Part 72 - Journey to Windhelm

Even the weather cooperated with Clark's elaborate plan. When Diablita called Durnheviir's name, and he materialised on the tundra, the sky was clear and the view of the scene from Whiterun could not have been better. The grateful dragon delivered Diablita the first word of the Soul Tear shout, shared a chuckle with the humans about the Iman deception, and took off in search of a tasty goat. "A fresh one, of course. I hope I can remember what they look like."

"Are they all that big?" gasped Olfina when it flew off.

"I bet you ask all the guys the same question," Hélène countered, to cover her own amazement.

"How long does your summoning give him to enjoy his freedom here?" Clark asked Diablita.

"He didn't tell me, but I need to call him three times to get the whole shout. That must mean he goes back to the Soul Cairn after a while. I can call him again already, and I can still see him in the distance, so that's no indication. Didn't he tell you when you he told you his name?"

Clark thought back to when Serana, Valerica and he had frst encountered Durnheviir. He'd told Clark that he couldn't survive in Tamriel without the support of the Dragonborn. Perhaps he stayed as long as she wanted, which really meant as long as she was thinking of him.

That was going to be quite a while, as the dragon was the topic of conversation for most of their journey. He re-appeared to help them when the party encountered a hostile dragon and a dragon priest at Shearpoint, but they really didn't need that much help. Diablita's Dragonrend shout had already grounded the dragon, and Diablita and the pirates dealt with that. Meanwhile Clark showed Krosis that he could maintain his ward indefinitely, and spells alone just didn't do anything. Diablita came over, swung her Bloodskal Blade just once, and picked up the mask he dropped.

"What did you get from the word wall?" Clark asked. "Anything new?"

"Not much," said a voice behind him, which sounded a lot like Diablita's.

"Was that you? It sounded like it came from a completely different direction."

"Yes, that's what I learned this time. I have no idea what use that is, but it's something new, and I'll find out later what to do with it, i guess."

The second dragon encounter possibly extended Durnheviir's stay in Tamriel quite a bit longer, if Clark's theory was the right one. It certainly kept dragons in mind until they reached the Nightgate Inn.

Hadring was most apologetic that he only had one room available, not enough for nine guests. He showed it to them anyway, and Clark rented it. It had only a single bed, but there were pelts on the walls and floor, and Hadring had a few more down in the storeroom in the basement.

"Olfina should have the bed, as she'll be saving herself for Jon," Diablita suggested. "The rest of us will just fall in a heap when we finish tiring each other out."

"That's the way I see it, too," replied Clarisse. "The rest of us are used to standing up until we fall down."

"Fetch that, if I don't know how to do it standing up, I need to learn," Olfina replied. "The bed's for whoever falls in that direction."

"You won't get to fall until there isn't a man left that can hold you up," Hélène added. "And I've trained these well."

"Close the door. We'll need all the room we can get." Clark was always the practical one.

When Clark awoke the following morning he was sitting on the only chair in the room. Clarisse was still on his lap, covering him like a warm blanket. He couldn't see if anyone had ended up on the bed, as Clarisse's head was on his shoulder on that side. By the time she'd woken, too, and lifted her head, the rest were standing up and stretching themselves.

Getting dressed in the small room was diffficult, as you couldn't move without getting an elbow in the ribs. Everyone needed a turn sitting on the bed, or the chair, to get their boots on, which meant a lot of jostling around as one got up and another sat down. It hadn't been this awkward getting undressed the night before, had it?

There was plenty of room to sit down and eat breakfast, however. Clark couldn't help but wonder why the inn didn't dedicate more space to bedrooms, and less to dining.

They reached Windhelm about noon that day. The Candlehearth Hall had more rooms, and Elda assured them that extra beds could be added where needed.

"You'll want to take Olfina to Solitude now, won't you?" Diablita asked Clark. "And I'm sure that's what your housecarl will want, too, especially as you haven't been there for a while."

"My housecarls can survive without me. But I will be the one to take her. There's no point you travelling all the way there, just to come back here on your way back to Solstheim."

"I wasn't planning to go back just yet. I also have to go and see Brelyna, and see how she's getting on. She's been cooking up some kind of plot with Vicuña, and I want in on it, whatever it is. I think it has something to do with Neloth, but I'm not sure."

"And I'm not going to Solitude yet. I need to be here to arrange things with the East Empire Company, and make sure I get a fair piece of the Solstheim trade. I need their ships, and they need my goods."

"And everyone needs the pirates out of the way," added Clarisse. "How do we keep Olfina out of the fighting? You know there's going to be some, whatever else happens."

"We need to know where it's going to happen, before we know the answer to that," Clark replied. "So I think our next call should be at the EEC office at the docks."

The Company's entire operation seemed to consist of an empty warehouse, with one employee sweeping the floor. Clark knew that they weren't doing any business with Solstheim, as he'd got that covered himself, with Gjalund Salt-Sage and the Northern Maiden doing the only run. There wasn't enough traffic to sustain another vessel, and it was well-known that the Dragonborn favoured the Northern Maiden. Anyone trying to interfere with that route might get an unpleasant surprise.

However, the Morrowind mainland should be producing some flow of goods. Who was handling that? Orthus Endario, the floor-sweeping one, told Clark that the only other shipper in the port was Clan Shatter-Shield. Somehow, their ships got past the pirates, and the East Empire Company's didn't.

Clark and Hélène went next door to visit the rival office. While Clark chatted to the clerk, a Dunmer named Suvaris Atheron, Hélène lifted the logbook from the table at the back.

"It says in here that Suvaris travels regularly to Dawnstar to meet up with someone called Stig Salt-Plank, of the Blood Horkers." Orthus told them when he read the journal.

"Those are the pirates we have the charter for," Clarisse told them, "but I don't know that man's name."

"I do," Olfina interjected. "I remember him coming in to the Bannered Mare not all that long ago. He got into a fight with Uthgerd, and I had to rescue him."

"So let's all head for Dawnstar tomorrow, and see if that gives you any leverage with Stig Salt-Plank. It looks like he'll be there, and we can reach him before Suvaris does."