Disclaimer: I do not own any rights to Bethesda or the Elder Scrolls Series, I'm just messing around with it.
Rating: T for Teen due to some blood and violence, as well as some mild romantic scenes.
I sit on a barstool in the dim light of the Sleeping Giant Inn, nursing my ale and lost in thought. So much has happened in such a short time that even thinking about sorting it all out makes my mind start pounding violently against my skull. I sigh as I massage my temples and try my best to cast it all out of my thoughts for now.
"Troubles, friend?" a voice from behind the counter says to me, and I look up to see Delphine, the owner of the tavern. I don't know her terribly well, just a friendly face I see occasionally when booking a room at the inn or when strolling around Riverwood.
"Just a lot on my mind," I reply casually. There is no way a simple tavern owner could understand the gravity of my situation. She nods understandingly and walks toward the main dining area of the tavern, presumably to help other patrons.
"Lhessil?" comes a strong Nordic accent from behind me, and I turn to see another familiar face standing behind me in his regular Stormcloak attire.
"Hello, Ralof. Thank you for meeting me. I was afraid you hadn't gotten my letter," I greet him with a warm smile and he slides onto the barstool closest to mine.
"I only got it this morning," he says with a sigh as he settles in. "Damned couriers take their sweet time nowadays, don't they?"
I chuckle half-heartedly. "Would you like a drink?"
"No thanks," he says curtly. I can tell from his tone that the jokes are over and he wants to get right down to business. "Where have you been, Lhessil? The last time I saw your face you were heading toward Whiterun about to tell the Jarl about the attack on Helgen." He pauses, as if waiting for my response, but it never comes. "That was months ago," he says, obviously exasperated with my lack of communication. "Since then I have heard many things about you, and I can't say I know for sure which ones are merely rumors and which are truth."
I take a long swig of my ale and sigh. Finally I respond, "I know, I know. A lot has happened, Ralof. I can't say I'm proud of it all, but you saved my life in Helgen, and I know I owe you the truth."
"So tell me," he says impatiently. "Is it true?" I look at him inquisitively, not knowing which truth he is searching for. He lowers his voice and leans closer to me as he asks in a whisper, "Are you Dragonborn?"
I sigh and lean back, stretching my arms on the counter and trying to find the words with which to respond. "I think so. I don't know." I shake my head and look down to my legs as the thoughts that I swept from my mind earlier come flooding back in and confuse me everywhere they go. "The day I left Riverwood I went to see Jarl Balgruuf like I said I would." I look back toward him, and he is listening intently. "I told him about the dragon attack in Helgen, and before I knew it there was another dragon attacking the west watchtower outside of the city. So, he sent me and a few of his soldiers to investigate.
"When we got there, the dragon's death came with relative ease between all of us. But then it suddenly burst into flame, and this strange whirlwind surrounded me. And I felt…" I trail off, unable to find the words to accurately describe what it felt like. But as I gaze at Ralof, I realize that he will not say a word until I have finished my tale, so I struggle onward. "I felt like I absorbed the dragon. Its thoughts…. Its feelings… Its knowledge…" I take another deep sigh and look away from him again. I can barely comprehend it all even though it happened to me. I don't expect him to understand. I reach for my tankard and take another swig.
Ralof's mouth is hanging open in awe when my focus shifts back to him. He is quiet, and I shift uncomfortably in my seat. "Say something," I whisper urgently.
This seems to snap him out of his trance-like state, and he takes a deep breath and slaps his hands on his thighs. "You know, I think I will take that drink," he says with a smile. I laugh quietly, gladly accepting the change of mood, and wave Delphine over. She comes with a pitcher already in hand.
"My friend would like a drink," I say, and she sets about getting him a tankard of his own as I set a few gold coins out on the counter. "It's on me," I say with a smile.
"Thank you, friend," he says to me as Delphine finishes pouring his drink. He wastes no time in washing the whole thing down. I gape at him in astonishment as he slams his now empty tankard on the counter, but I quickly come to my senses as I realize this is probably normal behavior for a Nord. Ralof stretches as if settling in for a long conversation, then finally speaks again, "Alright then, what about the Greybeards?"
I raise my eyebrows in question, wondering how he could have known about that.
"Half of Skyrim heard the call," he says in response to my mental question. I flush as that dawns on me, embarrassed that I didn't realize it before.
"Er… Right," I say as I take another deep breath and prepare myself for another long-winded tale. "Well, I heard the call when I was on my way back to Whiterun to report to the Jarl that the dragon had been slain. I didn't know what it was that I was hearing at first."
"You didn't?" Ralof asks me with surprise. "Hadn't you ever heard the legends?"
I scoff, offended at the condescending tone he used. "I'm not originally from Skyrim, you know."
He takes my words into account and then looks me up and down quickly, I assume to take in the realization that I am, in fact, a Wood Elf – not a native to Skyrim.
"Right," is all he can manage to say in response.
"In any case," I continue with my tale, dismissing his tone. "I went back to Dragonsreach and Jarl Balgruuf filled me in on the whole Greybeard situation. He said they were calling for me from the mountain, and that I should answer their call. So, I did. I made the long journey to High Hrothgar. Nearly got killed by a troll along the way too, mind you. Anyway, when I got there they taught me a few things – kept going on about 'the Way of the Voice', and then sent me on another journey." I stop and take the last sip of ale from my tankard. I look back at Ralof, and he seems to be waiting for me to continue. But I shrug at him and say, "That's it."
"What do you mean 'that's it'?" He says, straightening up and raising his voice a little. "Did you go on the journey the Greybeards sent you on?"
