“A housecarl? Have you lost your mind?” Vipir opened his eyes to find Vex standing over his bed, sneering at him.
“Good afternoon, Vex. How nice to see you,” he replied, smirking back at her.
“I’m serious,” she said, her irritation was obvious. Vex was baffled that Bryn and Delvin weren’t more concerned that Vipir was fucking a housecarl. They seemed to think this one would be gone soon, like all the women who traipsed in and out of his bed. Vex didn’t disagree. But a spurned housecarl could make trouble for the entire guild. In any case, she was determined to give him a hard time; at least then no one could say he wasn’t warned. “Which court?” she asked.
“She lives in Whiterun,” he replied although he wasn’t sure why he was telling Vex anything. What he did on his own time wasn’t any of her business. And jobs were so few and far between these days; he had a lot of his own time. He checked in with Delvin every other day or so at the Flagon, but this was the longest he’d spent in the Cistern in weeks. He spent every night with Lydia at the Bee and Barb and during the day he tagged along on whatever task the Jarl sent her.
“Whiterun!” she exclaimed. “One of Balgruuf’s? Again, have you gone insane? At the very least you could have gotten yourself someone from The Pale or Hjaalmarch. They’re so gods damn poor, they’re corruptible.” He didn’t respond and she continued to scowl as she turned away. “Maybe you can talk some sense into him,” she said to Rune, who had approached just moments before.
“Believe me, I’ve tried,” he said. Rune sat down at the bottom of Vipir’s bed. “I was starting to wonder if you’d left us for the tundra.”
“No…I may soon though,” he said gesturing toward where Vex had wandered to indicate his annoyance. “Did you do that favor I asked when you were in Whiterun?”
“I did.” Rune paused for a moment. “It didn’t seem right, using a protection symbol for someone who isn’t officially under the protection of the guild. So, I marked it empty. That should keep people away.”
“I appreciate that.” Vipir tilted his head toward his friend in thanks and then looked up to the ceiling, knowing what was coming next.
“Have you told her yet?” he asked, his tone was serious—almost severe. Rune was the only person in the guild who was genuinely concerned about Vipir’s relationship with Lydia. Of course, he was the only one really knew the depth and intensity of his feelings for her.
“No,” he said curtly, but as soon as the word left his mouth, his face softened. Try as he might, Vipir couldn’t bring himself to be irritated with Rune. On one of his stops by the Flagon to see about work, he wound up pouring heart out to the man over too many tankards of mead. At least Rune, unlike Vex, understood where he was coming from.
“You said you would. Why didn’t you?”
“Because it’s not enough I tell her what I do for a living. She’s going to want to know if I plan to keep doing it.” He considered his next statement very carefully, realizing that Rune was one of the few men he could trust with it. “And I’m not quite certain how I am going to answer that.”
Rune’s eyes grew wide. He leaned over and asked quietly, “Are you seriously thinking of quitting?”
“I’m considering everything,” he said, pressing his palms to his forehead. “I haven’t decided anything so I would appreciate it if you kept this to yourself.”
Rune nodded although he couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Thieves were thieves for life—usually because there were few other jobs for individuals with their particular skill set. Still, the guild was a tight group. Such a decision would not simply involve moving from an illicit occupation to a legitimate one—Vipir would be leaving his closest friends and mentors, the only family he’d ever really known.
“Besides,” continued Vipir. “I need to be focused on this Falkreath job. I’ll tell her after that.” In fact, the only reason he was hanging around was because of the job. Brynjolf had found him in the Bee and Barb that morning to let him know that some things had changed and to come to the tavern later. He had also hoped to have a gander at this Lydia, but she was at Mistveil Keep at the time.
Rune had a feeling he would find another excuse to put it off, but there was nothing more he could say. The two of them walked over to the tavern, where they joined Brynjolf and Delvin. Brynjolf went over the new details of the heist, important points but standard as far as jobs of this sort went. What was remarkable, however, was the sheer amount of wealth and clients they would acquire on this job alone. One of Cyrodill’s wealthiest nobles bought Lakeview Manor and Delvin had on good authority that he brought half of his art collection, a trove of rare and expensive pieces for which Delvin already had buyers lining up.
“We won’t be grovelin’ for work after this,” said Delvin. “And even by my most conservative estimates, you could live comfortably on your individual cuts for a while.”
Lydia and I could live comfortably….Vipir found his thoughts wandering again, thoughts he had no business entertaining, and yet he couldn’t seem to help himself.
