Midas, 10th Hearthfire, 4E 201
& Turdas, 11th Hearthfire, 4E 201
I let Rigmor sleep as long as needed and did not leave her side. When she woke at 10:30 AM, she saw me lying beside her and rewarded me with a smile.
It didn’t take long to recruit Olette, who took Rigmor to one of the bathing rooms with showers as my beloved wanted to try one. Rigmor also wanted to wear the first suit of armour that I had prepared for her but couldn’t decide between two wigs. So, she wore one, and I stored the other in my Journal Case.
We had just finished our lunch when Vayu visited us.
“A palace guard delivered this letter to Auryen while I visited him. The guard doesn’t know what is in the letter but said Falk Firebeard is pacing back and forth while chewing his fingernails.”
I read the letter aloud,
When you investigated Wolfskull Cave’s events and interrupted the binding ritual, you warned us that Potema’s spirit was free to roam and that she would seek a corporeal return.
Evidence suggests this is occurring under the holiest of places in Solitude.
Her name instils fear in everybody who has read the histories of The Empire and this great city.
I humbly ask that you return to Solitude to help us once more.
Jarl Elisif of Haafingar.”
- Rigmor: Do you mean the evil, black-hearted usurper? That Queen Potema?
- Wulf: Yes, that Queen Potema. Some necromancers summoned her spirit and tried to bind it. I killed them, but Potema’s spirit fled. She would have had a plan for such a thing, and it was only a matter of time before she showed herself.
- Vayu: I spoke to Auryen about The New Order and Miraak just before the messenger arrived.
- Wulf: Do you know what happened?
- Vayu: Yes, I visited Jarl Elisif and Falk. They told me a wall underneath The Temple of The Divines leading to the catacombs was breached. A vampire entered the temple and boasted of how its mistress, Potema, would make many people pay for her defeat and time in The Void and would soon be Empress.
- Wulf: What did Priestess Freir do?
- Vayu: Priestess Freir and Priest Rorlund kept the vampire busy while Priestess Silana ran to get help. By the time guards arrived the vampire had retreated into the catacombs.
- Wulf: Is the orphanage safe?
- Vayu: The breach is near, so the children will stay in The Blue Palace until the problem is resolved.
- Wulf: When did this happen?
- Vayu: Early this morning.
- Wulf: They have set the trap. I am happy to walk into it.
- Rigmor: Huh?
- Wulf: Potema is an excellent tactician. She would not prematurely announce her return unless there was a motivating factor.
- Vayu: Potema may have recognised Wulf’s power when he stopped her binding. Even if she didn’t, he proved to be a capable mortal. Potema will want him in her undead army.
- Rigmor: You will confront her, suspecting that is her plan.
- Wulf: Yes. Potema will be confident of her power.
- Vayu: Potema will think she has outsmarted Wulf.
- Wulf: Potema’s overconfidence will be her undoing.
- Rigmor: Well, you aren’t going to face her without me!
- Wulf: I wouldn’t dare think of doing so.
- Vayu: Myself, Seiko, Ishen and Taku are about to replace Celestine and her squad at Angi’s. There are no messages from there.
- Wulf: Emissary Baa’Ren-Dar is probably getting dizzy from zapping all over the place.
- Rigmor: Wulf thinks Baa’Ren uses portals and those other thingies.
- Wulf: Waystones.
- Rigmor: Yeah, those things.
- Vayu: Celestine said Baa’Ren is very well respected by everybody but The Thalmor.
- Wulf: Even if Baa’Ren had not rescued Rigmor, he would have been considered a threat. All competent politicians are threats to The Thalmor. I also suspect he helps finance some rebels.
- Rigmor: What?
- Wulf: It is just a hunch, Rigmor. I don’t think Baa’Ren will sit idle while The Dominion suppresses his people and religion.
- Rigmor: True. Baa’Ren can be a bit wishy-washy when I ask him about his latest trip.
- Vayu: Wishy-washy? It seems Rigmor has as many weird sayings as the barbarian from Roscrea.
- Rigmor: Careful, Vayu or I will kick you in the cobblers or whatever weird word you use.
- Vayu: Auryen is waiting on a book to arrive that mentions Miraak. He said your best source of information would be The Skaal because their Oral History dates back to before The Dragon War. Auryen knows nothing about The New Order and has deliberately distanced himself from Dominion Politics. He was amused when I showed him the Thalmor Dossiers.
- Wulf: The Thalmor think they can dictate what we display in the museum.
- Rigmor: Idiots.
- Vayu: It would not be healthy for them if they tried.
- Wulf: Thank you, Vayu. Rigmor and I will investigate first and summon a squad if needed.
- Rigmor: I am sure Celestine and her squad will head straight for one of the spas when they arrive in Aurane!
- Vayu: There is no doubt of that, Lady Ragnarsdottier.
- Rigmor: I am not a lady!
- Vayu: Your father earned his knighthood, and I doubt His Imperial Majesty knew what would happen to your family. He was most likely lied to as your father was.
- Rigmor: Are you sure? Do you know Mede?
- Vayu: Celestine vouches for him, which is good enough for me.
- Rigmor: Yes, of course. Wulf would never question my judgement.
Vayu looked at me with one eyebrow raised and a grin. Rigmor stared at me with murder in her eyes.
I coughed and said, “I would never question your judgement. Nope. Never!”
Vayu laughed as he left the room.
I told Rigmor, “We want to avoid New Order snitches, so we shall teleport into The Blue Palace.”
When we appeared out of the ether, I immediately noticed extra guards.
Justiciar Thaarm didn’t say a word as we passed each other.
I approached Elisif, and she smiled warmly at me. I bowed.
- Wulf: Good afternoon, my Jarl. I am here on several matters. How did Solitude fare after the dragon attack?
- Elisif: I was told how they targeted you, so you stayed near Castle Dour. Your friends were spread all over the city. I have heard countless tales of heroism, and many citizens have asked me to thank all of you. The damage was minimal, and although shocked at the number of deaths, I know they are a small percentage of what could have been.
- Wulf: The people of Solitude did as instructed with minimal panic. That made our task that much easier.
- Elisif: I look forward to reading how Alduin was defeated.
I stepped close to Elisif and whispered, “While in Sovngarde, I met the spirit of High King Torygg.”
I continued, “If you allow me, I can share that meeting with you.”
“Just relax, and you will see and hear what I did. It is called an Empathetic Link.”
The look of wonder on Elisif’s face told me the link was successful, and she saw me approach her beloved husband. She also glimpsed Sovngarde, a rarity for one still living.
I walked up and gave a deep bow.
“High King Torygg, it is an honour to meet you.”
“When Ulfric Stormcloak, with savage Shout, sent me here, my sole regret was fair Elisif, left forlorn and weeping.”
“I will avenge you. Jarl Elisif, soon to be High Queen Elisif, will find solace in that.”
“I faced Ulfric fearlessly – my fate inescapable, yet my honour is unstained – can Ulfric say the same?”
“No, he cannot! His infamy will haunt his eternal soul. I hope self-loathing accompanies it. Why are you not safe within The Hall of Valour?”
“Before these mists arrived, I was content with the peace of this land. The boasting of battles past and endless drinking of mead hold no interest. Now I hide from The World-Eater, and regret my deliberate delay.”
“We shall soon remove The World-Eater. Then you may enter the Hall of Valour and ask Lord Shor to be sent to Aetherius. Those you loved who died before you wait amongst the stars, where that love holds more importance than boasting and drinking.”
“Fair Elisif could never join me here, and I take solace in your wise words. Clear the mists, and I shall do as advised.”
I bowed to the murdered king once more, and we moved on.
Elisif’s smile returned.
- Elisif: You are full of surprises, Lord Welkynd. I cannot express my joy and sorrow at seeing and hearing from my husband again. I will let the joy take precedence now, for it is a beautiful gift you gave me.
