“That is possible,” she nodded, shouting into the mists to clear them. “But we have to try anyway. And if he won’t yield, I will find another way.”
“I know you will.”
They hadn’t taken much time to tend to their wounds, and for the first time she noticed he was limping a little as they walked. “Are you all right?” She took off her gloves and stopped, drawing from the well of restorative knowledge inside her and lowering her hands over him.
“I’m fine,” he nodded, wincing a little and then relaxing as her healing hands restored his health. “My back is killing me, but it’s no worse than any other dragon we’ve faced.”
“No,” she disagreed. “It was worse. He was… so strong.”
“But you bested him, Lu. You sent him away in fear.”
“We bested him,” she reminded him. “Together. I couldn’t have done it without you.”
“We always did make a pretty good team,” he offered a meager smile as she withdrew her hands, stretching his shoulders back to loosen the muscles. “That’s good. I’m fine. I swear it. Save your energy, Lu. We have a long way to go until we reach High Hrothgar.”
It was well past nightfall before they arrived in the courtyard of High Hrothgar and made their way inside. The warmth of the hall immediately began to thaw her nearly frozen skin, and she drew down her hood before heading out to find Master Arngeir. He was alone in the hall, meditating behind the wall. He didn’t move when they entered, not until she stood beside him and cleared her throat, drawing his attention away from his meditations.
“Dovahkiin, you return.” He rose from the floor and bowed his head to her in greeting. “Did you… We heard you use the Dragonrend Shout. Is… Alduin, is he defeated then?”
“No,” she lowered her gaze to her feet. “He escaped, but Paarthurnax thinks we might be able to trap one of his allies in Dragonsreach, and get him to tell us where he’s gone. He’s likely gone to Sovngarde, but we have no way of knowing where his portal is, or how he gets there.”
“The Jarl of Whiterun will be hesitant to acquiesce to such a request, Dragonborn. If that avenue fails, what will you do then?”
“I will find a way.”
“It would seem you are determined to follow this path you believe the gods have laid out for you, and who am I to say you are wrong. I still wonder if it would not be best to allow Alduin to play his part…”
“If the gods wanted Alduin to play his part, as you say, why did they send me here in the first place?” she asked.
“Only you can answer that question.”
How many times had Master Arngeir said those words to her in the course of their time together? A hundred? More? He was right though. Even if the gods did guide her on her path, in the end only she could determine the final outcome.
The silence between them was almost more than she could bear. He was disappointed in her; it made her feel like a child, but what did he want her to do? She didn’t understand how he could just stand back and watch their world come to an end, and as much as she hated to admit it, for a moment she thought Delphine was actually right. The Greybeards did fear their own power, but they feared hers even more.
“We seek shelter for the night, if you will have us. The road to Whiterun is long, and we are weary.”
“Of course,” he nodded. “You are both welcome here as long as you need to stay, and if you wish to see the child, you are welcome to do that too.”
Hundr was sleeping, all curled up and tucked into his cradle, and after the nurse offered them her bed, claiming in a hushed whisper she would be happy for a bit of respite from her constant responsibilities, Luthien reached in and lifted him to her chest. He struggled in protest at first, stretching and fussing a little as she walked toward the bed with him and sat beside Farkas on the edge of the mattress. His arm came in to rest on her shoulder and she leaned into him, the two of them watching the little one in her arms fidget until he finally made himself comfortable enough to go back to sleep in her arms.
“He is a gift,” he said. The softness of his voice reminded her of that fleeting dream she’d had in Blackreach, the little girl they’d had together in some untold world where she’d made different choices. That life would never come to pass, no matter what happened between them now. She was not destined for a simpler life. The gods had seen to that.
“I just want to take him home with me and hide away from the world with him,” she whispered. “I never wanted to send him to this place, to see him raised by strangers, but Ulfric said he would safe here. If the Thalmor even knew he…” Ulfric’s foresight had protected their son. She knew in her heart, as she lowered her hand to rest on his tiny arm, that if they hadn’t sent him to the Greybeards, she would be mourning him as well.
“They won’t,” he promised her. “No one will know.”
