5E 20, 14 Last Seed
Rowan opened her eyes slowly, her skin stinging and her head throbbing. Someone knelt next to the bed, and she blinked a few times until the figure came into focus. It was Master Lodur.
“Welcome back,” he said warmly.
“Alive. Your mother is fine, but I’m afraid your brother and Blanche’s injuries were severe. They haven’t regained consciousness.”
Rowan sat up, clutching her head. “I need to see them.”
“You need to rest. Your companions are tending to their injuries.”
“How’d we get back here?”
“Paarthurnax carried you all down the mountain. He was quite distressed.”
Brynjolf stuck his head through the door. “I thought I heard your voice,” he said as he came in and sat down on the bed. Master Lodur excused himself and slipped out of the room. “How are you feeling?”
“I’ve got a splitting headache and the worst sunburn ever. Daddy, Master Lodur said Ben and Blanche are hurt really badly.”
“Aye,” he replied with a sigh. “You were all burned, but as vampires, theirs were much more extensive. Fortunately, your ma, Serana, and Farkas all know Heal Undead spells. They’ve been working day and night.”
“How many days has it been?”
“Two. Lodur has been treating you; you have a concussion.”
“What about the Coat of Storms?”
“It’s gone, as far as we can tell. Selene said the pieces exploded, and there doesn’t seem to be anything left. You did cause a small avalanche, and we don’t know if anything was damaged below. We know Ivarstead was unharmed, because a messenger arrived just this morning.”
“A messenger? What did they say?”
Her daddy pulled a letter out of a pocket and handed it to her. “It’s for you, little one.”
Rowan took the letter, which bore the seal of the Jarl of Windhelm, her hands suddenly shaking. “Oh, gods,” she breathed. “Do you think he knows we destroyed the collection?”
“I would be surprised if he hadn’t heard the explosion. It was massive, and I’m sure it shook half the province.”
She stared at the envelope, terrified to open it. “He hates me; I just know it.”
“I don’t believe that, but why don’t you read it and find out?”
With trembling hands, she broke the seal and pulled the letter out of the envelope. Tears sprang to her eyes as she read the note.
I am so very sorry. Please come home to me. If you hate me, I understand, but at least let me know you are safe. I love you.
“He thinks I hate him.”
“We told you he didn’t mean what he said. You know as well as anyone the effects the Coat of Storms had on the bearer. That doesn’t mean I won’t slap him silly for hurting my little girl.”
“Is the courier still here? I want to respond.”
“Aye. I asked him to stay until you woke up. Shall I scare up some writing materials?”
Brynjolf went to Master Lodur and retrieved some paper, ink, and a quill, and Rowan sat down at a table in her room to write.
We are safe. There were injuries, but Mama and I are fine now and Ben and Blanche are being cared for. Of course I will come home to you as soon as they are well. I love you.
She folded the letter, found Master Lodur and asked for some wax and a seal, and then went to find Sven, one of Dolff’s personal couriers, who sat in the front hall looking terrified.
“The Graybeards don’t bite, you know,” she told him.
“Perhaps, but they can Shout me to pieces.”
“They don’t do that, either.” She handed him the letter. “What news of Skyrim? I heard there was an avalanche.”
“No villages or farms were damaged, although apparently some of the roads were blocked. Cleanup hadn’t gotten underway yet when I left Windhelm.”
“Take care traveling back, Sven. Thank you.”
“I will, milady.”
The courier left, and Rowan went to find her family. She found her mama and Farkas in a room near her own, working feverishly on Ben and Blanche. They both looked exhausted, but of course their patients looked much worse. Blanche was charred but was starting to look like herself, but Ben was barely recognizable. All his hair was gone, and his skin looked like burned meat.
“He got the worst of it,” said Mama. “We’ve managed to keep both of them unconscious while we treated their burns.”
“Is any of this life-threatening?”
“I don’t know, little one.”
“Well, I know Heal Undead. I can spell you.”
“Good. Serana, Farkas, and I have been trading off. She’s asleep right now.”
“It was hard to get her to leave him,” Farkas mentioned, nodding toward Ben.
Mama nodded. “She’s taking all this pretty hard.”
“Which of you has been at this the longest?” she asked.
Rowan went to Blanche’s bed and replaced Farkas, although he didn’t leave the room to go rest. “I’ll take good care of her,” she promised.
“Still, I’ll stay here awhile.”
She didn’t argue, just knelt next to the bed and set to work.
* * *
5E 20, 25 Last Seed
Rowan, Selene, Farkas, and Serana worked on Blanche and Ben day and night, using healing magic, blood potions, and their own blood to cure them. They would awaken them so they could feed, then give them a potion to put them right back to sleep because they were in such pain. After a few days, Blanche started looking and feeling better, and they allowed her to stay awake. Farkas still offered her blood and healing magic, and after a couple more days, she was nearly back to her old self.
Ben’s healing process took longer, but by the time Blanche was up and around, he was beginning to look better as well. It was several more days before he was well enough to let him stay awake for any length of time. Rowan spent most of her time with her brother, whether she was actively applying healing magic or just keeping him company. Likewise, Serana was never far away.
