The only thing I remember about that day is Ivie's crying, a constant wail in the background that echos in my head when I think about it. It was a weak but eerie sound, as she wasn't well formed. I picked her up, blood covering my own hands from where it was pouring out. In shock, I couldn't figure out what to do with the crying infant. I was barely more than a child myself. I can't remember what followed, but I was told later.
They found me crouched in the corner clutching Ivie, her cord not cut, blood and placenta coating her and I both. Our mother was dead on the floor not far away from us, and I couldn't take my eyes off her. I had barely seen twelve years. Ivie stopped breathing the next day, born too soon.
The whores housed me for a few days while my shock wore off. Once it seemed I had accepted what had happened, the madam came to see me. I was being housed underneath the building with the other children, of which there were only a few. It was dark and dreary, low-lit by candlelight even during the day. The harsh knock echoed around the room and the other children scattered from their play in a rush to appear inconspicuous. In my depressive state, I didn't move from my hunched over position. The madam strode into the room with an authoritative air which cowed all the children who cared. I didn't. She stopped in front of me.
"You need to be out by tomorrow," she said simply. She waited to see if I was going to talk back, but I only nodded in agreement. Satisfied, she left. With relief, the other children slowly went back to their games.
I had anticipated it, considering my mother was no longer able to work for my keep. I had been told many times already that I was too young to begin work.
So, I left, with no plan and no money. I became a beggar in the Imperial City. The two years I spent there were brutal. I was hungry day and night, lucky to get stale bread. There were other urchin children, but most were younger than me, and I found no camaraderie there. I had gotten into many a fight with them, sometimes left bruised and bleeding on the ground.
That was how I began to steal. Hunger. A piece of bread here, a gold coin there. At first, I wasn't very good, but that changed, of course. After three years, I had gained basic skills, but during one sloppy errand, a guard hauled me off to the prison. I was only fifteen, and they gave me a rather light sentence, but I still spent months locked up there. Upon my release, I knew I had to move on from the city.
The guard brought me out into the light of day. I was full of anticipation and fear, nothing but the ragged clothes on my back to my name. I didn't even have shoes, but I did have ambition. I had stewed away for months, but I had dreams, and now I was free to pursue them. I stood on the top step, barefoot, torn pants, loose shirt, and let the wind blow in my hair for the first time in a while. It felt good, and I was ready to take on the world as I headed down the steps and out of the city, head high.
It didn't last very long, outwardly. I had to walk to Kvatch, shoe-less, which was a rough journey. I ate a lot of berries and carried a sharpened stick in case of predators. By the time I arrived in the next city over, I must've looked as though I'd been living in the woods for a year. My hair looked like a skeever nest.
At the gates, I ducked around the guards to slip into the city. I didn't have answers to their questions, and they would take me for a beggar; I was worse.
Kvatch wasn't a bad time for me. I lived there until I was almost twenty, in a shack, basically. It was the poorest part of town, but I had clothes on my back and food in my belly - most of it dishonestly earned. I stole for myself, for others in my neighborhood, and occasionally when hired. The guards didn't find me while I was there among the rest of the rabble. Still, I managed a savings, hidden under the floor boards in a strong box. Then I filled it, and got another. And another. I couldn't spend too much of it here, or it would draw suspicion, but I was preparing to leave town again since the day I arrived.
Every time I added another septim to my collection, I felt a rush of pride for the money saved. I became used to living below my means, and held out for future ambitions.
I was returning from the market, fresh food in my bag and a few gold pieces in my pocket ready to be added to my stash.
"Morning, Lily!" Carlus the Beggar greeted as I walked by. The Imperial was seated on the ground with a bucket of water in front of him. I waved to him cheerily. He wasn't the only one; as I made my way down to the end of the street, I saw many of my neighbours outside. Most recognize me, a few fondly, most less than. I never stole in the poor quarter. I didn't want to make enemies, considering my door didn't lock, but some still knew of me and my habits in different ways. Some found me an unpleasant drunk; some thought my stealing was immoral; a few found me simply rude. I ignored them, and noticed that they pointedly avoided me as well. I wondered why, until I arrived at my house.