- Wulf: It is a small thing to do for you, my Jarl.
- Elisif: His manner of speech was archaic!
- Wulf: Everybody I spoke to in Sovngarde, even battle-hardened Stormcloaks, spoke in such a manner. It must have something to do with how Lord Shor has designed it, for I have not encountered it in other realms.
- Elisif: Torygg could have become a victim of Alduin due to his reluctance to enter The Hall of Valour.
- Wulf: But he wasn’t a victim, so do not dwell on such an outcome.
- Elisif: Is there something else?
- Wulf: I noticed many Legionnaires masquerading as palace guards. Their stance is slightly different, and they have standard legion swords.
- Elisif: They received orders from General Tullius without knowing why they were needed. When I summoned him, he said he had to increase his entourage of guards as per orders from His Imperial Majesty with no explanation.
- Wulf: They are trying to maintain an illusion of normalcy. But I think our new enemies will soon realise we know of their plans.
- Elisif: New enemies?
- Wulf: A breakaway group of Thalmor called The New Order is planning to invade The Empire. Part of their planning involves the assassination of you, General Tullius and one other.
- Elisif: Why?
- Wulf: They want to make it seem like Ulfric ordered the executions. They want to force His Imperial Majesty’s hand and hope that would leave Cyrodiil vulnerable.
- Elisif: Even if His Imperial Majesty thought Ulfric was the instigator, he would only send a small percentage of available troops to squash The Stormcloaks.
- Wulf: Everybody seems to know that. But still, The New Order may invade.
- Elisif: There is no way that The Dominion doesn’t know of this!
- Wulf: Plausible Deniability.
- Elisif: They must think we are ignorant of political games. You said there was another target.
- Wulf: Have you seen the wanted posters for Rigmor of Bruma?
- Elisif: I had them all torn down. But I am curious why they have put such a price on her head.
- Rigmor: Because I frighten them, Jarl Elisif. I am Rigmor Ragnarsdottier, the proud daughter of a hero. The Thalmor killed my father out of fear and enslaved my mother and me. Wulf is now my Guardian, and we will make them regret all they have done.
- Elisif: I believe you, Rigmor. Even when she wears such fine armour, I can tell a skilled Nord Swordmaiden. I would be frightened of you if I were a member of The New Order.
- Wulf: Fortunately, your court is quiet today, and we can speak of such things.
- Elisif: But we must be careful who we discuss this with.
- Wulf: Exactly. Now, onto Potema.
- Elisif: Lord Welkynd, can you see how anxious Falk is about Potema?
- Falk: We should all be anxious, my Jarl.
- Wulf: Potema is nowhere near the most potent enemy I have faced or will face in the future. However, she is evil beyond measure. Her desire to one day be Empress motivated her in life, and I still believe it motivates her in death. She will seek revenge on those she thinks thwarted her if she cannot achieve that. Since they are long dead, their relatives will be her target.
- Falk: Styrr says she’s still in spirit form, or we would be dead already!
- Wulf: I am yet to meet Priest Styrr, but that is a gross exaggeration!
- Elisif: You don’t think there is much to fear about a flesh-and-blood Potema?
- Wulf: She did not use necromancy until after her son was killed and she had lost The War of the Red Diamond. Her command of politics and the ability to recruit others to her banner caused the strife, not her Magicka. She was no different than Ulfric in that regard. She turned to the Dark Arts after retreating to Solitude. Her time in The Void will not have made her more formidable than she was. She is no match for the power of The Divines wielded by me. She is no Alduin. She is no Daedric Prince.
- Falk: What happened to Empress Kintyra II and her army does not support your words!
- Wulf: On which version of the story do you base that accusation, Falk? I can produce several histories of what happened to the Empress that differ significantly, and I am sure each author was convinced they wrote the truth. Empress Kintyra’s army was slaughtered by mortals using superior tactics and subterfuge. Potema inspired her troops to the extent they did the impossible and defeated an Argonian army in a swamp! But mortals wielding swords, bows, and common spells defeated her and her army. Her son, Emperor Uriel Septim III, was burnt alive after being captured in battle. An enraged mob of civilians weary of his type of rule were not content to merely jail the man, and so they lynched him. It is a pity as he was a fine young man till the crown was placed on his head. Potema demonstrated no great supernatural powers on the battlefield, but her skills as a tactician were admirable. She only resorted to Daedra, Draugr and undead troops when defending Solitude. I deal in reality, Falk, not superstition and fireside gossip. Her ‘resurrection’ is common amongst powerful necromancers. She will likely be a Lich like Mannimarco but with a tiny fraction of his power.
- Elisif: Falk, I, too, have read varying accounts of Empress Kintyra’s demise. Like many historical events, what occurred is unknown but hopefully not unknowable.
- Wulf: I know the truth, for I have discussed this with Lord Talos.
- Falk: Then what danger do you think she poses, Lord Welkynd?
- Wulf: Her power lies not in her necromancy but in her blood. We are ruled by an Emperor with no heir after his daughter and wife were lost at sea. Before that, he lost one son in battle and another in a tournament. A corporeal Potema could make a legitimate claim for The Ruby Throne as the last of the Septim bloodline. She carries Saint Alessia’s blood. That fact alone would garner her enough support and armies to make any opposition to her claim a catalyst for war. A devastating conflict such as Tamriel has not seen since she last fought for the crown would result. That is the danger she poses!
- Elisif: You are certain her politics, not the dark arts, are the threat?
- Wulf: That is my belief. But I am speculating on her strength. Potema will not be a King of the Worms, but she may still have an undead army. Solitude’s Guards and Legionnaires would soon be overwhelmed if an undead army emerged from the basements and drains connected to the underground catacombs. If you have not informed General Tullius of this threat, I strongly suggest you do so.
- Elisif: You seem in no hurry to confront her.
- Wulf: She has been waiting for me, I am sure. I don’t think it was an accident that her place of resurrection had been discovered.
- Falk: Why do you say that?
- Wulf: Instinct combined with logic and gut feeling. She took a good look at me as she fled Wolfskull Cave. She may have recognised my powers and now wants me as an ally, dead or alive.
- Elisif: This could be a trap.
- Wulf: More than likely, it is. However, even if she managed to defeat me and my allies, she could never make me undead. Lord Arkay protects my soul. The possibility of a war that kills many innocents concerns me far more than my danger.
- Elisif: We guard the orphaned children until Potema’s threat is removed.
- Wulf: Then, by your leave, my Jarl, I will speak to Priest Styrr.
- Elisif: It would be redundant of me to ask that you be careful, would it not?
- Wulf: Concern shown by friends will never be superfluous, my Jarl.
As we exited, I once again noticed the increased guard numbers. Any New Order snitch could not help noticing them as well.
When we exited The Blue Palace, Rigmor asked, “How could they add extra protection and other people not notice?”
“They couldn’t, and it is redundant anyway. We took the map and other information from Fort Black, so The New Order must realise we know their plans.”
“They will still try, won’t they?”
“They have something else to bolster their chances. Something that we don’t know about yet.”
“Let’s hope we find out what that ‘something’ is before long.”
As we walked past my museum, Rigmor said, “I want to see inside and expect a guided tour from my batman.”
“Yes, Lady Ivanitchy Ramsbottom. When we get the chance, this humble servant will give you a guided tour.”
“Yes, of course your will, for I have commanded it!”
“Careful. If you sound too much like a Daedric Prince, a Vigilant of Stendarr might poke their tongue out at you.”
As per usual, many children ran through the streets of Solitude. Their laughter is a balm for any sorrow.
We entered The Hall of the Dead, and Father Styrr stood with his hands on hips. He was wearing Robes of The Divines and stared at us as we approached.
- Styrr: Thane Welkynd, is it? Falk said that you might help with the danger we face.
- Wulf: Thane is one title. I am Lord Welkynd, Dragonborn and Champion of The Divines.
