The door was lighter than expected and swung open easily, and Selene stepped inside, Liska slipping in past her feet. The entryway opened onto a small gathering space dominated by even more steps, which led to an altar and then on to a mezzanine level. Many candles lit the hall, and the air was pleasantly warm. The air of peace and calm was evident right away, and Selene instantly felt relaxed and reassured.
After she had taken only a few steps, four heavily robed monks entered the hall, two by the stairs and two from the corridors emanating from it. One of the monks who came down the stairs approached and stopped before her.
“And so a Dragonborn appears at this particular point in time. Why have you come to us?”
“I answered your summons. I want to know what it means to be Dragonborn.”
“First we must make certain you are Dragonborn. You should be able to project your Voice into a Shout, or Thu’um.”
Selene nodded. “I can do that.”
“Perhaps you could demonstrate for us.”
Selene balked. True she couldn’t exactly Shout somebody apart like Ulfric Stormcloak, but this was an old man.
“Go on, then,” Master Arngeir prodded. “Be assured, you will not hurt us.”
Selene gathered her will and her breath, concentrating on the word as it blazed through her mind. “FUS!” she Shouted, and the Graybeard stumbled backward, flailing his arms wildly to maintain his balance.
He steadied himself and straightened his robes, then took a step toward her. “So it is true: you are Dragonborn. I am Master Arngeir; I speak for the Graybeards.”
“The others don’t speak?” she asked, glancing around at them. They all stood with their hands tucked into the sleeves of their robes, each giving her a smile and a nod as she looked at them.
“They practice the Way of the Voice,” the master explained, “living in silence and only speaking in praise to the gods.”
“I read about the Way of the Voice on my way up the Seven Thousand Steps,” she remembered. “The stone tablets along the trail.”
“Aye, a brief tale of the Dragon War and the origins of the Way of the Voice.” He leaned his head toward her. “We will teach you much more, Dragonborn.”
“I’m ready to learn, then.”
* * *
Selene spent a month at High Hrothgar, studying, meditating, and practicing her Thu’um. The Graybeards worshiped Kynareth, and Selene felt right at home within the walls and on the grounds. It was as serene as the stories had said, and she found it easy to relax her body and focus her mind. She slept better than she had since she had taken the beastblood, and many of the kinks and aches she felt in her muscles worked themselves out. She felt closer to Kynareth, as if Her spirit infused the very stone of the walls, and at times Selene almost expected to look over her shoulder and find her patron standing behind her. She spent a lot of time sitting in the courtyard or on the rocks overlooking Whiterun, looking up at the night sky and pondering Kynareth’s mysteries to gain a greater understanding of the goddess. During her travels she had often heard the term “Mother Nature,” and as she lay and watched the stars move across the sky with the icy air stinging her cheeks and her breath rising from her nose and mouth in misty clouds, comprehension of the term seeped into her soul in much the same way as knowledge of the Shouts had done. Kynareth—Kyne—truly was the Mother of Men, the Mother of Nature, and Mother of the Voice. She had given men the power of the Thu’um in order to defeat the dragons, and now it was Selene’s turn. As Dragonborn, Selene was Her champion. Though the Dragon Blood was a gift from Akatosh, it was Kynareth who gave her the Voice, showed her how to use it, and guided her toward her destiny.
She learned the second word of power in the Unrelenting Force Shout, of which there were three, according to Master Arngeir. She also learned the first word of Whirlwind Sprint, an ability that could come in very handy if Selene ever got over being afraid of it. When she Shouted, her body rocketed forward with the speed of the wind, coming to rest far across the courtyard behind the monastery. She was always afraid she would overshoot and wind up flying off the mountain and splatter on the ground below or misjudge her direction and crash into a wall. And this was with just one of the three words. All three might send her for miles. Selene practiced with those words, as well as the Fire Breath Shout she had learned in Dustman’s Cairn and the Frost Breath she had absorbed at Bonestrewn Crest, until she no longer needed to concentrate and muster her will. She could simply open her mouth and utter the words to produce the desired effect. Master Arngeir told her that there were dozens of words of power, and the walls containing them were scattered all over Skyrim, waiting for her to find them and that he could help direct her to the walls when the winds brought him word of them.
He told her the Shouts were in the dragon language. “Dragons use their Thu’um to bring forth fire or frost, to calm their opponent, even to negate their armor,” he claimed. “A battle between two dragons is little more than a very heated verbal argument.”
“But you said the Voice is only to be used for peaceful pursuits,” she protested. “All the Shouts you mentioned are combat related. It doesn’t make any sense.”
