Part 70 - Planning

The mention of Kematu had Saadia worried again. There were people in Whiterun who'd seen her with her scar, and could give her away. She needed Kematu eliminated, too.

"Already under way, I suspect," Clark reassured her. "Clarisse and her crew want the bounty for killing him, much more than they want to collect yours. I sent them over to Dragonsreach, to see if the prisoner there could tell them where to find him. Since they haven't come back to report failure, I suspect they're on the way to his hideout now."

"Saadia, can you come down to the bar? There are more people here looking for you," Hulda called out.

"I'll go first," Clark told her. "Hopefully it's the Red Witch party returning."

It was, but they'd lost one of the men. Kematu's warriors hadn't been the only ones in Swindler's Den and the bandits he was hiding with had proved more trouble than the Redguards. Hélène held up a sack that was stained with blood. "Kematu's head," she announced. "We need that to collect the bounty."

"And what about Iman?" Clark asked.

"if we wanted that one, we'd need her head, too."

"Complete with scar?"

"Of course."

"In that case ... Saadia, you can come down now."

Saadia had changed into her bar-keeper dress, rather to Clark's chagrin. And she'd pulled her hair back, so you could see both of her cheeks, neither of which now had any scars.

"Ladies and gentlemen, this is Saadia, not Iman. No scar, so not your quarry. Now we just need to determine what happened to Iman."

Clarisse had caught Clark's meaning, even if she was mystified as to how he'd achieved it. "We don't really need the bounty for her, but if we knew that Iman was no longer alive, then the bounty would be cancelled. So how did she die?"

"It would have to involve magic, or there would be a corpse left behind," Saadia suggested.

"Or she could have been eaten by a dragon," Clark added, "although the legends tell us they prefer virgins. It just so happens that the Dragonborn knows a couple of dragons that owe her a favour, or at least could be persuaded to co-operate with my plan."

"I'm not sure Iman wants to be eaten," Saadia pointed out.

"Anybody else will just see a dragon swoop down, and leave again. Those closer to the event will report that Iman was taken, never to be seen again."

"And those will be us?" Hélène suggested.

"Exactly. That bounty was as good as in your hands, when the dragon took it away. If you're not claiming the reward, why would you lie?"

"What's in it for the Dragonborn?" Clarisse wanted to know.

"Diablita was promised a reward if she'd call Durnheviir to Tamriel, and I'm pretty sure she hasn't collected. He'd be the ideal one to do this for us. He's an impressive-looking beast, not that any dragon isn't. And he returns to the Soul Cairn after he's summoned, which helps our story that Iman is no more. It's one more possible reason for taking her. My experience is that a story that has a lot of unknowns gets believed, if the outcomes are all what the listener wants to hear."

"So you're saying that we don't explain exactly how Iman perished, just that the dragon took her?"

"And whatever his reason, she no longer exists. Which is true, because now there's only Saadia."

"When would all this happen?" Saadia asked Clark.

"Any time we can get the parties together. The only one not here is Diablita, and now you have more freedom to travel, we can find a suitable location for everything. Outside the city of Whiterun, but somewhere close enough to witnesses. Maybe near Rorikstead, or the eastern tundra in view of the farms. I'll send a message to Solstheim, and we can do it as soon as the Dragonborn shows up."

"And what do we do while we're waiting? Hélène wanted to know.

"We've got Kematu's bounty in the bag, or at least his head's in one," Clarisse pointed out. "I think we could have a bit of a celebration, and a tavern's not a bad place for one."

"Let me contribute to that, too. I think I have something to celebrate as well," Saadia added. "I believe we can get the guards' complicity in letting things get a bit unrestrained, and that will give my friends Olfina and Jon a bit of cover."

"Olfina Gray-Mane and Jon Battle-Born?" Clark queried. "Not a pairing either family would approve."

"And it's showing the strains of their disapproval. Jon wants to leave town, and go to the Bards College in Solitude to study. Olfina wants to stay here, even though that means she can't be with Jon as much as she'd like. I'm hoping that the chance to really get together will help them decide what to do next."

Clark wasn't sure that was a good idea. They'd both be presented with a lot of alternatives, and almost obliged to sample more than each other.

"They probably already have. Neither family would have anything against that. And if they disappoint each other, better they do so sooner than later. Can't imagine that happening, anyway."

"They'd both want to be seen with someone else," Clarisse pointed out. "So if anyone asks who Jon was with, it was me. And Olfina was with Clark, right? And in both cases, a number of others who have escaped our minds. Now my crew don't know either of them, so they won't be able to tell anyone. Who needs to be distracted, so they don't let on?"

"Ysolda, Uthgerd, and Mikael are the main ones. I don't imagine any of them giving us any problems, although Uthgerd will probably get into a brawl with one of the sailors before she starts enjoying herself properly. That's just a habit of hers. She likes tough men, and it's hard to persuade her that there are better ways to prove it." Clark continued that he'd be bringing Lydia along to help out. "If there are men around she hasn't slept with, she won't forgive me for not telling her. She'll even take care of Mikael, if he's the only one available."

"What about Hulda?" Saadia wanted to know. "She normally doesn't mind leaving Olfina and me in charge of the Mare, but if she thinks there might be trouble, I don't know what she'd do."

"There won't be trouble, any more than Uthgerd's usual brawl. And Hulda's never had any issue with those. Sure, a few drinks get spilled, but that just makes people buy more to replace them," Clark responded. "I can convince her that it will be good for business."