The Two Edged Sword
"The foolish man lies awake all night thinking of his many problems. When the morning comes he is worn out, and his trouble is just as it was." —Hávamál: 23
When his body begins to acknowledge the pretty face, clear skin, and ice blue eyes, the self-assured thief almost missed her question. As his blood heats, he begins to see a woman staring at him so intently from the face of a young girl. He shifts in the chair and reminds himself this is a business deal, and business always comes first.
"I asked what do you have in mind?"
She's got those eyes pinned on him now, and he must force the answer out over the other ideas clouding up his thoughts. What is in his mind does not bear repeating in a public place. He also becomes aware of tavern customers watching them. It's usually good entertainment to watch Brynjolf work another rube and so the general conversation quieted.
"Come on outside and we'll talk." He says quietly and tosses a glare in the direction of Keerava. She just grins and waves her bar towel at him.
With his hand lightly placed on her arm, he counts on her youth and respect for authority to obey his request. And there's something in a man who wants to keep a pretty girl all to himself.
He's looking for a quiet place to talk. You wouldn't think that would be too difficult. Unless everyone in town knows you and can't wait to see who your next mark is...as long as it's not them...it's suddenly a problem. With an eye on anyone following, Brynjolf kept her walking until they are concealed behind the houses in the grassy area.
Brynjolf looks down at the long unkempt grass and remembers a long ago summer when he'd caught a snake in this same spot he's standing in now. While the other boys were busy making plans for the frightened creature, one wanted to pit it against a skeever, another wanted to slit it open. Septims changed hands while Brynjolf held the writhing thing gently in his hands until it lost its fear of him and lay still.
His inquisitive mind noted the mottled texture and unexpectedly cool feel of its skin. He ran his fingers lightly over the repetitive pattern on its back. He knew birds and fish could disappear into their surroundings and he wondered if this pattern served the snake the same way. While the other boys argued over its fate, Brynjolf quietly released the snake into the graveyard.
She's watching him expectantly when he finally turns to her. Shor's Stone. She's caught him daydreaming. With a firm grip on his thoughts, Brynjolf shoved his hands in his pockets.
"It's a straight business deal. I need to teach Madesi a lesson about respect and paying his debts."
The rising sun broke over the clutch of wooden buildings and suddenly she stood in a single ray of sunshine. As ethereal, as if she were a fairy straight from the forest or a messenger from Sovngarde. What? He shakes his head to clear it. He's waxing poetical. Perhaps he's been touched with some strange spell. The moment shatters when she begins to speak, jarring his attention yet again. It's a rare person who tells Brynjolf no.
"No," she says simply and in conversational tones. "These people have been nice to me. And I promised Brand-shei I'd try to find out about his parents."
She's still shaking her head when the thief drops a gold coin in her hand.
"How far do you think you'll get in that leather get-up and a dull blade, Lass? Winter is already adding a bit of frost to the morning air. You'll need fur boots and gloves soon. And how long do you think your money will last at ten a night for a bed?"
She lifted her chin, impudently flipped the coin back, and tried to stare him down. "I sleep in caves, and I make do. I'm saving up for a horse and better armor."
"You sleep in caves, do you? With the trolls, cave bears and vampires? You're braver than you give out, lass." He noticed her skin go pale, and her eyes go wide at the mention of vampires.
Now he had her attention. Everyone is afraid of something. Then Brynjolf turned his smile on her. The smile no female this side of Whiterun could resist. Or, so he told himself. Gallantly, like a suitor on a Sunday stroll, he pulled her arm through his. He walked her carefully through the fragrant grass. She wasn't buying any of it.
"I'd rather sleep in a cave than a sewer..." The girl stopped in her tracks. "I heard all Talos worship was banned in Skyrim. May I...?"
And before he could stop her or even ask her why she was interested, she was holding out her hands and asking for a blessing.
Nura watched her with a pleased smile. When the girl finished, Nura took her hand. "Blessings of Talos upon you." Then she cocked her head to the side and peered into the girl's face. "What's your name, child?"
"Sabrinda Menanius, priestess."
"And what's a girl with such a fine Imperial name doing at a Talos Shrine?"
"What's this?" Brynjolf stepped up behind the girl. Ready to defend her or… Why hadn't he asked for her name before now?
"I'm sorry. I'm new here. It seemed the right thing to do."
Brynjolf's hands landed protectively on her shoulders. "It's all right, lass. You just startled us was all. You do stand out a bit in that old armor and way of speaking. And you didn't learn those table manners in Skyrim. So where are you from?"
"I'd rather not say. Look, you've been very kind to me, Sirrah. I give you my word I'll pay you back for the food."
"Sirrah, is it? Of all the... Look here little girl. No one calls me..." Unfortunately, that came out in a shout, and the girl began to back away. Not in fear, he noticed, but with a look of amusement.
"Good day and thank you, priestess." Then, with a quick nod, she turned and left Brynjolf and Nura alone in the chilly dew-drenched grass. Behind the bewildered master thief, Nura is chuckling.
