Elspeth’s eyes flew open. She recalled the warmth of a very strong healing spell penetrating her head followed by another sensation. Something that infused every aspect of her being. It wasn’t painful, but it wasn’t exactly pleasurable either. It was powerful and strange and Elspeth, who was familiar with all matter of magika, was scared. Looking up, she saw only Trygve’s smug face looking back at her. She drew her arm up and pushed his hands away as she scrambled to her feet.
“What did you do to me Trygve?” she bellowed, her voice tinged with both anger and fear.
“I felt it,” he said as he looked up at her. “She…it went…and I felt it. When I was healing her.” He was looking back down at his hand, stupefied, and seemed not to realize that she was upset at him.
Elspeth barely noticed the guards and Lydia looking at her in utter astonishment. She was focused on Trygve. He’d done something to her—she was convinced. The sensation of whatever had infused her body continued to flow through her and she was terrified. She wanted to throttle him, to throw him across the tundra. As she stood there entertaining thoughts of hurting him, she suddenly recalled something, the word that had mysteriously echoed in her head in Bleak falls Barrow several months before. There was an urge, an urge to scream that seemed to draw strength from whatever was coursing through her and before she could stop it, she was shouting.
With a fury unlike anything she had ever felt, the word came out and caused Trygve to stagger back. Behind her she could hear the guards chattering and cheering as Lydia approached her.
“Elspeth,” she said, almost breathlessly, clapping her hands together at her chest.
But Elspeth could only glare. She was even more frightened now, and confused. “What is going on?” she screamed. “What did he do to me?”
“He didn’t do anything. He was just healing you.” Lydia explained as she put her hand out to touch her and pull her close. “You absorbed the dragon’s soul. Elspeth, I think you’re Dragonborn.”
“Dragonborn? Like…” her voice trailed off as she recalled the stories of the Dragonborn that Runa had told her when she was young. She looked around at the guards who were gawking at her.
“I can’t believe it,” said Pedr. “You’re Dragonborn. You stole his power. Just like the dragon slayers in the old legends. That’s what you did right? You took his soul?”
“What’s dragonborn?” asked Gregar before Elspeth could respond. By now everyone had gathered, crowding her, and adding to the anxiety raging in her gut.
“My grandfather told stories of the Dragonborn,” said Bejla. “Those born with the Dragon Blood like old Tiber Septim himself.”
“I never heard of Tiber Septim killing any dragons and stealing its power,” protested Gregar.
“There weren’t any dragons then you idiot. They’re just coming back now for the first time in…forever.” Pedr clearly was irritated by the apparent ignorance of his fellow guards. “You’ve been awfully quiet Irileth. What do you make of all this?”
Irileth frowned as she looked over the cluster of guards around Elspeth. “I see a dead dragon. Now we know that we can kill them. Someone who can put down a dragon is enough for me.” She nodded an appreciative, yet stern, gesture toward Elspeth. “I think you would all do better to trust in the strength of your sword arm than wet yourselves over legends and tales.”
“You wouldn’t understand, you ain’t a Nord,” said Pedr.
“I’m not a Nord,” said Elspeth, trying desperately to diffuse her angst.
“No!” he agreed. “But you’re Dragonborn.” He and the guards stared at Elspeth for a bit longer before Irileth commanded them back to Whiterun.
“We should probably get back and talk to Balgruuf,” said Lydia, as Elspeth nodded in agreement. They looked around and found Trygve who had wandered away from the group and was inspecting the dragon’s carcass.
“What are you doing?” asked Elspeth as she gathered her sword from the pile of dragon bones.
“Collecting bones and scales,” he said, excitedly. “I’m going to study their properties. I bet I can make a poison that will disintegrate—”
“Let’s go!” called Lydia who was eager to present the newly dragon-ensouled Elsepth to Balgruuf and not at all interested in Trygve’s alchemy pursuits.
As they turned back toward the city, Elspeth reached out and grabbed Trygve’s elbow. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I shouldn’t have yelled at you.”
“Oh,” he replied. “You didn’t yell at me. That was a shout, called a Th’uum.” He wasn’t being condescending, he was simply matter-of-fact, which was somehow more annoying.
“All right then,” she said slowly. “I am sorry I th’uumed at you.”
“Come on!” said Lydia impatiently.
