Part 16 - Thaned again

Cragslane Cavern was an invisibility job, if ever there was one. But just to make it harder, the place was full of captive wolves, who could smell Clark, even if they couldn't see him. Fortunately, they were all caged, being used for pit-fighting contests that people would bet on. And nobody paid any attention to their agitation, except maybe to raise their bets.

The ringleader of the bandits running the place, however, detected Clark as soon as he entered the room at the back where he was making the skooma. With most of the others between him and the exit, Clark decided he needed a distraction. He pulled the lever that released the pit wolves, and mayhem began.

Clark resumed his invisibility, and dodged back into the crowd of gamblers. The wolves were biting at anyone they could, and the bandits were swinging wildly at an enemy they couldn't see. Only the boss bandit had any idea where Clark was, and there always seemed to be someone else in between them. After a couple of blows from his warhammer hit the wrong targets, he was fighting his own men.

All the action was now happening down in the pit area, with everybody fighting everybody else. Clark crept up to the entrance, overlooking the battle, and waited for it to thin a bit. He didn't expect it to be long before the boss bandit, the man he heard someone call "the butcher", had the chance to come looking for him again.

When he did, he was severely weakened by all the fighting, and Clark was waiting with a fireball. He still needed his sword to finish the man off, but he was down to his knees at that point.

Clark had picked up a few wolf bites, and cuts from a gambler's dagger, so he stopped to heal himself before searching the cave.

There wasn't much, except for skooma and moon sugar, but he did find a copy of a book on lockpicking. "Gilda could use this," he thought, and put it in his backpack.

The Jarl was delighted with his success, especially as it hadn't needed any help from her guards. She rewarded Clark with the privilege of buying property in Riften, and the title of Thane was available if he did.

It appeared that his dealings with the merchants of the city had already brought him to her attention. The fire salts for Balimund, the gem materials for Madesi, the Ice Wraith teeth for Marise, had all helped trade, (and increased the tax base, or she wouldn't have cared). He put in a good word for Brand-Shei while he had the chance, and got him released from jail.

Clark wanted a base in Riften, so he talked to the steward. "Honeyside is available, if you have the coin. It has access to the docks, and its own garden. Quite a nice little property. And as Thane, you'll get a housecarl to guard it, too."

It was worth the 5500 septims he paid for it. She'd asked for 8000, but settled for less, as he didn't have any more gold on him, and he might have changed his mind. Clark could quickly raise more, as his wagon was still full of weapons and armor from Valtheim that he hadn't yet sold. Balimund had bought some, but couldn't afford to buy them all. He'd told Clark to come back the next day, when he'd have done some deals and got more cash. Bersi would probably buy some of it, too.

He looked in at the house, on his way to the wagon. A young Nord woman, dressed in the same basic steel armour Lydia had been wearing when they first met, was waiting inside. Standard housecarl uniform, he presumed.

"I'm Iona, your housecarl. Sworn to protect you and your property, carry your burdens, but not to sleep with you, unless I'm in the mood for it."

That was pretty much the same little speech that Lydia had given him, too. He'd bought the furnishings for Breezehome at the same time as the house, so she'd moved into a well-furnished place with a comfortable bed. That might have been what put Lydia in the mood right away.

"Then come and carry some burdens right now. I need to bring some things from my wagon to sell in the market. Then this place needs cleaning up, and refurnishing, before I move in."

"And don't worry too much about protecting me. I'd prefer not to have any pain, but it won't kill me. I'm immortal, so save your own skin first."

Of course, Iona wanted to know how he became immortal, but that explanation could wait. It was a long story, and they needed to get busy on the shopping, and housework.

Iona and Clark.

Clark collapsed onto the bed. He and Iona had hauled weapons and armour from the wagon to Balimund's and Bersi's shops and gone to purchase furnishings at Mistveil Keep. They had tidied up the cellar, ready for adding the Alchemy and Enchanting facilities. Clark still needed more cash for those, but he'd cleaned out the merchants. They did have the essentials - bedroom, kitchen, garden, balcony. The last wasn't really essential, but it was relatively cheap, and it did add to the comfort.

