Tirdas, 4th Sun’s Dusk, 4E 201
After breaking their fast, I sat with Wujeeta and Olette.
- Wulf: Wujeeta, are you finding Silverpeak Lodge hard to keep clean?
- Wujeeta: The dirt is spread over a larger area than the houses in Solitude. Therefore, it is not as noticeable, but I am putting brooms and other cleaning equipment to good use!
- Olette: You ate a small breakfast and then disappeared into the work room. What are you up to, Cap’n?
- Wulf: If you weren’t so busy scoffing down bacon and eggs, you might have come over and seen what I am up to.
- Olette: Do you see how Wulf tries to deflect the question?
- Wujeeta: Keep asking the question. He will soon answer.
- Olette: What are you up to, Cap’n?
- Wulf: Since you will be living in the wild for some time, I thought you better have some protection. Therefore, I have modified a set of armour of a type used by Breton assassins. You are an excellent marksman but aren’t strong enough to pull an adult bow. So, I have modified a Dwemer Crossbow for you. You already have the swords.
- Olette: Can I put the armour on?
- Wulf: It doesn’t have a lot of buckles or belts. You should be able to put the armour on by yourself.
- Wujeeta: Olette, you are clever with the swords but only use them if an enemy has closed on you. Use the crossbow as your primary weapon.
- Wulf: Wujeeta is correct. The armour will protect you against most spells but not a Nord barbarian connecting with a battleaxe or greatsword. Any larger opponent will use their extra weight, and being nimbler will not always help.
- Olette: You are both telling me what I already know.
- Wulf: Sometimes, we idiotic adults forget how smart young girls can be. How dare we give good advice! Anybody would think we cared for you, Olette Welkynd.
- Olette: I am sorry.
- Wulf: The armour and crossbow are in the spa room.
Olette dashed from the table and passed some startled Dragonguard.
About fifteen minutes later, Olette came to me wearing her new armour.
She exclaimed, “This leather is so thin and flexible!”
“It is Netch leather. It looks like I got the size right.”
“Yeah, and the crossbow is cool!”
“It is made of ebony. Don’t leave it cocked but practice cocking and loading.”
“How long do you think the excavation will take?”
“At least a week. Maybe two.”
“I didn’t see a thunderbox when we rode through the camp.”
“A natural privy then.”
“You must shovel before you shit and grab some grass to wipe your arse.”
“Me is a Lady now, me is!”
“Okay, milady, let me gather the squad, and then off we go!”
Sakiya, Shouken, Ishen, Omoi and Meeko were guarding the dig site.
Vayu, Seiko, Daenlyn, and Kharjo would accompany me.
Sakiya would decide who accompanied the guild members into Windcaller Pass. At least two Dragonguard were to remain in camp.
We exited Silverpeak Lodge, and The Dragonguard summoned their horses. Olette summoned Idunn for practice as her pony stayed in Silverpeak’s stable. The horses are summoned and returned to the stables from where they were purchased. I will assess the valley with the two dragons when we reach it.
It was bleak and cold as we started our ride down the mountain.
We left our mounts behind a rocky outcrop.
I wanted to talk to Auryen and Sakiya first.
- Wulf: Auryen, has anybody taken a look inside?
- Auryen: After you eliminated Jelal’s gang, hunters took residence in the cave. Unfortunately, some animal residents were either territorial or hungry or both. After seeing several chewed bodies, Sakiya ordered us to leave the cave.
- Vayu: What kind of animals?
- Sakiya: I heard wolves and saw bears and trolls. You told us not to excavate until you cleared the way.
- Wulf: Yes, even if that delays the dig, I want to do the clearing within Windcaller Pass. If the animals have attacked and eaten people, they must be killed. They will regard people as easier targets than other beasts.
- Sakiya: There was one group of bandits close by. We eliminated those.
- Wulf: Auryen, this dig could take a couple of weeks.
- Auryen: I will stay here. The coronation has been delayed. Therefore the opening of the museum is delayed.
- Wulf: The travel times for some who want to attend the coronation are rather lengthy.
- Sakiya: I wonder how many leading nobles from other countries would have attended Ulfric’s coronation.
- Wulf: No Mer, Khajiiti or Argonian would have been welcome. I don’t think the moot would have made him High King, even if he won the civil war.
- Auryen: It was an impressive haul you brought back from Solstheim!
- Wulf: There are many places in Solstheim worth investigating, but I wanted to come home. I will return there soon. Anyway, I will now head into the cave.
I turned to Olette.
“Please, do not leave the camp. There are several large predators nearby.”
“Don’t worry, Cap’n. I am sure they will keep me busy doing archaeological stuff.”
“If you have had enough of camp life, ask one of The Dragonguard to escort you home.”
“This can’t be any harder than living on the streets of Riften.”
“Yeah, but now you are a pampered, well-to-do snotty little brat.”
“Get fornicated! Was that lady like enough?”
‘You forgot to say please.”
Olette hugged me and then headed for Latoria.
My squad followed me to the cave entrance.
I said, “It sounds like a bear and troll are arguing over lunch.”
We entered, and I told the squad, “All predators are to be killed. They have been feeding on people.”
Near the entrance, we encountered the first body. It was a hunter taken by a predator as he tried to flee.
Several hunters lay dead near their campfire where Jelal’s men had stashed some of the museum items.
Unrelenting force killed the bear and troll.
As we inspected the camp, a troll at least ten feet tall came roaring out of a side passage. Kharjo cut it down.
Along the side passage, we came upon another dead hunter.
The passage led to another cavern with an Emblem of identical design to the ten along the seven-thousand steps.
It read, “Those to your right like to crawl in the dark.
Those to your left….”
The remaining words were indecipherable due to damage.
- Wulf: Who put this stupid emblem here and why?
- Vayu: Surely the wildlife didn’t live here when Windcaller Pass was used!
- Daenlyn: Somebody went to the effort of erecting the emblem but not clearing the creatures.
- Wulf: We shall go right and wipe out the spiders. Then we shall do a full circle and kill whatever is to the left.
A dead wolf was near the spider tunnel. It was killed by something other than a spider.
I used the Fire Breath Shout to clear the webs.
I was surprised to see White-Gold ore. I didn’t know any existed in Skyrim.
I cleared a few spiders with Unrelenting Force.
We entered a chamber and found the broodmother covered in unhatched eggs.
We killed the broodmother and other spiders and then entered a large cavern.
We stood before a rockfall.
I said, “This is the way further into the tunnels. It might take them some time to clear it.”
As we searched for other predators, something caught my eye.
I Blinked to a pedestal. Floating vertically above the pedestal was a shard of what looked like ice with a blue and green tinge.
I removed the shard from the pedestal, and it was freezing. I had no idea what it was, so I placed the shard in my journal case.
I Blinked back to my squad, and we continued our search of the tunnels.
We heard a troll long before we saw it.
I quickly eliminated it.
A hunter’s corpse showed evidence of a troll attack.
Not far from the troll was another of the strange shards.
We wiped out more trolls.
And we came across more dead hunters.
Satisfied we had eliminated all the hostile creatures, we exited Windcaller Pass.
Then we walked over to Professor Marassi.
I told him, “We cleared the cavern of the spiders and animals. There were quite a few! You now have access to a rockfall blocking the next part of the tunnels.”
“Ah, good news. We’ll head in and start the dig. Give us a few days, then check back.”
“Remember, nobody should enter the valley with the dragons if you get that far.”
“Believe me, none of us would dare!”
“There might not be any danger from them, but I should talk to them first.”
“Okay. I will make sure the others remember.”
I found Auryen stirring the day’s stew.
- Auryen: Are the caves safe?
- Vayu: Yes, we eliminated all the hostile creatures.
- Auryen: Was there a way for us to progress?
- Wulf: There is a tunnel blocked by a loose rockfall that will need clearing.
- Auryen: Did you see anything of archaeological interest?
- Wulf: An Emblem, similar to those along the seven-thousand steps. It must have been placed after the collapse as it warned of spiders.
- Auryen: Yes, I doubt the regular users of the pass would allow such creatures to live within it.
- Wulf: There are several white-gold seams.
- Auryen: Kyre will be interested in those.
- Wulf: I also found two of these shards.
I handed one of the shards to Auryen, who studied it intently for a few minutes. Then he handed it back and continued his stew stirring.
- Auryen: It is crystallised ice, otherwise known as Eternal Ice or Eternium. It is a pure elemental manifestation of Frost Magicka.
- Vayu: Elemental Magic is another form of Magicka lost to the ages, or Dragon Breaks. It has been reduced to its subset, Destruction Magic.
