Flirtations

“Where my loyalties lie?  I could have brought the Crown to Tullius; I’m sure he’d be equally pleased to have it.”

Without hesitation, he grabbed her by the throat forcefully, glaring into her eyes.  “Watch your tongue or I’ll have it ripped out of your head.”

She licked her lips slightly as a smile played on them.  “Ooooo,” she said in a sultry voice, “threaten me with a good time.”

Ulfric groaned internally as he fought the urge to kiss those lips that taunted him.  His eyes looked over her body, the lust in his eyes barely hidden by the heat of his irritation.  “Why do you insist on tormenting me, Meliandra?”

“Someone has to,” she responded with a smile.

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Blondish brown hair flew into his face as the numbing wind whipped around the bastions along the curtain wall; he turned his head as he made his way towards the shelter of the bastion just steps in front of him, blocking the wind by raising his arm, the cloak he wore, shielding his face.  It was then that he heard a sound he had only heard over a year ago but haunted his dreams, a screeching accompanied with a stream of flame as a vast shadow passed overhead just beyond the city walls.  The monstrosity of a beast scorched a path through the snow its fire breath touched.  He caught sight of one of his captains and hollered at him, ordering him to muster the men to fight the attacking dragon.  He turned to see the dragon fly just beyond the ridge of the mountains toward Kynesgrove, flames erupting from its maws once more upon the land.  He saw fireballs shooting into the sky trying to hit the dragon, but they seemed to do no damage to the beast.

As the memory of burnt flesh flooded him and the fear of his city looing like Helgen overcame him, a Shout echoed from the battle beyond.  He rushed to the wall, hoping he’d see where the Shout came from.  The Dragonborn was just on the other side of that ridge and Ulfric’s blood raced. Seeing his men below, he hollered to them, “Bring me the Dragonborn!”

Whether his men heard him, he did not know, but they rushed across the bridge, weapons drawn.  He watched with trepidation as his troops disappeared from his sight, images from Helgen forcing their way to the front of his memory.  Helpless, he watched the sky as the dragon flew into his line of sight again, fireballs streaking to their target, arrows finding their way to the soft underside of the monstrosity.

After minutes that stretched on into what seemed like an eternity, he watched as the dragon, bloodied and burned, crashed into the ground below with such force, he could feel the quaking of the ground from high on the curtain wall.  Anxiously, he waited for any sign of his men but began to fear the worst when he saw no one returning.  He hung his head and turned around, heading back to the palace.

#

“Holy shit!” Stenvar shouted.  “You’re the Dragonborn!”

Meliandra glared at him and through clenched teeth, growled, “Shut up.  Now.”

The Nord stared at her in confusion.  “Why?  This is great!”

She quickly advanced on him, her knife against his throat before he had a chance to react.  “If you breathe a word of this, an inkling of this, I will end your life with no hesitation.  Do you understand me?”

He nodded slightly, ever aware of the pressure against his neck.  “Yeah.  I understand.  Not a word.”

She held the knife in place for a moment longer, then stepped back, dropping her hand to her side, the knife seemingly disappearing somewhere in her movements.  “Good,” she said with a hardness to her voice.  Glancing to the hill behind her, she looked at the bodies of the Windhelm guards that had fallen in the battle.  “These men deserve a proper burial; when we get to Windhelm, I’ll notify Ulfric and you can help with the recovery and burial.”   And without waiting for acknowledgement, she began walking toward the city.

#

She found Ulfric in his war room, pacing with a look of worry on his face.  She held the Jagged Crown in her hand as she caught his attention saying, “Hail to the King.”

He turned to see her in the doorway and a smile touched his worried countenance.  “You did it; you found the Crown.”

“Did you doubt me?” she asked him as he approached her.

He took the Crown from her, admiring it as he did so.  “No, not doubt.  Just still determining where your loyalties lie.”

“Where my loyalties lie?  I could have brought the Crown to Tullius; I’m sure he’d be equally pleased to have it.”

Without hesitation, he grabbed her by the throat forcefully, glaring into her eyes.  “Watch your tongue or I’ll have it ripped out of your head.”

She licked her lips slightly as a smile played on them.  “Ooooo,” she said in a sultry voice, “threaten me with a good time.”

Ulfric groaned internally as he fought the urge to kiss those lips that taunted him.  His eyes looked over her body, the lust in his eyes barely hidden by the heat of his irritation.  “Why do you insist on tormenting me, Meliandra?”

“Someone has to,” she responded with a smile.

He leaned forward, his lips grazing her cheek as he released his hold on her.  “I will not take what is not offered to me, but you test my resolve, Breton.  Tread carefully.”

She watched as he stepped away, turning from her.  Her eyes traced his image into her memory, knowing that by doing so she was giving in just a little bit more to her own attraction to the jarl, regardless of how dangerous she knew that attraction to be.  She took a breath and, changing the subject, stated, “I came across dead Stormcloaks outside the city.”

He turned back around to her, his eyes shadowed.  “Yes, I assumed they had perished by the dragon attack.”

“My man is in the Hall; he’s agreed to bring men to the bodies so they can be returned to their families for a proper burial.”

He nodded.  “I’ll have a group of men meet with your man to go retrieve the bodies.”  He walked toward the door leading to the palace wing his chambers were found, then looked back at the Breton.  “Will you be staying?”

“Are you in further need of my assistance?”

He paused for a moment, looked directly at her, and said, “Right now, no.  I am not.”  He gave a slight shrug as an impish smile touched his lips as he continued, “But that does not mean that I do not want you here.”

She sighed.  “I can stay for a night, but I must report back to the Brotherhood.”

He nodded.  “Very good.  I will see that Jorleif sees to your needs before you leave.  Until the evening meal, then,” he responded before exiting.

#

She sat in the corner of Candlehearth listening to the elven bard sing ballads of Nord heroes and thought of the irony, a Dunmer singing the glories of the people who would eradicate her people from the land.  She drank heavily, not wanting to return to the Palace, but rather wanting to return to the Sanctuary outside of Falkreath.  She had no interest in the war, she had no desire to find herself under the headman’s axe again, despite her excursions into Imperial camps and the killing of her lovers.   She knew that one day she would be caught and forced to face the consequences of her crimes, but first she was determined to bring to ruin those who had brought ruin upon her.

“Your kind aren’t wanted here!” came a loud, boisterous voice from the other side of the room.

Her eyes narrowed as she scanned the room for the disrupter.  It didn’t take but a moment for the man called out again, saying once more that elves were not wanted in Windhelm.  She recognized the man at once and called out, “Crawl back into your mug and leave the woman alone.”

The man stood up, unsteady on his feet, but that didn’t stop him from hollering out, “What’s it to you?  You some kind of elf lover?”

