It’s been just over two weeks since I joined the Riften Thieves Guild.
Growing up in the orphanage, I always wanted to join the Guild as soon as I was old enough to leave. I would sneak out at night just to watch the thieves gliding through the shadows, unbeknownst to the guards that pursued them… I’d pretend I was one of them, moving deftly through the streets only to disappear into the darkness moments before being spotted. Of course, some of them got caught, but I knew that wouldn’t happen to me.
Constance was a kind, caring headmistress, but she always dismissed it when I told her I wanted to be a thief. She would say that a just, courteous life was a happy one, and that the gods smiled on prayer and piety, not larceny and debauchery. I never understood why I couldn’t have both.
I headed straight into the Ratway on my coming of age day. After several scuffles and scapes, as well as the remnants of a bear trap stinging through my foot, I stumbled into the Ragged Flagon. Most of the faces paid me no mind as I slumped onto a chair, and reflecting in their worn, apathetic expressions and fading Guild leathers, I saw them.
My new family.
The members were very accommodating in helping me settle in. Not just Brynjolf, with his warm hands and easy smile, but I think everyone else was impressed with how I managed to make it to the Flagon alive. The Cistern became my new home and apart from the one member out of the province on a job, I quickly took to my family, especially the Guild trainers, who were like parents or older siblings to me. So when Vex returned from Goldenglow unsuccessful, I felt that I owed it to my family to try and finish the job. I wasn’t anywhere near as good as Vex, but it’d be different for me. I would be successful.
Smoke from three torched beehives teetered upwards in the horizon as I strode back inside Riften’s gates. My tread was soft against the lush grass and crisp foliage underfoot, still kissed with light moisture from the previous evening’s rain. I was looking forward to receiving the praise which Brynjolf no doubt had prepared as I entered the mausoleum to descend into the Cistern.
While Brynjolf debriefed me, I noticed someone at the far end of the room who hadn’t been there previously. Standing at the desk at the mouth of the safe room, which up until now had been unoccupied, was a man, bent over in concentration as he surveyed his paperwork. He was too far away to note much of his appearance, other than his definite brow pulled into deep scowl.
“Has he been here before?” I whispered to Brynjolf, gesturing discreetly at the figure.
“Oh! I’d forgotten you hadn’t actually met yet.” Brynjolf walked towards the desk, urging me to follow with his hand.
As the man came into view, I noticed the deep-set lines drawing parallel across his forehead which ceased at the arch of his brow, only to appear again as furrows at the corners of his weary, slightly sunken eyes. The dim lighting of the room aggravated the dark circles underneath his gaze, which shifted almost disdainfully towards us on our approach.
“Mercer, this is the new member who joined while you were away,” my mentor gestured towards me, full of enthusiasm and warmth.
The man stood unaffected, his cold gaze lingering on me from underneath his brows before straightening upright. He was physically shorter than Brynjolf, yet his presence exuded more power and authority than any other’s. Goosebumps rose at the back of my neck while under his scrutiny, as if the air itself stood to attention in his presence. My throat felt dry and constricted as I gathered the breath to speak. “Lass, meet Mercer Frey, our Guildmaster.”
Guildmaster Frey arrives at the Cistern every morning at around seven. He takes coffee, which is brewed strongly over the fire for ten minutes, without any milk or sugar. He completes clerical work across ledgers and other administrative material until noon, at which point Brynjolf arrives to remind him of lunch. Lunch is whatever stew is bubbling for the Guild. His afternoon varies: weekly progress meetings with Brynjolf, Vex, and Delvin; fortnightly meetings with Maven Black-Briar; protection fee negotiations with shopkeepers and merchants as required. He visits the Inn for remedial massage three to four times a week in the early evening, followed by dinner, either at the Cistern or the Inn on a massage day. Nap in the Cistern before personal heists over the early hours of the morning. Returns home to Riftweald to sleep until half-six. Indulges in bacon and eggs on toast and pancakes every second weekend.
