The weather was kind, and Selene didn’t see a bandit, dragon, or wild animal on the trip. Nonetheless, it took her nearly a week to get to Solitude. Exhausted, she walked into the Winking Skeever just before midnight on her sixth day of travel. Ulfric would have said she should start riding a horse, but she just couldn’t bring herself to do it except in an emergency. There were too many logistics to worry about, not to mention that most horses were skittish around her. They could smell a predator, and her inner beast was never far from the surface.
She looked around the tavern, but there were no Argonians present, and she sighed with relief. She needed a night’s rest before dealing with Gulum-Ei. Satisfied that the mission could wait until morning, she went to the bar.
“Well met, Selene,” said Corpulus Vinius.
“Well met. Do you have any rooms?”
“For you, always.” Selene dropped ten coins on the counter, and Corpulus led her to her room and brought her hot water to wash with.
After she cleaned up, she lay down on the bed and closed her eyes, drifting off within minutes. She dreamed of the hunt, as usual, but this dream was different. She was chasing her prey through the woods when a man appeared out of thin air, right in front of her. Selene skidded to a stop so as not to bowl him over. He was extremely tall, towering over her by more than a foot, with rippling muscles; he carried a spear and wore a loin cloth, boots, and a helmet made out of a deer skull. Upon closer inspection, Selene thought that maybe it wasn’t a helmet at all but actually his head. Then she realized who was standing before her. It was Hircine.
She bowed her head, and he reached out and lifted her chin. “Look at me, Dragonborn.” When she met eyes with him he said, “You will be given a choice soon. She would try to force you to make that choice, but we all all must make concessions for the Dragonborn.”
Selene was in beast form, so she couldn’t ask him who “she” was, but she had a feeling he wouldn’t tell her anyway. She had been given messages by higher beings before, and they tended to talk in riddles. As she was pondering the notion, the Lord of the Hunt faded from view and she was once again alone in the woods.
She woke the next morning surprisingly refreshed. Gulum-Ei wasn’t in the Winking Skeever yet, so Selene had breakfast and then took some time to go see Jarl Elisif and Falk Firebeard. One of her favorite things about being a member of the Thieves Guild was the timetable. Much of her work was done at night, and she was long used to staying up late. Most of her associates also worked by night and slept in, so she had more time to visit her more legitimate friends.
She got caught up on their lives while they lunched together. Falk was still sneaking around with Thane Bryling and pretending nobody noticed, and Elisif was still grieving her husband’s death. She hated Ulfric with a passion, but she was so sweet and gentle that the animosity didn’t even show in her. Sometimes, however, when they were talking politics or even their love lives (or lack thereof), she would say, “Ugh, Selene, I’m so glad you got away from that monster.” Selene would then reply that Ulfric wasn’t a monster and that he regretted killing Torygg, but Elisif wouldn’t hear it. Thus, they tried to keep to more benign subjects in their conversations. Today, Elisif was intrigued by the prospect of a new love in Selene’s life.
“But you’ve been in love before,” Elisif suggested.
“You loved Ulfric.”
“Not like this.”
“Does he feel the same way?”
“I don’t know. He’s interested, but I just don’t know how interested.”
“What’s his name?”
Falk, who had been concentrating on his roast chicken, looked up at her sharply. “Not the same Brynjolf who is in the Thieves Guild.”
“You know him?”
“He has spent time in Solitude’s jail. I know you have your own mind and I couldn’t talk you out of a relationship with him, but just be careful, Selene. Rumor has it that the Thieves Guild is dying, and that will make its members desperate. You don’t know what the man is capable of.”
“You’re right. You can’t talk me out of it. But don’t worry, Falk. You know I can take care of myself.”
Elisif placed a hand on Selene’s arm. “I can’t say I condone your relationship with a thief, but I hope it works out for you, dear. You deserve to be happy.”
“So do you, Elisif. You should move on.”
“And who is there to be interested in? My choices are rather limited.”
“I’m not saying you should find somebody else, only that you should let Torygg go. Although surely you know that Bolgeir is in love with you.”
Falk choked on his wine.
“He’s…what?” Elisif asked. “No, he’s just sworn to protect me. That’s why he never leaves my side.”
“Sure, it is,” Selene uttered dryly.
The steward leveled a glare at Selene and said, “Who better to guard you with his life than someone who loves you?”
Elisif’s eyes widened, and she looked even more helpless than normal. “I—I don’t know what to think about this.”
“Nothing needs to change,” Falk assured her. “He never has to know about this conversation.”
“Perhaps that would be best. For now, anyway.”
After having lunch with the jarl and her steward, Selene went back to the Winking Skeever, where she found Gulum-Ei sitting at a table in a nook near the bar.
