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Chapter Fifty-six – Esbern


BrotherofCats

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The night passed uneventfully, Maven either too wise or too scared to try anything. Nora received a message from Brynjolf, telling her that he would meet her in the afternoon, since the guild was having an emergency meeting. Nora wandered the town, her people watchful. She spotted the Khajiit that she had been warned might be an assassin, but the woman didn't make an approach, and Nora was not about to judge her on hearsay.

 

Nora wandered into the Jarl's palace to have a word with Jarl Layla Lawgiver. The Jarl seemed to feel that the city was under her control, hers and her guards. Nora thought she had met another clueless ruler, just like the Jarl of Markarth. At least Balgruuf and Elisif had a good feel for their Holds. Hell, even Ulfric, with his full attention on the war, knew enough of what was going on in his own Hold. This was Jarl that talked the talk about protecting her people, but cared only for herself. She left the palace disheartened with the shape of Riften. And was confronted by a large but attractive woman in full armor, a very large ax on her back. Nora wasn't certain she would be able to swing that weapon and maintain her balance, but the warrior seemed to be comfortable with it.

 

“I am Mjol,” said the warrior, frank blue eyes looking at the Dragonborn. “And if I'm not mistaken, you are the woman who took Maven down a notch last night. Dangerous, but I appreciate it. She had retired to her out of town estate, and left word that you are to go unmolested by her people. You put the fear of, well I don't know what.”

 

“I put the fear of me in her, my Lady Mjol,” said Nora, taking the warriors hard hand. “And I am Nora.”

 

“Just Mjol,” said the woman. “I am no high-born lady as you appear to be. And such a grip.” She looked around at Nora's people. “And these are your true friends, and not just hirelings?”

 

“We're her friends, most of the time,” said Valdimar in a serious voice. “But then night comes, and the whips strike. She's terrible.”

 

Nora sent an elbow into the man's side, gently, and the big warrior guffawed The rest joined in as well. What Nora had was not just a team, but a family. A highly incestuous family, but one nonetheless.

 

“And you have an elf and a Khajiit with you, so you are obviously no bigot. But I cannot place your accent. You speak like someone who learned the language from an expert instructor, not a person who grew up here.”

 

This woman was very perceptive, and no fool.

 

“So, she wants to know where you are from?” asked a laughing Eldawyn in Altmer.

 

“I lie, of course,” replied Nora in the same language.

 

“And you speak High Elf. Not many that can do that. No need to lie.”

 

“You speak Altmer?” asked Nora in surprise.

 

“Not so much. But I fought against them enough to recognize some of their words. I'm just glad you came here. You have stirred things up. Seems like I have been fighting the corruption in this city for too long with no result. So, Nora who is not from here. What is it you are looking for?”

 

“And old man said to be hiding in the Ratway. He's a friend of an associate of mine, and is sought after by the Thalmor.”

 

“Those bastards,” exclaimed Mjol. “I thought we wouldn't be bothered by them here. I'm sure Maven has something to do with it.”

 

“She does. But I need to know how to get to my friend. He's in deadly danger, and I have to stop the Thalmor from getting to him. My associate recommended that I talk with Brynjolf. I contacted him yesterday, but it appears he is not being cooperative.

 

“That one is a skeever,” said Mjol, scowling. “Don't trust a word he says. While none of the Thieves Guild are very solid, talk to Delvin Mallory if you must. He's a member from way back, when the guild still had some honor.”

 

“I'll do that, and thanks.”

 

“Oh, how I miss adventuring, but I retired after losing my prized blade, Grimserver, in the depths of Mzinchaleft, a Dwemer ruin that almost took my life.”

 

“Is that the ruin on the border between the Pale and Hjaalmarch Hold?” asked Elesia, looking interested.

 

“The same,” said Mjol, nodding.

 

“There's something very interesting in there, Nora. If we get a chance I would like to go there.”

 

“Maybe someday. And perhaps we can get Mjol's sword and bring it back here.”

 

“I would love to travel with.”

 

“Maybe some other time,” said Nora gently, not wanting to hurt the woman's feelings. “I already have a full party that knows each other well, and I've found that just adding people can cause tactical problems.”

 

“I understand. I will stay here and continue to fight for the people of Riften. But remember me if you have a vacancy. Not that I wish that upon you.”

