Trygve’s mood started to sour in Dragon Bridge and grew increasingly worse as they approached Solitude. Not that he was especially cheerful when they left Whiterun. He was back in Breezehome and ready to go when they woke up. Lydia attempts to elicit information about his evening were met with cursory responses. Apparently, after assuring Farkas he had no intention of inspecting the mead, he spent the evening talking with Vilkas about history, brawling with Torvar, and sparring with Athis in the training yard. If there was more, Trygve didn’t elaborate and Lydia didn’t pry.
They stopped in Four Shields Inn to avoid a storm that would have made riding through the night impossible. After ordering something to eat and turning down the rather assertive advances of the very cute Breton assisting the innkeeper, Trygve’s countenance changed from its usual solemnity to a distinct scowl. He was civil enough to the young woman, but appeared almost bitter as she looked away, causing Lydia to recoil and withhold the questions she wanted so desperately to ask. After eating together in an uncomfortable silence, Trygve decided to turn in early and advised them to do the same so they might leave before sunrise.
Lydia chuckled and shook her head, clearly exasperated but not at all surprised by Trygve’s continued reticence. Elspeth was ambivalent. On the one hand, she wasn’t particularly in the mood for discussing anyone’s love life. On the other, it would have been nice to hear Trygve speak of something other than alchemy and strategy. Their companion—who had been with them for several weeks now—was very much a stranger in so many ways.
As it turned out, however, Trygve Wartooth was no stranger to Solitude. The stable owner’s wife, Fridrika, greeted them warmly and addressed Trygve by name, lamenting that it had been so very long since she had seen him. His reply was pleasant enough but seemed somewhat strained and he continued to be apprehensive as he approached the gate. Elspeth couldn’t imagine what it was about Solitude that filled him with such angst and she was afraid to ask.
He settled down a bit inside the Winking Skeever and even smiled for the bard, Lisette, who greeted him with a warm hug and a kiss on the cheek. She sat with them for a little while and Trygve seemed happy to exchange pleasantries with her before she returned to her lute. However, after the publican asked if Trygve still took his brandy with a chaser, Lydia couldn’t stand it any more.
“Why are you so popular here?” she demanded.
Trygve regarded her oddly, as if he couldn’t decide if he was more irritated or amused by her insistent tone. Finally, he replied. “I used to spend a lot of time in Haafingar hold, hunting and scouting…among other things. I made some friends.”
He shrugged and Lydia seemed content with his answer, but Elspeth was still perplexed and she was surprised that Lydia so readily accepted his response. Friends didn’t explain his earlier apprehension, which immediately resumed when they left the inn and made their way to the Blue Palace. As they walked across town, Elspeth was so distracted by Trygve’s anxiety, she felt little of her own. Indeed, she forgot completely her previous concerns about returning to Solitude until they entered the palace and stumbled upon an Altmer wearing a dark blue robe and a hood. Elspeth’s stomach seized in terror, though within seconds she was furious with herself for confusing an Altmer in a plain mage’s robe for the Thalmor—she knew better than that.
Whatever embarrassment she might have felt, however, soon abated as she observed the obvious tension between the Mer and Trygve.
“Trygve. Hello. Goodness, I did not expect to see you here.” At first, the elf seemed friendly enough, but as he finished his greeting, his uneasiness became apparent.
“Melaran….” Trygve’s voice trailed off. “Are you the court wizard now?” The Nord made no attempt to greet the Altmer with any affability. He spoke deliberately, as if it were taking great effort to maintain his composure. Elspeth and Lydia had never seen him so ill at ease and they looked back and forth as the men spoke, observing and trying to make sense of their exchange.
“Ah no,” Melaran replied. “Actually I…well, I make sure Erikur keeps breathing.”
“A housecarl? That’s a bit…unexpected. For you.” He furrowed his brow and then immediately pursed his lips as if he were struggling to contain his irritation.
“Working for Erikur may be below my stature, but the compensation is… acceptable.” The elf looked around uncomfortably, now avoiding eye contact with Trygve.
“Indeed, I am sure it is,” Trygve’s voice had flattened completely and his tone was cold. “Well then,” he continued, “my associates and I have business with the steward so if you will kindly excuse us.” He nodded curtly and walked past before the elf could respond.
