The Scroll Keeper
Chapter One: Scoundrels
The thunder of an angry mob outside her tower window awoke the Wood Elf from her deep sleep with a jolt. Lyra grumbled mournfully, rolling onto her back to stare at the ceiling while she allowed her thoughts to catch up with her waking body. Solitude was a jovial city of street festivals and wine merchants… usually. So why in Oblivion were there raised voices on the street, causing an uproar like scent hounds baying for blood? She groaned and pinched the bridge of her nose, scrunching her eyes shut once more. Oh yes…
It was execution day.
The High King of Skyrim, Torygg, had been slain in his throne room some weeks earlier by a disgruntled Jarl. Ulfric Stormcloak to be precise. And since that day, while Ulfric roamed free, Roggvir had been sitting in a prison cell, destined for the executioner's block, for the crime of opening the gates. His life, for a murderer's liberty. It hardly seemed fair.
Lyra was well aware that tension in Skyrim had been mounting ever since the Empire had abolished their patron deity with the signing of the White-Gold Concordat. A bargain for peace that no Nord worth their salt would have backed. But they had not exactly been given a choice.
And now their King lay dead, a known Imperial sympathiser, half of the kingdom celebrated, while the other half demanded the head of the gatekeeper who had allowed it to go unpunished. Lyra did not know which side she preferred.
Better to stay out of it, she reminded herself once more, as she reached for a basin of cold water. She sloshed it over her neck and shoulders with a linen cloth, washing away the grime and sweat of her nights sleep. After two decades, still she could not sleep at night without a roaring fire to keep her toasty. The frozen winds of the Sea of Ghosts was a torture no man or mer should be made to endure. And yet, man and mer had shed blood for this land since the beginning of time, and perhaps were soon to do so again.
That thought sent a chill down her spine. She was here, after all, in the hopes that it could be averted. That somehow the Thalmor, and whatever games they were playing, could be thwarted.
She swatted aside her fears, finally ready to stand and face her day. Today was also the day she had agreed to meet Jaree-Ra at the Winking Skeever, and she had to wonder what kind of trouble he was about to bring her now. Of the three Argonian siblings, scoundrels that her Thieves Guild associates bid her to keep a close eye on, Lyra trusted Jaree-Ra the least. Mostly because he was stupid, and what did that make her, allowing him to drag her into his schemes? As she finished buckling her leather armour in place and moved to grab her bow and quiver, she hoped that his claims of a profitable and bloodless plunder of the Icerunner, an East Empire merchant vessel, proved to be true. The Guild needed a dose of good-fortune, if they were to stay standing for much longer. The least she could do with her idle time was help.
The angry chants filling the gateway square were beginning to rise and drown out all other thought from her head. Grim, she stepped to her window and drew the glass open so that she could look below. Bracing herself for what she was about to witness, as the Nord man was led up to the gallows, where the headsman, his axe, and a wooden block awaited him, Lyra tried to focus on the crowds instead, trying to understand the mood. Were they angry at the injustice, or were they calling for his death like gleeful maniacs? She suspected the latter.
‘Death to the Stormcloaks!’ She could hear. ‘Justice!’
She feared she had her answer.
Before she stepped away from the window, her sharp gaze caught on a small girl, almost lost within the jeering crowds. She narrowed her vision and pricked her ears. The little girl was clutching the arm of a large Nord, her father presumably, with bewilderment awash in her eyes.
“They can’t hurt Uncle Roggvir! Tell them he didn’t do it!”
“Go home to your mother, Svari,” her father answered, turning the girl by the shoulders and pushing her away from the jostling crowd. He was right, Lyra agreed. This was no place for a child, much less a young relative of a man about to be killed for his crimes. Her heart panged. No one should have to lose their innocence in such a way, yet sadly she knew it was just the way of the world. Either way, witness or not, her uncle would be gone, and what reason could her parents possibly give to justify his gruesome end beneath a headsman's axe?
The child has aroused her long dormant instincts of motherhood, she realised with a slight chill. She had lived forty years of her life already, a fraction of the long life that hopefully she would lead, yet still long enough to let those desires take root. But if she asked herself why no man had yet tempted her to settle down, give up her adventures, the answer was at least clear.
She had too much to do, too many responsibilities, and honestly… too much fun. The life she had chosen was dangerous, that was true. She could argue that her mother had lived a wild life (an understatement if ever the word was true), yet this had never stopped her from raising her children. Six brothers and sisters to be exact.
Lyra let out a long, wearied sigh. She had too few memories of her siblings already, and it had been two decades too long since she had laid eyes on any of them. The eldest, Mhorus and Raylene, she had been closest too. Perhaps their advanced age instilled in them a deeper sense of responsibility, and kept them close to home as their family steadily grew over two centuries. Evaril, the second son, had left home the moment he was brave enough to face the world alone, and to her mother's anguish, was never seen again. Were it not for the steady flow of his letters, he may as well have never existed. Lyra had not seen him face to face, not even once.
