Part 14 - Riften

"Later" was that night, in their room at the Bee and Barb in Riften. He told Gilda about the time Taminwe and Ocato gave him a new face. Gilda had enough trouble believing that Clark was really as old as he said. Lydia had told her that Clark was immortal, although she hadn't explained how, or why. That seemed possible, if you did a big favour for the right Divines or Daedric Princes. But now he was claiming that the Potentate of All Tamriel had been his personal physician?

"It wasn't like that. They had good reasons of their own for doing it, and it was their idea, not mine. Besides, Taminwe did all the face-changing, Ocato just helped out with the paralysis, because of the extra magicka it needed. They were both Altmer, so you can imagine what it took."

"And she made me look older, so I wasn't actually as old as I looked when becoming immortal stopped me aging. Yes, I'm older than I look, but not quite as much as it appears."

Gilda's head was starting to spin. "I'll probably regret asking, but tell me how the immortality thing happened."

"It was a joint decision by Azura and Nocturnal. They're sisters, as far as that applies to the Daedric Princes, with all the usual sibling rivalry balancing out the closeness. When my good friend Minx became Guildmaster of the Cyrodiil Thieves Guild, Nocturnal summoned her to visit her realm of Evergloam for some tasks, and persuaded me to accompany her."

"I have an idea what it takes to persuade you," Gilda mused. "Are you saying that she..."

Clark nodded.

"I'm starting to feel inadequate. And you haven't got to Azura yet."

"Then I'd better stop, and reassure you, hadn't I?"

"So Nocturnal has a connection to the Thieves Guilds, right?" Gilda asked as they walked through Riften the next day.

"Yes, she usually recruits her Nightingales from their ranks. It seems that thieves are the best suited to the tasks she wants done. It's a matter of having the right skills."

"Is that why you want me to train with them? Because the skills are those that Nocturnal wants?"

"Not directly. Nocturnal recruited me, and I wasn't a guild member, and didn't have the sneaking and lockpicking skills. The ones I did have were useful for getting secrets a different way, by persuasion. I can teach you that part, but I can't teach the other. I've filled the gap with larcenous partners in the past, but I want you to be more of a well-rounded merchant."

"Yes, I know you like well-rounded. But do I really need to join the Thieves Guild to get training? You want me to be an honest, fair trader, don't you?"

"The Thieves Guild aren't the cut-throat rabble you probably think they are. They have rules, handed down from Nocturnal. They help the beggars, because they get information in return. And they're one path to becoming a Nightingale."

"Your daughter's one of those, isn't she?"

"Well she was the last time I saw her, which is quite a few years ago. Karliah was a member of the Guild here, but she disappeared a while ago, along with Gallus Desidenius, the Guildmaster at the time. Mercer Frey was the third Nightingale, and he took over as Guildmaster, and presumably still holds that position. If you can find out anything about Karliah, I'll be grateful."

Clark noticed Brynjolf at his stall in the marketplace, selling his Falmer-blood elixir. He took Gilda over and introduced her. She seemed to make a good impression, but there would still be a test before Gilda could join the Guild.

"Show me you can pick the lock on Madesi's strongbox, and put the ring you find in Brand-Shei's pocket. I'll provide the distraction, while you demonstrate your skills."

That seemed reasonable, and Gilda felt she had the ability to do that. The two traders weren't guild members, who'd be watchful for those tricks, and she half-expected her second test would be to put it back. She was rather surprised when a guard was summoned to arrest Brand-Shei.

Clark wasn't expecting that either. "You go with Brynjolf, and see what he wants next. I'm going to see what's going on with Brand-Shei."

Gilda walked into the bar at the Bee and Barb and joined Clark at his table. As Talen-Jei brought her a drink, she told Clark about her afternoon.

"First off, Brynjolf tells me to meet him down in the Ragged Flagon, at the back of the Ratway, and then leaves me to make my own way, while he goes in via the secret entrance I'm not allowed to use yet. That's apparently the next part of the test. I don't know if I was supposed to sneak past all the low-lifes who wanted to cut my throat, or deal with them permanently, but I ended up doing a bit of both. It's a real maze of tunnels down there, so I guess they were testing my navigation skills, too."

"And my next test is to collect loan repayments from some of the merchants. That's why Brand-Shei was the target today. He was late with his payment, and needed to be taught a lesson. I have to do the same for Haelga, Bersi Honey-Hand, ... and Keerava here."

"That matches the story I got about Brand-Shei. You don't have to get anyone else arrested," Clark pointed out. "Just persuade them to honour their debts. Reasonable people know what they owe."

"The way Brynjolf explained it, they don't feel like they do owe anything any more. Debts to the Thieves Guild don't count, aren't legal, or something." Gilda looked worried that she'd have to threaten them with violence, which just wasn't her way.

Talen-Jei was back at their table. Clark asked him if he knew that Keerava had borrowed from the Thieves Guild. He didn't, and looked alarmed; he didn't want any harm to happen to her. Clark didn't believe that the Guild would do her any harm, but Talen-Jei did. And it seemed that Keerava would, too. "Just tell her you know about her family in Morrowind," Talun-Jei told Gilda. "She'll be frightened, but at least she won't risk her own safety that way."

Clark shrugged. It wasn't a real threat, after all. He told Gilda to do that, if she thought it would be effective. She could make it seem like she was concerned for the family's well-being, too.

Gilda went up to the bar, to talk to the Argonian, and returned a couple of minutes later with a small purse of gold. "She paid, but I don't think she likes me."

"I have an idea how we can make it up to them," Clark offered. "Talun-Jei's been looking for some flawless amethysts to make an engagement ring. He wants to marry Keerava, and that's an important part of the rituals. I can get him the gems for that."

Gilda cheered up a little at that idea. But there were still Haelga and Bersi to deal with.

"Those can wait until tomorrow," Clark told her. "We'll think of something."

Clark had met Svana Far-Shield outside the Bunkhouse the previous day. She'd told him about her aunt's devotion to Dibella, and the shrine she had in her room. Clark wasn't sure if Svana was scandalised by Haelga's practice of the Dibellan arts, or the fact that she wasn't getting paid for it. He'd declined Svana's request to embarrass Haelga with proof of her promiscuity. Only three different men in a month sounded quite restrained to him, and he was sure Haelga felt the same.

Clark and Gilda went into the Bunkhouse to look around. Clark noticed a statue of Dibella, standing on a table in the corner. It was different from the ones he'd seen in Markarth, and he wondered if it had been made by the same people. He picked it up and looked for a maker's mark on the bottom.

"Be careful with that!" Haelga rushed over to make him put it down. Gilda noted her concern and asked her what she'd do if it got lost or damaged.

"I can't even think about that," the Nord replied. "That statue's really important to me."

"More important than paying back your loan?"

Haelga paled, adding two and two in her mind and getting worried. "Here's what I owe, now just leave."

Bersi Honey-hand had apparently heard that Gilda was collecting, and just paid up without any fuss. He looked very relieved to have done so. He was clearly concerned about something, but nobody had told Gilda what it was, and she really didn't care now. All that mattered was that she'd done what the Guild had asked her to do, and maybe now she'd be a full member, without anyone getting hurt.