HOLLOW VICTORY

Middas, 15th Frostfall, 4E 201

At midday, the main assault on Windhelm would start. Trebuchets have been lobbing rocks and burning pitch into the city for at least three hours. I would prefer not to use them as they do very little damage to enemy morale but randomly kill innocents. However, the war was General Tullius’ to run as he saw fit.

Everybody was nervous but me. I expected very little opposition as we had received reports of a mass exodus of people from Windhelm heading to all corners of Skyrim. We assumed that most of them were Stormcloaks who no longer wanted to die for Ulfric’s ambition.

My housecarls turned Dragonguard would be my squad along with Celestine and Inigo.

We teleported to the end of Windhelm’s bridge.

I watched the burning pitch incoming and outgoing and shook my head. It was random death and achieved little.

I Shouted a partial Dragon Aspect. I left my face uncovered as it is my eyes that I want Ulfric to stare into when I end his life. He will know who he faced and the depth of his blasphemy. I will tell him a truth telepathically before his final breath.

Then, I called upon Lord Shor for his aid for the first time. His avatar appeared and towered over us all.

  • Celestine: How come that avatar can cause damage on Nirn but those of other gods cannot?
  • Wulf: Lorkhan designed Mundus. If there is any god that can bend the metaphysical laws a little, it is him.
  • Inigo: What is that strange weapon he carries?
  • Wulf: Oddly enough, it is called Azura’s Moon and was made by that Daedric Prince.
  • Lydia: Does he talk?
  • Wulf: I can send him basic commands telepathically. He is not the chatty type.
  • Lydia: Why haven’t you used him till now?
  • Wulf: He hasn’t been needed. He isn’t needed now except to make Stormcloaks contemplate their idiocy. To defeat us, they must fight the Avatar of the god who presides over their afterlife.
  • Iona: What do you think would happen if you declared yourself Ysmir?
  • Wulf: Most of the Stormcloaks would surrender. But then I would be a political figure, urged to take up the mantle of High King.
  • Jordis: Letting it be known you are Talos’ son would ensure even more Stormcloaks surrendered but cause significant political instability.
  • Wulf: And that is why we keep those secrets. We have to try and minimise death and destruction using other methods. The best thing I can do is head straight for The Palace of the Kings.
  • Iona: Why don’t you teleport into it?
  • Wulf: I should and will be breaching the gates next to the Legionnaires. They expect it, and I owe it to them. The battle at the gates will be where the main body of Stormcloaks will stand its ground. Once the fight starts in earnest, I will head for the palace.
  • Inigo: It will be a walk in the park for you to reach the palace!
  • Wulf: There will be some resistance, but Ulfric’s only hope is to push us back outside, and that will not happen.
  • Celestine: What are you going to do when you reach the palace?
  • Wulf: I hope The Dragonguard are not far behind. I want you to hold the square in front of the palace while I enter alone and deal with Ulfric. Eventually, Tullius and Rikke should reach you but don’t let them into the palace. If Ulfric cares little about his people, he may decide to use The Voice.
  • Celestine: How strong is his Thu’um?
  • Wulf: I have no idea. I fear some civilians, such as Priest Lortheim, might be there. The Voice could be devastating in that confined space, as I demonstrated in Riften.
  • Lydia: Would Ulfric use The Voice when it may kill a religious leader?
  • Wulf: Consider what he has done in the past, and the answer is clear. Ulfric doesn’t care about Talos, The Nine or civilians. Ulfric cares about Ulfric.
  • Celestine: Wulf could walk in, use The Voice and kill all inside without risking himself. I hope survivors realise that he is intentionally increasing the risk to his life so they don’t die in the melee.
  • Wulf: It doesn’t matter if they know what I have done as long as it works.
  • Inigo: Let us go, my friend. General Tullius is looking our way, and I don’t think he is a patient man.

The sun broke through the clouds as Tullius began his speech. Civilians who wanted to join in the fight waited at the gate. Well, three of them wanted to fight. I think a Dunmer gentleman just wanted to go home.

Tullius said, “All right. It’s time to deliver the final blow to the Stormcloak rebellion. You have all fought bravely and sacrificed much to bring us to this point. Ulfric thinks he can hide behind the walls of his castle. But we will fight our way in and drag him out through the rubble to face justice. Because this is the end for them, the Stormcloaks will fight like cornered rats. They will be fierce and crafty. But they are no match for Legionnaires because you are the best and the brightest warriors in Tamriel. Professional soldiers, fearless and devastating. The Emperor will be paying close attention to what happens here today. Men who distinguish themselves will be well rewarded. General Welkynd, Dragonborn, do you have anything to say?”

I used my Thu’um, “HOW CAN ULFRIC CLAIM TO HAVE THE BACKING OF THE GODS WHEN I, CHAMPION OF THE DIVINES AND A CELESTIAL SON OF LORD AKATOSH, FIGHT BESIDE LORD SHOR’S AVATAR? I HAVE WARNED THOSE WHO CALL THEMSELVES STORMCLOAK THAT ULFRIC IS A TRAITOR, MURDERER, WAR CRIMINAL, PUPPET OF THE DOMINION AND BLASPHEMER. MANY OF THEIR COLLEAGUES HEARD THE TRUTH AND WENT HOME TO FRIENDS AND FAMILY. THEY WERE NO LONGER WILLING TO DIE FOR THE ONLY CAUSE THAT ULFRIC CARES ABOUT, WHICH IS HIMSELF AND HIS DESPERATE GRAB FOR POWER. SO DO NOT HESITATE TO KILL WHEN FACING THESE TRAITORS. THEY HAVE CHOSEN THEIR FATE, AND AS SOLDIERS OF THE EMPIRE, IT IS OUR DUTY TO DELIVER IT WITHOUT MERCY OR GUILT. EVERYBODY WITH ME! FOR THE EMPIRE! FOR THE NINE!”

