The pounding in her head was unbearable and the rage, palpable. Elspeth struggled against the binds that held her to the chair, wrenching and twisting her whole body so hard that the leather straps cut into her wrists and ankles, leaving deep red burns. She clenched her teeth together and screeched at the mage whose dispassionate expression only seemed to incite her more. The anger clouded her brain but within moments she recognized him. Onmund. Bile rose in her throat as she thought of his betrayal. “Gah! I am going to fucking kill you!!!” she screamed. He appeared unmoved by this and his silence continued to inflame her wrath. As she thrust her whole body forward, she could feel blood vessels vibrate and burst in her face.
Her efforts proved to be futile. She was stuck. The anger was overpowering and she bit the insides of her lips until she tasted blood in an attempt to focus. Her body continued to writhe in the chair and just as she thought her head might explode, Trygve came crashing into Breezehome. “Get away from her,” he bellowed as he grabbed Onmund by the hood and tossed him to the ground. Onmund, whose magicka was nearly drained, couldn’t reach his dagger and had no way to defend himself as the physically stronger Trygve held him down and raised his axe above him.
“TRYGVE, NO!” she screamed as her stomach seized and the angry mess in her head began to fade.
With his weapon in midair, he paused and looked back at her. “What?” he asked, his usual composure and poisenow giving way to confusion.
“Back off!” As Trygve loosened his grip in response to Elspeth’s warning, Onmund knocked axe out of his hand and kicked himself free. He stood up and walked across the room to where she was sitting, weary and bruised, and began to undo the ties binding her limbs to the chair. As the last ties came off, Elspeth slumped forward into his arms.
“What is going on here?” Trygve, who was normally very cognizant of his surroundings at all times, was utterly baffled by what he just saw.
Onmund glared at him as he helped Elspeth to her feet. “We were working on Elspeth’s illusion resistance,” he explained, the irritation in his voice was plain. “She mentioned that this morning.”
“But—” Trygve began, not sure how to respond. When he asked Elspeth for her daily itinerary, she mentioned she would be doing some illusion magic with Onmund. She did not, however, say anything about this…whatever this was.
“Trygve,” she interrupted, her voice cracked and raw from screaming. “Please leave us alone. I can’t….” Her mind, though no longer raging, was still cloudy. Her head throbbed and the bruises on her wrists and ankles stung. It wasn’t the worst she had ever felt, but it was their hardest illusion practice to date, and she was tired of explaining things to him. All she wanted was to lie down. She waved him off as she turned and limped up the stairs, leaning on Onmund for support.
Trygve crossed his arms over his chest and shook his head before turning and walking out the door. Once outside, he took a deep breath, still trying to understand what he just saw. Since arriving in Whiterun, he seemed to be in a perpetual state of bewilderment. Lydia and Elspeth baffled him. They always seemed to be sharing an inside story, constantly snickering and completing each other’s sentences. It wasn’t the depth of their friendship that bothered him—unlike Nerussa, he believed that could be an asset. Perhaps it was because Elspeth was not a Thane, but in his opinion, the casual way Lydia regarded her duties was unbecoming of a housecarl.
Nerussa had appreciated the steadfast manner in which he and Iona approached their task. In Whiterun, he seemed to be little more than a nuisance. Even Toki seemed embarrassed by him. Things came to a head two nights ago. Elspeth and Lydia were drinking at the Bannered Mare and a man Trygve had never seen before brought tankards of mead over. After he rushed over to inspect the drinks, Lydia pulled him aside and told him that everything he did only served to draw attention to them. Also, that he was very lucky that Farkas had a good sense of humor. With that, he agreed to tone it down. Still, walking in on a screaming woman tied to a chair—believing that she might need his help didn’t seem like much of a stretch.
After leaving Breezehome, he turned into the market, nodding to Carlotta and Ysolda on his way to the Gildergreen, where he found Lydia talking to Alfhild and Hrongar. “Did you know that Onmund was going to tie Elspeth up and make her scream during their illusion practice today?” he asked, when they turned and acknowledge him standing there.
Lydia rolled her eyes. “Yes,” she said. “They were practicing rage spells when I left.” She smirked. “If he didn’t tie her up, she would have attacked and probably killed him.”
