Selene and Blanche stopped at Oengul’s forge and restocked their arrows, then went into the White Phial for some potions. Most of the vendors’ stalls were still closed, but the women were able to get some mead, cheese, and dried meat from Niranye before heading out of town. Selene borrowed Brann again, and they were on their way.
They rode hard for a while, but as they reached the north end of the Aalto, Selene slowed up and turned to Blanche. “Listen, I’m sorry for what Ulfric did.” Blanche raised the eyebrow at her, and she added, “I know he’s not my responsibility, but I still feel I need to apologize for him.” She breathed a heavy sigh. “You want to know a secret? I’m so mad at him that I could Shout him across the room, but on some level I still love the man. Don’t get me wrong—I worship the ground Brynjolf walks on, and I’m happier than I’ve ever been—but Ulfric is the kind of man who stays with you. For good or for bad, really.”
“Well, needless to say I won’t be enchanting weapons for him anymore,” Blanche murmured. “Though right now I couldn’t enchant anything for anyone, could I?” She smiled briefly. “But thank you. If you’d like, we can stop in Riften before we head for Dayspring Canyon. I have a friend there who has some good supplies. And I don’t think Brynjolf would mind the visit, either.”
“I definitely want to stop in Riften, and not just to see my family. I don’t know if we can do this on our own; I was thinking of asking Brynjolf and Karliah for help. I don’t know how much I would trust the Guild with the knowledge that you’re a vampire, although most of them know I’m a werewolf, but we don’t have to be concerned about Bryn and Karliah. I worry about both of us being away from Rowan, but he’s the best fighter in the Guild. I want to leave word for Vilkas, too.”
“Yes, I don’t suppose Riften is the best place to look for a babysitter, is it?” Blanche chuckled. She paused for a moment and then said, “Have you ever tried a potion of blood?”
“No, what is it?”
“A potion of blood is . . . exactly what it’s called.” Blanche pulled up on her reigns when her horse got antsy. “My consort in Riften makes them; it’s a very potent health potion with a human ingredient added in, if you catch my meaning. It helps with bloodlust and is generally used as a ‘quick fix’ if we can’t find anywhere to feed. All of my brethren take some when they leave the castle, but I don’t keep any, in case something like . . . like that happens.” She nodded over her shoulder, back toward Windhelm. “I guess I never really thought it would, though. As a werewolf, you may find them useful, too.”
Selene chuckled. “Aye, that actually doesn’t sound disgusting. It must be the werewolf in me. It might be a good idea to keep some on hand. Who is your consort? It’s probably somebody I know.”
“A Bosmer, named Valindor. He used to take meals at Haelga’s bunkhouse, though he hasn’t been seen there lately.” Blanche smiled darkly. “Friendly enough fellow, though. Have you met him? He’s always bewailing Valenwood, his homeland.”
“I don’t know him well, just to say hello to.” Selene narrowed her eyes a bit. “I have to ask you about this word, ‘consort.’ It’s something vampiric, right? You’re not cheating on Farkas.”
“Not that kind of consort.” Blanche gave her a sideways look. “I wouldn’t cheat on my mate, and if I was, I’d have chosen my words more carefully.” She smiled drily. “And anyway, we vampires tend to have less . . . lustful inclinations than the living, some of us less than others. Farkas is more than enough for me.”
“Less ‘lustful’ inclinations?” Selene chuckled. “That’s a real shame, Blanche. Think I’ll keep the beast blood.”
“Don’t you assume we’re all out of the game. One might be enough for me, but I’ll be damned if that one bites the dust.”
They rode south, only stopping for a few short hours to rest the horses, and made it to Riften the next morning. They left Brann and Shadowmere with Hofgrir, and Selene led Blanche around to the back entrance of Honeyside and unlocked the door.
Thinking she might be an intruder, Brynjolf had already placed Rowan safely in the crib behind him and was brandishing Chillrend; but when he saw Selene, a great wave of relief came over him, and he dropped the sword and went to her, gathering her up in his arms. “Oh, I missed you,” he cooed into her ear, placing his lips on hers for a long kiss.
Selene could barely contain her joy, and as it was, she almost teared up. But instead, she wrapped her arms around his neck and reveled in his touch, not caring that anyone was watching. “I missed you too,” she whispered when they broke the kiss.
