Brynjolf was leaning over Mercer’s old desk, paperwork scattered across the surface, hair obviously mussed from the numerous times he’d run his hands through it in frustration over the last couple of hours. He was doing it again as she approached, a heavy sigh deflating his chest. His face did soften a little when he saw her, relief washing away some of the tension.
Had he felt it too? That niggling fear of the heart that something awful would befall one of them whenever they were out of each other’s sight? Ginna had never felt anything like that for another person in her entire life, and it was terrifying.
“Good,” he sighed again. “You’re back. I was starting to get worried.”
“I didn’t realize how huge that place was. It took forever to go through everything.”
“Well, I’ve gone through everything down here and we’ve scoured the town, spoken to every contact we have left. No sign of Mercer.” He stood up straight, stretching the muscles in his back until they cracked. “Any luck on your end, lass?”
“He wasn’t at Riftweald Manor either, but I did find these plans. I can’t make heads or tails of them, but I thought you might know what they mean.”
“Let me have a look.” He reached for them, unrolling the parchment and scanning over it with careful eyes before lifting a hand to stroke his beard in deep though. “Shor’s beard.” He lowered the parchment to the table beneath him. “He’s going after the Eyes of the Falmer. That was Gallus’s pet project. If he gets his hands on them, you can be certain he’ll be gone for good and set up for life.”
The Eyes of the Falmer were legendary, both among thieves and treasure hunters. Buried so deep most thought them lost or forgotten and few dared to delve so far in search of such a fickle payoff. But Gallus had obviously done his homework, judging from the intricacy of the plans between them. It seemed Mercer had been planning to steal that heist for a long time. With plenty of time to prepare, the payoff would be huge if he succeeded. Huge enough to make him disappear for good.
“We need to stop him.”
“Agreed,” he nodded. “He’s taken everything the Guild has left and to go after one of the last greatest heists is just an insult.”
“Have you spoken with Karliah?”
“Aye, I have. I made amends for how the Guild’s treated her, for how I treated her…” He lowered his head for a moment to hide the shame he still felt. “She forgave me.”
“I told you she would.”
“You were right,” he admitted. “It seems the two of you shared a bond in all of this.”
“I guess we did,” she nodded. “She saved my life. I trust her.”
“She’s a valuable friend to have in your corner,” he noted. “And she’s been waiting for you to return. She wishes to speak with the both of us right away.”
“Did she say about what?”
“Haven’t a clue.”
Ginna glanced across the Cistern. Karliah was making her way toward the center, where she stopped as if waiting for them, silently willing them to join her. She and Brynjolf walked out to meet with her, and for a moment the three of them regarded one another, a strange trinity now bound by an unyielding desire for revenge.
“Brynjolf, the time has come to decided Mercer’s fate. Until a new Guildmaster is chosen, that decision falls to you,” Karliah began.
“Aye, lass, and I’ve come to a decision already.” He reached over and took Ginna’s hand, surprising her with the gesture. “Mercer Frey tried to kill both of you. He murdered my mother, my father, Gallus… He betrayed the Guild and made us question our future.” He paused for a moment as if letting every single one of Mercer’s crimes sink in more deeply before justifying his own conclusion. “He needs to die.”
“We have to be very careful, Brynjolf,” Karliah pointed out. “Mercer is a Nightingale, an Agent of Nocturnal. He has power you couldn’t even begin to imagine.”
“Then it’s all true.” He’d still had doubts when Ginna told him, she could tell by the way he’d looked at her, but hearing Karliah say it out loud drove the truth home. “Everything I ever heard in the stories. The Nightingales, their allegiance to Nocturnal, the Twilight Sepulcher…”
“Yes, it’s all true.” Karliah lowered her eyes as if it shamed her to speak of the truth she’d sworn to protect. “And that is why we must prepare ourselves to meet with Mercer on equal footing.” Drawing in a deep breath, she was quiet for a moment, as if working up the courage to say the words that next followed. “Just outside of Riften, beyond the southeast gate there’s a small path cut up the mountainside. At the end of that path there’s a clearing and an old standing stone. I’d ask you both to meet me there at midnight.”
“Ginna and I have some important business we need to take care of, but we will meet you there.”
“Eyes open,” Karliah nodded. “Walk with the shadows.”
She watched Karliah walk out of the Cistern, disappearing up the ladder that led into the cemetery before Byrnjolf dropped her hand and turned her to face him. “What business do we have to take care of?”
“Come with me.”
“Where are we going?”
“I spoke briefly with Maramal at the temple while you and Rune were at Mercer’s place and he’s agreed to see us as soon as possible.”
“Aye, the temple.” He brought his hand up to tuck her hair behind her ear, fingers brushing across her cheek. “We’re going to make this partnership of ours official.”
“You can’t be serious.” She tilted her head in question, her stomach fluttering with nervous tension.
