The torture seemed to last forever, and Selene finally blacked out. She woke up lying on the floor in Miraak’s temple with her head in Brynjolf’s lap. The pain in her abdomen wasn’t as bad, but there was definite cramping, and her back hurt. It also felt like she was lying in water.
But it wasn’t water, and she knew it without even having to look down. It was blood. She reached up, wrapped her arms around Brynjolf’s neck, and began to cry. “Bryn, I’m so sorry! I shouldn’t have gone.”
“Don’t worry about that right now,” he replied, his voice thick with emotion. “Let’s just get out of here and get you safe.”
“My village isn’t far,” said Frea. “We can carry her there, and I’ll do what I can to heal her. There looks to be a way out through that doorway.”
“Never mind the blood, love.” Brynjolf picked her up, and she was vaguely aware of Frea getting her gear.
Frea led Brynjolf across the hills toward her village, and Selene tried to keep from wailing in despair. Frea was asking questions and Brynjolf was answering as best he could, but they were about things that just didn’t matter. Their baby was dead; Miraak had killed it. Nothing else mattered.
“What happened?” Frea asked. “She read the book and then it seemed as though she was not really there.”
“She went to Apocrypha,” Brynjolf told her. “What happened there is…anyone’s guess.”
“I saw Miraak,” Selene choked out.
“What?” Frea said, stopping and turning back. “Where is he? Can we reach him? Can we kill him?”
“No. Gods, no.”
“But you went there. You went where he was.”
“Aye, and look what happened,” Brynjolf retorted.
“I want to show that book to my father. Perhaps Storn can make sense of what is going on.”
Selene sobbed. “She doesn’t understand,” she whimpered.
“I know, love. I know.”
Frea stopped at the top of a ridge and pointed to a spot down the hill. “You see that green light? That comes from the Wind Stone, where my people work against their will. The village is close now.”
Brynjolf carried Selene through the snow, and Selene dumbly wondered when it had started snowing. Their baby would never see snow.
“The village is just ahead,” Frea announced. “My father has put up a barrier to protect the few of us that are left. It is still holding; that’s a good sign.”
Frea led them to a small, rustic village comprised of several houses built around a well and an open-air shack. A dead horker hung inside the structure, and the scent made Selene nauseous.
“Put me down,” she told Brynjolf urgently. He dropped her, and she fell to her knees and threw up. She crawled a few feet away and picked up a handful of snow, rinsing out her mouth with it, but she found she couldn’t go any farther. She crumpled into the snow and started sobbing.
“Let’s get her inside,” said Frea, and Brynjolf picked Selene up and followed Frea to a small house just outside the circle of homes. She led them to a bedroom, where Brynjolf placed Selene on a small bed, and Frea leaned over her. Golden light appeared in her hands, and she passed them over Selene’s stomach, but Selene knew it wouldn’t do any good. There was no one down there to save.
“Stop,” she whined. “Just stop.”
“Frea, give us a minute, would you?” Brynjolf asked.
“Of course. I’ll go speak to my father.”
Brynjolf sat down on the bed, and Selene sat up and laid her head on his shoulder. He wrapped his arms around her, his shoulders shaking, and they held each other, crying until they were spent.
“I’m so sorry,” she whispered.
“What happened, love?”
“Miraak. He didn’t even do it himself. He just told the Seekers to get rid of the ‘other Dragonborn’ and send me back where I came from. Sweet Kynareth, it hurt so bad!”
“I’m kinda wondering where your sweet Kynareth was when all this was happening,” he muttered. “We’re gonna kill that son of a bitch, Selene; I swear it.”
He pulled back and looked at her with confusion. “What do you mean, ‘no’?”
She wiped tears from his wet cheeks. “I just want to go home.”
Brynjolf closed his eyes and swallowed hard, grief dominating his scent, and nodded. “For now you need to let Frea take care of you. She might not be able to save…you’re bleeding pretty badly, love.”
Frea came in after a moment and handed Selene a healing potion. “Drink it down, my friend, and then let me use my healing spells. I’m not the best healer in the world, but I’ll do what I can.”
She nodded and drank the potion. Brynjolf moved out of the way while Frea worked, stopping once in a while to drink a magicka potion. Selene got sleepy and drifted off, and she awoke sometime in the night to find Brynjolf sitting on the floor, his head on the bed and his hand holding hers, sound asleep. She had been stripped of her armor and cleaned up, and she lay in a nightshift atop several folded layers of linen. It was time to change the linens, though, because they were soaked with blood and mucus. Her abdomen and her back cramped excruciatingly, and she turned on her side and clutched her stomach, rousing Brynjolf in the process.
“How are you feeling?” he asked sleepily. “Are you in any pain?”
He reached for a healing potion on the nightstand and held it to her lips. She couldn’t get a good drink, though, so she sat up and took the bottle from him, groaning as she did.
“Frea said the bleeding and cramps would last for a few days,” Brynjolf informed her. “She did the best she could with her spells, but she said bleeding like this is normal with a miscarriage.”
“Miscarriage,” Selene scoffed.
