Continued from: Chapter 12: Dovah Rising Part II
“Let’s hear from the Dragonborn.”
Suddenly the room fell silent. The dark stone walls seemed to be closing in on me. There was no posturing out of Ulfric or veiled threats spewing out of Tullius. Galmar had stopped blustering, and even Delphine was silent as every eye in the room fell on me.
Well, Ulfric, you’re deeply invested in regaining the Reach, though gods know why, because it’s the worst hole of holes and has no political or territorial status whatsoever. Tullius, your choice in Riften makes much more sense as you Imperials and the thieves that run that town are so simpatico that it’s a match made in paradise—and the smaller holds are just your bastard spawn. Frankly, I could care less about this little game of who-gets-what as I’m just in it to battle the big bad wolf on Bald Mountain. So moving right along…
I wanted to say this, so help me gods I did, but as every eye in the room penetrated me, I just remembered the lines kindly supplied to me by Elenwen.
Clearing my throat, I started, “Ulfric, you once held Markarth; and though it pains me deeply to betray my dear friend Jarl Igmund, I think it’s what you want, and this sacrifice should show all that I am fully invested in my duty to Skyrim. Tullius, you have an interest in keeping the road open to the south, so Riften is the obvious choice. As there is a need for expanded territories and borders in this time of truce, I think the Stormcloaks should hold Winterhold and the Imperials should hold Morthal. That should give everyone some extra breathing room.”
“Until we take it all,” Ulfric muttered. Tullius grimaced, though said nothing.
“We shall see,” I said looking across the table at Elenwen. The Emissary could barely hide the shit-eating grin that mocked, you won’t be here to see the final outcome. She was right. As part of our bargain my beloved and I would leave Skyrim to its own devices after I defeat the World-Eater. I could only hope that Skyrim’s people wouldn’t devour each other in a meaningless war when the real threat to their existence lay to the south.
“Dragonborn.” Elisif rose as she addressed me, though she glared directly at Ulfric, “I think our faction should be compensated for the loss of so many people at the hands of that butcher and his gang of thugs.”
Ulfric rose too, though his voice remained even. “The blood spilled on this land is due to your puppetmaster, Elisif. Go ask them for your bloody recompense.”
“You murderous bastard!” Elisif raged, pounding the table. Her eyes, bloodshot and tearstained cut into Ulfric. This was not about gold, or the dying masses, or the bloody toll of a ceaseless civil war—this was about Elisif’s husband, the slain High King Torygg. I knew, as did everyone sitting at that table, that no amount of gold could fill that empty void or mend her broken heart. Besides, as jarls go, Ulfric had little gold to spare.
“Elisif, stop!” Tullius shouted, grabbing the jarl’s arm in a futile attempt to sit her down. She didn’t. In a sense I was glad to see this side of her. From the moment I spoke to this wisp of woman, I had felt her strength; and perhaps now others—especially Tullius and Elenwen—would see it too.
Yanking her arm away from the general and still standing, Elisif continued, though she choked on her words. “You murdered my husband, the High King of Skyrim and you killed so many...so many people have been lost. Jarl Ulfric, there is much blood on your hands.”
Ulfric took in a deep breath before speaking, but did not rage back. He spoke calmly, looking directly Elisif, who was still trembling. “I did what I thought was best for the sons and daughters of Skyrim. Elisif, I have no quarrel with you, but I am determined to free this land from the Imperial—and Aldmeri—tyranny.”
Elenwen then stood, “I protest that in the highest terms—“
“Stop,” I said, raising my hand as the torch’s warm light cast a large shadow against the wall. “There are no innocents here. Everyone at this table has lost someone dear to them in battles past, and everyone’s hands are stained with blood. I am not here to judge either faction, and am certainly in no position to decide compensation. My only hope is that this sacrifice that I am prepared to make will not be in vain—that there will still be a Skyrim to come home to.”
“Well said, courtesan,” Delphine smirked.
“We’re done here,” I said firmly. “There’s nothing more to say. The treaty is in effect, and now Balgruuf and I have a dragon to trap.”
There was much grumbling as the factions departed. Ulfric stared at me coldly; the intensity of his eyes sent cold chills down my spine. But there was a friendly face amidst the clouds. As he rose, Balgruuf said to me, “Marceline, you and your escorts may travel back to Whiterun with us, seeing we’re heading in the same direction.”
“I will be with you shortly, Jarl Balgruuf. I have something to attend to,” I said shooting a glance to Elenwen before looking back at Balgruuf.
“Do what you must, Dragonborn. I’ll be waiting.”
Dres and Aela were waiting for me outside the doors. “So it’s done?” Dres asked, though the question was more rhetorical than not. I knew he listened to everything.
