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Chapter Fifty-five - Riften


BrotherofCats

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Nora rode into the mountains behind the castle the next day, looking for the shrine of Talos, wanting to complete her mission for Elisif. It took several hours of searching to find it, but once found it was now someplace she could teleport to. She noted that there were some offerings on the altar, mostly old, and she walked forward to place the horn.

 

A ghost appeared as she approached the altar, and she recognized the image of High King Torygg from paintings in the Blue Palace. The man gave her a melancholy look, but smiled as she held out the horn.

 

“You are the High King, yes?”

 

“I am,” said the Ghost. “I have delayed moving on because I worry about my Elisif. But now I feel that I need worry no more.”

 

“Elisif if my friend and no more,” said Nora, wondering what the spirit was getting at.

 

“That is good. My beautiful wife needs friends, and someone as mighty as yourself is a good friend to have. If it goes further than that you have my approval. If you are only friends to each other, then it is good to know she has such a protector.”

 

Nora didn't think that Elisif thought of her as a love interest. Not that Nora would be averse to such, but the young widow struck her as completely hetero. “I will do my best to look out for her. As much as she will let me.”

 

“Then it is time for me to move on.” And with that the spirit of the king vanished, going to whatever afterlife he was destined to.

 

Nora placed the horn on the altar, then knelt and said a quick prayer to Talos for the soul of the king, and for the safety of his wife.

 

“What are you doing there?” shouted a voice. Nora turned to see a group of Thalmor approaching, weapons out, the one in wizard's robe pulling up fire in his hands.

 

“Doing a favor for a friend,” growled Nora, glaring at the man. “What is it to you?”

 

“Talos worship is forbidden in Skyrim, and you are a law breaker. You will come with us, to answer questions about other law breakers you may know.”

 

“Are you really so arrogant?” asked Nora, looking over at Eldawyn and Sofia, who had accompanied her to the altar.

 

“You are no match for us,” said the man, smirking. “Humans!” His eyes widened slightly as he saw Eldawyn. “And corrupting our own. You have much to answer for.”

 

“Fus Ro Dah,” shouted Nora, sending the elves flying away. She, Eldawyn and Sofia sent spells after them, fire, cold and shock. A couple of the Thalmor tried to struggle to their feet, but ice spikes and fire bolts finished them.

 

“Stupid motherfuckers,” mumbled Nora as the rest of her people hurried up the hill so see what had happened. “Strip them of everything useful, then dump the bodies someplace the wolves will find them. We will take their armor and weapons back to the castle to be melted down.”

 

By noon the party was at High Hrothgar, Nora walking into the monastery with her people following.

 

“You have been gone long, Dragonborn,” said Arngeir. “I hope that you have walked in the path of wisdom.”

 

“I have been very busy, Arngeir, and this is a long trip by horse. But I have learned much at the College, and High Hrothgar is not so distant anymore.”

 

Arngeir bowed his head, but said nothing.

 

“Have you located any word walls?”

 

“We have heard a whisper of a word,” said Arngeir, marking a location on her map that was on the way to Riften. Coincidence? Nora doubted that.

 

“When can I meet Paarthunex?” she asked once again.

 

“You will know when you are ready,” said the master, another cryptic answer of the kind that drove Nora crazy.

 

“Here, for the upkeep of the monastery,” said Nora, handing Arngeir a precious gem. “Now I will meditate to Kynareth, then be on my way.”

 

The meditation brought new knowledge, the combinations of words she already knew into new ones, and she left the monastery with a greater mastery of the voice.

 

“I will be back soon,:” she told Arngeir, who again bowed his head and said nothing. She had a feeling the Greybeards would have preferred for her to spend all her time here, meditating on the voice. Well, she had things to do, places to go, bad people to kill.

 

She teleported the party two hundred and forty miles in sixteen jumps to a point on the main road near Mzulft, the furthest she had been along that thoroughfare. She estimated from the map that they were three hundred miles of not very straight road from Riften. They could get there late in the evening if they pushed through, but Nora preferred to have the light of day when she traveled to new locations. It let them see what was around them, not the least of importance dangers which they might stumble upon in the dark. They rode with Thundering Hooves for three hours, passing several battle sites along the way, the bodies of Imperials or Stormcloaks left to rot by the victors. In a little less than three hours they reached the halfway point to Riften, the small town of Shor's Stone.

