This chapter picks up from here.
Trygve was only too happy to be back in the Rift. One night in Ivarstead with Gwilin, a chipper and garrulous Bosmer with whom Trygve maintained occasional intimate contact, changed his calmly stoic (some would say smug) demeanor into outright, albeit subdued, delight. Also, the tables were turning on the events that happened in the Pale and Elspeth could no longer hold the disintegration of her relationship against him.
He would no longer bear the brunt of exposing the schism between Elspeth and Onmund, the one he assumed always existed, at least from the moment she’d been revealed as Dragonborn. But Trygve didn’t judge her behavior—he’d leave that to Lydia, who made her disgust over Elspeth’s dalliance with Ralof quite apparent. However, the sneering and snide comments Elspeth endured through their travels waned as they approached Riften, arriving at Honeyside early in the evening. Iona was sitting quietly at the table when they arrived, only barely acknowledging when they walked in.
But Trygve’s grin faded as Iona failed to return his smile. “Trygve, I need to tell you something,” she said.
He furrowed his brow. “What is it?” Iona was often stone-faced and serious, but her tone betrayed something else this time—sadness. Lydia recognized this immediately and gently grabbed Elspeth by the arm, stepping back to the door in case they needed to leave.
“Lilija is dead,” she replied. She stood and stepped closer to where Trygve was standing, stopping when he put his hand up and backed away from her
“Oh shit,” he said, rubbing his face and running a hand through his hair and rubbing his neck. “I think I’ll….” He looked around the house, his gaze stopping on the pantry barrels that held his mead. Shaking his head, he looked back up at Iona. “I’m going to bed.”
He turned and walked slowly downstairs. It was completely silent for a few moments until he got to his room, when they heard a loud slam and the sound of something crashing on the floor.
Elspeth shuddered. “Maybe we should stay at the inn tonight.” Lydia nodded, but Iona shook her head.
“You don’t have to,” she said. “But I’m heading there now for a drink. Would you care to join me? I know you like to partake.”
Lydia narrowed her eyes and smirked. “I suppose.” Elspeth, though a bit confused by this in-group exchanged, nodded and followed them.
Iona spoke about Lilija on their way to the Inn. “I already told Lydia a bit about Jory, who was Trygve’s closest friend growing up. With Lilija, the four of us were sort of an inseparable group. Lilija apprenticed with Trygve’s mother, so they were especially close. I think people expected them to become betrothed like Jory and I…
At this Elspeth and Lydia gasped, equally surprised and saddened at this revelation.
“But they were never really like that,” she continued. “And he did not agree with her decision to join the Stormcloaks, even as a healer and there was quite a bit of tension before she left.
“Somehow that doesn’t surprise me,” said Elspeth, but when she saw Iona glaring at her, she attempted to backpedal. “I just mean, well, he can be a bit obstinate at times—”
“Aye, you’re probably not wrong,” said Iona, though it was unclear if she agreed or if she simply understood how others understood him.
“How horrible for him,” said Lydia. “For both of you. I’m so sorry.”
“Thank you,” said Iona. She smirked a little at Lydia as they arrived at the inn. “All right. It’s your turn to get me home this time. And you’ll have your work cut out dragging both of our intoxicated arses out of here.” She gestured toward Elspeth.
Lydia laughed as they entered the inn. “Don’t worry about her. She’s impervious.”
“To mead? Really?” Iona was incredulous. “What kind of wizardry is that?”
Elspeth shook her head. “My trainer started me drinking from adolescence. Regularly. She thought it best that I not fall prey to lowered inhibitions and learn to throw a punch whilst under the influence.”
“Not the first word I would use to describe Xeri, but that was one of her better decisions.”
“Better tasting as well,” said Iona, recalling the very brief glimpse into Xeri’s training regimen she was privy too.
“Oh no!” Elspeth laughed. “She wasn’t inclined to waste money on such frivolity. She’d buy whatever swill the guards were distilling in the barracks. Though I really came to appreciate good brandy and wine when I was allowed to procure my own.”
Iona nodded and grinned. “All right then, challenge accepted!” she said, happy to have something to distract her somewhat from Lilija.
“Wait, what challenge?” asked Elspeth, but Iona ignored her and when Talen-Jei arrived at their table she ordered two cliff racers and a Black Briar mead for Lydia who wanted nothing to do with the tavern’s famous concoctions.
“She means to get you sozzled,” said Lydia. “Good luck, though I’m not sure which one of you needs it.”
Talen-Jei brought the first round of drinks, a pitcher of water, and some glasses. They toasted their first round, clanked glasses, and while Lydia sipped, the other two threw back their first shot. Elspeth had had her fair share of sharp, biting hard liquors but she was unprepared for this drink.
“Holy shit!” she said.
“That bad?” asked Lydia, while Iona chuckled.
“Not at all. I mean, that’s strong, but then it warms up your whole body, like a healing spell without an injury. I will take another.”