“Vipir!” Brynjolf’s voice jerked him back to reality. “Is there anything you need for this job?” He hadn’t even noticed that Delvin and Rune had left.
Vipir shook his head while Brynjolf looked intently at him. Vipir had always been one of the guild’s most laidback members, but he hadn’t seen the man this content since…well, suffice to say he had never seen him this content.
“This housecarl of yours must be a fiend in the sack,” he said, grinning. Vipir looked at him sharply, but within moments, his face cracked and he laughed. He took another sip of his mead and leaned forward, resting one arm on the table and clutching the tankard with his other hand.
“Yeah,” he said finally. “She’s…great.” His tone was intended to be firm, keeping his emotions in check, but his lips twitched, like a little kid trying to hold back a giggle in the temple. He was thinking about a story she told this morning and without realizing it, he was beaming into his cup.
Brynjolf couldn’t believe what he was seeing and he leaned in closer, as if inspecting the man for clues. “Good gods lad…are you in love with her?”
Vipir looked at him. He and Brynjolf went way back. He was the one who brought him into the guild and taught him everything he knew. He was a good mentor and friend. Vipir trusted him as much as he could anyone, though had never intended to confide this—at least not so soon. After a few awkward moments, he took a deep breath and said, “I think so.”
Shor’s bones, he thought. How on Nirn did Vipir lose his heart to a housecarl? He supposed it didn’t actually matter now; he couldn’t exactly scold the man for finding a good woman. Still…a housecarl? That could be trouble. Or not, depending on how Vipir conducted himself. “I just need you to stay sharp,” he said finally.
Vipir nodded. “You don’t need to worry about that.” And it was true; he was distracted but on a job, he was always focused. He stood up and waved good-bye as he walked back through the Cistern and out into the graveyard, the very spot where he’d met Lydia just about a month before. So much had happened and so quickly. And even if he could slow things down, he supposed he couldn’t delay the inevitable conversation—either a confession that would send her running or a decision that would show her that he was actually worthy of her. He still didn’t know. Falkreath would buy him some time and set him up nicely, should he decide he was ready to move on from the guild. That thought, however, did not sit well with him at all. Of course, neither did losing her. As he approached the Bee and Barb, he found himself tense and frustrated and he stood outside just long enough to shake it off. There was no need to bring it with him.
Up in her room, he found Lydia lying on the bed looking absolutely miserable. “What’s the matter?” he asked as he lay down beside her.
“I need to go home soon,” she explained. “Anuriel says that the bandits around the hold are well under control. They’ve no need for my services anymore.” Her eyes filled with tears. She knew this day would come; she just had no idea it would feel so terrible. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I just don’t want this to be over.”
Vipir took her face in his hands and wiped her tears away. “It’s not over,” he said, kissing her. “When do you have to leave?”
“I told Anuriel I would head up to Shor’s Stone and take care of some spiders in Redbelly Mine tomorrow. After that I can stay for another day or so,” she said.
“Good,” he said. He didn’t want to think about it right now, but he wouldn’t disregard her feelings either. “I’m going to Falkreath tomorrow. I’ll be back the following evening and when I come back, I’ll settle up with my associates and bring you back to Whiterun.” As she smiled and nodded at this, he brought her closer and gently kissed, first her neck, then her ear. He ran his fingertips along her cheek before bringing his hands down and slowly removing her clothes. After that he drew everything out, prolonging every touch. Offering such tenderness made him feel vulnerable, but that is what he wanted, what he needed to do for her. And she received him so passionately—he was shocked that something so soft and gentle could be so intense. This was the moment he wanted to preserve forever, without the passing of time and the pressure of responsibility dragging them apart. He was still inside her when he brought his lips to her ear. “I love you,” he whispered.
Lydia’s eyes widened and when she paused, Vipir’s heart seized in his chest until she responded in kind, “I love you, too.”
He couldn’t lose her. As she slept, her beautiful naked body draped over his, he stared at the ceiling, trying to imagine what kind of life he might lead with her, living in Breezehome. When he remembered that Whiterun still needed a fence, he nearly leapt out of bed in excitement thinking perhaps he could combine legitimate sales with occasional guild sales, just as some of the caravans did. But he was a pickpocket, not a merchant, and you really couldn’t just open a store in someone’s home. There were permits and taxes and other things he didn’t understand. No, he would have to find regular work. Not only to earn his keep, but for something to do while she was on the road. He wasn’t sure what sort of occupation he would find himself in. He was only certain of one thing. He was leaving the guild.
