THE DRAGONBORN’S TALE
PART II: THE GRAY ISLAND
The Guild made a killing at Ulfric’s coronation, and they went back to Riften happy with their take. Selene and Brynjolf accompanied the High King’s party back to Windhelm, where they spent the night at Hjerim before heading north. They stopped in Winterhold to give the Elder Scroll to a very grateful Urag, then went farther on to Septimus Signus’s outpost to return the lexicon.
“Give it quickly!” he exclaimed, holding out his hands like a child begging for a sweet. “Amazing! I see it now, how the sealing structure interlocks. Clever, clever, Dwemer. Dwarven blood could loose the hooks, but none remain alive.”
He paced back and forth, mumbling to himself. After a moment he stopped, looked up at Selene and came toward her. He smiled and placed a hand on her stomach. “Ah, treasures inside the lexicon, but treasures inside the bearer as well.”
Selene backed out of his reach. “What are you talking about?”
“A babe. A second Dragonborn. Ha-ha, even Septimus knows that.”
Alarm washed through Brynjolf’s scent. Selene looked up at him, and he shook his head. “No, he can’t—he’s mad, Selene.”
She looked back at the mage. “Why would you say there’s a baby?”
Ignoring her question, he started pacing again. “There may be a way, something the Dwemer did not anticipate. The mer still living may be the key. Altmer, Bosmer, Orsimer, Dunmer, Falmer.” He went to his dresser and rooted around, throwing objects over his shoulder and mumbling. Finally he pulled out a large brass device comprised of five syringes and handed it to Brynjolf. “Bear you hence this extractor and come back when it is complete.”
“Complete how?” Brynjolf asked him.
“It will drink the fresh blood of elves. One sample of each will combine to open the box.”
“And you just had this lying around?”
Still reeling from Septimus’s comment about a baby, Selene sputtered, “Why…why are you so eager to open this box?”
Brynjolf scoffed. “You mean you aren’t curious to know what’s inside? I’m dying to know what’s in there.”
“The box contains the heart,” Septimus told them, “the essence of a god. The knowledge of the Elder Scrolls is but a passing awareness to the all-encompassing mind of my lord.”
“Hermeus Mora, daedric prince of the unknown. Oh, the secrets he will share with me! He asks a price to work his will, be sure. A few murders, some dissent spread, a plague or two. But for the secrets, I can endure. But he teases, he does. He brought me here to the box, and he won’t reveal how to open it. Ha! I’ve figured it out, though! With the blood of the mer, the secrets will be mine—yours as well.”
“Do you want to do this?” Brynjolf asked Selene, holding the extractor up.
She had to admit she was curious, but she was also wary. “Let’s keep it, and we’ll see what happens. We come across a lot of elves when we fight bandits and such.”
Brynjolf stuffed the apparatus in his pack, and they bid farewell to Septimus Signus and made their way up the ramp to the door. They found the way blocked by a swirling, blue-black torrent.
“Come closer,” a thick, deep voice said slowly from inside the eddy. “Bask in my presence.”
There was no basking. The presence made Selene shudder with revulsion.
“I am Hermeus Mora, guardian of the unseen and knower of the unknown. I have been watching you, Dragonborn. Septimus Signus has served me well; he has discerned how to open that infernal lockbox.”
“Are you saying you don’t know how to open it? I thought you knew everything.”
“There are some secrets even Hermeus Mora has yet to learn. Bring him blood and open the box; then you shall take his place as my emissary.”
Brynjolf gave a soft chuckle, and Selene breathed a heavy sigh. “My lord, I won’t be your emissary. I’m beholden to enough daedric princes as it is.”
A cold chill drifted through her and made her bones ache. “Be warned, mortal. Many have thought as you do, and I have broken them all. Your free will is an illusion. You cannot evade me forever, and you will serve me.” With that, the torrent disappeared, opening the way out the door.
“Why in Oblivion does every daedric prince think they can have a piece of me?” she grumbled as they climbed into the rowboat that would ferry them back to Winterhold.
“Daedric princes think they can have a piece of everybody. You just garner more attention than most.”
They rowed for a while, engrossed in an uncomfortable silence, neither wanting to venture discussion of Septimus Signus’s remark about a baby. Brynjolf was right; the old mage was crazy. But so often, the mad had a perception that others didn’t. Could he be right?
“Selene,” Brynjolf said finally, “when’s the last time you bled?”
She turned and looked back at him. “It’s been long enough.”
