The secret to a long life is knowing when it’s time to go, and it was time to go. Whiterun had been Selene’s home for the past year, and in that year she had grown up more than in her last twenty years combined. After spending so much time alone and at odds with the world, the people of Whiterun—especially those at Jorrvaskr—had shown her what it was like to have friends and family. And lovers. But her destiny lay elsewhere, and with a heavy heart she took her pet fox Liska, walked out the gates, and put the city behind her. She’d go back, of course. She owned a house, and as Vilkas had pointed out, she would always be a Companion. When a child leaves her parents’ home, it doesn’t mean she’ll never go back again. But she still has to leave.
A dragon howled far away, and Selene shuddered. She was the Dragonborn, for Kyne’s sake. Shouldn’t she be less afraid of them, especially after killing so many?
Dragonborn. She had first heard the term a couple of days after she had come to Whiterun, and she was still trying to figure out what it meant. Oh, yes, she could absorb the soul of a dragon she had killed, and she could learn their Shouts effortlessly, but there was more to it. Some said she had the blood of a dragon. Did that mean she was part dragon? She possessed wolf blood, too, and she had to admit it would be exciting to shift to dragon form the way she shifted to beast form.
Today, being Dragonborn meant working her way through the convoluted tunnels and passages of an ancient burial crypt to find an artifact. She didn’t mind; she enjoyed exploring the depths of the barrows, fighting draugr and collecting all sorts of treasures. She rarely came out without a couple thousand Septims worth of loot and gold.
Selene and Liska camped in the woods the first night. It was just past noon the next day when they approached Ustengrav. The burial ruin held the Horn of Jurgen Windcaller, the artifact the Graybeards had sent her to collect. It was her final test before they officially acknowledged her as Dragonborn, although they had been calling her by that title for months. Jurgen Windcaller had developed the Way of the Voice, the means of using dragon Shouts to glorify the gods, and had founded the Graybeards. The horn was very precious to the order, and Selene was tasked with stealing it from Jurgen’s grave. That was really what it was, no? Grave robbing? But she’d done it before, so it didn’t even give her pause.
What did give her pause was the necromancer and handful of bandits that camped near the wall surrounding the crypt. She’d heard the barrow was a haven for necromancers, and it appeared the stories were true. She ducked behind a tree and nocked an arrow, pulling the string level with her ear and peering down the shaft of the arrow. Funny how aiming with her bow and crouching near her prey in beast form had begun to feel so similar. Silent, breathing, her muscles tense, the scent of her quarry flooding her extra-sensitive nostrils. There were five of them, two women and three men, only one of them alive. The necromancer smelled of ozone, suggesting that Selene could expect her to hurl lightning.
With barely a flick of her fingers, she released the arrow, and it hit the necromancer squarely in the thigh. Selene groaned.
The necromancer swore and got up, barking orders at the bandits, who descended on her much too quickly. Liska darted away as Selene dropped the bow and drew her sword so she could fight more closely. As they neared her she did what she could to even the odds a bit.
Two of them shrieked and fell to the ground, their skin and clothing burning; and Selene engaged the other two, thankful for the hours upon hours of training she had done with Vilkas and Farkas, practicing fighting multiple opponents. She shifted between the two bandits, parrying a shot from one and thrusting her blade at the other. One of them, who wielded a dagger, connected with her shoulder where a deer had gored her only two nights before, and she screamed. She retaliated with a jab to the bandit’s midsection, and he dropped with a groan. One down, four to go. Lovely. Fortunately, the necromancer was hanging back, letting her thralls do the dirty work, and the two Selene had burned hadn’t recovered yet. She exchanged blows with the fourth bandit, taking a few minor scrapes before getting a good swing at her neck and all but decapitating her. Then she went to the other two. Her Thu’um had recharged by now, and she simply released it again, incinerating them before they were able to get up. Hardly fair, but when it was five against one, she did what she had to do.
“I won’t be so easy,” said the necromancer as she swept toward Selene and hurled a fireball at her. “I can play with fire, too.”
“Happy for you.” Selene was also happy she had went with the fireball instead of lightning because her boots were enchanted to help her resist fire. She dodged the fireball and rushed the mage, who managed another, catching Selene in the already-sore shoulder. “Gods damn it! Can’t you people pick fresh places? Why do you have to keep worrying the same place?”
“I’ll see you burn!”
“Already burning. YOL!” The necromancer yowled, dropped to the ground, and writhed; and Selene closed the distance between them and planted her sword in her chest. Exhausted and breathless, she lay down next to the dead mage and closed her eyes. “I’m not used to doing this shit alone,” she muttered.
