"Alright, look. I know you like bears now."
"Yes, yes, they're very tasty." No, they're not, bear meat is fucking gross. "But that doesn't mean you can go off and pick a fight with one just because you want to eat it!"
"Nnnno! Stop that! You're a Daedra, act like it!"
It's so fucking weird to see a scalon pout. "Now, I promise I'll summon you the next time we're hunting bear. But until then, I need you to behave. Can you do that for me Drew?"
"Good lad. You can go home now."
Brelyna, who had approached about halfway through that exchange and just watched in fascination, can't help but ask as it warps away, "I thought his name was Brent?"
"Oh, no no no," I wave a hand lazily, "Brent Spiner is a different one. The spike on his head is in a different place. No, this one was Drew. Drew Scalon."
"Are you going to name all of your summons?"
I shrug. "Don't see why not." It's fun!
She gives me an odd look but shakes her head and sits down, muttering "Must be a breton thing." Which it might well be. I'd know better if I were actually a breton. "So I noticed something," she says as she unrolls some paper, our map.
Smoothing out the map on the ground between us, Brelyna traces the path we've taken so far. Starting in Whiterun, skipping the part where we went to the bandit camp, she traces a path east along the White River, then south along the Darkwater to where we are now at Darkwater Crossing. The trip here from the towers was pretty uneventful for the most part. We ran across a dog trying to fight some wolves. I summoned Drew to kill the wolves which he did... And the dog... And then he saw a bear...
Yeah. Daedra with little more than animalistic intelligence, not the best at impulse control.
After that little altercation was dealt with, we decided to take a quick rest at the Crossing, that turned into a long rest when the people living here asked Brelyna who in turn asked me to take a look at the miners here. Coughing fits. Modern medicine knows exactly what this is, though here it doesn't quite have a name yet beyond "miner's lung". Spending all day in a mine they've inhaled a bunch of garbage that's scarring up their lungs. I could and did do a little for them, easing the inflammation and the most recent damage. But there's not much I can do about the scar tissue. I suggested they wear a cloth mask over their nose and mouth while they're down there...
Honestly, I don't really know how to help more than that. I don't even know if that would be viable. I'm not a miner, I don't know these things. All I know is they won't stop working even if I warn them it will kill them one day. There are plenty of problems I can't yet solve. It's... Irritating. Not very heroic for that to be my emotional takeaway but there it is. Something I can't just fix irritates me. But I'll get over it. Probably find a way to fix it incidentally as a part of my magic studies and never be bothered by it again.
Am I getting jaded already? Wow.
I blink as I look to Brelyna, watching me with a confused expression. "Sorry, I zoned out there for a moment. What was that?"
"I was saying, it would have been far faster to go the other way around the mountain to get to Ivarstead."
"The other way?"
Brelyna rolls her eyes and traces our alternate route for what I imagine is probably the second time. "If we went south from Whiterun, to Riverwood, to Helgen, then east, we could have gotten to Ivarstead in half the time. Plenty of rest stops too."
I blink in surprise. "Oh, we wouldn't want to go through Helgen now," I say, not wanting to admit that I'd never thought of going that way even once, despite her being absolutely correct. "Filled with scavengers and bandits, I'd bet."
Her face scrunches up. "What? Why? I thought it was a border fort town?"
"It was." She... Still looks confused... Oh! "Right, I forgot, College. Isolated. Helgen was attacked by a dragon. Almost everyone died."
She swallows thickly. "Oh... Right..." Carefully, mechanically, she rolls up the map. I think she's realising one of the things we fought and killed last week massacred an entire town recently. "Mister Casey... Could you give me another magic lesson?"
Walking. And walking. And walking walking walking. Just think of the slates, Casey. You get one on top of the mountain and you never have to walk this route again. Then you can take all the money you earned, craft more slates and start dropping them at the hold capitals. Then it's goodbye walking everywh–
Fuck. Brelyna. And Lydia. Shit. Well Lydia I can have as my bodyguard around Whiterun hold. Brelyna we could... probably work up the same system as I have? Put one in the College and I carry the other? That... could work.
