They ran into the Khajiit caravan just north of Karthwasten two days later, but with so few septims to spare, buying moon sugar for Brynjolf’s scheme was out of the question. Several times as they approached the caravan, which had set up camp for the night, Ginna felt her hand slipping into her pocket, her emerald nestled in her palm and then she’d drop it into the depths again and tell herself selling it was out of the question. Brynjolf didn’t even bring it up, but without coin to buy the supplies they needed, it didn’t look like their plan would come into fruition. Every time she glanced up at him, she could see the wheels in his mind turning, brain scheming for a way to make it work, to find the coin they needed to follow through.
“It approaches us as if it knows us.” Their leader sat on an expensive embroidered rug at the mouth of a lavish tent filled wares, his striped tale flickering in to curl around his crossed legs, long black hair wavering in the wind as it shifted.
“We’ve met before Ri’saad,” Brynjolf reminded the cat, crossing his arms over his chest.
“Ri’saad never forgets a face,” he assured him, mimicking Brynjolf’s standoffish gesture. “This one also does not deal with thieves so empty in their many pockets. Go away, boy from Riften, before Khajiit shows you his claws. We have no business today.”
Glancing sidelong at her companion, Ginna could see a flush of unspoken anger rising to color Brynjolf’s cheekbones as he gritted his teeth tight together. “Come on, Ri’saad. I’m working a major job, the promise of plenty of gold when it’s done, which I will gladly spread around once it’s in my pockets. I just need a bit of moon sugar on credit. You know I’m good for it.”
“Credit?” Ri’saad tsked and laughed, a wheezing hiss that almost sounded like he had a furball caught in his throat and he needed to cough it up. “Ri’saad does not extend credit, Riften boy. Ri’saad is not a fool.”
Her hand was in her pocket again, her heart in her throat as she drew out the emerald, still clenched in her palm. Twenty years, she’d had it, and she only needed to close her eyes for a second to call to mind the face of the Altmer she’d stolen it from. As a girl she used to dream of him, wide golden eyes looking down on her with scornful intrigue when she approached him in the street to show him what she’d stolen from his pockets. In the dream he’d felt uncommonly sorry for her, long gold fingers curling around hers as he closed that jewel in her hand and told her to keep it. “You need it more than I do,” the dream soldier told her.
But now Brynjolf needed it; and she did owe him for springing her. Ugh… why couldn’t the warmth and comfort of her naked body under his be enough of a payment for her to not feel obligated to part with her most prized possession… her only possession, as it stood. Her good luck charm. She’d tried to tell herself that Brynjolf’s stealing that emerald at the Embassy had broken her lucky streak, but she knew she was fooling herself. Maybe he was right after all; they had to make their own luck.
Her jaw clenched tight against the act she was about to perform, a selfless deed that most other people would have felt good about committing themselves to had the circumstances been just a little different. Not Ginna… it made her feel sick and depressed as she opened her hand and held it out to Ri’saad so he could see what she offered. “What will you give me for this?”
“Let us see it,” he reached out to take it, holding the emerald up to the light and inspecting its flawless beauty. “Trade or gold?”
“Trade,” she said, ignoring Brynjolf’s furrowed brow beside her.
“What does this pretty one want from Ri’saad?”
“Two sets of fine clothes and as much moon sugar as he requires,” she gestured to her companion beside her.
“And how much does the foolish one who makes Khajiit laugh require? Ri’saad has his limits, even when it comes to pretty ladies and their pretty jewels.”
“Nine ounces should do the trick.”
Ri’saad rose from where he stood, slipping her precious emerald into the pocket of his tunic and turning his arm toward the tent. “Step inside and we will deal.”
Brynjolf reached out a hand to grab for hers, holding her back for a moment. “What are you doing, Ginna?”
“What needs to be done,” she sighed, avoiding his gaze for fear he’d see how much it was killing her inside to part with it.
“Are you sure about this, lass? I know how much it means to you…”
Sure? Of course she wasn’t sure. It was more than she’d ever done for anyone in her life, and for what? The potential of a minor payoff that would carry them to Riften more quickly, a place she’d heard nothing but awful things about all her life. She’d never been less sure about anything.
“Right now I’d do just about anything to get out of these clothes.”
“All you had to do was ask, and I’d have gladly helped you out of them.” He grinned, his eyes lighting up with playful mischief. He’d given her a good run that morning when he woke, sneaking hands sliding up the long hem of her dress and slipping between her thighs until he’d worked her up enough that she had no choice but to answer with eager, hungry kisses. Not that she’d minded answering that call. She kind of liked waking up in such a compromising position, all flustered and excited and with no place to go but down.