There was a mighty roar as we pressed against the gates and forced them open.

As the two sides collided, I decided the quickest path to the castle was to the left of the main gates.

I headed left, then turned right. That is when I encountered and killed my first defender.

Unrelenting Force smashed her against a stone staircase and demolished a wooden barricade.

The familiar sounds of combat echoed through the streets of Windhelm. It is a cacophony of grunts, screams, swearing, metal clashing on metal, metal smashing and cutting flesh, barked orders and heard above it all, even if whispered, are the pleas for mercy. The smell of blood, shit, sweat and offal arrived with the sounds. Where is the glory in what is happening at that gate?

I decided to use less power with Unrelenting Force. That was sufficient to kill, not obliterate, the Stormcloak defenders and lessened the risk to nearby innocents.

I used the Throw Voice Shout to make three defenders face the wrong way.

Unrelenting Force killed them instantly.

I used my sword for the first time and decapitated the next Stormcloak in my way.

At the bottom of some stairs, I waited for the enemy to turn the corner, charge at me and die.

I did not hurry but strolled towards The Palace of the Kings, killing all who wore a Stormcloak uniform.

Three Stormcloaks seemed relaxed and didn’t have their weapons drawn. I assume they thought no Legionnaires would ever reach the square in front of the palace.

I Blinked over to them and all three in seconds.

My friends arrived less than thirty seconds later.

I said, “Okay, do not let anybody into the palace, even if Tullius or Rikke try to order you otherwise. I will let you know when it is safe to enter.”

I telepathically told Shor’s avatar to wait with The Dragonguard.

I entered The Palace of the Kings with my weapon sheathed.

Ulfric was not interested in talking or negotiating. He stood and said, “Kill the liar! For Talos! For Skyrim!”

Housecarl Sven Hildesson ran towards me, his Amulet of Talos proudly on display. Another housecarl, Nirelda Blue-Stone, quickly abandoned her lunch and joined the attack. Izak, a friend of Ulfric’s, came running from my left. Galmar Stone-Fist approached with his idiotic hammer. It has a troll’s skull on its end, making it cumbersome and even slower than a typical two-handed hammer.

Another of Ulfric’s housecarls, Kar Silver-Tongue, stood in the far-right corner of the room. It seems he had no intention of attacking.

A servant sat close to me on the left. She seemed frozen in place as she was thrust into a situation beyond her experience.

I decided to let them surround me. I thought Ulfric would be an idiot to use The Voice if his allies were in the way. He knows one Shout, Unrelenting Force, and would harm his allies more than me.

While I manoeuvred to allow myself to be surrounded, Sven managed to slice me across the shoulder. There was a lot of blood but minor damage.

The servant made herself scarce.

The fact I got injured seemed to encourage the attackers. However, I was playing a game, and their confidence was about to be shattered.

I used my Thu’um, “I HAVE KILLED THOUSANDS. NOW YOU WILL JOIN THEM!”

A second later, my Dance of Death claimed Nirelda.

Ulfric used Unrelenting Force. Everything on the tables flew past. Sven and Izak staggered while I laughed.

I stepped towards Izak, whose attempt to block was far too slow. His head joined Nirelda’s on the palace floor.

Galmar ran away! Ulfric’s right-hand man was neither on his left or right but down the other end of the hall.

I blocked Ulfric’s axes and then probed his mind. His minimal defences were easily breached, and I told him telepathically, “You face Wulf Septim, son of Tiber Septim. I am, literally, a Son of Talos!”

Ulfric knew that to be the truth and said, “Oh!”

Then his head joined the first two with a surprised expression etched on his face. Whether Ulfric was surprised at my revelation or the fact his head was no longer attached is unknown.

Sven was an excellent swordsman. He took advantage of my transition from Ulfric to him and used a variety of strokes at a good rate, hoping to break through my defence. But Sven had never faced somebody with my skill, and his advantage was quickly lost. It was Sven’s turn to defend, but he soon left an opening, and I knocked his sword out of his hand. I then removed his head with a backhand swing.

I used my Thu’um once more, “IT IS YOUR TURN, GALMAR! REMEMBER THE PROMISE I MADE?”

Kar shouted, “I am a witness to your cowardice, Galmar!”

Galmar growled at Kar and then ran towards me.

As he approached, I asked, “What will you boast about in Sovngarde, Galmar? I am a hero to those within The Hall of Valour. They will want to know how you bravely defended your Jarl against The Dragonborn. At least you will provide some comedic relief, and I can assure you, they need some.”

Galmar reached me and swung his cumbersome hammer with all his might. I quickly blocked it with my shield and whispered to him, “You face Wulf Septim, son of Tiber Septim. Father didn’t want these deaths!”

I didn’t care if he believed me or not in the last seconds of his life. Fear filled his eyes as my sword sliced through his neck, as promised.