Cirion, the third son, was the most charming and playful of the bunch, aside from herself of course. He was almost a grown man when Lyra had been born, and in the years that followed he travelled the Empire, or what remind of it, following in his mother's footsteps of trying to hold it all together with sheer will and diplomacy. She missed him intensely, wondering how he fared these days. It had been some time since she had received a letter, yet of all her siblings, they were the two to correspond most regularly.
And then there was young Seliel… the baby of the family. Now a grown woman in her own right, Lyra had been close by through most of her childhood in the Imperial city. But the girl was as different to her as gold is to iron, she had grown up in the Imperial court, and so spent her innocent years swooning over dreams of meeting and marrying a prince of her own.
Last she had heard, Seliel had snagged herself such a match a year or two ago, though Lyra had not been able to attend the wedding. She had left Cyrodiil twenty years ago, and seldom regretted the decision. The people of the Imperial heartland were as haughty as they were broken, living in constant fear of another invasion of the Dominion. The Nords were perhaps even more distrusting, but at least they showed it to your face, she reasoned. For elves like them, despite the Imperial blood in their veins and hearts, no one was truly trusting. All words were guarded, despite the status of their mother. Her fame almost made it worse, Lyra had realised this all too late.
She valued her own anonymity, above anything else. It granted her a freedom unrivaled, and the decision to turn her back on her mother's world had been easier than choosing to breath. She had no time for politics, no time for pretty words. Only action.
Liriel, mother to them all, argued that words were mightier than the sword, even after her long life serving as a battle-mage to the Legion. Lyra was still yet to be convinced. Rules were made to be broken, in her world. Nothing would ever get done, if she allowed herself to be constrained by the arm of the law. She wouldn’t be able to make a difference in the world, the way she had all these years. Cirion had a more sympathetic ear, yet still, he was bound by the life he had pledged to the Elder Council. Mistakes could not be afforded.
But they could, for her. She lived outside of the law for that very reason.
The time to move had come. Roggvir’s head had rolled to the ground, and the crowds were at last beginning to part. Latching the window against the strong winds of a city perched atop a mighty cliff, Lyra left her tower apartments and darted across the short distance between the gate tower and the local tavern.
As usual, the Winking Skeever was jostling with activity. Perhaps this day was busier than most, however. Patrons were crammed into every seat, and despite the bard’s best efforts to show off her harmonious skill, the roar of gossip filled the rafters to the brim. Roggvir was the only subject on everyone's lips. The crime he had committed against Solitude, their King, and the Empire. The way he had pleaded his innocence upon the gallows, yet had faced his death without regret. Shameless of his guilt, was the general agreed verdict. Lyra tried and failed to ignore their spite as she approached the bar, where Corpulus Vinius was cleaning tankards with a greasy cloth. The Imperial grinned bashfully at her.
“Interesting times, Lyra.”
“Interesting indeed,” she answered, leaning against the wooden counter. “Did you watch?” She asked, jerking her head in the direction of the door, and the square that lay just beyond it. She wondered if the guards had removed the body yet.
“Didn’t have the stomach for it,” Vinius replied, dropping the smirk from his face. “This city has seen enough bloodshed for an era.”
“Any letters?” She changed the subject, loathing politics in all its forms. She did not have time to waste on empty words.
“Two today,” he replied, setting aside the dubiously clean tankard and ducking below the counter. He arose with a leather satchel clutched in his hands, and placed it down for her. She passed him a gold coin and a smile.
“They came this morning?”
“Aye. You must have a lot of friends,” he said with a wink. Lyra smirked in answer.
“A cup of mulled wine, if you have it,” she said, placing another coin on the bar. She needed a warm stomach. She tucked the leather pouch he had given her into the pocket inside her jerkin. They would have to wait for later. Vinius nodded, and gestured to her usual table in the corner. It was still empty.
“I’ll bring it over to you. There’s some bread for you too, fresh out of the oven.”
Lyra smiled gratefully. The man seemed incapable of forgetting the debt he owed her, though she had long considered them even. Still, a friend was a friend.
As soon as she had taken her seat, the two Argonian brothers materialized from the crowd, joining her at the table like bees drawn to honey. Or wasps, in this instance. As likely to sting you.
“Gentlemen,” she said, curling her lips into a faint grin.
“About time you got here,” Jaree-Re said, dropping himself into the chair, without asking if he was welcome. They had agreed to meet here after all. His brother hesitated, waiting for her nod of approval before doing the same. Gulum-Ei valued his life too dearly. Not that he feared Lyra would end it, but she could certainly make it far less pleasant.
