“Hey Ginna.” Rune ducked in through the back door from the Cistern and approached her where she sat between Delvin and the strange little boy who’d come to the Guild searching for Brynjolf. She still didn’t know what to make of Aventus Aretino. He seemed likeable enough, easy to laugh considering the tragedies he’d faced, but just quiet enough to make her wonder what was really going through his head. “Brynjolf is waiting for you by the southern gates.”
Aventus’s attention snapped up from the dice on the table at the mention of Brynjolf’s name. “Is he here? Can I see him now?”
“Not yet my young friend.”
Rune smiled for him, an infectious sight that never failed to touch Ginna’s heart. Why couldn’t she have grown up with Rune instead of Brutus? He would have been a much better Guildbrother. He would never have poisoned her father or stabbed her in the back, and she highly doubted she’d be on a mission to stop Rune from stealing Nocturnal’s Cowl from the Evergloam.
“Remember how I told you before that Brynjolf is sort of one of the guys in charge around here? He’s a very busy man, but he asked me to hang out with you for a bit while he finishes up his business. Then he’s coming to talk with you. I swear it.”
“What business?” Ginna felt her brow furrow. They were home now, couldn’t they have just a few hours peace before they dove headlong into business again? She was saddle-sore and exhausted, not to mention she was hungry.
“He didn’t say,” Rune offered her an apologetic shrug. “Just that he wanted you to meet him by the gates in ten minutes.”
“Ugh.” Scraping her chair across the stone floor with a groan, she reached out and tousled the little boy’s hair affectionately. “Don’t worry, Aventus. If Brynjolf says he’ll come to talk to you, he will. He’s just got a lot on his plate right now.”
The little boy lowered his sad grey eyes to the table with a nod. He’d been waiting for almost a week to meet Brynjolf, and though he’d said very little about who sent him or why to anyone else in the Guild, she imagined he was getting tired of waiting. She got tired of waiting around for Brynjolf all the time; she could definitely sympathize.
“I’ll be sure to hurry him through this and get him back here to meet with you, and while I’m at it I’ll put a good word in with him, okay?” She winked when he looked up at her and he grinned.
“Hey Delvin, you gonna eat that?” She gestured to the plate of Vekel’s famous shepherd’s pie in front of him before reaching down to swipe it and his fork to eat it on her way through the Cistern.
The bald Breton laughed over his shoulder at her, calling out, “Tell that husband of yours to quit starving ya, Pet, or some other man’s gonna come along and take over his duties.”
Taking a bite of the pie, she called over her shoulder, “Mm, damn, Vekel. You really are the man!”
The barkeep laughed and waved her off with a humble grin.
Delvin had told her Erikur sent word ahead of them confirming their job well done, and after paying out her cut of the spoils he’d shown her to the shop that opened up behind the Flagon. An arms dealer who could get her anything she might need and would gladly pay her well for any weapons she might loot in her travels.
“Ya done good, Pet,” he said, adding, “I could pat ya on the back all day, but coin’s coin, right?”
Everyone in the Guild seemed in brighter spirits when she’d come in, even Vex, who’d brought in a new recruit named Garthar that seemed more than just a little sweet on the Imperial vixen. Jobs and contracts were trickling in at a much steadier pace, and as soon as she was ready Delvin had another important client in Whiterun who could open things up even wider than they already were.
The last thing Delvin said to her before introducing her to the little boy who’d come looking for Brynjolf was, “I don’t know what you’re doing out there, but keep it up. Lady Luck is definitely smiling on the Guild again.”
None of them had any idea the amount of truth in that statement. Lady Luck was smiling on them all right, all the while holding the promise of eminent failure over their heads if the Nightingales didn’t do her bidding.
Shoveling the last bite of Delvin’s dinner into her mouth, she laid the plate on the table as she passed and asked Sapphire to take care of it for her before hiking up the stairs into the cemetery. She walked slowly past the Shrine of Talos and toward the gates where she found Brynjolf waiting almost impatiently for her to arrive.
“What took you so long?”
“I was talking to the kid who came looking for you,” she shrugged. “And I was hungry. I grabbed something to eat on my way through the Cistern.”
“Did you bring me anything?” he asked hopefully.
A twinge of guilt darkened her conscience. “I have some horker meat in my bag.”
“It’s fine, I’ll eat when we get back.”
“Where are we going?”
“To talk to Karliah. I want you to bring Rune up to task on all that’s going on, and I mean everything, but we have to make sure we’re all three in agreement on this before you do. The last thing we want to do is tick off Nocturnal again. Especially with things going as well as they have been.”
