31 - Return

Tsun came over to congratulate the team on their defeat of Alduin. And the three Nords, and everyone else who'd come out the mists were thanking me and Zahra. It wasn't clear to me what it was, but something about this realm restricted their capabilities. Alduin had been exploiting that, and it didn't apply to me or Zahra, so we' been able to break his hold. Another thing to discuss when we got back.

That was the next thing on our agenda. Tsun told us he could send us back as soon as we were ready, but first he had a gift from Shor, a Shout that would summon one of the three heros that had helped me defeat Alduin. I expected the usual swirl, but again nothing. The words just appeared in my mind, and I knew how they worked. I didn't even get to see them in writing, as I had on the word walls, or when the Greybeards showed them to me. Even Parrthurnax had lit up the word he taught me in the ruined wall at the summit.

Things clearly followed different rules in this different realm.

Tsun shouted at us, and we found ourselves back on the Throat of the World, at the Time Wound. Paarthurnax was apparently expecting us, and had invited a large number of his friends ...

"You know, that was a lot like when the Greybeards proclaimed you Dragonborn. All that shouting, and the ground shaking, and you in the middle trying not to become deaf."

I laughed. "I suspect the idea is that everyone else knows what happened, even if they're miles away. Why send a courier when you can shout that loud?"

Zahra considered that for a moment, as we walked back down the path towards Ivarstead. "Talking of shouts, are you going to try that new one, that Tsun taught you?"

"No, because I can only have one summoned companion, and I prefer you to any of them."

"Not even that Gormlaith Golden-Hilt? If she fills that armour of hers, ..."

I changed the subject. "I didn't get to discuss shouts with Paarthurnax, like I'd hoped. He flew off as soon as the ceremony was over. And Odahviing only stayed long enough to tell me I could call him again. It seems like the dragons have a new order to establish among themselves, before I'll get to spend any time having a conversation with them."

"So what do we do now?"

"I want to go to Windhelm, and have a few words with Ulfric Stormcloak. Now I've heard Torygg's side of that story, I'm getting more curious about Ulfric."

"I'm here to report on the progress of my campaign against Alduin, which of course determines the extent of the current truce. I can report that Alduin himself has been defeated, although I had to follow him to Sovngarde when he fled there. The other dragons he raised remain a threat, however, so I don't consider this over."

"You went to Sovngarde?" Galmar Stone-Fist interrupted. "No-one returns from there!"

"No mortal returns," I replied, "which defines what it means to be mortal. I, however, am Dremora, which means that I can, and do, return. Perhaps this eventuality was forseen when I was selected by the gods for this task."

That appeared to make sense to the Nords. Ulfric paused for the briefest of moments before asking when I thought the dragon menace would be ended, and he could get back to attacking the Legion.

"I do not know how many other dragons he restored, nor whether they still feel themselves bound to his cause. I need to consult with those who might have that information, some of whom may themselves be dragons, and thus hard to track down."

Galmar was still intrigued that I'd seen Sovngarde, and wanted to know more. "Is it full of heroes, and mead, like they tell us?"

"Or heroes full of mead, like you'd want to imagine yourself? Yes, it is. I saw Ysgramor there, and Jurgen Windcaller, and Gormlaith Golden-Hilt - you'd like her - among others. And I even met with High King Torygg, newly arrived from Solitude. He told me a lot about Ulfric, and the way he died."

"Why did you do it that way?" I asked the Jarl. "Did you suspect he knew something about you and Elenwen?"

Galmar's eyes widened, and he looked at his Jarl, as if he suddenly didn't know the man. Ulfric, however, looked like he was about to explode.

It takes time to utter all the words of a Shout, and Unrelenting Force is built up and released on the final word. That gave me time to raise a ward. (Thank you for that lesson, Tolfdir.) The ward and the shout cancelled each other out, leaving Ulfric rushing at me with his sword drawn.

Ice Form is a different Shout. With the first word, Iiz, Ulfric slowed considerably, and the second, Slen, stopped him completely. Nus froze him solid where he stood.

"The fourth word is 'Shatter'", I announced, pulling my Daedric War-hammer from my back, and Ulfric duly did so.

Galmar's eyes were still as wide as they could be, and I saw him reach for his axe, before a glance at Zahra, who was showing just a hint of her flame cloak, made him decide not to.

We turned and left without a further word, knowing nobody dared to try and stop us.

"So, does General Tullius get to win the war, or do you have something similar in mind for him?" Zahra asked.

"Neither. I don't believe it was ever the Emperor's intention to let Tullius defeat the Stormcloaks. That would leave the Nords feeling they'd been conquered, and what the situation needs is for the uprising to subside naturally, without its head."

"However," I continued, "I'd like to be sure of that, so I want to take the opportunity of his visit to Solitude for his cousin's wedding to talk to him."

"And let him handle Tullius?" Zahra presumed.

"Who better? Tullius won't like it - all Generals want victories, even if they aren't the best outcomes, but he'll obey orders, like a good soldier."

"I have another reason for visiting Solitude," I added. "I'll tell you more about that when we get there."

"So Vittoria Vici is the Emperor's cousin, and her bridegroom-to-be is a Stormcloak?" Zahra sounded confused.

"When you're rich, those differences aren't the life-and-death ones everyone else has. It's more a question of where you deem it more profitable to invest than anything else. They'd prosper whatever the outcome of the conflict, and will probably regret the loss of business supplying the two sides when it ends."

Word had got out about my and Zahra's roles in the defeat of Alduin, and the wedding had become a bit of a celebration of that as well. So we found ourselves sharing the balcony as guests of honour when she addressed the crowd. The Emperor was conspicuously absent, as there were rumours of an attempt on his life, sponsored by someone yet unidentified on the High Council. We'd all be going to his ship, the Katariah, for the reception after this.

It struck me that if he'd been here, this was the perfect setup for an archer to get a good shot at him. Even with the bride and groom standing in front of him, a patient assassin would find their mark. I stood up, and moved to the front of the balcony to look, ... and got in the way of an arrow headed for the bride.

In my Daedric Armour, which I was wearing to impress the crowd, I was well-protected from a broadhead arrow meant for a soft target. It clattered down to the flagstones below, and I hastily ushered the bride and groom to safety, as Zahra hurled a fireball towards the battlements where the arrow appeared to originate.

"Did you see the archer?" I asked, when we were all inside.

"No, but there weren't any guards up there either, so I used a wide-area spell that didn't need to be accurate. I still have no idea if it hit anyone. Our would-be assassin probably got away."