I have four Dragonborns in Skyrim, though I've only really written about my first, J'shana. A while back I decided to write a series of short stories featuring each of the three who I don't write about much. This is the second of that series. It was going to be a oneshot, but it's turning out to be a two or three chapter story.
I'll be writing this in between chapters of my current project, Dragonheart. I know I shouldn't work on two stories at once, but this one will be quite short, and when the idea for it came into my head it was so perfect that I just had to write it.
The title will be explained in the last chapter. :)
Over the years she'd been a mercenary, Jenassa had seen many clients come and go. Some stayed for only a few days before discharging her, others kept her in their service for months. A year was the longest she'd ever served a single hirer, but despite all they'd been through side by side, despite every dungeon they'd trawled through, every road they'd travelled, every wolf and bandit and Draugr they'd slain, he'd moved on in the end, just like all the others.
Nobody ever stayed for long. Some reached the end of the contract they'd made with her and chose not to lengthen it. From time to time, she'd simply take her leave, if they asked her to do something too dangerous, or if she merely disliked them. Others demanded that she leave them, though that was rarer, and only really happened if they'd had a serious falling out. And occasionally, every once in a while, Jenassa would fail in her duty. An arrow would come out of nowhere, a sabre cat would leap from the shadows, a bandit would turn out to be not so dead after all. It was no great hardship to lose a client, especially not when Jenassa could go through their pockets afterwards. Still, she preferred for it not to happen. Mercenaries were supposed to protect those that hired them, and Jenassa took her occupation seriously.
What with the fact that Jenassa was a slow-aging Dunmer, and with all the many ways she and her employers could part company, it was unsurprising that she'd seen so many. And no two had ever been the same. Her first client had been one of her own kind, a quick-witted archer who'd wanted a close-quarters fighter to accompany him on a mission into some Dwarven ruin. Other Dark Elves were the most likely to hire her, she'd found, though there'd been plenty of others. She'd followed several Orcs, though they'd never remained together for long – the Orsimer were almost entirely the kind of fighters who charged headlong into battle, while Jenassa preferred to strike from the shadows, and it was hard for two so different to work together for any long amount of time.
She'd served under humans of all four races, though Nords were less common, despite Skyrim being their homeland. She guessed it was something to do with the mistrust between their species, There had been High Elves, mostly mages, and Wood Elves, mostly archers, and even a few Khajiit. For some weeks she'd helped protect a pair of Khajiit, a brother and sister, as they travelled across Skyrim searching for their relatives in a trading caravan. And there'd been a single Argonian, several years ago, though she'd only kept Jenassa in her service for a couple of days.
They'd all been different. Warriors, thieves, assassins, archers and mages. Men, elves and beastfolk. Some had been her friends, others simply the ticket to her next meal. In their own ways, all of them had been strange. But this current client, who sat beside her now, his eyes fixed on the pavement, his hands clasped in front of him, his head bowed… he was perhaps the strangest yet.
It was in the Drunken Huntsman that she'd met him. Jenassa much preferred lodging in this tavern than the Bannered Mare – it was quieter, for a start, and the fact that it was also a weapons shop made her feel somewhat at home. It also meant that the customers were often hunters or fighters, which meant that they were more likely to be in need of a sellsword than most of the people who frequented the Bannered Mare. Jenassa's current client had been no exception.
It was perhaps half an hour after sundown when the door was pushed open and a man strode inside, a gust of icy wind following him in. He turned and quickly rammed the door shut again before making his way over to the counter. Jenassa found her eyes drawn to him immediately. He was a Redguard, tall and muscular, wearing a curious, rather patchwork assortment of armour. The cuirass he was wearing, for example, was quilted in the fashion distinctive to Stomcloak soldiers, yet over the top he wore a brown jerkin of a style that Jenassa had only ever seen on Imperial infantry. His boots were thick, fur-lined ones, yet his bracers were thin, studded leather. Completing the odd set of apparel was what looked like one of the dark blue sashes that Stormcloak warriors usually wore, which the Redguard had wrapped around his head in such a way that it formed a sort of hood. At the man's belt hung an Imperial style sword, and a small steel dagger. None of the items he was wearing or carrying looked as if it had been made for him – the jerkin was too small, and the cuirass too long.
