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Chapter Forty – On To Solitude


BrotherofCats

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What had taken seven long days to get to Winterhold from Heljarchen took two and half to get back. There had been some delay as they killed two dragons. The dragons were taken down by a party that had gotten very good at killing dragons. The dragons were still dangerous, and Nora hoped everyone would remember that. A couple of seconds in the breath stream, bearing the brunt of the dragon's power, would spell the end for most. Everyone in the party had multiple enchantments against fire, frost and shock, so they could handle six or more seconds, while all the healers kept a close eye out with healing spells ready. Everyone moved with speed and purpose, not giving the dragons a clear target.

 

“I wonder why they keep attacking us?” asked Sofia after they had killed the second beast. “I mean, there are hundreds of thousands of square miles in Skyrim, so why don't they find some other targets?”

 

Nora had been wondering that herself. Though it did make them easier for the Dragonborn to kill them for good.

 

“I think they can sense when you are close, Nora,” said Eldawyn, looking back at the skeleton of the monster they had just slain. “So they come flying in hoping to prove themselves to their lord and master. Even though they must know they are risking their existence challenging you.”

 

“And why don't they gang up on me?” asked Nora, shaking her head. She thought that two or three dragons might take down the party, though they had handled a pair in the past.

 

“They're arrogant bastards,” continued Eldawyn, sighing. “Even though they know you can kill them, they all have the not me attitude of many young warriors lacking experience.”

 

That made sense to the Dragonborn, who had seen it in many young Minutemen. They had weapons, and backup, and if anyone died in battle if wouldn't be them. Which is why they went recklessly into battle and many died. Nora had held the hand of many a young fighter who was dying. Commonwealth medicine could cure many things, but not a massive bleeding wound that had penetrated the organs of the body. Or losing multiple limbs to a deathclaw. Perhaps in a hospital, but those had been in short supply in the wastes. At times Nora had felt like a little bit of her died with each and every one of those young men and women. But she was the best leader they had, and they were more likely to come back with her in charge, so she soldiered on.

 

The party enjoyed hot baths and warm rooms in the Nightgate Inn. Along with a home cooked meal that they didn't have to prepare. The bard was not that good, but at least they had some entertainment.

 

“Did you find the College to your liking?” asked the Innkeep, probably wondering why they were back just over a month after she left.

 

“I did,” she replied, looking the man straight in the eyes. “In fact, I'm on some missions for the College, then I will come through on my way back.”

 

“One of the guards came running in before you unsaddled your horses. Said something about he had never seen anyone riding so fast down the last stretch of the road.”

 

“We were anxious to get into a warm room,” said Eldawyn.

 

The Innkeep knew that was all the answer he was going to get and dropped it. A relaxed party started out the next morning with a clear plan to get to Solitude. They would go the road over to intersect the route from Whiterun to Dawnstar, then over to Dragonsbridge by way of Morthal. Then on the road to the east to Solitude. Three and a half days on a route that had taken almost nine the last time they had passed that way.

 

The party rode across the icy wastes that were The Pale, the horses hitting a steady forty miles an hour, for hour after hour. They outran saber cats and wolves, and bypassed some fights between Stormcloaks and Imperials. When bandits tried to stop them the party engaged and destroyed them. Nora felt obligated to take care of the scum as they appeared. They made camp each night with Nora casting a rune perimeter around the camp, detonating them in the morning.

 

On the second night one of the shock runes exploded, a couple of men screaming out as the sentries, Eldawyn and Valdimar, ran out to see what was happening. The Housecarl struck down three of the bandits while Eldawyn sent four others to oblivion with fire. They found another pair that had been blasted by the shock rune lying on the ground and crying out in pain. Valdimar took care of them with his ebony hammer, its enchantment setting the bandits on fire as it struck.

 

They rode through Morthal the next day, continuing on and stopping for the night in Dragonsbridge. While not quite as fast as a vertibird, and nowhere near the speed of teleportation, it was a great advancement on moving cross country. Still Nora resolved to find some teleportation spells as soon as she was advanced enough to cast them.

 

Early afternoon on the fourth day out of Heljarchen they reached the Solitude stables, boarding their horses and unloading their camp and survival gear into a shed with a lock. They then walked through the outer works of the city and into Solitude proper.

 

Nora felt herself relaxing to the sights and sounds of the city. This time she didn't have to worry about the Dark Brotherhood. If any survived she doubted they would be coming after her, not after what she had done to them after their first attempts.

 

“Well,” asked Sofia, eyes narrowed as she looked at the inn at the entrance to the city. “The Skeever or the Palace?”

