Chapter Twenty-One: Back to Business
In which magic cures all ills.
A tumble of nonsensical words rolled through her mind, the loudest voices actually Shouting at her.
“Dovahkiin!” they seemed to say.
She groaned, opening eyes that refused to focus properly.
She tasted copper in her mouth. Reaching up to feel her face, her hand came away wet. She looked around to try and figure out where she'd ended up, but it was impossibly dark.
She started to panic.
Although she had excellent night vision, it did her no good if there wasn't any light. Trying to keep calm, she felt around her. She was in a tight space. Wall, door – there, cold porcelain. She identified it immediately as the bathroom. She was sitting on the floor next to the toilet, which explained the tight confines; her bathroom was ridiculously tiny. Feeling up the wall, she found the light switch and flipped it on.
Relief flooded her, even though her eyes complained at the sudden light and she had to close them.
Now all she had to do was clean up all the blood.
She deliberately did not think about exactly what would cause that kind of a reaction, because she had her suspicions and they were wrong.
She picked herself up, unlocked the door, and, taking a deep breath to prepare herself, opened it.
There was nothing there.
She laughed a bit at herself. She was being silly. Why would there be anything inside her house?
She walked to her bedroom, took her night meds, and crawled into bed. Nothing popped out at her, nothing was there but her own foolish imagination.
For the first time in months, she left the bedside lamp on when she went to sleep.
She was roused out of a vague nightmare by another: everything was pain. She felt her bones grinding against each other as they set themselves, and she cried out in agony as the nerves protested their treatment.
A woman stood above her, her hands glowing with white light. She wore brown robes with a yellow hood, and she spoke soft, soothing, nonsense words.
The pain slowly subsided as everything sank into its proper place. Mariah sagged with relief.
“You're awake then? Good. I was afraid … generally it's a bad idea to let someone with a cracked skull sleep, but nothing could rouse you.” The woman smiled. “You've had a lot of visitors. Mostly well-wishers, some of the guards who were with you when you killed that dragon. The Jarl himself even came down from Dragonsreach. You're a popular lady.”
She sat up slowly, with a groan. “What time is it … ?”
“Morning. You're hungry?”
Mariah nodded slowly.
“We'll get you something to eat.” Another smile. “Now, and this is important: don't do anything too strenuous for the next couple of days. I had to heal a lot of damage, and you're still on the mend.”
She rubbed the back of her head. “Define 'strenuous,' please.” She doubted she'd get a real chance to rest, after all. What had even happened to her possessions?
“No fighting. Period. No heavy lifting, no long journeys, no running, or jumping, or … whatever it is you hero types do, don't do it. Understand me, if you strain yourself too much, you won't heal properly. You're fragile right now.”
She nodded. “Understood. Can I at least make the trip up to Dragonsreach? If the Jarl came to see me, I'm sure it's important.”
“If you think you're up to it, I suppose. Just be careful. I don't want to see you back here because you broke something again.”
A smile. “I'll do my best. Now … what was this about food?”
She ate a hearty meal of meat, bread, and cheese, put together in a configuration she chose to call a “sandwich.” It was a medieval time period, so she was fairly sure she got to “invent” certain modern ideas like that.
“Thank you again. Do I owe you anything?”
The woman shook her head. “Your expenses were covered by the Jarl. He said that it was the least he could do for a dragonslayer.”
“I – see. Well, thank you anyway. I didn't expect to survive that fall.”
Another shake of the head. “You wouldn't have, except that Irileth managed to get an extremely powerful healing potion into you, and quickly.” The woman smiled. “I just finished the job. If you thank anyone today, it should be the housecarl.”
“I will, but you have my thanks anyway. Where are my things, please?”
The woman produced all of her gear, even the pieces Mariah hadn't noticed were missing. She had to get used to the idea of carrying a weapon with her everywhere.
She arranged her things in their normal places. Everything felt heavier than it had been before, but then, she was still worn out from the healing. If she'd been as battered as she still felt, it was a miracle she was up and walking. She remembered the first day after her surgery, and her inability to move.
Magic beat modern medicine, apparently.
The trip up to Dragonsreach, though exhausting, was largely uneventful. She sagged against the great doors of the place before she finally pushed them open.
Spying the Jarl, she noticed he had other people with him.
“Good,” the fancy-robed man said. “You're finally here. The Jarl's been waiting for you.”
The Jarl had another visitor, a man in leather armor that looked like it had been ripped off some ancient barbarian hero … wait, he probably was an ancient barbarian hero. He was big, muscular, and looked kind of mean.
“You heard the summons,” the Jarl was saying as she approached his throne. “What else could it mean? The Graybeards ….”
