The Dragonborn Hunts

The Exiles

Katja fast-travelled to Solitude, only to find that once again she had arrived after dark. Curse you, magic map! she railed mentally. Without the map she’d have probably spent most of the past few months in Skyrim travelling across country while being attacked by saber cats, bears, and creatures less wholesome. Assuming she survived that long. Or maybe she and everybody on the planet would be dead, she having failed in her quest as Dragonborn or perhaps never having even realized she was Dragonborn. Alduin would have brought about the end of the world, and neither she nor anyone else would have been in a position to curse the annoying time distortions that fast-travelling brought with it.

“Forgive me, magic map” she murmured facetiously as she considered her next move. Clearly it was too late for some of her intended errands, but perhaps she could still get a few things done before what was apparently going to be another bedtime a few subjective hours after she had gotten out of bed. Though she had to admit, she felt far more tired and hungry than should have been possible if only those short hours had truly elapsed since breakfast.

She walked up the city’s long main street and past the wall that separated the commercial area near the gates from the residential district that led from there to the Blue Palace. The area also included the Bard’s College and the Hall of the Dead, as well as the homes of some of Solitude’s most prominent citizens. And there to her left as she walked up the street was Proudspire Manor, a large and handsome residence beside the Bard’s College. She’d once been offered the chance to buy that impressive home by Jarl Elisif’s steward, Falk Firebeard.

Some months ago Katja, in company with Anders, had performed some services for Solitude. She had not been made Thane, but Falk had informed her that she had the right to buy property in the city. She’d have taken him up on it, liking Solitude as she did; but the price was 25,000 gold and she could not justify spending that kind of money on a house that would sit empty for weeks and months at a time. Far more reasonable just to put up at the Skeever on her rare visits here. Besides, since her stay there with Wyll during her spy mission at the Thalmor Embassy, Katja had developed a special fondness for that particular hostelry.

Walking past Proudspire, Katja blew it a kiss. Maybe someday… Though with her plans for marriage and probably kids, the prospect of traveling all over Skyrim and owning houses in every hold was beginning to recede. More likely, she and her loved ones would be staying close to home base and making a happy life together – with a lot less roaming around than they’d done before.

Katja approached the Blue Palace, her goal. In the dim evening light she spotted that kid, Dudestia. She’d talked with him before and he’d told her about the possibility of marrying multiple spouses. But she had not gotten any details from him, had not thought there was any reason to at that time. She greeted him, but decided to engage him in the full discussion after she’d dealt with her other errand.

The guards at the front doors of the Blue Palace greeted Katja courteously enough. Even in her leathers, she was familiar as a friend of the Hold, one who had provided valuable services and was a friend of their Jarl. Katja had done Elisif a personal favor by placing a weapon belonging to her late husband at a shrine of Talos, not an easy task as Talos worship was banned in Skyrim by the White Gold Concordat and his shrines were now hidden away in remote places.

Elisif was little older than she was, and had a fragile sort of beauty that made her seem younger; but Katja was a little put off by the woman’s fierce adherence to her alliance with the Empire and her vehement desire for revenge against Ulfric Stormcloak for killing her husband. Not that she herself was any great fan of Ulfric’s – after spending some time in his company, she had concluded he was sincere but misguided. And the conflict between the Empire and the rebels he led was causing hardship for the ordinary citizens of the province.

But it was neither Elisif nor Falk Katja had come here seeking. After entering the hall, she went not up either of the curving twin staircases leading to the throne room, but off to the left. There, a set of stairs went down into the basement. Within that dismal space she found a ragtag band of Skyrim’s dispossessed elite and their retainers, sitting down to a modest meal at a long table in one corner of the room.

As she approached the group, who were looking at her questioningly, Katja recalled that she had actually acquired a bottle of Blackbriar mead as requested by Siddgeir all those months ago. She’d picked up a few bottles in Riften during her last visit there and had been carrying them around, thinking they might come in handy if she got thirsty on the road. The stuff wasn’t bad, though she didn’t see a lot of difference between it and the Whiterun local brew.

Approaching Siddgeir, Katja said “I have that Blackbriar mead you asked for.” It had been ages, and poor Siddgeir’s fortunes had taken a sharp downturn since then. But he remembered. He took the bottle from her and thanked her with remarkable courtesy. This simple act had suddenly transformed her into his favorite person, it seemed, where saving the world had not. He was still a fatuous ass, but he was a fabulously good-looking and now quite friendly fatuous ass. I could have made this guy my love slave – in another life, she thought with an internal smirk.

This was fun, but it was not why she’d come. Her interaction with Siddgeir had broken the ice, however, and Katja was now invited to join them at the table. Since her stomach had no more idea of what time it was than her head did, she happily took a place – squeezing in next to Jarl Igmund. As they broke bread together, he remarked “You’re The Dragonborn, aren’t you? Wasn’t it you who got me thrown out of Markarth?”

Uh oh. That wasn’t the tone she’d intended to set. “I assure you, Jarl Igmund,” she said, granting him the title he’d lost after his family had held it for generations, “that was not my intention. The Imperials and the Stormcloaks each came to the table with their own agendas, and all I was trying to do was to keep them from each others’ throats and forge an agreement that would allow me to keep the World-Eater from destroying Nirn.”

The old man seemed a little abashed at being reminded that he, and everybody else on the planet, owed her a major debt. Political power and hereditary titles had a way of paling to insignificance in the face of ancient dragons prophesied to bring about the death of every man, woman, and child – and then eat their souls for dessert. “I’m sorry,” he said with sincerity. “My situation is no fault of yours.”