She stood up.  “I don’t like your attitude.”

“And I don’t like elf lovers, so what you going to do about it?”

She smiled.  “We can take this outside if you’d like.”

“Bitch, you’re on.”

Patrons hurried outside to watch the two fight.  Meliandra quickly had the best of her opponent, using her short stature to her advantage, making his inebriated state his biggest disadvantage.  He swung wildly at her, barely connecting with his fists as she side-stepped them.  She laughed at him as he yelled at her to stand still and fight.  She threw a couple of weak jabs at him, bringing forth drunken taunts of superiority from the man.  Allowing him to get a few good hits in on her, she decided she was done toying with him.

Suddenly, she swung hard with her right fist, connecting with the side of the man’s head.  As she drew her fist back, her left came up from below, landing hard in his side.  The man started throwing punches back at her, realizing he had been played.  She put space between them as she quickly backed away from his wild, angry punches.  Seeing an opening, she launched herself back at him, raining down a barrage of uppercuts and jabs to the face.  She saw his eyes roll back into his head, his body dropping as she landed one last punch to his jaw, snapping his eyes back open as he fell to the ground, shaken.  Blood dripped from his mouth and his head from where she had hit so hard; his eye was already swelling and turning shades of blue.  He tried getting to his feet but fell once more.

“You whore!” he yelled.  “You’ll pay for this!  Do you know who I am?!”

“I know exactly who you are, Rolff Stone-Fist, and I don’t give a skeever’s ass who your brother is.”  She walked up on him, placing her foot upon his chest and staring him down.  “If I find out you’re harassing the elves again, we can have a littler rematch of this.  And we will do this as many times as needed until you start showing some fucking respect.”

She walked back to the Palace of the Kings, dreading the evening meal that she knew would be starting very soon.

#

Ulfric drank from his tankard as he listened to Galmar who had returned just hours after Meliandra argue with Yrsarald about a recent skirmish and the conflicting reports that had come back about it.  The two men had known each other as long as he had known them and that was the majority of his life, save for the years he had spent in High Hrothgar; if the two did not argue about something, he would be worried.  He was about to say something when he saw Meliandra enter from the war room.  She had changed from her traveling clothes to a fine dress made of a crushed velvet, dyed as blue as the ocean.  Adorning her neck was a ruby necklace made of gold with hints of silver.  Across her shoulders she wore a wrap made of spotted snow sabre cat held together with a golden clasp.  He watched as she made her way to the table, sitting in the chair to his right.  “Good evening, Meliandra,” he greeted as he poured mead into a goblet and then handed it to the Breton.

“Sir,” she answered as she accepted the drink from him.

“I wasn’t sure if you would be joining us or not.”

She chuckled.  “The free food and mead is what brought me here.”

He laughed.  “That wouldn’t surprise me.  I can only assume what you are forced to eat constantly on the roads.”

“Oh, come now, Ulfric, it’s not all that bad.  And it’s not like I don’t know how to cook myself.”

“you?  You know how to cook?”

She smiled.  “Yes, it is one of the things my mother taught me before she died.”

“So, you were raised by your father then?”

She looked at her goblet, a shadowed look coming over her.  “No, he was no longer in my life by that time.”  She cleared her throat before taking a long drink of her mead, nearly draining her cup.  She looked at him.

“So, tell me, Ulfric,” she said softly as she leaned slightly toward the table, “what are your plans as High King?”

#

Galmar watched Ulfric and the Breton thief as they spoke for the duration of the evening meal; they seemed oblivious to the goings on around them and that disturbed him.  He excused himself for the evening but his thought remained on the attraction the jarl had for this woman.  He trusted his instincts and she did not sit well with them in any way.  She was hiding something, he was sure of it and h was bound and determined to find out exactly what that something was.

Burying the Pain

He sat on a chair in the darkened corner, his gaze locked upon the bed in the middle of the room that had been designated as the Guild Master’s.  While Meliandra hadn’t been here in months, he recently spent most of his nights in the very chair he sat upon now, a bottle of mead in his hand, wishing he could turn back the hands of time, back to the time when the Breton looked at him with adoration rather the strained look he had seen in her eyes the last time they had met his.  He knew something had changed between them forever when she had walked in on him and Vex, but he had not realized just what had changed and why.  But now, after the unexpected visit he had been paid, now he started to realize the depth of her pain and that drove him to hide his pain in the bottle for he knew no other way to numb the ache in the pit of his very being…..

The Jagged Crown

“I’m glad Ulfric made the decision to have you join us and under my command.”

She smirked at him.  “Of course, you are.  Any opportunity to catch me working with the Empire would make you happy.  Hell, if you were to find any sort of proof of it, you’d be happier than a pig in shit, wouldn’t you?”

Galmar laughed heartily as he looked her up and down.  “You’ve definitely got a mouth on you, don’t you, girl?  I can see why you’ve got Ulfric’s attention, but don’t think that’s going to work with me.”

“And you don’t scare me, Stone-Fist,” she said firmly. 

The sun was shining brightly off the snow on this cloudless day; Galmar applied the black paint below his eyes and put his helmet before exiting his tent to address the men.  He looked at them as they gathered in front of him once he called for their attention.  He knew that once the men found out why they were here; they’d be in disbelief just as he had been when Ulfric had told him a day ago of Meliandra’s discovery.   While he hoped the letter that the Breton had come back with was right, he feared this was some kind of trap.  The fact that Imperials had been spotted in the distance only rattled his already frayed nerves.

“Alright, you lot of mangy mutts, listen up!” he said loudly.  Those Imperials aren’t here by coincidence.  Our spies tell us that the Empire believes the Jagged Crown lies somewhere within these ruins, and they don’t want us to have it.  But they will not stand in our way!”  He looked through the faces in front of him, some older, some no younger than a pup.  “I know some of you are ex-legion and may know men on the other side.  But remember this.”  He paused, making sure all eyes were on him.  “They are the enemy now and they will not hesitate to kill you.  Keep your wits about you and watch your shield brother’s back.”  He saw the Breton in the throng of soldiers; he smirked as he thought of the conversation he had had with the jarl before heading out.

‘Keep her in your sights if you can, make her do the grunt work, test her limits.  I want to know her strengths and her weaknesses.’

The idea of keeping a close eye on the thief had made his day and as he looked at her now, his joy was renewed.  He addressed the group again, “Ulfric Stormcloak is counting on us to bring him back that crown, and that’s exactly what we are going to do.”  He waited for the men’s applause to die down.  “Meliandra Valeria,” he called out loudly, “I have special orders for you.”

