May 26, 2017

The Thief in the Snow - Entry XXI: Your Child Sent
The Thief in The Snow
Entry XXI: Your Child Sent
Windhelm, Eastmarch
Tirdas, 2nd of Heartfire, 4E 201

I was unsure if I would be able to enter Windhelm, for my title as Thane of Whiterun would not aid me here. While Jarl Balgruuf held a neutral position in Skyrim's Civil War, he did have a working relationship with the Empire but this was not the case with the Stormcloaks. As I walked down the snow-covered path and then onto the icy bridge that led to Windhelm, I was greeted by the guards. They hailed me as Dragonborn and welcomed me into the “heart of all true Nords.” Apparently news of my arrival in Riften had already spread north to Eastmarch. This made me wonder if the other Stormcloak aligned holds also knew of my presence in the area. I had little time to ponder this for the guards opened the towering wood gate and ushered me inside.

I was greeted by the spine tingling sensation of cold. Icy air hit my face, my paws pressed against frozen stone, and there was a frigid aura that seeped out of the city. As I approached the local tavern, I overheard an argument brewing nearby. Two Nords were harassing someone they called “gray-skin” and chiding her for not siding with the Stormcloaks. This “gray-skin” was a female Dunmer and she stated that this was not their war to fight. The Nords then went as far as to accuse the Dunmer of being an Imperial spy. They then threatened violence, at this point I felt I had to step in but a third Nord beat me to it. He quickly broke up the argument, calling for peace from both sides. The Nord was called Brunwulf Free-Winter and the reception he received from the arguing party made me surmise that he was a powerful man in Windhelm.

Brunwulf easily dispatched the small crowd by admonishing the Nords for treating the Dunmer so abhorrently. Afterall, Jarl Ulfric allowed them to dwell in the city. After the two Nords left, Brunwulf spoke to the Dunmer and also chastised her for encouraging the conversation to flare. After she apologized and left, Brunwulf turned to me with a look of surprise on his face, a look I was very accustomed to seeing. I introduced myself but Brunwulf was already familiar with tales of my adventures in Whiterun. Brunwulf warned me to be careful in Windhelm for not everyone would be so welcoming. I asked about the cause of the argument and he explained that Dunmer and other non-Nord inhabitants of the city were segregated and forced to live in the Gray Quarter. Brunwulf disagreed with this and had brought up the issue many times to Jarl Ulfric, but the Stormcloak was too busy planning his war against the Empire.

I bid Brunwulf good day and continued to my destination, the White Phial in the market district, to find a lost Soul Gem. Wylaniah, the Court Wizard of Riften, had requested that I retrieve the item she left behind on her last visit to the city. Since I had made the hard journey to the north, I did not mind running this simple errand for her. I also hoped that gaining favor with Jarl Laila Law-Giver’s Court Wizard would also increase my standing with the Jarl as well. I made my way to the marketplace and spied a couple of guards patrolling the area. I was careful of my actions, making sure not to loiter too long at a stall or stare at the wrong person, for any minor slight and I would be arrested. I had no friends here to protect me and I felt that the guards were just waiting for an excuse to make trouble.

I finally located the White Phial, Windhelm’s local alchemy shop, which was located towards the back of the market district. Like all the buildings in Windhelm, its structure was made of stone making its appearance feel uninviting and cold. Inside, there was an old Atlmer who I took to be the owner, sick in the back. His assistant was helping him and though I tried to get his attention, he simply waved me away. I did not wish to disturb them any further and when I spied Wylaniah’s satchel on a shelf, I collected the Soul Gem and went on my way. Back outside in the marketplace, I overheard the locals discussing a string of recent murders including the murder of a Nord named Frigga. The news disturbed me and I knew that I must finish my business in Windhelm as quickly as possible and return to Riften at once.

I passed a Nord beggar near the marketplace named Silda the Unseen. I offered her a few Septims in hopes that she could use them to fight the harsh winter weather. I asked nothing in return but she informed me of some news that she thought I might be interested in. The recent murders had begun a few weeks back when a woman named Naalia Aretino was murdered in a back alley. She left a son named Aventus who was shipped to Honorhall Orphanage in Riften. The Aretino Residence was condemned but only a few days ago, there appeared to be life in the house. Aventus Aretino had run away from Riften and was now locked inside of his old home. Late at night, strange sounds could be heard coming from the dwelling which the locals could only explain by saying Aventus had gone mad with grief. Silda had another reason, that the boy was practicing the Black Sacrament to summon the Dark Brotherhood, in hopes of contracting an assassination.