 

“Seeing as Elisif would send her guards to round us up if we didn't go to the Palace, I think it's an easy choice.”

 

“The Jarl is not holding court this day,” said the guard officer at the entrance to the Blue Palace. “Come back tomorrow.”

 

“Would you please announce Thane Nora Jane Adams of Whiterun and Hjaalmarch to the Jarl.”

 

The eyes of the officer grew wide, and he hurried into the palace. He was back in less than a minute.

 

“Jarl Elisif will see you immediately, Thane Adams. If you would please follow me.”

 

Elisif met her in the entry hall, coming down the steps in a casual gown. “Nora,” she cried out, taking the last couple of steps at a run and wrapping the Dragonborn in a tight hug. She grabbed Nora by the arms and holding her away, running her eyes up and down the body of the other woman. “And just as ravishingly beautiful as ever.”

 

“Yeah, right,” said Nora, cracking a smile. “I have road dirt on me, and my armor and clothing needs a good cleaning. But I do have to say that you are still as beautiful as ever.”

 

“Nora, you have the kind of beauty that mere dirt can't obscure. So why don't we just say that we're both too good for this world.”

 

Nora took a close look at Elisif's eyes, still the gorgeous blue that seemed to glow, but with an underlying sadness that had not abated in the months that Nora had been away. They said that the Nords were strong, as tough as stone, and this young Jarl met that description.

 

“You've been making quite a name for yourself,” said Elisif, placing Nora's forearm in the crook of hers and leading her up the stairs. “You'll have to tell me all about it at dinner tonight. Of course you and your people will stay in the palace.”

 

“I guess I'll have to say yes,” said Nora with a laugh. “Unless I want to be placed under arrest.”

 

“It's good to be Jarl,” said Elisif. “And it's even better to be able to abuse your power once in a while.”

 

Sybille Stentor was waiting at the top of the steps, eyes an unnaturally bright as always. “I have been receiving reports from the College that you are progressing faster than anyone thought possible.”

 

“Who has been telling you that?” asked Nora, eyes narrowing.

 

“If I told you, you would be guarded around them. And I don't want you to have to do that.”

 

Nora remembered something, and stopped Elisif for a moment so she could make eye contact. “Erikur? What happened to him?”

 

“The slimy bastard fled in the night,” groaned the Jarl, “Just before my guards could break down his door and arrest him. We think he fled on a merchant ship to Hammerfell, but of course there is no proof.”

 

“Shit. That's not good, Elisif. I hope you're taking precautions. A man like that has no personal courage, but what he does have is a whole storehouse of anger and hate. He will try to get revenge on you.”

 

“You too,” said the Jarl, frowning. “Even with the Dark Brotherhood gone, there are still plenty of people who will take coin to commit murder.”

 

“I'm one of the most dangerous people on two worlds,” said Nora with a smile. “I have powerful friends, many of them mages. And I'm constantly moving. While you, my dear, are a stationary target. So you need to be careful. Make sure you have armed retainers at hand that you can trust at all times. Promise me you'll do that.”

 

“I promise,” said Elisif in a hushed voice. “Now,” she asked, her voice brightening. “How long are you staying?”

 

“Only one night, I'm afraid. I'm on a mission for one of the faculty. An apprentice they had sent on a mission to track down some missing materials is long overdue. She said I should check the coastal caves to the north of the city. And then I have to recover some books stolen by renegade mages at Fellglow Keep near Whiterun.”

 

“Oh, the sheltered life of a student,” said Stentor with a chuckle.

 

“I worry about you, Nora,” said Elisif, motioning one of her servants over and giving the woman instructions to see to her guests' baths and lodging. “You are always rushing into danger.”

 

“It's what I do, my dear. It's what I've always done. And there are a lot of nests of evil that need to be cleaned out, not to mention the dragon invasion.”

 

Dinner that night was once again in the informal dining room. Elisif at the head of the table, Nora's people along one side; Falk, Sybille and Bryling on the other side. Eldawyn was seated on that side as well to help balance it out.

 

Nora regaled them with tales of her adventures since leaving Solitude. When she got to the part about being discovered by Ulfric, Elisif sucked in a breath. “Too bad you didn't kill him.”

 

“I know you want him dead,” said Nora, shaking her head. “I wasn't there to kill him, and I am not an assassin. We had a small test of the voice, and I am his master. Plus, I was in his palace, surrounded by his people, and I wouldn't have gotten out of there alive. I have a greater destiny than taking down a Jarl.”

