Red Right Hand: All the Earthly Things, They Stop to Play



    Mjoll stared, taking in Davius’s wide eyes and the blood dripping from his strange, black armor. She’d not noticed it before – a smoky, almost shimmering second skin over his lean form that made her want to look away. At what, she wasn’t sure, but she forced her eyes to stay put. Her gaze came to rest on his lips, slightly open and pursed, like he wanted to speak, but wasn’t sure what to say. What could he say, really?


    She closed her eyes. All she could see was his smile – she couldn’t chase it from her mind. That smile that lit his face as he’d stabbed Sarthis. Gutted him, more like.


    “That was…how could you do that? He wasn’t attacking you, he wasn’t even fighting. What happened to turning him into the jarl?”


    Davius didn’t move. Mjoll had never seen anyone stand so perfectly still. She wasn’t sure he was even breathing. Finally, he cleared his throat. “You heard me. You must have. He’s on Maven’s payroll.”


    Mjoll waited for something else, some other reason why, but Davius apparently thought that explained it all. She shrugged. “We knew he was a thug, we knew he was awful, yes. But that-“


    “She’d make a big show of throwing him in prison, sure,” Davius said, reaching up to wipe a stream of blood dripping from his temple down to his cheek, “but he’d be out in no time. Just like I said, out and setting up a new den somewhere else.”


    “But – but we don’t get to make those decisions, we-“


    “Yes, we do. Who should, if not us?”


    Mjoll shook her head, slowly, back and forth. How had this happened? Had she missed something? She remembered him talking that night on the lakeshore, the night that started it all, talking about his past and the things he’d done.


    I’ve killed, sometimes for good reasons, sometimes not…


    She told herself he’d been talking about the war. But, had he? Maybe she hadn’t missed it, after all. Maybe she just didn’t want to see. Her head was spinning. “It’s just…it’s not how it works, Davius. We don’t-“


    “Yes, we do,” Davius repeated, pacing over to a window near the door and back again, his voice shaking, “yes, we fucking do. You know. You know, Mjoll, as well as I do what Maven would do. Would have done, if we’d given her Sarthis. And correct me if I’m wrong, but the jarl? That’s still Maven, right?” Davius’s eyes flashed with cold, icy fury. “So we let Maven deal with him, and Maven…she’s as bad as the worst of them. The worst thief, the worst marauder, even, because she has-“


    It didn’t matter, Mjoll wanted to say, and stepped forward ready to argue. But Davius shook his head and closed the distance between them, surprising her into silence. He stood close, close enough she could feel the force of his words against her hair.


    “She has power. These lords and ladies and jarls and emperors…they don’t play by the rules. They don’t – never have and never will. They’re the ones, Mjoll.” He backed up a step and pointed in the direction of the keep. “They’re the bandits that killed your brother. Who killed him, and laughed because they know…they know.  There’s nothing you can do about it.”


    He gripped her shoulders, and Mjoll flinched. He wasn’t hurting her; far from it. His hands were soft, or soft as they could be inside gauntlets made of…whatever that black armor was.


    “But we can. We can do something about it now, and if we can, we do. We can keep them from stepping on us. Keep them from getting their claws into us, because if we let them, if we let them do that, Mjoll, they’ll never let go.”


    “But, please.” His voice sounded choked, and Mjoll gazed into tears turning his eyes to melting ice. “Please, tell me. Tell me how letting him live is best, letting him go to Maven is moral and…and lawful. I agree, I do. But when he hooks the next mom or dad, what then? When their kids go hungry or…worse, what then? You know how people like Sarthis treat kids, don’t you? You can’t possibly be so…so naïve to think hurting kids is a line some bottom-feeder like him wouldn’t cross. You can’t. So, we let him live and more people get killed…will you tell me I did my best? At least we followed the fucking law? Is that what you’d tell me then?”


    He dropped his hands from her shoulders. Mjoll stepped back like she’d been stung, though he’d not even raised his voice.


    “…hurting kids is a line some bottom-feeder wouldn’t cross…”


    Davius’s words seemed to echo through the blood-soaked room, accusing and taunting.


    Everyone has regrets…”


    Everyone. But she’d made her choice, and made her amends. That wasn’t her life anymore. She shoved her own words away, stiffened her spine, and tried again.