As they walked along the tundra, Elspeth recalled smashing her ankle when she jumped from the dragon—but she felt nothing at all in her leg or in her head for that matter. Ther was no trace of discomfort or any remaining sensation. This was not a result of a potion; even her own healing spells were not so seamless. Had Trygve done that? She looked back at him as he staggered along—his arms laden with dragon bones and scales—and simply shook her head. When they arrived at the stables, Skulvar and Jervar greeted them, as well as several more guards who looked upon Elspeth with wonder and trepidation. She didn’t like it.
Up by Breezehome, Onmund was waiting and when he saw the group enter, he ran up and took Elspeth in his arms, lifting her off the ground. “Is it true?” he asked. “Did you take the dragon’s soul? Are you Dragonborn?”
Elspeth gripped him tightly; hearing him say it brought the reality of what was happening into sharp focus. If she was nervous before, she was terrified now. “I don’t know,” she replied, trembling a bit now. “I knocked my head. Then I felt something. Then I shouted and Trygve said it was a Th’uum and….” When she looked back up, she saw that his face was filled with reverence. Somehow, the amazement in his eyes was even more unsettling that what she felt as citizens looked on.
“We need to go to Dragonsreach,” she said, as he nodded in agreement.
“I’ll wait for you at home,” he said. His veneration had given way to his normal look of affection and she relaxed in his arms. “You’ll be hungry. I get some—” Suddenly, he was interrupted by a crack of thunder so loud, it sent a shudder all throughout Whiterun.
The call was powerful and left the group that had gathered outside of Breezehome stunned and speechless.
It was Trygve who broke silence. “The Greybeards!” he exclaimed. “They’re summoning you. We need to see the Jarl.”
Elspeth knew about the Dragonborn, but had only heard the Greybeards mentioned in passing. They were important, but beyond that she was unaware. She drew herself closer to Onmund.
“Go,” he whispered. “I’ll be waiting for you.” He turned her gently out of his arms toward Trygve and Lydia, who flanked her as they made their way through the city. People turned their attention and she ignored their whispers and stares, trying desperately not to let the enormity of what was happening cripple her.
Things were no different in Dragonsreach. The guards, the servants, even Balgruuf’s children—who could otherwise never be bothered to settle down for any reason—stopped and stared as Elspeth walked by. Up by the Throne, Hrongar stepped forward to greet them, his eyes practically sparkling as he regarded Elspeth.
“We were just talking about you,” he said. “My brother needs a word with you.”
She looked up at Balgruuf who was leaning back in his throne, his face lit up by the biggest smile she’d ever seen on the Jarl. “Irileth tells me you slayed that dragon. But word amongst the guards is that you absorbed its power. Is this true?”
“Apparently,” she replied. “I felt something, the dragon’s soul…or power, I guess. And then I shouted.”
“Dragonborn,” he exclaimed as he clapped his hands in front of his face. “And the Greybeards are summoning you.”
“This hasn’t happened in centuries,” said Hrongar. “Not since Tiber Septim himself was summoned when he was still Talos of Atmora.”
“Hrongar, calm yourself!” The Jarl’s steward was interjecting. “What does all this Nord nonsense have to do with Elspeth? I see no evidence of—”
“Nord nonsense!” exclaimed Hrongar. “Why you puffed up, ignorant…these are our sacred traditions that go all the way back to the founding of the first empire!”
“Oh Hrongar, go easy on him,” said Balgruuf. “Proventus, bring me the Axe of Whiterun.” The steward left and the group looked around at each other, a bit bewildered. When he returned, Balgruuf stood and held the axe out to her. “You’ve done a great service for me and my city, Elspeth. This is the Axe of Whiterun. By my rights as Jarl, I name you Thane of Whiterun. It’s the greatest honor that’s within my power to grant.”
There was an audible gasp as she accepted the axe. Balgruuf didn’t appoint Thanes. It was truly an honor. The natural way that Balgruuf regarded Elspeth eased her nervousness somewhat. His admiration seemed less awe-struck and more respectful. Or perhaps she was just tired.
“I’ll alert the guards of your new title, of course. Wouldn’t want you to think you’re part of the common rabble, now would we?”
“I like the common rabble,” she replied.
“Of course you do,” he smirked. He really enjoyed this one. “Lydia!” he said, as he rubbed his chin. “You are now officially Elspeth’s housecarl. I’m pleased to welcome you back.”