Melaran simply turned and watched Trygve walk briskly up the stairs to the throne room, his face full of regret. He let out a deep breath and was startled when he turned and saw the women staring at him, their mouths slightly agape. He didn’t say anything; however, he simply glowered as he pushed his way past them and out the door.
“Well,” said Lydia. “I was not expecting that.”
Elspeth simply shook her head as they walked up the steps where they found Trygve speaking with Falk Firebeard, who looked over cautiously as she and Lydia approached.
“Thank you for coming Elspeth. I was wary of putting all the details in print but we’ve had some disturbing occurrences since the last time you were here.” He led them to the side of the throne room, out of earshot of citizens who were gathered around, and he lowered his voice as he relayed his information. “You must speak with Styrr at the Hall of the Dead at once. It seems that when you broke the binding, Potema was not destroyed. She escaped.” Elspeth’s eyes widened at this, but she remained calm and simply nodded as Falk delivered his directive. When he finished speaking, he narrowed his gaze a bit—as if he wanted to inquire about something. He didn’t say anything, however. He simply gestured politely and they as walked back downstairs and out of the Palace.
Styrr, the elderly Nord priest who tended Solitude’s Hall of the Dead, appeared as if he hadn’t slept in weeks and to suggest he was pleased to see Elspeth and her companions was an understatement.
“Thank gods, you’re here,” he said, breathlessly. “We’ve been fighting off Potema’s minions. It’s only a matter of time before she transforms from her ethereal, spirit form to a corporeal one.”
He was so weary and scared, Elspeth had no idea how to reassure him—or if she should bother. “Just tell us what we need to do,” she said finally.
“I’m not even sure how it happened. Breaking the binding should have been enough,” he said. He paused for a moment and looked at Elspeth and Lydia. “Did anything unusual happen when you were in the cave?”
“You mean…apart from the attempted resurrection of the Wolf Queen Potema?” asked Lydia quizzically.
“Yes,” he replied. “I mean—Elspeth, Falk Firebeard said that you are a mage associated with the college. Was there anything that seemed different about this particular ritual?”
Elspeth thought for a moment. She didn’t know that much about conjuration magic and necromancy beyond the basics. However, as she started to shake her head she suddenly remembered something from the ritual. “My blood,” she said. “I bled on the seal and it hardened. At the time I really didn’t think anything….” Elspeth voiced trailed off as she looked at the priest whose eyes had widened in terror.
The priest hurried over to his desk and began rifling through books and papers. Finally, he let out a deep breath and looked back toward the others. “She’s waiting for you. I…I don’t know why exactly, or how to explain it. Surely, you weren’t the only one who bled that day.”
It was uncomfortably quiet for several moments with Styrr simply staring at Elspeth, looking equally horrified and confused. It was Trygve who finally broke the silence.
“Elspeth is Dragonborn.”
At this revelation the Styrr confusion faded, but his terror remained. “You need to go,” he said. “And you need to go alone.”
“What! Why?” exclaimed Lydia as Trygve moved toward the priest’s desk and started looking through his notes.
“This isn’t just a dead thrall,” he explained. “Should she succeed, she would have a legitimate claim to the throne. And if Elspeth is Dragonborn she might feel a certain affinity with her.” It was clear from Styrr’s tone that he was not certain about this. He turned to Elspeth and continued. “I don’t think she will kill you…at least, not right away.”
“Well that’s reassuring,” said Trygve sardonically.
“You don’t think…wait…do you want me to try to talk her out of resurrecting the Septim dynasty?” Elspeth was incredulous at the notion.
“No,” the priest said dryly. “But you may be able to get close enough to defeat her. We’ve lost guard after guard and we’re running out of men we can send in there. “
“All right,” she agreed. Styrr gave her a set of keys to Potema’s catacombs and directed her to the temple.
Outside Lydia began to protest sending Elspeth alone, but Trygve, having looked through the priest’s notes, agreed that Styrr was probably correct. Before they could start bickering about it, Elspeth suggested that one person follow her to catacombs but stay behind while she entered while the other returned to the Blue Palace to inform Falk Firebeard of her Dragonborn status and concerns about the Thalmor.
Normally, the task of accompanying Elspeth would have automatically fallen to Lydia, but when she saw the look of misery Trygve had as he looked back toward the Blue Palace, she told Lydia to take care of the Dragonborn business.
On the way to the temple, Elspeth wanted to ask Trygve what was bothering him but his face betrayed a certain hardness that, in addition to his usual quiet seriousness, made him seem even less approachable. They walked in silence and when they arrived at the temple, were greeted by an extremely grateful priestess, Silana Petreia.
