Dragon of the East - Arc 1, Chapter 15

  • Dar-Meena

    ~ ~ ~

    “Talen! Another round!”

    The sound of a drunken Nord rang through the inn. His name was Vulwulf. If the first thing you noticed about the old man wasn’t his stately clothing, expensive furs, mangy beard or bloodshot eyes, it was the stench of alcohol on his breath. Talen-Jai, the bartender, was busy cleaning food plates. His muddy green scales and bright orange throat glistened in the light of the inn’s fireplace.

    “I think you’ve had enough, Vulwulf,” he said, his voice deep with a raspy Black Marsh accent. “Maybe you should head home.”

    “You stupid lizard!” the Nord bellowed, slamming his mug on the table, clattering silverware. “I said give me some more drink! Or I’ll have your head on a pike!”

    “Suit yourself,” Talen shrugged, setting down his rag.

    This was the sort of sad sight I got to watch on a regular basis. At least Talen seemed used to it. He and his partner Keerava ran the inn, The Bee and Barb. It was a sturdy but timeworn lodge, with log walls and creaky floor boards that sounded hollow when you step on them. A few people were seated at tables eating midday meals.

    With Talen busy tending to the intoxicated, I picked up his slack and started cleaning plates myself. I knew I’d get an earful from Keerava if I didn’t. The woman’s a tyrant with hired help. In exchange for a few days’ worth of bed and board, I had to work at the inn – at least until I could contact the Thieves’ Guild. Not exactly my idea of high living, but I wasn’t in a good place to refuse. The only other option was to stay in the city sewers.

    Those two did me a favor, taking me in at my time of distress, and I don’t forget favors. I’d find some way to repay them down the line. They were decent people. It surprised me, though, that they got along so well as a couple despite their starkly different personalities.

    Keerava was the innkeeper, a pale, tan scaled woman with a nasty scowl and guff attitude. She’d be the first person to kick your ass out the door if you were broke. Didn’t take crap from anyone either. I once watched her break up a bar fight all by herself. The woman’s not afraid to throw her own punches. Talen, on the other hand, was easier on the eyes, a more kind and gentle soul. He would be the one to try and work out a conflict through conversation instead of a brawl.

    A small group of people walked in through the front door and took seats.

    “Hey, Talen! Get off your lazy tail and help the customers!” Keerava badgered, busy wiping down the front counter.

    “Keep your scales on!” Talen chided. “I’ll be there in a minute.”

    Did I say those two got along well? Let me rephrase that. They got along most of the time. As for me, I just tried to stay on their good graces. On the whole I’d settled into Riften pretty well. It’d been less than a week since I first arrived and I was already recognizable to a lot of folks. If they didn’t know me by name, they knew my story.

    Surviving a dragon attack has a way of giving you sympathies and a scary reputation.

    Working at an inn helped me get a good sense of the city and its locals, too. I could learn about almost anyone I needed, just by talking with the right people. Don’t believe me? Allow me to demonstrate…

    Vulwulf, the drunk I mentioned earlier, is patriarch of the Snow-Shod clan and a heavy supporter of the Stormcloak rebellion. His drinking habits became rampant after he lost his daughter to the war. Vulwulf’s wife is Nura, a healer and priestess. Their two remaining sons are Unmid, the Jarl’s housecarl I met some days ago, and Asgeir, whose betrothal to an Imperial woman in Solitude was creating friction in the family. I knew where to find their household and had a rough idea of its floor plan too – in case I ever needed a little extra welfare.

    Information is a commodity for thieves. The more you know, the better position you’re in at a moment’s notice.

    Some hours passed uneventfully. The inn was empty, minus a few straggled people. With most of my daily chores completed, I decided to take a break for a while.

    “I’m heading out for some air,” I called to Keerava.

    “Make sure you’re back here in time for dinner,” she nagged in her scratchy voice. “We’re expecting a full house tonight.”

    “Yeah, yeah,” I muttered, waving a hand behind me.

    The warm afternoon sun greeted me as I walked to Riften’s marketplace. It was a round plaza bustling with commotion. Heavy sounds of talk and banter muffled the cries of hawking merchants. Beggars sat on their mats and pleaded for alms at passersby, while city folk went about browsing wares, gossiping, working and running errands. Aromatic scents mixed with marine odors from the lake and lower canals. The town square smelled like no other place I know.

    At a glance, Riften was a beautiful city – attractive, bright, and filled with energy. I’ll tell you what, though, whoever came up with the phrase ‘looks aren’t everything’ would have a field day in Riften. It was rotten to its innards. My run-in with Maul had only been a lick of the icing. The people, the politics, the law and order… nearly all of it was corrupt, controlled by the Black Briar family. Those few who were honest wanted nothing more than to leave. The rest were either dirt poor, splurging on the wealth of others, or locked away in prison.

