Having previously contributed to the unfortunate death of Grelod the Kind, and then accidentally killing a fellow Khajiit who I took to be a bandit, a messenger approached me one day while I was passing through Windhelm. He gave me a note and went on his way, and when I opened it, my blood ran cold. All it contained was the imprint of a black hand and the two words “We know”.
I knew this to be the work of the Dark Brotherhood, that infamous band of assassins who recruited those who committed the travesty of murder. How they had found me I could not know, but legend had it that they would appear the next time the murderer slept. Not wishing to delay my fate, I went to bed almost immediately, casting on myself a spell to harden my skin like stone, and I wore full armour beneath the sheets. Yet my preparations were in vain, for when next I woke, I was in a small, darkly lit cabin, the door of which was locked. Sitting daintily on top of a tall shelf was a petite woman wearing shrouds of cloth and armour about her person, disguising all her features save the amusement in her eyes. Having been drugged and kidnapped, I was cautious in my proceedings.
Astrid, for that was her name, explained to me that by killing Grelod the Kind, I had stolen a contract that was meant for the Dark Brotherhood. She gave me no chance for explanation, but instead turned my attention to the rest of the cabin. It was only then that I realised I was not alone – bound, kneeling and with sacks covering their heads were three other prisoners: a Khajiiti gangster, a scornful mother and a frightened mercenary. Astrid tasked me with figuring out which of them the Brotherhood had been hired to kill, and promised me that I would not leave the shack without someone in it dying. Her choice of words was peculiar and hope flared in my heart as I set about questioning the prisoners. Having discovered all I could from them, and deciding it was probably the Khajiit, I suddenly turned about and attacked Astrid. She constituted a “person in the shack” and so I assailed my kidnapper. She put up a fight but was soon overwhelmed by me, and with her dying breath, she seemed to smile as she whispered “Well done…”
I took from her body her unusual armour and weapons, signatures of the assassin, and set the other prisoners free. Thereafter, I resolved to learn all I could about the Dark Brotherhood to prevent their vengeance from extinguishing me. As it so happened, an Imperial captain had been tracking the assassins to their lair and had just discovered a means of entry. So, I raided the Lair of the Brotherhood, besting each of its assassins in single combat (so as not to draw them all to me at once). Creeping through their hideout and seeking the assassin’s in their various quarters felt rather like Bruce Lee working his way through the tower in Game of Death. When my gruesome work was done, I took from their headquarters every trace of their Shrouded Armour and Clothes, the enchanted raiment which was their signature, so that no one else would ever use it. Although I slay all who were present, the number of living areas within their hideout suggested to me that there were other members who were still at large. I have not yet found them, but it would not surprise me to find myself the target of an ambush some day soon.
In the town of Falkreath, I met a couple in the cemetery who were mourning the loss of their young daughter. When I inquired what had happened, I learned that the farmhand they had hired had turned into a werewolf and attacked the child. Sorry for their loss, I slipped a flawless emerald into the woman’s pocket and went to the jail to talk to the man. It seemed that Sinding, for that was his name, was cursed with the werewolf blood and was seeking a way to control the transformations that wracked him every month. He acquired a Ring of Hircine, Daedric Prince of Hunting and werewolves, but Hircine cursed the ring so that Sinding would transform at random and would be unable to remove it. He hoped that Hircine might be appeased by the hunting of a legendary stag, and so I accepted the ring in the hopes of breaking the curse upon it.
Unfortunately, the ring molded itself to me and would not be removed. Fearing that I might spontaneously transform and endanger the inhabitants of the town, I quickly fled into the wilderness. I assumed the only way I could undo the curse was gaining an audience with the Daedra, and so I tracked and killed the stag. Hircine manifested before me and warned me that Sinding had already escaped from jail and fled, and that it was now my duty to slay him if I wanted the ring to be removed. With a heavy heart, I tracked the werewolf to a lair he had fled to, and found therein a dying hunter. Hircine, it seemed, had rallied all those faithful to him to kill Sinding who had insulted him. As I continued into the cave, I eventually came upon Sinding in his terrifying lycan form. He besought me to help him defeat the remaining hunters, and seeing in him a man who just wanted to be permitted to live without persecution, a man sorry for the hurt he had caused, I agreed. I fought and defeated each of the hunters who sought to make Sinding their prize, and from each of their bodies I took a weapon. When finally we killed them all, Hircine appeared. Fearing his intention was to chastise me for killing his servants, instead he praised me on my excellent hunting skills and gave his blessing to me in the form of a new ring. Sinding promised he would never trouble civilisation again and would enjoy the hermitage he had chosen. As a way to dissuade further would-be-hunters from seeking his lair, I left the weapons of those I had slain by its entrance to serve as a warning of the danger within. It is said that on nights of the full moon, a werewolf can still be found lurking around those parts of the forest.
