I'm going to start disconnecting the stories a little more and focus on the events that most captured my interest for being unusual, rather than highlight quests that completed in a fairly standard fashion. This should allow me to keep up better, reduce the length, and focus on stories with organic elements and interest rather than stock happenings.
...in which Ryne takes an enjoyable vacation in Markarth...
Markarth. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. Naturally, I threw caution to the wind.
I've made my way in and out of Markarth a few times now, somehow got myself named Thane, bought a house which I furnished with all manner of expensive items and a Housecarl who I promptly voluntold to join The Blades, thus leaving the place empty and a prime target for thieves. Hilariously enough, while I attributed the lack of break-ins to my shack in Whiterun which is crammed full of items worth more than Dragonsreach itself to my discretion and the presence of Lydia (and her custom Dragon armour and weapons that I so lovingly crafted and enchanted), my abandoned house in Markath has never been ransacked either. This leads me to believe that thieves have considerably more respect for my imposing appearance and sour demeanour than, well, pretty much everyone else.
At any rate, way back on my first visit to Markarth I spotted a man pull a dagger and start suspiciously toward a woman at one of the merchant stalls. Interrupting him, he turned on me and got my sword through his face for the trouble, sputtering something about Forsworn. Now, I have stumbled into various places in the Reach crawling with more Forsworn than insects; these people are murderously unpleasant and very populous outside the city. The Markarth guards, meanwhile, ushered everyone away and basically told me to sod off. Not particularly spoiling for a fight with the entire City Watch, I made to comply when a fellow named Eltrys handed me a note he claimed I'd dropped... which turned out to be a request to meet him in the closed Shrine of Talos. Intrigued, I headed inside, and was treated to an explanation of a conspiracy by the Forsworn to retake the Reach. Now, to be fair, in my experience the Forsworn already held most of the Reach except for Markarth itself, but nevertheless stopping that seemed a laudable goal - not that the Nords themselves who were running the place seemed to be nice people. In point of fact, the Sliver-Bloods who basically ran the city were the main reasons Markarth is a hive of scum and villainy, so far as I was concerned. At any rate, I agreed to look into the matter as it seemed an excellent distraction from destiny, and an excuse to bash some heads in Markarth... and if there is a 'civilized' place in Skyrim that needed some heads to be bashed, Markarth was it.
My first stop was to check on the intended victim, an Imperial woman who was huddling by the fire in the Silver-Blood Inn. On my way to talk to her, I bumped into a drunken Nord who offered to engage in some fisticuffs for some gold... an offer I accepted. As I said, a good place to bash heads, and I started with the drunken patrons in Silver-Blood establishments. That minor victory enhancing my mood and his coin enhancing my riches, I talked to the victim and eventually prised some information from her - namely that she was actually a spy and not just an innocent merchant. The plot thickens like a Nord's bashed skull.
My next stop was the warrens to investigate the room of the murderer himself. After convincing the weak-willed fellow in the Warrens itself to give me the key, and quick rifling through the dead man's belongings revealed a note signed only 'N.' Interesting. I left the warrens and ran into a thug who tried to warn me off with his fists. Thus I thumped the second head of the day, shoved him in the creek, and learned that 'N' was Nepos the Nose, another one of Markarth's upstanding citizens.
I hiked up the interminable steps that cover the city and, after searching the doors, found that Nepos' home was actually immediately adjacent to my own. Odd. It's not often you get the chance to combat corruption and get rid of a neighbour at the same time. Wistfully hoping a buxom barmaid moves in after I move Nepos out, I strolled in and bumped into a hagraven in human form. At least, she had the disposition of a hagraven. The maid told me in no uncertain terms that I was not allowed in. Naturally, I simply walked past her, and she merely wandered down by the door and continued to lecture me. I walked up to Nepos, who was busy reading a book, and stood there waiting. A short while later, ignoring my presence entirely, Nepos called down to tell the maid it was alright and to let me in. I've heard of pretentious lordliness, but honestly, acting as if I had merely waited arguing at the door and then inviting me up while I stand right in front of the man had some serious nerve.