“Well, what have we here?” the Argonian drawled. “Your scent and your armor suggest that you’re with Mercer Frey’s outfit, but that can’t be right. I specifically told him I would no longer work with you.”
Selene fixed him with a stare and remained silent. Being small for a Nord, and young and pretty, people often underestimated her. When she showed them what a formidable fighter she was or simply turned her attitude on them, they usually crumbled. She was also very good at the staredown.
Gulum-Ei, however, simply stared back.
She refused to give in, though, and the staring contest went on for several minutes before the Argonian gave up.
“Time is money, little girl. Why don’t you stop the games and tell me what you want?”
“I want to talk about Goldenglow Estate.”
“Never heard of it.”
“Really? From what I’ve heard, you brokered the deal.”
“Well, your sources are wrong. I don’t deal in real estate. Mercer knows that.”
“Aye, and that’s why he was so surprised when your name cropped up on the bill of sale. Gajul-Lei.”
His eyes widened and he paused, but he regained his composure quickly. “It must have been someone using my alias, then, because I know nothing about it.”
She took a step toward him and loomed, her arms crossed. “If you can smell the Thieves Guild on me, then I’m betting you can identify other scents as well. Am I right?”
Gulum-Ei cleared his throat and stuttered, “Y-you’re a werewolf.”
“That’s right, and I can smell a lie. Lying to the Guild can be very dangerous, Gulum-Ei.”
“You won’t kill me. I’m too valuable to the Guild.”
“You think so? This is a major betrayal, and Mercer is furious. The East Empire Company is a big organization, and I’m sure we could find somebody to replace you, so don’t get the impression that you’re indispensible.”
“Wait, did you say Goldenglow? It’s starting to come back to me now. But you can’t expect me to just give you information free of charge.”
“What do you want?”
“I have a client who is particularly fond of Firebrand Wine. It’s very rare, but I’ve heard there is a case in the Blue Palace. Bring it back to me, and I’ll tell you what you want to know.”
Selene shook her head. “I don’t think so.”
“That’s the deal. Take it or leave it.”
“They know me at the palace. I’m friends with the jarl and the steward. I can’t just go in and steal something.”
“Then be creative! That’s my offer.”
“Remember the part about you being dispensable?”
“Oh, come on. For a thief such as you, this should be nothing.”
Selene glared at him. “Fine.” She turned and left the tavern, furious that she’d let Gulum-Ei get the best of her.
If it were anybody else in Solitude, Selene would have no qualms about stealing from them, but Elisif was a friend who trusted her. Maybe she could talk Falk into giving her the case, or at least selling it to her. He already knew there was more going on in her life than the Stormcloaks and the dragons. Maybe he would understand.
She found him in his usual spot, standing to Elisif’s left, and he smiled when she approached. “I didn’t expect to see you back so soon.”
“I need your help. Can we talk somewhere?”
“Aye.” He excused himself from the court, and Selene followed him to his chambers. “What’s the matter?” he asked after he had closed his door.
“I’ve been told you have a case of Firebrand Wine in the palace.”
“Really? I wish I had known sooner.”
“I’m on a mission, trying to get information from someone, but he won’t deal with me unless I bring him that wine.”
“He sent you to steal it,” he guessed.
“And you decided to talk to me instead. Thank you for that.”
“I won’t steal from you and Elisif, Falk. I can’t tell you the details of the mission, but it’s extremely urgent that I get my hands on that wine. I understand you can’t just give it to me, so I’ll be glad to pay you for it.”
“Who is this contact of yours?”
“You know I can’t tell you that.”
He thought about it for a moment, and Selene regarded him with open, honest eyes. He finally sighed, nodded, and said, “I’ll get it for you. Wait here.”
He left the room, and Selene sat down at his desk, turning away so as to protect his privacy, although it did little to help. Bryling’s scent was everywhere in the room, not just her base scent but hints at desire and ecstasy. She felt bad for them. They felt they had to keep their relationship a secret, not from Elisif but from Erikur. He would crucify them if he found out.
Falk returned ten minutes later with the case of wine and put it on his desk.
“What do I owe you?” Selene offered.
“Nothing, my friend.”
“After our conversation at lunch, I didn’t know if you would still consider me a friend. The fact that I’m in the Guild might have gone over Elisif’s head, but you’re smarter than that.”
“I cannot say I agree with your choices, but aye, I still consider you a friend, not just to me but to this city. You have saved Solitude more than once.”
“But I also helped sack Solitude.”
“And then you helped Sybille get rid of a nest of vampires and prevented Queen Potema from resurrecting and destroying us all. Giving you this case of wine is the least I can do.”
“Thank you, Falk.” She kissed him on the cheek, then took the wine and made her way back to the Winking Skeever.
