A/N: There’s a bit of mature material at the end, though nothing explicit. Maybe PG-15?17?18?
We need to talk.
Please come to the Arcanaeum at your earliest convenience. The Psijic Order is here again and they wish to settle matters concerning the Eye of Magnus.
She looked back and forth to both notes, thinking she would rather crawl back under the covers than deal with either request—though her heart swelled with relief at seeing Tolfdir’s signature. He was alive and hopefully the others were to. Neither invitation was more appealing than the other; it was merely a choice between heartbreak and the overwhelming stress that the Psijics tended to inspire in her. But she had responsibilities, both personal and to the college, and she would see them through. The temptation to return to bed was strong, but she knew she wouldn’t be able to fall asleep again. She would simply curl into a ball and cry.
On the table with the letters was a plate of food and a bottle of mead and on the chair, a clean robe. Someone must have stopped by while she slept. Onmund? She wanted to hope, but given the tension over the past couple of days it was more than likely not. Brelyna perhaps, or even Collette. For all her idiosyncrasies, the restoration instructor was a nurturer at heart.
She peeled her woolies off, trying to recall how she got back from the Hall of the Elements. Her muscles still felt somewhat unsteady, though she wasn’t in any pain. The clean robe hung loose from her weary frame and was quite possibly the most comfortable thing she had put on her body in a long time. The food was simple, bread and cheese, and although she should have been famished, she found it difficult to eat more than a few bites. Her jaw was stiff and the food seemed to fill her stomach like an iron paperweight. As she picked breadcrumbs off her robe, one at a time, she realized that she was procrastinating. So, after pulling on her boots and smoothing down her hair and clothing, she left, opting to visit the Arcanaeum first.
Outside, she found Tolfdir at the top of the stairs. “Elspeth my dear, I was just coming to find you.”
“I was just on my way to the Arcanaeum,” she said, forcing a weak smile.
“I trust you slept well,” he said, as they made their way downstairs. “Brelyna said you were sleeping like a log when she stopped by earlier with some food.
“I don’t even remember going to bed,” she replied.
Tolfdir let out a gentle chuckle. “Trygve carried you back to your room. After he killed Ancano, he brought you to your room. He wouldn’t let anyone bother you until he was sure you’d had some sleep.”
That Trygve had been the one to kill Ancano and tend to her when she was injured hardly surprise her, but it irritated her a bit, though she quickly pushed this out of her mind as she followed the old Nord across the eerily quiet campus and into the Hall of the Elements. The orb was still floating, though the dull humming noise had quieted considerably. Looking around, it was hard to believe that the room had recently been the scene of so much power and violence.
A meeting had been called and the College’s instructors were seated around the table with Urag and Quaranir. Behind them, Trygve stood with two members of the Psijic Order she had never met. The mages look restless and impatient, but most seemed pleased when Elspeth and Tolfdir arrived. She took a seat next to Faralda at the end of the table and looked around, not quite certain what to make of it. She wasn’t expecting anyone apart from Quaranir and perhaps the Psijic monk she had met in Mzulft.
There was a brief and somewhat awkward silence until Quaranir stood and cleared his throat. He looked at Elspeth, sternly at first but soon his lips curved into a smile. “We knew you would succeed. Your victory over Ancano justifies our belief in you. I don’t know if every one here agrees, but it is the firm opinion of the order that you have proven yourself more than worthy to guide the College of Winterhold.”
Elspeth opened her mouth to protest that she hadn’t, in fact, been victorious over Ancano. But a slight murmur sounded and several instructors looked back toward Trygve who simply gestured back toward Elspeth. As their gaze returned, she began to consider what it was that Quaranir was proposing—making her Arch-mage of the college.
She shook her head. “Quaranir,” she began. “With all due respect—”
“Elspeth, please, hear me out.” He paused for a moment and pressed his fingertips to his mouth as he thought about what he wanted to say. It was too soon to reveal the relationship between the Order and Evangeline’s resistance. However, he believed, quite strongly, that Elspeth’s status as Dragonborn was somehow important to their goals, but until the dragon threat was dealt with, he was in no position to discuss this. “Between the Civil War and the Dragons, Skyrim is vulnerable. And at some point, the Thalmor will exploit this vulnerability and it is imperative that the college dispense with this quiet neutrality and assert its intentions to keep Skyrim safe. At this point, it is merely a symbolic gesture. But we must begin the process of assuring the Nords of Skyrim that magic is not the enemy.”
