Paarthurnax warmed the Wall with fire till it glowed a sullen red, and Vilkas and I sat in its warmth as the dragon crouched and told us the story of Dragonreach; of how it was constructed as a prison for a dragon named Numinex – all for the amusement of the ruling king who had mastered it with his Thu’um.
“You’re speaking of Olaf,” Vilkas said with a warning growl. “He was a great hero!”
“Perhaps he was, to the joor,” Paarthurnax replied. “But Numinex was one of the dov. To be kept in a trap, unable to wing across the skies – you cannot comprehend what it means to us. He went slowly mad over the years, witless and rambling until even his Thu’um left him.”
I winced at the bitterness in Paarthurnax’s voice – and perhaps because I could understand the concept of Thu’um, I could envision what he meant better than Vilkas; the despair of a winged, immortal, thinking creature locked in chains. I lowered my gaze as Paarthurnax spoke on.
“Be it as it may, if you can lure a dragon into the trap, you may be able to secure its oath to tell you where our elder brother flies. I assure you – to be forced out of the sky is no small thing. To be kept out of the sky is enough to sway even the strongest of us. Eventually, a dragon will speak.”
Vilkas shifted slightly beside me, his own innate curiosity getting the better of him. “So – there are two stories of Olaf the One-Eyed. Which one is true?”
“Ah, joor, that is the difference between myth, and history,” Paarthurnax replied, lowering its great head to ponder Vilkas with one large eye. “Which would you want to know?”
“Both, I think,” Vilkas replied with a small smile. “I admit I am fond of the old stories – it won’t ruin it for me to also know the truth of them.”
“Perhaps when all is done, you may have your wish,” Paarthurnax said, nodding its great head, and I smiled slightly – perhaps I wasn’t going to have to worry about Vilkas slaying Paarthanax after all. In any event, it seemed we had another job before us and therefore we took our leave and went back down the mountain.
“A word with the jarl of Whiterun, then?” Vilkas asked, tucking the Elder Scroll back into his packs. “I’ll be putting this in Jorrvaskr’s Underforge for the time being till we figure out what to do with it.”
“Very well, on all counts,” I sighed, rubbing my weary eyes. “I hope my standing as Thane will help at least, if the Jarl remembers me!”
But I proved to overestimate my standing. “Are you telling me you want to imprison a dragon in these walls with a civil war going on right outside my doorstep?” the Jarl roared. Irileth bristled at his shoulder, staring at me rather impassively as I pinched the bridge of my nose with my fingers. Not my best reception.
“Jarl Balgruuf, I respect you and your dedication to your people – but understand if I don’t do this, there isn’t going to be a Whiterun to protect,” I said in my most convincing tones. “I come to you as Dragonborn and Harbinger of Jorrvaskr – ”
“You what?!” Irileth burst out in disbelief, and I gave her a bland look as Vilkas and the other Companions – who had come with me to give some weight to my words – took a mute step forward. It wasn’t how I wanted things to play out at all, but it got the point across and the Jarl gave Irileth a sharp look.
“I would not take the words of a Harbinger lightly, and not in my halls,” the Jarl said smoothly. He turned back to me, regarding me from his throne, then grunting and shaking his head.
“I take your point, Dragonborn – but I owe no allegiance to anyone but the people of Whiterun. I will not put them in further jeopardy with a civil war battering at my gate. However, I will tell you this: if you can manage to get the Stormcloaks and Imperials to agree a truce, I will try your plan.”
I couldn’t quite believe what I was hearing. “You want me to stop the war?”
“Oh, you won’t be able to manage that,” Jarl Balgruuf said with a dry chuckle. “But you may be able to coordinate a cease-fire. I will not have such…volatile…people in my halls, but perhaps the Greybeards would host such a meeting, as they are neutral ground.”
I rubbed my brow with my thumb as the Companions and I exited Dragonreach, and Farkas barked out a humourless laugh. “That’s going to be one interesting meeting. How are you going to pull that off?”
“I have no idea,” I admitted, gritting my teeth in frustration. How was I going to get all the squabbling groups of Skyrim to agree to hold off? I knew enough about mortal nature to believe they’d fight each other as the world burned – but I wasn’t doing this for them. I was doing it for all those poor souls who had no idea what doom was coming upon them. I watched them as I leaned in the walls of the Dragonreach steps – market sellers, children playing on the cobbled streets. I knew these people. I couldn’t fail them.
“Right; well, first thing to do is get the Stormcloaks and Imperials to agree to even meet in the first place,” I continued, surveying Vilkas, Aela, Farkas, Njada and Athis in turn. “And since there’s nothing else for it, I’ve got a job for each of you.”
