As Ginna made her way through the Cistern, she was surprised by how quickly everyone’s disposition toward her had changed. Those who had been less-than-enthusiastic to meet her the day before all went out of their way to pull her aside and let her know they respected her for what she’d done at Goldenglow. Rune grabbed her before her foot had even left the last rung of the ladder to tell her, “You’re really good at what you do, and you’re bringing a bit of glory to this place again. I just wanted to let you know, if you ever need anything I’m here for you.” It was sweet, and for a moment she thought the thick casing of ice she’d packed her heart in had actually started to melt.
But most surprising was Vipir, who moved in front of her to block her passage just outside the door to the Flagon. “You’re making waves around here, little girl. Good for you.”
“Rune says you’re some kind of master pickpocket,” she said, no longer disguising her admiration.
“Maybe I am,” he shrugged, but she thought she saw a small flash of pride in his dark eyes.
“I’ve always been keen on the fishing jobs myself. It’s how I got started in this business.”
“Is that so?” A thoughtful smile drew at the corners of his full mouth. “Maybe we can trade secrets sometime.”
Brynjolf was sitting at the bar in the Ragged Flagon with a mug of mead and Delvin on his right telling a story about the last job he’d been on when she walked in through the side entrance. She went straight to Tonilia, who was eating at one of the tables in the back, Vekel the Man lingering with his broom near the edge of the table.
“It’s a good life, I know, but I just wish you’d slow down a little bit, Ton… let me make an honest woman of you.”
“Give it a rest, would ya?” Tonilia barked over her shoulder. “I’m happy with the way things are. Why are you always trying to change them?”
“I just want to take care of you the way you deserve.”
“I can take care of myself,” she assured him, glancing up to see Ginna standing in the shadows over her shoulder.
Vekel followed her gaze, his upper lip curling with distrust. “So, you’re Brynjolf’s new protégé, huh? Don’t look like much to me.”
“Leave her alone, Vekel,” Tonilia scowled. “You need something, kid?”
“I have some goods I want to trade with you for coin.”
“I’ve got coin and I’ve got merchandise. Let’s see if we can cut some kind of deal.”
“Sounds fair,” Ginna agreed, slipping into the seat across from her and lifting her bag onto the table. “You got any poisons?”
“Sister, have I got poisons?” Tonilia threw back her head and laughed, and then the two of them put their heads and their goods together to deal.
Ginna walked away with a lighter satchel and about six-hundred gold, but the golden Queen Bee statue she’d lifted from Aringoth’s room was a special item, and Tonilia directed her to speak with Delvin about that. “He’s a bit of a collector when it comes to rare goods, if you know what I mean.”
On her way to talk to Delvin, Vex called out, “Hey, I’ve got plenty of work here, if you’ve got the spine for it.”
“Got anything in Whiterun?”
“Actually, I do. We’ve got a client who needs to teach someone a bit of a lesson. I give you a jewel, you sneak in and plant it in their home and the rest is history. You interested?”
“Sure, I’m headed there anyway. I’d be glad for the extra work.”
“Whatever. Here’s the details. Just try not to make me look like an ass in front of the Guild.”
She caught Brynjolf’s gaze from across the Flagon, his eyes lowering slowly to inspect the mead at the bottom of his mug. He knew enough about her that he must have understood how hard it was for her to be clinging to the bottom rung again after looking down from the top for so long. Taking orders from Vex, who by all rights should have been her equal, wasn’t easy at all. And yet he hadn’t told anyone but Mercer the truth about who she was, or where she’d really come from. They all really thought he’d just plucked her up off the streets, and as difficult as it was to deal with starting over, she was glad he’d kept it to himself.
The gesture said something about him… she just wasn’t quite sure what. Trust me, maybe?
“Delvin,” she sidled up beside him and lifted her bag onto the bar. “Tonilia said you might be interested in this.” Drawing out the statue for him to take a look, he leaned back in the chair and whistled appreciation.
“Well, well, would you get a look at that,” he shook his head. “I’ve been looking to get my hands on this little beauty. Where’d you come across it?”
“Goldenglow Estate,” she told him. “You interested in buying it?”
“Actually, I am. How’s five-hundred gold sound?”
“It’s a fair offer, I accept.”
“Yeah, all righty then.” He counted out the coin and slid it across the bar for her. She scooped it into her coinpurse and drew the strings tight before tucking it safely into her bag. It was the heaviest her purse had been since leaving Cyrodiil; a heavy feeling she would gladly carry. “Hey and if ya come across any other rare items like this in your… travels, give me first dibs on ‘em, would ya?”
“Absolutely. Look, I’m headed over to Whiterun to take care of a bit of business. You wouldn’t happen to have any jobs in that area in need of doing, would you?”
“I always got jobs in Whiterun need doing. What are you lookin’ for? In the mood to correct some bookkeeping, maybe? Fishing? How about a little Bedlam?”
“I’ve always been fond of fishing,” she said. “Nothing in the world quite like the inside of someone else’s pocket.”
“A lady after my own heart.” He nudged his shoulder into her playfully, but Ginna cast her glance sidelong at Brynjolf, who rolled his eyes a little at the display and tipped his cup back again. “This mark’s carrying around a heavy, valuable item one of our clients wants to get his hands on. What do you say, pet? Care to lighten the load?”
“I’ll get it done,” she assured him.
“Good, good.” He pushed up from the barstool and reached for his statue. “Now if you’ll all excuse me, I’m going to go admire this little beauty in private.”
“Ugh, gross,” Vex groaned.
Ginna climbed up onto the empty barstool, her short legs dangling as she scooted into place next to Brynjolf. “I haven’t forgotten,” he assured her. “Here’s your cut, lass, just as I promised. You more than earned every coin.” He pushed a heaping sack of gold across the bar.