She shrugged. “It wouldn’t have been right to miss the show.”
Gulum-Ei scowled in answer. “I don’t like it. The locals have a taste for blood now… We should wait for the next ship to make port.”
“No,” Jaree-Ra objected vehemently. “This is the one. I just know it.”
His brother scoffed, and turned his gaze to glower away from them.
Lyra exhaled, crossing her arms. “It’s me you still need to convince, scales. Tell me again, what is the plan you have? You said that it would be good for the Guild, a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity… Tell me exactly why Mercer is going to approve of this?” She blinked innocently, waiting for his answer. Whatever he said, it didn’t matter. She was going to see how this all played out, right now she just wanted the satisfaction of watching the brothers squirm.
Some years ago Mercer, leader of the Riften Thieves guild, had been contacted by Gulum-Ei, an employee of the East Empire trading company. His brother and sister were also employed on the same dock, but it was Gulum that had access to all of the ship's records, the books that registered every incoming and departing vessel that was bound for the port. Gulum was the brains of the operation, and Jaree was the muscle. Together they had hatched a deal with the guild; in return for their protection and resources, Gulum would feed the guild details of ship routes, and give them a cut of the merchandise he managed to lift himself.
The relationship had been a prosperous one, and remained so, but Mercer Frey was not known to be a trusting man. So he had reached out to Lyra, and instructed her to watch the brothers very, very closely. While Lyra’s loyalty belonged to the Thieves Guild in Cyrodiil, she answered to the Gray Fox alone, for the sake of the Guild and for maintaining their ties across provinces, she had agreed to do this for him. After all, Solitude was already her home for the foreseeable future. And aside from watching the movements of the Thalmor like a hawk, she had nothing better to do with her time. Why not indulge in a little fun now and again, after all? It was the one thing guaranteed to make her self imposed exile bearable now.
Gulum allowed his brother to do the talking. It was a symptom of his shrewd nature. Why risk incriminating himself, while there were others to do the dirty work?
Jaree did not disappoint.
“...With the war, many more ships come through these docks. Loaded with weapons and pay, but few people. And they pass through dangerous waters. As I told you before… We have an interest in one of those boats, the Icerunner. The Solitude Lighthouse will be guiding it-
Lyra grew impatient and interjected. “Yes, yes. You want me to douse the fires and cause the ship to run aground.” She gestured a hand in the air, dismissive of those details. Any idiot could accomplish what he was asking for. It was obvious enough that they intended for her to get caught, if things went awry. Better she get thrown into the stocks, than one of their own. “What I’m curious to know is this ‘we.’ Who exactly do you boys have shared interests with?”
There, she had thrown the brothers a life line. Lyra allowed them to proceed as they wished. Gulum took the bait.
“A group of marauders is ‘we.’ The Blackblood Marauders. That is all you need to know.”
Lyra smiled like a cat with it’s cream. Gulum might have more brain cells than his brother, but he was no genius. “Indeed. Reputable fellows, I’m sure. And what about the crew? You know the Guild won’t tolerate a bloodbath. Not if we are going to stick our necks out this time.”
Jaree flashed his fangs at her. She presumed it was a smirk. “Don't worry about them. We'll make sure they wash up safe. Maybe they'll even pay us for the heroic rescue from their ‘sad crash’...”
“And why this ship in particular, Jaree? I never knew you to be a lizard to… trust your gut?”
Indignant, Gulum-Ei lost patience with her questions and stood. “Enough. Either you are with us, or this whole venture is dead in the water.”
She grinned upwards at him, reclining in her chair. “Pun intended, old friend? Don’t fret, I’ll be there tonight. You have no idea how bored I’ve become…”
“Then there is no more need for talk. Deal with the lighthouse tonight, and we will meet you at the wreckage. Let you have first pick of the plunder, of course.”
The Argonian grinned from ‘ear to ear’ (Lyra wasn’t even sure she could confidently locate them on his reptilian skull), and the effect was disconcerting. Too bad for them, it wasn’t so easy to pull the wool over her eyes. She returned the sly gesture.
Once the brothers had departed, Vinius scuttled over from his corner to deliver a goblet and platter to her table. Her belly was now crying out to break it’s fast.
“I would have come sooner but… I gathered it would be better to allow you three to conclude your business.”
“Don’t fret, Vinius. We’re not here to cause trouble.”
“Trouble?” He scoffed, making a sweeping gesture with his free hand. “I’m sure you aren’t capable of such a thing.” Before retreating back to the bar, he winked at her. Lyra laughed quietly and took a gulp of her drink. She tore the bread roll in half and made short work of the small meal, soon leaving the tavern with her spirits considerably lighter.
It was to go and see a dear friend.
Contents Page | Chapter 2