43 - Winterhold and Dawnstar

"I gather Ranyu told you how I turned him into a dog, didn't he?" Brelyna confessed. "But I did do it safely, in the College, where I could get help if I needed it. And he's himself again, maybe even better for the experience."

"Actually, he hadn't," Zahra told her. "I was just thinking about how your spell-testing went back at our tower. Especially that first time you summoned him."

"But that worked perfectly!"

"It may have turned out well, but you didn't think about all the consequences before casting it, did you? He wasn't expecting to be summoned nude, or find himself in the middle of ..."

"Oh, right. I was just looking at it from my perspective. But I was used to conjuring atronachs, and if you think about calling them up to fight for you, it holds you back. And a woman's got to make a good first impression, hasn't she?"

I'd had the chance for a long chat with Ranyu about things like that. Zahra had developed from her traditionally subservient female role in the Deadlands, to one that made more sense here. His situation was a bit different, as he'd been summoned by a mortal female, but without the usual constraints of the short-term spell.

"Perhaps it's a good thing she was giving me a good reason to want to stay," he'd responded. "I really don't think about it. The original deal would have had me join you as a fighting team against Alduin, so this may not be as glorious, but it's a lot more fun!"

"And you've stayed because of your sense of duty?" I taunted.

"What else?"

Brelyna thought that her first task as the new Archmage should be to try and repair the rift between the College and the townsfolk of Winterhold. So she walked down to the Jarl's residence to speak with him. We followed behind her, intending to continue our journey back to our tower.

The two women who attacked us were dressed in what looked like College robes, but they also had steel gauntlets and boots, like a battlemage. I recognised that uniform. "Vigilants of Stendarr," I told Brelyna. "Fanatical persecutors of daedra, and any who associate with them."

I explained how they'd been the bane of my existence ever since the end of the Oblivion Crisis, but recently they'd had the sense to avoid direct confrontation. I'd got a bit beyond what they could handle.

"So am I going to have problems like this every time I leave the College with Ranyu?"

"Or you're carrying a Daedric artifact, like Azura's star, or you become a vampire or a werewolf."

"What do vampires and werewolves have to do with it?"

"Molag Bal and Hircine," Zahra replied. "Although the victims were once mortals, they have been corrupted by the Daedric Princes, in the eyes of the Vigilants."

"Even though they were infected here, by others who used to be regular folk themselves?"

"Yes," I continued, "and they seem to include the undead in their proscribed list, although the connections there are even more tenuous. Not to mention that they're starting to side with Meridia, another Daedric Prince. Fanatical cults rarely make sense."

Brelyna's discussions with Jarl Korir didn't go well. It was impossible to convince him that the tremors that sent most of the town into the Sea of Ghosts weren't the College's fault. Or that the magic that protected the College itself from destruction - which had been put in place precisely because they feared their own experiments could harm it - could not have been extended to the town.

She began to believe that Korir just needed a scapegoat for his own incompetence. There had been little or no attempt to rebuild. The ruined buildings were still standing to remind everyone of the past. Nothing had changed since the collapse, because he'd done nothing.

She was telling me all this back at our tower in the Reach. Zahra and I had become her unofficial advisory team, even if we hadn't volunteered for it. And also the reinforcements she sought whenever she had a tough task, in this case hunting for the Helm of Winterhold.

"I don't imagine retrieving it for Jarl Korir will make any real difference, but I thought I should at least try," Brelyna had explained. "As a gesture of reconcilliation, if nothing else."

She explained that Korir had given her a list of locations where the Helm might be. "We can eliminate a couple of them right away," she said. "We've been in Saarthal, and Ironbind Barrow,and it wasn't in either of those."

"Most of the others are near Dawnstar, rather than Winterhold. Does that have any significance?"

"No idea, unless it was someone from Dawnstar that took it from Winterhold way back when."

The fanatics that attacked us in Dawnstar weren't the Vigilants, but something else. Their masks were something I hadn't seen before, and their robes were partially armoured. And it was clear that I was their target, rather than "Daedra and those who cavort with them". It was because I was Dragonborn, and that was offensive to Miraak, whoever he was. The cultists seemed to believe he was "the true Dragonborn".

We found orders on one of the corpses that indicated that they'd come here from Solstheim, on board a ship called the Northern Maiden, which traded between Raven Rock and Windhelm. I knew that Brelyna intended to make a trip over to the island to visit Neloth at some time in the future, so maybe we'd all be going.

After we found the Helm of Winterhold in Fort Fellhammer on the way towards Windhelm, we'd run out of reasons to stay on the mainland.

Perhaps this was a good thing. One of the Dawnstar guards had been injured in the cultists' attack and I didn't want anyone else getting sucked into this, whatever it was. Hopefully we'd be over there before Miraak sent any more our way.