Jenassa stared blankly at the stranger for a few seconds, trying to work out what could possibly have possessed him to dress himself in this fashion. The only idea she could think of was that he'd scavenged whatever he could find from the bodies left over from a clash between the Imperials and Stormcloaks – but if he wanted armour, couldn't he have found a more… conventional method of obtaining it?
The Redguard reached the counter and placed his hands upon it – even from a distance Jenassa could see that they were calloused, probably from years of handling a weapon. He said nothing, waiting for Elrindir to notice him and hurry over before speaking.
'A bed,' he said, in a voice so low that even Jenassa, whose elven ears usually could pick up the slightest sound, had to struggle to make out the words. 'How much?'
'Ten Septims for the night,' Elrindir replied.
The man nodded and reached into a small leather pouch at his waist, withdrawing a handful of coins. He counted through them in a slow, deliberate manner, before placing ten on the counter. Elrindir scooped them up. 'Anything else? Are you in need of weapons, or a meal?'
The Redguard gazed at the remaining gold he was holding for a moment, his brow furrowed, then pointed to the pot of stew simmering over the hearth. 'How much?' he said again.
It was something of a tradition in the Huntsman that there would always be a stew of some sort available. Jenassa had taken some for her evening meal; tonight it was venison from a deer that according to Elrindir had been running free over the plains that morning.
'Eight for a share, friend.'
Coins exchanged hands, and Elrindir reached behind the counter to bring out a small wooden bowl and spoon. The stranger nodded to him and approached the stew pot. He stared at it for a second, almost as if he was surprised to see food in front of him, then ladled a portion into his bowl and sat down, cross-legged, beside the fire. He took his time swallowing his first mouthful, seemingly savouring the taste, then shovelled down the rest as purposefully as if he were a blacksmith stoking a furnace. Jenassa watched with amusement. It looked as if he hadn't eaten for a while. By the time he set his bowl aside, it was completely spotless.
Seeing as a mug of ale was the only other thing she had to entertain herself with, Jenassa found herself watching the Redguard with interest as he pulled a map from inside his jacket and spread it out on the floor in front of him. It appeared to be a map of Skyrim, with the major roads and settlements marked upon it. A wonky cross had been scrawled a short distance away from Riverwood, and the stranger was tracing a path from Whiterun to the mark with his finger.
Jenassa's curiosity overcame her. 'Looking for somewhere?'
The Redguard's head slowly turned towards her, and for the first time, Jenassa saw his face. His skin was dark tawny, his eyes very deep brown, his hair jet black and – from what she could see of it beneath his hood – cut quite short. A line of white warpaint began between his eyebrows and stretched partway down his nose before branching out into two lines that travelled below his eyes, with two more streaks below them. A thin pink scar cut through the paint marks on his left cheek.
His eyes locked onto hers for a moment, unblinking and unflinching, and Jenassa felt a strange feeling come over her, as if the Redguard was looking right inside her, uncovering every secret she had ever kept. Before she could grow uneasy, though, he turned his head away and pointed at the cross marked on his map.
Jenassa decided to take this as an invitation to leave her corner and move a little closer. The words 'Bleak Falls Barrow' were scribbled beside the cross in tiny, perfectly formed letters.
'The Nordic tomb?' Jenassa asked. 'What do you want with that place?'
'Fetch something,' the Redguard replied, without looking at her.
After running his answer through her mind for a while, Jenassa decided he'd meant that he needed to fetch something. 'What sort of something?'
'Stone. For the Jarl.'
Jenassa had no idea what the Jarl might want with a stone, but she had a feeling that the man wouldn't be wasting his time in a Nord burial site if it wasn't important. She frowned. He didn't look up to trawling through that kind of ruin. She didn't doubt that he could use his weapons, but his patchwork armour wouldn't provide him with all that much protection. 'Have you ever been to a Nordic ruin before?'
He shook his head.
'And you're going alone?' Jenassa couldn't keep the incredulity out of her voice.
The Redguard carefully folded his map and replaced it inside his tunic. 'Dangerous?'
Again, Jenassa had to work for a moment to work out what he meant. 'Of course they're dangerous. Traps of every kind littered all over the place, nothing to eat, nothing to drink, cold as Winterhold in Evening Star. And don't get me started on the Draugr.'