Problems for later.
"Welcome to Ivarstead," I say with all the pomp of a bored tour guide running the last tour of the day.
"It's... homey?" Brelyna asks more than states.
"It's a rest stop for people on pilgrimage to High Hrothgar," Lydia says to explain the tiny village. "No more, no less."
"Have you been here before, Lydia?" asks Brelyna.
Lydia shakes her head. "No, I thought about making the trek when I was younger. Couldn't convince myself it was worth it though. The Greybeards don't let anyone into High Hrothgar after all. All I'd end up doing would be to climb a mountain, look at a big building for a few minutes, then come back down." Her brow furrows for a second before her lip turns up in a smirk. "Though... When I was very young I daydreamed about being inducted in their order. Then..." she shrugs and pats certain parts of her anatomy, "Certain facts of life were explained to me and those daydreams died. Can't really be a Greybeard when you can't grow a beard, grey or otherwise."
… Huh. Yeah, now that she mentions it, they were all men, even the ones that didn't become full members like Ulfric. "Well, on the bright side I think you dodged an arrow there," I note. "I for one am very glad you're down here helping and protecting people, rather than sat on top of a mountain contemplating the best way to yell at people."
Lydia's eyes betray disappointment. "My Thane, please don't say such things. For your sake and mine."
"Lydia?" I get the feeling I really messed up here somehow.
"For someone to receive such a Divine-given gift as the one you have, and be so dismissive of it–!" She bites out the words, tearing off her helmet, stalking off a few steps, "You may not respect our traditions, my Thane. But I ask you keep your disdain to yourself!"
She storms off, disappearing inside the small inn and leaving me standing, staring after her with my mouth open.
"Mister Casey, should I go talk to–?" Brelyna asks, pointing at the inn.
"No, Brelyna, just... Just give me a minute."
Does she respect the Greybeards that much? That she would explode at me like that when she's been so deliberate and deferential to me ever since she became my housecarl? That can't be. She hadn't said a word about them positive or negative until we got here and was asked about it.
'I may not respect their traditions'? Of course I respect their traditions! Just because I think Ulfric Stormcloak is a traitorous shitheel and that worshipping Talos openly isn't worth a pointless war and the Greybeards are a bunch of faux wisemen blowhards who think they're too good to mingle with regular people–
… I'm full of shit, aren't I?
Shit, I told her, to her face, that I don't care about her oath, didn't I? I'm a moron!
"Brelyna could you just wait here for a bit?" I ask, before noticing a guy with a huge sack of stuff. "Better yet, go talk to that guy, see if he needs some help."
"O-Okay!" Brelyna stutters out as I'm already headed for the inn.
Pushing open the door, it's a décor I'm fairly used to inside. Firepit, goat horn wall sconces, bench seating. I spot Lydia at the bar talking to the owner who looks to be the Swedish supermodel kind of nord. "Lydia, can we talk?" I ask as I approach, only noticing how crowded the place is in the moment, "Privately?"
"My Thane, I was just arranging rooms for us–"
I drop some gold coins on the counter. "Which rooms?" I ask the proprietor who with wide eyes points to a door on the north side of the building. I walk over and hold open the door, my housecarl taking the not so subtle hint and going through. I see the proprietor staring at me as I close the door, too far away for me to read her expression. Doesn't matter, none of her business.
"My Thane, I apologise for my harsh words," Lydia says before I even turn around to look at her. "It is not my place to question you–"
I hold my hand up to stop her, her jaw clicking shut. Breathing a sigh through my nose, I gesture at one of the beds. "Sit down." As she does, I take my own place on the opposite bed.
For a moment, the both of us are silent. Her because I told her to be, me because I'm still gathering my thoughts and what I want to say. The only sound in the room the drone of conversation in the main room.
"I am not what one would call a socially adept person," I begin. She'll likely let me talk for as long as I need to, so I'm taking the opportunity to convey where I stand. "I'm a scholar by trade, a shut-in and loner by inclination. I'm not good at conversation. I'm terrible at reading people. The best thing I can say about my social acumen is that when I feel inclined, I am a passably good liar."
