A/N: Found my muse in the South Pacific. Let's hope she sticks around this time! Apologies for life getting in my way. No promises, but I want to finish this.

Another message had arrived early in the morning. When she walked into the Flagon, Vekel immediately handed her a leather tube, sealed with wax bearing the impression of the wolf of Solitude. Cracking the seal, she pulled out a roll of parchment, out of which fell a small slip of paper. She skimmed past her name and titles and found an invitation to a party at the Blue Palace. Elisif wished to introduce someone "of great importance" to the political leaders of Skyrim, and requested the presence of the Dragonborn.

The small piece of paper was a message from General Tullius. He needed her to attend, both to assess the intentions of the guest of honor and to discover what threat, if any, the person posed to Skyrim and the Empire. He also had more information to share with her, so she would need to stop by Castle Dour for a briefing before the event. Absent-mindedly rubbing her belly, she returned to the Cistern to find Brynjolf. She knew he would be less than thrilled with the trip across the country, to say the least. However, with how rapidly relations with the Aldmeri Dominion were decaying, she knew Skyrim could ill afford for her to sit around with her feet up, waiting to be conquered by the Thalmor.

Brynjolf was sitting at the table in the Cistern, munching on a chunk of bread while listening to Vipir hit on Sapphire as he had nearly every day since they first met. As usual, Sapphire was having none of it, and rolled her eyes in his direction when she saw the Guildmaster approaching. Vipir snorted in frustration and headed towards the practice room after watching Sapphire's posterior move away from him. Brynjolf was still smirking when she sat next to him on the bench, facing the opposite direction of him, away from the table. "Hungry, lass?" he offered.

"Nah," she replied. "Well, yeah, of course," she revised, "but I need to show you this invitation, too."

"Invitation? To what?" he queried, brow furrowing.

"Elisif is having a party, up in Solitude," she told him. "I have to go, so I was thinking you might come, too...?"

"You couldn't keep me away if you tried, lass," he replied firmly. "But what's the significance? Why do you NEED to go?" He raised an eyebrow at her.

"She wants to introduce someone to the court," she said. "And General Tullius needs me to attend, as well. I'll find out more after I talk to him, I'm sure."

"Hmph," Brynjolf grunted. "He didn't seem to care much when you were locked up by the Thalmor. Now he wants you to play spy for him? I don't like it."

"You know he couldn't openly help because of his position. He still managed to let you know where I was being held, though. Rikke doesn't do a thing without his say-so. Sometimes I wonder about the two of them..." She smirked at the thought, although Brynjolf's face remained concerned. "Anyway, I have little choice. He sent for me for a reason, meaning it involves the dragons or the Thalmor. Ulfric is gone, and the Stormcloaks have all but disbanded. He wouldn't need to be secretive about dragon problems, and I'd probably hear about it before him anyway, so that leaves the Thalmor."

"Wonderful." His frown deepened. "I'll see if I can find out what we'll be facing. Our contacts are bound to have some sort of info on what's happening in Solitude." He gave her a quick kiss and caressed her cheek, his usually bright green eyes dark with worry as they gazed into hers, and then he stood and was gone.

...

Brynjolf stopped by the Flagon to check up with Delvin before heading out. The older man knew just about everyone in Skyrim, not to mention his associations with those people in lands across Tamriel and even beyond. Brynjolf recalled one of his friend's favorite whores had taken to specializing in "serving" the influx of soldiers during the war, a decision that likely still served her well with the current Imperial occupation of Riften. If he remembered correctly, she was particularly popular with the officers, thanks to her own Imperial background and relatively elegant bearing and mannerisms. Peony, that was her name, obviously an alias.

His own mother had once been a whore as well, his father one of her many clients, likely completely unaware of his son's existence. He wasn't ashamed of his lineage, not really, but he still preferred avoiding whores unless he was desperate. He still had painful memories of an early childhood in and around the whorehouses of Riften, before, during, and just after his mother's death.

"Del, you still know that girl, Peony? The blonde Imperial the officers were so fond of?"

With a quick nervous glance in Vex's direction, his friend nodded. "Yeah, I see her around time t' time. Do I wanna know why? Is the boss gonna be tearin' through here, out for yer blood? I wouldn't mind gettin' a head start outta here, if she is..."

"Oh, no, nothing like that," Brynjolf assured him. "Just looking for information, that's all. Have you heard anything about important visitors in Solitude, maybe related to the Thalmor? Someone that would matter to Jarl Elisif, and perhaps to the Imperials?"

"Nope, haven't heard of anybody important, not anyone people recognize, anyway," Delvin replied. "Just the usual nobodies that think they're somebody-ambassadors and the like. No Thalmor, that's for sure, an' little enough news comin' from out their way. Lots of people happy about that, don't seem to realize it'll probably be a bad thing for them. All the better for us, 'course, easy for things to come up missin' durin' wartime..." He smirked at the thought.

Brynjolf couldn't help but smile at the idea as well, although it was short-lived as he reminded himself that it wouldn't mean just riches for his family, but strife as well. "See what you can find out, okay, Del? As soon as possible."

"No problem," he said, downing his drink and standing up. He eyed Brynjolf mischievously. "Say, since this is a kinda business thing, d'ya think ya could..."

Brynjolf cut him off. "Okay, okay, just be quick about it." He sighed and handed him a coinpurse, which Delvin grabbed with a grin and a nod before striding off purposefully toward the Ratway.

A few hours passed before Delvin came back, unsurprisingly looking happier than he had earlier. "So, she didn't have much to say 'bout Solitude, 'though there was one little tidbit might be relevant. Just last night, one of her clients was bitchin' 'bout havin' to guard this high elf from the docks up to the Palace. Funny thing was, she comes off the boat all dressed in rags, and later he sees she's a servant. Servin' Elisif herself, he told her, but still a servant. Right after, he was sent out here to the Rift, to that fort up north a ways. Word is, he fell off the wall and broke his neck, day after he visited lovely Peony."

Brynjolf nodded, his forehead creased with worry. "Did she say anything else?"

"Oh Delvin, your cock-" he started, grinning widely.

"Stop! I've heard enough," he interjected, leaving Delvin laughing into the mead he had swiped while they were talking.