Vipir left before sunrise on Middas, promising he would return Fredas evening by dinnertime. When he didn’t, Lydia was disappointed but not concerned. But when he hadn’t returned by Loredas evening, she was worried. After staying up all night imagining deadly bandits and mauraders on the road to Falkreath, she set out for the Ratway early Sundas morning—sick with exhaustion and fear.
The Ratway, she’d heard, was a horrible place and she approached the entrance with trepidation. She had no idea what to expect or even how to find this place, the Ragged Flagon, where she knew Vipir had friends and associates. She peered through the bars but before she could open the gate, a strong arm grabbed and jerked her around.
“You set us up, didn’t you?” It was Rune and he was furious.
“What…?” asked Lydia. “Where is Vipir? He was supposed to be home Fredas evening.” Her voice was shaking and Rune watched as her face started to break.
“You don’t…know?” Rune’s anger was giving way to confusion.
“Know what? Rune, what is going on?” Her voice cracked as tears filled and fell from her eyes. She was terrified and even more confused than he was.
Rune shook his head and tried to get his thoughts together. Vex was wrong. Lydia couldn’t be involved in this. No one with the nerve to take on the guild would be stupid enough to hang around Riften soon after. They may not have the influence they once had, but the guild still had muscle. Rune stopped for a moment and thanked the Eight Divines he had found her before she had gone into the Ratway. If she’d gone to the Flagon and Mercer had gotten a hold of her—he choked and forced the thought out of his mind.
He took a deep breath. “Lydia, Vipir needs your help. He’s in Falkreath Jail.”
Lydia felt her body grow cold. “What!” she gasped. “I…I don’t understand.”
“All right,” said Rune. “Look, Vipir’s in the Thieves Guild. We had a huge heist on Middas and something went wrong. Very wrong and now he’s in jail. And no one in the guild can get close enough to break him out or even pay the gods damn fine.”
Lydia couldn’t believe what she was hearing. She was overwhelmed with feelings of dread and confusion and could barely remember telling Rune she would ride to Falkreath. She hurried back to the Bee and Barb and packed all her belongings before heading to the stables to catch a carriage out. The ride felt like the longest she had ever taken. All she could do was try to get her mind around what Rune had told her. Vipir. A thief. In the Thieves Guild. In jail. During the ride her emotions ran the gamut of sadness, anger, and humiliation—over and over.
By the time she’d arrived in Falkreath, she realized that it was his cunning that had kept her out of trouble the night they fell into Sanguine’s little game and for that she still owed him. Not wanting to be indebted to a criminal for the rest of her life, she decided to pay his fine and walk away. Balgruuf would eventually find out. When she returned to Dragonsreach, she would tell her Jarl that Vipir saved her life in Faldar’s Tooth. Or something. More lies, but she didn’t think the truth would go over so well.
It was late when she arrived in Falkreath and she hurried over to the Jarl’s Longhouse. Jarl Siddgier was lounging in his throne when Lydia approached. The thought of requesting information on a prisoner was wrecking her nerves and she could barely speak.
“Speak up!” he demanded.
“Jarl Siddgier,” she began. “I am Lydia of Whiterun, a housecarl of Jarl Balgruuf the Greater. I’ve come here seeking information about a—”
“Information?” His tone was derisive. “I demand tribute before you can go about demanding information from me.”
“Tribute? I have money,” she said. His request perplexed her; housecarls didn’t usually bring tribute. And it certainly wasn’t mandatory when seeking counsel.
“How about drink?” he replied. “None of that local piss. Real Black-Briar Reserve, fresh from Riften.” He looked at her smugly. “Now, off with you. Bring me a bottle and I will consider your request.”
Frustrated, Lydia turned around and left the hall. She couldn’t go all the way back to Riften just for mead. Maybe she could bribe a guard. As she stood there considering her options, she heard someone say her name.
“Lydia?” It was an Altmer woman. Lydia didn’t recognize her but before she could ask, the woman continued. “I’m Nenya, Jarl Deng—excuse me, Jarl Siddgier’s steward. You said you are a housecarl in Jarl Balgruuf’s court?”
“Yes,” said Lydia.
“Is there something I can help you with?”
Lydia swallowed against the tightness in her throat. “Yes,” she said. “I came here looking for information about…about a prisoner,” she stammered. “His name is Vipir.”