Speaking of hunting, I came upon a cabin in the wilderness one day that richly furnished with animal furs and the mounted heads of a wolf, sabrecat and troll. Its occupants were Froki, an aged hunter, and his grandson, who wished to test my dedication to the warrior goddess known as Kyne (or Kynareth, though the latter is but a poor remembrance of her full glory). If I wanted to prove myself worthy as a hunter, I would have to hunt a number of guardian animals of increasing strength and challenge. I rose to the task, keen to prove myself and gain the favour of the goddess. But I was faced with a dilemma: I had no skill with a bow! I barely knew how to draw one let alone hit anything with it. I could use magic to set my prey aflame, but I felt this would be a dishonourable way of hunting. I could use armour and weapons, but what natural creature could ever hope to best a man whose clothes were harder than steel and whose weapons were far deadlier than teeth? No… The only way of hunting was to do it the way nature intended. Having accepted the quest, I set about collecting animal hides. These I turned into high quality leather, which I crafted into even higher quality armour. Being a Khajiit, I was myself a beast, with claws to scratch and padded feet to stalk. Wearing only this set of leather vambraces, boots and cuirass, I left off all reminders of my civilised life (my wedding ring, my amulet, my circlet) and killed my prey with my bare claws. It was a savage joy I felt in returning to my predator roots, though I found myself somewhat far out of my depths when I fought a mammoth thus armed. (I concede, to claim that victory I hardened my skin and closed my wounds with magic even as I struck it with my claws.) When I had defeated each of the guardian animals, I returned to Froki who acknowledged my spirit and rewarded me with a token of Kyne. I made sure to don my usual clothes and ornaments before I returned to civilisation to tell my wife of my adventures.
In that corrupted city of Riften, home to the infamous Thieves Guild and the old woman ironically named Grelod the Kind, the Jarl had little influence over the running of the town. Though she was officially its leader, she (as well as all townsfolk) deferred to Maven Blackbriar as the woman who called the shots. Maven built up an industry by fermenting high quality mead and selling it across Skyrim. She also achieved status and wealth through blackmail, bribes, defamation, piracy and assassination. All in all, she cut others down to raise herself up, and due to her connections with the Empire, the Thieves Guild, and the band of assassins known as The Dark Brotherhood, she considered herself quite untouchable by both the guards and any civilian. But not, perhaps, by the Dragonborn.
After much deliberation, I decided that the world would be better off without Maven Blackbriar. Although an Imperialist, her corruption and selfishness had ruined countless lives already, and her influence could only lead to further destruction. However, driving her from Riften would not be enough – she, with all her resources, would doubtlessly wind up in some other part of the continent to ruin other people’s lives, or worse, she would turn the Empire against me. No… There was no alternative but for Maven to die. This was not a responsibility I took lightly. I ruminated on the effects it would have on her family and those close to her: her son was an arrogant bully, confident in his mother’s ability to protect him. Her grandson, too, was a bully (of little influence or consequence), and her granddaughter wanted nothing more than to prove her skill in concocting poisons, which might one day earn her a place among the Dark Brotherhood’s ranks. Maven’s death would lead her son to inherit her property and businesses, and he would do a miserable job – if he proved to be as cold and ruthless, I would deal with him in turn. Her granddaughter, the skilled alchemist, was mentally unstable and it would be impossible to predict the effects Maven’s death would have on her. Yet I fancied that without her grandmother’s oppressive rule, she might flourish into a young woman of talent and morality, no longer starved for approval. The brewery would suffer for a time, but I felt confident that its successive owner would treat its workers more kindly and produce a more ethical mead for Skyrim. And, doubtless, the citizens of Riften would thank me for the service I would do them. Thus I condemned her to death.
But I had to take some actions to protect myself from retribution, for Maven was not an opponent to be trifled with. My first task was to gain immunity from the Thieves Guild. I did this by joining their ranks and being invited into their inner circle. Although they all yielded to Maven’s authority, they would at least have cause to hesitate before turning on me. Next, I nullified the threat of the Dark Brotherhood through the adventures I have already described. Finally, I sought to rise to a place of influence within the Hold. I helped the people of Riften and performed certain tasks for the Jarl herself to win her favour. She rewarded me with Thanedom (Lordship), one of the boons of which was total immunity from a single crime. Furthermore, having broken into Maven’s house, I had discovered (among letters of blackmail and other suspicious evidences) the remains of a body in her cellar: it had been covered in nightshade and stabbed several times. As you will no doubt recall, this is the Black Sacrament, that damned ritual which is meant to alert the Dark Brotherhood to your desire to employ them. Knowing this damning evidence was beneath her house, I decided to further condemn her by making it seem as if some remaining agent of the Brotherhood had sought revenge on her. Thus I donned the shrouded armour the Brotherhood favoured and took up the Blade of Woe. I also still possessed the note they had left me which, if left upon her body, might draw an accusing glance upon Maven’s fate. Thus, with these preparations in place, I plotted the deed.
I stole into her house in the early hours of the morning, covered my blade in a poison that would render her motionless, and stabbed her wildly as she slept. It was messy, unkind work, but I deemed it necessary for the good of Skyrim. She faded from existence, not metaphorically but quite literally; the game appeared to glitch as she vanished. I was alerted that I had been kicked out of the Thieves Guild for attacking one of its members, and her son (though formerly asleep in another part of the mansion) rushed into her room and attacked me. I planned on flight to save his life, but to my astonishment, Maven fizzled back into existence and joined in the attack. Overwhelmed, I defended myself and struck her down again. It was only then that I realised my mistake: she had not, like any other person, died when she was struck down. Instead, she fell unconscious and revived a few seconds later, because the game deemed her too important to the storyline to be killed. And so, having failed my attempt, I reloaded a previous save and plotted other ways to minimise the damage she would do when the Empire came to power.