'Draugr?' the man repeated, and this time he looked at her as he said it.
'Ancient Nords cursed with undeath.' Elrindir, overhearing their conversation, called over from behind the counter. 'Foul creatures. I've never seen one myself, but I've heard stories, and none of them are pleasant. Nord tombs are swarming with them. It wouldn't be wise to go alone.'
The Redguard raised and lowered his shoulders in a slow shrug. 'No choice.'
Jenassa felt a spark of excitement kindle inside her. If this man was going to Bleak Falls Barrow, and if he had no one to accompany him… perhaps he might be in need of a skilled warrior like her. It was mind-numbingly boring, sitting in the Huntsman waiting to be hired. Now, at last, she had a prospective customer.
Before she could voice her idea, Elrindir beat her to it. 'There are plenty of mercenaries who'd be willing to go with you. Jenassa here, for instance.'
One of the stranger's eyebrows lifted a fraction, but he said nothing.
Jenassa decided it was time to sell herself a little. 'I have delved into many a Nordic ruin before, and I know how to get out of them alive. I know how to defend myself against any foe those caverns might hold. I know how to kill them. Death is my art, and like all artists, I seek a patron. For a mere handful of gold, I will follow you into any danger.'
The Redguard's expression did not change; it was impossible to tell what he was thinking. 'How do you fight?'
It was the longest speech she'd heard from him so far. Jenassa found herself tempted to say, 'With a sword,' but something told her it wouldn't be appreciated. 'I fight from the shadows, so that I see my enemies long before they see me. I'm not one to charge recklessly into combat. The first thing my foes know about my presence is my sword in their throat.'
'And she's trustworthy.' Elrindir spoke up, making the stranger turn his head towards him. 'I've seen plenty of people hire her and set out on some quest with her, and they've all come back.'
Jenassa shot the Bosmer a quick smile. It was good of him to help her find clients – she supposed it was his way of thanking her for consistently lodging in his inn, rather than in the Bannered Mare.
The Redguard rose to his feet and looked at Jenassa carefully. 'How much?'
'Well, an expedition to Bleak Falls Barrow should take three days at the most. How about two hundred Septims?'
The man shook his head. 'Not enough.'
Jenassa was momentarily thrown, wondering if he was saying that she wasn't charging enough, then worked out that he didn't have enough money. She wasn't surprised. Still, there were ways around that. 'Alternatively,' she said quickly, before he could turn away, 'In the Barrow, you could allow me to take whatever valuables might be inside until my fee has been paid.'
He tilted his head on one side slightly, his brow creased. Then he gave a single nod.
'We leave at dawn,' he said, and held out his hand.
Jenassa took it. 'Name's Jenassa, in case you didn't catch it.'
He stared for a second. Then he said, 'Ozan.'
They shook hands, and the deal was struck.
The mission to Bleak Falls Barrow had not taken as long as Jenassa had predicted, but it had been long enough for her to learn several things about her employer.
The first thing she realised was that he hated speaking. He didn't seem to have a problem with being spoken to, but every time he said anything, Jenassa was given the impression that he was running the sentence through his head to make sure it contained as few words as possible. If he could answer a question using only body language, he would. And he hardly ever initiated a conversation – in all the time they spent in the Barrow, the only things he said to Jenassa without her speaking to him first were, 'Stop,' 'Wait,' and, 'Behind you!' He very seldom raised his voice, and his speech was almost always as emotionless as his face.
She also soon learned that he was a powerful warrior. His fighting style was almost identical to Jenassa's. Like her, he preferred to walk in the shadows, advancing on his enemies from behind, cutting them down before they saw him. But when he was forced to engage in open combat, he fought with a vicious, smooth efficiency that was somewhat frightening. His sword would effortlessly block aside the blows the Draugr sent his way, while his dagger searched for openings, usually finding them quickly. His was a way of fighting designed to cut down the enemy as fast as possible. He took no risks, and he showed no mercy.
And yet, despite his cold exterior and his ruthless killing, Ozan genuinely seemed to want Jenassa there. If he found a gemstone or handful of gold on the body of a fallen Draugr, he would pass it to her instantly. If they found themselves unsure of where to go, and she asked, 'Which way now?' his reply was always, 'What do you think?' And if she found herself backed into a corner by the Draugr, he would be there to help in seconds.
