Selene awoke with a small bouquet of wildflowers in her hand, and she smiled and held them close to her heart. If not for the occasional gifties from Kynareth’s world, she might have thought the visits were only dreams. But as she placed the flowers on the nightstand and felt the light fluttering in her belly, she realized it was no dream. It was real, and so were the baby’s movements.
If it seemed too good to be true, it usually was. She would go to the temple this morning and see Jora, the priestess of Talos, just to confirm. She had faith in Kynareth, and in the blossoms lying on the nightstand, but she wasn’t stupid.
She turned to Brynjolf, who was asleep next to her, and kissed his forehead. He mumbled incoherently, and she said, “I’m going out for a while. I’ll be back soon.”
“Where are you going?” he asked, rousing a bit more.
“It’s a surprise,” she replied with a grin.
She threw on a dress and boots, then wrapped herself in her cloak, grabbed her sword, and left the house. Walking through the quiet, snow-covered streets of Windhelm in the early morning, she made her way to the Temple of Talos. An hour later, she let herself back into the house to find Brynjolf up and dressed in his armor, eating an apple and cheese at the kitchen table. “I figured you’d want to leave early,” he told her. “Now, tell me. Where did you go?”
She stood over him and said, “Give me your hand.”
He held out his hand, and she took it and placed it on her stomach. The timing was perfect; the flutter came almost immediately. His eyes flew open wide. “What the–?”
“I spoke with Kynareth last night, and I met our baby. “
Brynjolf grimaced. “Selene, that’s not even funny.”
“I was pregnant with twins, love. Only one of them died.”
He gasped but didn’t say anything, just looked at her with awe. After a moment, he reached out and pulled her close, resting his head just beneath her breasts. She wrapped her arms around him and held him, stroking his hair.
“Are you okay?” she asked him.
“Am I okay? Are you okay?” He pulled back and got up from his chair, then sat her down and knelt before her.
“I’m fine,” she replied. “I went to see Jora at the temple to make sure. She says yes, I’m still pregnant, and I’m perfectly healthy. She said the baby is very strong.”
“You said you met the baby. What is it?”
“It’s a girl.”
“Little Rowan,” he murmured softly. “You should take it easy until she’s born. We’ll be home in a few days and—”
“We can’t go home yet, Brynjolf.”
The smile fell from his face. “Why not?”
“We have to go back and defeat Miraak.”
He shook his head defiantly. “No, you said you didn’t want to fight him.”
“Kynareth said it has to be done, and we can’t wait until Rowan is born.”
Brynjolf stood up and paced the kitchen floor, anger and worry flooding his scent. “Kynareth. Well, that’s just lovely. She always wants something, doesn’t she?”
“It’s not just Kynareth, love.”
“Oh, don’t think I have forgotten the people in the Skaal Village who wanted you to rush right out to another ruin before you had even stopped bleeding. All right, fine. So we go back to Solstheim, and we stop Miraak. What then, eh? Someone else will come along and say, ‘Oh, Dragonborn, we need your help,’ and off we’ll go. Except there’s a problem with that, because it’s not just the two of us anymore, is it?”
“It wasn’t before, either, and you still went to Solstheim. Why is it different now?”
“It’s different now because our child died, you almost died, and the world barely seemed to notice. Now we find out all hope isn’t lost, there’s another child, and you want to risk her life by leaping back into the lion’s den. How am I supposed to be okay with that?”
“What makes you think I’m okay with it?”
“Because you’ve already said yes!” Brynjolf shouted. “Kynareth says, ‘Go save the world,’ and you say, ‘Yes, my lady. Whatever you say, my lady.’ Well, my darling, she might not care what happens to you and the baby, but I do, and I say no fucking way are we going back there.”
Selene stood up and placed her hands on her hips. “Please tell me you didn’t just forbid me to do something.”
“I didn’t—I just—why are you even considering this?”
“What am I supposed to do, huh? Aye, Kynareth did tell me to go save the world yet again. She said if Miraak isn’t stopped, he’ll conquer Solstheim and then turn his sights on Tamriel. He has the power to take over the world, and he will do it if I don’t stop him.”
“So you have to choose: risk your life and the life of our baby or doom the whole world.”
Brynjolf ran a hand through his hair, growling with frustration, then stepped past her and headed for the door, picking up his sword, which was leaning against the door, and strapping it on.
“Where are you going?”
“Out. Just…out. I need some space.”