The bed was small, built to sleep a single person, but somehow all three of them fit. Farkas pressed his back against the wall and Luthien nestled Hundr in between them. They both propped on their elbows, just watching him sleep, and when she finally laid down, hand on her son’s belly, Farkas lowered his atop it, curling his fingers around hers, caressing them and holding onto them until long after they fell asleep and knew only peace.
Dawn’s grey light stole through the windows and woke her little one. The sound of his anxious fussing startled her from sleep, and when she lifted herself from the pillows she spied Farkas with him in the chair in the corner of the room. Rocking slowly back and forth, he half sang and half whispered a gruff song that soothed and quieted the child. Luthien watched Hundr’s eyes widen, tiny hand reaching up to touch Farkas’s mouth.
It was a touching bond, one Hundr would never share with his own father, which saddened her, and for a moment she rested her head back on the pillow and just listened to Farkas sing. “The wind was brisk, the night was long and snow covered the ground, but even as she crossed the ice she never made a sound. He never heard her coming ‘til she reached down for his hand and led him to her icy tomb beneath old Irkngthand…”
Despite his deep tone, he had a soft singing voice. Normally he only put it into practice belting out tavern songs while they raised their flagons to another dead dragon, or while passing time on the road. Hundr gurgled and cooed, and Luthien felt a tear slip across the bridge of her nose, dripping onto the pillow beneath her head. She reached up to brush it away as the door creaked open and the nurse leaned in, eyes lighting up as she made her way in to take the baby. Farkas rose to meet her, handing him over delicately and then watching her leave the room with him before turning his gaze to Luthien.
“You looked so peaceful. I thought I’d let you sleep.”
“Thank you.” She sat up and lowered her legs over the edge of the bed, pushing herself to her feet. She walked toward him, lifting a hand to rest on his arm when she reached him. “You would have been a good father, you know.”
“Yeah,” she nodded, her gaze holding his.
“Maybe in another life,” he said.
She backed away and reached for Wuuthrad, which she’d propped against the wall upon coming into the room the night before. As much as she wanted to stay there forever with him, with her son and the peaceful Greybeards, hiding away from her troubles in the world below, she knew she couldn’t. There was work to be done, and no one else to do it but her.
“We heading out?”
“It’s a long way to Whiterun.”
“Lead the way.”
Master Arngeir did not try to appeal to her sense of reason again before she left, and she was glad for that. She didn’t know if she could take another guilt trip, though the lack of words she shared with her was enough to cement his feelings. He promised to make sure that if she did not return, her son would be well cared for. Luthien kissed her baby goodbye, for the last time, and then slung her gear over her shoulder to make the long descent into Ivarstead.
The journey from High Hrothgar to Whiterun took four days, bringing them to the gates just around midnight. They did not waste time, but marched straight to Dragonsreach to rouse Vignar from his bed, much to Brill’s dismay.
“The Jarl will not appreciate being woken at so late an hour. Perhaps you can come back in the morning.” Loyal to a fault, Brill had slipped rather easily into the role of steward after the Battle for Whiterun. Nobody understood Vignar’s better interests than the man he’d once saved, even an interest so minor as a good night’s sleep.
“Get out of the way, Brill.” Farkas tilted his head softly as he spoke in a low, intimidating growl. “You know we wouldn’t be here at this hour unless it was important. Now go wake up Vignar.”
“Oh, very well,” he sighed, trembling a little in Farkas’s wake.
Luthien and Farkas stood outside the Jarl’s quarters waiting for Brill to rouse Vignar, and for a time they heard hushed scolding and a bit of shouting they couldn’t make out. It was several minutes before Brill finally shuffled quickly out of the Jarl’s room and assured them he would join them momentarily.
“He always did get grumpy when we’d wake him,” Farkas shrugged, leaning back to watch Brill pad down the hallway and into the war room. “Not even Tilma could protect us if we were too loud in the mornings while Vignar was sleeping.”
Vignar took his time coming out to meet them, his face drawn into a heavy scowl until his gaze rested on Luthien. “My queen,” he lowered his head. “I’ll have Brill’s head. I did not realize it was you. I’m sorry to have kept you waiting.”
“I apologize for waking you, Vignar, but there is a matter of great importance we need to discuss as soon as possible.”