He prefers meat, especially venison, bacon, and chicken thighs. Takes Black-Briar mead with most of his meals, and before bed. Vegetables mainly only when served as part of his meal, though always picks out sizeable pieces of onion and relegates them to the side of his plate. He relaxes significantly when at home, as opposed to in the Cistern - he is quick to wipe food remnants from the corner of his mouth when eating with others, but less so when eating alone. Dislikes spoons larger than the comfortable circumference of his mouth. Does not eat overly intense sweets such as sweetrolls and taffy. Tolerates puddings and fruit pies, but only on occasion. Drinks his liquids in long, drawn sips as his eyes scan intently around his surroundings. He rests for ten to fifteen minutes after large meals, allowing the slight bump in his stomach to recede. Prone to skipping meals when deeply entrenched in work, and does not take kindly to interruptions.
Largely ambidextrous, though has a very slight preference for his right hand. Short, cramped, utilitarian handwriting, primarily in capital letters and no joining loops. His palms are rough with sword calluses, the base of both middle fingers slightly lighter in colour due to the band attaching his leather wrist guards. The Guildmaster armour is especially made to fit his form, fitting snug over his lean, muscled limbs. He wears finer clothes when meeting with Maven, as well as on his trips for a massage. His grey eyes take on a reflective tinge when appraising loot. A faint scar from eyebrow to lip runs along the right side of his face. Not a single hair is out of place as he wakes from his evening nap. His lips are prone to dryness, and he licks them frequently while hard at work. Grinds his jaw tensely closed when deep in thought. Always holds his right side slightly further in front than his left when standing idle, hands fisted and ready. His gait seems heavy, but his footsteps never make a sound. All of his movements hold a smooth, graceful quality, as if dancing through air.
He never does paperwork while it sits in anyone else’s field of vision. Incredibly protective of the primary Guild ledger which sits on his desk. Always uses back routes behind the residential gardens to get home, one hand resting at his hip, ready to draw his sword at any moment. Guards don’t notice him. He never enters his home from the front. Not sure how he gets in. He is amenable when it comes to Maven Black-Briar, his masseuses, and the other Guild heads. His eyes narrow with acute disdain for everyone else. He is most at ease when at home, and immediately after his massage. His jaw slackens and his eyes appear darker as he relaxes. It’s the only time the steady rise and fall of his chest is visible as he breathes.
I don’t understand. Does he not see me? Does he not hear of me?
I have grown so much since when I joined. I can pick all of the chests in the training room; I’m almost as fast as Vipir; I give almost everything I don’t need back to the Guild. Delvin gave me a special job for an important client in Whiterun; Brynjolf praises me often; even Vex doesn’t glare anymore.
But the Guildmaster—does he even know my name? Does he not notice that the coffee over the fire is just the way he likes it every morning? Or that he never gets large chunks of onion in his stew anymore? He is always tended to by his favourite masseuse; always receives his favourite meal at the inn; never runs out of picks nor quills nor ink at his desk.
What else can I do?
He is so directed, so unfettered; never doing things that are unworthy of his time. His eyes become sharper; hands opening and closing subtly to disperse tension. Even his voice pulls to a point, sanding his words into fine needles which leave a caustic, almost compelling sting in their wake. Yet when he gives me orders, his gaze is dull and apathetic. He could be speaking to any other stranger – he doesn’t acknowledge me at all.
The more time passes, the more his presence continues to affect me. His voice is intoxicating. I hear it grazing my ears even when he isn’t speaking; articulating phrases I’ve never heard him say. Just the thought of his gaze locks me into place even when he himself is not present. His very sight is mesmerising. He moves lighter than air; a spectre haunting the shadows of the city just as he does my mind. I cannot pull away from his presence nor can I stop seeking him out in his absence.
But he doesn't want me. Always so eager to palm me off to BrynjoIf, saying he's "busy", even though I know he doesn't have anything else planned for the day. How can l show him I'm worth the time? How can I become worth his time? I need to know -- I need to find out.
I've watched him for so long yet there's still so much I don't know. What do his hands feel like? Is his hair soft like down or coarse and wiry like steel wool? Does he have any other scars? What's his favourite instrument? Doesn't he get a back ache, leaning over his desk like that? Who's his favourite Guild member? Does he like dark haired girls?
I don't know if I can be patient much longer.
Twenty four months.
