When Selene awoke, she had company. A fox crouched between two of the bushes surrounding her, her ears perked and her black eyes watching warily.
“Hi, little lady,” Selene cooed. “Did I take your home? I’m sorry.” She dug in her pack and pulled out a piece of dried meat, which she held out to the little vixen. “You hungry? How about a bite?”
The fox hesitated, but her nose twitched at the scent of the food. Over the course of a few minutes, Selene gently coaxed the animal into the clearing, where she took the meat and darted back into the bushes. While the fox ate, Selene broke camp.
“Bye, sweetie,” she said as she started down the road toward Bleak Falls Barrow. She carried her bow with an arrow nocked in one hand, not totally on guard but not relaxed, either. She had seen a couple of wolves on the way to town yesterday, and she wanted to be ready in case she was attacked. A rustling of leaves made her turn and aim the bow, instinctively taking hold of the arrow and string, ready to pull back; but she smiled and lowered the weapon. It was the fox.
“You’re an odd one,” Selene remarked. “Most foxes won’t have anything to do with people. Well, come on.” The fox didn’t move. “Suit yourself,” she said with a shrug and moved on with the fox following at a safe distance.
A watchtower near the barrow and the area outside the crypt were crawling with bandits. She had to fight the two guards at the tower, but she took the three at the barrow from a distance without being detected. Except for the stink that always came with such a tomb, the barrow itself was easy, just a couple more bandits and a dozen draugr. Selene didn’t mind fighting draugr. They were stupid and fairly easy to kill, little more than target practice. Every once in a while she came upon what she liked to call a “deathlord,” and they were much tougher than their weaker cousins. Fortunately she didn’t run into any deathlords in Bleak Falls Barrow, and she made it to the sarcophagus where the Dragonstone was located without too much effort—a welcome change from yesterday. The coffin sat on a platform in the shadow of a large, curved wall. A draugr sat up and Selene shot it, but it still came. She drew another arrow, aimed and shot as it stalked toward her wielding an ancient blade. If it got much closer, she would have to drop the bow and draw her sword, but it finally dropped to the floor with the third arrow.
As she climbed the stairs toward the coffin, Selene heard chanting. She spun around, her eyes scanning every corner of the room, but there was no one there but her. After a moment she realized the chanting was coming from the wall behind the sarcophagus. Curious, she walked toward the wall. It was as if the wall was calling to her. The chanting became louder as she approached it, and though the words weren’t in the Nord language, she understood the glyphs carved there.
HET NOK FaaL VahLOK
DeiNMaaR DO DOVAahGOLZ
ahRK aaN FUS DO UNSLaaD
RahGOL ahRK VULOM
Here lies the guardian
Keeper of Dragonstone
And a FORCE of unending
Rage and darkness
As she read, the world around her darkened and faded away except for one word. Fus—force—glowed insistently, and the word rang in her head. Selene stood for what seemed like an eternity, mesmerized by the glowing word and the sound in her head, until she was startled into awareness when the chanting became a triumphant song. “Ja! Ja! Ja! Ja!” the hidden choir sang. The world returned abruptly, and Selene gasped for breath, the air slow to return to her lungs. She stared at the wall, trying to piece together what had happened and waiting to see if it would do anything else, but it remained still and silent. She finally tore herself away and went to find the Dragonstone, which lay in the empty sarcophagus. She picked the tablet up and stuffed it in her knapsack, then looked for an exit.
She met the fox on the way back to Whiterun. “You know, people are gonna talk if we keep meeting like this.” She retrieved another piece of meat from her pack and held it out for the fox, who came up and took it without hesitation. She still ran back quickly, but she stuck close, just out of reach, and stopped at the circle of bushes, afraid to go any closer to town. “I’ll see you soon, little one,” Selene said as she went on her way.
When she arrived back at Dragonsreach, it was close to dinnertime, and the scent of food permeated the air of the great hall. Selene was going to have to break down and go back to the Bannered Mare when she left. She didn’t have much meat and cheese left, and it was starting to get old anyway. Maybe Hulda wouldn’t still be upset that Selene had gotten into a fight in her inn. After all, Vilkas had said she was used to it.
Farengar was accompanied by a woman wearing leather armor and a hood, which covered her face. Maybe a head covering was required in the wizard’s office. Nobody had said anything to her, though, so who knew? The two hooded figures were talking about a book that lay open on the desk and some research Farengar was doing. He looked up and saw Selene, and his face lit up.
“Ah, you’re back! And in one piece, I see. Do you have the Dragonstone?”
Selene reached into her knapsack and pulled out the Dragonstone. As she handed him the heavy tablet, Irileth came into the room behind her. “The jarl needs to see you right away, Farengar.” Turning to Selene, she said, “You should come, too. A dragon has been seen outside of town.”
A terrible weight settled on Selene’s chest as the words sank in. She had figured she would see the dragon again; she just hadn’t thought it would be so soon. Hopefully the guards were better at fighting dragons than they were at keeping rabble out of the palace. Hands shaking and heart hammering, she followed Irileth and Farengar upstairs to the war room, where Balgruuf was talking to the guard who had seen the creature.
