(A/N: I’m sorry this took so long. I’ve been doing so much writing for the exciting things coming up that I’ve been neglecting these A-to-B chapters that are needed to get us there)
“Henrik was my half brother actually. His mother was an Imperial woman my father knew in Cyrodiil. He went to visit her on one of his yearly trips and there was his baby. This was before the war. Then, when she died, my father brought him back to Skyrim. Then he met my mother and they had me.” Trygve stopped his horse and scanned the area. He was leading them off-road and trying to get his bearings.
“We never got along as children. He was an angry kid and he hated my mother,” he continued as he gestured for them to move forward. “Things were a little better when we were older and had our own separate lives. Then we had a huge argument about a month before he died. We weren’t speaking.” His voice lowered a bit, but his countenance remained dispassionate. “We were just different people, I guess. He was very duty driven and rule bound and—”
“Trygve!” Lydia interjected. “You are one of the most duty driven individuals I know. And rules? I don’t know anyone quite as formal as you are.”
“No, I suppose you are correct. Henrik was a soldier through and through—a slave to authority if you will. I guess the main difference is that he does what he’s told and I do what’s right.” Trygve grinned and laughed when Lydia rolled her eyes at this last point. “That’s what I enjoy about being Thane; I’m entrusted to do what’s best for the hold. As for the formalities…that was my mother’s doing and those habits are hard to break.” He looked back at Elspeth. “And not all of us are cute enough to get away with such informal social graces.” He winked and he and Lydia chuckled.
Elspeth scowled when they looked away from her. She was ambivalent about their newly found friendship as it only seemed to magnify the guilt she felt when she thought about Trygve’s brother and how he may have died by her or Ralof’s hand.
The journey from Solitude was difficult; the weather was miserable and there were sabre cats, a frost trolls, and, just outside of Dawnstar, a dragon. When they weren’t fighting, they were recovering and Lydia’s warning that they needed Trygve was proven again and again.
Killing the dragon netted them a nice bounty in Dawnstar and Skald, the ornery old Jarl, offered Elspeth a Thanage on the condition that she spend some time in the hold helping out his citizens. She politely declined. A second Thanage seemed like entirely too much work, though Trygve commented that there wasn’t much to do in Dawnstar other than mine and chop wood and run errands.
Following this, the next leg of the journey was calmer and that’s when Lydia took it upon herself to ask about Trygve’s life. They learned that he was born and raised in the Rift. He took after his mother, also a healer. Elspeth noticed that apart from his brother and parents, Trygve didn’t mention any other relationships. And as he and Lydia laughed and exchanged stories of their respective childhoods, Elspeth tried to remember everything Xeri had taught her about suppressing her feelings and fought against the ache in her chest. Unfortunately, guilt was one emotion she was never any good at swallowing.
They reached Winterhold around mid afternoon. Trygve looked warily up at the college, but declined Elspeth’s offer to stay at the inn for some respite from his hunter-healer-dragonborn-helper duties.
“What can I say Ysmir,” he said. “You’re growing on me. I might overcome my distrust of mages after all.” He chuckled as he took the reigns of their horses. “Though I have to ask….” He paused for a moment and furrowed his brow, as if trying to decide how best to phrase his concern. “Are all the mages here empathic?” He frowned and paused. The question seemed difficult for him, though he continued. “You know, like your mentor was? Should I remain guarded and unemotional?”
“Aren’t you always?” teased Lydia.
For a moment, Elspeth wondered if there was a specific reason he was concerned. Despite the way that Xeri had exploited her ability to manipulate her students and compel them to control their emotions, she learned from Runa and then later from other mer at the University that most individuals with the heightened empathy ability ignored it. Unless there was an explicit reason—sometimes it aided certain illusion spells—there was little to gain from feeling emotions that were not one’s own and that it was generally more trouble than it was worth.
“I wouldn’t worry about anyone here,” she said. “The mages are all scholarly types, more concerned with reading and casting than with anything involving people. Ancano’s the one you want to stay guarded around.”
As the winds picked up, they hurried across Winterhold. Tolfdir was guarding the entrance and he was quite pleased to see them and meet their new companion.
“Greetings,” said Tolfdir after admiring the ward that Trygve cast. “Our master restoration instructor, Collette Marence, will be most pleased to meet you.” He chuckled lightly before turning to lead the group over the bridge. In the courtyard, he gestured to the Hall of Attainment. “There is a room available on the second floor,” he said. “I’ll get your key.”