The slam of the door cut her off. She sat back down at the table and cried for a few minutes, then wiped her eyes, got up, grabbed the cheese that he hadn’t finished off his plate, and headed upstairs to get dressed, munching as she went. At this point she wasn’t sure if they would leave today, or even where they would go, but she was more comfortable in her armor, so she donned it instead of a dress. It still fit perfectly in spite of the burgeoning baby bump, and she thought of how the leather had molded to her body when she had first put it on in Nightingale Hall. It was by far the most magical, mystical armor she had ever encountered, and she wondered if it would actually grow with her. That would be very convenient.
She rummaged through her knapsack and counted potions, and seeing she was low on healing potions, she went to the fully stocked alchemy lab Jorleif had installed and set about crushing ingredients and placing them in the alembic to brew. It was busy work, intended to keep her mind occupied, but her thoughts kept straying back to Brynjolf and their fight.
They rarely argued, but when they did they made more noise than when they made love. They usually fought fairly, but there was a lot of yelling. All things considered, this one wasn’t all that bad. She understood how he felt. All the joy he experienced at finding out she was still pregnant was dashed the moment she said they had to return to Solstheim. He had watched her collapse, had watched her bleed profusely, had carried her for miles through the snow when he could barely contain his own despair, and now she was asking him to risk going through all that again, or worse. It wasn’t fair, and he was right—they were asking too much of her. She had done everything they had ever asked, had fought her way from one end of Skyrim to the other, had even gone to Sovngarde and defeated the World-Eater. She had done well, and now she should be allowed to go home, have her baby, and live a peaceful life with her husband and daughter. All she had to do was say no. But at what cost?
She placed a hand on her belly and said, “I wonder what you think about all this, little one. You were there with Kynareth. Do you remember? Do you understand what’s going on? And do you even care, as long as I feed you now and then?”
Selene brewed enough healing potion for five large bottles, probably more than they needed, but who knew? If they went home, maybe Brynjolf could mix them in with some skooma and sell it as Falmer Blood Elixir. Or if they went back to Solstheim, maybe they would need them after all.
Brynjolf took his time coming back, and after a while, Rowan decided it was time for Selene to take a nap. The bone-deep weariness settled over her again, and she trudged upstairs and sprawled across the bed. She didn’t know how long she slept, but she figured it was a couple of hours before she was awakened by banging on the front door. She leapt out of bed and clambered down the stairs, opening the door to find Wyl, the guard assigned to watch Hjerim, his fist raised to pound on it again.
“Stormblade!” he barked. “We need your help. A dragon is attacking the city.”
“Let me get my bow,” she replied without thinking twice. She retrieved her bow and followed Wyl out the door and through the alleys until they emerged by the steps just behind Candlehearth Hall. Brynjolf was already there, standing with Ralof and a handful of guards, some of which were firing arrows at the monstrosity that circled overhead. It was bigger than normal and a dark bronze color, its wings tattered and its horns extending out far from its head. This was a very old dragon.
Selene joined them, drawing her bow and firing, hoping it would come low enough for her to use her Dragonrend Shout so she could get it on the ground. The dragon roared as it passed over them, and it drew breath for a Shout, incinerating two of the guards and narrowly missing setting Candlehearth Hall afire. She took aim with another arrow, tracking its movements as it flew away, then letting loose as the dragon turned to come back for another pass. She caught it in the eye and it howled in pain, but it barely slowed.
“Shor’s beard, this is a nasty one,” Brynjolf observed as he stepped up behind her. “There must be ten arrows sticking out of its hide.”
“Let’s make it eleven,” she muttered and shot again.
It stopped in front of her and drew breath for a Shout, but Selene beat it to the punch. “Joor…zah frul!”
The blast hit the dragon full-on, rocking it off balance, and it lurched and dropped to the ground, toppling down the stone steps that led up to the Palace of the Kings. Selene drew again as Brynjolf, Ralof, and a few others rushed in and started piercing it with their swords as it snapped at them, but before she could get another shot, it took to the sky again.
“Come back here, you bastard!” she cried. A few more arrows from Selene and the surviving guards, and the dragon started to falter. It stopped in front of her again, and its Fire Breath Shout met her Dragonrend. She dove for cover as flames sprayed at her, but screams erupted behind her. Before she could turn to see who was hurt, and dragon wobbled and fell onto the steps. She recovered and nocked another arrow, shooting over Brynjolf and Ralof’s heads as they ran to the creature. Brynjolf was limping.
One of the guards managed to get in a critical strike to the dragon’s good eye, and it shrieked and shook its head desperately. Brynjolf jabbed his sword into the soft flesh under its wing, and it finally gave up. With one last, terrible howl, the dragon collapsed and died.
Brynjolf sat down, and Selene ran over to him. “Are you badly hurt?” she worried.