He watched with satisfaction as she made her way to him as the sea of soldiers parted between them.  All eyes fell upon her, watching the petite woman make her way to the front, knowing his putting her on the spot made her uncomfortable.  He looked down at her when she finally stood before him.  “I’m glad Ulfric made the decision to have you join us and under my command.”

She smirked at him.  “Of course, you are.  Any opportunity to catch me working with the Empire would make you happy.  Hell, if you were to find any sort of proof of it, you’d be happier than a pig in shit, wouldn’t you?”

Galmar laughed heartily as he looked her up and down.  “You’ve definitely got a mouth on you, don’t you, girl?  I can see why you’ve got Ulfric’s attention, but don’t think that’s going to work with me.”

“And you don’t scare me, Stone-Fist,” she said firmly.  “Did you have a reason for calling me up here?  Shouldn’t we be heading into this graveyard looking for this Crown?”

He motioned to the elven bow on her back.  “How good are you with that thing?”

She narrowed her eyes.  “If I weren’t any good with it, I wouldn’t be carrying it.  Why?”

He cocked his eyebrow as he said, “I want you to take a supportive position, covering us until we get inside.”

Her eyebrow raised as the corners of her lips turned up.  “You’re talking my language, old man.”

“Good.”  He raised his voice as he turned and started walking toward the ancient tomb.  “Alright, you sons of bitches, let’s get that Crown!”

#

The steel warhammer crashed down on his battleaxe, the strength behind the swing more powerful than he had thought it’d be; he swore he could feel the vibration rattling down his spine as he swung the battleaxe with the soldier’s side.  The resounding sound of shattering bone let him know he had found the weak spot of his enemy’s armor.  “Your blood is such a pretty shade of red,” he taunted as the Legionnaire dropped to the ground.  As he delivered the killing blow, he heard the hiss of an arrow as it flew past him, followed by the grunt of the Osimer soldier as she fell lifeless to the ground, the arrow embedded deep into her forehead.  Galmar looked up to see Meliandra, perched high above him, her bow in hand, an arrow nocked as she scanned the area below.  He watched as one by one, she picked off soldiers from her perch.

Suddenly, there was an elven soldier behind her, a sword drawn and ready to strike.  He began to call out to warn her but stopped as he saw her drop her bow and spin around, her hands moving rapidly, seemingly blocking her attacker’s strikes with nothing but her arms and bare hands.  He watched in awe at the fluidity of her movements, the seemingly nonchalant aura of her demeanor.  The sun glinting off the metal in her hands alerted him to the fact that she was, indeed armed.  Again, he was awed.

He watched as her fist swung toward her attacker widely, hooking his arm with the tip of her blade she held in her hand, pulling his arm away from her. She brought her fist back toward the Bosmer’s unprotected side; the Breton was sprayed in blood as the elf fell back a step.  He saw the elf say something to which Meliandra laughed.  The elf lunged toward the Breton, grabbing her wrist in the process.  Her arm was pushed against her chest, but she brought her other hand in from below and against his abdomen. She pushed back at the soldier using the full weight of her body as she gained control of his arm, twisting it painfully and instantly forcing him to lose his hold on her wrist as her own blade, once again, found the unprotected area of his side, wounding him once more.  With her free arm, she put the elf in a chokehold and, with her now free hand, quickly thrust her blade into the Bosmer’s neck, twisted the blade to the side and severed the arteries as she savagely ripped her knife out his neck.  Blood spurt from the gaping wound as she released her hold on him, his life already departed from his body before it hit the ground.

He watched as she turned and walked to the edge of the wall, and, finding a spot she could safely jump to, made her way down to the ledge her bow had fallen to then made her way to him.  The Bosmer’s blood was smeared across her face from where she had wiped away at it using her arm.  Her eyes shone with bloodlust as she looked at him, a smirk on her bloody lips.

He nodded at her slightly as he walked past her, his voice stern as he said, “Glad you’re fighting on our side, but I still don’t trust you.”

#

She crept along the walkway, her magic muffling her steps as she counted the Imperial soldiers in this section of the tomb; her detect life spell illuminating their life essence to her eyes.  She knew she could easily handle a handful of them before they determined her position accurately, possibly a few more if she could get them on the oil covered floor long enough for her to be able to break one of the clay jars above them that would drop another oil that would combust once it touched the floor.  That would hopefully take care of the most of them while Galmar and the others made their way into this chamber from their positions in the antechamber outside, waiting for her signal.

She saw her opportunity when a group of soldiers stood in a group on the oil while one of them stood off to the side and began pissing against the wall.  Her arrow flew from her bow, crashing into the clay jar, shattering it loudly followed by a flash of flames as the oils mixed.  The chamber quickly filled with the anguished screams of the soldiers who found themselves engulfed in flames.  She trained her next arrow on the man who had been urinating, now hurriedly trying to pull his pants back up and secure them while trying to locate their attacker.  A moment later, the man lay upon his back, an arrow in his heart, his blood pooling beneath him.

Below, she saw Galmar and the others rushing in, the sounds of steel against steel echoing loudly against the ancient walls.  She secured her bow and sprinted down the walkway she was on, making her way to her companions.  As she had expected, Galmar and the others took care of the remaining soldiers and were finding their way through the passageways.  At one junction, she heard the shaky voice of a female Stormcloak, “What in the nine holds is that?”

Meliandra answered, “Draugr, the accursed dead that still lives.  Haven’t you ever seen one before?”

Her voice quivered as she stared at the dead body sprawled across the floor.  “No.  And I’m not sure I’m better off for it now neither.”

Meliandra chuckled as Galmar made his way through the group.  “Steady.  A few dusty bonewalkers aren’t going to stop us anymore than the Imperials could.”  He pushed forward and entered another passageway.  “We’re not leaving until we get what we came for.”

Soon, they encountered more Imperial soldiers and before long, the floors were splattered with blood and fallen bodies.  Meliandra smiled as the Imperial body count added up, her laugh echoing off the ancient walls making soldiers on both sides, nervous.

Galmar entered a passageway and his demeanor became more positive.  “Ah!  The Hall of Stories… we must be getting close now.”

“Oh,” came a gruff, masculine voice, “I’ve heard of this.  They say these walls show the history of the ancients who built this place.”

“Too bad we can’t read these carvings.  Who knows what secrets we’d uncover.”

Meliandra listened to the Nords speak of their legends as she looked at the carvings upon the walls, feeling out of place.  A glimmer caught her eye; she bent down and picked up a claw, much like the claw she had taken off the Dunmer at Bleak Falls Barrow.  She noticed the emblems on the back of the claw and began turning the rings.  Sliding the talons of the claw into the holes of the center, she turned the center piece, releasing the locking mechanism and spinning the rings around, opening the large door.