I walked over to Kar Silver-Tongue.

I asked, “Tell me, Kar, was it cowardice or something else that stayed your hand?”

“You will find, General Welkynd, that I haven’t participated in any military action against The Empire. My loyalty has always been to the people of Eastmarch, not Ulfric. I have aided the Dunmer and Argonian of this city, the same as Brunwulf Free-Winter who, I have no doubt, will be our new Jarl.”

“I am sure Jarl Brunwulf will find you useful as he adapts to his new role.”

“He shall make changes, General, but it won’t be without opposition. Bigotry grew under Ulfric’s rule. His father would be ashamed.”

“If Jarl Brunwulf needs somebody to wield a big stick and whack a few racists, I will happily volunteer.”

I cast Minor Healing on myself and then searched the bodies. I found nothing of use.

I then summoned The Dragonguard, who walked through the doors rather than teleport.

  • Inigo: I see a headless Ulfric amongst other headless people. It is over, my friend!
  • Wulf: Unfortunately, Inigo, there is still killing to be done. But still, he can spread his racism and lies no more, so that is good.
  • Celestine: We heard The Voice used once.
  • Wulf: Ulfric was idiotic enough to use it when his friends surrounded me.
  • Lydia: Was Galmar sent flying, and that is why he lies elsewhere?
  • Wulf: No, he abandoned Ulfric in the middle of the melee. There was another witness to his cowardice, or I might have had to chase him to exact justice.
  • Lydia: Yes, knowing somebody other than you could testify to it would force his hand.
  • Celestine: We had better let the city know that Ulfric is dead.
  • Wulf: Yes, let us stop the bloodshed.

We exited The Palace of Kings just as General Tullius and Legate Rikke arrived.

I told them, “Ulfric and Galmar are dead. I will tell you what occurred in a minute. First, let me try and bring this slaughter to an end.”

I moved away from the group and used the full strength of my Thu’um, “I AM WULF, DRAGONBORN AND CHAMPION OF THE DIVINES. I HAVE KILLED ULFRIC STORMCLOAK IN FAIR COMBAT. THE WAR IS OVER. SHEATH YOUR WEAPONS AND LIVE. ALL HAIL THE EMPEROR! ALL HAIL HIS LEGIONNAIRES!”

My words shook the ground and revibrated for several seconds. The sounds of combat slowly ceased.

I returned to the group.

  • Wulf: I entered The Palace of the Kings by myself with weapons sheathed. Ulfric was not interested in talking and immediately ordered Galmar and others to kill me.
  • Inigo: My friend cut all their heads off, so that was a silly move by Ulfric!
  • Tullius: How many?
  • Inigo: Wulf decapitated five of them, including Ulfric.
  • Tullius: I have heard of your skills, General Welkynd. Ulfric and Galmar were well-respected warriors of substantial skill.
  • Wulf: They were nothing. Sven Hildesson, however, was a fine swordsman.
  • Inigo: Galmar ran away and left Ulfric to die.
  • Rikke: That should make for an exciting conversation in Sovngarde!
  • Tullius: We’ll need to hand the city over to that Free-Winter fellow.
  • Rikke: Brunwulf. Yes, I will send men to protect him and bring him here. Windhelm will need a government quickly if we are to prevent more violence.
  • Wulf: One of Ulfric’s housecarls, Kar Silver-Tongue, did not attack me and said he had not participated in the civil war.
  • Rikke: I will check on that claim; if confirmed, he is a free man.
  • Tullius: The Legion will be staying here for quite some time. I don’t expect there to be any further violence in Windhelm.

As soon as Tullius finished his sentence, Stormcloaks stormed into the square. One yelled, “Death to The Dragonborn, spawn of Daedra!”

Jordis cut him down.

General Tullius cut down a second Stormcloak. The sounds of fighting once more filled the city.

What followed was a cleansing of Windhelm of Stormcloaks. They were fanatics who hadn’t believed what I had said when flying over Windhelm on Nafaalilargus or since.

As we conducted a final sweep of the city, we came across an Argonian with a massive smile on display.

I said, “My name is Wulf, and I am wondering, why is this pretty Argonian lady so happy?”

“I am Swims-in-Shallows. I have lived in Windhelm Docks my entire life, and this is the first time I can walk these streets. So yes, I am delighted!”

“I am glad for you, Swims-in-Shallows. Enjoy your freedom.”

We teleported to the Safe House and Inigo wanted to talk.

“My friend, that Argonian, Swims-in-Shallows, was an example of why we must kill. Her smile brightened even the dull walls of Windhelm!”

“Windhelm won’t change overnight, Inigo. But yes, her happiness was contagious, and I could not help but smile.”

“I am going to take Jo’rassa to one of the taverns for supper. Are you interested in joining us?”

“Thanks for asking, Inigo, but I would be poor company. I have too much on my mind and cannot afford to relax. I will make myself presentable and then tell Jarl Elisif the good news. After that, I will visit the docks and see if an old friend is there. I need some information he might be able to provide. After that, I will seek a quiet place to contemplate my belly button uninterrupted.”

“Okay, Daedra spawn. I will see you when you return from your belly button contemplation.”

I had a quick bath, cleaned my armour and headed for The Blue Palace. It was just over three hours since Ulfric’s demise. I thought Jarl Elisif would like to know as soon as possible. Usually, such news would take days to reach Solitude from Windhelm.