- Auryen: In many ways, Eternium is much like concentrated Stalhrim and is extremely rare. The only known sum of the element was forged into a staff by a wizard named Hrormir.
- Wulf: The infamous Hrormir, Arch-Mage of the Mages Guild, Champion of Nocturnal and friend of The Divines. I can believe the stories of his feats except for one. He did not drink twelve flagons of mead in one hour then bed four maidens, twice each.
- Seiko: I have never heard of Hrormir.
- Daenlyn: His tale earns this bard good coin. Would you like to hear it?
- Seiko: Wulf?
- Wulf: Go ahead, Daenlyn.
Daenlyn’s voice, honed by decades of bardic performances, captivated everyone. The camp went silent as Daenlyn recited the story of Hrormir.
“Hrormir, Son of Hrorgar, was summoned to the Court of Vjindak.
Vjindak, Son of Vjinmore, King of Eversnow, ordered, ‘Mighty caster of magic, I charge you to go to Aelfendor. For its hoary warriors threaten my land and bring forth their cousin demons to terrify my people.’
Hrormir, Son of Hrorgar, heard the Words of Vjindak Eversnow. He replied, ‘By Icestaff, surely, I would help thee. But I have already a quest to drink twelve flagons of mead in one hour and then to bed four wenches, twice each. So, I must, with grace, decline.’
King Eversnow did not smile at Hrormir and his jolly spirit. He explained, ‘By your honour, you must aid my cause. For you must take up the sword of your companion, Darfang, who took the quest and failed.’
Hrormir laughed. Then he said, ‘Now I know you jest. My boon mate Darfang would not fail. There is no finer Swordmaster. If you gave him the quest, he would not fall.’
The king explained, ‘I did not say he fell. He joined the Dark Kings of Aelfendor and, by doing so, dishonoured himself and you, his friend.’
Hrormir could not believe the words, yet he knew Eversnow did not lie. So, for twenty-three days, he rode to the Land of Night, the Kingdom of Fear. A place where the peasants always carried candles knowing what evil awaited them should they stray beyond the glow.
Hrormir travelled to a land of three Dark Kings called Aelfendor. There, torch in hand did Hrormir pass through the haunted countryside, frightened villages, and the black gates of the blacker Castle of Aelfendor.
There, the three Dark Kings did sneer at the sight of mighty Hrormir and summoned their champion, Darfang the Blade.
‘My boon Companion!’ Hrormir called in the Hall of Night. ‘I dare not trust my eyes, for then I would believe you had joined with evil and turned away from honour and brotherhood!’
‘Hrormir!’ Darfang the Blade cried. ‘If you don’t go now, one of us must die, for I hate you!’
But Hrormir was battle ready, and in the echoing Halls of Night, the Blade of Darfang and the Staff of Hrormir did strike again and yet again.
Mighty Warriors and Mages both, the boon companions now foes, shook Mundus with their war. They might have fought for a year if there were the sun in Aelfendor to mark time. And either Hrormir or Darfang may have won, but Hrormir saw the tears in his former friend’s eyes through the dark. And then he saw that the shadow of Darfang was not his own. And so, with Icestaff, he did strike not Darfang, but his shadow, which cried, ‘Hold, mortal!’
The shadow became a hag, bent and twisted, in her cloak and hood. From her faceless shadows, she hissed, ‘Mortal called Hrormir, the soul of your boon companion is my plaything. But I will take yours in trade, for though you both have strong arms, you have the cleverer mind which is what my Sons the Dark Kings need for a Champion of Aelfendor.’
Hrormir the brave didn’t take a breath or pause before he boldly replied, ‘Shadowy Hag, release Darfang, and you may use me as you will.’
The hag laughed and freed Darfang. Then she said, ‘To save you honour, you did this, but now you must be without honour. Mortal, as the Champion of the Dark Kings, you must help my Heirs of Gray Maybe to divide Aelfendor and love me, your shadowy hag and mistress.’
For his loss of honour and his dear friend’s sacrifice, noble Darfang prepared to take his dagger and plunge it into his good heart. But Hrormir stayed his brother’s hand and whispered, ‘No, boon companion! Wait for me at the village banquet hall.’
Darfang the Blade left the castle while Hrormir took the withered claw of The Hag and pressed it to his lips. He declared, ‘Shadowy hag, to you, I pledge only to honour your black words and turn my back on the truth. I pledge to aid your Dark Kings’ ambition and divide their inheritance fairly. I pledge to love you, for I think you are beautiful.’
Then to the chamber in the Heart of Night did Hrormir and The Hag retire. There he kissed her wrinkled lips and sagging breasts. For ten days and nights and three did Hrormir and his Icestaff battle thus. Then Lady Kynareth blew honeyed winds over the hills and forest glens of Aelfendor. And the caress of warm-blooded Lady Dibella coaxed the blossoms to wanton display so that Aelfendor became a garden for all the senses.
The frightened servants of the Dark Kings awoke to find there was nought to fear, and through the once dark streets of the village came the cries of celebration.
In the banquet hall of the village, Hrormir and his boon companion Darfang embraced and drank rich mead. The shadowy hag also smiled while sleeping still in her soft bed. Then the morning sun touched her naked face, and she awoke, saw all, and knew that all saw her. She cried out in anger, ‘Mortal Man!’
Night fell fast upon the land as The Hag flew into the banquet hall casting the blackest darkness in her wake. But all the celebrants still could see the anger on her monstrous face, and they shook with fear.
The Hag had said the kingdom would be divided among her heirs, but Aelfendor had been kept whole. It was her children divided when they were drawn and quartered.
Hrormir was mightily amused but swallowed his laughter, for no one should laugh outright at the Dark Lord Nocturnal without her grey cowl of shadowed night. Her hideous face forced the moons to hide themselves.
Hrormir the mighty did not quail and asked, ‘Where is your hood, shadowy hag?’
You, mortal, have taken it from me unaware. When I awoke, my face was unmasked, and my kingdom was cast into the light. My Dark King Heirs cut into pieces, and here my champion smiles. Yet in truth, you kept your promise which was never to keep your promise.’
Hrormir, Son of Hrorgar, bowed to The Hag, his queen, then said, ‘And until you release me, I will serve you so.’
The Dark Lord replied, ‘A clever mind in a champion is an overvalued trait.’
Nocturnal released Hrormir’s soul, and he released her hood. And so, in the light of the darkest dark, she left Aelfendor forever.
After drinking twelve flagons of Mead, bedding four wenches twice each, Darfang returned to Eversnow with Hrormir, Son of Hrorgar.”
Daenlyn bowed to generous applause, and then everybody returned to their duties.
- Kharjo: Khajiit thinks they invented a mage hero suitable for Nord tastes.
- Auryen: I think you may be right, Kharjo.
- Vayu: If I remember correctly, the Thieves Guild stole the staff as proof of their expertise and then returned it. That was quite a feat considering the protections around The Mages Guild headquarters.
- Auryen: I think somebody has divided the staff and hidden the pieces to keep it out of the hands of The Synod.
- Wulf: I will keep a lookout for other shards. Hopefully, we can find a way to piece it back together.
- Auryen: It would be a valuable addition to the museum. Are you going to help with the excavation?
- Wulf: No. We are going unicorn hunting.
- Auryen: Of course. I should have guessed!
I noticed Idunn was following Olette everywhere. I found my daughter in the main tent.
“Don’t look so excited, Olette.”
“Well, they haven’t done any exploring yet. They set that pot up so I could practice its removal by carefully scraping away tiny bits of dirt. It is so boring I summoned Idunn to keep me company. She fell asleep watching me!”
“I am sure that Latoria will soon keep you company.”
“Where are you off to now, Cap’n?”
“I promised Hashire we would search for Sune.”
“Cool! Another unicorn to make smartarse remarks and act superior.”
“So says the Queen of Smartarses.”
“Begone, peasant, I have more pot to dig up!”
I did a mock bow and left the tent.
We walked to the horses, and I told Hashire, “Spruce up. We don’t want Sune thinking you are a normal horse.”
“You are going to allow me to look like myself?”
In the blink of an eye, Hashire changed into his unicorn form.
I teleported us to Riften stables.
I then summoned Nafaalilargus.
“Greetings, Crotch Spawn of somebody we can’t mention.”
“Can you show us where Sune is?”
“Yes, but we had better hurry. I see a large band of goblins heading her way.”
We mounted and then rushed to where Nafaalilargus was engaging the goblins.
At first, we quickly cut down the goblins on horseback. The Dragonguard are expert horsemen, and I expected no less. I did not expect Daenlyn and Kharjo to be as proficient as they were.
