Part 74 - Windhelm and Solitude

"Did you need to collect any grisly trophies for this mission?" Clark asked the privateers, as they set off for Windhelm.

"No, the East Empire Company know all about it, and their office in Farrun will pay out when we return. We'll be getting a retainer fee for keeping the trading routes safe after this, which is just a little less than we might have taken ourselves, but it should be less effort, too."

"So it's back to Solitude, now?" Olfina asked, hopefully. "Jon will be waiting for me."

"We'll want to visit a few places along the way, so that you can tell the tale of Iman and the dragon," Clark reminded her. "And make sure the bard in each place gets to hear about it, so it gets repeated. By the time Jon hears it, I'd prefer that it's not just your story, but common knowledge."

"Good point," Olfina agreed. "And Luaffyn here in Windhelm should be the first to know. That way they'll know I was travelling East, not West. If we can get her to add a tune to the story, it can become hers."

"We're not entirely finished with our bounty-hunting here in Skyrim," Clarisse told Clark. "There's a woman, called Maven something, who's wanted in a number of cities in High Rock. We have several warrants, each under a different family name, but we're convinced that it's the same person. They're all related to political assassinations, dealing in illegal arms, and other major crimes that most would shy away from. There's little direct proof of her guilt in any of the cases, but it all adds up to enough suspicion to send her into hiding. We're pretty sure she came to Skyrim, probably with her family. We have warrants for her son and grand-son, too."

"Is there a grand-daughter? If so, it all sounds like someone I know," Clark told her.

"Possibly. There isn't a bounty for one, but how old is she? They fled a few years ago, so maybe she was too young to get involved in the family business."

Clark thought that Ingun Black-Briar was twenty, at most. And from what Gilda had told him, she was more into her alchemy than crime. He described the Black-Briars to the privateers, and it appeared to be a very good match. No proof, of course. Maven would have been careful to cover her tracks.

"We can't just accuse her without anything concrete to connect her to the other Mavens, so we'll need to bide our time and wait for something to crop up. You say that the Riften Thieves Guild is investigating her, too? I hope they won't want a share of the bounties, although there's plenty of gold involved."

"They just want to be rid of her," Clark reassured them.

Jordis opened the door to Proudspire Manor and saw Clark coming up the steps with a young woman she didn't recognise. "Not again," she thought. "It's bad enough that Elisif and Elenwen seem to have first option whenever he's here, but now he's bringing home someone else."

But this was Olfina, and she was eager to find Jon Battle-Born, the new bard at the college. Jordis, naturally, had already ... met him. Illdi and Ataf had taken him to the Winking Skeever, and somehow they'd all ended up at Proudspire that night. Jon was fun, but he was obviously keeping something in reserve, and it turned out it was Olfina who'd be the beneficiary.

"Can Olfina use your room for a couple of days, while she and Jon sort out some other accommodations?"

"Does that mean I'll be sleeping upstairs?"

"Don't you always, when I'm in town?" Clark replied, thinking "and whenever you have company, which is whenever I'm away."

Jordis managed to work out that this meant Clark wasn't intending to bring anyone else back here. Not that he did that with Elisif or Elenwen. And if Gilda turned up again, well last time was fun, so that wouldn't be bad either.

Just in case, she inquired if he had any plans to be anywhere else tonight. "Not yet, but neither Elisif nor Elenwen know I'm back. Let's keep it that way."

Jordis thought that was a good idea, too.

"Jordis has a point," Clark was thinking as he left Proudspire on his way to the Blue Palace. "It's only here in Solitude where my housecarl doesn't get first call on my time. Well, maybe Riften, too, but Gilda's more likely than not to be somewhere else when I arrive. She's also forgetting that it means I have more reason to be in Solitude these days. Rayya hardly ever sees me down in Falkreath Hold. And if the Morrowind trade picks up now, I'll be here a lot more often because the East Empire Company prefers to operate from the capital."

The elimination of the Blood Horkers and the restoration of the Morrowind routes was what he wanted to discuss with Elisif. It would mean increased trade for the city, too, and that might have an effect on Tullius' desire to replace her. She'd probably already know from her own sources, such as Erikur, what had happened.

It turned out that Clarisse was there in the foyer, waiting for an audience with the Jarl. She had the same thing on her mind, too. The increased trade with Morrowind was something she'd like a slice of, and since the Red Witch was reponsible for the altered state of affairs, she had a good position from which to negotiate.

They met with Elisif together, and she turned to Falk Firebeard and told him to hold any further business until the following day. "We'll continue this discussion in my chambers," she told them, "just in case Erikur wanders in and feels left out."

"And why would he feel left out?" Clarisse asked.

"Because he will be," Clark replied.

"That's more than you're getting from Farrun," Clark interrupted, as Clarisse made her opening bid for the privateer contract she wanted.

"How do you know? I've not told you what they're giving us."

"Because firstly, you'd be stupid not to ask for more than you expect, and haggle down, and secondly, because of the over-innocent look on your face when you said it. Believe me, you just don't have a face that does a convincing innocent!"

"And a gentleman will never tell a lady she talks in her sleep. Right, Clark?" Elisif added, with a huge grin.

"What makes you think he knows me that well?" Clarisse demanded.

"Because I know him well enough to know that he wouldn't miss an opportunity. Since I already know that you journeyed all the way across the province together, I'm sure he found one."

"And how...?"

"From my contacts in the East Empire Company, not to mention a few in Farrun, too."

Clarisse changed her tactics, and pointed out that it was in Elisif's interest to be paying a little more than Farrun, as it would mean that Solitude would be the preferred client if there were any conflicts of interest.

"So now we need to find out what you mean by 'a little', don't we?" Elisif replied.

"I think ten percent more would be enough, don't you?" Clark suggested.

"We could agree to that. The actual sum to be put in writing once we have proof of the terms with Farrun?"

"Whose side are you on?" Clarrise asked Clark.

"Both," he replied. "I want you two to come to a fair deal, that you'll both want to keep. I have my own reasons for wanting you to work together, and we'll get to that next."

Elisif raised an eyebrow. Clark's plans were often interesting, to say the least.