“Says who?” Faralda interjected “The Psijic Order has no authority here. It has always been the position of the College to stay out of local politics.”
“Faralda, I’m afraid this has gone well beyond local politics,” Tolfdir replied.
“And what about keeping Elspeth’s identity a secret?” Trygve piped up from the back.
“We’ll not be issuing any Imperial announcements. And you have revealed her identity to several of the Jarls. Sooner or later, it will get out. We’ll just aim for later.” Quaranir was starting to become annoyed. “
“Korir has met Elspeth and he still doing whatever he can to punish the college, restricting mages’ movements in town, and—” Drevis, normally quiet on any sort of local or political matter, actually sounded quiet concerned now.
“You think Arch-mage Breton Dragonborn here will be able to change Korir’s mind?” Phinis asked. “You’re daft.”
“How is she going to run the college while she’s out hunting dragons anyway?” It was Faralda again, her irritation increasing. “No offense, Elspeth.”
“None taken,” she said, looking back to Quaranir. The idea was preposterous and she hoped he would concede their authority on this one.
“Tolfdir, in his role as Master Wizard will assume the day-to-day administrative duties,” he explained. “I think the college is capable of functioning without it’s Arch-mage on site. And as her work as Dragonborn is revealed, it will foster goodwill toward the College and mages among the Nords of Skyrim.” It pained Quaranir not to reveal right then and there that Elspeth was still the key to everything they needed to crush the Thalmor once and for all. But it simply wasn’t the right time.
“Goodwill, meh! It’s a fantasy,” Urag retorted. “Ultimately it doesn’t matter what the Psijic Order thinks. We will put this to a vote.”
Elspeth nodded, though deep down she was dreading the prospect. She had no idea how to lead a College, even if it was merely a symbolic gesture. “Does it have to be unanimous?”
Drevis let out a hearty chuckle “Oh my no, just a simple majority. Trying to get a group of mages to come to a unanimous decision—“
“Let’s just say some of us wouldn’t live long enough to see it,” chirped Colette, looking intently at the Dunmer next to her.
“And that would be shame,” agreed Drevis, smiling as met her gaze and nudged her arm gently. There was a distinct tension between the two of them, something that would have made the rest of the group recoil had Urag not taken it upon himself to begin the vote.
“All right,” he said sternly. “On the matter of promoting Elspeth to the position of Arch-mage, what say you, Drevis.”
“Yes,” replied Drevis, nodding at Elspeth.
“I vote yes as well,” she said, a broad grin across her face. “It’s about time we had a Breton Arch-mage.”
“Right,” said Urag gruffly. “Faralda?”
“No,” she replied. “Elspeth is a brilliant destruction mage. But she is simply not ready for the role of Arch-mage. Dragonborn or not, it’s a flimsy gesture at best. We could do more to reach out to the Nord population ourselves.”
“You’ve been saying that for years, for as long as you’ve been angling for the Arch-mage title yourself,” interjected Phinis, ignoring Faralda’s defensive glare. “I also vote no.”
“Very well,” said Urag as he made notes on the parchment in front of him. “Sergius?”
The old enchanter ran a hand over his bald head and looked around a bit as if he wasn’t quite certain. When his eyes fell to Elspeth he shook his head, averting his eyes almost apologetically back to Urag. “No,” he said quietly.
“Tolfdir?” Urag already knew the answer; asking was simply a formality and the old Nord nodded.
The Orc cleared his throat and glanced over his parchment. “Well I will break this tie by offering a vote in the affirmative. I don’t share Quaranir’s optimism, but that doesn’t make it a terribly idea,” he explained, nodding deferentially in her direction. “Congratulations Elspeth, you are now the Arch-mage of the College of Winterhold.”