 

Shor's Stone was built around its mine, fifty or so houses and buildings, including a smithy, an inn and a tavern. They stabled the horses with the one barn in the town, making arrangements for feeding their mounts and pack animals, and then repaired to the inn.

 

“Four rooms,” she said as she approached the innkeep. “Preferably with eight beds, though we can do with fewer.”

 

“I have one room with a double, and three with two singles. Will that do?”

 

“Perfect,” said Nora, going through their sleeping arrangements in her head. She finally gave that up as a bad job. Let her people decide who they wanted to shack up with, or if they just wanted to be left alone. She figured that Valdimar, who was still mostly an item with Sofia, would want to share her room, while she and Elda would take the double bed. Rank did have its privileges, after all, even if they were small and unimportant.

 

“Going to Riften?” asked the innkeep the next morning when the party gathered in the common room for breakfast.

 

“Why yes,” said Nora. “Any advice.”

 

“Steer clear of Fort Greenwald, about twenty miles down the road. Bandits hold up there. There's paths around to either side, and they are wont to let poorer folk through without too much stealing. A prosperous looking group with six women, and only two men, and they might try to relieve you of everything you have.”

 

“Looks like we have a mission ahead,” said Nora, nodding to her people.

 

“Didn't you hear me,” said the surprised innkeep. “There's a bunch of the bastards, lots of archers, maybe even a few mages. Best to steer clear.”

 

Nora thanked the man for his advice and paid up. She had no intention of passing up a nest of bandits who stood in the way of the only major road from Windhelm to Riften.

They were ten miles from the fort when they noticed people leaving the road for one of the paths to either side. Some pilgrims, three women and a man in robes, started on the path to the right, while a Khajiit caravan, a dozen wagons, drovers, and at least eight warriors, came onto the road from the path to the left. If a heavily armed group like that was avoiding the path, the fort must be bad news. Nora thought of all the people going through the wilderness to get around the fort, and how many must be lost every year to wild beasts and smaller gangs of bandits. Well, after this day the way would be clear.

 

The party dismounted about a mile from the fort, the towers visible up the road in the distance. She left Eldawyn and Elesia on guard, wanting all of her tanks with her, and worried about Eldawyn going without a helm. The rest moved forward, taking advantage of every bit of cover. When they got closer they spotted archers on watch along the walls, two of them, which meant there were probably twenty bandits in the fort, if not many more.

 

“Okay. Everyone knows the plan. I'll go stir them up, the rest of you take them out as they pursue.”

 

Nora was sure these bandits would react like all the others, seeing one victim, no matter how powerful, and in their arrogance thinking they could take her down. Casting invisibility, she crept to within bow range, then fired an arrow into one of the archers, taking her down with a strike to the chest. Nora then stood up, now visible, and screamed a taunt at the bandits. A couple of arrows came her way, easily avoided, and she waited for the nest to empty.

 

The Dragonborn didn't have to wait long. A group of a dozen bandits came charging out of the fort, yelling insults and threats as they came. They weren't in any kind of formation. The faster surged ahead, leaving the slower behind. When they had closed within fifty yards Nora turned and took off, zig zagging along the way to make her form a difficult target. A couple of arrows streaked by, one hit her back plate and bounced away, then a bolt of lightning caught her, stunning her for a second. If not for her enchantments she would had stumbled and fallen. As it was she was slowed, and she started to wonder where in the hell her people were.

 

War cries sounded from ahead, and a pair of fireballs streaked by going the other way. Nora turned to see them impact on the mass of the bandits, leaving the three in the lead untouched. The Dragonborn shouted Slow Time and charged back at the trio. The leader, a large man with a war hammer, attempted to strike her, but she avoided the clumsy strike easily and plunged her sword up through the throat and into the brain of the bandit, dropping him lifeless to the ground. She traded blows with the following bandit, a woman with sword and shield, knocking her back and slicing through her throat. She was about to engage the third when a screaming Jordis charged by and shield bashed the man, running her sword through the bandit's leather armor. Valdimar smashed his hammer down on another, stumbling forward with fire blinded eyes, while Lydia killed the last bandit on his feet.

