring one of my best men home when I needed him on the field.”  His eyes grew distant for a moment as he related his memory.  “She was desperate for him to come back here, so desperate that she took her clothes off before me and said she’d give herself to me.”  He shrugged.  “I brought Jongas home, but it wasn’t long till she was asking me to send him back because she found that she preferred to warm my bed whenever she needed attention.” He looked back at her.  “Judge me however you choose, it does not matter to me.  I’ve bedded many soldiers’ wives in my years and I probably will bed more in the years to come.”

She looked him in the eye as stated flatly, “Far be it from me to say anything one way or another when it comes to my employer’s sexual conquests.  The fact of the matter is that when he was sent to the front lines from his previous post, Mila began to hate you.  When her mother found out that Jongas had been killed, she began to loathe you.  She truly believes that you sent him there intentionally.”

He laughed mirthlessly.  “He was sent there intentionally.”  He gave a slight shake of his head, his eyes again taking on a slightly vacant look as he seemingly looked into the past.  “He was sent specifically because he had previous experience with the people involved as well as having intimate knowledge of the area.  He was the best choice for that particular mission.  It was a series unfortunate events that led to his untimely death, something that no one could have prevented.  His loss was felt by many; how would his death have been a benefit for me?”

Sighing, the Breton replied, “Jongas’s widow.”

A grim look shadowed his face.  “Risna?” He ran his hand down his beard, a hard, cold look in his eyes.  “Do you know where Risna is?” he asked.

“She’s dead.”

Ulfric nodded.  “Yes.  By her own hand.  Apparently, she believed that Jongas’s death was punishment by the Divines for her transgressions with me and her guilt was overwhelming her so much that she felt death was the only atonement for her.  She made it a point that it would me to find her body.” He raised an eyebrow and posed a question to the Breton.  “If she shared a father with Appius, why wouldn’t he tell her that Risna was dead?”

“Is this something that you want an answer to?”

He shook his head.  “No, not really.”  He steepled his fingers before him as he looked at Meliandra.  “She still lives?”

The Breton nodded.  “That is what you wanted, sir.”

“Where is she?”

“In the cell.  Healers have made sure her wounds are clean.  She will not die from them.”

He nodded solemnly.  “Were there any others?”

“She has not given any more names.”

Ulfric’s anger suddenly flared.  “You don’t know if there are any more involved?!  That is information that I must have, Meliandra!  You will go interrogate her further.”

She stared at him.  “As much as I’d like to end her life, if you want to keep her alive, you must give her the time to recover from yesterday’s questioning.”

“I need answers, damn it!” he snapped at her.

“And you won’t get any if her body expires from the amount of torture that I put her through!” she snapped back.

His anger shone brightly in his eyes as he stared at her.  After a moment he said angrily, seemingly resigned.  “You’re right.  You’d make a horrible soldier.  You don’t follow orders.”

“You’re damn right.”   She stood up and glared at him.  “I know what the fuck I’m doing so I’d appreciate it if you’d let me do my fucking job.”

With that, she stormed out leaving the jarl staring after her in disbelief.

#

The two men sat by the warmth of the fire drinking mead and bullshitting about nothing in particular.  The local sellsword expressed discontent at the lack of work he’d been picking up save for a few bounties put out by the jarl on some bandits but most of the gold he was awarded went to his armor.  “If they want to kill each other, that’s fine with me, but damn, this war is making it so that no one dares go into an area of conflict.  And best be careful who knows where your loyalties lie!  I’ve seen too many friends turn against each other for supporting one side or the other.”

Vorstag raised his mug in agreement.  “I’ve been from one side of Skyrim to another and back again recently.  Tensions are running high everywhere.  And now there’s talks of dragons.”  He shook his head.  “Dark days, my friend, dark days indeed.”

 

“Who you traveling with, kinsman?”

“Breton woman named Mel, from Riften.”

“Riften?”  He shook his head.  “I haven’t been there in ages.  Last I heard the Thieves Guild had lost its hold even there, but it’s still a cesspool of crime.”

Vorstag smiled.  “Stenvar, my friend, the Thieves Guild is very much alive and well there.”  He took a drink of his mead.  He started to speak again when a scream from outside was heard as a patron entered the inn.  The two men looked at each other then put their mugs down and rushed out the door.  Seeing a guard rush toward the graveyard, they rushed over to find the butchered body of Susanna the Wicked.