- Styrr: Of course, you are discussed often with my colleagues in The Temple of The Divines.
- Wulf: Let us discuss Potema.
- Styrr: Ah, Potema. The former queen of Solitude and one of the most dangerous necromancers of recorded history. She was responsible for The Empire’s near-collapse almost five hundred years ago. I believe I have a book about her…
- Wulf: I have read extensive volumes on the Wolf Queen. Necromancy did not almost cause the collapse of The Empire, as some books suggest. Politics did! Necromancy let her retain power in Solitude for longer than sheer military power could do but was not used in The War of the Red Diamond.
- Styrr: Potema is still in spirit form. She will need help before she can return to the living.
- Wulf: She needs more than ordinary mortals. She wants either my soul or to make me an undead soldier, even her general maybe. Potema recognised my strength when I stopped her spirit from being bound. She might not know what I am, but she would have marked me as a person of interest.
- Styrr: Is it wise then that you confront her?
- Wulf: The Divines sent me to Nirn to do more than deal with Alduin. She is powerful, but I do not think she can harm me.
- Styrr: Potema is a curious figure. She was unrepentantly evil and nasty but also astonishingly brilliant. She was quite a necromancer at her end. Despite her machinations, she was always close to being Empress, but the position was never hers. Ironically, if she were alive today, she’d be the only living member of the Septim bloodline. By all rights, she would now be Empress.
- Wulf: No, Styrr, Emperor Mede II is the rightful Emperor. As I explained to Jarl Elisif and Falk Firebeard, his Imperial Highness’ demise could lead to war. Potema would attract those who have issues with Titus Mede II, plus those who revere the Septim bloodline. She could gather an army and wait until he dies or hasten his demise. Then if she made a legitimate but unwanted claim for the throne, a long and bloody war might result. I doubt she has returned merely to wreak vengeance on people long dead.
- Styrr: Yes, you are right. Despite her Septim blood, she would be regarded as a usurper if she claimed the throne while our Emperor lived.
- Wulf: She is not the only Septim alive, Priest Styrr. I know of a person closer in bloodline to Tiber Septim than Potema. He would be more legitimate than she if he claimed The Ruby Throne.
- Styrr: How can that be? He would have to be older than Potema. Is he undead as well?
- Wulf: Anybody who can prove their lineage to Tiber Septim and not his brother would have more rights to the crown than Potema. He is in his early twenties and can prove his lineage.
- Styrr: Does he desire the throne?
- Wulf: No, which is why those who know of his secret keep it. But he would step up against Potema.
- Styrr: That is understandable.
- Wulf: This is a trap. Father Styrr. One that I will walk into with confidence.
- Styrr: You seem to know how this will play out.
- Wulf: Those who I oppose never consider it possible that they may be wrong or are outclassed. That makes my victories easier to achieve. Overconfidence and arrogance are faults I also possess. They must be balanced with the need to act swiftly on occasion. I can’t afford to doubt myself.
- Styrr: Do you understand where to go?
- Wulf: I will use the ‘accidental’ entrance made by the vampire into the catacombs. I assume I must hand you Potema’s remains so you may sanctify them?
- Styrr: Yes, we must prevent any future resurrection.
- Wulf: So as long as you perform Arkay’s sanctification on any part of her corpse, that will be enough?
- Styrr: Yes.
- Wulf: They must have had some part of her corpse to summon her.
- Styrr: There is no record of what happened to her remains after the Blue Palace siege. It was likely divided and then scattered by devotees so they could summon her later.
- Wulf: They were not friends of Potema in that cave. They tried to bind her and may have succeeded if we had not intervened.
- Styrr: I am sure she will sincerely thank you for that service.
- Rigmor: Yes, by turning him into an undead Dragonborn!
- Wulf: There are undead Dov. My soul is no more resistant to necromancy than yours, except Lord Arkay has blessed mine while I live, so I cannot be made undead.
- Rigmor: How long have you tended this Hall of the Dead?
- Styrr: All my life. I practically grew up in the Hall. My mother and father were the priest and priestess of Arkay before me, you see. I believe I was put here to protect this place from the darkness that pervades Solitude.
- Rigmor: And what darkness would that be?
- Styrr: This city has a long history of madness and murder. The Wolf Queen… Pelagius… The death of High King Torygg… And now, public executions. My books tell the stories. Have no doubt – as pretty as its streets are, as jovial as the bards may be… darkness is drawn to Solitude.
- Wulf: No disrespect intended, but you mistakenly think Solitude is unique. The mortals of this world carry evil. Where mortals congregate in large numbers, iniquity will be found. It is just as valid to say goodness is drawn to Solitude. Your service is invaluable to this city, and your colleagues in other cities feel the same about their service to their cities. Do not think I am trying to diminish your role or effort, but becoming ignorant of the larger truths is common.
- Styrr: It is true that I only know the stories of Solitude. On the other hand, I suspect you have learned about the evil lurking elsewhere by encountering it.
- Wulf: I have also encountered a vastly superior number of good people on Nirn. A significant majority of mortals are not evil! We who deal with evil must remember that fact. Another fact about Potema makes the stories of her powers exaggerated.
- Rigmor: I think I know from listening to you discuss her today. You have not suggested Potema co-operated with a Daedric Prince.
- Wulf: Precisely. There is no evidence of Potema making deals with a Dark Lord for knowledge and power. She proves that great evil does not need a god to create it but merely mortal free will and ambition. You needn’t be aligned with a Daedric Prince to summon Daedra. I can do it and often do it when in combat. Many histories mention she had Draugr fighting on her behalf. That does indicate the tremendous skill she had in necromancy. I have not read of anybody else accomplishing that feat.
- Styrr: It is embarrassing that a much younger man shows more wisdom than I do.
- Wulf: Please, Priest Styrr, never feel like that! We both do what The Divines require of us. You learn quickly or die when you deal with evil in all its forms. You have learned what you need to protect the souls of Solitude. I have learned what I need to protect the souls of Nirn.
- Styrr: Here is the key you will need to enter the catacombs. May Arkay watch over you as you confront this particular evil.
- Wulf: The Nine are with me at all times. Of that, I have no doubt. But they can do little when I am on Nirn, and they are in Aetherius.
- Rigmor: Are we going in alone?
- Wulf: No, I will summon a squad.
Styrr gasped and muttered a prayer when I summoned my friends.
I explained the situation to Valdimar, Rayya, Gregor, and Kogo.
We then made our way to The Temple of The Divines and entered.
- Freir: It is no surprise to see The Champion of The Divines in this hour of need. I do not doubt the palace, or Styrr asked for your assistance.
- Wulf: They did.
- Freir: Then I assume the danger must be as great as Styrr indicated.
- Wulf: In a way. You must realise much of Potema’s reputation is exaggerated. Not how evil she was but what she could achieve with her necromancy.
- Freir: Silana advised the same thing. Priests and Priestesses can learn from their acolytes if they only listen.
- Wulf: Priestess, I am impressed you and your husband faced a vampire and managed to contain it till help arrived.
- Freir: When faced with such malevolence, you realise your faith in The Divines is a powerful weapon.
- Wulf: We will head for the catacombs now. The Divines bless you and all who come to worship in this holy place.
- Freir: Divines bless you all, including you, Rigmor Ragnarsdottier.
- Rigmor: You know who I am?
- Freir: Lady Mara had a lot to say about you, Rigmor. She asked me to pass on a message.
- Rigmor: Which is?
- Freir: Love is the most potent force known to mortals and gods. What you and Wulf share is unbreakable, and nothing can withstand it.
- Rigmor: Wulf may be used to gods discussing him, but I find such a message disturbing in its implication.
- Freir: I think you will find it is not just The Nine who show interest in you and Wulf, Rigmor.
- Rigmor: That is even more disturbing!