 

“Forward,” yelled Nora, jogging ahead at a pace her people could keep up with. She wanted to carry the fight to the enemy while they were still off balance, seeing their assault force easily destroyed. Unfortunately, the archers on the wall didn't seem too disorganized. They started sending shafts at the party as fast as they could launch them. Lydia and Jordis warded Sofia and J'Zargo with their shields while the mages swept the tops of the walls with fireballs. Valdimar ran forward with Nora, his armor proof against any shafts the bandit bows could send, his hammer held high to guard his face. Nora knocked arrows from the air, then settled a Firestorm over one of the towers, covering those archers with a killing field they couldn't escape.

 

Running around the spiked barriers, Nora ran into the first of the bandit mages, a pair. They sent cold into Nora and Jordis, staggering both. Nora countered with Chain Lightning, sending a bolt into one of the mages, letting the shock jump to the other and a swordsman, felling them all. The fort was theirs, only the inside needing clearing.

 

“Hold it down,” she ordered, then teleported back to the horses. “Elesia. Ride to the place where the paths diverge. Let people know the way is now open. Eldawyn, bring up the horses.”

 

She teleported back to the fort, then led the party into the keep. There were a few bandits in there still, and the party took them down quickly, then started looting. They found some fine sets of armor, some enchanted weapons, and lots of gems, rare books and gold. They left the fort richer than before, and all felt the satisfaction of having helped this region's society by opening up the road.

 

An hour later they were riding through the woods, the walls and buildings of Riften ahead. They had been passing farms for the last fifteen miles, along with several tiny villages. Many wagons were on the road, carrying the products of the farms to the city. There were large stables outside, and Nora boarded the horses with a Redguard who was the working stable hand. Then she led her people toward the gate, where a man and woman in Rift guard armor stood, talking to people as they entered the city. Some they let through, others they talked to for a moment.

 

Nora saw that one couple handed over sacks of coin to the pair. Others argued and were turned away. Something was going on here. Was Riften an attraction that they were charging admission for.

 

“You need to pay the visitors tax,” said the male guard, staring at the party. “One hundred gold each.”

 

“What's the visitor's tax for?” asked Eldawyn.

 

“For the privilege of entering the city. What does it matter? Pay the tax or go away. Riften really doesn't need more mercenaries.”

 

“Do we look like mercenaries?” Nora asked in her best haughty voice, glaring at the man. “I think you are running a shakedown here.”

 

“Okay, okay,” said the wide-eyed man, realizing that he was dealing with a high-born warrior. “No need to cause a fuss, my Lady. Do you want everyone to hear? You can go in.”

 

Nora nodded to the man and walked through the gate. So she had been correct. They were running a shakedown of visitors, letting the residents and Riftfolk through without a problem, but lining their pockets from the purses of people that didn't know any better. Nora wondered if the Jarl knew about this. From the way the guard backed down when he realized he was dealing with someone with power, she thought not.

 

Riften stretched ahead. It was a lovely town, maybe slightly smaller than Whiterun. About a half mile ahead, after a number of stone houses and side streets, a bridge crossed a canal. A large inn, The Bee and Barb, sat on the other side of the bridge. She saw people in work garb and fine clothing mingling on the streets. One very pretty lady in the clothing that Nora associated with thieves leaned up against the bridge, checking out people as they walked by.

 

“I hope you're not here to cause trouble,” said a rough voice from the side.

 

Nora turned to see a large man in leather armor leaning against a house post, arms crossed over his chest.

 

“And just who are you?” asked Nora, walking toward the man.

 

“Maul. I work for Maven, and she don't like anyone sticking their nose into her business. So if you're here to do that, best leave while you're still in one piece. One word from the Blackbriars and you will be looking at the inside of a jail cell for quite some time.”

