17 January 2012

learning a new game

I've played Skyrim now for 2 months.

I've had a total of 7 characters finish the "main quest" which is tied to being Dragonborn and having to help save Skyrim from a dragon who heralds the "end of times."

This does not finish the game. It doesn't even come close to finishing the game.

So now I have a number of kids, to include the test subject above who is about to be cheated. Ysil will be reborn, with a little bit prettier face and a little less ummm... emo girl sorta stuff going on by using a console command to remake her appearance. Then she's gonna do the Dark Brotherhood quest chain.

Who do I have and what are they for?

Ysil, Imperial, Pure Mage - Assassin and Anti-Thalmor Agent (this is in my head, mind you... as there's nothing directly allied to or against the Thalmor in the game right now.) She was born to prove some numbnuts in the forums wrong that baby mages suck. I didn't do anything on her except to go straight into the college quests and didn't give her anything she didn't find on the way to use to save her. At level 6 she was able to do without dying once what he couldn't figure out how to make work at level 7 and was being advised not to try until level 10 or higher. I posted a step-by-step as an asshat move and then had to find a purpose for her because she's fragile but really pretty badass.

Julienne (the second), Breton, SpellSword Hybrid - General Do-Gooder and Bumbler. All of my Juliennes learn the hard way and this one is no different. The first version had 150000 gold, three houses and a husband who went to bed in the basement wearing his pickaxe. She was deleted because I'd allowed her to level to 50 before completing some of the main quest chains and felt like there weren't any challenges for her anymore. The second is much lower level, played the same way and has 28 levels before she reaches the apparent monster cap of the game and things start to get really easy.

Leopold, High Elf, Destruction Mage - Parked so he can become my enemy of the Thalmor/spy if they ever give us the choice or option. I frankly fell quite out of love with him and don't want to delete him just yet. He's kinda, well, redundant. Poor guy.

Ioan (the second), Breton, SpellSword Heavy Metal Mage - Evil dude in plate. He'll have all the daedric armor etc... I had to remake him because he started as a Nord and omgosh they aren't just impressive in body and capable of 2handed goodness... they're really awkward to level as mages. LOL The first version also had something in the neighborhood of 150000 gold before I deleted him. First Ioan and Julienne were born around the same time and I hadn't learned to be careful leveling my professions so he was very high level and had tons of gold but not much else. He hasn't done the dragonborn chain yet, and he might just wait a bit. He's liking killing stuff right now.

ilijan, Nord, Mage/Dual-Wielding Warrior - she's lovely, fun and purely impractical for the sake of it. She was born to level without perks and play otherwise just the same way that Julienne did with them. She cleared the civil war, main quest line and most of the college of winterhold chain before level 17 without profession levels, without perks and without any armor she didn't pick up along the way or buy enchanted. I ended up caving in and loading her perks before doing Skuldafn because I was going through too many potions to complete it on medium difficulty without giving her the perks.

Kierijan, Nord, PureWarrior - 2 handed weapons only, right now always light armor but she's picked up two sets of really secsy heavy armor and has no perks in any type of armor so... lol. One heavy metal mage and one heavy metal warrior, I think. Nords are lovely for this. I think Kierijan has cast flames three or four times, and always to light gasolene in crypts on fire and kill her enemies. LOL

and my favorite (I know, everyone always expects that to be Jules) my RP character:

Delia, Imperial (though she's 1/2 Nord in the story), ThiefMage - a little bit of lots of things that all base around being silent, being sneaky and having answers and things that belong to other people. She's also become sort of a do-gooder in her own way and was my first Stormcloak character because it just made sense. She had a purpose and a personality before I made her and she has a story, also. I'll update and post it. I had to remake her as the story became more obviously important to me because I'd made two or three decisions on Delia 1 that were really bad and couldn't be undone before I was clear on who she should be. In game she'll never marry because I wont use a console command to have the person she married in the story.

lmao. so mostly just for fun and still... some of them are more RP than anything else and some of them are purely test subjects, poor things.

oh, and besides the sort of "baseline" quests and things that all Dovahkiin will do in time if they are going to do the main quest line, none of them have followed any of the same paths.

Gods I love this game!

16 January 2012

so I'mma come here for my girls

new exploits... old stories... a girl gamer's experiences in MMO and single player games.

we'll save the bragging and the tongue wagging for rift hoppin' and I'll come here for the more intellectual questions.

like is it possible for a mage who isn't allowed to war any armor to conquer the world on medium difficulty if she's not played by me?


I'll be going back to WoW and to Rift for an attempt at a new and fresh look without the expectations I seem to have piled on them. A new Jules in each... a girl to start over on.

I really want to love them again because each for their own reasons were beautiful.

I'll blog each gaming session for a bit... even if it's just in highlights until I get into it or really don't get into it again.

An experiment while I'm looking for work... an hour a day somewhere and see what I see.

In Skyrim Julienne is a spellsword hybrid.

By that I mean that she is a caster and wears heavy armor gauntlets and boots and the arch-mages robes from the college of mages. She uses bound weapons that she conjures magically and she kicks the snot out of things.

She is not new, she has already finished the Dragonborn quest line as far as she's going (without spoiling things, to keep going with part of that chain she'd have to kill someone that both the character and the player really like, so... well... not gonna happen) and she's completed the civil war and mages college quests. There are about 100 more dungeons to conquer, and that has become her challenge. Learn every word from a dragonwall in the game, complete every dungeon or instanced area she can access and then see what level she is when she's done.

She's hawt, but not as hawt as some of the others that were designed after I understood how managing their look worked in character creation. Right now she's level 23 and has good but not maxed professions.

wow... rift... and then... SKYRIM

I accidentally outgrew WoW when I realized I was tired of having always to lessen my expectations in order to achieve what I wanted to have.

Let me 'splain... I had to run with people I didn't like and do things I didn't want to do in order to go where I wanted to go. I made the mistake of constantly pushing to be better and find something new in the game. Leveling and questing and doing holidays became raiding and doing dungeons and collecting gear and maxing rep and maxing professions.

Between zone chats full of asshats and raid leaders with no idea even how to find their own asses, let alone put together groups of 24 other people... individuals with more balls than brains and, transversely, idiots with more brains than sense who overthought everything and couldn't explain anything without an hour, a bowl of popcorn and three brb bio breaks.

So naturally, I led guilds and raids myself and found out that little boys can't take their minds off their penises even when you give them something cooler to look at for 10 minutes. It will always come back to "mine is bigger/better/faster" and anything else is wasted air.

I knew every zone and relearned what had changed too quickly. If you needed to find it you could call me and I'd know the answer. I was bored and still hungry for the game, and it made me cross and frustrated.

I was tired of the other people.

I missed the people I'd fallen in love with the game with and who had gone away or been outgrown or who had outgrown me.

I was making promises to play that I wasn't keeping because even three year old reruns of Law and Order were taking priority.

I was tired of feeling like a forgotten demographic in the design process.


Then there was Rift and for 6 months or so I was sold, hook line and sinker.

Well, I wanted to be sold. I bit hard and held on like a dying woman to a lifeline.

Less community, no continuity of real life relationships into game time, equal amounts of pandering to the masses of idiots without any real attention to those of us who liked figuring it out AND having something to gain from doing it. Boredom so fast and so fierce that I couldn't log in for days at a time and then any excuse managed to keep me away for weeks.

And then I moved and lots of life stuff happened and I just didn't want to be in the games that seemed at the same time to call me and to repel me as soon as I logged in.

And then my boyfriend bought Skyrim for his PC and the next day for his 360.

This is very important. First for the PC and then for another system, because he prefers his 360. So there's this unused version and I can log in from my computer and play it because he's not.

Cool. Single player. No thanks. I'll watch you play, instead.

yeah, I'll watch for three or four hours and then ask if he really thinks it could be downloaded to my computer. heh.

That was 2 months ago.

Guess what? So long as I stay away from the forums and ignore that asshats and idiots play anything and everything that the rest of us do, they just do it poorly and, well... like asshats.

I've literally gone backwards in the evolution of a gamer.

From massively multiplayer hell to single player and loving it.

And I still miss WoW and I still miss Rift... I miss what they were and I miss what I was able to make them be... and really I miss an experience I can never have again because I learned them too well and too fast and the games I learned were rapidly dumbed down to please a different demographic.

now I have a game that I can set different levels of difficulty and create differently abled characters and challenge myself against dungeons and puzzles I haven't even seen before.

it's lonely.

it's quiet.

and it's awesome.

when I need some community to cure myself of the need I can hit the forums until I'm bashing my head against the desk and screaming at the monitor. (I'm not saying that's what I do... umm...)

15 January 2012


what fun is fanfic if it doesn't follow you from game to game? lol

****warning... if you have not played Skyrim or have not completed the main quest lines DO NOT READ... this story contains direct spoilers that may ruin the gaming experience for you****
--- please excuse mispellings-they are being corrected as I find them

any deviation from the main quest theme or conversations from the game are intentional

Imperial Thief/Illusion Mage
Nightengale and Leader of the Thieve's Guild in Riften
Dragonborn and Leader of the Blades
Stormblade, Stormcloak, Thane of Whiterun and Riften
Wife of Farengar Secret-Fire, Mage

...“Why can’t you just be a good little girl?” Nimue, my nanny would sigh sadly in a low voice in her native tongue and then more kindly follow with something more encouraging in my own language.

Nimue’s sentiment remained all the way through my childhood. She longed for me not to be drawn to the dangerous and forbidden interests that seemed so naturally my calling from the very start. She may have blamed her own influence and perhaps she was so wise that she recognized in me the nature that warred with my honest desire to be the good girl she wanted me to be.

Always finding things I shouldn’t have, taking things that weren’t my own and sometimes using them to my advantage. I was really born to be a thief and not the highborn child of a well-placed family in the capital city of the whole world’s capital cities.

My desire to know and have things that weren’t mine to possess, my need to touch even if I wasn’t going to take or read and overhear what wasn’t meant for me to have knowledge of was only matched by my ability to do them without being told how.

Often I’d stolen items and objects from the many Thalmor mages and visitors who stayed in my family home. Even before I was able to choose my teachings in school I had researched the information I’d found and copied word for word information I’d found in the missives and ledgers that the High Elves placed such value on. While others in my home had my prying eyes and quick fingers to worry about, I had no such worry. Nimue would occasionally clear items from obvious hiding places and replace them with notes telling me where to find my stolen goods, she never took them away.

By the time I was of age for my first introductory ball I’d already mastered even the most difficult of locks and by being silent and moving carefully I could follow my Nan or my father through the house and listen in on their conversations or private meetings without being caught. And by the time that first introductory ball had become a ball in honor of meeting my future husband candidates I had already cemented my escape route and even secured some of the best armor and enough gold and gems to see me comfortably away.

The dreams had really decided me, not the idea that some high-born man I had never met would secure my hand in marriage and tie me down. I learned from Nimue how to prevent unwanted children as a part of her education in herbs and arts and high-born men have business interests and women in other cities that keep them away and unaware of their pretty wives’ activities, so long as their wives are as crafty as I’d learned to be. Fear of an unwanted marriage was the farthest thing from my mind when I decided I had to go to Skyrim.

The dreams consumed me as soon as they started and I wanted to know more about them, at any cost. Getting away from my father’s home and to Skyrim was the beginning of finding out where the nightmares and the other visions were coming from.

On the night before the big event my mother took to her bed feeling ill, something she’d done more and more often so that some niggling doubt caught my mind before I remembered that this whole affair had really been on her insistence, my father being of the newer more modern mindset coming from Morrowind and Skyrim where marriages were chosen by the participants and not their parents. I was disappointing her and it seemed of late that disappointment had become her lot.

Sneaking into her bedchamber to leave her my short note was not as difficult as it was painful so that I had to still myself and calm my nerves a bit for fear that I’d be overwrought and make a mistake or accidentally wake her from the restless sleep that consumed her nights of late.

I left the missive on her bedside table with a lovely little sapphire locket I’d had made by an Argonian master craftsman in the market the previous month. Inside were inscribed the words: Mother and Child and on the other side was painted a tiny portrait duplicate of one that she cherished in her private sitting rooms.

Mother: I will be safe and I will send word when I have discovered why the dreams plague me until sleep is sometimes impossible. Forgive my inconsiderate timing. I am going to Skyrim where the mountains I’ve never seen seem to be all my sleeping mind can see. I find I must understand these powerful visions before I can be a wife or mother or proper child to my parents. –D

The most painful part of my little note to mother was the secret knowledge for years that I was not even really her child.

The woman I called mother had been my real mother’s lady in waiting and my mother had passed in childbirth. Because of my father’s station in Skyrim no one had questioned the lineage of the child he brought back to Cyrodiil. I was an only child because my adoptive mother could not conceive even with medicinal or magical help.

My birthmother had a Nord. Tall and graceful and as pale as snow with eyes the color of the blue flowers that grew wild all along the roads and around the village where she’d lived with my father. Her name was Danija and she loved my father so much that she was disowned by her family to be with him.

I believe it is from her that I have these dreams of monsters flying over me late at night and of roaring words in my heart that lift and crush me at once, as if the words are from my own mouth and still outside of my control. I know that my love of the cool reaches of Cyrodiil and that my loathing of the sticky heat of our summer home on the sea come from my natural mother and the land of my birth, even if it is a place that I know only from stories.

Nimue suggested that perhaps I was seeing a glimpse of my life to be if I did not settle down and finally give up my nocturnal creepings and dealings. She has been my truest and closest friend and confidante for so long that I do not recall a time when my quiet and supportive nanny did not love me even when the things I told her were shocking or fearful.

Some part of me knew before she shared it with me that her life had not begun as a Nanny in the Imperial Capital City and that she had not served my father’s household as only nurse and tutor to his daughter.

By the time I’d learned to pick locks and sneak like the most dread thieves in the world she’d already introduced me to her younger brother and together I’d honed my skills and made the money in my purse to pursue the answers to my nightmares.

“You will send word back to me through Rohan? Promise me?”

I pressed my cheek to Nimue’s cheek and nodded without words. “I will. And he will be sure I’m safely over the border before he comes back to let you know, heartmother. I will write to you often, under the name we chose for me before.” I stroked her hair back from her pale blue cheek and smiled up at her. “I’ve left the notes for mother and father and have already packed. I travel with your wisdom and the wealth of your love in my heart and your clever brother at my side.”

“Go safely, child of my heart and return to me at peace and ready to settle and become the fine lady you have been destined to become since your birth.” She kissed the top of my head and released me so that I could step away and gather my things and not show her in the light that tears stained my cheeks. “Be a good girl.” She whispered in her familiar way and I swallowed the lump in my throat with difficulty.

Even my dreams could not have prepared me for what came next. I don’t even know if Rohan managed to survive alive and go to seek help as he’d promised to do. My own letter was weeks behind him if he made it home and surely my Nan would have been horrified and distraught beyond sanity at the end I surely must have found if her brother made it home to tell stories ahead of my missive.

Some massive manhunt in Skyrim had closed the borders and all carts were being searched. Persons traveling with too much wealth were suspect, and so we’d sent my money ahead in parts on three runners all headed for Riften and a contact that Rohan swore we could trust within the Thieves guild there.

The bandits had been unexpected by all of the involved parties, I believe. They’d slaughtered the borderguard and all of the townspeople, some travelers who were on the way over the border to seek support outside of Skyrim for their revolution had joined the fray and soon the whole town was a mass of bloodied and dying bodies, all too stained to tell enemy from friend in the dark.

That they’d outsmarted even Rohan’s careful planning was shocking and devastating so that we were forced to kill or be killed and when the Imperial soldiers arrived Rohan had fled and promised to bring back help to get me freed and I’d been taken prisoner and charged with killing the border guards.

I dared not tell a soul who I really was when I saw that we were in the hands of soldiers commanded by General Tulius, my father’s most challenging rival and distrusted countryman.

I smeared paint from a bowl on an old woman’s table over my face in a cross and then flat across my cheeks, in a pattern I’d just seen on a dead Nord and pulled my dark leather hood over my face, liking that the dark paint on my face obscured my features in the shadows of the hood.

It was something out of one of my dreams when I stood beside the chopping block and learned that I’d been captured with the leader of the Stormcloaks who was also a Jarl of a town in Skyrim who had murdered the High King and was being executed when the chest rattling roar made the world quake around me and I had to look around to see if anyone else had felt it.