Nepos then proceeded to tell me all about how he was a Forsworn agent who still took orders from the old Forsworn King, Manadnach, from Cidna Mine. I wondered if this was a deathbed confession or conscience until he informed me that many another had gotten as far as I had and hadn't left... because everyone employed in his house was also Forsworn. It was thus that I found myself surrounded by five corpses as the domestic staff and their master all attacked me and were cut down in short order. Dragon skin? Dragon bones? Yeah, lost on these idiots too.
My next stop was Thonar Silver-Blood, who I had jotted down in my journal despite being unable to remember why. When I entered his home, or rather, "The Treasury House" - the pretensions of these people escalates at every turn - I told the girl that he was expecting me, headed up to his room, cast myself invisible, snuck up behind him, and yanked his journal out of his back pocket which I then read, still invisible, in a dark corner. I was taking no chances with swarms of Forsworn agents this time. Oh, Thonar has been a very bad man. Turns out he's been manipulating Manadnach in prison to dispose of people that threatened Thonar's interests in the Reach. A lot of people. And now, it seems, the murderous king was starting to turn on his murderous master.
I stayed invisible and left the house, headed back for the Shrine to report all to Eltrys. When I entered, I began to get an ominous feeling - at the bottom of the steps lay Eltrys' corpse, and in front of me stood three of Markarth's finest who informed me that I couldn't disrupt the state of affairs and was therefore going to prison or going to die. In reality, I was going to prison or they, along with likely every other guard in the City, were going to die, but I didn't quibble. This actually suited my plans - they hauled me off to Cidna mine and left me in threadbare clothes with no apparent hope of escape. Alas, they were apparently unfamiliar with the phrase 'wolf in sheep's clothing.' My Conjuration talents ensured that I was never defenseless, sword or no.
After being told, ho hum, that I would never escape the mine and needed to get to work - yeah, that was going to happen - I headed out into the mine, which was full of former Forsworn. One suggested a shiv might be useful, which made me chuckle - primitives - and the burly fellow at the gate was quickly convinced that I should indeed be allowed to see the 'king.' Manadnach turned out to be an arrogant fellow at a desk who tried to recruit me.... which might have worked if I'd never traveled a road in the Reach, but after being attacked by literally dozens of Forsworn for months and witnessing their attacks on anyone on the roads, my sympathies were running rather short. Nevertheless, I wandered down the tunnels and spoke to an old man who was apparently supposed to make me sympathetic to the cause. Turns out, the supremely unjust Nords running Markarth had executed his daughter without cause. Aside from the lack of verification concerning the 'without cause' portion of the story, I already knew the Nords running Markarth were creeps and had some plans for them myself.
Returning to Manadnach, I went to inform him that I had no intention of joining his cause and to offer him to surrender and hand over his escape route key, or prepare to defend himself. Alas, he dismissed me out of hand and wouldn't converse, so I had to suffice with an apology while I released the Bound Sword I stuck in his chest. naturally, this brought the minions running and I had no desire to dispatch more pathetic inmates who were now without their leader, so Pacify spells took care of them. I opened the gate, carefully locking it behind me, and headed down the tunnel toward what I hoped was freedom. Alas, freedom was obstructed by various spiders and Dwarven Spheres that proved slightly more difficult in my unarmoured state - I of course forgot about Toldfir's Dragonskin spell until after I finished scrambling about the cave waving my bound sword haphazardly.
When I stepped out of the tunnels into the sunlight, I found myself in the southeast corner of Markarth out of the sight of pretty much everyone, except Thonar who stood there patiently waiting. It would seem he expected me, as he handed over my gear and thanked me for disposing of the Forsworn problem while he mused about finding a replacement for disposing of inconvenient Markarth citizenry. He started to wander off down the slope, and I shook my head. There was no chance I was letting this creep walk away from this.
My Frenzy spell took Thonar in the back of the head, and so far as Markarth was concerned, he died after attacking me in cold blood in a secluded corner of the city and I merely defended myself. Actually, I later learned that no one saw our little exchange - for as I left Markarth, I was accosted by a courier carrying a note from the Jarl and 100 gold... it seems Thonar even left me an inheritance!
Skulls bashed. Justice performed. Irony served. It's been a good day.