It was nearly nightfall when she made her way through the gates of Windhelm and marched straight to the Palace of the Kings. She had expected to find Ulfric brooding on his throne, but instead was drawn to the war room to her left by the booming sound of his voice. He was pacing the floors, Galmar standing with his arms crossed as he listened, eyes barely catching hers at first when she appeared in the doorway. His expression quickly changed, eyes widening as she stalked into the war room without a care for the fact that she was interrupting one of Ulfric’s moving speeches.
“I won’t waste valuable resources on this fool’s errand, Galmar. I can’t to send my men away from battle to find a crown that may or may not even be there.”
She walked right up to Galmar and held up the ice wraith’s teeth for him to see before dropping them onto the table, “It is done.”
“Good work, girl, though I won’t lie. We really didn’t think you’d make it back, but it seems I underestimated you.”
“I’d like to keep it that way.” She raised to her full height, which landed the top of her head just below Galmar’s nose. “If you keep underestimating me, you’ll never know what I’m capable of. It’ll make it easier to keep you guessing.”
“This one’s got true spirit.” Ulfric’s shadow lingered over her shoulder. “Why is she not out in the field yet? We could win this war with spirit like that.”
“I sent her out to test her mettle at Serpentstone Isle,” Galmar explained, slightly put off by the air of challenge in her stance. He was probably three times her size, and yet she had no intention of letting that give him the upper hand. Even if she did realize her attitude and true spirit, as Ulfric had called it, wasn’t likely to make her a favorite of the Stone-Fist anytime in the near future.
“She’s proven herself, and in good time too. Perhaps you should take her with you on this fool’s quest of yours.”
“She hasn’t even sworn the oath yet,” Galmar protested.
“Swear her then. She’s obviously ready to take up arms in my name.”
Galmar squinted, looking down the length of his broad nose at her before nodding. “Are you ready to take the oath, Unblooded?”
“I am no unblooded,” she said. “I am a Nord, a true daughter of Skyrim, and I would appreciate it if you kept that in mind.”
At her back, she heard the deep, undulating tones of Ulfric’s laughter, which didn’t seem to soften the bitter surprise from Galmar’s eyes. “I take back what I said a moment ago. This one doesn’t just show true spirit, she shows fire, a fire that will inspire everyone around her, and the Stormcloaks could use fire like that. What are you waiting for? Swear her in, Galmar, and take her with you to find the Jagged Crown.”
“All right,” he agreed. “Are you ready to swear fealty to the true High King?”
“Repeat the oath,” he ordered, spilling the words out so quickly, he must not have been expecting her to keep up.
When he finished, she looked over at Ulfric, and then back to Galmar, saying, “I do swear my blood and honor to the service of Ulfric Stormcloak, Jarl of Windhelm and true High King of Skyrim. As Talos as my witness, may this oath bind me to death and beyond, even to my lord as to my fellow brothers and sisters in arms. All hail the Stormcloaks…” She couldn’t deny the tingling of pride she felt saying those words, even if she had doubted them when she’d first heard them. “…the true sons and daughters of Skryim!”
There was no turning back now. She wondered if Farkas had already taken the oath, where he even was.
“Welcome, sister in arms.” Galmar seemed to soften a little after she’d taken the oath, withdrawing to follow Ulfric to the table. “The king would like you to come along with me on this important matter, so listen up.”
She had no trouble following their conversation. Galmar believed he’d located the Jagged Crown, and with that in their possession, it could strengthen their claim to the throne. “With the Jagged Crown in our hands, the people will no longer be able to deny you as their king, Ulfric.”
“How do you even know the crown is there?” Ulfric lifted a hand to stroke the short-cropped hairs of his golden, red beard, fingers lingering at his chin for a moment.
“I have it on good authority…”
“This better not be a waste of my time, Galmar.”
“I promise you, it won’t be, but we need to move quickly. You know as well as I do that the Imperials will be after that crown as soon of they get wind of it. We can guard our secrets as best we can, but there are always spies among us.”