Ralof, one of the Stormcloak soldiers, said that Ulfric, the Jarl who had killed the King, had shouted him to pieces and I’d wanted to ask him questions but they’d had a gag on him to keep him silent. He was a proud man, Ulfric. Proud and angry, a combination I’d never really seen in my carefully groomed family life and the seedier and still carefully guarded nightlife. He was compelling and even bound and gagged he had this sense of strength and competence about him that I wanted to know more about him. Any leader who fought so closely with his men that he could be taken captive with them was a man who could be trusted.

And then, on my knees with my cheek in the freshly spilt blood of a fierce and brave Nord who’d volunteered for the block to be done with the pomp and circumstance of an Imperial execution complete with a priestess of Arkay to bless us as we all headed off into the afterlife of our traditions, the monster of my dreams was given a name when one of the guards screamed “DRAGON” and fled, falling a few feet beyond me as the beast said words that shook the world and exploded around us, sending bodies and stones flying and filling the world with a dense fog.

A thunderous clapping word that made the world swim inside my head and all around me in a rising fog of dust and magical mist so that I had to struggle with my hands tied behind me to get to my feet and follow Ralof and the other’s fleeing into a tower at the edge of the town square.

I was separated from Ralof shortly and then we made our way out of the town, just the two of us. By Nocturnal’s blessing I found some lockpicks and some clothes and weapons and chose to stay otherwise anonymous as we fought our way out of custody and into the underground cavern that opened into a lovely mountain valley behind the ruined keep.

We traveled together to a little town called Riverwood where his family provided us with care and he encouraged me over and over to make my way to a Stormcloak camp and join their cause.

Making money in a strange place is always so much more work than making money in a well-known place where you have contacts.

I wasn’t so sure of stealing my way across the continent with goods that couldn’t be fenced, and so I took some quick little jobs that seemed simple enough and when I had the money to safely travel by coach to Rifton I secured my passage and away I went, without ever seeking out the compelling and very interesting man called Ulfric Stormcloak, the man identified by the Imperial soldiers as the Jarl of Windhelm.

I gathered my belongings from Brynolf and found a whole really wonderful group of trusted brothers and sisters in the suffering guild below the city. I promised him I would be of more help when I could be and headed off again to retrieve something called a dragonstone from a spooky looking barrow over the first town I’d spent any time in as an immigrant to Skyrim.

I’d taken word of dragons to the keep and the Jarl of Whiterun had asked me to help his mage secure the stone in order to understand how great the threat of dragons might really be.

“You’re… you’re the dragonborn.” The shocked guard gasped, watching as the light swirled around me and through me.

My whole body was on fire from the inside out.

I could feel the energy filling me until I felt like I’d burst and then it flowed over and through me like water pouring over a bucket. I could feel a word in me… FUS… FUS… like it needed to burst from me. It came from nowhere and expanded into me until it was all I could think.

“Try to shout. If you’re a Dragonborn then you’ll be able to shout.”

“FUS!” I shouted and everyone staggered and backed away as a wave of energy burst from me and I clapped my hands over my mouth.

No wonder Ulfric had been gagged! What terrifying thing was happening to me now? What is a Dragonborn? What is this new power so much more compelling and dangerous than the magic I’ve already learned to control?

I turned towards the stripped bones of the dragon’s corpse and shouted again.

“FUS!” and the bones shook and shifted, rolling away from me slightly. I shuddered with the power of it and with a bone-deep exhaustion that had never followed using magic to make myself silent or send someone fleeing back around a corner before they could see me.

“By the eight, you’re the Dragonborn.”

I tried to listen to the poor shocked men as they argued and discussed what it meant to be a Dragonborn and that I was the only one in hundreds of years.

I found that my shaken bones and weary mind sought the comfort of a familiar face, even if it was only in color and shape and was not really at all like the known and much loved face of my Nimue. I turned to the Jarl of Whiterun’s Housecarl, Irileth and she seemed to understand and laid a hand on my shoulder.

“I’ve been in some monstrous fights and that one is right up there at the top of the list. I’m not sure what to think about this whole Dragonborn thing, to be honest. Get back to the keep and let the Jarl know that we’ve killed the dragon and that I’ll be along quickly to give him my full report.”

I nodded and headed back up the road, walking slowly with my mind in a million places inside of me trying to figure out if this had been what I’d run away for in the first place.

Hadn’t I suspected that the frightening sounds in my dreams were coming from me?

I’d seen the monsters and in the first full day of my life in Skyrim I’d seen his face and learned that the monster was really a dragon. In only a month in my new country I’d learned I could kill them and that somehow I could absorb their energy and speak the words they spoke with devastating consequences.

I needed to speak to the Jarl of Windhelm.

I decided this just as the world around me shook and a great booming like thunder shouted over me. “DOVAHKIIN!”

The whole farm around me shook, maybe even all of Skyrim. I felt the word inside of me echoing as if filling a place in me that hadn’t existed before. Making sense to my heart before my mind could sort the sounds into syllables, just as FUS had done in me and just as the clapping mind-numbing shouts of the first dragon had done.

I knew without the Jarl and his advisors telling me later that the shout was a summons for me. I’d felt it through me and while the farmer beside me had flinched, he hadn’t seemed to feel it pulling him until he’d turned to look right at the mountain that the Jarl was now telling me I needed to climb in pilgrimage to High Hrothgar to commune with the Graybeards who were the keepers of the Way of the Voice, educators of all Dragonborn from the beginning.

I asked questions around the court, trying not to be in the way with the wonderful and relaxed Jarl so that I would wear out his generous and uncharacteristic lack of formaility with me.

Then I went to Farengar, his court mage, who gave me some books to read and seemed genuinely surprised when I could read both the ancient Nord texts and newer Imperial ones without need for him to translate them.

“It’s a wonder to meet a woman who is also a warrior and can read and understand such complex texts and ideals.” He said in the pompous way that seemed simply to be the way he regarded the whole world.

I tried to imagine how hard it would be in a world of big burly men and burly women to be a wiry mindful man of books and words who wielded unseen and distrusted energies and did not heft the trusty weight of a mace or axe against his foes. It must have been a challenging life for Farengar I decided and let his cutting insults roll over me unfelt.

“Thank you, Farengar.” I said with a laugh. “If I share something with you will you promise to keep it between us? A secret from all the brawn and no brains boys who already think I’m too fragile to keep up with them?”

He turned a quizzical look on me and I waited until he’d swung the outer doors of his rooms closed to the main court. “Absolutely.”

I breathed deeply and spread my hands out flat, hissing the command as my whole body flashed and he spun trying to figure out where I’d gone to as I moved without sound to stand behind the map. I whispered a word and he spun with his hand raised against a foe that was not really there, responding to the thrown voice it had taken me so long to master. I rose from my hiding place and dropped my spells, waiting as the ruffled mage resettled his robes and his mood.

“Illusion is a difficult and dangerous art.” He said at last. “And you seem to have mastered it. If you find you desire more training, may I recommend you travel to Winterhold and seek the wisdom of the Mages at the College there.”

“I’d forgotten that Winterhold has a Mage’s College. We have nothing of the sort in Cyrodi… at home.”

I’d not corrected myself fast enough and I watched the very smart man decide to err on the side of discretion and not say anything.

“Are you going to make the journey up to High Hrothgar?”

“Yes. First I think I need to make my way to Windhelm and find out if there’s anything that their Jarl can tell me about the Shouts. I was briefly acquainted with him and some of his Stormcloaks in Helgen.”

“Oh, I can save you the trip into that dangerous city.” Farengar rose and brought a tome down from the top shelf in his office. “Ulfric would have been trained the way many Nords are trained, by going to the Graybeards. He’s of the royal line, and so it stands to reason that he’d learn the voice with more power than those without dragonblood in them, provided he’s of the royal line.” Farengar dug through a shelf in his own bedchamber and returned with another tome, talking as he went. I imagined he might just as well have been speaking to himself and guessed he often did just that when he seemed almost startled to find me patiently waiting beside his desk.

“He might even have been a student of the Graybeards who take protégé in from time to time. You’ve been summoned directly to the Graybeards, who have passed down the teachings of a dragon how to speak the dragon tongue, more reliable, I would think.” Farengar slid the book towards me on his desk.

“So the leaders have all been Dragonborn?”

“Tiber Septim was Dragonborn.” He turned the book to me and watched in that quiet surprised and pleased way of his as I read and noted the information I was seeking before turning the page. “Keeping the throne in his line has been important, if confusing and not always very effective.”

“And worshiping him is forbidden because the almighty Aldmeri Dominion is challenged by the worship of a man God who could challenge their absolute control.” I sighed. “And even his heir is unwilling to challenge that assertion in the face of the power they fear.”

“Am I to suppose you have no great love of the Thalmor?”

“You’d be absolutely correct, though I’d be pressed to lie if asked on it directly by certain individuals.”

“Your secrets are safe with me, lady.” Farengar laid a hand on mine and I noticed how soft and unmarked the back of his hand was, and how young his skin was.



“You’re not as old as you’d like us all to believe you are from the shadows under your hood, are you?” It was less question than accusation and he breathed in deeply before lowering his hood for me.

He was older than I’d pictured from his lovely hands, and was still very young for a man who talked like an old priest.

He wore soft brown hair long in the back and clasped tightly to keep it from being dragged by the cowl of his robes, thick bushy sideburns and a shaved face. He had interesting intelligent soft brown eyes.

“Thank you for sharing your secret with me.” I turned my hand over under his and closed my fingers around his tenderly. “I’ll guard it with my life.”

“The Jarl already knows that I’m a younger wizard.” He teased and blushed, pulling his hood back up and around his face. “And thank you. I wouldn’t ask you to defend such a small thing with your very valuable life.”

“Nimue told me once that we have all got the most valuable gift from the gods that can ever be given, and it’s in seeking to spend that gift wisely and truely that we repay it.”

“Well, Dovahkiin and Imperial Mage with some sort of shady talents…” Farengar lifted my hand to his lips and brushed my wrist with his lips tenderly for just a split second that seemed to wreak havoc inside of me all at once, “Spend only that which you can afford in seeking this destiny of yours so that some of us might be able to see if the legend had more to tell after.”

I blinked away the sudden emotion in the room and nodded to him briskly. I’ve been no stranger to the relations between a man and a woman that are most rewarding, and still had never felt this nervous and incredibly high sense of desire and attraction for another person. I caught his hand in mine as he would have pulled it away and drew him closer so that I could kiss his cheek.

“I promise to keep some of my gifts to be spent after I’ve learned what it is to be a Dragonborn and my mother’s daughter.”

He looked at me with that curious light in his eyes and I sighed.

“I’ll tell you what I haven’t told anyone and I’ll have to trust you with it.” I glanced nervously over my shoulder at the closed doors and focused my mind on his understanding eyes.

“My father is a retired General in the Imperial Army, and for a brief time he was here in Skyrim and fell in love with my mother, a Nord woman. She died bringing me into the world and my father remarried right away to a woman from Cyrodiil who raised me as her own. A few years ago I started having nightmares and dreams of dragons, though I didn’t know that’s what they were then, and of huge booming words like arguments that shook the world, sometimes coming from me and sometimes flowing over and around me.”

I watched as what I was saying absorbed into his incredibly fast mind and reflected back in the form of questions in his bright eyes. I found myself thanking the Eight and their newly betrayed Ninth that Farengar was first a Nord and then a man of intellect, so that the rational part of his brain absorbed the information at a different rate than the superstitious and accepting part of his nature could do.

“My nanny is a Dark Elf and she suggested that I was seeing my destiny. She wanted me to believe it was what might befall me if I didn’t stop sneaking and thieving and hanging around with the wrong sorts instead of being a wealthy lady of station. I think I’ve figured out now that I can’t ever have that lady of station place in any society until I’ve mastered this part of my destiny.”

“What is your real name?”

“Delia is my real name.” I smiled. “The one my mother gave me, anyway. Cordilia Westmayor is my family name.”

“Your father wasn’t just a great General, Delia.” He whispered and shook his head. “Even I know that name and I avoid politics as though they might actually burn my skin.”

“And I was kneeling with my face in the blood of an executed Stormcloak when the dragon accidentally set me free. There is something lovely to irony that sets a dragonborn leader and a Jarl who would be High King and who murdered his King free by dragon attack.”

“Living to tell it, that is the best part.” He stroked my fingers in his gently. “Rememeber whatever else you master or learn, come back.”

“Often. I’m a Thane of Whiterun now. I can buy a house when I have the gold to do so. Perhaps then you could come and visit me and let me cook you delicacies from another land. I’m not sure how good I’d be at it, and I’d be willing to try if you were feeling adventurous enough.”

“I have a feeling that I can find my adventurous side where you are concerned, Cordelia Half Nord and all Heart.”

I opened the doors slowly and made eye contact with the curious Jarl from where he sat lounged in his throne. He seemed to understand that I had parts of myself that I hid away and seemed also to trust that those things would be brought to light as necessary and without harm to himself or his town.

If only I’d been able to live up to that expectation.

Time moves so quickly when there is a war going on and you find yourself choosing a side.

First to Windhelm where I approached Jarl Ulfric without thought or concern to propriety and was dressed down for it in his casual and effective way. And then I told him directly that I was called to High Hrothgar and that I needed to speak to him about The Voice.

He led us from the throne room and into a chamber to the side where maps of a world I’d barely explored were covered in flags of colors representing his armies and those of the Imperial Legion dotted the landscape.

Ulfric explained that he’d trained for many years at High Hrothgar, hand selected to become a Graybeard himself until the war had peaked. He’d been unable to reconcile his years of teaching peace and control with the rage inside of him and he’d come down from High Hrothgar to fight first one war and then to lead a rebellion that was still forming inside himself even as he went.

The Jarl paced as he explained to me the very difficult decision it had been for him and the pain he’d experienced in letting his teacher down, and more, how much more of a commitment I was about to have to make because I was touched directly by Akatosh and carried the dragonblood in me with the spark that only the touch of a God could imbue.

“You have a path ahead that is dangerous and difficult, Dragonborn. I would be glad to be your shield brother and walk it with you if I could.”

Something in me wrapped around all the missives and journals and ledgers and stolen documents I’d ever seen and I laid my hand on the Jarl’s, watching the way his body stiffened before he made eye contact with me curiously.

“I have something for you that will not change anything for this country until there is a proper High King and this civil war is finished. I won’t risk that my fate ends before that day, my Jarl.” I pulled my little private journal of carefully scripted names, dates and specific pieces of information and I watched as his mind quickly absorbed the importance of what he was holding.


“I am half Nord. My father is a great leader and former General for the Empire. When my mother died here to bring me into the world, he returned home and retired from war. He is a very trusted Imperial Council. His visitors are often the sort who allow pieces of information like these to lay about or become known in bits over time.” I watched him still turning pages and how his eyebrows betrayed his otherwise emotionless face by rising from time to time.

“When I promised Galmar that I want to fight the Empire, there was no lie in me. It is not my father or the Empire that I loathe, my Jarl. It is the Elves who have so craftily taken the appearance of Government and veiled it so that only a precious few can see the strings and manipulations for the actual controls that they are.”

“And you would hand to me everything I need to begin a great and bloody war in an effort to have what for yourself, Delia Unblooded?”

“To have no more of the Aldmeri Dominion and see each of our countries freed again to become what we were meant to be within an Empire ruled entirely by ourselves and without their controls.” I said it and then felt the power and betrayal of what I was saying inside of myself like some hidden ghost, niggling in my belly as though I’d misspoken. “That is if my being Dragonborn doesn’t actually herald the end of times, as the books and songs and stories all seem to portend.”

Ulfric laughed aloud then and actually drew me close enough to wrap his arms around me lightly, as a brother or uncle might do. “I am proud to have you on my side, Dragonborn. You go and see the Graybeards. They will have much to teach you and even much more to test you with as you make your journey towards your destiny. I look forward to your return with a glad heart for my new friend and shield sister.”

Galmar watched me leave the little room, much as Jarl Balgruuf had done in Whiterun and I felt my skin prickle with a different sort of embarrassment.