I entered The Blue Palace and made my way to Jarl Elisif.

I did a lower than usual bow and said, “My Jarl, I have news of import from Windhelm.”

“Is he…? Have we…? Ah….”

“Yes, my Jarl, we have taken Windhelm, and I killed Ulfric Stormcloak. The rebellion is over, and peace can again prevail over Skyrim.”

Elisif smiled, which warmed my heart, for she has suffered much.

She declared, “I shall announce the news via our town criers and ask the bells of Solitude to be rung, not in alarm or mourning but in joyful peals that herald peace.”

“The Moot will soon meet, and I will finally be able to call you the title you deserve. Yes, my Highness sounds so much better than yes, my Jarl.

I bowed once more, then teleported to Katya’s Farm, outside Solitude.

The sun was shining, and I enjoyed a leisurely stroll to The East Empire Company warehouse and wharf.

Admittedly, the shade of the warehouse made it far darker than the hour of the day dictated. Still, I am well enough known, especially in my unique armour, for everyday citizens of Solitude to recognise me. Therefore, I was a bit surprised by the challenge issued by a Solitude Guard.

He barked, “Halt! You may go no further!”

“Oh, and why is that?”

“This is The East Empire Company’s central warehouse. All of their shipments go through here. Unfortunately, thanks to some problems they’ve been having, it hasn’t seen much use lately. Still, it is off-limits to you.”

“I doubt that very much.”

“The warehouse is for East Empire workers only. Entering without permission is a crime. Do not make me draw my weapon.”

“Guardsman, have you been standing in this shade for some time.”

“For hours. Why do you ask?”

“Then your eyes should have well and truly adjusted. I will get closer, and I warn you, if you draw your weapon, I will conjure leeches in your underwear!”

I stepped closer and used Night-Vision. I wanted to enjoy the shifting emotions as the guard recognised to whom he spoke.

The guard’s eyes went wide, and then he stood to attention, holding a salute.

“I don’t know the protocol for certain, but I don’t think a guardsman has to salute me.”

“In Solitude, we are part of The Legion, General Welkynd. Therefore, as befitting your rank, I am to hold my salute until instructed otherwise, Sir.”

“At ease, soldier. What is your name?”

The guard relaxed and replied, “Guardsman Brirgvar Bear-Gobbler, Sir.”

“I bet Nords regret their naming traditions on occasion.”

“Another Solitude Guard is named Ivan Little-Stick. He has regrets, Sir.”

“You cannot get in strife for doing your duty, Guardsman Brirgvar. However, it is prudent to identify the approaching person and ascertain their status and intent before claiming they cannot enter the premises. In my case, I have no intentions of entering the warehouse. However, I am looking for somebody who may work here.”

“May I have their name, Sir? I know who has authorised entry and am proud of my memory of such.”

“I am looking for an Imperial called Casius Varon.”

“Ahh, the ex-legionnaire with hundreds of war stories, each an hour long at least.”

“That’s him.”

“He has been given a small vessel to sail under the East Empire flag. That is a remarkable achievement for someone who has only recently learnt to sail!”

“He could talk a Nord out of his last mead.”

“Haha, yes, I believe he could.”

“Is he still in the warehouse?”

“Certainly. If you wait here, I shall tell the Captain that General Welkynd wishes to speak to him.”

“Tell him it is Wulf, The Dragonborn.”

“Will do, Sir. Please wait here. General or not, The East Empire Trading Company would require you to obtain permission, in triplicate, from Lady Vittoria Vici, and she could be busy anywhere within the city as she plans her postponed wedding.”

“Vittoria’s wedding will not be postponed for much longer, Guardsman, for we took Windhelm a few hours ago, and I killed Ulfric Stormcloak.”

“That will cheer the Captain immensely as he found the civil war unfathomable and depressing.”

“He retired from the Legion rather than face old comrades across the battlefield.”

“I have heard a few veterans made that decision. Anyway, Sir, I shall inform the Captain, and hopefully, he will be with you in a few minutes.”

“Isn’t that abandoning your post?”

“Can you say, ‘Halt, you may go no further!’”

“I think so.”

“Then, General Welkynd, I now deputise you as a Solitude Guard. Just stand straight, look stern, don’t yawn and arrest any lollygaggers on sight.”

I laughed as Brirgvar entered the warehouse.

Five minutes later, Casius emerged and said, “It is good to see you again, General. Is it true? Is Ulfric dead?”

“I chopped his head off! In my experience, that is almost always fatal.”

“Almost always?”

“Yeah, almost. Anyway, let’s walk to the end of the pier where we can talk in warmth and privacy.”

I could tell Casius’ curiosity was gnawing at him, but he kept his tongue till I was satisfied we could not be overheard. Not unless people are using trained fish that can understand Tamrielic and telepathically communicate to their spymasters.

“So, Captain, your occupation change is going well.”

“It is a new challenge made more enjoyable by a lack of blood and gore. Some men I fought beside in Hammerfell have joined me as my crew.”

“And that wonderful segue leads me to why I sought you out.”

“Oh, it wasn’t to talk of glory on the civil war battlefields?”

“You know as well as I that there is no glory in battle, Casius.”

“So, the person who is, apparently, not The Guardian General, how can I help you?”

“Does the name Felix Decimus Varrus ring any bells?”

“I should say so. We spent many months fighting together on the sands of Hammerfell. Why do you ask?”

