The sun is high in the sky when Jenassa and I exit the Bee & Barb. Sensing movement behind us as we step outside, I turn my head to see Maven Black-Briar entering through one door just as we head out the other. Her chilly demeanour darkens the sociable mood of the inn like a shadow. I’m grateful for the timing of our departure, and glad that we’ve managed to escape her presence. Maven can be such a downer, and I don’t want that on our wedding day.
As we make our way to the stables, I tell Jenassa to follow me on her horse, adding that I’ll fill her in on the details of our honeymoon excursion once we reach our destination. I can tell that she’s intrigued, but she doesn’t try to tease any further information out of me. A few minutes later, we’re riding away from the troubled city and into the serenity of the sunlit forest.
However, the sunny weather doesn’t last long. Soon the wind grows colder and the skies become overcast. By the time we arrive at the Black-Briar Lodge, the first flakes of snow have started to fall. I gaze up at the darkened sky and draw my mount to a halt while we’re still a fair distance away from the lodge.
While I’m not entirely pleased at the change in weather, it does mean we’ll have an easier time approaching the lodge undetected. As we dismount and conceal our horses in the trees, I fill Jenassa in on our mission. She listens carefully, grins, and then makes a couple of suggestions which make the whole thing even better. Perfect. Let’s do this.
The two mercenaries guarding the entrance to the lodge are well-armed, but they’re also bored, too busy chatting instead of standing watch for possible intruders. It’s almost too easy to get within firing distance. We take out one mercenary before he’s even aware of our presence, and we shoot down the second as he runs toward us in an ill-fated attempt to retaliate.
Maven’s horse, Frost, is in a stable nearby, but the sudden activity and the scent of fresh blood has made him nervous. In fact, he looks as if he might bolt at any second. Jenassa and I slowly approach him with gentle words, and I find an apple for him in my backpack. Fortunately Frost isn’t too high-strung for a thoroughbred, and in a few minutes we manage to calm him down. As Frost happily munches on his apple, we loot the bodies of the dead mercenaries. Luckily one of them has a key to the lodge. We drop to a crouch, ready our bows, and unlock the door.
Inside, we can hear the voices of several mercenaries talking among themselves. Jenassa points forward with her bow, inclines her head toward the stairs leading to the basement, then raises her eyebrows as if to say which way? Remembering the directions from Maven’s jailbird son, I nod toward the stairs. A couple of steps creak as we descend, but the mercenaries are too busy chatting to notice.
Maven’s son promised a sweet deal when he handed over the strongbox key, but there isn’t a lot of gold in the stash under the stairs — especially considering it belongs to the Black-Briars. Seems more like pocket change for them. I guess the mercenaries have recently been paid, or else most of the money went to decorating Sibbi’s jail cell. But whatever, gold is gold.
There are more sounds coming from the next room, although definitely less than there were upstairs. We still have to find Frost’s identity papers before we can deliver the horse to Letrush, so Jenassa and I slip into the next room to investigate.
Gotta admire the professionalism of these mercenaries. One of them is actually snoring away in the next room, completely oblivious to our presence. We consider searching the basement and leaving him in dreamland, but we don’t know how heavy a sleeper he is. I decide it’s probably safer to make sure he doesn’t wake up, so I nock an arrow to my bow.
Unfortunately before I can take my shot, another mercenary enters the room through an adjoining door. I shoot the new guy, but this wakes up the orc version of Sleeping Beauty. He rolls out of bed, grabs a weapon, and turns to attack us. While Jenassa peppers him with arrows, I charge forward and slash at him with Dawnbreaker. He drops like a rock, screaming as he’s wrapped in flames. It’s satisfying for all of two seconds before I hear the sound of heavy footsteps on the stairs. Oops.
Alerted by the shrieks of their dying colleague, several mercenaries charge down the staircase behind us. I spin around, Dawnbreaker still in hand, but Jenassa reacts even faster as she rushes forward with her blades at the ready. In a blur of speed, she keeps the incoming enemies pinned at the narrowest part of the stairs with her whirling blades, forcing them to approach one at a time. Moments later, the bodies start dropping at her feet as she turns the mercenaries into mincemeat.
I grab my bow to help with the general massacre, but in minutes it’s all over. We search the bodies and loot everything that seems remotely useful, but there’s no sign of Frost’s identity papers. We start searching through the clutter and abandoned furniture scattered around in the basement, and finally find the papers lying on a beat-up old table. Why the papers weren’t kept in the strongbox is beyond me.
I briefly consider heading to the upper floor and taking out the rest of the mercenaries, but since we already have everything we need, this is not the time to push our luck. Besides, we have an appointment to keep.
We head out of the lodge and make our way back to the stable. Fortunately Frost is still there, and his ears perk up with interest as we approach. I pull another apple out of my backpack, and Frost nickers in anticipation, nostrils flaring as he catches the scent of the fruit. Stroking his nose, I feed him the apple as Jenassa guides my old mount into the Black-Briar stables. Frost stands quietly as we switch over the saddlebags, and finally the thoroughbred allows me on his back. I have to admit, this horse is a beautiful animal, and he seems to like me. I pat his neck affectionately as we ride out to meet Letrush.
Evening is approaching rapidly, and the snow continues to fall, muffling the sound of the horses’ hooves as we make good our escape. A few minutes later, we meet with our partner in crime at a clearing deep in the woods.
Letrush breaks into a wide grin as he sees us approach with Frost. He reaches into his pocket and holds out a purse full of gold almost before I’m within arm’s reach. I jump down off Frost’s back and take my payment from Letrush, stuffing it into one of my belt pouches along with the identity papers.
Jenassa reaches over and grabs onto Frost’s reins as soon as I jump down, holding them firmly in her grip. As soon as I pocket the gold, I glance back at her, and she grins and gives me a little nod. Right. Time to ruin his day — and Maven’s.
Riding away on Frost with a self-satisfied smirk on my face, I can hear my wife’s delighted chuckle echoing through the woods as she follows me on her mount. We avoid the roads as much as possible on our way back, navigating through the backwoods to reach the ranger cabin. In the unlikely event that Letrush decides to confess everything to Maven, we don’t want to give him a clear idea of where we’re headed. It’s too late to ride very far tonight, but since no one in Riften knows we’re staying at the cabin, we’ll be safe there until we leave in the morning.
When we reach our little hideaway, I ride Frost around to the back of the cabin. There’s no stable here, but the backyard is fenced off from predators, and he’ll be hidden from sight in case anyone happens to approach from the road. Mind you, if he’s hungry enough after this escapade, then the vegetable garden might be stripped bare by morning — but I consider that well within the realm of acceptable losses.
As we make Frost comfortable for the night, Jenassa congratulates me on planning such a wonderful honeymoon surprise. I grin, reminding her that since we have to put considerable distance between us and Maven, the honeymoon vacation is hardly over yet.
Inside the cabin, Jenassa and I discuss where to go next as we prepare our evening meal. We have several options, but finally we decide to travel to Falkreath. It’s a fair distance from Riften, we still have the Jarl’s letter with his invitation to visit, and gaining more influential allies can only help us in the long run. Not to mention, we can stop by Ivarstead on the way and finally return the Horn of Jurgen Windcaller to the Greybeards.
It occurs to me that I’ll be somewhat sorry to leave the Rift. It’s a beautiful area, the cabin has been a cozy home, and we’ve made the hold a safer place during our stay. But even if we hadn’t just stolen Maven’s best thoroughbred, we’d still have other responsibilities that would force us to move on. Perhaps someday we’ll return. But for now, it’s enough that we’ve made some good memories — not the least of which is our wedding day.