Jarl Ulfric had called me a family member. Jarl Balgruuf had called me friend and treated me as trusted family and I had just done the one thing that would end my friendship with the generous and gentle man who was also the leader of Whiterun and was also Farengar’s Jarl.

In so little time in Skyrim I’d already made so many terribly entangling decisions.

“Be on your guard, little sneak.” Brynolf had teased. “This is one long and dangerous trek you’re setting out on.”

His words echoed in my mind as I scrubbed blood from my freezing fingertips with brittle icy snow at the side of the road some days later. My ability to be utterly silent and unseen worked wonders in avoiding most altercations with other humanoids. Animals tended to respond to a fear charm with predictable frenzied flights. In many situations I’d already managed to move unseen through the landscape.

Dragons, though, dragons were immune to my charms and were brutally effective at seeking me out in points along my journey where there were nothing but more dangerous eyes on me in the darkness to call on for assistance so that exposing myself opened me to life threatening and devastating fights for my survival like I’d never known.

From Riften to Ivarstead was more than two weeks hard walking and in that time I killed three dragons and a score of massive cats and wolves. Something I think might have been a Troll, though I’m not sure really what they look like except from pictures in children’s stories and in a cave where I took shelter from a bitter icy wind I met my first Draugr that wasn’t inside of a burial mound or cairn.

By the time I made the last step outside the inn at Iverstead and crossed the porch to open the welcoming door I was ready to collapse and gratefully the innkeeper had a warm bed waiting so that I could do just that.

It was on a belly full of mead and meat stew that I learned my journey was only half finished. Exhausted and hopeful that the bed would be soft enough to catch me when I fell in face first I discovered I had still to make a climb that was not exaggerated when Jarl Balgruuf had said 7000 steps straight up into the sky.

And then I volunteered to take a bag of goods up to the Graybeards for a townsman because he needed help and I was going that way already. I think I’d slept so well that my sense had still not caught up to my sensibility.

Loaded down like a packhorse with my weapons and my own packs and the cured meats and some vegetables for the Graybeards, I started to climb in the mid morning light. Each of those 7000 steps a reminder that I was more kind than intelligent and that my own naiveté was likely going to be my end.

Every so often there were little plaques telling the story of how this place was made and for what purpose the steps and the sanctuary at the top had been intended. There were others on the steps, mostly Kynareth worshipers or pilgrims seeking meditation and peace on this massive climb.

There were few wild creatures and still I seemed able to summon them as if from some need to further test me and my determination to reach the summit.

Just when I might have actually surrendered to my shaking legs I came up over a section of stairs and found myself at a flat point where a massive dark stone building like a keep seemed to grow from the same colored stone foundation below it, up more stairs, of course.

At the base of the stairs was an altar of devotion to Kynareth and some more supplies and gifts that I carefully sorted and gathered into the bags of supplies or left where they were on the altar depending on perishability and usefulness to the men cloistered inside. I detoured out of habit to read the last plaque in my journey and then made my way back to the altar and up the few remaining steep stairs to a pair of massive steel doors.

Knock? Who would hear me? I pressed and the door opened easily with very little pressure. I stepped into the stone hallway and was aware of great warmth from somewhere just ahead in the dimly lit inner halls.

I stomped ice and snow from myself in the hallway and shook the snow from my cloak, which I left over my packs and weapons in the middle of the long hall, still hefting the bag of supplies sent up by Klemick from Ivarstead and the few smaller bags of perishables from the altar. I stepped into the dim warmth of a worship hall where a man knelt facing an idol and another knelt on the other side of a tall stone facing the opposite direction, also praying.

An elder man that I recognized from Jarl Ulfric’s description made his way from the shadows beyond a narrow staircase and extended his arms open in welcoming to me as he hurried silently across the stone floor to greet me.

“I am Master Arngier.” He introduced himself as the others rose or joined him from other places in the keep.

“Sir, Klemick from Ivarstead asked me please to deliver you fresh supplies.” I handed the bag to a Graybeard I would learn later was called Borri who bowed graciously and set the bag and the pair of smaller ones to the side, on a low table beside the stairs.

“It was very kind of you to make the climb for him, Dragonborn.”

I was tested, just as Jarl Ulfric had suggested I would be. And I learned new words and I asked a million questions that poor Arngier worked hard to answer in his carefully crafted and unjudging way.

Arngier avoided talk of Jarl Ulfric and refused to discuss even the slightest news of the fact that it had been Jarl Ulfric who had best prepared me for my journey and the huge obligation I was undertaking.

“I understand disappointment better than many, Master Arngier. I also accept that the fate a man chooses must ultimately become him or it will consume him. My Nan taught me that. You may be disappointed by Jarl Ulfric’s choice and I have met the man and must say that he has chosen wisely inside of himself a path that he knows is neither easy nor definite and is still his to embrace or be swallowed up inside of. I wont mention him to you again, Master. I will also not stop admiring a man who shines and leads with a force that few in centuries has been able to do.”

“You sound besotted of him.” The older man scoffed and I laughed aloud.

“I feel kindred to him, Master.” I reached for the old man’s robes and caught his sleeve, turning him on his heel with his lips curved in a rebuke I barely missed receiving. “It was that admission to him that led him to encourage me to make this climb before I do anything else, no matter how hard or dangerous at this time of year because he wanted me to have your guidance for everything you can share quickly for me. I got the feeling that Ulfric does not want me torn by the driving force of his path and that he didn’t welcome my feeling kindred to him.”

“Sadly that is the wisest thing I’ve heard of my former student in years.” Arngier laid a gentling hand over mine on his sleeve and rejoined me at the little table in the shadows beside the stairs. “True that a man chooses his destiny and how true to it he will be. Ulfric made his choice and has allowed everything he learned to fall away in his desire for leadership. That he understands the weight of this and encouraged you to come to us I will be forever grateful to him for.”

“And enough of the man who would be High King of Skyrim, Master. I am hungry to learn and desirous of lessons that will not be easy or quick and I have very little time. I killed three dragons on my way here, like they’re somehow drawn to me. Teach me what you can impart of The Way of the Voice and do it quickly as if I am not new to the ideas, so that I can ask for guidance or clarifications where I need them and can absorb the rest for when I struggle with them as understanding catches up to learning.”

“It is my honor to teach such a wise and willing student, Dragonborn. I look forward to spending more time with you once we have determined your path.”

I breathed deeply and felt the peace of the place enter me for the first time.

“Master, I am not sure what the world holds for me.” I ran both hands back through my hair, pushing it all awry and lifting my cowl from my head so that it fell around my shoulders. “A year ago I was miserable, a child of wealth and comfort who shunned them both for a life of luxurious debauchery thieving and sneaking in the shadows.” I unbuckled my armor and stretched, letting it fall open so that I could sit more comfortably with him there by the stairs and watched as he patiently waited for me to continue my train of thought.

“Since I’ve arrived in Skyrim as a child without family or home or name I’ve been nearly beheaded for the crime of being in the wrong town by my own countrymen, I’ve been welcomed into a dangerous and exciting family of men who side with the Empire and another who has loved me and recognized in me a difference that he desired for himself and couldn’t ever have and called me sister and sent me here, to his greatest teacher and friend. I am touched by Gods I’ve never called out the names of and have found myself worn ragged and nearly to death by the journeys between each new lesson learned. I welcome the peace and protection this sanctuary of yours offers and promises me in time.”

“Poor child.” Arngier drew me into his arms and brushed his lips against the top of my bared head as he rose to his feet. “I had not misunderstood your journey and had also not fully appreciated it until this moment. What an incredible few months this has been for you. Come. Sleep. We have some spare beds here. When you are rested and have learned what you can from us then you can journey out for the horn of Jurgan Windcaller.”

There was a welcoming warmth in being called child and led to a bed and I wickedly allowed even the help removing my heavy leather boots, relishing the tenderness and comfort of being cared for even if only for a moment. I noted that one of the other Graybeards had brought me my packs from the hall and that they were tucked against the nightstand by the bed.

“I suspect there will be many lessons shared from student to teacher in getting to know you, Dragonborn.”

“Delia.” I whispered as I pulled the furs up over my still clothed form. “Please, for a few days let me just be Delia.”

“You will always be the Dragonborn, and I do understand, Delia. Sleep.”

War torn villages and towns torn on both sides of the war between Ulfric and the Empire dotted the landscape everywhere I traveled. I bought a horse outside of Riften and made my way back to Windhelm where I took an assignment from Ragnar before heading back across Skyrim to Ustengrad where the horn of Jurgan Windcaller was thought to lay.

It might have once been held in Ustengrav though now it had been lifted and carried back across the country to Riverwood where I had to do some dealings to get it back that would involve travel all the way back across the country to Solitude.

In the meantime I helped to recover the Jagged Crown with Ragnar and finally found myself with enough time to travel back to the city where my heart seemed always to call me back only because I was on an errand for Jarl Ulfric before I could complete the mission for a woman called Delphine who said she had much invested in proving that the Thalmor were involved in bringing the dragons back to life.

I stopped in Whiterun and asked the Jarl to see me privately and confessed to him that I felt I served my own heart more truly in service to Ulfric than to the Empire for which I had very little love and even less respect or fealty. I gave him Jarl Ulfric’s axe, knowing that this was the ultimate in challenge in Skyrim and that no true Nord could reserve comment or answer. The answer to the challenge was to duel and spare the cities or to return his own weapon and agree to have the challenge met in open warfare.

Balgruuf the Greater was less than supportive of my decision and still remained gentle and firm with me, calling me by my name and encouraging me to stay on my destined path for the Graybeards and to leave the war to the Nords who were managing so well already without help to kill each other over politics many didn’t even understand.

His impassioned words spoke to me and I parted his company feeling more determined than ever to figure out what it meant to be the Dragonborn and even more what it meant to be half Nord.

Farengar spent two nights with me tucked into a little home called Breezehome that had been available for purchase right near the gates of the city.

It was a lovely little house and my Housecarl Lydia was an amiable and capable warrior who assured me that she would protect my home and my valuables with her life. She was less happy to be asked to give me privacy on my last night in Whiterun after finding that she quite enjoyed having her own quarters across the hall from my own, and still seemed quietly understanding and accepting when Farengar arrived to a house full of smells that were new to us both and foods that we both happily shared with her before she made her excuses and left us alone to retire to the sitting room by the cook fire.

“It’s really not appropriate for me to spend time here alone with you, Delia.”

“You’re an adult and I’m an adult, Farengar. Any wagging tongues should be busy with the whispers that Ulfric has set his sights on Whiterun as a strategic point on his way towards Solitude.”

He stretched his long legs and crossed his hands in his lap with a smile, absentmindedly pulling a piece of wheat from the front of his robes and tossing it into the fire. “Be that as it may, I believe that discretion is best for us both.”

“Perhaps. There is no secret that I wear the blue of Ulfric’s army and still sat beside the great Jarl of this town for an afternoon luncheon. And it is no secret that my first thought when I think of this town is of you.”

He blushed and sat forward so that his knees nearly touched my own. “Is that true, Delia? Am I what brought you to Whiterun on this weekend?”

I lowered my eyes in shame. “You know that there is never a completely honest answer in the face of such a loaded question, Farengar.” I raised my eyes to his and reached out to capture his hands in mine. “My first thought is always of you when I think of Whiterun. Followed closely is this sense of obligation I feel to a Jarl so willing to accept an outsider to his town and to keep it representative of the Empire he believes in.” Distracting myself I sat forward and straighter in my own seat, lessening the intimacy between us momentarily.

“Do you know how unusual your Jarl is? Even Windhelm isn’t this civilized and peaceful and it’s the center of the rebellion. They’re horrible to the Dark Elves there. Horrid really to all outsiders, even myself and I’m accepted into the army, but mostly it’s the Dark Elves forced to live in the Gray Quarter in a slum where the frustrated and drunken Nords wander through at all time of day and night abusing them. When Ulfric encouraged me to buy a home I refused and told him I’d be making my home here where I could someday entertain my Nan without having to defend her all the way through town.”

“That’s terrible.” Farengar shook his head. “Nords are a superstitious and closed lot, as a group. We’re still not usually so horrible.”

“Well, the war has brought up many old hurts and old ideals that will have to be settled again. I think that Ulfric is too absorbed in the bigger battles to even spare a thought to the lesser ones right now and it might just cost him in the end. That said, Farengar…” I frowned and the concern that crossed his face deepened my hesitation.

“Speak, Delia. I wont judge you.”

“Oh, I fear you might just.” I said suddenly and smiled sadly, feeling the pain tearing inside of me and burning behind my eyes. “And I forgive you in advance. War is coming to Whiterun, Farengar. I brought Ulfric’s axe to Jarl Balgruuf and he has sent it back with his own. That is a confidence I shouldn’t share and am. Because you asked if you were my only thought when I came here and bought my home and I feel you should know.”

“So you will march in war against a town and leader you admire and where you own property and are recognized as her Thane?”

“I will not be fighting here. I hope. I have an errand I am on for the Graybeards that Ulfric has placed a very high priority on for me. And yes, I still support a Skyrim that is independent of Imperial controls until such a time as the Empire returns to it’s original place and is no longer the puppet of the Aldmeri Dominion.”

“You speak like one who actually knows, and I think that worries me more than it stills my heart on this.”

“You will have to be the judge of that. You know yourself that I can vanish in a room right before your eyes and how useful that can be in the home of a man who regularly entertains visitors with secrets they want to keep.” I moved forward in my chair and ran my hands up from his hands to his elbows so that I could feel his own hands on my upper arms. “Farengar, remember that I tell you this because I want you to be safe. What I feel for you is greater than either of us would have expected and I do not want you to be in harm’s way.”

“There is little call for a palace researcher in a war. My work has been done in bettering our defenses and creating potions and weapons for the warriors to use.” He seemed distracted by my hands on his arms and then smiled at me in that curiously almost condescending way of his. “You know, you still have not asked me what I believe in all this.”

“I apologize, Farengar. I presumed you were politically allied with your Jarl.” He stilled me as I would have sat back and shook his head.

“As political as that?” He laughed aloud and drew me closer to him so that I could feel his breath on my face and felt his arms drop so that his hands rested on my hips.

“I’m a mage and as selfish and preoccupied as any story you may have ever heard about mages. I try not to be and still, it has become my habit over time and as a habit that keeps distractions and interruptions from me, one that has served me well.” He shook his head at me when I would have protested his self-assessment.

“This war is a distraction that threatens us all, and nothing more. The Empire was nice and lazy until Ulfric started making trouble.” He caressed little circles with his fingers that I could just feel through my gown. “I’m a Nord and I’m a mage, so you can imagine how my childhood was until I could get accepted to the College at Winterhold and find a place where I really belonged.”

I watched as the darkness that shone in his eyes was lighted by the fire and warmth returned to his face. “I have no political aspirations at all, I believe I said to you once before that I avoid it as though just the words might burn me. I want a place to study and research and learn. I don’t really care where that might be. I’m here because Balgruuf is an enjoyable man who doesn’t ask too many questions and trusts the answers I bring to him.”

I nodded. “I’d presumed as much when I met you. You’re a man of wisdom and research and not a man of speculatory fantasy. It’s the one thing that aroused my interest in you most powerfully.” I winked at him and leaned just a little closer. “Farengar, promise me you’ll stay out of the way and whatever happens you’ll still be here, in Breezehome if you no longer have a place in the palace?” I was begging and I knew he recognized it for what it was.

“I wish you had an enchanting table, and yes.” Farengar laughed and pressed his lips to mine in a tiny chaste kiss that seemed to bloom between us into an electrical blossom that brought a flush to my cheeks as if I were still a child. “Even if I have to come down here. Provided your home survives, being right inside the gates.”

“Sir, may I be so bold as to request that you spend the night with me here? Propriety be damned.”

Again he laughed and his lips tasted mine more completely before he pulled back and studied my eyes. “Yes you may and yes I will. Delia, I dread to ask you where you found so much about dragons and how you were able to collect so many parts for me, and I feel I should still mention it because it is all so useful.”

“Have you gotten the packages I’ve been sending?”

“Yes mayam.” He shook his head. “So many that at first I think Balgruuf was concerned I’d joined a skooma dealer or mammoth hunter. I had to show him how you label and package all the pieces for me. He was very impressed by your dedication and determination to help me learn everything I can.”