She could almost hear Galmar’s smile on his face as he said, “Alright, everyone!  Keep your guard up.  No telling what we’ll find down here.”

Soldiers picked up their pace as they ran through the now revealed chamber, crossing a threshold that the Imperials had failed to cross, putting the Jagged Crown, if it truly existed, squarely in their hands.  They found themselves in a large, locked chamber, seemingly with no way out.  “Come on boys,” echoed Galmar’s voice against the walls.  “Let’s spread out and see what we’ve got.”  His eyes met hers, hard and cold.  “Meliandra, do what you do best.”  He laughed half-heartedly.  “See if you can find some way to get that gate open.”

She nodded and looked around; upon seeing a pathway, she followed it into the darkness.  Casting a candlelight spell, she looked around, finding a couple gold coins and some jewelry.  She slipped them into her hip satchel and continued on.  Seeing a pull lever on the wall, she pulled it and was rewarded with the sound of the gate creaking open.

“That’s done it!”  Galmar hollered.  “Alright, boys, let’s get moving.  We’ve got more-“ Suddenly the sound of sarcophagi breaking open filled the place, draugr stepping out, their eerie eyes reanimated and searching.  “Steady now!” the general shouted firmly.  “They may be uglier than Imperials, but they’ll go down just the same.”

Meliandra cast a fireball at one of the walking corpses, slamming the creature against the wall, the glow in it’s eyes ebbing to nothing.  She turned to see one of the undead approaching Galmar, an ancient Nord battleaxe in its raised arms, ready to strike the right-hand man of the jarl.  She cast an ice spike at the creature, stumbling it backward a few steps.  Galmar turned to see the draugr and immediately swung his own weapon squarely through the midsection, slicing the thing in half.

In a few moments, the skirmish was finished, and they continued through the now opened gate.  As she walked next to Galmar, he said to her, “Let’s hope that’s the last of them.”

She laughed as she looked at him.  “You know as well as I do that there’s more to come.”

They walked through a doorway to find themselves in an inner chamber filled with sarcophagi.  In the distance Meliandra saw the corpse leaning off to the side, a crown upon it’s skull.  She cast a spell and two swords appeared, one in each hand, and walked toward the focal point of the room.  She heard Galmar behind her, he had noticed her fixation and followed, his battleaxe in his hands.  She heard his sharp intake of breath then whisper, “Shor’s Balls, the Jagged Crown.”  She was steps away when sarcophagi started to break open around them.  She glanced at the general and said, “I told you there was more to come.”

The sounds of battle echoed off the walls as she found herself in one on one combat with a draugr armed with a battleaxe, preventing her from nearing the Jagged Crown wearing corpse.  As she swung her swords at vulnerable spots, she found herself tempted to Shout at the draugr before her but knew that to do so would bring unwanted attention to herself.  She finally brought the undead warrior to its knees as she delivered the blowing strike, dropping the body to the floor.  At that moment, the crown wearing corpse stood.

“Yup,” she breathed under breath.  “I knew that was going to happen.”

The thing laughed at her.  She rushed it.  It Shouted her back against a wall.  As she stood up, it pointed at her, taunting her in the ancient tongue it spoke.  She snarled at it as she walked back toward the dead creature, recasting her sword spells.  “You’re going to have to do better than that, you pile of dust and bones.”

Galmar watched the Breton in astonishment.  She fought with a vigor he hadn’t seen in non-Nords before; this took him by surprise to see, this Breton thief fighting for something for a cause she wanted nothing to do with.  He saw that she was skilled with her swords, though he detested the magic used to create them.

Gripping his battleaxe firmly, he joined the assault against the dead.  His weapon crashed hard against the back of one of the raised warriors, he quickly brought the two-handed axe down atop its head, the light in its eyes dimming into nothingness.  Upon hearing a maniacal laugh, he looked in time to see Meliandra thrusting her phantasmal swords upwards through the creature’s abdomen, lifting the towering corpse off the ground and above her.  The glint in her eyes stopped him in his tracks; it was more than bloodlust that rages fiercely in her eyes, it was something he had never seen in all his years as a soldier.

He watched as she pulled her swords out, dropping the corpse to the ground and then cancelled her spell.  She reached down and removed the crown, then turned to face him, a smirk on her face.  “Good,” he said.  “Get to Windhelm with the crown as quick as you can.  We’ll stick around here for a while and see if we can find anything else useful.  “She nodded and turned to leave; he watched as she walked out of his sight before turning around and shouting orders to the men.

The Report

For months he had wondered what had happned that night, what was it that had sent her running from his Palace and had kept her away.  As the realization came to him, he saw that he had indeed crossed a line too soon and now felt the fool.  “So when you ran from me that night- “

“No,” she interrupted sharply. 

“No?” he repeated.  “What do you mean, no?  No what?”

“Not the reason I left.”  Her voice was clipped as she began to shift in her chair, her discomfort obvious. 

He looked at her, searching her face, trying to discern that part of her she kept hidden from him.  She held the mask she wore tightly to her impassive face, not allowing him a glimpse behind her shadowed eyes, eyes that had watched him intently, eyes that he had seen with lust burning in them as they held his.  He sat back in his chair, frustration written across his brow.  “Then why, Meliandra?”  She stared at the top of his desk in silence, chewing on her bottom lip.  “I think I deserve a response, don’t you?”

A light snow fell as Ulfric stood atop the sentry wall of his city, looking across the river at the two figures making their way toward Windhelm.  It didn’t take long for him to notice that it was Meliandra and a sellsword he had seen many times at the inn.  Her return told him that she had completed the mission he had sent her on and that made him anxious to learn what she had discovered.  As he turned to head back to the palace, he saw Galmar approaching him; he took a deep breath and greeted his housecarl and friend.  “Out for a walk as well?”

The general snorted.  “No, unlike you, I train to clear my head, not get stuck in it by walking around in circles.”  He looked over the wall as he stood by it.  “I see the thief has returned.”

Ulfric looked at him, his eyebrow raised, but ignored the intended slight and responded, “Yes, I was just about to return to the Palace to debrief her.”

“I really would prefer if I handled that, Ulfric.”

Again, the jarl looked at him, his eyebrow raised once more.  “And why would I do that when you’re convinced she’s an Imperial operative?”

“Because your own view is clouded by the lust of your loins.”

Ulfric glared at him.  “Do you doubt my ability to rule, Galmar?”

“Of course not, Ulfric, he answered quickly.

“Then hold your tongue when you think you can question my authority.”

“Yes, my Jarl.”

Ulfric began to walk toward the Palace grounds once again, grumbling loudly, “I have my own concerns about the Breton to deal with.”