“Yes, it’s done and I know it was at least reasonably fair as neither party is terribly pleased,” I said and shrugged as we passed the Imperial faction on our way out the door. I had noticed that Elenwen had made a quick exit. I had to catch her before she went back on her word. She would make good on her promise—I would see to that.
As the three of us exited the hallowed halls of Hrothgar and began our descent downstairs, Aela stopped dead in her tracks.
“Marcy,” Aela whispered as she raised a hand across my chest. Standing outside on the steps of High Hrothgar was Elenwen. Behind her two guards held up Ondolemar, whose weakened body trembled against the piercing wind. His eyes, though still blazing were sunken in and were enveloped by the dark circles beneath them. His frame had lost at least two stone. The rational part of me knew what she was doing—that she wanted the world to see the extent of Thalmor pity. She wanted to make me blanch.
As a shrill, mountain wind blew past the crowds lining up on the steps, Elenwen stepped forward. “I’ve kept my word, Dragonborn. You wanted to see your love; well here he stands.”
“Barely,” Dres called out. A few courtiers tittered. Ulfric stood still as stone, while behind him Elisif gasped. I heard Tullius hiss, “Elenwen, what are you doing?”
My heart pounded as I stared blankly at him. I could see the bruises that covered his beautiful face. His head had been shaved, or more like scalped, as I could see cruel cuts across his brow. The drumbeat sound of blood pulsing through my veins grew louder until it blocked out everything else. Elenwen stood before me triumphantly, like a cat presenting a dead rat to her horrified owner.
Racing thoughts of why I should hold it together skittered haphazardly in my mind; they danced to a reasonable tune that sang killing her would destroy the treaty, you have to save Skyrim, man and Dovah are world-eaters. These wispy motives battled against all my instincts. All logic, along with all of my rationale suddenly disappeared as I stared at my beaten husband standing in the blistering wind, gaunt and shaking. She would pay. They would all pay…no matter the cost.
I turned to Aela and took a deep breath as both she and Dres nodded. Wordlessly, I walked toward Elenwen. I had no idea what I would do next.
“Fus Ro Doh,” I Shouted. The blow from the Shout knocked Elenwen over immediately. As the Emissary fell, Aela swooped in and grabbed Ondolemar from the guards caught off balance from the Shout. Quickly, she led him away from the danger posed by his captors and that of my own blind fury. Over and over I shouted, through rage and tears, until Elenwen called out for mercy as she and her retainers dangled precariously over the Throat of the World.
From behind I registered the sounds of bows drawing back and swords being unsheathed. Dres, Aela and even Delphine stood close to me. Suddenly, I felt someone grab my wrist.
“Marceline, no! You can’t do this…she wants this,” Ondolemar cried out, his graveled voice barely above a whisper. He looked at me with pleading eyes and continued. “Marcy, she wants you to fail and for Skyrim to fall. She’s a willing martyr. Don’t give in.” As he uttered those last words he collapsed. Esbern and Dres caught his fall.
Ondolemar’s words broke the trance-like state of my shout. From all sides I heard sounds of panic and confusion. I looked over to Tullius, who had his blade unsheathed, though, curiously, he didn’t charge. He stood as still as a stone, meeting my gaze, as his men pulled Elenwen and her guards to safety. She and her other Thalmor retainers immediately readied their spells, as frost shards pelted our legs and feet.
“This ends now, Elenwen!” Tullius raged. “You’ve made your point and shown to all the extent of Thalmor mercy. It’s done!”
“You have no say over me,” Elenwen screeched. “Clearly you forget your place!”
“We aren’t in Solitude right now, Emissary,” Tullius coolly retorted. “Look around you, Elenwen. Many here want you dead. And it would be months before the Thalmor could retaliate—if they retaliated. For the safety of the treaty and to get off this bloody mountain, we need to come to some agreement.”
“There is no agreement necessary. Ondolemar is prisoner of the Thalmor. He comes with us.”
“No, Elenwen,” I said as my voice cracked. “He’s near death. I will not let you kill him. I told you that!”
“Well then we are at a stalemate, Dragonborn,” Elenwen said, while dusting the snow from her robes. “He is a traitor and our prisoner. I will not leave without him.”
We stood for a time in silence, each eyeing the other as crowd watched. The silence that had initially surrounded us soon devolved into whispered arguments and complaints. Everyone was cold and miserable; the snow that had started as a small shower was now falling in heavy blankets. Ulfric pushed through the retainers and factions until he stood between us.
“I couldn’t care less about whom your prisoner is, Emissary. You hold no sway over us, and as we need the Dragonborn alive and in once piece, I say matter is decided. She can take her bloody husband straight to Oblivion for all I care, as long we get off this damned mountain and she destroys the World-Eater.”
“He must be healed. This mer will not survive the trek back,” Arngeir added.