    “There’s more to it than that. And, given what you do, I thought…I thought you’d understand. You work with thieves, Davius. Former bandits, even – I talked to Thrynn, I know his story. What if Sarthis – what if he’d been able to change?” Davius’s eyes widened in disbelief, but she kept going. It seemed a stretch, even to her, but she had to believe it was possible. “It is possible. He could have been the victim of exactly the kind of thing you were talking about. And could have changed, or turned his life around, and helped others do the same-“


    She broke off and searched his face. So much blood. It clung to his brows and the scars on his cheeks. She caught a flash of red in the corner of her eye and looked down. His hands had left red smears on her own armor. She shuddered and swallowed, hard. “And it’s more than that. I was there, Davius. I saw your face. You enjoyed it, I know you did. And that feeling, I don’t want it to-”


    “You know what?” Davius shrugged and his eyes darkened, shuttering behind some shield Mjoll hadn’t seen before. She stepped back in shock at the emptiness she saw in their blue-gray depths. He hardly looked like the same man, not like Davius at all. “I did. I did enjoy it, getting rid of that…that trash,” he said, kicking Sarthis’s body. His boot made a metallic clang, and a thud sounded as whatever he’d kicked skidded over and banged into the wall. “Do you know what the city you love would look like if we left it up to him? Up to Maven? Nothing but zombies. Imagine Riften full of draugr, and you’d have it. So, yeah, he needed to die, and yeah...I love that I got to make it happen. I make no apologies for it, and I make no apologies to you.”


    Mjoll stepped back again and nearly fell over one of Sarthis’s dead guards. Davius stepped forward, and Mjoll thought for a moment he was moving to help her, but he stopped and watched her instead, his eyes lingering on her own.


    “You know who I am. Maybe you hoped one day I’d change, but deep down, you know. I’ve been nothing but honest. And you know what? You’re not even mad at me. You’re mad at yourself. Because you have Aerin,” he said, and a smirk slid across his face. Mjoll felt her own face crumple and fought to keep her tears at bay. “Your gallant warrior at your side. Shining and pure. Good. But you don’t want him, do you? You don’t. You want me. And maybe, just maybe, you don’t like what that says about-“


    A loud creak sounded behind them, and Davius broke off and moved his hand to his empty weapons belt.


    Mjoll swore under her breath and whirled around, her hands gripping Grimsever, in time to see a huge Dunmer the size of an Orc walk through the door, along with a Rift guard. He spared a quick glance for Sarthis’s body, and laughed.


    “Oh, gods. Maven’s going to love this. Of course she’d rather I’d saved Sarthis – he has been rather useful – but getting rid of you two will more than make up for it.” He lunged toward them, grinning as he raised his shining axe in a sweeping motion across his torso.


    Mjoll didn’t think – she didn’t have time. She crouched low, thrusting out and up with Grimsever. Its enchanted blade hissed and sizzled its way under the Dunmer’s ribcage. The round openings in his leather armor made a perfect frame for the dark, bloody mess she made of his gut. Why smiths even made armor with no…well, armor, right over one of the squishiest parts of the body, she’d never know. But just now, she was glad they did.


    She stood, bracing her foot against his hip and kicked him back, freeing her sword. He toppled back into the doorway, and the Rift guard fell under the Dunmer’s bulk. He grabbed Mjoll’s boot. Again, without thinking, she kicked out and shoved her sword through the guard’s chest, her stomach turning as a red stain bloomed around the twin swords on his badge.


    Mjoll looked for Davius and frowned. He crouched by the far wall, a look of terror on his face and his dagger in his hand; she’d forgotten he’d dropped it. The metallic clang and dull thud she heard when he’d kicked Sarthis made sense now – he’d kicked his own dagger.




    She forced her eyes back to the dead men on the floor.


    I killed a guard. A Rift guard.


    Her hands started to shake, and she willed them still, her eyes bright behind the tears that had been threatening to fall for the last – what had it been, ten minutes? Twenty? It seemed a lifetime. She took a gasping breath, and nearly choked: a commotion sounded outside, and heavy footsteps pounded on the docks. Mjoll forced another breath in and out of her lungs, and held a hand out for Davius. “Come with me.”



    As much as he’d been tempted, Davius had never broken into the house Mjoll shared with Aerin. He’d been dying to see what Mjoll’s personal space looked like and, even though he knew better, he wanted to check out the sleeping arrangements. But he’d controlled himself, and now that he was in the middle of Mjoll’s kitchen brewing a pot of tea and watching her make toast over the fire, he was glad of it.


    And, he had an idea she’d know, anyway. Somehow.


    For now, Davius was surprised she was still speaking to him, even if her words were clipped, and spoken below flushed cheeks and daggers for eyes. He’d nearly gotten them both killed, kicking his dagger across the warehouse like a moron with no self-control. He’d regret that the rest of his life. That, and what he’d said. Not the bit about killing Sarthis, he’d meant every word.


    It was the garbage about Aerin that hit below the belt, and he’d known it the moment the words had slithered from his mouth. But between the ambush by Sarthis’s ineffective bodyguard and running from patrols who’d doubtless been sent to the warehouse by Maven, there’d been no time for apologies.


    It was time, now.


