The Khajiit Murders – Chapter 9

Unruly Jarls

Brelyna gasped and clutched at J’zargo as the dragon landed on a muddy bank a few yards away, right in front of Deirdre and Lydia. She could only wish to possess some of their calm in the face of such a terrifying beast, but her experience with the dov was limited. Somehow she’d gone through the months of the dragon resurrection only glimpsing them from afar. True, she’d gotten close to Odahviing when he was chained up in Dragonsreach, but an unfettered dragon was a far different thing.

Pic of the dragon, Viinturuth
Viinturuth

As with the travelers, so with their horses. The two belonging to Deirdre and Lydia stood calmly, while hers and J’zargo’s snorted and tugged at their reins.

J’zargo patted her hand. “Not to worry, Brelyna. Dragons are just really big cats, no?”

This brought her to her senses, and not just because the Khajiit view of the world was so different from her own. If the beast before them was just a large cat, then she was Azura and Mephala rolled into one. But no, she would not let J’zargo patronize her with his chivalry. Was this any way for a college-trained mage, much less a member of House Telvanni, to behave? She let go of J’zargo’s arm and stood up straighter, moving a little apart from him, as if eager to get a better view of the meeting.

The dragon looked for all the world as if it was bowing to Deirdre, its wings swept back and its chin nearly brushing the dark, muddy bank.

“Drem yol lok, Dovahkiin. Zu’u los Viinturuth. Zu’u qiilaan us hin suleyk.”

“Drem yol lok, Viinturuth. Zu’u ofaal hin mir.”

The party had been traveling across the marshlands, taking a shortcut Lydia and Deirdre knew between Morthal and Dawnstar, when Lydia had spotted dragon wings in the distance. Up to that point the party had been remarkably somber, the news of another murder having confirmed their worst fears. Yet it seemed to Brelyna that Deirdre and Lydia were even more subdued than the news warranted.

They’d had little luck investigating the murder scene in the swamps. The killer had left plenty of footprints, but they came out of a large bog. Though the four companions scoured the bank on the opposite side, they could find no matching prints there, just a confusing array of boot prints. It was as if the killer had been dropped from the sky. Other than that, the scene bore all the markings of the previous murder sites. Then a summer squall had moved south from the Sea of Ghosts, cutting their investigation short.

That was yesterday, and they had spent this morning searching for any sign of a camp or other traces of someone traveling across the swamps, Deirdre growing increasingly dejected. They had returned to Morthal at mid-day, only to hear the news of a new murder in Dawnstar, and dashed off immediately, their moods hardly lifted by the clearing skies.

But once Lydia spotted the dragon, Deirdre’s eyes lit up like it was the morning of St. Jiub’s Festival. Stepping apart from them, she’d shouted a single word, Fahdon, her Voice booming across the marshes. The dragon spun on a septim and flew toward them.

“That felt good,” Deirdre said as they awaited the dragon’s approach, shaking out her arms as if preparing to shout again. “How long has it been since I used my Voice?” She seemed giddy as a schoolgirl.

Now Deirdre and Viinturuth were talking. Brelyna didn’t know Dovah, but she caught the name Paarthurnax and the words drem, vaat, and jul. She gathered that Deirdre wanted to know whether the dragons still supported the bargain she’d struck with Paarthurnax, the ancient dragon who’d originally taught Nords the Power of the Voice. The pact held that dragons would avoid all human settlements and hunt only the beasts of the woods and meadows, as long as Skyrim’s people left them alone. And it seemed the dragons remained true to Paarthurnax’s word; in the months since Alduin’s defeat, they had become almost as mythical as before the resurrection, spotted only occasionally as a pair of wings on the horizon.

When the conference came to an end, however, and the great dragon had winged once more into the sky, Brelyna could see from the grin on Deirdre’s face that the news was much better.

“We have our first allies,” she said, beaming at her friends. “Not only is our agreement holding, but three or four dragons, including Viinturuth here, have vowed to come to my aid in battle, should the need arise. I have only to shout their names.”

Lydia wrapped Deirdre in a bear hug. “That’s wonderful, my Queen. Of course they owe you their loyalty, as you bested their leader.”

“This one congratulates you,” J’zargo said as Deirdre unwrapped herself from Lydia’s embrace.

“Yes, excellently done,” said Brelyna, placing a hand on Deirdre’s shoulder.

