“It’s been a dilly of a day.” Selene could still hear Ben say it. She wasn’t sure what a dilly was, but she guessed today was just that. The day had taken one hairpin turn after another until she was afraid to wonder what was next.
Selene didn’t believe much in luck. She believed a person dealt with what the Divines gave her the best she could. Things happened that one couldn’t always explain, but that wasn’t luck. That was just the gods messing with your head. Ben had believed in luck, and they had argued about it more than most anything else. She wondered what he’d say about her luck today. She could almost hear him as he would have recounted the day’s events.
Bad luck: She had been trying to cross the border from Cyrodiil yesterday when she happened upon a prisoner caravan led by Imperial soldiers. They apparently didn’t like her trying to get into the province, because one of them whacked her on the head and threw her into a cart.
Good luck: She had awakened this morning, hands tied, head pounding, but sitting next to none other than Ulfric Stormcloak! She had heard about him all the way down in Cyrodiil, and he was her hero. She hated the Imperials, and he was hitting them where it hurt. Ulfric was one of the main reasons Selene had decided to come home to Skyrim. After she took care of the business she came back for, she was seriously considering joining the Stormcloaks. If she couldn’t bring herself to submit to that much structure, she would help the cause in her own way.
Bad luck: There had been no time to give him the “I’m your biggest fan” speech because the cart arrived in Helgen, and in the town square was a chopping block complete with headsman. Hadvar, the Imperial soldier who wrote her name down in his little book, said she’d picked a bad time to return to her homeland, and he wasn’t kidding. If she had waited one more day, she’d have gotten safely inside Skyrim and wouldn’t be in such a predicament. He actually seemed nice, trying to convince the captain not to execute her because she wasn’t on their list, but the captain had said to kill her anyway.
Selene couldn’t categorize what had happened next as bad or good luck because it was so far out of the realm of possibility that she still wasn’t completely sure it was real. Her head had been on the block and the headsman had been in mid-swing when a monstrosity landed on the tower behind him. The creature was enormous, with black scales, leathery wings, red eyes, and teeth the size of a skeever. The Imperials scattered, yelling at each other and pulling their weapons, but shooting arrows at it didn’t do a thing. Selene just knelt there, stunned into immobility, only to be thrown to the ground when the dragon spoke. Spoke! The words, which were uttered in a language she didn’t recognize, resulted in a loud crash of thunder and a mighty burst of air that knocked her to the ground and sent several of the others flying. Ralof, one of the prisoners on her cart, urged her to get up, and she followed him into a nearby tower, where Ulfric was shouting orders. He sent them up into the tower.
Bad luck: She and Ralof made their way through the keep and connecting tunnels, dodging the dragon several times but had to fight off half a dozen Imperials, four frostbite spiders, and a bear. It seemed the obstacles the gods put in their way never ended. It was like a bad adventure story where the author kept saying, “Let’s see how I can screw with my hero now!”
Good luck: They finally managed to get out of Helgen. They went to Riverwood, where Ralof’s sister gave her coin and food.
Thinking about it now, Selene figured Ben would say the dragon was good luck. After all, if it hadn’t attacked, she’d be dead now.
”Boy, it was sure lucky that dragon showed up when it did!”
“Kiddo, sometimes I think you’re not right in the head.”
“Maybe so, but I’m not the one having an imaginary conversation with a dead person.”
He had her there. But she didn’t care what most of the living said anyway, and she had to talk to somebody. She had been lonely for a while now.
Ralof had been the first person she’d really talked to since arriving in Skyrim. In fact, he’d been the first person in weeks. He hadn’t been what she’d call a master conversationalist, but he had courage and honor. She could have escaped Helgen with somebody a lot worse. Then after all that, his sister had been so kind to her, giving her supplies and offering her a warm bed and a safe place to hide out. It reminded Selene that there were good people in the world. She had too much nervous energy to rest, so she rejected the offer of a bed but promised Gerdur she would take word to the Jarl of Whiterun about the dragon attack. As if he would actually see her.