“That’s what it is, love. The fact that the bastard did it to you doesn’t change what it’s called. But Frea says you’re doing fine.”
Selene shook her head. “Not even close. How are you?”
“Not even close,” he replied bleakly.
“Please don’t hate me.”
He sighed with frustration. “Selene, I don’t hate you. Stop blaming yourself, and stop expecting me to blame you. You read that book because you had to. But believe me, if I’d have known what would happen, I’d have read it.”
“Miraak would have just killed you.”
“Frea said there was no real danger of death in Apocrypha. Only madness.”
“That would mean I miscarried on my own, and the timing for that was a little too convenient, don’t you think? Nothing anyone says will convince me that Miraak didn’t do this to me. And how does she know that anyway?”
“Apparently her father has had some experience with Hermeus Mora.”
She lay back on the pillow, trying to get comfortable. It was an exercise in futility. “Let’s leave here tomorrow.”
“We can’t. You need to rest, and Frea wants to keep an eye on you until the bleeding stops. And truth be known, I think she’s hoping she can talk you into staying and helping them.”
Selene tried to muster up any interest in helping free the Skaal from Miraak’s embrace, but there was nothing. The only thing in her heart was grief, and the rest of her was just empty. There was no fight left in her. She wondered if there ever would be again.
* * *
There wasn’t as much bleeding as they had expected, and the cramping stopped overnight. Selene only convalesced for a couple of days. Brynjolf rarely left her side, and she had to talk him into taking his meals. Even then he barely ate, and he hardly spoke. Frea would try to engage him in conversation, and his responses were curt and distant. Sometimes Selene would wake and see him just staring off into space with the saddest expression on his face. He was in so much pain, and Selene couldn’t help much; she had lapsed into a deep depression herself. All she had done, all the fighting, the sacrifice, putting others’ needs before her own or Brynjolf’s, and for what? How could any of that matter if they couldn’t even have a life of their own? Sometimes she would feel fluttering, and she just wanted to punch herself in the stomach. The phantom sensations were nothing but torment.
When Selene started to feel better, she told Brynjolf she was ready to leave. “I just want to be gone from this place,” she confided.
“We’ll leave tomorrow morning, then.”
Frea, who was in the other room, overheard and came in. “You mustn’t abandon us,” she pleaded.
“Frea, I can’t help you. I don’t even know if I can fight anymore.”
“At least speak with Storn before you leave. Tell him what you know.”
Selene agreed, and Frea left the room, returning a few minutes later with her father.
“I am glad you are feeling better,” the shaman told her. “I apologize for not visiting sooner, but maintaining the barrier around the village takes all my energy. Alas, my magic grows weak, and so does the barrier.”
“It’s fine, Storn. I understand.”
“Frea tells me you saw Miraak.”
“Aye. I read a book in his temple and went to his location.”
“If what you are saying is true, Miraak was never truly gone. And if you could go to that place and see him…are you like him? Are you Dragonborn?”
“Then perhaps you are connected with him. That may mean you can help. The few of us left free of control cannot protect ourselves much longer. You must go to Saering’s Watch and learn the Word of Power that will help you heal the Wind Stone.”
Selene shook her head. “I’m sorry, Storn, but I’m done. Miraak killed my child not four days ago, and I don’t have the strength or the desire to go to some other ruin, fight a bunch of draugr, and learn a Word of Power. I just want to go home.”
“But only you can break the hold on our people. At first they only went at night, but now every moment is spent building some strange shrine around the Wind Stone.”
“And the Tree Stone and the Earth Stone,” Brynjolf threw in. “But you’re asking too much of her. She’s demoralized and weakened.”
“And she’s our only hope.”
Selene closed her eyes, fighting tears. No. She just couldn’t do this. It was cruel of him to even ask. “I’m sorry, Storn. You’re going to have to find hope somewhere else.”
* * *
Selene and Brynjolf left the Skaal Village the next morning. They stopped for the night in Raven Rock to find that Geldis had a surprise for them. When he led them to the room they had occupied previously, they found a big, double bed.
“I had Fethis build it for you,” the innkeeper told them. “The mine is open, and people are working. What you did for this town can never be repaid. The least I could do was make it so you can both sleep comfortably in my inn.”
“Thank you, Fethis,” Selene said, squeezing his hand. When he left the room, she and Brynjolf undressed and climbed into the new bed. She laid her head on his chest and he wrapped his arms around her.
“How are you feeling?” he asked.
“Mostly fine. Hungry, actually.”
“I can go get you something.”
Part of her wanted to say no—she hadn’t had much appetite—but her stomach was growling. “Let’s go out together. You should eat, too.”
Brynjolf shook his head. “I’m not hungry.” He got back up, dug into his pack, and pulled out a tunic and some trousers. “Wait here,” he instructed while he dressed. “I’ll see what Geldis has on the menu.”
He brought back some venison, cheese, bread, and mead, and Selene ate ravenously, although the mead turned her stomach. When she was finished, she lay back down with Brynjolf. He trailed a finger across her belly and swallowed hard. “It’s not fair,” he whispered.