“Is he a person of honour? Is he a good fighter?”

“On both counts, I can answer in the positive and from personal experience. Yngol would tell you the same, but I guess you won’t be visiting him anytime soon.”

“Yngol knew I was going to back The Empire against Ulfric, and that was before what I discovered in The Thalmor Embassy.”

“Aha, it was you who ruined their party!”

“Yes, Casius.”

“Why do you ask about Felix.”

“He turned up in Bruma and wants to guard Rigmor.”

“Replace you?”

“I don’t suppose you know much about what has happened since we separated outside Whiterun.”

“I know The Guardian General vanished with different theories about where and why in different news sheets. I know you wore that armour which made you look different to each person who saw you. I know you were not allowed to use The Voice during the battle and did not want to be called Dragonborn. Therefore, it was easy to surmise that The Dragonborn and The Guardian General are to be regarded as separate entities.”

“Yes. It is part of a long-term plan of The Divines. They know some danger is imminent and that subterfuge is required. Do you know about Rigmor’s appointment?”

“Of course. The news sheets were full of theories on why Rigmor was given the position. As His Imperial Majesty said, it is compensation for what he allowed to happen to Rigmor and her family.”

“Did you know I am not with Rigmor in Bruma?”

“You have been in Skyrim dealing with Alduin and Ulfric and, if the latest news sheets are accurate, The Dark Brotherhood.”

“I can’t be with Rigmor in Bruma. Not until this danger that concerns The Divines appears and that could be years away. You have a good strategic mind, Casius. Why is this separation necessary?”

“The Guardian General is associated with Rigmor. If you were to be with Rigmor in Bruma, the separation of Guardian General and The Dragonborn would fail.”

“Yes. The Divines and I don’t want this future enemy to plan for my presence. I am to be a surprise that may help tip the scales as I was with The New Order. They did not plan for my presence and panicked. However, this future enemy also endangers us all, including The Divines.”

“You and Rigmor sacrificed your love for this plan?”

“No, Casius. We have ways of meeting and talking that no spies can track. Alduin could, but he was a god, not a normal dragon. But I cannot visit Cyrodiil and walk hand in hand with my beloved. Even in Skyrim, we are cautious.”

“You are wondering if Felix would make a good personal guard for Rigmor?”

“Yes, but to do so, he would be told secrets few people know. Secrets about me, Casius that would place me in greater jeopardy, even though that seems impossible.”

“Secrets you only divulge on a need-to-know basis.”

“Yes, even General Tully is unaware of many things about me. His Imperial Majesty knows some, but I doubt all of the information. That is the level of secrecy we would be entrusting to Felix.”

“If he has turned up in Bruma, it is because of his love for Ragnar. Like Yngol and I, his loyalty to Ragnar would be transferred to his daughter. I am sure you and Rigmor can trust Felix.”

“Thank you, Cassius. I trust your advice on this matter and will tell Rigmor what was said.”

“Can I ask some questions, Wulf?”

“Yes, of course. I will divulge what I think is wise, so forgive me for any evasiveness.”

“Would Rigmor be in danger if her relationship with you is discovered?”

“ Already, I have different groups of assassins targeting me. If certain entities, both mortal and immortal, uncovered some secrets, they would also want me dead. Our relationship, if discovered, would put Rigmor in danger. Uncovered secrets would dramatically increase the danger to her. My friends, The Dragonguard, are formidable and keep each other safe. There are non-combatants close to me who The Dragonguard also protect. Rigmor has no such protection and would therefore present an easier target for anybody or anything that desires to hurt me.”

“Do you know how Rigmor and Sigunn are fairing in their new roles?”

“Very well indeed! Rigmor has some good advisors. She lets them provide advice, but Rigmor makes the decisions. As I advised her, Rigmor established her authority from the outset, which has served her well. She is the Countess and decides what is best for her citizens.”

“I imagine some of her advisors are several times her age.”

“Some are, but they soon discovered that Rigmor has an agile mind and excellent bullshit detection. You saw her command The Sons of Talos. You know she has no difficulty using authority over older, more experienced people.”

“I am responsible for the cargo I carry, the ship I sail and my crew. Is there any of our trading partners I should avoid?”

“Don’t go near Solstheim until we have removed a danger there. That is all I can say about that for now. If successful, the news sheets will undoubtedly inform the public with sensationalised accounts of what happened. I look forward to seeing what nonsense they write about our success there and with the civil war.”

“Do you think the Stormcloak problem is resolved?”

“No, the gripes some of them had need addressing. Some do not believe Ulfric was what I claimed and will seek revenge. We had to kill many who refused to surrender in Windhelm. I will give them a few days and then wipe out as many as I can that still think they have a just cause. Those people would never change their mind and cannot be allowed to endanger others with their stupidity.”

“General Tullius will be relieved. He thought it would take years to eradicate the rebels.”

“For years or even decades to come, there will still be clandestine meetings of Stormcloaks who think they can achieve what Ulfric failed to do. As long as they don’t pass their idiocy onto new generations, they will die out.”

“Is it true you fly around on the back of dragons?”

“Occasionally. Any future adversary will have to contend with several scaly allies of mine, including Legionnaire Nafaalilargus, who fought for Tiber Septim and is the dragon of the Imperial insignia.”

“He is that huge red dragon often seen over Solitude.”