Iona came and flopped exhaustedly onto the bed next to Clark. She had her own bed, down in the basement, so this was probably a invitation. "Help me out of my armour, I don't think I have the strength left to do it all myself." Yes, definitely an invitation.

Clark had to be very careful not to call her Lydia. The similarities were so many between the two of them. Same fit body, same youthful enthusiasm. Lydia now knew a few things that Iona still had to learn, but this was just like putting the clock back a year.

The next morning there was a knock on the door, and Clark found Gilda standing outside.

"You've been busy while I was away," she accused, looking pointedly at Iona. "They told me you'd bought this place when I asked around the Ragged Flagon."

Of course the Thieves Guild would know everything. Clark hadn't looked for new shadowmarks by his door, but he knew they'd have already been updated.

"I assume you've been busy, too," he countered. "Tell me about it."

"After putting Honningbrew out of business for Maven," Gilda began. Clark's eyebrow went up, but he didn't interrupt. "They asked me to go to Solitude and talk to someone called Gulum-Ei. It appears that the Guild's activities have been closely entwined with Maven's for some time, and someone's trying to stop that. The Goldenglow and Honningbrew jobs were primarily to investigate the interference, and everything pointed to the Argonian. But it turned out that he was just acting as an agent. For your daughter, Karliah."

"Mercer Frey told me that she'd killed Gallus, and then disappeared. That she was apparently waging war on the Guild and had to be stopped. I just don't know what to believe any more."

"Let him think you believe him, and go along with whatever they decide. Just let me know what's happening before you take any action yourself," Clark replied.

"Then I'm telling you now. Mercer has asked me to meet him at Snow Veil Sanctum, up near Winterhold. He thinks Karliah may be hiding out there, and he wants to kill her."

"Do you need my help?" Iona asked.

"Gilda will have to go with Mercer on her own, but the two of us should be in the area in case we can do anything. We can't let Mercer know we're following, and I don't know how to contact Karliah. This one could get messy very easily."

Clark and Iona stood by the road, staring intently down towards the entrance to Snow Veil Sanctum. They'd seen Mercer and Gilda go inside a couple of hours ago, but nobody had emerged yet.

The ruin was just about as far as they could see, and flurries of snow had obscured their view a couple of times. It was possible that someone had left during those, but surely they'd have seen them as soon as it cleared.

"Is that someone coming out now?" Iona asked. Her younger eyes had detected something Clark's couldn't. But yes, that did look like someone, dragging something out of the ruin. They decided to go and investigate.

The someone turned out to be Karliah, and the something was Gilda's unconscious body.

"What happened?" Clark asked.

"I shot her, Father, to save her life. Now help me revive her. I have the andidote to the poison I used, but I could use some help healing her."

Karliah was talking in riddles, but Clark was sure she'd explain before too long. He cast a healing spell over the unconscious Gilda, as Kalrliah poured the contents of a small vial down her throat. Gilda coughed, and opened her eyes. "Did you just shoot me?" she asked Karliah.

"Yes, and it saved your life. It slowed your heart, and stopped you bleeding to death when Mercer stabbed you in the back. I was intending to use that poison on Mercer, to paralyze him, so I could capture him alive, but it didn't work out that way."

"So he got away? After all that?"

"We didn't see anyone else leave, but there were times we couldn't see properly. He may have slipped out then," Clark offered.

"That doesn't matter too much," returned Karliah. "He's played his hand now, trying to kill the two of us. Maybe this is the time to go back to the Thieves Guild and let them know the truth. Then we'll have a better basis for hunting him down."

"Do you have any tangible proof?" Clark asked. "It will still be your word, and that of a recent recruit, against the Guildmaster's."

"I think we do," Gilda said. "There's this journal I picked up. The cover says it belonged to Gallus, but I can't read anything written in it."

Karliah took a look. "I recognise Gallus' writing, but this is in a language I don't know. Enthir in Winterhold is a scholar of ancient writings. He's a member of the Guild, and he knew Gallus from before I met him. There's a chance this is in a language he knows."