 

Nora nodded, aware of the sentiment. Most often vacancies came up in adventuring parties when members died, just as it had for her.

 

Nora made her way down some steps to reach the walkway around the canal that bisected the city. There were shops and houses down here as well, and miles of curving walkways on both sides, connected to the city above by stairs and to each other by wooden bridges. It looked like at one time this section had allowed boats to come in from the lakeside docks. Probably not anymore, or the bridges would not be in place.

 

They found the entrance with the markings they had been told to watch out for. An iron gate was open, and a door led into the huge circular area that supported the center of the city. Nora walked in, engaging the night eye function of her helm, and let herself adjust to the lighting. She walked forward, Dawnbreaker in hand, to almost walk into a single man around the curve, rusty sword in one hand, torch in the other.

 

“I'll be having all of your valuables, if you don't want to be gutted like a fish.”

 

That had been the wrong thing to say, and Nora was the one doing the gutting. His partner ran forward with a cry and a raised ax, to be spitted on the Daedric artifact.

 

“I really didn't want to come down here and kill people,” said Nora. “Or at least people who weren't Thalmor. But they left me little choice.”

 

Nora cast Clairvoyance, following the smoke down a tunnel that ended in a drop-off. Hoping there was another way out, and having no other choices presented to her, she jumped into the hole, landing lightly on the floor eight feet below. Her party jumped in after her, even Eldawyn landing well, showing how much better she was getting at this thing.

 

Nora followed the smoke of the spell, through numerous chambers and tunnels. She hoped the Guild had an easier way of entering their hideout, but there was no guarantee. They were attacked by some suicidally inclined scumbags that they put down with ease. The smoke led down some steps and to a door that opened easily, revealing the Ragged Flagon and the Thieves Guild headquarters.

 

“Charming,” said Eldawyn, holding her nose.

 

Nora had seen worse in the Commonwealth, but a hideout in a sewer was a first for her here. That it was a functioning sewer was apparent by the smell. But there were lights and chairs, and people gathered at the other end, many of them staring at her with ill-concealed dislike.

 

“We don't know you,” said a large man in leather armor, acting as the gatekeeper to the inner region of the habitat. “We don't want you here.”

 

“And you are?”

 

“Dirge. Because that's the last thing you hear when I'm through with you.”

 

“Charmed,” said Nora, stepping quickly into the man and sweeping a foot behind him as she grabbed and pushed, sending him flying to splash into the dirty water.

 

“What the hell are you doing?” yelled one of the women in the tavern proper, coming to her feet and drawing a dagger.

 

“We don't want to hurt anyone,” said Nora, calling up fire to her hand. She noted that all of her mages had done the same, and it was a display of power that cowed the thieves. “Now, I'm looking for Brynjolf. Or if he's not available, Delvin Mallory.

 

“I'm Mallory,” said a large man, standing up and keeping his hands in sight. “And you must be the little lady who caused Maven such a stir.”

 

“Guilty as charged,” said Nora. “And I heard that you, at least, might still have some honor in you.”

 

“A tiny bit. But we all have faults.”

 

“Tell her nothing Delvin,” said a woman who would have been gorgeous if not for the long scars down one side of her face. She was still very pretty, or would have been if not for the perpetual scowl she carried.

 

“And who are you?” asked Nora, looking at the woman.

 

“Vex.”

 

“Because you vex everyone who talks to you,” said Nora, earning a glare.

 

“We don't have to take this from you,” yelled an unarmed man, running toward Nora with bared fists.

 

Nora leaned back and brought a roundhouse kick into his head. She stayed in that position and kicked him in the side twice, then once more in the head, letting his unconscious body fall to the ground.

 

“I didn't come here to kill. If I had you would all be smoking corpses on the ground. But you will answer my questions, now.”

 

“Gnives has never seen such skill,” said a Khajiit, seeming to materialize out of the shadows, then holding up both hands as Nora turned a hand full of flames his way. “Gnives did not mean to startle the assassin.”

 

“Why do you call me an assassin?” asked a curious Nora, recalling that she had been called that before. Just the other day in fact.

