It was just after dawn when the two of them passed through the gates into Solitude, the groggy city barely stirring from slumber. She was completely exhausted, but proud of the job they’d done; she only hoped the man they’d done it for held up his end of the bargain. As much as she hated how much the Guild was depending on that job to see their influence spread, she also knew the only way they could do that was through the help of men like Erikur.
The merchants in the circle were just setting up their stalls, but barely noticed as the two of them passed by and headed straight to Erikur’s manor house in front of the Blue Palace.
His servant led them into the house and straight to the dining area where he sat sipping tea and reading over a letter. He barely looked up when they entered, but Ginna could tell he was conflicted by his own pleasure over the task they’d so effortlessly pulled off.
Clearing her throat, she crossed her arms confidently and said, “The job is done. The contraband has been planted on the Dainty Sload.”
“Yes,” he finally looked up, his bloodshot blue eyes narrowing to meet hers. “I know. By now, Captain Volf should be on his way to the prisons.”
She refrained from pointing out just how much he seemed to like sending people to prison and asked, “So we can count on you to hold up your end of the bargain.”
“Of course,” he grumbled. “I am a man of my word, so you can convey my compliments to Delvin on a job well done and assure him that I will do everything in my power to reopen whatever doors he needs here in Solitude.”
Ginna nodded, “I will give him the message.”
“And here,” he pushed an envelope across the table, “this is for the two of you. My way of saying thank you for your efforts.”
Brynjolf edged past her and swiped the envelope off the table, stuffing into one of the inner pockets of his armor. “Thank you for trusting the Guild with your business.”
“You know, I thought for sure you were going to bend me over on this one to pay me back for reveling in your capture at the Embassy,” he started, raising his eyes to Ginna’s again, “but you’re a real professional. I respect you for that.”
There were so many things she could have said to him, sarcastic remarks to let him know she didn’t want or need his respect, but instead she only nodded again and said, “Let us know if you need our services again in the future.”
“Oh, don’t you worry that pretty little head of yours. I will definitely be in touch.”
Pushing through the doors and into the crisp morning again, Ginna muttered under her breath, “I wish there was a public bathhouse in Solitude. Every time I’m in that man’s presence I feel an overwhelming need to wash the filth of his company from my skin.”
“You look tired, love.” Brynjolf lowered his arm over her shoulder as they began to walk up the hillside leading toward Castle Dour. They cut left just past the Hall of the Dead and headed toward the merchant circle again.
“Delvin will be pleased at how well that went.”
“I’m sure word of our good deeds will reach his ears long before we reach The Rift.”
She was beyond tired. Ginna felt completely exhausted, as if she could fall asleep leaning against him as they walked and not wake up again until many hours after he’d been forced to carry her up the stairs and into their room in the Winking Skeever to lay her to rest. All the adrenaline of a plot well-schemed had worn off on the walk back to the city, and now all she cared about was filling her empty belly and crawling into bed with her husband.
They had to check into the Lighthouse business before they left Solitude, see if they could track down Brutus. She still couldn’t believe he’d already come to Skyrim, that as she walked he could be perched in one of the towers looking down on her with scorn as he plotted all the ways he’d like to kill her. Lifting her gaze to the buildings above her, she saw nothing suspicious, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t there.
Filling their bellies with warm bowls of porridge with boiled fruit and honey, she kept catching Brynjolf’s eye across the table. They’d completely worn each other out after escaping the Dainty Sload, but she could tell by the playfulness in his grin when he smiled at her she need only say the word and he’d be ready to take her on again.
Last night had been incredible and they both knew it. Their first real job together, if she didn’t count their little heist in Markarth right after they’d met. It showed them what they were capable of together, that much as he’d surmised upon their meeting putting their heads and efforts together would make them richer than either of them ever dreamed. She supposed Nocturnal’s influence didn’t hurt matters either, but something about that success confirmed what they both wanted to believe in: their partnership went well beyond the carnal pleasures. They were an unstoppable force on every level imaginable.
By the time Brynjolf closed the door to their room behind him Ginna was already flopped down and sprawled out onto the bed. She stretched her legs as she kicked off her boots and wiggled out of her soft leather pants. She stripped out of her armor and wiggled under the blankets as she rolled onto her side to curl into herself with a contented sigh. She heard him chuckle as he sat down on the edge of the bed to remove his own boots before drawing in to spoon his body close to hers. His large hand rested atop hers on her agitated belly, and for a long time after she closed her eyes she listened to the sound of his breath, reveled in the soft exhale of it through her hair and took comfort in the warm protection of his hand over hers.
When she woke around noon the room was empty, Brynjolf’s clothes and boots were gone but he left a brief note on the bedside table to let her know he went to dig up more information about Jaree-Ra and the grotto he and his men hung out in.
He hadn’t been sleeping well lately and at first she’d blamed herself, a part of her afraid that all the tension between them was driving him away from their bed. But he’d woke her briefly that morning with an almost desperate murmur, his hand clutching hers so tight it actually hurt. She’d rolled over into him and taken him in her arms, soothing whatever bad dream away with the gentle stroke of her fingers through his hair, but she suspected it wasn’t long after she’d fallen asleep again that he left.