“We’ll help each other out of our new clothes later.” She turned into the tent, leaving him grinning on the carpet outside.
Ri’saad hadn’t wanted their old clothes, so Brynjolf bundled them into his pack after stepping back to admire her in the soft bronze and gold dressing gown with a fox-pelt cloak that made her look and feel like a rich merchant’s wife. He didn’t look half bad himself in a quilted navy blue doublet, the white shirt beneath cuffed in gold threading. They’d stepped into that tent two poor thieves in little more than rags, but walked out completely different people, confident, strong, ready to take the world by storm.
Even Ri’saad was impressed with the transformation, commenting, “Now here are two I would gladly do business with. You should clean yourself up more often, Riften boy.”
“Hang onto the lady’s emerald, Ri’saad,” Brynjolf said, slinging his pack over his shoulder. “I’ll be buying it back the next time we meet.”
“Ri’saad makes no promises,” the Khajiit grinned, his pointed teeth dangerously menacing as they walked away from the caravan. “May your road lead you to warm sands.”
It was less than half a day’s walk to Markarth from Karthwasten, but they stopped and made camp in a cave just outside the city to prepare their elixir. They worked late into the night, mixing, bottling, exchanging glances. It had to be after three a.m. before they finished bottling the last of it and packed the entire batch into the satchel, stepping back to stand beside each other admiring their work.
“That’s a lot of coin right there, lass. Enough to buy your jewel back from the caravan, get us to Riften by carriage and then some.”
“If this little scheme of yours works…”
“Oh, it’ll work,” he assured her. “Who doesn’t want to make love like a saber cat?”
“Is that where you learned your techniques?” She turned into him, hands lifting to grip the soft fabric of his doublet to draw him closer. “From saber cats?”
Grinning, he raised an eyebrow and stalked her back two steps. He started out slow, fingers carefully working along the ties of her pretty new gown. She wanted him to tear it away, but there would be time for much rougher play when the clothes they wore weren’t important to the task that awaited them come morning. His gentleness was quickly lost, however, when he threw her up against the hard stone wall. She cried out in pain as her spine connected with rock, but it was a pain he soon remedied with exquisite pleasure.
Rough hands kneaded the supple flesh of her breasts as he devoured her kiss, mouth traveling down her chin, into the stretched curve of her neck, lips suckling as he crouched lower and nudged her thighs apart before trailing in exploration down the taut muscle of her belly, over her hip and then diving into her warmth. Ginna’s hand tangled into his hair, pulling the strands, holding him in place as he teased and tasted until her rising whimpers told of ultimate release. When he lifted his body into hers, it was with a dominant charge that made her cry out in ecstasy.
He lifted her legs around his hips and drove through her like a storm driving across the land. Crushing, slamming, the thunder of their breath sweet music to her ears. She swore every muscle in her body bruised under the fury of his passion, but it was pure, unadulterated bliss and she wouldn’t want it any other way. He knew just went to slow down and draw things out, making her murmur pleas for more, harder, yes, harder.
She really did feel something when their bodies were tangled together in that way, something different than she’d ever felt with anyone before. In the low glow of fire and torchlight, he stared into her and she couldn’t look away. Didn’t want to. Power, the potential for things far greater than she’d ever envisioned in her vast, devious scope—it all lay inside this man waiting to be rediscovered and claimed. The entire world at their disposal, pockets brimming with more coin than they could count. Those thoughts made her shudder, the force of her release surely alerting every Forsworn in The Reach to their location, and when she closed her eyes, head dropping back to rest on the wall behind her, Brynjolf brought a hand up to her chin, drawing her gaze back down to meet his. He wasn’t finished, and he wanted her with him when he rose to his peak and brought her raging back down with him again.
Ginna had never felt her heart race so furiously in her life. He relaxed his body against hers, his grip slackening as it slid down her neck and he turned his mouth into hers. “Now that’s how a saber cat makes love,” he growled playfully, nipping at her lower lip with his teeth before kissing her again.
“I always thought they did it from behind,” she braced his shoulders in her hands, allowing her legs to slide down the length of his as she dropped back to the ground.
Quirking his eyebrow, the grin never left his face as he drew back, promising, “Stick with me, and I’ll show you every trick I know, lass.”