 

“Because Gnives can judge skill, and you are light on your feet, better than most of these so-called masters of stealth. And the way you fight is like nothing that Gnives has ever seen. Gnives for one is glad to have seen you in action.”

 

“Interesting," said Nora, looking over the Khajiit. "But I have a question for Delvin.” Dirge had pulled himself out of the water, but except for an angry look he made no move.

 

“I'm looking for an old man, said to be living in the Ratways. And I hear that the Thalmor came here looking for him.”

 

“And how do I know that you don't mean him harm. As you said, I still have some honor, and the man paid me for my silence.”

 

“Delphine sent me for him.”

 

“Delphine is it?” said Brynjolf, walking into the room from another door. “I would have told you what you wanted, lass, if you had mentioned that name. But there was no need to come down here and threaten us.”

 

“No threats. Just a demonstration.”

 

“You caused quite a stir with Maven, lass. She was calling for your head, until one of her people reminded her of what a risky proposition that was. You must have made an impression on her.”

 

“Gnives thinks it would be a mistake to try anything with this one. She does not play.”

 

“No, I don't, and I'm glad that one of you has the wisdom to see that. Now, I need to find Esbern, and before the Thalmor. It is vital to this world that he leave here alive.”

 

“The Thalmor are not good to cross, lass.”

 

“And neither am I, as scores of Thalmor have already discovered. So.”

 

“Tell her, Delvin,” said Brynjof. “It's the only way we're going to get rid of her and keep our skins. Besides, if Delphine sent her, she must be okay.”

 

“Very well,” said Mallory, placing some paper on the table and sketching a map. “He's more or less here. I could lead you to him directly, but I really don't fancy tangling with the Thalmor.”

 

“I have magical means of narrowing it down, and thank you.”

 

“If you ever change your mind about your career, we'll be here, Nora,” said Brynjolf with a smile. “Or if were serious about wanting to, uh, fuck.”

 

Nora laughed. Leave it to a man to think about that when he was staring at the possible end of his life.

 

The Khajiit walked close, stopping just out of striking range of Nora. “Gnives was so happy to meet you, Nora. You give excitement to this world, and Gnives wishes you the best.”

 

Nora gave the Khajiit a nod and a smile. If she ever needed a thief on the team, this would be the one to ask. Skilled and wise.

 

“The best path to the Ratway is through here,” said Brynjolf, motioning, then walking ahead of Nora and company, obviously thinking they didn't want any of the people down here behind her.

 

“You caused us a lot of trouble with Maven, and Mercer was ready to send the Brotherhood after you.”

 

“They're not around anymore.”

 

“Maven told him that. I for one was happy to see that sorry old woman anxious about someone else for a change. Thank you for that.”

 

Brynjolf opened the door into the Ratway and waved them on, still smiling. Nora set her party before moving in. She scouted ahead by about twenty feet, moving silently under the cover on an invisibility spell, bow at the ready. Eldawyn and J'Zargo were the closest behind her, both good at moving quietly, if not quite as good a Nora. Her tanks. Lydia, Jordis and Valdimar, were back from them. The Housecarls were not as quiet as the others in their heavy armor, but the enchantments muffled most of the little noise they did produce. Elesia and Sofia, both very good at moving quietly, scouted behind, making sure that no one from the Thieves Guild or Maven followed.

 

The Ratway was a true maze. Miles of tunnels, scores of chambers, stairways up and down. Some traps, but not many, which made sense if there were people down here living their lives. Some chambers were brightly lit, sunlight coming down from openings in the ceiling, others were as black as the pit. They found rooms with inhabitants., some just sitting there silently, others mumbling like mad people. One man jumped up from his seat and attacked a suddenly visible Nora with a cleaver, not a fair fight against the Dragonborn. She took him down with a couple of punches and left him behind, not really wanting the death of a mad cellar dweller on her conscience.

 

In one large chamber, several levels with iron grates separating them from the main room, they ran into their first Thalmor. The elves were lying in wait for someone to walk into their trap. They were quiet enough, not moving but whispering to each other in Altmer. Nora could make out some words, particularly human and blade. She didn't think the last referred to a weapon. The Altmer were stealthy enough, but these weren't experts at sneaking like their Bosmer cousins or the Khajiit. Too many generations of living in cities had taken the edge off. Nora worked back to her people, becoming visible and explaining what was ahead with gestures and hand signals. Recasting Invisibility, she moved back to the chamber where three of the Thalmor waited with drawn bows to take anyone under fire who walked into the chamber below.