She followed him through the gates and onto the path, a moment of panic gripping her as she processed everything he said. It was bad enough she couldn’t keep him away from this trouble with her brother, now he wanted to get Rune involved too?
“I thought we weren’t getting the Guild involved in this? That it was a Nightingale problem?”
“We’re not getting everyone involved, but if Rune’s going to be traveling with you I think he has a right to know what he’s up against.”
So Rune would be traveling with her on her next job. She didn’t hide her disappointment when she turned her gaze up to meet his, but the conflict and hurt she saw in his eyes stopped her from degrading him for it. He didn’t want to send her off with Rune. He didn’t even have to say it; she could feel it. Something else was going on, something the Queen Bee had sent down the line.
“What’s going on now? Why did Maven want to see you?”
She watched his shoulders draw back with a heavy breath, which he held onto for a moment before releasing it with an obvious groan. “That boy who came into the Ratway looking for me?”
“Aventus? What about him?”
“Dark tidings brought him to our company, Gin. He’s the one who put the hit out on the old hag at Honorhall and it takes a lot of power to summon The Night Mother to send you an assassin. Maven wants him on our side. Wants us honing his skills and training him for the Guild.”
“Okay, so we put him up in the Cistern and start training him.”
“Which was what I thought to do as well, but Maven really wants this kid committed to our cause by a bond almost as certain as blood.” Ginna knew where he was going with that before he even said the words. “She’s is drawing up legal paperwork so we can take him in. She wants us to adopt the lad.”
Severus had adopted both her and Brutus both as children. He’d taken them into his home, loved them like they were his own flesh and blood. He had given them both everything they could have ever wanted, but for all his efforts his own son had still stabbed him in the back and then he’d torn apart the empire their father left behind for them. Now he was coming after her.
“Did you tell Maven what’s going on with Brutus? Surely she knows that adopting a kid isn’t going to make him any less inclined to stab his parents in the back one day if he doesn’t get his way.”
“Maven’s well aware. Her own son Sibbi has done nothing but stab her in the back since he was old enough to wield a dagger, and she physically brought him into the world,” he pointed out. “I know this is a lot to ask of you, and on such short notice to boot. There’s so much going on right now I have no idea how we’ll ever pull off adding a kid to this madness, but I need you with me on this Ginna.”
He stopped on the path and reached out to take her hands in his. For a moment he just stood there like that, head tilted, brilliant green eyes studying her with such intensity it made her heartbeat speed up inside her chest.
They’d spoken so briefly about having children. He wanted a family, but she hadn’t ever really imagined herself the nurturing mother type. She’d always supposed it would be a slow process of acceptance, a couple years of playful practice at conception and familiarizing herself with the idea of bringing a child into the world before they actually found themselves blessed. Then she’d have nine whole months of pregnancy to prepare for the reality of bringing a new life into the world.
She never imagined a nine-year-old boy would fall into their laps. Worse still, she didn’t quite yet know how she felt about the kid. He seemed nice enough when she’d been talking with him and everyone in the Guild had taken a shine to him, but knowing now he’d performed the Black Sacrament made her uncomfortable. She’d never done it herself, but she knew how it worked and it wasn’t something any child should ever have to commit to.
And yet she remembered how hard it had been for her, growing up on the streets when she had a perfectly capable father at home who should have taken care of her. She’d been damaged goods once, had spent the bulk of her life thinking she would always be damaged, but between the love of the man who raised her and the man standing in front of her Ginna had come to understand a person didn’t become whole by going through the world alone.
If they didn’t take this boy under their wing, guide him and nurture him, there was no telling what would happen to him. What kind of dark, twisted man he might become.
“You’re the only thing in this world that keeps me steady, lass. I can’t commit to this madness alone. I need you with me.”
She nodded slowly and then stepped into him as she lifted her lips to touch his. “All right, love. I’m with you. Whatever we have to do, we do it together.”
Nestling his cheek alongside hers, he swept her into his arms and held her tight against him. “You’re a good woman,” he whispered against her cheek, the bristling hairs of his beard tickling her skin and sending shivers rolling through her body. “I don’t know what I ever did to deserve you.”
“You loved me,” she murmured. “Just the way I am, and that is what we will do for that little boy.”
Karliah was just returning to Nightingale Hall when they approached from the north. Dragging a first season fawn behind her, she brightened when she saw them and thanked the gods she’d have someone to help her with dinner. While Brynjolf offered to skin and butcher the deer, Ginna and Karliah made their way into the hall to put water on for tea.
“You come bearing bad news.” The beautiful Dunmer woman sat down across from her and pushed a steaming cup of brew in her direction. “I can see it in your eyes. What’s happened now?”
