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What the Innkeeper Saw

by baratron

baratron The Dragonborn and his friends walk into your inn. After saving your village from a dragon, they have to save the Dragonborn from its soul.

A Skyrim fanfic. Canon-typical violence with Angst. Rated Teen.
You're polishing some glasses when a party of travellers walk into your inn. You know they're adventurers of some sort because of their armour – and the stench. They smell as though they've been living in that armour for several weeks. There's blood splashed around them, thankfully darker than that of any human.

Four of them are Nords. Two large, well-muscled men in warpaint, so similar in appearance that they can only be close kin. A woman, not unattractive, but with a determined expression that suggests she's experienced in battle. The fourth is... You hiss in disgust as you realise he's wearing the hated leather uniform of the Imperial Legion.

“You're not welcome here, Imperial. This is Stormcloak territory.” You'd spit, only you don't want to dirty the floor that you've just cleaned.

You expect the Nord traitor to respond, but instead the fifth member of the group pushes his way forward. You hadn't been able to see him before, behind his hulking companions. An Imperial, clad in the simple robes of a priest; his bright blue eyes startling against his brown skin. When you said “Imperial”, you'd meant political allegiance rather than race. Though you suppose that most men from Cyrodiil are likely pro-Empire.

“We're only looking for a place to lay our heads, and get something to eat,” he says, softly, his accent telling you that he's not been in Skyrim long. “We don't want to make trouble for you. Jarl Ulfric knows of our mission, and his men will not attack us. But if you'd rather we left, we could camp out for another night.”

His voice is gentle, consoling. You look at the five of them and calculate how much gold they'll be spending. Those enormous brothers must be good for at least ten bottles of mead between them. It's been a harsh winter with the Civil War going on, and so few travellers on the roads.

You don't want to let a Legionary into your inn, but you do need the money. “You've spoken to Ulfric Stormcloak?” It surprises you that the Jarl might have agreed to meet this motley band of vagabonds.

“Yes. We've met a couple of times.” The priest offers no further explanation, making you curious. You understand adventurers and sellswords well enough, but why is a priest with them? Especially a priest of Akatosh, rather than Talos – you recognise the amulet around his neck. And how do they know Jarl Ulfric?

“He knows you're travelling with a Legionary?” you ask.

“Hadvar, show him your Writ of Passage.”

The Legionary reaches into his bag and pulls something out. You tense, expecting a weapon for some reason, but he simply unrolls a sheet of paper and hands it to you. You're not the most literate man in the world, but the letter is easy to read. You recognise the simple, blocky print of the Jarl's Steward, Jorleif, from the war reports that get delivered to the village every so often. As for the signature...

You sigh. “What do you need?”

The priest seems about to speak, but one of the brothers shoulders his way forward. “Do you have a room big enough for all of us to sleep in together?” he asks, urgently.

What? Taken aback, you stutter, “Uh... The largest room in this inn has two beds.” The door's open to keep the room aired, and you gesture to your left, showing it to them. A double bed and a single, a wardrobe, table, and a couple of chairs. Your other rooms are tiny, just enough space for a single bed and a chest for possessions.

The big man looks angry, but the woman lays her hand on his forearm. “This'll do, Vilkas. Three of us can sleep while the other two guard, like usual. It's fine.”

He shakes his head in irritation, but concedes her point. Though you feel a little alarmed. What sort of trouble are they bringing to your inn? “Guard?” you ask. “What from?”

The big man shrugs. “Assassins? Fools? Lately it seems that the Dark Brotherhood has nothing better to do than send its whelps after us.” He shakes his shaggy head, and scowls. “I need to wash somewhere that isn't a river. And clean my armour. It stinks.”

“We all need a bath,” the priest replies. “And a hot meal. And if there's enough hot water, to wash our clothes as well. It's been a long time since we were last at home.” He runs a hand through his thick hair, and sways in exhaustion. “How much?”

Normally you'd charge 10 septims per bed, but there's the matter of the Imperial Legionary and what your few regulars will say about him, as well as the risk of the Dark Brotherhood... “50 gold for the room. 10 each for the bath.” You're making these numbers up as you go. “I can do you a nice stew for 7 gold apiece.”