“Combat between dragons, yes. However, just because they are combat related does not mean they should be used as such. Jurgen Windcaller taught that the Voice should be used for the worship and glory of the gods, not the glory of men.”
“I don’t understand that at all.”
“You will in time.”
“Master, I worship Kynareth as you do, but I don’t subscribe to the Way of the Voice. Why teach it to me?”
“As Dragonborn, many of the rules don’t apply to you. Your presence in this world is a gift from Akatosh. How can we accept one gift and deny another?”
“So I’m supposed to use the Shouts in combat?”
Master Arngeir furrowed his brow and did not reply.
When she wasn’t learning about the Way of the Voice or communing with Kynareth, Selene spent a lot of time in quiet contemplation. Not that it did much good. While it was easy to organize her thoughts regarding the metaphysical, the practical and emotional still confused her. Yes, she was placed in the world to fight dragons, but how was she to fight all of them? And what did the appearance of the black dragon have to do with it? He wasn’t just an ordinary dragon; of that she was sure. He played a bigger part than the others, and at some point, Selene would meet him again. How did she prepare for such an encounter? And what was she to do in the meantime?
Grelod the Kind was still there as well, of course, and there was the Dawnguard to consider. Fighting vampires would give her a chance to hone her skills and help rid the world of evil. She would have to be cautious, though. There was always the chance that as an offshoot of the Vigilants of Stendarr, they would turn on her at some point. Besides, there was always a chance they would turn on her anyway, wasn’t there?
Selene missed Farkas, his optimistic nature, the way he instinctively knew the right thing to say or do to make her smile, his strength, his lips, the feel of his body as they lay tangled together. As much as she hated to admit it, she missed Vilkas, too. She wanted to hold onto her anger as she always had. He had done nothing but proven that even those closest to you would betray you if given the opportunity. Her bruises healed and her vision returned to normal, but Selene’s heart remained broken and battered. The look on Vilkas’s face when he had struck her was burned in her mind, as was the sting of his slap and the throb of her eye as it swelled shut. He had been devastated by Kodlak’s murder and looking for someone to blame besides himself. Although she would accept no responsibility for the Harbinger’s death or Vilkas’s assault, she couldn’t deny the fact that she had provoked him. Everyone was accountable for their own actions, but she had struck a chord when she hinted that he hadn’t been able to protect Kodlak. But when she wasn’t remembering the anger in his eyes, all she could think about when she pictured his face was the way he would gaze into her eyes as he would no one else’s and confess his deepest desires, fears, and regrets—or when he would give her a rare smile. She might never see that smile again. It was his fault, of course, but that didn’t make it any easier on her.
On a clear, spring night, Selene sat on the rocks outside the monastery and watched the city below. The lights of Dragonsreach shone invitingly, bringing to mind the first time she had come around the bend on the road from Riverwood and seen the castle. It could be seen halfway across the hold, and she had often stopped and gaped in awe at the magnificent palace, sitting atop its hill like a king on a throne, holding dominion over the tundra. The Skyforge glowed as well, but Jorrvaskr was just a dark blob amidst the lights. There were few windows, and the little light they emitted could not be seen from this distance. The inside would be brightly lit, though, the vast fire pit and dozens of candles twinkling merrily; and at least two or three of the Companions would be sitting at the table, drinking and sharing stories or songs. Selene wondered what the brothers were doing. Vilkas’s jaw would be healed by now, so perhaps they were sitting on the back porch, sharing a tankard of mead. Perhaps they were thinking about her, too, maybe talking about missions they had been on or adventures they’d had. Or maybe Vilkas despised her and poured his heart out to Farkas about the bitterness he was feeling.
In the past weeks of meditation, she came to accept that she had a destiny, that she was meant for something important, and she may not figure out what that was if she never left Whiterun. She had to move on, leave Jorrvaskr and never look back. Didn’t she? But how could she leave without even saying goodbye? Then again, there was nothing to say she could never look back, was there? She could go back to visit. Couldn’t she?
“Oh, Kynareth, tell me what to do!” Selene wailed. Kynareth, of course, didn’t answer.
Liska, who had been off hunting somewhere, padded up and climbed into Selene’s lap, and she scratched the fox behind the ears. “Aye, you can hunt,” she complained, “but imagine trying to tell the Graybeards I need to disappear for a night because I’m a werewolf. I’m sure that would go over well.” She sat for a few more minutes, then sighed and said, “Okay, little one. Let’s go to bed.”