“I’m getting cold,” Balgruuf stated plainly. “Elenwen you’ve had fun and made a mockery out of all of us. I’m cold. The mer stays here.”
“You have no say in this, Balgruuf,” Elenwen snapped. Then there were voices, a multitude of arguing voices, and people shouting at each other and at me. I didn’t care; I crouched down beside my husband in the snow, gently cradling him in my arms. Finally a lone voice in the crowd stood out.
“Take me instead.”
Everyone turned to Aela as she continued, “I am a high ranking member of the Companions. I am willing to stand in his place.”
“No, Aela!” Dres shouted. “I won’t let you do this!”
“It is for love,” Aela said as she squeezed his hand softly placed a kiss on his cheek before turning to me.
“Aela?” I called out as I as looked up at the Huntress.
“You promised me a happy ending, Marceline,” Aela said as she smiled, before she turned and approached the Emissary. “The Dragonborn will fulfill her duties to Skyrim and to this council, then will leave per your terms.”
“How did you know—”
“Don’t look so surprised, Emissary; I heard everything,” Aela answered flatly. “I know what you said and I know what the Dragonborn said. And I know you have much to lose if the Justiciar dies and Skyrim has much to lose if the Dragonborn fails.”
“Take the deal, Elenwen,” Tullius seethed.
Elenwen looked over to Tullius who nodded. “Fine—the traitor stays here and you will go in his place. Clap her in irons.”
“No, Elenwen,” Tullius said firmly as he sheathed his sword and approached the group. “I know this woman and can vouch for her character.”
“It matters not to me,” Elenwen retorted.
“Listen to me, Elenwen,” Tullius said in a menacing voice. “If you hurt her, a Companion, it will demoralize my troops. I expect her to stay at the Embassy in Solitude, in a genteel fashion.”
“And if the Dragonborn fails?” Elenwen replied hotly.
Ondolemar rose to his feet. “If she fails you may fetch me and do with me as you like. I will remain here until the outcome is decided.”
“Fine,” Elenwen stated with as much dignity as she could muster. “Aela the Huntress, you may come with me.”
Aela said nothing as she walked down the stairs beside the Emissary, though quickly looked back to Dres and me before she disappeared into the driving snow.
“You’d better win this, Dragonborn,” Ulfric muttered as he and his troops marched past me.
“You’ve seen better days,” I said, gently pressing warmed poultice across my husband’s forehead. We were in a small room with a bed; Arngeir had kindly provided us with a room in which Ondolemar could recover. Though not the coziest surroundings, at least room was dry and warm. I dipped the cloth in a healing potion given to me by Arngier and gently wiped the bloody scars on his head as I cradled him in my lap. Balgruuf had kindly decided to make camp at Ivarstead for the night and allow me just a short time with my husband.
“You’re not looking so hot yourself, Marceline,” he laughed as he kissed my arm. “What have you been up to, my love?”
“Oh, much of the same, fighting dragons, winning friends and influencing people, bringing together warring factions to this sign a treaty, despite their avid distaste for my person.”
“So you did it,” he said as he smiled proudly. “I wish I had been there to see it.”
“There wasn’t much to see, really. A bit of magic, some roadside razzle-dazzle, some bribery…and some softly veiled threats.”
Ondolemar sighed deeply as he touched my face. “Oh, what a fine queen you would make,” he said turning to the side as I rose, gently placing his head on a pillow. With trepidation I stood and began to unlace my stomacher. “Here,” he said softly, “it’s the least I could do.”
As the stiff garment fell to the ground, Ondolemar studied the small, rounded belly before him. His eyes looked at me, questioning. “That wasn’t there before.”
“No, no it wasn’t,” I said slowly, looking away from him. “I think it happened while we were at Black Reach, or maybe when we were here last. Perhaps in Whiterun…”
“You’re not for certain? I thought you women knew about those things.”
I sat back down beside him as he put his hand my belly. “Sometimes, when a child is deeply desired and expected, women know their time and they count the days, pensively; in other cases women wait in dread knowing the outcome. For me it was neither, I loved you wholly and didn’t care about the consequences. Besides, I have been too busy to count time and days. And, finally when I did notice, I didn’t want to acknowledge it for all I could feel is fear.”
“I’m sorry,” he said sadly, turning away from me. I knew he was thinking about Pyslia. Another lost child, for how could a woman in such a delicate condition vanquish a World-Eater?
I reached for his hand. “I was afraid if you knew you would be scared for me, that this would worry you.”
“Of course it does! Of course I’m worried!” he said impassioned. “And I’m sorry. And I am scared for you and for…”
“I’m not sorry,” I stated plainly. “Of course I’m scared for us, for our baby, but Ondolemar…”
“Yes?” he said, his eyes pleading.
“I regret nothing,” I said before placing a soft kiss on his lips.