Now here she was, still reeling from the insanity that had occurred since she had entered Skyrim, walking down the hill toward Whiterun. Selene had been born in Whiterun, but she didn’t remember it. Her parents had been killed by Imperial soldiers when she was five, and she had lived at Honorhall Orphanage for six years before running away and crossing the border into Cyrodiil, where she had spent the next eight years. She was a stranger to her homeland and the town where she was born. As she turned a corner and headed down the hill, the walled city came into view. It was dominated by a majestic castle with high, steep roofs and many windows. It was near suppertime; hopefully they had an inn with some good food. She could sleep on the ground if she had to; she was long used to sleeping outside. But she was famished, and she wanted something more satisfying than the rations Gerdur had given her. First, though, she wanted to lighten her load—sell the stuff she had managed to lift from the Imperial soldiers she had killed—and try to get in to see the jarl.
She approached a party of Imperials who were escorting a prisoner to Kyne knew where. It was probably a bad idea to interfere, but she couldn’t just let the Imperials have this guy, who was probably a Stormcloak. She pulled a sword she had picked up when fighting her way through Helgen’s keep, walked up to the prisoner, and before the Imperials could even say, “Move along, citizen; this doesn’t concern you,” she deftly sliced his binds and tossed him the weapon. The Imperials attacked, of course, and she dropped everything but one sword so her items would not weigh her down. One of the soldiers fought the prisoner, leaving two of them on her. It had been a while since she had fought two at once, and even then she hadn’t been very good at it. But she managed to parry their attacks and get a clean shot at one of them, leaving her with the other. He was a better swordsman than Selene, but she was quicker and had a keener eye. When he swung a little too wide, she managed to duck under his arm and bury her sword in his side.
Leather armor. Why did armies insist on giving their infantry such flimsy armor?
The prisoner, who had killed the soldier he was fighting, thanked her and went on his way. Selene picked up her gear and looted the bodies. She got two more swords, some gold, and one of the soldiers’ armor, which she folded up and tucked under her arm, planning to go to the general store and get a knapsack to carry her stuff. She could carry quite a bit, but doing it without some sort of pack was very cumbersome. The pack she was carrying when she came across the border was perfect, but the Imperials had confiscated it. Oh, well. They were probably burned to a crackly crunch now and couldn’t use it anyway. Served them right.
Selene started again toward Whiterun, praying to the Divines that the rest of the trip would be uneventful because she was starting to get tired, but she should have known. Nothing was ever easy. As she passed a farm outside of town, she saw three people fighting a giant. Again, she dropped her gear, pulled the bow, and sent an arrow at the giant. It hit, but he didn’t drop. The warriors pounded and hacked away at him, but he was tenacious. She drew another arrow and managed to hit him in the head, and he finally fell dead.
The body count was going up. Since she crossed the border from Cyrodiil in the wee hours of the morning, she had killed six Imperial soldiers, two frostbite spiders, a bear, and a giant. A giant! Of course, she’d had help killing the giant, but that wasn’t the point. She had killed before—one did what one had to do to survive—but by the Eight!
She wondered if Ben could see her from Oblivion, or Sovngarde, or wherever he was. If he could, he was laughing his arse off at her. “Oh, shut up,” she muttered to no one.
As she approached the three individuals who had been fighting the giant, what could only be described as a wild woman came toward her. She wore leather armor, and it was even less protective than the soldiers’ uniforms. Steel pauldrons and cassets covered her shoulders and hips, but the torso was cut all the way to her navel with only a couple of steel bars across her chest. Her boots were made of some sort of fur. Her hair was red, and she might have been pretty, but Selene couldn’t tell because of several stripes of war paint across her face. When she spoke, her voice didn’t match her primitive appearance. “You fight well,” she said in a strong, authoritative voice. “I’m Aela. This is Ria, and that’s Farkas.”
Ria, a sweet-faced Breton wearing fur armor, nodded hello. When Farkas, who had been looting the giant’s body, looked up at her, Selene had to bite her lip to keep her jaw from dropping. He was fantastic. His dark hair hung to his shoulders, and he had the clearest eyes she had ever seen. They were the color of an overcast sky with a stream of sunlight shining through, and the dark war paint he wore around them made them leap out at her. His beard was full but very short, as if he had shaved in the last few days. When he smiled at her, she found it hard to look away.
