It was a mistake.
There was no other name for it.
She had made a mistake. A huge mistake. A huge, costly, unbelievably stupid mistake that she had no excuse for.
It was never supposed to happen to her, of all people. She was supposed to be better than that— the best, the most skilled. She was supposed to be the Listener, for Sithis' sake.
The job was easy. She'd had tasks far more difficult than it for sure, even if this one was a bit different.
A wedding? By the Void, those were a hassle even when she didn't have to kill the bride.
Yes, it was definitely different from what she was used to, but she'd never messed up so badly before— she was presumably better than that. Perhaps it was exactly that line of thinking that got her in such a mess.
The first part of the plan moved along flawlessly, and she guessed that should have tipped her off about the difficulties that awaited her further down the line. It was just a little too easy to sneak among the wedding guests. She'd obtained an elegant dress without much trouble, having been given more than enough coin in advance by The Brotherhood just for this situation, and she'd snuck in effortlessly despite the restricted movements of her limbs. The rest was child's play— or it should have been.
By the time people started to gather, the assassin was among them, drinking wine and planning her escape routes quietly in a corner— a sunny place to the right of the food tables, but as secluded as it could be at such an event.
There were no shadows; the wedding was to be held at noon, outside, in the blinding sun. The air smelled heavily of lavender and moss, a heady combination. It made her mourn the lack of her hood and snug, protective mask.
Even in such conditions, the assassin knew her plan could be pulled off perfectly.
Her seemingly bored, distracted disposition did not belie the way her pale, cold eyes relentlessly followed the bride.
Vittoria Vici was not an ugly woman, she noted, although the assassin had heard strange rumours about the happy bride— the businesswoman shared her home with an Imperial man (and presumably her bed as well) though she was betrothed not a short while to her new Nord husband. Neither the bride's beauty nor the machinations of the woman's relationships mattered to the assassin as much as Vittoria's blood did. As a cousin of the Emperor, Vittoria's death was a necessary stepping stone in the grand scheme of things. The recently appointed Listener almost felt pity to behold someone who'd worked so hard not to be defined by family ties ultimately being ended for exactly that. To allow herself such thoughts, though— and pity most of all— was not a slip-up she would ever reduce herself to, and the assassin avoided it with grace.
Vittoria's dress was quite unimpressive, her smile was too practised, her features only too easily forgotten. She was a woman of common beauty and not likely to leave a lasting impression.
No, she would not be a face to haunt her dreams, of that the Nord assassin was sure.
The Listener made sure to quietly and discreetly follow the newly-married couple once they made to move to hold their speech. No one spared her a second look as she moved with purpose after them. She slipped towards the door to the quaint balcony effortlessly, unnoticed, the crowd focused on the bride's words. The Listener, in a private show of jest, sent her silent thanks and praise towards the bride's strong, clear voice for unintentionally making her job easier.
The assassin watched and waited from behind the balcony's ajar door, her eyes sharp, her heartbeat steady and strong in her ears. The dagger she'd prepared was sure to end her target quickly, the poison strong enough to put down a troll— something the assassin knew from experience.
Finally, in time with a strong chorus of cheers from the crowd, the assassin drank an invisibility potion and started to make her approach.
And that was about when everything went wrong.
Somehow, gods knew how, the groom heard something— heard her—, he turned back to face the assassin's shadowed form abruptly, and… She faltered.
She faltered— not in fear, or disbelief, or out of plain surprise, but because though he could not see her, the assassin finally took a moment to look at the man she was planning to widow.
Piercing blue eyes stared hotly into the shadows from behind unruly golden hair, the colour of ripe wheat. Strong cheekbones sat high on his face, his complexion fair and healthy. She could make out a strong jaw behind the carefully groomed beard that framed his full, pale lips. His furrowed brows, just a shade darker than the gold of his hair, added a fierceness to his expression that suited him well. He was tall and broad in the shoulders, and everything she once pictured the Nord heroes in her mother's stories to look like.
By the Gods, he was one of the most beautiful men that she had ever seen, and no sooner did the thought register, that the assassin felt like hitting herself.
That was all good and well, but there was still a very serious problem to address.
She was not supposed to find herself distracted by the groom's eyes —or shoulders, or anything, really—, especially not when she was about to stab his bride and push her off the balcony. She was certainly not supposed to ogle the man and waste time she did not have.
As if to make that very point, the invisibility potion's effect started to fade away, the clearest indication that she had taken much too long to act, and her fingers almost shook from the strength with which she held the dagger.
The groom's eyes widened in alarm the moment he realised that there really was someone in the shadows behind them, but by the time he moved to react the assassin burst into action. She took off with a soft curse, pressing hard into the stone under her feet to propel herself forward, and quickly slashed Vittoria's throat with her blade, not wasting effort on finesse. The Imperial went down almost immediately— down two floors in two moments as the dizziness caused by the poison and the pain made her stumble over the edge of the balcony without any additional help from the assassin.
Vittoria's warm blood sprayed the Listener's expensive green outfit an ugly brown and her face an angry red, and the Nord wiped her face with the back of her hand hastily, smearing some of the salty liquid into her mouth as she did so.
And as if that awkward scene was not enough, it only got worse from there.
The tall, beautiful, magnificent man responsible for ruining her cover called for the guards and charged for her crouching form before she could actually get back her bearings, his hair a golden halo around his face as his horror turned into rage.
That he had managed to get a hold of her arm surprised her, but the Listener shook his grip off easily, rolling away from him with a well-placed kick to his knee that made him grunt in pain and stumble back.
For a brief moment, their eyes met, and she took courage from the murderous intent that she read in his gaze.
He made to grab her again, but the assassin was still quick and strong despite her strange sloppiness and she jumped back, climbing down the side of the balcony to make her escape.
"Seize the assassin! She killed Vittoria!" She heard his voice bellow loudly behind her, and she dutifully ignored the way her stomach clenched at the raw pain she could hear behind the anger.
Her heart thrummed in her ears as she fought her way through the city guards present at the wedding, horrified and mournful cries rising loudly in her wake as the people around her realised what had happened. Other guards were sure to answer the call to apprehend her, and considering how close the temple was to the Imperial headquarters, she did not like her chances if she delayed her departure from Solitude for much later.
Imperial trained soldiers were persistent and they chased their prey like rabid dogs, but she managed to get away from the temple with her life in the confusion and chaos she'd caused, if only by a hair.
Solitude thirsted for blood, for her blood, and she did not allow herself even a moment to think as she ran into the proper city. If she wanted to get away, she needed to reach the wider streets. The low roofs would allow her to hide, and if only she could get to the city's walls, she knew she could make her escape.
The sound of loud, angry footsteps only pushed her to move faster, to jump higher and to look further.
The assassin realised too late that there was no real escape, not when the whole city had been alerted of who was in their midst, and most certainly not when they knew her face.
They closed in on her just as she got close enough to the walls to make out the gates, and she swallowed her fear as she let her feet slow to a stop.
There was a dozen of them in front of her, and no doubt twice as many behind her.
She had been caught.
She had made one too many mistakes.
'The Night Mother would not be pleased.'
With that last thought, Edna Grey-Fur closed her eyes tightly and surrendered her weapons.