I sent Vilkas, Farkas and Njada to have a word with Ulfric, and Aela and Athis to General Tullius. From there, Vilkas would seek out the Blades, and Aela would gather any other stragglers; I actually needed the Thalmor to stop trying to take potshots at me whenever I went anywhere, at least for now! For myself I made my way back up to High Hrothgar – I was learning to loathe stairs – to have a word with Arngeir. He was decidedly reluctant, and I could certainly understand his point.
“Do you know the Nord words for war?” he asked me quietly, and with a fair taste of contempt on his lips. “They call it ‘Season Unending’. And so it has proved. Nothing will change this land – they will take up their weapons and fight dragon or not.”
“I know,” I admitted. “But as I told Paarthurnax, I am not doing it for a bunch of hardheads – there are children and families in Whiterun who have no idea what will befall them. And there are the same in Dawnstar, and Riften, and Markath. All over Skyrim. All over the world, Arngeir. They can fight each other after I’m done, but I will at least deal with the World Eater first. So, will you aid?”
The Greybeard sighed, clasping his hands in the folds of his voluminous robe. “Very well then. We here are aware of the threat, and if it is your wish to try and seek its end, we will aid you. I shall stress as best we can to our guests that it is no time for past grievances. But I’m certain they shall attempt to try and solve things messily. What should we do then?”
“Well, if all else fails, Shout at them till they shut up and listen,” I retorted with a mutter, and I took a room in High Hrothgar to wait.
It took a day, but eventually our uneasy guests arrived. Blades, Stormcloaks, Imperials, Thalmor, and the Jarl of Whiterun streamed in the door and stood, scowling at each other across the round table of parley – and they didn’t do so nicely.
“Ah, yes, you were at the party,” Elenwen said, fixing her jewel-toned eyes upon me; her manner was the usual Altmer archness, but I could sense the malice beneath the barbed tone. “The dress didn’t suit you at all, really…but now I know who you are.”
“You’re down a few bounty hunters, I imagine,” I replied, leaning against my chair. Vilkas was standing behind me, and I could hear his gauntlets grind together as he kept his hands tightly clasped behind his back. If he didn’t strangle anyone, we’d be lucky.
“I will not sit at this table with….that….here,” Ulfric growled as he gestured at Elenwen. “A representative of the people who neutered Skyrim and outlawed our proudest God?”
“I’m inclined to agree,” Delphine grated, glaring daggers at the Altmer, who stared a moment, then narrowed her eyes.
“I thought we had managed to route you all out,” Elenwen said in mock surprise. “A shame, we didn’t do a thorough job – ”
“If you please,” Arngeir interjected smoothly, gesturing to the table. “This is no time for aggression and past grievances. Be seated, and let us discuss what can be done to bring a truce to Skyrim, at least for now.”
I took my seat, and eventually, grudgingly, the rest did the same. I can tell you that it was hour upon hour of bickering and vitriol, sometimes hidden behind diplomatic language, and sometimes spat with vehemence. We moved cities, towns, and settlements round like bartering chips – and of course no one was ever entirely happy with the decisions.
“This is hardly fair!” General Tullius protested, pushing back away from the table with a grunt of disgust.
“I would say that it’s not particularly fair to the people who are living in these villages and have no idea what we’re doing here,” I shot back – my patience was growing thin by this time. “We’re playing draughts with lives who will have to be informed tomorrow whether they are Stormcloak or Imperial!”
“We are making as generous a gesture as we can being here,” Tullius began.
“I don’t see anything here as a generous gesture!” Galmar Stone-fist growled, slamming a hand down on the table.
“Let me remind everyone here,” Esbern interjected, leaning forward and fixing everyone round the table with a hard stare. “We are not here to argue. The dragons are destroying Stormcloak and Imperial forces – oh yes, I’m well aware! And unless we allow the Dovahkiin here to face Alduin, there will be nothing left. No Stormcloaks, no Imperials. No Skyrim.”
“Please don’t tell me this insulting old fool is with you?” Ulfric snarled at Delphine. “He should mind his tongue!”
“You cannot expect such a thing of those tired old relics,” Elenwen interjected. WIth a snarl, Delphine stood on her feet, and suddenly everyone was standing arguing in louder and louder voices, while Arngeir attempted to calm them, and the rest of the Greybeards looked on impassively.
I however had had more than enough. Rubbing my face with my hand, I gathered air into my lungs.
It was stronger than I actually had wished it to be, but it did what I expected of it – everyone standing before me staggered to one side, off balance and shocked. The Greybeards recovered quickly enough, but the rest stared. Ulfric glowered at me, and I saw his chest hitch a moment, but I raised my hand. “Don’t.” It was the only thing I had to say, and he darted a glance round as all the Greybeards and Vilkas were watching him intently. With a muttered curse, he relented, and now the room was silent.