#

He walked into his personal study finding the Breton standing at a table and helping herself to his mead.  Smiling mordantly, he said, “By all means, do help yourself to my mead.”

Smiling at him in return, she replied, “I’ll have one of the Guild bring you a case of Maven’s finest, Black-Briar Reserve.”

He laughed.  “That Imperial loving kiss ass?”  He shook his head.  “No thank you.”

She shrugged.  “Your choice.”

He half smiled as he sat at his desk.  “Well, if you’re going to drink my mead, I’d suggest that getting me a tankard of it would be an acceptable way of showing your thanks.”

She looked at him through the corner of her eye, a smile appearing on her lips.  “Of course, my Jarl.”

The look of seduction flashed briefly across her face before she turned her head, pouring him the tankard he requested; he felt his desire stir deep within him and silently he groaned.  She had taken the time to remove the thick layers that had warmed her Breton blood, now revealing the sleeveless bodice she wore with pants made of leather; his eyes took in her slender frame with her muscular tone with the cream coloring of her skin and his thoughts took him down that path of wanton desire.   He watched in silence as she turned and walked toward him, a tankard in each hand.  Leaning slightly toward him, she placed a tankard before him; he was given a view of the fullness of her breasts as she leaned toward him.  He met her eyes as he said, “Galmar would probably advise me to have one of my servants drink from this first,” and picked up the tankard.

“Poison is not my style, sir.  I assure you, the mead is untouched and safe.”

He took a swallow, his eyes never leaving hers.  “I should hope so, Meliandra,” he stated with a smile.  “Now, I assume you have news to report?”

She reached into her satchel on her hip and produced the letter she had stolen from the Legion camp and handed it to him.  “I believe this is what you’re looking for, sir.”

Opening it, he read and as he read his smile grew until it was touching his eyes, a laugh escaping his lips.  “Indeed, it is,” he finally said, folding the letter and placing it in his drawer.  “The Jagged Crown.  Do you know the story of the Crown?”

She shrugged.  “Vaguely.”

“I assumed that would be the case.”  He sat back, drink in hand, a thoughtful look to his eyes.  “What my father told me was that it was made from the bones of dragons and that it carried part of every king or queen’s power that ever wore it, from the time of King Harald all the way to King Borgas.  When Borgas was killed in Valenwood in 1E 369, it was believed that the crown was lost.  Yet, a legend tells a tale of King Borgas’s body being secreted back to Skyrim and that he was reburied with his crown, the Jagged Crown.  But because of the War of Succession, that location was lost to history.”

“Until now,” she said, looking toward the drawer that he had placed the letter in.

“Apparently.”  He took another drink of mead.  “Do you know where Korvanjund is?”

“I believe so, I’d have to check my map to be sure.”  Her eyes narrowed slightly as she eyed him suspiciously.  “Why?”

“Because I’m going to have you join Galmar and the rest of his contingency when they head there tomorrow.”

“With Galmar? The man who doesn’t trust me as far as he can throw me?”

He laughed.  “That’s exactly the reason why, too.”  At her confused look, he asked, “Do you want to earn his trust or to continue have him thinking that you’re a spy for the Empire?”

She stared at him for a moment then turned her head to look out the window, taking a drink from her tankard.

“What, Meliandra, you don’t care for my solution?” he chuckled.

“No, I don’t,” she answered.  “But I don’t have much choice in the matter now, do I?”

“Of course, you do.” He smiled at her again.  “You can obey my orders as your commanding officer or you can choose not to and suffer the consequences, the same as any other person who has sworn their allegiance to me.”

She snorted.  “Yeah, that’s some choice there.”

“You’re the one who chose to swear your loyalty to me.  Willingly.”

“Because that was the only way you’d let me investigate the Butcher, and it’s a good thing I did, too!  I found more connections between Mila and her Imperial contacts.”

“Yes, you did.  I thank you for that.  But the fact remains, you swore fealty to me.”

“Yes, I did,” she responded.  “And I keep the oaths I swear.”

His face softened.  “You were betrayed.”

Nodding, she replied.  “By many people throughout my life.”

“Those with a pure heart often are.”

She snorted again.  “I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I’ve got a pure heart.”

Ulfric chuckled.  “That could be said about myself as well.”

“Yeah.  You fight for your people, more than others would.”

He leaned forward.  “And what do you call what you did with the Thieves Guild?”

She laughed but there was pain echoing in that laughter.  “Revenge.”

“Revenge?” he repeated, now confused.  “Revenge for what?”

Her eyes shifted towards the ground.  “Mercer Frey had betrayed the Guild in an unforgivable way.  He had killed the Guild Master before him and had framed one of the Guild for the deed.  He turned us against each other, he made us question each other and our loyalties to both the Guild and to each other.”  Her voice took on a somber tone.  “He manipulated me, made me a pawn in his game, and then he tried to kill me.”  She looked back at him.  “Yeah, I did do what needed to be done to restore the Guild and the faith we had in it and each other.  But I wont lie; I was purely motivated by revenge.”

Something in her eyes changed, he saw it for the flicker of a moment that it was there.  Suddenly he realized where her revenge had come from.  “You two were lovers,” he said, flatly.

She looked him in the eye; the shadowed look had returned to her eyes but not before pain had registered. She nodded, saying, “Yes.  We were.”

He rested his arms on the desk, clasping his hands in front of him.  He cleared his throat, beginning to understand why she had run from him that night.  “I had no idea.  I am sorry.”  He paused, searching for the right words.  As he looked at her, he remembered, not for the first time, the taste of honey mead on those lips as he kissed them as she welcomed his embrace.  For months he had wondered what had happned that night, what was it that had sent her running from his Palace and had kept her away.  As the realization came to him, he saw that he had indeed crossed a line too soon and now felt the fool.  “So when you ran from me that night- “

“No,” she interrupted sharply.

“No?” he repeated.  “What do you mean, no?  No what?”

“Not the reason I left.”  Her voice was clipped as she began to shift in her chair, her discomfort obvious.

He looked at her, searching her face, trying to discern that part of her she kept hidden from him.  She held the mask she wore tightly to her impassive face, not allowing him a glimpse behind her shadowed eyes, eyes that had watched him intently, eyes that he had seen with lust burning in them as they held his.  He sat back in his chair, frustration written across his brow.  “Then why, Meliandra?”  She stared at the top of his desk in silence, chewing on her bottom lip.  “I think I deserve a response, don’t you?”

She looked up at him, guarded.  “I told you that night.  It’s not right.”

“Why?” he demanded.  “Have I somehow misread the looks you’ve given me when you thought I did not see?  You were quite willing to kiss me back that night, I might add in case you have forgotten.”