“I’ve killed a total of six dragons, Farengar. They seem to sense me the way that the Graybeards do, so that when I’m out in the open they just to know where to look for me, invisible or not. I even journeyed really far out of my way to learn a word that makes me invisible to them, though I’m failing to sustain it and so it lasts only a few precious seconds.”

“You’re butchering them for me?”

“I’m killing them because they are attacking us all.” I said after struggling for words against the flood of confession I wanted to dump on him for some hope that he might help me understand it all inside of myself.

“I’m killing the dragons for us all and yes, I’m going through their remains and packaging up things you mentioned or that seem unusual to me for you. Books and old enchantments, weapons and scrolls and rubbings from old dragon cultist tombs that seem relevant to your research are sent from each town with a courier when I get there. Everything you asked me about or have ever mentioned in passing.”

“And why are you so supportive of my research, lady Dragonborn?”

“Because I had two conversations that have left me with the most dreadful question to answer inside of myself and I’m hoping that by bringing you everything I can that when the time comes you can help me because you are the smartest and most thoughtful researcher I’ve ever known.”

Farengar’s lips met my cheek and he pulled me across from my chair so that I had to rise a little to settle into his lap, tangling my unfamiliar skirts with his robes so that he chuckled and tugged them to the side, baring my leg to the thigh so that his hand seemed compelled to explore the warmth of my bare skin for a moment.

“What is that question, my brilliant love?”

“Not as easy as that, I’m afraid. See, Galmar asked me if I would be rebuilding the Blades, the ancient order of warriors who defended the Dragonborn when he was the Emperor and also hunted dragons into extinction with him as is my destiny.” I turned my face as he drew back.

“And then a few weeks later I’m sitting with a great Master of learning and religion and he is explaining to me that my gift is a gift of the gods and the dragons and that from Akatosh all this begins and in him it will all end and I’m confused and I tell Arngier what Galmar said. His answer wasn’t kind or gentle or really even an answer so much as another question. He was furious that I’d even been told about the Blades and he made sure I understood that the Akaveri were dragonslayers before they came to Skyrim and that they allied themselves to the Dragonborn as his servants and had since been disbanded because the dragon threat was removed and the Emperor no longer required their services. They were cold blooded killers without intellect or vision into their role in history and had no place in our future.”

I sighed. “He was so angry that he had to leave me there and I had a lot of reading to do so that I could get a more fair view of them. I was so conflicted by it all that night when I went to bed that it took me a really long time to relax and then the real meaning seemed very clear to me all of a sudden and I couldn’t sleep at all. I went out into the courtyard in the blowing snow and moonlight and practiced the shouts they’d taught me and tried to meditate on their meanings and felt no more centered around an answer then than I do now.”

“What is that question?”

“I’m part Dragon. Akatosh is the dragon who begat all dragons and it’s his blood that runs in my veins along with the blood of a Nord and the blood of my father who is Imperial through and through. I don’t want to be the destruction of any of them as a whole. Whether the dragons are rising to bring the end of days or whether some group has found a way to raise them and turn them into tools. “ I groaned and chewed my lip for a moment, trying to sort the millions of words that seemed to need out of me at once.

“I am certainly not a dragonslayer without thought to the gravity of what I’m doing. In fact, I shared this with Arngier and I’ll share it with you.” I turned, opening my thighs so that I could straddle his narrow hips in the chair and face him completely. “I gain some small part of each of them when they die and I absorb them into me like living thoughts and feelings. The anger, the agony and the beauty of them comes with that rush of power so that I think I know better than anyone else anywhere the import of what it is I’m doing when I bring them down and make them go away forever.”

This distracted Farengar’s hands on my hips and brought his face fully up to mine so that he was staring deeply into me. “You’re wondering if you can balance between man and dragon?”

“Maybe. I think what I’m really questioning is whether man has the right picture in mind for what it is that I’m here to do. Arngier certainly has no idea, and I’d expect that the Graybeards would be the first ones to know that answer if anyone did. I certainly do not hope to have to hunt the dragons to extinction again.”

“What was Master Arngier’s answer when you brought this to him?”

“That my gift is not just from Kynareth in the form of the Voice but also from Akatosh himself and that as a being with the dragonblood mine is to be true to my nature and stay the path of my destiny.”

“And nothing to what that destiny may be?”


“Then he does not know and I feel a terrible weight of obligation and responsibility to you, Cordelia. Suddenly I think I understand some small part of how hard this is all getting for you.” He pressed some loose hairs back from my unpainted face and pressed his cheek to mine, pulling me into an embrace that comforted more than I’d care to admit.

“I’m not asking for your sympathy, Farengar. I require only your understanding and your trust.”

“Those you have, beautiful woman.” This time when his lips met mine there was no hesitation or shyness in him and I opened to his tasting, opening myself to him and feeling him opening into me. He breathed a breathy moan against my lips and smiled against my still open lips. “And my heart and all I can bring from myself to assist you.”

“The world can wait for tomorrow’s tomorrow, Farengar. My hired coach will take me away then. My bed awaits us upstairs and right now that is more than enough for me.”

“Aye.” The mage rose against me when I found my feet and started up the stairs, drawing me back against himself. “I received a parcel from the man who would be High King last week.” He whispered. “Requesting any research I might have uncovered connecting the Thalmor to the dragons. I advised him I’d heard only the basest of speculations and rumors and that I’d no idea where that connection might exist if it did.”

“I don’t believe it does, though I am supposed to be proving or disproving it for someone else. Interesting that I’ve been requested to do so by an entirely different source from Jarl Ulfric, though.” I leaned my head back against his shoulder and breathed the smell of him as he leaned to kiss my cheek. “If I told you everything I’ve done and heard since coming to Skyrim I think you’d doubt my honesty, or my sanity.”

“I would doubt neither, my love.” His arms closed protectively around me, crossing over my chest. “You’re mixed up in Gods and legends and Jarls and civil war and dragons. Anything seems possible, to tell you the truth.”

“Aye.” I shuddered with his teeth on my neck and moaned his name when his hands closed on my hips, urging me forward up the steps.

The Thalmor knew nothing more about the dragons than the rest of us.

I knelt in the snow outside of a cave that exited below the back of the Thalmor compound high in the mountains above Solitude and scrubbed High Elf blood from my blades and my hands with a shudder as confused angry tears froze on my cheeks.

I have never killed lightly and these Elves represented my deepest hatred and still feeling them shudder and die under my hands had wrought me past my ability to cope so that I sobbed and begged them at each new engagement to please, let me go and then, as they died I prayed that they find a place of rest wherever it was they believed they were going. Over and over I prayed also that Kynareth and Nocturnal would guide me and steady my blades and bring fleet feet to my journey.

Now I would be back to Riverwood and then off to Riften, provided that my Jarl had nothing more for me to accomplish on his behalf in this war of Nord against Nord that rent my heart even while it stoked the blazing anger in me against the corruption and cruelty of the Thalmor, and behind them the whole of the Aldmeri Dominion they represented.

I pulled one of the ledgers from my bag and opened it again, making sure I was as clear on the words as I could possibly be before I placed it back in my bag and started the long trek down the mountain to see if I could find a horse for hire.

First I had to stop and see Jarl Ulfric. No matter what else needed to be done, I needed him to see what I’d found in their notes on him and see if he had answer for me that made the ache in my chest subside.

Heart pounding and still tight when I thought his name, I knelt beside my Jarl’s bedside in the early morning haze and watched him sleeping. For a big man with so much charisma and personal power, he slept curled on his side like a young boy, one hand tucked under his whiskered cheek and the other wrapped around a wad of furs and pillow like a stuffed animal.

No man who was evil could sleep so peacefully, I decided and sighed, the first sound I’d emitted since creeping into his rooms almost an hour before.

I snuck back across the space and rose, turning the knob on the door and backing into the cool darkness of the hallway, sneaking one last glance at the man who would be High King resting peacefully and completely unaware that I’d spent the best part of an hour wrestling with my heart and willing the Gods to answer my many unformed questions aloud for me.

“Excuse me, my Jarl?” I knocked and left the door open just the smallest bit. I heard him start and I heard the bed move under his considerable weight. “Sire? I’m sorry to disturb your sleep…” I pressed the door just a little more and caught the sight of him closing a lush heavy dressing gown around his body.

“Come in, then Dragonborn. You’re most of the way in already.”

“I’m so sorry, my Jarl.” I lowered my eyes from his stern face and felt him crossing towards me before I heard him.

“So careful to use my title when you’re in trouble, my sneaky little sister.” He clamped his massive hand on my shoulder and drew me into a sincere hug. “I trust that you’ve found more information and return triumphant?”

“Sire…” I stopped and my hesitation sent him across the room to rekindle the fire and light a lamp so that I could join him at a small wooden table by the fireplace. “I came straight here because I needed you to see this and need to hear you on it once you have done.”

I made no pretence when I handed him the ledger I’d stolen from the Thalmor. I sat down and crossed my hands over each other on the cool wood and waited unmoving for him to scan the pages. I watched anger and then frustration cloud his normally amiable and open features. When his eyes came to mine I saw only that same expected openness from him.

“I see. We have all done many things for which there are always repercussions. This was not my greatest moment and it seems I’ll never be allowed to put them fully behind me.”

“She didn’t outright name you as a traitor, my Jarl. She named you as helpful. Do you know how tragic those words would be in the hands of anyone else? I almost destroyed it right there and then brought it to you because I wanted you to decide what you do with them. I’ve seen books like this one, my Jarl, and there will be more than this copy. The Thalmor are comprehensive in their approach to documentation.”

“Your first thought was to my safety or simply to denial?”

“Both.” I admitted and felt the weight of that crushing pain in my chest as though it had just come to life so that I could barely breathe. Unshed tears suddenly blurred my vision as though Ulfric were outside a rainy window. “Tell me yourself, my Jarl and my brother… the only man I’ve ever really trusted and called friend without question. Were you the Thalmor’s willing tool in order to win that front and forward your own ambition?”

The emotion in my voice took him off guard and Ulfric reached across the table to cover my hands, still unmoved since I’d sat down, with his own. “Unwilling tool and yes, still quite mindful of my purpose even then. I had no idea the weight of my decisions until later when I was outside of their control. They’d misled me all along and used me, and I’d let them do it.”

“Then this changes nothing and everything.” I said at last and lowered my forehead to the backs of his hands, feeling exhaustion and emotional release so that I was nearly dizzy with it. The unshed tears tickled on my lashes and then fell. His hand turned and cupped my cheek, lifting my face so that he could look into my eyes again.

“How does this change everything and still nothing? You’ve started sounding like the Graybeards you admire and trust so much, sister Dragonborn.”

“Ulfric, I’m not a dragonslayer and I’m not the future Emperor or High King. I am only the Dragonborn seeking answers to why the dragons have returned and how we can protect our people from them. I am only a soldier sworn to you and to the people of Skyrim as a protector and servant to the greater good and imported from a place far away and still a part and party to this land I’m meant to save. Nothing changes there.” I turned my face against his palm and kissed the flesh of his hand tenderly before pulling back and away.

“And now I know you are also human. Fallible. No longer risen above us all as a god amongst men to be revered. Everything changes for me. I’d really hoped you would be able to waive your hand and resolve some of the most aching questions in me. Now I know I have to continue to seek their answers back and forth across this massive country on my own. I’m tired and you were my only hope.” I yawned heavily and without warning then and covered my yawn belatedly with one hand.

He laughed and I watched him trace the warmth of my mouth on his palm with the fingers of his other hand. “I am no God, Dragonborn. I am a man. I am awed by your reverence and faith in me, woman. I am also left feeling some great responsibility to you, as though you require more of me than I can be and I have a need to rise to that expectation of myself.”

“You should feel wanton and aspire to rise to it, Ulfric.” I said it without thinking of the implications. “Forgive me, my Jarl.” I rubbed my face in my palms and felt the old war paint flaking on my fingers and grinding into my skin. “I speak out of turn.”

“Here and now there is no propriety or formality. Speak as you wish.”

“Jarl Ulfric, I do not even know the words for the many questions in me right now. I feel as though the whole of Skyrim waits with breath held for my next move and I’m unsure even where it will be presented to me.”

“Welcome to the mists of being a legendary hero.” He teased and rose, crossing to find a cloth and some water from the jug by his bed. He returned with the damp cloth so that I could clean the worst of the smeared paint from my hands and face. “I will guide you where I believe I can, and always, I would recommend that you seek the guidance of the Graybeards who are your most valuable tool and reference.”

“I appreciate that, Ulfric.” I said and studied the vivid green that stained the pale cloth in my hands. “Do you know why I hide behind the paint?”

“I have my suspicions.”

“I’m known in Cyrodiil. More importantly my father is well known. Many of the Thalmor and even more of the Imperials stationed here from home would know me because I’m the only red haired girl in the city who is not secretly using herbs to achieve the color. This is a color known only to the Dunmer and to Nords.”

“And you fear recognition as party to this rebellion?”

“My father made his bed and he’ll lie in it all the way to the end. My Nan is a smart and capable assassin and thief who could escape any trouble that came to my father’s home. I do not fear for either of them. I fear that the recognition might hurt this rebellion and draw unwanted attention to it from the Elves before you’re ready to defend against them.” I rose and steadied myself on the table edge before crossing to the basin and laying the cloth beside it where a servant would remove it later.

“Then you worry needlessly. When we take Solitude there will be much attention from the Elves because my first act will be to send the Imperials running home to tell the tale of how Skyrim has liberated itself from them and their control because of Aldmeri Dominion control and over involvement. The time will come very soon when the whole of Tamriel knows that Skyrim stands sovereign and united against our greatest threat. That is a place and a time when I will require you, as the Dragonborn, to stand united with us as the legends foretell.”

“I thought as much.”

He crossed to me and wrapped one substantial arm around my shoulders. “I note that you still refuse to adopt the words true brothers and sisters of Skyrim and instead say peoples of Skyrim.”

“Here in the light of this day’s first light, Ulfric Stormcloak, former Graybeard and now Jarl of Windhelm… sire… the true peoples of Skyrim were Snow Elves and before them Dwemer. We usurped this land forever and ever ago and made it our own through the sweat of hard work, shed tears and spilt blood. Today there are peoples of all the races of Tamriel in Skyrim who bleed and sweat and whose tears enrich our soil. They are all our brothers and sisters in this war and in it’s outcome.”

Ulfric was silent for a long moment before he nodded slowly. “You think I don’t know about the unrest outside my own walls.”

“No, sire, I make no such error in judgment. I believe you have no time to deal with it and that in so doing you’re making a mistake.”

“Then hear me as frankly as you speak.” He strode to the window and threw back the curtains so that I could see outside where the light was just beginning to streak the sky.

“The Snow Elves are ancient history and this world hasn’t known a Dwemer in more years than since it knew it’s last Dragonborn. This land belongs to the Nords, and now to those we share it with. What it does not belong to is the Empire that would mine her resources and destroy her people in pursuit of silver and wealth to be spent by the Aldmeri Dominion. I choose not to correct the ugliness within my city because Nords are a simple people who are not all so well read and educated as you and I are. I would confuse them with too much information at a time when I need them focused.”

“Damnable and understandable.” I felt the weight in my chest finally completely release so that I took my first full breath in what felt like a lifetime.

“You are always in this same conflicted place of balance where I find myself, my brother and my Jarl. We are two of many who are caught in this place of finding our way without a clear path or painless decision. I pray that my enemies find themselves equally conflicted and without the personal strength and guidance to always make the right choices.”

“I find you to be a strange comfort, Dragonborn. Part conscience and wisdom of a life I left behind when I came down the 7000 steps from High Hrothgar and part burning driving desire to finish this thing and be the High King Skyrim has needed for centuries.” I could see the light in Ulfric’s eyes, reflecting the light from outside and intensifying it in the unusually charismatic way that he seemed always to be able to do.

“Perhaps that is because I am torn between the wisdom of the men who await me there, 7000 steps into the heavens and the fire of my own dragon blood.” I sighed and smiled up into his earnest powerful gaze. “I came to this land in search of answers to some nightmares and visions and I found a future uncertain except for adventure and hardship. I was a thief stealing through the shadows and this place has made me the Dragonborn always under the shining light of a legend I’m not sure how to write.”

“I was going to ask, I usually hear people approach my door…”

“Do you want the truth?”