    “Mjoll,” he said, putting the lid on the teapot and turning to face the music, “about-“


    “Yes, about.” Mjoll took the rack of browned bread from the fire and set it on the countertop. She pushed a section of damp hair from her face and stared at him with narrowed eyes, the same expression she’d worn since they’d reached Mjoll’s house, wet and shaking from their narrow escape in the canals. “We need to talk about what happened.”


    Davius groaned. There was no way they’d see eye to eye about what he’d done. Davius wasn’t looking forward to more fighting. He found two mugs in a cabinet and filled them with tea. “Sugar?”


    Mjoll shook her head.


    “Come on. Do you really think I should have let that asshole run free?” He set the mug on the counter next to Mjoll and took a sip from his own. His eyes watered. “Fuck, that’s hot. ‘Cause you know that’s what –“


    “No,” Mjoll said, leaning back and crossing her arms over her chest. “That wasn’t what…”


    She sighed and shook her head. “Fine. It’s not going to just go away, so we might as well. I know you think what I said about Sarthis was stupid. Don’t argue,” she said, fending off his objection with another shake of her head. “I want to make you understand, but you won’t understand unless...”


    Mjoll cleared her throat. “I have to tell you something.”


    Davius tapped the side of Mjoll’s mug. Still too hot. “Ok, what is it?”


    “All the stories about my travels, what I did before coming to Riften, they weren’t precisely true. And getting hurt in Mzinchaleft wasn’t why I gave it all up. That’s just a story I told Aerin. I mean, the bit about helping people, that was true. And since Aerin lived in Riften, it was as good a place as any to start. But I’d already decided to settle down before I got hurt.”


    “So, something you can’t tell Aerin, but you’re going to tell me? Go on.”


    Mjoll rolled her eyes and took a sip from her mug. She winced. “Gods, Davius, how long did you boil this water?” She blew over her mug and watched ripples form across the dark amber tea. “I wasn’t an adventurer – gods, I hate that word. More like a…”


    Davius tested his tea with his finger before taking another sip. Finally cool enough to drink.


    “What would you have done, if someone came to your home and killed your family?”


    “I think you know what I would have done,” Davius answered, biting into a piece of toast. He offered one to Mjoll.


    “Something we have in common, then,” she said, and broke the crust off her toast, setting the rest aside. “I searched for them. The ones who killed my brother. Scoured the province. But how would I know which ones were the ones? I had no idea, and the thought of them going free…I had these dreams, daydreams of killing them. Keeping them alive long enough to hurt. To really hurt. But it was never enough…there was always another camp. Another hideout. Every bandit, marauder, murderer…everyone I got wind of, in every hold. I tracked them and killed them, to a man. No mercy.” Her brows rose at Davius’s look of surprise. “You saw me take down that Orc tonight, and the…that guard.”




    “What? Oh, right. Divines, he was big,” she said, biting the corner off her crust of bread and chewing thoughtfully. “Anyway, you saw that, and I’m not anywhere near as conditioned as I was in those days.”


    “That wasn’t why I was surprised,” Davius said, boosting himself onto Mjoll’s countertop. “You didn’t want to kill those guys, and you only did because they attacked us. It shook you to the skin, I know it did. Not really what I’d expect in a…hunter.”


    “But back when I…hunted, I probably looked a lot like you did when you killed Sarthis. It was…”


    Mjoll nodded and took a sip of tea. A long drink, now it wasn’t hot enough to sear her throat. “It was a life, for more years than I’d like to admit. A good life. I felt like I was doing something right. I had a friend with me too – a mage. A master with runes. Between my arrows and sword and his fire and lightning, no one stood a chance.”


    “Sounds good so far,” Davius said, snagging another piece of toast.


    “That’s what I thought. But there was a camp, not far from Mzinchaleft. Buncha bandits, buncha tents.” Mjoll leaned into Davius’s side and shivers tickled his spine at the unexpected touch. But she pushed herself away from the counter and opened a cabinet, taking down a bright green bottle.


    “Firebrand Wine?”


    She nodded and popped out the cork, taking a long drink and passing the bottle to Davius. “I’m fine with tea, for now.”


    Mjoll took another sip and sank down into a chair near the kitchen table. “Everyone was asleep, even their guard. Idiots. I should have known. My mage threw runes all through the camp. I shot an arrow at one of the tents, and boom boom boom, the screams and running and the lightning. Just like always,” she said, lifting the bottle to her lips. She set it on the table after draining at least a third of the bottle, and stared at the floor.


    “I remember hearing laughter, my own, of course. All that death, all that carnage, it...that thrill, I never got tired of that thrill. Anyway, I took some down with arrows, and the very last got my sword. I jumped down from the rock I’d perched on and ran him through. He begged, begged for his life. But I laughed. I laughed. And that…that was when I heard it.”


    Davius slid from the countertop and pulled the other chair out. He sat down, facing Mjoll.