Trygve furrowed his brow lightly and shook his head after Tolfdir left. “I was not expecting such a kindly old man.”
“What exactly were you expecting?” asked Lydia.
“Someone a bit more…ah…disconcerting,” he replied.
“Don’t be disappointed,” Elspeth replied. “You still haven’t met Phinis.”
She grinned as they made their way inside and up to the dining room, where they could hear lively chatter and as they approached, a familiar sound.
“There is no such thing as death by cunnilingus,” Nirya’s harsh voice carried throughout the room and out to the hallway. “You’re just a lazy lover J’zargo.”
“J’zargo is many things, but a lazy lover is not one of them. It is too bad Nirya will never know this for herself,” J’zargo retorted as he turned to see the group in the entrance to the dining room. “My Lydia is home!” he exclaimed, with a level of enthusiasm usually reserved for small things to help make him a more powerful mage.
“Hey!” Brelyna scowled as J’zargo grabbed the tankard of mead that she had just poured for herself and offered it to his favorite housecarl.
Lydia was mortified as J’zargo thrust the cup into her hands. Her attempt to return the drink to Brelyna, however, was unsuccessful as the Dunmer was suddenly distracted by something.
“Who is this?” she asked, smiling sweetly and extending her hand toward Trygve.
“I’m Trygve Wartooth,” he said and paused as he took Brelyna’s hand. Given the conversation that preceded their arrival, he supposed that there was no need for his usual formal introduction.
“I’m Brelyna,” she said, her voice slightly higher and more playful than usual. “Let me pour you some mead.” She stepped back and nearly crashed into Nirya who was holding out a full tankard to Trygve who by now was looking somewhat flustered, though he readily accepted the drink and offered Nirya a polite nod of thanks.
“Oh for the love of Talos,” murmured Elspeth. She scanned the room for Lydia, whom she found sitting at the large table with J’zargo. Brelyna was in the cooking area putting together a huge plate of food, for Trygve presumably. And Nirya was leading the somewhat apprehensive Nord to a small table in the corner. Elspeth sighed as a sudden wave of heartsickness came over her. She left the dining room and after adjusting her satchel, made her way down the hallway, eager to crawl into bed.
“Need a little help with that bag?” A familiar voice echoed through the hallway.
“Onmund?” Elspeth spun around and much to her surprise and delight, Onmund was standing there. Forgetting all the bad feelings and awkwardness of their last reunion, Elspeth hurried over and threw herself into his arms. “What are you doing here?”
He kissed her first and then smoothed her hair down, taking his time, almost as if he didn’t want to answer. “I needed to get out of Whiterun for a little while,” he said finally, trying—and failing—to hide the unease in his voice.
“Because of me?” she asked, cringing a bit at the memory of the way she’d treated him their last night together.
“No,” he whispered. “I just needed a break.” He had no intention of telling her what Idolaf said. To distract her, he nuzzled her ear and kissed her neck until she giggled. “Come on,” he said. “Let’s go to bed.”
The next morning, Lydia and Elspeth met with Urag and Phinis Gestor in the Arcaneum. After a vivid description of their recent dragon battles and the resurrection of the dragon outside Kynsegrove, the librarian and master conjuration instructor began piling books on the table. Phinis seemed especially eager to find out more about this resurrection. Bringing a creature back, not simply as a thrall or shade but fully to life was outside even his level of skill and expertise.
“And what is the Dragonborn doing while you take care of all his research?” asked Urag. Though he rarely left the orb, with Ancano still lingering around the college, Trygve once again took up the dragonborn title.
As if on cue, heavy footsteps sounded on the stairs and Trygve ambled in. He offered a courteous nod to the group before sitting down and taking a book from the pile in front of him.
“Late night?” asked Lydia teasingly, before Trygve could ask about the research.
“No,” he said. “Long breakfast. I had two huge plates of food waiting for me.” He cleared his throat and patted his belly.
“And who is the better cook?” Lydia snickered.
“Neither is particularly remarkable,” he replied. “My heart goes to the one who can roast the best leg of lamb.”
Lydia laughed and closed the book she was paging through. “If it pleases my Thane, I would like to visit the Jarl. Let him know about the Dragonborn and see how things are in the hold.”