“Go get some rest, son,” the jarl told the guard. “You’ve earned it.” He turned to Selene. “Irileth and the guards will go to the Western Watchtower to slay the dragon, and I want you to go with them.”
“News travels fast in Whiterun. I’ve already heard stories about how you helped the Companions take on a giant, and with your attitude, I feel you can handle yourself. You’re also the only one who has any experience with dragons.”
“But I was just—” she stopped midsentence and with a trembling voice said, “yes, my lord,” mentally kicking herself for not telling the jarl where he could shove his dragon. Not having to face it would be worth a night or two in jail.
Against Farengar’s wishes, Balgruuf bade the wizard to stay at the palace. He warned Irileth to proceed with caution, and then the housecarl led Selene outside and through town. After a pep talk at the guard station just inside the gate, they were off.
At first there was nothing, just the damaged watchtower and a few shaken guards. It wasn’t long, though, before they heard the howl and felt the bracing wind as the great, hulking beast flew overhead. Selene felt incredible relief when she realized it wasn’t the black dragon that had attacked Helgen. This one was much smaller, with golden-brown scales and lighter eyes. Why in the world she felt relief, she couldn’t say. After all, this meant that there were two dragons instead of one. But the black dragon was the stuff of nightmares, and this one was just a big, ugly monster. She had killed big, ugly monsters before. She steeled herself and drew her bow.
The guards pelted the dragon with arrows, and it screamed in pain. Irileth shouted something about aiming for its soft underbelly, and Selene did so when it flew over. Her arrow hit, and the dragon shrieked and spat fire at her. She managed to duck behind part of the toppled tower and avoid being hit by the worst of the blast, and she cowered behind the stone, her breath coming in panicked gasps. Just a big, ugly monster? What was she thinking? The jarl said she had experience with dragons, but that experience had entailed running away, not shooting at it. How in Kyne’s name was she supposed to fight this thing? Why was all this happening? And why in Oblivion did she have to be right in the middle of it?
But Selene was no coward. She couldn’t hide behind this tower while the guards stood fast; her pride wouldn’t allow it. She could sit there and ponder “why me?” until the sun blinked out of existence, but it wouldn’t change anything. “Why” didn’t matter; it just was. Thus, with her heart lodged firmly in her throat, she nocked an arrow and emerged. She aimed at the dragon, waiting for it to come close enough to shoot again, but it didn’t make it to her. With an agonized scream, it crashed a few yards from her position. She walked over to it with her arrow trained on it, and it eyed her balefully. It was breathing just as hard as she was, in pain and terrified, but she couldn’t afford to feel sympathy for it. If they didn’t kill it, it would kill them.
There was more to it, though. As she and the dragon looked at each other, a sense of calm washed over her. Standing here face to face with this dragon felt…right. She understood why now, knew it as surely as she knew her own name, and she was pretty sure the dragon knew it, too. She was meant to kill it. It was her job. She pulled the bowstring back and loosed the arrow.
When it hit, the dragon raised up and spread its wings, throwing its head back and wailing. “Dovahkiin, no!” it cried before flopping over with a loud THUMP.
Selene crept slowly toward it, nocking another arrow in case the thing was still alive, but it was very dead. As the others started to gather round, the dragon seemed to catch fire. It burned from the inside out, but there was no smoke. Instead, a swirl of orange light and warmth descended on Selene. With it came a sense of presence, as though she wasn’t alone in her head. It was as though the dragon was with her, its consciousness infusing hers, all its fear, agony, and wisdom; and she could no longer help feeling sympathy for it. No, not it. Him. He was part of her now. She still couldn’t grasp what had happened, but she understood his rage, terror, confusion after being awakened so abruptly. Awakened? What did that mean? Had he been asleep, hibernating for thousands of years? The strong presence faded after a moment, but it was still there, deep in her psyche, waiting. But waiting for what? And was she just imagining the whole thing?
“You,” said one of the guards. “Dragonborn!”
“Dragon-what?” she asked in perplexity.
“You absorbed its very soul! My mother used to talk about legends of the Dragonborn, a warrior who had the blood of a dragon. He—she—could absorb the souls of dragons she killed and use those souls to Shout in their language.”
Shout? Could that be what she had learned from the word wall? Fus… Was that what he meant? She had understood the other words as well, the epitaph of the draugr that guarded the Dragonstone.
“I absorbed its soul? That’s—”
“Impossible? See if it works. Try to Shout.”
Selene reached deep down, trying to reconnect with the dragon, still not sure if what she felt was real or if it was just her imagination. Is that what that was? she asked it. Did I absorb your soul? Can you teach me that Shout? The dragon’s presence strengthened, and the word rang in her head. Fus… And she understood. The word was part of her as well, not just knowledge but a sense of being and overwhelming strength and power. She was the embodiment of force.
”Fus!” she Shouted. Air burst forth from her lungs along with a thundering boom just like the black dragon had thrown so many people off their feet with. It wasn’t as strong, but it didn’t matter. It was a Shout in the dragon language.