“I’m as serious as an arrow in the dark, lass.” His fingers trailed down her cheek, tucking under her chin and lifting her gaze before she could lower it. “I almost lost you once, and I’m not going through that again. We don’t know what we face beyond the next few hours, much less tomorrow or the next day or even the day after that. If I go to my grave, I want to go knowing I had you by my side until the very end.” His eyes sought hers for an answer, for confirmation when he said, “What do you say, lass? Are you with me?”
It was crazy. Completely and utterly insane. They’d known each other less than two months, and yet Ginna didn’t even want to try to imagine a life without Brynjolf in it. And what if he was right and chasing after Mercer meant an end to both of them? She wanted to go out of the world knowing he was waiting for her on the other side. She’d spent her whole life purposely keeping her distance, locking up her heart and her emotions so no one else could ever get inside, but he had. When they were apart, all she could think about was him. Even when she thought there was no hope at all, she didn’t want to give up on him. She wanted to stand beside him until the end, beyond the end—into the next life and the next.
Swallowing hard against the rising nervousness that ached in the back of her throat, she nodded without hesitation. “I’m with you until the end.”
“Then it’s decided.” She watched the corner of his mouth jerk into a grin. “We should hurry. The hour grows late and we won’t exactly have much time to celebrate.” Holding his arm out for her to loop hers through, she stepped up beside him and they made their way out of the Cistern together.
Maramal was waiting for them at the temple, complaining as he gathered them in front of the shrine to perform the ceremony. He began to lecture them right away. Rushing through the blessing of Mara was no way to begin a life together. Marriage was a vow to be celebrated and reveled in, an entire day should be dedicated to the couple, but he simply couldn’t deny anyone who’d discovered love in such dark and uncertain times. “Through your shining example, others will come to know Mara, for each journey you make through this world together now, bound as you are by her blessing, so too will those you encounter long to be touched by her grace as you were.”
“Brilliant.” Brynjolf laughed, a sound Ginna hadn’t heard much of since they’d come off the road from Solitude two months earlier. It had been all business and seriousness, stabbings and betrayals. She’d be grateful for more laughter, but it was difficult to say how long it would be before the hard times that had fallen on them lifted, or if they would ever lift at all. “Now if you don’t mind, I’d like to get this show on the road. We don’t have much time…”
“Oh, all right,” the priest groaned, gathering them close before the shrine and beginning the ceremony.
He performed it quickly; probably more quickly than he’d ever done, but it was still steeped in romantic jargon that just a couple of months earlier would have made Ginna want to run the other way. Life was short and Mara’s blessing a gift to be treasured. Where two souls once walked separate paths alone, those paths now merged to create a single road they would walk henceforth through this life and the next, together as one in eternal companionship.
Those words didn’t frighten her; they probably should have. There was still so much they didn’t know about each other, but she supposed they’d have their whole lives to discover those truths together. When she met his gaze before the shrine, his eyes shone with excitement and wonder, two precious emeralds. She trusted that her heart knew what it was doing, knew inside that they were made for each other. They belonged together.
Mara’s blessing or not, nothing was ever coming between them again. Not even death.
“Do you agree to be bound together, in love, now and forever?”
Brynjolf reached for her hand, squeezing her fingers as he looked to Maramal and said, “Aye. Now and forever.”
Maramal turned to her then and repeated the vow. Ginna glanced up at the man, listening carefully as he spoke. Returning her gaze to Brynjolf, she nodded. “I do. Now and forever.”
They exchanged rings, and when he swept her in to kiss her and make it final, someone in the back of the temple started to clap. They turned to find Rune, Delvin, Vex, Vekel and Tonilia lingering near the doors, watching from the shadows. The four of them left the temple, hanging outside to wait for the newlywed couple to emerge.
“See, Ton, it’s not so bad,” Vekel lowered his arm over Tonilia’s shoulder and for a moment she seemed to soften and lean in against him.
“Welcome to the cozy little family,” Tonilia said.
“Congratulations,” Rune said.
“’Bout time someone made an honest man of that old scoundrel,” Delvin interjected.
Even Vex was smiling, shaking her head as she muttered, “Crazy kids.”
Crazy kids. That made her laugh all the way to Honeyside, as she realized that was exactly what she felt like when she was with Brynjolf: a kid. Reckless, daring, adventurous, excited about every moment that lay ahead just waiting to be discovered. The cons they would carry out together, the heists, the riches they would build until they had their very own empire. Anything was possible when they were together, and now they would be together always.
As they walked through the front door, something about the place seemed off and then it hit her. It was clean. Everything back in its place, the bed made, corner turned down as if a professional had come in to take care of business while she’d been out looking for Mercer Frey.
“What… how did…”
“I have my ways.” He grinned, closing the door behind her and reaching for her. “But I don’t want to talk about that right now.”
“No, lass. I don’t want to do much in the way of talking at all, if you catch my meaning.”