    With my talents, I knew I could make a living in Riften, maybe even thrive. But I didn’t know if I really wanted to.

    A light breeze rattled the silver rings that hung on my curved horns like wind chimes. The only set of clothing I had to wear was the one Keerava lent me, at Talen’s insistence. Lucky thing we were nearly the same size, though I didn’t delight working in a corseted chemise and skirt. Especially not the godsdamned skirt. I hate skirts…

    I readjusted a shoulder strap that kept rubbing against my burn. It still stung like Oblivion whenever something touched it. I’d finally saved up enough coin to see a healer, but by then I was told nothing could be done. They didn’t have the means to fully restore my shoulder, for whatever stupid reason. I could only relieve the pain temporarily by applying poultices now and then.

    It was all so maddening. Riften had become my dungeon. I was too afraid to even leave the city walls for a walk. Nothing would be worth another meeting with that dragon.

    Heaving a bored sigh, I stared off at the clouds. Coming to Skyrim with Lisaa and Ertius was the latest in a long line of vain attempts to better my circumstances. The problem was, I didn’t know how to. There was still a glimmer of hope in the guild, but I’d been drifting for two years with no sense of direction, trying to pick up the broken pieces of my life. I had my regrets. I was going nowhere fast. Teenage runaway, notorious thief, dejected vagrant, and now this.

    My ambitions didn’t mean a damn thing if I couldn’t make something of myself. What was I lacking? Maybe things might have been different if I wasn’t so eager to always take the first opportunities that came to me. The thought was depressing. Might have and mud are fine places to wallow.

    Shit, I sound like my mother…

    Anyway, I’m getting off track. While I was standing on the outskirts of the marketplace, the voice of a man spoke behind me.

    “Running a little light in the pockets, lass?”

    I turned around to see a red-headed Nord with a chiseled jaw line and rugged features, wearing a coat of leather and gambeson.

    “Excuse me?” I sneered.

    “Your pockets… They’re a little low on coin,” he said with a smirk. “I can tell.”

    I let out a huff.

    “Good observation. Damn right I’m low on coin. It’s not exactly subtle.”

    “Aye, it certainly isn’t. I’d say it’s a real shame.”

    “What’s that supposed to mean?” I turned my back to the man. “Go piss in the lake. My wealth in none of your business.”

    The man folded his arms. “Oh, but that’s where you’re wrong lass. Wealth is my business,” he said, still acting the slick talker. “Maybe you’d like a taste?”

    I’m betting the guy didn’t know what subtly even was. Either way, that was all I needed to hear. This was the man Maul told me about, the one who could get me into the Thieves’ Guild. Brynjolf. I was sure of it. I changed my tune.

    “Maybe I would,” I said. “What did you have in mind?”

    “I’ve got a bit of an errand to perform, but I need an extra pair of hands. And in my line of work, extra hands are well paid.”

    I assumed this was going to become some sort of test. At least the guild knew how to handle recruitment. That was promising, right? I turned to face the man again.

    “Just get to the point. What do I need to do?”

    Brynjolf came closer, speaking in a hushed voice.

    “Simple… See those two merchants over there?” He pointed at two stands across from each other in the marketplace, manned by a Dark Elf and an Argonian respectively.

    “Brand-Shei and Madesi. I know who they are,” I said. “One’s a trinket peddler and the other’s a jeweler. Neither’s well off. What about them?”

    “Listen carefully,” he began, “I’m going to cause a distraction and you’re going to steal Madesi’s silver ring from a strongbox under his stand. Once you have it, I want you to place it in Brand-Shei’s pocket without him noticing.”

    That frames him for theft, I thought indifferently.

    “Sounds like he got on somebody’s bad side. What’d he do?”

    “There’s someone that wants to see him put out of business permanently. That’s all you need to know. I’ve been contracted to make sure Brand-Shei remembers not to meddle in affairs that aren’t his own.”

    Contracted?” I snorted. “Gods, this is starting to sound like a hit job.”     

    “We’re not going to kill him,” Brynjolf said, sounding ever so slightly annoyed, “We’re just going make sure he sits in the prisons for a few days.”

    I thought about the man’s offer. Didn’t really know Brand-Shei all that well. I had nothing against him. Nothing for him, either.

    “When do we do this?” I asked

    “Whenever you’re ready,” he replied.

     I threw him a puzzled glare.

    “Right now? You got some kind of tight deadline?”

    Brynjolf frowned. “That’s confidential. Can you handle this job or not?”

    “Oh, sure! I just love the idea! Let’s go and rob a merchant stall in broad daylight.”

    He frowned harder. “What is it with you and all these quips? You’re trying my patience, lass.”

    I laughed.

    “Relax. I can handle the work. We can start now – I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.”

