Balimund, the smith who owned the shop, was working at the forge, while his adoptive son Asbjorn hammered away at a piece of armor. She knew Asbjorn, who had also lived at Honorhall, although he usually didn’t have much to say beyond hello. Balimund, however, was a different story, and Selene adored him. The friendly blacksmith was in his mid-forties, burly, with dirty blond hair. She suspected he was handsome under all the soot that covered his face, but she had never seen him cleaned up. Balimund looked the sword over, tested the weight, and even went so far as to make a small cut in his arm to test the enchantment. “Hmm,” he muttered. “It has a fear enchantment on it.”
“Is that how you tell? You try it on yourself? Just like eating an alchemy ingredient to see what it does.”
“Exactly. It can be unpleasant, though.”
“I would imagine. At least with alchemy, you have a halfway decent chance of a good effect. All you get when you test a weapon enchantment is injured.”
He chuckled and reached for his strongbox, from which he counted out a rather large amount of coins. “I’ll give you two hundred sixty Septims for it.”
“Really? It was worth more than I thought.”
“Just because it’s iron doesn’t mean it’s not a nice sword. I’ve got a supply of ebony arrows if you’re interested.”
“Aye. How many you do you have?”
“Enough to make an even trade.”
Balimund went inside the shop for a few minutes while Selene engaged in a strained conversation with Asbjorn and emerged with a load of about a hundred arrows.
“Balimund, that’s way more than two hundred sixty Septims’ worth.”
“I’m going to ask you for a favor, too.”
“What do you need?”
“I need fire salts. My forge relies on a special recipe for flame, which includes fire salts. I’m running out, and without them, the forge will die.”
“I can find you some.”
“It would be much appreciated. Ten pinches of fire salts should be enough to bring the forge back to life. Of course, I’ll reimburse you for any you buy from an alchemist.”
When Selene turned away from the Scorched Hammer, she caught Brynjolf watching her, and her heart soared. There he was in his stall, pure sex in a gray surcoat, smiling and waving her over. This was getting ridiculous. It was bad enough that she thought about him all the time, but when she saw him for the first time after a trip, it was all she could do not to jump up and down and giggle—or worse, throw herself into his arms and cover his face with kisses. She refused to fawn all over any male, but it was getting harder and harder to do. It was with monumental effort that she gave him a pleasant, not-too-excited smile and moseyed across the plaza. “Morning.”
“I thought you were still thinking about closing the stall.”
“Eh, the weather was nice. Besides, what better place to wait for a beautiful woman than in the marketplace? She’s bound to go shopping sometime.”
“Did she show up yet?” Selene asked innocently.
“Oh, I thought I saw her walk by a while ago. Went to see the smith first, though. I was quite disappointed. What’s he got that I haven’t got?”
“He buys swords, for one thing. I’m sure she will come to you when she needs more Falmer Blood Elixir.”
“I’ll have to stock up, then,” he chuckled. “So. Word on the street is that poor Sabjorn found himself in Whiterun’s prison.”
“There was more to it than just putting Sabjorn out of the way, though. The symbol on the documents from Goldenglow was also involved.”
Brynjolf’s smile faded. “That’s beyond coincidence.”
“I can’t figure if they’re trying to take down the Guild or Maven.”
“Maybe both. But the Guild can’t afford to lose her confidence.”
Selene thought about what Maven had said about putting her faith in no one. “So what do we do?”
“Mercer says he thinks he’s found a way to identify the owner of our mysterious symbol. Go talk to him; see what he has to say.”
“On my way, then.” She scratched him under the chin, turned and headed toward the Guild’s cemetery entrance.
“I hate to see you leave, but I love to watch you go!” he called after her.
* * *
Selene found Mercer standing at his desk, paging through a journal. “Ah, you’re back,” he said when she approached. “It seems the symbol on the documents you recovered from Goldenglow is still a mystery. I’ve consulted several of my contacts, but no one can identify it.”
