Over the next few days Marcurio tried to take that shot with her again at least three times on the long road to Winterhold. He kept reevaluating his argument, trying to find ways to prove to her that Brynjolf was no good. If he was any kind of man, why wasn’t he with her? If he cared about her at all, he would be with her, not sending her off on her own to do such dangerous work alone. But the more he argued against Brynjolf, the more it made her long for her lover.
She didn’t bother trying to explain the concept of Guild loyalty to him, or the fact that Brynjolf probably didn’t even know she was still alive. Brynjolf’s Guild was his life; it came first, and as sad as it made her that he hadn’t come with her and Mercer, she understood. The Riften Guild was falling apart, and it seemed its Guildmaster was doing little to hold it together, so it fell to Brynjolf. She would have made the same choice for her Guild, had their roles been reversed… if she still actually had a Guild to call her own.
That was what made them perfect for each other. Or at least it had made them perfect for each other before Mercer betrayed her and sold her out.
At night while she sat across the fire from Marcurio, ignoring his long-winded posturing, she held those emeralds her love had given her in the palm of her hand and tried to imagine how things would be when she finally saw Brynjolf again. Would he hate and distrust her, loathe her as he did Karliah? When she looked into his eyes, would all their warmth be gone, leaving behind nothing but the hard sting of a false betrayal he could never forgive?
It made her want to cry, but she didn’t. She couldn’t, especially not in front of Marcurio. A part of her wasn’t even sure she knew how to cry over matters of the heart; she’d never done it before. And besides, she had a feeling Marcurio, as noble as he pretended to be, would try to take advantage of that little slip of weakness. She’d feel bad if she had to kill him while he slept, after everything he’d done to help her against his better judgment.
Intriguing as it was to imagine what it might be like to slip into his arms, as a man he was far too needy. Maybe losing someone who’d loved him well made him overcompensating, too desperate for another opportunity to do it over the right way. She didn’t know, but it made Ginna feel sorry for him. He wasn’t really a bad guy, just misunderstood, and his ego provided very little in the way of understanding until you got to know him a little better. Something or someone had made him really insecure during the course of his life and it made her sad.
She would say one thing on his behalf. He was loyal to a fault that would probably get him killed one day. She only hoped it wasn’t while he was fighting beside her. He deserved better than that.
It was late when they finally arrived in Winterhold, the innkeeper directing them down the stairs behind the counter. They found Karliah and Enthir talking quietly at a table in the cellar. Karliah glanced up, eying Marcurio suspiciously before turning her gaze to Ginna as Enthir rose from his seat.
“Ginna,” she followed suit, standing up beside the table. Her lavender eyes lit up with hope and Ginna prayed inwardly to whatever God or Daedric Prince might be listening that her efforts would not disappoint her new friend.
“You’re back, eh?” Enthir started toward her. “And how was our friend Calcelmo?”
“He’s… interesting, to say the least.” She unslung her pack from her shoulder and opened it to search for the rubbings. “It’s probably a good thing he didn’t really get a good look at me while we were talking because I have a feeling he won’t soon forget our visit to his museum and it’s probably best that he won’t recognize my face if we ever meet again.”
“Oh dear. That sounds promising,” Enthir chuckled. “What have you got for me?”
“Here,” she handed the rubbings over to him. “This should help with the translating of Gallus’s journal.”
“I suppose it would be inappropriate of me to ask how you obtained this, so I won’t.”
“It’s quite an interesting story, actually, but perhaps best told another time when there are less pressing matters at hand.”
“A rubbing, eh?” he mused. “I expected notes, but this will do.”
“No notes. He wasn’t exactly forthcoming with the information, so I had to make do.”
“Clever girl,” Enthir commended her. “Now, let me have a look at this.” He carried the rubbings over to the table and opened Gallus’s journal to get to work. “If you’ll both follow me.”
“I’m glad you made it back,” Karliah said as they started to walk back to the table with Enthir. “I was beginning to worry.”
“The road to Markarth and back is long,” she said. “But I traveled as quickly as I could. I just want to get back to Riften before it’s too late to save face and clear your name.”
“Aye,” she agreed, turning her gaze toward Marcurio, who had positioned himself near the door to wait. “And who is your friend?”
“Just a mercenary,” she explained. He must have overheard her because when she glanced toward him, she saw his face lengthen with a hint of sadness. The last week they’d spent together made him more than just a mercenary, she supposed. “And a friend,” she added, watching his smile return as he glanced over at her. “Don’t worry, he’s been paid handsomely to keep his teeth together, and he’s proven himself loyal. He killed for me. He won’t betray me.”
“Good,” Karliah nodded. “I trust your judgment.”
“Hmm…” Enthir’s thoughtful expression drew both of their gazes away from Marcurio and across the table. “This is intriguing and yet, highly disturbing.”
“What is it?” Karliah asked, her attention snapping toward Enthir.
“It appears that Gallus had suspicions about Mercer Frey’s allegiance to the Guild for quite some time in the months leading up to his murder. Gallus had begun to uncover what he calls ‘an unduly lavish lifestyle replete with spending vast amounts of gold on personal pleasures.’”
“Does the journal say where this wealth came from?”
“Yes,” Enthir nodded, flipping to the next page. “Gallus seemed certain that Mercer had been removing funds from the Guild’s treasury without anyone’s knowledge.”
“Anything else, Enthir?” she leaned across the table. “Anything about… the Nightingales?” Her voice had become almost so soft, Ginna barely heard her.
“Ahh… yes, here it is.” He flipped through the final pages and then lifted his gaze first to Ginna and then Karliah. “The last few pages seem to describe the failure of the Nightingales, although it doesn’t go into great detail. Gallus also repeatedly mentions his strong belief that Mercer desecrated something known as the Twilight Sepulcher.”