The more intelligent goblins found places where it was hard to reach them on horseback. Therefore, we dismounted and took care of the last goblins on foot.
Nafaalilargus killed many goblins with Dragonfire.
When the last goblin was dead, we followed Nafaalilargus.
Sune watched us approach.
When we got close, I could feel Sune probing my mind. I let her in enough to talk telepathically. She said, “I was despondent when I thought I was the last of my kind. Then Nafaalilargus told me Hashire lives, and I was even sadder.”
“You don’t mean that, Sune. Hashire is a good friend of mine. Whatever your past grievances, now is not the time to indulge in them. Please stop being rude and talk to all of us!”
- Hashire: Sune, you have no idea how relieved I am to see you.
- Sune: Relieved you have a chance to apologise?
- Daenlyn: Woah! I sense a potential bard song in the making here!
- Hashire: I have no idea what I have done wrong. Whatever it is, I apologise.
- Sune: You have no idea? Well, Hashire, you had better think hard and long and remember!
- Wulf: You can continue your conversation at Silverpeak Lodge.
- Sune: Valdr Septim, Quaranir says hello and wonders when you will visit. The Psijic Council wants to see how their experiment has fared.
- Wulf: It is pretty hard to visit an island that keeps fading in and out of this timeline!
- Sune: Quaranir says it will be stable for a few years. They foresee troubling times but are unsure as to what kind of trouble. The only thing for certain is you will be dealing with it if you live long enough. They also like to make The Thalmor nervous.
- Nafaalilargus: Wulf, do you need me anymore?
- Wulf: No, you are free to go.
- Sune: I hope we speak again soon, Nafaalilargus. It was pleasant conversing with a gentleman for a change.
- Nafaalilargus: Maybe I can give Lunch some lessons on nobility.
- Sune: You can’t turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse.
- Seiko: Wow, Sune, I am eager to hear about Hashire’s crime.
- Hashire: So am I.
- Wulf: Sune, may I climb on your back? It will make it easier for me to teleport you.
- Sune: Of course, but once you experience my elegant gait, you won’t want to ride that plough horse again.
- Hashire: Ouch!
Nafaalilargus flew off, and we teleported to Silverpeak Lodge.
I put Sune in the stable next to Hashire, who looked very gloomy.
I told him, “Talk with her, Hashire. You have shared experiences. You two are the only unicorns to escape The Great Hunt. Sune cannot remain angry forever.”
“Unicorn mares can hold a grudge for eternity.”
“Well then, you just have to keep talking for eternity and a day!”
“Droll. Very droll.”
I teleported us to Honeyside in Riften.
- Kharjo: Wulf has neglected to tell his friends what we are doing now. Just zap, and we are here!
- Wulf: We will gather evidence and have Maven Black-Briar replaced as Jarl.
- Vayu: What is the first step in the process?
- Wulf: I want to talk to High Queen Elisif’s preference. The Empire placed Maven in the seat as there was no High King or Queen at the time. They should have at least asked Elisif’s opinion.
- Seiko: Do you know much about Elisif’s candidate?
- Wulf: He fought beside Rigmor’s father along with Felix, Casius and Yngol during and after The Great War. He has been an advisor to General Tullius for the last few years. I asked Rigmor to ask Felix his opinion. I will talk to Rigmor now and see what Felix thinks.
“My beloved, can you talk?”
“Yes, my Dragonborn.”
“Did you speak to Felix about Horik Strong-Hand?”
“Yes. Felix said that Horik was their quartermaster and one of their best strategists. He thinks he would make an excellent Jarl.”
“A recommendation from Felix is good enough for me.”
“Talk to you soon. The next supplicant is approaching.”
- Wulf: Okay, the gentleman recommended by Elisif is Horik Strong-Hand. Felix says he was their quartermaster and one of their best strategists.
- Vayu: A quartermaster for an army must have good diplomatic and bargaining skills and exceptional organisational skills. All of that is paramount for a good Jarl.
- Wulf: I agree. Horik is far more qualified for the position than Maven Black-Briar.
- Seiko: Do you have evidence of Maven’s criminal activity?
- Wulf: First up, I have a Thalmor dossier on her.
I retrieved the dossier from my journal case and read it to my friends.
“Status: Asset, Passive, Emissary Level Approval
Description: Female, Nord, 50s
Maven Black-Briar is the matriarch of the Black-Briar family, unofficially controls most of Riften, and owns the Black-Briar Mead Imperium.
She is the mother of Hemming, Ingun and Sibbi Black-Briar. She has strong ties with the Thieves Guild and the Dark Brotherhood, as well as being a personal friend of Jarl Laila Law-Giver, despite their political differences.
Given her connections to these important factions, she might be a valuable ally to our cause in Skyrim.
Avoid any direct contact unless absolutely necessary. A hands-off approach would be preferable to conceal our ties to her. Ideally, we would want to increase her political power to exercise more influence on the Rift area through her. She could also weaken the borders to Morrowind for our colleagues in that region.”
- Vayu: That dossier hints at treason.
- Wulf: If I found any evidence of treason, I would wield the headsman’s axe.
- Seiko: You will need more proof than the dossier.
- Wulf: Yes, and that is why I will ask the ambassador to give me a warrant. We shall search Maven’s country estate and the one in Riften.
- Daenlyn: If we don’t find evidence, it will strengthen Maven’s position.
- Wulf: Let us hope she is stupid enough to leave incriminating evidence inside a safe.
- Vayu: It is incredible how many people keep no longer needed correspondence that proves guilt.
- Wulf: Before we start ruining Maven’s day, I want to return a family heirloom to its rightful owner.
We exited onto Honeyside’s jetty. Kharjo looked around nervously. That last time we stood on the balcony, many dragons attacked us. In the distance, I could see the Llanith farm. That is where we need to go.
Dravin Llanith was pushing a grinding wheel.
He stopped when I stood in his way.
- Dravin: Who in the name of Azura are you? You look suspicious. You better not be one of those damn thieves!
- Wulf: I am Wulf, Dragonborn and Champion of The Divines. I am also Azura’s champion. If that is not enough, I am also your Thane. So be rest assured, Farmer Llanith, I am not a thief.
- Dravin: Begging your pardon. I am still angry about my loss.
- Wulf: And what loss would that be?
- Dravin: A few weeks ago, some thieves from Riften broke in here and stole my family’s bow! Can you imagine? They took the only thing of value we had. If you have the guts to head into The Ratway and get my bow back, I’ll pay you what I can.
- Vayu: Have you had problems with thieves before?
- Dravin: Are you kidding me? We’re all alone, except for a few guards who couldn’t give a damn about us. Not only did they take my bow, but they took all of our septims as well. Nothing’s sacred to those people! We make easy pickings for thieves looking to steal everything we worked so hard for.
- Wulf: I can believe what you said about Jarl Laila Law-Giver’s guards, but do not accuse Imperial Legionnaires of not giving a damn!
- Dravin: I stand corrected and offer my apologies.
- Wulf: We would not and do not accept payment for doing the right thing. We are not mercenaries. Several weeks ago, we found this bow in The Ratway. I believe it is your family heirloom.
I held out the bow. Dravin’s mouth dropped open, and he stared at the weapon. Eventually, he reached out and took it from my grasp. He then tried to hand me a bag of coins.
- Dravin: This is it! You found it! I don’t know how you got it back, and I don’t want to know. Frankly, I don’t even care… I’m just so glad to see it again. Here, this is all we can afford to give you as compensation. I hope it’s enough.
- Vayu: You continue to offend by offering payment.
- Wulf: Use the money to get back on your feet.
As we walked away, the stunned Dravin called his wife over. She stared at the bow and then at us as Dravin explained what had just occurred.
We walked to Riften and made our way to The Bee and Barb.
I noticed Vulwulf Snow-Shod, so I wandered over to him.
“I am enjoying my meal, so don’t ruin my appetite with Imperial bullshit.”
“I was hoping that you have gained wisdom since the wedding. It seems that you are still an ignorant moron. Oh well.”
A few patrons laughed as Vulwulf fumed, and I walked to the bar. Kareeva was battling dust bunnies, her broom a deadly weapon.
“Kareeva, your feathers are especially resplendent today!”
“Thank you. Is there some way I can help you?”
“I was wondering which of your many fine patrons might be Horik Strong-Hand.”
“He is leaning against the far wall. The wrinkly gentleman with him is Cassius.”
“If there is any killing to be done, do it outside as I just had the floorboards polished.”
Horik stopped leaning against the wall as we approached.
He then stood with his hands by his sides and perfectly balanced. I could tell he was a competent warrior. The elderly Cassius stood between us.
- Wulf: Relax, gentlemen. I am Wulf Welkynd, Thane of Riften and General of The Imperial Army.
