29 - Trapper

And that's about the way it worked out. Ulfric was still reluctant to sign, but fortunately Esbern spoke up and reminded everyone of the greater threat. He also had the answer to a problem that had been worrying me: how to get a dragon to come to Whiterun and be captured.

"Every dragon's name is made up of three words of power. It's a Shout, that the Dragonborn can use to get its attention. It won't be compelled to come, but it should be enough of a challenge for it to want to investigate. And I've found, in the Akaviri archives, the name of at least one dragon whose burial site we can identify. Since that burial mound is now empty, it's one that Alduin has raised."

"The name is Od-Ah-Viing, which means something like 'Winged Snow Hunter' in the dragon tongue. Call that name from Whiterun, and I'm sure the dragon will appear."

Jarl Balgruuf nodded to Arngeir, who took the opportunity to firm up the terms of the treaty. Arrangements were made for the displaced Jarls to move to Windhelm and Solitude, and new ones were agreed to replace them. Elenwen had to agree to move her agents out of Markarth, so it was a good thing we had her stay.

Of course, Balgruuf wanted to know how I proposed to subdue the dragon once I'd called it. I told him about dragonrend, and how that would force the dragon to land. It was then just a matter of luring it into the trap that was already built in to the palace. The balcony was small, and there wasn't anywhere else it could go, so I had confidence of doing that.

Back in Whiterun, he issued orders that just he and I, and a few guards that had volunteered to operate the trap, would be allowed on the balcony. Not even his housecarl would be with us, although it was clear that she was chafing at the restriction. I was impressed that Balgruuf was doing this himself, and not delegating the responsibility.

We only lost one guard in the process. He'd foolishly run out with his bow to take on the dragon when it appeared, despite being told to stay back and leave it all to me. The whole point was to make this a one-on-one battle between the dragon and myself, so I'd have his complete attention. Once I had him grounded, I backed up into the building and he followed.

The Jarl gave the order at the right time, and the yoke descended onto the unsuspecting dragon's neck, and locked around it.

"You've gone to a lot of effort to put me in this humiliating position," he told me. "What is it you want of me?"

I asked him if he knew where Alduin had gone, after our battle at the Throat of the World. He'd heard about that, and had started to wonder if Alduin really was as powerful as he'd presented himself.

"He has gone to Sovngarde, where he feasts on the fallen Nords to restore his power. It is his privilege, which he guards jealously, as the source of his ascendency over the rest of us. The portal is at the temple of Skuldhavn, which can only be reached by flying. Can you fly?"

I could see his point. Unless I set him free again, and he flew me to Skuldhavn, the knowledge itself was useless. We haggled a bit more, and I agreed. I needed a little more from him, in particular his neutrality at least in any further conflict.

So now I had a means to reach Skuldhavn, and presumably Sovngrade from there, but Odahviing could only carry me. What about Zahra?

"Summon me when you get there. It's less unpleasant than not being there, and worrying about what might be happening without me. As your housecarl, I'm supposed to be with you."

Balgruuf said nothing, although I noticed that Irileth had joined him as soon as the trap had been sprung. And now I was opening it again, and he wasn't sending her away.

"This is as far as I can take you. Krif voth ahkrin. I will look for your return, or Alduin's."

I summoned Zahra immediately, and as soon as she appeared, she was hurling fireballs at the draugr archers guarding the entrance. They were soon joined by a dragon, which I brought down with dragonrend, and a number of sword-wielding wights. I needed to stop and heal before moving on.

Around the first corner there was another dragon, and more draugr, but now we had space to back up and draw them to us. Zahra could stand back out of their range, and pick off the stragglers, and it wasn't quite the frantic scrabble it had been at the beginning. I looked around the walls looming over us and planned our approach.

As soon as we could, we went up a level, and started to clear the walls. I didn't want any of the draugr getting behind us. We picked up a few helpful potions from chests, and managed not to use them all right away!

It appeared that the portal we were looking for was on the other side of the Temple, which may have been built through the tops of the mountains. There was certainly no sign of it from here.

It was about half-way through that temple that I started thinking: how did this all get here? Having time to think about things like that in the middle of battle can be a good sign, because it means that the fight has become routine, and the enemies aren't demanding my full attention. On the other hand, I'm also more likely to be interrupted by something I wasn't expecting, because my attention isn't focused as it should be.

But this was relevant to the task: it would give me some clue as to what was ahead. I was fighting draugr, the remains of men who clearly hadn't flown up here on their own. Had they been here since the Dragon Wars, just waiting for someone to visit? And who had built this temple? It wasn't something dragons did, and the style was definitiely Nordic.

One possibility was that it wasn't as isolated in the past. Even mountains fell occasionally, and the path to get here may have been destroyed long ago. And if there was a portal to Sovngarde at the other end of all this, maybe some of these draugr were the ones who couldn't get in, and had to turn back.

I had more time to think now. What lay before me wasn't more draugr, but another of their puzzle gates. They usually left the key for anyone with an active mind to read, as they were there to separate the thinking from the unthinking. Yes, there above me were the symbols I needed. Except that there were four of them, and only three pillars to turn.

But there were also two gates to open. The two pillars nearest their clues stayed set, while I turned the third pillar first to one setting, opening one gate that led nowhere, and then the other, which opened the path forward. I ignored the chest behind the first gate, as I had no need to carry anything more.

Because I was in a thinking mood, I also recalled that these sorts of puzzles usually separated the parts where the enemies were numerous, but low-level, from the parts where they were fewer, but more dangerous. I shared that with Zahra, although I suspected she'd had the same thought herself.

As we progressed, I also started to notice a couple of things about our opponents. First, that a significant number of them knew how to Shout. More than the proportion of the living Nords, certainly. Perhaps that was because they'd lived in a time when the dragons were more numerous, and there was more opportunity to learn them. Although the Greybeards had told me it takes a long time meditating on the words of power, it appeared that some were easier to learn than others. Unrelenting Force, the first one I'd learned, was common knowledge among the draugr, and quite a few also knew at least the first word of Disarm.

The second insight was that the draugr exhibited little or no coordination as a fighting force. Each one attacked as soon as it saw us, usually targeting whoever was nearest. They also tended to do stupid things like trying to Disarm Zahra, who was only using spells. It didn't work on me, either, as I'd grown too strong for that, but at least it made sense to try, when the War-hammer I carried was doing so much damage. Perhaps some of this was because they were all officers, wearing the horned helms that appeared to be a badge of rank. If the noises they made were language, perhaps they were all issuing orders and there was nobody of lesser rank to obey?