Nearly a fortnight after Paarthurnax brought them down from the Throat of the World, a knock came at High Hrothgar’s heavy doors. Muttering that the monastery had more company recently than it had ever seen and that people were getting much too bold for his taste, Master Lodur went to the door. After a couple of minutes, he stuck his head in the room where Rowan sat next to a sleeping Ben, reading a book.
“You have a visitor,” he said.
“You’re kidding.” She got up and followed the monk out of the room and to the front hall, where she found her husband waiting for her, accompanied by Ralof and half a dozen Windhelm guards. Her mouth dropped open, and she ran for Dolff, throwing her arms around his neck. “What are you doing here! Oh, it’s so good to see you.”
“Rowan, I’m so, so sorry. All those things I said—”
“Hush now. Hush. It’s all right.” She pulled back and placed her lips on his, kissing him deeply and possessively. “I love you,” she said when she withdrew.
“I love you. I couldn’t stay away. When Sven said you were fine but Ben was hurt, I just couldn’t wait. I had to come.”
“I’m so glad you’re here. But who’s minding the palace?”
“Kira is perfectly capable, and Ralof has one of his lieutenants acting as housecarl.”
“I wasn’t about to let him come alone,” said Ralof, who stood just behind the jarl.
“Thank you, Ralof,” Rowan said with a smile.
Master Lodur came into the room with an abashed expression on his kind face. “I am afraid we don’t have enough beds for all of you,” he told Dolff. “We normally do not host so many.”
“I apologize for the intrusion,” Dolff replied. “We can sleep on the floor; we all have our own bedrolls.”
“It’s no bother, Jarl. If you would like to set up here in the front hall, I will make sure you at least get a hot meal.”
“Thank you.” He turned to Rowan. “I want to see Ben.”
Rowan led him to her brother’s room and gently shook his shoulder. “Ben, you have company.”
Ben opened his eyes and peered up at Dolff. “Well, look who decided to show up,” he said weakly. “You missed all the excitement.”
“You look like crap,” Dolff told him.
“You should have seen me a week ago,” Ben replied as he sat up.
“How are you feeling, my friend?”
“Weak, and I’m still in some pain. They’ve only let me stay awake for short periods of time. But I’ll recover. And hopefully the scarring isn’t going to be too bad.”
Rowan chuckled. “Aye, as vain as he is, we did everything we could to minimize the scarring. Still didn’t heal it all, but at least his hair will grow back.”
“I thought I had lost you,” said Dolff. “Both of you.”
“We thought we had lost Ben. By all rights, he probably should have been killed. But Mama speculated that because he’s Dragonborn, he was just hardier than a normal human—vampire.”
“Tell me what happened.”
Together, Rowan and Ben recounted the story of the trip to the peak, the battle with the Dremora, and the explosion that rocked Skyrim.
Dolff nodded. “It doesn’t appear that anyone was killed at this point, and no homes were destroyed that we know of. For the most part, the avalanche didn’t even make it all the way down the mountain. Part of the Seven Thousand Steps was buried—you should have seen us trying to get over it—and the pass through the Jeralls from Falkreath to the Rift was also buried. We’ve begun a massive excavation project to dig it all out. We even brought in some mages from the College of Winterhold.”
“‘We’?” Rowan asked.
“Aye, I’m working with the other jarls on it. We’re hopeful that it shouldn’t take too long until the trail is passable again. But that’s for later. For now, I’m just glad to be here.”
Rowan ran her hand through his hair. “I’m glad you’re here too.”
“I can’t believe it’s over,” Ben remarked.
“It’s not over until we’re back at the Palace of the Kings,” said Rowan. “You still have some healing to do, and then we have to climb over all that snow to get to the bottom of the Seven Thousand Steps.”
He shook his head. “That accursed set is gone; as far as I’m concerned, it’s over. Ro, we can finally get on with our lives.”
With an ironic chuckle, she said, “Do you really believe that? Seems like somebody mentioned that as Dragonborn, we were going to spend our lives doing other people’s bidding. All this has just begun.”
“Maybe, maybe not. But if something does come up, we’ll handle it together.”
Rowan took her brother’s hand. “Aye, we will. Together.”
* * *
Far below, Skorn Keen-Eye dug out a section of trail in the pass, chucking it to the side where Velon Sarethi, a mage from the college, melted it and sent it down the hill to the river. He was tired and the work was back-breaking, but the money was good, so he wasn’t complaining. Velon was, though.
“This will take years, you know,” the Dunmer said.
“I was part of the mining crew at Embershard, elf. It goes faster than you think. Just stop your whining.” He rammed his shovel into the snow and broke off a large chunk for Velon to take care of. On the next jab, the shovel hit something metal. He dug deeper, reaching down with his hands and clearing away some of the snow, until he came across a sword.
“Nice!” he said as he pulled the weapon free of the snow. It was beautiful, ancient, probably valuable, and it vibrated in his grasp.
Velon held a hand toward it. “It’s magical. Powerful. You should be careful with that.”
“Sure, I’ll be careful,” said Skorn. He chuckled. Having once been a bandit, he had recently made an effort to change his ways. He had even sold all his weaponry. But having a sword in his hands again felt good. It made him feel mighty. With the vague thought that it might be fun to kill something with his new blade, he threaded it through his belt and went back to shoveling.