“Of course my lord,” she said; she was practically bouncing on her heels. There was no one in Dragonsreach more excited at this turn of events than she was at that moment.
Balgruuf leaned back and smiled warmly, obviously happy to have Lydia back in his court and with his decision to make Elspeth his Thane. His eyes scanned the room and stopped at Trygve. “And who is this?” he asked.
“Jarl Balgruff.” Tryve’s voice was firm, yet deferential, as he approached the throne. “I am Trygve Wartooth of Riften, Son of Birkir, Thane to Jarl Laila Lawgiver, and protector of the dragonborn.”
Balgruuf narrowed his eyes at Trygve and pursed his lips. “Just your name would have sufficed,” he said.
“He’s also Toki’s cousin,” Elspeth interjected.
“See, now that’s important.” Balgruuf smiled knowingly at Elspeth.
Trygve was beginning to understand why Lydia approached her duties so casually. But when he looked over at her, he noted that she was standing attentively, all traces of her typical informality were gone. Instead, it seemed, Balgruuf and Elspeth had their own rapport.
Balgruuf cleared his throat and recovered a more formal demeanor as he addressed them again. “Pardon me, Trygve Wartooth, Thane of the Rift. Your commitment to the Dragonborn is commendable and you are, of course, welcome to avail yourself of my court’s resources.”
“My Lord,” said Proventus suddenly. “Won’t Jarl Laila be rather upset that you’ve appropriated a member of her court for your own?”
“She’ll forgive me,” replied Balgruuf and after a brief pause, continued. “She always does.”
“Next time she has an itch she can’t scratch,” muttered Hrongar, shocking Trygve who looked back at him, absolutely appalled. No one else was surprised.
“When will you leave for High Hrothgar?” asked Balgruuf, ignoring his brother.
Elspeth looked down at her cuirass, which was covered with rips and tears from where the dragon’s scales had torn into it. “I’ve got to return this armor to Adrienne to fix,” she explained. “In a couple of days, I suppose. Unless there is something you need?”
“No,” he said as he leaned back in his throne. “You should not waste any time. It’s a great honor to be summoned. I envy you, you know. To climb the 7,000 steps again. I made the pilgrimage once; did you know that?”
Elspeth wondered how on Nirn she would possibly know something like that that but before she could say something inappropriate to that effect, Balgruuf continued. “High Hrothgar is a very peaceful place…very disconnected from the troubles of this world. I sometimes wonder if the Greybeards even notice what’s going on down here. The Stormcloaks. The Thalmor. They haven’t seemed to care before.” He sighed. “But…do not concern yourself with that. Go to High Hrothgar. Learn what the Greybeards can teach you.”
She nodded appreciatively but before she could respond, Trygve spoke up again. “Excuse me my lord, but when queries arrive from the other holds seeking information about what happened today, I would advise leaving out identifying information as you respond. We can’t risk the Thalmor apprehending the Dragonborn.”
“But what would the Thalmor want with the Dragonborn?” asked Proventus. “Surely, they have other, more pressing concerns than this ancient Nord…tradition.” He was careful not to let his voice indicate any disrespect.
Trygve turned sharply and glowered at the steward. “Those said to be Dragonborn,” he began, “were chosen and blessed by Akatosh himself, endowed with dragon blood. Tiber Septim was Dragonborn. The arrival of a Dragonborn now, someone perhaps chosen by Akatosh could lend credibility—albeit indirectly—to the divinity of Talos, which would undermine the very foundation of the Concordat.”
“I could do that?” Elspeth asked, her nervousness giving way to some excitement.
“Don’t get your hopes up,” Trygve replied firmly. “All I am saying is that it might be prudent not to draw too much attention to our tiny Breton here.”
Balgruuf looked askance at the peculiar Nord in front of him before nodding his head approvingly. The boy was a thinker and he had to respect that. “Thank you, Trygve. I appreciate your…attentiveness to the seriousness of this matter.”
Elspeth felt a wave of exhaustion wash over her. “I need to go to bed,” she said abruptly, gesturing to Lydia.
“As you wish my Thane,” said Lydia, grinning as she put her arm around Elspeth and led her away from the throne. Trygve nodded farewell to the rest of the court and trotted along behind the women.