As we walked, I contemplated Lady Mara’s message. It would not have been given to Freir to pass on to Rigmor if it was unimportant. Instinct told me the message was for both of us.
The door to the orphanage was closed and locked.
The gate to the catacombs was to the left of the orphanage. The key given to me by Styrr unlocked it.
Breaching the wall would not have been noiseless. However, many odd sounds come from the catacombs, so I can’t blame others for not investigating.
Like the Pelagius Wing in The Blue Palace, the part of Solitude we now travelled showed signs of being carefully evacuated. Furniture was neatly stacked, and only cobwebs and dust provided clues about how long it had been since living mortals walked the halls.
There were also signs of the damage inflicted by siege warfare. Furniture was toppled, and piles of rubble lay where masonry and plaster had fallen. The walls and foundations of mighty cities are tested via boulders flung indiscriminately by vast engines of war, and Solitude did not avoid that fate.
I turned to the group.
- Wulf: Skeletal Warriors, Vampires, and Draugr will be our enemies.
- Valdimar: We could be here for some time.
- Wulf: Yes. I don’t think Potema’s remains will be easily found.
- Rayya: Many undead will create a path to her!
- Gregor: I am not worried. They bleed like any other enemy!
- Kogo: No, Gregor, they don’t bleed. That is one of their more appealing properties.
- Gregor: Oh! I knew that.
Soon we were faced with raised bars preventing further progress. As I approached them, I could feel Potema trying to converse in my head. She could not get past my barriers.
I said, “You must speak to me, Wulf Queen. Gods cannot enter my mind, so a second-rate Lich like yourself has no hope.”
Her disembodied boasts instantly confirmed my suspicions. Potema was sure of her power and had waited for me to arrive.
“You’ve arrived at last. The hero who prevented me from being bound returns to my fold.”
“Return to your fold? I cannot return to a place I have never been before!”
“I have much to thank you for, little one. When you die, I will raise you, and you can take your place by my side.”
“You have no idea who I am. But you will soon learn as I send you screaming back to The Void.”
“You’ll serve me soon enough.”
“Never, for I serve The Nine! You used to invoke their names in prayer and thanks and only turned against them when your ambitions were thwarted. You respected their power, and I will soon utilise but a minute part of it to defeat you.”
The bars slowly lowered.
Valdimar said, “I know your tactic, Wulf. Make the enemy mad, and they will make mistakes. However, I doubt I could ever be as convincing as you.”
“To be convincing, I must believe in what I say. I must also believe I am more powerful than the foe to believe in what I say. That belief in my superiority is why I do not fear my foes.”
As we travelled the catacombs, Potema’s guards proved to be nothing more than weak vampires, skeletons and Draugr. They barely slowed us down.
After a while, I told my friends, “I can sense that we are approaching Potema’s inner sanctum. The guards have been far weaker than I expected. I do not think even her elite guards will offer much of a challenge, but she may have many, and if close to her, she may supplement their power with her dark magic.”
We arrived at a small room with a lowered portcullis blocking one of its exits and piles of corpses within. A quick inspection of the entrance revealed a raised portcullis.
- Rigmor: This is kind of obvious.
- Gregor: Ahh, not so obvious to some. What do you think will happen?
- Rigmor: We will enter the room. The entrance portcullis will lower, so we are trapped inside.
- Erandur: Some of the dead will arise and attack us.
- Rigmor: After destroying all the reanimated, the exit portcullis will rise.
- Wulf: I am sure Potema will provide an idle boast to amuse us. She has been quiet for too long.
We entered the room, and the entrance portcullis lowered.
Potema boasted, “Not much further. Come, little things. Serve me in death.”
Rigmor replied with contempt, “We have barely paused as we destroyed your guards, you undead bitch! I look forward to shoving my sword up your cobweb-covered poop hole!”
I don’t know how Potema reacted to that outburst, but we cut down the risen undead while laughing.
The portcullis lifted, and we continued, finally arriving at the door to Potema’s refuge.
When I opened it, we saw Potema’s spirit floating above the centre of the room. Many sarcophagi suggested our fight would be with Draugr. So far, the ones we have encountered were weak and did not use the Thu’um.
When we entered, Potema spoke nonsense once more.
“You’ve come far, mortals, but can you stand against my inner council? Let’s see!”
Rigmor mocked, “Your inner circle? Don’t you mean more Draugr? I guess your living friends were few and far between due to bad body odour.”
More laughter. I am sure Potema was not expecting such merriment.
I advised the group, “These Draugr may use The Voice. Just close and chop them into tiny pieces!”
Those accompanying me were a formidable team on the battlefield. They drew their weapons together, and then the battle began.
The Draugr were still of the weaker kind and could not use the Thu’um. To my surprise, Potema did! She hit me with a half-strength Unrelenting Force that barely made me move.
I used my Thu’um and said, “POTEMA, DO YOU NOW REALISE WHO I AM? WE HAVE ALREADY DESTROYED YOUR INNER COUNCIL!”
“Don’t applaud yourself too soon, worm!”
“Worm? That is not a nice thing to call your uncle!”
Potema resurrected the Draugr. I have no idea how she got Draugr to serve her in the first place, and resurrecting them was another indication of her power. Necromancy relies on Magicka. We would have to destroy the Draugr repeatedly till her Magicka was drained.
We destroyed the Draugr while laughing once more. Potema resurrected them again and, with desperation evident, yelled, “Rip the eyes from their heads!”
I replied, “If you keep this up, Potema, I will start to think you don’t like me.”
When her inner circle was destroyed again and her Magicka depleted, Potema’s spirit fled to the remains that held her soul.
I signalled my comrades to remain at a distance.
The Wolf Queen studied me closely as I approached. Her skull wearing a crown, was on the throne on which she sat.
She said, “When I first saw you in the cave, I was struck by your resemblance to my beautiful son. I sensed great power in you. I now realise you are more than merely Dragonborn. The dead gain knowledge barred to the living. You must be pleased you have stopped a major obstacle to your ascension to the throne.”
“I have no intention or desire to become Emperor. That is an understandable mistake since you have your head up your arse. I am merely doing what The Divines have put me on Nirn to do. I am protecting the mortals of this world.”
“You don’t know who you are, do you? Your gods have not revealed all. Yet you wonder why I turned from them and relied on my dark powers. You are their puppet.”
“They do not command me, and I do as I choose. Now I choose to end your brief return to this realm.”
“I could tell you who you are. Let us bargain and not act in haste!”
“I know who I am and who my parents are. You lie and do not know. However, I gave you a clue.”
“You claimed to be my uncle. What nonsense is that?”
“I am your four times Grand Uncle, for my father is Tiber Septim, who you once revered. Now, it is time for you to return to The Void. Lord Arkay will ensure you can never return to Mundus, and I doubt any god will invite you into their realm. You will float in nothingness till this Kalpa ends. Be thankful, for I could destroy your soul and wipe you from existence!”
Potema stood and screamed as my sword cut through her spirit form.
The Wolf Queen was reduced to a puddle of ectoplasm, and I retrieved her skull from the throne.
My friends approached.
- Wulf: I enjoyed this task.
- Rigmor: Why is that?
- Erandur: No! You shouldn’t have asked!
- Rigmor: Come on, Wulf, why did you enjoy this task?
- Wulf: It allowed me to get ahead.
- Erandur: I did warn you, Rigmor.
Nobody laughed. Then Rigmor smiled.
- Rigmor: Perhaps you should call it a job instead of a task.
- Wulf: You wouldn’t dare!
- Rigmor: Wouldn’t you prefer a head job over getting ahead?
Rigmor’s pun earned genuine laughter and guffaws for several minutes before everything was quiet again.
- Rigmor: Wulf, you told Potema you were her four times Grand Uncle.
- Wulf: I am. The Septim lineage is Father’s brother, Agnorith, followed by Kintyra the First, Uriel the First, Uriel the Second, Pelagius the Second and Potema.