“I’m not sure that’s such a good idea,” protested Trygve, returning to his more serious demeanor. “You’re a housecarl and your responsibility is—“
“Everything will be fine,” Lydia said, pursing her lips in exasperation. “I don’t need to be reminded of my duty, Trygve.”
It was like a switch with these two. For reasons, she could not (or would not) admit, Elspeth found their ongoing joking and Trygve’s apparent popularity irritating. There was, of course, the ever-present guilt she couldn’t shake, but there was something else. She was beginning to feel excluded, though she quickly quashed the sadness this inspired. In any case, having them return to their normal bickering was somewhat refreshing.
“Lydia is the College’s ambassador to the Jarl,” Elspeth said. “And we need to maintain diplomatic relations in these troubling times. Surely, you can see the strategic advantage there.” This was intended to be a joke, though it was actually somewhat true. She gave Trygve a knowing look, but he simply frowned and shook his head before bidding Lydia farewell and turning his attention to Phinis and Urag who had become engaged in an argument over source material and the nature of conjuration magic.
“Certainly, brother Alexandre Simon’s account of Alduin and Akatosh is thorough in its research. But he was a high priest of Akatosh in Wayrest and his prejudice against the Nords and bias toward the elves is plain.” Urag was rubbing his forehead and paging through another book.
“That doesn’t make everything he says useless,” protested Phinis. “I mean, look at all the details he includes on the stories about Alduin from the Nords—“
“You mean, like this guy?” Urag picked up a tattered book and began reading, “And so I, Thromgar Iron-Head do firmly say, with the utmost connvicshun, that Alduin is real, and he ent Akatosh!”
He let out a very light chuckled as he finished, but Trygve was not amused. “Need I remind you,” he said angrily, “that two of the authoritative texts written on the Dragons were written by a Nord!” He glowered at the old Orc as he gestured toward several books in front of him.
Urag scorned, but then his face softened a bit. He was not as prejudiced as his mockery made him sound but he had forgotten that Trygve was probably not used to the facetious and often pretentious way in which mage scholars argued amongst themselves. “I mean no disrespect of course,” he said apologetically, to which Trygve responded with a reluctant nod.
“Anyway,” Phinis interjected, eager to get back to the matter at hand. “Note this in Brother Alexander’s book. He placed the book flat on the table and pointed to a passage: “…and some accounts even have him devouring the souls of the dead to maintain his own power.”
He folded his hands on the table in front of him and looked across at the others.
“I’ve heard that before,” said Trygve. “But I don’t understand….” His voice trailed off.
“The soul is…well, it’s sort of the arbiter of conjuration magic,” he explained. “Conjuration is temporary—even the strongest spells don’t last more than a day. The soul acts as a kind of anchor and it’s the reason reanimation spells can’t bring someone, or something, back to life. It’s not well understood, even by conjurers more skilled than I am. Perhaps a master of mysticism, someone in the Psijic Order would know.” He looked over toward Elspeth who sat up, avoiding his gaze as she looked intently over the open books and papers strewn about.
“So, Alduin was the dragon we saw?” Trygve asked uneasily. “He devours souls of the dead and uses them to bring dragons back to life.” He rubbed his hand over his jaw as he processed everything: Alduin, conjuration. Of all the schools of magic, this was the one he found most unsettling. He knew it wasn’t all necromancy, but he found even the most basic elements of conjuration—all this talk of souls—troubling.
“The souls give him the power he needs,” interjected Elspeth. “Like the way that soul gems can enchant a weapon or armor?”
Phinis frowned a little. “That seems a bit simplistic,” he replied. “Though it’s possible, particularly if the souls he’s using aren’t individually bound to gems.”
Urag, who had been quietly paging through some more books, spoke up again. “I think that’s part of it,” he said. “I think it also has something to do with the nature of Dragons themselves.”
“What do you mean?” asked Elspeth.
“Listen here,” he said and picked up another book, There be Dragons by Torhal Bjorik. “There is no credible story of how dragons came to be. According to dremora that the College of Whispers have questioned, they just were, and are. Eternal, immortal, unchanging, and unyielding. They are not born or hatched. They do not mate or breed.”
Trygve’s eyes widened. His interest was once again piqued but he was confused. “You’ll have to elaborate,” he said. “I don’t really see what that has to do with anything.”