I arrived at the dilapidated house just as the sun had slipped behind the mountains. I knocked but there was no answer. I knew that someone was inside for I could hear murmuring through the door. Rote words were being chanted within the dwelling, over and over they were recited like a child’s nursery rhyme. I procured a lockpick and silently went to work. I easily unlocked the door and entered the Aretino residence. Inside, I found the house in utter disarray. Furniture was overturned, the tableware was laying under the kitchen table, and rotten food had been trampled. I went farther into the house and found a crumpled letter lying at the foot of the stairs.
‘Master Aventus Aretino,

Jarl Ulfric Stormcloak wishes to express his deepest sympathies at the death of your mother, Naalia.

Unfortunately, because you are fatherless, and have no other known relations, the Jarl cannot allow you to remain in your home unsupervised. Therefore, in no more than a week’s time, you are to report to Honorhall Orphanage in Rifen, where you will reside until your sixteenth birthday.

The Aretino family home in the city of Windhelm will, of course, remain your property. The building will be securely locked and ready for your return six years hence.

Note that I am unsure of the education provided to you by your recently deceased mother, or if you possess the ability to read the letter I am currently composing. therefore, a member of the city guard will call upon you in one week, at your home, and provide escort to the orphanage. Hopefully, his arrival will not come as a complete shock.

With greatest respect,

Steward to our most noble Jarl, Ulfric Stormcloak’
If the state of his house was any indicator, It appeared as if Aventus violently resisted his escort to Honorhall Orphanage. It must have been extremely difficult for him, to suddenly lose his mother and his home all at the same time. Grelod the Kind was no help either, her harsh treatment would make anyone wish for her death. Still, the rumors that Aventus was trying to summon the Dark Brotherhood seemed like an extreme course of action to take. As if to answer my questioning thoughts, I heard a voice falling from the second floor. The voice was that of a young boy who was chanting a dark prayer.

“Die, Grelod! Die! Sweet Mother, sweet Mother, send your child unto me, for the sins of the unworthy must be baptized in blood and fear.”

I knew the words but had never uttered them. They were the words of the Black Sacrament, the ritual to summon the Dark Brotherhood. The ritual to request that someone be killed. If the Night Mother heard the pleas of the invoker of the Sacrament, she would relay the request to her Listener who in turn, would choose a member of the Dark Brotherhood to fulfill the kill. The words alone were not enough to complete the Black Sacrament. An effigy must be created in the likeness of the intended victim and assembled from a real body. A skull, a heart, bones, and flesh were all needed for the dark ritual. The effigy was then to be encircled with candles. Once this effigy was in place, the invoker needed to stab the effigy repeatedly with a dagger bathed in Nightshade while reciting the prayer.

“Die, Grelod! Die! Please… how long must I do this? I keep praying, Night Mother. Why will you not answer me?”

I heard Aventus again as I stealthily made my way up the staircase. I reached the second floor and inched my way towards Aventus’ pleading voice. I spied him in the back bedroom, shakily clutching a silver dagger. He plunged it into the heart and tried to remove it again, only for the blade to become lodged. Aventus jerked back on the handle as hard as he could and fell backward in the pool of blood that had accumulated underneath him. A sickening thought crossed my mind, ‘maybe this boy is the one that has been murdering women in Windhelm.’ The boy slumped down, exhausted and frustrated that his prayers to the Night Mother had not been unanswered. That was until Aventus turned around and saw me standing over him.

“You have come at last! I knew you would!” he exclaimed with excitement as he jumped to his feet.

“Is this one alright?” I inquired.

“It worked! I knew you would come, I just knew it!” Aventus cried with a grin. “I did the Black Sacrament, over and over. With the body and the… the things. And then you came! An assassin from the Dark Brotherhood!”

I remained silent.

“You do not have to say anything. There is no need. You are here, so I know you will accept my contract.” Aventus stated matter of factly.

“Contract?” I quizzed.

Aventus slowly began to explain, “My mother, she… died. I… I am all alone now. So they sent me to that terrible orphanage in Riften. Honorhall. The headmistress is an evil, cruel woman. They call her Grelod the Kind. But she is not kind. She is terrible. To all of us. So I ran away, came home. And performed the Black Sacrament. Now, you are here! And you can kill Grelod the Kind! Please hurry. To be honest, I am kind of lonely here. As much as I hated getting sent to Honorhall, I really miss my friends there…”

I left the boy, who was still standing in a pool of blood, without saying another word. I sprinted down the staircase, burst through the door, and fled through the streets of Windhelm until I was at the city’s main gate. I was unsure of what to do. The job was easy enough, killing Grelod the Kind was something I could do blindfolded. It was supposedly a Dark Brotherhood contract and at first I pondered if it was wise to steal this job from them. Then I remembered that Aventus had been performing the Black Sacrament for days now and no one had answered him. It was not like I even believed that the Night Mother existed, she was probably just some tale spun to scare children into obeying their parents. Nevertheless, I found myself at an impasse not sure if I should grant the boy’s prayers or just move onto another job. One thing was for sure, I still had work to do in Riften. Without further delay, I left the cold lands of Eastmarch and traveled south towards The Rift.