Liska padded up and nuzzled her cheek, and Selene reached out and stroked her fur. “Oh, I’m all right, little one. Just catching my breath.” She lay there for a long while before sitting up and digging in her knapsack for a healing potion. She drank the potion, then removed her armor and undershirt, not caring if anybody passed by and saw her naked. She looked at her shoulder, already scarred from a hagraven’s fireball months before, now stinging and bleeding again. She growled in frustration, pulled a healing salve from her pack, and dabbed the wound before bandaging it.
“You know what, Liska? I miss ’em already.” Had Farkas or Vilkas been with her, five foes would have been nothing. As she looked at the carnage around her, she marveled that she had survived. Then again, she did have a goddess watching her back, and that was a comfort—as long as she kept in mind that though the Divines might nudge her in the right direction, they weren’t just going to prevent all harm from coming to her. She’d have to remain vigilant, especially now that she was traveling alone.
Her shoulder taken care of, Selene dressed and dragged herself up. “You go back to your hiding place,” she told the fox as she sheathed her sword and slung her bow and quiver over her shoulder. She descended the stairs that led to the door to the crypt, which rested about twenty feet below ground. “Kynareth, protect me,” she whispered before pushing the heavy, rusted door inward.
There was another necromancer inside, but only one, and Selene managed to take her out with a single arrow. The first leg of the dungeon was easy, someone having already gone through and killed all the draugr. She figured it was the necromancers because she saw a couple of dead ones, but after a while, she stopped seeing necromancers and only came upon dead draugr. Someone else had been through before her, and the realization sent chills down her spine. The last time somebody had beaten her to a dungeon, she had been introduced to the Silver Hand. The Silver Hand were tough, and she had never fought them without a shield-sibling. Thus, she moved with extra caution in the hope of sneaking up on them and killing them before they detected her.
But she found no Silver Hand, only dead draugr, the occasional walking one, and a handful of creative traps. In a fabulous underground cave, she found an oasis that brought Eldergleam Sanctuary to mind. Heavenly light shone on a crystal-clear lake, majestic evergreens that shouldn’t be growing so far beneath the surface, and a word wall. It had been a while since she had heard the chants and felt the head rush as the world dropped away and the dragon script glowed before her, and she welcomed the heady sensation. Today’s word was FEIM, fade. She reached deep inside to the last dragon she had slain, and she understood. When she used this word, no damage would come to her for a time. She couldn’t deal any damage, either, so it might not be effective in combat, but it would be great with traps.
She found out all too quickly, however, that it would not help her walk through walls. A set of three stones rested just uphill from the word wall and were accompanied by three matching portcullises. When she stepped past a stone, it lit up with a musical hum and one of the gates opened; but shortly after she moved away from the stone, that gate closed. Thus, she used the FEIM Shout and tried to walk through the gates, getting a nice knot on her forehead for her troubles. She puzzled over the door for a while, attempting a run, stretching her arm through the bars to get at a pull chain, which was just out of reach, and finally deciding to try her Whirlwind Sprint Shout. “WULD!” But the first gate still closed before she reached it.
“Oh, for the love of Kyne!” Maybe running and Shouting would work. She stood at the first stone, and the gate opened, then she took off running. After she passed the third stone and all three were open, she Shouted. “WULD!” Her body shot forward at a staggering rate of speed, and she made it through before the gates closed. “Finally!” she cried with relief.
After another handful of interesting traps and dead draugr, Selene came to a room with a long runway that led to a sarcophagus at the back. A coffin lay on each side of the stone structure, both with slain draugr lying half-in and half-out of them. As she stepped into the room, the ground started to shake, and four enormous, stone dragon heads emerged from the shallow moat flanking the runway. Selene braced herself, waiting for the ceiling to cave in, or at the very least for a dozen draugr to suddenly appear and try to kill her, but nothing happened. The dragons made a kind of stone canopy over the walk, standing as honor guard for her march to the sarcophagus.
The coffin was impressive, made of ancient stone, peaked like the roof of an exotic castle, and carved with runes in ancient script. A stone hand rested at the top, no doubt used for holding the artifact, but the Horn of Jurgen Windcaller wasn’t there. In its place was a rolled piece of parchment. Selene took the note and read.
I need to speak to you. Urgently.
Rent the attic room at the Sleeping Giant Inn in
Riverwood, and I’ll meet you.
“You have got to be kidding me,” Selene spat. “What kind of asshole—” She snarled and stomped her foot, seriously considering dropping to the floor and throwing a temper tantrum worthy of the brattiest three-year-old. Her beast form threatened to emerge, but deep underground was not the place for a werewolf, so she found an exit and left Ustengrav, fuming.