 

With glass dagger in one hand, a standard steel blade in the other, she lined herself up, then thrust daggers through the brain stems of two of the Thalmor. They died without a sound, though the third turned swiftly as he saw his two companions fall limply to the floor for no apparent reason. Nora thrust the glass dagger three times quickly, all into the neck of the Thalmor. Blood spurted as the eyes of the elf grew wide. Nora clamped a hand over the elf's mouth, stifled a shout, and looked into his eyes as the strength flowed out of him with his blood. She lay his body down beside the others, then moved on.

 

More Thalmor, four of them, including a wizard, were down on the next level. The mage was looking decidedly uncomfortable with waiting. That one didn't have the patience of a hunter, but the three warriors with him seemed to have the inner calm to wait. Nora walked up quietly behind the standing mage, jerked his head back, and sliced the glass blade across his throat. The time for stealth over, she let the body drop to the ground and sent Chain Lightning into one of the soldiers, watching as the shock jumped to them all. She sent another bolt of the fast spell into the Thalmor and they all fell dead.

 

“Funny thing,” she told Eldawyn when the rest of the party caught up. “I know fancy new expert Destruction spells, but I still find an adept spell the most useful.”

 

“Just because you learn something new doesn't mean the old spells are useless,” agreed Eldawyn, looking down at the smoking bodies. “But whichever one you cast, dead in dead.”

 

Nora was working her way down another corridor, thinking that they must be close to Esbern's hideout, when a Thalmor mage moved into the tunnel, looking intently in Nora direction, suspicion on his face. Nora hit him with her ready spell, Chain Lightning, and was surprised when the elf was surrounded by a scintillating ball of lightning and raised into the air, helpless. She sent two more bolts into the mage. The ball disappeared on the last bolt and the dead mage fell to the stones.

 

“I've never seen you do that before,” said Eldawyn, coming up behind Nora and putting a hand on the Dragonborn's shoulder.

 

“Me either. Some new power of Destruction? I don't know, but I like it.” The Thalmor had been totally helpless while levitated in the ball, unable to cast spells or use weapons, while Nora had been free to throw everything she had at the Altmer.

 

They moved down another long corridor with doors on one side, a drop off on the other, until they came to a door that had a mark from the Thieves Guild on it. That was what she had been told to look for. The Guild had been paid, and they were as good as their word. People had watched the old man, delivering food and drink, until the Thalmor stuck their noses into the deal and the Guild backed off, lest they reveal the location of the Aldmeri target.

 

Nora tried the door, and had the feeling that this thing was not just locked, but barred. She heard the scuffing of feet on the other side and knew there was someone there.

 

“Esbern,” she said, not sure what kind of response she would get.

 

“Who are you?”

 

“I'm here for Esbern.”

 

“Well, no one by that name here,” said an anxious voice. “Leave me alone.”

Nora hoped the Thalmor hadn't been here before, because that answer would have resulted in a demand for him to open the door, then a magical assault if he had refused.

 

“Delphine told me you were here.”

 

She heard a gasp on the other side, then the sounds of someone stepping back. “So you found her and tortured her, and she gave me away. But you’re going to have a fight on your hands if you come through that door.”

 

Yep, he sounds like an archivist. Not a bit of spy craft in him. “Delphine is a friend. We didn't torture information out of anyone.”

 

“So you say. I'm not falling for that.”

 

Nora was tempted to just break the door down and force the issue. But she had a scared old man in there, and didn't want to panic him. What the hell did Delphine tell me to say?

 

“Where were you on the 30th of Frostfall?” asked Nora.

 

“That. That's only something Delphine would know. And not something the Thalmor would know to ask her. You must be from her. Wait a moment.”

 

The sound of locks disengaging came through the door. Many locks, and Nora was about to try and push open the door when the man spoke again. “Just a few more.”

 

A few turned out to be a great deal more, but finally a bar was raised and the door opened, to reveal an elderly balding Nord in miner's clothes.

 

“Come in, come in, before the Thalmor see you. There are quite a lot of you, aren't there?”