I slouch in my chair a little bit, for some reason feeling overwhelmingly ashamed of myself as I shake my head slightly. "No."
Ralof says nothing, but I can tell just by the stern look on his face what he really wants to say. He wants to say that I have dishonored his Nordic traditions, that I disrespected the legendary Greybeards, and that I ought to be ashamed of myself. But instead, he collects himself, shakes his tankard in Delphine's direction to indicate that he would like some more, then says calmly to me, "So what have you been doing these past few months then?"
My eyes widen in surprise at his response, and it takes me a moment to recover my composure before I can continue. "Well, I uh… I went to Riften."
"Riften?" he says as he lifts his newly filled tankard back up to his lips. "What in Oblivion brought you to Riften?"
I bite my bottom lip and look around anxiously trying to find any excuse that I can not to answer his question, but I find nothing and reluctantly answer, "Er… The Thieves Guild."
Ralof's eyes shoot wide open and he nearly chokes on his ale as he drinks it. He slams his tankard back on the counter, but this time it is not at all empty and the frothy ale splashes violently from it. I push my chair back instinctively and narrowly manage to escape the mess. The scene seems to have attracted the attention of the entire tavern, as they all gape at Ralof – myself included.
"Um, maybe we should talk about this somewhere else?" I suggest in a whisper, breaking the deafening silence. Ralof simply nods, still wide-eyed, and tosses a few coins from his bag onto the counter before strolling toward the exit of the inn without saying a word. I turn and smile apologetically to Delphine who smiles understandingly back, then follow Ralof out of the tavern and into the chilly night.
I pull a short leather cloak from my satchel and secure it around my neck to keep the cold at bay since the ale doesn't seem to be fending it off very well on its own. I then follow Ralof around the corner and into an alleyway beside the inn. The darkness is consuming, but I manage to see his silhouette from the light pouring out of the windows of the inn. I cannot see him well enough, though, to be able to gauge his mood. I stand in front of him quietly and wait for him to say something.
He seems to be having some sort of a mental struggle. "You…" he says, then he changes his response to, "But…", then "What…" I bite my lip again while awaiting his response. I don't know why the thought of him being upset with me bothers me so much, after all I only met him once before this. Finally, he says sternly, "So the rumors about you are true? The ones about the Dragonborn becoming the new leader of the Thieves Guild and restoring them to their former glory?"
I nod slowly, my bottom lip still trapped under the pressure of my teeth. It takes me a moment to realize that it's too dark out for him to see my response so I add sheepishly, "Yes."
He turns around and storms away in what appears to be a fit of silent rage. I worry for a moment that he no longer wants to speak with me, but the thought leaves as quickly as it came when he turns back around and skulks back to me. "Why?" he says simply – angrily.
I am lost for words. How can I explain to him the joy that I have always felt in being a thief? How can he ever know the awful things that were going on in the Guild under Mercer Frey's reign? How can I describe the pride that I feel when I correct an injustice by stealing from the bad and giving to the good? All I can manage to say to him is, "I don't know."
He stays silent for a moment, stews and broods for a little while longer, and finally collects himself. "I don't even know why I am still talking to you," he says sharply. After another impossibly long moment he asks, "Are you still with them?"
That is a tough question. "Sort of," I say truthfully. "But I don't really lead them – Brynjolf mostly takes care of that. I have other things on my mind that I want to attend to."
"Like what?" he says, still being as abrupt as possible in his responses.
"Like… this whole Dragonborn mess." Suddenly he stops in his tracks and looks straight at me for the first time since we left the tavern. He seems to be waiting for me to elaborate, and I comply. "I feel like I ran away to Riften and the Thieves Guild in order to escape the chaos of this Dragonborn life that was being thrust upon me. Now that I'm the leader of the Thieves Guild, I feel like I'm not even fit to lead them. After all, I only ran from my own problems like a coward." I hang my head in shame, remembering the people in the Ratways of Riften who look up to me although I feel undeserving of it.
A moment of silence passes by, and I suddenly feel compelled to explain myself further. "That's why I asked you here, Ralof. I want to make it right." I look up and meet his gaze. "I am ready to lead the life of the Dragonborn and take on the task that the Greybeards assigned to me." Ralof still says nothing, but continues to stare unflinchingly at me. "And… and I want you to come with me."
This seems to grasp his attention. Finally he speaks, "Come with you? Why? Why me?"
"Because I can't do it alone," I say, and I can't seem to stop the words from coming as I speak them. "Because you saved my life when you didn't even know who I was, and because of that you are the only one in Skyrim that I trust completely." My mind flashes back to the fateful day in Helgen, remembering the buildings shattering to the ground and the fire everywhere… and Ralof guiding me through the destruction to safety.
Ralof's long sigh brings me back to the present. He grasps his face with his hand and slides his fingers down to his chin slowly. I think he's mulling over my request. Another impossibly long moment passes by, and finally he says, "Let me think it over. I need to talk it over with my sister, Gerdur."
With that he walks past me, probably toward his sister's home here in Riverwood, but I turn swiftly and grasp his wrist firmly to stop him in his tracks. "I leave tomorrow morning, with or without you," I say softly. "But I would really prefer your help."
Ralof looks to his side, but not all the way back at me. He pauses for a moment then nods once. I release his arm and he continues walking, not saying anything else. I watch him walk away for a moment and my heart sinks. This did not go as well as I was hoping, and now I am left with the great possibility of facing the road ahead of me alone. I clutch my cloak tighter around my arms and shuffle gingerly back into the Sleeping Giant to pay for a room for the night.