Chapter 25: The Way of the Voice
I hated the idea of sabotaging Goldenglow. Sure, I'd steal, plant stolen evidence, charm someone out of their gold, break in…. But setting beehives alight wasn't something I rather wanted to do. Aside from making the bees seriously pissed off, it was a waste of honey and alchemical ingredients. And I had some respect for the livelihoods of others.
It made me wonder just how much power Maven had over the Thieves Guild.
Delany had turned my mare loose after we arrived in Ivarstead. We had spent the night in Vilemyr Inn, and I rode for High Hrothgar that morning. I stopped to read all the stone tablets along the way, speaking to some of the hunters as I rode higher. The winds blew more fiercely here, and often the path tilted down off the side of the mountain. I was grateful that I had decided to buy my stallion from a Skyrim breeder: the horses I had left behind in Cyrodiil were far too fragile for this land.
I finally reached a pass, where the wind eased. But my stallion had stopped, his ears pricked. "What's there?" I breathed, shifting the reins and loosening my katana.
My stallion tensed and grunted, pinning his ears flat. "Talos guide me," I breathed, drawing my katana.
It was a frost troll.
I pushed the reins up my charger's neck, rising in the stirrups as the troll turned and roared. My stallion screamed back.
I raised my katana high, turning my stallion out just before we reached the troll.
I swung down hard, slicing through the troll's shoulder, and cutting off its arm.
I turned around, raising my blade again as the troll screamed. Only a few seconds before it heals itself.
My stallion took two heavy leaps in the snow, reared up in front the troll, striking its head with his hooves. The troll howled, swiping wildly with its other fist.
I turned my stallion away, swinging my katana to cut the troll's head off.
I dismounted quickly, wiping down my blade and running my hands over the charger's legs, checking if he had been hurt by the troll. I used Healing Hands on him for good measure, and we pushed on to High Hrothgar.
The air thinned quickly after the pass, with snow beginning to fall more readily. I was grateful when the High Hrothgar Monastery appeared in the distance, and I was especially glad to see the stables nestled into the side of the mountain, under the main monastery building. A young monk quickly took over the duty of attending to my horse, so I left for the main monastery.
The massive wooden doors swung open surprisingly easy, and I stepped inside to suppress a thankful shiver at the warmth from the fires I faced within. The main hall was empty at the moment, and the only sound was the crackling and popping of wood as it burnt. I stepped forwards to the open area in front of me.
"So… a Dragonborn appears, at this moment at the turning of an age."
I sought out the voice of an old man, leaning on a rail up the stairs to the left. I strode to the center of the room, a hand moving to rest on the hilt of my sword. "I am answering your summons, Master. You called me Dragonborn."
"Indeed, you have come. But first, let us see if you are truly Dragonborn. Let us taste of your Voice!"
Did they want me to Shout? At them, these old men? Would I not harm, or even kill, them?
"Do not fear, child. Your Shout cannot harm us," the man said, gesturing at the room, seeing my doubt. I glanced around, and noticed that three other Greybeards had joined us. The first walked down the stairs, folding his hands into his robes. He stopped midway between me and the stairs, waiting.
I nodded, facing him. "FUS!"
He took a step back, a slight frown on his face from the force. Then he smiled. "Dragonborn…!" he turned to face me, hobbling closer to take my face in his hands. I tried not to frown or pull away. "Welcome! Welcome to High Hrothgar!" he released me, and I took a step back, immediately dropping my gaze. "I am Master Arngeir, and I speak for the Greybeards. Now tell me Dragonborn, why have you come here?"
"I want to find to find out what it means to be Dragonborn."
"We are here to guide you in that pursuit, just as the Greybeards have sought to guide those of the Dragon Blood who came before you. You are not the only Dragonborn to pass through these halls. There have been many of the Dragon Blood"
"I am not the only Dragonborn, then?"
"You are not the First. There have been many of the Dragon Blood since Akatosh first bestowed that gift on mortalkind. Whether you are the only Dragonborn of this age, that is not ours to know. You are, simply, the only one to be revealed thus far. That is all any can say. I can see in your eyes you know of us, the Greybeards. Then perhaps you also know, that we are followers of the Way of the Voice. On the slopes of Kynareth's sacred mountain, we have raised High Hrothgar, where we commune with the Voice in the Sky, striving for balance between our inner, and outer, selves," Arngeir lifted his face, spreading his arms. He was right: I had known of the Greybeards for many years.