“How’s your arm?” he asked, glancing down at the fresh bandage she’d wrapped it in before meeting with Maven.
“So, you’re off to Whiterun then?”
“Aye,” she nodded. “I don’t suppose you could come along with me? Get out of the Cistern for a while, see the world?” Keep me from falling into bed with Mallus Maccius like an idiot… She was headstrong and she really did loathe Mallus, but there had always been something about him she found impossible to resist. Not that Brynjolf would have cared, it seemed. She was obviously a free agent, not that she’d tricked herself into thinking otherwise. It was just… she didn’t know what it was, and that irritated her. She really, really liked the guy, and even though she’d put a nice buffer between them on the road from Solitude, he’d managed to break through some of her barriers. It was her own fault for thinking whatever game they’d been playing was more than just a game.
“Nothing would please me more, but…” But it seemed their little tryst was over and she’d just have to deal with it. “I’m afraid I’m needed here right now. I was away too long in Solitude…”
“Right, well, it never hurts to ask,” she sighed. “Maybe I’ll go hire Marcurio to travel with me.” She started to push off the stool again, hopping to the floor. “Skyrim’s a dangerous and savage place and I don’t know my way around. A girl could find herself in need of protection and apparently he can roast my enemies with destruction magic for the low, low fee of five-hundred septims.”
He winced a little before turning his gaze in her direction, but she couldn’t tell if she’d made him jealous, or if the thought of dropping five-hundred gold on a mercenary made him feel a little squeamish. “There you go throwing around your hard-earned money again when you have perfectly good Guild resources at your disposal.” He pushed his mug across the bar with two septims and motioned for Vekel to fill it again. “You know, Rune would gladly travel with you for half what that blow-hard mage at the Bee & Barb is charging, and you wouldn’t have to listen to his incessant bragging all the way to Whiterun and back. He’s skilled with a blade and he tells a fine tale by the fire.”
“Rune’s a good kid,” she decided.
“Indeed, he is.” He shrugged. “It’s just a suggestion, lass. It’s your coinpurse. You do what you want with it.”
“Don’t worry, I will,” she assured him, walking away.
She was halfway through the hall beyond the secret panel when she heard footsteps behind her. Turning around, she was surprised to see him standing there, a familiar shine in his eyes that immediately reminded her of the jewel tucked safely in the pocket of her breeches. “Ginna,” he started, shifting uncomfortably where he stood. “I just wanted to say thanks.”
Her upper lip curled. “For what?”
“Lending your efforts here, pulling off that job at Goldenglow,” he said. “I know you could have left me high and dry after I sprang you, but you didn’t, and that means something.”
“I may be a thief, but I still have honor. I owed you a debt.”
“I know,” he nodded, lifting his hand to rest on her shoulder. “And now that debt has been repaid, but you’re still here, taking on part of the workload… so, thank you.” His hand hovered there a moment, fingers curling into the muscle as his eyes searched out her face. The corner of his mouth twitched a little, and Ginna felt her stomach tighten like a fist. It was better not to react, she kept telling herself as that fist unclenched and softened inside her. It was better to remain cold, to not give in to the range of up and down emotion he was stirring inside her. “I still believe you and I could do incredible things together, lass. Turn this bad luck streak around, take the world by storm.”
“Yeah,” she lowered her eyes. “We’ll see.”
“Yeah,” he nodded. “We will see. In the meanwhile, tread careful on the road to Whiterun. I’ll see you when you get back. Maybe I’ll have time to take you up on that offer for a little rough and tumble.”
“Yeah,” she shrugged out from under his hand. “See you around, Brynjolf.”
She stepped into the Cistern, stomping down the confusion of emotion rising up inside her with every footstep. So far, it didn’t seem like they were doing much of anything together. He was sitting in the Ragged Flagon, deep in his cups and claiming to be incredibly busy, while she was heading out to get things done. She knew her debt to Maven was hers and hers alone, but…
But nothing. It was her debt. She would pay it, and she didn’t need anyone else’s help to do so. It just would have been nice to be alone with him again, to observe the way they were together with a more careful eye and maybe get a handle on what she was feeling. She’d never felt so confused in regards to a man in her life. Men were either a means to an end, or well… that was it. Life wasn’t a fairytale and she knew it. People didn’t really fall in love and ride off into the sunset together with the promise of happy ever after. It was unrealistic to the point of absurdity.
“Hey.” Rune glanced up from where he’d knelt near the cooking fire to warm his hands against the damp and chill, the sound of his greeting kicking her back to the moment. “Good to see you.” He smiled.
“Brynjolf said you might be interested in making a bit of coin,” she started.
She watched his face light up. “I’m always interested in making coin. What’d you have in mind?”
“I just need a travel companion. I’m heading over to Whiterun to take care of a bit of business, but I’m still so new to this land. I barely know my way around. Wanna come along? There’s two-fifty gold in it for you.”
“Sure, I’d be happy to.” He pushed up from where he’d crouched and dusted off his pants. “When did you want to leave?”
“As soon as you’re ready. I’ll meet you out by the stables?”
Ginna climbed up through the cemetery and closed the tomb behind her before stepping out into the misty afternoon sun. For a minute, she just stood and watched the priestess at the statue of Tiber Septim, lifting her arms in praise and then picking up her feet, she turned right and headed out into the piers of Riften toward the gate. Maybe if she found a Temple of Dibella, or stopped in to receive Mara’s blessing, it would give her enough piece of mind to help let go of her reservations and just experience whatever was going on inside her. Or maybe it would just make everything that much more complicated.