“Nah, just singed a bit. By the Nine, I hate getting burned! But hey, it was a good fight. You okay?”
The dragon went up in flames, but the fire didn’t gravitate toward Selene and she didn’t get the sense of warmth and presence. The soul went to a figure that had appeared at the bottom of the steps. Brynjolf noticed him, too, and he scrambled to his feet and rushed at him, Chillrend at the ready.
“You bastard!” he snarled at Miraak.
When he reached the dragon priest and swung his sword, Brynjolf realized he wasn’t really there. Miraak stood before him, partially transparent, and laughed at him. “Did you think it would be that easy, fool?” he taunted smugly. Looking over at Selene, he said, “Not this time, Dragonborn. This one’s mine. But I do appreciate the effort you put forth to kill him for me. Do you ever wonder if it hurts, having your soul ripped out like that?” With that, he disappeared and took the dragon’s soul with him.
Selene stood there, mouth open and eyes blazing, unable to believe what she had just seen. “He took…that son of a bitch took my soul!” she growled indignantly.
“How did he do all that?” Ralof asked in bewilderment. “It’s as though he wasn’t even here.”
“I don’t know, but I didn’t like it.” To her husband, who had come back to her side, she said, “Did you see that? Of all the—I’m…I’m just speechless.”
“But are you all right?”
“I’m fine.” But she wasn’t. She was furious, enough that her wolf spirit was trying to surface. Selene wondered what effect a shift would have on the baby and decided not to chance it. But that meant she had to calm down.
“Go home and get some rest,” Ralof instructed. “We’ll take care of the remains.”
“Save me a bone and a scale, would you?”
“Of course. You know His Grace will probably want to see you after this.”
“Well, if he asks for us, you know where to find us.” She took Brynjolf’s hand and started for Hjerim. She grumbled angrily as they made their way through the alleys toward their house. “I can’t believe he just showed up out of nowhere and absorbed the soul like that! Especially after all we had to do to kill the damned thing.”
“I haven’t seen you this angry since the last time we saw the Blades,” Brynjolf commented as they climbed the steps to the house and he let them in.
“I’ve just never…who does he think he is? I’m sorry, but he had his time as Dragonborn, and it’s my turn.”
Brynjolf chuckled. “This is over territory?”
“Maybe so. I’ve just never had to compete for a dragon’s soul before.”
“You know what disturbs me? The fact that he could appear here at all. If he can project his spirit into Mundus, who knows what he’s capable of?”
Selene’s fury was starting to wane, and she took his hand. “You still mad at me?”
“No,” he replied, stroking her cheek. “Ralof and I had a long talk and a couple of tankards of mead. He calmed me down.”
“We need to get you out of those trousers so I can look at your leg.”
“I thought you’d never ask!” He wrapped his arms around her and trailed his lips down her neck.
She slapped him away playfully. “First we take a look at your leg. Behave, now.”
“Oh, very well.” He sat down on a bench at the long table in the front room and removed his boots, then slipped out of his trousers. “You know, it wasn’t too long ago that you wanted to take my pants off just to get me naked.”
“Look at it this way,” she said as she knelt before him and looked at the burns on his leg. “After I treat your leg, you’ll already be halfway naked.” She went to her knapsack and pulled out some burn ointment, then applied it gently to the burns. “This doesn’t bad at all, really. The way you howled, I thought it might be worse.”
“Burns,” he grumbled.
“I know, love.” She handed him a healing potion. “Brynjolf, you know we can’t let him live.”
Brynjolf breathed a heavy sigh. “I know. We’ve seen what he can do, and I know we have to stop him. Or rather, you have to stop him. It’s going to come to that, you know. He won’t come here to fight you. You’ll have to go to Apocrypha, and I can’t go there with you. Apparently Kynareth can’t, either.”
“I wonder if Nocturnal can.”
“Do you think she’ll just run right over to Apocrypha and help you out?”
Selene glared at him. “Do you have to be so sarcastic?”
“Selene, we’re beholden to her, not the other way around.”
“Then I’ll just have to rely on the luck she brings and my instincts.”
He reached out and placed a hand on her belly. “I barely had time to get used to the good news before everything happened. I’m sorry I got so angry.”
“You have nothing to apologize for, my love. Believe me, I would just as soon not go. The risks are too great. But I don’t believe I have a choice, and it’s not just because Kynareth told me to go.”
“I know. And if I didn’t agree before, Miraak’s little stunt behind Candlehearth Hall convinced me. All right, I’m in. Let’s go back to Solstheim and show this bastard what a true Dragonborn can do.”
Selene nodded. “But first, we go upstairs and make up properly.”