Elspeth lowered her eyes to her plate and tried not to stare as Trygve entered and walked across the common space of the Sleeping Giant Inn. At the counter he requested the attic room and was directed instead to the one on the left. After several moments, the proprietor—a short, blond, serious looking Breton—followed and then led him to the room directly across, where they disappeared together.
“She looks familiar,” said Lydia. She looked back toward the front of the Inn for a few moments longer before tilting her head and finishing the last swig of mead in her tankard.
Elspeth nodded in agreement and looked around some more. “Let’s go home,” she said after several moments. “Trygve can be the Dragonborn.”
Lydia snickered. “You’d like that wouldn’t you?” She looked at Elspeth intently and sighed. “I’m sorry we didn’t stop in Whiterun overnight. You must miss Onmund terribly.”
“I do.” She looked wistful for a moment. “But Trygve is probably correct. We need to finish this business with the horn first.” She paused and pushed her hair behind her ears. “Don’t tell him I said that.”
“I won’t,” she said as she looked toward the bar to see if Trygve had returned. When she saw that he hadn’t, she turned back to Elspeth to prod her on the Dragonborn issue. “How are you doing? With the whole Dragonborn thing? I’m sorry I haven’t been all that attentive.”
Elspeth had noticed. The silence between them, those first days leaving Whiterun and then after High Hrothgar had stirred up intense feelings of loneliness, akin to those felt after Xeri threw her back into training after the Purge. Back then, however, she had only whatever task Xeri concocted and the loneliness was borne from actually being alone. Now, it was different. But she didn’t want Lydia to feel bad about that. “You don’t have to apologize,” she said as she sat back in her chair and pulled her foot up to rest on the bench in front of her. “It’s overwhelming so I’ve been trying to focus on the tasks.”
“Maybe that’s all you can do right now,” Lydia leaned forward on her elbow and poked at the food in her bowl with her spoon.
“How are you doing?” On this Lydia was becoming impossible to read. At first she was so obviously distraught and lately, she seemed a bit calmer but was still distant.
“You know, sometimes I have these amazing flashes of confidence and strength and I know it’s for the best.” Lydia dropped her head and let out a deep breath. “But most of the time I pray to the Nine that Balgruuf sent him to Solstheim or Cyrodiil or even The Reach, so I don’t have to think about who he’s using to distract himself from his heartache.” Her voice betrayed the chill that clutched in one’s chest when those thoughts emerged.
“I’m sorry,” said Elspeth. She knew how sharply that pain cut and hearing it in her friend’s voice made her feel terrible. Lydia nodded and smiled weakly as she turned back to her stew.
They procured more mead and a plate of freshly baked apple dumplings and sat quietly for close to an hour before Trygve emerged from the room into which he had retreated with the other Breton. He gestured toward the table where Lydia and Elspeth were sitting and the woman looked back at them skeptically. After several moments, Tryvge ordered some mead from Orgnar and strode over to the table. He was grinning as he sat down, though he still scanned the room cautiously before lowering his head to speak.
“She gave me this,” he began as he placed a horn on the table in front of them. “Her name is Delphine and she has amassed an incredible amount of information on the dragons and the Dragonborn. She believes that the dragons are being resurrected from various burial mounds around Skyrim.” Trygve looked at Elspeth whose face had darkened at hearing this, but continued on. “Apparently she’s been working Balgruuf’s court wizard on this.” He didn’t say as much, but Trygve seemed impressed by this woman.
“That’s right!” said Lydia suddenly. “She was the one talking to Farengar when we delivered the dragonstone.” Elspeth nodded in agreement before turning her attention back to Trygve.
“She’s used that stone to figure out where the dragons are buried. She thinks the next one to be resurrected will be in Kynsegrove, in a couple of days.” He paused and took a long drink from his tankard. “We’re heading there tomorrow. She wants to see for herself if I’m the Dragonborn.” He looked down into his cup and smirked as if he found the very notion amusing.
“If she gave you the horn, why exactly do you…or rather, Elspeth…whoever…why do we have to prove anything to her?”
“Well, we really don’t,” Trygve seemed to agree. “But she’s gathered an impressive amount of information. She’s got a secret basement stocked with supplies—weapons, potions.” He took another drink of his mead as he looked back toward the women. “She could be a useful ally.” He smiled into his cup again. Lydia and Elspeth looked at each other. He wasn’t impressed; he was smitten.
“Okay then,” said Elspeth. “If she has information we need, I hope she’ll forgive our little ruse.”
“If she’s truly an ally, she’ll understand,” said Lydia and Trygve nodded enthusiastically.
