Ginna took to bed over the next few days, claiming she felt nauseated and dizzy, but Brynjolf worried it was more than that. Cure disease potions did nothing to ease her symptoms, and she’d laughed in his face when he suggested she pay a visit to the Temple of Mara to at least pray at the altar in order to make her feel physically, if not mentally, better.
She spent the evenings sitting with Aventus on the bed teaching him to read. The warmth and love she shared with the boy touched his heart, stoked the yearning inside him for a child of their own, but the timing couldn’t have been worse to breach that subject with her again. Bringing another child into things would only serve to complicate their lives and they were a long way from a complication free life.
The sad thing was that he couldn’t see past the darkness looming over them. Her brother was out there somewhere, plotting something inconceivable that was bound to bring a meteor storm of bad crashing down around them all. Maven had no word from the men she’d sent north to investigate the museum in Dawnstar, but it had only been five days. Still, he’d expected something, anything that might at least point them in the right direction, but even once they had information he had no idea what they were going to do with it.
The more he thought about it, the less he thought even Nocturnal understood what Brutus Arenicci was really after. It was one thing for Nocturnal to claim a Champion and set her to the task. It was something else entirely for a battle between Daedric Princes to come out in favor of the humans they played between them like pawns.
Brynjolf hated being someone else’s pawn; he’d succumbed to that role far too often in his life, and the older her got, the harder it was to accept that he had very little control over his own affairs.
All he knew for certain was that he needed to find a way to get a handle on whatever was going on, and fast, but he wasn’t sure he could do that without his wife beside him. Lately, it seemed she wasn’t even on the same plane of existence with him, and he didn’t know how to get her back and focused in order to come out alive and on top.
Until he’d met Ginna, he thought he had a relatively good grasp on women. They liked pretty things, liked to be raised up on a pedestal and worshipped, and Ginna definitely liked both of those things, but she was different. Where most women wanted to talk about feelings and emotions until he wanted to put an arrow through his own knee, Ginna kept everything all bottled up inside her. It took a lot of rattling for her to open up, even with someone she trusted.
Mallus Maccius dying had definitely rattled her cage, but she was locked up tighter than he’d ever seen her. Whenever he tried to talk to her about it, she immediately shut him out, saying nothing more than, “Mallus was a long time ago. Your macho ego needs to just let it go.”
He couldn’t explain no matter how he tried that asking if she was okay had nothing to do with his ego. He was worried about her, wanted to do whatever he could to make her feel better, to bring the fire back into her that had slowly begun to wane after speaking with Nocturnal a second time, but how could he do that if she wouldn’t even talk to him? Sure, the very notion that she’d known other men before she met him sometimes made his skin crawl, and it was no small comfort she once considered spending the rest of her days with a man as greasy and twisted as Mallus Maccius, but the past was the past. He didn’t have to like it, but he accepted it nonetheless.
So while she lay like a lump beneath the blankets, he posted a guard at each entry into the house and asked Rune and Tonilia to take turns keeping Ginna company so he could continue Aventus’s training. They’d been working on Illusion training, something his fellow Nightingales were far more adept at than he was, and for a time he sat in the chair in the training room just watching the boy cast basic calming spells on Vipir.
Karliah stepped back to stand beside him, casually crossing her arms and tilting her head as she watched Vipir assure the kid he felt nothing at all.
“Not even a little bit calm?”
“Sorry kiddo. I got nothing.”
“Maybe we should find some kids for him to practice on,” Brynjolf chuckled. “They tend to be relatively weak-willed.”
She nodded, “Perhaps that would be helpful. Someone he can actually see the effects of the magic working through. Although, even if it isn’t working on Vipir, he’s still gaining the advancement he’ll need to practice more complicated spells in time. Invisibility, most importantly.”
“Aye,” he agreed.
Lowering her arms, she turned to look at him. “How is Ginna?”
“Same,” he shrugged. “With Maven keeping her in the city under close watch, she doesn’t seem to want to do much else but lie around the house. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone sleep as much as she has been. It’s… kind of disturbing.”
“Do you really think she’s just depressed? Or could it be something else?”
“Honestly, Karliah, I have no idea anymore. I’ve tried talking to her, but she just shuts down. I don’t know what else to do.”