Elspeth, who was rather shocked at Urag’s approval, let out a deep breath, wondering if there was something she should say, but after some mumbled congratulations, the instructors quickly excused themselves from the table until only the Psijic monks and Tolfdir remained. Trygve also quietly hurried out and Urag returned to the business of cataloguing a shipment of old magic tomes and papers that had just arrived.
“Well,” she said as Quaranir moved to the chair closer to her. “I don’t know what to say.”
“Don’t concern yourself with the minutiae of administrating the college. Tolfdir will take care of those things,” the Altmer explained. “You might also assign a proxy, but that is your prerogative.”
“Would Faralda make a good proxy?” she asked. “In the event of an attack or if the college needed to ally with any anti-Thalmor resistance factions, she understands the current political situation better than anyone, not only in Skyrim but also between the different mage organizations. And her school, destruction, represents a more practical application of magic.” She stopped and looked intently at Tolfdir and Quaranir, hoping her assessment of Faralda had been correct and they felt their confidence in her was not misplaced.
“Well look at you,” said Tolfdir, gently patting Elspeth’s arm. “Looks like the Psijics were correct. Not that I had any doubts.” He took a key from his robe pocket and handed it to Elspeth. “This is the key to your new quarters. If you like, I can have your things moved there immediately.” He stood to leave.
“Thank you Tolfdir,” she said as she took the key from him and placed it in her pocked. She paused to rub the growing tension in her neck a bit before looking back up at Quaranir. “So, what do we do now?”
“Well you should just go about being Dragonborn. I’m afraid we can’t help you much with that. As for the Eye, well it has grown unstable. I’m afraid it cannot remain here or else it will destroy your college and this world. The Order will secure it for now.” He furrowed his brow a little as he spoke. It was clear he was feeling a bit uneasy, though he tried not to let it show. After shifting in his seat a bit he looked at Elspeth intently.
“When Ancano was screaming, he said something strange….” Her voice softened as she recalled how terrifying his ranting sounded at the time. “The way he spoke, about unmaking the world. It felt like he wanted to purge, well, everyone.”
He nodded slowly. “There have been rumors…well, more than rumors I’m afraid, of a fringe element in the Thalmor senior ranks, powerful wizards with an agenda far more sinister than domination and war. It’s theological in nature and even our Loremaster does not understand the full implications. It seems, however, that you have taken out two members of this radical group.”
“Two? But who else?” She paused and thought for a moment, nodding as the memory of Labyrinthian returned. “Ancano sent someone to find us in Labyrinthian.
“Estormo,” he said. “One of a small number of extremists the Psijic Order is investigating.” Now that the other members of the college were gone, he wanted to add that this was just one of the many things the order was investigating and discuss their alliance with her mother’s resistance, but he held off. For now that might be a bit overwhelming, a distraction she didn’t need.
“What do you want from me?” Elspeth pursed her lips and glowered at him. She needed a straight answer, no more lingering questions and doubts about why the order wanted anything to do with her in the first place.
He thought for a moment before answering, though he intended to be as honest as possible. “Elspeth, there is going to be a reckoning,” he began. “And this should come as no surprise to you. And there was a time when the order wanted you and others like you on the front lines of our campaign. But we see now that your path is different from ours, though I expect they may cross again one day.” He tilted his head and offered her a warm, reassuring smile.
His affectionate gesture surprised her a bit, but she smiled back and nodded. “All right,” she replied. “Now, if you will excuse me.”
“Of course,” Quaranir nodded good-bye as Elspeth stood and wandered out of the Arcanaeum. She paused at the steps leading up to the Arch-mage’s quarters. It was strange to think it was hers. It would have been easy enough, slipping upstairs and spending the rest of the day and evening organizing and acting the part of the Arch-mage, putting off
Onmund’s request to speak. But she knew she couldn’t do that. She wandered outside and stepped into the courtyard. A light snow had begun to fall and she paused to look up, letting the soft flakes dot her face.
“Elspeth!” A familiar voice called to her from across the yard.
Lydia! Elspeth jerked her head down and smiled as her friend hurried over and wrapped her in a tight, warm embrace.
“Oh my gods, Lydia,” she began as her housecarl held her at arms length. “I have so much to tell you.”