“What is your name?” Aela asked her, dragging her gaze away from the handsome warrior.
“Selene,” she responded.
“Are you just passing through Whiterun? If you stay, you might consider joining the Companions. We are always looking for good fighters to join our ranks.”
“Who are the Companions?”
“We’re an order of warriors based in Jorrvaskr, the mead hall next to Dragonsreach. I don’t make the decisions, though. Come talk to Kodlak, our Harbinger, and he will see if you’re worthy. He can see into a person’s heart and soul. Hopefully we will see you there.”
Aela and Ria went past her and headed up the road toward Whiterun, and Selene bent down to pick up her gear. Farkas was suddenly there beside her.
“Let me help you with that,” he offered in a deep, husky voice that was a perfect match for the rest of him. He picked up the swords and armor.
“Thanks. I need to get a knapsack.”
“See Belethor in the marketplace. He’ll fix you up. Warmaiden’s is right inside the gate. They’ll buy your weapons and armor.”
“No problem. Aela’s right. You should come to Jorrvaskr and join the Companions.”
“I’m on my way to Riften.”
“Well, if you change your mind…”
“How long have you been with them?”
“I’ve been a Companion since I was a whelp. Our father raised me and my brother in Jorrvaskr.” As Farkas told her a little more about the Companions, he spoke slowly, almost as if he were carefully trying to form the words he was saying. At times, his speech patterns almost sounded like those of a little boy. It was endearing.
At the gate, the guard eyed her suspiciously. “The city is closed,” he barked. “Official business only.”
“It’s all right,” said Farkas. “She’s with me.”
“I do have official business,” Selene commented. “I have news for the jarl about the dragon attack in Helgen.”
Farkas looked at her, eyes wide, as did the guard.
“All right, then,” said the guard. “Just keep your nose clean.”
“Of course.” She followed Farkas inside the gate and into Warmaiden’s blacksmith shop.
“This is War-Bear,” he told her, pointing to the burly, heavily bearded shopkeeper. “Belethor’s is just down the street. Will you be all right from here?”
“I should be, aye.”
“The Bannered Mare is just across from Belethor’s. You can get a place to sleep there, and some food and drink, too.”
“Thank you, Farkas.”
He smiled, nodded to War-Bear and an attractive Imperial woman who sat behind the counter, then left the shop.
“Looks like you have some things to trade,” said War-Bear.
“Aye. I have this to sell, and I’ll need some arrows.”
They worked out a price and made the transaction, and Selene left the shop and headed down the street toward the general store. Whiterun was a pretty little city, rustic and a bit worn but welcoming, with lattice-work doors and windows, cobblestone streets, and patches of wildflowers growing here and there. A couple of children ran past her, yelling playful taunts at each other. The market district consisted of a handful of buildings and carts arranged in a circle around a well. The merchants at the kiosks sold food and jewelry, and they loudly hawked their wares at all who passed. The Bannered Mare was straight ahead, and to the right were signs indicating an alchemy shop and the general store. A slim Nord with blond hair in a ponytail halfway down his back leaned against one of the store’s posts, arms folded and feet crossed, watching her come down the street.
He greeted her amicably. “Well met, newcomer.”
“To you as well.” Selene stepped into the general store. Inside, she found a little Breton with a boisterous voice and a love of money. She knew he had a love of money because it was the first thing he told her. “E-e-everything’s for sale, my friend! Everything!”
“How about a knapsack?”
“Big or small?”
He went to the back and rooted around noisily, grumbling about never being able to find anything. Finally, after a loud crash, he said, “Aha!” and brought out a brand-new knapsack made of high-quality brushed leather with heavy, double stitching on all the seams. It was the nicest pack she had ever seen. “That’ll be twenty septims.”
“Twenty? Are you mad? That old thing isn’t worth more than five, tops.”
Belethor laughed. “Okay, fifteen.”
She smiled and leaned over the counter toward him. “You know what, Belethor? I can probably find something on my own. All sorts of bandits on the roads who carry them, you know? Or, I hear there’s a really good general store in Riverwood. I bet he can sell me—”
“Oh, very well, ten,” the merchant muttered irritably. “But that trader in Riverwood is no good, I’m telling you. I have much better stock here.”