Lookingup behind her, Brynjolf smiled at Blanche. “Hello, lass. When Selene told me your name, I didn’t realize you were that Blanche.”
Blanche had put on her hood and kept a low profile among the prying eyes of the city, but now she brought her head up again. “And you, Brynjolf. It’s been a while, though last time I checked, I have a fairly singular name.” Her eyes trailed to the redheaded toddler behind him. “I see you’ve been busy.”
Brynjolf chuckled and turned back to Rowan, who stood in her crib with her arms out. “Ma ma ma ma ma ma!”
Selene put down her gear and went to the child, picking her up and snuggling her close, and then brought her over. “Blanche, this is Rowan. Rowan, say hello to Blanche.”
The toddler reached a hand out, opening and closing her fist in a form of wave. “Vikeh!” she squealed. She suddenly seemed to notice something about Blanche that she found unusual, and she stared at her openly with a curious crinkle in her little brow as Blanche twitched out a small smile and imitated the clumsy action. “Vikeh to you, too.”
“So how’d it go?” Brynjolf asked. “Did you find out what happened?”
“We did,” Selene replied. “But we have a bigger problem now. Let’s go sit down.”
They all went into the kitchen, and Brynjolf got out bottles of mead for Selene and Blanche. There were only two chairs at the table, so he brought an extra in from the bedroom and sat down. “Now. What’s wrong?”
“While we were gone, the Dawnguard showed up in Windhelm, looking for Blanche,” Selene told him plainly, while Blanche kept a very straight face, putting her bottle of mead to her lips and gazing blankly into the corner. “Ulfric gave them their way, and they destroyed her house, killed her dog, and took Farkas and the girls,”
“What?” Brynjolf cried. “That bastard! Why for Talos’s sake would he—why?”
“I believe he panicked,” Selene sighed. “The sun had disappeared, and it didn’t set well with Nilsine, who’s pregnant and in poor health. I think the notion of a vampire in his city was too much for him.”
“And he let them take the—gods damn it, I’d love to wring the son of a bitch’s neck.”
Rowan frowned and reached for Brynjolf. “Da da da da da.” He took her from Selene, and she rubbed her little hand under his chin and kissed his cheek.
“She knows you’re upset.” Selene said with a smile.
“I’m all right, little one,” he said, kissing her red curls. He suddenly put two and two together, and his eyes widened at Blanche. “Wait, you’re a vampire?” When she lifted her eyebrows indifferently, he chuckled. “Farkas cured himself of the beast blood so he could marry a vampire. I find that very amusing.”
“I meant no offense, lass.”
“It’s not public knowledge, love,” Selene warned him.
“Oh, of course. You know I’ll be discreet. So that’s what Nocturnal meant when she said you walked with darkness.”
“Aye. Karliah and I paid a visit to the Twilight Sepulcher, and our lady was on about the Dawnguard as well. Now that the vampire threat has been reduced, they’re setting their sights on Daedra worship. She said we need to prepare for war.”
“Are we going to be called to defend the Sepulcher?”
“Aye, I think that’s what she meant. But I don’t think that necessarily means we have to go to Falkreath Hold. We can fight the Dawnguard on their own turf and still defend the Sepulcher.”
Selene sighed and rolled her eyes wearily. “Well, they haven’t completely given up on the vampires. They evidently raided a peaceful coven in Hjaalmarch that wasn’t even feeding on humans. They were just trying to blend in. Killed them all, including a close friend of Blanche’s.”
Brynjolf turned to Blanche. “So the disappearing sun got the Dawnguard’s attention, they found out you were a vampire, and since you weren’t home, they took Farkas and the girls to draw you in. Do you think they took them to Fort Dawnguard?”
“If that is their plan, that’s the most likely place they would go.” Blanche folded her arms and rested them on the table. “I don’t think hiding them would be the prime way to draw me into their ambush. Which means they’re expecting me—ah, us. I suppose that means we have to do something unexpected.”
“Do you have something in mind?” Selene asked her.
Rowan reached for Blanche, who took her in her lap. The toddler gazed at her curiously and finally ran a finger gently over her dark skin, then pulled it away and looked at her finger.
