Grazhir :: Skyrim :: Yvara :: 24

25042015

6.8

Dovahkiin

The Fallen; Season Unending
Morning Star, 28th, 4E 202

Arngeir and I walked to the council chamber, where all parties were situated. Arngeir waved me to the seat at the far end of the table while he stood behind the end chair nearest the entrance. Arngeir said, “Now that everyone is here, please take your seats so we can begin.”

From that place, the chair to my immediate left had Legate Rikke, with General Tullius and Jarl Elisif following, Thalmor Emissary Elenwen, and finally Jarl Balgruuf. To my immediate right the chair was empty, but Jarl Ulfric and his right-hand man Galmar took up places, along with Delphine and Esbern.

“I hope that we have all come here in the spirit of—”

“No,” Ulfric interrupted, and pointed at Elenwen. “You insult us by bringing her to this negotiation? Your chief Talos-hunter?”

“That didn’t take long,” Rikke muttered.

“Hear, hear!” Galmar said in support of his Jarl’s objection.

“I have every right to be at this negotiation,” Elenwen said haughtily. “I need to ensure that nothing is agreed to here that violates the terms of the White-Gold Concordat.”

“She’s part of the Imperial delegation,” Tullius said almost wearily. “You can’t dictate who I bring to this council.”

Arngeir raised his hands a little to garner attention. “Please. If we have to negotiate the terms of the negotiation, we will never get anywhere. Perhaps this would be a good time to get the Dragonborn’s input on this matter.”

‘Oh great.’ As I went to speak Ulfric sprang out of his chair and said, “By Ysmir’s beard, the nerve of those Imperial bastards, eh? To think that I would sit at the same table with that . . . Thalmor bitch. Either she walks or I do.”

I steepled my hands in front of me. “I can see absolutely nothing about the goal of this conference that would touch on the White-Gold Concordat,” I said, letting my voice thrum with power. “Input from the Aldmeri Dominion is therefore unnecessary, but having the Emissary audit the proceedings causes no particular harm. She may stay.”

“But she is to observe, nothing more,” Ulfric insisted, taking his seat again. “We are not negotiating with her, is that clear?”

“Ulfric, why so hostile? After all—”

“Emissary,” I cut in sternly. “You are here in an observational capacity. Do not test the patience of those present by antagonizing participants. It is unbecoming of one of your station.”

Elenwen turned a cold look on me, but settled back.

“Now that that’s settled, may we proceed?” Arngeir invited.

“I have something to say first,” Ulfric replied.

“Here we go,” Rikke muttered.

“The only reason I agreed to attend this council was to deal with the dragon menace. There’s nothing else to talk about, unless the Empire is finally ready to renounce its unjust claim to rule over the free people of Skyrim.”

“I knew he wouldn’t be able to resist,” Rikke further muttered.

I was annoyed, but not surprised, by Ulfric’s inability to let us get on with the point of the council, never mind that his “free people of Skyrim” did not include anyone but Nords.

“We’re here to offer a temporary truce to allow the Dragonborn here to deal with the dragons. Nothing more. I consider even talking to the Empire a generous gesture.”

It seemed that Tullius agreed with me. “Are you done? Did you just come here to make speeches? Or can we get down to business?”

“Yes, let’s get this over with.”

“Are we ready . . . to proceed?” Arngeir tried again. “Jarl Ulfric. General Tullius. This council is unprecedented. We are gathered here at the Dragonborn’s request. I ask that you all respect the spirit of High Hrothgar, and do your best to begin the process of achieving a lasting peace in Skyrim. Who would like to open the negotiations?”

“Yes, let’s get down to it,” Ulfric said quickly. “We want control of Markarth. That’s our price for agreeing to a truce.”

Which made me think of the Markarth incident, at the very least.

“So that’s why you’re here, Ulfric?” Elisif said angrily. “You dare to insult the Greybeards by using this council to advance your own position?”

“Jarl Elisif,” Tullius said, “I’ll handle this.”

“General, this is outrageous!” she nearly yelled. “You can’t be taking this demand seriously! I thought we were here to discuss the truce!”

“Elisif!” Tullius said sternly. “I said I’d handle it. Ulfric, you can’t seriously expect us to give up Markarth at the negotiating table. You hope to gain in council what you’ve been unable to take in battle, is that it?”