She handed over ten gold pieces. “Of course, you do. But a little competition’s good for the soul, no?”
“No!” he chuckled. “Anything else I can get for you this evening?”
“Nope, but I’m sure I’ll see you again. Goodnight, Belethor.”
“Come back soon, pretty lady.”
And, on up to Dragonsreach.
The palace was even more beautiful up close. Torches, lanterns and windows gave off a welcoming glow in the waning daylight, and the water of the decorative moat glistened joyfully. It was too bad the guards didn’t give her as warm a greeting as the building. They eyed her warily, and she couldn’t help glaring back at them. Selene knew it was a guard’s job to be suspicious of strangers, but she had never liked getting dirty looks just for walking down the street. One of them stopped her as she reached for the door.
“What’s your business?” he asked officiously.
“Isn’t Dragonsreach a public place?”
“You just watch yourself, Stormcloak. Don’t go causing any trouble.”
“Storm—ah, I understand. I’m not a Stormcloak. My clothes were damaged when the dragon attacked Helgen, and—”
“Helgen? By all means, go right in.”
She nodded her thanks and entered the palace. In truth, she didn’t expect it to be so easy. He was the jarl, for Kyne’s sake! And the guards let a 19-year-old girl in a Stormcloak uniform just waltz in like she lived there. Selene felt sorry for them if the Stormcloaks ever attacked the city.
The housecarl turned out to be just as easy. Selene used the Helgen excuse again and was allowed to go within touching distance of the jarl. Unbelievable.
He sat on his throne, looking bored, and gazed up at her. “You were at Helgen? So it’s true about the dragon?”
“Aye, it destroyed the village and headed north.”
An argument ensued between the housecarl—Irileth, a robust Dunmer who had seen her share of fighting—and Proventus Avenicci, the steward. Proventus was a sniveling Imperial whom Selene immediately pegged as a coward. He was a “wait and see” type of person, more interested in talking than doing. Irileth wanted to send guards to Riverwood, but Proventus wasn’t having it.
“If we do that, the jarl of Falkreath will think we’re siding with the Stormcloaks and sending an invasion force,” he whined.
Selene rolled her eyes, and the jarl noticed.
“What would you do, then?” he challenged her.
“My lord, I’ve seen this dragon and what he did to Helgen. I don’t know if the guards would have a chance against it, but if it attacks Riverwood, the villagers will be utterly helpless. We’re talking about simple farmers and tradesmen who don’t know much about fighting. If that dragon shows up with no one to defend them, they’re dead.”
Balgruuf stared at her for a moment before looking up at the housecarl. “Send your men,” he said.
“My jarl, I” —Proventus began.
The jarl put his hand up to stop him. “I won’t have the people of my hold slaughtered without coming to their aid. I’ll deal with Siddgeir if necessary.” He stood and motioned for Selene to follow him. “As for you, I believe I have work for you.”
He led her to the office of the court wizard, a funny-looking Nord with a very long chin and thin lips. She assumed Farengar Secret-Fire had hair on his head to go with his fuzzy, mutton-chop sideburns, but she couldn’t see it under his hood, which covered the better part of his face.
“Dragons have been a pet project of mine for some time,” he explained. “I shouldn’t need to tell you that the appearance of the dragon at Helgen has piqued my curiosity. I’ve recently been made aware of a certain stone tablet that might help my research. I was also given a possible location. I need you to retrieve said tablet for me.” Just the way he said it told Selene this was more than a simple errand.
“Well, actually, trudge through draugr-infested catacombs to find an object that may or may not be there.”
“Now, see? Why didn’t you say it like that? Conversations would be a lot shorter if people would just say what they meant in the first place. Okay, sounds good. Where am I going?”
Farengar gave the jarl an amused look, and Balgruuf smiled in return. “Bleak Falls Barrow,” the wizard replied. “It’s near a miserable little town named—”
“Riverwood, I know. I passed it on the way here from Helgen. I’ll be back in a few days.”
“Time is of the essence, you know,” said Farengar. “The jarl is not a patient man. Nor am I, for that matter.”
“I’ll get it for you as quickly as I can. If it’s not fast enough, feel free to go get it yourself.”