“I found the same one at Honningbrew. Brynjolf and I were thinking somebody is trying to bring us down by angering Maven Black-Briar.”
“Hmm,” he groaned. “Very clever.
“Maybe we should recruit them.”
He narrowed his eyes. “Don’t mistake my admiration for complacency. Whoever this is, they’re well-funded, driven, and patient. And they’re going to pay dearly.”
“If we can ever find out who they are.”
Mercer smiled, but even his smile looked like a grimace. “Well, it turns out that even after all their posturing and planning, they’ve made a mistake. The Goldenglow document refers to a ‘Gajul-Lei,’ which is an old alias used by one of my contacts.”
“Where do I find him?”
“Solitude. Gajul-Lei is an alias for Gullum-Ei, our inside man at the East Empire Company. Do you know the East Empire Company?”
“Sure, it’s a shipping company. They have their hands in just about everything, and the Emperor endorses them personally.”
“I’m betting Gullum-Ei acted as a liaison for the sale of Goldenglow. If so, he can finger our buyer.”
“Am I to question him or bring him back here?”
“Just shake him down. Find out what he’s been up to.”
“Can I have a couple of days?”
“We can’t afford a couple of days. This is important.”
“Come on, Mercer. The trip back from Whiterun took almost twice as long as it should have because of snow. I’m worn out. Do you think Gullum-Ei’s going somewhere?”
Mercer glared at her for a moment before saying, “I want you back on the road tomorrow.”
“Fine. Once I get to Solitude, where do I look for him?”
“Talk to Brynjolf with any questions you have.”
Selene started to protest, but she’d rather talk to Brynjolf than Mercer anyway. She had never gotten over the feeling that something about Mercer was off, and being on the receiving end of one of his icy glares made her want to run home and take a bath. Thus, she turned and left his desk. She stopped in the Flagon on the way out and sold the items she had stolen while she was in Whiterun to Tonilia, except for the Honningbrew decanter, which she took to Delvin. He paid her more for the decanter than Tonilia had given her for all the other items combined. Skeevers, crazy mage, and snow notwithstanding, it had been a very lucrative trip.
“Got more work if you’re interested,” Delvin said as he paid her for the decanter.
“Probably not such a good idea for now. I’m heading out there to talk to one of Mercer’s contacts, and he’ll want me to get back here as soon as possible.
“Solitude? Who you meeting with? Gullum-Ei?”
“You know him?”
“Of course. Slimy little bastard. Even slimier than me.”
“You’re not slimy, Delvin.”
“Aw, you’re makin’ me blush. Oi, if you happen to find yourself in the East Empire Company’s warehouse and can make it into the office, I’ve love to have a copy of their shippin’ map. Always a handy little thing to have around. Don’t make a special trip, especially if Mercer wants you to come right back.”
“I’ll see what I can do. If I don’t get it on this trip, I’m sure I’ll be there again.”
Delvin nodded with satisfaction. “Good girl.”
* * *
“I knew you couldn’t stay away,” Brynjolf quipped when returned to his stall.
“Mercer sent me back to you.”
“Any excuse for a visit.” Selene only scowled at him, and he instantly went from playful to earnest. “What’s wrong?”
“He just irks me, that’s all. He’s sending me to Solitude, and he’s not giving me time to breathe before heading out again. Then, he wouldn’t give me any information; he just said come to you. Sometimes I could swear he’s purposely setting me up to fail.”
“Yet you never do. Okay, start at the beginning.”
“Mercer found out that the broker mentioned in Goldenglow’s promissory note is an alias for a contact of his named Gullum-Ei.”
“Gullum-Ei?” he repeated incredulously. “That Argonian couldn’t find his tail with both hands!”
“Then somebody’s probably pulling his strings. Mercer thinks Gullum-Ei may be able to identify the owner of the cloaked-dagger symbol. He wants me to talk to him and see what I can turn up. He said he was in Solitude, but he wouldn’t even tell me where to find him once I got there.”