I shifted, my armor uncomfortably heavy and cold in the monastery. But Arngeir wasn't finished yet. "We are honored to welcome a Dragonborn to High Hrothgar once more, and we will teach you how to use your gift in fulfilment of your Destiny."
"My destiny?" I asked, glancing back at the Greybeard.
"You need not hide your gaze from us, Dragonborn. And yes, your Destiny. That is something you must discover for yourself. We may show you the way, but we cannot show you the destination. Are you prepared for this journey?"
I looked at the four Greybeards in turn. I nodded. "Yes, I am ready."
The rest of the day was spent testing my ability to Thu'um, and learning two new words, Ro and Wuld. I was told more about the dragon language, the Shouts and Words of Power. The Greybeards, despite their unnerving stoicism, seemed impressed with how quickly I learnt the words and projected them into Shouts. The monastery was warm, and aside from a courtyard at the rear of the monastery, the winds around the Throat of the World were blistering and powerful.
Dinner with the Greybeards and their attending monks was simple, and uniquely bland. Arngeir chose this time to tell me about Ustengrav, and the Horn of Jurgen Windcaller. As he described the ruins, the horn and the founder of the Way of the Voice, I felt pit settle in my stomach, trying to keep the scowl off my face.
This was exactly the sort of thing Delphine would already know about.
The ruins of Ustengrav lay to the northeast of Morthal, near the shores of a heavy marsh. The Horn was deep within the barrow, and the barrow itself would 'test my mettle' as a Dragonborn. Arngeir suggested that I leave in the morning, after an early breakfast, and retrieve the horn as soon as possible.
I lay awake that night, in the low, hard bed I'd been given in High Hrothgar. I had to return to the Legion soon, and time would become a valuable commodity once more. I doubted that I would see the Greybeards again any time soon, and I wasn't about to abandon the Legion just to sit in a monastery and learn Words of Power all day, every day. But the way Arngeir had spoken about Ustengrav led me to believe there was more than just the Horn that I needed to discover, and the darkness that had clouded his face and foreboding that entered his soul suggested that, even if I did leave the Legion to come to the monastery, I wouldn't be sitting around meditating on the Words until fate knocked on my door.
No, I was fairly sure the Greybeards might also know something about the return of the dragons.
This Solän'cae sighed happily, returning to her Home and Sanctuary with the Dark Brotherhood. It had been too long, and yet too short, for Astrid was still here…. And Astrid-pretender was furious when this Solän'cae walked into the main room. So much screaming and furious hairless-paw-waving….
This Khajiit ignored her, walked past to Nazir and told of the completed contracts. There were better things to do with this Khajiit's time than listen to a Pretender rave. This one will come and go as she pleases, always putting this Family first, never sharing her secrets. Their secrets.
Astrid came by much later. "Solän'cae, may I speak with you?" she asked quiet-fury-calm.
This one looks up from her card game with Nazir, Festus, Babette and Veezara. "Will you keep your head, and not prove you are as mad as Cicero-Keeper?"
The Pretender looked furious. "I am your matron, the leader of this Sanctuary. You will not disrespect me."
I nod thoughtfully. "Yes, this one will speak with you, Matron."
Astrid nearly sneers, then turns and walks away from the dining area, this Solän'cae following. We walk to her chambers, where Astrid waves at a chair with a sigh. "Please, sit down. I want us to have a civil discussion."
"This one feels the same, Matron. I… apologize… for my behavior earlier," I force out slowly. This one must just keep the mask, the cowl. Wait for the right moment to strike down One-Who-Cares-Not.
"Good," Astrid drawls, sitting. I sit across from her. "Your extended absence without leave isn't something I want to become a habit – we're already short, and with so few recruits coming in, we can't afford to lose anyone. You can understand this, Solän'cae," she purrs as only a hairless-one can.
This one merely blinks in return. "This one understands. It is very possible that this Solän'cae will continue to have such excursions, with her Thieves Guild contact. I shall send letters if this is the case, but I do not believe they will occur again soon, Matron. But, surely, this cannot be all you wished to speak to this one about."