They ordered another round of drinks and Iona pulled out a deck of cards, dealing out a game of Gurka, which would pass the time and eliminate the pressure to sustain conversation. Despite the pleasant company and the fun of breaking Elspeth’s tolerance to liquor, Iona was still feeling rather distraught.
After several rounds of cards and drinks, the door banged shut, and the soft buzzing around the tavern came to an abrupt stop with the arrival of a tall blonde Nord dressed in fine clothing. The patrons looked around awkwardly as he walked up to the bar and ordered something from Keervara.
“That’s Asgeir Snow-Shod, Lilija’s brother,” whispered Iona. As he made his way back from the counter, all the patrons, save for Iona, put their heads back down. But she waved him over, stood, and offered a hug when he arrived. “I’m so sorry.”
“Thank you,” he croaked. “I had to get out of my house.” He looked around at all the customers. Some returned his gaze, offering sympathetic nods. Others simply avoided looking at him. “My parents are just…” he said, but couldn’t continue.
“If you need anything,” she said.
“My brother,” he replied. “If he shows up, maybe keep an eye on him.”
“I will,” she said. “Take care of yourself.”
After he left, she turned and sunk back down in her chair, far more despondent than she was before. “Poor Unmid. Asgeir’s the quiet, diplomatic one, he’ll be okay. Though I’m not sure how his betrothal to Mede’s cousin will fare after this.” Her voice quieted as she saw Elspeth and Lydia staring wide-eyed at her. This was becoming entirely too gossipy for her taste and she stopped. “But Unmid?” she continued. “If he wasn’t already Leila’s housecarl, he’d be halfway to Windhelm by now. Can’t say I’d blame him.” She gestured for more drinks and this time Lydia joined them in slamming down the cliff racers, but made it clear that she would have only one. They played several more rounds of cards and had a few more drinks. Everyone was so focused on their hands that no one had noticed how broody Elspeth had become.
“Fuuuuuk this war,” she said, rather loudly, causing Iona and Lydia to look up from their cards. “I’m the dragonborn. I could pick one side and shout the other side to Oblivion.” In a rather dramatic gesture, she brought her hands down to the side of her chair as if to launch forward but as soon as she started to stand, she sat back down again. “I could end this war right now, but I can’t stand up!” She groaned and slumped down further in the chair.
Iona and Lydia chuckled watching Elspeth try to focus and nearly lost it when she started poking her nose, as if trying to reassure herself that it was still there.
Elspeth ignored the laughing. “I love you guuuuys, even though Lydia hates me now” she said, grinning rather stupidly. “Can’t we leave Trygve here to mourn his friend and bring Iona with us to fight the dragon?”
“I don’t hate you,” Lydia said, amused but still exasperated, “And Iona is mourning her friend too.”
“But she didn’t poison anyone I care about!”
“It’s not always about you, Elspeth,” said Lydia.
Elspeth frowned. “I know that! And I’m sorry, but I’m tired of him being good at everything we need him for.”
Lydia couldn’t exactly disagree but she was embarrassed that Iona was hearing this. However, before she could admonish Elspeth once again, Iona chuckled a bit and sighed.
“I know that you find Trygve to be insufferable,” she said. “I’m sure he is very disruptive to your otherwise casual approach to duty. But he’s loyal and capable and you need him.”
“I suppose,” said Elspeth. She frowned and rubbed her head for a few moments, she didn’t particularly enjoy being characterized as casual. What difference did it make, if she got the job done? But she kept quiet on this; it was becoming difficult to focus on anything. “I’m not thinking straight.”
“I’ll say!” said Iona. “Looks like I won.”
“Why does anyone do this to themselves on purpose?”
“Wait until you wake up tomorrow. It will make even less sense.”
“Look at the size of that thing.” Iona, who had only seen dragons in the far distance, was impressed. “Is that the biggest one you’ve seen so far?”
For the others, whatever novelty the dragons once held, had completely worn off, but the closer the massive creature flew above, they realized this was far more impressive in size than the others. According to Trygve, it was an elder dragon.
They were situated on a ledge, near the bottom of Autumnwatch, where the dragon was perched on top of a long abandoned and ruined watchtower. The outcropping of rocks above them offered enough shelter from the dragon’s powerful frost spray but only allowed room for Trygve and Lydia, armed with poison-tipped arrows, to fight from a distance. The poison was potent and it was apparent that the dragon was weakening, being unable or unwilling to leave his perch for longer and longer turns.
The dragon, which was supposed to be at Lost Tongue Overlook, wound up at Autumnwatch, which required an extra day of riding. Elspeth was already restless upon arrival and the time-consuming process of wearing the dragon down with arrows was wearing her patience thin.
“This is taking too long.”
“I’m with you.” Iona said, though she kept her gaze fixed on Trygve, as if awaiting his directive, which was beginning to annoy Elspeth.