- Kogo: So, Rigmor, how are you enjoying these revelations?
- Rigmor: I absorb them without dribbling, Kogo.
- Erandur: Yes, but then, in the middle of the night, you will suddenly sit up and say, ‘What the fuck!’
- Rigmor: Wulf, you also said you could destroy her soul.
- Wulf: I can set alight to souls, and they are destroyed, like when I absorb the soul of a dragon. From then on, they cease to exist in this Kalpa or any future one. I have never done it, and I can’t imagine ever encountering a sentient being deserving of such a punishment.
- Rigmor: What about General Aedriath?
- Wulf: He is a product of circumstance. Who knows what good he may do in another Kalpa? Who knows what a bastard I have been in previous Kalpa? What right do I have to judge?
- Rigmor: I assume this ability was given to you by The Nine. Why give you something so opposed to your values?
- Wulf: There are many spells, Shouts, and abilities that I would not usually use. However, they are there in case I have to use them. If I was about to die, and my only way of surviving was to destroy my adversary’s soul, I would consider doing so. Not because I fear dying but because The Nine can’t quickly produce a mortal hero with my abilities. My death might result in many mortals I want to protect dying.
- Rigmor: Yet I know you will risk all for a single mortal.
- Wulf: My instinct would be to save a mortal, no matter who they are. That might not be what The Nine desire, but it is who I am. When they asked if I would be their champion, The Nine knew that was the risk they took.
- Rigmor: I can see you are uncomfortable discussing this.
- Wulf: I fear failure, Rigmor. Failure means others will be hurt. Would I fail if I saved one life, knowing it may cost the lives of many others? Some would say so. What would I think with the wisdom afforded by death? I don’t know.
- Kogo: An enemy might take advantage of what Wulf regards as a weakness. The Divines have always been willing to accept collateral damage. Wulf doesn’t think he could. To do so, he would have to sacrifice people for whom he is willing to die. He would have to make a judgement call that logic might dictate, but his emotions can’t accept.
- Wulf: Pure logic says that the need of the many outweighs the need of the few. That is too simple a formula.
- Rigmor: But you might not have time to consider the pro and cons of both.
- Wulf: Yes, which increases my chance of making the wrong decision. We have what we came for, and it is getting late. Elisif will be in her private chambers. Falk and Priest Styrr will be waiting for our return.
We made our way outside.
Then I teleported us into The Blue Palace.
The throne was empty, and Falk was pacing back and forth.
- Wulf: Falk, you can relax. We have taken care of Potema and her undead guards and will deliver her remains to Styrr so he can consecrate them. Mortals will never be able to summon Potema again. Since she had no Dark Lord as a co-conspirator, she shall remain in The Void for eternity.
- Rayya: Potema was weak, and so were her guards. As Wulf predicted, she wanted to recruit him and was too confident of her powers.
- Falk: You’ve done a great thing. Potema would have been a blight on the land.
- Wulf: Another war over the Ruby Throne would have ended The Empire. That threat was real, and I am relieved we removed that danger.
- Falk: Without you, this would have been a disaster. I should have paid more heed to Varnius’ warning.
- Wulf: I find it odd you dismissed Varnius’ concerns as superstition yet believed the exaggerated stories of Potema. As I told you that day, I have found truth in what everyday citizens claim to have seen and experienced, no matter how unlikely.
- Falk: I won’t make that mistake again!
- Wulf: Keep Elisif safe, Falk! All the guards on Nirn are not enough against skilled assassins. Your instincts are her best protection.
- Falk: If this New Order does invade, what chance do they have of victory?
- Wulf: From what we currently know, they have no chance. But there is likely to be something we are yet to discover that alters the odds of success. The death of Elisif or General Tullius would not increase their odds of victory nor cause Mede to leave Cyrodiil unprotected.
- Falk: That means the death of either would be strategically worthless. That would make such a death even more tragic.
- Wulf: I saw Justiciar Thaarm earlier. I strongly suggest that no Thalmor be allowed in The Blue Palace. I also suggest you keep a close watch on Melaran.
- Falk: Why? Are we to suspect every High Elf that enters the building?
- Wulf: He is a spy for The Dominion. Don’t waste that information, Falk. Feed Erikur false information, and that will filter through to Melaran.
- Falk: You know this for a fact?
- Wulf: Yes, Falk.
- Falk: And Erikur?
- Wulf: I don’t think he knows Melaran is using him. However, we both know Erikur would sell his grandmother. Elisif is not naïve and probably knows of his crimes. She cannot act till she is High Queen because Erikur has money, and that may influence the vote at a Moot. I will gladly provide evidence of his crimes if she wants to remove him from court later.
- Falk: We shall let the children get a good night’s sleep and return them to the orphanage tomorrow.
After leaving The Blue Palace, we walked the streets of Solitude in silence.
We entered The Hall of the Dead and approached Styrr.
- Styrr: You have returned, and I am hoping you were successful.
- Rigmor: We kicked Potema’s scrawny undead butt back to The Void!
- Wulf: My colleague is trying to say yes. We trounced her and her guards.
I handed Styrr Potema’s skull.
- Styrr: Excellent! These things do have a way of working out when people take action. I’ll sanctify the remains.
- Kogo: Others could have done this if not for fear!
- Styrr: If Falk and Jarl Elisif don’t make it clear, know that Solitude owes you a debt of gratitude.
- Wulf: As my friend said, others could have accomplished the task. Now, you had better consecrate that skull before it decides to bite you.
Styrr quickly placed Potema’s skull on a table and stared at it.
- Wulf: And the fear of Potema survives.
- Styrr: Your sense of humour is somewhat strange.
- Rigmor: Weird is the word we use, Priest Styrr.
- Wulf: ALBATROSS!
- Rigmor: What?
- Wulf: You use weird. I use ALBATROSS!
- Styrr: Ahh… Arkay’s blessing to you all.
- Wulf: You know how I made people appear from the ether?
- Styrr: Yes. A warning would have been appreciated.
- Wulf: Consider this a warning.
I teleported us into Aurane, where we all enjoyed a good meal and talked.
When we retired to my private rooms, Rigmor was exhausted. She wasn’t fully recovered from her injuries, and the constant fighting in Solitude’s catacombs was physically demanding. Adding to that was the shock of meeting Aedriath, which was still playing on her mind.
Rigmor asked, “Will you sleep next to me again?”
“Yes, of course.”
“I know he will haunt me in my sleep without Our Quiet.”
“If I knew that beforehand, I would not have let him live.”
“You made the right choice at the time, Wulf. Capturing him would save lives.”
Just then, there was a loud knock on my door.
I asked, “Who is it?”
Vayu entered, walked over, and said, “Baa’Ren-Dar has arrived at Angi’s. He wants to speak to both of you.”
“Okay, and thank you. Return to camp, and we will follow shortly.”
Vayu returned to Angi’s, and I spent twenty-five minutes getting into my ebony armour.
Rigmor looked nervous.
I told her, “Baa’Ren-Dar might tell us we have nothing to do with stopping The New Order. Then we can concentrate on finding Sigunn.”
“Those in power will want to use us, Wulf. They will request our aid in a reasonable way that appeals to our morality. Refusing their request will be inconceivable to us. For that reason, you can speak to Baa’Ren-Dar solo. I don’t want to be manipulated by the dear Khajiiti I love. He would think I am ignorant of his tricks while busy suppressing my anger.”
“Then head for your bed. I will speak to Baa’Ren and agree to anything he asks because I am also ignorant.”
“Good. Just don’t overact and start dribbling.”
We teleported to Vayu’s camp. It was late, and I was not surprised to see two Dragonguard on sentry duty and two asleep. We waved at the two awake, but nothing was said. Sentry duty forbade idol conversation.