Elspeth looked at both of them and smiled as she rounded her back and stretched her arms forward. “It’s so sweet when you two agree on something.” She yawned and looked at Lydia. “I’m going to bed. Are you going to stay up?” Lydia shook her head as she popped the last bit of her apple dumpling in her mouth and washed it down with the rest of her mead before waving Trygve good night and following Elspeth to the room they’d rented.
The ride to Kynsgrove was difficult. Despite the cold, the day was clear and sunny—likely one of the last before winter. Bandits and other nomads, as well as animals preparing for their seasonal torpor, were out in abundance—lots of mean creatures trying to shore up their supplies before the storms would cover the rest of Skyrim in blankets of snow and sheets of ice.
As they rode along, stopping to fend off bandits and bears, Elspeth observed Trygve and Delphine together. Delphine seemed utterly captivated by Trygve. When they fought, she admired his form. And when they talked, she hung on every word. Elspeth began to feel that she and Lydia were intruding on something though she wasn’t sure exactly what.
“Do you think it’s the Dragonborn she wants all to herself or just Trygve?” Lydia’s whispered and her face contorted a bit at this thought as Elspeth giggled and observed them some more. They were well matched, stern and serious, agreeing on just about everything and conceding each other’s points when they didn’t. However, there was no flirtation between them, nothing that would otherwise precede intimacy or affection. It was all business: tactics and strategy, combat styles and weapons.
Delphine also happened to be a skilled swordsman, wielding two blades at once. Try as she might, Elspeth couldn’t help but be impressed. The longer of her two blades seemed familiar, but when she asked to take a closer look, Delphine sheathed it quickly and told her to mind her own business.
“Four is too many,” Elspeth muttered to herself as Delphine turned back to Trygve, resuming a previous discussion regarding his extensive scouting experience and the various holds whose landmarks and locations he had mapped.
It was late afternoon when they arrived two days later. As they neared Kynesgrove, Delphine pointed toward a clearing up the road where they would spend the night. Elspeth scowled as she dismounted Pickles. She was tired of camping. But she refused to be shown up by the humorless Breton and so she stayed quiet.
“Kynsegrove has a perfectly good inn. Why don’t we just stay there?” Lydia protested. She had sensed Elspeth’s discomfort.
“I know how nosy and suspicious these small town Nords can be,” Delphine replied sternly. “Especially the inn-keepers.”
“But Elspeth really needs a bath.” Lydia was insistent and Elspeth was somewhat embarrassed, though she soon recovered when she realized how wonderful a bath would be at that point.
“It’s true,” she said. “I stink. Though not as bad as Trygve.”
“You know,” said Delphine, her irritation was obvious, “neither of you really need to be here.”
Lydia took a deep breath and coughed into her closed fist as if she were disguising a laugh. Elspeth cocked her head and looked at Trygve who had been doing his best to ignore their bickering as he walked along. “Have you seen a dragon, Delphine? Up close?” he asked without looking over.
“Well…no.” Delphine crossed her arms and glowered as she looked away from the others.
Trygve grunted and shook his head as he replied. “Elspeth was at Helgen when the dragon attacked. And she and Lydia were both at the Western Watchtower when I took the dragon’s power. I think it would be better if they stayed.” Elspeth looked around uncomfortably as he spun this tale. It was strange to hear him say it, although part of her wished it were true.
Delphine let out a sigh. “Fine,” she said.
They stopped in the clearing, but just as Trygve began rifling through his horse’s saddlebags for supplies, they heard a familiar roaring shriek. They glanced up briefly before tying their horses and gathering their weapons. Following the direction of the screech, they ran toward Kynesgrove, where a frantic woman nearly crashed into them as they hurried up the road.
“NO!” she shouted, trying to catch her breath. “You don’t want to go up there! A dragon…it’s attacking!”
Delphine wedged herself between Trygve and the woman. “Where did you see this dragon?” she demanded.
“It flew over the town and landed on the old burial mound.” The woman barely finished talking before she picked up and started running again.
Trygve led the group as they ran up the path through town. They stopped and crouched by an outcropping of rocks, where they could see the enormous black dragon hovering over the burial mound.
“Well, look at this!” said Trygve. “Appears we got here just in the nick of time. What does that make us?”
“Big damn heroes,” said Lydia.
Delphine rolled her eyes and stepped in front of Elspeth. “Stay back. And hold your fire,” she advised as Trygve readied his bow. “We need to see what happens.”
Elspeth gasped as she craned her neck to get a better look. “I think that’s the dragon from Helgen,” she said.
“You recognize him?” Delphine asked; her eyes transfixed on the dragon.
“Yes,” Elspeth said quietly although what she felt was not really that sort of recognition. He didn’t look familiar; he felt familiar and the angst that feeling inspired might have been overwhelming, had she not been so distracted by what happened next.