“Give her time,” she said. “I know it isn’t easy just standing back and watching someone you care about unravel, but Ginna’s a strong soul. You can’t push her into being anything she’s not ready to be. She’s very calculating and I imagine it gets incredibly busy inside her head.” Maybe that was so, but Eight Divines, he’d carry half the burden for her if she’d just let him. That was what a good partner was supposed to do, wasn’t it? He had so few examples to draw from when it came to achieving a successful marriage. “She’ll pull herself together once she figures out how to work through everything going on.”
He carried Karliah’s words with him for the rest of the afternoon, but the part of him that was just as stubborn as Ginna didn’t like the idea of just letting her work it all out by herself. He wanted to be there for her, to fix all the things in her life she felt were broken, but the only way he could do that was if he could just convince her to let him in.
“Come on, lad. Let’s go see if we can convince your Ma to take a walk down by the lake.”
“Do you think maybe we could go fishing, Da? I bet I could catch us a real nice salmon for dinner.”
“We’ll see, son.”
Aventus lit up at the idea of the three of them doing something together, even something so simple as a walk beside the lake, but his excitement waned when they came into the house and found Rune sitting at the table by himself. Were it not for the casual way the other man seemed to flip through the pages of the ledger he’d been perusing, Brynjolf might have panicked. His blood definitely started to simmer though.
“Where is Ginna?”
“Tonilia walked with her over to the Temple of Mara,” he glanced up from his ledger, but didn’t reach to close the book.
“Really?” He hadn’t been completely serious when he suggested that to her, but consider the way she’d been feeling the last few days, he was willing to try anything. Oddly enough, that was a comforting thought, and maybe a divine blessing would help her pull herself together a little. “Do you think you could entertain Aventus? I’m going to walk over and make sure she’s all right.”
“Sure thing, Brynjolf.”
“I thought we were going for a walk by the lake,” Aventus whined.
“Well, we can’t very well take a walk with your mother if she’s not here now, can we? I’m just going to fetch her. I’ll be right back.”
“All right,” he sighed, dropping into the chair across from Rune and watching his father head back toward the door. “Hey Rune, today Karliah disappeared right in front of me. You should have seen it. It was amazing.”
As he pushed through the door, he took comfort in knowing that at least the kid wasn’t suffering much from all that was going on. He seemed genuinely content with his new family, and though he’d struggled with the notion of adopting him in the first place just because Maven told him he had to, Aventus had really started to grow on him. He was intelligent and crafty, a quick learner, but more than all those things the boy had heart. That heart had reached out to bring Ginna just a little bit of peace. She really loved the kid and she’d do anything to keep him safe.
Maybe he should use that to his advantage when trying to get her to open up. He wasn’t sure she even realized how much her broken spirit was affecting everyone around her, most especially the kid. Aventus was all laughter and light around her, but whenever they were away from the house he started asking questions. Was she okay? Did she not like him? Did he do something wrong? Most times he didn’t know what to say, so he just kept telling him she was having a rough time of things, things that had nothing to do with him, and eventually she would be herself again.
He walked across the pier, listening to the sound of his own boots, the old boards creaking underneath him and the water lapping at the docks below the city. He could hear the vendors in the street calling out their wares. Marise claiming the freshest meats, the pretentious lizard calling out that his jewelry boasted the finest Argonian craftsmanship and Grelka claiming her stand was the only place one could buy armor and live to tell about it. On the best of days, the sound of their voices triggered his defenses. Not a one of them had ever been friend to the Guild, but they were still a part of his city and the sound of their voices was home.
“No one but the priests were inside when she went in,” Maul assured him from the edge of the archway leading into the temple. “And no one’s gone in since her and Ton.”
“You want me to stick around? Wait to walk home with you guys?”
“Nah, I think we’ll be fine.”
Taking the steps two at a time, he arrived outside the doors and hesitated for a moment. He’d lived in Riften all his life, and he could count the number of times he’d been inside the Temple on one hand. Half of those visits had been the planning and execution of his own wedding. Pulling in a deep breath, he exhaled as he reached for the handle and then pushed through the doors. It was eerily silent inside, and he immediately spotted Tonilia sitting in the back row of pews with her hands folded in her lap, her gaze centered on the tall golden statue in front. Scanning the interior, he didn’t see Ginna and for a second his heart thumped a little harder in his chest.
“She’s inside talking with Maramal’s wife,” Tonilia explained.
“She all right?”
“I’m not really sure. She hadn’t really been talking a whole lot about what’s going on over the last few days, you know? And I didn’t push her because that’s not my place. Mostly she just slept a lot, or she talked about regular every day things, but today she just unloaded. I mean one minute she was letting it all out and then she said she couldn’t breathe, and she just wanted to go outside and get some air. She got up to get dressed and that was when she lost it. Said her pants were too tight and it was all downhill from there.”