“That’s him. He has proven invaluable and has helped many mortal heroes over thousands of years. He helped the Khajiiti repel a dragon invasion of Elsweyr.”

“Speaking of Khajiiti, how is Baa’Ren-Dar?”

“I have not met him since Rigmor crossed the border. However, he does visit her in Bruma and assists where he can. We all owe Baa’Ren-Dar a great debt, but few will ever know that fact.”

“Were all the items in The Dragonborn Gallery recovered by you?”

“No, we have scholars and archaeologists working all over Nirn. They provided some of the exhibits. We also have a reciprocal deal with The College of Winterhold and lend artefacts to them for study, and in exchange, they lend items for display.”

“I cannot express how relieved I was when Ragnar’s name was cleared by His Imperial Majesty.”

“As was Rigmor and Sigunn. Anyway, Casius, I have things that need my attention. It has been a pleasure catching up with you. I wish you all the best with your new career. Blessings of The Divine on you and your crew.”

“The pleasure is mutual, Wulf. Give Rigmor my regards. Oh, also say hello to Felix for me.”

“I will. Now, don’t be startled and fall in the water!”

“Ahh, your vanishing trick. I have heard about….”

I teleported into Dragonborn Gallery and hunted down Auryen.

“Ahh, Guild Master, have you read the information on Miraak?”

“No, Auryen. I was busy fighting the civil war we won a few hours ago.”

“I assume it ended as predicted.”

“Yes, I killed Ulfric, and we captured Windhelm.”

Just then, the many bells of Solitude started pealing in a chorus of celebration.

I continued, “Solstheim is my next task. I have no idea how long that will take to sort out.”

“Now that the war is over, Jarl Elisif will want to have an official opening ceremony.”

“Yes, and I will most likely be in Solstheim. This museum is not to glorify me but educate others, so my absence should not be important.”

“I know you are visiting Solstheim for something more crucial than this museum, but….”

“But you were wondering if I would investigate some dangerous ruins and tombs for relics hinted at in dusty books and scrolls.”

“And?”

“I would love to. By the way, I have a swag of items for you to sort through. I will get them dumped onto your table.”

“We do not dump precious relics, or suspected precious relics, anywhere.”

“Okay them. I will have the items placed haphazardly on your desk with little forethought or planning.”

“That is dumping.”

“It is? Wow, you do learn something new every day!”

I teleported to Mother’s shrine.

I sat in contemplation and watched the sunset and the moons rise over nearby mountains.

The stars spoke, but I was yet to learn their language.

Hours of silence were ended by a familiar voice which said, “She is beautiful, and that is an excellent and accurate depiction of your mother.”

I stood and turned, and Silah was in her spirit form.

“I avoided this place, Silah, as I knew it would antagonise this hollow feeling like a hole in my soul. I am sure Father and you miss her as well.”

“The Divines have decided you need some information to help you cope with your mother’s absence. Lord Talos asked me to talk to you as he knows if you start asking questions, he may not have the will to resist answering them with the facts. Therefore, I ask you, Wulf Septim, to listen to what I say and be mindful that I will not divulge some things. We are gambling that the information will help you cope and not worsen things.”

“The Divines guess once more! Most mortals would be terrified if they knew their gods often guessed and were not omnipotent.”

“Will you be a good boy and let me say what is needed without interruption?”

“Yes, Auntie Silah.”

“Your mother is battling Molag Bal. Not with weapons, as she has no martial skills, but in a battle of wills. Molag Bal has yet another plan to allow his entry into Mundus. He often has parallel plans. He was close to breaking through The Liminal Barrier in the past, but we don’t know how close he is this time. All we know is that Alessia is not guaranteed to win. That is all that I am permitted to tell you.”

“The Nine must know I will deduce much from what you said. The Divines cannot see into Oblivion. Therefore some of what Molag Bal is doing is occurring outside of Oblivion. Mother can’t enter Oblivion, and Molag Bal can’t enter Aetherius. That means this battle of wills must be occurring in Mundus, the mortal plane, or a pocket plane of some description. Lifeforce drives willpower. It would slowly drain but what the Lifeforce energy would be converted into is unknowable from what you told me. For instance, some artefacts drain the Lifeforce from Soul Gems to power dweomer. The Dwemer used Lifeforce to power their automatons. I could only speculate on what, if anything, the Lifeforce is converted into. I know that if Mother’s Lifeforce is completely drained, she will die. Mother’s will is strong, as shown by her determination to win freedom from the Ayleid.”

“I can’t tell you more, Wulf, except to say the battle has been fought for four years, which is a tiny fraction of time to a god, Daedra or Aedra. We have no idea how long this battle will last, but we doubt Molag Bal plans to wait forever to finalise his plans. We don’t think Alessia can stop him, just delay him.”

“Four years is nothing to a god but is not insubstantial to a mortal or to a Divine who misses their beloved.”

“Wulf, would you do me a favour?”

“You can always ask.”

“Share some memories of your mother with me. We can link minds, and as you remember, I will see your memories.”

“Yes, I have practised doing that with the Psijics. Do you think we can achieve and maintain the connection while we are flying?”

“Yes, as it is similar to how you would tell me where to ethereal travel if I haven’t been there before. I promise not to run into a mountain or dive into the ground while sharing a memory.”

“It is better than staring at Mother’s statue and moping.”

“Climb aboard, and ignore the storm we will fly into.”