“From you always, even when I tell you afterwards that I didn’t want to hear it, sister.”

I laughed aloud. “Jorlief didn’t want to let me come up, so I snuck in and have been sitting here watching you sleep while my questions formed.”

“I’m not sure whether I should be flattered or frightened by that admission. I hope I was appropriate.”
“You were blessedly peaceful and perfect, my Jarl.” I blushed and felt the warmth of his hand on my arm. “It was the peace with which you sleep that made me brave enough to speak to you today.”

“I see. And if I’d had fitful dreams you might have slipped into the darkness and not trusted me with your mind and heart?”

“No, I might have woken you and taken your wrath as punishment to save you from whatever furies haunted you, my Jarl.” I shrugged and laid a hand over his heart so that I could feel the tickle of the fine fur under my fingers and the warmth of him radiating through the lush robe. “Ulfric, I meant it when I said you’re the first man in the world who has ever won my trust and loyalty without trial or need for proof of who you are. I will follow you into Sovngarde when you require it, my Jarl and my King when the time comes.”

“Lets hope that we’re all far and long away from Sovngarde’s great mead hall.” He came to stand beside me and wrapped his arm about my shoulders. “You’re asleep on your feet, girl. Sleep in my bed and come join us downstairs for food when you wake.”

“Sire I cannot…”

“Sleep and argue propriety with me later. As I hear it you and Farengar, Jarl Balgruuf’s wizard are…”

“Oh, Ulfric… Whiterun?” My heart skipped a beat when I realized it hadn’t occurred to me before that moment to inquire about the state of my home city.

“Sleep easy, woman. Your Jarl is in Solitude attempting to gather support to take back his city and at the moment Gray Mane is in his place as a proper Nord Jarl replacement. The Jarl did not see fit to replace the keep mage and so your friend is still safely at work researching away. He asked me, in fact, to advise you that Breezehome is fine and strong and that no damage has come to it and that umm... Lydia, I believe he said, proudly defended her town and your home as is her duty.”

“Lydia is my Housecarl.”

“Thane of a city we were attacking. I’m happy to know that you had something else to do. These are the sorts of things you should share.”

“Or that you could have asked. It was Balgruuf who understood the importance of my being summoned to High Hrothgar and encouraged me to read and learn and to make haste to their summons. It would have been a foolish man who did not endeavor to make a hero who had three times saved his town his friend and recognized hero to his citizens.” I rubbed my eyes like a small child and allowed myself to be pressed back so that I sat on the edge of the bed my Jarl had only recently vacated. “Again I beg your forgiveness, my Jarl. I am being surly and inconsiderate. Thank you for bringing me a message like a common courier.”

“It is my honor to bring a message to my shield sister from her love. Sleep and we’ll catch up on your adventures over lunch. I’m going to see what new adventures are brought to me this fine morning.”

The long trek up the 7000 steps was nothing, I found, to the perilous climb to the summit, known as the Throat of the World, to meet with Paarthurnax, the leader of the Graybeards with Arengier’s angry words in my heart.

Dissapointed in me. Angered by my implied trust of the Blades even after he’d warned me.

Chagrined by his chastisement and then rebuffing me again in short time for rushing my path and my way towards my destiny by refusing to accept “No” for an answer where it came to meeting with the leader of the order about the return of Alduin.

The world eater. Even in Cyradiil we knew the stories of Alduin, whether they were scoffed at as children’s stories or not. The ancients had banished him, though by what means of course none of us knew. Standing in the cold stone of Sky Haven Temple I’d seen for myself the ancient Akaveri carvings and had to admit myself that Esbern’s assessment of a shout that would ground dragons was my only hope against Alduin.

And now here I was climbing and using the Voice to clear the freezing winds and dangerous magics from my way to ask exactly those questions of the leader of the Graybeards whom Arengier assured me was my only hope of learning a shout that would bring Alduin down to where I could try to kill him.

In my whole life I’d never imagined that I would find myself making such a journey on behalf of someone else, or the many someone else’s represented by Skyrim and her peoples. And until speaking to Arngier some of the questions inside of me hadn’t managed to become solid and now I climbed with my heart in my mouth knowing that I was about to meet a dragon.

I had not been told and yet, in all the books and all the words I’d learned it was repeated over and over as a lesson that Dragonspeech is the birth of the Voice and the shouts I was learning. By Arngier’s own persistent teaching I was learning to say the words inside myself and feel how they resonated when they were words of power. I could even sense wordwalls as I journeyed overland so that I would head into a barrow or up a high steep mountain and find the words of power where they were manifesting. I could almost hear the word resonating inside of me just as I could feel this name resonating in me.

Dragons names are words of power and often I absorbed some sense of their names as their soul filled me so that learning words of power became easier and easier along the way. Paarthurnax did not sound like a man’s name to me and rang inside of me as a shout might do so that I tried it out as I crested another summit and the sound of it echoed around me and through me and I was stricken by an image from one of my nightmares.

Again I shouted it “Paarthurnax!” and this time I felt him before I could see him and I consciously resisted the urge to pull my swords from where they were sheathed. If he is the leader of the Graybeards then he will know me for what and who I am. If he would kill me then it is my destiny and I will die here in the freezing snow at the top of the world. I will not meet him with blades in my hands like a thief or villain.

“It has been many years since I have tasted the voice of a Dov.” His voice filled me with joy and peace and I nearly fell to my knees in gratefulness and exhaustion. Instead I stumbled and raised my face to take in his beauty and the entirety of his monsterous self.

“Forgive me, Master Paarthurnax. It occurred to me only just then that your name is a dragon’s name and that it is also a word of power. I did not mean offense and am shamed by my lack of respect.” This time I did fall to my knees and surprised myself at the honest devotion that brought me there, humbled and begging forgiveness from a creature the rest of the world would call a monster.

“Rise. Meet me as one Dov meets another, Dovahkiin. Greet me as only one Dovah can greet another in our own tongue. Taste of my Thu’um and repeat it back to me as is our custom.” And he shouted fiery and hot into a word wall where a shout I didn’t know glowed orange in the freezing blue of the sky all around it. I rose and went to the wall, reading the word and feeling his knowledge transferring into me much the same way as it did when the Graybeards shared knowledge of a word with me, though much more potently and quickly. “Well done, Dovahkiin. Now, share it back with me.”

I turned and bowed to him and then shouted the full three word shout at him so that he shuddered and furled and unfurled his massive wings in resistance of the flames and back-blast of hot air that accompanied it.

“I am an old Dovah and I have known Dovahkiin before and never has one so young mastered a shout so completely that quickly. I am honored to share your thu’um, Dragonborn. Come, tell me what it is that has brought you here to the Throat of the World in search of answers unknown below.”
“I come to learn the shout that brought Alduin to ground before.”

“Your doom preceeds you, Dovahkiin. I foresaw this and I am not able to provide you with the knowledge you seek.”

For hours we talked and he asked and taught and allowed me the honor of meditating on words of power with him until I felt the fire of my blood in every inch of my body and I forgot the cold or the hour or the very long very dangerous climb back down the mountain and all that existed or mattered in the world was Paarthurnax and his teachings and his warm strong voice that seemed to flow through me even as it breathed hot and moist around me.

“Master Paarthurnax, the Blades would see an end to dragons again this time as they did before. They believe this is their primary point and purpose and are already pressing me to become one of them and lead them as is my rightful place in their minds.”

“And you do not desire the destruction of the Dov?”

“If you can choose to be different from your nature then there are others who also can choose. I am not sure if perhaps it is supposed to be my destiny to rid the world of dragons or if it is only mine to defeat Alduin or banish him again or whatever it is I might be powerful enough even to do to a dragon as great as he is. I am unwilling to believe that my whole purpose and that all of my lessons and experiences are preparing me only to hunt dragons and rid the world of them again.”

“Then already you are older and wiser in your su’um than many ever become, Dovahkiin. Wiser by far than even Alduin has allowed himself to be. The beauty of an unknown destiny is that it is unknown even to you. You must feel inside of yourself and stay balanced so that you know the right path when it comes before you as a choice. Only when you have reached the end of your journey can you really ever hope to try to decide which of your choices were yours because they were a part of living and which of your choices belonged to this great destiny you are supposed to fulfill. As I recall the only expectation is that you would appear at the end of days and defeat the great evils threatening the peoples of this land, to include Alduin, the world eater. That part of your path you have already chosen and the rest has yet to be written.”

“So many would choose to write my story as it benefits them best, Master. Even the other Graybeards would choose a safer quieter path for me.”

“Do not mistake their careful protection for fear, Dovahkiin. Arngier already possesses a great admiration and devotion for you and has said as much to my own ears. He worries that this world needs you too much too soon and that your natural strength and fiery nature will press you too quickly for your wisdom to sustain.” Paarthurnax stretched his mighty wings and curled them closer, shielding me from a blowing snow I hadn’t realized was beginning again.

“Then he is not alone in that fear, Master. I worry often that I will not have the knowledge I require to make the right choices when I have to.”

“I have never had a student in all my long years who was more apt and more capable than you are, Dovahkiin. In such a short time you have read and absorbed so much more knowledge than your predecessors managed in their lifetimes. I worry more that you feel such an obligation to everything outside of yourself that you forget the greatest gift of a Dov is also our greatest curse.”

“And what is that, Master Paarthuranx?” I curled into the heat of his body where he perched on the wall above the word wall and breathed in the earthy and salty smell of his flesh and the leathery sound of his wings as the wind buffeted them.

“We are very hungry for power, for mastery and for glory. We are very selfish in our pursuits. I have worked all these long years every day to resist this part of myself and I meet in you an example of a power that needs to absorb some of that part of your dragonblood. You are no longer only the little girl who wishes she could behave, Dovahkiin. You are now the woman who will save the world from the one created to destroy it. You must believe that you can and will do this because then you can and will.” His broad toothy face dipped low and he nudged me with his nose.

“I offer to you something I have never offered before. I will come down to the ground beside you and you will climb onto my neck and I will carry you down to High Hrothgar because this storm will make your trip nearly impossible. Remember, Dovahkiin, you have the voice of a Dov, you have the thu’um and the su’um of a Dov. Your humanity is the gift and the method by which you can relate to those you are meant to save. Do not let it hinder you instead.”

“Master, you endanger yourself for me. Let me stay here until morning instead and I will make the climb. Please.”

He chuckled and shook his massive head slightly side to side. “No, Dovahkiin. Soon enough danger will come to me here again. Come. Feel the joy of the sky and the wind as only a Dovah can know it.”

“He brought you…?”

“I owe you an apology my Master and my friend.” I threw my arms around the distraught older man’s shoulders as he would have raced out into the courtyard to check on Paarthurnax’s journey back to the top of the mountain.

“Whatever for, Dragonborn?” He looked frankly perplexed.

“I have not said to you once, in all this time I’ve known you and relied so heavily on you that I am grateful for you every day in every way. When you are here teaching me and answering my many questions and reminding me over and over when I am still not understanding what it is that you’re trying to teach. When you are inside of me and I am facing a new question or task without your kind and gentle wisdom. Thank you, Master Arngier for your strength and wisdom, and even for your protection of me when I would resist it.” I waited until it seemed his mind had managed to restill itself before I continued.

“Master Paarthurnax does not know the shout I need, and he has a theory that I can learn it if I bring the Elder Scroll back to the time rip where it was used before to cast Alduin into time. I have to ask you if you believe there is anything else that might be powerful enough to bring him down to where I have even a shot at defeating him?”

“Sadly, Dragonborn, I do not. I’ve thought and thought on this for you since the last time you were here and there seems to be no other answer that is also soon enough to suit the immediate needs of the people of Skyrim.”

I sighed and allowed him to lead me down the hall to the big table where the Graybeards took their meals and accepted the few dignitaries who visited High Hrothgar. “Then I have a long journey ahead of me in search of one, if one even still exists.”
“You can rest here and regain your strength. You look bone weary, Dragonborn.”

I nodded. “I realized that Paarthurnax was a dragon and called him by name accidentally.” I admitted as Master Borri set soup and some bread in front of me with a tankard of warmed mead. The man stopped and turned surprised eyes on mine for a moment before smiling and winking at me before he headed away and back to whatever it was he’d been doing when I came inside.

“And what was his response?” Arngier smiled like an indulgent professor or grandfather and I blushed, finding difficulty swallowing the small chunk of bread I’d soaked in the lovely heavy broth that all of the soups at High Hrothgar seemed to possess.

“I collapsed on my knees and begged him to forgive me before he could give one. Arngier, I…” He could see in my eyes that I’d had an experience beyond my words and he nodded, patting my hand and gesturing that I should continue to eat.

“I would have to guess that he was pleased you’d made the connection for yourself, Delia. Did he have any guidance for you on the other pressing concerns that seem to be warring within you?”

“Much the same as your own.” I said around a spoonful of the hot soup and swallowed quickly. “He actually instructed me opposite of your council as well, or rather, within it but more directly.” I drank deeply from the mead and smiled at the patience of the older man. “He wants me to listen more to the fire in my blood that comes from Akatosh and to stop doubting that my human frailty will limit my Dragonborn abilities.”

“Wise council, Delia. You have surpassed all the tomes on the subject of training a Dragonborn. Your wisdom, your willingness and devotion and ambition are by far more impressive than anything I’ve ever known. The speed at which you absorb what we share with you is frankly astonishing and fearsome. I worry sometimes that you will fill to the brim and what overflows will be outside of your control until you can staunch the flow.” It was his turn to be patient again as I sopped up the remainder of the broth from the bowl with the last crumb of bread and upended my tankard only to find there was no last drop of mead to wash it all down with.

“I am honored by your easy praise, Master.” I turned in moderate surprise as Borri entered again with another bowl of soup with bread and a tankard of mead. “Master Borri, you spoil me. Thank you for your gracious kindness.”

The man nodded and seemed to blush within the shadows of his cowelled robe before quickly clearing my first course of dishware and vanishing down the corridor.

“There is a uniqueness to your nature that has nothing to do with your destiny or your dragonblood, Delia. You mention your Nan like a person of great concern and you share her wisdom like a true teacher. She saw in you the same gift that the rest of us see and bask in like a breath of fresh air in this cold winter. We praise you and gift you in the ways that we are able because it is what a friend does for someone he admires and enjoys. Do not be embarrassed by our kindnesses. Accept them and return them in your own ways.” He yawned and shook his head. “Paarthurnax brought you back down the mountain.”

“He did! And it was the most magnificent and amazing thing I’ve ever experienced!” I said it and I think the joy and excitement in me might have been more than the old man could bear because he growled and shook his head at me before he was able to smile. “Oh, Master, I mean no disrespect!”

“And I mean no reprimand, child. I believe I am overly protective of his secret identity because of what you’ve shared with me about the Blades.”

“There will be bloodshed of a kind that I would rather you were never witness to if ever there is discussion against Master Paarthurnax, and not only because he let me taste of the wind and flying.” The words were so fierce that I surprised even myself and I shook my head before Arngier could speak. “Hear me. One of the many many things that Master Paarthurnax was able to help me sort in my heart and mind is this feeling I have that the old Nords went about this all wrong. I’m not so sure that they did in their time and place. I am positive that I am not meant to follow in their example, however. “

“And is this because you feel their blood in you and hear their souls inside of you when you absorb them or have you some other reason for your conviction?”

“Dragons are no less individual in their monstrous size and power than we are in our frailty and finality.” I said and felt the truth of it.

“If Paarthurnax and some of the others could learn and teach then there are others who can as well. With Alduin filling them only with hate and greed there can be no expectation of their behavior outside of what we’ve seen. I have no reason to believe that we’ve seen even a portion of the dragons that he’s brought back, even that as example has to stand as evidence that not all of them are willing just to follow and destroy on command.”

Arngier made eye contact with Master Wulfgar over my shoulder and the man joined us at the table, leaning his hip so that I could turn to see him.

“Many nights I have pondered this same question.” Master Arngier said with a long sigh. “Many nights we have all pondered this question together and I cannot say that I disagree with your reasoning. Are you prepared to make this stand with men you love and trust? With your Jarl Ulfric? Or with the Jarl of Whiterun? The Imperials who will demand that you be pressed into service or the Thalmor inquisitors who will demand that you bow to their will or suffer death and dismemberment or worse?”

