Part 66 - Thalmor Embassy

"Well, at least I get you to myself tonight," Jordis remarked as they watched Hélène head down to the docks in the morning. She turned to look at Clark, who wasn't saying anything. "I do, don't I?"

"I have an invitation to the Thalmor Embassy this evening. I can expect that I won't get back until tomorrow, at the earliest." Clark was genuinely disappointed. He'd have liked to keep it simple, too.

"You're Clark, aren't you?" the girl with the flute asked. "Jordis told me about you, but I wasn't expecting to see you here."

"Yes I am, and you are...?"

"I'm Illdi, from the Bard's College. You know, next door to Proudspire. I get invited to these parties of Elenwen's to play music for the guests, I'm not sure why they picked me; it's not like I'm the best musician. But I guess Inge would turn down the invitation, so I'm next in line if they want instrumentalists. And they just want music, rather than singing, so that nobody stops talking just to hear the words."

"So you play, even though most people aren't really listening? That doesn't seem very rewarding."

"Oh, it doesn't matter. I need to practice my flute and lute anyway, and this gig pays me to do that. And if I make mistakes, it's a good thing nobody's really listening, isn't it?"

Illdi paused for a moment, and then changed the subject. "Could I borrow Jordis from you? I have a couple of tasks I need to do for the College, and they're more suited to her skills than mine. She's a good friend of mine, and she's already agreed to help, if she has your permission."

"Why does it need my permission? As long as her housecarl duties are met, she can do what she likes."

"Well, she might have to be away from the Manor for a few days. She's supposed to look after the place while you're away, and you when you're there. That means being in Proudspire every day, doesn't it?"

"I don't need as much looking after as she's telling you, although I suspect she'd like some herself. Of course she can take a few days off to help you. What do you need her to do?"

"Well, both Pantea, the singing teacher, and Inge Six-Fingers, the instrumental teacher, have had things go missing from the College. And because it's a flute and a lute, the instruments I play, they thought I'd like to get them back."

"Except that they're in nasty caves and dungeons somewhere, with who knows what guarding them?" Clark surmised. "If not, I'm sure they'd just go fetch them themselves."

"You got it," Illdi agreed. "And the places are both about as far from here as you can get. The flute's supposed to be in a cave up on the north coast near Winterhold, and the lute in a cave in the Rift. They both told me it was the distance involved that meant they couldn't go. Teaching schedules wouldn't permit. That didn't fool me. I know I need a good fighter for backup."

"I'd better get back to playing," she continued. "I can see Ambassasdor Elenwen coming over to check on me."

Elenwen wasn't interested in what Illdi was doing, but she was looking for Clark. She took a glass of brandy from the serving girl's tray and brought it over.

"You're from Cyrodiil, aren't you?" she asked Clark. "Can you taste this, and tell me if it's genuine? That Erikur swears it's real Collovian Brandy, but I don't exactly trust him."

"Aren't you concerned that I'll just denounce it as fake, so I can take over the contract? After all, we're both in the import/export business."

"You might, but you'd have to come up with a product to better it, so I don't see how I'd lose out."

Clark acknowledged the logic in that. You didn't have to be much of an expert to know a good brandy from an inferior one. He took a small sip. "It's Collovian. Maybe not as good as you can get, but genuine enough. You could serve this to your guests, but there are better ones for your private reserve."

"That you could supply if I asked?"

"Perhaps. The better they are, the harder to obtain, of course. Like Tamika's wine. You won't find that in Skyrim, unless you brought it here yourself. You might get Surilie Brothers, if you're lucky, but again, not the best years."

"Then I'm lucky," Elenwen replied. "I did get hold of a few bottles of Surilie Brothers. Perhaps you'd let me know if I got a good year. They're over in my Solar, in my own cellar."

Clark couldn't fault Elenwen's research. She knew he was a wine buff, and he could be counted on to take the opportunity to sample some Skingrad wine when it was offered. He'd avoided commenting on Erikur, when he'd been offered the chance. It was clear to him that she'd relish the chance to play the two merchants against each other, but she expected him to know that. He'd have to be careful later, as that had just been the opening gambit.

If she knew his tastes in wine, she'd probably have some idea what else he liked. And a few drinks together in private would give her an excuse for that.

"Can you open the bottle while I go and change out of this uniform?"

"Of course," Clark replied, pulling a corkscrew from his pocket. He had a number of useful little tools in there, that a merchant might use to sample wares. One for cutting a plug from a cheese wheel, a small balance for weighing things, and so on. Elisif had told him that Elenwen was expecting that her Thane was a merchant.

He'd noted the subtleties of her remark. Elenwen had in one simple statement told him that her outfit wasn't her own choice of style, and promised him something "more comfortable" without actually saying so.