Balgruuf stood as the group left, his eyes not leaving until they exited Dragonsreach.
“She’s cute, no?” asked Hrongar.
“Yes, she’s adorable,” replied Balgruuf facetiously. “I want to put her in my pocket and feed her taffy treats.” He turned and rolled his eyes at his brother. “Proventus!” he said suddenly. “Our Dragonborn requires better armor. Summon Eorland Grey Mane first thing tomorrow morning.” Proventus paused—his daughter Adrienne generally handled most of the court’s needs, outfitting the guard and such. “It’s not personal,” said Balgruuf sensing his unease. “Skyforge is legendary, much like the Dragonborn.”
Back in Breezehome, Onmund had laid out leftover stew and mead. The group chatted briefly about Elspeth’s new title and their plans to leave for High Hrothgar and then ate silently as the evening’s battle caught up with them and its subsequent aches and pains settled in.
“Trygve,” said Elspeth suddenly. “Are you a mage?”
“No,” he said.
“The healing spells you cast were masterful,” she said. “I can’t feel anything, not even where I hit my head.”
“And you cast wards,” said Lydia.
“I was trained in Riften,” he explained, pushing the last of his stew around the bowl with a crust of bread. “I have a lot of respect for the restoration school. Skyrim could use more healers. Wards were fairly easy to pick up after I mastered the healing spells. But I am not a mage,” he said derisively.
Lydia looked over at Onmund but he appeared not to notice or care about Trygve’s reaction to the mage question. He was focused on Elspeth, refilling her tankard and making certain that she had enough to eat. All of Skyrim seemed to go away when they were together. It warmed her heart, but also made her sad. Hrongar would be over tonight—likely for the last time. She nodded good-night as they cleaned up their dishes and went to bed. Trygve retired as well and when she was alone at the table, Lydia put her head in her arms and waited.
Upstairs, Onmund was busy tidying the room and inspecting the tears in her armor as Elspeth got into bed. He was a bit restless still, but followed her under the covers and wrapped his arms around her as she put her head on his chest.
“How do you feel?” he asked, his voice betrayed both genuine concern but also some enthusiasm. The Dragonborn was a legend and he was holding her in his arms.
“Spent,” she replied. “I think I’m past feelings.” She could sense his agitation and looked up at him. “You’re really excited about this, aren’t you?”
“Oh, I’m just thinking about the letter I am going to write to my parents this year.” He squeezed her tightly and kissed her head. “Dear Ma and Da…” He was almost giddy as he began his speech. “This letter is to let you know that I am still alive and still a mage. I’m living in Whiterun now, working a forge. Also, I’m bedding the dragonborn. I guess I’m not such a bad Nord after all, eh. Sincerely, your loving son Onmund.”
She giggled as she rolled away from him but her anxiety was only momentarily abated. She stared up at the ceiling and her face darkened again. “This is really happening,” she said.
Onmund leaned up on his elbow and pulled her close again. “Is this your mentor’s vision? It’s not the Psijic Order, then?”
“Well the Psijics never seemed to fit the vision; they—” She stopped. She had never considered that the Psijic order was related to Xeri’s vision. They were mages and that association was with her mother. The vision involved her father, although Xeri could never say how it involved him. Thinking of Bedyn, she suddenly recalled something he told her about the Blades, how before they were protectors of the Septim Emperors, they were the original dragon slayers. She shuddered. My gods, she thought. This was the vision. She turned back to Onmund. Could she tell him?
“I think it is. The vision was associated with my father.” She stopped and swallowed hard against the anxiety in her throat. She was treading very close to things she wasn’t supposed to reveal.
“What does your father have to do with the dragonborn?” Onmund asked.
“He was a blade,” she said. “A long time ago.”
“I see…and the blades were the dragon slayers.” Onmund’s curiosity was sated and he was excited again. “It makes perfect sense. This is what you’ve been working toward.”
She nodded her head and as another wave of anxiety over took her, she moved back into Onmund’s arms. “What am I supposed to do? I don’t even know what it means. Just that it’s huge.” She bit her lip, uncertain if she wanted to continue in this vein. “I’m nervous,” she admitted finally.