She closed her eyes for a moment as she said, “It does not matter.  No matter what I tell you, no matter what I do, I know what would happen, what will happen if I were to…reciprocate those feelings.  The only thing that would come from… us… I know how that would end… no matter what, that path will have only one ending, and that’s one of pain. For the both of us.”

“You know this?” he said, sarcastically.  “Because of what?  Because others have done this to you in the past already?  Are you that quick to just lump me into a group with those fools?”

“Again,” she snapped, “you assume what you do not know!”

“Then, please, Meliandra, please tell me why it is so wrong for us to be together if we both are attracted to one another!” he exclaimed in exasperation.

She stood up suddenly and stormed out the door, saying along the way, “You’re dangerous, Ulfric.  I have too much at stake to get caught up with you like that.”

Encounter in the Woods

A grumble emitted from deep within him.  “She wants you dead.”

Her eyebrows raised but her voice remained even as she responded, “But you’d never allow that to happen, now would you?”

She watched as the werewolf took a deep breath, eyes closed, his nostrils flaring slightly as his Lycan senses took in the scent of her, creating the response the Breton had come to expect from him.  “You test my boundaries, wench.”

“You wouldn’t have it any other way,” she purred, stretching to brush her lips against his cheek. 

His hand quickly shifted to grab ahold of her bottom jaw and turned her chin forcibly so that he was staring down into her face.  “There’s a special place in the Void for people like you.”

A seductive look played upon her lips as she replied in a lust filled voice.  “And you’ll be right there with me.”

She sifted through the chest of personal belongings looking for any clue as to what the Empire was up to; she found letters from home, letters from a lover, journals chronicling his time with the Legion, a coin purse that held a small amount of gold coins.  She pocketed the gold and closed the chest then made her way to the end tale next to the bed.  A copy of the Lusty Argonian and some dirty, crusty rags lay atop the piece of furniture in front of a strongbox.  The strongbox, she discovered, was unlocked and she began rummaging through it, finding only a couple items of value and worth taking.  Opening the drawer of the end table, she smiled.  A separate strongbox, smaller, flatter, sat in the drawer, and this one was locked securely.  Lifting it, she found it to be not as heavy as one might possibly have thought.  She took her lockpick set out and busied herself at her task.  A moment later she was rewarded with the sound of the lock disengaging and the strongbox was opened.  There, sitting all by itself, was a sheet of paper, a broken seal of the office of the Emperor upon it.  Takin git out, she opened it and read the contents within, her smile becoming broader the more she read.  Tucking the letter into her tunic, she returned the strongbox to the drawer, drank her invisibility potion and snuck out of the tent and out of camp.

Stenvar was waiting for her at the agreed upon location; she was pleased with his ability to stay on task when she was stealthily making her way through the Legion camps.  He had quickly picked up on her affinity for honey mead and always made sure there was one available to her when she’d return.  She didn’t mind his company, and he was a decent fighting partner.  “Time to head back to Windhelm,” she said as she took the bottle of honey mead from him.

“Good; I really don’t want to be captured by the Empire for fucking around their camps right now.”

“What? You don’t feel adventurous?” she teased.

“I like my head attached to my body, if you know what I mean,” he answered.

“Yeah,” she answered flatly, “I do.”  They gathered their belongings and began their journey back north.

It wasn’t long until Meliandra saw the dark of night slowly give way to the light of the morning sun, the hues of yellow and read setting the sky aflame.  She never grew tired of watching the sunset or the sunrise; she found it reassuring, a reminder that life goes on.  Soon the sun’s rays began to warm her skin, invigorating her as she walked along the road toward Windhelm.

It was some time before Stenvar started glancing around, searching the horizons nervously.  She merely smiled as the familiar smell grew stronger as they walked along.  Her heightened senses had already alerted her long before of his presence and was merely waiting until he was ready to come to her.  Soon she could see his form along the tree lines; she knew it was time.

“Hey, Stenvar,” she said in a nonchalant way, “I’m getting hungry.  Why don’t you go find us something to eat?  Maybe rabbit or some fish?”

“Are you sure?  I don’t think it’s a good time-“

“Stenvar,” she interrupted, “I’ll be fine, trust me.  Just…, just go find us some food.  And take your time.”

He grumbled as he walked off, but her attention was in front of her among the trees.  Patiently she waited until she saw the tall Nord emerge, a smile gracing her lips with a touch of seduction to her amber eyes.  His tattered clothes clung to his fibrous frame, the length of his gait accentuating the rippling of the muscles beneath the firmness of his Lycan skin.  There was a bridled, heated look in his eyes as he approached.

“Are you happy with your fucking games, bitch?” he snarled at her as his hand shot out to her neck, his fingers wrapping around her throat just tight enough to make her aware of her air supply.

She licked her lips with a smile.  “Well, hello to you, too, Arnbjorn.  Astrid let you of your leash again?”

She felt the tree upon her back as he pushed her up against it.  His face was mere inches from hers; she could hear his racing heartbeat.  “Why must you torment my wife so?”

“Oh, come on, Arn, you know she hasn’t considered herself married for years.  She has taken nearly every member of the Brotherhood to your bed and you know she has.  All the while you’re sitting at her feet wagging your tail, waiting for her to pay attention to you and your needs, the selfish bitch.”

His grip tightened as he glared at her.  “Watch you tongue, wench.”

“Watch it do what?” She ran he tongue along her lips. “You do seem to enjoy my flicking across the tip of your dick.  Is that it, Arn?  You want me to give your cock some attention?”

A grumble emitted from deep within him.  “She wants you dead.”

Her eyebrows raised but her voice remained even as she responded, “But you’d never allow that to happen, now would you?”

She watched as the werewolf took a deep breath, eyes closed, his nostrils flaring slightly as his Lycan senses took in the scent of her, creating the response the Breton had come to expect from him.  “You test my boundaries, wench.”

“You wouldn’t have it any other way,” she purred, stretching to brush her lips against his cheek.

His hand quickly shifted to grab ahold of her bottom jaw and turned her chin forcibly so that he was staring down into her face.  “There’s a special place in the Void for people like you.”

A seductive look played upon her lips as she replied in a lust filled voice.  “And you’ll be right there with me.”

Arnbjorn’s agreement came by means of the crushing of his lips upon hers as he pushed against her, the hardness of him pressing against her.  He released his hold on her chin, bringing his hands to the waistline of the armor she wore and quickly loosening them.  Once they lay at her feet, he quickly removed his own tattered clothing, his erection now released from the confines of his pants.  Breaking his kiss, he stepped back, rested his hands on her shoulders and pushed her to her knees.  Taking a hold of her head, he shoved his cock in her mouth, thrusting himself back and forth as she obediently began sucking his member.  His grunting was filled with pleasured sounds as she orally satisfied him; he felt the excitement building and pulled her head back, starting at those eyes looking up at him.