“There will be none of that. My Jarl does not command my actions as the Dragonborn and has never even attempted to do it. Regardless his reputation here in High Hrothgar, Ulfric is a man of integrity and has made his choices all very mindfully of their outcomes and suffers their penalties within himself. The Jarl of Whiterun is now a true Nord who would actually more likely condemn my choice, I believe, than Balgruuf the Greater who would have supported me to the last man able to carry a sword in Whiterun. As to the Empire, they have no place in Skyrim and I have no desire to have discourse over this subject because I know it pains you.” I swallowed the remainder of the second bowl of soup and set my spoon inside the empty bowl, watching as I did so that the last little bit of warmth in the heavy stone bowl fogged the cooled metal.

“It is less that it pains me than that it is still fresh in my mind that the voice was so powerful within him and he turned his back on all we taught him so that he could wage this terrible war. He misuses his gifts in battle without thought to consequence.”

“A war that even I can and do support, Master. Please. I do not ever wish to bring you pain. I know that sometimes I cannot prevent it, and I still do not wish ever to be the cause of your anger or frustration or hurt.” I laid my hand on his and felt Wulfgar’s hand cover my own before I even remembered he’d joined us. “Lets us leave politics to the men below and save our precious time for the lessons that guide us when we are not at war. To answer your question, Master, I have to admit to a violence that belies the peace of this place in my commitment to what I believe is my path and where it leads me I go willingly and with weapons drawn when words and actions no longer hold meaning.”

“You would slay those who do not believe as you do?”

“No, I would slay those who would punish me for not believing as they do. What they believe is irrelevant to me.”

Master Wulfgar’s stunned gaze and sharp intake of breath brought my full attention to him and he gripped his fist around mine so painfully that I made a sound before he regained his control. He turned sharp eyes on Arngier and then back to me.

In a voice that was the barest of whispers and that still had the power of a shout that reverberated in my chest and made my ears ring he said, “Council from our leader well taken, Dragonborn. Meditate on Fus and then on Ro and remember that together they make one of your most powerful shouts before you ever add the push to complete it.”

“Master Wulfgar. I…”

He strode away with a dismissive waive of his wrist that deflected my hand and a frustrated huff, if it’s possible to describe a silent man moving quickly in robes as striding.

“In all my years he has never spoken outside of our circle and never so forcefully.” Arngier said, almost curiously joyous instead of being shaken and bothered as I was. “You do not apologize to a man who praises you and offers you council.”

“That didn’t have the look or feel of praise.”

“You were told that the other Graybeards do not speak because they could tear apart their audience. That he was so moved that he spoke is not your fault nor should it concern you that he feels passionately about what he shared. You misunderstand his passion as frustration. Hear the words and feel their power, do not always focus on the emotion that you believe drives them.”
“I have still so much to learn.”

“Some of what you have yet to learn is born from age and experience and cannot be gained from a book, child. You are young yet in the world of men, Graybeard or Jarl or man of the earth. Master Wulfgar has expressed concern in the past that you were too soft, too worried about offending and that you might buckle under pressure from the wrong sources. Tonight you have cleared his mind of this concern and have given him something new to meditate on.”

“My hubris and lack of propriety or manners?” I laughed and groaned loudly as I stretched in the stone seat and found my weary body aching in nearly every inch.

“Remember always that we are a mostly silent and peaceful council of only four old men, Dragonborn. Being Masters of the Way of the Voice we are all definitely qualified for and capable of. Understanding the amazing pressures and responsibilities placed on ourselves as your guides and on you as the Dragonborn? None of us could have known until we were here. Your emotion and your life are gifts in just the ways that your dragonblood and magical abilities are gifts.”

“In a thousand years would you ever have imagined that you would be the one who would have to guide the Dragonborn or that she would come to you in the form of a sneaky thief who wasn’t even fully a Nord?” I rubbed my face and waited for his reply.

“No, not even if I’d thought I might live that long I would never have thought myself properly prepared or educated enough to be responsible for training you, Dragonborn. And now that I find myself in this place I find that more of the answers come to me naturally than I’d have hoped and that the ones that don’t come you miraculously seem to find on your own so that I get praised for guiding you in the darkness anyway.” He laughed and shrugged his shoulders.

“As to your previous skills and birthrights, Delia, I cannot say that I was always the man you see before you any more than any of the others here can make the claim. Our leader was one of the most powerful allies in Alduin’s army in the war against men. We all have our pasts and our abilities. That you learn quickly and that your heart and soul seem so easily aligned on the side of all that’s right and just, that, Delia, means more to me than any list of your past crimes would ever do.” He rose and extended a hand to me that I gratefully accepted, rising slowly and painfully to my feet as if I were decades older than I really am.

“Already in service to your calling you have given more than most will ever do in three lifetimes lived well. That is what will be recorded here for future generations to read. Not that you came here armed and carrying more stolen items than you had purchased for yourself.” Arngier wrapped an arm about my waist and nodded stiffly when I returned the gesture, putting more of my weight into the lean than I’d intended.

“You can include that bit as well, Master. I have no shame or guilt for my life before this time or while I’m living it. I will not look back and bemoan a history that included being able to vanish at just the moment when a Blood Dragon would have spotted me any more than I’ll ever shy away from the realization that my previous life and skills have made it possible for me to survive barrows and ruins full of undead dragon cultists and horrors I don’t even have names for.” I shrugged and straightened my robes. “I’ve been dishonest or nosy and inappropriate in my seeking knowledge that wasn’t my own to possess, and always a true follower of Nocturnal. I’m gladdened for my newfound love and devotion to Kynareth. The two do not contradict or in any way preclude the other in me.” I sank onto the side of the cot that I’d come to think of as my own and bent to unbuckle and unlace my boots.

“No, they do not. And like the rest of you, Delia, I find more of interest than I do of consternation when I consider the duality of your very nature. You are human and you are Dragonborn. You are a woman and a warrior. You are honest and intelligent and driven and you are a thief and capable of murder in a moment of decision that makes my heart jump just trying to imagine it. You balance already the parts of yourself that might cripple another who is less capable than you are. Remember your meditations and rest, child. Tomorrow there will be no lessons, only sleep and meditation and prayer. “ He pulled up the covers around me like a child and leaned so that his whiskered cheek brushed my cheek and ear. “Master Borri takes his cereal with snowberries and honey and just the littlest bit of salt to bite the sweet, and he drinks mead with every meal.”

I giggled in spite of my exhaustion and nodded. “Yes, Master. And you?”

“Oh, I will take anything that is prepared for me. I’m no cook and everyone accepts this because our calling does not include going hungry between meals because I have not mastered the art of stove and kettle.”

“I will remember this.” I laughed again and my last thought was of making sure that I woke before Master Borri in the morning so that I could bring him his breakfast in repayment for his kindness.

As I drifted off to sleep I added to my regular meditations the meanings of Paarthurnax and the unsettling duplicity it implied when put to the tongue. He is the Cruel Ambitious Overlord, I thought to myself. Or was he that dragon and has not been properly renamed? Or are we always only ourselves, even when we have changed? Delia the good little girl who sat with her frilly skirts around her knees on the ground playing with little carved horses and soldiers at her father’s feet was a long way and still part of the woman called Delia the thief and the dragonborn, Stormblade in the Stormcloak army and now leader of the Blades.

So many broken and bleeding bodies all around me and all above me dragons shouting and attacking, bodies colliding in the air making massive horrifying noises. I tried to shout and couldn’t find my voice so that it croaked and was useless.

Throat closed in panic and sorrow I turned and found a pale golden dragon body beside me and cried out his name in fear and anguish, crawling up and over the mighty beast’s shoulder to better see his beautiful face. I could feel a heart against my thighs, barely beating, and I focused my mind on sending as much healing as I could into the mighty beast, even though I could see now that while he was colored similarly to Paarthurnax, he was in fact not the dragon I’d been praying not to find.

“Please.” I begged, finding some semblance of my voice. “Please, wake for me. Come back. This was never supposed to be.”

And from far and away, a voice calling across the field of broken bodies of men and dragons, ordering me back and away. “Dragonborn! Come away from there now!”

And stubbornly I channeled everything I was into the dying dragon, begging him to wake up, come back, anything but lying there with his heart struggling to continue against my body. Everywhere was the golden light and the long tendrils that always reminded me of waking sunlight over the water as I continued trying to channel healing into the beast. “You weren’t supposed to join this war, godsdamnit!”

“Dragonborn!” That voice, it sounded so familiar that I actually looked over my shoulder in just the moment that the beast under me rolled and struggled to get upright and on the wing again, tumbling me from his back painfully and I started awake with my bare legs on freezing stone and a frightened and frustrated Arngier leaning over me with his hair askew and his face a mask of worried lines and freshly wakened pillow creases.

“I am so sorry.” I sat up and closed my arms about my legs like a child, shivering more from the cold inside me than from the cold of the stone that seemed to comfort me in it’s stability and rigid reality. “I haven’t had one of those dreams since I arrived here.”

“That is not a dream.” Arngier said in a low voice and extended me a hand. “That is some sort of a vision or a seeing. Come to the kitchen and tell me what you saw while you can still recall it.”

“Oh, I wont ever forget this one.” I said, rising on shaking legs and reaching for the robes they’d left lying at the foot of my bed before stepping into the slippers I knew were tucked under the end where all of the Graybeards kept their shoes.

I hurried away to the kitchen and started the process of cooking as I described the scene right up to the moment when I finally woke on the floor.

“I sincerely doubt you were seeing the future.” Arngier watched with a hint of a smile as I tasted the oat cereal and added just a touch more honey before setting a tankard of mead, warmed just ever so slightly, beside the bowl. “For the rest of us water will do, or even the tea you brought up to us last time. That was a lovely treat that we have been loathe to be done with.”

“How good then that I brought some more?” I winked at him and poured the mugs full of tea I’d already prepared. “The lady who mixes it is doing it just for you and is honored by the priviledge of preparing it for the great Graybeards. It’s as much for her as for you that I am pleased to continue bringing it to you. She is a lovely woman, an alchemist and healer from Whiterun. Her name is on the bags, Arcadia.”

“You care for us so well.” He said with a smile and picked up the tray of foods. “I’ve grown accustomed to the sweets and treats and new clothes that you bring up to us on every trip back. So accustomed that I fear we will become spoiled.”

“You should be well treated, Master. You are teaching the savior of the world.” The teasing words seemed to be taken in their intended tone and I breathed a sigh of relief. “If not the future then what is it that you think I’m being shown?”

“I believe you are seeing what happened the last time that dragons chose to side with men.”

I served Borri his cereal and waited while he tasted it and smiled his approval to me. “I had help making sure I got it just right for you, Master Borri.” I told him and set his mead beside his bowl.

Once we were all served I took my seat and waited while the Graybeards ate before I pressed Arngier for more information.

“As it’s been told to us by Paarthurnax there was much fighting and warring between the dragons when the first few sided with the humans against their brothers, in no small part as a result of the Blades unyielding quest to slay every dragon in Skyrim regardless of their alliance to men.”

I shivered and again that steely cool resolve inside of me felt like a blade in my chest. “I will show no quarter, former friend or ally or not. I am very sure that I am right and I still will not be swayed from this course until I have tasted the right or wrong of it.”

“I believe the gods are allowing you to see one possible outcome of your choice. There is not always a lesson in right or wrong to be gained, Dragonborn. Sometimes a message is just informative.”

I nodded slowly and made patterns in the oats that remained stuck to the bowl with the tip of my spoon for a moment, drawing the word RO, or balance. “This feeling of dread and aching pain in me will not sway me, either, Master. It will just continue to ache in me.”

“Describe the sensation?”

“It’s like a blade, cold and throbbing in my chest, or like a fist, squeezing it until I feel dizzy and hurt all over inside of myself. I’m a thief, Master Arngier. This killing and bloodshed hurts in me and stills my blade in all but the most desperate moments. I’ve begged my enemy just to let me go and not to make me kill him over and over. I do not have the slayer in me the way that perhaps the savior of Skyrim should.”

“And yet you are Stormblade in Jarl Ulfric’s Stormcloak Army? After you were called Ice Hammer?”

“I didn’t say I wont do it, I said that the ache in me just stays and grows.”

Wuulfgar made a sound and sighed, setting aside his bowl and casting a frustrated look at the ceiling before he turned towards us and whispered in that same frighteningly powerful way. “Perhaps you are the Graybeard that Ulfric was unable to become, Cordelia the Dragonborn. You are wise enough to recognize that killing is only that and serves no God or King with a greater good.”

“Do you absorb anything from the humans that you kill or only the dragons?”

“Only from the dragons in any literal sense. I am human and so I feel the loss of their life as heavily as I suppose anyone with the mind to think on it would do. Each and every one of them is someone’s son or daughter, a loved one who will never return home. I’d have to be inhuman not to value that loss and the devestation of whatever path they might have taken given more time and more wisdom.”

“And yet you are more human in your difference than many of them are even in the dying.” Arngier said it lowly and nodded to Wuulfgar who crossed the room to draw me up from my chair and down the hall away from the others and into the central annex of the building.

“I heard you that night when you were shouting and raging in the courtyard, Delia.” He whispered and I shivered in its power at the same time that I delighted in the sound of his voice. “I used to go out there and shout to the world, to the sky and the stars and the darkness and to each individual snowflake until I had no voice left in me and had to sit for weeks in silence to heal my throat. I struggled with my warrior heart and my righteous anger at the injustice of a world that would have in it such perfect weapons and that would teach me temperance instead. You didn’t sound enraged that night, you sounded wounded.”

He smoothed his rough old hand over my cheek and smiled genuinely. “Always return to us, child. Return to us so that we can treat you and heal you until the time comes when you no longer have to bleed in your soul to accomplish your doom driven destiny.”

I closed my arms around the man and breathed deeply of the smell of his robes and the gently smoky scent that all four of them carried from incense and wood fires and torches. “I will always return until I’m unable, Master Wuulfgar. And then I will simply stop leaving.”

“You are young yet. The day when you stay forever will be many years beyond me, I think. Go, now. Meditate. Feel the silence that fills and heals you when the Voice might beckon you to shout instead. It was my greatest lesson and the one I believe is mine alone to impart to you. Embrace the silence.”

“Master…” I stopped. Would I be showing off? Perhaps not. “May I share my darkest secret with you? A secret my father never knew because I feared his reaction if he learned it?”

He nodded.

I stepped back and centered myself briefly before speaking the one word that would cause me to vanish entirely and then, in silence that had taken me years to perfect I silenced my movements and strode across the room and removed a tome from the table before crossing back to him until I stood against his side and I felt him jump at the feel of my warmth radiating through his robes and my own.

“The first thing I knew about myself was this silence and invisibility that I could wrap myself inside of so that I could be alone in a crowded room full of people I distrusted and disliked. The silence is my greatest friend and the most beautiful gift ever bestowed on me. I love my time here with you all when I can be silent and at peace without the magic.” I released the invisibility and then the silence that shrouded me like a cloud.

“That is as frightening as it is impressive, Delia.” Arngier said from the hallway behind us.

“It should be.” I said with a blush. “Now if only I could learn the words to become ethereal so that I could sustain it. Only that one ability makes me invisible to dragons, and it only works for a few seconds. I’m fast, and Master, there is no land speed that is great enough to flee from a dragon that seems to feel me where I am when I can only run for a few seconds before it can see me again.”

“The effect is never going to last the way that your spell seems to, Delia. I believe your invisibility may be in itself a form of the shout. You literally vanished before my eyes and I’ve learned in time to be able to see spell effects.”

“Well, I learned it so well that my Nan made me swear never to use it on her and I never did. Her brother helped me to perfect the silence around me when I was older and I met him. I never even showed Nimue that ability because it bothered her so much that I did it without schooling.”

“I would love to meet the woman who inspires in your wild heart such loyalty that you would respect her wishes even when you so clearly disregarded the privacy and sanctity of so many others.” Arngier’s jest struck home in spite of his easy smile and teasing tone and I nodded agreement and acceptance of it.

“May I read any books you might have about either the Snow Elves or the Dwemer? If I were going to hide an Elder Scroll in Skyrim I’d choose a Dwemer ruin where their defenses are still so powerful.” I closed my hand on Master Wulfgar’s arm until his eyes met mine again. “I didn’t mean to show off.” He shook his head at me and smiled in a way that suggested that I had and he knew it and hadn’t minded.