The guards gasped and bowed their heads in reverence. “Oh, don’t do that,” she pleaded.
“Dragonborn,” several of them gasped.
Irileth stepped in. “I don’t know about this Dragonborn business. I have no need for some mythical figure. All I know is that we can kill them, and you were valuable in the fight.”
“Irileth, you just don’t understand,” one of the guards argued.
“She doesn’t need to understand,” said Selene, feeling a bit drained now that the power had been released.
“We’ll stay here and clean up,” Irileth told her. “You get back to Dragonsreach and inform the jarl.”
“I’m off.” Before she left, Selene went to the dragon and wrestled a bone from it, feeling the need to keep a trophy. There weren’t many scales left, but she picked one of those up as well and started back toward the city.
She was just passing the stables when an earthquake hit. The ground shook violently, knocking her off her feet and sending the horses fleeing in terror. The carriage driver who sat ready to ferry travelers to any of the hold cities had to fight with his horse to keep her from doing the same. But the most disturbing thing about the quake wasn’t the ground shaking; it was the call, which resounded through the air and smarted her ears. ”DOVAHKIIN!”
It was over as suddenly as it began, and Selene exchanged a bewildered glance with the carriage driver as she picked herself up and brushed herself off.
“What in Oblivion was that?” he wondered.
Selene shrugged. “I don’t know, but let’s hope it doesn’t happen again.” She made her way through the city on the way to the palace, wondering if coming to Skyrim had been such a good idea. The two short days since she had come back had been an utter nightmare, and her mission to Riften was looking more and more like it just wasn’t worth it. Maybe after she told the jarl about the dragon, she would head back to the border and get out before anything else happened.
She stopped as she passed Jorrvaskr and looked up at the mead hall, which looked for all the world like a capsized ship, and thought of its denizens. All of them that she had met, save one, had seemed honorable and had encouraged her to join them. There wasn’t much honor in the world these days, and so many of them in one place intrigued her. Vilkas said there was no safer place in Skyrim. Safety was an illusion, but when she looked up at the sprawling, oddly shaped building, Selene felt comfortable. Besides, she was lonely. Maybe she could find something there that she didn’t even know she was looking for. Her trip, whether it was to Riften or back to Cyrodiil, could wait a while. She would see what the Companions held for her. But first, she had business to tend to. She tore herself away from the mead hall and headed up to Dragonsreach.
The jarl was concerned about the attack, but thrilled they had slain it. “You did well, and you shall be rewarded. By my right as jarl, I name you Thane of Whiterun. You will have the right to purchase property within our city, and I grant you a personal housecarl and this weapon from my armory. I’ll also inform the guards of your new position. Wouldn’t want them to think of you as the common rabble, now, would we?”
Did he just give her a title? The possibility staggered Selene. Last night she slept in bushes, and now she was a noble. She didn’t really know what a Thane was, but it would be nice not to have the guards giving her the fisheye when she walked past. “Thank you, my jarl.”
“See my steward when you’re ready to purchase a home.”
“There’s more, Jarl. When we killed the dragon, something happened to me. The guards said I had absorbed its soul.”
Balgruuf’s eyes widened. “That must explain the Greybeards’ call. If you absorbed its soul, you’re Dovahkiin, Dragonborn.”
“You’re saying that call was for me?”
“Aye. High Hrothgar, the Greybeards’ monastery, is at the top of the Throat of the World. They practice the Way of the Voice, and they never leave their monastery. They’re isolated from the world, and if they took notice of you and summoned you to them, that’s a sign that cannot be ignored. Get up to High Hrothgar and talk to them. No doubt they’ll want to train you to use the Voice.”
“Wait. Don’t I have some say in this?”
“Of course, you do,” he replied. “No one will force you to climb the Seven Thousand Steps, but this is a great honor, Selene. If you’re truly Dragonborn, it’s also a great responsibility.”
Selene nodded and turned to leave Dragonsreach. A woman met her just inside the door. She was slim and pretty, but she looked tough, hard.
“Greetings, my Thane. I’m Lydia, your housecarl.”
“Good. Maybe you can explain all this to me. What’s a Thane, and what’s a housecarl?”
“‘Thane’ is mainly an honorary title. The court is at your disposal, and the guards will look the other way if you commit a crime. As your housecarl, I’m sworn to protect you and your home.”
“Hmm. At this point, I don’t have a home, and I don’t know that I need protection.”
Lydia nodded. “I will be here at the palace or in the guards’ barracks if you change your mind.”
“Thanks, Lydia.” Selene left the palace and descended the steps to the Wind District, where she stood again at the foot of the steps leading up to Jorrvaskr. It was an imposing building, but to her it seemed friendly, welcoming. Selene knew that with any type of organization like this, there would be rules, hierarchy, and order. Could she adhere to such a structure? She was so used to being on her own, making her own rules, and ignoring the law. She didn’t know if she could toe the line as she would be required to do in the Companions.
But she hadn’t had a home since she was five years old. Honorhall didn’t count because it was no home. It was a prison. Perhaps she could find a home here. If not, she could always leave. She ascended the steps and opened the door.