“So that’s what they were doing!” said Hrongar, almost as if he were relieved to hear it. “I stopped by there yesterday with some notes from Farengar and he had her all tied up. I thought it was some kinky mage thing.”
“Hrongar!” exclaimed Alfhild. Though she was used to, and often enjoyed his lewd remarks, it seemed inappropriate to implicate Elspeth and Onmund in them.
“Oh please,” said Hrongar. “You’ve never walked by Farengar’s room at 3AM on a Loredas morning.”
Alfhild’s face contorted. “Just…stop,” she said and held one hand up while the other one clutched her stomach. “I’ve got to go help mother anyway. Trygve, will you be joining us for dinner at House Battle Born this evening?”
Naturally this was the first he had heard about this. They never invited him out. In fact, he’d spent most of his time on the tundra—hunting in the morning, and wandering—still within eyeshot of the city—the rest of the time. “I don’t….” His voice trailed off as he looked to Lydia who nodded her head in reluctant approval. “Thank you, Afhild. I will be there.”
“What about you Hrongar?”
“Sorry,” he said. “I’m covering for Commander Caius. In fact, I’m late. I should go.” Before he turned away, he gave Lydia a quick wink. Alfhild retreated back to House Battle Born, leaving Trygve and Lydia alone, looking at each other uncomfortably.
“Does that mean Hrongar will be sneaking in the house tonight?” He asked as they turned and walked back down toward the market.
“Probably,” she replied, pursing her lips in an attempt to hold back a grin. “At least now you have a bed.” Trygve had spent his first night in Breezehome in a bedroll on the floor. After that, they moved the alchemy lab to the front of the house and moved him into that room.
“Yes,” he grunted. “It will be nice not to be woken with a swift kick in the gut.”
“He didn’t kick you,” she said. “He tripped over you. And I’m sorry about that, but you shouldn’t have been sleeping so close to the doorway.” Lydia felt a little bad, but she and Hrongar had a nice chuckle over Trygve’s strange behavior. It greatly eased the tension Lydia was expecting since the last time she saw him. They were getting along although she anticipated that it wouldn’t be long he would be pressuring her to talk to Balgruuf.
“Are there any honest relationships in Whiterun?” he asked.
Lydia scowled. “No. We’re all a bunch of liars,” she replied sardonically.
“Well, at least you two are honest with each other.” He shook his head. “I don’t know how Elspeth lives with herself, lying with Onmund every night when he doesn’t even know her name or anything about her family. So much deception and—”
But before he could finish Lydia grabbed his shirt by the neck and threw him up against the side of Breezehome. “Now you listen to me,” she said, her voice angry but firm. “The integrity of Elspeth’s relationship is none of your concern, hear me?”
“Is everything all right here?” It was Toki, who was less concerned about his cousin’s safety and more amused by his utter inability to get along with anyone.
“Yes,” said Lydia, as she lowered her arms and clapped a bewildered Trygve on the shoulder. “I think we’re all finally starting to understand each other.”
It was becoming clear to him that, while Lydia may treat her duties with a level of informality he was not comfortable with, she was utterly devoted. But with such passion for her wellbeing, he could not understand why his protective measures of walking Whiterun’s outer perimeter each morning and examining their food stores every evening were met with such disdain. His only reassurance was that the depth of her commitment meant that she would do no less than lay her life down for Elspeth.
“If you would prefer, I could stay home tonight,” offered Trygve, when they were back inside Breezehome.
Although his tone did not indicate feelings of dejection, Lydia felt a bit guilty. He was, perhaps, the most frustrating person she had come across in a long while, but that was no reason to deny him a basic hospitality. Besides, there was no one in all of Whiterun better than Bergritte Battle Born at alleviating tension and making someone feel welcome. He might actually enjoy himself. “No,” she said finally. “You should come. Olfrid could use a friend and I imagine you two getting along splendidly.”
The chatter and movement from downstairs roused Onmund from a light sleep. He looked down and ran his fingers along the length of Elspeth’s arm, which was draped over him, stopping to inspect the contusions on her wrist. They were darker now and looked like burns.
“They don’t sting anymore,” she whispered, drawing her face up to his and pressing her lips to his as he clutched her hand to his chest.