“I do not expect everyone in this room to accept peace and happiness right this moment,” I said quietly, leaning back in my chair. “Honestly, I don’t care what any of you do to each other. But I have a job to do here, and I will see it done. The only way I can do this is if Whiterun will be left in peace. So – you can sit here and argue until the dragons come here and topple you all, or we can agree this truce now and everyone can go their separate ways.” I gave everyone a hard look – I was getting a headache now and just wanted the job done.
“General? Ulfric? Are we agreed?”
There were several moments of silence, before each man nodded his head. I exhaled a sigh of relief, and the tension flowed out of the room slightly.
“Then it is done,” Arngeir said quietly. “My brothers and I will draw up and deliver the terms to each party. Let the truce be known and come to pass.”
And that was that – the meeting was adjourned and that is how the civil war was brought to an end. This is why the map of Skyrim is as it is – and money changed hands for blood-prices and compensations. It isn’t a perfect alliance and I am sure at some point it will all blow up again, as ever. Season unending. But at least it has held during my lifetime, and I was able to continue to follow my wyrd.
The Imperials and Stormcloaks departed, and the Thalmor as well although they gave the Blades and myself a final glare. Esbern bustled over to me, with excitement in his face. “Well well, that went better than expected! Now, it’s just a matter of capturing a dragon.”
“And I have no idea how I’m going to manage that,” I sighed, glancing round for Vilkas. I wanted nothing more than a horn of mead and a long rest – where was that Nord?
“Ah, but that is what I’ve managed to find,” Esbern said proudly. “You can call a dragon if you know its true name, and I’ve found a name for you: Odahviing. You’ll want to call him with his words of power – he won’t be able to resist if you do. Here, I’ve written them down for you. How you’ll get him out of the sky, I’m not sure.”
My attention snapped back to the scholar – this was good news indeed. “Esbern, you’re a marvel. And I know exactly how I’ll get him down.” That was what Dragonrend was meant for, after all! I studied the power words – and even reading them was quite effective – I could feel their understanding fill me, and I shivered as I could even see the dragon in my mind’s eye; red as blood, strong and old.
I thanked Esbern and was just on my way out when Delphine came forward, a rather shame-faced Vilkas behind her.
“We know,” Delphine said tersely to me before I could say anything at all.
I stared at the elder Blade, unable to understand what she was saying at first, but Vilkas’s expression was easily read. Paarthurnax. He hadn’t wanted to tell her, but grilled at length he had relented; he was oath-sworn after all.
“You need to kill him,” Delphine said flatly, and I stared now at Delphine, staggered.
“I have no intention of doing that,” I responded quietly, although my eyes narrowed slightly. “Don’t you realise I would have never got this far without Paarthurnax’ aid?”
“He’s a dragon!” Delphine hissed, her eyes flaring.
“And I am a Bosmer, married to a Nord,” I replied, and this time my own temper flared. “So much for blind obedience to popular opinion.”
“We are sworn to kill dragons – ”
“And sworn to protect the Dragonborn as well,” I added, nearly toe to toe with the Imperial. “But I’ve been doing all the saving and protecting here. I’ve killed for you, I’ve gone on completely wild hunts of no relevance for your need for vengeance. I will aid you here in Skyrim, but I will not be killing a dragon solely because Paarthurnax happens to be one. He has been invaluable – and he is a friend. And that is final.”
Delphine’s face drained of colour, her lips set in a thin line. “Then there is nothing further we can do for you,” she murmured frostily. “It would be in direct violation of my oath.”
I snorted – I wanted to say a lot more, but there was no point. “I won’t be needing your help any longer. Go safely, Blade – I’ve work to do.”
In a sour mood, I stumped out of High Hrothgar with Vilkas at my heels. Before he could say anything I shook my head and gave him a weary smile. “I know – and I don’t blame you. It’s all right.”
“I’m sorry,” Vilkas said regardless, wrapping his cloak round us both. “I am oathed as well. By all rights I should be trying to kill him too but – as you say, he’s been a great help. I’m looking forward to hearing what stories he can he can tell me! Still, what you need right now is rest.”
“What I need to do is – ”
“Rest,” Vilkas said sternly, putting an arm round my waist as we made our way down the pilgrim’s path. “Sleep, and prepare. And give me my wife for a few hours. At least can I be granted that little boon before the world comes down?”
We made our way to our small house in Whiterun, and left the world to its own devices. We couldn’t sleep – we both could feel that the end of my wyrd was nearing, that I was coming to the final battle which would either see me victorious or see me broken and dead, with all of Skyrim to follow. Exhaustion had to force our eyes closed, though I fell asleep gazing at my husband’s sleeping face – drawn and pinched, with dreams that made his brow furrow. My time was close now. I would either defeat Alduin…or I wouldn’t. What else was there?
The sun was rising, filtering through the chinks in the roof, before I finally abandoned myself to dark dreams, filled with smoke and a dragon’s roars.