He had been a puzzle from the start. And after they had found the stone – it was called the Dragonstone, she learned, and it was a map of dragon burial sites – and returned it to Whiterun, he only became more confusing. The gold they had found in the tomb hadn't been quite enough to pay Jenassa's fee, so she had accompanied him to deliver the stone, in case he was given a reward that would allow him to pay the rest. And then a guard had arrived, panting something about a dragon attacking the watchtower, and the Jarl had turned to Ozan, saying that he had 'the most experience with dragons,' and that he should go with the men to fight the beast.
Before she could question how exactly her hirer had experience with dragons, he was nodding. He shot a glance at Jenassa, his gaze questioning, and she knew that here and now she had a choice. He still owed her twenty or so Septims, but she could leave now easily, and let him tackle the dragon alone. But something made her stay and say that she would help him. Perhaps it was because she didn't want to pass up a chance to see a real, live dragon, or maybe she simply wanted to learn a little bit more about her mysterious client.
Whatever the case, she had gone with him, and soon the dragon had been lying dead on the ground. Ozan had been the one to down the beast, leaping onto its head and driving his sword down between its eyes. Jenassa had just been about to remark to Irileth how that had been a lot simpler than she'd anticipated when… something had happened. She wasn't sure exactly what it was, but what it looked like was that every part of the dragon except for its bones had turned into fire. And the fire had turned into light. And the light had formed a glowing river in the air, and flowed forwards - into Ozan. And he had stood as if frozen, his brown eyes wide, as every last speck of the light was sucked inside his body and disappeared from view.
There had been a lot of confusion after that, and the guards had seemed extremely excited, and the word 'Dragonborn' had been thrown about rather freely. And a few minutes later an echoing voice – or maybe several voices – had thundered down from the clouds. 'DOVAHKIIN!'
It wasn't for about half an hour later than anybody seemed to want to leave Ozan alone. First the guards had started asking him to shout, which was not exactly something natural for Ozan, though it turned out this was some special kind of shouting in the dragon language – and Ozan had done it, all right, knocking the guards backwards with nothing but a bellowed word. And then the Jarl had started lecturing him, telling him how he was meant to climb the Throat of the World and talk to some people called Greybeards. Jenassa couldn't help but wonder what that particular group would do if a woman chose to join them – or indeed anyone who didn't have a beard, let alone a grey one. And finally they had left Dragonsreach, and Ozan had sat down rather heavily on a bench beside the Gildergreen.
Now, Jenassa felt even less sure of what to make of him than she had when they had first met. What she did know was that he was shaken. It was clear from the way that his jaw was clenched, and how he stared at the cobblestones as if he couldn't hear the rustling of wind through the Gildergreen's ancient branches, or the shouting of the children who chased each other around the streets.
'All right?' Jenassa asked quietly, taking a seat beside her hirer.
He nodded, but his face didn't agree with the action.
'They seem to think it's some kind of honour,' Jenassa remarked, after they'd sat in silence for a few minutes. 'Being this… Dragonborn. I can't say I've ever heard of it.'
For a moment or two, Ozan was silent. Then, in a voice so quiet Jenassa had to strain her ears to hear him properly, he said, 'I don't want it.'
'Why not? From what those guards were saying, it gives you abilities – '
'And responsibilities. I don't want them. I have a promise to keep. I swore nothing would get in the way.'
Twenty words in a single speeec, Jenassa thought. That's a new record.
'You're not going to see these Greybeards then?'
He shook his head.
'Is that no, you won't see them, or no, you won't not see them?'
'I thought you didn't want – '
'But I must.'
His voice was so hollow, so resigned, that Jenassa decided instantly that she had to do something to try and take his mind off all this. 'It's past noon,' she stated, taking a quick look at the position of the sun. 'And we've not eaten since dawn. How about we get something to eat in the Bannered Mare?' Loyal was she was to Elrindir, she had to admit that the Mare did better food.
To her surprise, Ozan rose to his feet instantly, nodding.
