Walking from the gates for what must have been the third or fourth time in just a few days I was glad to see the back of Whiterun, even if only for a while. It was time to spread my wings a little and travelling to Riften would give me an opportunity to get back to what I loved the most. I walked down the cobbled road, gazing at the view for the first time. It really was an exceptional position to place a city, from this small place alone I could see across the hold almost all the way to Rorikstead. I neared the first entryway and noticed that it was quiet here. Normally it’s fairly busy with the Khajiit traders but it seemed that they had moved their caravan off into the wilderness, as they so often do – especially in times of danger. These caravans are their lives, a few potential wolf attacks are nothing compared to that of a dragon’s and so weighing up the difference they clearly saw it better to move onto ‘greener pastures’, just as I was doing. The cart sat up ahead completely empty, but it looked as though it were about to leave and so I quickly dashed over to it, my knapsack rustling and clinking with all the goods I had stored within – easily enough provisions to last me three days in the wilderness, so I would definitely not be starving on the side of the road if something were to happen. Reaching the back of the cart I slapped at the wood, startling both horse and rider a little and then made my way to the front.
“I’d like to hire your carriage.” I stated
“Where do you want to go?” he asked, happily enough. This was it, it would be a little while before I could return, and so handing him twenty Septims I replied
“Jump in the back and we’ll be off” he then hastily replied. And so I did, I walked around the cart, threw my knapsack in and then jumped in after it, taking a seat on the side.
“If you’ve never been to Riften,” he said, “be sure to visit the Black-Briar Meadery. A few mugs of that and you’ll forget all about the long trip.” He joked as he slapped the horse in order to get the cart moving. I pulled a hunk of bread from my back and then ate quietly as we rode along the narrow and poorly cobbled roads, shortly afterwards finding myself falling asleep.
The next thing I knew the cart was being drawn to a halt outside the city walls of Riften. It was dark, I must have been asleep for hours! I jumped off the back and dragged off my knapsack with me, throwing it heavily onto my back with a yawn. Traipsing around to the front of the cart I nodded to the driver and made for the gates, only to be stopped suddenly by a guard.
“Hold there. Before I let you into Riften, you need to pay the visitor’s tax.” He said sternly. I was confused, even Whiterun didn’t ask for a tax, and the law didn’t vary from hold to hold as far as I knew.
“What’s the tax for?” I asked with a confused expression.
“For the privilege of entering the city.” He said, “What does it matter?” he then asked, that really gave his game away. I sighed and looked him in the eye, very unimpressed.
“This is obviously a shakedown.” I said, fully in the know, I had done this myself in Cyrodiil once. It didn’t work for anyone other than nobles, and even they only paid a pittance. I was tired, I really wasn’t in the mood for this rubbish.
“All right, keep your voice down!” He said, trying to hush me “you want everyone to hear you? I’ll let you in, just let me unlock the gate” He grumpily said, turning to the gate as he pulled a key from his pocket. He turned it in the lock and then turned back to me. “The gate’s unlocked. You can head inside when you’re ready.” He mumbled, admitting defeat. I walked past him, trudging through the dirt and pushed the gates open, making my entrance into yet another of Skyrim’s cities for the first time in many years. I don’t even remember when last I visited, I just knew that if there were any chance of meeting thieves anywhere, it was here. I was met instantly by a foul smell and an equally bad sight. The city was in a grim state, the roads were filthy and everywhere smelled of sewage. It had either felt the worse end of the civil war or the Jarl was truly inept. I walked on towards the centre of the city, a market square with all of 5 stands – empty at the current point in time, of course – and then turned around to see that I had in fact just walked past the local inn, The Bee and Barb. I pushed open the door and was met instantly by a crowd of people, it seemed that this was where the folk of Riften drowned out the smell and sight of their ‘beautiful’ city, everyone was drunk and the place was a mess. Warm and dry, but a mess nonetheless. This really was a city of sin. I approached someone who looked as though they were in charge, an Argonian man with a white tunic and orange trousers, dirty towel in his belt at his waist.
“Welcome to The Bee and Barb milord. If I can interest you in one of our special drinks, let me know.” He said as I approached. He was slightly unnerving to look at, his green scaled skin was such a foreign sight, not to mention his yellow, unblinking eyes. The reptilian race that was the Argonians never failed to make me a little nervous, and if the scales and eyes don’t get to you, the scaled and spiked tail is sure to. I realised all of a sudden that I had been stood staring him up and down for some time and so I stuttered hurriedly
“I-I’d like to rent a room.” While pulling a small amount of gold from my pouch.
