In what seemed like only an instant, Selene was standing outside Skuldafn with Odahviing.
“Oh!” she exclaimed with a start.
“Welcome back, Dovahkiin.”
“How did I get here?”
“You simply appeared, no doubt sent back from Sovngarde by the gods. Your Thu’um is the greatest, Dovahkiin. I owe you all allegiance, and I await your command.”
“Then take me home.” She climbed onto his neck, and he took flight.
As they passed the Throat of the World in the wee hours of the morning, they were joined by at least a dozen dragons.
“Land here for a moment, my friend,” Selene requested, and Odahviing flew low over the mountain and came to rest before the Word Wall, where Paarthurnax sat peering at them. The other dragons landed on the rocks surrounding the wall and began to chant.
“Alduin is fallen!”
“The mighty overlord vanquished!”
“Alduin is fallen!”
“The Dovahkiin his slayer!”
“Alduin is fallen!”
“His Thu’um is silenced!”
“Alduin is fallen!”
“All hail Dovahkiin!”
“Greetings, Dovahkiin,” Paarthurnax said amicably.
“Greetings, Master. It seems we’ve gained some allies.”
“You speak true. Not all dragons will be your enemy now, Dovahkiin. Many have turned from Alduin and have come to learn the Way of the Voice. I fear many will falter, however.”
Selene turned to face the other dragons. “Hail, friends!” she called. “Remember this day, the day you were freed of the World-Eater’s tyranny. Follow Paarthurnax, not as a master but as a mentor. Prove to the world that dragon, man, and mer can live in harmony; but know this: if you cause harm to man or mer, I will vanquish you.”
“All hail the Dovahkiin!” they chanted.
Selene turned back to Paarthurnax. “I can’t promise others will be as forgiving as I am, especially the Blades. They sent me to kill you.”
“The Blades are wise not to trust me. We were made to dominate. The will to power is in our blood. You feel it in yourself, do you not? But which is better: to be born good or to overcome one’s evil nature through great effort?”
“That’s why I’m giving these dragons a chance and why I won’t harm you. I don’t expect the Blades to ever reach this peak, but just beware.”
“I will, Dovahkiin. If you need anything from me, I will be here. I do so hope to see you again.”
“And I, you. Goodbye, Master.” She turned to Odahviing, who waited nearby. “You ready?”
“Let us leave this place.” She climbed on the red dragon’s back; he nodded to Paarthurnax and then took flight.
“Will you go back to Paarthurnax?” she asked when they were on their way back to Dragonsreach.
“I will endeavor not to cause harm to you and yours, but I will not go to Paarthurnax. The teachings of the Way of the Voice are too strict. I will go my own way. But if you ever need me, you need only call, and I will come to your aid.”
* * *
Only Vignar and a few guards were on the Great Porch when Odahviing dropped her off just after dawn. She said goodbye to Odahviing and approached the jarl, who grasped her shoulders.
“You did it, Dragonborn! A true hero. The world owes you a great debt.”
“I’d settle for a tankard of mead and a nap,” she replied with a chuckle. “Any idea where my husband is?”
“They’ve been keeping him busy at Jorrvaskr. I’d try there.”
“Thanks, my Jarl.” She dashed through the palace, down the stairs, and up to Jorrvaskr, where she met Brynjolf coming through the door. He threw his arms around her and picked her up, and she hugged him tightly. “I missed you so much!”
“I missed you, too, although the Companions wouldn’t let me sit around and fret.”
Selene looked around and saw Lydia, Vilkas, Farkas, and Aela standing on the steps down into the mead hall; she was surprised to see Karliah with them. “Karliah? What are you doing here?” she asked the Dunmer as she reached out to hug her.
“Are you kidding? I came as quickly as I could.”
“We all felt it when you went to Sovngarde,” Brynjolf told her.
“The Nightingales and the pack. It was as though a presence we weren’t really aware of just disappeared. It felt as if you had died.”
“When I felt you disappear, all I could think of was getting to Brynjolf,” said Karliah. “I went through the Twilight Sepulcher, found a horse to steal, and came right here. You were back in Nirn before I made it.”
“We knew when you killed Alduin, too,” Farkas mentioned. “At least, we think that’s what it was. There was this big rumble of thunder across the whole sky, which was completely clear. Not long after that was when we felt you again.”
“And how did you handle my disappearance?” she asked Brynjolf.
“Not well,” he admitted.
“Don’t worry,” said Farkas. “We kept him real busy while you were gone.”
“They did. They trained with me a lot and got me good and drunk.”
“The two most important things in the life of a Companion,” Lydia said with a smile.
“You look tired, sister,” Aela noted.
“Get some rest,” Karliah instructed her. “I’m staying at the Bannered Mare. Come find me later and we’ll celebrate.”
Selene and Brynjolf bid farewell to their friends and headed back toward Breezehome. Several people stopped them along the way to offer their congratulations. They finally made it to the house, and Selene dropped her bow, quiver, and knapsack on the floor with relief. Then she reached for her husband. He took her in his arms and held her closely, and she laid her head on his shoulder and relished his touch.