He tugged her against his chest and hovered over her, eyes shining like jewels in the faded daylight sinking behind the mountain just outside the windows. Hands moving slowly up her arms, he gripped her shoulder and she gasped a little, wincing at the edge of his finger just near the tender place where Mercer had stabbed her. Brow furrowing at the sound, he began to work the buckles on her armor, peeling it away to inspect the scar, soft fingertips passing over the puckered flesh just above her breast before he bent his head to kiss her there.
“Oh, Ginna.” He shook his head, chills rippling across the surface of her skin when his lips fluttered there, hair tickling. “This never should have happened,” he murmured. “Not to you. I should have been there. I should have protected you.”
“No.” She lowered her hand to the side of his face, drawing him up again to look at her. “None of us saw this coming. We all did what we were told.”
“Aye,” he closed his eyes. “Maybe there need to be some changes around the Guild once this business with Mercer Frey is taken care of. A lot of changes.”
“But I don’t want to talk about those right now either. Right now I want to make love to my wife.”
“Your wife,” she repeated. “It sounds so… strange.”
“Strange, aye,” he nodded, “but right.” He began to walk her backwards toward the bedroom until they stumbled just a little over the edge of the rug and fell into bed together, laughing.
They undressed each other in a flurry of excitement, as if it were their first time together and they couldn’t wait to discover what lay beneath the fabric keeping their bodies apart. Soon their armor decorated the floor and hung from the arm of the chair beside the wardrobe, and the freshly made bed was a tangle of bodies and sheets. He tasted and teased her, she kissed and caressed him, taking great pleasure in his anxious gasps and long, breathy sighs of pleasure.
By the time he finally moved in above her and came down to meet the slow, upward rise of her eager hips, the passion between them had reached an all-time high that drove them into a frenzied dance. A soft cry escaped her lips as he entered her, his weight dropping down to crush her, mouth searching for hers, gliding down over her chin, into the sensitive crook of her neck. Nibbling, suckling, she arched into him hard, unable to control the need to simply merge and become one.
He drove her to the edge of excitement, every furious stroke spurred on by her heightened moans and pleas, and then let her fall as he held himself back from experiencing release with her. It was as if he wanted to savor the ache of denial, building himself back up again and carrying her to that height with him once more before they crashed back down so hard together their bodies shuddered. It was like nothing she’d ever experienced before, not even with him.
She hadn’t thought Mara’s blessing over their union would alter the act of lovemaking; Dibella maybe, or perhaps that loopy euphoria was just some illusion she created in her mind. But it had felt different. More comfortable, more pleasurable, more meaningful.
They lay together after, still tangled in each other’s arms as they caught their breath. He stroked his fingers along the back of her arm, and she traced hers along his cheek, pushing through the unshaven stubble.
Ginna couldn’t stop grinning. “If I had known Mara’s blessing would make sex better, I would have gotten married a long time ago.” She rolled into him, lifting her thigh to rest over his.
He chuckled, groaning and stretching in to cuddle her closer. “It was pretty good, wasn’t it?”
“Mm…” She nuzzled her nose into his cheek. “I missed you so much while I was dead.”
“Two weeks is a long time to think someone you love is gone for good,” he murmured, fingers curling into her hair to hold her face against his. “You have no idea what I went through. At first I didn’t want to believe it, and then I got angry. After awhile I couldn’t tell anymore if I was pissed off because I thought you betrayed me, or because you went and got yourself killed and I wasn’t there to save you.”
“I’m so sorry you had to go through that, Bryn,” she whispered, emotion catching her voice in the back of her throat as the tears she’d been resisting for weeks finally rose to the surface. She blinked furiously to try and keep them from falling, but it was no use. “After everything you’ve been through…”
“Shh,” he hushed her. “Hey, no.” Half-sitting, he brushed the tears from her face. “Don’t cry, lass, not on your wedding night. What will your groom think?” He smiled just for her, and then he grew serious once more. “All that’s over now. We need to just move on and put it behind us. The only way for us to do that is to take care of this Mercer Frey business for good.”
“Karliah didn’t make that sound like an easy task at all.”
“And it won’t be. I don’t know what we face if we go after Mercer, Ginna. I don’t think I ever realized how dangerous he really was.”
“He will pay.” She didn’t know how, but there was an intuitive tingling in her gut. They were together now; united they could do everything. She really believed that.
“I wish I had your confidence, lass.”
“We swore when we met we were going to turn our luck around together,” she reminded him. “We have to start with Mercer Frey. He is the center of all that bad luck. Once he’s taken care of, everything else will fall into place.”
“Aye,” he agreed. “But for the next few moments, I just want to hold you in my arms.”
She sighed contentment and lowered her head to his shoulder. “I want that too.”
The stress and tension of the road finally caught up to her. She yawned and settled in against him, listening to the steady, distant drum of his heart until that rhythm lulled her to sleep.