Elana marched into Dragonsreach with some reluctance, though Vilkas's insistence she fulfill the promise was a surprisingly powerful motivator.
All will work out fine. Eventually.
"That's the spirit, little dovah. Burn them all down if otherwise."
I don't think that's actually a good idea.
"True, but it's a comforting thought."
Perhaps for you.
Elana bowed before Jarl Balgruuf from down the steps right before his throne. She cleared her throat, hoping it made her rasp deeper. "My Jarl, may I speak with you in private?"
"Of course. Come." He rose and gestured for her to follow him upstairs. When she hesitated, looking at the guards stationed around the room with the map, he led her out onto the balcony of Dragonsreach. "Does this suffice for your concerns?"
Satisfied that there were no guards in earshot, Elana nodded and then, with voice clear, she spoke. "Jarl Balgruuf, I did not set out to deceive anyone."
The man rocked back a little on his heels at the statement, with a quieter version of the look a blindfolded man has finally seeing the unmasked world. "No; you never seemed the type," he trailed off meaningfully.
"Elana. It was a case of mistaken identity with some Imperial Troops, and as prisoner it seemed safer to keep that going. And then Helgen happened, and everyone seemed so happy to have their strong male Dragonborn I just, didn't correct people. It's so much easier to be a man in Skyrim, especially as some sort of savior."
"Come now, you are in the Companions. You know plenty of extraordinary women who do just fine-"
"None of you have ever asked if I wanted to be extraordinary!"
The Jarl simply nodded. "A fair point. Why share this now? If you wanted to preserve your other identity to keep that normalcy, which without the pretend-ruined voice and the difference in your carriage it wouldn't be terribly hard, why tell me?"
"You listened to me, Jarl Balgruuf, when I came to you a nobody with just a warning. You welcomed me into your city that you genuinely care for, and Whiterun is better for it. I wanted you to know that I trust you, and that I know where my loyalties lie."
She pulled the axe from her pack.
"Ah. Ulfric is persistent. I'll give the man that. I suppose it's time I give him an answer." He sighed, weariness and disappointment in every line of his face. "You support Ulfric then?"
"I support an independent Skyrim."
Jarl Balgruuf chuckled. "That's not an answer." He sighed and looked towards the horizon. "It's no secret that there is no love lost between Ulfric and me. His tactics, the way he runs Windhelm,-" The Jarl sighed again. "We were there, you know. Irileth and I. When the Empire lost and the concordat was signed. I don't think Ulfric understands that people can not want to fight the Empire but also want Skyrim to be independent. That men can worship Talos in private, and yet wake up and uphold trade contracts with the Empire to keep his people fed."
"You would choose gold over Talos? Seems like you have plenty of food in the keep."
"Who do you think feeds the Whiterun guards, Elana? And of all the divines, I think the one who used to be human understands choosing temporal duty over esoteric disagreements. The longer Ulfric keeps this war simmering, the higher the price of grain will rise. If he drags Skyrim to freedom, merchant deals we depended on as intra-Empire trading will have to be renegotiated, and there's always a higher tax on imported goods. I do not envy the Jarl who'd have to deal with that."
Elana started in surprise. "I will fight him, first. He will not kill you; I swear it."
"Of course he won't, but someone will be appointed to replace me should Ulfric take the city."
"That's crazy. Who knows this place better than you? You're a good leader, even if you disagree with Ulfric. Experienced, loyal to Whiterun-"
"Which, you notice, does not mean I am loyal to Ulfric."
The two stood together in silence for a long moment.
"This is stupid," Elana finally muttered.
"You are the Dragonborn. You could ask him to stop."
Elana sighed, taking her turn to stare at the horizon. "I don't think this could be stopped even if Ulfric wanted it to stop. Not after Helgen, and a would-be execution of haste stopped by the end of the world dropping on all our heads."
"Then you'll take the axe to him, and he will bring his army here."
"Maybe he'd accept a challenge?"
"He has already proven his strength; now he must prove that of his army."
"Damn. For what it's worth, I am sorry. But I will beat him and his army back here. Again, I'm your man first, as your thane. I know my duties."
The Jarl smiled thinly at her, and it did not reach his eyes even as he quipped, "I should think you're no one's man, Dragonborn."
Elana rolled her eyes and rolled her shoulders back as she pushed the door open back into the keep.
"Proventus! Bring me my pen and the good parchment."
The steward came hurrying up the stairs. "Are we writing a letter, my lord?"
"Yes, to General Tullis. I need to make a few things clear before I accept any Legionnaires of his, particularly how he intends to feed them all."
"We are accepting his offer then?"
Jarl Balgruuf sighed, again, and gestured to Elana, who still held Ulfric's war axe in one hand. "The Dragonborn was talked into playing errand boy for Ulfric. Seems he thought the message would be sweeter coming from my own thane. Ulfric has forced my hand."
"My lord, perhaps we should wait. Let us see if Ulfric is serious."
"Oh, he is serious. And so am I."
"Finally," came the low drawl of Irileth as she came to join the others around the map.
Jarl Balgruuf turned to Elana. "Dragonborn, are you sure you can beat his army back here?"
She grinned and rasped, "certain as I am that certain Shouts work. I have to stop by the Greybeards before I make it to Windhelm anyway."
She bowed and left them standing around a pen arguing about words.