The sun descends in a bright orange over the horizon. Whatever light filtered through the slats in between the barred windows has faded, leaving the room in darkness. The Guildmaster should be in the middle of his massage at the inn. He doesn't tend to use his home for very much other than sleeping and very occasionally eating; a very fine layer of dust sits atop all the nonessential furniture. The house is barely decorated at all -- is the Guild doing so badly that even the Guildmaster can't afford to decorate his home?
I'm making sure that he isn't out of picks when I hear the sound of something heavy dropping to the floor. The Guildmaster should't be arriving for at least another hour -- who is it?
Surely no one would dare rob Mercer Frey?
Nobody's home -- they're going to get away with it unless I do something..!
If I run in the direction of the noise I should be able to catch them--
I barely make it a few metres before crashing straight into something larger than myself and decidedly more solid. A calloused hand darts out and fixes firmly around my wrist, stopping me from staggering back any further.
"Are you lost, kitten?" -- The hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. I know that voice all too well; rough gravel edges lining burnished leather. ".. Or are you a little magpie, come to steal all my shiny things?"
I can feel my throat closing over, my stomach constricting tightly. No-- nonononono, it was not supposed to happen like this. I want to speak, but my voice is lost by the time I open my mouth. I feel faint. This can't be happening…
"I could have you thrown out of the Guild for this," his hand tightens like a vice around my wrist, fingers digging painfully into the flesh. "Or worse, hanged." The other hand hovers over my neck for emphasis. If he pressed it closer I could catalogue the feel of his hands; memorise the tessellating skin with callous with practised, vital muscle. His teeth glint like steel, snarl practically feral. Jagged edges -- what manner of imprints would they leave?
Hot, leaden fear coils in the pit of my stomach, part of me imploring I run, run far; yet I don't truly want to leave. He's finally here -- I can finally see him up close. Even the tiny lines which crown his iris are visible among the sea of grey.. He's finally looking at me. I've been waiting for so long, even if I could look away, I wouldn't.
The Guildmaster lets out a small tsk, twisting my arm painfully behind my back. Turning slightly on his heel, he pushes me face-first into the wall, body pinning me in place. "I'm not a patient man, girl." He presses me into the solid surface, the weight all but forcing the air out of my lungs. Any attempts to struggle only makes him warp my arm further, sharp pain shooting through me as if he may just pop the arm off outright.
"I'll ask you again..," I can visualise the planes of his chest through his leathers as it presses into my back. "What. Are you. Doing. Here?" He grabs a fistful of hair, forcing my head back to view the ceiling. He hasn't clipped his fingernails recently.
The pain coursing through my arm and across my scalp has an almost sobering effect. I know I've done nothing wrong -- not really. I just have to explain to him what I was doing, and it'll be alright. I know the knots in my stomach are from anticipation; not fear.
"I was just making sure you had enough supplies." My voice comes out ragged, slightly laced with pain. The rise and fall of his chest undulates gently against my back.
"Oh?" He murmurs directly into my ear, "and who asked you to do that?" His voice is as smooth as honey, yet the rough edges make me shudder in response. My face heats up at the realisation that I-- we— are in such close proximity. Part of me is already busy detailing the feel of his fingers; his scent, mingling with leather and sweat and mead. If only I could turn to look at him.
"No-one." I turn my head, trying to catch a glimpse through the corner of my eye. "I just wanted to help you."
The hand on my wrist loosened just a fraction, yet still he said nothing,
"... I restocked your lockpicks. I've been doing the same for your desk at the Cistern for a while now." It was going to be all right. All I needed to do was let him know how hard I've been working and he would let me go. Wouldn't he?
Still nothing. His grip was loose enough for me to turn to face him, though his free hand was still firmly planted above my head, cutting off any means for escape. Not that I wanted to escape; he was finally looking at me. Still, my heart was beating through my chest harder than ever. I had to keep talking. It was the only way out of this. I could feel the faintest tickle of his breath against my face. If only I could calm my own breathing, and inhale what he would give me.
"I-I've been making the coffee the way you like it..; keeping you stocked of the mead you like..."