“I’m sure Jarl Ulfric does not expect something for nothing,” Arngeir said reasonably.

“Yes, that’d be entirely out of character,” Rikke muttered.

I rather liked her, actually, for her sarcasm, but she was not making the best of impressions overall by constantly sniping. She counted as a delegate, though, unlike Elenwen, so I did nothing to repress her.

“What would the Empire want in return?” Arngeir asked.

“Wait,” Elisif said a bit desperately. “General, you don’t intend to just hand over Markarth to that . . . traitor!”

“Enough!” Tullius replied. “First, let’s be clear. This council wasn’t my idea. I think it’s a waste of time. You are a traitor to the Empire,” he said to Ulfric, “and deserve a traitor’s death. But I at least will negotiate in good faith.” He turned to me and continued, “Since we’re all here at your request, I’d like to hear what you think Markarth is worth.”

I let my eyes dart around on an imaginary map in front of me. Markarth was a foothold in Empire-controlled territory. The logical exchange would be a decent-sized foothold in Stormcloak territory. I looked back at him and said, “Riften.”

Tullius looked thoughtful. “Hmm. The Rift would help secure our communications with Cyrodiil . . . and threaten Ulfric’s southern flank. . . . Well, Ulfric? We’ve made you a fair offer. Are you serious about these talks, or are you just here to posture?”

“I expected better from you, Dragonborn,” Ulfric said to me. “I came here in good faith, and now it seems you help the Empire at every turn.”

“A major hold for a major hold,” I replied.

Ulfric turned away. “As for you, General Tullius, I see now that Galmar was right. Talking to the Empire is just as useless as ever. If you think you can hold Markarth, you’re as deluded as your Emperor when he signed away our freedom to the Thalmor. Skyrim will never again bow to your false Empire! Let’s go, Galmar. I should have listened to you in the first place.”

As Ulfric stood up in preparation to flounce out Tullius said, “You always were a fool, Ulfric. You’re no better at diplomacy than you are on the battlefield.”

Esbern chose that moment to get involved. “Stop! Are you so blind to our danger that you can’t see past your petty disagreements? Here you sit arguing about . . . nothing! While the fate of the land hangs in the balance!”

‘Thanks for the assist, Esbern,’ I thought, ‘but was it necessary to insult Tullius, too?’

“Is he with you, Delphine?” Ulfric demanded, making me wonder just when he’d run across her before—the Great War? “If so, I advise you to tell him to watch his tongue.”

“He is with me. And I advise you both to listen to what he has to say, before you do anything rash.”

‘Oh, you are good about giving him credit when it’s convenient.’

“Don’t you understand the danger?” Esbern said passionately, and with not a little disappointment, like that of a teacher whose student has failed a lesson. “Don’t you understand what the return of the dragons means? Alduin has returned! The World-Eater! Even now, he devours the souls of your fallen comrades! He grows more powerful with every soldier slain in your pointless war! Can you not put aside your hatred for even one moment in the face of this mortal danger?”

I had to think, despite greatly disliking Esbern including Tullius in his censure, that in doing so he did not throw all his scorn directly at the real target, so that Ulfric would not get that much more upset and offended.

Elenwen attempted to disrupt things further. “A very pretty speech—”

“Emissary!” I said angrily, the power of the Voice even more evident. “You are here to observe. Do not make me ask you to leave.”

She glared at me and sat back.

“I don’t know about the end of the world, but this dragon situation has gotten out of hand. If this truce will help the Dragonborn put an end to that menace, we both gain. Remember that, Ulfric. Now, back to the matter at hand.”

“Don’t hand me a mug of sheep’s piss and call it mead,” Ulfric said. “These terms are still not acceptable.”

“I’m sure you have something in mind,” Tullius replied wryly.

“Damn right we do,” Galmar answered.

“You surrender Hjaalmarch to us, and take Idgrod Ravencrone with you. Sorli the Builder will take over as Jarl of Morthal.”

As if I would willingly depose Idgrod!

“Where do these demands stop, Ulfric? Do you expect me to surrender all of Skyrim?”

