Elspeth woke up slowly and peered up from the pillow. The room was unfamiliar but she was so comfortable she couldn’t be bothered to feel anxious. She pulled herself back under the covers and stretched as she recalled her arrival at Breezehome. When she finally emerged, she looked up and from the position of the sun in the window she could tell it was quite early in the morning, which meant she hadn’t slept for long. So she was surprised that she felt well rested—in fact, she couldn’t quite remember the last time she felt so rested. On a chair next to the bed, Lydia had set out a dress, some wool socks, a washcloth, and soap. She got up and put the clothes on—the dress was entirely too long—and grabbed the cloth and soap. When she opened the door, she smelled sweet spices and heard people chatting.
Lydia and Idolaf were sitting at the table and Lydia smiled when she saw Elspeth at the bottom of the steps. “Good morning!” she said, “I made porridge. Would you like some? And some tea?”
Elspeth felt famished again and said, “Yes, please. I’m going to the tap first, if you don’t mind.”
“Of course. That dress is a little big, no? We’ll get you something that fits better today.”
When she returned and sat down, Idolaf asked—cautiously, as if wasn’t sure if Elspeth would respond to him—“Did you sleep well? You were dead asleep when we left the Mare.”
“Yes, I did. Um, how did I get back here?” she asked as she slid onto the bench next to Idolaf.
“Idolaf carried you,” explained Lydia. “We tried waking you, but you wouldn’t stir.”
“I feel better than I have in a long time. I’m surprised I got up so early though. I thought I’d sleep longer.”
Idolaf raised his eyebrows, “Longer?”
“Well yes,” said Elspeth, not sure why this was surprising. “I mean…”
“Oh Elspeth,” Lydia interrupted her, laughing. “You’ve been asleep for over a day and a half.” She placed a large bowl of porridge and mug of tea down.
“Really? Well, okay then.” She wasn’t really surprised; she hadn’t been that weary and injured in a long, long time. She looked down at the porridge and started eating. This was the breakfast of her childhood. She looked back at Lydia, smiled and said quietly, “Just like Runa makes.”
“Yes,” interjected Idolaf, “and this is the only thing that Lydia can cook just like Runa.”
Elspeth frowned at Idolaf and looked at Lydia who agreed, “No, it’s true. I can’t cook at all. I eat a lot of cheese and bread. And apples from Tommen’s Orchard.”
“And at the Mare,” added Idolaf. “And Dragonsreach.”
“And at house Battle Born.”
“What’s your point? The Battle Borns have been feeding me since I was small. Since before you became a Battle Born.”
Elspeth giggled. Idolaf didn’t make her feel anxious this morning and she rather enjoyed watching them squabble.
Idolaf had been uneasy about coming back to Breezehome to see Elspeth, not quite certain how she would receive him at this point. With Lydia he knew what to expect; theirs was a friendship characterized by high levels of patience and she never got, much less stayed, angry with him. But Elspeth was new and she had born the brunt of Legion stupidity—and that generally did not bode well for him or any Imperial supporter in Skyrim. He was relieved to see her in good spirits and when she was finished eating he reached down to the floor and took something from his bag. “I brought you something from my family,” he said as he handed her a large package wrapped in paper and twine.
Elspeth looked at the package suspiciously and then over to Lydia who nodded and smiled, gesturing for her to take it. She took it slowly and examined it. Runa had instructed her on the culture of gift giving in Skyrim, which really wasn’t that different from Bruma and the rest of Cyrodill, but there was an emphasis on giving gifts as compensation for a favor or work done for someone, when coin payment was hard to come by. Needless to say, Elspeth was a little confused as it was quite unlikely that she had done him a favor in her sleep. Nevertheless, she smiled and opened the package. Inside was a beautiful charcoal colored cloak.
“Oh my goodness,” Elspeth gasped as she ran her fingers along the soft material. “It’s beautiful. Thank you.” She was still somewhat confused but also in awe of the gift and Idolaf’s apparent generosity. She pulled it over her shoulders and smiled.
“I’m glad you like it. It’s a blend of wool and tundra cotton. And the cotton is treated with fire salts, which will help keep you warm when you and Lydia travel up to Winterhold.”
“Thank you, again. It’s lovely.” And it was. She was touched.
“Well then, I will leave you lovely ladies alone now. I have to go to Warmaidens and see if I can get Adrienne to outfit the southern flank with swords.”
After he left, Elspeth continued to run her hands along the cloak. Lydia smiled and said, “He feels terrible about the arrest.”
“So that’s why….” Elspeth smiled.
“Well, the Battle Borns are generous to a fault. Idolaf and Olfrid, Alhild’s father, are as stubborn as mules about the war, but they are Nords through and through. They want you to feel welcome.”
Elspeth smiled and said, “I can live with that. So, what happens next?”
