The ride to Solitude was long and made slow by storms throughout The Pale and Hjaalmarch. But by the time they got to Haafingar Hold, the weather had cleared and after a long night of twitching and discomfort, Elspeth woke up in the cart to clear skies. She breathed in the cool air as they rode along the road adorned by granite foothills and pine trees. The hold seemed so peaceful compared to the others, but it was early still and she knew how quickly things could change.
“Solitude is still very much a city in mourning,” said Lydia as they disembarked at the stables. She had been there on several occasions since King Torygg’s death and each time the mood had lifted only slightly. The young king had been popular with all his subjects—Imperial and Stormcloak supporters alike—and they were shocked and saddened by the news of his death by Jarl Ulfric’s thu’um and sword.
But Lydia loved Solitude with all its shops, the Bard’s College, the Blue Palace. Even with the Imperial army marching about, it was a beautiful city, the very cradle of Nord culture and civility and she was eager to show Elspeth.
“Because of all the turmoil of late, there aren’t as many festivals as there used to be,” she explained. “But there is always something happening.”
And sure enough, as they arrived they walked into a crowed gathering by the main gate, looking up toward a platform where a man in rags and wrist binds stood, flanked by an Imperial captain and headsman.
“Roggvir. You helped Ulfric Stormcloak escape this city after he murdered High King Torygg. By opening that gate for Ulfric you betrayed the people of Solitude.”
As the captain proclaimed the Roggvir’s guilt the crowd responded, shouts of support and protest ringing through the air.
“There was no murder! Ulfric challenged Torygg. He beat the High King in fair combat. Such is our way! Such is the ancient custom of Skyrim, and all Nords!” Roggvir’s final words resonated over the crowd and their shouts grew stronger in response.
Elspeth scrambled and pushed her way past the crowd, ducking under a shop awning just as the THWACK of the headsman’s axe sounded, breaking Roggvir’s head from his body and cracking the cement below.
Lydia cringed—not so much for the execution but for how she imagined Elspeth felt. But when she looked up, Elspeth looked more annoyed than anything else.
“Really, is there any city in Skyrim not bent on reminding me of the most horrible things that have happened in my life?” she asked, shaking her head as they walked through the city.
The Blue Palace lacked the warmth of Dragonsreach, but it was equally awe-inspiring. The foyer and throne room, with their marble interior and engraved with Nordic knot patterns, were not unwelcoming, but they betrayed a cool bleakness that Elspeth imagined was enhanced by the inhabitants’ grief.
The court was enjoying a rare moment of quiet when they arrived. The castle steward, Falk Firebeard, was talking quietly with the Jarl, Elisif the Fair. She sat primly on her throne looking just as Elspeth anticipated, beautiful and sad. Several members of the court knew Lydia, who had traveled to Solitude on many occasions, and so she brought them right over to the wizard. Sybille Stentor was pleased to see her
“Hello my dear,” she said. “How are you? And how is Farengar?”
“I am well,” she replied. “And Farengar is…well, Farengar.”
“That to be expected I suppose,” she said dryly. Sybille paused to look over Elspeth, “And who is this?”
“This is Elspeth,” said Lydia. “From Cyrodill. We’ve come here looking for information on an Altmer woman who came here about 20 years ago, going by the name Harinde.”
Sybille raised her eyes in recognition of the name but before she could speak they were interrupted by a disturbance. They turned around to find a terrified man, gasping and out of breath, begging the court steward, Falk Firebeard, for an audience with the Jarl.
“It’s been a quiet day Falk, let him approach,” said Elisif, sounding a little impatient. Elspeth wondered if perhaps she was also a little bored. Lydia had mentioned, and it became fairly obvious to her that Elisif held only the title of Jarl, wielding little authority and paying even less attention to administrative tasks. With Elisif deferring to his judgment in most, if not all, matters, Falk ran Solitude with what can only be described as a ledger-bound fist.
“It’s about Wolfskull Cave! I swear to you, unnatural magics are coming from that cave! There are strange noises and lights! We need someone to investigate!” The man’s fear was palpable and his terrified voice echoed throughout the hall.
“Then we will immediately send out a legion to scour the cave and secure the town. Haafingar’s people will always be safe under my rule.” Elisif reassured him.
“Th…thank you, my Jarl thank you,” stammered the man, still out of breath but now considerably less terrified.
After he exited, Sybille furrowed her brow and approached Elisif. “Your eminence, my scrying has suggested nothing in the area. Dragon Bridge is under imperial control. This is likely superstitious nonsense.”
“Perhaps a more…tempered reaction is called for?” Falk suggested.
