Come morning, they rose refreshed and ready to take Markarth by storm. Heavy rainclouds lingered on the horizon as they walked to Markarth, but the sun pushed through them before they reached the gates, restoring Ginna’s fleeting trust in Nocturnal for the moment. It looked as though it could shape up to be a profitable day, and when they pushed through the gates of Markarth, it was with confidence and swagger—as if they actually belonged there.
The guards watched with suspicion as Brynjolf set his stand up just inside the gates at an empty cart, Ginna lingering close to lend strength to their proposed identities. According to their well-rehearsed story, which they immediately put to the test on a friendly Redguard jeweler named Kerah, they were a married couple from Hjaalmarch, Molly and Muirin, whose marriage was as fiery as the day they’d taken vows before Mara seven years earlier, thanks to the mystical power of Falmer Blood.
“Between our daughter and our work, there just seems to be so very little time to… enjoy each other the way we did when we were first married,” Kerah lamented.
“It doesn’t have to be that way,” Brynjolf assured her. “In fact, it shouldn’t be that way at all. Our lives are so short, wouldn’t you agree? Our nights should not be spent catching up on lost sleep, but enjoying every aspect of our cherished loved ones.”
“Now, when you say Falmer, you mean the legendary Snow Elves?”
“But of course, my lady. Their blood is one of the most powerful elixirs known to man,” he explained.
“But how well does this elixir work? My husband… he’s always tired.”
Directing her to his beautiful and very satisfied wife, Molly, Ginna stepped into character perfectly. Leaning into Kerah as if they were old friends sharing gossip, she told her, “My love used to come home so weary from his travels and fall straight into bed without even saying hello. Now we hardly sleep at all, if you know what I mean, and we’re expecting our second child.” She nudged her with an elbow as she grinned affectionately across the counter at Brynjolf, who reached out to lay his hand atop hers to drive it home.
“You’ve really been married seven years? Your love still seems so new. You’ve definitely convinced me. I’ll take a bottle,” Kerah said eagerly, drawing out her coin purse. “On second thought, maybe I’ll take two.”
By the time early afternoon rolled around, a curious crowd had drawn in to listen to him boast bold promises and a full money-back guarantee. There were always doubters among the fray, but the doubters stirred up the crowd and made it easier for Ginna to slip in among them, fingers dropping into pockets, ears tuned into the sound of their conversation. That was how she’d learned about the empty house for sale from the Jarl’s steward, who lingered near their stall longer than anyone else, hemming and hawing over the price on the last available bottle of elixir.
“It’s well-worth the price, sir,” she assured him, leaning close enough to slide her hand into his pocket unnoticed. Curling her finger around his keys, she drew them out just as he stepped forward to finish the deal.
Her inner-pockets were teeming with so much coin and jewelry, it was almost impossible to walk without jingling, but she’d learned long ago how to stay light on her feet to avoid giving away the contents of her heavy pockets. While Brynjolf packed up their empty stand, she stood in front of the cart looking out over the city of Markarth with her arms crossed. The air was heavy with soot, and she could feel it coating her lungs each time she breathed in, but sleeping in the city would be better than sleeping in a cave again, or in the back of some cart as Brynjolf had planned. She missed the comforts of home far too much, and even just one night in one of the most lavish homes in filthy Markarth would be better than sleeping in some old troll den.
“How long do you think you’re going to be?” she asked, leaning back over the cart.
“A few more minutes, lass. You in a hurry?”
“No, I want to go check something out. Wait for me?”
He glanced up at her from where he knelt, a suspicious gleam in his bright green eyes. “You’re not planning on making off with those heavy pockets and leaving me behind, are you?”
Rolling her eyes, she shook her head and sighed. Besides, he was the one with all the money. “After everything we’ve been through…”
“All right,” he nodded. “I trust you.”