“She does the same thing to Tonilia and Karliah,” Brynjolf explained apologetically. “Every damn time.”
“It’s all right.” Blanche held her hand out palm-up for the little girl to see. “Let’s see . . . Well, whatever we do, they’ll be expecting a fight.” She hemmed and rubbed her chin with her free hand. “Well, maybe we can oblige. I do have one idea, if you’re up to hearing it.”
“Shoot,” Selene prodded.
“Have you ever been about to ambush someone, say, a bandit camp, and then it turned out that someone—or something—else had the same idea?” Blanche narrowed her eyes a little and smiled. “I once had a bounty letter to clear out a fort that was overrun with bandits. Just as I was pulling back the first arrow, a dragon showed up and finished the job for me. I had to kill the dragon afterwards, of course, but . . . do you see what I’m getting at?”
“Sure. You can just sit back and watch them kill each other and then clean up the rest when they’re done. It’s always a good time.” A sly smile crossed Selene’s face. “You know, I have a very good friend who just happens to be a dragon. In fact, I know a few who might help out.”
“As do I.”
“But if we send in two or three dragons, breathing fire and raining destruction, there might be collateral damage,” Brynjolf pointed out, slightly unnerved by the matching expressions the women were making. He thanked the Divines that Rowan wasn’t paying attention to their faces. “We’d want to know where Farkas and the children are before sending Odahviing in. Preferably, get them out.”
“Or get the Dawnguard out of the fort.”
Selene shrugged. “Several of the best sneaks I know are sitting right in this room.”
“Brynjolf does have a point. We’ll have to slip in, find where they are, and then unleash Oblivion.” Blanche rubbed a strand of her own hair between her fingers. “The sentries will hear our Shouts. We’ll have to do quite a bit of ducking and rolling.”
“If we can get Karliah and Bryn to sneak in, too, we’ll have four fighters working from the inside.”
“That sounds like enough to clear out the Dawnguard good and proper. It’s still a small group. About time those bastards were wiped out,” Blanche grunted. “But we couldn’t leave your daughter here alone.”
Selene nodded. “You can run interference when Vilkas gets here,” she told her husband. “I had Ulfric send for him, and you know he’ll want to charge in, screaming a battle cry. We’ll sneak in and assess the situation, and if it looks like we need reinforcements other than the dragons, we’ll let you know.”
“Mm, and we should make a point of not getting caught as long as possible,” Blanche added. “And take the assassin’s approach. You know they reinforce their weapons with silver, and even one hit to either of us wouldn’t end well. Do you know the words of power for the Disarm Shout? That may be very useful.”
“I know two of the Words of Power. I also learned a nice little Shout on Solstheim that will help me gain control of them, so if we get caught, I might be able to use that to our advantage.” She stopped and considered. “Hmm. I wonder how easy it would be for us to teach each other Words of Power. Having two of us might be even more beneficial than we thought. Do you think there are even more Dragonborns wandering around Tamriel?”
“Dovakiin don’t grow on trees, but it would be worth keeping in mind,” Blanche replied. “But knowing the ways of the world, something will turn up to surprise us.” She scratched the back of her neck and sighed. “I’m going to get some things from my cohort below if you’d like to come along, Selene. When should Karliah show?”
“She’s probably in the Cistern now, lass,” said Brynjolf. “She and Rune usually arrive around mid-morning to train.”
“Are you heading down?”
“Aye. I had just finished getting Rowan dressed when you came in. Go on with Blanche, and I’ll see you when you get there.”
She kissed him and her daughter, then stood up and turned to Blanche. “Shall we?”
“Let’s. Good seeing you, Brynjolf. And you, Rowan.” Blanche rose from her seat and handed the child over to Brynjolf, then made for the door, putting her hood up before slipping out into the sunlight.
“Valindor lives in one of the hollows under the city, level with the water.” She took the alley behind the Bee and Barb to avoid the pedestrians and casually descended the rickety stairs to Riften’s lower level. She approached one of the plain doors secured into the wall and knocked. The door was opened, and a bright-eyed, dark-haired wood elf peered out. “Hello?”
“Delivery from Valenwood. I believe it’s addressed to you?” Blanche kept her voice even.