Deirdre basked in these congratulations for a moment then turned her face to the sky, whooping with joy. She turned in the direction they were heading, gathered her breath, and shouted, “Wuld-Nah-Kest!” She shot away from them in a blur, crossing a bog to the bank opposite in only an instant. Turning back to them, she called, “Come, what are you waiting for?”

Lydia rolled her eyes, but she was smiling.

Brelyna was glad as well. Since the day they’d sat down to the meal in Dragon Bridge’s jail, she’d been concerned for her two friends. Both were showing the strains of their new responsibilities, but especially Deirdre. Between the everyday challenges of rule, the assassination attempts, the threat of an Aldmeri attack, and now these murders, her friend had lost much sleep and added many care lines. And, judging by a few sharp comments and sarcastic asides over the last few days, Deirdre’s relationship with her wife seemed to be suffering as well. Constant vigilance couldn’t be good for one’s love life. What the two probably needed was a vacation from all these threats and cares. As that was unlikely to happen, Brelyna was glad they had found these few moments of frivolity. Lydia was still smiling as they gathered the horses and made their more laborious way around the bog.

*~*~*

The party’s lighter mood was short-lived. The reality of the murders, now seven in total, reasserted itself as they approached Dawnstar. Worse, with evidence that the murderer in this last case was also a Khajiit, talk was spreading that Elsweyr was behind a conspiracy against the people of Skyrim. They had heard it in Morthal just hours before, returning from their unsuccessful foray into the swamps. Even Jarl Idgrod, who was usually more concerned about her own visions and maintaining magical balance than with affairs such as these, had succumbed to the pervading fear. “Probably ought to round them all up, if only for their own safety,” she said, not deigning to look at J’zargo.

And now, as Dawnstar came into view, Brelyna saw that the situation here was even worse than in Morthal. A large crowd had gathered outside the White Hall, Jarl Skald’s seat, some of the men armed with pickaxes and other tools, all of them shouting at once. “Skyrim is for the Nords” was the most common shout, but she also heard, “Kick the foreigners out!” and “Lock them up!” At least they weren’t chanting “Off with their heads,” though it wouldn’t have surprised her. Next to her, J’zargo gave a low growl.

Deirdre, riding in front with Lydia, twisted around in her saddle. “Keep calm and let Lydia and me do the talking.” Lydia faced forward, silent, scanning the crowd for any more tangible threats that might arise.

They couldn’t even drop off their horses at the stable without incident. The ostler watched them balefully as they dismounted, not seeming to recognize anyone in the party. True, Deirdre had left her crown back in Solitude, but Brelyna was surprised the fellow didn’t recognize Lydia from her stature and appearance alone, not to mention the insignia on the sash she wore over her armor.

“I’ll take care o’ you three’s horses, but I’ll not handle the mount of any damned Khajiit, not after what they did to poor Rodrik.”

Lydia dropped the reins of her horse and stepped up to him, one hand on her axe. “Here stands your queen, and these are all horses from her stables. You’ll kneel before her first of all, and then you’ll care for all four horses as if they were your own, and be glad about it.”

Now the fellow seemed to recognize to whom he was speaking. Brelyna almost felt sorry for him. “Oh! Beggin’ your pardon, ma’am, I mean captain, no I mean your ladyship, I didn’t recognize you, nor her majesty.” With a quick bow, he went to collect their horses, pausing only for a moment before taking the reins from J’zargo.

The crowd surrounding the entrance to the main hall would not be so easily cowed. A large man in guard’s armor stood before the door, trying to calm the mob. “The jarl is doing everything he can!” This was met only with grumbles of disagreement.

Already a few on the outer edges had spotted them. “Look, it’s the Queen, and Lydia!” “But who’s that with them?” “Damn foreigners. Does one of them have a tail?”

“We should have waited for your retinue, my Queen,” Lydia said. “A dozen royal guards would quiet this crowd.”

“But that would only have slowed us down, and we are already running behind events. At this rate, there’ll be a dozen more murders before we track down the killers.”

Seeing their approach, the man at the top of the stairs descended through the crowd to greet them. “My queen,” he said, kneeling before her. “I am Jod, housecarl to Jarl Skald the Elder.” Regaining his feet, he looked at J’zargo with a mixture of hope and suspicion. “Is this a suspect in Rodrik’s murder? Do you bring him here for trial?”

“String him up!” someone yelled.