After Ulfric had left them, Galmar gave her a uniform, but it was threadbare and thin compared to her armor and she couldn’t imagine giving up the Skyforge Wolf Armor she’d worn so long for a strip of cloth that would barely protect her during battle. Especially, if Galmar spoke true, they could plan on running into Imperials at Korvanjund.
“Just put on the goddamned armor,” Galmar shook his head. “You’re a Stormcloak now, though I can see it won’t be long before I regret letting Ulfric talk me into swearing you in.”
“I’ll wear the armor I have on,” she insisted. “And since I’ve proven myself, I’d like to take my shield-brother with us.”
“Farkas?” he asked. “That boy’s meant for the field. He’s set to leave first thing tomorrow morning.”
“I told you before I left here that Farkas and I may be strong when we’re parted, but we work even better as a team…”
“We don’t have time for lover’s to cling to each other, girl. This is war.”
“He is not my lover,” she tightened her jaw. “He is my brother, in blood and bond, and I am sworn to look after him. I took an oath…”
“And you just took another oath,” he reminded her. “You swore your allegiance to Ulfric Stormcloak, or have you so quickly forgotten…”
“Galmar.” Ulfric’s bellow caught them both off guard. She hadn’t heard him come back to the door of the war room, and Galmar obviously hadn’t either. “Let the woman take her brother.”
Galmar swallowed hard against his fury, and drew in a troubled breath. “Of course, my lord,” he said, glancing over her to where Ulfric stood. She followed his gaze, found the king standing in the doorway. He met with her eyes, and for a moment she felt as if he were cutting straight through to her soul. “But she’s putting the gods damned armor on.”
“Then I will do as my king commands,” she relented.
“Perhaps you should command her to follow my orders as well, Ulfric,” Galmar followed after the king. “She needs to know I’m in charge, and she can’t just do her own bidding if you’re not around to command her.”
As she began to unbuckle the straps of her armor, she heard Ulfric say, “Let her prove herself, Galmar. I have a strong feeling this one will only continue to surprise us.”
Their voices faded as she changed into the Stormcloak cuirass, glancing down over her body with a sigh. It wasn’t the sturdiest armor she’d ever owned, but it was better than the Cuirass she’d stripped off the dead Stormcloak the day she’d escaped Windhelm with Ralof and maybe she’d be able to move more easily.
She stepped into the hall and found it empty, save for Ulfric, who’d returned to brooding in silence on his throne.
“My colors look good on you.” He glanced up, an intrigued smile warming his lips. She didn’t know what to say, so she said nothing. “Go easy on Galmar,” he instructed. “It is clear you are a woman who follows her heart and her passions, but let him think he’s leading every once in a while, and he’ll come to depend on you, even confide in you.”
“I will do as you ask.”
“Good.” The silence between them was eerily uncomfortable, but he hadn’t dismissed her so she knew she couldn’t just turn and walk away. Finally, he cleared his throat and said, “I would still like you to demonstrate your Thu’um for me one day, Dragonborn.”
“Perhaps when you return with the Jagged Crown, if it’s truly even there as Galmar says.”
“I will bring you your crown, my king.”
He tilted his head thoughtfully, studied her in that strange way he seemed to study everything around him and she wondered what was going through his mind. Sure, he spoke deeply enough, but what lay inside the halls of the mind of Ulfric Stormcloak. She figured she would probably never know, but she was curious, nevertheless. Whatever it was, it all seemed far too heavy for one man, and though she still thought to herself that Ulfric was a bit of a blowhard, just as Skjor had once called him, maybe he would be a good king. He seemed to think everything he did through very carefully, and while many people felt his war was a fool’s game, Ulfric didn’t think so at all.
They would all find out, in time, she supposed. If they won his war for him. No… she stopped that thought in her mind before it could spread much further. When they won his war for him.
“I will be waiting,” he lifted an eyebrow. “Talos be with you.”
He dismissed her, and she went outside to meet with Galmar and the others.