“I’ll say,” said Lydia, turning to the side and pulling Elspeth across campus, “So you’re Arch-mage Ysmir, Dragon of the North, Thane of Whiterun. How many other titles do you plan on picking up while you’re in Skyrim? Harbinger of the Companions?”
“Vilkas would never approve.” Elspeth snickered a little as they walked. “Who told you anyway?”
“I ran into Trygve,” she replied. “He’s in town now, getting supplies.”
“Yes,” she said. “We have to leave tomorrow. There’s a dragon in Eastmarch. And one in the Rift.”
Elspeth didn’t respond; she simply sighed and nodded as they made their way up the stairs in the Hall of Attainment.
In her room, Lydia removed her boots and started to unbuckle her armor while Elspeth stretched on the bed. “Arch-mage,” Lydia repeated. “Is this part of the plan? Xeri’s visions?”
“Well,” Elspeth replied, “from the way that Quaranir spoke, it would seem that a strong Skyrim is integral to healing a broken empire, but Arch-mage? That was the path of my mother.”
“True,” Lydia paused as she loosened and removed her the various components of her armor, laying them carefully on the trunk at the end of her bed. “Though the path of your mother did eventually intersect and join with that of your father.”
“I suppose you’re right,” she said as she rolled over on to her back so that she was staring at the ceiling.
“What’s wrong?” Lydia asked as she started to remove the various layers of clothing and undergarments she wore under her armor.
“Oh let’s see, where do I begin?” she let out a frustrated sigh. “Trygve stabbed Onmund in Labyrinthian to get him out of the way. Onmund and I haven’t talked about it yet. That’s where I was headed.”
“Oh no,” Lydia scowled and sat on the edge of the bed. As she was the one who had asked Onmund to accompany Elspeth and Trygve while she was away, she felt terrible. “Elspeth, I’m sorry.”
Elspeth sat up on her elbows and shook her apology away. She flopped back down and let out a groan. “Lydia, what should I do?”
“You should just—“ But she stopped. Elspeth sounded miserable and Lydia wanted to help ease her mind but as decided on her recent journey, she intended to stop meddling in her friend’s affairs. “This is something you and Onmund need to work out.” She patted her friend’s arm and got up again, hoping she hadn’t upset Elspeth by not offering any advice or guidance. When she glanced back, the Breton was just lying there quietly, her expression impossible to read. She pulled her leggings and her top off and opened her closet to find a robe and a towel. If they were headed out tomorrow, she was going to soak in one of the college’s large tubs, possibly for the entire evening.
“Oh my gods,” Elspeth exclaimed, her mouth agape when she saw Lydia’s bare back. Running from the top of her neck to the small of her back were several deep scratch wounds. “Lydia, what happened to your back?”
Lydia’s eyes widened and she quickly pulled a robe over her shoulders and tied it in the front. “Well…”
“Were you attacked by a saber cat or something?”
“In a way…yes.”
“Your armor must be shredded,” Elspeth said as she leaned over and reached for Lydia’s cuirass. “I’ll have Onmund take a look at it.” For a moment, she was pleased to have something that she could use to break up the inevitable tension, though she also supposed she had a bit of nerve asking him for a favor. She picked up the armor, frowning as she inspected it. It was a little scuffed, but no more than usual. “Lydia,” she said slowly, “were you naked when you were attacked?”
Lydia nodded uncomfortably as Elspeth continued to furrow her brow. “Oh Elspeth,” she said, after a long silence. “Please tell me I don’t have to explain this to you.”
“Goodness no,” she said. “I just have some rather…inappropriate questions.”
The Nord let out a light chuckle, “I see. Well, what do you want to know?”
By now Elspeth had placed the armor back on the trunk and was staring at her hands, which were balled into fists, with her index fingers out and slightly curled. “Well, were there…ah…”
“And did it…?”
“Quite a bit. Well, only at first.”
Elspeth cringed and crossed her legs while Lydia turned bright red and nodded.
“Are you in love with him?”
Lydia’s eyes widened a bit. She had not really expected this question. “No,” she said quietly. “I’m sort of…well, fond of him I guess. But it’s really not like that.” She studied Elspeth who was nodding along, still looking sort of bewildered. “Are you mad at me?”