 

So, the infamous Blackbriar family, thought Nora. She had heard much about them, nothing good. Said to be the real power in the Rift, the Jarl her puppet. Nora was not here to confront that woman. Not yet anyway, though she thought that sometime down the road she would have to topple Maven's little empire.

 

“You seem to be thinking about something,” said Maul, glaring at Nora. “That's not good. Whatever you're thinking, forget about it if you know what's good for you.”

 

That sounded like a definite threat, and Nora was tired of the man. She got up in his face.

 

“I will think about whatever I like, little man. If you think you can tell me what to do, think again.”

 

Maul reached up to push Nora away, but the woman moved too fast for him to handle. Grabbing his hand, she spun her body and twisted, until the street enforcer had the choice of going down on his knees or letting her break his wrist. He chose the knees.

 

“Now, I'm looking for an old man said to be living in the Ratways. You will tell me everything you know about him, or I will break your arm.”

 

“I don't know anything about no old man,” said Maul quickly, fear in his voice. Like most bullies, he was tough when no one challenged him, not so much now. “Brynjolf. Brynjolf would know.”

 

“And where do I find this Brynjolf?”

 

“He usually hangs out in the center of town,” said Maul quickly. “Or the Ragged Flagon.”

 

Nora released Maul's hand, letting him get to his feet. “And in case you're thinking of stabbing me when my back is turned,” she said in a low voice, fire playing along her left hand. A nod at her people had the three mages in her party demonstrate the same.

 

“No, ma'am. My ma didn't raise no idiot.”

 

Nora walked by the pretty woman who was still leaning against the bridge rail, giving her another look.

 

“I saw what you did with Maul,” said the woman, her pretty face looking much too harsh up close. “It's not good to mess with Maven's people.”

 

“I'm looking for Brynjolf.”

“And what do you intend to do with him when you find him,” asked the woman, eyes narrowing.

 

“And you are?”

 

“Sapphire. And before you think of doing anything to me, know that I'm connected.”

 

“Just like Maul was,” said Nora with an evil smile on her face. She knew she was dealing with the underworld here. Just like the types that had plagued Goodneighbor before she and Hancock had taken them down. This city seemed rife with them, and she wondered if a legitimate government even existed.

 

“Maul is Maven's. I work with the Guild. And you really don't want to cross them.”

 

“I just want to ask Brynjolf some questions about an old man hiding in the Ratways.”

 

“Like the elves?”

 

Nora's eyes widened and she glanced back at Eldawyn, seeing that her friend had gotten the reference as well.

 

“What elves?”

 

“The golden skinned ones, like your friend. They came into town and asked about an old man. But word had come down to not cooperate with them. A couple of the guild turned up missing after that, and we fear the worst.

 

“Was one of them named Etienne Rarnis?”

 

Sapphires eyes widened even more. “How do you know that name?”

 

“He's on his way back here. Let's just say that his captors had a very bad day and leave it at that.”

 

“Look. I don't know if I can trust you. You act like a high-born lady, and that gear you have on is probably worth more than what a Rift guard makes in a lifetime. And if that sword isn't an artifact of some God, I'll eat my boots. But Brynjolf is in the center of town, by the well. He runs a scam from there, in the Market District. Big man with red hair and beard. But don't you say you heard it from me.”

 

Nora turned to leave when the woman reached out and put a hand on Nora's arm. Her people all reacted, and blades started to be drawn from sheaths. Nora held up a hand.

 

“I just wanted to say, if you did free Etienne, thank you. And a word of advice. There's a Khajiit behind you, leaning against the barracks with her eyes locked on you and your people. Don't trust that one. She pretends to be a flower peddler, but she moves like an assassin.”

 

“Thank you, Sapphire. I won't forget this.”

 

Brynjolf was easy enough to find. The Market District was a circular area about forty yards across, a large well in the center. A couple of dozen stalls stood around the edges, selling jewelry, armor, produce and other sundries. There was a smithy just off the square, and up a hill to the west what had to be the Jarl's palace. Not as large as Windhelm, Whiterun, or Markarth, but much more substantial than Morthal or Falkreath. A red-haired man in fine clothing stood on some boxes, preaching the virtues of some concoction said to be made of the essence of Falmer. Nora doubted that it would do what the man said, but some of the gullible were passing over bags of coin to get their bottle.

