The child, dirty and wearing ragged clothes, saw the Nord and Breton coming up the road, their horses at a slow gait. Seeing the raven hair, the child recognized the woman as the Guild Master and turned to scurry up the path to the gate, squeezing through before the guards saw him. A quick shout from another guard alerted him to the fact that he’d been spotted on the other side, but he heard no footsteps giving chase. Making his way through the wooden boardwalks of Riften, he sought out the man who promised him a good amount of gold if he brought news of Meliandra’s return. After searching the marketplace and not finding the redheaded Nord there, he went searching the Bee & Barb. It took a moment for the boy’s eyes to adjust to the darkness of the inn after being in the bright of day, then he made his way to the thief’s usual table, finding the Nord nursing an ale.
“She’s here, sir,” he said with a toothless grin.
Brynjolf looked at the sandy-blond haired urchin, the smile on the boy’s face reminding him of himself when he was the orphan trying to get in with the Guild, running errands for Gallus, proving his worth with the thieves. As he reached into the inner pockets of the fur cloak he wore this blustery day, he thanked the boy, giving him a few gold coins, enough to feed himself and buy the dagger he had been wanting from the blacksmith.
Brynjolf watched the boy scurry off, a smile on his face. He drank the last of his drink, left a few gold pieces on the table and made his way out of the tavern. Not wanting to give Meliandra the chance to slip into town and sneak back out without him knowing, he had wet the street urchin’s appetite with promises of gold to open the boy’s eyes, knowing the youth yearned to join the Guild. The sound of his footsteps was muffled by the clanging of the metal striking metal as Balimund worked on a sword at his forge, the young lookout watching the Nord blacksmith working his craft, the look of excitement clear upon his face.
The man smiled as he continued toward the graveyard, his thoughts on the days of his own youth, making himself known to the Guild Master of the time. He knew the bastard child would be a good thief, it was merely a matter of time before the Guild would recruit him within their ranks.
He noticed once more the blooming of the flowers in the cemetery, a hint of their fragrant aroma filling the air. They had become a bittersweet reminder of all that had transpired for him in the past year, from his falling in love with the Breton, to losing her because of Mercer Frey’s manipulations. He had questioned his remaining in Riften, he had debated journeying to Raven Rock for an extended job, but he could not convince himself that that was what he needed to do. Somewhere deep inside, he held onto the belief that Meliandra would come home and return to him, starting a new chapter in their lives.
With a grating that he was long accustomed to, the secret entrance to the Thieves Guild opened and he made his way in, pulling the chain on the wall as he passed it, bringing the false crypt above to a close just as he slipped down the ladder into the Cistern below. The chatter that greeted him was informative; since the return of the Skeleton Key, there had been less arrests, more profitable hauls, more successes all around than there had been before. Amongst the chatter of completed jobs, he began to hear Meliandra’s name being spoken by those who knew her and soon he learned by overhearing one thief that she was in the Flagon speaking to Delvin.
His destination evident to those around, he found he had a clear path with no interruptions to the door leading into the Guild’s tavern, and with a deep breath, he walked in, his eyes finding his former lover sitting at a table on the platform beyond, deep in conversation with the older thief; he sat at a table, watching her, waiting.
“So, Meliandra,” Delvin asked with a smile, “what brings you to see me?”
She smiled back at him, “That obvious?”
“I can see that you’ve got something on your mind and you beelined directly to me when you came in.” He leaned forward, almost in a conspiratorial tone, and asked, “What’s going on, Boss?”
“I’m here on Dark Brotherhood business.”
His eyebrow went up. “Oh.” He nodded. “I see.” He chuckled. “Well, you’re makin’ friends all over, ain’t ya? A slight hesitation followed before he continued, “So; uh… how is Astrid doing these days?”
It was Meliandra’s turn to arch her eyebrow. “Astrid and I do not see eye to eye.”
“Uh,” he replied. “Well, tell her to stop by some time. We can have a… drink. Catch up.” At the Guild Master’s stare, he cleared his throat. “Ah, but business! Of course. What kind of business?”
She pulled out her pouch and removed her fur pelt, unwrapping the amulet within and handed it to Delvin. “What can you tell me about this?”
Taking the amulet in his hand, he looked it over, a low whistle slowly coming forth from his lips. “Where oh where did you get this?” He shook his head immediately and continued, “Don’t answer that – I don’t want to know.” Again, he cleared his throat. “This is an amulet of the Emperor’s Elder Council. Specially crafted for each member. Worth a small fortune. Ain’t somethin’ you’d give up lightly.” He looked at her sternly. “Look, it ain’t my business ta tell the Dark Brotherhood its business, but if you killed a member of the Elder Council, you’d better belie-“
“Will you buy it?” she interrupted.
Delvin’s eyes widened. “Buy it? This? An Elder Council amulet?” He chuckled. “Oh yes. Oh yes, indeed. Wait just one moment.” He got a piece of paper and grabbed a quill and inkwell from close by and quickly wrote something before handing it to her. “Here. It’s a letter of credit. Usable, by Astrid only, for any service or item I can provide. As per our standard arrangement.” He smiled again. “You bring that back to your lovely mistress. With my regards.”