“Why would I be mad at you?” Elspeth looked back up at her friend, who looked sort of flustered.
Lydia shrugged and let out a sigh of relief. “Anyway, I need a bath and you need to go talk to Onmund.” She paused for a moment and then opted not to comment on them staying up all night. She wrapped one arm around Elspeth’s shoulder and gave her a peck on the cheek. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
As she made her up way up the stairs, Elspeth tried to figure out what she wanted to say, that she was sorry, that Trygve was a milk-drinking prat, and that she would do whatever she could to make it up to him. As long as it could happen within the next twelve hours or so because they were leaving in the morning. And who knew when she would be back in Winterhold again, or if Onmund would bother returning to Whiterun?
She knocked softly on the door and waited, wondering if there was anything in her life before this she dreaded as much as the conversation she was about to have. When he called out for her to enter, she stepped inside and closed the door by leaning against it.
A few awkward moments went by as Onmund stood up from the bed and began putting the books he was studying away, along with several scrolls and various pieces of parchment, taking the time to make sure each thing was in its proper place. Elspeth was fairly certain that this need for organization, which was completely out of character for him, was merely a ruse, delaying their conversation and the fall out of sadness and regret they inevitably both would share.
She crossed the room to a chair, though taking a seat suddenly seemed entirely too presumptuous. Gods, she hated feeling like this. Pausing by the shelf where he was sorting through the last of his piles, she sucked in a breath as she prepared to say something—anything—to break the awkward silence. “Onmund, I—”
At the sound of her gasp, he turned and pulled her close, catching her open mouth with his and interrupting her with a quick, biting kiss. “I don’t want to talk,” he whispered harshly, dropping his mouth and biting along the curve of her neck.
To say she was surprised at this turn would be an understatement and she was not displeased. She groaned softly in his ear as he started tugging at her belt. Within a few moments he had her robe off and was grabbing the back of her neck, roughly pressing his lips to her mouth, his tongue desperately seeking hers. It was aggressive and raw, a far cry from the gentle way he usually touched her. She shuddered with nervous anticipation. Onmund was often assertive, comfortably taking control as they rolled around in the sheets. But this was different; it was exciting but also a little overwhelming.
When he pulled away to catch his breath, he looked her over, his normal look of tenderness replaced with something far more intense, almost severe. But before she could react, he gripped the top of her arms and slammed her against the wall. When she gasped, Onmund panicked a bit. Everything hinged on this moment. If he’d frightened her, he would never forgive himself. And if she laughed his behavior off as strange, he would be humiliated. Again.
Elspeth swallowed as her excitement began to outweigh her anxiety. She bit her bottom lip and closed her eyes, letting him know that she was willing. He smirked as he yanked his own clothes off and pushed up against her, kissing her roughly as he groped her bottom and pulled her legs up so that they straddled his hips. Lifting her up was almost effortless and he grinned inwardly, the smithing in Whiterun had paid off.
Pinned between his body and the wall, it took Elspeth a moment to ease into the sudden feeling of powerlessness that enveloped her. But when she let finally let herself go, she was astonished by how much she enjoyed it. The strength of his grip, the roughness of his mouth, the nips along her neck sharp enough to leave marks—the desperation she’d felt from him earlier was now hers. It wasn’t the tender passion they always shared that she longed for right now. She wanted—no, needed him to dominate her, to take her with everything he had and shag her stupid.
“Onmund” she rasped softly against his ear as he lifted her up, hooking her thigh with his elbow and sliding into her with one quick motion. Instinct kicked in and she tried to arch her back, but with her movement hindered all she could do was cry out and dig her nails into his shoulders as he thrust into her. The tenor of her cries expressed the intermingling of pleasure and pain, urging him on, shattering all the humiliation and shame he felt as he pounded into her.
She let out a strangled sound, smacking her head back against the wall, which would have hurt had it not been for the thick drape. Rolling her head up, she noticed the tip of the tapestry’s triangle symbol was just above her head. A twinge of embarrassment fluttered in her chest. Sweet Julianos, she prayed, let this not be an affront to—the thought was abruptly broken, first by a sudden tightening deep in her abdomen and then a shuddering so intense it hurt. She grabbed a nearby shelf to steady herself, knocking empty potion bottles and a couple of books to the floor, as she pleaded with him for more, not stopping until she was completely spent, her body weary and limp against his.