 

“I travel heavy,” said Nora, coming through the door. “Makes it easier to take down my enemies.”

 

“What is she doing here,” growled Esbern, his eyes widening as he saw Eldawyn, stepping back, hands coming up in a casting motion.

 

“Don't,” said Nora, seeing her three mages also calling up spells. “She's not Thalmor.”

 

“Not Thalmor?”

 

“I hate them as much as anyone in this room,” said Eldawyn quickly. “My father was Thalmor, and when he started working against them, they killed him, my mother, and my sister. The only reason I survived was because we were living in Cyrodiil, and I was studying magic with a family friend.”

 

“Oh, my dear lady. I am so sorry. Sometimes I forget that the Altmer people were the first victims of those bastards.”

 

“Grab what you need and I'll get you to Delphine.”

 

“So, she's really alive. Yes, we need to hurry.” The man stopped for a moment, staring into space. “Not that it will do us any good. We are all doomed.”

 

“Doomed?” asked Nora, wondering what else they had to worry about.

 

“The signs are all there, but you refuse to see. Alduin is back, the World Eater, and nothing can stop him.”

 

“Nothing?” asked Nora, wondering how the man was going to react when he realized.

 

“Only a Dragonborn can stop Alduin, but there hasn't been a Dragonborn in hundreds of years. Not since Tiber Septim.”

 

“Well,” said a laughing Sofia. “It's lucky for you that we happen to have a Dragonborn with us. She just stumbled into our camp mumbling nonsense about eating dragon souls. Then she ate one. I was so jealous.”

 

“You?” asked Esbern, looking directly at Nora.

 

“Guilty.”

 

“Then we have no time to lose.” Esbern went into a rush of activity, grabbing objects at seeming random and stuffing them in a bag. “I'm ready. Let's go.”

 

“Anything else you want here? Are you coming back?”

 

“No. Nothing.”

 

“Right. Grab everything that looks like it might be valuable, including the books. Then we'll move.”

 

As soon as they left the room Esbern called up an Ice Atronach, which stomped heavily as it moved.

 

“Esbern. We don't need that thing. I want to move quietly, and that's not possible with that noisy thing.”

 

Nora cast a banish spell, sending the Atronach away, then cast summon Golden Saint, adding a silent minion of her own. “If you have flame Atronach, you can cast it when we engage, but not before.”

 

Esbern nodded, smiling. “So you're not just a master of the voice.”

 

“All weapons, and I want to be as powerful as possible when I face Alduin.”

 

“You are a wise woman, uh..”

 

“Nora. Nora Jane Adams. But you can just call me Nora. Now, no talking from here on out, until we're out of the Ratway.”

 

She could tell that Esbern had a million questions, but he held his tongue. She assigned him a position right behind Elda and J'Zargo, where he would be shielded the most. It wouldn't do to come all this way and let him be killed before he could get back to Delphine. He was her responsibility now, and she would be damned if she would fail.

 

They had moved along through maybe a half mile of tunnels when they ran into the Thalmor ambush. Arrows came out of nowhere, striking Nora and J'Zargo. Nora moved in a blur, taking the glowing arrow out of the air with a slap. The other hit the Khajiit's dragonbone armor and bounced away. Nora threw Chain Lightning, getting several of the Thalmor. She kept sending it out until there seemed to be no one ahead. There was an open walkway ahead, and she readied a ward just in case.

 

A lightning bolt came at her from below, most of it caught on her ward. The Golden Saint fired arrows, striking the wizard, who staggered back with a cry. Another arrow came flying in, on a course to hit Esbern. With a quick motion Nora snatched the shaft out of the air, while Elda and J'Zargo killed the bowman.

 

“Let's move,” she hissed, casting Invisibility and moving ahead.

 

She wanted to get out of this maze as fast as possible. There were too many places to spring an ambush, and she doubted her luck would hold forever.  They moved through the maze, following the smoke of Clairvoyance at times, working from memory most of the way. Until they were at the door to the Ragged Flagon.

 

“I see you got him,” said Brynjolf as they walked into the tavern. “No problems?”

 

“Oh, there were problems. And a good dozen Thalmor are no longer polluting this sewer.”

 

“You don't play around, do you, lass.”

