Chapter 71: Captive Audience

Right, so I wasn’t expecting to discover the secret life of the barmaid when I walked into the Bannered Mare this afternoon.  But after I mention that some men are out looking for a Redguard woman, Saadia immediately gasps in alarm and asks for my help.  She then requests to speak to me in private, and starts leading me up the back stairs of the inn.

Before I follow her up the stairs, I turn to Jenassa with a shrug.  In for a penny, I suppose.  Jenassa folds her arms and nods, indicating that she’ll wait until I return.  I’m not entirely certain I want to get involved in all this intrigue, but like it or not, I guess I’m involved now.

Saadia leads me to a modestly-furnished upper chamber that appears to be her own bedroom.  I’ve barely stepped over the threshold when she suddenly spins around, revealing a worn dagger that looks more like a modified kitchen knife, and demands to know if I’ve already betrayed her.  Rather than feel threatened, the overall impression is that of a mouse trying to defend itself from a sabre cat.   So even though she’s literally brandishing a dagger at me, I feel mostly pity — mixed with a certain amount of exasperation.

Yeah, this isn't really helping your case much.
Y’know, this really isn’t helping your case.

After reassuring her that I don’t mean any harm, she starts to tell a strange tale.  She reveals that her real name is Iman, that she’s actually a noble from Hammerfell, and that she ran away from her own execution after speaking out against the Aldmeri Dominion.  Hang on, isn’t that the same authority that’s responsible for the Thalmor?  Obviously they’re not too popular around here.

She goes on to say that the men after her, the Alik’r, are a gang of mercenaries led by a man named Kematu.  They’ve been officially banned from entering Whiterun, but she’s heard that one of them managed to sneak into the city and was arrested.  She asks me to visit the jail in Dragonsreach and see if I can find out from the prisoner where the rest of the Alik’r are hiding.  According to her, if I kill their leader then the rest will scatter — and presumably after that, she’ll finally be safe.

Fine, but first put that knife down before you hurt yourself.
Fine, but first put that knife down before you hurt yourself.

On the way back down the stairs, I ponder the barmaid’s request.  What she’s asking is certainly both difficult and dangerous, not to mention it opens up certain questions.  I meet up with Jenassa at the bottom of the stairs, fill her in, and ask for her opinion.

In moments I’m both admiring and cursing my wife’s quick mind, as she floods me with details about the complicated history of Hammerfell, Cyrodiil, and the Aldmeri Dominion.  Apparently the Aldmeri Dominion conquered Hammerfell in the Great War, but the Redguards refused to abide by the terms of the Empire and the Whatever-It’s-Called Concordat.  This led to Hammerfell’s expulsion from the Empire, and the fighting continued between the Dominion and the Redguards for quite some time afterwards, until Hammerfell eventually won their independence with the Second Treaty of Something-or-Other.  By this time my head is spinning with dates, historical figures, and details about battles in places I’ve never heard of.  This is why I’ve never been much for politics.

Finally, I hold up my hand to halt the information dump.  Jenassa stops in mid-sentence and gives me a questioning look.

“Here’s the way I see it,” I tell her.  “Right now, we have a bunch of armed men openly harassing Redguard women on the roads.  If they’ve been doing this since they got here, then it doesn’t take a genius to figure out why they’re not allowed in the city.  Meanwhile, the person they’re looking for is just trying to make an honest living, and she seems to be doing a pretty good job of it.  So regardless of whatever her past might be, I’m not inclined to hand over a contributing member of society to a bunch of thugs with a fancy name.  I say we should see if the prisoner is actually there, and if he is, we consider helping her out.  Sound good?”

We have an accord.
My wife — both brilliant and decisive.

That decided, we head out the door toward Dragonsreach.   I’m really hoping that my status as Thane will be enough to allow us to see the prisoner without having to get permission from the Jarl.  I can see things getting a bit awkward if we’re questioned about it, especially since all we have to go on is the word of the local barmaid.  The entire situation seems rather touchy, and I have the uncomfortable feeling that we’re about to meddle in complicated matters that I know next to nothing about.  But on the other hand, what else is new?

Fortunately, as soon as we reach the Cloud District, the first guard we speak with offers to escort us straight to the jailhouse.  He doesn’t even question our interest in the prisoner.  Possibly he just doesn’t have a reason to care, but whatever.  Works for me.

Life must be so simple for a guard. Lucky bastards.
Life must be so simple for a guard. Lucky bastards.

The guard in charge of the prisoners, after hearing from our escort that we’re here to see the Alik’r, merely nods and points us toward the jail cell.  The place is dingy and dark, about what you’d expect to find in a prison.  Coming in here from the bright sunlight, it takes my eyes a few moments to adjust — so I don’t even see the prisoner until he’s right in front of me on the other side of the bars.