“Unless…” said Sybille, gesturing toward Elspeth and Lydia. “Send Lydia and Elspeth. I’m sure together they are more than capable. We know Lydia from Balgruuf’s court and this one…” her voice lowered as she brought her face closer to Elspeth’s. Her eyes were an unusual shade of orange and Elspeth held in a gasp as the wizard peered at her. “This one is powerful. Tiny, but powerful.” Elspeth recoiled slightly, not quite knowing what to make of her.
“Very well,” said Falk.
“When you come back,” said Sybille. “I’ll give you all the information I have.”
Back in town, the crowed had dispersed, most going back about their business as if they hadn’t just witnessed a man having his head lobbed off. The body remained at the chopping block, a not-so-gentle reminder of Imperial justice. Elspeth shuddered as they hurried by, recalling how very close she came to having her own headless, lifeless body act as such a reminder.
Elspeth found the walk to the cave invigorating although it took them the rest of the day and the better part of the evening. They arrived at the cave the next morning, after resting in a small clearing just off the path. The cave was occupied by several powerful mages and clearing them out took a while. There were necromancers, but Elspeth didn’t sense anything particularly unusual about the magic in the cave. Lydia supposed it didn’t matter to most Nords, although she recognized that there was something particularly affecting about the terror in the man’s voice.
But she had spoken too soon. As they made their way into Wolfskull ruins, they came upon a most unusual sight. The open cavern contained a large stone tower at the top of which rested a bluish translucent sphere into which streams of blue and purple light spun. They sneaked up the perimeter of the tower, taking out mages and dragurs as they went along. At the top of the tower, they saw the ritual in progress. There were several mages at the summoning circle, chanting as a voice bellowed from the sphere. Elspeth and Lydia looked on in astonishment as they approached the ritual quietly.
“Yes! Yes! Return me to this realm!” The voice from the sphere was haunting and seemed to possess an enormous amount of power—more than that needed to hold the mages to the ritual.
“As our voices summon you the blood of the innocent binds you Wolf Queen!” shouted the mage who appeared to be the ritual master.
“What! What are you doing?! You fools! You cannot bind me to your wills!” The voice of the sphere continued to roar throughout the cave.
Elspeth gasped and pulled herself closer to Lydia. “The Wolf Queen! They’re trying to resurrect Potema Septim,” she whispered. “This is madness! We have to stop them. I’ll clear out the mages, you go right for the leader.”
“Something is wrong. There is an intruder.” The ritual master looked fearful and indeed within moments, Elspeth and Lydia charged in, clearing out the circle. It was a quick but messy battle with Lydia taking some shock damage and Elspeth finding her chin and lip nicked on the edge of one of the mage’s daggers before she gut him open with her sword. While Lydia recovered, Elspeth inspected the ritual circle. She leaned over and several drops of blood fell from her lip, scorching the platform and crystallizing into a hardened speck on the stone. But when Elspeth placed her hand there, it was cool to the touch. She paused, but rather than ponder the anomaly, she gathered Lydia up and hurried back to the city.
“Potema!” exclaimed Falk Firebeard in utter disbelief when they returned to the Blue Palace with news of the ritual. They were seated at a table in Sybille Stentor’s room.
“But why would anyone want to resurrect the Wolf Queen?” asked Lydia. By all historical accounts Potema Septima was one of the Skyrim’s most treacherous rulers.
“The Septims and their legacy have long inspired cults, fringe groups dedicated to reinstating their dynasty. Chasing rumors of bastard Septim spawn scattered and strewn all over Tamriel. But this is the first I’ve heard of necromancy being used,” said Falk.
“The Horme,” said Sybille, placing several books on the table. “They were an underground movement that believed Potema and her son, the deposed Uriel III, to be the last of Tiber Septim’s true blood,” she explained as she paged through one of the books. “But the organization in the third era was composed of insurrectionists who lead raids against Imperial interests in Skyrim. I don’t recall ever reading about any mages among them. Potema herself was known to have dabbled in necromancy.” She paused and looked thoughtfully at Elspeth. “This is an interesting coincidence. Your Altmer, Harinde, came here seeking information on just these sorts of cults. She would be most interested in what transpired in Wolfskull cave.”
“I will be very happy to let her know,” said Elspeth. “Just as soon as you tell me where she is.”
“Well,” smirked Sybille. “I can tell you where she went.” She paused for a moment. “Markarth.”
“Markarth!” exclaimed Lydia. “She was trying to avoid the Thalmor. Why would she go there?”
“Apparently, there was something there worth the risk. I’ve already sent a letter ahead, alerting Jarl Igmund of your inquiry,” she said. “Stay sharp! Now is not the time to be drawing attention to a scholar of Septim worship cults.”