- Cassius: And you are also The Dragonborn.
- Wulf: Yes, I am.
- Horik: What can we do for you, Wulf?
- Wulf: You can help me fulfil my promise to Maven Black-Briar. Well, not a promise, more like a threat.
- Horik: Which was?
- Wulf: I told Maven I would prove to His Imperial Majesty that she is not fit to be Jarl. High Queen Elisif the Fair wants you to be Jarl, Horik Strong-Hand.
- Horik: Maven is crafty. You have set yourself a challenging task, Wulf.
- Wulf: I already have a dossier liberated from The Thalmor Embassy that implies she is willing to work for The Dominion. But I need more, so any lead would be appreciated.
- Cassius: Try talking to Louis Letrush. He is the nearby Breton with long hair and a permanent scowl. He says Sibbi Black-Briar swindled him. He wanted us to help him illegally obtain a costly horse that had recently come into Mavin’s possession. The crime might not be Mavin’s, but perhaps it can be used as leverage.
- Wulf: How did you come to know Horik, Cassius?
- Cassius: I owe him my life. He saved me from a group of bandits a long time ago.
- Wulf: Horik, I know several Sons of Talos. Some have fought beside me. You joined Ragnar’s invalids which, to me, proves your fitness to be Jarl.
- Horik: Until recently, Ragnar was a war criminal, and so were those associated with him.
- Wulf: Hardly anybody in The Imperial Army believed that rubbish. But the truth is now known, and Ragnar’s daughter is the Countess of Bruma. That may seem poor compensation for what was done to her family, but at least the Sons of Talos can speak openly and with pride about their accomplishments in Hammerfell and, recently, The Battle of Whiterun. That is why General Tullius was comfortable having you as an adviser.
- Horik: The Redguards have never forgotten what we did. It is a pity The Empire took so long to do the same.
- Wulf: Okay, I will speak to Louis. Maven will be removed from her throne, and she will be fortunate to keep her head.
- Daenlyn: Wulf, I know Louis. He is a bard and a smuggler. I have no doubt he has had shady dealings with Maven.
I walked to Louis while my squad purchased some meads and acted like ordinary patrons.
He said, “Looking for work? I need someone to deliver a message to Sibbi Black-Briar.”
“Do I look like a courier? However, I could do with some septims as it costs me a fortune to look this good. So, what is the message?”
“Ah, well, I recently approached Sibbi Black-Briar about buying Frost, one of the finest breeding horses in Skyrim. He agreed to sell. I paid Sibbi half the cost of Frost up front, but before he could deliver, Maven had him locked up. Sibbi believes that this exempts him from our deal. It does not. I want you to talk to Sibbi for me. Then, I want you to bring me Frost and the Lineage Papers that prove the horse’s worth.”
“Why is Sibbi in jail?”
“I have no idea, but whatever he did, it must have angered Maven. Without the old lady’s permission, no guard would lock up a Black-Briar.”
“Was he locked up before she became Jarl?”
“Yes, he has been behind bars for months.”
“Why don’t you talk to Sibbi?”
“I’m not exactly… comfortable around guards or jails. Definitely not when associates of mine have been locked up. No, I’ll meet you outside of town. If you have a map, I will mark the location.”
I handed Louis my map, and he duly placed a cross where he wanted to meet. He then handed the map back.
Louis said, “Head to the Riften jail and talk to Sibbi. Get him to tell you where Frost and his Lineage Papers are and bring them to me at the marked location. You’ll be well paid for your time.”
I nodded and left The Bee and Barb from one exit. My friends left by the other and joined me as I headed for Riften jail.
We didn’t bother asking the guards which cell Sibbi occupied. The other prisoners were in rags and sleeping on poorly constructed beds with no other furniture in their cells. Sibbi’s cell had a luxurious double bed, a rug, a wardrobe and other expensive furniture. Sibbi was dressed in fine clothes. He had a face that demanded to be punched. I resisted the urge.
He growled, “Have you come to gawk or is this a social call?”
“I am here on behalf of Louis Letrush.”
“Ah, and let me guess. Louis wants his horse. Well, that’s going to be a bit of a problem. You see, I don’t own Frost….”
“You sold Louis a horse you don’t own?”
“That is correct. You see, Frost belongs to the Black-Briar estate. Technically everything in the estate is owned by my grandmother, Maven. I planned to take the horse from our lodge and deliver it to Letrush at the stables. Obviously, that didn’t exactly work out as I’d planned… Still, I don’t want to cross Letrush. Tell you what. Steal the horse and deliver it, and you can have the second half of the payment.”
“Did Louis know he was purchasing a stolen horse?”
“Yes, he did! That is why he dealt with me and not my mother.”
“Where are the Lineage Papers?”
“In our lodge. Do you know where that is?”
“Yes, it is marked on most maps.”
“Is that all? I have important things to do, like a walk in circles for endless hours.”
“Why are you in prison?”
“Look, we all have our flaws, and mine is that women can’t get enough of me. So, I had this little affair while I was betrothed to a beautiful girl named Svidi. Well, she finds out, and she tells her brother, Wulfur. Then her brother attacks me with a knife… I mean, I had to defend myself!”
“It seems like a clear case of self-defence.”
“Exactly! And now I have to stare at these bars for eight months. Can you believe it? I was about to let that wench marry into the richest family in Riften, and this travesty of justice is how she repays me. I’d do anything to have that whore’s head on a platter. All I need to know is where she is.”
“If it was self-defence, why has Maven locked you up?”
“Mother thought I should be taught a lesson for airing the family’s dirty laundry in public. I mean, I’ve… taken care of many people for her in the past. What in Oblivion did she expect me to do? Ah well. At least I have all the comforts of home during my stay. Well, except the touch of a woman, of course.”
“So, it wasn’t self-defence, and now you want to kill Svidi? If the job pays well, I might be interested.”
“That’s the spirit. Find her, and I promise you’ll be very well compensated.”
“Where should I start looking? What can you tell me about Svidi?”
“If I knew where she was, she would already be dead. She is a young woman… buxom, with long flowing black hair. She used to sing the loveliest songs to me when we were courting. I’ve never heard a voice so beautiful. When I’m finished with her, all that talent will go to waste.”
“You have no idea who I am, do you?”
“Somebody short of coins. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be talking to me or working for Louis.”
“I am Wulf, The Dragonborn. I will find Svidi, and she will be a witness at your murder trial. You will face the executioner for at least one murder. I bet her brother wasn’t even armed, was he? Perhaps your mother will be an informant to save her neck.”
“Who will believe you? My mother is a Jarl, and she will save me!”
“I am Champion of The Divines, and when I give my word, it is sacrosanct. I will be believed. Plus, I have four witnesses. Maven will soon be removed as Jarl of Riften. She may even join you on the headsman’s block.”
“I have money. More money than you have ever seen!”
“I own several estates and am one of the, if not the, richest person in Skyrim. The sword I carry is worth over one hundred thousand septims. Gods have tried to bribe me and failed. A nobody like yourself has no chance. Your days are numbered, Sibbi.”
Sibbi’s arrogance was replaced by panic. I ignored his threats as we walked away.
We had to exit the jail to teleport. Even though the art of teleporting was lost, old jails have dweomer to prevent teleporting into or out of them. As soon as we were outside, I said, “It is time to visit the ambassador in Castle Dour.”
We teleported into the entrance of Castle Dour.
I approached a Legionnaire who saluted and then stood at ease.
“I am looking for Ambassador Cromwell.”
“He is the startled gentleman behind me, General Welkynd. He is not used to you appearing out of thin air.”
I approached the wide-eyed ambassador.
“Greetings, Ambassador Cromwell. I am General Wulf Welkynd.”
“The famous Dragonborn! His Imperial Majesty won’t stop talking about you and your service to The Empire.”
“What I do is for all mortals on Nirn, Ambassador.”
“Is there something I can help you with?”
“I want to discuss Jarl Maven Black-Briar.”
“What about her? She is a loyal citizen of The Empire and benefits us greatly.”
“She is a criminal and not fit to be Jarl.”
“Now, that is a grave allegation. I don’t suppose you have any evidence of this?”
“Did you discuss with the then Jarl, now High Queen Elisif, who would have been her preference for Jarl?”
“As the senior representative of The Empire in Skyrim, the choice was mine.”
“If Ulfric won the war, it wouldn’t matter who you chose. You were acting on the premise that we won the war and Elisif would become High Queen. Therefore, your failure to consult with High Queen Elisif is negligent, and as a result, a traitor to The Empire sits on a Jarl’s throne.”
“How dare you!”