“Ahh, lightning won’t hit you, will it?”

“No, it won’t.”

“Okay then, let’s go!”

“Where to?”

“You decide.”

Silah changed into her dragon form and I clambered aboard

Silah leapt into the air. She then did a vertical climb at incredible speed.

Silah levelled out, and we flew into a thunderstorm. Night-Vision let me see what we flew over.

Silah talked to me telepathically, “Okay, Wulf. Put that Psijic training to use. Remember something about Alessia and share it with me.”

“Mother is a keen Alchemist. She told me there was so much to be discovered as only a fraction of Nirn’s viable reagents have had their four possible effects tested and characterised. She would have many reagents delivered by different people, most of whom were eccentric, to use a polite term for bonkers. Other reagents we would gather together, often starting in the morning and walking for many miles before returning at night.

Mother would quiz me on the reagents we saw or gathered. For instance, when we gathered some Blood Wort, she asked, ‘Valdr, what is the special property of Blood Wort?’

I replied, ‘It can be used for general healing but is especially effective against blood diseases. The Nede used it as a reagent in a potion to cure Sanguinare Vampiris.’

‘Very good. And where can Blood Wort be found?’

‘Umm, oh, I remember. It is common on the islands of Roscrea. It is rare in Tamriel but be can found in quantity deep within The Great Forest of Cyrodiil.’

‘What other reagents have healing properties?’

‘Ahh, Blisterwort, Blue Dartwing, Blue Mountain Flower, Butterfly Wing, Charred Skeever Hide, Daedra Heart, Eye of Sabre Cat, Imp Stool, Swamp Fungal Pod, Wheat.’

“That is well done, but you forgot one. Rock Warbler Eggs are another reagent with healing properties.’

Mother then placed a couple of Blood Wort flowers in my basket, ruffled my messy hair, and asked, ‘Valdr, do you think you can find some Mora Tapinella for me?’

‘Easy peasy!’

Mother laughed as we went searching for the elusive mushroom.”

Silah said, “That is a wonderful memory, and I love the shiny green dress Alessia was wearing.”

“Mother hardly ever dressed in finery. It was odd she chose that dress to wear for traipsing through the forest.”

“Wait, Wulf, before sharing your next memory. I want to give you a new one!”

Silah headed for a waterfall and then dived vertically.

Just before crashing into the rocks below, she deftly reversed direction, and we flew vertically upwards so close to the waterfall that spray covered us. We both laughed, and our bond was strong as we shared parts of our minds.

Silah returned to level flight and said, “Next memory, young Valdr.”

“As I said, Mother would have reagents delivered to our tiny hut by all sorts of exotic people. Mother and Father never conducted business in public, mainly because they would be speaking different languages and wanted to avoid questions from curious locals. The reagent merchants would arrive by ship at Sonje, and somehow, my parents knew beforehand. We would already be waiting at the Sonje docks for them to moor and then escort them to our hut.

On one such occasion, Mother stayed home while Father and I went to Sonje to escort a reagent merchant. It was an important day for me as I met Khajiiti for the first time. The reagent merchant was an elderly mage called Ko’zita, and she was of Suthay Furstock. Her guard was of Cathay-Raht Furstock, and his name was Do’med. The ‘Do’ honorific signified that he was considered a great warrior. He towered over Father and wore grey banded armour of the type favoured by Bosmer. Their pack animal was an antelope called Naashi. I had never seen an antelope before but knew what he was from an illustrated book.

Ko’zita knelt to talk to me. I found it strange that on a cold dock in Sonje, a person I had just met asked questions about metaphysics, alchemy and other obscure topics. After ten minutes of the strange questions, she said to Father, ‘He has more Magicka stored than I have ever sensed in a mortal and a quick mind. I am positive The Council would look upon your request favourably, Hjalti.’

Naashi had a saddle, and I was allowed to ride him halfway to our hut. Then Ko’zita asked for mercy on behalf of her old paws and legs. I politely agreed. However, when Do’med saw the disappointment on my face as I dismounted, he lifted me onto his shoulders, and I felt I could touch the sky. I thought the Khajiiti to be the best people on Nirn!

When we arrived at our humble home, Mother invited Ko’zita inside. Father spoke to Do’med about the best hunting grounds and other boring stuff. I stood with Naashi and petted him for almost an hour before Ko’zita left our hut with Mother.

When Ko’zita and Mother exited the hut, they came over to Naashi. Ko’zita handed Mother the entire stock of reagents in Naashi’s saddlebags. Father and I then escorted the Khajiiti back to the docks, but I walked the entire distance this time. Two trips to Sonje meant Father, and I walked over forty miles to and from the docks that day.

I was exhausted by the time we arrived back home. I ate my supper and crawled into bed. Every night Mother or Father would read a folk tale to me, but that night I was asleep as soon as my head touched my pillow.”

“That was another lovely memory. Did you ever see Ko’zita or Do’med again?”

“Yes, Ko’zita was one of the Psijic who trained me in Akavir. Do’med was always by her side.”

“Ko’zita wore Psijic robes when you met her but of a darker colour than usual.”

“I found out later that was to mark her as a member of the Psijic Order’s ruling council.”

A few minutes later, Silah said, “We are about to fly over High Hrothgar.”

“Can you poop on Arngeir if he is outside?”

Silah laughed and then asked for another memory.