With each thrust, the feelings of inadequacy he’d been harboring began to diminish. Elspeth was so powerful and more often than not he felt weak and undeserving of her. Dominating her like this made him feel strong but hearing her beg for it pushed him right over the edge. His release, along with the usual muscle quivering and euphoria, brought a confidence unlike anything he’d felt before. He let out a deep breath and stepped back, catching her elbow as she awkwardly slid down the wall. They staggered across the room, bodies still trembling, legs wobbling, and they crawled into bed.
Elspeth was spent and sore, and lay back and closed her eyes as she caught her breath. Onmund sidled up next to her and slid his hand over hip, stomach and breasts, trailing his fingers lightly along her neck and pulling her chin gently toward him, he pressed a gentle kiss to her lips.
She wasn’t sure what to make of this gesture. All she wanted to do was curl up in his arms and sleep but morning meant packing up and leaving, not knowing for sure if they had actually resolved anything or if they ever would. She rolled over on her side and propped her head in her hand. “Onmund,” she said, swallowing against the lump in her throat. “We still have to talk.”
“Can’t we do it tomorrow,” he asked wearily. “Over a late breakfast?”
She shook her head sadly. “No…we’re leaving. There are dragons in Eastmarch. And the Rift.”
He didn’t even attempt to hide the disappointment and frustration he felt, and he rolled on to his back, rubbing his forehead for a few moments before speaking. “And Trygve? Is he going with you?”
“Yes,” she whispered, looking around awkwardly so she wouldn’t have to see his reaction. It was uncomfortably quiet for a few moments before she continued. “I’m sorry,” she said finally. “I…I’m just…sorry.” It was completely inadequate, but she was at a loss for anything other than an awkward, albeit sincere, apology.
“You’re not getting rid of him? Even after—” Deep down, he wasn’t actually surprised. But that didn’t make it hurt any less.
“I don’t actually want him along,” she interjected, trying not to sound defensive. Onmund had every right to confront her on this. “And it’s not like I approve of what he did. But I’ve got to fight dragons and I can’t….” she let out a frustrated sigh. How could she tell him explain to him that she needed Trygve, that for the moment his importance as a scout and a healer outweighed Onmund’s presence in her life in general? “I can’t do it alone.”
“I could come with you,” his voice trembled as he spoke, fearing such an offer was futile at best.
Tears filled her eyes as she shook her head. “I’m sorry,” she said. “It’s….” her voice trailed off as she thought back to her conversation with Trygve in Morthal. She was loath to admit it, but he had been right about everything.
“You don’t need me?” he asked, though it was more an assertion than a question. “Or am I just not strong enough?”
She needed him to live, but that seemed an inappropriate response. “It doesn’t matter,” she replied. “You could be ten times as strong as Farkas and more powerful than all the pyromancers on this side of the White River. But I’ll never stop looking back for you. And that could kill me.”
He turned and glowered at her, wanting to protest. But what could he possibly say to that? “Very well,” he said.
“Are we…is this….” She couldn’t bring herself to ask. She didn’t want to lose him, but then what could she possibly offer him now?
He looked at her intently, his eyes filled with sadness and confusion. What happened in Labyrinthian wasn’t her fault. And yet it changed everything. Onmund wasn’t sure if it had created a schism or simply revealed an irresolvable conflict between them. One thing, of which he was certain, however, was that they needed more than a few hours to figure it out. It seemed to be a pattern with them. How long would it be before they could resolve something without the threat of dragons and intrusive companions hanging over them? Weeks? Months? What if it was years?
“I don’t know,” he said eventually. “I just don’t know.”
Post Script: About that ship. If you go to either Drevis or Collette’s page, you’ll see an exchange between them where Drevis is rather unpleasant toward her. After I wrote out that exchange, I went back and saw that. Then I worked backwards and incorporated their in-game conversation into my headcanon. But no, I won’t subject you to that.
Post Post Script: About that other ship. No, you saw it coming.