    “A cry. Not a bandit’s cry. It was this…this high-pitched little wail. And then, I saw something move near the opening of one of the tents, and this tiny kid climbed out. A little girl, probably not more then three, carrying a doll and a blanket. I dropped my sword, but it didn’t matter. She took one look at me and ran off. Straight into one of the runes.”


    “Shit.” Davius watched Mjoll look up at him with tired eyes. He wanted to hold her, to wrap his arms around her and try his best to give her some sort of comfort. But he wasn’t sure Mjoll wanted that. He wouldn’t have, when he’d told her the story of his darkest hour, that night on the shore. He didn’t want absolution for what he’d done. There was none. But understanding? That he could give. He could try, anyway. “What was a baby doing in a bandit camp?”


    “I don’t know.” Mjoll picked the bottle of wine back up, rolling the neck in the palms of her hands. “But that night made a lot of things clear. For me. I wasn’t fighting for justice anymore; I was the worst sort of executioner. Of people whose stories I didn’t know. Who had no trial. My brother and parents had their lives before them, yeah, lives that didn’t deserve to be cut short. But so did that little girl.”




    Davius tried to argue, but Mjoll either didn’t hear or wasn’t ready to stop talking, because she carried on. She threw her hands around as she spoke, and the wine sloshed in the green bottle. “Who else? Had I killed anyone else by mistake? Innocent people who’d just gotten in the way? Did they have families? How many children were left alone because of me? Even the damned bandits – who was I to decide their lives had no meaning, that no one depended on them? That’s why I stopped. That’s why I ended up in Riften.”


    “Well, that explains why Maven’s still alive. I’d wondered.” Davius was silent for moment or two, and nodded. “I see, I do. And I can’t lie and say I don’t feel something for that kid. And families…all families,” he said, watching pain sear Mjoll’s eyes – her wet, red-rimmed eyes. Anger rose in his chest. The weight she’d carried all those years, it never should have been hers. He took a breath and forced it back down. “They’re important.”


    “But, your life, your brother’s, your parents’…I can’t speak to the grand scheme of things, but to me, I weigh that heavier. If I let someone – Sarthis – if I let him go, who else gets killed? Balimund’s kid? Dinya? She goes into the Ratway unarmed, you know. And it – I still say what Sarthis did was as bad as murder, and I will not have it in my town.”


    “But you use skooma to get to sleep, you told me-“


    “I know. And I can control it, but that’s not the point. Well, it is, sort of. I can control it. I have work, a family, friends,” he said, and glanced at Mjoll. He wanted to say ‘you’ but wasn’t sure that would be true after their argument or conversation, whatever it was. “I’m not getting hooked on skooma, and even if I did, I have the money to buy it. What Sarthis did, it took away the free will of Riften’s most vulnerable. Could have turned them into monsters. I won’t stand for that.”


    “And,” he said, “I won’t stand for anyone hurting someone I…someone I care about. You want to save everyone, and I love that. I respect it. But I don’t feel the same way. You’re my priority. Riften’s my priority.”


    Mjoll stared at him with half-closed, flinty eyes and shook her head.


    Davius sighed. He knew getting her to see his side of things would be tough. “Do you really trust Maven to take care of them?”


    Mjoll rolled her eyes. “No, but it isn’t-“


    “It is our decision to make, Mjoll. When the jarl is just as crooked as-“


    He broke off and massaged his temples with his thumbs. He understood. As much as he hated to admit it, he understood – law and order meant something to Mjoll, more than it ever meant to him. And Mjoll was willing to fight corruption with honor, leading by example, something Davius was far too impatient to try.


    But the more Davius searched Mjoll’s face – her pinched mouth and the dark pink circles rising on her cheeks – the more certain he was that something else was wrong. She’d been staring daggers at him far too long, even before they’d started talking. And besides, she’d been mad at herself for the little girl’s death, mad at herself for killing the guard. Not him.


    But sweet fucking Dibella, was she mad at him now.


    “Is- is that all? I get the feeling there’s something else.”


    Mjoll jumped up from her chair and grabbed the rest of her piece of toast. She stood over her trash bin and slowly pulverized the crunchy bread into tiny crumbs. “I just told you I was a murderer and you figure there must be more?”


    You’re not a murderer.” Davius struggled to keep his voice level, but it was…difficult. What Mjoll agonized over was perfectly clear to him. How could she not see it? “That guard knew what he was getting into. And the fault for that child’s death lies on whatever morons decided it was a good idea to keep a baby in a fucking bandit camp.”


    “But that’s-“ Mjoll sighed and shook her head. “You’re right. We’re not going to see eye to eye on this. But when I said we needed to talk about what happened at the warehouse, it wasn’t about killing Sarthis. This is the last I want to say about that, for tonight, at least: you heard my story…your priorities used to be mine. That used to be me, and I even though I don’t agree, not anymore, I can’t judge you either. Not when I’ve been there, done what you’ve done. Or worse,” she said, holding up her hands to cut off Davius’s objection. “But there is something else: nothing went according to plan, and I need an explanation for that.”


