"I am an apprentice wizard, not a pack mule!!!" said Marcurio, angry, as his leader carelessly dropped just another embalming tool and two linen wraps in his bag – pretty much all that could be found in that desolated crypt, but why the hell did they need to take them all?!
Bron had heard it so many times that, practically immune to the sentence, he walked out with a satisfied smile and stretched in the sunlight, of course not even waiting for his follower to drag his sack full of garbage – pardon me, precious loot – out before mounting his horse, ready to head back to Riften.
"Why are we… nngh… taking all this… wait for me!" Marcurio was even more angry knowing that gems and gold were not too heavy for Bron, as he always stored them jealously on his own person.
Bron kept on riding, but not taking the straight route; he had accumulated an impressive amount of garb- loot, yet he still wasn't sure any of it would be of use in his next, very personal quest. Maybe raiding some hidden mines and bandit camps he would stumble across just the right item. Parting with anything would cause him physical pain, but this time, the reward, ah, the magnificent reward would be totally worth it.
Vex watched, bored, as the Christmas tree was dragged in and finally placed in the middle of the Ragged Flagon. There was nothing to be excited about. Everyone would find a token package containing a few gems, maybe with something more personal, and she would receive the usual lockpick. Pretty much the only one of the Guild to get something different, as no one would ever see her wearing fancy jewels. Sapphire, of course, loved them, even if she could guess without too much effort the more precious ones were from Vipir the Fleet. He could have already made a chain necklace from all the rings he got back...
"I'm sure I'll find something perfect in there…" Bron snuck silently along a wooden fence, hoping to get to any possible opening before being spotted.
"I feel that just the right thing is somewhere in that cave..."
"Now I know for sure this is going to be the right place..."
"Oh, it looks like a crypt, and my fine rogue sense tells me th-"
"ENOUGH!" Marcurio dropped his heavy bag on the ground "you've said that three days and six bandit camps, ten caves and fourteen ruins ago! And I still have to drag all this garbage around!"
"Oh, look! Flowers!" Bron knelt down to pick the nightshade "there, take it!"
The classic drop that made the cup run over. Marcurio's back made a cracking sound as he ended up buried under his bulging bag.
"Come now, that crypt..."
"That's IT!" Marcurio stood up, dusted his robes and refused to move "I QUIT!"
"FINE!" Bron finally reacted to what he said.
"Good luck taking this garbage back to Riften!"
"Hey, hey, wait! Just to the Bee and the Barb and then..."
"No way! I'm sure I can find someone who appreciates my arcane talents more in any place! Just watch and be jealous when you see me later!"
"It's bad enough I have to watch your mug every day, I'm not going to spend my holidays with you as well!"
Marcurio walked off, head held high. He was sure he'd find someone more likeable than Bron in no time, even in the mountain forest.
Thus Bron was left with no companion to argue with, no pack mule, a huge load of heavy loot and still no idea for a Christmas present for Vex.
"Santa doesn't exist" Vex said flatly, while examining the latest pack of lockpicks a fence had brought in.
She didn't add any comments, but to the others this clearly meant she wasn't going to blame some non-existant fat guy for the unimaginative present under the tree stolen from spriggans guarding a cursed forest. Not that she was going to treasure it: she would simply use it and throw it away. For, mysterious even more than she was beautiful, no one could ever guess what she would want for Christmas. Thus she always ended up unfolding some package, without the least hint of excitement on her face, knowing that all she would find was just another lockpick, maybe more. Occasionally made "unique" with carvings or stained gold. She didn't care, as long as they worked. Except for the one with Vex scratched on it, which she immediately broke with her bare hands. In the unlikely case that she would break it while opening an excessively intricate lock, was she going to leave her signature right there or what?!
Bron sat by Balimund's forge, wondering whether a golden lockpick with her name carved in it would please Vex. Or maybe something more sophisticated?
"Can I use your forge?" he asked Balimund.
Bron immediately set to work on the intricate, thin lockpick made of solid gold, with intertwining silver lines and Vex written in beautiful, gothic letters on its handle.
How would she know it's from me, that is wasn't Santa?
"Santa doesn't exist" to Vex, this simply meant she cared nothing for all the fuss surrounding Christmas.
There were jobs to do, and gathering around a tree exchanging gifts meant setbacks. She did not ever want anything in particular for Christmas.
Bron took out a scrap of paper (luckily he had collected a lot of them in various ruins), and began to write.
With love, Bron Martes.
"No way" he immediately threw it in the fire of the forge.
With love, M.
"Too vague" another piece of paper ended up in the fire.
"Stupid" the fire lit up again.
"Oh, for the love of...!"
"That's enough! My fire is already too high, and I got a job to do!"
"Fine, fine, I'm sorry!"