“You need to learn restraint,” he said. “And to minimize risk. Your recklessness will be the death of you, and then, of all of us. You don’t get that privilege.”
He wasn’t wrong, but Elsepth was growing weary of his persistent condescension. She was the Dragonborn. Ysmir, dragon of the north. She wanted to say something, but mid-fight was neither the time nor the place to suddenly start asserting authority.
“It won’t be much longer,” he said, trying to sound reassuring. “He’s becoming weak.”
“You said that an hour ago,” she replied. Perhaps it wasn’t time to voice her authority, but she was done waiting; it was time, she decided, to kill the dragon herself. “Keep at him with the arrows, I’m going to finish him off.” She looked around briefly, leaving confines of the ledge and started working her way up the path.
“Gods dammit,” said Lydia. She started to put her bow away, but Trygve stopped her.
“No, Lydia you stay here. You’re better at range. Iona will watch Elspeth’s back.”
Iona nodded and followed Elspeth up the path, taking care to avoid drawing the dragon’s gaze and out of the path of its frost spray. She fell behind Elspeth’s pace and prayed the dragonborn would stop at some point. If Elspeth took a moment to collect herself before throwing herself against this dragon, they might strategize an effective confrontation.
But strategy was the last things on Elspeth’s mind as she made her way up to the dragon’s tower. Though she attempted to keep out of the dragon’s line of sight, she did not take her time. She was not entirely careless, but her mind was singularly focused on reaching the dragon and driving her sword into its gullet. By the time she reached the base of the tower, she was feeling very good about her choice. Though the power of its frost had not diminished, it was clear that the dragon’s movements were becoming increasingly labored. Trygve and Lydia had torn holes in its wings and rendered its left hind leg apparently numb and dragging. Its remaining strength seemed mostly in its right side and its tail. After this assessment, Elspeth felt confident and so made her way up the tower.
The damage to the inside of the tower was considerable, and the top of the steps, Elspeth had to crouch. Between the dragon’s erratic movements and the narrow gap through which she could observe, she had a difficult time gauging the dragon’s positioning. When she saw what looked like a clear pass to the outside she took it, only to be met with a powerful frost spray. She had just enough time to cast a ward, still catching painful pricks of frostbite at her exposed skin. She thought she heard someone calling her name, but before she could look, the dragon caught an arrow in what must have been a sensitive spot under its hind limb because it screeched and threw its head sideways, knocking Elspeth into a pile of rocks.
Just as she began to regret this course of action, the dragon was once again distracted by something on the opposite side. Though its neck and wings were still thrashing, the dragon seemed too weak to gain any height, its tail and hind-legs seemed sufficiently paralyzed for her to climb up its back and crawl, using the long, pointed scales along its spine, to pull herself up to the base of its neck. She drew her sword as she straddled the creature and with all her strength jammed the sword into the softest part of the neck she could find. The dragon screeched again, the loudest, most piercing noise she’d heard ever heard from one. But she hung on, digging her weapon deep into the dragon’s throat bringing the noise to a gurgling halt with blood bursting from the wound and not stopping until its head flopped down.
Elspeth had to steady herself, absorbing the soul as she climbed down from its massive shoulders. With a feeling of immense satisfaction, she crawled down into the tower and bounced down the steps, nearly toppling over Lydia who met her at the entrance.
“And that’s how it’s done!” She grinned.
“Elspeth….” Lydia’s countenance was dour, her tone sullen.
“What?” Elspeth was confused, but kept walking, assuming Lydia would catch up and explain her mood. Usually her housecarl was pleased, elated even, with each dragon slain.
The reason for her friend’s lack of enthusiasm was soon made apparent. As Elspeth turned down the path, she heard it first—the choked sobs and then saw Trygve, rocking and holding Iona’s lifeless body.
She gasped but before she could speak, Trygve leapt to his feet and lunged toward her, his face red, thick angry veins popping out of his forehead.
“You are so fucking reckless!” he roared as he grabbed her shoulders and shoved her as hard as he could. Elspeth simply fell; she was completely blindsided, not only by Iona’s apparent fall but also by Trygve’s aggression. Lydia yelled and rushed to step between them, but Trygve stepped back, shaking his head as he cried. “Don’t you make excuses, either of you. I can’t any more…I’m done. I’m done.” His breathing was heavy as he muttered this last phrase, his voice quieting as he knelt back down by Iona.
“Elspeth, no,” Lydia’s voice was quiet, but harsh. When she didn’t move, Lydia gripped her arm and pulled her up, giving Trygve a wide berth as she led them past.
At the bottom of the path, she stood by her horse, seemingly paralyzed by shame and regret. She swallowed and looked at Lydia, “What have I done?”
Lydia just stared at Elspeth; unsure if she should admonish or reassure her friend, wondering if it was possible to do both and realizing she didn’t want to do either; she just wanted to leave. “Let’s just go home,” she said.