They continued their meal, Katja fairly astonished at the appetite that had reared its head the moment she tasted food. What, she’d had a nice stroll up to Understone Keep and back, followed by a somewhat shorter one from the gates of Solitude to the Blue Palace. How did this translate into a hunger that felt as if she’d spent the last eight hours fighting her way past legions of draugr? I hope I don’t get fat, she thought.

As the meal concluded, Katja turned to Igmund and said, “I have some good news for you, and an invitation. Can we go somewhere more private?” Igmund looked at her questioningly, then stood and gestured toward a corner of the large stone-lined room in which they sat. They found a couple of chairs and sat, away from most of the room’s inhabitants.

“I’m sure you will remember your sworn man Argis the Bulwark?” Katja asked.

The old man’s eyes went far away for a moment. “Young Argis,” he said, recalling times before his fall. Then his eyes cleared and he pierced Katja with a look that demanded more information. “Yes?” he prompted.

“I’ve been made Thane of the Reach by your successor,” she said, hoping to gloss over too much mention of the man who’d usurped Igmund’s throne. “He assigned me Argis’ services, and I took him with me to Whiterun, where I am also Thane.”

Igmund nodded. He was more than a little in awe of this young woman. After all that she had achieved in defeating Alduin, he was not at all surprised that she was Thane of more than one hold. If anything, he was surprised she was not yet Thane of all of them. Katja continued, formally, “He and my Whiterun housecarl Lydia wish to wed, which I have approved. And he has requested that you be present for the wedding.”

Tears glistened in the old man’s eyes, but did not fall. He was touched beyond speaking that Argis should wish him, now a disgraced and useless relic, to bear witness to the happiest event of his life. Getting a grip on himself, he answered the earnest young woman who was watching him so intently, hope in her eyes. “Of course,” he said softly. “Of course I would be honored to attend. But where, and when? These days,” he gestured around the cheerless basement room, “I have so few resources.”

An instant resolve flared up in Katja. Though indeed it had been no design of her own that saw Igmund deposed, she felt somehow responsible for his plight. And it struck her to the heart. “You’ll come with me and stay at the Luxury Suite until it’s time to go to the wedding,” she told him. “I must take Raerek with me,” he protested. “Raerek?” she asked. “He’s my uncle, and was my steward when I was Jarl,” Igmund explained. “Of course,” she responded reassuringly. “That will be no problem. I will come and get you both and we’ll fast-travel to the Suite tomorrow sometime. Will that be all right?”

Igmund smiled at her wryly. “Believe me, I’ll be here. I have nowhere else to go. Raerek and I will await your return.” Katja stood up and squeezed Igmund’s hands, giving him a warm smile that quite melted the old fellow’s heart. She skated by on her youth, her beauty, and her reputation far more than she realized. But in this case it was her kindness and concern that had won her another friend.

Katja climbed the stairs to the entry hall of the Blue Palace, still in the grip of bittersweet emotions. She had to admit, she liked Igmund as a person better than she liked Thongvor, who was a typical member of his family and too grasping by half. And she felt they’d reached a satisfactory conclusion to their discussion, her mission fulfilled. The old man and his even-older uncle would likely enjoy their stay at the Luxury Suite.

Now, to her own personal concerns. As she’d expected, Katja found the mysterious boy Dudestia lurking in the walkway a few dozen paces from the Blue Palace’s entryway. He looked to be perhaps twelve years old, and spoke with a strange accent. But she had witnessed him vanishing into thin air and transforming himself into a dragon, so she was convinced that he must be one of the Divines in disguise; or perhaps one of the Daedric princes.

In Katja’s time in Skyrim she had run up against two or three of those mysterious entities from the Planes of Oblivion. They were powerful, capricious, and usually devoid of any moral sense that humans would acknowledge. Despite this, they had their adherents. Serana’s family had been worshippers of Molag Bal, and she herself had also had dealings with him. The mace she had received as a reward for luring a worshipper of a competing Daedric Prince to his desecrated shrine had provided her with a powerful enchantment she found particularly useful on bows.

Katja approached Dudestia with what she hoped was the appropriate combination of reverence and autonomy. She was not having some supernatural being assume he or she could push her around, just because they could turn her into a toad or snuff her life out with a thought. “What you do want?” he asked.

“The last time we spoke,” she said, not expecting he would remember, “you told me that there is a way to marry more than one person.”

The “kid” eyed her with a gaze that seemed guileless and friendly. “Sure,” he said. “No problem.”

“Could you please explain how I can go about that?” Katja asked him. “I love two men, and they have agreed that I can marry both of them. But I don’t think we can just stroll into the Temple of Mara…”

Dudestia twinkled at her. “Ah,” he said, “I see…” A moment later he said, “What you want can be done, and here in Solitude. Go and see Rorlund at the Temple of the Divines tomorrow, and give him this token.” He handed her a curious-looking amulet, of some shimmering metal that seemed to blur in and out of visibility as she tried to examine it – as if it were not entirely in this plane of existence.

Katja was stunned. Could it be this easy to realize her dreams? When you got right down to it there was no reason she and Anders and Wyll could not go on in perpetuity living and loving together, and having children if they wished. But her upbringing had been conventional enough, and Skyrim society was narrow enough, that she knew their union would never be respected, never be recognized by those around them, unless it had been sanctified by an official wedding under the auspices of one or another of the Divines.

Clutching the amulet to her breast, Katja gazed at Dudestia, her eyes wide and luminous. “Thank you, Dudestia!” she said quietly.

The kid gave her a half-smile, a look of pleased satisfaction. “Enjoy your marriage,” he told her.

She smiled back at him. “Oh,” she said with a hint of wickedness, “I plan to.” At that the god or whatever he was flickered into invisibility, and she was left standing there in the darkness by herself. She shivered slightly as she turned and began walking down the road to the Winking Skeever.

48

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