The two men gaped at her, obviously not used to being spoken to so bluntly. After the initial moment of surprise, the jarl’s eyes blazed. “You dare—”
“You must excuse my manner, my jarl,” she interrupted. “After the day I’ve had, I’m sure you understand that my nerves are raw. At this point I desperately need to find some food and a warm bed.”
“Then go,” he said sympathetically. “Eat and get some rest, then start out in the morning.”
Selene nodded in response and turned to leave, but Balgruuf called to her. “Warrior. What is your name?”
“It’s Selene. Goodnight, gentlemen.” She left the room without being dismissed. As she walked through the castle and down the outer stairs toward the Bannered Mare, she tried to figure out which category to put the encounter in. Bad: Farengar got on her nerves. He was pompous and liked to hear himself talk, and Selene didn’t care for that. Good: The jarl didn’t throw her in jail for smarting off. She liked Jarl Balgruuf. Their brief conversation had left the impression that he said what he meant and meant what he said. He didn’t subscribe to the political bullshit so many leaders insisted on spouting. Bad: Navigating a draugr-infested dungeon without backup. Good: It was a job. Bad: It would further delay her trip to Riften. Then again, now that she was in Skyrim, she wasn’t in that much of a hurry to get there anyway. It wasn’t as though she was having second thoughts, but that didn’t mean she was looking forward to doing what she had to do.
Of course, she couldn’t forget the other events that happened since she had approached Whiterun. Bad: Scuffling with the Imperial soldiers. Good: Freeing the prisoner. Bad: Yet another fight, this time with a giant. Good: Farkas.
She decided to give Farkas two goods. He was beautiful and he was a nice guy.
She realized she had stopped thinking in terms of luck and just of “good” and “bad.” Too much had happened on either side today for it to just be luck. No, the gods were messing with her. Why they decided to pick her—and on the day she returned to Skyrim, no less—was beyond her. But who knew why the Divines did the things they did? Maybe it was just their twisted way of saying, “Welcome home.”
Selene walked into the Bannered Mare, a crowded little inn with a fire pit in the center of the main hall and delicious aromas wafting in from a room off to the left. She recognized War-Bear from the blacksmith shop playing dice with the man who had spoken to her in the marketplace and one other, a handsome blond in an Imperial uniform. Farkas, Ria, and another woman sat in a corner, engaged in a heated conversation. Most of the rest of the group gathered around the bar or sat at the fire pit, listening to the bard, who was currently belting out “Age of Aggression.”
Selene rolled her eyes. That song had made it all the way to Cyrodiil, and she had to wonder why anyone would rather live as slaves to an emperor who knew nothing of their lives in Skyrim than fight for the right to live how they chose. Then again, maybe they didn’t really want to worship Talos. She hadn’t heard much about him growing up, but the Imperials in Cyrodiil seemed to think he was all the rage here in spite of the White-Gold Concordat, which outlawed his worship. Oh, she was sure there was more to the war than that, but it was the only thing she knew at this point, so she went with what she had.
She nudged her way through the crowd and up to the bar, where a matronly woman smiled. “What can I get for you, traveler?”
“Do you got any rooms?”
“Aye. Ten septims for a day.”
Selene counted out ten gold pieces and placed them on the bar. “What’s on the menu?” she asked.
Before the barkeep could answer, someone nudged her out of the way . “Hulda, give us another round.”
Selene looked over to see the woman who had been sitting with Farkas and Ria. She was around Selene’s age, a bit taller, with narrow, hateful eyes and a derisive sneer. She didn’t even bother acknowledging Selene after cutting in on her.
“You need to wait your turn,” she snapped at the rude Companion. “She’s busy waiting on me.”
The woman turned her sneer on Selene. “No, you need to wait your turn. Companions come first.”
Selene turned back to Hulda. “So, Hulda. The menu?”
With that, the taller woman pushed her. “You’re not gonna ignore me, girl.”
“Trust me, Companion. You don’t want to do this.”
Hulda heaved an exasperated sigh as the woman’s fist came directly at Selene’s face. Selene moved to the side and pushed the woman’s arm out of the way, then landed a punch of her own to her jaw, sending her head snapping back. Before she had the chance to recover, Selene grabbed her arm and twisted it behind her painfully.