“Oh, well, come in, come in.” He kept his eyes on Selene as he held the door for them, and Blanche ducked into the dingy little tunnel with Selene on her heels.
Once the door was firmly closed and bolted behind them, the elf turned back to the two women and said, “Last time I checked, we didn’t have much affiliation with werewolves, my lady.” He turned his eyes to Selene. His bright, questioning gaze, combined with the way he blinked and quirked his head at an offset angle every few seconds, reminded Selene of a squirrel more than anything else.
“This is an exception.” Blanche relayed the situation to him in a few words, and at the end if it all, he sighed. “I told you, you shouldn’t use that bow. Now look what you’ve gotten yourself into. Why did you even take the arrows in the first place when you swore not to use them?”
“Keep your mouth shut and help me fix this mess.” She cuffed him upside the head.
He took it with a little flinch and skittered away, back to a shabby alchemy table that stood in the corner. “Your armor is in there.” He motioned vaguely to a chest behind him. “I . . . am terribly sorry, but I lent your cloak out . . . and I don’t think I have anything that would fit your friend.”
“We’ll have to make do, then.” Blanche looked at Selene. “Is there anything you’d like to buy or sharpen before we go? I can also whip up a makeshift cloak or bit of jewelry for you; I always carry soul gems with me.”
Selene shrugged. “As far as apparel, I don’t need anything. Wuunferth modified my Nightingale armor to augment the skills I use most often, so I don’t need to change my armor, and my jewelry is enchanted for stealth and elemental protection.” She chuckled. “Even my earrings and nose ring. I don’t move well in a cloak.
“I have a lightning-enchanted sword and nice pair of daggers that I think I’ll take with me. I wouldn’t worry with the daggers, but they’re better than a sword for sneaking up on someone and slitting their throat. They could use recharging, and so could my bow. I actually have a pretty decent stock of dragonbone arrows back at Honeyside. I don’t know what you plan on using, but I should have enough for both of us. We might want to stock up on invisibility potions. I like to boast that I’m the best sneak in all of Tamriel—I even I have a power given to me by Nocturnal where I can turn invisible once a day—but even I can be detected.”
As Selene spoke, Valindor filled several glass bottles with a vivid red potion, and Blanche went to his chest and began sorting through it. She retrieved a set of vampire armor that, judging by its blue glow, would reinforce her magicka, and a matching set of boots and gauntlets that both glinted with a resist fire enchantment. One of the gauntlets had wickedly sharp tips attached to the fingers, and even as she examined them, Blanche was careful not to touch them.
She gave Selene a small smile. “You may be the best sneak in Skyrim, but I won’t let that go without a challenge. Still, invisibility potions are a good idea. I hope you were listening, Val.”
“Always, for you.”
“Good.” Blanche set the things aside and stood. “You may not move well in a cloak, but I do, so I’ll be right back. Remind me to invest in one for you, Valindor.” And she was gone.
Valindor sighed and turned to Selene with one of his blood potions. “Try this, and tell me if you like it.”
Selene took a sip of the potion. It tasted vaguely like a healing potion, but the first thing that touched her lips was the rich, coppery taste of blood. It made her mouth water. “Sweet Sanguine! Aye, I’ll take half a dozen.” She stopped and smiled at him coyly. “You weren’t expecting that, were you? I’m a werewolf, lad; I have a taste for blood. Besides, Blanche told me about it ahead of time.”
Valindor smiled, his two little pointed teeth gleaming in the light. “Good! I like them very much, myself.” Selene’s response seemed to have just about made his day, and he happily continued making his potions with renewed effort.
Blanche soon returned wearing a thick black hide cloak, also enchanted to resist fire (along with another, faintly blue magic undertone). She made quick work of recharging Selene’s weapons with several petty soul gems from her satchel and then went to change into the other outfit. Although she kept her back turned, the wood elf stole a glance or two out of the corners if his eyes, which she chose to ignore. Once dressed, she put her hood back on and, still being careful with her needle-fingered right hand, slipped three clawed rings onto her left. She stuffed her other belongings into Valindor’s chest and stood. “We should probably wait till dark. You’re fine, Selene, but no one will look at any of us the same again if I am seen in this getup.”
“I still have a few potions to make anyway.” Valindor was shaking an invisibility potion with intense vigor. “They should be ready soon, though.”