“This is worse than I thought,” said Delphine. Her voice, which had been so stern and so confident, was now filled with dread.
Sahloknir! Ziil gro dovah ulse! Slen Tiid Vo!
The black dragon was shouting toward the ground, and his voice was so strong that it sent powerful vibrations through the air. Elspeth strained to understand as she had with the words she’d learned from the greybeards and the word walls, but she could not translate. That was off little consequence, however. Soon, the effects of his shouts became apparent. From the burial mound, a dragon was being resurrected—its skeletal form emerging, almost limping from the ground. Its bones lit up with a spectacular, fiery glow as dark skin and scales formed around its enormous frame. Then it began to speak.
Alduin, thuri! Boaan tiid vokriiha suleyksejun kruziik?
“Alduin!” exclaimed Trygve. “Did he just say Alduin?” He looked around at the women, all astonished and ignoring him, until Elspeth broke her stare.
“I think we’ve seen enough,” she said as she nudged Trygve. “Lydia and I will take the new one. You and Delphine get the big one.”
Trygve nodded, but it was too late. After the black Dragon shouted some more incomprehensible words, he flew up and out of eyeshot and only the newly resurrected dragon remained.
“So much for that plan,” grunted Elspeth.
“Lydia, you draw his fire while Elspeth and I get him to land,” said Trygve gesturing to her shield. “Delphine, stay with Lydia and rush in when he’s down. Everyone got it?” He took a quick glance at them before nocking his bow. “GO!” He shouted and Lydia and Delphine ran, drawing the dragon’s attention away.
Elspeth alternated between powerful chain-lightening and frost spells while Trygve nailed him with poison dipped arrows. She tried to keep an eye out, but within moments she lost Lydia and Delphine behind the dragon’s spray of fire. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the dragon appeared to be weakening and she and Trygve ran closer. Trygve aimed for the dragon’s underbelly, and Elspeth drew her sword to prepare to join Delphine.
She was just beneath the dragon’s wing as he came crashing down and Elspeth hacked away, slicing through his legs and tail. When Lydia and Delphine approached, the dragon lowered his neck, spewing fire. Delphine jumped, just barely out of reach of his snapping jaws. She readied her blades, but the dragon lurched and knocked her clear across the ground.
Elspeth, who was crouched next to the dragon’s legs, knew she had but seconds as he brought his head down. She sprinted forward with her blade drawn, as she sliced the dragon’s neck open and jammed her sword into his jowl. The dragon made a terrifying gurgling noise as he tried to roar one last time. Blood poured out of the gaping tear in its maw and onto her head and shoulders before he finally flopped down. Elspeth put her foot on the dragon’s face and pulled her sword out before wiping her face and wandering over to where Delphine had tumbled.
Trygve was helping Delphine to her feet and Lydia came around from behind the dragon’s corpse. There was a brief silence as they waited. Delphine turned back to look at Trygve, but he shook his head and gestured toward Elspeth. And as it had happened before, the dragon’s corpse lit up. Delphine ducked back but soon she realized the glowing embers of the dragon’s bones and skin were not hot enough to burn.
Within moments, Elspeth felt it again—the overwhelming sensation that that penetrated her very core before flowing through every vein and along every nerve, and finally sending a shudder through her bones. It was more familiar this time and yet somehow no less strange. She wondered if how many times this would happen before it would feel normal. Perhaps it wouldn’t. Perhaps each soul, each dragon’s center of power was unique and would feel different every time.
She was pondering this as Delphine approached her with her hand out but Elspeth stepped away. “You tricked me,” she said as she pulled her hand back; her tone was firm but not accusatory.
“We deceived you,” said Lydia. “Trick makes it sound like we have a playful relationship.” She grinned and winked at Elspeth.
“It was smart. I’ll give you that,” said Delphine. “I suppose you have questions for me.”
Elspeth shifted her gaze along the ground until she saw what she was looking for. She stepped forward and picked up Delphine’s long sword from where she dropped it. Her father had one just like it. And on their many trips to the ruins of Cloud Ruler Temple, she and Xeri had recovered broken hilts and shards bearing the same design.
“You’re a Blade,” she said as she ran her fingers along the design on the hilt and down the flat side, trying not to reveal the sudden urge of excitement she felt. For a moment, there was nothing in the world she wanted more than to confide in this woman, someone who had very likely known her father. But there was a distinct tension in her gut. She had so many questions, the first being, could she trust her?
“How did you know that?” asked Delphine; her curiosity was piqued and her attention was now fully focused on Elspeth.
“This is an Akavriri design, is it not?” she replied as she turned the hilt toward Delphine and handed it over.