    The Nord slackened his scowl, raising an eyebrow. Hopefully he didn’t notice my hesitation. Oh well. Nothing ventured…

    “Alright then,” he said. “Wait until I start the distraction, then show me what you’re made of.”

    I walked away, edging around the town center nonchalantly. Brynjolf strolled over to a merchant stand of his own, bringing out a display set of strange red bottles.

    “Everyone, everyone! Gather ‘round!” he hawked. “I have something to show you that demands your attention!” Brynolf must have had quite the reputation. People flocked to his voice. Brand-Shei, Madesi, and the other merchants left their stalls. I stared at them.

    They’re just… leaving their wares unattended? How stupid are they?

    But then I noticed guards circuiting the outside of the marketplace, keeping very close watch. All the stalls were rung around the inside of a circular waist-high wall, easy to check behind. I tensed. Madesi’s stand wouldn’t conceal me from the back, especially not with the sun so high. Had I been too quick to assume I could pull off the job?

    As I slowly inched toward the Argonian’s stall, one of the guards stopped his patrol behind it and stood in place. He threw me a languid look before shifting his attention else ware. He was ignoring me. Purposefully. I assumed that the man was in on the job. So long as he was there, the others on patrol wouldn’t suspect anything was amiss.

    I’d underestimated Brynjolf’s plan. For an initiation, it was awfully elaborate. I looked at the crowd gathered around the red-haired man. Anyone else out for a piece of this pie?

    “No pushing, no shoving! Plenty of room!” Brynjolf called out.

    “Come on Brynjolf, what is it this time?” Brand-Shei grumbled.       

    “Patience, friend. This is a rare opportunity, and I wouldn’t want you to get left out.”

    I was careful to watch the eyes of the crowd, slipping behind Madesi’s stall while no one was looking.

    “Lads and lasses, I give you: Falmer Blood Elixir!” Brynjolf announced, holding up one of his bottles. A few groans rose from the mass of people.

    “Oh come now,” Brand-Shei said, “are you talking about the snow elves?”

    “The one and only. Mystical beings who live in legends and were masters of great magic. Imagine the power that coursed through their veins!”

    I hunkered down and inspected the laced wood-work of a small sliding door beneath the counter. There was a single lock, a standard pin tumbler. Easy. I reached for an iron lockpick inside one of the pouches on my dress.

    “How did you get that, then?” Madesi questioned. “No one’s seen them in years!”

    “My sources must remain a secret for their own protection,” Brynjolf replied, “but I can assure you that the contents are genuine.”

    “That’s what you said about the Wisp Essence, and it turned out to be crushed Nirnroot mixed with water!”

    The lock gave way and turned as I pressed its final pin into place. I quickly slid open the door. Another guard was walking toward us. The one behind me turned his head. He intercepted the man, delaying him with conversation. Nothing like a little extra tension to keep the heart pumping.

    “That was a simple misunderstanding, but this item is the real thing.”

    I pulled Madesi’s strongbox forward. It was also locked, but with an angled key hole. A straight pick would be useless. I slipped my iron lockpick back into its pouch and swapped for another made of copper. Gently bending the metal into shape, I repeated the process from before, only this time much more carefully.

    Copper lockpicks break easily and I was using the only one I had. No second chances.

    “One sip of the elixir and your wishes will be granted. Great wealth, everlasting life, or perhaps limitless power could be yours!”

    I could feel the pick strain to keep its form as I applied torque. Slowly…           

    “How much does it cost?”

    “Only twenty gold septims! Hurry before my supply is gone!”

    “Don’t listen to him! He’s making this up!”

    Done. The lock made a full rotation and opened. I popped up the lid of the strong box. There were trinkets and undiscernible items inside, along with a big coin purse. First I looked for the ring. It was near the bottom of a corner. I slid the band of silver out and dropped it into my pocket. Then I admired the purse.

    From the look of the inside, it was holding at least three hundred Septims. Not a bad sum to have on a rainy day. But…

    They say Madesi’s homeless, sleeps in a drain tunnel…

    “Learn a library’s worth of knowledge in moments!”

    I closed the strongbox and slid it back, leaving the money. Brynjolf put a lot of effort into setting up this job. Taking anything more than the ring would just cause complications. Besides, if I needed the coin there were other places I could get it from. Wealthier places.

    “See into other people’s thoughts!”                                                                      

    Pulling a small mirror out of my pocket, I adjusted its angle to view the crowd and patrolling guards, careful not to reflect sunlight in somebody’s face. I had to see where everyone was looking before I made a move. Timing my motions just right, I slinked across the marketplace, using everything I could to obstruct line of sight – the well, merchant stalls, barrels and crates…

    By the time guards came over to Madesi’s stand, I was nowhere near.

    Folks in the crowd noticed me as I stood in the open, but they were none the wiser. Some had actually started purchasing bottles at Brynjolf’s stand. To think they really fell for his ploy! People are so stupid.