“You feel so wonderful,” she whispered.
“I thought I would never hold you again.”
She pulled back and kissed him, opening her mouth to his and drinking him in, moaning softly. She pulled off her gloves, and he helped her out of her cuirass; then she tugged on his tunic and slipped it over his head. Boots and breeches were discarded as well, and they lay down on the rug and embraced each other. Selene reached between his legs, and Brynjolf gasped as she stroked him. “No teasing today,” she pleaded, “I just want you inside me.”
She lay on her back, and Brynjolf knelt between her legs and slipped inside her. She played her hands over his muscular back and bottom and moaned, the heat growing with every thrust. He whispered words of love in her ear and urged her to scream for him, driving harder and more insistently into her until her moans became cries of pleasure. Ecstasy surged through her, and she dug her nails into his back and moved in tandem with him as his moans escalated to match hers. Her climax was still pulsing when he released inside her, throwing back his head and crying out her name. Selene held him as he rode the wave of rapture until he finally relaxed. He lay on top of her, breathless and spent, and Selene stroked his back and kissed his cheek. He rose up and placed his lips on hers.
“I love you, wife,” he whispered.
“I love you, too.” He moved off and lay on his back, and Selene curled under his arm and laid her head on his chest. The rhythm of his heartbeat was hypnotic, and she found herself drifting. “We should probably move upstairs,” she said with a yawn. “I think I may fall asleep.”
The next thing she knew, she was in bed, dressed in her small clothes and Brynjolf’s tunic, and he was asking her if she wanted anything to eat. She was so tired, she barely even looked up. “I’ll eat in a little while,” she muttered. “I’m not ready to get up.”
And so she slept. She was vaguely aware of Brynjolf sitting next to her, lying down from time to time, and occasionally offering her a drink of water, but she was so tired, her body so heavy, that she wanted nothing more than to roll over and go back to sleep. After what was surely all night, she finally opened her eyes and sat up.
“I was starting to think you were going to sleep forever,” Brynjolf said. He sat next to her, book in his lap.
“Why? How long did I sleep?”
Selene’s mouth dropped open. “You’re kidding.”
“I figured you needed to catch up on all the rest you missed since you started out to defeat Alduin, so I just let you sleep. Karliah left a couple of days ago, saying you were in good hands and she needed to get back. I think she just missed Rune. Are you hungry?”
She followed him downstairs, where he cooked scrambled eggs, and they sat at the table with the eggs, some bread, cheese, and dried beef, washing it all down with warm mead. Selene ate everything he put in front of her and still wanted more. She got up and dug through the pantry, produced a couple of apples, and ate them as well.
“What now?” Brynjolf asked as she finished the second apple.
“Well, I desperately want a bath. After that, I think we should go to Windhelm. The moot is a fortnight away, and Ulfric will want to prepare. Besides, we have a house to break in. We can rest and relax there for a few days before we have to leave for Solitude.”
“Do you still want to give Lydia and Vilkas Breezehome?”
Selene nodded. “They go back and forth between here and Jorrvaskr, and I know it’s inconvenient for them. We’re hardly ever here; we can stay at Jorrvaskr when we’re in town and leave the house to them.”
“Sounds good to me. We can talk to them about it today, box up our things, and leave for Windhelm tomorrow.”
“First, I have plans for you.” She took his hand, pulled him up from his chair and led him back up toward the bedroom.
Brynjolf sighed heavily. “That’s all you want from me. I’m nothing but a sex toy to you.”
Selene giggled. “You’re so full of shit.”
He stopped and pulled her to him. “You haven’t said that in a long time. I missed it. I missed you.”
“I won’t go away again.”
“I don’t mean just the last few days.”
“I know what you meant. I didn’t even realize I had pulled away, but I won’t shut you out again. I promise.”
* * *
It was just past lunchtime when the Windhelm guard let Selene and Brynjolf into Hjerim for the first time and handed Selene the keys. Jorleif and his men had done an excellent job cleaning and furnishing the house, and she was glad. She didn’t have the time or the inclination to decorate a house where they would only spend a small portion of their time. Everything looked great, but they didn’t spend a lot of time looking around. Brynjolf’s query, “Where’s the bedroom?” ended their tour, and they spent the rest of the day and night breaking the new bed in.
Selene couldn’t get enough of her husband. Alduin had preoccupied most of her time and energy for months and hadn’t left room for much else. But the World-Eater and the baggage that came with him were gone now, and she found many hopes, dreams, and pleasures that had been set aside beginning to catch her attention again. Although she had never stopped loving Brynjolf—nowhere near it—she found herself falling for him all over again, and he was doing the same. They flirted, teased, and played, and they made love like they never had before. It was with great reluctance that they got up and dressed when morning came.
Claiming no interest in what would surely be a day of “political crap,” Brynjolf stayed at the house when Selene left for the Palace of the Kings. When she walked out the door, she found her guard had been joined by two others. A pair flanked the door, and the third stood at the top of the steps leading down to the walkway below.
The one who had let her in yesterday—Wyl, she thought his name was—nodded. “Good morning, Stormblade.”