“It seems I have no choice but to let the Dragonborn decide. Although I’m starting to doubt your fairness. What say you, Dragonborn.”

“I will repeat: A major hold for a major hold. Each has its unique advantages. I am not here to decide the outcome to a war. I am here to see to it that Alduin can be stopped before every last life on Nirn is destroyed. The Empire need not give up any more territory for what will obviously only be a temporary cease fire. I’m sure you know the phrase: Evgir Unslaad.”

Ulfric shook his head mournfully. “I can see that we won’t get better terms from this council. So be it. The sons of Skyrim at least put the greater good above our own interests.”

I had to hold back from rolling my eyes at his dramatics. I had a good mind to go join the damn Imperials if I managed to off Alduin and live through the experience just to see the arrogant look wiped off his racist face when I destroyed his cause.

“It seems we may have an agreement,” Arngeir said into the slight lull. “Jarl Ulfric. General Tullius. These are the terms currently on the table. Markarth will be handed over to Ulfric’s forces. Jarl Igmund will step down, and Thongvor Silver-Blood will become Jarl of Markarth. The Stormcloaks will withdraw from the Rift, allowing Imperial troops unhindered access. Jarl Laila Law-Giver will step down, and Maven Black-Briar will become the Jarl of Riften.”

‘Well now, there’s something I hadn’t anticipated. But it might aid Brynjolf and his lot. She pretty much ran the city already anyway.’

“You both agree to this?”

“The sons of Skyrim will live up to their agreements,” Ulfric said. “But once Alduin is defeated, then it will change. You should be pleased, Elisif. You’ve done well for yourself as the Empire’s pet Jarl. But beware—the Empire’s loyalty is fickle. They will tire of this war, and then I will be the one dictating terms to you.”

I nearly rolled my eyes again. ‘Right, taunt the widow of the man you killed, and who has not yet had enough time to learn how to properly rule a hold, though Falk seems to be doing all he can to teach her gently.’

Elisif turned away in disgust. “I have noting to say to that murderer. General, you’ve proven yourself a good friend to Skyrim. I continue to trust that you will do your utmost to safeguard our interests.”

Come to think of it, it was strange to see her there without Falk to temper her naïvety and exuberance.

“Thank you, Jarl Elisif. I appreciate your loyalty. The Empire can live with these terms, yes. For a temporary truce, until the dragon menace is dealt with. After that, Ulfric, there will be a reckoning. Count on it.”

I did give Tullius that much credit. He had managed to capture Ulfric once already.

“Come on, Galmar,” Ulfric said, rising from his seat. “We’ve a lot of work to do.”

Balgruuf waited until Ulfric and Galmar had left before addressing me. “Giving up Markarth is a heavy price for this truce, Dragonborn. I hope it was worth it.” He sounded not so much accusatory as worried.

“It is unfortunate that any territory had to change hands, Jarl Balgruuf, in order to secure the cease fire. But what is, is.” I got up and walked around a little to stretch my legs.

“Jarl Balgruuf,” Arngeir said, “I assume you are familiar with the Dragonborn’s plan?”

He nodded. “Yes, I’m ready to do my part. Just say the word, and my men will help you spring this trap.”

“But the difficulty remains—how to lure a dragon to Dragonsreach at all?”

Before I could reply Tullius said, “Well, that’s an excellent question. You haven’t overlooked that little detail, have you?”

My temper was rising again. True, I could have gone up to see Paarthurnax the night previous to inquire, but I was sick to death of running around at that point and wanted a rest.

“Ah,” said Esbern, and I knew another long rambling speech was about to ensue. “I believe I can be of help here. I anticipated this problem and have been busy in the library of Sky Haven Temple. An unguessed trove of lost lore . . . but the important thing is that the Blades recorded many of the names of dragons they slew.”

I blinked in shock. ‘Did he just say what I think he did, in front of Emissary Elenwen? Thalmor bitch? After his head and Delphine’s? Why not just give her a map, Esbern, and invite her for tea? Bad enough Ulfric identified Delphine earlier.’

“I cross-referenced this with Delphine’s map of dragon burial sites, and I believe I’ve identified one of the dragons that Alduin has raised up.” When half the room looked blank in that moment Esbern said disbelievingly, “Ah, don’t you see? The names of dragons are always three—”

“I already know that dragon names are Shouts,” I said sharply. “I’m hardly as ignorant as you seem to think and I’ve been places you’ve not dreamed of. What name?”