As we entered Angi’s camp, Sorella and Angi exited the hut. Baa’Ren-Dar was barely visible as he stood near Rigmor’s tent.
Angi stood back as Rigmor approached Sorella.
- Sorella: Hi Rigmor!
- Rigmor: Hey! Hi there Sorella. Are you okay?
- Sorella: Yeah! Angi is so cool. She will teach me everything I need to know so that I can be a huntress someday.
- Rigmor: That sounds great.
- Sorella: Yeah, and if any bad guys come, she will show me how to put an arrow in their heads.
- Rigmor: Is that so? Hahaha! I’m glad I’m not one of those bad guys, then.
- Meeko: Woof!
- Rigmor: Yes, Meeko, I am happy to see you and would have said hello if given a chance.
- Sorella: You can do it as well!
- Rigmor: Do what?
- Sorella: You can hear what Meeko says inside your head.
- Rigmor: Yes, I can.
- Wulf: Unfortunately, Meeko’s voice echoes in Rigmor’s head.
- Meeko: Woof.
- Sorella: No, I will not laugh at something that isn’t funny.
- Meeko: Woof!
- Sorella: Wulf is a grownup and will not cry!
- Wulf: Meeko, did you wake Sorella up when you knew we arrived?
- Sorella: Yes, he did because I asked him to. So don’t you get angry at him!
- Wulf: I am surprised you can hear Meeko in your head.
- Sorella: Yeah, it just happened without me trying. He was also surprised.
- Meeko: Woof.
- Sorella: Meeko says I can do it because I am a Wolf Friend. I don’t know what that means.
- Wulf: Back when Nord’s worshipped the Old Gods, many followers of Kyne were blessed by her. Wolf Kin or Wolf Friend was a blessing whereby wolves, dogs, foxes, coyotes, and even wild werewolves would regard the Nord as a friend and not attack them or those with them. Meeko thinks you have that blessing, which gave you a natural ability to talk to him.
- Sorella: Wow!
- Wulf: Rigmor seems to have been blessed with something similar regarding bears.
- Sorella: Why would Kyne give the blessing?
- Wulf: Well, many shepherds would pray for the blessing. The wolves that once hunted their flocks became their protectors.
- Sorella: But I am not a shepherd.
- Wulf: Kyne has been helping me heaps. Perhaps she decided to help you by letting you hear Meeko and not just talk to him?
- Sorella: Yes, it has helped.
- Wulf: A thank you to Kyne would be good manners. You don’t have to become a devotee or anything.
- Sorella: Thank you, Kyne!
- Wulf: That is good enough.
- Sorella: Rigmor, your friend Baa’Ren-Dar is here. I had never met a Khajiiti before. He is very nice.
- Rigmor: Wulf, can you please talk to Baa’Ren? I have a headache and need to sleep.
- Wulf: Yes, of course, Rigmor.
As Rigmor headed for her tent, Angi told Olette it was time to return to bed after they stoked the fire.
Rigmor walked past Baa’Ren-Dar without acknowledging him. A pained look crossed his face.
“Rigmor is tired and scared, Meeko. Baa’Ren-Dar will understand.”
I walked over to Baa’Ren-Dar.
“Well met, Dragonborn. Rigmor, is she alright? What has happened?”
“We encountered General Tilar Aedriath and his minions. It came as a shock to Rigmor.”
“You met Tilar Aedriath and brought her back to me alive! Khajiit is again thankful to the gods for their excellent choice of a Guardian. They have chosen wisely, indeed.”
“The gods did not choose me to be Rigmor’s Guardian. I accepted that role without consulting them, Emissary. As for Aedriath, I could have killed him easily and regret not doing so. He is a mortal, not a god.”
“Khajiit humbly apologises for his wording.”
‘You knew that Aedriath was her tormentor in Haven. We talked about it in Riften.”
“Did you find any information on the whereabouts of Sigunn?”
“Good try, Emissary, but I will not be distracted. We will talk about your decision not to tell her about Aedriath.”
“Rigmor needed the courage to find her destiny. Knowing who Tilar Aedriath was would have brought fear into the equation.”
“I thought that the chances of a confrontation with Tilar were high. Therefore, I told Rigmor that it was Tilar heading the hunt for her and who he was. Rigmor had time to come to terms with that fact. However, seeing him has affected her more than I thought possible. I dread to think about what would have happened if she saw him without warning.”
“This one had hoped there would be no contact. Alas, Khajiit misjudged. Rigmor has been dealt a blow deep in her heart.”
“She was distraught but seemed to have recovered overnight and was her cheery self most of today. However, knowing that you would be here made her regress.”
Rigmor cried out. A Night Terror had arrived quickly. From what I could hear, her movements were also more pronounced than usual.
Baa’Ren-Dar stared at the tent and said with concern, “The last time Rigmor was like this was after the rescue.”
“We shall talk inside the tent. My presence will stop Rigmor’s Night Terror.”
Baa’Ren-Dar entered the tent.
Angi was urging Sorella to return to bed. However, I could see that the child needed reassurance.
I told her, “Rigmor will be alright, Sorella. Her nightmare will stop in a few seconds.”
“I have them when Meeko is not near me. He said he helps other children when they have nightmares.”
“Yes, when he sleeps in their bedroom, none of them have nightmares. They will be missing him terribly. But he is here to help keep you and Angi safe, and they will understand.”
“Meeko said that you stop Rigmor’s nightmares, and that is because you love each other very much.”
“That is true, and I had better sit next to Rigmor right now!”
“Okay. Goodnight, Wulf.”
When I entered the tent, Baa’Ren-Dar was sitting and staring at Rigmor. Tears in his eyes shocked me. I am not used to sad Khajiiti.
I sat on the chair next to Rigmor. She opened her eyes, saw me there and smiled. Within seconds she closed her eyes again and fell into a deep sleep, and the familiar sound of her slow breathing filled my soul.
Baa’Ren sighed with relief and said, “This one can see a unique bond has developed. Rigmor finally discussed her time in Haven?”
“The unique bond allowed me to find her four years ago. Rigmor’s experiences were too much for her to recall at once. She would relive it, as you said she would. I was only the second person she had ever told, Baa’Ren-Dar. It was difficult for her, so Rigmor had to tell me in chapters. Her scars are now mine, and I will punish those who hurt us.”
“This one can see in your eyes that is no idle boast. Khajiiti have warriors like you. Meek as kittens till you see the tiger in their eyes.”
I growled, “But I am no tiger, Baa’Ren. I am a dragon, and if The New Order fear Rigmor, they will run screaming from me.”
“This one is glad we are friends!”
“As Rigmor told me her story, she remembered me being there, Baa’Ren-Dar. She could not see me four years ago, but we spoke telepathically. I have many secrets, and now Rigmor is one of the few people who know them all. Our bond is, as you said, unique.”
“Is there love?”
“Yes, a love that is so special that Mother Cat rejoices in its existence. She says we have souls that find each other across multiple Kalpa. She calls the phenomena ‘Entwined Souls.’”
“I see. This one should give a father’s speech about how Dragonborn better look after his daughter and show her respect. Perhaps later when he formulates one, but this one thinks it will be unnecessary.”
“I am all for tradition, Baa’Ren. You can give me your father’s speech when you are ready.”
“Khajiit has seen Rigmor like this before. When Khajiit smuggled Rigmor out of Valenwood, she was gravely ill. Khajiit bought her the best physicians that coin could buy and nursed her back from the darkness. This one thought she was mute. Rigmor never uttered a single word for six months.”
“When did that change? Now she talks frequently and enthusiastically about even the most mundane things. She finds beauty where I never looked.”
“One day, Khajiit couldn’t find her anywhere. In a panic, this one searched high and low, and there she was, in my library.”
“It would have reminded her of trips to the Imperial City with Sigunn.”
“Correct. Rigmor had rediscovered herself. She knew her name, who her father was, and….”