“Gods damn you!” the woman shouted.
Before Selene could retort, Ria stepped between them. “Selene, would you mind letting Njada go, please? She’s no use to the Companions with a broken arm.”
“Somebody should tell her that,” Selene retorted, not letting go.
“Let her go!” Farkas roared from in front of Njada.
When Selene got a better look, she realized it wasn’t Farkas, just somebody who looked a lot like him. Must be the brother he had mentioned. She gave Njada’s arm a final twist before hurling her toward the Farkas lookalike, who caught her and asked if she was okay. When she nodded, he pointed to the table where they had been sitting. “Go,” he ordered her.
Njada glared at him for a moment and then stomped over to the table. When he turned to Selene, she put both hands in the air. “I don’t need this,” she grumbled as she turned and walked out of the inn.
He followed her outside, taking her arm as he caught up with her. “You don’t need to leave. Hulda’s used to fights breaking out.”
“Friendly little town you got here.” She tried to pull her arm from his grasp, but he gripped it harder.
“I’m trying to apologize,” he said indignantly.
“Oh, is that what this is?”
“Aye, if you’ll be still and give me a chance to get it out.” Selene stopped and looked him in the eye, waiting. “Njada is young,” he told her. “All she knows is fighting.”
“That was the apology?”
He let go of her arm and wheeled about, growling in frustration. He started to walk away, but he stopped after a few feet and returned. “I’m going to try this again,” he said with as much patience as he could muster. “I apologize for Njada’s behavior. She’s young and can be a bully. We’re working on training that streak out of her.”
“Was that so hard?”
Farkas’s brother narrowed his eyes. “Are you always this hostile?”
“Well, you’re not exactly being warm and friendly, you know.”
He closed his eyes and took several deep breaths, and Selene got the distinct impression he was fighting for control. She decided not to push this one any further.
“I’m sorry. I’m confrontational by nature, and I’ve had a really bad day.”
When he opened his eyes and looked back at her, the moonlight hit them just right, and they practically glowed. Selene realized now that he and Farkas didn’t look a lot alike; they looked just alike. They were twins. But this one didn’t have the smile and relaxed disposition of his brother. He was strung tighter than a daedric bow.
“The others told me how you helped them kill a giant at Pelagius’s farm,” he said. “And from what I saw in there, you’re quite a fighter. How do you handle yourself with a sword?”
“Farkas said Aela had invited you to come to Jorrvaskr. Come with me now. Since Njada denied you the bed you paid for, you can have hers.”
“What, and have her yank me out of it in the middle of the night? No, thank you.”
The twin chuckled. “I’ll handle Njada. Come on. There’s no safer place in all of Skyrim.”
“Thank you, Vilkas, but I would be uncomfortable sleeping there. I’m perfectly happy camping out on the tundra. Besides, I have somewhere to go in the morning, and camping will give me a head start.”
Vilkas glowered at her. “You’re stubborn, aren’t you?”
“You have no idea.” She didn’t know what possessed her to do so, but she reached out and squeezed his arm affectionately, then made her way to the city gates. She found a nice spot to camp just past the crossroads that would take her either north across the bridge or south to Riverwood. A small circle of bushes provided a wind break and would rustle if anybody tried to intrude. She ducked behind a nearby rock to pee and then went back to the thicket, where she dug into her knapsack. Gerdur had given her some cheese, dried meat, an apple, and a bottle of mead. It wasn’t the dinner she’d been hoping for, but it filled her belly.
Her hunger sated, she lay down with her head on the knapsack and looked up at Masser, which hung overhead, so close it took up half the sky. Selene had always been fond of lying on her back and gazing up at the moon and stars, wondering such crazy things as how far away they were and if anybody lived there. Notions to drive Ben mad with frustration. Ben didn’t understand nature the way she did.
It wasn’t long before exhaustion finally took over and her eyelids began to droop. As she drifted off, she ran through the list of bizarre events that had shaped her day. Dragons, giants, jarls, wizards, warriors, more fighting than she cared to do in one day, and a set of gorgeous but very different twins. All in the space of about twelve hours.
Dilly of a day.