    Davius frowned. “But I thought that was what we were just talking about, me killing instead of-“


    “No, not that. I thought we were there to eliminate their product. That we’d call the guards when the thugs were taken care of, immobilized. That’s what I thought, because that’s what you told me.” Davius watched her eyes shift over his face, watching for confirmation, a hint that she’d been right.


    Fuck it.


    She looked away for a moment and then back, a small smile hovering over her lips. “You said you’d scoped out the warehouse and knew where the crew were posted, where the skooma was, where Sarthis and his guard hung out. But when I got to the back, you’d taken care of them all. How did that happen? I don’t believe for a second you missed all that in your recon. You’re better than that.”


    Davius cringed under the force of her glare, but said nothing. He wasn’t sure what to say.


    “Did you do all that on purpose, so I wouldn’t have to fight?”


    Fuck. Not four hours ago he’d patted himself on the back for knowing something Aerin didn’t – trying to control Mjoll was a shit idea. And what did he do? The exact same thing. For different reasons, but he doubted Mjoll would see it that way.


    “Do you have so little confidence in me? I’m used to being underestimated. Maven does it all the time. And there was Dirge, and that Orc, but not you. I thought you-“


    “Dunmer. A Dunmer you shouldn’t have had to fight. I should have. And if I hadn’t kicked my dagger halfway across the damned warehouse, I would have.”


    Mjoll glared, and a corner of her mouth twitched before she jerked it back down in a stern frown. “Davius, we’ve sparred, and I’ve beaten you. And you didn’t let me win, either. I can tell. They were fair fights. So why not let me do my part?”


    “You don’t think I- Mjoll, I have every confidence in you,” Davius said, and leaned back in his chair, remembering his fantasies of her on the battlefield, at his side charging the enemy. Together. “I’ve thought of asking you to join the guild. And I would, just to have you at my back. But then…then I change my mind. Because the thought of you in danger scares me.”


    He stood and ran a finger over the scars below her eye. “It scares me more than anything Maven could throw at me. More than dragons. More than my own death. And if I’m scared of you getting hurt, it’s not pretty. I’m not focused. And when I’m not focused, I do stupid things. Like kicking a dead fucking body and my dagger with it, so I don’t have it when I need it.”


    “Well, maybe that’s something you should work on. I held my own.” Mjoll stood still, apparently unmoved. “But you gave me a non-job on purpose. You wanted to make me think I was contributing, feel like I was contributing. Like I was part of the mission. But I wasn’t. I was superfluous, and you knew it. That’s humiliating, Davius.”


    Davius tried to see it her way, and he was surprised to find he did it with no difficulty. The first real shame he’d felt all night sank like a stone in his gut. “Yeah, saying it like that sounds bad.”


    He attempted a smile and was a little surprised when she returned it. Tentative, and still a little sharp, but a smile nonetheless. “It does. Don’t fucking do it again.”


    “Can’t promise that, Mjoll,” Davius said, relief starting to flood his chest. He could work with this. He could make this right. He took her hands in his and was almost afraid she’d snatch hers away, but she pulled him closer instead.


    “You’re going to have to. Remember when you caught me asking questions about you, grilling Keerava about who you are, where you’re from? You said you liked it. Well, I like that you care about me. About my safety. You are who you are, you said that, too, yeah?” She pulled back and looked into his eyes, waiting for his nod to continue. “Well, I am who I am. And maybe I can accept what you do and how you think. But I can’t be with someone who doesn’t see me. Doesn’t understand me. Even if your intentions are…”


    She shivered, and nearly spat the next word. “Noble.”


    Davius snorted. “Chivalrous, I’d say. I thought you’d be all over that.”


    “I thought so too,” she grumbled, her eyes narrowing back into a glare. “But like you also said, I’ve got a chivalrous warrior at my beck and call, and he’s never slept upstairs. Not even once.”


    Davius cringed again, remembering his cold, cruel words. He couldn’t muster an excuse, other than he’d seen the disgust in Mjoll’s eyes – disgust over his actions –  and reacted automatically, lashing out in fear more than anger. But he couldn’t excuse insulting the woman he loved. And if he wanted her to love him back... “Mjoll, I’m-“


    “I know. You’re sorry for what you said, and you should be. But,” she said, reaching back for the bottle of wine on the kitchen table, “you’re not completely wrong: you are who you are. I can’t pretend to be happy with what you do, but you’re right. It’s you. It’s you I want. It’s you I...”


    She broke off with a blush, and took a sip of wine. Davius gritted his teeth, holding himself back from interrupting, demanding to know what she’d meant to say.