He looked a little taken aback, and disappointed that his audience wouldn’t be able to listen to a lecture, but readily enough said, “I’m no master of the Voice like these worthy gentlemen, but it is written here in this scroll. Od-Ah-Viing. ‘Winged Snow Hunter’ as I read it.”

‘Close enough,’ I thought and nodded. It wasn’t like I could call in Durnehviir for the information. Which reminded me I needed to work on that for the poor guy.

Tullius and his group began to leave, Balgruuf amongst them.

“You did well here today,” Arngeir told me. “I don’t think the truce will last long, but that will not be on your account.”

I shrugged. “I never expected it would, Master Arngeir. I just need a little breathing room.”

Arngeir walked away and I thought I might go relax for a while, to give the parties time to get down the mountain before I went to Whiterun. And then Delphine stopped me.

“I know,” she said.

“What is it you know,” I said with disinterest.

“I know that the leader of the Greybeards, this Paarthurnax, is a dragon. He needs to die. He deserves to die. And it falls to you to kill him. Until he’s dead, well, I’m sorry, but we would dishonor our oaths as Blades if we continued to help you.”

There it was again, the anger, the fury, welling up inside of me. “Oh? Finally cracked open a book?” I asked snidely. “Or paid attention to Esbern’s research? Why does he need to die?”

She scowled at me. “Here’s the big picture. He helped Alduin enslave our ancestors. He may have betrayed Alduin in the end, but that makes him worse, not better. We can’t afford to give Paarthurnax the opportunity to betray us in turn, and return to his old master. The Blades have been hunting him for centuries, but he was protected by the Greybeards and then the Emperors. Justice demands that he die for his crimes. Make your choice, Dragonborn. You’re either with us or against us.”

“Oh, wow,” I said softly. “I am stunned.”

“So you agree,” she said confidently.

“The Akaviri Dragonguard and the Blades were sworn to the Dragonborn Emperors. Did they question the decisions and authority of Reman Cyrodiil or Tiber Septim? As you are?”

“Those were different times, and proven leaders. No one had reason to question either one of them.”

There was a volcano erupting inside me. “Your oaths are obviously as useful as a dead dog,” I said with loathing. “Bruniikke!” I roared. “Savages! That is what you have become. You can’t even see your own hypocrisy. You disgust me. Get out! You will leave this mountain or I will Shout you off it!”

Delphine paled and took a step back, but her face was filled with self-righteous arrogance. She opened her mouth to say something, but Esbern grabbed her arm. She attempted to shake him off, but he persisted, and dragged her away. I followed them to ensure they left, shaking with anger, though I knew it would be next to impossible for them to reach the peak—not with that bizarre storm up there disintegrating the unwary and unarmed.

Arngeir ghosted up beside me.

“I apologize. I lost my temper,” I told him.

“They are bloodthirsty barbarians,” he replied. “Will you kill them?”

I looked over at him in surprise. “No. No matter how much I may fantasize about it. Not unless they attack me first. I don’t understand that woman, I really don’t. She tried to convince me that you were all so afraid of power that you refuse to use it. She can’t see that there are different ways to use the same power, and that learning any of this isn’t like learning how to use a sword. They both take effort and time and discipline, but that’s months against years or decades. People who have to invest that much usually aren’t willing to use it frivolously. I have never in my life felt such hatred, but Delphine managed to invoke it.” I shook my head. “I’m going to see Paarthurnax and cool off. Get some advice on luring Odahviing. I’ll be back to get some rest before heading out.”

To his credit Arngeir simply nodded. He trusted that I was true to my earlier words.

Up on the peak Paarthurnax was not upset at being disturbed, thankfully. We greeted each other and then I shook my head. “The Blades tried to convince me to kill you. I get the whole bit about past crimes against humanity and all, but I’d like to think you’ve more than made up for following Alduin in the first place.”

“The Blades are wise not to trust me. Onikaan ni ov. I would not trust another dovah,” Paarthurnax replied. “Dov wahlaan fah rel. We were made to dominate. The will to power is in our blood. You feel it in yourself, do you not?”