The Bannered Mare was fairly crowded, as it often was at this time of day. Mikael was leaning against a pillar, strumming on his lute as he sang 'Ragnar the Red.' Uthgerd was cradling a tankard of mead, scowling as always, Sinmir was talking quietly to Hulda, and Brenuin was slumped on a bench at the edge of the room, gazing into the fire. Carlotta Valentia and her daughter appeared to be buying a loaf of bread from Saadia. Jenassa couldn't help but think how odd it was that to all these people, it was simply another day. Ozan had turned out to be some sort of legendary hero, but none of the Bannered Mare's customers or staff had any idea.
Ozan took a seat at a small table, and after an extremely short deliberation about what to buy, Jenassa approached Hulda, handed over their money, and swiftly returned to the table carrying two plates and a small bottle. 'Here,' she said. 'Pheasant roast for you, a salmon steak for me, and a bottle of mead to share.'
He didn't seem to be listening, and when Jenassa looked up from the food, she noticed that he wasn't even looking in her direction. She followed his gaze, and saw that it was fixed on the bar, where Hulda and Saadia were talking. His face was oddly rigid, and his hand had dropped to his sword hilt.
'Who is she?' he asked, and the words came out as a hiss. 'Her. There.'
He pointed. Jenassa frowned. 'Saadia. She works here. Sweeps the floors, serves food. Been here for years.'
He did not reply. Across the inn from them, Saadia turned around to speak to Mikael, and Ozan's eyes narrowed into slits.
'Iman,' he snarled.
'What are you – ' Jenassa started to say, but before she could finish the sentence, Ozan rose to his feet. His fingers were wrapping around his sword handle.
'Ozan, no!' Jenassa jumped up, wondering if she should grab hold of him. 'Not here!'
If Ozan had something against Saadia, and if he wanted to see her dead, that was fine with Jenassa. But it wouldn't be wise for him to do it in the middle of a packed inn, with everyone watching. More than once she'd had an employer break the law and it had never been easy persuading the guards to leave her alone afterwards.
The Redguard stopped, his eyes still fixed on Saadia, then slowly sunk back into his seat.
'If you're looking for a fight with her, wait until there's no one else around,' Jenassa said, unable to keep her relief from showing in her voice. 'Or half the city will be baying for your blood. And if you get killed, how am I supposed to get the rest of my money?'
Her joke did nothing to relieve the tension. Ozan picked up his knife and fork and sliced into his pheasant so ferociously that he left a deep scratch in the plate. 'Later,' he growled.
'What do you have against her?'
He didn't reply. She hadn't really expected him to.
After they'd eaten, Jenassa managed to convince Ozan to leave the inn and make for Belethor's, shop, to sell off some of the jumble of items they'd found inside the Barrow and had been small enough to carry with them. The Redguard was still glaring over his shoulder at Saadia as they left, and all the time they were in Belethor's shop, he seemed on edge. Jenassa had a feeling it wouldn't have taken much to make him snap, and when Belethor said something about how he'd sell his sister in a moment if he had one, Ozan's hands clenched into fists. But he did nothing, and said nothing until they'd left the store.
'Here,' he said, placing twenty gold coins in her palm. 'Thank you.'
And just like that, their business was concluded. To her surprise, Jenassa found that she was disappointed. For all his emotionlessness, she rather liked the Redguard. They weren't all that different, the pair of them. And she would have killed to find out why he seemed to loathe Saadia so much. But she knew that she had been dismissed.
'Don't mention it. It's a lonely thing, facing all the dangers of Skyrim by yourself. If you ever need an extra blade, you know where to find me.' Jenassa closed her hand around the coins. 'Hmm. I think I've got enough to buy myself a new sword, now.' She'd been using the same weapon for some years, and it was beginning to be more dent than blade.
Ozan's eyes sparked with interest. 'Where?'
'Warmaiden's. It's near the main gate. Best place to get weapons for miles.'
He pulled his Imperial-style sword from his belt and looked at it with distaste. 'Show me?'
As Jenassa led him towards Adrianne and Ulfberth's shop, she watched Ozan with increasing puzzlement. Saadia had been in Whiterun for years, as long as she could remember. If Ozan didn't know where Warmaiden's was, then he couldn't have been to Whiterun before. But if that was the case, how could he know Saadia?
It doesn't matter, she told herself. In a few minutes he'll have vanished from your life, just like all the others. Just like it's meant to be.