"However, because I am a scholar, I am very much used to being, or at least considering myself, the most well-informed person in the room. Being that I am well-informed and have poor social skills, I will often tell people what I think. Because I have likely done more research on any subject I care to speak on, my thoughts should obviously be accepted and respected as the wisdom of a learned man." I take note of her look and add, "Yes, that was sarcasm."
"I insulted a group venerated in nord society, one you respect. I happily talk trash about Ulfric Stormcloak when half the province practically worships him. I dismiss free worship as unimportant. I said I don't care about your oath. Lydia!" I lean forward, hands clasped together, as close to begging as I can get without kneeling as I plead, "I need you to be less reserved with me!"
"I know you have a certain view of what a housecarl is and that you need to be proper and deferential and all that but I'm sorry, I need more from you than that! I need someone who will tell me when I'm being a moron! Someone who'll jab me in the gut with an armoured elbow when I'm offending people for no reason! I know this is a piss poor apology, I'm sorry for offending you by the way, but really that just makes my point all the more! I'm bad at this! And if I'm supposed to unite a bunch of people, get them to stop killing each other so we can deal with the world ending monsters, I need to not be bad at this!"
Lydia's eyes are closed, gauntleted hands in her lap. "My Thane," she finally speaks, "I would like you to apologise for what you said about the Greybeards."
Her eyes fly open again, "But you just said–!"
"I'm sorry what I said caused offense, but I stand by my words. I said I'm glad you're down here instead of up there. That is one hundred percent true. And I spoke derogatorily about the Greybeards spending all their time contemplating their "Way of the Voice", which they do. And it's true that I don't speak in awe of the thu'um the way nords do but... It's a power that only brought me hardship. If I had the choice, maybe I would go home, or just teach at the College and enjoy a highly inappropriate relationship with Brelyna. But I have the voice. I'm the Dragonborn. So I have to be here or everyone dies."
"I'm whining. And rambling. I am sorry about those things too, if it helps."
Her gauntlet clinks as a hand palms her face. "Divines above you really are bad at this." Her arms fold over her chest. "Very well. I will help you with this, my Thane. No matter how daunting the task may be, I swore an oath to your service and I intend to fulfil that oath."
"Did you really need to phrase it like–?"
"... Fair enough... Can I ask you a question, Lydia?"
"Of course, my Thane."
"Why won't you call me by my name?"
"Is it not obvious?" she asks, but shakes her head. "I suppose given what we just discussed, it wouldn't be. I call you by title because I am proud of mine. Your are my Thane because I am your housecarl." Her brow furrows. "It bothers you?"
I incline my head a little. "I want to be revered for who I am, not what I am. For people to respect and admire me and not any title or grand destiny I might hold."
"I see..." she murmurs before nodding firmly. "Another cultural divide we will work to bridge, my Thane, Casey."
Dammit, I'm not crying, you're crying! "Would it be inappropriate for us to hug right now, housecarl?"
"Not... If... That is your wish...?" Lydia hedges looking uncomfortable.
"Cool, I'm coming in!" I announce, wrapping my arms around her. I forgot she's wearing full armour under the fur so my hands slap into steel plate but I don't care. "Thank you, housecarl! I want you to know how much that meant to me and I'll try to do better about not being a prick from now on!"
"Uh, thank you, my Thane," she says haltingly.
I pull back for a second, "You know I won't hug you every time you say my name, right?"
"It's good to have confirmation, regardless."
It is a long walk up a mountain. Points given to whoever had the bright idea to make a clearly defined and walkable path, more points to the people who must maintain it (avalanches and rockslides are a thing). But by halfway up I would kill for a chairlift or something. Thankfully, even though Brelyna volunteered us to carry supplies up to High Hrothgar because I made a stupid suggestion without thinking about it, that part is actually easy to handle. I take the bag, pop over to the College to drop it off, then when we get to the top, I pop back to the College to bring it back! Simple!