“Every creature has a soul,” he began. “The soul is life-force, mystical power. In the cycle of life and death, they are, as Phinis said, an anchor of sorts. In life, they orient a creature to Mundus and in death to whatever plane of Aetherius or Oblivion they find themselves in.” Urag scratched his beard and looked intently at the group as he continued. “But dragons don’t have a conventional life cycle. Obviously, they can be killed. Fully resurrecting a dragon, however, just returns them to their original state, eternal and immortal.”
“That’s what makes the Dragonborn special,” said Trygve, turning to Elspeth and forgetting their ruse for a moment. “You take their souls, their anchor.” As soon as the words left his mouth he realized his mistake and groaned. “Shit.”
“I knew it!” Urag grunted. “I knew this Nord wasn’t dragonborn.”
“You knew no such thing,” retorted Phinis. He turned to speak to Elspeth but stopped when heard someone enter the Arcanaeum.
“Elspeth!” An angry voice echoed throughout the room.
Elspeth jumped and turned to find Ancano walking across the room toward them. Trygve stood up immediately and put himself between the chair where she was sitting and the furious Altmer.
“Get out of my way Dragonborn,” he fumed. “This doesn’t concern you.”
“If this concerns Elspeth, then it concerns me,” he said, narrowing his gaze to Ancano. “She is in my service, not yours.”
Urag feared the Nord would incense Ancano and when the librarian stood and stepped forward, the Altmer’s demeanor turned a bit more civil—though not very.
“I am afraid I must intrude,” he said. “It is urgent that I speak with Elspeth.”
“This is most inappropriate,” said Urag. “We are involved in serious research here.”
“Yes, I have no doubt of it’s gravity,” Ancano sneered. “This, however, is a matter that cannot wait.”
Urag let out a sigh. Behind him, Phinis was slowly gathering his notes, trying not to attract Ancano’s attention as he put his papers away. “Well, I’m quite sure I’ve never been interrupted like this before,” he grunted. “I suppose we’ll continue this at some later time, when we can avoid interruptions.”
Elspeth stood cautiously and looked up at Ancano. “What is it you need?” she asked firmly, determined to keep her voice steady.
“I need you to come with me immediately. Let’s go.”
“Not until you tell me why.”
“Oh very well,” he said, irritably. “Allow me to clarify the situation. I’d like to know why there’s someone claiming to be from the Psijic Order here in the College. More importantly, I’d like to know why he’s asking for you specifically. So we’re going to go have a little chat with him, and find out exactly what it is he wants.”
Hearing him mention the Psijic Order sent a shudder through her body. She gulped and crossed her arms over her chest in an attempt to look unconcerned by this. “I’m sure they just want to follow up on our previous conversation in Saarthal. I don’t think this concerns you, even in your capacity as an…advisor.” She lingered on this last word a bit to indicate that she was indifferent to his station.
“Why are you so worried about the Psijic Order?” Trygve piped up from next to Elspeth.
“I’ll be the one asking the questions,” he said to Trygve sharply before returning his attention to Elspeth. “All you need to know is that the Psijic Order is a rogue organization, believing themselves to be above the law. They have clashed with the Aldmeri Dominion before—“
“Sounds like my kind of organization,” Trygve said sardonically as he smirked at the mer.
Ancano glowered and simply continued speaking to Elspeth. “And, I have no intention of allowing that to happen here. Now, you are going to speak to this… Monk… and find out why he is here, and then he will be removed from College grounds. Are you coming?”
It was more of a command than a question. Elspeth narrowed her eyes and gathered her things. Ancano turned sharply, his robe billowing in a dramatic fashion. As Trygve followed, he strode in a haughty, exaggerated manner, as if mocking the arrogant Thalmor. Elspeth shook her head and laughed quietly at Trygve’s irreverence.
Is this it? She wondered. Is this where everything comes together? Could the Psijic Order make sense of the return of the dragons, her role as the Dragonborn, and could these things be related to what the Order wanted from her? The thought filled her with such terrified anticipation that she had to stop and catch her breath at the bottom of the steps.
Trygve looked up and when he saw that Ancano had gone on ahead, he leaned over and took her arm. She was expecting a light tug and a stern gesture to move on and was surprised when he smiled warmly and pressed his palm on her back. “Come on,” he said, gently guiding her up the steps.