 

Nora indeed did not play around. If you were her friend she was caring and protective, enemies were to be ended before they became a danger to friends. She thought they were free and clear when they went up the stairs and out of the canal.

 

“That was the most amazing exhibit of martial and magical prowess I have ever seen,” said Esbern, a look akin to hero worship in his eyes.

 

“I...”

Nora saw the Khajiit woman, running at them like a Kamikaze with a dagger in hand. Pulling Dawnbreaker from its sheath she struck down the assassin before the Khajiit could strike. She searched the body as people gathered around, finding a note.

 

“You did it now, stranger,” said a guard, leading several others over to her. “Murder is a crime in this Hold.”

 

“Are you crazy?” shouted Eldawyn. “This Khajiit was coming right at us with a drawn dagger, intent on murder.”

 

Nora read the note, detailing that the Dragonborn and the man she had come to get were to be killed at all costs. Signed E. Elenwen? She looked up to see the guards looking uncertain. They probably had orders from Maven, but the grumbling crowd was giving them second thoughts.

 

“We saw it all,” said the Argonian Jeweler. “That Khajiit was an assassin.”

 

More people joined in, until the guards were facing an incipient riot. “Get out of here,” said the guard captain, pointing to the far gate.

 

The horses were saddled and loaded quickly, and the party was ready to move.

 

“There might be Thalmor out on the road,” said Esbern. “Be prepared for a fight.”

 

“Oh, we're not going by road,” said Nora with a smile.

 

“Then how...”

 

And the party disappeared, to come back into existence fifteen miles down the road.

 

*      *      *

 

“That was amazing,” said Esbern after they came to a rest on the steaming flats, one of Nora's favorite places on the planet.

They were setting camp up from one of the hot pools, tents pitched, a roaring fire going, Valdimar and Sofia cooking the meal this night. Nora felt safe here, though no place was truly safe for her on this world. Story of my life, she thought.

 

“How did you become such a mighty mage. Most Dragonborns concentrate on being a warrior.”

 

“I was already a warrior when I came to this world,” said Nora, looking up at the darkening sky. “I had to learn a more primitive type of warfare, but I did that as well.”

 

“Fastest advancement in the history of the College of Winterhold, my Nora,” said Eldawyn proudly. “She's on the verge of being named master in four of the five schools.”

 

“You keep mentioning this world, as if you came from another. But there are no others in this universe that have people, unless it was one of the Planes of Oblivion.”

 

“Here we go,” said Sofia, rolling her eyes.

 

“Do my presentations bore you?”

 

“Not at all,” said the laughing spellsword. “I always enjoy having my nose rubbed in the fact that we are such hopeless primitives.”

 

Nora had her projector out, and with a wave of her hand the holographic keyboard appeared. She watched a small screen projected onto her eye by her headset, picking the scenes she wanted to add.

 

“And here we go, Esbern the Doubter,” she said as she pushed the engage key on the imaginary board.

 

The projector gave them a large image this time. The same presentation that her people had seen before, though it still grabbed their attention with both hands and held on. Prewar, the bombs, the aftermath, the mutated life, Nora and friends battling. And then a new sequence.

 

“When it was apparent that we were going to win, both of our major enemies attacked us, one after the other. First the Institute."

 

The scene showed hundreds of robots attacking a fort, lasers and plasma rifles sending energy into the fortifications. Large explosions lit the field, the artillery of the Minutemen ranging in. Power armor suits charged the fort, piloted by the deadly Coursers. And humans in strap on armor manned the parapets, sending blast after blast, rocket after rocket, into the enemy. Laser turrets added their fire, lighting the night with death, burning down the Gen 2 synths, vaporizing them, cutting into the power armor suits to kill Coursers.

 

A platoon of Minutemen in power armor charged, a large suit in the center, cutting down, routing the enemy. The view zoomed in on a suit, the helmet withdrawing to show the concerned face of Nora.

 

“I really didn't want so much death and destruction, but they left us no choice. And then the Brotherhood of Steel attacked, trying to take advantage of our disorganization.”

