Ulfric stood in the war room glaring at the blond Nord standing before him telling him that he had not found the Breton thief and had no idea where she might be. He had promised the man to hear him out before reacting; his first reaction had been to Shout his frustration at Ralof but held his tongue. He took a deep breath and asked for Ralof to continue. As he listened, his eyebrow arched, and he began to smile, but he was not prepared to hear what Ralof would tell him next.
“Sir,” he said matter-of-factly, “we thought that Meliandra was just some petty thief with the Thieves Guild that got lucky with a bit of magic and potions.” He shook his head with a look of appreciation on his face. “She is so much more than your average thief; she’s the one who killed the previous Guild Master and replaced him.”
“Ambitious thief, isn’t she?” Ulfric stated dryly.
Ralof shook his head. “Apparently, the previous Guild Master, a Mercer Frey, had betrayed the Guild and had gone rogue. Meliandra and a couple other members went after him and she’s the one who cast the killing blow.”
The jarl crossed his arms, a thoughtful look on his face. “So, she did what needed to be done then?”
Ralof nodded. “It appears so, my Lord.”
Ulfric began to speak again yet hesitated when a scout came into the room, a look of urgency about him. “Yes?” he asked, irritation edging his voice.
“My apologies, Sir, but you asked to be notified if the Breton woman was seen?”
His eyes bore down upon the scout. “She’s been seen?” Ulfric responded. At the scout’s nod, he demanded, “Where?”
“Along the road from Riften headed here; about a few hours south of us.”
The jarl smiled, the thoughts in his head forming ideas and plans for his own future role in the history of Skyrim. He thanked and dismissed the scout, then turned to his officer. “Good work. Get some rest and report in tomorrow to Galmar.”
Once Ralof had departed, he headed to his chambers and his private study. He had assumed that the Breton woman was more than what she had presented herself as, it had to take more than a good grasp of magic and potion making to have gotten her past all of his palace’s defenses and into his personal armory. He had just never imagined that she’d be even that good to be that high up within the group of thieves.
He shook his head in wonder about how he hadn’t picked up on her true ability; she had been secretive enough about who she was in the first place. He had never come across anyone with the skills she seemed to have, and he desired to have her working for him. He frowned as he wondered aloud, “Why didn’t you tell me who you were?” She had had opportunities to bargain with him when she was his prisoner, she could have offered her services as well as the Guild’s aid in his fight against the Empire and he did not doubt her loathing of the Empire to be assume her loyalties laid with his enemies. He grew more and more curious of this woman and no matter what he discovered about her, his curiosity refused to be quenched and began to grow into an obsession. He wanted to know all that he could about this thief; what else was she hiding from him?
He was determined to find out no matter what the cost.
He followed the barmaid from Candlehearth, his lips curling into a chilling smile colder than the snow on the ground of this frozen city. He felt the comfort of his knife in his hand, knew that it yearned from the taste of flesh and blood, and he was willing to feed it if it aided him in his bloody endeavor. He had acquired plenty of bone and flesh as well as jugs of blood, but he had failed to find any sinew worth using nor had he found marrow worth a damn. His time was drawing close, he needed to act soon. The girl was the perfect specimen, he knew those tendons in that young body would be supple and ripe for his needs.
Slowly he crept closer to the woman, her blood calling out to him to adorn his blade, a willing volunteer for his flesh magic, a magic that would prove his superiority over those fools in Winterhold. This would prove to the entire world his brilliance and garner him the respect he had been so long denied.
He began to withdraw his knife, ready to make the kill here in the middle of the city when a set of guards appeared from around the corner. He quickly withdrew his hand from his pocket, empty, waving to the guards in greeting, cordial in tone while in his mind he began to rant and rave at the timing these imbeciles had, a night wasted was more than he could afford, but circumstances demanded he try again on yet another night.
It was nearly time for the evening meal when the young Breton walked into the throne room of the Palace of the Kings, her amber eyes seeking out Ulfric’s, meeting them without flinching. He kept his face a blank as he watched her walking toward him, intent on demanding an explanation of where she disappeared to while keeping her in the dark that he knew her secret. He sat up straighter in his throne as he watched the woman approaching, his eyes vacant of expression.
“Apologies, my Lord, for my unexpected absence,” she stated in a calm voice as she stood before him. “I give you my word, it will not happen again.”
“Is there some reason I should believe you, thief?” he demanded. “Why would I trust a word that comes forth from your lips?”
She spread her hands in a sweeping gesture as she answered, “Because I stand before you facing your ire when I could have gone into hiding. But I am no coward so here I am.”
Ulfric smiled at her words, knowing the truth that laid within them. “Good, you have brains as well as beauty. Then you won’t have any problem telling me where the fuck you’ve been for the past week?”
She looked around at the people gathered for a meal with the powerful jarl, then looked back at him. “If it would please my Lord, perhaps we could speak in private?”
He saw the look of distrust on his general’s face; he waved it off as he returned his gaze to the woman before him. “Give you a private audience? Why would I do so? You have given little reason to trust you, Meliandra.”
She took a deep breath. “If you will grant me the liberty of speaking freely with you in private, I promise you will begin to trust me.”
He stood up, his size suddenly becoming greatly imposing as she realized how much he towered over her small frame. “Come, I’ll grant you your private audience, but be aware, thief, I will not tolerate anything but the truth from you. You have tried my patience as well as testing my hand.”
Nodding, she followed the aged ruler into his war room. She watched as he dismissed his guard with a wave of his hand then watched as he crossed his arms as he gazed at her, a hint of a smile on his face. “You have not been very forthcoming with me, Meliandra.”
