|Location(s):||Riften, The Ratway|
|Next Quest:||Alduin's Wall|
Talk to Brynjolf in Riften or talk to the Argonian bartender in The Bee and Barb.
Search the Ratway for Esbern’s hideout.
Find Esbern in the Ratway Warrens.
Talk to Esbern.
Bring Esbern back to Delphine at Sleeping Giant Inn in Riverwood.
With our goal of needing to find Esbern clear we’ll have to travel to Riften. I hadn’t been there yet, so to get there I went to Kynesgrove and started a rather lengthy trek to the South East.
You’ll undoubtedly run into wolves and a bear or two on your way, as well as have the opportunity to find several points of interest (like **** Mzulft, Stony Creek Cave, and Cragslane Cavern just to name a few).
If you’re trekking this path too, make it a goal to reach the town of Shor’s Stone on your way up. There’s a fort nearby called Fort Greenwall that like most forts is full of bandits. This one has a One-Handed SKILLBOOK in it called Mace Etiquette that you can grab. From the fort it’s a short trek south to the major city of Riften.
Once inside you’ll quickly hear on the streets that the Thieves Guild operates out of this town. In fact a man named Maul **** may outright stop you and you can ask him about the guild. Our goal though is to find and talk to a man named Brynjolf. He’s usually out about town and easy to find.
However, Brynjolf isn’t about to hand out information so easily. He’ll want a favor first, so unless you can pass a speech check for a persuade talk option you’re going to have to help him.
A Chance Arrangement
This is actually the very first Thieves Guild Quest: A Chance Arrangement.
Brynjolf will ask for your help framing a fellow merchant nearby. His play is to have you steal a ring from Madesi’s stall while he distracts everyone, and then put Madesi’s ring into **** his inventory (it’s really more like reverse-pickpocketing…).
It’s not really that hard to do. Before doing it, just make sure you know where Madesi’a stand is and who Brand-Shei is. Oh, and make sure you have some lockpicks…
Note: If you want to get the info about Esbern from Brynjolf in Riften, but don’t want to screw over Brand-Shei by planting the ring on him, ** you can intentionally get caught picking the lock by a guard, pay the 15 gold bounty, and then go back and talk to Brynjolf.
Not only does he invite you to join the Thieves Guild anyway, but if you choose the middle convo option ("The pay sounds good, but I don’t know") then finish the convo, you can immediately talk to him again and get the information about Esbern, without having to follow him into the sewers. Plus you’ll still have the option to join the Thieves Guild later, if you change your mind - Brynjolf says he’ll wait for you at the Ragged Flagon.
After that just tell Brynjolf that you’re ready and he’ll draw everyone in the area around him. Head to Madesi’s stall and pick the sliding drawer, then pick the box you find there. May as well steal everything.
Now go find your target, Brand-Shei (who should be sitting on some boxes to the right). Enter sneak mode and target him behind the boxes ( you must be hidden ) and put the ring INTO his inventory. After that just talk to Brynjolf for your reward ( 100 gold ). Job well done!
After doing this for Brynjolf you can ask him about the old man hiding out in the city. He’ll confirm that yes, Esbern is in the Ratway Warrens, and so our next objective is to enter there and find him! The Ratway Warrens isn’t hard to find: from where Brynjolf is at there’s a canal nearby that has an entryway to the sewers below town (follow the in-game compass).
Enter the Warrens and get ready to fight two thugs in the tunnel. Keep following the linear path until you reach a door. This door is trapped, so be sure to take the trap off of it (which requires a lockpick…). Further in is a pugilist called Gian the Fist who will try to beat you up! Ha! He’s got some unique armor too!
Keep trekking onwards and watch out for a battering ram trap as you go up a long flight of stairs. Further on is a "lowlife" you can take out, but be sure to grab the SKILLBOOK "Beggar" nearby for a + 1 increase to pickpocketing. The arch on the left here has a lever to make easier to get this far again, the arch on the right leads to an expert locked door, and the arch on the far right leads to the Ragged Flagon.
Enter the Ragged Flagon, which is home of the Thieves guild. We’re just passing through for now to The Ratway Vaults which is beyond the way. In here you will encounter more Thalmor soldiers, so be ready to take them out (it looks like we better find him fast!). Follow the path as it leads ever downwards. In the room with the anvil be sure to loot the chest, and past that is a room with a lot of chests for you to pick/loot. Keep following the path and you’ll soon reach a door to The Ratway Warrens. Again…
Enter the door and make your way to the marker to find Esbern’s house (and you’ll probably be attacked by a hungry "chef" on the way).
Talk to Esbern and be sure to tell him Remember the 30th of Frostfal", which proves to him that Delphine sent you. He’ll invite you inside his house where he’ll learn exactly who you are and what you can do (as he’s long ago give up hope).
Esbern will tell you that you must escort him to Riverwood, and with that the quest "A Cornered Rat" is complete. You’ll now move on to the next main quest: Alduin’s Wall.