“Do you know your way around Solitude?”
“Aye, I’m actually friends with Jarl Elisif and her steward.”
“Of course you are,” Brynjolf chuckled. “Gullum-Ei is a fence, and he operates primarily out of the Winking Skeever. You can find Gulum-Ei there much of the time. If not, Sorex Vinius should be able to point you in the right direction.”
“Can I expect trouble from Gullum-Ei?”
“You’ve got your work cut out for you with that one. He’s one of the most stubborn lizards I’ve ever met. You’ll probably have to bribe him. If that fails, follow him. He’s probably in way over his head, and you might be able to use that as leverage.”
“If he’s helping this person try to bring the Guild down, it’s a serious betrayal.”
“Aye, and he’s going to owe us. In addition to his fencing job, he has a cushy position with the East Empire Company, so we’ll make good use of that debt.”
“So we don’t want him dead.”
“Definitely not. Just keep on his tail for now, then return to the Guild and get the information to Mercer. You might also take a look around and see if he’s been holding out on us and has more stashed away than he claims. When do you leave?”
“Tomorrow morning. Or later tonight. It depends on whether I can sleep or not.”
“Why do you have so much trouble sleeping, lass?” he asked with concern.
Selene shrugged. “I’m used to it.”
“Well, try to get some rest today and have a safe trip. Keep Gullum-Ei alive, but remind him who we are.”
Selene stopped at Marise Aravel’s stand and bought a pheasant breast for her dinner, then headed back to Honeyside, lay down on her bed, and brooded. When she went to Whiterun, she couldn’t wait to get back to town so she could see Brynjolf, and she barely got to spend more than a few minutes with him before being pushed back on the road. Solitude was in the opposite corner of Skyrim, and it would be weeks before she saw him again. It wasn’t like she knew his intentions anyway. It was obvious from gossip that Brynjolf slept around, but he was playing very coy with her. She didn’t get it. His scent suggested he was attracted to her, but he never did more than flirt. What was she doing wrong? Maybe she should just tell him how she felt. Well, she’d have plenty of time on the Solitude trip to mull over what she was going to say, or if she was going to say anything at all. But she was really going to miss him.
After a while, she dragged herself out of bed and put the pheasant breast on to cook. She packed for her trip while the breast was cooking and finished up just as the sun was setting. She pulled the breast off the fire and threw it on a plate, along with some bread and cheese. As she was cleaning the table after dinner, she picked up Brynjolf’s scent, and he knocked on the door.
Selene opened the door. “Hey, what’s—”
He stepped toward her, took her face in his hands, and placed his lips on hers. Desire surged into his scent, and Selene’s heart felt as if it would burst from her chest. She wrapped her arms around his waist and opened her mouth to the kiss, gasping with pleasure as his tongue met hers. The slow, lingering kiss made her knees weak, and she leaned into him as much for support as closeness. She could smell the blood rushing through his veins and feel his heart hammering in sync with hers, both racing, providing a steady backbeat. The world fell away until there was nothing but her and Brynjolf, arms intertwined, bodies touching, mouths fused together in the sweetest, most intimate kiss she’d ever had.
“Wow,” he whispered when they reluctantly withdrew. He rested his forehead against hers.
“Wow,” she agreed. She realized they were still standing on the threshold when one of the city guards walked by. “Come in.”
“I can’t,” he replied regretfully. “Sapphire said Mercer wanted to see me right away, but I couldn’t let you get away again without kissing you goodbye.”
“I’m glad you didn’t.”
“Take care on your trip, and come back to me. All right?”
He kissed her again, his lips so warm as they caressed hers, and Selene inwardly cursed Mercer Frey for insisting that Brynjolf get to the cistern as soon as possible. As he turned to go, she grinned. “Hey, watching you go isn’t too shabby, either.”