“I’m so sorry,” he said remorsefully. “I didn’t realize how much it would hurt.”
Elspeth swallowed hard and shook her head. The pain in her arms and legs paled in comparison to the fury she felt toward him during the spell. “I hated you,” she said, her voice trembling. “That’s what hurt the most. I don’t want to do that again.”
He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her neck as she nuzzled back down against him. “You’re getting too strong for that to happen again,” he said, tilting his chin and pressing his cheek against the top of her head. “You’ll need to work with Drevis at the college.”
“I can think of worse things,” she said. She liked the quirky illusion instructor even if he had given her the College equivalent of cleaning chamber pots as a task. “Was it really hard for you,” she asked, “to see me like that?”
Onmund considered this for a moment. It pained him to hurt her, but he would be lying if he didn’t admit that there was something astonishing in the raw intensity the spell triggered. “Well,” he said finally. “I don’t enjoy causing you pain. But, you wear fierceness well.”
She smiled and then sighed. “I don’t like the fear spells either, although wanting to run and hide from you is easier than wanting to kill you. It would be nice if we could just use the calm spells for all the training.”
“Indeed,” said Onmund quietly. He looked aside and prayed she wouldn’t sense his discomfort. Of all the illusion spells he’d cast on her since she returned from Riften, those had actually been his least favorite. She let herself give in to Pacify so many times, and he had to plead with her to fight it. When the spell overtook her, it was as if every burden that had ever weighed down her soul was not simply removed, but had never been there in the first place. She looked so peaceful, so content.
He hated it. Because the only thing he wanted was to be able to ease her weary soul and he knew that he could never bring her that much peace without the spells. Getting into Elspeth’s head and forcing tranquility where there was simply no room for it felt manipulative and dishonest. It seemed to confirm every accusation his parents laid on him when he first began practicing about the treacherous nature of magic and mages.
“What’s wrong?” she asked. He had let his gaze shift a little too long and his body was growing tense.
“Nothing,” he said, bringing her back on top of him. As the skin on their bellies touched and their legs intertwined, he felt the tension leave him. He brought her face to his and kissed her passionately as he ran his hands down the curves of her hips, stopping to massage her backside and the bottoms of her thighs. She groaned and spread her legs, taking him inside and riding him quietly but fervently until they both climaxed—almost simultaneously—and collapsed, their bodies worn and weary. She slid up against him and sighed, smiling into his neck and swiftly quashing the feelings of ambivalence he had been entertaining.
“Are you going to the forge tonight?” she asked as she rolled off him.
“No,” he replied. He sat up and pushed himself from the bed and began looking for some clothing. “I changed my mind. I’m helping Adrienne forge unenchanted swords for Idolaf, so I’m going to work during the day for the rest of the week.”
“You’d better tell Trygve your change in plans so he can mark it in his ledger.” Onmund chuckled at this and she watched as he found his loincloth and tossed his robe aside. He opened the dresser and pulled on a pair of wool trousers and a tunic.
She observed him for a moment before rooting around the bearskin for her own clothing. “Why don’t you wear your robes when we go out, like to the Bannered Mare. Or tonight, when we’re eating with the Battle Borns?”
He sat down on the bed to fasten his boots. “What do you mean?” he asked.
“You did it in Winterhold too. You always changed your clothes when we went to the Frozen Hearth.”
“It’s how I was raised,” he said although this wasn’t entirely true. He found that Nords were simply easier to be around when he wore street clothes. They didn’t size him up or spit on him or beat him senseless—although those things hadn’t happened since Falkreath anyway. In Whiterun, most people simply ignored the robes but there was a small part of him that was still somewhat uncomfortable wearing them when he wasn’t actively practicing magic. Elspeth knew how miserable his childhood was at times, but he didn’t want to admit the unease Nords still inspired in him.
“No weapons on the table, no enchanted clothing at dinner—the College dining room doesn’t count.”
“I thought you didn’t like how you were raised?”
“I don’t,” he said, grinning mischievously. “But old habits are hard to break.” He found her shirt on the floor behind his feet and tossed it toward her head while she giggled and scrambled into her clothing.