“Sure thing.” He said, confused, he clearly hadn’t taken any notice of the pause. “It’s yours for a day.” I turned away and made for the back wall, it looked like there were stairs there and so with the wonderful hosting of the Argonian male, I walked alone up the stairs and opened a door, almost simultaneously falling into the bed that was within and shutting the door. Once again I blacked out and before a single dream even touched my mind I was awake. I walked down stairs to the main room and then out the door into the marketplace again, the sunlight paving my way through the mist that perpetually seemed to dwell in the city, both inside buildings and out. It must have been around midday by now and so I took out an apple and Sweet Roll to eat as my daytime meal while I browsed the markets. I would go on a thief hunt later – for now I was given an opportunity to take some leisure time, to purchase some new items and even have a look for enchanted jewellery, for there was another Argonian stood behind a stall covered with gold and silver necklaces and rings among other fine pieces.
After an hour or two of browsing I found nothing of worth, nothing until one man spoke up in a thick accent, selling “Genuine Falmer Blood Elixir”. Now there was something I could have a go at, I wonder what it did. During a period where no one was crowding him I approached with the aim of making conversation. It seems he beat me to it.
“Never done an honest day’s work in your life for all that coin your carrying, eh lad?” He asked, slyly.
“I’m sorry, what?” I asked, a little confused.
“Your pockets… They’re a little low on coin. I can tell.” He said, as if he could see the contents of my coin purse.
“How could you possibly know that?” I asked, becoming steadily more confused.
“It’s all about sizing up your mark, lad.” He said “The way they walk, what they’re wearing. It’s a dead giveaway.” At that I looked myself up and down. I looked a mess, so much so that I could even be from here. This man, however, held himself high, wore fine cloth and was well kept. By what he was saying, he was a rich man. Unless it was all a bluff… Very clever. Regardless, I was a little alerted by his instant reading of me.
“My wealth is none of your business.” I stated to him, resting my hand on the hilt of my sword, just in case. I knew how to protect from thieves.
“Oh, but that’s where you’re wrong, lad. Wealth is my business.” He said, with that same sly look on his face, “Maybe you’d like a taste?” Now that captured my attention.
“What do you have in mind?” I asked, intrigued.
“I’ve got a bit of an errand to perform, but I need an extra pair of hands” I said slowly, trying to not give his game away too early, “And in my line of work, extra hands are well paid.”
If he was any less subtle he may as well have said “I want you to steal something for me.” He was a thief, no doubt.
“What do I have to do?” I asked, crossing my arms and leaning my shoulder against his stall. He cottoned on to my own intentions at that point, he knew I was a thief as well, he must have done.
“Simple… I’m going to cause a distraction and you’re going to steal Madesi’s silver ring from a strong box under his stand.” He began, “Once you have it, I want you to place it in Brand-Shei’s pocket without him noticing.” This was going to be hard, I didn’t know the names of anyone here. I assumed that Madesi was the Argonian, he was the only who appeared to have any silverware, but Brand-Shei… A male name. Another Argonian name, but there were no other Argonians in the area. The only other foreigner was the Dunmer at one of the other stalls. I could do no more than guess, but I had to follow through with my actions to the end, even if I plant the ring on the wrong person I can always pickpocket them again later – the joys of being a thief. I needed more details, though. I can’t just steal when people tell me to, I’m not a guild member yet.
“Why plant the ring on Brand-Shei?” I enquired. The man looked at me, his ginger hair and beard fluttering in the rancid breeze, he looked as though he was considering telling me everything, but was reluctant to. He eventually came out with an answer.
“There’s someone that wants to see him put out of business permanently. That’s all you need to know. Now, you tell me when you’re ready and we’ll get started.” I looked at him and left a pause, I wasn’t about to walk away. I hinted subtly that I was ready and then when he still didn’t get it I replied with a slightly sarcastic tone.
“I’m ready. Let’s get this started.”
“Good. Wait until I get started and then show me what you’re made of.” He replied, bluntly, still not getting the sarcastic tone. I laughed as I walked away, and almost at that second he called out to everyone, merchants and buyers alike. Damn good distraction. I walked on through the marketplace and moved towards Madesi’s stand, brushing shoulders with the Argonian as he himself moved in to the crowd to listen to my accomplice’s pitch for whatever it was that he was selling and just as I crouched behind the stall from which the ring was to be taken a Dunmer voice spoke out.