"What are you laughing at?"
"She's not afraid of you, Bryn. How refreshing. Looks as if you met your match, Sirrah." She covered her face with her hand to cover the grin. "Now, just where are you going?"
"She's naught but a girl," he explained, spreading his hands, palms up. "I'll follow her and make sure she stays out of mischief."
"Aye, you do that."
She's mocking him! Damn cheeky women. Vex, Sapphire, Tonilia and Nura, gave him more sass and back talk then all the men put together. Now, this little girl's got him to chase after her.
Nura poked her finger into his chest to punctuate her words. "You do that and remember two things, Brynjolf. She is just a girl, and you stay out of mischief."
Now he's talked himself into this adventure he hardly hears Nura's warning and stops questioning whether she can take care of herself. As Brynjolf hurries to the Guild's hideout to gather traveling gear he deliberately overlooks his own reasons for going, or why he's up and leaving his business interests, or if she's even worth chasing after. He will leave all that to Nura's wisdom.
With his pack on his shoulder, Brynjolf ignores the shouts from the townspeople. He's not about to explain it to them. Mercer Frey's laughter still rings in his ears. One of the town guards in his employ opens the gate for him with a bow and a flourish.
"Don't you bloody well say a word," Brynjolf snarls at him. The guard nods and closes the gate behind him. The day is fine and once he's outside the gate, his mood lifts. How long has it been since he's had a proper adventure. The stable worker peels himself off the post at the sight of Brynjolf's approach. What in the Nine Divines could he want with them? Then he's thoroughly confused when Brynjolf greets him with a cheerful good morning.
After tossing the stable master enough gold to buy two horses, he mounts one and leads the other. It feels good to be moving. The horse responds to his control and he kicks the beast into an easy canter as he heads down around the back of the stable to the lake. Her trail is easy to follow on the wet ground as she heads northeast along the shoreline of Lake Honrich.
Brynjolf catches up with her on the north edge of the lake. Apparently, she hadn't known about Golden Glow Estate and stumbled onto the property. He watches from cover as two of Maven Black-Briar's mercs are plinking arrows at her as she runs for cover behind some rocks.
To avoid being seen, he turned the horses into the woods. Once out of sight, he moves as quickly as possible to her side. Before he could properly dismount and string his bow, she took aim and let loose an arrow. It flew straight and true across the lake. In the distance, one of the mercs drops in his tracks. The sound of his scream took only a second longer to reach the astonished Brynjolf.
"Who taught you to shoot, lass?" He asked as he jumped down from the horse prepared to defend her.
"What you really mean to ask is what man taught me to shoot?
"Well, that would be the normal way of it."
"Nothing is normal for me. I taught myself. I'm hoping my next bow will be a hunting bow or a maybe a crossbow. I heard those who join the Dawnguards get one.
"Slow to arm, but deadly when you have the time."
She nodded in agreement. "A few more jobs and I'll get a steel bow. Maybe get rid of this old rusty sword at the same time."
Then, as if she suddenly realized who was standing there and what she had just revealed, "What are you doing here?"
The answer stood before him. A fearless young lady standing tall and shining against the gray rocks. There's a challenge in her eyes and a flush on her cheeks. Strong nimble fingers secure her weapon. He reaches up, without conscious thought, to touch the smooth cheek with a fingertip.
As you might imagine, Brynjolf has enjoyed his share of the ladies. They always fell quickly under the spell of a pretty bauble or a friendly smile. But as he watches her, he realizes it's been a while since he'd felt this way.
This, he reminds himself, is not the usual Riften barmaid or giggling farm girl. Nor was she something to steal or barter for. There's a mysterious air about her and a story ripe for the telling. Obviously, she hadn't starved. You didn't grow so tall and strong on bad food and watered down ale. She could handle a bow, but her hands were still smooth and fine. Yet, he could plainly see the cracked blisters on her palms.
"You're a handsome lass." He added another finger to her cheek. "If you don't mind my asking. How did a pretty Nord girl like you end up so far from home with such a grand Imperial name?"
For a long second she didn't flinch away from his touch. You had to gentle these high-spirited girls same as a green horse. Mistakenly emboldened by the fact she doesn't move away, he takes a step closer.
"I do mind your asking," she replied, turning her head away from his touch. "I had to leave home. That's all there is to it. Look, I can take care of myself. You don't have to stay with me."
Now he's ignoring the set of her shoulders, and the fact that her hand rests on the hilt of her sword. If he knew her at all, he'd see the look in her eyes and would wisely take a step back. If he knew her at all, he would know she is not accustomed to being accosted by rough men with crude country manners. When she decides to tell him so, he interrupts her.
"I'm well aware of that, lass. But it seems I've taken a fancy to you."
Then, faster than he could say bedroll she'd drawn the sword and tucked the business end under his chin.
By the Nine, she's magnificent, he thought and grinned.