“Whenever I think about the little person that…part of me wants to find a way to Miraak and rip him limb from limb, but mostly I just want to curl up and weep.”
“I know, love.” She wiped a stray tear that trickled down his cheek and leaned in to kiss him. “I think the sooner we put Solstheim behind us, the better we’ll feel.”
* * *
Raven Rock was strangely quiet when they emerged from the Retching Netch the next morning. Although it was well past time for the marketplace to open, the forge was deserted and Fethis was missing from his kiosk. Only a couple of people milled around the town square.
“I wonder where everybody is,” Brynjolf mused.
Selene’s gaze wandered toward the Earth Stone. “Storn said they weren’t just working at night anymore.”
They met eyes and looked at each other for a moment, and then she shook her head. “No. I don’t care. Let’s just get out of here.”
They hitched a ride on the Northern Maiden, and once again, Selene spent the whole trip leaning over the rail. “Perhaps it wasn’t the pregnancy,” she moaned. “Maybe sea travel just isn’t for me.”
It was with great joy—or at least as much joy as they could muster—that they stepped off the ship and onto the docks at Windhelm later that afternoon. They paid Captain Gjalund a hefty purse of gold for his trouble and went straight to Hjerim, where Selene sprawled on the bed and put her feet up. Brynjolf lay down with her and they napped for a while before getting up to eat. Selene’s stomach was upset, but a bit of bread settled it.
“Let’s plan on leaving tomorrow,” Brynjolf said as they ate. “I’d like to get back to Riften as soon as possible. Maybe we can get on with our lives.”
“I want to try again,” she said impulsively.
He reached out and caressed her cheek. “I do, too. I’ve been feeling so defeated, and I don’t want to let this bastard win.”
“I just hope we made the right decision to leave.”
“If you want to go back and fight, I’ll be glad to go. I want revenge so badly I can taste it. But this is up to you.”
Selene shook her head. “I don’t think I have it in me. We’ll just have to hope and pray for the best.” She finished her last bite of bread. “I’m really tired. I think I’m going to go to bed.”
“The market is still open. I’ll stock up on supplies before everyone closes, and then I’ll join you.”
She got up and went to him, wrapping her arms around him and kissing the top of his head. “I love you, Brynjolf.”
“I love you, too,” he whispered, holding her close. “We’ll get through this.”
As she climbed the stairs, she found she was so weary she almost couldn’t take another step. It seemed to take an hour to finally reach the bed, and she sighed with relief as she snuggled down beneath the furs. She drifted off with phantom flutters tickling her stomach.
* * *
She found herself in another place, but it wasn’t the horrifying, book-laden landscape of Apocrypha. It was the sunny garden with soft grass, wildflowers growing nearby, and a picnic lunch. Kynareth lounged on the ground on the opposite side of the blanket. Selene picked up a strawberry and bit into it.
“Small comforts,” the goddess noted with a smile.
“Any I can get, my lady.” Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed a little girl in the meadow. The child was two, maybe three years old with fiery red hair that curled and cascaded past her shoulders. She scampered through the wildflowers, chasing a butterfly, giggling happily. The sight of the sweet toddler made Selene’s heart ache. She knew all too well who that child was.
“I did not abandon you,” Kynareth said, discerning what Selene was thinking. “I am unable to reach Hermeus Mora’s realm.”
“I didn’t think you had abandoned me,” she lied. “I just…it doesn’t matter. It’s over now.”
“No, child, you cannot let Miraak live. If allowed, he will conquer Solstheim, and then he will turn his sights on the rest of Tamriel.”
“It’s not Alduin we’re talking about here. The people can fight back.”
“No. He steals their minds, dominates their will. Some are immune, but they are few and not enough to defeat him. It has to be you, Selene.”
She ate another strawberry. “You know, my lady, it’s all well and good that you bring me here and ply me with fruit when you want something from me, but I’m not in much of a world-saving mood these days, in case you hadn’t noticed.”
“Of course, I noticed. Why do you think I brought you here?”
The little girl had stopped chasing the butterfly and was now picking flowers. The sun glinted off her hair, highlighting a dozen shades of red and gold. When she had a handful of wildflowers, she turned and came toward Selene. She was a beautiful child with a sunny expression and big blue eyes. Her eyes. Except for the eye color, she looked just like Brynjolf. She held out the flowers to Selene.
“Thank you, sweetie,” Selene said as she took the flowers.
The little girl sat down in her lap and wrapped her arms around her neck. “I love you, mama,” she cooed.
Selene held the child close and buried her face in her hair, squeezing her eyes shut tight and swallowing a lump in her throat. If she started to cry, she would never stop. After a moment, she looked up at the goddess. “Why do I think you brought me here? I have no idea. I didn’t know you were this cruel.”
“Cruel? How so?”
“Did you think bringing me here and showing me what I had lost would make me want to save the world? It just makes me want to go home more.”
Kynareth laughed softly. “Oh, no, child. This is not the babe who died. This is the one who lived.”