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.”
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.”
“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.”