He let out a derisive cross between a snort and a sneer. At some point his grip had shifted subtly enough that my back was pressed against the wall, having to look up to meet his gaze. I memorised the line of his jaw while eagerly breathing in his scent. Leather, certainly, but now that he was even closer I could pick the faintest hint of spice. Clove, perhaps? There was a certain prickling astringency with just a hint of sweetness.
"And how would you know what I like, hmm?" His expression gave nothing away, though the heat clouding my head was stifling as his eyes locked onto mine. Nine bottom eyelashes on the left, eleven on the right. One iris was slightly higher set than the other.
"... Because I watch you. I've been watching you for years." I quickly realised the implication, shaking my free hand in front of my face, "but not while you're getting a massage or anything! I look away when you're doing something private..."
He let out a sharp crack of laughter at that. I didn't understand why. At least he wasn't mad at me anymore.
"How old are you, kitten?" My stomach clenched. Why would he ask that? My throat was a bottleneck; I had to force myself to breathe, let alone reply.
"I left the orphanage a couple years ago."
I flinched in surprise as his hand came to rest against my cheek.
"Must be tough; no family, no home..." For all its rough callouses, his hand was warm. Very warm, and undeniably soft underneath that firm, weathered exterior. I felt myself shudder as I leaned into his touch, cementing each and every crease into my memory.
"The Guild is my family, sir."
Just as abruptly, his warmth was gone, and the Guildmaster out of reach. He busied himself with paperwork at a nearby desk, as if the entire exchange was the same as any other. I barely had my breathing back to normal.
"Come back this time tomorrow."
"Isn't your meeting with the other Guild leaders tomorrow?"
"I changed it." He didn't once look at me since he moved. "Unless you don't want a job from me...?"
"No! No, I didn't mean it like that at all!"
"Tomorrow, then. And no spying in the meantime." He glanced in my direction without moving his head, just long enough to acknowledge me. "That's an order."
"... Yes, Guildmaster."
I did as he said.
It was excruciating, being forbidden to see him. He didn't keep to his usual routine, either. He wasn't at the Cistern for his usual evening nap, nor could I go out looking for him. I had to stay put. His desk was stocked, the communal stew refilled and bubbling away; I didn't have much else to do but wait. Even so, I was anxious. I didn't own much other than bare essentials, and my clean set of Guild leathers were still drying from the wash. This was just another job - it really didn't matter what I was wearing, did it? I'm sure he would have mentioned it if he wanted me to bring anything specific...
The Cistern filtered in and out with people as the hours passed by, yet still the Guildmaster did not make an appearance. I did a few odds and ends for Delvin, and while it all went well, it did nothing for the tight lump in my throat. The evening could not come any sooner.
The front door of Riftweald Manor was barred, as usual. I suppose he didn't need to bother opening it since I already know the way in. Still, that doesn't explain what he was doing for the past twenty four hours - there's barely anything in that house that could keep one busy for that long, and most of the furniture is topped with a fine layer of dust. I figured it best to let myself into Riftweald the usual way, and wait specifically where I saw him last. I was a little early, but finally the sun set over the horizon once more. I lit the torch sconce in the room in order to signal my presence. We would need it if there were documents and the like to look at, anyway.
Five, ten minutes went by in silence, other than my own nervous breathing. I leaned against his desk, which was now divested of whatever paperwork he was looking at last night. Being propped against a wall, I could see both doorways connecting the room from where I was. Regardless, I had little else to do than alternate sitting on my hands and biting down my fingernails, and the more time passed the less I looked up to appraise the sameness of my surroundings.
"Caught off guard, again."
I jolted upright with a start, straightening myself to attention. He was already within arms reach. When, and how, did he even come in? I had to do better than this. The Guildmaster shrugged off his hood, idly pulling his travelling cloak loose before draping it over a wall hook. Where did he go?
"Anyone else could have easily taken advantage of you." Taken advantage, how? And why? It's not like I keep anything valuable on me.
"Taken advantage, sir?" My eyes were drawn to his path as he paced around the room. Not a sound from the wooden floorboards. Not even from that one spot that creaked each and every time I stepped on it. He moved with such nonchalance that it was impossible to know what he was thinking, though he had an almost imperceptible swagger about him suggesting a recent success.
"The world is full of enemies. You need to know who to trust; who aren't just going to use you for their own ends." He glanced at me from across the room, scanning up and down in my direction.
