Windhelm was much as she remembered it – cold, worn, ugly. It squatted by the river like a giant toad, complete with warts. She shivered at the memories it stirred. She had not been back since that night, not even to tell Aventus of her deed. Just a quick letter sent by courier (“You can rest now”), a faster and safer method of passing on the news, at any rate, even if she had been inclined to leave Riften ever again.
Ever again. And yet, here she was. She shivered, only partially from the cold, then took a deep breath and stepped into the flow of foot traffic and followed it across the causeway to the city gates.
Once inside, she realized that she hadn’t really planned her next steps. She had spent nearly her last septim on the carriage ride to Windhelm, so she had no money for an inn and only enough for maybe two meals. Of course, if she *had* to make some money, she knew how – although this time she would talk to the innkeeper first. Lesson learned! – but since her plan was to join the Stormcloak army, that didn’t seem like her best course of action. All she would need was for one client to recognize her after she joined and her place in the army would be reduced to camp whore.
No, until she was officially a Stormcloak and was therefore being provided food and shelter and (presumably) money, she needed a different alternative. She glanced around the courtyard as her memories picked out landmarks. The inn she had gone to was there, and the place where…she turned her head away from the alley down which she had been dragged. The opposite direction was the way to Aventus’ house. She wondered what had happened to him after her note had, presumably, reached him. The thought sparked the beginnings of a plan, and she pushed away from the corner and began to walk.
Aventus’ house looked much the same as she remembered – worn and lonely. It did not look as if anyone was living there. She tried the door and was a little surprised to find it unlocked. She took a look around, but no one seemed to be paying her any mind, so she let herself in.
Dust and cobwebs greeted her. She brushed the latter away as she climbed the narrow stairs to the living room. More dust and spiders greeted her, along with a startled squeak and a rustle from the far corner of the room.
“Aventus?” She spoke the name, knowing it was of no use. No one had been here for years, by the look of it. She took a few uncertain steps into the room. It was still furnished – a table and some chairs, dusty books on dusty shelves, a mirror on a stand in a corner. She checked the other rooms and found them equally undisturbed – a bedroom with a bed still made up, toiletries placed neatly in a box by a dirt-smudged vanity. Another with a smaller bed, this one with stained covers shoved into a heap. This room had been lived in a little more recently.
She opened the final door with much trepidation – she had saved this room for last. Her only memory of it contained Aventus pounding a knife into the floorboards with a ghastly skeleton laid out in front of him. She could still hear his voice, “Sweet mother, sweet mother…”
The room was empty, she was relived to find. Not a bone was left of the skeleton. The only signs of what had happened were the gouges in the wooden floor. She let out a breath that she had not been aware she had been holding.
Aventus was not here, had not been for a long time. But the place had not been ransacked in his absence, which was a surprise. Sloan remembered how his name had been whispered, how his house had been viewed with suspicion, if not outright fear. Probably it had retained its spooky status even after he had left. Where would he have gone? He would be…she frowned. He had been ten when he had come to the orphanage. The thought drew a smile – the two of them had become fast friends, though she was older by seven years. She had helped him escape the next year and had found him in Windhelm the year after that. He would be fifteen or sixteen now, by her best judgement, which meant that, assuming he was back at Honorhall, he was still two or three years away from aging out and coming back.
Surely he wouldn’t mind if she borrowed his home until then. She would have it cleaned up and ready for his return and, in the meantime, she would have a place to stay. She nodded to herself, set down her pack, and began to clean.