As they neared the city walls, Jenassa caught sight of a guard standing near the gates, talking heatedly to a pair of citizens. That was nothing very unusual, except that they were both Redguard men, dressed in identical grey and brown tunics, cream breeches and long cloaks, with scimitars strapped at their sides. One's head was shaven, while the other had a pale blue cloth wrapped around his head, in the same way that Ozan wore his Stormcloak sash. More Redguards. That race seems to be everywhere recently, Jenassa thought. First Ozan, then Saadia, now these two.
'Look, you've already been told you're not allowed here,' she heard the guard saying as they drew nearer. 'Turn around and go back the way you came.'
That was definitely something out of the ordinary. Apart from bandits and Khajiit caravans, Jenassa had never known the guards to forbid anyone to enter the city.
'We're causing no trouble,' one of the Redguards retorted. 'All we ask is to look for her.'
Jenassa felt rather than saw Ozan stop dead in his tracks beside her, and before she could think about what she was doing, she stopped too.
'I don't care what you're doing. After what happened, you're lucky I don't toss you in jail,' the guard snapped. 'Now get lost.'
'We will be back,' the other man growled. 'This is not over.'
Both he and his companion turned and marched towards the gate. As they pushed it open, Jenassa was about to head inside Warmaiden's and forget that she had ever seen them when, without warning, Ozan broke into a run.
'Kasif!' he shouted. 'Numan!'
The two Redguards spun around, and Jenassa saw their faces split into disbelieving grins.
'Ozan?' One of them took a step towards him as he skidded to a stop in front of them. 'What are you doing here?'
'Me?' Ozan said, his eyebrows lifting.
'I suppose he's got as much reason to be here as we have,' the other man said with a shrug. 'It's good to see you. Thought you were long dead. Where's Meerah?'
Jenassa, moving closer, saw Ozan tense for a moment, then give a minute shake of his head.
The man wearing the hood placed a hand on his shoulder. 'I'm sorry, Zan.'
There was a moment of silence, then the hooded one asked, 'So. Why are you here?'
'For the same reason as we are, I expect,' the other butted in, before Ozan could say a word. 'Looking for her.'
Ozan nodded. 'I found her.'
Jenassa's curiosity overcame her, and she warily approached them. 'Do you mean Saadia?'
The two strangers instantly reached for their scimitars. 'This is nothing to do with you, elf,' Hood snarled.
Ozan held up a hand. 'No. She's a friend. She can help. If she wants.' He turned and looked questioningly at Jenassa, who shrugged.
'If there's anything I can help with, I'd be glad to.'
'We'll give good money for any assistance,' Shaven-Head told her, moving his hand away from his weapon.
Answers and a profit, Jenassa thought. Perfect.
'We may need her,' Ozan said. 'Where's Kematu?'
'We've made camp in a cave not far from here. He's there. So are the others – some of them, anyway. I think he'll be pleased to see you.' Hood was grinning from ear to ear.
'Have you really found her?' Shaven-Head demanded. 'Are you sure?'
His nod seemed to satisfy them, and they exchanged gleeful smiles. Ozan seemed to have completely forgotten about buying a new sword, but then, Jenassa had too. 'Lead the way,' he said.
Jenassa hurried to catch up with him as he strode off after his two kinsmen. 'I hope you won't mind if I ask what's going on.'
'No time to explain now, Dunmer.' Hood appeared to have overheard them. 'If you're really on our side, you'll see soon enough.'
Ozan cast a fierce glance back in the direction of the city. 'And so will she.' His eyes glinted dangerously. 'The Greybeards can wait.'
Despite the fact that she was in the company of complete strangers who would probably kill her the moment she put a foot out of line, and the fact that she had no idea whatsoever what was going in, Jenassa smiled to herself, more out of amusement than anything. She didn't know who these people were, or how Ozan knew them, or what their interest in Saadia was. But she knew one thing for sure.
Ozan was the strangest hirer she'd ever had. And he was also by far the most interesting.
Ozan hasn't completely forgotten about being Dragonborn - it's just that now he's found the Alik'r, he has (to him) more important things on his mind.
I expect that you'll probably be able to work out what Ozan's problem with Saadia is, but Jenassa won't be finding out 'till next chapter. I'll try to write it quickly, but it'll have to wait until I've finished the next chapter of Dragonheart, and I've also got a request for a friend that needs writing, so there might be some delay. It'll be up before long though, I promise.