    “And eventually,” she continued, offering Davius the bottle of wine again, “I’m going to have to make a decision: is how I feel about you enough?”


    This time he accepted. Davius drank the heady wine and nodded. Yes, he could work with that. Given time, he could win her over, make her see…


    “That’s fair, I suppose. But-“


    “Don’t shield me again. That’s a dealbreaker, Davius. Even more than the thieving and…whatever else you do. Don’t lie to me. Don’t let me win. Don’t keep me in the dark, even if you think it’s for my own good. Especially,” she snarled, glaring over the bottle, “if you think it’s for my own good. That’s how you treat a child. And I’m not a child. I’m a warrior. A shieldmaiden, and I don’t even use a fucking shield. If you want me to accept you, accept all of you, I need your word that you’ll do the same for me.”


    Davius rocked back a little at the sheer force of her anger, but she was right. How dare he think himself the proper judge of her own best interests? No wonder she was pissed. But still…


    He thought about how he felt back in the warehouse, when he’d lost his weapon. Mjoll had fought well, Davius had no argument on that score. And if she wasn’t his heart – his whole fucking heart – he’d want her fighting at his side any day.




    Given time, I can make this work. I can. “You have decisions to make. I do, too.”


    Mjoll nodded and set the bottle aside. “But tonight isn’t the time for that. It’s late, and we’re tired. And with the guards bound to be on extra patrol, you shouldn’t leave until morning. Aerin’s in Windhelm, and won’t be back until tomorrow afternoon, at the earliest.”


    “Morning?” Davius peeked around the corner at Aerin’s bedroom. “Are you sure? Won’t you be worried about your, ah…”


    “We’re not teenagers, are we? And anyway, people call me Mjoll the Lioness, not Mjoll the untouched. My reputation lies with my sword, not with the man I take to my bed.” She turned and took a few steps toward the stairs at the back of the kitchen. She stopped and looked over her shoulder, a smile lighting her face. “Well?”


    Davius stood on the spot, a million thoughts flooding his brain at once. Had he missed something? Mjoll’s emotions that evening had run the gamut between angry and sad. And a little sweet mixed in, just a little. He’d seen what she felt for him in her eyes, hovering around her smile. But this? This, he’d not expected. He picked up the bottle Mjoll had abandoned and sloshed it around. No, she’d not drunk the whole thing, not even half.




    Mjoll’s smile faded a little, and Davius shook away his confusion. He must have missed something, but damned if he was going to miss anything else; if there was anything to figure out, it could wait another day. He caught up with Mjoll in one step and hurried her up the stairs, one arm wrapped around the curve of her waist.





    The next morning, Mjoll awakened to find Davius’s eyes on hers. It wasn’t nearly as creepy as she’d thought it would be. Not that she’d given it much thought, but she liked novels – romantic novels – and too often after a night of passion, the heroine would open her eyes to find her hero staring at her, or dreamily stroking her hair.


    No thank you.


    Davius’s eyes weren’t dreamy, but narrowed and searching. Puzzled, even. Plus, he’d kept his hands to himself.


    “The sun’s shining in the window. I missed it rise.”


    “You rise with the sun, then?” She grinned and stretched, feeling sleepier than she usually did in the mornings. Then again, they hadn’t slept much, last night. She wasn’t sure what time it was, but between their long argument and even longer reconciliation, she couldn’t think they’d gotten more than three hours, tops. “That might be more of a problem than your occupation.”


    Davius stared at the sunlit window. He either didn’t hear her joke or didn’t think it was funny. Mjoll hoped it was the former.


    “I’m usually up before then. Way before. It’s dark, and I’m…up. And there’s shovels, clinking against the walls. I hear it, breaking through: tink, tink, tink. And scratching. Skeever claws. And then this..I don’t know, a whoosh, sort of rustling hiss. A guttering torch at the end of a long, empty hallway.”


    Mjoll lay back on her pillow and watched his face. His eyes were distant, but warm. No trace of the stranger she’d seen in the warehouse.


    “I can’t go back to sleep, ‘cause I have to wait. Wait for whatever’s at the end of that hallway. It’s so…slow. I know it’s coming, but I can’t stop it. I just know…I know it’s going to find me before the sun comes up. And I can’t wait there, in the dark. I can’t.” Davius took a long, deep breath and looked back at Mjoll. “I sleep in the cistern anyway, so I don’t even know…but I have to get up. I just go up to the crypt and wait. I watch the sunrise, then.”


    Mjoll could only imagine, but she figured her imagination barely scratched the surface. War wasn’t easy, nor should it be. But once the war was won, who counted the cost of the people left behind? Not only the dead, but the living. “Nightmares?”