“Come, I’ll show you what I remember.” Arngier always seemed overly proud of me when I wanted to read and study and was not consumed by practicing my archery or wielding my weapons in the peaceful courtyards of High Hrothgar.

I stayed for a week of blissful silence and learning and meditation. I did not make the climb up to the Throat of the World again and wouldn’t until I’d recovered the Elder Scroll, which I found in a beautiful and horrible place called Blackreach. A place under the Alftand Dwemer ruins under glaciers and mountains and filled with twisted elves called Falmer and their slaves.

With the stink of the place still on me I treated and healed my hired horse and raced away to hire a carriage to take me straight back to Iverstead and I made the climb right up and through the courtyards at High Hrothgar without stopping to speak. I wished my friends well and left my packs tucked into a corner at the side of one of the back doors leading to the courtyard where Wulfgar or Einarth would find them on their morning walk if I didn’t return myself to bring them inside.

I climbed the 7000 steps and was greeted by a less than enthusiastic Paarthurnax.

“I knew you would recover it if it could be found, Dovahkiin.” He praised me in his wise and sad way. “If you are ready then go and read it at the time wound and lets us see if we can put an end to this war before any more humans or dragons die needlessly.”

I drank deeply from the last of my water and stretched my body before I drew the Elder Scroll from the bag on my back and steadied myself.

The world seemed to shift all around me as I tried to focus on the scroll and then I was blinded and dizzy, like I was floating even though I could feel the icy earth under my fine leather boots.

Disoriented and frightened, I looked around and it was just as Paarthurnax had predicted. I was seeing a time forgotten by my own time, so far back that it was all myth and legend full of heroes who’d slain the great and terrible Alduin, The World Eater.

I watched as Gormlaith took a dragon down almost singlehandedly and listened as Hagon and Felldir prepared to call down Alduin. It was maddening when I absorbed the shout and then had to watch from just outside of reach and communication as Alduin shook Gormlaith like a doll and set his sights on Hagon.

And the fateful moment began for us all as Felldir read the scroll and cast Alduin into the stream of time without knowing that he would manage to return before the end of times and that he would once again be a threat to the Nords that the trio had so earnestly tried to protect forever.

And then I was cold and the world was shifting again, from dusk to full daylight. From almost warm wind to a cold blast of snow on the wind. And suddenly Alduin, massive and black and mighty floated on the wing right before my eyes.

“Dovahkiin, use Dragonrend if you managed to learn it! Use it now and bring him down!” Paarthurnax’s voice startled me into action and I drew my bow and shouted up at the mighty beast with assured confidence that I had only to have heard the words once to know them forever inside of me.

As if a net circled him, Alduin struggled and shouted at me and the world was a mass of flaming flying stones crashing down all around me and I vanished with a silent command. I raced across the field and filled him with arrows and shouted him down to earth again when he tried to gain his wings. From above him on the rocks Paarthurnax’s thu’um was powerful and flames engulfed Alduin over and over as he continued to lash out and blast back at us both.

With a gnashing of dragon teeth and fierce attacks between the pair of them, I raced forward with the sword I’d found in Sky Haven Temple and I leapt onto Alduin’s back in much the same way I’d watched Gormlaith do in my visions of her and I drove the enchanted dragonslaying blade into his neck with a furious shout of dragonrend, keeping him down when he might have taken to his wings in desperate instinct.

“Feel the terrible mortality of your existence, Alduin! Know it the way that we know it and learn to live through it or die trying to comprehend it!” I screamed into the gale around us and felt the dragon begin to laugh beneath me.

“I cannot be killed here and now by you or by anyone, Dovahkiin. Your thu’um is strong, your su’um very powerful and even you cannot kill me here and now.” He shook and the blade fell uselessly to one side of him as I fell and rolled to the other and painfully back up to my feet with my remaining sword out and prepared.

“I do not doubt that we will meet again when I return to end you, Dovahkiin.” He gave a mighty roar and lifted off and away and I was only grateful that my weakness belonged only to Paarthurnax and the high mountaintop at the edge of the world when I screamed in frustration and agony and devastation.

I screamed and screamed until I couldn’t draw a breath and then I raged from my knees, pounding my fists on the icy ground sobbing and hiccupping in the loss of every last bit of my reserves.

When I’d exhausted myself and collapsed in a heap on the snow and ice, Paarthurnax joined me in the flat space and waited for my attention before he spoke.

He reminded me that this was not a fight with an easy beginning middle or end and that I had much more preparation to make in order to finish it. As Alduin’s shade vanished from all sight in this world, so too must I hunt him into whatever place he might have gone before he could muster his strength and return on his own terms.

“There were rumors that he could visit Sovngarde and feast on the souls there, I believe you should find out if there is any truth to these rumors.”

Trap a dragon in Dragonsreach in Whiterun by calling him out by name. Find a way to convince this dragon to tell me where it is that Alduin would flee to regroup and also if there is a way for me to follow him.

I rose to my feet and pressed my cheek to Master Paarthurnax’s massive shoulder, thanking him for his comfort and for his strength when I felt so weak.

“You expected defeating Alduin to be a simple thing and you forgot that no part of this journey has been easy for you. You can do this thing and you have in you the ability to finish him, Dovahkiin. Go now and fulfill your destiny.”

The hard climb back down to High Hrothgar took all of my personal strength and I arrived close to tears again so that Master Borri could only pull me into his robes and let me lean on his quiet strength because I felt so weak myself.

“So Alduin yet lives. We heard you use Dragonrend from here.” Arngier’s gentle voice brought me back and away from Borri’s welcome warmth and I nodded, exhausted and without tears only because I’d spent them already at the Throat of the World.

I explained to them everything and was happy to be led inside where there was warmth and clean robes and soft slippers and the reassuring support of the Masters who had become my family.

“You have not disgraced my teachings, Delia.” Master Arngier said gently when I’d finished my soup and collected our dishes. “If you had been joyous at his passing or overly zealous in seeking his life, then I would be saddened that I had let you down. Your exhaustion is not a sign of weakness, Dragonborn, it is a sign of your humanity and of your determination to see this thing you have been set on through to it’s finish. It is only natural to be disappointed to learn that you are still in the middle of your journey after having believed you’d finally come to it’s conclusion. In the morning you will be prepared.”

“I get to convince the Jarl of Dragonsreach to allow me to trap a dragon in his keep. That will be the easiest of my trials to come and yet it stands as the most daunting.” I said and made my way away from the men and into the kitchens where I could clean and dry our bowls and spoons and cups.

I heard some sort of discussion going on in the other room and kept myself focused on Paarthurnax and his strong support even when I had shown utter weakness. Paarthurnax and Arngier were right, I was not defeated I was just set back and allowing myself to be mired in it so that I could not see my next steps clearly.

I made my way into the annex and withdrew my favorite book from the shelf and sitting cross-legged on the stone chair to read it a few moments later I didn’t hear Master Arngier until he was standing right in front of me.

“Delia, may I interrupt you for a moment?”

“You are never an interruption, Master.” I set the book aside and uncurled my legs so that I could face him as he sat in the chair beside me.

“There were stories that Alduin had access to Sovngaard and ate the souls there to regain his strength. I believe that Paarthurnax can teach you the name of a dragon you could call to Dragonsreach. Would you make that journey before or after you have gone to the Jarl of Whiterun?”
“I will leave in the morning and make my way to Whiterun, Master. I must be sure first that there is a place to hold the dragon before I bother to learn his name and use it to betray his nature.”

“You are not betraying it, Dragonborn. You will be using it to your advantage because he is weak and chooses not to resist the challenge your thu’um means. Your loyalty to the dragons is shocking and unexpected, Dragonborn. You are the first of your kind ever to identify so fiercely with the dragonblood part of you and even Paarthurnax is concerned about what it means for our teachings.”

“I don’t know if I identify that much more greatly with it than I do anything else or if I’m just incapable of treating them like beasts set for the slaughter. And Master, you’re right, it will mean a great deal to the teachings of Jurgen Windcaller and to the purpose of the Blades and the defintion of the Dragonborn in Nord society. What and how exactly I do not know yet, and as I learn each difference then it will become more clear to me.”

“Either way, Delia, you are the Dragonborn. You must never forget that it is the people’s of this world who are dependent on you and that the dragons will have to sort themselves in their own ways. You are neither responsible for nor are you accountable for the actions of beings who are outside of your control.”

“Yes, Master.” And his words settled into that place in me where truths always settled and rooted and grew quickly. I knew that some part of me had been feeling a responsibility to both sides of this fight and that Arngier had managed in his quiet and leading way to settle that debate inside of me finally.

“I’m the champion of the people and I have been trying to be the champion of them both.” I said without emotion as the words were rooting inside of me.

“There will be time for the next part of this journey you’ve set for yourself when the first leg has been completed. I have no doubt that in the world of men you will have many opportunities to champion the cause of dragonkind. Today is not the best time to borrow that pressure or seek its many possible outcomes.”

“I’m sorry, I believe I may have misunderstood you, Dragonborn. I thought I just heard you ask my blessing to trap a dragon in my city.” Jarl Gray-Mane said a little blearily as he rubbed his still waking face with his gnarled and age spotted hands.

“Sire that is exactly what I am asking. Alduin has returned and I was unable to defeat him. I must lure a dragon here and find out where Alduin has gone before he regains his strength and returns to avenge his honor.” I waited with baited breath for his mind to absorb all of the information I’d just given him after having awakened him only moments before in the middle of the night.

“Alduin? The Destroyer of Worlds?” The Jarl sank onto his bed and looked up at me with wise frightened eyes. “You have a plan then, to lure a dragon to Dragonsreach?”

“No, my Jarl. I was seeking your permission before I go in search of my methods.”

“Then Whiterun will support you, Dragonborn. At least we will have the time to oil the chains and make sure that the mechanism even functions anymore. I will place my men’s lives in your competent hands and abilities and we will be prepared when you return.”

“Thank you, my Jarl. I will take no unnecessary risks.”

Farengar’s warm body against my own under the furs was a joy and balm I’d not expected so that I was loathe even to roll away when the sun’s light streamed through the high window and shone brightly in the small room.

“I do not wish you to leave, Cordelia, and really it is that time.” He whispered, kissing a trail of teasing fire over my bare shoulder and down onto my arm, his loosed hair teasing my back and neck as he leaned to wrap his arms about me and draw me back against him in the warmth of our bed.

“I’m not saying I am going to do this, I am only asking…” I rolled onto my back and welcomed his weight as he settled against me so that I could look up into his eyes. “If I were to decide someday to live in Iverstead, or even up in High Hrothgar, would you join me or would it be too far for your studies, Farengar?”

“For you, Delia, I would journey to the Throat of the World and sleep in a tent.” He laughed and then shook his head. “I would complain incessantly and we would both be miserable, and I would still go.”

I laughed and rolled slightly so that I could tangle my bared legs with his own and feel him pressed to my body along my whole length. “I would never even contemplate such an inhospitable place as the Throat of the World. I’m not even sure I have the stamina for life in High Hrothgar. I do believe I could make our living from Ivarstead though, and then have only the 7000 steps and not a great journey to make before them each time.”

“And what of your life as a thief, Cordelia? The adventurer with thousands of overloaded pockets and unshared secrets yet to explore? What happened to that girl?”

“Oh, she has discovered that she quite loves to ply her skills against the haunted barrows and dens where so many artifacts are desired and so few are reached by the researchers who desire them.” I smiled as the light of my offer lit in his eyes like a promise.

“You’d need only to ask, my love.”

“And what of High Hrothgar, Farengar? Would you accompany me and meet the men who seem to live inside of me and speak to me wherever I am in the world?”

“Most certainly. I would be honored to meet all five of them.”

I hesitated again and this time I could feel him struggling to let it go. I had not shared with him the secret that I felt so protective of and so I again dodged his questioning look and kissed him.

“Four. Their leader lives up at the Throat of the World and likes it that way because there are no distractions or unwanted visitors there.”

“You’ve stopped using his name and that was my first clue, my love.” Farengar Secret-Fire kissed me hard and sweet and I felt him pin my hand against his hip. “And you’ve been so educational about the names of dragons and how the shouts are all in the dragon tongue. The last tomes you sent to me helped me to translate that name. Paarthurnax, the leader of the Graybeards since the beginning is a dragon and you’re protecting him even from me out of the most admirable and beautiful devotion that I’ve ever witnessed.”

“I don’t know what to say.”

“Say nothing, woman. I have seen that it pains you to deny me any piece of information and so I’m letting you know I’ve found it out for myself. I will also defend this information to the death if need arises because you would.”

“Umm… Farengar, your friend Delphine?”

“She is no friend of mine or of yours, Delia. I meant to tell you. She came to me some weeks ago now and suggested that you were being led astray from your duties as the leader of the Blades and that she needed me to help her find more information about the Graybeards and their origins.” There was real worry in Farengar’s eyes and I felt the stirring of that deeper thing between us than I’d ever known with any man before him for just an instant like a wildfire inside of my chest, warming the place where even the stolen souls of so many tended to chill me.

“I’m going to pose a hypothetical question to you, love, and trust you to answer from that place in you that is wiser and smarter than anyone else I’ve ever known.” I drew myself up onto my elbow and waited as he settled back onto his back, arms crossed under his head as if to fully relax to this contemplation I was setting him on.

“What if it was my blood that unlocked a temple where the Blades were headquartered, and what if I had opened that temple before I understood precisely the force I was setting lose on the world? As the real master of that temple, would it be my place to close it and cast them out if they didn’t agree to my terms or does their ancient organization belong to them and my only other option remaining is to kill them and hunt them down?”

“Delia, as I understand it the Blades serve the Dragonborn. The Blades were the Akaveri and they were dragonslayers, since that time they were the protectors of the Dragonborn who was also always the Emperor. Perhaps you have some Blades now who need to be educated to their proper purpose and mission or cast out and that is entirely in your power to do. Sky Haven Temple and the Blades belong to the Dragonborn.”

“Thank you.” I kissed him so hard then that we were both surprised and our laughter surprised Lydia who was just arriving downstairs.

“Hurry, my love. Be done with your destiny so that the rest of your life can belong to me.”

“If I could, Farengar, I would belong only to you even now.”

“Marry me, Cordelia. Even now, even with all we have yet to face.”

“I’ve told you, Farengar. I will not marry you and then walk away knowing I might not return. I want to marry you when my chances are much greater that I will always return home.”

I could hear Lydia rustling around in her rooms and drew my housecoat around me. “And there is no one on all of Tamriel that will have my hand but you, my love. Soon. I am working so hard to do this quickly and still do it well.”

“I know.” He rolled and started donning his robes. “I am waiting as patiently as I am able.”

Lydia beamed like the sun and waved from the high walls just outside the city in her new armor, calling down to me as though I were the Jarl of the city and not only one of her many Thanes.

I had to admit that the fit of the Orcish armor couldn’t have been better if I’d had them made for Lydia myself and was grateful again that sometimes helping a stranger could bring kindnesses that could be shared. The Orc leader had been amazed when I’d only asked for a set of armor for my Housecarl and then had been impressed by my careful checking of each piece. I believe he was as proud as his gift as Lydia was in donning it and wearing it.

I climbed into the carriage and gave the driver my destination, watching his features as realization dawned on him.

“You’re the Dragonborn.”

“I am.”

“I am honored by your custom, mayam. Lets be away.”

“Odahving.” I whispered it and felt it echo inside of myself.

I watched Delphine striding haughtily down the stairs and I pocketed the slip of paper before turning to Esbern, trying and failing to still my anger and surprised outrage. “I came here to inform you that as my personal guard I expect that you’ll come around to my way of thinking or you’ll be gone from this place when I return with the Blades I’ve chosen to recruit.”

“No Blade will ever serve you while Paarthrunax still lives. He must be put down for his crimes against man.”

“To protect his secret I could kill you and instead I am giving you a choice because you are my trusted friend and have been an excellent resource and valuable asset. Accept that as my personal guard you serve me regardless of what you think of my choices or that you serve someone else and leave this place built to house my army. We are all learning our new roles and I will not spend my precious time in debates with you about ancient ideals that are no longer applicable today. The Blades were disbanned and will be remade with or without you, as the personal guard to the Dragonborn.” I huffed at his stubborn look and poked him ungently in the shoulder so that his startled eyes flashed and focused on mine even as his mage's armor also flashed around him. “In case you’ve forgotten, the Dragonborn you were waiting for because you're here to serve her? She’s me.”