 

“Of course you do,” agreed Elisif. “So, what did he offer you?”

 

"Oh, nothing much. To make me his queen and a general in his army. I would rather bed a snake than that one.”

 

“Your appearance is too unique,” said Sybille, who of course was only drinking wine and ignoring the food. “With your hair and eye coloring you stand out in this land. Plus your distinctive armor, and the people around you. I can give you a recipe for hair dye, and a potion that will change your eye color and facial features, temporarily. Just in case you decide to try and infiltrate another den of snakes.”

 

Nora thought that a good idea. Change her coloring some, fine clothes, and she could probably pass as a nobody anywhere in this land.

 

“I'm more interested in your people contacting you,” said Falk, setting his fork back on his plate. “Sending supplies and a letter from your world. What did they say?”

 

“That they are working to bring me home. That they think they can do it in a little over a year.”

 

Now there were many sucked in breaths and looks of horror on the faces of the Solitude nobles.

 

“What will you do?” asked Elisif.

 

“Not much I can do. If they lock on, I'm going home, and nothing I can do about it.”

 

“But,” stammered Falk. “What about Skyrim? What about the dragons?”

 

“Kynareth contacted me that night, and I found out that if I call her from the other world, she can bring me back, permanently. As long as I call no later than two hours after I am teleported.”

 

“And, will you?” asked Falk.

 

“Yes. I will. The couple of hours will give me time to say goodbye to my friends there, get some closure. The Commonwealth no longer needs me. Things are organized and they will do just fine going forward. While Tamriel, all of Nirn really, is in danger, and it seems like I am the only one who can stop the destruction. So, I will come back.”

 

“What an awful decision to have to make,” said Elisif. “I hate that you will have to say goodbye to your friends once again. But we do need you.”

 

Nora smiled at Elisif. How like the young Jarl to see both sides of the situation. She felt awful for Nora having to choose, but she had enough love for her world to hope the Dragonborn would stay.

 

“Oh, and by the way. That Altmer gentleman, Auryen, from the museum was asking about you,” said Elisif with an even wider smile. “Seems he had been studying the many Dragonborns through history, all the way up to Tiber Septim. And he had bedded the current one with no idea who she was.”

 

There were some laughs around the table, and some horrified expressions.

 

“Perhaps we shouldn't discuss such matters in public,” said Falk, his face red.

 

“Oh, posh,” said Elisif. “We're all adults. Nora can bed who she wants, when she wants. And it’s not like some other people here haven’t been getting some on the side. Right Falk? Bryling?”

 

The two nobles looked down in embarrassment.

 

“Don't worry about it,” said Elisif with a musical laugh. “I approve. So when is the wedding?”

 

“Perhaps we can change the subject,” said a stammering Falk. “What about the complaints about Wolfskull Cave?”

 

“My scrying has revealed nothing there,” said Sybille in a tone that suggested they had this conversation before.

 

“What is Wolfskull Cave?” asked Nora, hackles rising as a feeling of dread came over her.

 

“The cave has a bad history,” said Falk, ignoring the dirty look from the court mage. “Long ago, Potema Septim, the Wolf Queen, used it for necromantic rituals. That's where it got the name. That was over 500 years ago. Nothing much down there now, but everyone's always convinced that the cave is haunted. And now people in the area are complaining about noises coming from the cave, and a feeling of evil emanating from it.”

 

“How far is this cave?” asked Eldawyn, her interest piqued as well.

 

“Two days ride to the west of the city,” said Falk, looking over at the Altmer mage. “On the road to High Rock.”

 

So one day for us, getting us there well before nightfall, thought Nora.

 

“I think I will look into it, once I have found the Khajiit apprentice I'm looking for.”

 

“I would appreciate that,” said Falk.

 

“Which leaves only one more piece of business,” said Elisif, her face serious now. “With Erikur gone, I have need of a new Thane. It's yours, Nora, if you want it.”

 

“You know I won't be around much, Elisif.”

 

“So. You aren't around much for Morthal or Whiterun either. And it's not like Erikur did anything. It’s mostly a ceremonial position, though I would call on you if there is a serious threat to the Hold. What do you say?”

 

“Why not,” said Nora with a smile. It would make her a Thane of three Holds, probably a record on Skyrim. And the title would give her an out with the guards here if she really needed it.

 

“Then by my power as Jarl of Haafingar Hold, I name you my Thane, with all the privileges and responsibilities that gives. I give you, let me think for a moment. Yes, she will do nicely, Jordis for your Housecarl. And you will always have a room in the palace, though you might want to ask Falk about available houses.”