    “No, nightmares would be easy – skooma‘s gift to me is a dreamless sleep. But I’m awake when I hear it, and if I’m awake, I have to wait.” Davius blinked several times and seemed to shake himself out of his daze. He kissed her forehead. “I have to wait. I really hear it, Mjoll. And I’m not delusional. I know it’s not real. I know I’m not underground, waiting on the enemy. But in those hours before the sun rises…”


    “You’re back.”


    She felt him nod against her hair. He slid an arm under her back, and she nestled against his shoulder. She had nightmares, still. Mzinchaleft, her brother…he died again and again in her dreams. She’d go for days or weeks or months with nothing, and then one night she’d wake up crying, the little girl with her doll and blanket torn apart by lightning, and her own laughter ringing in her ears.


    But Davius had been in the Legion for fourteen years, enough time for his nightmares to conquer the sun. Invade his waking mind. She thought back to the night before, the smile on his face as he’d killed Sarthis.


    “Would talking about it help?”


    “I don’t know.” He kissed her forehead again. “I know that’s what we tell everyone. ‘Talk about it. If it’s out of your head, you can deal with it better.’ But I don’t know anyone who’s said it helps. It’s just…it’s not one or the other, it’s not in or out. It’s both. It’s out of our heads, but it’s floating ‘round where we live and work at the same time. Hovering over the people we love,” he said, and lay back on his own pillow, staring at the ceiling. “Hurting them.”


    “I know you want to help. But I’m...afraid. You are good, Mjoll. A good person. You want to be good, want to believe you can make the world a better place, and that’s beautiful. I don’t want you to lose that. What I’ve done…what I’ve seen good people do –  in the service of what they called righteousness – I’m afraid it would eat you alive.”


    Mjoll shuddered and nodded. Something clicked during their argument the night before, something that surprised her. His smile as he’d killed Sarthis hadn’t bothered her near as much as the look on his face – the shame, the terror – when he realized he’d lost his dagger and couldn’t protect her.


    That he saw her as someone who needed protection. At the same time, she understood why. How many people had he seen die during the war? How many had died on his watch, under his protection? “Don’t underestimate me, Davius. Please. I’m strong enough to handle more than you think. But if I ever thought you found me weak…”


    “It’s not weakness to have your heart broken by a sick and twisted world. Never weak,” he said, and raised up on his elbow again, his eyes searching hers. But this time, his were clear and light, and something shone, there. Something that made Mjoll smile. “And last night, I didn’t hear the shovels or the torches. Or the screams – my own or the Stormcloak who got in my way. I didn’t see the sun rise. I didn’t hear noises from the town, and it’s at least mid-morning. And, I didn’t need skooma to get to sleep.”


    He smiled and kissed her mouth, and lay back down on his pillow. Mjoll wrapped her arms around his chest and snuggled against his body. She knew about the skooma, and knew he only used it at night, to keep nightmares at bay, as he’d said before. But to have heard about it and to live through it were two different things. He’d had one peaceful night at her side. Could she give him more? Could she live with herself if she chose to try?


    And, could she handle the first time he didn’t make it through the night and woke her, terrified and shaking, waiting for enemies who would never come?  


    She lifted her head, expecting to find his blue eyes fixed on the ceiling, but they were closed. “Davius?”


    Nothing but deep, even breathing. He’d fallen asleep again.


    She had decisions to make, she’d told him last night. Could she live with herself if she, Mjoll the Lioness, Riften’s protector, got in bed with the master of the Thieves Guild?


    Apparently, yes. Literally, at least.


    Could she keep the promises she’d made to herself knowing that the man she’d chosen to love lived by a different code? She wasn’t sure. Davius’s smile as he gutted Sarthis flashed behind her eyes. And then, Balimund’s happy dance. Talen-Jei’s look of near hero-worship. The children of Honorhall, who seemed much happier now that Grelod was gone. When she’d asked Constance about it, the new director told her Davius had convinced Grelod to retire.


    Something else Mjoll hadn’t been able to do.


    She thought back on their argument last night, and what finally made her see the end of it: he was more than one thing. He was more than the man who killed Sarthis. More than the man who skirted the law, took it into his own hands. And Mjoll wasn’t perfect, not by a long shot, and not nearly as good as Davius made her out to be. She’d wanted to kill Sarthis, herself. She wanted to kill Maven every damn day. Not a day went by when hatred for that woman didn’t twist her heart into a black, writhing thing that-


    She took a deep breath. She could be good for Davius. And Davius could be good for her. He could handle Maven. The more Mjoll thought about it, the more she thought that maybe, just maybe…he was right – about Maven. Maybe someone like her only responded to someone like Davius. And if Maven could be handled, who was Mjoll to say that Davius’s methods weren’t sound? Just different from her own.


    She would be free, then. Free to help Davius make Riften a better place. A beautiful, peaceful place.


    She should get up and start the day. She should. But Davius’s arm tightened around her and he murmured her name in his sleep. Mjoll settled back down and closed her eyes again. The day could wait.