Lydia was no less than thrilled to see them when they finally made their way downstairs. They chatted briefly about their day while Trygve listened, lingering over a cup of tea. For all his paranoia and rigidity, there were actually moments when he was not difficult to be around. Once he settled down and sat back, he blended into the background of Breezehome nicely and it was easy to forget he was there.
“He’s the perfect Nord,” said Onmund when Trygve excused himself to the tap. “Protective. Dutiful. Quiet, well when he’s not screaming in my face and throwing me to the ground. Maybe when he’s done here, my parents can adopt him.”
They were all giggling when he returned but he was becoming accustomed to this, and he simply looked past them as he cleared his things from the table. The walk to House Battle Born no different; he walked behind as the others chattered on in front of him.
Bergritte, however, welcomed him enthusiastically and took him to meet Olfrid, while the others helped themselves to mead and joined Jon at the end of the long table. Within moments, Lars came barreling in the house, dirty from a long day of playing, and wedged himself—almost forcefully—between Elspeth and Onmund. He balked when Alfhild insisted he wash and refused to move until Elspeth leaned over and promised that she would save his seat.
When dirty hands and faces were clean and everyone settled in, Olfrid greeted his guests with his usual formality though this time he thanked Lydia for yet another mouth to feed. Elspeth knew that Bergritte liked nothing more than hosting new people, but there was something in off about tone and Elspeth couldn’t tell if he was being sarcastic or simply facetious.
“What brings the Thane of the Rift to stay in Whiterun?” asked Olfrid with the suspicious curiosity that Elspeth had learned was typical of him. Lydia had already mentioned the story to Bergritte and so she couldn’t figure out why Olfrid felt the need to ask. All she could surmise is that putting people on the spot gave him a sense of authority.
“I was asked to assist Elspeth. We might have stayed in Riften but Whiterun is centrally located in case she has to return to the College.”
“The guild that hired me is sending more work,” Elspeth explained and wondered to herself if it would be inappropriate to invoke the spirit of Boethiah to get them through this little deception. He could have simply been introduced as a guest if he hadn’t made such a deal about being Jarl Laila’s Thane when he first met Idolaf and Alfhild.
Olfrid, however, seemed unconcerned with this and moved to press him about the war. “I suppose as Laila’s Thane then, you lend your support to the Stormcloaks?” His voice was quiet but harsh and accusatory.
“Excuse me,” Trygve replied sternly. “But while I may serve Jarl Laila, my devotion is to the people of the hold, not to her particular ideological positions.”
“So you support the Empire?” Idolaf was hopeful that Trygve would simply agree so that they could move on.
“I didn’t say that either,” he replied. “To support the Empire is to support Mede and I won’t lend my support to someone who so easily capitulated to the Thalmor after winning the Battle of the Red Ring. He made no attempt to negotiate the terms of the treaty, which were nearly identical to the petition the Thalmor brought to the Emperor before the war started.” The room was silent and Trygve moved his gaze back toward Elspeth, but didn’t let it linger. “He’s a coward. His response to the incident at Arcane University proved that.”
Lydia gasped, dreading Olfrid’s reaction. But he didn’t respond. No one did; they simply sat around in a stunned, uncomfortable silence. Before Elspeth had arrived in Skyrim, Lydia had warned the Battle Borns not to bring the incident up. Jon, like Trygve, had often used it an example of the Emperor’s spinelessness, leading to many heated arguments with Olfrid and Idolaf—the kinds of arguments that ruined meals and led to silences among the men that lasted for days.
While everyone looked around awkwardly, Lars was wiggling in his seat next to Elspeth who took it upon herself to steer the conversation. “So,” she said to Idolaf. “I hear you’ve agreed to let Onmund teach Lars magic. How on Nirn did that happen?”
Idolaf furrowed his brow, though he was thrilled to have something relatively less controversial to discuss. “Well, it’s not as though I had much say in the matter. Bergritte had already agreed to it.” He shook his head and took a large gulp of mead. “Though I must say,” he continued, “Onmund made a good case.”
Lydia raised her eyes in disbelief. “What did you say?” She was not surprised to hear that Lars would get to study and practice magic—Alfhild and Bergritte would allow it, but she was incredulous that anyone might convince Idolaf it was actually a good idea.