Deirdre stepped forward, putting herself between the bulk of the crowd and her companions. “No, my friend,” she said as gently as she could, though Brelyna knew her well enough to hear the slight quaver in her voice as she fought to suppress her anger. “For anyone I suspected of such crimes would be bound or chained. This is J’zargo of Elsweyr, my friend and loyal adviser, and this is Brelyna Maryon…”

Before she could finish introducing Brelyna, a young Nord charged toward J’zargo. Unfortunately for him, he had to dodge around Lydia to get to his target. She stepped in front of him, stopping him in his tracks and lifting him off his feet by his collar. He struggled there for a moment, then Deirdre cast a calming spell on him. His body relaxed and a pleasant, dreamy expression came over his face.

Brelyna was glad she hadn’t needed the spell she was readying to cast; the fellow probably wouldn’t have enjoyed living the rest of his life as a dog. But these foolish Nords were beginning to get on her nerves. She took a deep breath, resolving to let Deirdre and Lydia handle the situation, and placed a calming hand on J’zargo’s shoulder. She could tell by his low growl that he was losing patience as well, not that he had much to begin with.

Lydia dropped the Nord and raised her hands for calm. “People of Dawnstar. You know that I have always fought to defend this land.”

“Hear, hear!” came a shout from the crowd.

“And you know that Queen Deirdre drove back the Imperial Army at Riften, then reclaimed Whiterun from the High Elves. To her we owe Skyrim’s independence!”

“Long live Queen Deirdre!” came a few shouts, though they were none too hearty.

“And always, Brelyna and J’zargo fought alongside us. They foiled an Imperial plot in Riften that would have taken my own life. I owe them my thanks, as do you, though you seem not to know it. True Nords stand for justice and don’t take out their fears on innocent people. Now stand aside and let us do what we can to solve these murders.”

“You all heard Captain Ravenwood,” said Jod. “Now make way.” He gestured to Deirdre and her companions to follow him to the door of the hall.

The crowd parted for them, but not without considerable grumbling. “Why doesn’t she just get on a dragon and fly around until she finds the killer?” “A few shouts from the Dragonborn and those Khajiits would stop covering up for their own kind, I reckon.” “What good does the Voice do us if she can’t keep us safe?”

Brelyna was surprised — though by now she shouldn’t have been — to see J’zargo pump himself up and stride with lordly dignity through the parting mob. He caught up to Lydia and placed a hand on her shoulder, giving her a pointy-toothed grin. “This one never tires of hearing that speech, friend Lydia.”

She glared back at him. “Oh? I’m getting damned tired of giving it.”

Brelyna must have been standing and gaping at J’zargo, for Deirdre came over and put a protective arm around her shoulders. “Come, we shouldn’t linger out here. It will be safer inside.”

Pic of Jarl Skald the Elder lounging on his throne
Skald

But not by much, Brelyna thought once they entered. Jarl Skald glared at them as they made the long approach to the throne where he slouched. Brelyna imagined his ire was directed at her and J’zargo especially, yet he didn’t bother to rise, much less bend the knee to his queen. This system of the jarls choosing their ruler certainly didn’t inspire much loyalty or obedience. The only comfort she took from the entire place was a female Breton mage standing to one side of the hall, watching them benevolently as they approached.

Deirdre had warned them that Skald was one of Ulfric Stormcloak’s strongest supporters, and he had all the opinions about outlanders to go with it. Brelyna was only surprised he didn’t have “Skyrim Is For The Nords!” tattooed across his forehead — although perhaps he did, as he wore a silver and moonstone circlet. “The Elder” was an apt appellation. Judging by the lines on his face and the gray stubble on his scalp, Skald had seen many winters.

It soon became clear that the jarl knew little about the most recent murder, but had plenty of opinions about what should happen to the Khajiits. “Round ’em all up, I say.”

“And then what?” Deirdre demanded.

“Oblivion if I care. Shove them across the border and let Cyrodiil worry about them.”

“Leaving aside the injustice of blaming an entire people for the actions of one or two, that would do little to improve relations with the Empire.”

“The Empire! They’re the ones who started all this business of bringing the different races of people together. Anyone can see that the gods intended us to live apart. Titus Mede can suck Malacath’s flaccid cock, for all I care.”

Brelyna gasped at this barbarism. These Nords who looked down on Daedra worship seemed not to know how dangerous it was to take a daedric prince’s name in vain.

“Very nice,” was all Deirdre said in response, but the acid tone in her voice cowed Skald somewhat.

“Or… or… put them on ships and send them back to Elsweyr.”