“Is all this security really necessary?” Selene asked, assuming they had increased the guard simply because she was in the house.
“I’m afraid so, my lady. Oslaf will escort you to the palace, and you’ll be briefed there.”
Oslaf, the guard on the steps, drew his war axe and remained extra-vigilant as he led Selene to the palace. She noticed that security was heavy around the Shatter-Shield house as well. At the palace, she found the guard had also tripled. Selene wasted no time getting inside to Ulfric, who paced back and forth in the war room, arguing with Galmar and Ralof, who was wearing the bearskin uniform of a Stormcloak officer.
“We have already postponed the moot once,” the jarl growled. “I’ll not request to put it off again. Besides, it’s too late. How many have already left for Solitude?”
“Then we’ll track them down on the road,” Galmar declared.
“It’s not just the jarls,” Ralof reminded the housecarl. “Every noble in Skyrim will want to be present for the coronation.”
“It’s too dangerous for Ulfric to leave the palace at this time!”
“Staying at the palace didn’t stop this attack, now, did it?” said Ulfric. “We’ve been through this before, Galmar. You know I refuse to hide behind the palace walls.”
“What happened?” Selene broke in.
“An attempt was made on the jarl’s life last night,” Ralof told her.
“And now Galmar wants to postpone the moot again,” Ulfric added.
“Ralof?” Selene asked.
Ralof shook his head. “Too much has already been put in place. I believe with a change in our security plan, we’ll be fine.”
“I’m not willing to take that risk!” Galmar bellowed.
“It’s not your choice,” Ralof replied firmly.
“He’s going to be more of a target when he becomes High King anyway,” Selene pointed out. “You’ll have to get used to incidents like this and last-minute changes in strategy.” She looked quickly at Ralof. “Wait, are you Captain of the Guard?”
Ralof smiled proudly. “Promotion.”
“Don’t change the subject!” Galmar blustered.
Selene smiled at Galmar. “You are in such a state! Take a breath; calm down.” She turned to Ulfric. “I’m assuming this argument has been going on for several hours?”
“And there’s no point in my trying to talk you into staying here?”
Ulfric glared her in the eye. “None.”
“Do you trust Ralof to keep you safe?”
“With my life.”
“It just might come to that!” Galmar shouted.
“Then that’s what it will be.” Selene sighed with frustration, and Ulfric raised an eyebrow. “Don’t tell me you think I should stay.”
“You’re right in saying staying here isn’t as safe as Galmar would like, but there will be so many people in Solitude.”
“That won’t change if we put it off another half a year.”
“No, it won’t. I trust Ralof with my life, too, so Ulfric, if you’re set on this, you’re the jarl, and we’ll obey.”
“Damn it!” Galmar snarled, storming from the room.
“Did I miss something?” Selene asked. “He’s even more worked up than usual.”
Ulfric looked over at Ralof, who nodded and left the room, and then back at Selene. “Galmar took an arrow for me yesterday.”
Selene’s mouth dropped open. “An archer got all the way into the palace?”
“To the training yard wall.”
“He didn’t look hurt.”
“He wasn’t, not badly. His armor took the brunt of it.”
“But there’s more to it.”
“Dagmar has been pushing him to retire.”
“His wife? She’s never pushed him to do anything.”
“Aye, she’s kept so quiet all these years, half of Windhelm didn’t even know he was married, but now she speaks. He turned sixty a month ago, and she insists Galmar is getting too old to defend me and himself properly.”
“I’ll bet yesterday’s events went over well in the Stone-Fist household.”
“I believe she suggested that if he couldn’t protect me here, he couldn’t protect me on the road.”
“But he did protect you here.”
“It doesn’t matter; I’ve made my decision, and they will both abide by it. We will go through with this.” Ulfric paused and studied her face, weighing his words. “There is something else I need to discuss with you.”
“What is it?”
“I’m to wed at summer’s end.”
The announcement hit Selene like a punch in the gut. For a moment, it was as if all the air had been knocked from her lungs. When she did draw breath, it came in the form of a sob, and then tears started streaming down her cheeks. Ulfric wrapped his arms around her, and she laid her head on his chest while she wept. No coherent thoughts went through her mind, only sadness and loss. When she had thoroughly soaked his tunic, she came back to herself and realized what she was doing. She pulled back, not meeting his eyes. “I’m sorry. I don’t know why I reacted that way. I guess even after all that has happened, I still tend to think of you as mine.”
He reached out and raised her chin gently. “I am yours,” he confessed, gazing into her eyes earnestly, “and I always will be. But I’m a practical man. You married another, and I need an heir.”
“I understand, Ulfric. I really do, and I want you to be happy. The news is just very fresh. Who is it?”
“That explains all the guards around her house. I like Nilsine; she’s a sweet girl. So she’ll be going to Solitude with us?”
Selene nodded and stepped back. “I, uh, know you probably want to discuss the moot, but I need some time, Ulfric. I’ll be back later today.”
“Take your time, Selene.”
Without a word, she turned and left the war room, heading back to Hjerim to get her priorities straight.