Onmund smiled. “After I caught Lars behind Belethor’s trying to conjure an atronach, I simply pointed out that without proper direction, a kid could get into a lot of trouble trying to learn magic on his own.”
“Like burning down a stable,” said Elspeth.
“Yes,” agreed Onmund, “Or…you know, conjuring a familiar who bites the Jarl’s nephew.” Elspeth saw him cringe a little; that incident had initiated years of torment for Onmund, who was only about twelve at the time.
“You did that?” asked Idolaf as Onmund nodded. “It couldn’t have been one of those fiery dremora? Now I have to put up with Siddgeir.”
The rest of the table chuckled—even Trygve managed a very slight grin—while Olfrid glowered. “Siddgeir is a loyal supporter of the Empire. He deserves your respect,” he exclaimed, almost shouting.
“I will outfit the regiment that guards his hold. And I will I will regard him with all due civility in person,” said Idolaf. “But that doesn’t change the fact that he is an entitled, milk-drinking dandy prat.” Idolaf pursed his lips in annoyance. As loyal as he was to the Empire, he tired of Olfrid’s obstinacy on the matter.
“Do you remember when Balgruuf sent Hrongar and me there?” interjected Lydia, ignoring Olfrid’s glare. “I told Balgruuf that we’d need a bottle of Black Briar Reserve or Siddgeir wouldn’t even talk to us. So, Proventus brings us the bottle and Balgruuf opens it and pours three cups for us to drink. Then he went down to the dungeon and filled the Reserve bottle with the swill that Toki and the other guards had been fermenting and said he hoped Siddgeir would enjoy it.” She threw her head back and let out a loud guffaw. “And Siddgeir drank it down and said nothing of it.”
“He couldn’t tell the difference,” said Jon, who was desperately trying to avoid looking at Olfrid, for fear his father’s look of irritation and lack of humor would send him into another fit of laughter.
Elspeth looked back over at Onmund whose grin was a mix of amusement and utter satisfaction. In the space of about 15 minutes, Idolaf had vindicated Onmund’s hatred and distrust of the young Jarl, which was more than his parents had ever done for him. She reached behind Lars and took his hand in hers.
“Anyway,” said Bergritte, “I had already told Lars he could practice magic with Onmund. He said he wanted to be a battle mage like Elspeth and that was enough for me.”
This was the first Elspeth had heard of this and she was touched. “I think you will make a fine battle mage,” she said to the now-blushing Lars.
“You’ll also have to learn to fight with a sword,” said Alfhild, knowing this would appease Idolaf somewhat. “And wear armor.”
“Yes,” said Idolaf. “It’s a serious endeavor.” For all his mistrust of magic and mages, he knew that Elspeth could fight bandits and giants with the best of them.
“Will you teach me?” Lars turned back to Elspeth.
“Sure,” she said. “And Onmund will help you forge your own sword.” Lars scrunched his face happily and leaned into her in an awkward sort of sideways embrace. Elspeth hugged him back and Onmund looked back affectionately at the two of them as he reached for his tankard.
“Gods,” said Lydia who was observing them from the other side of the table. “I can’t wait until you two have your own children.”
“I hope they have his eyes and cheekbones. And her nose and pout.” Alfhild tilted her head and continued to scrutinize them. “They won’t be tall, though I suppose they won’t need to be.”
“They’ll be full of magic,” said Lydia with a dream-like quality in her voice. “One will be a firebrand and the other will be a poet. And they’ll be called Lydia One and Lydia Two.”
Elspeth and Onmund were blushing furiously as Alfhild and Lydia planned their future family. He looked back toward the other men, who were simply shaking their heads. Though not Jon, the playful turn in conversation seemed to bother him and he shifted his gaze toward his lap. Elspeth opened her mouth—not to protest—but to direct the conversation away from Lydia’s imaginary namesake babies, but before she could speak, there was a loud bang as Hrongar came crashing through the door.
“Elspeth!” he croaked. “My brother’s going to want you—to see you. You need to come with me to Dragonsreach.” His face was bright red and he was panting over every word.
“Hrongar!” said Bergritte. “What on Nirn is going on?”
“Dragon!” he said. “At the Western Watchtower.”