Warning: Sexual situations; not suitable for children.
5E 19, 14 Frostfall
The cat was out of the bag, and Dagur Ice-Shield was no more. A resident of Windhelm had visited Whiterun and recognized Dolff, and he had not been subtle about it. Within fifteen minutes of the meeting, everyone in the Plains District knew who he was, and half a day later, all of Whiterun knew.
Dolff was not happy.
He didn’t take it out on the citizen, but he paced the Harbinger’s office, red-faced and snarling with fury.
“He had no way of knowing you were in disguise,” Vilkas told him.
“I know, but for Divines’ sake! You don’t just walk up to—what kind of an idiot—you’d think he would assume something was different because I didn’t have guards trailing around behind me. He practically knelt before me, something we don’t even require in the palace! I just didn’t want that kind of attention.”
“Your father will likely want you to return to Windhelm.”
Dolff shook his head. “It’s not going to happen. Jorrvaskr is my home, and I want to stay. Unless you think it brings danger to the Companions, of course.”
“Perhaps at one time, but I’ve gotten to know you, and I believe the Companions are in no more danger than we were before your identity was known. If anything, we’re in a better position to protect you.”
“I don’t need protection.”
“Are we going to have this discussion again? Dolff, you do need protection, not because you’re a prince, but because we all do. None of us is invincible; that is why we watch each other’s backs. Just keep in mind that we are all still equals here. The other Companions won’t bow to you just because they know who you are.”
“And I don’t want them to. We’ve discussed that before, too.”
Rowan stepped into the room. “Sorry I’m late. I was just finishing up sparring with Ria. Did I miss anything?”
“Vilkas thinks Da will want me to leave the Companions.”
Rowan’s eyes widened, and she swallowed hard. “Would you go?”
“No. Absolutely not.”
She didn’t seem to believe him. She looked at him as if he were going to die.
“Rowan, I’m not going,” he pressed.
“I’m sure you’ll have a chance to discuss it with the High King,” said Vilkas. “Sit down.” Dolff stopped pacing and took a seat, and Rowan sat down next to him. Vilkas handed her a letter. “This is from Quintus Navale in Windhelm. He’s the junior alchemist in the shop there.”
“Aye, I know him,” Dolff said.
“He has hired the Companions to help him find an artifact for his master. I want you two to get over to Windhelm and hammer out the details. You can talk to your father while you’re there. I’m sure he already knows by now.”
With a heavy sigh, Dolff muttered, “Might as well get it over with, eh? We’ll leave at first light.”
When they left Vilkas’s office, Rowan took his arm. “You know your Da can make you stay in Windhelm. If he’s as paranoid as you say—”
He caressed her soft cheek. She was so lovely. She drove him crazy; it seemed they were always arguing over something, spats he lost more often than not, which only made it worse. The lass could charm a sabre cat into rolling over and letting her rub its belly, and at times Dolff hated not being immune to her allure. But he wasn’t, and there was no way in Oblivion he was going to leave her. “I’ll work it out. I promise.”
* * *
“You’re hard to get along with,” Dolff groused as Rowan followed him toward Windhelm’s main gate.
“Aye, I know; you’ve told me every day for the past year and a half. Has it occurred to you that you’re the one who’s hard to get along with?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
They had fought a troll on the way to Windhelm, and Dolff had made the mistake of going toe to toe with it. Only a well-placed arrow from Rowan had kept him from taking a devastating blow that would have probably killed him.
“All I’m saying is that you should have kept to the ranged attacks,” she pointed out. “You do have a bow, you know. I hope you’re not carrying it around just to make me happy.”
“Why in Talos’s name would I want to make you happy?” he replied with a coy smile
Rowan giggled. So often his face was set in a determined scowl, and when he smiled, or when he gave her that lopsided grin that said he was teasing her, her heart just pounded. “And you call me hard to get along with. You know, sometimes I think you like to fight with me.”
“Sometimes I do,” he admitted.
They reached the gates and the guard saluted Dolff. “Good to have you back, my lord.”
“Good to be back, Olaf.”
“Just the night.” After they were inside the gates, he turned to Rowan. “Let’s go see Quintus first; then we’ll head to the palace. I’m not looking forward to seeing my father.”
Quintus Navale was an unassuming Imperial who worked for Nurelion, an aging Altmer who was usually angry at the world. The crotchety old elf was griping at Quintus when they walked in, and he turned and glared at them. “And what do you want?” Dolff raised an eyebrow at him, and he recognized the prince. “Oh, it’s you. In that case, how can I help you?”
Rowan chuckled and said, “I believe we’re here to help you. The Harbinger sent us.”
Quintus’s eyes widened with surprise. “You’re with the Companions? I didn’t know you had joined them.”
“It was a secret until recently,” Dolff told him.
“What is all this?” Nurelion demanded. “What’s going—” He stopped midsentence and coughed, a deep rasping retch that sounded like he might just bring up a lung.
“Master, you’re not well. Why don’t you let me handle this? Go rest, and I’ll get you some tonic.”
“If there was a tonic that could help me, I’d have been cured a long time ago.” He turned and went upstairs, grumbling the whole way.