 

Nora walked over to stand in front of the man, looking up at him and catching his eye. The man smiled down at her and held up his bottle of nostrum.

 

“Ah, a beautiful lady. And would you like a bottle of my miracle serum. For a lover who is not quite, measuring up.”

 

“I would like to talk with you, Brynjolf,” said Nora, giving him her most seductive smile

 

“And I would like to make your acquaintance as well, lass. Let me finish up my sales here and I'll be glad to talk with you.”

 

Brynjolf hurried his presentation, then turned his sales over to an associate, motioning for Nora to follow him. She glanced at her people and held up a palm, ordering them to stay in place. She was sure she could handle the thief, and if he was more than he looked they would be only steps away.

 

“Now, what can I do for you, lass. I think you are more than you seem, and I have a job I need help with that I believe you will be perfect for.”

 

“I'm not a thief, Brynjolf.”

 

“I beg to differ, lass. You look like a high-born Nord Lady, and are arrayed as a warrior of wealth. But the way you move. Like a wolf on the prowl, or a saber cat ready to pounce. I would say you have been trained in larceny, or maybe even as an assassin.”

 

I've got to work on that, thought Nora. Her movements had given her away too many times. But they were her, and how was she to go from a graceful killer to the normal clumsy gait of most Nords without hurting her fighting style.

 

“I have stolen, yes,” she told the man. “But mostly from the people I killed, and they all deserved it.”

 

“Sure they did. So, where did you train. With the Brotherhood. Or with someone else.”

 

“Look Brynjolf. I just need some information on an old man that’s said to be hiding in the Ratways.”

 

“That's what those damned elves were asking. And I see that you have an Altmer with you. Though I have to admit she carries herself quite a bit different from those bastards. But who's to say that you're not a Thalmor operative?”

 

“How in the hell are the Thalmor even operating here?” growled Nora, gritting her teeth. “I thought this was Stormcloak territory.”

 

“Barely,” said Brynjolf, shaking his head. “Maven has too many connections with the Empire, and no matter what you've heard, Maven runs the Rift. So what say you, high-born assassin, or whatever you are. Help me out in my little task. Scratch my back and I'll scratch yours. Prove to me that I can trust you.”

 

“Why don't I just let you fuck me,” said Nora, gaining a wide smile from the man.

 

“While I am sure that would be a most pleasant encounter, I need to get my project finished first. Someone with power wants a message sent to Brand-Shei, a Dunmer merchant. I want you to steal a ring from Madesi, and plant it in Brand-Shei's pocket. Brand-Shei is caught, goes to jail for a week or so, and my patron is happy.”

 

“I won't send an innocent man to jail.”

 

“Well, if you want the information?”

 

Nora thought for a moment, then came up with an idea of her own. “How about if I plant a note on Brand-Shei. Something to put the fear of the Gods in him. He gets the message, and everyone's happy.”

 

Brynjolf was silent for some moments, the wheels turning in his head. “Okay, lass. We'll do it your way.”

 

“And my information?”

 

“Come meet me in the Ragged Flagon tomorrow and we'll talk. Or fuck, if that's still on your mind.”

 

While Brynjolf was not a bad looking man, Nora thought she would rather bed a troll than this fellow, who could stab her in the back while smiling to her face.

 

“I'll do it. But I will need a distraction.” Nora wasn't sure she could pull it off. She was very good at sneaking, and at lock picking. Pick pocketing was something else. Unless she could use some sorcery.

 

“You'll have it,” said Brynjolf, handing over a hastily scrawled note. Nora folded it, then walked back to her people.

 

“I have to do a favor for a member of the Thieves Guild to get the information I need on Esbern,” she told her people. “And in other wonderful news, we may have Thalmor operating here.”

 

“But, this is Stormcloak territory,” protested Jordis. “They hate those bastards.”

 

“This is Maven Blackbriar territory,” said Nora with a frown. “And what she says goes.”