Outside were two city guards. As soon as I noticed them, I froze and prepared to bolt, but one drew his bow and trained it on me. I didn't want to die that day.
"Stop!" the other shouted. "You have violated the law!"
I raised my arms as I approached, and complied. I had few fighting skills, though growing up in a brothel and on the streets made me nothing to sniff at in a brawl, I had no defense against a couple of fully armoured guards who had weapons drawn. I assumed the one on the left could shoot me before I could sneeze.
"Yeah," I interrupted him. He scowled at me. "I've heard it before. Let's move on, quickly now." I held out my arms expectantly.
I glared at him the whole time while he fitted manacles on me. They marched me through town, though it was nothing irregular or overly noticeable for most of the population, and I was widely ignored.
For the second time in my life, I was hauled into a cell.
I had stayed far too long in Kvatch.
I learned my lesson, then. That sentence was longer, and I never did find out who ratted on me. I didn't care enough to track them down, either. I did, however, spend many nights wondering if they had found the coin under the floor boards. I had no idea what had become of my house. Everyone refused to speak with me. My cell had a solid door with a slit for food, and a cleaner boy came in once a day to get the chamber pot and tray. He was scrawny and terrified of the guards. The brat never answered my questions. I stopped trying.
I was never told when my sentence would be up, so the day it came was a shock. Out of nowhere, a guard came into my cell and led me outside. He didn't say a word to me, only left me at the edge of town with ill-fitting jail clothes on.
As soon as he was out of sight, I slid into the shadows and melted into the crowd on my way to the poor quarter. It was the middle of the day, a high time for people being out of their homes in this district. I took the familiar route towards my house but stayed in the back streets and alleys. I didn't want any of my neighbors who might recognize me to see.
I approached my old house from the back, and peered in the empty windows. I couldn't hear anything from inside, so I stuck my head up to look in and found it empty, though it looked lived in. I slipped around the to front and entered, glad for the first time that this house didn't lock.
I ran my hands over the familiar rough wooden floorboards until I found my hidden panel. I pried it open, putting the lid aside and kept my eyes closed. I was afraid to look.
Slowly, I opened my eyes and peered into the hole. To my relief, they hadn't found anything I had hidden, and I was glad to finally pull my haul of gold out of the ground and move on from the city. I couldn't help but briefly think about whoever had been living in the shack, and how they had missed out on so much gold, right there, beneath their feet the whole time. I chuckled.
I cleared the gates without difficulty, as I was sure with my looks they were glad to see me go. I wanted to wash up, buy clothes, and make myself presentable again, but I had other priorities, and looked rough might be beneficial. I hit the road, heading wherever I decided to let it take me.
The Bee and Barb was easy to find once you entered Riften, but I was loathe to navigate the rest of the city. I had only seen it briefly on my way to the inn, which I was directed to promptly, but it looked like a maze of wood and canals. I had walked through a more sturdily build, more rich in appearance quarter of the city which was built on dry land, but the inn was on the edge of where the wooden platforms began. The farther you walked into the city, the smaller and poorer the houses became, and the weaker the planks they were built on. I wasn't sure if I intended to stick around long enough to learn my way through the maze that was this city, as I had only just scratched the surface and had no idea what to expect. It had seemed quiet enough on my walk in, but the inn itself was lively and brightly lit. It seemed to be the most popular spot in town, situated in what appeared to be a central market square, though I had yet to see it in daylight. I had passed by a fancier inn near the town gates, but had no desire to stay in the high end area. I wasn't suited to it.
The Argonian innkeep sold me a room for the night. I intended to get into the market and change my ill-fitting, worn travel clothes the next day, since I had arrived at night when the shops were closed. It helped with my goal to be unnoticed. Or so I thought.
I had only just settled into a booth with my back to the wall, a glass of some unidentified alcohol in front of me. I had asked for something strong, so I hoped it would deliver. I raised the glass to my mouth only to be stopped by a large Nord man slipping into the seat across from me. He crossed his arms on the table in front of him, bright red hair loosely braided in some Nordic style. I squinted at the intrusion, placing my cup back down on the table.