“And who will pay for these ships? You? What of the provisions for that long voyage? And what will be their reception once they return there?”

“That’s right, I forgot. The Khajiits send us only their criminals, their thieves and murderers, their rapists…”

“And their students of magic,” J’zargo put in with a warning growl, but it was as if he hadn’t spoken.

“And don’t forget their skooma dealers. How many true-hearted Nords have become addicted to that foul concoction? I don’t blame Elsweyr for not wanting them back, but I don’t care how they’re treated once they return. And when we’re rid of the Khajiits…” — and here Brelyna did not like the way he glanced at her, then away — “well, that’ll be a good start at making Skyrim the place it used to be.”

“Oh? And what was that?”

He glared at the queen with a flat expression. Brelyna noticed Deirdre’s hands balled into fists, and wondered if the jarl knew what he was getting into. “The home of the Nords, of course,” the jarl said.

“So you wouldn’t want to take Skyrim even farther back in time, to when it was the home of the Snow Elves, say.”

“Pfaw!” was Skald’s only response.

“And how about Bretons? Or half-Bretons like me? Are we welcome in your Skyrim?”

The jarl only gave her a smug smile. Brelyna had seen the same kind of smile before, aimed at her, one that ensured the recipient of their own complete insignificance, nigh on to nonexistence, in the eyes of the smiler.

The queen and the jarl eyed each other for another silent moment. Deirdre broke the silence first. “We could debate politics all day, but as your High Queen, I am telling you the Khajiits will be left alone. Only those who are legitimately suspected of these murders will be arrested.”

Skald’s smile broadened. “It’s too late, l…” He caught himself before he could call her “lass,” finishing with a sarcastic “your Grace” instead. “The orders have already gone out. I’ve exchanged letters with Jarl Hrongar in Whiterun. He might have been on the wrong side of the Civil War, but he’s a more sensible man than his fool of a brother, Balgruuf. Between our two holds, we control the routes of all the trading caravans. Soon all the Khajiit traders will be rounded up and put in camps outside Whiterun. There are stragglers in other towns, of course, but Falkreath, Winterhold, and Riften are all on board and will send along any cat-people remaining in their holds. I’d expected more help from Ulfric, but he seems less of a man, and less of a Nord, since you shouted him down. As for Elisif and Idgrod, one can never tell about either of them. If Elisif weren’t such a weak jarl, maybe these murders would have been stopped before they even started. Then there’s your puppet in The Reach. Nobody is happy with that, I must tell you.”

Lydia and Deirdre exchanged a look. Brelyna noticed it, as did the jarl, who seemed only to grow happier.

“So you see, we have five holds in favor of corralling the Khajiits. If it weren’t for the debt Jarl Laila feels she owes you, we’d have already called the jarlmoot to pick a new High King.

A long, tense moment passed as the two eyed each other, Deirdre balling her fists by her sides, and the jarl lounging on his throne as if he hadn’t a care in the world.

Finally he put on an expression of mock fright. “What will you do now, Shout me down? Of course I know that you could level the entire town if you wanted. But I’m betting you won’t play the despot. You’re too kind-hearted for it. Your woman’s heart is too soft.”

Seeing that Deirdre was too overcome with rage to speak, Brelyna stepped forward. “Perhaps Jarl Skald should avoid playing with fire. Literal fire, mind you.”

Again it was as if she hadn’t spoken.

Deirdre placed a hand on her arm. “It’s all right, Brelyna. We’ll learn nothing useful here, since the jarl has done nothing to investigate the actual crimes or to find the killer. It’s clear he’d rather stoke the people’s fears than truly protect them.”

“Well, if there’s nothing else to discuss, will you be on your way, or do you need accommodations? I’d be happy to provide beds and a meal for you. For the two of you, I mean. I’ll have no darkies or pussy-cats sleeping under my roof.”

Brelyna’s vision went red as she began to cast a spell at this miserable excuse of a person. Next to her, Deirdre was drawing in breath for a Shout. Behind her, J’zargo was also moving forward. Jod, who had been standing nearby looking uncomfortable through all this, stepped in front of Skald.

But then Lydia moved in front, turning to face Deirdre and her friends. She spoke in a soft, calm voice, putting her hands on Deirdre’s shoulders. “My Queen, no. This will do no good.” She looked at Brelyna and J’zargo in turn. “My friends, put away those spells. Fighting here will not solve the murders, and it will not hold Skyrim together.”