The barbarian shrugged slightly, turning to look at her. “We were just talking about you. My brother needs a word with you.”
“Aye-aye.” She said it tiredly, with a faint smile.
The Jarl regarded her calmly. “My guards have given their reports, but I'd like to hear your tale, please. Leave nothing out. Any details you remember might be important, if we should have to face another.”
She looked up at the ceiling, for a moment, folding her hands behind her back. “Yessir. The watchtower was destroyed; there was rubble everywhere, and everything was burning. Only one guard had survived the dragon's attack, and he was telling us to get away. The dragon swooped down – Irileth did most of the fighting.” She ducked her head, embarrassed. “I mostly just shot lightning at it.”
“I knew I could count on Irileth. But my guards tell me that you had your moment, no?”
She shook her head. “I grabbed the dragon, when it was about to take off, and nearly got killed for my efforts, sir. I guess I dealt the killing blow, but really, I would have died on my own.”
He nodded. “And then?”
“The dragon – when it was dying, it … melted. I remember that. And then … there was a white light, coming from its corpse. I think – I think it was coming for me. I blacked out … I don't remember, I'm sorry.”
The Jarl closed his eyes, processing that. “So it's true – the Greybeards really were summoning you.”
“The … Greybeards, sir?”
He nodded once. “Masters of the Way of the Voice. They live in seclusion high on the slopes of the Throat of the World.” Oh goodie. She was going to get to go mountain climbing.
“What … I'm sorry, what would they want with me?”
The Jarl regarded her oddly. “That light you saw … it was most likely the dragon's very soul. You absorbed it into your body … I'd wager that power is part of why you didn't die from your injuries. If that's true – if you are Dragonborn, then you should be able to Shout, like the dragons do. The Greybeards could teach you to use your gift, if you let them.”
“Didn't you hear that thundering sound as you returned to Whiterun?” The Jarl's brother asked. “That was the voice of the Greybeards, summoning you to High Hrothgar!”
She shook her head. “I don't think I was conscious for that.”
But she remembered. Dovahkiin, they'd called her, in her dream. Dragonborn.
“This hasn't happened in … centuries, at least. Not since Tiber Septim himself was summoned while he was still Talos of Atmora!” Talos … one of the Divines?
The fancy-pants man folded his arms. “Hrongar, calm yourself. What does any of this Nord nonsense have to do with our friend here?” He gestured to her. “Capable as she may be, I don't see any signs of her being this, what, 'Dragonborn.'”
“Nord nonsense?! Why you puffed up, ignorant …” He sputtered for a moment. “These are our sacred traditions that go back to the founding of the first Empire!”
“Hrongar,” The Jarl smiled, humor in his voice. “Don't be so hard on Avenicci.”
Fancy-pants – Avenicci – shook his head. “I meant no disrespect, of course. It's just that … what do these Greybeards want with her?”
She'd like to know that, herself.
“That's the Greybeards' business, not ours.” He looked away from his brother and his advisor, staring straight at her. “Whatever happened when you killed that dragon, it revealed something in you, and the Greybeards heard it. If they think you are Dragonborn, who are we to argue? You'd better get up to High Hrothgar immediately. There is no refusing the summons of the Greybeards. It's a tremendous honor.”
She shifted a little, uncertainly. “There might be a slight problem with the 'immediate' part of that. I'm not to do anything strenuous for the next few days ….”
He waved his hand, dismissively. “I envy you, you know. To climb the seven thousand steps again... I made the pilgrimage once, did you know that? It's a difficult journey … perhaps you should wait until you're well.”
“What can you tell me about this 'High Hrothgar?'”
He looked distant for a moment. “High Hrothgar is a very … peaceful place. Very disconnected from the troubles of this world. I wonder that the Greybeards even notice what's going on down here. They haven't seemed to care before.” He shook his head. “No matter. Go High Hrothgar. Learn what the Greybeards can teach you.”
A slight pause, as one of the servants came up with a few items.
“You've done a great service for me and my city, Dragonborn,” Jarl Balgruuf announced. “By my right as Jarl, I name you Thane of Whiterun. It's the greatest honor that's within my power to grant. I assign you Lydia as your personal housecarl, and this weapon from my armory to serve as your badge of office.” He smiled. “I'll also notify my guards of your new status. Wouldn't want them to think you're part of the common rabble, now would we? We are honored to have you as Thane of our city, Dragonborn.”
“My – my lord, I can't – ”
He took the axe from his own belt, holding it out to her with both hands. “You can, and you will. My servant will lead you to the armory to choose a small selection of items for your past deeds, as well.”
She shook her head, but obediently followed the servant when he beckoned. As she was walking away, she heard the Jarl speak again.
“Back to business, Proventus. We still have a city to defend.”