“Shadows preserve us,” Karliah gasped in horror. “So it’s true then…”
“What’s true?” Ginna turned to her.
“I’m not familiar with the Twilight Sepulcher. What is it, Karliah?” Enthir lowered the journal to the table. “What has Mercer Frey done?”
“I’m sorry, Enthir.” She lowered her hooded head to look away. “I can’t say. All that matters is that we deliver your translation to the Guild immediately.”
“Farewell, Enthir.” She reached across the table and rested a hand atop his, her long fingers caressing as she curled them around his. “Words cannot even begin to express…”
“It’s all right, Karliah. You don’t have to say a word.” He turned to Ginna, lifting the translated journal out to her. “Listen, all I want is for the truth to be revealed to the Guild. They respected Karliah and she deserves better.”
“The truth will be revealed, Enthir. I promise you.”
“Do whatever you can, and I’d consider it a personal favor.”
“Thank you for everything.”
“We must hasten for Riften,” Karliah told her after Enthir left them alone. “Before Mercer can do anymore damage to the Guild.”
“Yes,” Ginna agreed. “Gallus’s journal mentioned the Twilight Sepulcher. What is that, Karliah?”
“You’ve come this far,” she lowered her gaze, lips pursing tight together for a moment. “So I see no harm in concealing it any longer. The Twilight Sepulcher is the temple to Nocturnal. It’s what the Nightingales are sworn to protect with their lives.”
Shaking her head, Ginna still didn’t understand. “Why does it require that kind of protection?”
“Everything that represents Nocturnal’s influence is contained within the walls of the Sepulcher. Now it seems Mercer’s broken his oath with Nocturnal and defiled the very thing he swore to protect.”
“Thieves and temples,” Ginna shook her head. “It just doesn’t add up. I mean, I understand Nocturnal’s influence, but…”
“I felt the same way when Gallus first revealed these things to me. I think given time, you’ll come to understand what I mean.”
“I’d understand much better if there was less mystery involved.”
“As a Nightingale, I’ve been sworn to secrecy regarding the Sepulcher,” she said. “I know growing up in a Guild doesn’t do much to foster faith, and after everything you’ve been through I understand your hesitation, but I’m going to have to ask that you continue to trust me.”
“Very well. We’ll continue to do it your way for now.” Glancing over at Marcurio, who had cleverly turned his attention elsewhere, Ginna relented. “I don’t know why, but I do trust you.”
“Believe me, I know how hard that must be for you. I will not forget everything you’ve done for me, Ginna.” Karliah’s smile was soft, and still so sad. “I’ll leave now, go ahead and make for Riften to scout the situation. See if I can discover what Mercer’s up to. When you’re ready, meet me at the Ragged Flagon.”
“The road from Markarth was long and I’m still experiencing a bit of pain in my shoulder where Mercer stabbed me. I need to take a bit of rest, but I will leave in a few hours and meet you there. It’s probably best if we don’t travel together.”
“I agree.” Karliah drew a blade from her scabbard and held it to show her. “In the meantime, I wanted you to have this. It belonged to Gallus, but given the circumstances, I think he’d approve. He would have liked you, Ginna.”
Ginna felt her throat tighten with emotion, which she swallowed before reaching out to carefully take the sword. She knew so little about Gallus, and yet her life had become intertwined so intimately with his, she felt as though he’d become a part of her. “I… I don’t know what to say. I’ll put it to good use.”
Lowering her head, Karliah’s voice was so soft Ginna almost didn’t hear what she said. “If the Guild isn’t willing to listen to reason, you might have to.”
She swallowed hard again, lowering the blade into her scabbard and watching Karliah make for the door. Once she was gone, Marcurio approached, looking her over with curious eyes. “How much did you overhear?”
“Overhear? I didn’t hear a thing,” he smiled at her.
“Try as you might to deny it, this lifestyle suits you.”
“I’m going to ignore that,” he teased. “Where to now?”
“We make for home,” she said, her shoulders dropping with a sigh. “But first I need to rest, though I have no idea how I’ll ever sleep knowing what I face in Riften.”
“Come on,” he started toward the door that led upstairs. “I’ll book you a room upstairs. My treat.”
Ginna chuckled a bit following him up the stairs. “I’m not sleeping with you, Marcurio. No matter how many of my secrets you now keep.”
“I said I’d book you a room upstairs. Not us. I actually have some business up at the college I need to see to before heading back to Riften, but I’ll be back in a few hours. You should wait for me, not go running off to meet your death alone.”
“I will wait for you.”
As he was arrived on the landing that led into the inn, she touched his sleeve, fingers gripping it to hold him in place a moment longer. “Marcurio?”
“Hmm?” He turned over his shoulder to look back at her.
“I… I just wanted to say thanks.”
“For being here for me. You could have walked away at any time, but you didn’t, even when I relieved you of your duty.”
“That’s what friends are for.”
“Friends?” she laughed a little. “I’ve gotta say, you’re the most expensive friend I’ve ever had. In fact, I think you’re the only friend I’ve ever actually paid for.”
“The friendship is free,” he said. “It’s my formidable skill with magic you pay for. Now, go get some rest.”
Ginna veered right, following the innkeeper into the empty room after Marcurio paid him, and closing the door at her back. She was exhausted, achy and sore, but even more than that, she was scared. As she laid down in the dark room, pulling the blankets up around her, her mind raced through every possible outcome that lay in store.
“Nocturnal,” she whispered. “I’ve never needed luck and guidance more than I do now. I hope you’ve got my back.”