She left her clothes behind the stairs and let her inner wolf out, raging through the swamps of Hjaalmarch and slaughtering mudcrabs, skeever, and any unfortunate animal she could lay her paws on. Morthal was dangerously close, and the scent of human flesh was almost too seductive to resist, but she forced herself away. Oh, she might well destroy the bastard who had beaten her to the horn, but innocents shouldn’t suffer for somebody else’s transgression. After a while, still angry but having calmed her rage, she went back to Ustengrav, retrieved her clothes and Liska, and headed to Morthal to stay at the inn for the night. The next morning, she started for Riverwood, still as angry as the night before.
It was stuff like this that had damaged her faith in people in the first place. Why would someone go to that much trouble just to leave her a note? The Graybeards had made this sound like such a monumental quest, but somebody had easily gotten there before her, so why did she even bother? Maybe whoever got the horn should take her place as Dragonborn. She occupied her mind with such thoughts while she traveled, imparting many of them to Liska, who cooed sympathetically.
Selene was tempted to bypass Whiterun, but it was late in the day and she was tired, so she spent the night at Breezehome. She arrived in Riverwood the next day in the middle of a thunderstorm, which fit her mood perfectly. She had hoped time would cool her anger, but she was just as pissed when she got to Riverwood as she was when she left Ustengrav. When she stepped on the covered porch of the Sleeping Giant Inn, Selene stopped and wrung the excess water out of her dripping hair before going inside. It wasn’t really going to matter much because she was soaked and would still make a nice puddle on the floor, but at least it was more comfortable for her. It was warm inside, and the floor was wet from customers who had already come in from the rain, so she didn’t make things any worse. Several patrons sat around the large fire pit in the center of the room, drinking mead and warming their hands and feet. An attractive, middle-aged woman swept the floor at the other end of the pit. When she saw Selene, she put her broom down and approached.
“So you’re that visitor, been pokin’ around.”
“This is an inn; everybody’s a visitor. And I haven’t been poking. I’d like to rent the attic room.”
She raised an eyebrow and said, “The attic room, eh? Well, we don’t have an attic room, but you can have the one on the left. Make yourself at home, but the fox has to stay outside.”
Selene handed her ten gold pieces and took Liska out to the front porch. She gave a little girl sitting on the porch five Septims to make sure nobody tried to harm her, then went back inside and waited in the room the innkeeper had pointed out. Make yourself at home, she had said. Right after she had accused her of poking around. She didn’t like many people when she first met them; it was one of her biggest flaws. But there were some people you just hated instantly. This innkeeper was one of them. It was much to Selene’s dismay when the woman followed her in the room and held out an ancient horn.
“I believe you’re looking for this,” she said. “I’m Delphine. We need to talk. Follow me.” She led Selene through the inn and to a private room on the other side. “Close the door.” When Selene shut the door, Delphine opened a wardrobe and pressed on the back inside panel, which opened onto a flight of stairs leading down to a secret room. Selene followed her down. “Now we can talk. So you’re the Dragonborn I’ve been hearing so much about.”
“It was you? You took the horn?”
Delphine chuckled humbly. “I guess I’m getting pretty good at my ‘harmless innkeeper’ routine.”
“What’s with all the secrecy?”
“I had to be sure you weren’t a Thalmor plant.”
“They’re the ruling body of the Aldmeri—”
“I know who they are.”
“I figured the Graybeards would send you for the horn as some sort of test, and I was right. They’re nothing, if not predictable. They believe you’re the Dragonborn, so I assume they have some sort of proof, but before I go any further, I need to be sure I can trust you.”
“How about whether I can trust you?”
“If you didn’t trust me, you were a fool to walk in here in the first place.”
“I think you’d better start talking.”
Delphine took a step toward her and raised an eyebrow. “I’ll tell you what I want, when I want, and I’d watch the attitude. You’d already be dead if I hadn’t liked the looks of you when you walked into the inn. Look, I’m not your enemy. I just need you to hear me out. But I need to know if you really are Dragonborn.”
”FUS!” Delphine stumbled backward and almost fell. It was time to go. “I’m done here.”
“I shouldn’t let you walk out of here, knowing what you know.”
Selene barked a short laugh. “Come on, then, if you actually think you can stop me.”
The mysterious innkeeper sighed, and her expression softened. “I don’t want to fight you, Dragonborn. I want to help you. Go if you feel you need to. I’ll be here when you change your mind. And you will change your mind. You have to.”