“The morning after Ko’zita’s visit, Mother was keen to experiment with the exotic reagents she had purchased. As we experimented and found the four qualities of each reagent, I would write notes in my book.

I spent many hours beside Mother at the Alchemy Lab. It was not unusual for Mother to quickly concoct potions, poultices and ointments for specific purposes and give them, free of charge, to Sonje residents. The residents would be curious as to how Mother knew they needed the item when they just discovered the need not long before. I knew the purpose of most items Mother made. However, there were some things Mother said I was too young to understand their intended purpose. Later, I discovered they were to aid impotence or act as aphrodisiacs. Then it clicked why some recipients of Mother’s gifts were grateful but also tremendously embarrassed. Mother always presented items to the embarrassed residents as gifts from Lady Mara or Lady Dibella.”

“Alessia and your father often practised charity, didn’t they?”

“Yes, and I could see the relief on people’s faces from simple acts of charity. One visit comes to mind. A sailor’s wife, Sibulf Night-Fire, was widowed when her husband was swept overboard during a storm. Mother, Father, Meeko and I delivered her baskets of fruit, vegetables, bread and cured meats. Sibulf sobbed while smiling. Mother and Father taught by deed, not rote. The positive impact of that simple act of charity and others made me determined to help others similarly. That drove my desire to become wealthy.

When heading home, Meeko and I raced ahead full of life and wonder and love for all the people of Sonje.”

“Meeko looked like a large, grey hound then.”

“Yes, he very occasionally changes his appearance. Meeko knows I prefer his current aspect.”

We were following a river when another memory came to the fore, but I was confused.

Silah asked, “I sense your confusion and trepidation. What is bothering you, Wulf?”

“Every day, I would head to a particular overhang near the shore and check if The Dragonguard had arrived. Each time I left the hut, I would look at mother, thinking it may be the last time I see her in mortal form, or any form, for some time. Mother knew I was going to Akavir and had come to terms with it. She never made a fuss when I was leaving as the chances were, that was not the day I would head for Akavir.

I remember looking back at Mother, nonchalantly sweeping recalcitrant dust bunnies from our hut. I was worried as I walked to the lookout but couldn’t understand why. When The Dragonguard ship was there, I thought I had the answer to that worry. I thought I had one of my premonitions and knew this was the day I was leaving the island.

But now I know why I was worried, Silah. At the time, I did not see the illusion. Now I do, and you can see it as well.”

“Yes, I can see your memory and why you are concerned. It wasn’t an illusion, but it shouldn’t have been possible.”

“If it wasn’t an illusion, explain why Mother looked so much older that day.”

“I can’t, Wulf.”

“Can’t or won’t?”

“I am sorry, Wulf, but I cannot speak about what your memory shows you.”

“You came to relieve my worry by providing parts of an answer. Now I have another addition to the puzzle, but I will not spend time trying to figure it out. Like Mother’s reluctance to tell young Valdr the purpose of aphrodisiacs and other alchemy items, I am not ready for the answer. One day I will know why she looked so old when she is a god and hasn’t aged a day since her death and ascension.”

“You are wrong, Wulf. It is not a matter of whether you are ready or not. It is a matter of timing. I know why Alessia looked like that, just not why you saw her that way. You have left me with a mystery that will plague me, so we are even on that score.”

“I hope that one day I will see Mother again. I will not lessen that hope by imagining scenarios that might have nothing to do with reality. So, Silah, you can get grey hairs or scales in your case, worrying over another Wulf oddity. Meanwhile, I will keep my hope alive and healthy.”

“Do you wish to keep flying?”

“No, Silah, give me a moment, and I will tell you where I need to go.”

“Oh, say hello to Rigmor for me.”

I severed my connection to Silah and held my Talos amulet out of habit.

“My beloved, can you talk?”

“I have been waiting in my apartment anxious to hear from you, Wulf.”

“Sorry, I should have contacted you hours ago. I need to be with you, Rigmor.”

“Ending the Civil War has started your mind ticking over and worrying about what comes next. Am I correct?”

“Yes.”

“I thought that might happen, so I arranged with Cerys to be left alone. Nobody comes knocking on my apartment door except her.”

“Then I shall soon summon you to Breezehome.”

“One day, we shall share a home, my beautiful Dragonborn. Our home.”

“With a wheat field, balcony and river nearby.”

“We have the dog, or should I say something that looks like a dog. However, we might have to work on getting the little girl.”

“We could always kidnap one.”

“Wulf!”

“I will see you soon.”

I said to Silah, “Whiterun, please.”

Silah roared, and we sped towards my favourite city in Skyrim.

4 thoughts on “HOLLOW VICTORY

  1. Defeating Ulfric was the easy part. Just as Silah and Wulf discussed his mother, you created a way of bringing up memories of my childhood and my mother. Thank You Mark

  2. Wulf was a little more human and not just killing machine. I sort of miss the family he had around him in the older journals. It was like a more innocent time if you know what I mean. Thanks Mark.

  3. Well Mark I finally did it. My GTX 1070 was running out of puff and was refusing to run at 4k, as you suggested I’ve been checking out the RTX 30 series of cards. A MSI 3090 gaming trio x caught my eye so I bought it. Now that should keep me going for quite a few years. I used to love Wulf’s interactions with his wards, specially the prank wars era. That was funny even when he was dropped on his head as a baby and that story is still going on, I love your writting Mark, thank you.

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