"I... I'm not certain what you mean." I found myself turning away from his scrutiny, suddenly very interested in the pattern of the walls. It was much more difficult to watch him when he was looking back at me. "S-so, you had a job for me, Guildmaster?"
"Hm, yes. If you can do it, that is." He stalked closer, folding his arms in front of his chest; he was doubtful.
"I can do it." I didn't hesitate.
"Take off your clothes. All of them."
"You heard me. Do you want the job or not?" It wasn't a question. If I refused, he wasn't going to acknowledge me again. I can't refuse. I can't disappoint him.
"I-I do, Guildmaster." I turned away sheepishly as I began to remove my leathers. Why were my hands shaking? Once I was down to my plain underthings, I went to fold my clothes into a neat pile.
"I said, all of them," he snarled. "Don't make me repeat myself again." There was sharp edge of a threat in his words, and his very presence -- now stepping ever closer -- was one which exuded a dark, sinister promise which I couldn't quite place.
I wasn't afraid. I couldn't be afraid.
Every time I looked up, his eyes were still on me. I could only hold his gaze for a few moments at a time as I removed my undershirt and shorts. A thick, heady haze settled over my mind, drowning out my peripheries until only he remained.
Mercer Frey, Guildmaster.
He was close -- too close. I hadn't even notice his approach. Placing two fingers at the base of my chin, he tilted my head up to meet his gaze.
"Good girl. Now sit on the desk, and spread your legs."
My toes barely grazed the floor as I lifted myself onto the desk, trying my best to ignore my heart pounding out of my chest. I started at my hands in my lap, shifting uncomfortably.
"Don't you trust your Guildmaster?" He crooned, pulling up a chair. He seemed in a significantly better mood than moments earlier, the corners of his lips quirked subtly upwards.
"I-- yes." My voice sounded nothing like my own; "I trust you, Guildmaster." I held his gaze as I pulled my legs apart, knees against the edge of the desk.
He sat down before me, eyes dark as they lingered over my body. It was the same as when he would appraise his possessions - that intense leer of hunger and ownership. Pulling out some leather strips, he twirled and tugged on them between his fingers to test their strength. Apparently satisfied, he tied my ankles to the leg of the desk, one after the other. My breathing grew ragged. Even if I wanted to leave, it was impossible now. I had to stay. I had to be good.
He leaned back in his chair, steepling his fingers as he admired his handiwork. I didn't dare move and kept my hands braced against the desk behind my back. My mouth was dry, and no amount of lip licking was helping. The heat radiating from my face was so intense that I could barely think straight. Why was I reacting like this?
With no sense of urgency, he removed his gauntlets, cracking each one of his knuckles as he did so. Placing his hands just above my knees, -- I jumped at the contact, goosebumps raising up my spine -- he slowly, languidly drew his hands up my thighs. They were rough, fingertips calloused, and moved in a way which flaunted the culmination of decades of training and experience. Experience in what, specifically, my mind would not -- perhaps could not -- envision. His hands grazed along my sides and back down again, as if to assess the shape and value. I wasn't at all as curvy as Vex or even Tonilia, -- not yet -- and I couldn't help but feel inadequate because of that fact.
His thumb brushed against my nipple and I couldn't help but whimper, body instinctively pulling away if it weren't for his free hand at the small of my back. Tugging and tweaking the flesh between thumb and forefinger, he leaned in, the tip of his tongue drawing a thin stripe from navel to sternum. I chewed on my bottom lip, trying to keep still. He was so close. I could touch him, but I didn't dare. His gaze was molten; it spread a fire through my body and held me down easier than any physical restraint. A whimper escaped my lips as his own wrapped around a now pert nipple, tongue flicking against it as he sucked. My eyes shuttered closed, a soft rumble leaving my throat which sounded nothing like a noise I was capable of making.
Suddenly, he bit down, hard. I yelped, hands snapping to his shoulders. He sucked, hard enough to cause pain. Grabbing the other breast, he fondled it roughly, kneading the flesh into his palm. My fingers dug into the coarse leather covering his shoulders, whines and whimpers leaving my lips despite my best efforts at holding them back. The pain mingled with pleasure was intoxicating; impossible to know where one would end and the other began.