As she walked away from the stand, heading up the winding steps, she tried not to think about how easily he trusted her. He was a damn good thief and an even better con-artist—one of the best she’d ever worked with. How had he gotten as far as he had offering his trust without question? He knew nothing about her, save for what he’d learned between her thighs, and though she had no intention of leaving him high and dry after the things he’d done for her over the last week, she knew as she slid up the shadowed line of the stairwell to Vlindrel Hall, she could have walked away from him and he’d have had no one to blame but himself.
Vlindrel Hall was perched high above the city, overlooking the merchant district and main gates on the left and glimpsing Understone Keep. Crouching down low, she couldn’t see beyond the top stair, and though she knew that didn’t mean that made her invisible to the guards, it was a chance she had to take. She slid the key into the lock and turned the door open, stepping up into the hall and closing the door behind her.
It was a beautiful house, fully furnished and complete with alchemy and enchanting labs, a kitchen and dining area. There was a wide, open sitting area just beyond the open master bedroom with the biggest, most comfortable bed she’d seen since leaving Cyrodiil. Stalking quietly into the bedroom, she climbed up to stand on the bed, bouncing a few times before dropping into its comfort with a stifled giggle.
It was quietly tucked away from the other houses and it was perfect, even if it was only for one night.
Sneaking back out and down the stairs, she raced down into the merchant circle just as Brynjolf was slinging his pack over his shoulder.
“I think we should stay here tonight,” she sidled up to him and slinked her arm through his.
“I don’t know, lass. We did well today, but dropping ten septims on a room at the inn seems a little steep.” She could tell he didn’t want to disappoint her, his brow furrowing with the decision. “Especially considering we won’t be able to get rid of what you’ve got in your pockets until we’re well away from this city.”
“Come with me,” she turned, drawing his arm back in the direction she’d come from.
“I want to catch the carriage before he’s off again and we have to wait until morning for the next one. It’s a long way to Riften from here. We can sleep on the road.”
“I want to stay here tonight,” she asserted.
“Well, I’m sorry, but you’re not always going to get your way.” It just went to show how far they were from really getting to know each other. Ginna always got her way, and it was high time he learned that about her. “We can’t afford to stay here tonight,” he said in a low voice so no one would hear their argument.
“Yes,” she drew back to look at him. “We can. Just come with me, all right?” The corner of his mouth had tightened into a scowl that didn’t soften even when she started drawing him toward the stairs.
She waited for the guards to shift again before drawing him into the shadow of the building and skulking undetected up the stairs. Brynjolf crouched at her back as she took out the key and slid it into the lock.
“What in the name of the Eight Divines are you doing?”
“It’s not trespassing if you have the key,” she winked over her shoulder at him. The lock clicked open and she pushed inside, turning in the entryway and gesturing for him to follow. “Come on. No one’s here.”
“No one’s here now, but when the people who live here come home… You’re starkers, if you think we can stay here.”
“No one lives here,” she grabbed for his hand and tugged him through the entrance, but not without a struggle. Once inside, she leaned out and looked down on the empty street below and then she closed and locked the door at his back. “They’ve been looking for a buyer since before the war started,” she drew out to look at him. “It’s not like someone’s going to decide they’re moving in between now and morning. We make ourselves comfortable here for a few hours, catch some sleep and walk out before dawn to catch the carriage to Riften. No one will ever know we were here.”
Stepping up to him, he towered over her the way the great city of Markarth towered over the people in its streets, his eyes raging, dominant and in control of the situation. They didn’t soften when she lifted her grip to his shoulders and smiled as she circled her arms around his neck. “Being bad is always better with someone else,” she turned his own words back on him as she leaned up onto the tips of her toes to reach his ear. The soft strands of his hair tickled her cheek as she nudged into him, whispering, “What do you say? Be bad with me?”
“All right.” The challenge actually made him grin, a slow warming smile that quickly reached his eyes. Hands reaching down to unbutton his doublet as he started walking her backward through the hallway that led up into the dining room, he asked, “You want to play house then, do you?”
“I do,” she purred, hands dropping down over his to help him with his task.