“Turn your ass around, whore,” he commanded.  She got to her feet and turned around.

“Hug it,” he ordered as he pushed her toward the tree.

She leaned on the tree, gripping its sides as he began rubbing her ass cheeks roughly, slapping them hard enough to leave large red marks on them.  His fingers found and explored her hole, finger fucking her as she rocked back and forth on his fingers.  “That’s it, you fucking slut, get yourself ready for my cock, get yourself nice and wet for me.”  His fingers pumped harder into her until he knew she was about to come, then he withdrew his fingers and quickly slammed his cock hard into her, eliciting a gasp from her.  He rode her and rode her hard, taking his frustrations out on the Breton who begged for more from him.

His release was fierce as his body went rigid, his seed exploding deep inside of her.  He stood there for a moment, immobile and with labored breath, his sweat rolling down his chest, glistening in the morning sun.  He slapped her ass as he pulled out of her, the scent of her own orgasm wafting to his Lycan heightened sense of smell.

He pulled his trousers on, cinching them closed.  “Watch yourself with Astrid, Tidbit.  She does want to be rid of you permanently.”  And with nothing else to say, the man walked off towards the woods before shifting into wolf form and running into the trees.

Rikke’s Search

Tullius stared at Rikke in disbelief.  “Another one?” he repeated, anger edging his voice.

The Legate stood in front of the general’s desk, her back ramrod straight, her eyes forward.  She had been listening to the Imperial general rant about Stormcloak and his rebels for most of the morning, something that he did quite frequently.  She had not looked forward to having to inform the man that another one of his officers had been found with his throat cut open and that once again no one had gotten a good enough look at the woman he had brought to his bed.

“Yes, sir,” she answered in a clipped tone.

“Just what kind of people support Ulfric? They’re rabid animals!  Just listen to the reports! The neck is cut so badly, the head is nearly severed!  The last one had his tongue removed, the list goes on and on!  I thought you Nords were a civilized people!”

Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath before asking her superior, “Have any of the victims had any idea what we’re searching for?”

The general shook his head.  “Thankfully, no.  Not many people know about this wild goose chase of yours you have us on.  If my superiors back in Cyrodiil knew that I was wasting men and resources on this, they’d pull me out of here so fast…. And heads would roll.”

“Trust me, Sir.  We will find it.  And we want to find it before Stormcloak does.”

Orders and Obligations

Pushing the heavy door open slightly, he saw the raven-haired assassin asleep in the large bed, the fur blankets covering her body, one arm tucked across her stomach while the other was stretched across the bed. As both an assassin with the Dark Brotherhood as well as being the Guild Master for the Thieves guild, he knew she had anything but a peaceful life, but as he gazed at her lying there before him, he would never have known it by the look of peace and serenity on her face. Looking upon the painted lips, he remembered the taste of mead upon them as he had given way to his temptation and had placed his lips upon hers; he yearned to imbibe of those lips once more.

“Are you going to just stand there and stare at me?” Meliandra’s sarcastic voice said, breaking the silence.

Startled for but a moment, he found himself at a loss for words. He shrugged, a slight smile appearing upon his face as he stepped into the room, closing the door behind him, leaving it slightly ajar. “I was not aware that you had returned; forgive me for the intrusion.”

She opened her eyes and looked at him, amusement clearly written on her face. “I wouldn’t be very good at my job if people always knew that I was there.” She sighed as she sat up, the furs dropping from her revealing her half-dressed lithe figure. She met his eyes as she continued saying, “Once the storm let up last night, I made my way here. Jorleif was up when I got here and saw to my immediate needs.”

He nodded, watching her as she walked over to a chair that held a leather knapsack and began rummaging through it. His eyes could not help but follow the length of her legs, appreciating the defined muscle of her calves; in his mind he saw her legs wrapped around him and he forced the ensuing images from his head as he cleared his throat.

A turbulent storm had rolled through the northern lands of Skyrim late the previous day, the fierce boreal winds bringing a blistery snowfall that blinded any who ventured out from the shelter of their homes.  This having followed a smaller storm made Ulfric edgy knowing that these storms were the cause of Meliandra’s delayed return to his city.  Frustrated, the jarl had retired to his chambers early and had remained there until morning.  As he laid in his bed staring at the ceiling that morning, he hoped that the weather would be cooperative enough to bring the Breton back.  Not only did he feel she was the best suited for this mission, but he needed to satisfy his obsession and see her again, despite her running from his kiss.

Throwing the snow bear fur blanket off him, he sat up, the cold bite of the air hitting his half naked body, the crispness making him more alert as he swung his toned legs off the bed and stretched, the muscles in his back and shoulders rippling beneath the still taut yet aging skin.  He felt the age in his bones, saw it in his eyes as he glanced at his reflection in the mirror on his wall.  Again, he found himself fearing that he would leave this world childless, no heir to pass the throne to.  Once again, he felt a pang of anger and loss at the memory of the discovery that his former lover Mila had killed the unborn babe he had put in her.

He began dressing, opting for one of his thicker cloaks to combat the chill he felt more and more as he grew older.  He slipped his rings upon his fingers and left his chambers.  The sconces lit the passageways with flickering light, casting shadows that danced upon the stone-faced walls as he made his way toward the entrance to the main hall.  He noticed there were a few more maids in the hall than usual but he chalked it up to the expected arrival of Meliandra and continued walking on.  It wasn’t until he heard the crackling of a fire just beyond the door to her chambers that he realized the real reason he had seen more maids.

Pushing the heavy door open slightly, he saw the raven-haired assassin asleep in the large bed, the fur blankets covering her body, one arm tucked across her stomach while the other was stretched across the bed.  As both an assassin with the Dark Brotherhood as well as being the Guild Master for the Thieves guild, he knew she had anything but a peaceful life, but as he gazed at her lying there before him, he would never have known it by the look of peace and serenity on her face. Looking upon the painted lips, he remembered the taste of mead upon them as he had given way to his temptation and had placed his lips upon hers; he yearned to imbibe of those lips once more.

“Are you going to just stand there and stare at me?” Meliandra’s sarcastic voice said, breaking the silence.

Startled for but a moment, he found himself at a loss for words.  He shrugged, a slight smile appearing upon his face as he stepped into the room, closing the door behind him, leaving it slightly ajar.  “I was not aware that you had returned; forgive me for the intrusion.”