When she walked into the inn and set the case on Gulum-Ei’s table, he nodded with satisfaction. He reached into a knapsack under the table and pulled out three soul gems. “Here. For your trouble.”
“Wait, you’re trying to bribe me now?”
“Not at all. I gave you a job to do, and you did it.”
“Aye, but I don’t want soul gems. I want information.”
“This buyer never let me see a face. I think it was a woman, but sometimes it’s hard to tell with all that armor. She asked me to be liaison for the Goldenglow Deal.”
“I believe she has a personal vendetta against Mercer Frey.”
“Look, that’s all I know. You’re in the same business as me; you know that we rarely give our names, or if we do, it’s an alias. She didn’t tell me anything I didn’t need to know.”
“And no doubt paid you to keep your mouth shut.”
“Let’s just say I won’t go hungry for a while. Now, if you’ll excuse me.”
Selene left his table and went to the bar for a tankard of mead. She chatted with Corpulus as she drank, always keeping one eye on Gulum-Ei. After a couple of hours, she realized he wasn’t going anywhere with her in the inn, so she left. She didn’t go far, just crouched in the shadows and waited for him to emerge. It was another hour later, just after sunset, when he finally came out of the inn. Selene followed him through town, out the city gates, and down the road, staying as far back as she could manage without losing him to avoid him picking up her scent. He stopped every once in a while and looked back, but Selene could hide with the best of them, and he didn’t notice her. He walked past the stables and down the hill to the docks, where he disappeared into a heavy door set into the rocks below the city and evidently locked the door behind him because she couldn’t get in. It was a tough lock and Selene broke a couple of picks, but she finally got the door open and slipped in before any guards noticed her.
Swiftly and silently, she followed Gulum-Ei’s scent. She started to follow him through the maze of shelves stacked with merchandise, but a ramp caught her eye. It led to the top of the shelves, and she might be able to tail him from an elevated position and avoid any guards she might come across. Thus, she took the ramp and followed him halfway through the warehouse before she could go no further and had to drop to the floor. She slipped past the guards and stayed in the shadows as best she could, and she looked up to see the office on the second level. The Argonian walked past a staircase leading up to the office and down to a lower level and greeted a guard who stood on the landing. The guard’s back was to the stairs and she would have no trouble going up or down, but getting past her on the path was going to be a pain because it was narrow and there was very little shadow. Killing the guard would attract too much attention, so she would just have to do the best she could to stay hidden.
The problem was taken out of her hands when Gulum-Ei turned and came back toward the stairs. He took them down, and Selene tailed him to a passage behind the shelves and through a door into a cave. He stepped over a tripwire and she followed suit, resolving to proceed with even more caution. If there was one trap, there were probably more.
There were no East Empire Company guards in this area, only bandits, and Selene had no qualms about killing them and looting their bodies. The Argonian meandered down the winding wooden path, which was flanked by rock on one side and water on the other, stopping to chat with a couple, one of whom was swimming, before moving on. Selene could sneak by the swimmer if he was alone, but there was no way to avoid the one on land. Thus, after Gulum-Ei left them, she drew her daggers, snuck up behind the mercenary and silently slit her throat, then pulled her into a nook nearby that contained a small fire, cooking pot, and a few barrels. She laid the bandit down gently so as not to disturb the swimmer, who remained oblivious.
The path finally led to a small grotto, and Gulum-Ei stopped there and started up a conversation with another bandit. There were two more on the path, and there would be no sneaking behind them. Besides, killing three people in such close proximity to the Argonian would give him a clear message. They were far enough away for her to use the bow, and she dispatched the two on the path with no trouble. The third bandit, however, charged her. Selene drew her daggers and danced with her. The woman wielded a sword but had no shield. She was also wearing heavy, steel armor, inhibiting her movements. She took a wide swing as Selene stepped outward, and the blade connected with her hip. She grunted in pain and thrust her burning dagger at the bandit’s throat. The cut it made was shallow, but it set her hair on fire, and she screamed and jumped into the water. Selene drew her bow and was ready when the woman emerged, and she sent an arrow through her head.
She placed a hand on her hip to inspect the damage, but there was none. Again, the leather Thieves Guild armor seemed to prevent more damage than her heavier steel. Or maybe the bandit just wasn’t all that good.
Selene shouldered her bow and walked into the grotto, where Gulum-Ei stood among dozens of crates and chests. He was terrified, having just watched Selene take out three of his protectors. She wasn’t surprised to see the stash; Brynjolf had figured he was holding out on the guild. But she was feeling peevish, so she decided to play. She drew the flaming dagger and balanced the point on her index finger, catching it deftly when it started to fall. “Well, what have we here?” she said, imitating his first words to her.
“Please,” he whined desperately. “This is not what it seems.”
“Then what is it?”
“It’s a—well, it’s—did you ever—please don’t tell Mercer. He’ll have me killed.”
