30 - Sovngarde

Eventually we emerged on the other side of the Temple, or rather, the same side but higher up. We'd opened the door using one of those dragon claw keys, which we'd had to take from the draugr guarding the door. More of the high-level draugr were waiting outside, and a couple of dragons with them, but the final guard was a dragon priest.

As he saw us approach, he turned to retrieve his staff, which apparently was holding the portal open, as it closed as soon as he picked the staff out of its socket. However, that was just as I reached him, and he didn't have time to use it. I have no doubt that it would have cast some nasty spell, so I'm glad my timing was right for once.

I put the staff back, and the portal re-opened. There was an obvious discharge of energy around it, much like the flames in one of the gates we opened between the Deadlands and Tamriel. But this wasn't flame, which meant we probably weren't going into somewhere hot, like Dagon's Realm.

I picked up the priest's mask, unsure why I wanted it. Perhaps I wasn't sure I'd ever be back here, and wanted a souvenir, or proof to show to others. It was enchanted with a considerable Fortify Magicka, so I offered it to Zahra to use. She looked rather offended that I'd want her to cover her face, and suggested that I needed it more than she did. I'm not sure what she meant by that.

I stowed it in my backpack and headed down the steps ino the portal to Sovngarde. Or somewhere. I hoped it would be where I could find Alduin, or all this fighting would have been for nothing.

I wasn't sure where we arrived, as a thick mist obscured everything from view. I could just about make out a paved path, so we set out to follow it. And when the path forked, I picked a direction at random.

We came across a Nord legionary, sitting on a rock next to the path. He told us that the mist was Alduin's doing, intended to prevent the dead from finding Shor's Hall and safety, while he flew above it and swooped down to prey on them. We let him follow us for a while, but when I turned back to ask him a question, a large black shape swooped out of nowhere and carried him off.

We were in the right place, then, and Alduin was definitely here, but we still had to find a way to bring him to battle. Perhaps locating Shor's Hall was the first step.

We blundered into the right location a short time later. Across a small stream, the mist was thinner, and we saw a very large man guarding the entrance to a bridge, which appeared to be have made from the skeleton of a whale. He hailed us as we approached, and told us his name was Tsun, tasked by Shor to decide who could enter.

Naturally he was surprised to find a Dremora asking for admission. "By what right do you claim that privilege?"

"As the Dragonborn. I come pursuing Alduin."

"Since you are not dead, you must face me in a warrior's challenge to gain admission," he told me, and unslung a huge axe from his back.

I nodded and did the same with my war-hammer.

He swung at me, faster than I though someone of his size could manage, but I managed to deflect the blow, and countered with a whack on his leading knee. It would have been enough to cripple any mortal warrior, but he just laughed and told me I'd proved myself.

He stood aside and let us pass. I glimpsed back from the bridge and was amused to see him rub that knee.

On the other side was a VERY large building with doors that reached up into the mist. I was surprised that the door I tried opened without much effort, although something that massive neccessarily moved slowly.

Inside, we were greeted by a Nord in ancient armor, who introduced himself as Ysgramor, a name I'd heard somewhere, although I couldn't place exactly where. He told me that three of his fellow Nords had been waiting patiently for a chance to deal with Alduin, but Shor had given orders that they should wait for me.

They turned out to be Gormlaith Golden-Hilt, Hakon One-Eye, and Felldir the Old, the same three that had sent Alduin forward in time to become my problem. But also the same ones who had unknowingly shown me the shout I needed to finally defeat him. I would be glad of their help in dealing with the dragon. Their unfinished business was mine too, now.

We re-crossed the bridge, and together shouted "Clear Skies" to blow away the mists, hoping to reveal Alduin. They did clear, but a shout from the distance restored them again.

"Again!" Gormlaith called out, and we did so. Once more the mists were gone, only to re-appear as the dragon responded with his own shout.

Hakon was a bit discouraged by this apparent impasse, but I'd noticed that the mist wasn't as thick as before, and apparently Gormlaith had seen that too. "He's weakening! Once more, and he'll have to face us!"

We all shouted a third time, and now he saw the futility of trying to sustain the mist and flew down to engage us. Naturally he ran into four shouts of Dragonrend, but we got a rain of his fiery meteors in response. Felldir used Clear Skies to stop those, and we closed on the dragon.

It wasn't much of a fight after that. I'd bested him alone, and these three had equalled him when we separately encountered him before. Together, we were much more than he could handle. Much as with any other dragon I'd defeated, his flesh dissolved into leaves of flame, and dissipated, but now his skeleton did something similar, and the usual swirl of light that meant I was capturing his knowlege was absent.

Well, this wasn't Tamriel, so perhaps things happened differently here. I still had that vague feeling that I'd changed, even if I didn't know what it was. I didn't get to "unlock" a new Word of Power and learn a new Shout, but something was altered. Perhaps Paarthurnax would have some idea, when I went back.

Now that the mists were gone, those who'd been lost in it could find their way, and a straggling group was approaching from the valleys. At their head was a tall man dressed in regal clothes, that everyone else seemed happy to follow.

This turned out to be Torygg, the late High King of Skyrim. He'd not long passed from Tamriel, and was eager to tell someone about it. I'd heard the Nords' stories, which seemed to depend on which side of the Civil War the teller was on. They both agreed that Ulfric had challenged Torygg for his throne, and gone on to use a Shout to defeat him. Whether that was lawful or not, was a matter of debate.

Torygg told me that he'd been happy to accept the challenge, and would have been equally happy to lose, if it had been the duel that the tradition required. It was supposed to be a formal contest with blunted weapons, held at a mutually agreed neutral location, with the Jarls as judges and referees of fair play.

Ulfric had attacked him as soon as he'd accepted the challenge, right there in the palace. Torygg had been wearing no armor, and had only the ceremonial sword he used for official business. "If that was sharp, I'd have to be careful not to nick anyone's ears when I laid it on their shoulder," he pointed out.

He'd also lead with the only Shout he knew, Unrelenting Force, knocking the king down, even if it didn't actually injure him. A legal duel wouldn't have permitted Shouts, or any kind of magic. "But I didn't get the chance to stand back up. He was on me immediately, and thrust his sword through me before anyone could move. The duel, if it ever was one, would have been over as soon as I fell."

I'm sure that Ulfric would tell me a completely different tale, but there was a lot in this one that rang true. I'd read about the formal duels in a book about Orsinium, and what he'd described matched well. It was also very reminiscent of the way disputes were settled among the Kyn, although we didn't have to concern ourselves so much about letting the loser live, as he'd be restored anyway. The whole point was to allow rightness to determine the victor, and to eliminate all other inequalities from the process.

We chatted for a while about what he thought Ulfric had been trying to achieve. Did he really think he could take over the throne that way, or was he just trying to eliminate Torygg completely?

"I don't know," he told me. "I never quite understood his motives. We both wanted Skyrim to be free of the Thalmor edict against Talos-worship, but differed completely on how to achieve it. I preferred to wait, and let the Empire regain its strength, especially as the elves were quite ineffective, and Talos was perhaps even more popular now. But Ulfric had something else against them that he wasn't sharing with the rest of us, and now I'll never know what it was."