 

Vertibirds by the score swept in, firing their own lasers and miniguns. Artillery struck again, this time at a distant target across the water, the flashes of explosions brightened the dusk. The laser turrets fired again, this time in even greater mass, and many of the vertibirds went down, but not before their passengers in power armor could bail. The night was lit by fire, and death. And then, on top of a group of enemy power armor, the flash of a tremendous explosion, a glowing ball of fire rising into the sky. Then another, and two more. The enemy was falling back, while the remaining vertibirds flew across the water in retreat.

 

“We defeated both the Institute and the Brotherhood that day. Something no one thought possible. The Board of the Institute fell the next day, and the leadership was in my hands. My friend Sarah Lyons took over the Brotherhood, and there has been peace since that day. But the cost was high.”

 

The view now was the courtyard of the fort that had had two battles fought over it in a day. There was wreckage everywhere, and several hundred men and women cheered, many with the signs of injury, as Nora stood before them and saluted them.

 

“I was so proud of those people. A year before they had been cowering in their homes, afraid of everything. And we had turned them into a fighting force like no other in the Commonwealth.”

 

The image faded, and Nora sat there for a moment with tears in her eyes. She had lost hundreds of people that day. Friends, family. The Brotherhood had lost more than half of its own people. She hadn't known them as well, but they were people, fighting for a misguided cause that they thought was right. Kind of like the Nords in Skyrim. The synths of the institute, most of them, were just machines, but the Gen 3 on both sides were just as much people as any human born to woman. And they had died in droves.

 

“I am so sorry to have doubted you,” said Esbern, as Valdimar and Sofia started passing out plates of food. “What an awful world. An awful war. Weapons of unbelievable power. But you came through in the end, and that gives me hope for us here.”

 

“I didn't have to face Alduin there,” said Nora, wiping a tear away. “But I think he can fall, if I'm prepared.”

 

“Then we will have to see that you have the weapons the Ancient Nords used on him,” said Esbern.

 

It started getting late, and her people headed to their tents, and whatever arrangement they had made for the night. Valdimar, Elesia and Sofia took one tent, and very soon the sounds of the Recorder crying out came from that shelter, Sofia giggling while Valdimar grunted.

 

“Fuck me, you bastard,” shouted Elesia. “Harder. Give it to me.”

 

Nora thought Valdimar was a real treasure. The man could be as gentle and caring as could be, or he could be as rough a lover as one could ask for, whatever was needed. And he was willing to be whatever his partner wanted.

 

There was softer moaning and giggling coming from the tent that Lydia and Jordis had retired to. Jordis had finally started getting into sex, at least with women, and Lydia had become the perfect teacher. Jordis was very young at seventeen, though Lydia was not much older at twenty-one, and the pair had made a perfect match on nights when the older woman was not engaging in her studies of men, when Valdimar was not available. Nora wouldn't have been surprised to have Jordis join in there as well. The young Sword Maiden had reiterated that she wished to remain a virgin, but Lydia had found ways around that, and undoubtedly Jordis would come around.

 

Nora looked over at Eldawyn, who was her most frequent partner. Nora still considered herself a hetero leaning bisexual, but any port in a storm, and Eldawyn was lovely, skilled and caring, so she could have done worse. And then there was Esbern. The old man had been cooped up in that room for so long, and she really didn't know how he felt about sex. Was he an old prude, or a wild man with years of pent up tension?

 

“Your people seem to be, uh, very free with their arrangements,” the man finally said. “It has been a long time for me. I'm not even sure I’d know what to do.”

 

Nora smiled, making a decision. “You could join Elda and me when...”

 

“No thanks,” said Eldawyn, getting up from the log and heading toward J'Zargo's tent.

 

“The Cat?” asked Esbern in a hushed whisper.

 

“J'Zargo only has sex with other Khajiit,” said Nora with a soft laugh. “It's just that you pissed Elda off earlier, and the last thing she wants is to couple with you.”

 

“I pissed her off...”

 

“Calling her a Thalmor. You have no idea how much she hates them.” She related how Eldawyn had killed the Thalmor they had run into after taking Lost Moon Hideout, leaving out the part about the possession. They sat talking through Nora's shift, the Dragonborn answering the old man's questions, asking him about the history of the blades.

 

“Lydia,” she called out when the time came. “Time for you and Jordis' shift.”

 

“Yes ma'am. We'll be right out.”