Selene chuckled. “You’re still assuming that I’m going to let you live.”
“What can I do?”
“How much is all that worth?” she asked, pointing to the crates and chests.
“Not as much as you would think.”
“Gulum-Ei, I’m getting tired of playing this game with you. Give me what you owe the Guild—now—and tell me the name of the anonymous buyer of Goldenglow Estate.”
“I don’t have that much gold just laying around.”
He groaned, pulled a key from his pocket, and unlocked one of the smaller chests. Selene looked over his shoulder to see that the chest was full of gold pieces.
“That oughtta do it,” she mused.
“How will you carry all that?”
She looked around for a container that wouldn’t be too big and heavy for her to carry and found a potato sack resting against the wall. She dumped the potatoes on the ground and said, “Fill this up. I’m stronger than I look.”
He filled the bag and handed it to her, and she had to admit it was going to be a struggle to get it back to Riften. She’d have to hire a carriage. For now, she stuffed it in her knapsack and said, “Now, what about the buyer?”
“You mean they never told you about Karliah? She is responsible for killing Mercer’s predecessor.”
“And you’re helping her?”
“I was afraid for my life.”
“And here you are again, no? Do you have any documentation?”
Gulum-Ei opened another chest and rummaged through its contents. He produced another deed for the sale of Goldenglow and handed it to her. “This is all I have, I swear it.”
“Where is she now?”
“I don’t really know. I think she must have known you would come because she said she was going ‘where the end began.’”
“Where the end began. All right, now listen to me. I’ll be going back and forth between Riften and Solitude many times in the foreseeable future, and whenever I’m here, I’m going to check on your operation. As long as you keep our arrangement on the up and up, you’re safe. But I’d better not see that you’re holding out on the Guild again, or I will kill you. And don’t even think about moving, because you know I can find you.”
“I understand. Say, if you’re in town and need to offload some merchandise, I’ll be glad to fence for you.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” She turned to leave but stopped and looked back. “Remember what I said, Gulum-Ei. You can’t hide from me. Pull this crap again, and I’ll sniff you out and rip you to shreds.”
Selene moved swiftly and silently back through the tunnel, and she managed to bypass the swimmer again without notice. Navigating the warehouse wouldn’t be so easy because there was no ramp to the upper level at this end. She would have to simply keep to the shadows and hope she didn’t get noticed. When she came up the stairs to the main walkway, the guard was still facing the opposite direction, and Selene crept around her and ascended the staircase and slope until she reached the office. Finding the shipping map was effortless; someone had left it on the desk. She rolled it up and stuffed it in her knapsack as best she could without crushing it among all that gold, and then she picked up a few more small sacks of coin that were sitting around the room just waiting to be stolen.
When she came out of the office, she went around to the back to see what kind of drop she’d have if she decided to jump. The slope was steep, but it had a few good handholds, so Selene decided to climb down instead of braving the stairs and going past the guard a third time. She might not believe in luck, but there was no sense courting disaster. She climbed down to the main level and snuck past a couple of guards, and with only one more guard between her and the exit, she thought she was home free. She didn’t count on the goat, however. Just as she was turning the corner of a large set of shelves, it darted out of nowhere and squealed at her, alerting the last guard to her presence. He started to come around the shelves, and Selene moved with him, keeping him opposite her. By the time she got around the stacks and moved on down the path, the guard had given up, evidently thinking the goat had caused the commotion itself.
Selene breathed a sigh of relief as she stepped out of the warehouse and into the morning light. It had been a long night, and she went straight to the Winking Skeever, paid Corpulus another ten Septims, and went to bed. She dreamed of the hunt, and again Hircine appeared in the dream and said concessions were to be made for the Dragonborn. When she awoke near midnight, she still had no idea what the dream meant, but for it to occur two nights in a row left no doubt that it was a message of some sort. Whatever it was, she would either figure it out or Hircine would reveal it to her in his own time. In the meantime, she would head back to Riften. And to Brynjolf.
She had thought so long about telling him how she felt, but his kiss the day she left for Solitude left little doubt that he felt the same way. That was not just a casual kiss between two people who were attracted to each other. It was full of desire and passion; but it was emotionally charged, the kind of kiss that lasted long after their lips had parted.
“Come back to me,” he had said.
With everything she had to carry, Selene had intended to take the carriage back to Riften, but she wanted to get back to Brynjolf as quickly as possible. Instead, she finally broke down and bought a horse. She would probably sell it to Hofgrir, the owner of Riften’s stables; but for now, the steed would get her home in record time.
Selene chuckled to herself. Home. Whiterun had been home. She had never even referred to Windhelm as such. This was the first time she had ever thought of Riften as home, but that was what it was, and Brynjolf was waiting for her there.