It seemed an hour or two of sleep was all he could suffer.
She wished he would just talk to her about it instead of catering to whatever manly Nord front he thought he had to put up for her to keep her from thinking he was some kind of milk-drinker.
Dropping the note onto the table, Ginna rolled to her back and stared up at the ceiling above her. She was hungry again. No, hungry wasn’t quite the right word. She felt ravenous. All that travel was really wreaking havoc on her body. She lay there for a few minutes longer listening to her belly growl and gurgle and then she got up to dress.
She was sitting in the Winking Skeever polishing off the most amazing venison chop she’d ever eaten when her husband came strutting through doors all confidence and valor. His face lit up when he saw her awake, and stalking toward the table he swept down to kiss her brow before picking a carrot from her plate and dropping into the seat across from her.
“I come bearing interesting tidings,” he announced, crunching into the carrot. “That slimy skeever you call brother left Solitude two days past to head for Dawnstar.”
“Dawnstar?” She wrinkled her nose. What was so great about Dawnstar? Hadn’t that been where Marcurio was headed when he left Riften?
“It would seem he put quite a hurt on Jaree-Ra’s little gang, the Blackblood Mauraders. All of them dead except for the man I ran into this morning on the docks, including Jaree-Ra and his sister.”
“Dawnstar?” she repeated. “What the hell is in Dawnstar?”
“A museum apparently. It’s just opened up.”
“We don’t have time to chase him to Dawnstar right now. Even if we did, he’d probably be long gone before we got there.” She scowled, lowering her fork to her empty plate. “Corpulus, could I get another venison chop over here?” she called to the proprietor.
Brynjolf leveled a furrowed brow in her direction then added, “I’ll have one too.”
They waited to further their discussion until Corpulus brought their food and took her empty plate away as he left them alone again.
“So what’s so special about this museum that’s attracted his attention?” she wondered out loud. “Did you find out anything about it? What kind of artifacts they’re housing there?”
“Aye,” he nodded, carving into his chop. “It’s a collection of Mythic Dawn relics.”
“The Mythic Dawn? You mean the Daedric cult?”
“The very same.”
“What the Void does he want with a bunch of old Daedric rel—” Ginna stopped talking, but her mind kept rolling over the tangle of thoughts unraveling therein. It made more sense than it should have. Brutus has always been fascinated by the Daedra, the dark offering of power each of them dangled in front of mortals like sweet rolls on a string. “Oh my gods. That sneaky little bastard is gathering Daedric artifacts thinking they’ll help him get to the Evergloam somehow.”
Brynjolf leaned back to look at her, his brilliant green eyes widening with disbelief. “Could he actually pull something like that off?”
“I don’t know.” She shook her head and reached for her fork again. “He was always shifty, always played to the darker side of illusion magic to aid him in his nightly tasks. When we were younger he’d spend hours of his free time in the library at House Dareloth reading about Oblivion, all the Daedric Princes. Maybe he’s going to try to get into Nocturnal’s Realm through some backdoor…”
“Or with the aid of another Daedric Prince,” he mused, a hand lifting to stroke through the bristling red hairs of his goatee. “I don’t like the sounds of this, Ginna. Appeasing Nocturnal out of contractual obligation is one thing, but toying with the Daedra…”
He didn’t need to finish that sentence for her to understand where he was heading with it, or to find herself in wholehearted agreement. “I think I’m starting to understand why Nocturnal wants us on top of this. If he starts gathering Daedric forces against her, my Gods, Bryn, he could start another Oblivion Crisis. Why on Nirn would he do something so stupid just to get his hands on Nocturnal’s Cowl?”
“Maybe it’s not just the Cowl he’s after.”
“He always was a power hungry little prick,” she grumbled. “We need to talk with Karliah about this.”
“Aye,” he agreed, an unspoken reluctance in his voice that Ginna passed off as hesitation to get anyone else in the Guild involved. “We should head for home as soon as you’re finished eating poor Corpulus out of house and home.” He watched her dig back into her food with unveiled amusement, but steered his final thoughts back to the matter at hand. “Blast, Gin. If you’re right about this we’re going to need all the help we can get. I don’t want the Guild involved in this mess, but…”
“We won’t involve the Guild,” she shook her head. The last thing she wanted was for anyone else she cared about to get killed because of her idiot Guildbrother. “I should just take care of this alone. It’s my problem anyway. Nocturnal came to me.”
“No,” he spoke up quickly and just loud enough to garner the attention of the man at the table on the other side of the room. He waited until he returned to his lunch and then said, “This is a Nightingale problem,” he said, reaching across the table to lay his hand over hers. “That makes it ours. Yours, mine and Karliah’s. There’s no way in the world I’m letting you take this on by yourself.”
He lifted a hand to her cheek and just rested it there, his emerald eyes searching her face to make sure she understood how solid that promise was. Ginna brought her free hand up over his and curled her fingers around his wrist to hold him there. She turned her lips into his palm and kissed the warm skin.
“My partner,” she murmured.
“That’s right.” He leaned across the space between them and rested his forehead to hers. “Partners, lass, in this life and the next.”