“Fine,” says the priest, closing his eyes for a moment. His face is lined with fatigue, making him look older than he really is. “Lydia, pay the man. I... I need to rest.” He stumbles through to the bedroom, pulls his boots off, and falls onto the larger of the two beds, asleep before his head even hits the pillow. No one comments on this.

You go down to the basement where you keep your furnace, grumbling to yourself. You need to bring in enough washing water for five adults, two of them huge – how many trips outside will that take? Suddenly the light is blocked as the two enormous brothers stomp down the stairs.

“Where do you get your washwater?” asks the one who was speaking before. You wonder if the other is mute.

“In summer, from the lake. But in winter, the snow outside is good enough.”

“Aye. Buckets?”

You show him the slop pails that get repurposed for anything... well, everything except the privy. He nods, and they both pick up a couple of buckets. “C'mon, Icebrain.” He heads back up the stairs, his brother lumbering after him.

About an hour later, the tank of water is steaming nicely, and one brother is soaking in the bath while the other scrubs at his armour. You're busy chopping up vegetables and a little meat for tonight's stew. There's nothing but a small screen between your kitchen and the washing area, and it can barely hide the two large men behind it. You're still curious about their group. For what reason is a priest travelling with four armed bodyguards?

You realise that you've blurted your question out loud when the brother who talks looks up and tells you “We're ridding Skyrim of dragons.” There's no uncertainty in his voice. This man has faced a dragon and lived.

“What, only the five of you?” The question slips out, and you realise belatedly that you don't want to anger either of these men. Neither is armoured right now, nor armed with any weapon other than his own two fists; but you're very aware that any one of those fists could mash you flat.

But the big man grins. “My brother and I are Companions. We are worth about a dozen soldiers each. Lydia is a housecarl, trained in the service of Jarl Balgruuf and awarded to his Thane in recognition of the great deeds he did for Whiterun. And Hadvar is a Prefect in the Imperial Legion, or some other such silly name. I don't remember their ranks.”

Of course you've heard of the Companions of Ysgramor. So has any Nord. And you've heard the Stormcloak generals bemoaning the fact that the Companions won't take a side in the war, because they 'don't deal in politics'. The Imperial Legion rank means as little to you as it does to the big Companion, but you do know what a Thane is. One of these men is a Thane of Whiterun?

“And that priest? Is he... your healer?” You can't think of any other reason why a man in cheap robes should be with a team of proficient dragon slayers.

Both of the brothers burst out laughing, filling the low-ceilinged room with deep rumbling. “Aye, lad,” says the talkative Companion. “Our healer, and our leader. That priest, as you call him, is the Dragonborn.”

“What?” You're sure they're joking with you, and your cheeks heat uncomfortably. It's not your fault that you were never any good at fighting, and chose to take over your father's inn rather than joining Ulfric's army. “The Dragonborn is an Imperial?

“Aye. They say the Septim emperors had the Dragon Blood, and even they were Imperial by the end.”

You want to spit on the floor again at the reminder of how the hated Empire steals everything that belongs to Skyrim, even the holy line of Talos. You don't, because you're the only person who cleans down here. Instead, you shake your head in disbelief. “Not just an Imperial, but a priest? Not a warrior?”

The silent brother stands up at this point, splashing water out of his bath. His warpaint has washed off, and his grey eyes flare with some strong emotion. You take an involuntary step backwards, forgetting the sharp knife in your hand. “He is a very brave man. He is honourable and strong. He fights as hard as us, in his own way.”

You're afraid of the huge men, though you know the Companions fight for honour and glory and the name of Ysgramor. The way they helped you with the washwater suggests a certain humility. You try to ensure that your voice sounds sufficiently respectful as you ask, “In what way is that?”

The talkative brother shakes his head, unwilling to answer. “Pray you never need to find out.”

Later that evening, your inn is fuller than it's been in weeks. Apparently the arrival of visitors is enough excitement to turn villagers out of their homes. Your regulars stare openly at the disparate group, at the four Nord warriors surrounding the quiet Imperial. Cleaned up, with freshly applied warpaint, the brothers look even more intimidating, somehow. The Legionary is dressed in casual clothing in deference to your Jarl's allegiance, but there's no mistaking his large muscles or the sword at his side. