Selene and Brynjolf made their side trip to Windhelm, where they invested in a bow. Brynjolf’s new bow was made of the finest ebony and rivaled Selene’s in quality, and Wuunferth enchanted it with frost and paralysis spells so he would get the same benefits as those from Chillrend. They also sold much of their take from Blackreach and shipped the rest to Delvin. They visited Ulfric while they were in town, and he updated Selene on plans for the moot.
“It has been rescheduled for the First of Rain’s Hand,” he informed her.
“That gives me just over a month to defeat Alduin.”
“Will that be enough time?”
“I believe so. I have a terrible feeling it’s going to happen much sooner.”
“While you’re here, I have other business. There’s room in my court for a new Thane.”
She smirked at him. “You want me to buy Hjerim, don’t you?” She turned to Brynjolf. “A serial killer used it as his base of operations, and now nobody will touch it.”
“That is not why I’m offering you the title,” Ulfric replied defensively. “You are quite deserving of it. That, and more.”
“Then why haven’t you offered it to me before now?”
“Because you never stay put long enough.”
Brynjolf snickered. “It would be nice to have a place of our own to stay while we’re in town.” His eyes said more, though. Like the house in Solitude, Hjerim would be a good place for Guild members to lay over while they were in town.
“All right,” she relented. “I’ll see Jorleif and get the house in my name. I just shipped most of my coin to Riften, so I’ll have to make a down payment and bring the rest to him later.”
“That will be fine,” said Ulfric. “By my right as Jarl, I name you Thane of Eastmarch. I grant you a weapon from my personal armory and a housecarl, who will move into your house as soon as you purchase it. I know you’re Thane in other holds, so you know this is mainly an honorary title.”
“Thank you. But Ulfric, I don’t want a housecarl.”
“A housecarl will watch over your home when you’re not in town.”
“I understand that, but it’s not necessary. The city guards will do just fine.”
“I insist, Selene.”
“Ulfric, no. If you insist on giving me a housecarl, I won’t accept the title of Thane, and I won’t buy the house.”
Brynjolf laughed again.
Ulfric glared at him. “Talk some sense into her, will you?”
Brynjolf raised his hands and shook his head. “I’m staying out of this. You’re on your own.”
“Stubborn woman. Very well, no housecarl.”
Selene smiled with satisfaction. “I knew you would see things my way.”
* * *
Selene talked to Jorleif and made a down payment on Hjerim. She also made arrangements for the steward to furnish the house. Ulfric invited them to spend the night in her old room in the Palace of the Kings; and Selene, glad that he and Brynjolf seemed to be getting along—or at least weren’t at each other’s throats—accepted. During the night, Brynjolf got out of bed to go use the little boys’ chamber pot in the next room, and Selene, not quite asleep, heard him and Ulfric talking in the hallway.
“You’re not good enough for her,” said Ulfric. “You’re no more than a sidekick. You know that.”
“I know that all too well, but it doesn’t mean you’re good enough for her.”
“I could give her so much more than you can.”
“It was her choice, not yours, and she lives very well, thank you. She doesn’t want to be a queen. I don’t even think she wants to be Dragonborn. She would be perfectly happy working for the Guild and spying for you. I’ll tell you something I shouldn’t. It kills me to say this, but I think she still loves you. Not that you have a chance in Oblivion of getting her back, but the feeling is still there.”
“If you think that, then you don’t see how she looks at you. She’s fond of me, aye, but I lost any chance of getting her back the moment she met you.”
“Gods, I must be going mad. I’m standing in a corridor of the Palace of the Kings with Ulfric Stormcloak, talking about our feelings!”
Ulfric chuckled. “The woman has the power to make men do the unthinkable.”
“That, she does.”
“I know it’s not easy, but do what you can to protect her, thief.”
“I can’t do much,” Brynjolf admitted, “but I do my best.”
Brynjolf came back into the room and climbed into bed with Selene. She reached out and snuggled up to him. “When I was with Ulfric, I always felt I wasn’t good enough for him,” she whispered. “I saw him as powerful, important—”
“Bigger than life.”
“I’ve said that a few times, haven’t I?”
“Aye. That conversation was not for you to hear. You were supposed to be asleep.”
“I’m glad I heard it. Ulfric’s right. I am fond of him, but that’s as far as it goes. When I married you, I vowed to never love another. I don’t, and I won’t. You’re everything to me, Brynjolf, and your feelings of inadequacy tear me up inside. In my mind, you’re my partner, not my sidekick. I just hope that someday, you’ll understand that.”
“Perhaps when all this is over. But I see you as bigger than life, you know.”
“Oh, no. I’m totally overwhelmed.”
“No, you’re not, love. You’re strong, and you’re not going to fall apart. I may fall apart, but not you.”
She sighed. “I just hope your trust in me is not misplaced.”
* * *
Selene and Brynjolf left Windhelm early the next morning. From there, it was one night on the road, one in Ivarstead, and one at High Hrothgar before heading up to the peak. Selene liked to travel; and as long as they didn’t have to fight bandits, bears, or dragons at every turn, the trips usually went by quickly. But every step of this journey weighed on her. It seemed to take forever, and by the time she gave her last Clear Skies Shout at the mists of the Throat of the World, she was barely able to walk. Perhaps she would fall apart, but she was fairly certain she was about to fall down.
“You have the Kel,” Paarthurnax noted from the top of a large outcropping of rock when they reached the summit. “The very bones of the earth are yours to command. Go. Fulfill your destiny.”
“I need a minute,” she said as she unstrapped the Elder Scroll and knapsack from her back. She dropped to the ground and leaned against the rock the dragon perched on. She closed her eyes with a heavy sigh and awoke with a start when Brynjolf shook her shoulders. “What is it?”
“You’ve been asleep for hours, love.”
Selene noticed that the light had changed. It was late in the afternoon, only a couple of hours before sunset. “How’d that happen?” She got up and dusted the snow off her bottom, then looked up at Paarthurnax. “My apologies, Master.”
“There is no need to apologize. You should be refreshed for the task at hand.”
“Paarthurnax believes Alduin will show up after you read the scroll,” Brynjolf told her.
“He cannot miss the signs,” the old dragon said. “Go now. Take the scroll to the Time Wound.”
Selene took the Elder Scroll to the spot near the Word Wall where the air shimmered. Standing in the torrent was disorienting, as though she were already drifting through time. She looked back at Brynjolf and Paarthurnax, and they constantly blurred in and out of focus. Each time her vision cleared, they had moved subtly, as though she were looking at a series of still images of them. She wondered how much time she was spending in the haze. It seemed like seconds, but standing outside of time—or inside it—she couldn’t be sure. “Kynareth protect me,” she finally whispered softly; then she unrolled the scroll.
There was a head rush and an explosion of sound. A complex network of lines and symbols glowed white on the scroll and then swam before her face, looking for all the world like the web of an educated spider. Her vision blurred, and the world around her seemed to drop away. She was still at the Throat of the World, but it was a different time. Although it had the feel of midday, it was darker because of the black smoke that churned through a blood-red sky. Dragons flew around the peak, howling and spitting fire.
Suddenly a warrior came running toward her from over the ridge. He didn’t see her, of course, and he ran by as though she weren’t there. He was shadowy, almost cloudy, and his features were impossible to make out. “Gormlaith!” he called. “We’re running out of time.
A dragon landed nearby and spoke in the dragon language. “Today Alduin’s lordship will be restored. You fight with courage, but you will die now in vain.” The dragon breathed fire at the warrior, who rushed toward it and swung his huge battleaxe at its face. Another fighter approached and pushed the first out of the way, attacking the dragon with a sword.
“Hyah!” the warrior, evidently a woman, snarled. “Know that Gormlaith sent you to your death!” She jumped on the dragon’s head and drove her blade through its skull, riding it to the ground as it died. “Hakon!” she exclaimed as she leapt from the dead creature. “A glorious day!”
“Glorious? Have you no thought beyond the blooding of your blade?”
“What else is there?”
“It is not just us, Gormlaith. The battle below goes ill. I fear all may be lost.”
“Nonsense. Alduin will rise to our challenge, and victory will be ours.”
Selene became vaguely aware that the markings on the scroll were moving. Ghostly letters and symbols floated around the spider web, fading in and out as the moments passed. An older man wearing mage robes moved into her vision, and Hakon and Gormlaith approached him.
“Why does Alduin hang back?” Hakon demanded. “We’ve staked everything on this plan of yours, old man.”
“He will come. He cannot ignore our defiance.”
A dragon flew over, and the ground shook. Selene felt the whoosh of air as it flapped its wings. The three ancient warriors ignored it.
“We’ve bloodied him well this day,” Gormlaith boasted.
Hakon rolled his eyes and turned to walk away. He stood on the ridge and looked out on the carnage taking place below. “So much death,” he lamented.
“You’re a warrior! Death is your business. You say the battle goes ill, but how many have we killed? Four of Alduin’s kin have died by my blade alone.”
“But none have yet stood against Alduin himself,” the mage reminded her.
“Galthor, Sorri, Birkir, all dead,” Hakon muttered grimly.
“They did not have Dragonrend,” said Gormlaith dismissively. “Once we bring him down, I promise I will take his head and mount it on my hearth as a trophy!”
“You do not understand,” the old man protested. “Alduin cannot be slain like a lesser dragon. We will need the Elder Scroll.”
Hakon turned and rushed over to the mage, who produced the big scroll from inside his robes. “Felldir, no! We agreed not to use it!”
“I never agreed.”
“No. We will deal with Alduin ourselves.”
The ground shook, and a dragon howled.
“Alduin approaches!” Gormlaith announced.
The enormous black dragon flew over and landed on the Word Wall with a crash, his baleful red eyes surveying the humans. “Fools! You wish to fight me? You can never defeat me. I will be your doom!”
“Let those that watch from Sovngarde envy us this day!” Gormlaith cried. She, Felldir, and Hakon stood together and Shouted at the dragon.
“Joor zah frul!”
Alduin shrieked and tried to take flight, but he couldn’t get his wings to work properly. He crashed to the ground among the fighters with blue-white light churning around him, clinging to him like a net. “Cowards! What have you done? What twisted words have you created? Traitorous Paarthurnax. I will have his head for this! But first, you will die in terror, and you will feed my power when I come for you in Sovngarde.”
“If I die today, it will not be in terror,” Gormlaith snarled. She stepped forward and swung her sword at Alduin’s face, and he flinched. “Ha-ha, you feel terror for the first time, worm.”
Felldir threw a Frost Breath Shout, and Hakon attacked from the flanks, slicing through the dragon’s wing with his axe. The battle raged on for several minutes, Gormlaith and Hakon slicing Alduin’s scales and wings to ribbons and Felldir hurling spells and Shouts. Alduin shrieked in pain and snapped at them with his great jaws, too weak and gammy to Shout. After a while, the blue light wore off and he seemed to regain some of his energy. He rose up and descended on Gormlaith, catching her in his teeth and shaking his head viciously, flinging her broken body. It bounced off the Word Wall and splattered to the ground in a bloody mess.
“No!” Hakon screamed. As Alduin stood to full height and drew his breath for a Shout, he turned to the mage. “It’s no use. Use the scroll, Felldir.”
“Yol…toor…shul!” Alduin Shouted, raining fire over the two men. Hakon ducked out of the way, but Felldir stood his ground and cast a frost cloak around himself to combat the flames.
He opened the scroll and viewed its contents with a gasp. Selene could see the glyphs, and they were identical to the ones she read now, floating and shifting in sync with hers. He stuttered a bit, faltered, but finally found his voice. “Sister Hawk, grant us your sacred breath to make this contract heard! Begone, World-Eater! By words with bones older than your own, we break your perch on this age and send you out! You are banished!”
Fear once again washed over Alduin’s face. “An Elder Scroll? Treacherous humans!” The blue-white light consumed him, and he roared in pain and fury as he faded out of existence.
Silence settled over Nirn. The howling of the dragons laying waste to the world below stopped, and even the wind seemed to cease blowing. For a moment, everyone—everything—was still. Whether the world waited for chaos to return or breathed a sigh of relief was unclear. Whatever it was, all was calm. It felt as if the world itself had stopped turning. Hakon and Felldir regarded each other mutely for a moment, and then the mage rerolled the scroll.
“It worked,” Hakon whispered reverently.
With that, the world began to move again. A strong wind blew across the mountain, and the dragons howled below. This time, however, they weren’t attacking; they were fleeing.
“Yes,” said Felldir. “The World-Eater is gone. May the spirits have mercy on our souls.”
The ghostly white writing on the scroll twisted into a whirlpool before Selene’s eyes. She watched the symbols as they spiraled down into the depths, as though the parchment was a great abyss swallowing everything up. She hoped she didn’t get sucked down with it as white light filled her vision. Her head swam, and for a moment she did feel as though the vortex would pull her in, but then her sight cleared and her world reformed around her. When she saw what awaited her, she wished the vortex had sucked her down.
The World-Eater hovered over the Word Wall with the sun setting behind him, glaring at her, red eyes glowing. Selene’s stomach wrenched, and her heart all but stopped beating as she gaped at the devil hanging in the air before her. She had been in this position before, at Kynesgrove, when he had raised Sahloknir—had it really only been a few weeks? She had been afraid then, but it was nothing compared to the utter, debilitating terror she experienced now. She stood rooted to the spot, unable to move, speak, or even breathe as she and Alduin regarded each other. Behind her, Brynjolf whispered a prayer to Nocturnal, but Selene was too petrified to pray. But a scent began to fill her nostrils, one that made things easier. It was fear, and it wasn’t Brynjolf’s. When she realized Alduin was just as afraid of her as she was of him, her paralysis faded away and she nodded a greeting.
“I’ve been expecting you,” she said coolly.
The black dragon laughed. “So sure. So confident. But know this, mortal. My belly is full of the souls of your fellows. You will die now, and I will devour you in Sovngarde.”
“Dovahkiin!” Paarthurnax yelled. “If you know Dragonrend, use it!”
Alduin howled and flew, soaring overhead as if to flee. Selene waited patiently. She knew he wasn’t going anywhere. He would stop again, and he would be hers. He finally came back down, hovered, and drew a breath. But Selene beat him to the punch.
“Joor zah frul!”
He screamed, but he didn’t fall. Instead he took to the sky again, and Paarthurnax gave chase. Alduin laughed at his brother. “Your power has waned, brother,” he taunted, “while mine has only increased.”
“Perhaps,” Paarthurnax countered, “but you will find the Dragonborn’s power has increased as well. You are not the only one who devours souls.”
Alduin dodged Paarthurnax, dipping out of the way of the white dragon’s sharp teeth; but he came too close to Selene and she Shouted. Again he bellowed in anguish, and this time he tumbled to the ground before her, the net of light binding him firmly. She took aim with her bow, as did Brynjolf, and pelted him with arrows. He moaned in agony and spouted curses at them as blood spilled on the snow. The net finally wore off and Alduin stood to full height, but instead of flying away or Shouting, he nodded at her.
“You have grown strong, Dovahkiin, and I am impressed. But I am Firstborn of Akatosh! I cannot be slain here. You cannot prevail against me. I will annihilate this world and subsist long after you are dead!” With that, he turned and flew away, his howl echoing across the mountaintop.
Brynjolf sighed with relief and sat down in the snow, and Selene dropped down next to him. Paarthurnax flew in and landed atop the Word Wall. “A noble victory, Dovahkiin! Alduin’s allies will think twice after today.”
“How is this a victory? He escaped.”
“Although it was not the final one, it was indeed a victory. Even the heroes of old were unable to defeat Alduin in open battle.”
“Well, what else is there?”
“He said he couldn’t be defeated ‘here,’” said Brynjolf. “That leads me to believe there is a place where he can be defeated.”
“One of his allies could tell us,” Paarthurnax considered, “but it will not be easy to convince them to betray him. Perhaps you could lure one to the hofkahsejun—Dragonsreach—in Whiterun. It was originally built to house a captive dovah.”
“It’s true,” Selene told her husband. “King Olaf captured the dragon Numinex. His skull still hangs over the throne.”
“This was ages ago, you understand,” Paarthurnax added. “I visited him from time to time. My friend was nearly crazed by loneliness and captivity. He did not even remember his own name. I do not know how he came to be caught, but the jarl was very proud of his pet. The palace has been known as ‘Dragonsreach’ ever since. A fine place to trap one of Alduin’s allies, hmm?”
“The Jarl of Whiterun might not think so.”
“I do not doubt you can convince him of the need, Dovahkiin. Your su’um is strong.”
Selene thought about it and nodded. “It might just work. He is a fellow Companion and a good friend, and he has an adventurous spirit. I’ll speak to him.”
* * *
“Brill says I’m getting old,” Vignar said when Selene told him her plans, “and perhaps he’s right. I must be getting senile, because I thought you just asked me to trap a dragon in my palace!” The jarl threw his head back and chortled. Olfina Gray-Mane and Brill, who flanked him, did the same.
Selene remained calm and earnest until Vignar realized she wasn’t laughing too and gaped down at her from the dais.
“You’re not serious,” he choked, apprehension seeping into his scent.
“You know I wouldn’t ask if it weren’t important.”
“No, I suppose you wouldn’t. But we’ve tried so hard to keep dragons out of the city. Why would I just let one in?”
“The dragon threat is worse than you know, Vignar. Alduin has returned.”
Olfina Gray-Mane blanched. Brill’s eyes widened, and he actually took a step back. The fear that had threatened Vignar’s scent a moment ago now flooded across the dais.
“You don’t mean…the World-Eater himself? But his return means the end times.”
“How would we even begin to fight him?” Olfina fretted.
“It’s only hopeless if we give up,” said Selene.
Vignar huffed. “I didn’t say anything about giving up! We’ll go down fighting; you can be sure of that. But what’s this nonsense about trapping a dragon in my palace?”
“It has been done before.”
“Oh, I’m certain we can do it. If the contraption still works, that is. But why would you want to?”
“Alduin has disappeared, and we’re hoping one of his allies will know where he’s gone. I want to trap a dragon so I can interrogate him.”
“You’re assuming an awful lot,” Brill said. “What makes you think they would even help?”
“Maybe they won’t. But it’s our only option at this point, so I have to try.”
“We will stand behind you Dragonborn,” Vignar assured her. “Whiterun owes you a great deal. What is your plan, then? How do you intend to lure a dragon here and then trap it?”
“Trapping it won’t be a problem. I’ve recently learned a Shout that will incapacitate it. As for getting it here, I don’t know, but I know someone who might be able to help. I have to go to The Reach to talk to him, so it will be at least a few days.”
“Good. That will give me time to break the news to the men.”
“Thank you, Vignar.”
“Don’t thank me yet. We don’t even know if the trap still works. But you do what you have to do, and I’ll go dust it off. Let’s trap ourselves a dragon!”