“Come on, Brynjolf… What is it this time?” The elf called out bitterly, clearly having doubt in whatever was to come. I assumed from the fact that he acted so harshly that he must’ve been my target. It’s easy to make enemies and hard to let go of grudges in the underworld, and more than that, people don’t like to hide the fact that they’ve got them. This was my target. I continued with my objective while more conversation was made between the Dunmer, Brand-Shei, and Brynjolf. Dropping out of sight behind the market stand I pulled my lockpicks from one of my pockets, my instincts beginning to kick in. I was going to enjoy Riften. With a few subtle hand gestures the lock gave way and I pulled the sliding door open revealing a solid wrought iron lockbox. Again with the lockpicks? This Madesi really took security seriously. Not seriously enough to stop myself, however. Before I’d even let out my next breath I was into the box and snatched everything inside. An Amethyst, a strange bronze-like metal ingot, a pouch of Septims and two silver rings. That explains the locks. Studying both rings they were all but identical except one appeared slightly better kept with a marking on it to signify ownership. The ring was mine and I’d barely been searching for a minute! Keeping low so as not to attract attention I moved around the marketplace on the opposite side to where the ever-growing crowd had gathered to hear of the wonders of “Genuine Falmer-Blood Elixir”. I won’t deny that Brynjolf was making a hell of a show for the punters, and it was the perfect distraction for me as I moved in behind Brand-Shei’s stall as the Dunmer perched on a wooden box. The ring in my hand I reached out slowly, hesitant to breathe as I pulled open his back pocket and dropped the silverware in. That was it. Over in a matter of half a second I had completed my task and as if queued the crowd began to disband as Brynjolf ended his little performance. He glanced to me momentarily and I threw myself backwards out from behind Brand-Shei and stood up, leaning casually against the wooden uprights of the stall as if I were there all along.
“Well, I see that my time is up! Come back tomorrow if you wish to buy!” Concluded the redhead, the crowd now completely disinterested in his peddling. I waited patiently for everyone to return to their stalls and for buyers to move onto a new stand and then walked over to Brynjolf in order to receive my debrief.
“Looks like I chose the right person for the job.” He said as I came close enough as he didn’t need to raise his voice. “And here you go… Your payment. Just as I promised.” He raised out a hand, a decent sized coin purse sat in it. Snatching it from him as he smiled, he then continued.
“The way things have been going around here, it’s a relief that our plan went off without a hitch.”
“What’s been going on?” I asked, eager to see if I could get any more jobs from the man.
“Bah. My organisation’s been having a run of bad luck. But I suppose that’s just how it goes.” He sighed. “But never mind that, you did the job and you did it well. Best of all, there’s more where that came from… If you think you can handle it.” I smiled. Just what I wanted to hear. I looked him the eye, a glimmer of greed in my own.
“I can handle it.” I smirked.
“All right then, let’s put that to the test. The group I represent has its home in the Ratway beneath Riften. A tavern called the Ragged Flagon. Get there in one piece and we’ll see if you’ve really got what it takes.” He said, looking away from me so as not to look like he was talking to me. With a final glance at me he turned and walked away from me. Turning to see him go I noticed a guard approach Brand-Shei’s stall. The Dunmer stood nervously facing the mail-covered warrior who – to top it off – had her great-axe in hand.
“All right, Brand-Shei. Turn out your pockets, we know you have it.” She ordered, altering her grip on the axe as if ready to swing. Brand-Shei would have gone grey had his skin not already been that colour.
“Have what? What in blazes are you talking about?” He asked in a hurry.
“Don’t play stupid!” She shouted, kicking at the front of the stall. “I said turn out your pockets… Now!” Brand-Shei swallowed nervously, and reached into his pockets.
“I’m telling you, I don’t…” His face dropped and he stuttered “Wait, what’s this ring? This isn’t mine!” He protested nervously. The guard grunted.
“That’s right. It isn’t yours. You’re under arrest, Brand-Shei.” She said firmly. The Dunmer panicked, his eyes flitting about helplessly, his body frozen solid.
“This is insane! I didn’t steal anything! I never saw this ring before in my entire life!” He half shouted. The guard wasn’t taking it. She dropped the blade of the axe effortlessly into the stand, leaving it in the splintered wood and pulled a sword from her hip.
“We can do this one of two ways. You can walk with me up to the keep, or I can drag your lifeless body. Your choice.” Brand-Shei remained stationary out of sheer terror and tried desperately to protest.
“But… I…” The guard raised her sword. “Very well.” He ultimately whimpered, defeated. The guard kept her sword drawn and hinted at him to lead up to the keep, nodding over to the opposite side of the market where a grand stone building stood, a number of guards patrolling just inside the wall, visible through the threshold of its main entrance. His head down he began to walk, the guard close behind, her steel blade held to his back. If one thing was for certain, this city was efficient in its crime. The guild had a firm hold over all areas of influence in this place. I had my objective though – find the Ragged Flagon. The Ratway was an unfamiliar name to me though, when I last visited it was only to half-drown myself in Mead at the Bee and Barb before finding a pile of straw to stumble into before making my exit the following day. To this day, I still can’t recall what I was actually doing in Riften in the first place.