When Selene’s head hit the pillow, she instantly felt the pull of the void, drawing her down into a comfortable blackness. And she dreamed. She knew it was a dream because she was pretty sure there was no place like this anywhere near Skyrim, possibly in all of Nirn. She sat in a meadow on a midnight-blue blanket surrounded by pink-blossomed trees. Sunshine passed through the trees and dappled the grass and blanket with myriad spots of light, as if she were sitting on the stars. A picnic was laid out before her—wine, cheese, and many different types of fruit, some of which she couldn’t identify. A gentle breeze blew through her hair, and the leaves and branches soughed soothingly. The breeze itself seemed to emanate from her companion, a willowy woman in a silken gown of pale green. Her skin was ivory and completely flawless, and her silvery hair shimmered with subtle hints of color, as if a thousand tiny rainbows were hidden among the tresses. She handed Selene a heart-shaped piece of fruit, bright red in color and covered with seeds.
Selene took the fruit and bit into it, savoring the sweet essence. “Mmm, it’s delicious,” she said with her mouth full. “I’ve never tasted anything like it.”
“It’s from another place,” the woman replied.
“Where am I?”
“Sovngarde? Am I dead?”
The woman waved her hand dismissively. “Oh, no, nothing as extreme as that. You’re simply at peace in your own mind.”
“There’s no such thing as peace.”
“Oh, but there is, child.”
Selene peered at the woman curiously. She was too fine of feature to be a Nord, too tall to be a Breton, too fair to be a Redguard, and she was no elf. “K-kynareth?”
Her companion laughed girlishly. “Come now, Selene. You know the Divines don’t appear to mortals. Well, usually anyway. It matters naught who I am.”
“It matters to me. If I’m speaking with my goddess, I really should be more respectful.”
“Perhaps I’m your own mind, helping you sort things out.”
“Fine. Sort. Maybe you can do a better job than me.”
“You know, you’re quite cynical for a champion of the gods.”
“All right, now you’re just making fun of me.”
The goddess/daedra/figment of her imagination reached out to select another piece of the seedy fruit and bit into it, closing her eyes and savoring the bite. The wind picked up a bit while she enjoyed the fruit. When she swallowed and opened her eyes, it calmed again. “Mortals often get so caught up in details that they have trouble finding their true purpose. But the details don’t matter.”
“I don’t think the Companions are a detail.”
“You believe you were put in the world for a grand destiny, no? One purpose?”
“If that is so, it makes the Companions a detail. What you must ask yourself is whether you were put in this world for one thing or many. If Dragonborn is what you are and nothing else, if you were born solely to fight dragons, why do the Companions matter at all? Farkas has been your shield-brother, no? You’ve saved his life. He was your lover; you gave yourself to him and alleviated his loneliness. But if your destiny is to kill dragons, who cares? It is of no consequence that Vilkas found someone to share his grief with, and it doesn’t matter that the lessons he has learned from hurting you will carry him the rest of his life. And the fact that you can still cure Kodlak means nothing.”
“Wait, I can what?”
“His spirit lingers in Ysgramor’s tomb, hiding from Hircine. The witch’s head, thrown into the brazier, may still save his soul.”
“But one of the others can do that.”
“The others don’t know about it. You do.”
“So I should stay with the Companions?”
“You should return to the Companions. You have unfinished business there. But when that business is done, it is time to move on. Others are waiting for you. Yes, you are Dragonborn. You were sent here to rid the world of the dragon. You were also sent to save Ben, to cure Kodlak, and a host of other things. I won’t spoil the mystery by telling you what they are. Selene, everything we do affects the world around us. You know this. A kind word, a gesture, even a glance in the right direction at the right moment can do more than you can imagine. Not long ago, you did a favor for a tired man and gave him time to take care of other tasks that were piling up, and you made a lifelong friend. Think how your life would have gone if someone else had been playing near you when Grelod went in for a nap and you had taken them over the wall instead of Ben. Or if Aela had spent your first full moon with you instead of Farkas. Or if you had waited that extra day to come back to Skyrim from Cyrodiil. Ralof would be dead now; do you know that? The Imperials you encountered would have overwhelmed him, and he would have perished before he ever found the cave from which you escaped.
“How do you know that?”
“Go back to Jorrvaskr, child. The Companions need you. Kodlak needs you.”
“The Graybeards will have a quest for you. Bring them their trinket and look for signs. The winds will guide you. Have another strawberry.”
Selene took another piece of the succulent fruit, and as she took a bite she awoke, the sweet, tangy flavor still on her lips. Liska was curled up at the end of her bed, making the most gods-awful sounds. “Maybe while she was telling me all this stuff, she could have told me how to keep you from snoring,” she told the snoozing vixen before turning over and throwing the covers over her head. She couldn’t imagine actually going back to sleep after that, but she had to try. Tomorrow was a big day. Tomorrow, she would go home.