Astrid clenched her jaw. This one watches calmly while Astrid pulls her before-words together. "That is correct. In fact, with this matter, you're the only one I can turn to, because of your extended absence. It's… somewhat more personal than what you've done before. It concerns the well-being of the Sanctuary."
I lean back, looking at her sideways. "Oh? Tell me more, Matron."
"I'm concerned about Cicero. He's taken to locking himself in his quarters with the Night Mother. I suspect he's conspiring with someone – he spends hours in there, frantically whispering. I can swear I heard two voices in that room once. I need to know who he's conspiring with, and what they plan to do. He's got sharp eyes, so you'll need to hide in the Night Mother's coffin –"
This one sputtered and hissed. "Desecrate the Night Mother?!" I hissed, standing. "Have you completely lost the head-sense?! If not for the fact that she is our Matron, then for the fact that there is a corpse of a woman there who started this Brotherhood!" This one stood. "For the sake of this Sanctuary, this one shall look into the matter. But this one thinks that conspiracy is too far, even for you. Have you thought, perhaps, that Cicero-Keeper is talking to himself?"
Astrid rose as well, a snarl on her face. Not as impressive as a Khajiit, but angry, even for a hairless-tailless-one. "This one does this only for the Sanctuary, only because this one feels that we must remain united. This Solän'cae will first find another place to hide, then she will hide in the Night Mother's coffin." I turn and stride out of her quarters.
Goldenglow proved a challenge to get into: but burning down the beehives first distracted the mercenaries crawling all over the place for long enough to let me slip into the sewer system Vex had mentioned. It was empty right through to the ladder leading up into the house. It didn't smell nearly as much as I expected it to, which was a relief. I climbed up slowly, the trapdoor open. I slowly lifted it, eyes and ears peeled for more mercenaries, or even residents.
Thus far, only the tell-tale sound of steel armor further away met my ears. Probably only one or two of them, too.
I opened the trap door further, glancing around and quickly slipping out, closing it quietly as I hurried down a corridor. Brynjolf had given me rough, but recent blueprints of the house, so I had a fair idea about the layout. I crept past rooms, listening for the mercenaries as I made my way up the stairs to the master bedroom. Twice I had to duck into rooms to avoid the mercenaries, and twice I was nearly convinced I would die at the hands of mercenaries. The owner of Goldenglow – Aringoth – was asleep on a sparse bed upstairs, his face drawn despite the obvious effects of a sleeping draft.
Is this what pissing off Maven Black-Briar looks like? I wonder, glancing around the room. There was a curious statue of a crowned bee on a table, so I wrapped it in a spare cloth and put it in my bag, carefully rummaging through the drawers and closets for a key. Eventually I gave up: it wouldn't be long until someone decided to check up on the elf again.
I ducked into rooms again as steel boots chinked on the floor, making my way down to the basement and the safe. There weren't any guards in the lower section of the house; it was a little unnerving, to be honest.
As if I was walking into a trap.
I shook off the feeling, sticking to the shadows and creeping along the maze of corridors below the main house. I was beginning to doubt the safe was below when I came across a guard, slumped in his chair with several empty bottles of Goldenglow Mead scattered around him.
He snored loudly when I stepped closer.
I pulled back into the shadows.
But he wasn't going to wake up soon, so I crept closer, gently touching his eyelids to cast a mild paralysis spell on them. Just in case.
I entered the larger room, where most of the brewing took place, if I judged by the barrels and tanks and all other equipment I couldn't name. I found a safe tucked away to one side.
Picking the lock wasn't easy, but I managed to only twist a lockpick in the process of opening it, scanning the inside for other valuables as I grabbed the Bill of Sale, the objective of the job. Nothing left here, time to go! I thought, pocketing a large ruby and a small coinpurse. I hurried past the sleeping guard, melting back into the shadows.
It was too quiet on the ground floor.
I crouched in the shadows, waiting for moment, a sound, anything. The trap door to the sewers was just within sight.
I breathed slowly and quietly, peering out from my hiding spot. The coast was clear, for now.
Voices sounded down the hall. Now or never.
I bolted for the trapdoor, swinging it open as boots thundered.
"Thief! KILL HER!"
"Oh, shit ohshit!" I swore, pulling the trapdoor closed behind me, falling feet first into the sewer. I gasped at the sharp pain in my ankles, casting a healing spell even as I bolted.