There hadn't been many travellers into Riften as of late. Rumblings of the civil war between the Stormcloaks and Imperials had made all of Skyrim nervous, and now the talk of dragons had sent the decent folk scuttling back into their homes.

Milk drinkers. Brynjolf sighed, reclining against the side of his stall in the Riften market, green eyes sharp as he surveyed the merchants at their stalls. From his vantage point he was able to see and hear almost everything in the market, as well as keep an eye on the guards. Just because they were in Maven's pocket didn't mean they'd always look the other way.

Today was the noisiest the market had been in a while. Merchants were all but falling over themselves to catch the attention of the newcomer, each unabashedly calling out to an Imperial woman who just come in the front gate scant minutes before, trying to tempt her with talk of the best wares in Skyrim. He snorted. If they were really the best, they'd already been in the guild vault below the city. Still, she seemed nonplussed by the attention she was receiving, patiently haggling with Grelka as the other woman became more irritated with the dark-haired Imperial. The Nord angrily threw some arrows down in front of the Imperial woman, who only shook her head. As she left the stall, Grelka shouted, "Come back when you learn how to spend money!"

Brynjolf looked away from her for a moment as Maul appeared at his left elbow. "Who is she?" he asked, jerking his chin towards the woman.

"No clue," responded Maul in a deep rumble. "She avoided paying the door tax and left the guard embarrassed to boot."

"Did she now?" Brynjolf chuckled. "Did she say where she was coming from?"

Maul shook his head. "Looks road weary though. She came in with a big brute of a Nord woman, decked out in plate armor holding a wicked axe. Went straight to the Bee and the Barb."

Brynjolf nodded and Maul headed back to his post by the gate. The Imperial had moved on to look at Medesi's stall, seemingly in deep conversation with the Argonian. After a while she nodded and stepped back from the stall, seemingly without purchasing anything. Strange… A moment later her bright blue eyes were trained on him and he flashed her his signature smirk. He saw a near imperceivable lift at the corners of her mouth as she walked over to him.

"What do you sell?"

"Potions!" He replied with a ready grin and his usual heaping of bravado. "Falmer blood elixir."

Before he could continue his sales pitch she interrupted, incredulity clear in her voice and distaste clear on her face. "Falmer blood? As an elixir? What kind of properties would one of those foul creatures have?"

"The ancient Falmer were a strong, proud folk," Brynjolf started into his story, only to have her interrupt him again.

"And today they are twisted, vile brutes that skulk in darkness," she looked at him, eyes clear and face unguarded. That's dangerous lass, he thought with an inward smirk. He carefully catalogued the fact that she seemed to know about the Falmer before turning his attention back to her.

"This phial contains a special mixture, straight from the mages in Winterhold," he noticed her look of disgust and quickly backpedaled. Oblivion take her, what was with this lass?

She shook her head, her long dark hair shining in the sunlight. "I'm sorry merchant, there's no way the blood of one of those creatures would be any use to anyone."

"So you're a master alchemist then?"

She blinked, clearly surprised by his light query. "No, not at all."

"Then how can you be so sure?" he challenged. She looked at him with narrowed eyes. He watched as she seemed to consider her options. Given her questions and derision of the phial he was selling, he knew she wasn't going to fall for his con. It was still worth a shot. Half of the con was the confidence.

"I think you're scamming people," she finally said, voice level but quiet.

"Oh aye lass? Is that so?" Despite the risk of being caught, or maybe because of it, his eyes sparkled with mischief matched in his tone.

"I do," she asserted. "I have a proposition for you."

Brynjolf raised an eyebrow. Full of surprises this one. "Is that so lass?"

"I won't tell the guards about your con if you give me some information."

Outwardly, he paused, acting as if he was considering her proposition. Inwardly, he was genuinely surprised by her. The lass was quick on her toes, something he hadn't been expecting from her honest appearance. If she managed to pass his test in the market, she might deserve a second look, and maybe even a spot in the guild. He took this moment to carefully look her over. She was lithe, favoured the bow if her near empty quiver and worn bow across her back was any indication. Plus she was a natural at negotiating. He pulled himself out of his thoughts turned his smile back on her, hiding his displeasure when she gave no visible reaction. "Alright lass, I'll play ball."