 

Brynjolf got on his boxes and started into a spiel about some new concoction that would give a man the penis of a giant and make him hard for hours. Nora crept into position, thinking about the spells she would have to cast. She got behind the Dunmer, cast a spell, and touched the man, who stiffened as the paralysis took hold. She pushed the note into his pocket, then cast an Illusion spell that erased his memory of this event. Moments later the Dunmer moved, shook his head, and looked at Brynjolf as if he was the center of his attention.

 

She caught the thief's attention and nodded, and he smiled back. She moved back to her people and told them they would be here until morning, when she would talk with Brynjolf again.

 

The followers shopped the market. There was a woman selling armor at a good price, and Nora looked it over, deciding that there was nothing she didn't have better at hand. The same with the smith, though she thought she would have the smith at the castle make her some common appearing armor that was stronger than normal. Something she could use on covert missions. The jewelry being sold by the Argonian was more interesting. Fine, handmade specimens of original Saxhleel workmanship, she picked a ring and a pendant that would go along with the clothing she had bought from Radiant Raiment. She was about to leave when she noticed a ruby and sapphire pendant that would go perfectly with Elisif's hair and eyes, and bought that as well.

 

“My Lady has a good eye for jewelry,” said the polite Argonian who worked the stall.

 

“And you make all the pieces yourself?”

 

“Yes. I am one of the last traditional Saxhleel jewelers in Tamriel, I am sorry to say.”

 

Nora learned that the Argonians were known as Saxhleel in their land, and resolved to speak of them as such in the future. “That ruby and sapphire pendant will be perfect for a friend of mine.”

 

“Then she is a truly fortunate woman to have a friend like you. May I inquire as to who you are gifting it to?”

 

Why not, thought Nora. She didn't think the Argonian was going to sell information to the Thalmor or the Stormcloaks. “Jarl Elisif of Haafingar.”

 

The eyes of the Argonian widened. “I have heard that she is incredibly beautiful, though I can't see her being more so than you, my Lady. You need a presentation case for such a gift.” The jeweler fished out a fine small box of gold, then placed the pendant inside.

 

“How much?”

 

“I would not charge for such a trifle, after what you have spent here this day.”

 

“And I would not want to cheat such a fine craftsman who has brightened my day. So let me give you what the box is worth.”

 

The Argonian named a price that Nora was sure was not enough, but she nodded and gave him the coins. He had probably made more today than he would in a given week, and she was happy to have brightened his life. Saving the world was all well and good, but Nora had learned that it was just as important to leave people with a sense of worth.

 

The Bee and Barb was a lively inn, run by an Argonian couple. There were many more Argonians and Khajiit in this part of Stormcloak territory, and having a Cat in her own party made them more welcome with the Lizard folk. Not really lizards, but the comparison was natural. Not like anything on Earth in fact.

 

“I would like four rooms, all with two beds, or at least a double,” she told the innkeep, a harsh mouthed Argonian named Keerava.

 

“One hundred and fifty gold a night,” said the Argonian. “On the second floor.”

 

“And bathes and meals for eight.”

 

Nora moved her gear up to one of the rooms. She thought of getting out of her armor, but in the city of thieves that did not seem like a good idea. Unlike most towns they slept in, she thought it might be a good idea to establish a guard shift here.

 

“Welcome to the Bee and Barb, my Lady,” said a cultured Argonian, coming up to the small common room on the second floor. “I am Talen-Jei. If I can interest you in one of our special drinks, you let me know.”

 

“There seem to be quite a few of your people in Riften,” said Nora, smiling at the man. “I've seen many Argonians in Windhelm, and even in Solitude, but those are seaports.”

 

“Came here on a whim,” said the Talen-Jei, nodding. “Then I saw Keerava and I was smitten. Been here ever since. I'm hoping to ask her to marry me, if I can make the traditional Saxhleel ring for her.”

 

“What do you need for the ring?” asked Nora, thinking this Argonian might be a good source of information.

 

“Three flawless amethysts. Not the most valuable of stones, but it's tradition.”

 

Nora dumped a bag of gems on her table and looked them over. Diamonds were the most valuable, followed by emeralds, sapphires and rubies. Amethysts were some of the least valuable, but the flawless variety was still pricey enough. She found she had four of the stones, and pushed them over to the side before putting the other gems back in the bag.