Delphine nodded. “And what do you know of the Blades?” she asked, as she took her sword and sheathed it. She was pleased though her tone betrayed some hesitation.
Elspeth swallowed against the nervous tension rising in her throat. If the vision involved her father, then it made sense that she would find her way to the Blades. But she was uncertain how much she should reveal. She quickly glanced up at Lydia whose scowl betrayed nothing new. She did not like Delphine and that she was a Blade did little to change that. Trygve had sidled up next to Lydia and Elspeth was shocked to see him shaking his head and frowning as if to say, “Don’t even think about it.”
“I trained with the fighter’s guild in Bruma,” she said suddenly. “Our captain brought us to the ruins of Cloud Ruler Temple and told us about the history of the Blades.” Her voice trembled and her tone seemed unconvincing, but Delphine simply nodded.
“So then you must know that the Blades were dragonslayers, and we served the Dragonborn, the greatest dragonslayer.” Elspeth nodded, but didn’t say anything as Delphine continued. “For the last two hundred years, we’ve been searching for the next Dragonborn to guide and guard, as we are sworn to do. But we never found one. Until now.”
“Who is we,” asked Elspeth. “Are there more of you?”
“Not that I know of,” she replied sadly. “The Thalmor saw to that, during and after the war.” There was a brief, somewhat awkward silence before Delphine cleared her throat and drew her arms across her chest. “All right, we need to plan our next move.”
“I’m taking a bath,” said Elspeth adamantly. “I have dragon’s blood drying in my ears. After that I get a warm meal and a dry bed.”
“Not that next move,” said Delphine. She turned to Trygve. “You heard the name Alduin.”
Trygve nodded as Delphine put her hands over her face and shook her head. “This is so much worse than I anticipated. But first, we need to find out who is behind this. I have a feeling it might be the Thalmor, but I’ll need to get proof.”
“How are you going to do that?” asked Lydia.
“I’m not sure just yet,” said Delphine.
“That dragon wasn’t conjured like a dead thrall,” said Elspeth. “It was brought back to life. We should talk to Phinis, maybe Urag. They’re at the College.” Elspeth bit her lip and tried to think of something else. She had a sudden need to impress Delphine, to show her that she was capable of something beyond the fighting.
Delphine grimaced. “Nobody trusts those mages, way up north in their college. Gods only know what they do up there.”
“Here we go.” Lydia rolled her eyes and shook her at head this. And even Trygve, who, like many Nords was wary of magic and most mages, smacked forehead with his palm, dreading Elspeth’s reaction.
Elspeth was shocked. She might have expected such a sentiment from a Nord, but coming from a Breton, it was simply baffling. “I am a member of the College of Winterhold,” she said defensively.
“Then you can go talk to the mages.” Delphine was unmoved by Elspeth’s affiliation. “It’s getting late. I’m going to sleep for a bit and head back to Riverwood, check my notes, and try to find a way to investigate a possible connection to the Thalmor.”
“We’ve got to bring the horn back,” Elspeth replied. “Then we’ll stop in Whiterun and then head to the College.” Her fingers got tangled in a blood caked chunk of her hair as she tried to push it out of her face. She frowned and continued, “You can send messages to Dragonsreach or the College.”
Delphine paused and looked at Trygve, “Are you coming back to camp?” It was clear she was directing the question to him and him alone. But if she was flirting, there was no way to tell. Her tone was nothing other than professional.
“I’m going to stay with the Dragonborn at the Inn,” he said. “But I will be down there presently, when I retrieve our belongings.”
“Very well,” said Delphine, nodding good-bye to the group as she turned and walked back toward Kynesgrove.
When she was out of earshot, Lydia narrowed her eyes at Trygve. “You don’t think we can trust her either.”
Trygve narrowed his eyes at her. “Absolutely not,” he said sharply.
“You seem to like her,” said Lydia, somewhat teasingly.
“I don’t trust everyone I like,” he said. “Just as I don’t like everyone I trust.” He raised his eyebrows and smirked at Lydia, while she glared at him. “Anyway, all she needs to know right now is that Elspeth is the Dragonborn. She doesn’t need to know that Elspeth’s father was a Blade.”
“All right! Now that we are all in agreement, can we please go to the inn now?” Elspeth was pleading. “The blood has fused the top of my armor to the back of my neck.”
Lydia and Trygve turned and looked at Elspeth, the Dragonborn of legend. She looked so painfully un-heroic, all covered in blood and sweat and dirt, that they chuckled as they turned and left the burial mound and the dragon’s corpse.
On their way to town, Elspeth thought about how often she would find herself in the middle of Skyrim covered in dragon’s blood. To date, they were two dragons down. How many to go, she wondered.