    I ended up putting both chapters in one blog for now, because they need to be separate. But also, they need to be read together. I might split them apart later, when it won't mean violating the one-per-day rule. 


    The last scene was inspired by one in Peaky Blinders, if any of you who watch think it sounds a little familiar. 


    As you guys can see, if you read this far, this is Davius and Mjoll's story. I left a lot out, like what fresh hell went down with Maven. Because something definitely did, and it deserves to be told. Maybe it's fuel for Nano, or if there's another AMOSS event. I can see myself revisiting this, though; I have to admit I feel a little sad that it's done. Very excited and proud as hell, but...well, you guys know. It was a fun story to tell. And as always, thank you all so so much for reading. 













12 Comments   |   Furrion 17 and 5 others like this.
  • Paws
    Paws   ·  December 16, 2018
    They're both very selective with their truths, she possibly more so than he as she seems to choose what truths to see and what to ignore. Davius convinced Grelod to retire? Sure he did, Mjoll, sure he did :D Davius definitely found a way to make it work, ...  more
    • ilanisilver
      They're both very selective with their truths, she possibly more so than he as she seems to choose what truths to see and what to ignore. Davius convinced Grelod to retire? Sure he did, Mjoll, sure he did :D Davius definitely found a way to make it work, ...  more
        ·  December 16, 2018
      Thanks! This was fun to write, probably the most fun I’ve had. That was exactly my concern, putting too much in and knocking off the pace. Still learning. I can see revisiting it one day though. :)
  • Karver the Lorc
    Karver the Lorc   ·  August 13, 2018
    I thoroughly enjoyed the argument right at the start and also have to say that the fighting scene that followed was short, on point and well done - saying that because I know you not a big fan of fight scenes, but you still did good job.

    Th...  more
    • ilanisilver
      Karver the Lorc
      Karver the Lorc
      Karver the Lorc
      I thoroughly enjoyed the argument right at the start and also have to say that the fighting scene that followed was short, on point and well done - saying that because I know you not a big fan of fight scenes, but you still did good job.

      The second par...  more
        ·  August 13, 2018
      Thanks! That was a perfect scene for me to write because it definitely should be short, thanks to mjoll being awesome and that stupid stomach-baring armor some of those guys wear. Maybe one of these days I’ll learn to like the fight. 

      <...  more
  • A-Pocky-Hah!
    A-Pocky-Hah!   ·  August 13, 2018
    Funny you should mention Maven releasing Sarthis if he was brought back alive. Personally, I think Maven would've left Sarthis rotting in his cell since he was no longer useful to her, and maybe also kill him to avoid him spilling any beans on her. She pr...  more
    • ilanisilver
      Funny you should mention Maven releasing Sarthis if he was brought back alive. Personally, I think Maven would've left Sarthis rotting in his cell since he was no longer useful to her, and maybe also kill him to avoid him spilling any beans on her. She pr...  more
        ·  August 13, 2018
      You know, you might be right. I’m my head, Sarthis is really close to her, and there aren’t many other people who she can count on at the moment. She’s a little desperate, but still has the power of her position. Davius knows this, and he’s also a little ...  more
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  August 11, 2018
    Haha, oh boy, you weren't kidding, were you? Well, I liked it anyway. Let's make Riften great again!
    • ilanisilver
      The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      Haha, oh boy, you weren't kidding, were you? Well, I liked it anyway. Let's make Riften great again!
        ·  August 13, 2018
  • Sotek
    Sotek   ·  August 11, 2018
    It's always a great feeling when a story is finished... not that I would know but... 
    As you said, there's so much potensial here. It would be a shame not to re visit it later. 
    Well done on a great story. 
    • ilanisilver
      It's always a great feeling when a story is finished... not that I would know but... 
      As you said, there's so much potensial here. It would be a shame not to re visit it later. 
      Well done on a great story. 
        ·  August 13, 2018
      Thanks! I have a lot of things that need to be revisited and have to make a few tough decisions what to do and what to let fall by the wayside. But aside from a couple of shorts, this is only the second project I’ve finished, so it does feel good. Of cour...  more
  • Furrion 17
    Furrion 17   ·  August 10, 2018
    Just sat down to read all of these from start to finish. What can I say, shit you got talent, I was drawn in from the moment I started. There's just an awesome level of realism you portray with these characters, that you just don't get in the game.  ...  more
    • ilanisilver
      Furrion 17
      Furrion 17
      Furrion 17
      Just sat down to read all of these from start to finish. What can I say, shit you got talent, I was drawn in from the moment I started. There's just an awesome level of realism you portray with these characters, that you just don't get in the game.  ...  more
        ·  August 10, 2018
      Between your comments and Zonnonn’s I’m literally tearing up, here. It just means so damn much to read this, Furrion. Can’t express my appreciation enough, honestly.