“Brutus has happened.”
Ginna told her what they’d learned in Solitude, their suspicions regarding Brutus and the Daedra and she was just finishing the story when Brynjolf came in to salt and season the cutlets before lowering them into the cooking pot. The minute she smelled the meat sizzling in the pot, Ginna’s stomach rumbled again, her mouth watering with seemingly insatiable hunger.
“Ginna’s just told me about Brutus.” Karliah leaned back in her chair to look at him. “I think you’re right to tell Rune what he’s up against if you’re sending him out with her. I also think it might be wise for you to meet with the senior members of the Guild and let them know what’s going on. We all need to be prepared for the fallout if Brutus even gets close to succeeding at whatever insane plot he has planned.”
“I thought being a Nightingale was a secret thing.” Brynjolf placed the lid over the pot and walked toward them to sit at the table beside Ginna. “Bound by Shadows and Darkness and all that.”
“In the past it was always kept private because the Nightingale Trinity swears a sacred oath to Nocturnal and so long as we three live there will be only us to guard and serve her. My mother and Gallus both trained me all my life to become a Nightingale. I always knew who they were, but I never fully understood the extent of their service until he brought me here to swear the oath our Lady of Shadows.” She paused to take a drink of her tea.
“So Nocturnal won’t curse us if others know what we do?”
“No,” Karliah shook her head. “But it certainly isn’t something we should tell just anyone. We keep it to trusted members of the Guild Family. People like Rune.”
“Agreed,” Brynjolf said before both of them turned to Ginna.
“Agreed,” she nodded.
“Did she happen to tell you anything else that’s going on?”
“I only got as far as Brutus before you walked in. Go on, tell her you’re going to be a papa.”
Karliah’s beautiful lavender eyes widened with smiling surprise. “You’re expecting, Ginna? That’s wonderful news. Have you been to see the healer yet?”
“No,” she laughed. “No, it’s nothing like that. Maven’s forcing us to adopt this little boy who ran away from Honorhall and contracted the Dark Brotherhood to kill the old hag who ran the orphanage. She wants us to take him in and teach him the trade. Keep him loyal to our cause.”
“Oh dear,” Karliah chuckled. “This trade, I swear the whole lot of us orphans were born under the same set of stars. Have you met the boy yet?”
“I have, but Brynjolf hasn’t. He seems like a good kid, but he’s been through a lot.”
“I imagine,” she sighed. “They always have been, but you know as well as any of us that a good home and a strong, loving Guild Family can heal wounds that would otherwise fester.”
Ginna nodded. She started to point out that Brutus had been given the same love she had, the same gifts, the same family and yet he’d turned out so horribly wrong it almost terrified her that she’d so quickly agreed to let this child into their home, their family. “It’s all come upon us so suddenly,” she said, deciding not to share her darkest fears just yet. “We will all just need time to adjust.”
“And with everything that’s going on right now, time isn’t exactly a resource we have to spare. Which is another reason I’m here, Karliah,” Brynjolf told her. “You were always there for me when I was a boy, a real part of our family. I remember how you’d sit with me when my ma and da…” Ginna watched his face, a painful twinge of guilt and sorrow flashing there before he quickly buried it and cleared his throat. “I wanted to ask if you might want to lend us a hand in training the lad, maybe help me look after him from time to time when Ginna’s on the road.”
His request had touched the woman in ways he would probably never understand, Ginna could see it in her eyes. After everything Karliah had been through, all those years she’d spent alone, the very notion of acclimating herself into the Guild again seemed to overwhelm her. But this, this was something she felt confident she could do. A slow step in the right direction, the chance to be part of a family again.
“I’d be happy to help out in any way I can, Brynjolf,” she nodded. “I’ll come by in a couple of days to meet him if you’d like.”
“That would be perfect,” he agreed.
On the walk back to Riften as the sun was going down, both Ginna’s belly and heart felt full as she realized just how fortunate she was. Just a few months earlier she truly believed she’d lost everything and would never know the comfort of a strong family’s love in the same way she’d felt Severus’s love all her life. Now she was being given the task of providing that same kind of comfort, strength and love to someone else, and as terrifying as it was she knew she could do it.
Sometimes it was still odd to her how often she experienced that amount of contentment in her soul, as if no matter what the world tried to throw at her she could handle it.
“Do you want to come with me to talk to the lad?” Brynjolf reached for her hand as they approached the gates. “After all, you are going to be his mother now.”
Swallowing against the tightness in her throat when he said those words, she braced herself against her own fears and nodded. “Let’s go tell Aventus we’re giving him a home.”