Nenya thought for a moment. “We haven’t brought anyone in by that name.”
“What about Sven?”
“Yes,” she said. “He was brought in early Turdas morning. Do you know him?”
“He is…um, was, a friend,” explained Lydia. Her face had fallen completely and her voice was raw. “I said that I would check on him as a favor. And ask about his fine.”
“Come with me,” she said. “I will let you see him. And we can discuss his fine.” On the way to the barracks that housed Falkreath’s jail, Nenya explained that Vipir was being charged with everything the Jarl could throw at him and would get stacked sentences. He would be in jail for close to a year, taking the fall for everyone involved in the heist. “If I may speak frankly,” she said. “Jarl Siddgier wants to appear tough as he start his reign. I think he’s making your friend an example.” Nenya spoke as if she didn’t have much faith in Siddgier’s judgment. “But, he cannot go outside of the law. If the fine is paid, he can go free.”
When they entered the jail, Lydia gasped. She could see Vipir lying in a cell, his bent arm covering his face.
They stood back near the entrance, out of sight of the cellblock. “Balgruuf will be informed if I pay the fine, correct?” she asked quietly.
“There are ways around that,” said Nenya. When she saw the perplexed look on Lydia’s face, she explained. “As we transition from Dengier to Siddgier’s court, we—well, I am going to be relying on Balgruuf’s counsel and resources. I think it would be in everyone’s best interest if we kept the record between us clean for now.”
Lydia nodded and looked back over toward the cell. Before she approached, she took a deep breath and bit her lip. Her step was so soft that he didn’t know she was standing there until she cleared her throat.
“Lydia! Oh gods,” he cried as he scrambled to his feet. “Lydia, I am so—”
“Don’t!” she croaked, her lip was trembling as warm tears streamed down her cheeks. She looked at him clutching the bars of the cell door above his head as he stared back out at her. He was pale and haggard and his dark eyes were so full of sadness it wrenched her heart. She had gone into the jail thinking she would see him for the hardened criminal that he really was. But, she didn’t. She only saw Vipir. And she still wanted him. He was the cause of all her grief and yet she wanted him to be the one to take her in his arms and make it all go away.
After a long, uncomfortable silence, she approached his cell slowly. She knew she shouldn’t but she wanted to touch him so much it hurt. Ignoring all her intuition and good sense, she put her hand up to his and leaned against the cell bars until their foreheads touched. “Why didn’t you tell me,” she asked.
He let out an uncomfortable laugh. “Would you have paid any attention to me then?” When she didn’t respond, he cautiously wrapped his fingers around hers and gently squeezed her hand. “Lydia,” he began, “I really need that favor now.” His deep, quiet voice tugged at her heart.
She closed her eyes. “We can’t be together,” she said, her voice shaking. She felt his head nod as it pressed against hers. But she wasn’t saying it for his sake. Every part of her ached for him and she knew exactly what was going to happen if she let him out. They would fight and then she would give in. She would let him back into her arms, her heart, her soul…her bed. They would walk together, probably as far as Helgen. And then, after a night of too much sex and juniper-berry mead, they would part. Duty would find her and she would bury her grief in work. And Vipir? She could only imagine that another woman would find him and he would bury his grief—or whatever he felt—in her naked, writhing body. Lydia practically choked on this thought.
Lydia pulled away from the cell as Nenya approached her carefully. “What do you want to do?” she asked quietly.
Her sadness was giving way to anger again—a kind of jealous and resentful fury she had never felt before. She wanted him, she couldn’t have him, and for that she would punish him. She looked at Vipir’s sad, pleading eyes and glared at him. “Let him…gods, let him rot,” she said, turning away.
“FUCK! LYDIA!” Vipir screamed. He punched the cell so hard she heard his knuckes crack. His angry bellows sounded through the barracks as they left.
Outside Lydia collapsed on her knees and sobbed until she gagged. Nenya took pity on the young housecarl, helped her up and brought her inside. Lydia spent the night sitting upright in the bed the steward prepared for her and she left the next morning before anyone could see her.
During the long walk back to Whiterun, she spoke only when absolutely necessary: to ask for food, to rent a room, and to curse Mara as she tossed her amulet into the river where it would never taunt or tempt her again. She cried until Helgen, raged until Riverwood, and when she arrived at the gates of Whiterun, she had resigned herself to a life of work and duty.