Selene rolled her eyes and bounded up the stairs and out the door. The storm had passed, and the rain had slowed to a drizzle. The sun was even trying to come out. Good. It would mean better weather for the trip to High Hrothgar to deliver the Horn of Jurgen Windcaller. She decided to see if Ralof, the soldier she had escaped Helgen with, was still around while she was in town; but his sister said he had left months ago for Windhelm. She did let Selene into her house to allow her to dry off and strengthen herself with a hearty lunch and some mead before getting back on her way.
Gerdur sat in a chair near the table, drying Liska’s fur with a soft cloth while Selene spooned excellent stew into her mouth and sipped at her mead. “It’s good to see you, friend,” Gerdur said. “Ralof talked about you from time to time, wondering where you had gotten to and what you were doing.”
“Actually, I joined the Companions.”
“A noble path!”
“Hey, Gerdur, what do you know about Delphine?”
“At the inn? She’s quite personable. Spends a lot of time chatting with her customers. She doesn’t talk much about herself, though. Orgnar’s in love with her, you know.”
“The bartender? She’s like twenty years older than he is.”
“But lovely, no? It’s sad, really. She seems content, but I think if she let Orgnar into her life, he could make her happy. He’s really very sweet, and he’s a good man. I believe he’d be a good catch for any woman, if she could get past his gruff exterior.”
“I think Delphine has other things on her mind than running the inn.” The woman gave her a thoughtful expression but didn’t respond. “Gerdur, thank you. You’re a real friend. Those are hard to find these days.”
Gerdur reached across and placed her hand over Selene’s. “You’ve been a friend as well. And you’re always welcome here. I have to get back to the mill, but take your time and just bring me the house key when you leave. Take care of yourself, my friend.”
Selene stayed for a while, finishing her mead and warming herself by the fire. Liska, finally dry, curled up and went to sleep, but Selene had to interrupt her nap so they could get on their way. It was a long way to Ivarstead. She stopped at the mill and gave Gerdur the key, then headed north, still angry with Delphine but admittedly curious. The innkeeper was obviously an experienced warrior. She had killed a slew of draugr and a couple of necromancers to get to the inner chamber of Jurgen Windcaller’s crypt, an awful lot of trouble just to make sure Selene wasn’t with the Thalmor. Unfortunately, Delphine had refused to come forth with any useful information before having proof that Selene was Dragonborn, and Selene had been too angry to dance with the woman.
Delphine said she would change her mind. She had to. What in the Void did that mean? Perhaps she would change her mind. Maybe the Graybeards knew her; she certainly knew them. She would ask when she arrived. For now, she would just concentrate on getting there.
* * *
When Selene took the Horn of Jurgen Windcaller to the Graybeards, they taught her the final word of the Unrelenting Force Shout and formally greeted her as Dragonborn. The entire monastery—and probably most of Skyrim—shook as the four monks spoke the traditional words of greeting to the Dragonborn with their full voices.
The Graybeards didn’t know Delphine, and Master Arngeir said he had no idea why the woman would go to such lengths to seek out the Dragonborn. He did admonish her to be cautious, however. If she was wanted by the Thalmor, Delphine was dangerous, and though she might pose no direct threat to Selene, there was always the risk of guilt by association.
Selene studied and meditated with the Graybeards for a week before finally making her trek back down the mountain to Ivarstead. When she checked into the Vilemyr Inn for the night, Wilhelm was respectful, almost reverent.
“You know, don’t you?” she muttered.
“I suspected. It should not be something to hide. It’s a glorious thing, and you should be proud.”
“I don’t really hide it; it just makes me uncomfortable. People look at me differently when they know I’m Dragonborn.”
Wilhelm gave her a warm smile. “My apologies, Drago—Selene. I will do my best not to make you uncomfortable. I have something for you, though.” He reached beneath the bar and brought out an envelope, which he handed to her. “A courier came a couple of days ago and said he had information that the Dragonborn had gone to High Hrothgar. He said if she—you—came in, to give you this.”
“And you put two and two together.”
“Not many make the trip up the Seven Thousand Steps and stay the week. And wasn’t it a month last time?”
“All right, all right, let me look at this letter.” She opened the envelope pulled out a card made of heavy, expensive stock with the Stormcloak insignia emblazoned upon it. It was an invitation written in fine calligraphy, probably done by a professional scribe.
Jarl Ulfric Stormcloak requests the honour
of your presence at the Palace of the Kings,
Windhelm, at your earliest convenience.
“Wow,” Selene gasped. She looked up at Wilhelm. “Ulfric Stormcloak wants to see me.”