I shrugged. I thought I was surprisingly normal, actually, but that might have something to do with being introduced to increasing power on a more gradual basis.

“I can be trusted. I know this. But they do not. Onikaan ni ov dovah. It is always wise to mistrust a dovah. I have overcome my nature only through meditation and long study of the Way of the Voice. No day goes by where I am not tempted to return to my inborn nature. Zin krif horvut se suleyk. What is better—to be born good, or to overcome your evil nature through great effort?”

“It’s the ones who think they’re so good they can’t see the consequences of their decisions I don’t trust,” I commented. “They’ll find any justification to excuse their actions because they think they must be right. Do you think Odahviing will come when I Shout his name at Dragonsreach? Won’t he assume it’s a trap?”

“The dov are prideful by nature. Few could resist such a challenge. Especially from you, Dovahkiin. But Odahviing, I remember him well. He is . . . headstrong? Boziik. Rash. Even amongst the dov he was known for this. He will not resist the challenge of your Voice. He will come. Now—hear his name. Odahviing. Taste it on the wind. Od-ah-viing. Know it in your su’um. Od-ah-viing!”

The Fallen
Morning Star, 29th, 4E 202

I arrived at Whiterun before mid-day and as I walked past Breezehome I thought that I might never go inside it again. I felt only minimally bad for Lydia, being housecarl to a Thane who was rarely ever around. But if the Dragonborn could disappear. . . . Killing Alduin would not make the other dragons simply disappear, but it would mean no more could be resurrected. I would simply have to be careful.

I decided that Ulfric would have been disappointed or even angry no matter what so long as the truce did not favor him overtly. If I started being attacked by Stormcloaks, though, all bets were off, and I would join the Imperials and do my damnedest to bring an end to the war. The Thalmor wanted it to drag on and on, so maybe helping was just the thing to do anyway.

On my way up to Dragonsreach I was stopped by Farkas, which surprised me. “Yes?” I asked, making sure my voice held power, hoping he would not actually recognize me.

“Gossip says you go to Sovngarde.”

I nodded. “That is the intention.”

“If you—if you see a man there, Kodlak Whitemane. . . .”

I nodded again. “I will look and get word to you, should I return.”

Farkas seemed satisfied with that and took off for Jorrvaskr after thanking me.

Balgruuf was on his throne, and gained a look of excitement when he saw me.

“Are you ready to spring the trap?” I asked him.

“As promised, my men stand ready. The great chains are oiled. We wait on your word. Now that it’s upon us, I’m rather looking forward to the challenge. I’ll be famouser than Olaf One-Eye!”

I refrained from laughing and nodded. “Then it is time. Let us go trap a dragon.”

Balgruuf rose and nodded to Irileth, who took off. “My men know what to do. Make sure you do your part. I’m putting my city in your hands.”

I followed him upstairs and through the grand doors at the back, where the balcony area was, the one you could see from quite a distance away coming from the north. Irileth was already there, as were a number of guards. One each was up on the walk to either side, while others milled around the area. A glance upward showed the mechanism used to capture Numinex, or a replication. So long as it worked that was all that mattered.

“Go ahead and call this dragon of yours,” Balgruuf said. “We’re ready.”

I walked out to the end of the balcony and gazed up at the sky. I took a deep breath and Shouted. “Odahviing!!”

Nothing happened for long moments, but I trusted what Paarthurnax had told me. And then I heard the sound of a roar, but couldn’t quite place from which direction.

“Hear that?” a guard nearby said, then shrieked in terror when he was snatched up and flung out into the distance. His screams of fright trailed off into nothingness as he fell to his death.

“Over there!” Balgruuf yelled.

“Shor’s bones, here he comes!” yelled a guard.

“Hold your fire until he’s close!” Balgruuf ordered.

I just stood there, waiting. And then Odahviing was there. He had swooped up from underneath and hovered there in front of us. “Dovahkiin! Here I am!” he called, then unleashed fire on the balcony area.

I started backing up slowly as I Shouted, “Joor Zah Frul!” I didn’t want to hurt him all that much so I refrained from summoning an atronach, and I knew the guards’ arrows wouldn’t cause much harm. He landed on the balcony and began to come at me.