“How dare I speak the truth? I am well aware that to remove a Jarl, solid evidence is required. To prevent your unfortunate recall from Skyrim due to incompetence, you will help me gather that evidence.”
I retrieved a writing slate, paper and never-ending quill from my journal case and handed them to the ambassador.
I said, “Ambassador Cromwell, you will write orders instructing General Welkynd to investigate unsubstantiated rumours of corruption concerning Jarl Maven Black-Briar, an outstanding and trusted Imperial citizen. I am sure you can word it well enough that if I find nothing, Maven will think you didn’t believe any of the rumours. Can you do that, Ambassador Cromwell?”
“Yes, I can, but you have not convinced me I should.”
“Can you read Aldmeri?”
“Yes, it is a requirement that all ambassadors be fluent in several languages.”
I handed the ambassador the Thalmor dossier on Maven Black-Briar. He read it and then started to sweat. I held my hand out, and he shakily returned the dossier.
I explained, “Now, a dossier stolen from The Thalmor will not be admissible evidence. Therefore, I suggest you write my orders and a warrant allowing me to search the residences and business establishments of Jarl Maven Black-Briar.”
Twenty minutes later, Ambassador Cromwell applied his seal to the bottom of both documents and handed them to me. I placed them in a pocket and then held my hands out again. The ambassador looked confused, so I nodded towards my journal case. He got the clue and handed it and my never-ending quill back to me.
I smiled and said, “How dare somebody accuse Jarl Black-Briar of such terrible things. I will investigate immediately so we can clear that outstanding citizen’s name!”
I resisted laughing till we teleported to Riften stables.
- Vayu: You can be an absolute arsehole sometimes.
- Wulf: Ambassador Cromwell didn’t perform his duty with due care and diligence. That is why we have this problem.
- Seiko: What you did was the most efficient way of progressing.
- Wulf: Yes, it was. When dealing with career diplomats, a threat to their reputation and position is the quickest way of obtaining compliance.
- Seiko: You were careful not to verbalise the threat but let Ambassador Cromwell’s imagination fill in the blanks.
- Wulf: He read the dossier and realised he may have placed a traitor in one of the highest noble positions in Skyrim. Self-preservation ensured compliance.
- Vayu: You are still an arsehole!
- Wulf: Well, thank you. I will strive to be the best arsehole I can be.
- Kharjo: Khajiit is curious as to where we shall search first.
- Wulf: Their lodge, where Frost is stabled.
On our trek to Black-Briar Lodge, our only encounter was with two stupid bandits.
When the lodge came into view, I could see armed guards.
I used my Thu’um and yelled, “THIS IS GENERAL WULF WELKYND. I HAVE BEEN ORDERED TO SEARCH THESE PREMISES AND HAVE A LEGAL WARRANT. DO NOT INTERFERE!”
Some guards ran at us while others fired their bows our way.
We cut them down.
Then we entered the lodge.
Heat vision showed me two guards nearby. One was approaching where we stood.
I used my Thu’um and repeated, “THIS IS GENERAL WULF WELKYND. I HAVE BEEN ORDERED TO SEARCH THESE PREMISES AND HAVE A LEGAL WARRANT. DO NOT INTERFERE!”
The guards ignored what I said, attacked and died.
There was plenty of Skooma on the premises in the form of full and empty bottles.
We found Frost’s Lineage Papers and a receipt for the transfer of ownership. A person called Christophe Bartlet sold Frost to Maven for a fraction of the horse’s worth.
- Seiko: Why would Christophe sell Frost so cheap?
- Wulf: It may not have been a voluntary sale.
- Seiko: You aren’t going to hand Frost to Louis, are you?
- Wulf: No, I won’t. I will keep Frost at Silverpeak Lodge while we investigate Maven.
- Vayu: I am sure Hashire will appreciate Frost’s presence. A potential witness may be his only hope of surviving Sune’s wrath.
We found nothing else incriminating within the lodge. It made me wonder why the guards were keen to keep us out.
We exited, and I inspected Frost. He was a magnificent stallion worth far more than Maven paid for him.
I mounted Frost, and my friends summoned their horses.
As we headed to Louis’ meeting place, a strange woman in rags waved me over.
I dismounted and approached her. She was filthy, and her eyes sunken.
“Hello, I am Wulf. Can I help you?”
“Vacation is where the head is. That is what Dervenin told us about our master. He was cosy in his solitude.”
“Ahh, a devotee of Uncle Sheo. That explains it!”
“You’re the one who returned blessed Sheogorath. I would be honoured to be Wabbajacked by you, your grace.”
“Sorry, but I only Wabbajack with the woman I love.”
“Wabbajack. Wabbajack. Wabbajack. Wabbajack.”
“Here, have some coins. Perhaps you can buy yourself some nice cheese?”
“Cheese for everyone!”
The madwoman snatched the coins and ran away, shouting random things to do with cheese, Sheogorath and The Wabbajack.
Nobody said a word as we remounted our horses. When it comes to Sheogorath and his devotees, the less said, the better.
Louis Letrush was foolishly standing by himself in a clearing. The area of The Rift we were in was teeming with bandits, carnivores and other nasties.
I dismounted and approached.
Louis enthusiastically said, “Ha! You’ve done it! I have got to admit that I wasn’t sure you could pull it off. But you’ve definitely earned your pay. Let’s make the exchange.”
“You knew that Sibbi was stealing Frost. You were knowingly purchasing a stolen horse. That could get you hung, Louis Letrush. As a General of The Imperial Army, I could arrest you and ensure you dangle.”
“Now wait a minute… There is no need to do anything drastic. Look, you keep the horse, all right? Then we all walk away happy….”
“Where have you been the last few months? You have no idea who I am, do you?”
“Ahh…No…I don’t know who you are.”
“I am Wulf, The Dragonborn.”
“If you try any sort of reprisal, Louis, I will kill you. Do you understand?”
“Good. Have a nice day!”
I mounted Frost and then teleported to Silverpeak Lodge’s stables.
- Wulf: Hashire, you are still alive!
- Hashire: Do you know what I did wrong to anger Sune?
- Wulf: No. Do you?
- Hashire: I did absolutely nothing wrong! Sune thought it was funny to make me guess. I started apologising for things I never remembered doing, just in case I did. After some time, Sune couldn’t keep in her laughter, and then I realised what she had done.
- Seiko: It was all a jest?
- Hashire: Yes.
- Seiko: Sune, that was ingenious and very funny!
- Sune: Thank you. It was amusing watching Hashire squirm. Who is the stunning stallion?
- Wulf: His name is Frost, and his lineage is very impressive!
- Sune: Is he staying?
- Wulf: For now.
- Sune: Hashire is busy sulking, so I will keep Frost entertained.
- Hashire: If you are going to rut like a wild horse, please do so on the other side of the house.
- Sune: Males and females can talk without rutting, Hashire. Is that a new concept to you?
- Hashire: Wulf, please take me somewhere, anywhere, away from her!
- Wulf: But you are getting along so well. Now, introduce yourselves to Frost and calm him down a bit. It was his first time teleporting, and he looks frightened.
- Daenlyn: I think he is terrified of those two. I wonder if they have been Wabbajacked?
- Wulf: Okay, back to Riften. We have to find some evidence, or I will look silly.
We teleported to just inside Riften’s entrance.
I knocked on the door of Black-Briar Manor.
A female asked, “Hello, who is it?”
“I am General Wulf Welkynd. I have a warrant to search these premises. Please cooperate as required by Skyrim and Imperial laws.”
A click was heard as the door was unlocked. We entered.
Ingun Black-Briar, the only honest family member, sat and ate some soup.
“You must be Ingun Black-Briar. I am sorry we interrupted your supper.”
“That is okay. You are only doing your duty, after all.”
“You don’t seem surprised that your family is being investigated.”
“Hmph. My family. All that wealth and they squander it on foolish ventures and political schemes. I was meant for so much more than all of this… I wish to pledge my life and ply my talents in darker circles. If only my mother let me, I would make her proud.”
“Aren’t you training to be an alchemist?”
“Yes, and it’s exhilarating to observe the effects of my potions on the body. Watching the heart stop… the eyes go blind. We’re made up of thousands of parts with different functions, all working together to keep us alive. Yet if only a single part of our imperfect machine fails, life fails. It makes one realise how fragile… how flawed we are.”
“You have poisoned people?”
“No, just animals. Dogs, cats, rats and so on.”
“You seem obsessed with death.”
“The irony is that the same world that gave us life provides us with the means to die. That is what intrigues me.”