Brelyna drew a deep breath and the red haze lifted from her vision. She looked over at Deirdre, who now seemed to find Lydia as if coming out of a fog. “Yes, Lydia, of course you are right. Let us leave.”

The four companions turned to go. Brelyna noticed the Breton mage looking at them apologetically as they passed her.

“Thank you for stopping by,” Skald called after them. “Be careful of the mob on your way out. They’re so hard to control in times like these.”

*~*~*

Deirdre was silent as they left Dawnstar behind them, her eyes fixed on the mane of her horse, her thoughts obviously far away. Brelyna had rarely seen her so upset. They let their horses walk along the road leading south, for they had no fixed destination at the moment. They had thought to spend the night in the town, but clearly that was impossible. Brelyna thought about suggesting a retreat to Morthal. Deirdre and Lydia might be accustomed to sleeping rough, but she was not; even Idgrod’s cramped hall would be better than resting on the ground. Lydia had mentioned Fort Dunstad as they were retrieving their horses, but Brelyna had little idea how far that might be. At least they might expect a warmer welcome from Skyrim troops commanded by Deirdre’s friend, Ralof. But the sun had just set behind the horizon and the parting of the roads west and south was approaching. They’d have to decide soon. Yet each of her friends seemed sunk in their own thoughts.

A shout from behind disturbed their aimless progress.

“What now?” Lydia demanded, turning her horse, her free hand going to her axe.

Brelyna was glad to see it was only the court mage, whose name she did not know, jogging behind them and calling for them to wait. She stopped a few paces from them and paused to catch her breath.

“You’re Madena, if I’m not mistaken,” said Deirdre.

Madena

“Yes, your Grace,” she said, giving a formal curtsy. “Though I’m surprised you know my name.”

“Jarl Elisif has insisted that I learn all the jarls’ retainers in every hold, and it was not unwise.” Brelyna thought her friend sounded distracted, not quite able to give the mage her complete attention, though she remembered her name.

“And why have you followed us, Madena?” Lydia asked.

“To… to apologize for my jarl’s behavior, first of all, and to thank you for not doing something drastic. And to offer my help. You seemed interested in investigating Rodrik’s murder and finding the culprit. Jod has been too busy calming these mobs to conduct his own investigation, so he sent me to see what I could learn, which was little. I must get back now, but I can take you to the site of the murder tomorrow if you stop nearby.”

“Yes,” said Deirdre in that same distracted manner. “We must make ourselves useful somehow.” Brelyna gave a sigh. Hard ground it would be.

“We’ll be glad to accept your offer,” Lydia said with more enthusiasm. “And could you do us another favor? I have messages to send. It will just take a moment to dash them off.”

“Of course.”

Lydia needed to borrow quill, ink, paper, and wax, as Brelyna was the only one who regularly carried them. As Brelyna fished in her saddlebags, Deirdre showed no interest in what these messages could be, but dismounted and led her horse over to some grass by the side of the road. She certainly did seem distracted.

Brelyna and J’zargo chatted with the Breton while Lydia wrote her messages. “I’m surprised a jarl with such views as Skald the Elder’s has a Breton mage in his court,” Brelyna said.

“I’m sure you know how it is, as a Dunmer mage,” Madena said. “Nords are mostly no good at magic, so they’re happy to rely on our skills when they’re needed, then throw us out when they’re done with us. Haven’t you found that to be true?”

“Not from my current employer, no.”

J’zargo sniffed. “But Nords are happy to buy our skooma then put us in jail for selling them skooma. They are hypocrites.”

“I was lucky to maintain my position, in truth,” Madena went on. “Skald wanted me to fight against the Imperials if the Civil War came to The Pale. I told him no, I’d given up fighting after I saw what my spells did in the Great War. I wanted no more of it, and told him I would only heal the wounded. That seemed good enough for him to keep me on.”

“Lucky for you the war never came here.”

“Yes, and for that we have our queen to thank.” She looked over toward Deirdre with a mixture of admiration and concern. “Is she all right? I really thought she was going to Shout Skald into Oblivion, until Captain Ravenwood stepped in.”

“It was close. I was ready to fry the boor myself. I think she was just angry on our behalf. And she’s frustrated that we haven’t been able to stop these murders. Then to be defied in such a manner, to think that innocents will be rounded up like animals in the land she supposedly rules. Her sense of powerlessness must have been too much for her.”

“To have such power, and always refrain from using it — it must be difficult. I know I have had my own struggles, though my power is far less.”

