I force myself to put one foot in front of the other as Jenassa and I walk out of Dragonsreach. There appears to be no way out of this mess, at least not without making things worse, so I might as well get it over with. I just hope dragons kill their victims quickly. I’ve seen the roasted corpses of Helgen, and I have no doubt that I’m heading straight toward my doom.
Jenassa finally realizes that I’m not all sunshine and rainbows. She suggests we take a detour through the town to a shrine and obtain a blessing. Fine, whatever. I guess it can’t hurt.
We reach the village green of the Wind District, with the temple of Kynareth on one side and the statue of Talos on the other. I’m debating which Divine would provide the most useful blessing in this extraordinary situation when a small soft voice interrupts my thoughts. “Lady, can you spare a coin?”
It’s a little girl. She’s a bit grimy and her clothes are tattered, but she has a sweet and honest face. I hand her a coin and she says she hopes the Divines bless me. You and me both, kid. But why are you out here begging on the streets?
You don’t say. This aunt and uncle wouldn’t be happen to be at Loreius Farm, would they? Assuming we survive, Jenassa and I might have to head over there later for a not-so-friendly chat.
Despite my imminent concern about my impending death, my heart goes out to the little lass. She doesn’t know it, but she’s done me a favour — she’s reminded me that no matter how bad my life seems, there are many others who are much worse off. I bend down to give her a hug. She’s surprised at first, but then she hugs me back with a grateful sigh. I give her a gentle squeeze before releasing her. As she flashes me a smile, I make a silent promise that I will take down this dragon for her sake. And suddenly, I don’t have to decide which shrine to visit. Now there’s only one Divine who feels… right.
After we leave the shrine, we head toward the gates. Irileth, the Jarl’s right-hand elf, is already in the middle of a hearty and rousing speech to the troops. I have to admit, she’s good. By the time she finishes, she’s almost convinced me that I not only want to take down this dragon, but that I could do it blindfolded. Almost.
Irileth leads the guards out of the city, while Jenassa and I visit the nearby forge for some upgrades. If we’re going to be fighting a dragon, we want to be prepared. After considering that her leather gear might be insufficient, Jenassa decides to outfit herself in ringmail armour for the extra protection. We also buy some armour-piercing arrows from Adrianne. We have no idea how tough dragon hide is, but we’re not taking any chances.
Heading out of the city gates, we can see dark streaks of smoke stream across the sky. We gather with the rest of the troops near the watchtower, and the sight of the extensive damage makes me stop in my tracks. Small fires are burning everywhere and the entire area is smouldering. Irileth’s brave speech suddenly seems nonsensical and ridiculous, but it’s too late now.
Everyone’s on edge. We circle around the burning tower, looking nervously at the skies. Most of the guards have their weapons unsheathed and ready. I follow suit, nocking an arrow and keeping it on the bowstring with my fingers, ready to draw and shoot at a moment’s notice.
Suddenly one of the tower guards cries out, pleading with Kynareth to save us. A powerful otherworldly shriek blasts the air and shakes the tower — and for a moment, my heart stops in terror. The last time I heard that sound, I was near Helgen. Crap.
Curse this flying lizard! It’s too fast for me to reliably target, and it takes such a small amount of damage that it feels like I’m chipping at a stone wall with a fork. However, we’re making some progress. Soon it’s bleeding from a dozen arrows and Irileth starts targeting it with a rather effective lightning spell. This seems to enrage the beast, and with another bloodcurdling roar, it lands and starts fighting us on the ground.
It’s immediately apparent that this is a different dragon from the one back in Helgen. Great, there are more of them?! This is not something I wanted to know. How fast do these things breed? Where in Oblivion are they coming from? And most importantly, how do you kill these bastards?
The dragon is rather annoyed with us, to put it mildly. As soon as it makes landfall, it immediately slaughters one of the guards and starts charbroiling another. We’re penetrating its tough hide but it’s a slow process, which is not getting any faster as the body count increases. Talk about death by a thousand cuts.
Suddenly my companion drops her bow, unsheathes her blades, and runs headlong toward the monster’s gaping maw. No, Jenassa! What are you doing?! I swear by the scaly balls of Akatosh, if you don’t die after pulling this stunt, I’ll kill you myself!
Oh, wait. She’s not being pointlessly suicidal — she’s attempting to save that guard by distracting the dragon. Fine. I suppose I’d better try to run interference. I take a deep breath, throw down my own bow and grab my trusty mace. Damn this wyrm, I’m going in!
I roughly shove my companion to one side and bash the dragon in the face. It’s like hitting a boulder with a log. The shock of the impact travels straight up my arm, making my shoulder ache and my teeth rattle. Jenassa gives me a nod of respect just before she grabs the wounded guard and hauls him off. The dragon roars, outraged, and I can see all the way down its smoking gullet. As the last thing I see before I die, I have to say, it kinda sucks.
The massive scaly head rears upward, like a monstrous cobra poised to strike. Instinctively I raise my shield at the same moment it attacks, and the impact nearly slams me to my feet as the dragon’s head is knocked aside. Sensing my opportunity, I raise my arm and smash my mace straight into its eye. The orbital socket crunches inward, and with a kind of sick horror, I feel the head of the mace penetrate its brain. It flings its head upward to dislodge my weapon, but the damage is already fatal. My ears ring as my victim screams in defeat.