“Using Alchemy to improve the lives of others is just as fascinating and challenging. Anybody can make poison. Try making a balm to stop a cut from festering or a potion to allow an ill foetus to be born and live a full life. Keeping people alive and healthy takes far more manipulation of our imperfect machines than poison!”
“But the darkness appeals to me. The voices beckon me.”
“Go to The Temple of Mara and ask for help. Let The Divines guide you away from the false lies emanating from The Void.”
“Maybe I will. That sounds right, but the voices are hard to ignore.”
“Save your soul, Ingun. Eventually, the animals will not be enough, and you will harm somebody. The voices will lead you to an early demise and eternity in The Void.”
We left Ingun and started our search. Although worried about her, other things must take priority.
I found a letter from one of Maven’s competitors in a set of drawers. I read it to my friends.
This is the final letter I’ll be sending to you. I’m sick to death of your underhanded methods. A little competition never hurt anyone, and Honningbrew has barely scratched the surface of your business. I’ve lost two more shipments this month to these so-called ‘bandits.’ If I find out you’re involved, I’m taking it to the Jarl.
I remarked, “The bandit attacks on a rival are suspicious, but there is no proof of wrongdoing by Maven.”
I found a letter of apology from Ambassador Cromwell in another set of drawers. I read it to the squad.
“Lady Maven Black-Briar,
I’ve made inquiries into the loss of your mead shipment to Cyrodiil, and I’ve concluded that they were waylaid by a group of mercenaries under the employ of The Empire. According to my sources, these mercenaries were not acting under orders and simply attacked the caravan for supplies. I’ve forwarded a request for compensation on your behalf to the Imperial Council. The mercenaries in question have already been dealt with accordingly. Again, I wish to extend my deepest apologies for this unfortunate mishap. I assure you that any future shipments into Cyrodiil will be met at the border by an Imperial patrol and personally escorted to their final destinations.
Ambassador Vertutis Cromwell, Castle Dour, Solitude.”
- Wulf: Something stinks more than Vayu’s socks!
- Vayu: Hey!
- Seiko: Since when does The Empire hire mercenaries and not ensure they are adequately supplied and equipped?
- Vayu: And what supplies are they going to get from a Black-Briar mead shipment?
- Wulf: She is cunning. Maven got the mercenaries to do her dirty work and then had them arrested and executed without paying them!
- Daenlyn: Please explain to those of us with less devious minds.
- Wulf: Maven hired the mercenaries to raid Honningbrew’s shipments. Anonymously, of course. The mercenaries would have had no idea who hired and paid them. Then she gets the same mercenaries to raid one of her shipments. However, an anonymous tip leads to the mercenary group’s arrest. Highway robbery is a capital offence. They would have been executed.
- Daenlyn: And that left no loose ends. The mercenaries were a handy tool she discarded when no longer of use!
- Wulf: And they gave Maven what is termed Plausible Denial. If somebody accused her of arranging the raids on Honningbrew’s shipments, she could say hers were raided. Blame the mercenaries, not a friend of The Empire, Maven Black-Briar!
- Vayu: Unfortunately, this is speculative and not the proof required to remove her from office.
- Wulf: You are correct, which makes a refreshing change. We shall have to continue searching.
- Vayu: First, you denigrate my socks and then my intelligence.
- Wulf: Morally, I am compelled to speak the truth.
- Vayu: You wait till we get home, and I sob into Celestine’s shoulder. She will run up, jump as high as she can, and kick you in the knackers!
- Wulf: Wouldn’t that make you jealous if we engaged in your favourite foreplay?
- Vayu: I shall retreat for now and think of a new strategy.
- Seiko: Silence works best, Vayu. Otherwise, you risk giving Wulf more ammunition.
- Vayu: Thanks for those wise words. You would think a shaman could figure that out himself.
A good quality locked safe proved a challenge for my lockpicking skills. After five minutes, I yelled, “YES! TAKE THAT, YOU METAL BASTARD!” as tumblers fell and the lock clicked.
Inside the safe was damning evidence in the form of two unsent letters. They were dated the day after I wiped out the Falkreath Sanctuary of The Dark Brotherhood. It seems Maven decided not to send them after hearing that her favourite assassins ceased to be, and she had to change her business model. I read the first letter to the group.
I want you to sabotage the Honningbrew Meadery near Whiterun. That fool, Sabjorn, has been cutting into my profits. Send someone capable this time! I don’t want any more bumbling idiots like the last few incompetents you sent. How hard is it to set fire to a few apiaries? I contacted the Dark Brotherhood to silence the last idiot you hired!
The Thieves Guild will be richly rewarded should you pull this off.
- Wulf: Mercer is the head of The Thieves Guild.
- Vayu: That single letter is enough to make Maven an ex-Jarl. However, it is not enough to have her shortened by a headsman.
- Wulf: I don’t want Maven killed unless we find proof of traitorous activity. Removing her from the position of Jarl is good enough.
- Daenlyn: Maven is another idiot who keeps damning correspondence for no logical reason.
- Wulf: Cunning she may be, but intelligent she is not.
- Kharjo: Khajiit thinks this letter makes it more likely Maven had the shipments raided.
- Wulf: Undoubtedly, but it is still circumstantial. Both letters were written the same day, just after I wiped out The Dark Brotherhood’s Falkreath sanctuary.
I read the second letter to the group.
I thought your people were supposed to be reliable. I’ve performed the Black Sacrament, paid the proper penance and waited patiently for results. You complained about my past nepotism, but I resorted to that as it seems The Dark Brotherhood can no longer handle simple assassinations. I want results soon, or I’ll use the one person I know who can reliably and efficiently do what is required. I want this contract handled immediately!
- Vayu: Who do you think she wanted to be killed?
- Wulf: I have no idea. Any guess would be pure speculation.
- Seiko: Maven seems to eliminate any loose ends. I don’t think the targets are all business related.
- Wulf: I agree. Somebody could fully cooperate and not pose a threat other than knowing about her dirty laundry.
- Kharjo: Khajiit is confused. What do smelly underpants have to do with this? Sibbi in jail also mentioned dirty laundry.
- Seiko: What Wulf means is that Maven kills those who may tell others about her illegal activities.
- Kharjo: Why would they also be interested in her smelly knickers?
- Vayu: They aren’t, Kharjo, although some people pay good money for soiled underwear.
- Kharjo: Please, do not elaborate. Khajiit is happy not knowing the reasons for this. Khajiit will meditate on the concept that dirty laundry covers all items, including smelly socks, and not just soiled underwear.
- Vayu: The mention of nepotism places Sibbi in line for execution.
- Wulf: If a defence attorney discovered Ingun’s interest in poisons, then the proof of Sibbi’s assassinations would have to be indisputable.
- Daenlyn: I think that Svidi will be the reason Sibbi is executed.
- Wulf: Yes, and The Penitus Oculatus will need to find Svidi and get a sworn statement. They can then stand in court and give the evidence and not me. I would hate to be subpoenaed when I have a task that needs completing. Sibbi will go to trial, but there will be no court hearing to remove Maven. She could contest the removal but then face The Elder Council in The Imperial City. People slighted by her would stand in line to give evidence.
- Daenlyn: Maven will want to maintain whatever remains of her business ventures. She would be wise to accept her removal from office.
- Vayu: There is also the chance that her capital offences would be proven before The Elder Council. It is better to be a deposed Jarl than a dead traitor.
- Wulf: Imagine Ingun inheriting the Black-Briar fortune. Costly reagents would be affordable, and her experimenting would be endless.
- Seiko: Wouldn’t Maven’s eldest son, Hemming, inherit her fortune?
- Wulf: Yes, and he would enjoy it until soon after he takes a sip of wine or a bite of food and suddenly feels unwell.
- Seiko: Yes, it is a good idea we avoid Maven’s demise!
- Daenlyn: Ahh, not to disturb our Khajiiti friend further, but I had an interesting conversation with Hemming in The Bee and Barb when I performed there. That performance was before the unfortunate event leading to being a guest of The Thalmor.
- Wulf: Please continue. Any information could be vital.
- Daenlyn: Hemming was boasting about how some of the finest warriors trained him to wield a blade as if it was an extension of his arm.
- Wulf: Bullshit but not important.
- Daenlyn: Yes, but you see where the conversation was going. He was trying to impress this famous travelling bard.
- Wulf: And?
- Daenlyn: He said he was the heir to the family fortune and that his children, Sibbi and Ingun, were being groomed to help run the family business.
- Seiko: Aren’t Sibbi and Ingun Hemming’s siblings and not his children?
- Wulf: I thought this was common knowledge. They are his siblings and his children. Maven is their mother and grandmother. Incest might be an old tradition, but it has not disappeared entirely. Who fathered Hemming is unknown.