After we explain what we want from him, he’s at first mocking and belligerent, telling us that we must have a death wish if we’re seeking Kematu.  Then he starts to bargain with us, offering the information in exchange for his freedom if we pay his outstanding fine for infiltrating the city.  Jenassa gives him a skeptical look, but personally I want to get out of this depressing pit as soon as possible.  Fine.  We have a deal.

That's all? And you couldn't afford that yourself? Thug life must not pay very well.
That’s all? And you couldn’t afford that yourself? Thug life must not pay very well.

After handing over the money to one of the guards, I walk back to the prisoner’s cell and demand that he spill the beans.  I’m half expecting him to refuse until he sees daylight, but fortunately he isn’t that smart — and besides, I’m pretty sure the guards would keep him locked up for as long as I wanted, fine or no fine.   Perhaps he senses this as well, because he starts ratting out his former leader right away.  Not much honour among this crew, apparently.

A cave? Seriously? Sounds like a nice cozy jail cell is a step up for you.

After revealing the location of the other Alik’r, he reverts to his old belligerence, claiming that we’ll never come back out of the cave alive.  I just roll my eyes at him as he continues to rant.  Whatever, buddy.  You just sold out your blood-brothers for a measly hundred gold.  You go right on believing that you’re sending us to our death — maybe that’ll make it easier for you to swallow your cheap treachery.

At that, the prisoner stops talking and bellows at the guard to let him out now that his fine has been paid.  But much to my amusement, it’s apparent that the guard is somewhat disinclined to acquiesce to his request.

Nice. I bet for another 100 gold they'd keep him locked up indefinitely.
Nice. I bet for another 100 gold they’d keep him locked up indefinitely.

Our business concluded, we leave the prison for the Bannered Mare.  By now it’s late in the afternoon, and we’re not likely to get to Swindler’s Den before evening, as it’s closer to Rorikstead than Whiterun.  Not only that, but we haven’t had anything to eat since breakfast.  We opt to order a meal back at the inn and then decide over dinner whether to face the rest of the Alik’r tonight, or wait until morning.

As we’re passing by the Gildergreen, I hear a sweet little voice calling me.  It’s Lucia, the adorable orphan girl who was heartlessly abandoned by her only living  relatives and left to beg for scraps.  It seems so long since we last saw each other.  I’m embarrassed that I haven’t kept better track of the little girl, but I’m delighted to see her.  The feeling is definitely mutual, as the next thing I know, Lucia blushingly asks if I’d be willing to adopt her.

Oh my heart -- yes! Yes! A thousand times yes!
Sweet merciful Mara — yes! Yes! A thousand times yes!

No problem, sweetie!  We’ve got a brand-new manor out in the woods, and there’s a spare bed and everything.  Plenty of room!  You’ll totally love it out there in the middle of nature — ouch!  Jenassa, quit poking me in the back!  What is it now?!

Oh.  Right.  I forgot about the rampaging werewolf thing.  But I’m sure the Falkreath guards have that all under control by now, and Rayya won’t mind watching over a sweet little girl while we’re away.  Yes, I know our housecarl is already busy protecting our property from wild animals and necromancers and elite Vigilants of Stendarr — okay, fine.  I guess maybe it isn’t the safest place for a kid.  But Jenassa, how can you say no to that face?!

Wait a second.  I just had a brilliant idea.  Didn’t we hear awhile back that there was a house for sale right here in Whiterun?  And don’t I already have a spare housecarl — what’s her name?  Lindsey?  Linda?  Lydia, that’s it.  So it’s simple… we just buy the house, install the housecarl, and adopt the kid.  Easy-peasy!

Yes, I know.  Houses are expensive.  But I’m sure we’ll get plenty of gold after we deal with Kematu and his lot.  Besides, we can always check out the notice board and pick up a few more jobs while we’re at it.  Wouldn’t hurt to see what’s available, right?

Perfect. Nothing like murdering a nearby giant to make ends meet.
Perfect. Nothing like murdering a nearby giant to make ends meet.

Jenassa and I keep scanning the board.  Some assignments will take far too long, like collecting stacks of ore or pelts, and most of the other jobs will take us considerably out of our way.  What we need is a nice straightforward bandit raid somewhere between here and Rorikstead… hang on a minute.  Well, now.  That’s rather interesting.

This bandit raid might not be entirely straightforward — but what the hell.  Sign me up.

Interesting. Suddenly Saadia's story doesn't sound so daft after all.
Suddenly, the barmaid’s story doesn’t seem so unlikely after all.



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