“I’m all ears,” he said, moving between them. “Come, come. Down to the kitchens and we’ll have a snack while we discuss this important matter of yours. I think there is some leftover apple pie.”
He talked while they followed him, offering his most sincere condolences. “I’ve never been more shocked in my life, as I was the day the courier brought that wretched news. Damnable elves. They’ve brought nothing but grief into our land.” She realized rather quickly that he thought they’d come about Ulfric, and for a moment she felt guilty that she hadn’t. Vignar just assumed she was there to secure her position as High Queen, and he wanted to assure her that he was on her side. “That’s what Ulfric would have wanted. Talos bless and keep him.”
“This isn’t about the Moot, Vignar,” she finally interrupted him just as he was sitting down at the table in the mead hall, gesturing for them to have a seat as well. She sat, leveling her gaze at him for a long time while trying to find the right words to appeal to his sense of honor. He was, after all, a Companion, the oldest living Companion, to be exact, and though there was very little honor in what he’d done to Jarl Balgruuf in order to claim his position on the throne in Whiterun, Vignar had been Ulfric’s man, through and through. She supposed there was honor enough in that. “I need a favor from you,” she began softly.
“Of course, my queen. I am at your service. Anything you need, just say the word and it’s done.”
“All right,” she nodded. “We need to trap a dragon in your palace.”
He chuckled uneasily, crossing his arms and leaning back in the chair as he muttered, “Huh. I must have a misheard you. I thought you just asked me to help you trap a dragon in my palace.”
“Vignar,” she reached out and rested a hand on his arm. “You know I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important.”
“What you’re asking for is insane, Luthien. Impossible… Why would I agree to let a dragon into the heart of my city after working so hard to keep them out? There must be another way to do whatever it is you need to do.”
“I know it sounds crazy, but it’s the only way we can stop the dragons once and for all. Alduin has returned.”
“Alduin?” His tongue stumbled over that name, eyes widening with dismay. “The World Eater himself? Doesn’t his return mean the End Times are upon us?”
“Yes. The prophecies are coming to pass, one by one, and if I don’t stop him, we are all doomed. He has set a soul snare in Sovngarde, and he’s been feeding his strength on the souls of our fallen brothers and sisters.” She hadn’t wanted to reveal to tell anyone else what she knew, but the doubt in Vignar’s eyes didn’t make the outcome look as if it was going to come out in their favor. It was his palace. He could just as soon tell her to go jump off the Dragon Bridge. “Ulfric, all those soldiers who died in the war, Vilkas… Kodlak.”
Something in him shifted then, from refusal to discomfort. “It can’t be…”
“What she says is true,” Farkas spoke up then. “I nearly died last year when the Stormcloaks took Fort Hraggstad, and every night since then I’ve dreamed of my brother. Wandering through the mists, calling out to me to help him. He’s lost and he can’t find his way…”
“No… It can’t be. After all the trouble you kids went to for Kodlka…” Vignar lowered his head in sorrow.
“We can still save him if we can get there in time. We can save them all.”
“I don’t know about that, but I suppose if you say it’s the only way…” He paused for a long time, deep in thought. “I’m afraid I still don’t understand how trapping a dragon in Dragonsreach will actually help us?”
“It’s the only way to find Alduin before it’s too late. I need to capture one of his allies and question him to find out where Alduin has gone. I have to find his portal to Sovngarde.”
“Then Whiterun will stand with you, Dragonborn,” he agreed with a firm nod. “We will take the risk and gain the glory, whether it be in victory or defeat. So, I’m assuming you have a plan then, a way to lure this dragon into our trap?”
The three of them shared a bottle of mead, while Luthien explained as much of their plan to Vignar as she could. He hardly spoke, only listened and by the time all the details were in order it was well past two a.m.
“We’ve got a big day ahead of us tomorrow. I suppose we should all turn in and get a good night’s sleep if we want to pull this off.” He finally rose from the chair. “I don’t know how I’m going to break this to the men… I’ll send a few of them out now to test out that old trap and make sure it still works.”
“Thank you, Vignar.”
“Don’t thank me until after we’ve trapped this dragon of yours.”
“We will be here in the morning.”