“She has done much to train her mind and her emotions to avoid such lapses of self-control. I thought I’d never again see her so close to losing it as I did just now.”

They both looked thoughtfully for a moment at their queen, who was idly toying with a summer flower on the other side of the road. Then Lydia was done with her messages and brought them to Madena.

“This short one to the Royal Guard in Solitude, and this longer one to General Ralof in Whiterun,” she said as she handed them over. “They should travel overnight, I’m afraid.”

Deirdre had put her flower aside and was now showing more interest.

“I’ll send the messages right away,” Madena said. After arranging to meet again in the morning, she turned back toward Dawnstar.

“What were those messages about?” Deirdre asked.

Lydia looked at her solemnly. “It is time for these jarls to stop questioning your authority, my Queen. I have sent to Solitude for your Royal Guard. I’m having them meet us in Whiterun. I know you will not put up with the jarls single-handedly imprisoning innocents, and so that must be where we go next. And I’ve sent word to Ralof to have his army ready to remind Jarl Hrongar who holds the power in Skyrim.”

Deirdre looked bewildered at this.

“Yes,” said J’zargo, “Deirdre should, how do you say, put her foot down. She is far mightier and a thousand times wiser than these piddling jarls.”

“It is wisely done,” Brelyna put in. “If I know anything about Nords, it’s that they respect power and the one wielding it. With your guard and a regiment or two of Ralof’s troops behind you, you can avoid such situations as we just found ourselves in.”

To Brelyna’s surprise, Deirdre burst out in tears. Lydia, putting aside her role as housecarl, rushed to put an arm around her. “Darling, what is it? Don’t let those bastards get you down. They’re just puffing themselves up. In another day or two, we’ll show them who’s queen.”

“It’s not that,” Deirdre said, pulling away and drying her eyes on the sleeve of her robes, though the tears kept coming. “I knew I was not ready to be queen, and told the jarls as much before they crowned me. If they now want to choose a different ruler, I don’t much care.”

“Then what is it?”

Deirdre sniffed, then gave out a long sigh. “I came so close to Shouting Skald into the next hold, turning his bones to jelly. And him an old man, defenseless before me. Unlike Ulfric, he’d never have survived it.”

J’zargo gave a low growl. “Arrogant Nord deserved whatever he got, after what he said about Brelyna’s and J’zargo’s peoples. This one thought there was no place for such bigotry in the new Skyrim.”

“He is an old man with many outdated opinions, and many are the Nords who agree with him. But I am the ruler of them all, am I not? The bad-hearted and the good, the bigoted and the open-minded. I must treat them all fairly, even if some of their views disgust me. And I certainly can’t change what is in their hearts through force.”

“You are right, of course,” said Brelyna.

“But it’s not just that. All the effort I put toward controlling my dragon soul, balancing its power with compassion, it hasn’t done any good.” She turned to Lydia, laying a hand on her arm. “Only you could stop me, my love, and I thank you for that.”

“I’m sure it was just one lapse,” Lydia said. “You can’t be perfect all the time. And these traitors would do well to remember that, it will keep them in line.”

Brelyna thought back to all that Deirdre had told them about training with the Greybeards at High Hrothgar. “Didn’t Arngeir tell you that living with your dragon soul would require daily effort for the rest of your life? Surely you can expect a few bad days along with the good.”

“Alduin said much the same thing as he died. He said he’d always be inside me, that I’d never be rid of him. Maybe today he showed himself.” Deirdre looked off to the distance, where the low hills of The Pale were mere silhouettes against the darkening sky. “And maybe Arngeir was right. Maybe the Voice is too great a power to be let loose in the world. Maybe I should sequester myself in High Hrothgar and spend the rest of my life meditating on balance, like Jurgen Windcaller of old.”

Here Lydia gave a “hrrrmph.” Brelyna had heard her tales of High Hrothgar, the home of the Greybeards. Lydia said she’d nearly lost her mind in those gloomy halls high on the windswept, snow-plastered shoulder of the Throat of the World, waiting for Deirdre to finish her training and meditations. “You’re just tired, my Queen. It’s been a long, trying day. Let us find a camp before it gets much darker and get some sleep.”

Deirdre agreed, and they began leading their horses down the road.

It was not long before J’zargo gave a little laugh.

“What could you possibly find to laugh about after the events of this day?” Brelyna asked.

“It is only that, out of the four of us back in Dawnstar, it was the warrior who kept the peace.” He wiggled his whiskers. “It is funny, no?”

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