“We’ll stop and see Jora on the way back to Riften.”
They stopped in Windhelm, and the priestess of Talos confirmed that Selene was indeed pregnant. Brynjolf’s scent went wild at the news, terror flooding in, turning to joy, and then going back to fear. Selene felt much the same. She and her husband weren’t exactly parent material.
“All right,” said Brynjolf, “what must we do to take care of Selene?”
“Your usual routine should be fine, for the most part,” Jora told them. “Don’t ride a horse, and avoid alcohol and anything with nightshade or deathbell. They’re dangerous to the child. Only milk, juice, and water.”
“You do realize my usual routine involves fighting dragons,” Selene reminded her.
“Whether you continue to fight is up to you. The baby shouldn’t be in any more danger than you would be.”
That was small comfort to Selene.
They spent the night in Windhelm, and Selene went to bed early, falling into a deep slumber as soon as her head hit the pillow. As usual, she dreamed of the hunt, but as her wolf spirit leapt to attack a deer, she whispered, “Don’t forget me.” She woke with a start to find Brynjolf watching her, his hand resting on her belly.
“You okay?” he asked.
“Aye. Just my usual werewolf dreams. You?”
“Part of me is petrified. We’re thieves and fighters. We’ve no business bringing a child into this world. But when I watch you sleep and think about what—who—is growing inside you, and I get this warm feeling, and I know everything is going to be all right.”
“So you’re happy about this?”
He smiled. “Aye.”
“So am I.”
“Do you think the baby will be Dragonborn like Septimus said?”
Selene shrugged. “Hard to say, but it was hereditary in the past. And he was right about my being pregnant.”
“I thought living with one Dragonborn was an adventure; imagine what it’ll be with two. One temper tantrum from the little one, and the Unrelenting Force Shout takes out half the nursery.”
“Or worse, the Fire Breath Shout destroys the house. Don’t worry, love. I don’t intend to teach her any Words of Power until she’s at least six or seven.”
“Well, I don’t know the first thing about taking care of a baby, especially a Dragonborn baby, so you’ll have to give me lots of advice.”
“What makes you think I know how to take care of a baby?”
Brynjolf laughed out loud, his head dropping to the pillow. “Sweet Nocturnal, we’re going to be the worst parents ever!”
“No, we won’t. We’ll get through this, love.”
He reached over and caressed her cheek. “I believe you,” he said softly.
* * *
Most of the Guild members were happy for Selene and Brynjolf. Only Vex scoffed and said, “You know this is a terrible idea, right?”
“It’s not like it was planned,” Selene retorted. “We’ll just have to make the best of it.”
“You’d be better off dropping it on the doorstep of Honorhall Orphanage when it’s born.”
Selene’s fist shot out and clocked Vex in the jaw. Vex stumbled backward and started to come out swinging, but Delvin, who had been watching from nearby, grabbed hold of her.
“Not a good idea, Vexie,” he said. “Besides, you asked for that one.”
“Don’t ever suggest sending anybody to Honorhall again,” Selene warned her, “or I will end you. Got that?”
Vex jerked away from Delvin walked off, muttering several unkind names for Selene under her breath.
“She don’t understand, pet,” Delvin cooed. “She don’t know what it was like there.”
“Perhaps I’ll send her over there to help out, give her a new perspective.”
Delvin chuckled. “Oi, that’ll surely endear you to her.”
* * *
Life went back to normal for Selene and Brynjolf, or as normal as it ever got. They spent their time running the Guild and preparing to convert one of the basement rooms into a nursery. Feeling a bit superstitious, Selene didn’t want to start actual construction until the baby started to show, but ideas were flowing nonetheless. She saw Dinya Balu at the Temple of Mara regularly to make sure she and the child stayed healthy, and she spent quite a bit of time leaning over the rail on the balcony, throwing up into Lake Honrich. But it was a magical time, and Selene had never been so happy. Brynjolf was happy, too, and he loved nothing better than to lie with his face next to her belly and talk or sing songs to the baby.
“You know that’s silly,” Selene told him. “She’s not even aware yet.”
“What makes you so sure it’s a girl? And besides, when she becomes aware, I want her to know the sound of my voice.”
“I’m sure she’ll be just as charmed by it as all the other ladies.”
Spring gave way to summer, and life went on. Around the middle of Midyear, they were making their way home from the Cistern when they were stopped on the walkway by three people wearing unusual leather armor and masks of bone. They looked for all the world like they had squids attached to their faces.