“She remembered what happened to her family and her time as an enslaved person. Rigmor never told me about her loss of memory.”
“This one thinks that is just an oversight. Does Wulf think your destinies are entwined and not just your souls?”
“I have foresight, Baa’Ren-Dar, but I have left it untrained. Last night I saw a possible future with Rigmor, which would benefit all honest people of Nirn.”
“Is Dragonborn worried about a future with Rigmor?”
“A wise father indeed. Would I want the woman I love placed in constant danger simply by being near me? Just being Dragonborn attracts many enemies. If my other secrets become known, far more would hunt me. If Rigmor’s future includes danger when I am absent, could I trust others to keep her safe? I have decided to let many things sort themselves out when worrying will do nothing to change the outcome.”
“Rigmor has the right to choose, Wulf. If she accepts the risks, Dragonborn cannot deny that choice.”
“Yes, you are correct. Rigmor insists it is her choice and that we will sort things out as they occur. I agree, as I am not one for speculation.”
“Khajiit can see that. It is wise and will save Wulf from early grey fur.”
“I only saw a glimpse of when you rescued Rigmor. You were about to enter a trapdoor near her cell. Can you please tell me more about what happened?”
“It was a cold and dark night, and it had been raining for three days. Khajiiti emissaries had been instructed to travel to Valenwood. We were to be entertained by The Thalmor at their embassy in Haven. The Dominion had been trying to improve relations with Elsweyr. They were hoping Khajiit would help more in countering Moon Sugar smuggling. This one was an influential emissary based in Torval, just over the border.”
“They probably know of your involvement in Moon Sugar smuggling. After all, it is the prime source of coin that funds rebel elements in Elsweyr.”
“That one expressed a dislike for speculation.”
“I am fishing, Baa’Ren. But you are too clever and will not swallow the bait.”
Baa’Ren-Dar smiled, which was far preferable to the earlier tears.
Rigmor mumbled. Baa’Ren-Dar looked closely at her.
“Rigmor is in a deep sleep, Baa’Ren-Dar, and dreaming.”
Baa’Ren-Dar smile widened, and then he continued, “The party lasted late into the night, and The Thalmor were full of themselves with drunken arrogance. Khajiiti emissaries were about to leave when Thalmor insisted on showing a spectacle.”
I closed my eyes, and I felt some resistance from Baa’Ren. Then he opened his mind, and an Empathetic Link was established. However, I was the recipient, and it was as if I looked through Baa’Ren-Dar’s eyes as he recited the events.
“The spectacle, they boasted, was the daughter of the ‘Beast of Hammerfell’ that they kept locked in a cage in the dungeon.”
The old Khajiiti’s voice wavered as he relived his nightmare.
“We felt compelled to comply. We went down into the cells, and there was Rigmor…lying very still.”
My tears were flowing, and my anger was growing. But still, I watched through Baa’Ren-Dar’s eyes.
“They had torn the flesh from her back with their whips. Her blood ran in rivulets to the floor.”
I gasped, then opened my eyes. I cried, “They laughed, oh, how they laughed….”
Baa’Ren-Dar finished, “…but she was just a child!”
I explained, “Rigmor still can’t sleep on her back. Even when unconscious, she would turn to her side. I think we can heal the scars, but at the moment, she refuses. They are a reminder of what The Thalmor did. Proof that she was stronger than them.”
“What you just did only the best seers can do.”
“It is a wild talent, Baa’Ren-Dar, and I am uncomfortable with it. It is an intrusion upon the mind of another. I refused to learn how to direct it. Nobody could tell me how to stop it. Perhaps I need to see and hear what you experienced to comprehend the horror that affects Rigmor and you.”
“That one sought permission, and Khajiit allowed the sharing. This one has done it with others far older than Wulf.”
Baa’Ren-Dar looked between Rigmor and me, then continued, “They dragged her out of the cell and put her in stocks….”
“There is no need to relive this part, Baa’Ren-Dar. I watched it unfold, and such barbarity is unforgivable!”
Baa’Ren-Dar looked relieved he did not have to tell of the final whipping. He said, “Khajiit knew that he would need to rescue her or she would surely die in that filthy cell.”
“How did you get Rigmor out of there? Even though she is small, she would still have been hard to conceal at fourteen.”
“Khajiit quickly made plans and had everything in place. A convenient distraction allowed this one time to pick the lock on the cage. Rigmor was almost starved and smaller than she should have been. This one carried her to the trapdoor leading to a cave that led outside. Khajiit then carried Rigmor to an awaiting carriage. She was taken to a boat which transported her to my home in Torval.”
“You risked your life and your career for Rigmor. I can’t express how grateful I am or how much I admire you for it.”
“It took a long time for her to recover. She has become very special to Khajiit. This one loves and cares for her deeply.”
“She loves you too, Baa’Ren-Dar. She speaks proudly of you.”
“She will need to rest for a while.”
“I have been arranging good and restful sleep for Rigmor in different but safe places. Many hunt her. Many are now hunting me for various reasons.”
“Did the thief, Sethri, have any information? Did you find anything out about Sigunn?”
“Sethri told us Sigunn might be mentioned on a slavers’ list and where to find it. It was inside an old fort, part of a harbour, near the border. The place serves as a staging point for slavers working on an island off the coast.”
“Is that where you met Aedriath?”
“We had to fight through the fort to recover the list. Sigunn is on it. Aedriath was waiting with many Altmer, Orsimer and wolves to apprehend us when we exited. We killed dozens, and I could easily have killed him. But I wanted to capture him. He escaped but sacrificed many people to do so. He will tell The New Order that they now face Rigmor and The Dragonborn.”
“Capturing him was a good strategic plan, but Khajiit has warned the Dragonborn, Aedriath is a master at deception. When you think you have won, he will produce a winning hand when it seemed he had nothing.”
“I would be foolish to dismiss your warning Baa’Ren-Dar.”
“Where does the slavers’ list say Sigunn is being kept?”
“A place called Diamond Ridge Mine.”
“This one has heard of this place. It is not far from the border with High Rock. This one will investigate and find a place on the map. Meanwhile, I have a very special mission for you and Rigmor.”
“A mission that is carefully presented so that we will willingly accept it.”
“Ahh, Khajiit detects Rigmor’s cynicism.”
“It compliments mine, Emissary.”
“This one had spoken to friends in high places, including Mede, and we all agreed to keep this whole affair top secret. Elisif will be getting extra protection and not be informed unless necessary. However, we must be diligent and prepare for an imminent invasion.”
“Jarl Elisif needed my help with an emergency, so I visited her. She had noticed the extra protection, so I told her what was happening. You have no right to keep that information from her.”
“Dragonborn is free to do as his morals dictate.”
“I understand you are trying to convince The New Order their plans are unknown to us. However, they know items were taken from Fort Black and must suspect we are very well informed.”
“Perhaps they do, but we will continue with our agreed strategy. Therefore, Dragonborn and Rigmor will help by brokering a truce so we can prepare for the invasion.”
“Use your diplomatic skills, Baa’Ren-Dar. We are not subordinates.”
“It would be appreciated if Rigmor and Wulf would broker a truce so we can prepare for the invasion.”
“If this truce is between The Empire and Stormcloak rebels, I may be interested. There is nothing I would like nothing more than to stop this insane civil war, even if just for a short time. Perhaps if they fight next to each other once more, they will not be so keen to renew killing each other after we defeat The New Order.”
“Tullius and Ulfric must be persuaded to break off their civil war plans, but The New Order is not to be alarmed in any way. We must use deception and have that truce, Dragonborn.”
“Why, Baa’Ren-Dar, would I have to persuade General Tullius or his officers? A signed order from His Imperial Majesty is all that is needed. I assume that it will be delivered by a Legionnaire runner to General Tullius, who will then send orders to his subordinates.”