“You’re not nervous,” protested Onmund. “You’re terrified.” He moved her hair out of her face. “Don’t overwhelm yourself with what you’re supposed to do just yet. The Greybeards will guide you. They’re the next step.” Elspeth nodded and Onmund continued to talk. “My father sent me to High Hrothgar when I was seventeen. He hoped meditating and learning about The Voice would be satisfy my desire to study magic.”
“You’ve been to High Hrothgar?” Elspeth was surprised. “You never told me that.”
“Oh, I didn’t make it.” He laughed softly. “I spent a week in Helgen drinking juniper berry mead and kissing a beautiful young Imperial girl named Prisca.”
“You never told me about her. Was she your first love?”
“No,” he replied. “She was sweet. But it was never meant to be. However, she was the one who convinced me not to give up on magic. So, I went home and told my parents that I would be attending the College and there was nothing to they could do to stop me.” He sighed. “I do regret not making the pilgrimage—it seems like something I should have done.”
Elspeth sat up suddenly. “Do you want to come with us?” she asked.
Onmund looked at her and pursed his lips, not quite certain how he should respond. “I thought four was too many,” he said after several moments.
“Oh don’t worry about that; I’m fairly certain that Lydia’s going to push Trygve down the mountain.” She smiled weakly. “But, if you want to, you can come.”
“And do something that would make my father proud?” he asked. “No. But…do you want me to?” He looked at her intently. On this matter, her face was impossible to read. “Tell me,” he said. “Don’t make me guess. I’ll guess wrong.”
She breathed in deeply and thought about this. Onmund would be good company but she liked having him in Whiterun. Knowing he was there, working the forge, teaching Lars magic—she felt like she could see something beyond her next task. Before this, there was never a future past the nebulous thing Xeri called destiny. Now, there was. But it scared her to admit this and she didn’t know what to say. “I like having you here,” she said finally. “It feels….” She paused and bit her lip. “I feel…sort of grounded with you here. At the College I was anxious all the time and I don’t feel like that with you here. And I think you should stay and keep Lars out of trouble. But if you really want to—”
He interrupted her nervous explanation with a long kiss. “I’m happy to stay,” he said. She nodded and they snuggled down into the blankets to sleep. As they dozed off they heard the door open and heavy boots stepping across the floor.
“Hrongar,” whispered Elspeth. “I wonder how that will go.”
Lydia normally waited in bed for Hrongar so he was surprised to see her sitting at the table when he arrived. And then he wasn’t. He recalled her enthusiasm when her duty as Elspeth’s housecarl was announced. There was nothing to indicate any conflict in her mind. Or her heart. She was duty bound and driven and she always had been. If it hadn’t been Balgruuf, it would have been the Companions or the Legion or, he shuddered to think, the Stormcloaks.
She didn’t look up until he sat across from her. Her face was weary. Weary and sad; and she looked absolutely beautiful. “Well,” he said. “You’re back in my brother’s court. I hope you’re happy.”
His tone wasn’t harsh, but his words cut into Lydia’s heart anyway. “I never intended to leave the court. You know that,” she replied, her voice trembling.
Hrongar nodded and looked down as he traced the cracks in the wood table with his finger. He had to take the lead on this. They had been getting along so well since she’d returned from Riften. But as she accepted her place back in Balgruuf’s court today he realized that Lydia would play this game indefinitely. And, despite the immense amount of affection between them, it was a game. That much became clear as they implicated others in their secret, Elspeth, Onmund, Trygve. He was sick of it, sick of the rules, sick of the way they acted around other people. He wanted to walk to House Battle Born with Lydia on his arm and greet her with kisses under the Gildergreen.
“I love you Lydia,” he said sadly. “I’ve loved you for so long, but I can’t keep doing this.”
“I know,” she whispered as tears ran down her cheeks. “I’m sorry.” And that’s all she had to say. She knew this day would come but she always thought there would be more…more pleading or wailing…on both sides. But there was none of that. There was simply a painful silence and one less secret to keep.
Hrongar pursed his lips. He expected something else; he wanted something else. He wanted to know that he was still important. But as he looked around the house, at all the clutter–all the new things that had accumulated in the last several months without him, he realized he wasn’t. Had he ever been?
“Travel safely,” he said quietly, swallowing against the raw, dry ache in his throat. With that he left Breezehome. This time, he didn’t stop in the threshold to check if the road was clear before exiting. It didn’t matter anymore.