I was panting as he pulled away, and I winced as the cool air hit my oversensitive nipple. It was red and swollen, and was likely to bruise tomorrow. The thought of carrying such a mark on my body was equally rousing, making me shudder to the core. I hastily removed my hands from the Guildmaster's shoulders as I regained myself, my face burning as I turned away.
"No. Keep your eyes forward. Burn this night into your memory." His hands settled against my thighs, eyes molten. Despite everything I couldn't read him. He didn't seem angry, yet he looked at me with such intensity that I couldn't be sure he wasn't planning on killing me before the night was over. I had seen that same look of hunger when he was in a fight he knew he would win, yet he would always savour the knowledge of having the upper hand, if only to put all else around him in their place.
He kept his eyes on mine as I felt a finger nudging against my core. I bit my lip but otherwise did as he said, watching him with my eyebrows knit together in genuine concern. Whenever I had done this myself it was hardly pleasant -- my finger forcefully pushing against the too tight muscles just left things burning and sore. I never understood the appeal.
Yet, his own finger inched inside with no such resistance. My mouth dropped open, keening in a voice I had never heard before. His finger was much thicker than my own, yet my body clenched around it hungrily -- I could feel my pulse throbbing around him, pulling him deeper.
"You're awfully wet for someone who's never done this before." He spoke with such nonchalance, tweaking his finger experimentally as he stroked the inner walls. Mine.
"H-how did you..," The question melted into a strangled moan as his finger pressed into me in a way which shook through my entire body. My hands held fast against the desk, fingers digging into the wood while my back arched, pulled taut like a strung bow. Then he did it again. And again. The sides of my vision blurred, but I forced my eyes to stay open. I had to. His eyes fed upon my form hungrily, like a true predator relishing his prey. I couldn't look away.
A second finger slipped in with ease, and my hips met his strokes of their own volition, with such enthusiasm that the leather strips bit and rubbed my ankles raw. It didn't matter. Nothing mattered. The world had shrunk to nothing but pleasure, and the one man at its centre. Each and every quirk of his fingers was punctuated by my all too loud, unravelling voice. It's too much -- it was all too much.
"Mercer-- Guildmaster; p-please, I--" Even if I could manage the words, I didn't know what I was pleading for. My eyes drifted in and out of focus as I tried to hold his gaze, his own expression unwavering and growing increasingly satisfied. I could only cling for purchase, body writhing and tensing on its whims, all but drowning in pleasure. The seconds felt like minutes, heat and sweat and screams bleeding from the seams, mere moments from bursting.
The subsequent moments are a blur; fingers pulled from my still shaking body and brought to my lips; the heady scent wafting through the air matching the moisture soaking his fingers. They slipped into my mouth and I accepted without a second thought, eyes shuttering closed as I catalogued the curves of his fingers with my tongue. A faint tang danced on my tongue, punctuating where these fingers had been, and that indeed, this had all happened. I sighed heavily, body limp and boneless as the cool air finally registers upon the thin sheen of sweat covering me from head to toe. My legs were untied at some point, though the leather straps have left angry red welts in their wake. I’m not bothered by the pain. Eventually, the fingers I was so eagerly laving nudged their release, and I finally opened my eyes once more.
The Guildmaster appeared the same as always, albeit not in a foul mood. Not a single hair was out of place, which was a stark comparison to how I no doubt must have looked to him. I admired his form with little effort to hide my reverence. He brought his fingers to my chin, tilting it upwards to meet him as he pressed his lips roughly against my own. Even as I reeled in surprise, the close proximity allowed me to document the tiny pores which covered his cheekbones, and count the number of fine lines spreading from the corners of his eyes. A hand on the small of my back pulled me off the desk, and I could only stumble into his chest in order to maintain contact. His other hand wrapped around the back of my neck, holding me firmly in place as his tongue slipped into my mouth. The insistent, unyielding probing sent a shudder through my body as I clung to him, my hungry, desperate moans muffled by his mouth on mine. By the time he pulled away, his eyes were darker than I’ve ever seen them, the corner of his mouth twitching upwards slightly.
“Come with me.”