Lydia went to a room in the back and returned with a small wooden box. From there she pulled out a bag and shook a ring into her hand. “Xeri left some money and some papers. And this,” she said as she handed Elspeth the ring.
“My grandmother’s ring. My hand has felt naked for a while now.” She put it on and admired how it looked. Xeri had presented it to her when she first started at Arcane University and had worn it every day until Xeri took it to Skyrim.
Lydia looked baffled for a moment and said, “It’s almost as if she knew it wouldn’t make it over the border if she’d left it with you.”
“Oh Xeri knows everything,” said Elspeth almost scornfully. “She either saw the arrest and dragon attack in a vision or she engineered the whole thing as a test.”
Lydia laughed and sat back down. “You need armor that fits better. And clothes. And some food for the house. Then we should start planning for Winterhold. We’re going to need to make some coin before we go. And we should probably talk to Farengar in Dragonsreach about how best to navigate the college.” She shook her head, “Gods, no one should have to talk to Farengar. We can do that later.” Then she paused and asked, “What have you been telling people about yourself?”
“As little as possible but, it’s the same old story. Parents fled the war. Grew up in a refugee camp in Morrowind. Parents died. Taken in by Xeri and Runa. Moved to Bruma. Trained, trained, trained.” Elspeth shook her head, “I’m astounded at how much my made-up past parallels my real life. The only difference seems to be the location. Oh, and I don’t talk about my Dremora childhood playmates. And my mom isn’t so much dead as—” Elspeth stopped and took a deep breath.
Lydia looked at her sadly, “I’m sorry.” She paused and then said, “Runa’s letters were so detailed. And yet, I damn nearly fainted when she visited and told me the truth. How is she, by the way?”
“Wonderful, I am sure. Teaching in the temple. I thought she would return to Skyrim, but she loves her students.” Elspeth sighed, “I miss her.” Lydia nodded in agreement.
After they finished their tea and tidied the kitchen and dining area, they headed out, first stopping at Warmaidens where they bought Elspeth a leather cuirass. Adrienne promised to have it sized the next day, knowing she’d want a break from Idolaf’s enormous weapons order. In the market they bought food and at Belethor’s General Goods, they obtained some clothing and shoes and a pair gloves. Elspeth decided she liked the merchant and his salty sense of humor, despite his reputation around town as a sleazy little man. She also procured a journal and a writing implement. She was a note-taker by nature, but now that she was no longer under Xeri’s constant watchful gaze, perhaps she could finally keep a personal diary.
Idolaf had mentioned to Lydia that he’d commissioned a very large order of healing and stamina elixirs and that Arcadia, Whiterun’s apothecary, may want to hire someone to help fulfill it. It took Elspeth several moments to convince herself that making potions fell outside the purview of “taking sides” in the war, although she might have felt differently had the order been for poison. Lydia agreed and reminded her that the elixirs would be mixed with or without their help. When they stopped in her shop and inquired about this, Arcadia directed her to the alchemy table saying only, “Show me what you can do.”
Elspeth found mixing potions tedious and dull, but since it was often the only respite she’d had from her rigorous training schedule she used to exaggerate how much she needed to practice and, as a result, was an efficient and capable alchemist. From the ingredients that Arcadia provided, Elspeth produced 10 bottles of healing elixir, which was more than twice what was expected. When Arcadia went to check on the elixirs, she frowned in disbelief and poured one onto a sheet of treated paper to observe its potency. Her eyes brightened as she realized that Elspeth had managed to extract the maximum from most of the ingredients—something few alchemists bothered with. She happily offered her the job and said she would have the supplies brought over shortly.
Back at Breezehome, they put their things away and discussed the rest of the day. When Lydia asked if she wanted to do some training, Elspeth was momentarily speechless. When she recovered she said, “Do I want to train?” No one had ever asked her if she wanted to train before—and she wasn’t entirely certain how to answer. “Actually,” she looked over and continued quietly as if she thought someone besides Lydia would hear, “I would prefer not to.”
Lydia commented that Xeri had really done a number on her and they could train tomorrow. She put a kettle on and looked at Elspeth who seemed uneasy all of a sudden. “Is everything okay?” she asked.
“I should probably do some sprints,” Elspeth replied.
“Okay,” Lydia said—trying very hard not to laugh at Elspeth’s failed attempt to relax.
“And some jóga.”
“Okay,” said Lydia, still stifling her amusement.
“But no fighting practice. That can wait until tomorrow.” With the decision not to relax, Elspeth finally seemed at ease and after tea and lunch, they left the main gate of Whiterun and performed several sets of sprints along the river. They ended training with a series of asanas.