- Kharjo: Such children would be killed so they could not weaken the clan. They are an abomination!
- Wulf: Many would agree with the abomination part but wouldn’t go so far as to kill them. Children of incest do not control who their parents are. They have done nothing wrong.
- Vayu: Many societies recommended incest for leading families to preserve what they regarded as superior traits.
- Daenlyn: I was hesitant to broach the subject, knowing the Khajiiti abhorrence of the practice.
- Kharjo: Khajiit thinks it is another indication of what Maven will do to keep Black-Briars in power.
- Wulf: Incest may pass on some positive traits, but it creates many negative ones and weakens the bloodline. Mental acuity is at risk from multiple incestuous generations. Ailments rare in the general population become common in some nobility that indulges in incest.
- Vayu: Bleeder’s Disease is an example of an ailment more common amongst the nobility than commoners.
- Kharjo: Can we please hurry and finish before this one learns more disturbing things?
We continued our search, and I was getting weary from reading endless nonsense in the form of business correspondence. It was telling that not one letter from a loved one was found addressed to Maven.
Amongst the pile of nonsense in one drawer, I found an interesting letter from Christophe Bartlet, the person who sold Frost to Maven. The letter was dated a few days before the sale was made. I read the letter to my friends.
After our disagreement a fortnight ago, I feared that business had finally gotten the best of our friendship. Since I still have not received a reply to my last letter, it seems my suspicions are correct. I realise my mistake has cost you a lot and all I hope to do is make amends. I am staying at The Bannered Mare in Whiterun should you wish to speak with me.
- Vayu: Christophe cost Maven money and thought an apology would suffice.
- Wulf: Maven is keen on making examples of those who fail her.
- Kharjo: Khajiit thinks we should visit The Bannered Mare and ask about Christophe.
- Wulf: That is an excellent suggestion, Kharjo. I think you deserve some dirty underwear as a bonus this month.
- Kharjo: Donate such a great thing to charity.
- Seiko: The letter is dated while Sibbi was in jail.
- Wulf: When Laila Law-Giver was Jarl, Maven had the city guards under her control. Sibbi could have left his cell to do a task for granny without a single objection being voiced.
- Daenlyn: Sibbi admitted to carrying out his mother’s dirty work. Perhaps dealing with Christophe was one of his tasks.
- Wulf: We will investigate, but even an amateur like Sibbi would cover his tracks.
We found nothing more incriminating in Black-Briar Manor and exited through the rear door.
In the back alleys of Riften stood a statue and shrine of Father. The Thalmor’s edict against Talos was ignored all over Skyrim.
It was late and the ideal time to give Maven a shake and see what would fall out. My friends were keen to help me shake her hard. We entered Mistveil Keep, and nobody could be seen except some Legionnaires.
They saluted as I passed by and headed for the private quarters. The previous city guards did not question the activities of the Black-Briars. Legionnaires do not question my activities.
Maven was not amused when I unlocked several doors and appeared at her private dining table.
- Maven: What is the meaning of this intrusion? Leave now, or I will call my…oh…of course. They let you in and ignored your picking of my locks.
- Wulf: Even if they objected, I have my orders and a warrant, Jarl Black-Briar.
- Maven: What orders and warrant?
- Wulf: Those given to me by your close associate, Ambassador Cromwell. He has ordered me to investigate accusations against you. So, I have already searched your manor and lodge and questioned Sibbi. Such fascinating things I have found.
- Maven: You have found nothing. I am too smart to leave an easy trail for an idiot like you.
- Seiko: We found an unsent letter from you to Mercer asking him to sabotage a rival brewery.
- Kharjo: In that letter, you said you hired assassins to kill incompetent lackeys.
- Daenlyn: We found another letter you sent to poor dead Astrid complaining about the Dark Brotherhood’s failure to assassinate somebody as per your agreement.
- Kharjo: Khajiit finds it disturbing you did The Black Sacrament. The citizens of Riften would be outraged.
- Vayu: In the letter to Astrid, you mentioned using family members to do assassinations for you.
- Wulf: When we questioned Sibbi, he admitted doing such tasks for you.
- Seiko: We hope you are not fond of Sibbi because his head won’t be attached much longer.
- Kharjo: Sibbi is so stupid that he tried to hire The Dragonborn to find Svidi.
- Maven: He what?
- Wulf: He said he wanted her dead. The Penitus Oculatus will find Svidi, and I bet she says under oath that her brother was unarmed when he confronted Sibbi.
- Vayu: Mmm, I wonder who a jury would believe? Sibbi seemed upset when we suggested you would sell him out to save your neck.
- Wulf: We were only telling him the truth, weren’t we, Maven?
- Seiko: We still have some loose ends to deal with.
- Wulf: Yes, we must hurry to Whiterun and see if we can find Christophe Bartlet. So far, you have made such fundamental blunders that I wouldn’t be surprised if you had sent him threatening letters.
- Maven: I hope you do find the letters I sent him. They are far from threatening!
- Vayu: Well, if Christophe is alive, it won’t be hard to find the letters. He is alive, isn’t he, Maven?
- Maven: How would I know?
- Wulf: Are you questioning the competence of Sibbi? Would he lie to you and say Christophe is dead when he isn’t?
- Maven: I had complete confidence in my son. He did not lie to me. Christophe is dead.
- Seiko: Oops.
- Maven: You stupid cow, I can admit to anything and everything, and it would not be admissible in court.
- Wulf: My testimony would be admissible, and if I swore to tell the truth, nobody, not even a defence attorney, would question the validity of my words.
- Maven: You have a vendetta against me. Any competent defence attorney will show you ignored proof of my innocence and rely on circumstantial evidence.
- Wulf: There is no attorney if Ambassador Cromwell decides you are unfit to remain as Jarl of Riften. He was incensed when he read the dossier The Thalmor had on you.
- Maven: What dossier?
- Wulf: The dossier I borrowed when I was at that party where dozens of Thalmor were slaughtered.
- Seiko: Doesn’t that dossier say that Maven was already cooperating with The Dominion?
- Vayu: Yes, it also said Maven would help weaken the borders and aid their actions in Morrowind.
- Kharjo: Khajiit wonders how angry the ambassador will be when he finds out about Maven’s deception.
- Seiko: The one where Maven hired some mercenaries to interrupt a rival’s mead shipments? It was clever how she hired the same ones to rob her shipment.
- Wulf: The Ambassador might order the seizure of the entire Black-Briar fortune, houses and all.
- Vayu: I dread to think how Maven’s grandchildren, uh, children, uh, whatever they are, would fare in the real world of taxes, gainful employment and potential poverty.
- Maven: Enough! Do what you need to do and leave me be!
- Wulf: I told you I would have you removed from the position of Jarl. I am content with that, so if I were you, I would think hard about how you can contribute to society rather than be a pariah. Further illegal activities will only lead you to the gallows or block.
Maven started to weep, and it was not due to self-pity but the realisation of Sibbi’s fate. Even with what she had done, such sorrow invoked compassion in me.
I told my friends, “Let’s head to Whiterun and see what we can find.”
Maven repeated Sibbi’s name several times as she wept. We teleported into Breezehome.
- Vayu: We all contributed to making Maven miserable, but you, Wulf, were very uncomfortable.
- Wulf: It seemed like petty revenge. I know it wasn’t, but that is why I sometimes relied on my Dovah half.
- Seiko: You are willing to give her a chance of redemption. Few people would.
- Wulf: Knowing your child’s execution is due to your greed should be enough to change her.
- Daenlyn: But will it make her bitter and seek revenge or make her more compassionate?
- Wulf: Nobody can know for sure, but I would like to see her given a chance to change.
- Vayu: You will have to convince the ambassador. He will want to pursue her demise.
- Wulf: I have a plan for that. Let’s deal with Christophe first.
We exited Breezehome and headed for The Bannered Mare.
Upon entering, we made our way to the bar and talked to Hulda.
- Wulf: Greetings, Hulda. How’s business?
- Hulda: Excellent, and I enjoy this work well enough, but I’m ready to retire. I’ve been thinking of selling the inn to Ysolda.
- Daenlyn: Ysolda would make a fine innkeeper!
- Hulda: Is that you, Daenlyn? Why on Hjalti’s beard are you hanging around with our Thane? Lots of people and things are constantly trying to kill him!
- Daenlyn: He is my friend, and I help him fight those who want to harm him.
- Hulda: I assume you have no time to entertain the good people of Whiterun?
- Daenlyn: I can make an effort next time I have a break from duties.
- Hulda: Is there something I can help you with, Thane? Like a round of drinks for your friends?