“He can be a bit short,” Quintus apologized.
“What’s wrong with him?” Rowan asked him.
“It’s a lung disease. He’s just wasting away, and there’s little I can do for him except try to keep him comfortable. When he’ll let me, anyway. But we’ve finally discovered the location of the White Phial, and that might be able to help him.”
“The White Phial?” Dolff echoed.
“The search has been Nurelion’s life’s work. Even named the shop after it. It’s a magical bottle that holds powerful elixirs, and he’s searched for it for—well, for centuries, all over Tamriel. And now we’ve found it right in our own backyard. There’s a cave just west of here where an alchemist named Curalmil is interred. We’re fairly certain the Phial was buried with him.” He reached under the counter and brought out a bottle of glowing green fluid. “My master mixed this when he discovered Curalmil’s location. It will be necessary to get into the tomb and reach the Phial. You should find a font in his burial chamber. Pour the mixture into the font to open the door to the Phial.”
Nurelion walked slowly down the stairs, peering at them curiously. “You’re . . . you’re going to go get my Phial?”
“Aye,” said Rowan.
He smiled, clapped his hands and said, “Very well! Best get started, then!” He turned and went back upstairs.
“Do you have a map?” Quintus asked. Dolff pulled out his map, and Quintus took a piece of charcoal and marked a spot about half a day’s walk to the west. “That’s where you’ll find the cave. I must admit, my lord, I’m uncomfortable hiring you. It doesn’t feel right.”
Dolff hitched a thumb at Rowan. “Then hire her. I’ll just tag along.”
Quintus gave him a broad smile. “Thank you both.”
“Don’t thank us yet,” Dolff warned him as he folded the map and placed it and Nurelion’s mixture into his knapsack. “We haven’t found the Phial yet. We’ll set out first thing tomorrow morning. Hopefully we’ll be back within a couple of days.”
They left the shop and made their way toward the Palace of the Kings, where they found Ulfric Stormcloak lounging on his throne, looking bored. Rowan adored Ulfric. Although the adults in Riften used to talk a lot about his questionable political views, the High King had never been anything but kind to her and Ben. One of her earliest memories was of climbing into his lap and testing the sharpness of the dragon bones on the Jagged Crown. He had laughed and kissed her forehead. He was nearing seventy years old now and his hair gone over to white, but he was still robust, and his mind was as sharp as ever. His wife Nilsine had died years ago, and she figured he was lonely, but he always seemed to be in good spirits.
When he saw Rowan and Dolff enter the palace, he rose and came down from the dais to meet them. “My son! It’s good to see you!” he said as he embraced Dolff.
“You too, Da.”
He turned to Rowan and hugged her as well. “Rowan, you get more beautiful every time I see you.”
“Thank you, Your Grace.”
“Come, have a drink.” He led them to the long table and sat down across from them, and a servant brought them each a tankard of mead. “What brings you to Windhelm?”
“We’re doing a job for Quintus Navale,” Dolff told him. “After years of searching, he’s finally found the magical phial his shop was named for.”
Ulfric raised an eyebrow. “Has he, now?” he replied with interest. “Where is it?”
“Not far, actually. It’s in a cave to the west of here.”
“And he’s sending you to retrieve it.” A sly smile crossed the High King’s lips. “Isn’t that amusing?”
“Why is it amusing?”
“Only that he sent for you all the way in Whiterun to look for something that was so close to Windhelm.”
Dolff shrugged. “The Companions serve all of Skyrim; you know that.”
Ulfric took a sip of mead. “So. How long are you staying?”
“Just tonight, and then we’ll plan on spending the night when we return with the Phial.”
He motioned to Jorleif, the steward who had served him since he was Jarl of Windhelm and was still on the job. “Have a room made up for Rowan, and inform the chef that we’ll have two extra for dinner.”
“As you wish, Your Grace,” Jorleif said before nodding and turning away.
They made small talk for a while, until Jorleif returned and said Rowan’s room was ready.
“My dear,” Ulfric said, “would you be kind enough to give my son and me some privacy?”
“Of course, Your Grace.” She squeezed Dolff’s hand and followed Jorleif to the room he’d had made up for her. Behind her, she heard Ulfric say, “You. Come with me.”
She settled into her room, changed out of her armor and put on a dress, and took a seat by the fire with a book, but it was hard to concentrate. Ulfric was paranoid, and with good reason, and he had been leery about Dolff joining the Companions to start with. Having his identity revealed was just going to make it harder to get his blessing. She didn’t know what she would do if she lost Dolff.
After an hour or so, there was a knock on her door, and she opened it to find Ulfric standing there. He stalked into the room and said, “Will you please talk some sense into that boy?”
“Your discussion didn’t go well, I take it?”
“He’s heir to the throne of High King, and we have too many enemies to just have him traipsing all over Skyrim, making himself a target.”
“But how has that changed from before?”
“Because now they know who he is.”
“Come sit down, Your Grace.”
Ulfric followed her to the fireplace and sat down next to her.
“He just wants to be given the same chance you were given,” she told him. “You were heir to the throne—granted, it wasn’t the throne of High King, but still—and you were allowed to go out and become a man on your own.”