“We’ve lost so many down there,” she said, her voice fill of despair. “Please, please stop this.”
Elspeth and Trygve nodded as they made their way down the steps to the entrance of Potema’s catacombs. Elspeth paused at the door. “Why can’t they resurrect Empress Katariah? I would swear fealty to her and help her raise an army to march on Imperial City and shout Mede right off his the Ruby throne.”
He chucked softly, which would have delighted Elspeth if they were anywhere other than the burial place of the infamous wolf queen. “Well, Empress Katariah wasn’t a blood Septim so it would be disputed. You’d have a lot of work to do,” he paused and scanned the entrance. “All right then,” he continued, “if you get into a bind, use your Thu’um so I can hear you.”
Elspeth paused a moment but then nodded, albeit somewhat reluctantly, as she turned and made her way down into the catacombs. She walked slowly, alternating detection and magelight spells to find her way through the winding passages. There were bodies—Solitude guards, draugr, vampires—all over the floor.
At the end of very narrow corridor, where she had to step on the bodies as there was no room to walk around, she felt a distinct change in the air, a deathly chill so startling that she paused, one boot caught on the neck of some poor guard and the other digging into the ribcage of a draugr. She had been standing there for several tense moments trying to ignore the sickening feeling of rotted flesh and brittle bone under her boots, when she heard a sinister voice calling out to her—a voice she’d never heard but immediately knew to be Potema’s.
“You’ve arrived at last. The one who prevented me from being bound returns to my fold. I have much to thank you for, dear child. Come now, my minions will not harm you.”
Her voice was so dark and disturbing, it sent a distinct shudder down Elspeth’s spine. At that point, she should have turned back and brought Trygve along. Fighting together, they wouldn’t suffer the same fate as the guards whose corpses littered the floors. But there was also something compelling in her voice. Elspeth felt herself drawn to it , almost against her will.
The rooms ahead were lit and she continued to walk through them cautiously, sword and casting hand readied. In a small throne room, she confronted a vampire who started speaking, which caused Elspeth to pause in her attack. “You’ve come far, mortal. No doubt you seek to enter Potema’s Sanctum. I can see to that.” He removed a torch from the sconce on the wall and as he did so, the dragur deathlord sitting in the throne stood up. Elspeth gasped and readied her sword again, but the deathlord did not attack. He…or rather it…stepped down to the platform and walked out of room. The vampire turned to Elspeth and motioned for her to follow.
Since arriving in Skyrim, Elspeth had killed a couple of draugr deathlords. Truly, there were few things more terrifying. But the terror she felt as one of those monsters came at her, axe raised and ready to slaughter, paled in comparison to the uncanny dread that filled her gut upon witnessing a calm and composed draugr open a locked door and gesture for her to walk through it.
Friendly draugr. This can’t be good, she thought as they made their way through a small circular embalming room and a shrine room, where several more vampires and draugr joined them. They fell behind and the sound of their creaking bones at her back was just about enough to drive her mad though she was soon distracted from this when she came upon the Wolf Queen herself.
“Welcome child,” she said. Elspeth gasped in terror as she looked upon the specter, a terrifying blue translucent skeleton.
“I’m here to stop you,” Elspeth struggled to keep her voice steady. “I’m not sure why you let me live.”
Potema laughed. The sound was vile. “Oh child, I have no intention of letting you love. However, I intend to give you a choice. Swear fealty to me now and you will rise, not as a mindless thrall, but fully resurrected. You will rule beside me. Together we can eliminate those elves who would besmirch the divine Septim line.”
Destroy the Thalmor? In an instant, Elspeth’s fear was disrupted—for just a moment—by a twinge of what could only be described as morbid temptation. She shook this off, but as she readied her casting hand Potema was speaking again.
“All your life you’ve been passively waiting, accepting task after task. You’ve never sought power before. But you’ve always wanted it, even if that incorrigible Dunmer forced you to put your aspirations aside in favor of restraint and self control.”
The Wolf Queen’s voice was no less menacing, but she seemed to be speaking directly into Elspeth’s soul. “H…how do you know all this about me?” she stammered. She understood that she had to destroy the specter, but she also needed to understand how Potema knew all this.
“Even in death, I look after my family.”