 

Nora almost panicked at the mention of a Housecarl. What if this Jordis, man or woman, was just another death waiting to happen. But she didn't want to disappoint Elisif, so she would reserve judgment until she met this warrior.

 

Sybille asked to talk to Nora before bed, so the Dragonborn went with the vampire to her room. Though Sybille seemed friendly enough, Nora was still on her guard, ready to move or call up a spell at a moment's notice.

 

“I need to talk with you about vampires, Thane. They are a growing problem. We have had more attacks this year than last, and more that year than the one before. So the problem is growing, and they are growing bolder. I may need you to hunt some down. I'll give you a location of some near here, if you can find the time to deal with them.”

 

“I have a question.” Sybille nodded and Nora continued. “Why do you work against the interests of other Vampires? Your own kind?”

 

“Do you know how a vampire is made?”

 

“We don't have them on my world, though there are many stories. A vampire kills a victim, and three days later they rise from the dead to take their place at their master's side.”

 

“Well,” said Sybille with a smile that showed her fangs. “They at least got the three days right. But if a vampire drains you, kills you, you’re good and dead, forever. If they bite you and take some blood, but not enough to kill, the virus takes hold, and three days later you are a vampire, under the command of the one who bit you. So, be careful when fighting them. Make sure you and your people are not infected.”

 

“And then what?”

 

“A cure disease potion, or the spell equivalent, will do it. But after you have turned there is no way I know of to cure the condition, though there are legends.”

 

“So, how did you come to be a civically responsible vampire?” asked Nora, genuinely curious.

 

“I was a young mage when a master vampire turned me. I had to do what he said. It was a magical compulsion that I couldn't fight, try as I might. So I did his bidding, killing innocent people. I raged against it, I wanted to die, but it was forbidden to me to take my own life.

 

“Then one day a Vigilant of Stendarr killed the master before he went down to the minions. But with the death of the master I was free. And the rage I had felt was released as I sent fire spells into the remaining minions. Since then I have worked to pay for my crimes. And I still have no desire to die, since I have no way of knowing where I will go for my afterlife.”

 

There were actual tears in the eyes of the woman now. Nora felt sorry for her. Oblivion was probably the fate of the soul of a vampire. One of the things that were so unfair about this world, where people often went to eternal torment they didn't deserve.

 

“You still have to feed, though?”

 

“I do. But I'm very selective. I take bandits, evil mages, even condemned prisoners in the city jail. I drain them to get the most out of them, and to ensure they don't come back.”

 

“Does Elisif know?”

 

“I don't think so, though Torygg did. Falk knows, and covers for me, since having a powerful mage working on your side is a good thing. Elisif is sure to eventually find out. She's not stupid.”

 

“No,” said Nora, nodding. “She's not. But she's so inexperienced.”

 

“That she is. And Tullius is determined that she never be allowed to make decisions of import, what she needs to do to grow into her position. We try to push against him, and Elisif does make many of the decisions concerning the internal matters of the Hold, but not anything dealing with her relations with other powers.”

 

“Then I will have to help with that when I can,” said Nora.

 

From the smile on Sybille's face that was just what the woman had wanted to hear.

 

*     *     *

 

“I am Jordis, my Thane. And I have been waiting to meet you.”

 

Jordis was gorgeous. Long blond hair done up in a warrior's ponytail, clear blue eyes, a cluster of freckles on her nose. A beautiful young flower, Nora judged her to be sixteen or seventeen, not unusual on a world where fourteen-year olds were eligible for marriage, though most Nords thought fifteen and under to be much too young.

 

“Think you will bed this one as well, Nora?” asked Eldawyn with a laugh.

 

“Bed me,” said a shocked Jordis. “I think not. I am a maiden, and only the husband chosen for me by Mara will take my maidenhead.”

 

“That's okay, Jordis. In this group there is only consenting sex. If you aren't consenting, you don't have anything to worry about. If you're harassed by anyone, let me know. And we're going to have to get you some better armor.”

 

“What's wrong with my armor?” asked the young lady, her face falling. “It was my Da's armor.”

 

“It might be fine for arresting miscreants or fighting the occasional bandit, but this party fights dragons, Draugr and mages. So, since I don't want to see a pretty young lady, and just how old are you, dear.”

 

“I'm seventeen,” Jordis said defensively. “My birthday was last week. But don't doubt that I'm a trained and experienced warrior.”

 

“Hell, even my fire mage has better armor than you,” said Nora, looking over at her Altmer friend.