Confused, she stared at him. “I’m sorry, I don’t follow you. What do you mean I haven’t been forthcoming? I agreed to tell you who I was and who I worked for. I agreed to bring you Appius and I did so. What am I not being forthcoming about?”
“Why don’t you tell me,” he paused before adding, “Guild Master?”
Her reaction was immediate, her face paling, a nervous swallow followed by a shifting of her weight as she avoided his eyes. “You think I’m the Guild Master?”
“No, I don’t,” he answered, “because I already know that you are indeed the Guild Master. Don’t try to deny it, Meliandra. Your own man in Riften gave you up to Ralof.”
She took a deep breath and met his eyes, a slight defiance in her own. “I’m going to have to have a talk with Brynjolf. Yes, I am the Guild Master. That was not information I was wanting to give you at this time.”
“Regardless of you wanting it or not, I now know.” He uncrossed his arms and walked toward her. “Would this be the reason why you and your companions at Candlehearth left town abruptly?”
“My companions?” She chuckled. “You mean Vorstag, a hired blade, and Lydia, a woman sworn to protect me. Forgive me for wanting to keep them out of the details of the jobs I do. They do as I say, no questions asked.” She met the jarl’s eyes again and continued speaking. “As for my whereabouts, let’s just say that I made the mistake of crossing paths with the Dark Brotherhood.”
“Well, if you’re standing here in front of me, I am going to assume that it was a favorable outcome on your part. But, what about the Brotherhood? Are they going to be seeking you out?”
She laughed, shaking her head. “No, they won’t be trying to kill me.”
“You seem sure of yourself.”
“I’ve branched out my services. I serve Sithis.”
“You joined the Brotherhood?” At her nod, he said, “Yet you won’t join the fight against the Empire.”
“No, I won’t. No politics, only gold.”
“Just like all Outsiders, you don’t give a damn about Skyrim,” he snapped.
“Outsider? Just because I’m not a Nord I’m an Outsider?! I’ll have you know my mother was from the Reach, as were her parents before her and theirs before them. My blood may not be tied to this land like yours, but my family has been here for generations. Skyrim is as much my home as it is yours!”
“Got some fire to you, don’t you?”
“Most of my youth was spent hearing how I was inferior to other people, that my Breton blood wasn’t good enough for other people. In recent months I’ve heard those same sentiments echoed in the words of those who wish to rid the land of those who don’t share those views.”
He smiled slightly. “You misunderstand when we say ‘Skyrim is for the Nords’. This land is demanding, not all can handle living here. WE are a people that have adapted to the harsh conditions of this land. While it once belonged to the Snow Elves, we tamed the wilds, we made it hospitable. This is not a land for milk drinkers. The Empire has grown weak, making decisions about our lives here when they are disconnected from the realities of our lives here while they lay in bed with the very people who work to stifle our way of life.” He paused, motioning for her to follow. “What has the Empire done to you to cause you harm?”
“They bowed to the Aldmeri Dominion.”
He looked at her a moment, searching her face, looking for the unspoken words that would reveal the source of her pain and anger, yet her face was a blank. Deciding to put it aside for the time being, he spoke again. “Very well. Stay neutral in the war, but keep in mind that you are in my employ.”
“As if you didn’t make that clear by sending Ralof to Riften to find me.”
“You were nowhere to be found in the city. What would you have done if you were in my shoes?” he responded to her retort. At her silence, he glanced at her, saying, “See, you would have made the same decision I did, Guild Master.” She nodded, and they continued walking through the passageways up to Ulfric’s chambers. “You have a job to complete for me, Meliandra. And there are plenty more jobs for you to do for me and I promise, I will pay you well. There’s only one thing I ask in return and that’s for you to not betray me. I do not suffer a fool and one who betrays me is truly a fool.”
The jarl opened the door to his chambers to reveal two wenches in the middle of their sex play upon Ulfric’s bed. He paid them no mind as he walked by although Meliandra’s attention was drawn to the brunette who had her face buried in the lap of the redhead, drawing moans of pleasure from the latter. Ulfric smiled at Meliandra as she kept looking back at the pair. “Castle wenches,” he said by means of explanation.
“And they have free access to your personal rooms?”
“Rory and Mila do; no other wench is permitted in my chambers unless invited.” He motioned to the girls. “I can have them leave if it is too much of a distraction?”
She shook her head, a look of disinterest on her face. “Who am I to tell you how to run your palace? I was merely… curious.”
He smiled again, a look of mirth in his eyes. “Curious?” he repeated, a chuckle in his voice. He walked toward his study, indicating she should follow as he began to speak again. “You still have yet to prove yourself to me, Meliandra. I have the utmost faith in your abilities, and what I have seen of your skills definitely impresses me. And while I have reason to believe that you share the same view towards loyalty that I do, I do not know if I can trust you to be loyal to me.” He turned to her only to see that she had stopped short behind him, her head cocked to the side, listening as Mila purred to Rory, speaking the words Rory demanded to hear. He watched as she walked toward the two women on his bed, the look of caution upon her face keeping him quiet, intrigued. Without warning, her hand shot down, grabbed ahold of Mila’s hair and pulled the woman’s head up, looking at her intently.
“What in the name of the Divines?” Mila cried out.
Meliandra smiled wickedly. “A castle wench? A perfect cover for a spy feeding information to the enemy.” She looked at the jarl. “My debt to you is cleared. Here’s your conspirator from Castle Dour.”