 

Moments later a naked Lydia came out of the tent carrying her armor and weapons, getting into them around the fire. Esbern's eyes about popped out of his head. Jordis came out a moment later, just as naked, her equipment in hand. It was so much easier to get into armor outside of the confines of the tent, and the two Housecarls had gotten used to nudity in the camp.

 

“You'll get used to it,” she told Esbern. After all, the old man had seen them all when they bathed in the hot pool, and he had joined in after a moment's hesitation. “Now, you said you haven't had a woman in some time. Will I do?”

 

“Why....”

“Come on.” she said, standing up and taking Esbern by the hand. “It's not good for a man to go so long without release.” Or a woman, she thought, wondering if Delphine had a lover.

 

Nora stripped from her armor, then her clothing in the tent. She kissed Esbern, the man seemingly not knowing how to return it. It took some minutes, but he started to return the kiss, his hands roaming over Nora's body. Nora moaned, then started pulling the simple clothing off Esbern. Shirt, pants, boots, until he was as naked as she was.

 

“I'm not sure I remember how to do this.”

 

She pushed him back on the furs and kissed him again. “Then let me handle the details until it comes back.”

 

Nora sucked and licked on the man's cock for some time. He had a respectable penis, not overly large, but big enough that a woman would feel it. She worked on it and his balls, watching it rise in the light of the mage globes. She moved up his body, kissing him again, then straddled him, lowering herself onto him while she looked down at his face. She shivered as he penetrated her, watching as his face screwed up in an expression of ecstasy. She started moving up and down, slowly, letting her pussy massage his cock. As he moaned out she sped up her motion, faster and faster until she was slamming her groin into his, her clitoris humming as her mound met the flesh around his cock. She rode out an orgasm, quick and sweet, and then felt his cock grow in her, until he was groaning and spurting his seed inside her.

 

Nora rolled off, not sure Esbern at his age would be able to get hard again so quickly. She smiled at him. She would have preferred a longer session, but this one had been about him, and she was happy she could give him her body for his pleasure.

 

“That was wonderful,” he said, a loopy smile on his face. “Is there anything you're not good at, Dragonborn?”

“Well, my cooking leaves something to be desired,” she said with a laugh. “And I don't sew worth a damn.”

 

Esbern laughed, kissed her, and fell back into a deep sleep. She cuddled up with him, letting him feel the security of her body through the night. The old man had been through a lot this day. Thinking the Thalmor had found him, then that a friend he thought was dead was still around. Fighting his way through the Ratway, then the confrontation with the guards. And then probably the first pussy he had gotten for years.

 

Morning came too soon, as always. Eldawyn and J'Zargo were on morning watch, the Altmer cooking ham, bacon and potatoes on a large skillet hanging from the fire spit while the Khajiit brewed tea. J'Zargo had a strange smile on his face, and Eldawyn turned away from the skillet periodically and spit something out of her mouth. Nora headed for the pool, wanting to take advantage of the hot water while she had it.

 

Soon everyone was up, dressed and having breakfast. She sat down next to Eldawyn, watching as the Altmer pulled a strand of hair from her teeth.

 

“You didn't?” asked Nora, shocked.

 

“I was only oral, and he reciprocated,” said the Altmer. “He was surprisingly good, and I was happy to give one of our party the pleasure he had been missing, but the hair.” She shook her head, then laughed, Nora laughing with her.

 

“I wonder how he fucks?” asked the Dragonborn, chuckling. Some might think that was bestiality, but the Khajiit was a thinking creature with a brain and a soul, so she considered him a person. And Nora had always liked experimentation.

 

“Only one way to find out,” said Eldawyn, and both women started laughing.

 

“And how was Esbern?”

 

“Not horrible, though he really was clueless at the beginning. But he warmed up to it.”

 

“He would have to be dead to not warm up to you,” said the still laughing Altmer. She looked over at the old man sitting and eating. “Wonder how he feels about Altmer, if they are not Thalmor.”

 

“Go for it,” said Nora. “Whenever you like.”

 

The women continued laughing through the morning as they made ready the horses, earning strange looks from everyone. Then it was time for business, as Nora started them on the way with her first teleport of the day. They did the two hundred and forty odd miles to Riverwood in sixteen jumps, just over an hour, and the town was still in the process of waking up by the time they rode in.

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