Best part of teleporting. Never need to carry heavy shit anywhere.
That frost troll is as much a fucker here as he was in the game, by the way. We may have a fire atronach, and an apprentice fire mage, but the rest of us were basically useless. Well... Maybe not useless. But certainly on the level of glorified distractions from the ones actually dealing damage. With how cold it is up here, my own magic was basically useless since I don't have enough heat to make it worthwhile and I don't think my freezing trick would work too well. I'm half considering adding frost trolls as a research project solely to figure out how the damn things function.
Whatever. It died. Eventually. I swear, I should not be putting a frost troll on a similar threat level as a dragon but here we are.
Grabba the bag and–
"There we go!" I announce, opening the supply chest and dropping the bag of supplies in it.
"Couldn't we just give it to them when we go inside?" Brelyna asks.
"Nope!" I say cheerfully. "This is their system. No one's allowed in High Hrothgar but the Greybeards. Even people here to donate supplies, climbing a mountain to do so, get turned away at the door."
"My Thane..." Lydia says warningly.
I raise my hands in defense, "Just saying a true thing to answer a question."
She sighs with aggravation. I probably shouldn't be happy about that but I'm just so glad to get reactions from her that go beyond dutiful stoicism. "At the very least promise me you won't say such things to the Greybeards themselves?" I awkwardly clear my throat and admire some of the stonework. You have to be impressed by a castle that stands tall for thousands of years– "My Thane!"
Rrgh! "Fine! I'll be... I'll try to be respectful."
No, Lydia, that look will not get rid of the word 'try'. I'll do my best to be nice to the geriatric fucks that will inevitably jerk me around for no good gods damned reason. I can't give you more than that. "Very well," she accedes with a sigh. "Shall we knock?"
"Sure. FUS!" I shout at the door. I shrug at the look Lydia is giving me. "What? No one is allowed in to High Hrothgar. I need to prove who I am." As if to prove the validity of my words, the door creaks open. "See?"
No one appears in the doorway to greet us, so we take the open door as the invitation it probably is and enter, quickly closing it behind us to lock out the winter mountain cold.
"So... A Dragonborn appears. At this moment. At the turning of the age."
… I have totally forgotten what this guy's name is. I want to say Wulfgar and I am a hundred percent sure that's wrong. Lydia said to be respectful so... I nod. Okay! I've got it! Silent protagonist time! Can't say something rude if you don't say anything at all!
"You may have announced your arrival, but we must experience your shout personally. Let us taste of your voice."
… He really didn't need to phrase it like that. That was gross. "FUS!"
"Gah!" he grunts and I very deliberately do not smile as the old man stumbles backwards as he's blasted by a wave of force. When he fucks me about later, I will remember this moment to make myself feel a little better.
"Dragonborn. It is you. Welcome to High Hrothgar."
"I am Master Arngeir." Arngeir! That was... Not what I thought it was at all. "I speak for the Greybeards. Now tell me, Dragonborn, why have you come here?"
The muscles around my left eye twitch violently. Really? Really? "Would you excuse me for a minute? Thank you," I say, not waiting for his answer as I stiffly walk back to the entrance, only noticing as I go to shut the door that Lydia followed me out.
And as the door thunks closed, "AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!" I scream to the heavens.
"THIRTY SECONDS, LYDIA!" I yell, she sways back from the volume. "We were in there for thirty seconds and I already want to strangle him with his beard!"
"My Thane, I admit his question was ill-considered–"
"Ill-considered?" I echo incredulously. "Ill-considered. Lydia, they summoned me here."
"They didn't just summon me here, the method they chose to summon me called out, far and wide, to every man, mer and dragon in Skyrim that there is a Dragonborn. They announced to the world that there is a person out there that the dragons very much need to kill. And then! After we go out of our way, drag ourselves up this frigid bitch of a mountain and present ourselves for their oh-so-wise tutelage, he has the sheer fucking gall to ask what I'm doing in his living room?! What the fuck!"