“You there,” the one in the center said with an accent that hinted that he was from Morrowind. “You’re the one they call Dragonborn.”
“Depends. Who’s asking?”
“Do not try to lie to us, Deceiver,” he snarled. “We know you are the false Dragonborn!”
“How can you say she’s false?” Brynjolf dared him. “She absorbs the souls; she learns the Shouts. She defeated Alduin.”
“Lies. Lord Miraak, the true Dragonborn, comes soon, and we shall offer him this Pretender’s heart. When he appears, none shall stand to oppose him!”
With that, they attacked. Selene quickly threw an Unrelenting Force Shout at them, knocking them backward long enough for her and Brynjolf to draw their swords. The city guards came running as well, and with their help, they made short work of the assailants. Selene removed the mask of the one who had spoken and confirmed that he was indeed a Dunmer. She didn’t have the extractor with her, so she would have to worry about the blood later, but she did search him. In addition to some gold, she found a letter.
Board the vessel Northern Maiden docked at Raven Rock. Take it to Windhelm, then begin your search. Kill the False Dragonborn known as Selene Stormblade before she reaches Solstheim. Return with word of your success, and Miraak will be most pleased.
“Hmm. It’s been a while since someone wanted to kill me,” she said mildly.
“Selene, this isn’t funny,” Brynjolf argued.
“Go home and rest, Stormblade,” one of the guards recommended. “We’ll take care of this…riff raff.”
“Thank you.” Selene held onto the mask of one of the attackers as she and Brynjolf continued on toward Honeyside. When they got home, she laid it on the kitchen table. “You think there’ll be more?”
“When whoever wrote that letter finds out the mission has failed, I’m sure there will be.”
She picked the mask up and stared at it grimly. It was always something. Then again, they’d had two solid months of uneventful bliss. Truth be known, she was starting to get a little bored. “Fancy a trip to Solstheim?” she asked impulsively.
“What about the baby?”
“Well, she’ll have to go too. I can’t very well leave her here.”
Brynjolf actually chuckled. “No, I mean do you think it’s safe?”
“Probably not, but it’s not safe here either, apparently. We should take care of this, especially before my belly starts growing and I get too big for my armor.”
“I agree,” he said reluctantly. “I’ll head back to the Guild and let Delvin and Vex know we’re leaving again.”
“I’ll pack while you’re gone, and we can leave in the morning.”
He leaned in and kissed her, then left the house. Selene got up to start packing.
* * *
Selene and Brynjolf arrived in Windhelm at suppertime, so they went to Hjerim for dinner and a night’s rest, then made their way to the docks early the next morning. The Northern Maiden was loaded with cargo, but the sailors didn’t really seem to be preparing to leave port. She asked one of them who the captain was, and he pointed to a man sitting on a crate near the bow.
“Are you the captain?” she asked the man.
“Uh, sure,” he said suspiciously. “Aye, that’s me, Gjalund Salt-Sage. Who sent you?”
“Who sent us? Nobody. We were hoping to book passage to Solstheim.”
“That’s too bad, because I’m not going back there anymore.”
“It’s hard to explain. I—my crew and I—we don’t even know how we got here.”
“Well, you sailed here, didn’t you?” Brynjolf asked.
He shrugged. “I remember some people with masks coming aboard. The next thing I knew, I was here, and they were gone. That’s not right, just losing whole days like that. And there was talk in Raven Rock about people losing time as well, memory lapses and all that. Now that it happened to me, I’m just…I’m done. I’m not going back there.”
“Yes, you are,” Selene prodded. “You’re taking us to Solstheim.
“Haven’t you been listening? I’m not going back there!”
“The people with masks, the ones who boarded your ship? They tried to kill me.”
“Hey, now, that wasn’t my fault. I didn’t know they were going to attack you. I didn’t even…it’s not my fault.”
One of the crewmen sidled up to Gjalund and whispered in his ear, and he looked up at Selene wide-eyed. “Are you…Dragonborn?”
“I am. Those people were members of some cult, and they were sent here to assassinate me. Look, I need to get to Solstheim. Take me, and I’ll pay you double your usual rate.”
Gjalund’s face lit up. “Well, a man’s got to make a living, after all. Fine. We’ll cast off immediately.”
Selene walked out onto the deck of the ship, and the gentle rocking made her stomach churn. She could only imagine what it would be like when they got out to sea. Groaning, she found a nice, comfy place near the rail with the notion that she would spent much of the trip leaning over it.