She opened her eyes and looked at him, amusement clearly written on her face.  “I wouldn’t be very good at my job if people always knew that I was there.”  She sighed as she sat up, the furs dropping from her revealing her half-dressed lithe figure.  She met his eyes as she continued saying, “Once the storm let up last night, I made my way here.  Jorleif was up when I got here and saw to my immediate needs.”

He nodded, watching her as she walked over to a chair that held a leather knapsack and began rummaging through it.  His eyes could not help but follow the length of her legs, appreciating the defined muscle of her calves; in his mind he saw her legs wrapped around him and he forced the ensuing images from his head as he cleared his throat.  “Yes, Jorleif is a blessing and always has been invaluable to my family.”

“I can see why,” she answered as she pulled clothing from her pack and began to dress.  “So are you going to tell me why you sent for me?”

Nodding, he responded, “Straight to the business at hand.  Good.”  He sat in a chair by the door and continued, “I need you to do some reconnaissance on Legion troops.”

She smiled as she laced up her boots before pulling a tunic over her head.  “Sounds like fun.  What am I looking for?”

Ulfric sat back in the chair, steepling his fingers before him.  “Orders.”

She raised an eyebrow.  “Can you be a bit more specific?”

“We’ve had reports of Imperial movements on the fringes of holds loyal to our cause.  Despite men being sent in to infiltrate the enemy’s camps, none have succeeded.”

“And this is where I come in.”

Ulfric nodded, a smile on his face.  “Very astute, Meliandra.”  He folded his hands in front of him, continuing, “Seeing how you’re the only person to ever break into my personal armory and walk out with my father’s rings, you are by far the most qualified to get in and out without being seen.”

She smiled at him, a mischievous look in her eyes.  “Getting into Legion camps are not a problem.”

“Oh?” he asked, curious.  “Why is that?”

She smiled.  “A woman has her ways.”

“Wait, are you…”  He trailed off a moment as he recalled some of the reports he had come across.  “You’re the one that’s murdering Legion soldiers, aren’t you?”

Her smile remained yet he noticed the shadowed look that came to her eyes.  “A few less soldiers that you need to worry about.”

He began to rub his forehead with his thumb and forefinger then looked at her.  “I need you to do this without being seen.  I do not need you to get caught, especially with a price on your head.”

She looked surprised.  “What’s the bounty?”

A frustrated look spread on his face.  “Two hundred.  And knowing the Empire, they will take your head.  Or have or forgotten what it was like to have the executioner’s axe above your neck?”

She glared at him, but he knew that he had made his point.  “I need to take care of a few things while I’m in town, replenish some of my travel supplies, that kind of thing.”

He nodded, a smile in his eye.  “How’s that swing of yours?  Have you worked on your grip?”

She looked away from him but not before he saw a flash of red creep into her cheeks.  “Some; I’ve switched up my choice of weapon as of late.”

He saw the ebony dagger on the end table and responded, “Preferring that sentimental piece?”

She chuckled slightly.  “I always have that piece.  And yes, I do know how to work it properly.  But no, I’ve picked up a new set of weapons.”  Looking at him, she continued, “Perhaps one day you’ll see me use them, but in all honesty, Sir, I hope you don’t.”  She smiled broadly as she picked up her pack.  “Now if you’ll excuse me, the sooner I get restocked, the sooner you’ll have the information you need.”

#

Meliandra walked past the Windhelm jarl as she exited her rooms, her head held high, her heart threatening to leap from her throat.  He had not dismissed her, had not said that he was done speaking with her, yet she had taken the liberty to leave his presence, something no one of her lowly status got away with.  Yet she knew he would let it slide, for she had seen the look in his eyes, the look of testing the waters one stood in, mixed the look of hunger.  The way his eyes had lingered on her, the way they traced her image into his mind, she had seen those looks plenty from many a man.  He was just one more.

But while she had had many men, many lovers, while she found herself attracted to the rugged, mature Nord, even longing to feel his hands upon her once more, she knew that she could not let Ulfric number amongst her lovers.  If he ever found out her secrets, she knew she could never escape him or his anger.  No, she knew she needed to keep as much distance between the two of them as possible, regardless of any feelings she might have.

Once she had made her way through the Palace and outside, she made her way to the market and spoke with Niranye.  After making her purchases she went to Aval’s stall and bought some meats before heading to the Aretino home.  Aventus was excited to see his benefactor again and exploded with his usual questions of what adventures she had had.  His interest of her work made her smile, but it worried her.  “Aventus,” she said calmly, “why do you stay here all alone?  Why not go back to Honorhall now that Grelod is dead?  Don’t you miss your friends there?”

The boy shrugged.  “Yeah, I do, but… I don’t want to be adopted.  I mean, I did, but not anymore.”

“Why not?”

“Because, if I’m adopted I might never see you again.”

“Now why do want to keep seeing me, kid?” she asked, surprised.

“Because you’re the only person I know who can help me become an assassin and help others.”

She stared at him, her jaw slightly agape.  “Why would you want to be an assassin?”

“Why did you become one?”

She shook her head.  “My reasons are my own.  You’ve got a lot of options besides an assassin.”

“What options are there for a runaway orphan?  A stable boy forced to live with the farm animals?  Living off scraps?  Please, if my pa and my ma hadn’t died, I would be enlisting as a Stormcloak in a couple years, but… I’m supposed to be at Honorhall.”

“So, what?  You’re going to stay here, living off my generosity?”

“I never asked for you to take care of me; you just keep coming here with food and stuff.  What do you expect me to do?  Let the food go to waste?”

She sighed as she stared at him, shaking her head slightly.  “Good point.”  She took a drink of her mead, thinking about the spot she found herself in.  “Fine,” she finally said.  “You win.  I’ll make sure you have everything you need; I’ll think about the assassin part.”

The boy smiled broadly.  “Yes!”

“I said I’d think about it.”

“Continuing to smile, he said, “Did you know that the other Shatter-Shield sister was killed?”

She glanced at him from the corner of her eye.  “Oh?  That’s too bad.  Tova must be beside herself with grief.”

“Yeah, so much grief she killed herself.”

She looked at the boy, her eyebrow raised.  “Guilt does funny things to people.”  Smiling she said, “I should pass on my condolences.”

“You did it, didn’t you?”

She smiled at the boy as she picked out an apple and took a bite from it.  She gathered her belongings and headed for the door.  “See you next time, kid.”

#

The gates to the city shut behind her with a thud.  Pulling the hood to her cloak closer to her face, she headed across the bridge out of Windhelm.  Behind her, a sellsword, one she had met months ago when she had been investigating the Butcher murders.  Finding him still in Windhelm at the inn and her being in need of a new traveling companion, she laid down the coin for his blade at her side.  She knew she could not trust this man with the secret of her being Dragonborn; he talked too much.  But for her needs, he would do.