She snickered and replied, “Of course.” She tucked the letter of credit into her pouch, stood up and bid the man goodnight before turning to walk out. She glanced down, as she walked away, the leather ties closed, and stopped short when she looked up directly into the face of Brynjolf. Her breath caught before a hint of a smile appeared on her lips. She had hoped to avoid seeing the thief, the pain of their separation still affecting her. “Brynjolf,” she said in greeting as she started to walk by him.
He held his hand out, resting it on her forearm. “Meli,” he said softly, hesitantly.
She glanced at his hand, then, as she continued to pass him, said, “Walk with me.”
Nodding, he fell into step with her and they began to walk down the passageway to her room. “You look well,” he said after a moment.
“As do you, but small talk does not suit you, Bryn. What’s on your mind?”
He smiled. “No, it doesn’t.” He paused a moment then continued. “I’m worried about you, lass. There are rumors of a black widow moving through Imperial camps.” He watched her face and seeing no reaction, he sighed. “The rumors are true then?”
She glanced at him briefly. “Do I need to answer that?”
“Dammit, Meli.” He stopped in front of her door. “If the Imperials catch you, what do you think they’re going to do to you?”
“I am well aware of what the Imperials do to rebels.”
“We will not be able to go in and get you out.”
A clouded look spread across her face as she stoically said, “If I were to be caught, I would expect you and every member of the Guild to deny any knowledge of me. But, I guarantee, I would not be on my own.” She rested her hands on his chest, looked him in the eyes, and said, “I’m fine. I will be fine.”
“Meli –.“ He looked down into her eyes; immediately he felt himself falling again. Without thinking about it, he raised his hands and cupped her face, leaned down, and kissed her softly upon her lips. He heard the clicking of the door handle as she opened the door; he broke the kiss and looked at her. He saw the look in her eyes and his hunger grew. He stepped into her room and drew her close to him again. “Lass,” he murmured as he kissed her deeply, the sound of the door closing behind them.
Stenvar sat at the counter drinking a bottle of mead, uncomfortable in this particular tavern. Meliandra had given him enough gold to rent a room and buy food and drink and told him she would be back at the tavern after sunrise. While he would normally object to a separation like this, he did not like the idea of going into the domain of the Thieves Guild, no matter if it was on good terms or not. So, he sat here, drinking, listening to local gossip, and keeping an eye on the people around him.
The Argonian bartender eyed him suspiciously as she wiped down the counter. “Haven’t seen you before,” she said pointedly.
“Just passing through,” he responded.
He shook his head and asked, “Why?”
She indicated the Imperial mage sitting in the corner engaged in conversation with a finely dressed woman. “Was hoping someone would hire this annoyance and take him out of town. Far out of town.”
“Sorry, can’t help you there. I’m only a hired blade myself, my boss merely has some business to attend to here.”
“Really? What kind of business?” she asked.
He shrugged. “Meliandra didn’t say.”
The Argonian stopped and looked at him. “Oh. You’re a thief.”
He stared at her. “What? I am no such thing!”
“If you’re with Meliandra, you’re a thief. Just like her.”
“Listen here –“ he started to get up when he felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up to see the brunette woman smiling at him.
“Keervara, you ought to learn how to keep that tongue of yours in check,” she snapped.
The Argonian sneered. “Are you telling me he’s not one of your people?”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying.” She looked back at Stenvar. “Why don’t you come sit with me?”
“I’m alright,” he responded before her grip on his shoulder tightened, making him wince. “What the-“
“It’s not a request.” She smiled ever broader. “Let’s go.” She led him to a table and told him to sit down then sat down next to him. “That lizard doesn’t know how to keep her mouth shut.”
“Who are you?”
“The name’s Sapphire; I’m with the Guild.”
Biting back his response, he demanded, “Is what she’s saying true? Is Meliandra a thief?”
“Yes, Meliandra is a thief. But not just any thief.” She glanced around then said, “I need you to do me a favor, well, more like the Guild needs you to do a favor for us.”
He eyed her suspiciously. “What?”
“Meliandra has gone rogue, she’s working on her own, and her associates are –“
“Yes. We just need to know that she’s not pulling jobs that will put our guys in danger.”
“Yes. If she starts to jeopardize the Guild, let me know.”
“What do I get out of this?”
“Gold if you want. You keep me in the know on her dealings, I’ll make sure you get a fair amount of gold.”
“And if I took the information to the Guild Master instead? What’s that information worth to them?”
Sapphire’s eyes narrowed. “Absolutely nothing.”
“So, it’s important to you, but not to the Guild Master?” He shook his head. “I’m not going to help you backstab a member of your Guild.” He stood up to leave, then stopped and looked at her. “What did you mean by saying she’s not just any thief?”
Sapphire smiled. “She’s the Guild Master.”