 

“Will these do?”

 

“They will indeed. How much are you asking?”

 

“A wedding gift. And maybe a little bit of information. Nothing personal. I just want to know about this city and the players.”

 

“Most generous,” said the Talen-Jei as Nora placed the gems in a scaled hand. “Now, what would you like to know?”

 

“Tell me about the thieves guild?”

 

“They're vermin... garbage,” spat Talen-Jei. “They're exactly what makes this city such a horrible place to live. How appropriate they should live in the Ratway with the rest of the trash.”

 

“The Ratway?” asked Nora. That was the place she was looking for.

 

“Disgusting. Ruined sewers filled with goodness knows what. There's an entrance down by the canal, but I'd highly advise you to stay out of there... it’s the Thieves Guild's territory. A Lady such as yourself should stay out of there.”

 

“And if there is something I seek in there? Such as an old man said to be hiding there?”

 

“The damned Altmer were asking about him, and though you have an Altmer in your party, I'm guessing you are no friend of the Thalmor.”

 

“No. Not at all. And Eldawyn hates them as well. But it is important that I find this man. Very important. I wish him no harm.”

 

“I believe you,” said Talen-Jei, nodding. “But all I can say is that he is in the Ratway. The thieves guild might know something about him, if they haven't sold him out to the Thalmor themselves.”

 

“Thank you, Talen-Jei. You have been most helpful.”

 

“Now, if you'll excuse me, my Lady. I have other things to attend to.”

Nora luxuriated in the large tub of hot water in the bath house, the rest of her party along with her. They had grown comfortable with each other, her people, and felt no hesitation at bathing in front of any other member of the party, even the two males, who joined them in splashing around in the hot water. Even J'Zargo, who looked much too thin with his fur matted down with water.

 

There was some sexual play between most of the people, light and harmless. J'Zargo and Jordis stayed clear of that and the others respected their decision.

 

Nora looked at Jordis, such a beautiful full body to go with her angelic face. Nora respected her decision to not engage in sex, but wished the young woman would change her mind, or at least follow in the footsteps of Lydia. What they did was dangerous, and the things they dealt with the creatures of nightmare. The pleasure they found in each other, the camaraderie it fostered, did much to mitigating the despair such surroundings could bring. However, that was up to Jordis.

 

Lydia had fit right in with the female to female rotation, and still occasionally practiced pleasuring Valdimar with one of the other women present. But she had stuck firm to her resolve to not allow a man to penetrate her vagina until she was married. She was developing into quite a good cock sucker, though, and Valdimar had told Nora that he thought Lydia was the third best in their party, quite the compliment. While Lydia had confessed that she liked Valdimar eating her pussy better than any of the women. Just something about being worshiped by a man. Lydia was getting the tension relief she needed, and the pleasure to make their hard life worthwhile.

 

Nora dressed again in her armor, then left the bathhouse. She wasn't about to let her equipment go unguarded in this town, though with the Argonian couples' hatred of thieves she doubted she had much to fear from them. But there were too many dark characters in this town. Sapphire hung out in the common room, watching. And a man had asked Nora to steal a horse for him from the Blackbriar estate. She had almost agreed to that, not for any personal gain, but just to slap Maven in the face.

 

The evening meal was served in the common room, with the fire built up to a blaze. The Rift was not the coldest part of Skyrim, which didn't mean it was warm by any means. It seemed to rain here on a daily basis, and Nora was happy she had invested in the special chain that repelled water. Still, it got under the armor, and at the end of the day everyone was soaked and shivering. So enjoying a nice fire was a plus, and the food, the specialty of Talen-Jei, was delicious. If he wasn't in a relationship with the inn owner she would have considered offering him a job as the party cook.

 

A dark-haired woman with a couple of men in tow, one gray haired, the other barely out of his teens, came into the inn and were seated at a large table on one side of the room. Talen-Jei had steered the party away from that table, and no one else even tried to sit there. Nora recognized the woman from Elenwen's party, and guessed that this was the infamous Maven Blackbriar. The Dragonborn had tried some of the Blackbriar Reserve, and while she had to admit that it was good, she preferred Honeybrew Mead from that company in Whiterun, and resolved to invest in that business just to spite Maven.

