The League of Dragonborn
Chapter 6: Introductions
Thought it was time I finished this.
Sofja, Vilkas, Freja, and Brynjolf took their time leaving Whiterun the next day. The two Companions found it especially difficult to depart again so soon; being at Jorrvaskr with Aela, Farkas, and the others offered a comfort they'd recently taken for granted. To make the most of the time they had, they feasted at Jorrvaskr that afternoon, only departing for Riverwood when the sun hung low in the sky. None seemed interested in speaking on the journey; their thoughts were heavy with consideration of the past and worry for the future. Nonetheless, by nightfall they were walking up the steps of the Sleeping Giant Inn, apprehensive to what lay ahead.
They were surprised to find the tavern all but empty — no music, no rowdy patrons. Brynjolf silently considered just how different the scene would be at the Bee and Barb, where lust and drunken fighting reigned supreme. Here instead, a handsome bard snored softly by the fire, his instrument perched precariously in his lap, while a man with unruly brown locks and a bushy beard dried mugs at the far end of the room. Nothing else. They saw no sign of this Delphine, and it troubled Sofja that the Greybeards gave no other information about her, except that Sofja should ask to rent "the attic room" when the time came. But what did it mean?
Sofja turned to the rest of the group as they gravitated towards the fire, even though the warmth of spring bloomed outside, and nodded curtly as if to say let me handle this. Then, she approached the bar.
"What can I get you?" The barkeep mumbled gruffly, not even stopping to look up at her.
'I'm looking for Delphine," Sofja replied in a low tone, feeling suddenly on edge. She trusted the Greybeards completely, but she didn't appreciate acting on such little information. The man finally met Sofja's gaze, but before he could answer, a voice rose up on her left.
"Who's asking?" the husky voice called. A short, blonde woman in simple clothes approached Sofja, eyeing her carefully. The woman's pale blue eyes were bright and youthful, but the wrinkles around them hinted at her age — or at least at a hard past.
The young Harbinger turned to face the woman, nodding in greeting. "My name is Sofja. I'd like to rent the attic room." She watched carefully for any recognition to appear on Delphine's face — the Greybeards had specifically instructed her to say this, after all — but there was none. Delphine merely sounded confused at best.
"Attic room? We don't have an attic room. But you and yours can rent the ones behind me. Make yourself at home." Sofja blinked in surprise. Glancing up at the wooden beams holding up the inn, it was plain to see the building had no attic. Sofia immediately felt stupid — or at least as if she had been duped. Was this some sort of code? She grabbed the gold for the rooms out of her pocket and placed it quickly on the bar, walking back towards the others to report on the strange encounter.
"Well?" Vilkas said quickly, his dark eyes filled with suspicion. Bryn looked on eagerly while Freja stood staring into the fire.
"There's no attic room," Sofja whispered. "But we have the two rooms on the left."
"What does this mean?" Bryn mused quietly. "Something's not right, lass."
Sofja shrugged. "Patience. The Greybeards wouldn't deceive us. Let's go to our rooms and regroup. This isn't over yet."
Sofja and Vilkas took the room closest to the inn's front door, while Freja and Brynjolf settled for the other nearest the bar. An hour passed, and then two — but there was no sign of… Well, anything. Before long, midnight approached, and the foursome began to grow tired. Sofja and Freja met in the hallway as Delphine and the barkeep swept up for the night. "If you hear anything," Freja said quietly, "you come get us immediately. Understood? We'll reconvene in the morning and get some answers." Sofja nodded in agreement. And with that, they both returned to their rooms.
Closing the door, Freja stood motionless for a few seconds. She'd almost asked to stay with Sofja, forcing the men to bunk together. Not that she cared much for Sofja, but after everything that had happened with Brynjolf, she wondered if her very presence burdened him.
Turning towards the room, she noticed that Bryn had already made up a spot on the floor to sleep, leaving her the bed in the left corner. Shadows danced against the walls, cast by the lone candle on the table next to the bed. He laid on his back in a circle of bear skin blankets and pillows, arms behind his head, lounging as if he didn't have a care in the world. "Bryn," Freja began gently, "I don't want the b—"
"We'll not argue about who gets the bed, lass," Brynjolf said sharply, though half a smile hung on his lips. "You can do penance for all the things you regret on your own time. For now, let me be a gentleman and give you a good night's rest." She rolled her eyes, stepping over him to crawl onto the soft (though uneven) mattress. Lying on her back, Freja stared up at the wooden ceiling, trying to focus on Bryn's breath.
"Lass," Bryn whispered then. She turned wordlessly towards the edge of the bed, rolling onto her stomach to catch a glimpse of his profile in the candle's flickering light. "D'you remember when we poisoned that meadery for Maven? Not far from here," he chuckled, thinking back. "That night we ran from a dragon and holed up in that sad little inn deep in the woods."
Freja nodded, before realizing Bryn probably couldn't see her. "Honningbrew," she replied then, her mind racing back to that night. She'd never met Maven in the flesh, but she remembered the mission well enough. They'd posed as a newly married couple on their honeymoon touring Skyrim. That night, a dragon chased them through the trees. "We were nearly turned to blocks of ice."
"Aye," he said, falling silent for a few moments as they both lived it all again — the fear, the exhilaration.
"It was also the night you learned I was Dragonborn," Freja said softly. "The night I dragged you into all this madness for the first time."