She nodded once, stiffly. "I'm looking for a man named Brynjolf."

He chuckled and gave a slight bow. "Pleasure to meet you lass."

She stood shocked for a moment, her surprise written clearly on her face. He grinned, pleased at the effect he had on her. She quickly shook it off. "Alright then. I was told you have information. I need to find Esbern."

"Whoa, whoa, whoa, easy there lass," he chided. "I'm not in the business of giving information away for free."

"But I-"

"I believe our agreement was that I tell you where Brynjolf was. I have," he smiled cheekily, enjoying watching her anger grow. "But you've got to be daft if you think I'm just going to give away information."

She was glaring daggers at him by this point. "Fine," she spat. "What do you want?"

"I've got a bit of an errand to perform, but I need a pair of extra hands. And in my line of work, extra hands are well paid."

She scoffed. "Your line of work? I know absolutely nothing about you and you want me to do something for you?"

"Aye lass, I do," he leaned back against his stall again.

"I'm not interested in your coin. I just want to find Esbern." She gave him a pleading look. He had to admit, if he wasn't a con man, he might have just given away the information.

"Let me find him first," she all but begged with those big doe eyes. "Dragons are bad for business."

"Passing on a golden opportunity is worse."

She gave a frustrated growl and he had to hold in a laugh. She was about to head away when he gently grabbed her arm. "And what about you? A worn out bow, no arrows, clearly just come off the road… and running a little light in your pockets if I'm right lass."

Her head whipped back around to face him and he knew he had her. "I'm sorry, what?"

"Your pockets... They're a little low on coin. I can tell."

"How could you possibly know that?"

"It's all about sizing up your mark, lass. The way they walk, what they're wearing," he sent a lascivious look down her body that was barely concealed by her hide armor, eliciting a noise of annoyance. "It's a dead giveaway."

"My wealth is none of your business," she protested hotly.

"Oh, but that's where you're wrong, lass. Wealth is my business," he paused for effect. "Maybe you'd like a taste?"

"What do you have in mind?" She was suspicious, but he expected that.

"Like I said, I have an errand to perform. Your hands would be extremely useful," he winked at her, liking the rosy blush that blossomed across her cheeks.

"What do I have to do?"

He grinned wolfishly. "Simple. I'm going to cause a distraction and you're going to steal Madesi's silver ring from a strongbox under his stand. Once you have it, I want you to place it in Brand-shei's pocket without him noticing."

At first he thought she would protest at breaking the law, but she looked at him with confusion. "Why plant the ring on Brand-shei?"

Maybe she would work out for the guild after all. He looked her over carefully, weighing his next words. A misstep would surely send her running away.

"There's someone that wants to put him out of business permanently. That's all you need to know," he gave her a dark look intended to stop any further questions. "Now, you tell me when you're ready and we'll get started."

She looked at him quizzically. "Why are we doing this to Brand-shei?"

Brynjolf sighed. Her curiosity was going to be a problem, but she was likely going to be twice as stubborn if he tried to brush her off. "We've been contracted to make sure Brand-shei remembers not to meddle in affairs that aren't his own. Now, since we're not the Dark Brotherhood, we're not going to kill him, we're just going to make sure he sits in the prisons for a few days." He hoped that explanation would be enough to quiet her questions.

He waited expectantly, but she shook her head and stepped away. "I can't do this."

"If you don't help me, I won't help you lass. Simple as that." He could see the conflict written across her face. "If you change your mind, you know where to find me."

With a rueful smile he watched her sashay away, eyes on her ass all the way into the Bee and the Barb. Brynjolf caught her eye as she turned back to look at him and smirked at her. He was pleased to see the flush on her face again before she quickly disappeared indoors. Abandoning his stall, he sauntered over to where Sapphire was leaning against a railing.

"Brynjolf. What can I do for you?" she greeted him coolly.

"I need you to watch someone for me. Imperial lass, 'bout a head shorter than you. She's in the Bee and the Barb right now."

Sapphire quirked a brow. "The one who just came into town?"

"Aye. She's asking about Esbern. Make sure no one talks."

She nodded. "Yes boss."

Plan in motion, Brynjolf moved back to the market, a dangerous glint in his eyes. That Imperial woman would be back.