As the dragon’s corpse hits the ground, something strange happens. Thin ribbons of light stream out from its body, similar to the light I saw pouring from the wall in Bleak Falls Barrow, but the experience is even more intense. The light surrounds me like shimmering mist, and I breathe it in. Suddenly my consciousness expands, my awareness deepens, my mind sharpens. Even my body feels stronger and more powerful — more awake. On some level, I know that I’ve not only defeated a dragon, but I’ve somehow captured its vital essence. Everything it ever thought, felt, believed — is now wholly fused with who I am.
At the same time, the dragon’s flesh spontaneously combusts and swiftly burns down to the bone. Behind me I can hear the gasps and exclamations of my comrades-in-arms. I turn and walk back to retrieve my bow, but they step back when I approach, looking confused and scared. One of the guards finally speaks.
He goes on to talk about old legends and tales, telling about heroes long ago who could defeat dragons, consume their souls, and absorb their power. Honestly it all sounds kind of sketchy — except, well. That happened. Just now. To me.
I must be looking rather nonplussed, because he suggests that I “try to Shout” in order to prove his theory. I have no idea what he’s talking about, but sure, whatever. Anything to oblige. I recall the word I learned from the barrow wall, and how it felt when the dragon’s essence merged with my own, and some hidden element falls into place. I open my mouth and, to my own astonishment, it works.
Oddly, this demonstration seems to reassure the others. Their former expressions of wariness and fear resolve into interest and excitement, all except for the two dark elves. Jenassa looks thoughtful but remains silent. Irileth is also quiet, but when one of the guards asks for her opinion, she curtly replies that she doesn’t need heroes and tales and ancient legends. There’s a dead dragon right there on the ground, obvious as an Argonian maid, and that’s all the proof she needs that they can be defeated.
But her words seem to have little impact on the Nord contingent. The guard who first spoke to me keeps calling me Dragonborn (whatever that means). Since this seems to have commanded their respect, I’m just gonna roll with it.
The sun has started to set, and I realize I’m hungry. Dragonslaying apparently gives me an appetite. I grab an apple and some cheese out of my backpack to tide me over until I can have a proper meal. Irileth suggests that Jenassa and I head back to Dragonsreach and report to the Jarl. We agree and start on the return journey to Whiterun, but I stop for a moment to contemplate the aftermath of our battle and the bodies of the slain.
By the time we get back to the city, night has fallen. The northern lights are brilliant as they commence their stately dance across the sky. It’s as if the Divines themselves are celebrating our victory. I breathe a small prayer of thanks as we make our way back to Dragonsreach.
As we reach the steps, there’s a powerful sound like a blast of thunder. The ground quakes and nearly knocks us off our feet. In the echoes of the aftershock, I can sense something else — a word, a message, a summons. For a moment, a compelling force pulls at my soul, and then just as suddenly, it vanishes. Well. That was freaky. Come on, Jenassa, the Jarl’s waiting.
Inside the keep, there’s a buzz of conversation that quiets to a lull as soon as we enter. By the time we approach the throne, the silence is almost palpable. A member of the court addresses us, his deep voice ringing out over the great hall.
The Jarl asks about the battle, and I report that both the tower and the dragon were destroyed. When I mention what happened to me after the dragon’s demise, he pounces on my words like a hungry Khajiit. I relate the details at his request, and I can sense from his reaction that he grasps the enormity of the situation. Well, that makes one of us.
Between the Jarl and his brother, they explain that I’m now expected to rush off to some distant mountain, climb a really long flight of steps (did you say seven thousand?!), and talk to a bunch of antisocial old guys who apparently know everything even though they haven’t left their frozen rock in centuries.
I pretend to yawn so I can I roll my eyes. Yeah, right. This totally sounds like a sensible plan. I’ll just get right on that. It’s not like I have anything better to do, like, I don’t know, befriend a talking dog or discover a magical sweetroll staff. That makes about as much sense as what they’re telling me.
On the other hand, this is the Jarl of Whiterun. I could get in real trouble if I refused to do what he asked, and the Divines know I’ve had more than enough trouble lately. Fine. I’ll go, but I hope they don’t expect me to be happy about this crazy scheme, and… wait. What’s that he’s saying now?
Whatever a Thane is, it’s obviously a good thing. I attempt to look happy and grateful while my brain is trying to figure out what this means. The Jarl gives me an axe from his personal armoury, but I don’t think “Thane” means “Official Dragonsreach Woodcutter”, so that’s not much help.
Then I’m told I’m being assigned a personal housecarl. Aha! Something I understand. I know that Irileth is Balgruuf’s housecarl, so I guess that means I’m getting a bodyguard? But I already have one of those, and she’s worked out well so far. I’ve kinda gotten used to having her around.
It might sound strange, but I’m more inclined to trust Jenassa than my new housecarl. Jenassa is a mercenary. We have a simple economic relationship. I know that as long as the loot keeps rolling in, she’s not likely to turn against me. In addition, she’s shown that she relishes getting into risky situations and fighting her way out again. For some reason I’ve become a danger magnet, and so I’m providing her with everything she wants. If I die, she’ll have to find all that elsewhere, and that might not be so easy. It’s in her best interest to keep me alive.
My new housecarl, on the other hand, is an unknown. I don’t know what she wants, what she thinks, what she expects. I know what she says, but my former business partner also said a lot of things that sounded good. I trusted Roddy implicitly. I never questioned anything he said, never looked for actions that proved his words. Turns out I didn’t know what he wanted at all. And my naive assumptions nearly cost me my life.
I won’t make that mistake again.