"Never done an honest day's work in your life for all the coin you're carrying, eh, lass?" His accent was strong.
"How the fuck would you know that, and what kind of business is it of yours?" I was taken aback, and on the defense.
"Look at you," he started. "You came into town late, ragged clothes, on foot, with enough coins to buy a small house? Doesn't fit. It's all about sizing up your mark."
"And you're very familiar with this," I deadpanned. He inclined his head slightly in agreement, cocky bastard.
"Interested in making some coin?" he cut to the point. It did pique my interest; perhaps it was a legitimate offer. Perhaps it was some kind of trap. I wasn't sure if I should take the risk or not. Something about it was tempting, probably the thrill. I hadn't stolen in a long time now, and a lucrative offer falls in my lap. He watched my face while I considered it, and I think he must've seen the decision on my face.
"All I need you to do is steal something for me."
"And what might that be?" I asked, relenting.
"The deed to a piece of land. See, lass, it's rather important. The man knows that my... organization is after it, so he keeps it on his person at all times. And he knows my face, so I can't get close enough. That's where you come in," the nord explained.
"And, the mark?" I prompted.
"A dark elf named Eravyn. Keeps the papers in the inner right pocket of his coat. Arrogant. Lives in a house on the western side of town. Spends most of his days outside of the city. Doesn't drink. Stops at the bunkhouse a few nights a week and always sees one of the dark elf women."
I leaned back in my seat, considering. I couldn't help but smile. I liked the way this guy worked. "Well, it seems you have me convinced to steal for you, and I haven't even learned your name."
He was already standing up. The nord leaned on the table with one hand and looked down at me. "It's Brynjolf," he said with a wink. I blushed, and he grinned. "Maybe you'll tell me yours when I meet you in the morning."
I didn't get the chance to say anything else before he was gone. I didn't know how I was supposed to find him, so I assumed that meant he would find me instead. I leaned back and finally took a drink of the draught in front of me. It had a strange flavour, not wholly bad, so I drank it. By the time I went to sleep I was slightly tipsy.
I was glad to wake up the next morning without any pain in my head, especially since this Brynjolf man would likely swoop down upon me at some unexpected point to direct me to the man I was supposed to steal from. I felt anticipation building in my stomach, and I wasn't sure if it was for the rush of stealing or seeing the nord. There was something about the man. He had winked at me, and it made me feel rather warm. His face was kind, but his eyes were almost predatory. It wasn't exactly that, but I couldn't place my finger on it. He had me curious, at least, in a few ways.
It had been a while since someone had piqued my curiosity. I had a lover, for a while, in Kvatch, but he wasn't what I wanted, and nor was I the best for him. I wasn't the nurturing type, though that was the role I fell into in the relationship, which was uncomfortable for me. He was a very nice man, but to the point of boredom. Basically, he was everything I should want, but didn't.
There had been other flings, men and women, most of which weren't very satisfying at all. It had been a long time since I had tried to enjoy sex, and not only because of the prison sentence. Brynjolf, though, may be exciting enough. But, perhaps it was just a wink and he wasn't being flirtatious at all.
I didn't dwell on it. My first matter of business was getting myself the basics. I needed clothes, among other things, but clothes first and foremost. I was glad to still have the money to spend.
Technically, I was currently living at the Bee and Barb, considering I had no where else to stay at the moment. That would have to be one of my next orders of business if I had any intentions of setting up shop in Riften, though I had yet to decide that. It depended partially on this Brynjolf, and if he tried to double cross me or any such foolishness. If he didn't perhaps I could stay for a little while. I had learned from my mistakes, though, and I knew I couldn't linger here too long, or someone's grudge would eventually get the best of me.
Either way, for the moment, I settled for getting fitted with a new dress. It would let me blend in plain sight, rather than something comfortable for melting into the shadows. Those things could come later, when I had found somewhere to keep my things. For the moment, the dress would do. I left my ragged jail clothing with the clothier. It felt fantastic to finally be in clothes that fit and were unobtrusive. It was an added bonus to be rid of the rags I wore in prison.