Walking away, Bron counted the money in what used to be Balimund's purse, and smiled satisfied, sure it would be enough for some nice wrapping paper.
Still, no wrapping paper would solve the problem of Vex maybe not knowing it was he, Bron, who made the lovely locpick with his own hands. At least, not without falling into incredibly lame clichés written on the card attached. And, of course, he couldn't just walk up to Vex and give it to her – that would spoil the lovely Christmas spirit!
Vex finished counting the lockpicks, closed the bag and sighed. What was there to be so excited about? Christmas spirit?! If Rune started singing Christmas carols again, this time she really was going to stab him with a lockpick. Maybe even one of the uselessly adorned ones she was surely going to receive.
Bron counted the coins in the by then, four purses he had collected. Maybe he would find something that would help him...
His eyes lit up. It was complete, utter craziness – yet that very moment, as snow began to fall over Riften, he just had to do exactly that.
After all, he was the master of sneaking. He would be silent as the night. No one would ever suspect.
"Is this going to be over any time soon?" Vex muttered, leaning over her tankard.
Most of the other members of the Guild were busy hanging decorations on the Christmas tree.
"Hey Vex, this year I got you a..."
Delvin Mallory quickly scooted away, feeling chilly.
Vex couldn't wait for the moment to finally open her package, put away the usual lockpicks and get back to business.
Why did Christmas even exist? Or, if it really had to, then why were all these supposedly grown-up men and women blushing and laughing, maybe even writing letters to a non-existant guy?
"Oh, Bron! You are amazing! Let's have some Black-Briar mead at sunset by the docks, and, now that it's so chilly, we will warm each other up..."
Bron smiled, hugging Vex tightly.
Too bad all this only happened in his imagination, as he waited in the darkness for Brynjolf saying that everyone should open their presents, hoping no one would inquire about where he was. Probably off hunting dragons – and maybe coming back only for the afterparty.
"All right, lads and lasses, Santa's been here!"
"Thank goodness" sighed Vex, still waiting by the bar, ready to head for this year's lockpicks as soon as the excited crowd letting out small cries of delight cleared from around the tree.
Bron listened to the voices, then they died down. Where was Vex? Was she around?
Then he finally heard her voice.
"I think that one's mine" she said flatly, approaching the small, thin package, not caring of the huge crate casually lying by the tree.
(Lesson no. 24.: never, I say NEVER try to do something that might startle Vex...)
The lovely golden lockpick flew across the room and ended in the water, seemingly never to be recovered again. Bron, knocked out, fell back in the crate.
"All right, whose idiotic idea was this?!" Vex, sparks in her eyes, looked around the room.
Nobody dared to move.
"Typical. Must have been yours" Vex looked at Bron in contempt.
At least for one part, Bron got what he wanted. When he came to, the first thing he saw was Vex's face, a slight smile playing on her lips.
"But maybe... maybe this isn't such a bad idea..."
"Something strong, please, Keerava" Bron asked at the Bee and the Barb.
Bad enough that his lovely lockpick was lost forever, but Vex wasn't happy because it was him in the crate. She didn't even give him a thank you kiss or at least a pat on the shoulder – however that punch was quite sweet. She just said it could be a good idea, but he could have simply told her instead of acting like a sugar-high schoolboy trying to play a prank on his teacher. Thieves hidden inside crates and disguised as presents.
"Santa doesn't exist" said Vex "but some idiots believe he does. Not such a bad idea, but can be played only at Christmas."
No guard will ever think there is something wrong with a shipped crate.
This wasn't, though, what Bron was aiming for. Not Vex making plans for next Christmas – he wanted Vex to smile at him happily! And now he didn't even have Marcurio to argue with to let out some of the steam!
"I heard that wizard has teamed up with a female blacksmith" Keerava came back with his drink.
So carrying ore ingots, hammers and coal was more pleasing than carrying his very precious loot?!
"Speak of the devil!"
Bron stared in disbelief at Marcurio running in, heading towards him with a radiant smile.
"I thought I'd never find you! Can we go off, and can I carry some of your loot?"
Bron blinked a couple of times, then took out his bow, his stare dark.
"All right, where's the wizard that used Soul Trap on you?!"
Marcurio just shook his head.
"And just why do you think I want to travel with you again?!" Bron waved.
That's why, of course, five minutes later Bron and Marcurio were on the road again – or rather, Bron riding his horse and Marcurio lagging behind, dragging a huge bag of loot. He never looked so happy since many months.
"So she didn't have you carry her loot?"
"No... uh, she... can't we talk about something else?" Marcurio looked embarrassed "I swear I'll never complain again!"
Bron threw some ruined books, a few flowers and a candlestick in the sack. Maybe hidden under all those things, maybe in the next cave or ruin, he would stumble across just the right thing...
"I am an apprentice wizard, not a pack mule!!!"