 

A man came into the inn and ran up to Maven, whispering in her ear as he looked over at Nora. The woman turned her way, her agate eyes glaring. Nora smiled back, her blue eyes meeting the dark ones of the boss of the Rift. The woman beckoned Sapphire over, then whispered something in the thief's ear. Sapphire nodded and ran to the door of the inn, going out into the rain. Maven stood up and walked toward Nora, her dark eyes devoid of expression.

 

“I want you out of my city, tonight,” said Maven in a voice that was soft, but rife with menace. “You have caused enough trouble for me and my people.”

 

“Oh,” said Nora, looking up at the woman, calling up a spell and letting sparks of electricity play across the fingers of her left hand. “I thought the Jarl ruled this city. And as far as I know I have broken none of the Jarl's laws.”

 

“This is my city, and if you continue to show insolence, you will regret it.”

 

“I will,” said Nora in a lilting voice, smiling at Maven. “And how will I come to regret it. You will have some of your bully boys attack me. Bad idea, as me and my friends are more than a match for anything you have. After I have finished my business here I will be leaving. And I wonder how Ulfric will feel about the Imperial Toady who invited the Thalmor into one of his Holds.”

 

“You don't..”

 

“Know Ulfric. Well, not that well, though when last I saw him he offered to make me his queen and a general in his army. Something I don't, regretfully, have time for now.”

 

“If you make it to Ulfric,” growled Maven, a combination of fear and fury showing in her eyes. “With one word I can...”

 

“Unleash the Dark Brotherhood on me? Kind of hard to do when they no longer exist.”

 

“No longer exist,” choked the woman. “How do...”

 

“...I know? Because I put an end to them. They made the mistake of coming after me, and I don't play that game. Come after me and I strike back, hard. As Astrid, Cicero and company found out. Or, I guess their spirits found out, and are lamenting in whatever hell scum like that go to. And that horrid corpse they prayed to is now oily ash in the sarcophagus she occupied, and the magical door is laying on its side with great big holes blown through it, ripped by weapons your primitive little mind can't even comprehend.”

 

“I...”

 

“Don't know what to say,” said Nora, letting just a little bit of the Thu'um creep into her voice. “Well let me say it for you. You are scum. The worst kind of scum, who can't even do her own dirty work. I would stay here in town and take you down but I don't have time. Not right now. In the future I may have, and I will be coming for you. Count on it.”

 

Maven's face had gone white, and anger no longer warred with fear in her eyes. Fear had counted a great victory and was planting its banner on the hill. The woman turned, motioned for her two companions to get up, and fled for the door. A group of thugs came through before she got there, and she motioned with her hands for them to turn around, then started yelling at them.

 

“You play a dangerous game,” said Talen-Jei, bringing over one of his special drinks. “That is not a woman you want to cross.”

 

“She’s a coward, like so many others I have run into,” scoffed Nora, picking up the drink and taking a sip. “And I don't have to ask if you're in her employ?”

 

“No, and even if I were I wouldn't try and poison you. I think your people would go through anything I tried to put in the way to stop them.”

 

“Good. Then I can drink down this delicious beverage with no fear.” She really wasn't afraid since she doubted this Argonian was an assassin. Plus, her own body would slow any poison she was likely to encounter in time to drink a cure poison potion, or cast a spell.

 

Maven did remind her of other petty despots she had run into in the Commonwealth. Mayor McDonough, who had turned out to be a synth. Many of the Raider bosses. At least Maxson had personal courage, if not the wisdom to lead. Maven had neither wisdom nor courage. Even her mead, while palatable, was not near as good as the Honeybrew brand from Whiterun. Which reminded Nora once again. She definitely needed to make an investment with that company, if just to spite Maven.

 

“We will have guard shifts tonight in the upper common room,” she told her people. “One mage and one warrior per shift.”

 

“And what will you do if she sends an assassin after you tonight?” asked Jordis.

 

“Then by tomorrow evening the Blackbriar family will have a new leader.”

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