 

“But, she has mere leather.”

 

“Well made and highly enchanted leather,” said Eldawyn, giving the young Nord a condescending smile.

 

“A true Nord has no brook with magic.”

 

“Well, Jordis,” said Valdimar. “It's like this. If you don't have enchantments, the first time we run into mages you will go down. And if another magic user, of which we have three, is not near, you will go to Sovngarde before your time. If they even accept idiots in Shor's Hall.”

 

“Are you insulting me. I challenge you...”

 

“Enough,” yelled Nora, a tiny bit of the Thu'um coming out. “You will wear what I give you, carry what weapons I give you, or you will be dismissed from my service. I am not about to take on a follower only to see them die horribly in their first battle under my command. So, unless you want to be dismissed, do what I say. Understand?”

 

“Yes, ma'am. And is it true that you are Dragonborn?”

 

“She certainly is,” said Elesia, laughing.

 

“It will be an honor to serve you, my Thane.”

 

“Then let's get you to the practice yard so I can evaluate your worth as a fighter.”

 

“But, I'm a certified Housecarl.”

 

“Which might make you a wonderful guard. But I need fighters I can depend on. So you will spar with Lydia until I get a good feel for you.”

 

Nora had to admit that the young woman was good with the sword and shield technique. Lydia was stronger, more powerful, but Jordis had the speed advantage and gave Lydia all she could handle. The Whiterun Housecarl still got in more hits, but Jordis took the majority on her shield.

 

“Enough,” yelled Nora. She looked over at Lydia, who gave her a nod.

 

“You passed your audition. A warrior I trust said that you did fine. There will be additional training when we get on the road.”

 

“Training?”

 

“We go up against dragons, my dear. And if you don't follow our directions you will be a burned or frozen corpse. Remember, the objective is not to die and go to Sovngarde, as wonderful as it is. It can wait. The objective is to send my enemies to whatever hell they are destined for.”

 

“I have another set of Glacial that is just about her size,” said the smith at Castle Dour. “Will that suit you Jordis.”

 

Jordis's eyes had gotten as wide as they could, and she nodded. “Thank you. Master Beirand.”

 

“You know this young lady?” asked Nora, looking at the beaming face of the Housecarl.

 

“Oh yes. Jordis here has established quite a reputation in the city guard. A real saber cat that one. Fearless.”

 

That could be good or bad. Fearless in battle, which could be a good thing if you needed quick support. Or foolishly running into combat and dying quickly.

 

“How long?”

 

“I can have it to you by this afternoon. Good enough?”

 

“Yes.” And then Eldawyn could enchant it. Nora would help, and gain some experience in enchanting herself. They could wait on a weapon. They came across so many high-quality weapons in their travel, and Jordis could have her pick of them.

 

*      *      *

 

“I didn't realize you were Dragonborn when...”

 

Nora laughed as she looked into the face of Auryn Morellis. “And what? If you had realized I was this fabled creature you wouldn't have fucked me?”

 

“Of course I wouldn't,” said the horrified Altmer. “You're Dragonborn.”

 

“And I'm a woman. I enjoyed our night together. And I'm ready for a return engagement if you are.”

 

“I...”

 

Nora decided to take matters in her own hands and started stripping, then moving to the Altmer and taking his clothing off.

 

“But, but,” said Auryn, making no move to stop her.

 

“Do you have a bed?” asked Nora, looking around the large museum dining room. “Or do you want to take me on the table?”

 

*     *     *

 

“So you decided to spend another night here?” asked Elisif, her expression and tone conveying her delight.

 

“Well, you gave me a poorly equipped follower, and I had to rectify that.”

 

“Poorly equipped,” said a frowning Elisif.

 

“Well enough equipped for guarding a house or walking a city guard beat. But I will not have someone I'm responsible for going down to a bandit's arrow while she's skillfully taking out more with her sword.”

 

“I hadn't thought of that,” said Elisif, shaking her head. “But your safety is her responsibility. Hers is not yours.”

 

“Wrong, Elisif. Responsibility goes both ways. It is up to me to see that she does not fall in some useless action. She may fall. I hope not, because she has most of her life ahead of her. And I will spend her life if the mission calls for it, but it's my responsibility to make sure it's not a waste.”

 

“The nobles of Skyrim could learn much from you, Thane Nora,” said Falk, listening in.

 

And I will teach them to think of their people differently, thought Nora. Elisif was almost there, though many of the Jarls and Thanes of this land treated commoners as expendable replaceable pawns. And that had to stop. One thing at a time though.

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