"They didn't even need to summon me! What exactly was Balgruuf gonna tell me to do once I was revealed as the Dragonborn? Go find some other guy learned in the thu'um? I may hate Ulfric Stormcloak but at least he lives close to sea level!" My breathing is harsh, producing little, visible puffs of air as my rant peters out.
Lydia just looks at me patiently. "Are you finished?"
I take what I hope is a deep, cleansing breath but is more shaking, frustrated sigh. "Yes. Sorry, Lydia. I really didn't mean to rant at you, I hadn't expected you to follow me out."
"I am sworn to carry your burdens," she says, causing me to smile despite myself. She said the thing. "Even things such as this."
I try to express as much gratitude as I can through my smile. "Let's go back in."
As we re-enter the castle I can see Brelyna looking very awkward as Arngeir seems to be ignoring her entirely, eyes focused on me alone. I sigh through my nose. "I was summoned," I answer to his stupid, stupid question.
"Yes and weeks ago. You certainly took your time in answering our call." I am going to kill your dragon. I'm going to kill him, and probably all of you. I shouldn't enjoy it but at this point I honestly fear I will. "But no matter. If you are the Dragonborn then we must begin your tutelage in the Way of the Voice."
An afternoon. That's all it takes to learn Ro and Wuld. Arngeir is as astonished as I am disappointed. Because just like in the game, this is where Arngeir decides my training is complete.
"So that's it? Two words? You're teaching me two words and that is the entirety of the training you will provide me for facing immortal flying murderlizards." I feel Lydia's elbow jab me in the gut just like I asked for before but I'm not sure I can be more respectful than this given the circumstances. I watched them use other words!
"We require you to complete a trial to prove yourself worthy."
"Ohhhh, I get it," I tap my nose meaningfully, "Got a bunch of Dragonborn candidates lined up so I need to prove I'm the cream of the crop. I got ya."
"Your mockery of our sacred trials aside–"
"Sacred trials?!" I echo and oh gods I'm past the point of no return, aren't I? "You had me yell at an old man until he fell over and then run really fast through a gate."
Arngeir continues as though I didn't say anything. "You must retrieve the horn of Jurgen Windcaller from Ustengrav. Return here with it and we will continue your training."
"... Right. We'll just... go then."
Honestly, I'm pretty calm as we make our way back through the castle foyer, stopping only to check the map for where we're going next. "Ustengrav... Ustengrav..." Brelyna mutters, "I'm not seeing it–"
Thankfully, of all my spotty knowledge, I actually remember where that place is and make a little charcoal mark on the map.
"Hjaalmarch? Right on the coast? That's...!"
I nod, "The other side of the province, yes. The trial they're sending me on is to climb back down the mountain, travel half the length of Skyrim, trudge my way through a draugr-filled tomb, grab their ancient doodad that they don't actually need beyond the act of me fetching it, then come all the way back. Including climbing the mountain again."
"Wow..." Brelyna breathes with awe, "Lydia, your honoured elders are even worse than mine!"
Lydia shrugs helplessly, armour clanking with the motion. "There is a saying about meeting one's idols. Meeting the Dragonborn of legend was also an underwhelming experience."
I clutch my chest, dramatically. "It hurts because it's accurate!"
She smiles! She smiles! Yay! I have sassy Lydia now!
A/N: I was missing for a while, huh? Yeah. I mentioned I've been doing stuff on Questionable Questing recently and that's where all of my content has gone for that past few months. This fic will also be cross-posted there soon with a couple of racier scenes added in (because if I post said scenes here I'll be mobbed by pearl-clutching puritans and I still don't need the hassle).
Also, looks like this story is soon to be the most followed Elder Scrolls story on the site! That's awesome! I mean it's probably a little more popcorn than the current number one so that might help, but still. First time I've hit such a milestone. And I'm glad I'll get there actively thanks to a new chapter rather than people just passively finding the story. That's cool.
Still taking donations on the big P. My activity on this site has been limited recently but I still have yet to miss my weekly word count target.
Thanks for reading.