She heard Bryn shift onto his side, facing her. She fought the exhaustion that crept over her, her eyelids heavy as she tried to keep them open. "You dragged me into nothing I didn't willingly run towards." Freja only stared; she didn't quite agree with that assessment of things. A minute passed. "Was also the first time I shared your bed, if I recall."
Freja's eyes shot open wide. She sat up on her elbow, glaring down at Bryn, and could see that he stared back at her, the dull glint of the candlelight reflecting in his gaze. Was he… Flirting with her?
Part of her wanted to quip back, to grab him by the hand and drag him under the covers with her, but she knew she shouldn't. Freja needed to make things right with Brynjolf, not to mention the guild — and tangling their feelings up again was not the way to start. Was he so quick to forgive her? Or was he simply giving into the urgency of lust?
If she could read his mind, she'd have known that he couldn't help himself; simply being close to her intoxicated Brynjolf. They'd become fast friends, fallen in love, then were pitted against each other in Mercer's vicious plot. Brynjolf had gotten her back, only for her to disappear again. He should've felt angry, betrayed, fed up — but really, he just felt lucky to be near her once again.
"It was," she said meekly, hoping this response wouldn't encourage any further flirtation. Bryn sat up now, running his hands through his hair, looking as if he were preparing to say something. Before he could, though, there was a knock at the door. Thinking it was Sofja, and thanking the Nine for an interruption, Freja jumped up to receive her. Instead, it was Delphine.
"So," she whispered to Freja. "You're the Dragonborn I've been hearing so much about. Or one of them, at least, if the Greybeards are to be believed. We need to talk… Grab the others and follow me," Delphine continued, poking her head through the opening of the door to eye up Brynjolf.
Within ten minutes the lot of them stood in Delphine's private bedroom. Vilkas closed the bedroom door at Delphine's request, and then they stood in a line, watching her. "Now," she said confidently, "we can talk." And with that she turned to a wardrobe on the far side of the room, opened it, pushed aside the clothes hanging inside, and pressed something within. Almost immediately, the back panel opened up to reveal a narrow set of stairs leading to a hidden basement. Sofja and Vilkas looked at each other warily, while Freja and Brynjolf just seemed impressed. "I think I like this better than the stone coffin entrance to the Flagon," Freja whispered. "Less dreary."
Following her down, they came upon more of a fortified stronghold than a secret room. It overflowed with weapons, armor, marked up maps, scrawled pages filled with words like "Dragonstone," "Alduin," and "defeat," ancient Nordic artifacts, books piled high on ancient lore, the Dragonborn myth, the Blades of old, and the Greybeards; it was the room of a woman obsessed — nay, totally consumed — by the return of the dragons.
At the center of the room stood a large table, which Delphine circled around. She leaned forward over it, here eyes dancing across a map of Skyrim, and finally spoke. "The Greybeards seem to think there's more than one Dragonborn, and that you're it," she said, motioning to Sofja and Freja. "I hope they're right."
"Forgive me, lass, but what does an innkeeper have to do with the dragon threat?" Brynjolf said gently. They felt surprised to see Delphine chuckle warmly.
"I guess I'm getting pretty good at this harmless innkeeper act," she remarked proudly. "Well, you can't be too careful — there are Thalmor spies everywhere."
"That still doesn't explain who you are," Vilkas said quickly, trying to contain the venom in his voice. Vilkas was as suspicious as they come, and for good reason — it was what had probably kept him alive these last thirty years.
Delphine stood up straighter. "I'm part of a group that's been looking for you," she declared, looking between Freja and Sofja, "or someone like the both of you, for a very long time. You're the only ones who can stop the dragon threat. Dragons aren't just coming back, they're coming back to life."
Freja nodded. "Alduin. We know. I'm sorry, but to repeat the wolf," she interrupted, pointing a thumb over a Vilkas, "who the hell are you? We're going to need a little more detail than that." The energy in the room grew tense as Freja and Delphine stared at each other. Finally, Delphine sighed, nodding.
"Fine, fine, I owe you some real answers. I'm one of the last members of the Blades. A very long time ago, the Blades were dragonslayers, and we served the Dragonborn, the greatest dragonslayer. For the last two hundred years, since the last Dragonborn emperor, the Blades have been searching for a purpose. Now that the dragons are coming back. . . Our purpose is clear again. We need to stop them. And that means I need to help you however I can." With Delphine's explanation, some of the tension in the room subsided. A note of truth rang in Delphine's voice so clearly that no one could doubt her story, not even Vilkas. At the very least, she believed what she was saying, and that was enough.
"So what's our next move?" Sofja asked quickly.
"The Thalmor are our best lead. If they aren't involved, they'll know who is," Delphine replied, again gazing over the map sprawled out of the giant oak table before them. "I don't have anything solid to link them to the dragons...yet. But my gut tells me it can't be anybody else."
Vilkas scoffed at this, shifting on his feet as he shook his head. "You want us to, what, take on the Thalmor head on? Because your gut tells you so?"
Delphine sighed. "The Empire had captured Ulfric Stormcloak. The war was basically over. Then a dragon attacks, Ulfric escapes, and the war is back on. And now the dragons are attacking everywhere, indiscriminately. Skyrim is weakened, the Empire is weakened… Who else gains from this but the Thalmor?"
No one spoke at this. Perhaps Delphine was just a madwoman drawing connections where there were none, but none could say the theory didn't make some sense.
"So what do we do?" Bryn mused.
"You two," Delphine said, pointing to Vilkas and Freja, "you're going to a party."