Underneath the booming Skyrim mead business, however, are shady practices and suspicious partnerships. While the Nords’ love for mead got the Black-Briar business off the ground, Maven kept it afloat with less than reputable methods.
The Black-Briar Meadery is supposedly the business that put Riften on the map. It produces Black-Briar Mead and Black-Briar Reserve, which are then distributed across the holds of Skyrim. It was first put up by Maven Black-Briar in the Fourth Era. According to Asgeir Snow-Shod, one of the meadery’s investors and Maven’s business partner, he contributed a significant amount of coin to get the business off the ground, and he’s surprised at how quickly it’s turned a profit.
In the events of The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim, Maven is still in charge of the business and makes sure that everything goes smoothly. In fact, she has so much influence over the people of Riften that people are afraid to cross her. Keerava of the Bee and Barb inn, for example, is afraid of serving any other type of mead in her establishment. Similarly, Ungrien, who works at the tasting counter of the meadery, is terrified of getting his sales pitch wrong in front of customers as he could end up dead — like the last three people to work his job. Maven Black-Briar has this much influence over the town because she’s taken care to secure powerful connections.
Should the player pursue the Thieves Guild questline in Skyrim, it’ll soon become clear that the guild is holding on by a thread. The only thing keeping the organization afloat is its partnership with Maven. As such, her word is law. Many of the Dragonborn’s missions for the Thieves Guild revolve around what Maven wants — trashing Goldenglow Estate, getting rid of the Honningbrew Meadery, and even becoming the new Guild Master. Even after the guild gets rid of the traitor among its ranks — Mercer Frey — the members still defer to Maven’s wishes. This comes as no surprise as Maven’s wealth and influence can only do the guild good.
Aside from the Thieves Guild, Maven supposedly also has connections in the Dark Brotherhood of Skyrim. However, this bond isn’t as strong as what she has with the Thieves Guild. Should the player enter the Black-Briar Manor and head into the locked basement, they’ll find a skeleton and human organs lying within a circle of candles — the items needed to perform the Black Sacrament. What’s interesting here is a note lying next to the skeleton. In it, Maven expresses her frustrations at how long the ritual is taking. She even names Astrid, the current leader of the Dark Brotherhood, hinting that she’s familiar with the group’s members.
Aside from underground organizations, Maven has also secured partnerships with the Empire. Though her connections within the Imperial Legion aren’t elaborated on, the player can find out quite a bit by simply listening to relevant NPCs in Skyrim. For instance, one of her sons simply states that Maven “knows which pockets to line” with coin. Her brewmaster, Indaryn, also notes that she has “influential friends within the Empire.”
In the quest “Diplomatic Immunity,” the player can even find Maven present at the party at the Thalmor Embassy. She’s apparently present to “maintain relationships” with the Thalmor as she’s aware that they hold plenty of power. She even points out some of the influential people in the party, such as Razelan of the East Empire Company and General Tullius of the Imperial Legion. Maven also seems privy to some of the inner workings of the Empire and the Thalmor as she notes that the general hates attending parties, but that Elenwen, a Thalmor Emissary, insists that he attend — just to irritate him.
Should the player side with the Imperials in Skyrim’s Civil War questline, it’ll show how Maven’s partnerships have paid off. After taking Riften from the Stormcloaks, Maven will become the city’s jarl. Even so, her demeanor won’t really change, and she’ll state that she was always in charge of Riften. The title is simply a formality.
Though it’s clear that Maven has friends in both high and low places, her family relations aren’t as sterling. She has three children — Ingun, Sibbi, and Hemming. Ingun, her only daughter, has no interest in the business and would rather spend her time experimenting with alchemy in Skyrim. Despite this, Maven insists that Ingun leave the potions and focus more on the business, even threatening to cut her daughter off completely if she refuses.
As for Sibbi, he’s currently in Riften Jail for killing his fiancé’s brother. Maven, angered by her son’s actions, put him there herself, stating that he shouldn’t be “airing the family’s dirty laundry in public.” Should the player enter the dungeons, they can find Sibbi staying in a luxurious cell, with a table full of food and a comfortable bed. The Dragonborn can even agree to steal Maven’s special horse in Skyrim and deliver it to a man whom Sibbi had sold it to. Clearly, the two don’t have a very loving relationship.
Lastly is Hemming, a self-proclaimed warrior and the next heir to the Black-Briar Meadery. What’s strange, however, is that he refers to Ingun and Sibbi as his children, while still calling Maven his mother. This is likely an oversight by Bethesda. That aside, Hemming is clearly the sibling most interested in the business, and he even plans to expand the Black-Briar Meadery to the rest of Tamriel. Whether this will ever happen still remains to be seen, perhaps in The Elder Scrolls 6. One thing’s for sure though, and it’s that Maven has built a small empire for herself.
The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim is available for PC, PS4, PS5, Switch, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S.