“Aye, and look what happened to me.”
“But you were at war at that time, and you were captured by the Thalmor before they even knew who you were. No?”
“That doesn’t help his cause, you know.”
“Your Grace, Skyrim is at peace, and has been for twenty years. You may have enemies, but for the most part you’re a very popular king. I know how you were before; Mama told me. But somewhere along the way, you learned that to lead means to serve, and you’ve served your people well. Even those who aren’t Nords, for the most part.”
“For the most part?” he said with a smirk.
“You treat the mer and the beast races with as much respect as you can muster, but I know you still have your prejudices. But my point is that you’re well loved, and there aren’t as many who would target Dolff as you might think.”
“You are so young and innocent. Do they still call you ‘little one’?”
“Aye, pretty much everybody who’s older than me.”
“You see much, little one, but you don’t, and can’t, see everything. The throne still has its enemies, as does Skyrim, and the Thalmor haven’t vacated the province altogether.”
“Mama told me once that she stopped an assassination attempt right here in the palace. What makes you think he’d be any safer if you kept him here?” She reached out and took his hand. “Dolff is a warrior, Your Grace. I’ve seen him fight, and believe me, he can take care of himself. I’ve even seen him go head to head with a troll.” She decided not to mention that Dolff would have lost that fight if not for her.
“Your son loves you,” she continued. “You’re his hero. But you have to let him be his own man, and that means letting him go. Otherwise, you might lose him forever.”
“He threatened to leave and never come back.”
“Well, we all know he can’t really do that. But do you really want to make him a prisoner? You gave him a chance when he asked to join the Companions. Please don’t take that away now. Allowing him to take the throne without experience would do him, and Skyrim, a disservice. That’s even if the Moot would agree to it. He has to be out in the world, to fight, to learn how to lead. And honestly, Your Grace, he needs to prove to himself and to others that he can do those things.”
Ulfric stared at her for a long moment, then narrowed his eyes and chuckled as he said, “I can’t decide if you’re more like your mother or your father. Brynjolf’s tongue is so smooth that he could sell ice to the Jarl of Winterhold, and Selene could talk me into most anything just by batting her eyes at me. Eyes you inherited.”
Rowan grinned. “You’re going to let him stay, aren’t you?”
He breathed a heavy sigh and said, “Yes, he can stay. But I’m allowing this against my better judgment.”
With a squeal, she got up from her chair and wrapped her arms around his neck. “You won’t regret it, Your Grace. I promise.”
“Don’t make promises you can’t keep.”
* * *
Not long after the High King left, Dolff knocked on the door and stepped inside. “How’d you do it?”
“I just used my feminine wiles,” Rowan replied lightly.
He took her in his arms and kissed her. “It seems you’ve saved me twice on this trip.”
“I think the troll was the easier of the two.”
Dolff pulled her toward the bed, and she let him lead her. They still hadn’t slept together, but they had grown much closer, frequent arguments notwithstanding, and she wanted him badly. She all but tackled him, pushing him down on the bed and straddling him, kissing him hotly.
“We’re wearing too many clothes,” he breathed as he tugged on the laces of her dress. When it was loosened, he slipped it down over her shoulders, and she stood up on her knees to pull it the rest off the way off. He flipped her on her back and drew her smalls down over her hips and thighs, trailing light kisses up her leg, stomach, and breasts as he moved back up alongside her. Then it was Rowan’s turn. She lifted his tunic over his head and unlaced his pants as he knelt next to her, freeing his hardness.
When the trousers had been discarded to the floor, they lay naked, pressed up against each other and exploring each other’s bodies. This time when Dolff took her hand and placed it between his legs, she didn’t pull away. Instead, she wrapped her fingers around his length and stroked it slowly but insistently until he moaned, “Oh, gods, if you don’t stop, I won’t be able to hold back.”
Rowan removed her hand and ran it over his muscular abdomen and chest, threading her fingers through his hair as he kissed her breasts, his tongue teasing her nipples, and trailed a hand down her belly and between her legs. She let out a gasp as he caressed her sex and inserted two fingers inside her. Her breath hitched in her throat and the heat rose as he massaged her core with deft fingers, until she cried out, lifting her pelvis against his hand as spasms shook her.
Before the spasms died down, Dolff knelt between her legs and slipped inside her. He lay still for a moment, eyes closed.
“You okay?” she whispered.
“You feel . . . so amazing, I wanted to just . . . stay like this for a moment. Is that okay?”
“Aye, it’s wonderful.”
But he couldn’t stay still forever, and he started moving inside her, in and out, back and forth, slowly at first and then building speed and strength. Rowan placed her hands on his arse, digging her fingers into his flesh and pulling him into her. Her head swam as the waves once again overtook her, and she shouted, “Oh, Dolff!”
With that, he couldn’t hold out anymore, and he spilled his seed inside her with a rapturous sigh. She held tight to him as he buried his face in her hair, his breathing heavy and his heart racing, until he finally relaxed in her arms.
“Rowan, I love you,” he whispered in her ear.
The words made Rowan’s heart pound anew, and she found herself holding back a sob. “I love you too.”