“I want to make a quick trip to the Cistern and talk to Karliah—well, and say goodbye to Bryn and Rowan, of course. Do you feel comfortable going with me, or should I just run over there myself?”
“I’ll . . . wait here.” Blanche murmured. “Tell Delvin I said hello.”
Selene reached out and squeezed Blanche’s arm affectionately, and then slipped out the door. She skirted the canal and entered the Ratway on the other side, then made her way to the Ragged Flagon, where she found Delvin and Vex playing with Rowan, who was sitting on the table between them.
“Mama!” the toddler squealed when she saw Selene.
She picked up her daughter and cuddled her close. “Hi, sweetie! Are you having fun with Delvin and Vex?”
“That’s the only thing the kid’ll say,” Delvin grumbled. “Been trying to get her to say ‘Del’ for weeks.”
“In the Cistern. He and Karliah holed up over by the desk, won’t say nothin’ to nobody. Somethin’ goin’ on?”
“Aye. Blanche’s husband and kids have been abducted.”
“That’s all I can say for now. Oh, except Blanche says ‘hi.’” She hugged Rowan and handed her to Vex, who cooed and kissed the child on the forehead. Selene still thought the pale-haired Imperial was the biggest bitch on the face of Nirn, but she loved Rowan and was a damn good babysitter. “I’m heading over.”
She ducked through the false back panel of Vekel’s storage cabinet and entered the Cistern, where she found Brynjolf and Karliah talking earnestly behind her desk. Karliah reached out and hugged her when she approached.
“I’m glad you’re back,” the dark elf said. “Brynjolf filled me in on what’s going on. Are you sure you don’t want us to go with you?”
“That’s the way Blanche wants it. She’s been to Fort Dawnguard, and I trust she knows what she’s doing, so I’ll follow her lead.”
Brynjolf sighed. “All right, but if you’re not back in a couple of days, we’re coming after you.”
“Wait for Vilkas. I imagine he’ll be here soon. If we’re not back by then, come find us. Blanche will just have to deal with it.” She reached up and kissed her husband. “I love you.”
“I love you, too, wife.” He wrapped his arms around her. “Never thought we’d go to war with the Dawnguard. I guess living a peaceful, quiet life was too much to ask, eh?”
“Let’s not give up hope.”
Brynjolf pulled back and gazed into her eyes. “Just be careful, all right?”
Selene kissed him again, then crossed the Cistern, giving Rune, who was practicing at the archery range, a hug as she went by. He and Karliah had married a couple of months ago, and though he lived with her now at Nightingale Hall, he still spent most of his downtime in the Cistern. He had always been good with a sword and dagger, but Karliah had taught him to be quite adept with a bow as well.
“What’s going on?” he asked curiously. “They won’t tell me.”
“And I can’t, either. If it comes to it, they will fill you in; but for now, we’re trying to keep it quiet.”
“Well, take care.”
Selene went back through the Flagon and kissed Rowan again before making her way back to Valindor’s house. “I’m ready when you are,” she told Blanche. “They’re going to give us until Vilkas arrives, and if we’re not back, they’re coming for us.”
“Then let’s not waste any time.” Blanche nodded. “I think we have we have everything.”
There was a tap on Selene’s shoulder, and she turned to see Valindor holding out a large satchel. “As many blood potions as your heart could desire. And some invisibility ones, too.” He gave Blanche a somewhat pitiful look. “Please don’t get killed. Orthjolf and Vingalmo will be tearing each other’s throats out if you do.”
“Although I wouldn’t mind that, Fura would finally go mad . . . and needless to say, I’d be dead, which is my most primary concern.”
“Let’s be off. It’s dim enough out that if we’re careful, we should be able to slip out unnoticed.”
“We can go through Honeyside and pick up arrows on the way out. It’ll also be easier to make a quiet exit.”
Valindor leaned against Blanche briefly and trailed his eyes over to Selene. “Good luck, both of you.”
Selene nodded a goodbye to Valindor and followed Blanche out the door. The war with the Dawnguard had begun. If they were lucky, there would only be one battle. Nocturnal was on their side, so hopefully they would have the luck they would need. She said a silent prayer to the Daedric Prince, just in case.