I strode away and down the stairs, catching up to Delphine and spinning her roughly with a hard hand on her elbow.

“You will never speak to me that way again, Delphine. You are proud and you are willful and you are wrong. You have lost sight of the purpose and place of the Blades and therefore your place and role in this relationship. The Blades protect the Dragonborn and are answerable to the Dragonborn. The Blades are no longer Imperial or under the control of any leadership outside of the Dragonborn. You do not give me orders, Delphine, you carry out my orders. I’ve explained to Esbern and now I’m explaining to you. Decide who and what you are before I return to expel you from my temple.”

“You wouldn’t dare.” She drew her blade and I shouted it out of her hand before she could even raise it.

“I don’t have to. Sky Haven Temple is the Dragonborn’s temple. It belongs to me. You are a Blade and have sworn yourself to my service. I find it interesting that in so doing you believe it is your place to tell me what I have to do. I will deal with Paarthurnax as I see fit, as I will deal with Alduin and any other dragon thusly. You will come when you are called upon and you will serve me as you are sworn to do or you will be expelled. That is all. I’m off to summon a dragon and interrogate him.”

Heart still pounding in my chest as I exited into the open area at the entrance of Sky Haven Temple I spun to feel her on the stairs behind me. “I value your council, Delphine, and am thankful that I have gained enough wisdom from all of my teachers that I recognize when you’re wrong. Decide what it is that you’re for and what it is that you’re willing to do to achieve it.”

“You didn’t.” Farengar laughed and then shook his head. “Of course you did. May I admit to you my heart that there are times when this other side of you arouses me like nothing else has ever done in my whole lifetime?”

I drew him to me again in the darkness and warmth of our bed and closed around him. “You may and may I admit that it is my pleasure to arouse you so?”

“ODAVING!” I shouted it across the city and felt it ring true, even as the first time I’d attempted it as a shout.

“Now, everyone back and away.” I centered myself and cast a ward over myself just as the great red beast roared and dove down over the city, headed right for us. As he came across the balcony I could see his eyes and I shouted dragonrend at him, watching as he struggled with the terrifying new sensations he was suddenly feeling.

“Let him follow me. Do not engage him unless you have to.” I shouted and raced back, shouting Paarthurnax’s flame blast and standing there, daring Odaving to follow me.

As the yoke closed over his broad shoulders and closed around his neck I felt a split second of guilt and set it aside as his furious eyes met mine in challenge and interest, neck and shoulders still roiling, head tossing to first one side and then the other in rejection of the restraints that still held true even after so many years of disuse.

“You’ve gone to a great deal of trouble to put me in this embarrassing position. Shall I guess what it is that you seek or shall I humor you by allowing you to lead this conversation?” His voice was greater, deeper than Paarthurnax’s voice and held humor, a trait I’d never heard in a draconic voice before. I felt a small thrill to have heard it once, regardless the outcome of our meeting.

“Those are your choices, Odaving. I want to know where Alduin has gone to hide and lick his wounds.”

“Are you absolutely sure of this?” The Jarl stood shoulder to shoulder with Farengar and both of them looked more than a little dismayed.

“Absolutely.” I turned to Farengar. “Be well, my love. I will be back. I have no reason not to trust that Odaving is sincere in his words.”

“And I have no reason to believe him at all. What stops him from taking you high over the city and dropping you?” He spun and made eye contact with the freed dragon now crouching at the edge of the great balcony of Dragonsreach.

“Nothing.” I said with a laugh that was only partly nervousness. “I didn’t have to let him go, and did. Sometimes trust is all you have and you have to place it and have faith that you have chosen well.” I kissed his cheek and turned to the Jarl. “Sire, I am sincerely sorry for the loss of two great men and will make reparation to their widows or families upon my return. Farengar has access to my resources if there is an immediate need he and Lydia can begin from there…” I turned and watched as Farengar nodded agreement.

And I was off and away before either of them could say anything else, feeling as I passed all of the eyes in the balcony focused on me as I climbed carefully up over Odaving’s shoulder and settled in high on his lowered neck where I could hold the spines on the back of his head for support as he took to the air and found the rhythm of his wings in flight.

So high I thought my heart would burst in my chest, set free to see and feel the world as only a Dovah can, just as he’d promised. I shouted into the wind and felt it answered back from miles and miles away, some other dragon tasting my thu’um on the wind and voicing his own in response.

Odaving landed and turned his wise old face on me. “Skuldafn. This is as far as I can take you, Dovahkiin. Your thu’um is true and strong and I look forward to your return, or to Alduin’s.”

“And that is as it should be.” I laid a hand on his rough face and bowed to him. “Be free and taste the winds for me, brother, because I am only a shadow of your strength and must glean my experience from those that you share.”

He studied me for a long moment and then lifted off and away without another word, shouting and knocking a dragon that was headed right for me out of the sky with a heavy thud and a great crashing of beast bodies high above me.

And so it was on fleet feet and with all my skills as a thief that I stole into the gates of Skuldafn on my way to a portal that would send me living and Imperial into Sovngarde where Alduin devoured the souls of the Nord dead.

“I am Tsun and I have been set here by Shor himself to protect this path so that all who enter here have been tested.”

“I am Cordelia, the Dragonborn and it is by my birthright that I request access to Shor’s Hall in my quest to put Alduin The World Eater down once and for all.” I drew my swords and backed away, feeling their familiar weight and heft in my hands even as I could feel the words of the shout that would make me invisible ready to burst from my heart and mouth at once.

“Then I wish you well in this test.” Tsun said and drew his massive two handed sword.

Gormlaith. The great glorious hero of every legend. Gladhearted in battle was how she’d been described to me and I could see it in her eyes from the very start. She lived for the fight and she fought for her life and the lives of those around her. Her soul was a fire burning fiercely and bravely inside of her so that her eyes lit with a charismatic light that seemed to draw me in just as Jarl Ulfric’s gaze did.

She led the four of us, Hakon and Felldir and myself from Shor’s Hall and out into the field where the mists were so thick that none of Sovngarde could be clearly seen and where so many souls stirred waiting to be able to safely find Shor’s Hall.

On my way to the hall I’d come across so many souls lost in the fog, including the lovely and determined Rikke who had refused to give in even at the end of the fight when Ulfric stood over the General and demanded that he surrender and live. I’d tried to convince her to follow me and she’d stayed a lost shade in the mists, too confused even to be able to hear reason when it laid hands on her shoulders and shouted in her face.

Gormlaith the Beautiful. Gormlaith the Magnificent. I was so enamored of her that I couldn’t take my eyes off her and awaited her every command. I’d have followed her into any number of hells just to carry with me her sureness and her power and her joy. She was the leader of men that Ulfric and so many other powerful Nords represented. One part fire and three parts ice hard ability so that her strength and force poured over you with every shout.

Over and over we shouted down Alduin’s mists and over and over he shouted them back until I feared we might have to hunt him in the unnatural fog. And then at last the four of us together were able to shout the last of the fog from our vale and I could see him just above us on the hill, suddenly exposed and furious.

“Come down to me, Alduin and meet your death!” Gormlaith challenged him as Hakon and myself circled around behind Felldir and I carefully aimed my bow and vanished from sight as the massive dragon lifted off.

“Shout him down together and keep him down!” Gormlaith commanded and together we all shouted and watched as the dragon struggled and crashed into the ground before her.

My arrows, Felldir’s spells and Hakon and Gormlaith’s swords finally did what we’d all been unable to do until we’d been united.

Alduin vanished and I stood there with my feet in the cool grass of a destroyed vale, confused and relieved that Alduin’s soul had not flowed into me. Where had he gone?

“I look forward to a time when I can prove my preparedness to you once more, Tsun.” I told the massive man who bowed to us all as we approached the gates some time later. From behind him in Shor’s hall the word had been received that we’d been successful and the resounding shouts and cheers could be heard all the way to where we stood, drawing not only our attention but also flowing out and around the vale to draw the many lost souls towards Shor’s Great Mead hall.

I watched for a moment as many emerged from the still evaporating mists, swords drawn and backs straight as true Nords always should be. I thought for a moment that I recognized Rikke and I turned my gaze back to Tsun proudly.

“You are ready to return to the land of the living?”

“I am, Tsun.” I lowered my eyes and his shout seemed to rip me right from my feet so that I was weightless and without control for a brief second and then suddenly I was standing at the Throat of the World and there was the terrible sound of dragons, more than I’d even imagined had managed to be risen and survive in mourning.

I spoke briefly to Paarthurnax and took comfort in the warmth of his side where his heart beating made my body vibrate and the smell of him salty and full of the sky and dust at the top of the world could surround me.

I felt Odaving’s eyes on me and I wished Master Paarthurnax well on his journey out and into the world, and told him that the Blades had done the unthinkable thing and allied themselves against me. He nodded and graced me with his warmth for just one more moment before he flew away with so many of the others.

“And you will now lead the world of men, Dovahkiin?” Odaving asked me as I turned and bowed to him.

“No. I would instead choose to lead a select few of them, if they will have me as their leader, and instead I'll leave leadership to the man called to it from these very steps.”

“I see.” Odaving nodded and lowered his head to mine so that I could lay a hand on his rough scaled cheek. “So you choose to lead neither man nor Dov.”

“I am not called to that leadership, Odaving. I would leave such things to those called to the challenge of mastering them. Paarthurnax has much to teach. As do you.”

“I am no teacher, Dovahkiin. I am free now to seek my future as I see fit with none to follow or lead my way.” He nudged me with his nose and I made better eye contact with him as my own mind wandered to the joys that such freedom would really mean. “If I taste your thu’um on the wind I will return to you, my friend. Not as your servant and not as your Master. I return to you my sister because you have the heart and soul of a Dov and cannot soar as the Dov are often want to do. Call my name and I will come.”

“Thank you, Odaving. For your wisdom when you believe you do not teach and for your kindness when you believe you are cruel and hard.” I stepped back and bowed to him as he lifted off and then watched as a whole flight of Blood and other dragons rose to fly away with him. “None to follow or lead.” I huffed and shook my head. Lies are sometimes things we tell ourselves and sometimes things we actually believe. It doesn’t make them true.

“There is so much yet to be done, Master Arngier.” I said as I rinsed my dishes from a hasty lunch of barely warm broth and hard bread supped on in the narrow kitchen and set about toweling them dry. “The civil war has ended and is not yet resolved. There is some terrible trouble for my friends in Riften and I’ve promised to come and see if there is any way I can help them. There is the issue of the Blades who are now doom driven to rid the world of Dragons, beginning with Paarthurnax, regardless of my council to the opposite.”

“And what of Delia the woman?” Master Arngier asked me in a strange tone of voice.

“Delia the woman has a very sincere request to make of you, Master.” I turned to him and saw a mischievious twinkling in his wise eyes that stilled me for a moment. “And I have a feeling maybe you already know my question?” I laid the towel to the side of the bucket and wrung my hands together at the front of my robes. “Master, I want to marry Farengar, he’s asked me and asked me and I keep begging him to be patient. I no longer desire patience in this matter.”

“Are you asking my blessing or seeking guidance in some other way, Delia?”

“I do not know what the rest of my destiny holds for me, Master Arngier. I suppose I’m seeking your blessing to bring him here and share your wisdom with him, and I’m also seeking to know that this decision does not alter other decisions that I might choose to make later.”

“It alters them all and alters none of them, Delia. Such is the nature of an unwritten path. Your studies here are not changed by the act of being in love or married to Farengar. My assignment to you to meditate on your path thus far and put it all in writing for me can be done wherever you are in the world. As to sharing him with us, Delia… your Farengar arrived yesterday and has been quite impatiently pacing the stones in the annex awaiting word of your safe return.”

I hugged Arngier and raced down the hall without stopping until I collided with my love’s warm strong body and closed around his surprised self before he could vanish and I could wake from the dream.

“Oy!” He shouted playfully and closed around me, lifting me from my feet to kiss my face and neck and then lowered me so that his hands could frame my face and turn it this way and that looking for injury.

“Farengar, how did you make such a terrible journey alone? You should have waited and let me come with you.”

“I am not entirely without my merits as a combat mage, my dear.” Farengar laughed and then nodded towards the arch at the far end of the room. “And your beautiful and very capable Lydia would never have allowed me to venture anywhere alone, I’m afraid, protestations that I’m a quite capable mage aside, the wonderful woman seems to count me in your possessions and therefore under her protection.”

“Lydia!” I raced to her and embraced her. “You beautiful and wonderful friend! Thank you for bringing him here safely.”

“Always, my Thane. I serve the greatest warrior in all of Skyrim and if her man wants to surprise her at the top of the world then it is my responsibility to see he gets there safely.”

“Oh, Lydia, I have something for you in the other room. I’m not sure if Master Wulfgaar will remember how to help us adjust it or if we’ll have to bring them down the mountain to Ivarstead.” I glanced up at Farengar who waved us away like children and turned his attention to Master Arngier who seemed to choose exactly that moment to appear from where he’d been hidden in the hallway.
“This is Blades armor, my Thane.” Lydia said breathlessly. “In every children’s book about them this is just how it looks. I dreamed of this armor when I was a little girl.”

“And never have I been more sure of making a request, Lydia. As the Dragonborn it is my responsibility to lead the Blades and reform them. I’m asking you please to stay my soldier and be promoted from Housecarl to Commander. And to be more involved in the every day than you have been before now. If you would like to return to Farkas and Whiterun, I have a home there that will suit you well, and I cannot think of any warrior I would rather have at my side than yourself.”

“My shield and my sword are sworn to you, my Thane. My Dragonborn. Wherever Farkas might be, my loyalty is to you first and always.”

“I do not even know yet what it is that the Blades represent anymore, Lydia. I’m not asking you lightly and I’m not dismissing you, either. As I form the image in my mind of the Blades then you will be here to help me make it a reality. And if you find joy and peace with Farkas, then you should always seek to enjoy that in any moment that you can. There is never enough peace or joy in this world.”

“Yes, my thane.” Lydia blushed and ran her hand lovingly over the beautiful steel and leather armor again. “This is magnificent.”

“There will be new armor made in this fashion with some changes, if I can convince Jorland Gray-Mane to help me. And for you, Lydia, I wanted to be sure that yours was the real thing. Ancient and saved in Sky Haven Temple for a future they believed would come even when the rest of us forgot it was even there, someone with the foresight to glimpse a future when a woman’s body would need this armor in the faraway future.”

Strolling about the courtyard, hand in the warmth of Farengar’s I told him everything, or as nearly everything as I could recall while he made little noises to make me continue and silently absorbed it all.

“And without a thought you went living into the land of the dead.” He said it, he was not asking.


“I think I understand now why you keep telling me to wait for marriage.” He shook his head and drew me against him roughly. “I would have given one thought to you and been unable to step into the void. The world be damned, my destiny forgotten entirely in the face of it all. I’d have been selfish and unable to do it.”

“Don’t think I wasn’t afraid, Farengar. I was terrified. I also knew going into this thing that everything along the way has been just one more sacrifice and one more challenge to be bested. I had to believe that like everything else, this was one more thing that would end well for me.” I kissed him hard and deep as he leaned to do the same to me. “I couldn’t have imagined on my way up the steps to Dragonsreach that I would meet the man who mattered to me above all others.”

“Will you marry me now, woman and Dragonborn and Stormblade leader in the Stormcloaks and leader of the Blades and doom driven savior of all of Skyrim?”

“I will marry you as all of those women and as Delia, the woman who has loved you almost since the first second you were too short with her and she had to demonstrate her intellect to you cruelly.” I winked up at him.

“That you did.” He smiled. “It was only that you were so beautiful and so little that I couldn’t believe that you were going to be able to bring me the dragonstone. I underestimated you once and have never made the mistake again.”

“Thank you, Farengar. I underestimate myself enough for us both.”

“Always, love.”

all places and names are property of either Ruth Hinman or of Bethesda/Softworks Entertainment and are protected
use of names and places is purely for entertainment value and all ideas and main story details belong to their creators