I pushed the door of the shop open, heading out into the market district of town. In the light of day, it was easy to see that Riften was massive. Not bigger than the Imperial City, of course, not even close, but it rivaled Kvatch for sure. So far, I had mostly stuck around the markets, where there were shops and inns and stall vendors, but I could see the edges of town as well. There was a port, though mostly smaller trading ships from Cyrodiil frequented it. Still, it was full of hustle and bustle, and warehouses, even a couple of brothels and lower end inns. All of this was on a boardwalk of sorts. The market district covered about half and half land and boards, the richer half being on dry land. From there it moved into mostly residential areas. There were a number of people I observed heading out of town early in the morning on carts, farm tools in hand. I supposed some people hired onto family farms in the area, like back home.
I was lost in thought analyzing my surroundings and the nature of this city, so the voice behind me managed to startle me. I knew I should have been more aware, but all I managed to do was keep the surprise off my face as I turned around.
"I think I like this better than the prison clothes," he interrupted me, bemused. I fought to keep expression off my face.
"You thought those were prison clothes?" I bluffed. He didn't appear convinced, and took a step closer to me, steering me out of the middle of the road. "I was just living below my means." I muttered the last defense, sure he wasn't about to believe me. The rags didn't scream prison; most people likely had only thought me poor or travel-weary. He, though, knew what he was doing.
"Keep telling yourself that, lass."
We halted at the edge of the crowd, around the corner from the city gates. I peered up at him curiously. The red-haired nord towered over me - most people did - and the bulk of his muscle told me he could probably rip me in half. Despite this, it wasn't armor he was wearing, but rather lightweight robes with what appeared to be expensive fur trimmings. I wondered if they were stolen. At the very least, the cash that bought them must've been. Like my dress. I ignored it. I tried to size him up, and I got the impression that he was trying to give off certain impressions with his appearance, similarly to what I had done back in Kvatch. The goal was to control people's perceptions of you.
"Ready to see your mark?" The question drew me out of my observations. Brynjolf was looking down at me, awaiting some acknowledgement. I blinked my eyes to clear my head and gave a slight nod. "He's going to walk by any minute. The dark elf, coming in for lunch." He took me by the arm suddenly and pulled me across himself. I had stepped too far back, and out of the cover of the building. "Don't let him see you with me," he hissed quietly.
We stood there in silence as Eravyn eventually walked past. I examined him in great detail; he appeared a simple man. I wondered if I should follow him, bump into him? Too hard, with the deed in his inner pocket. I'd have to break in, I decided. Once the man was out of sight, I turned slowly to Brynjolf.
"I'm going to have a market stall open the next few days. Come find me when you've done the job," Brynjolf instructed.
"All right." I made to walk away, but he stopped me with another question.
"Wasn't I supposed to get your name this morning, lass?"
I hesitated, but I had already picked one. A new city, a new name. I'd already picked one. I had a bit of a theme going, which was perhaps dangerous, but I didn't expect anyone to notice. Besides, that way, if someone was looking for me, I could break the pattern and it would be unexpected. I turned my head over my shoulder. "Rosemary," I answered. He quirked an eyebrow. Perhaps he could tell it wasn't my birth name, but it didn't matter. Every name was real in a way. I shrugged and slipped away into the crowd heading in for lunch with intentions to tail Eravyn.
Amaranth was a scared little girl. The day Ivie was born, so was Jasmine. She was resilient, and unafraid of a brawl, but she was also lonely and starving. She grew into Ivy when I moved to the Waterfront and began truly stealing. Ivy was fearless and she learned a lot, but she was reckless when she stole. Lily learned from this and was much more cautious of a thief, but she made few friends, and many enemies in Kvatch. She stayed too long in a den of wolves that wanted her head. Rosemary... Rose was going to learn from them. She was going to be resilient, and fearless, and cautious, and this time, she was going to be bold, and smart.
That was my intention, anyway.