- Wulf: Unfortunately, we are on duty. Do you remember a guest called Christophe Bartlet?
- Hulda: Oh yes, a charming man. He stayed here for two weeks and then left in quite a hurry in the middle of the night. He didn’t even say goodbye, which was a shock since we got on so well.
- Wulf: What can you tell me about him?
- Hulda: He claimed he was once prosperous but recently had some bad luck with an investment. He said he had to sell almost everything to pay debtors or go to prison. He only kept two possessions, his beautiful white stallion called Frost and his family’s heirloom ring.
- Wulf: Can you describe the ring?
- Hulda: It is gold with a huge square sapphire. It has the initials of his grandsire, A.L.B, on the inside of the band. Christophe told me a tale of how highwaymen accosted his grandsire. He swallowed the ring rather than hand it over to the bandits. They took everything valuable, including his horses, carriage, and other jewellery. But Christophe’s grandsire was relieved because they didn’t get the heirloom ring.
- Wulf: You say he left in quite a hurry. Did he leave anything behind?
- Hulda: As a matter of fact, he did. He left a small bundle of letters on the table next to his bed.
- Wulf: Have you kept the letters? If so, please hand them over to me.
- Hulda: Thane or not, you have no right to sticky beak into the private letters of a gentleman!
- Wulf: We think Christophe has met foul play. I can waste time getting a warrant, or you can help our investigation by handing over the letters.
- Hulda: Why would somebody hurt Christophe?
- Wulf: Unsavoury people followed Christophe’s advice on the investment and also lost a fortune. They are not very forgiving and may have harmed Christophe in retribution.
- Hulda: Wait a minute, and I will fetch the letters. We keep all items left by mistake in our safe for at least a year.
Hulda went to her living area and retrieved the bundle of letters. There were only five, and four of them were demands from debtors. One letter was from Maven, and I read it to my friends.
Upon reading your last letter, I was deeply touched. You’re right, I was angry, but now I realise my anger was misplaced. It’s time to leave our disagreements in the past and rekindle our friendship. I’ll be sending someone to fetch you and bring you to Riften. I wish to avoid a scene, so he’ll be calling at night. Make sure you pack all your belongings securely, as the journey could be rather treacherous.
- Vaya: It is no mystery who came to escort Christophe.
- Wulf: Hulda, did you see anybody meet with Christophe?
- Hulda: Yes, but that was a couple of months ago, so give me a second. I might remember some details about him as I take note of everybody who enters.
- Wulf: It’s okay, take your time.
Hulda’s brow creased as she delved into her memory. After half a minute, she smiled.
- Hulda: Thane, I remember him well. His hair was cut very short, including his goatee beard. He had a ruddy complexion and was probably in his mid to late twenties. Christophe seemed hesitant when he first saw him. That is why I remember him so well. I thought he looked like trouble with squinty eyes and an air of arrogance.
- Wulf: Did Alphonse mention any family?
- Hulda: He was never married but had a sister in Cyrodiil. She has four children and was widowed when her husband, a Legionnaire, died fighting in the civil war. He put her as next of kin when he signed our register. It is something we ask all guests who book rooms to do. Let me see…ahh, there she is. His sister is Haspia Palicci of Skingrad.
- Wulf: Thank you, Hulda, that has been most helpful.
- Hulda: Do you know the stranger?
- Wulf: Yes, and I fear he may have murdered Christophe but not before he forced him to sell Frost.
- Hulda: Oh my!
- Daenlyn: The stranger is already in prison and will face the executioner when found guilty of another murder. We will ensure Christophe is not forgotten and that his criminal record also mentions what he did to him.
We talked as we exited The Bannered Mare and walked towards Dragonsreach.
- Wulf: Where would a native of Riften dispose of a body?
- Daenlyn: In a canal, but Whiterun doesn’t have one!
- Wulf: But it does have a river flowing through it and a large moat around Dragonsreach.
- Vayu: During the civil war, this city endured a shortage of guardsmen. Many of them had joined one side or the other. It would not have been difficult to find a gap in the patrols and dump a body.
We tried the lower moat first and didn’t find anything.
I had never noticed the statue of Dibella outside Dragonsreach before. I should visit Markarth and talk to The Sybil at Dibella’s Temple. It is the only way Dibella will communicate with mortals.
Soon after diving into the upper moat, I found a skeleton with a rock tied around its neck. The rock was needed to stop a bloated corpse from floating to the surface. I cut the rope and lifted the skeleton onto dry land. It was barely held together by ligaments that were yet to rot entirely. As I lifted the skeleton from the moat’s floor, something gold fell to the ground.
As my friends inspected the skeleton, I dived back into the water and found a ring. It had the letters A.L.B engraved inside and a large square sapphire as a centrepiece. It was Alphonse’s ring. He had swallowed it so Sibbi couldn’t have it.
There was nothing to be said. We suspected Alphonse was murdered, and the grim evidence was not a shock.
I called a guard over and asked that Priest Andurs deal with the skeleton. I quickly wrote a note for Andurs telling him who the deceased was, the address and name of his sister and a request that the ring is forwarded to Haspia. I entrusted the guard with Alphonse’s ring as the Guards of Whiterun are amongst the most honourable.
Vayu observed, “We are teleporting all over the place! Let me guess, Castle Dour is next.”
“Yes, and then we shall ask Commander Maro to search for and protect Svidi. But first, I want to summarise our discoveries in point form for the ambassador.”
As I wrote my notes, Priest Andurs arrived with a plain wooden coffin and collected Alphonse’s remains.
I finished my notes, then we teleported inside Castle Dour and soon found Ambassador Cromwell.
I said to him, “Ambassador Cromwell, I have gathered much evidence of Maven Black-Briar’s illegal activities. Please read this correspondence and my notes.”
I handed Cromwell the evidence. As he read the letters and notes, his face changed from disbelief to anger. After ten minutes, he looked my way, and he was livid!
- Cromwell: This is outrageous! She hired The Thieves Guild and The Dark Brotherhood! And she fooled me into granting compensation for a robbery she arranged! How could we have let this happen?
- Wulf: Not we, Ambassador Cromwell. This mistake is all yours to own and cherish. You should have asked the future High Queen about the vacant Jarl position.
- Cromwell: I asked General Tullius about you. He said you don’t hold back with your opinions.
- Wulf: I don’t, but I am always willing to be corrected. Was this situation not your fault?
- Cromwell: You are right. It is entirely my fault, but what is to be done about Maven?
- Wulf: Maven’s son, Sibbi, will be convicted and executed. You could probably make enough of a case to have Maven tried and executed. But that would be a waste. Maven will be removed from the position of Jarl, but that is all for now.
- Cromwell: Surely you aren’t suggesting mercy?
- Wulf: Maven’s businesses employ many innocent citizens. She will be bitter and maybe, after some soul searching, regret her actions. Even if she doesn’t display a single ounce of regret, you could still exploit her for the benefit of The Empire.
- Cromwell: How?
- Wulf: Inevitably, The Thalmor will contact Maven and try to leverage her bitterness for recruitment purposes. However, that will only happen if she is still part of the upper echelon. Let them recruit her, but also let Maven know she works for The Empire as a double agent. Let her know she could easily face execution if she doesn’t cooperate.
- Vayu: This would only work if Maven is removed, as far as the public knows, for her connections to two shady groups, The Thieves Guild and The Dark Brotherhood. Any mention of other activities will make her a pariah, and the public will demand justice.
- Cromwell: I see. Her companies continue to employ our citizens, and she pays her taxes which are not inconsiderable. The Penitus Oculatus are experts on misinformation and can coach Mavin on what to feed The Dominion.
- Wulf: The selection of Horik Strong-Hand must be made by Her Royal Highness.
- Cromwell: Agreed. I shall remove Maven, and High Queen Elisif can nominate Horik.
- Wulf: Then my task is complete. Good evening, Ambassador.
I teleported us to Dragon Bridge.
When we entered the Penitus Oculatus outpost, only one Agent was present.
He asked, “I am Inspector Barius. How can I help you, General Welkynd?”
“Where is Commander Maro?”
“He has taken several agents to wipe out a nearby Stormcloak officer and rebels hiding in a cave. Since they are now outlaws, it is not considered a military operation.”
“Then I shall write down what is needed.”
I quickly wrote down the information about Sibbi and Svidi and handed the note to Inspector Barius.
He read it and said, “Commander Maro should return before daybreak. I am sure he will action this immediately.”
“Thank you, Inspector Barius.”
After a long day, we teleported to Silverpeak Lodge. After a quick meal, we all retired to bed.
Even though I was exhausted, I talked to Rigmor for several hours before sleeping. I look forward to holding her in my arms again.