“Yes, that one is correct.”
“As discussed, The New Order know we attacked Fort Black, so they must suspect we know their plans. Why not let them know His Imperial Majesty will not fall for their ruse, and The Empire will be ready to repel any invasion?”
“Dragonborn knows of Thalmor arrogance. The New Order is worse. They will dismiss the raid on Fort Black as inconsequential. They will think their plans are infallible. We will spring the trap and crush them when they think they have defeated us. We will no longer have to worry about them trying again.”
“Yet we will probably lose cities, villages, and maybe even Holds before stopping them. We should be preventing their invasion, not allowing it! Both the collateral damage and acceptable losses will be too great!”
“This one has learned to accept the least offensive solution rather than none at all. This plan is agreed to and is better than doing nothing.”
“Then let them know this. My duty is to The Divines and the mortals of Nirn. I will act accordingly and will not ask permission. I will use my resources to defend places and people others are willing to sacrifice.”
“You should not interfere with our plans, Dragonborn. It is for Rigmor’s sake that you may have to do these unpleasant things.”
“I will do what is required to fulfil my Champion of The Divines role. Do not dare presume to tell me what I am fighting for, Emissary!”
“Khajiit sees that you carry a terrible burden, Dragonborn.”
“Even if we knew nothing of their plans, The New Order would fail! You and I hope those you have spoken to know this.”
“They are aware but suspect a hidden element, as does Khajiit and Dragonborn.”
“Do you like gambling, Baa’Ren-Dar? I think they are playing a shell game. What some call three shells and a pea.”
“That is not true gambling, for sleight of hand ensures the player will lose.”
“The sleight of hand only works because the gambler is distracted via banter and the weaving of hands and shells. The plans of The New Order are inadequate to accomplish what they desire.”
“And Dragonborn thinks they are a distraction?”
“That is the only explanation that is logical.”
“We must act upon what is known.”
“Yes, we must, so please continue.”
“Mede will keep his army in Cyrodiil.”
“Outlying Legions will not be brought in from the borders as that would make The New Order suspicious. Combined Empire and Stormcloak units must stop the New Order’s Northern Army Group in Skyrim.”
“You have a good strategic mind, Dragonborn. Hjaalmarch and Morthal will be our focus points. Stop them there, and we can throw them back into the sea.”
“They will mimic invaders of old. Therefore, they will besiege Solitude and Windhelm, making Whiterun the pivotal city. If it falls, it will make it difficult to win the war without great loss of life. If Whiterun fell, all Legions would be brought inland to defend Cyrodiil, and His Imperial Highness would cross into Skyrim. The New Order would inevitably lose if The Dominion did not interfere. But that is a worst-case scenario. We need to stop them from taking Whiterun.”
“Even if that means allowing higher acceptable losses?”
“Those who issue the commands can battle with their conscious. Their plan leaves a relatively unguarded corridor that The New Order can exploit. If, as I think, this is all a distraction, they will want to cause as much confusion as possible and use that corridor to spread fear and destruction. I will do my best to minimise death by helping defend Whiterun and protecting that corridor.”
“The planners say all is lost if Whiterun falls with Solitude and Windhelm besieged. The New Order’s Northern Army Group will march south and join their Southern Army Group forces. They would then crush Mede’s army in Cyrodiil. Tamriel will be theirs for the taking.”
“That is untrue! Place a Legion on the bridge, and The New Order could not take the Imperial City without a lengthy siege. High Rock would not remain idle, and their knights, if they take time out from killing each other, are a formidable force that could sweep down through The Reach in an unstoppable tide of steel and horse. I doubt the Reachmen, especially the Forsworn, would welcome the Altmer. Most Redguards would rather fight to defend Cyrodiil than let the Altmer have it. I can’t see The New Order winning. What I can foresee is too much bloodshed. Too many civilians will die and suffer. That is why we must defend Whiterun. Not because some idiots think we would lose the war!”
“This one thinks much the same, Dragonborn. Sometimes military commanders exaggerate the consequences of a potential loss to make troops more determined to win.”
“A soldier fights best when defending loved ones and their home. No fake hysteria is going to make them fight harder. All of this is the logical and obvious strategy and nothing new. But it is still speculation and relies on The New Order doing the predictable. Let us hope any surprise can be quickly countered. My dragon allies are the best scouts. The Dragonguard and Sentinels can teleport where help is needed, as we did when defending against the dragons.”
“Khajiit has great faith in the leaders of the Imperial forces.”
“Who do I have to speak to?”
“You will need to visit Casius Varon and Yngol Storm-Blade. You will not be able to see Ulfric or Tullius.”
“Neither Ulfric nor Tullius would decline to speak to The Dragonborn if only to try and recruit me. But working through trusted advisors is best. Please, mark my map where their camps are located.”
I handed Baa’Ren-Dar my map. He marked the two locations and then returned the map to me.
Baa’Ren-Dar continued, “Dragonborn, you must convince Yngol, who must then convince Ulfric. Give them this information.”
Baa’Ren-Dar handed me a small box containing the information for Yngol. It was sealed with wax, and Emperor Titus Mede II’s signet ring had been imprinted onto it.
“They will at least listen to The Dragonborn, but does Rigmor play a part in this? I would rather not take her into danger if not.”
“Rigmor is crucial in gaining their trust, Dragonborn. Both men fought under her father in Hammerfell.”
“Is the information for Yngol verified by other dignitaries? I doubt Mede’s seal will generate much trust.”
“Yes, that box contains a book detailing The New Order’s plans signed by high-ranking nobles from several provinces. However, we had to be careful who we told, Dragonborn.”
“Are you honestly suggesting these two men would only do their duty if a friend’s daughter asked them to? An order from His Imperial Majesty cannot be ignored. As for Yngol, if a letter from His Imperial Majesty and other signatories is not enough, then Rigmor’s presence would not sway him.”
“Upon reflection, Khajiit agrees with the Dragonborn, and they will do their duty. Rigmor’s presence is not essential.”
“Rigmor may learn about some of her father’s exploits. All she has at the moment are false accusations. I will let Rigmor decide if she wants any part of this.”
“Both men will be expecting you. Take the Imperial uniforms I have left with Angi and wear them when visiting Varon. Remember, you are still both wanted.”
“No! I refuse to enter the rebel camp without disguise but don one for the Imperial camp! Parley’s ancient customs and laws protect us. You could not do your duty, Emissary, if they were not sacrosanct, and even The Thalmor would not dare try and arrest us. If The Thalmor think they can to follow, they will lose us when I teleport away.”
“Dragonborn has a lot of confidence in his decisions. Khajiit thinks Dragonborn would make a fine ruler.”
“I can’t second guess myself, Baa’Ren-Dar. I must believe I am right and learn if I am wrong.”
“Please, speak to these two men while Khajiit finds the location of Diamond Ridge Mine.”
“Rigmor will be fine, although she will regret not talking to you.”
I followed Baa’Ren-Dar outside and watched the remarkable Emissary leave.
I quickly returned to Rigmor’s side and made myself reasonably comfortable in the rickety wooden chair.
I do not know what time I fell asleep.
The Nine were worried. A Junction was approaching, and they knew that most potential outcomes involved the death of Wulf. They provided Wulf with the only advice they dared give. The love between him and Rigmor is a powerful force. Perhaps powerful enough to cheat death.
Talos could not warn Wulf. His son was told from an early age that such warnings might be the catalyst for the event they want to avoid. Wulf’s survival might rely on more than his skills and instincts.
If Alessia was with him, Talos could share the burden. But she is not, and a god surrounded by billions of souls was alone.
When a mortal, Talos would have sought a temple and prayed. But who does a god pray to?
If Wulf dies, Alessia may fail, and she would die. He could lose both, and there is no guarantee either of them would join him in Aetherius.
Tears that should be impossible rolled down Talos’ cheeks.