    Brynjolf saw that I was up and about. I gave a slight nod, looking away as I reached into my pocket, twiddling the ring in my claws. The red-haired man glanced at the sun.

    “Well, I see that my time is up,” he declared, suddenly packing his merchandise. “Come back tomorrow if you wish to buy!”

    Confused and irritated murmurs arose from the gathering. They scattered, resuming their day as normal. I walked toward Brand-Shei, pretending not to notice where I was going. I bumped into him. Madesi’s ring loosed from my hand and slipped into the Dark Elf’s pocket.

    “Hey, be careful!” he snapped.

    I turned to the man, holding my hands up yieldingly. A smirk rose on my face as I spun forward and kept walking. I left the marketplace and strolled out to a boardwalk above Riften’s canal. From the mouth of the waterway was a view of Lake Honrich, clouds and mountains reflecting on its surface. It was a short wait for Brynjolf to arrive. I heard his footsteps clopping on the wooden planks behind me.

    “‘Falmer Blood Elixir?’” I chuckled. “They teach you how to make up crap like that in the guild?”

    “Natural talent, lass,” he said, stopping beside me. “But never mind that. It looks like I chose the right person for the job.” Brynjolf kept his countenance cool, though he did sound pleased. He handed me a bag. “Here you go… your payment, just as I promised.”

    I loosened the string on the bag’s mouth and checked inside. The sack held about one hundred Septims. A bit stingy for something so high risk, but I didn’t feel like contesting my wages. I actually had fun conducting Brynjolf’s little con job; my heart was still racing. It’d been too long since anything challenged me.

    “So,” I said, hands resting over a wooden guardrail, “I take it this means I pass?”

    “Quick to catch on, aren’t you?” Brynjolf remarked.

    I grinned. “Of course.”                

    “Well you certainly don’t lack for confidence.”

    “That too. How’d you single me out? I only mentioned my interest in the guild to one person.”

    “Maul. I’m well aware. He’s the one who gave me the tip, after all. I don’t usually take the word of former guild members, but that man’s an exception.”

    “Oh really? What’d he have to say about me?”

    “Nothing I haven’t heard plenty of times before. I like to give new recruits a fair shake, though.”

    “Afraid I’d be full of hot air?”

    Brynjolf leaned on the guardrail beside me. “You could use some deflating, lass. But at least you’ve got skill. You did the job and you did it well. Best of all, there’s more where this came from… if you think you can handle it.”

    I had to hand it to the man. He gave a convincing show. For the first time in years, things were looking a little brighter. Maybe my luck was finally changing.

    “I hope you’re not suggesting I can’t,” I said with a smile.

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35 Comments   |   Fallout Night likes this.
  • Okan-Zeeus
    Okan-Zeeus   ·  October 21, 2015
    Yes, that is what I meant. I'll fix the typo later today. :)
  • SpottedFawn
    SpottedFawn   ·  October 21, 2015
    I'm going to echo what everyone else has said, that lockpicking scene was so well done! I especially love the bit with her switching to a copper pick, it just makes so much sense.
    I think I've caught a line that needs editing, not sure if you still...  more
  • The Wing
    The Wing   ·  September 4, 2015
    Oooo maybe I should start charging for this then... Just kidding, it's my absolute pleasure.  You shouldn't hire someone to do what any obsessive compulsive fan could do (with slightly less accuracy, certainly, but for free!). I just mayn't be able to go ...  more
  • Okan-Zeeus
    Okan-Zeeus   ·  September 4, 2015
    You do realize that editors get paid to do what you're doing, right? I'm not turning down free line edits. That'd be stupid of me! 
  • The Wing
    The Wing   ·  September 4, 2015
    I was worried you'd start to find me a nuisance!  Just let me know if you're ever getting tired of me pointing out mistakes and I'll stop immediately.
  • Okan-Zeeus
    Okan-Zeeus   ·  September 3, 2015
    Taken care of. Despite your namesake, these line edits have been very helpful. Thank you again! 
  • The Wing
    The Wing   ·  September 3, 2015
    Keerava was the innkeeper, a pal, tan scaled woman with a nasty scowl and guff attitude.

    A 'pal'? I never found her particularly chummy.  Also, I think there should be a hyphen between 'tan' and 'scaled'. It's just my opinion, though. Easily ...  more
  • Sotek
    Sotek   ·  June 19, 2015
    Oh and the rest. It was only the other day that I missed out a whole sentence. I'm just getting better at spotting my mistakes. (There's still loads that slip through)
  • Okan-Zeeus
    Okan-Zeeus   ·  June 19, 2015
    Friend, if I'm missing errors like this, I can guarantee that you are too. :P
  • Sotek
    Sotek   ·  June 19, 2015
    Well it just goes to show that I'm improving and paying attention. (I hope)