When they returned home that evening, they were sore but somewhat energized and Lydia suggested going to the Mare. It was crowded but they found Alfhild and Idolaf at a table and so they made their way over. Lydia got ahead of Elspeth who had stopped to look over at someone standing by the bar—someone who looked very, very familiar. After she started at him long enough to believe that he wasn’t one of the Fighter’s Guild captains from Bruma, she turned around and slammed face first into a wall.
Except that it wasn’t a wall. It was an enormous woman—tall with the broadest shoulders that Elspeth had ever seen on a woman. And she was covered with mead. Elspeth jumped back and covered her mouth with her hand. “I am so sorry,” she said, “I will buy you another drink.” Elspeth turned to go back toward the bar but the woman grabbed her shoulder and pulled her back, “I don’t want another drink.”
“Okay…” Elspeth was becoming uncomfortable, “I’m sorry.” She shrugged her shoulders sheepishly.
“I don’t like your attitude,” the woman said angrily.
Elspeth was at a loss as to what to do. She tried to find Lydia but the woman was blocking her view.
“Wanna hear a little Nord wisdom,” the woman said. “You don’t really know a woman until you’ve had a strong drink and a fist fight with her.” Her words were somewhat slurred.
“Excuse me, what?” Elspeth was still confused. “I could get you a strong drink.”
“Do you think you could take me on?” she asked. A crowd was starting to gather around.
Elspeth considered this but before she could answer a voice interrupted, “Uthgerd! Leave her alone!” Lydia was pushing her way through the crowd and came up beside them.
“She hasn’t answered my question.”
“Well fine,” said Lydia, “Elspeth, answer her question and then let’s go drink, okay.”
Elspeth paused and said, “Yes. I think I can take you on.” The crowd erupted with laughter.
“Oh for the love of Talos,” said Lydia who looked simply horrified.
“All right then! 100 septims says I pound you to the ground.”
Elspeth removed her bag and handed it to Lydia who was shaking her head, “No, no, no…you don’t have to do this.”
“If this is anything like Bruma, don’t I?”
“Well, you don’t have to.”
“But if I don’t, I’ll look like a fool.”
Lydia looked back at Uthgerd and said, “You’re going to look like a fool regardless.”
“Probably.” Elspeth seemed unconcerned and asked, “what are the rules?” She put her new gloves, wiggled her fingers and said, “I have to protect these magic hands.”
Lydia was starting to think that Elspeth had no idea what she was getting herself into. She sighed and said, “No weapons, no magic. Gloves are fine.”
“Can I fight dirty?”
“I don’t think you have much of a choice.”
“I’M WAITING!” Uthegerd was hollering and the crowd was getting excited.
Elspeth turned around and Lydia moved in a little closer, preparing herself to jump in if things got bad. The difference between the contenders was considerable. Uthgerd was huge. She actually wasn’t much taller than Lydia, but she almost twice her width. On the other hand, Elspeth was short, even for a Breton. She bent her knees with her strong foot forward and pulled her right fist up to her face. Then she waited. Unless she was striking in anger, Elspeth always let her opponent strike first. Uthgerd threw out a punch, which Elspeth easily ducked. Her height—or lack thereof—helped with this and she was fast.
While she was down she punched Uthgerd in the gut. Hard. Really hard. Uthgerd keeled over and Elspeth knew she had to work fast. As usual, speed was her only advantage. She elbowed Uthgerd in the ribs. Uthgerd threw her arms back and Elspeth staggered. When they were up and facing each other again, Uthgerd threw another punch that landed square in Elspeth’s face. She shook this off and when Uthgerd struck out again, Elspeth jumped to her side and threw a high kick into her hip. Uthgerd was slow and not expecting a kick. When she staggered back this time, she couldn’t recover quickly enough. Elspeth went in again, a frenzy of kicks and punches, and then she threw her whole body into Uthgerd, which finally knocked her to the floor. While she was down, Elspeth quickly straddled her chest and locked her arms down with her legs. Grabbing the top of her shirt, Elspeth proceeded to punch her several times in the face until she cried uncle.
As Elspeth helped her off the ground, Uthgerd clapped her hard on the back. She leaned in and said, “That was impressive. If you ever need me, I’ve got your back.” She handed Elspeth the coin and retreated to the back of the inn.
The crowd was nodding and laughing in approval while Elspeth looked around. She found Lydia, Alfhild, and Idolaf waiting for her just off to the side. Lydia and Alfhild were speechless. Idolaf was beaming.
When they sat down Idolaf asked, “Where did you learn to fight like that?” He was very impressed.
“I brawled a lot in Bruma,” explained Elspeth.
“Xeri let you brawl?!?” Lydia was incredulous at this.
“Xeri arranged most of those brawls,” replied Elspeth.
“Of course she did.”
Elspeth drank for free as the crowd continued to register their approval throughout the evening. The Bard played songs and Elspeth knew all the words. Lydia sat back and smiled. Elspeth was going to be just fine in Skyrim.