I continued backing up slowly, sending lightning and the occasional Shout, and trying not to look anywhere but at the dragon. And then the guards released the stops on the chains and the mechanism dropped, neatly trapping Odahviing under a dragon-sized yoke.

“Nid!”

“Got him!” Balgruuf said happily.

“I th-think it’s holding,” a nervous guard stuttered.

I walked forward to stand in front of the dragon. Sure, he could Shout at me some more, but he couldn’t lunge, and I was more wary of his teeth than his Voice.

“Horvutah med kodnaav. Caught like a bear in a trap. Zok frini grind ko grah drun viiki, Dovahkiin.”

“True,” I replied. “But then I was counting on that.”

Odahviing snorted, causing one of the guards to skitter back like a frightened skeever. “I salute your, hmm, low cunning in devising such a grahmindol—stratagem. Zu’u bonaar. You went to a great deal of trouble to put me in this . . . humiliating position. Hind siiv Alduin, hmm?”

“Yes, I do. Where is he hiding?”

He snorted again, I thought in amusement. “Rinik vazah. An apt phrase. Alduin bovul. One reason I came to your call was to test your Thu’um for myself. Many of us have begun to question Alduin’s lordship, whether his Thu’um is truly the strongest. Amongst ourselves, of course. Mu ni meyye.”

I snorted softly.

“None were yet ready to openly defy him.”

“You were telling me where to find Alduin?” I prodded, wondering if all dragons were chatty when they weren’t causing chaos.

“Unslaad krosis. I digress. He has traveled to Sovngarde to regain his strength, devouring the sillesejoor. A privilege he jealously guards. His door to Sovngarde is at Skuldafn, one of his ancient fanes high in the eastern mountains. I surely do not need to warn you that all his remaining strength is marshaled there. Zu’u lost ofan hin laan. You will now allow me to go free?”

I eyed him thoughtfully, Paarthurnax’s words ringing in my ears. “After Alduin has been defeated,” I temporized.

Odahviing lowered his head slightly. “Ah. Well. Hmm, krosis. There is one . . . detail about Skuldafn I neglected to mention.”

I smiled to myself. “And what would that be?”

“Only this. You have the Thu’um of a dovah, but without the wings of one, you will never set foot in Skuldafn. Of course . . . I could fly you there. But not while imprisoned like this.”

I eyed him again. If he spoke the truth I had no choice but to set him free. He had spoken, though, and suggested a solution. He was headstrong, but also surprisingly reasonable having been humbled. I sincerely wished I could read a dragon the way I could a mortal, but it wasn’t as though I could skip off to see Paarthurnax to get his advice before making a decision. “I will release you in exchange for your promise to transport me to Skuldafn.”

“Onikraan koraav gein miraad. It is wise to recognize when you only have one choice. And you can trust me. Zu’u ni tahrodiis. Alduin has proven himself unworthy to rule. I go my own way now. Free me, and I will carry you to Skuldafn.”

I nodded. “Deal.” I signaled the guards at the chains right before Farengar skittered up giddily and said, “Incredible! Uh . . . sir, you have no idea how long I have waited for such an opportunity! I would be most appreciative if you would permit me to perform some, ah, tests on you. Purely—”

I sent the signal again. Gods forbid Farengar muck up this deal for me. The guards must have gotten approval from Balgruuf because they winched back the yoke. Odahviing straightened up and Farengar scrambled back out of reach. Maybe I would deliver some materials to Farengar later, but. . . .

Odahviing awkwardly turned around and stomped off to the edge of the balcony, then looked back at me, so I jogged up to come even with his head. “Faas nu, zini dein ruthi ahst vaal.”

“By all the gods,” I could hear Irileth murmur.

“Saraan uth. Are you ready to see the world as only a dovah can?”

I nodded and began climbing up to perch on his neck. “I’m ready. Take me to Skuldafn.”

“Zok brit uth! I warn you, once you’ve flown the skies of Keizaal, your envy of the dov will only increase. Amativ! Mu bo kotin stinselok.”

As Odahviing launched into the air I could hear Irileth again. “You are either the bravest person I’ve ever met, or the biggest fool.”

And then Balgruuf. “May Kynareth guard you while you pass through her realm.”