#

She was in the market when she heard the scream and immediately ran towards the source.  As she rounded the corner she saw Vorstag on the other side, a tall Nord standing by him.  She followed their gaze to the barely recognizable corpse of the barmaid.  It was a gruesome sight, her abdomen cut open in such a way the skin and muscle folded back revealing the woman’s insides, or rather, the lack of.  Her arms and legs were similarly cut, and she saw that the tendons were skillfully removed.  In fact, every cut was deliberate and clean, no jadedness to the cuts.  The stench of death grew stronger as she neared her travelling companion who stood close to the body.  “I’d ask what happened, but that’s rather self-explanatory I see,” she said dryly.

“It’s the work of the Butcher,” the Nord man said.

Meliandra looked at him.  “The Butcher?”

He nodded.  “Susanna makes the third one.”  He shook his head sadly.  “She was a sweet girl, bit friendly with the sailors of you know what I mean.”

“She prostituted herself?”

“Yes, to any patron that had gold, but mainly sailors.”

Meliandra nodded, then looked to her companion.  “Stick around, I’ll be right back.”  She approached the guard and asked in an authoritative voice.  “What’s being done to find this Butcher?”

The guard looked down at her.  “We’re stretched thin as it is with the war,” he snapped.  “Nobody has time to spend on this.  Sorry, it’s not pleasant, but it’s the truth.  If you want to help, ask some of these gawkers if they saw anything useful.  I’m going to try and examine the body before the rats get to it.”

She spun on her heel and walked to the Imperial that stood not far from where she was standing.  He was shaking his head with a sigh.  “So sad when they have to die so young,” he said softly.

“Did you see anything?” she asked him.

“Excuse me?” he said before immediately continuing on.  “Me?  No. No…not really.  I saw a young man running away but I really didn’t get a look at him.”

She nodded.  “Thank you.”

Meliandra then approached the beggar woman and then the Priestess of Arkay, but like the Imperial, they hadn’t seen anything of any use.  She returned to the guard who was reporting to another guard.  She shook her own head as she reported to her own findings to the two guards.

“Just like always,” the guard muttered in disgust.  “Nobody saw anything useful.  Again.  The fucking bastard’s escaped again.

“You know, there might be more to this, if you’d let me help.”

The guard laughed.  “Look, friend, if you think you can do better than the legion of guards, be my guest.  But first, you gotta speak to Jorleif up at the Palace.  We can’t just let anyone go around claiming to be on official business.”

Meliandra smiled at the guard sweetly.  “Jorleif?  Sure,” she winked her eye as she continued, “won’t be a problem at all.”  She turned, motioned for Vorstag to follow her and headed toward the Palace.

Walking through the doors she sought out Ulfric sitting upon the throne.  When he saw her, his eyes grew hard; he sat up, his hand turned inward resting upon his thigh as he leaned forward a fraction, watching her as she approached him.  She could tell he was still angry with her for her refusal to continue interrogating Mila; with a determined look in her eyes, her lips slightly upturned in a hint of a smile she stood before the throne and addressed the jarl.  “I have a proposition for you.”

“A proposition?  What kind of proposition do you have for me, Meliandra?  I would hope that it benefits me, especially since you have already angered me today.”

“Oh, but it does, my Lord.  You have a string of murders occurring in the city, a third victim found earlier in the graveyard, a barmaid by the name of Susanna.  The guards tell me they’re stretched too thin with the war to investigate this matter.”

“They are,” he said tersely.  “What is your point?”

“Grant me permission to look into this Butcher while Mila recovers, and I will get all the answers from her that you want.”

“No.”

“What?!” she exclaimed.  “You don’t want this Butcher found?”

“Of course, I do.  And when we catch the bastard, we’ll hang him outside the city as a warning to all of what happens to criminals in my city.”  He met her eyes.  “Some people need reminding of things like this.”

Her eyes blazed.  “Are you threatening me?”

He smiled at her.  “As I said, some people need reminding of things, like who one owes their continued existence to.”  He sat back in his throne, his eyes amused as he stared down at her, enjoying the power he held over her life.  “Say I do grant you permission to look into these murders.  What else can you offer me since you are already getting more information from that whore?”

She glared at him, knowing there was only one thing Ulfric wanted from her besides her continued interrogation of Mila.  She knew that if she gave him what he wanted that there would be hell to pay once Brynjolf found out.  She thought about the situation she had found herself in and everything that she had already seen and had been through and came to a decision.  She met his gaze and answered him firmly.

“I’ll join the Stormcloaks.”