“Oh do I have to explain this to you?” Potema sounded irritated now, a sort of bizarre combination of sinister and annoyed. “You are dragonborn, I am dragonborn. I’ve been watching you for a long time, Elspeth.”
Now it was Elspeth’s turn to be annoyed. Was there anyone, in all of Nirn, not watching her? It didn’t matter. Even if what she said resonated with Elspeth, Potema needed to be destroyed. With the minions behind her, she knew she had to act quickly. She spun around and after drawing her sword, cast a wall of flames, causing the previously non-hostile minions to attack. The weaker draugr were killed immediately but the vampires and the deathlord were a bit more difficult. With her back to Potema, she cast fireballs and runes pell-mell around the room. With all the distraction caused by the spells, she was able to run her sword through the rest of them. From behind her, she could hear Potema cackling. When she turned, she saw the specter rise, a blinding white and blue and purple light emanating from her core.
“Nicely done! But can you stand against my inner council? Let’s see!” Shock bolts radiated throughout the chamber, hitting everything in sight, the walls, the sarcophaguses, even Elspeth who recoiled in pain and tried to heal as draugr burst forth from their tombs. When the lightening wore down, she looked at the passel of undead coming at toward her, including the biggest deathlord she had ever seen.
Fus Ro Dah!
She felt the force of the shout right as she recognized it. It sent her body flying through the air, effortlessly—as easily as a petulant child throws a rag doll in the throes of a tantrum. She crashed against the wall behind her, smacking her head against a protruding stone. The deathlord stormed forward with the others close at his heels as Elspeth scrambled to her feet, healing her head and then readying her hand—though she was certain she didn’t have a chance against this brigade of undead. She pulled her hand back but before she could cast, a deftly aimed arrow nailed the deathlord right in the face. Several more followed in quick succession. Trygve. It had to be…but how did he get her so quickly? She didn’t bother to look back; she picked up her blade and charged forward, tossing fireballs and hacking away at the draugr.
“Don’t applaud yourselves too soon worms! Rip the eyes from their heads!” Potema screeched as her minions fell and she raised them as thralls, but the combination of Trygve’s archery and Elspeth’s destruction spells kept them at bay, and the more they defeated, the weaker Potema seemed to become until Elspeth had her cornered in her throne room.
“You are going to regret this,” Potema snarled, her voice was weaker but no less disturbing. “You think you know what’s to come, what you are. You haven’t—” But Elspeth had stopped listening; there was nothing the Wolf Queen could tell her now that she wouldn’t figure out later. She threw every last bit of magika into a chain-lightening spell until all that remained was a skull, which she picked up and inspected before turning and collapsing on the throne. Her head throbbed and her muscles ached.
Trygve came sauntering into the room after awhile, his arms laden with soul gems, bone meal, jewelry, a huge two-handed ebony axe, and even some gold.
“I thought you didn’t believe in looting ruins.”
“I’ll make an exception for the ruins of one of the most treacherous rulers of Skyrim,” he explained, grinning slightly. “Are you okay?”
“Just a little sore,” she replied. “How did you get here so quickly?”
“I didn’t wait. As soon as she started talking, I came after you.” He helped Elspeth up and gestured behind the throne. “Maybe we can get out this way.”
The passage led them outside, several miles away from the city gates. They walked slowly and quietly. Elspeth tried to reflect on some of what Potema had said and the strange twinges of temptation she’d felt, but she was too weary and too sore for contemplation. It was late when they returned the skull to a very grateful Styrr who promised to destroy it properly. At the Blue Palace, Falk Firebeard and Lydia were waiting in an empty throne room. The steward rewarded them generously and enthusiastically addressed Elspeth as Dragonborn.
“We’ve prepared a room for you. The Dragonborn and her companions are always welcome to stay in the Blue Palace when they are in Solitude,” he explained as he led them down the stairs to a room that was bigger than Breezehome. There were two large beds, ornate bookshelves, and a sitting area with a table and chairs. “Please make yourselves at home. I look forward to speaking with you in the morning, Dragonborn.” Falk paused and looked Elspeth over somewhat curiously before turning to leave.
Lydia and Trygve both looked askance at the steward as he left and then back at Elspeth, who didn’t seem to notice the peculiar way that the steward seemed to regard her. Or if she did, she didn’t care. She stripped her armor off, splashed water from the washbasin on her face, and, still in her woolies, she collapsed into bed and fell fast asleep.