He felt his brow furrow, the corner of his lip jerking upright. “What do you mean she lost it?”
“She started crying and then she really couldn’t breathe. It was all Maul and I could do to get her over here in one piece. The priestess took over the minute we walked through the door, told me to sit down and get comfortable. I’ve been here waiting for at least an hour.”
He wanted to ask what kind of things she’d unloaded, if she’d actually said what was bothering her in any detail he might be able to work to his advantage and make her talk, but he didn’t feel right. Still, it hurt his ego that she’d let it all fly with Tonilia and not him.
“Why didn’t you come get me?”
“And leave her alone somewhere? I’m not an idiot, you know. I took your threats of bodily harm very seriously when you told me not to leave her alone no matter how much she offered to pay me.”
“You could have sent Maul,” he pointed out. Tonilia cast a very serious glower in his direction and he held up a hand to stay her temper. “All right, I get your point. Go on home. I’ll take it from here.” She headed toward the door, and just as she was reaching for it he called out, “Hey Ton, thanks. You know, for everything.”
He found himself alone inside the temple, his gaze returning to the golden statue of Mara towering over the altar. He wondered if it was pure gold, or just gold plating, then how much something like that could sell for in the underground. He laughed to himself as he tried to wrap his head around the kind of curse stealing a statue of a divine entity would bring down on his head. Surely Mara would understand on some level–after all, always a thief, and besides stealing things was how he supported his family and according to her priests, Mara was all about family.
It was startlingly silent within, almost peaceful if he didn’t consider how clearly he could hear all the thoughts running through his head. For a moment he just lingered behind the pew, and then without even thinking he slid into it and just listened to the quiet.
Religion and worship had never played very prominent roles in his life. The Aedra and Daedra were both obviously present in everyone’s affairs, but he’d never really put much thought into their presence before. It sort of fell in line with his whole attitude about being someone else’s pawn. He’d always hated the notion that he wasn’t in control of his own life, but since he’d met Ginna it seemed both sides were vying almost desperately to get his attention.
In the quiet solitude of Mara’s temple, he let go of his fears without even thinking about it, and soon even his thoughts stilled.
Peace, it was a concept he’d only come to know when Ginna became a part of his life. The stillness of her nestled in his arms at night, the warmth and comfort of her nearness. Which was funny if he thought too hard about it because her very presence had turned everything he’d ever known completely on its ear. Despite all of that, he couldn’t imagine spending the rest of his days with anyone but her and he supposed that was exactly what Mara had planned when she started having her way with his heart.
When the door on the left hand side of the temple finally opened, the abrupt intrusion on the silence startled him. Ginna was still talking, her quiet voice echoing through the stillness. The grey-skinned priestess lowered an arm across her shoulders as they walked slowly toward the altar. She didn’t look like a woman at the end of her wits, which he supposed was probably a good thing, but something about her was definitely off. She’d slept so much since she came back from Whiterun, he couldn’t imagine how she could still look so tired, but the exhaustion was evident in the heavy circles beneath her eyes.
Neither of them seemed to notice him there, and for a moment he just watched them approach the altar beneath that overpowering golden statue and stand before it side by side to take the blessing. He watched as ringing spirals of deep blue and silver light circled around her, her entire face alight with that blessing and then she turned to look at him as if she’d known all along he’d been sitting there waiting for her.
“Thank you, Priestess,” she reached out and laid a hand over the other woman’s forearm, and Dinya Balu embraced her, drawing her close. “For everything.”
“Whether you come bearing burdens or blessings, Mara will always welcome you.” Withdrawing, the Dunmer smiled and said, “I hope you won’t be a stranger.”
“I won’t,” Ginna promised. “Thanks again.”
Brynjolf approached just as she was stepping away, his hand coming up to rest against her face. “Tonilia told me you had some sort of meltdown, love, and I was worried. What’s going on?”
“We need to talk.” She leaned upward and kissed him, her soft lips lingering over his. “Let’s take a walk.”
Something in the way she said those words unsettled him and he stepped back to look into her eyes. “Are you okay?”
“I’m not sure, but we definitely need to talk. Come on.” She started toward the door, sliding her arm along his waist to guide him with her. He looked toward the priestess, but she offered no help other than Mara’s verbal blessing before his wife tugged him out the door.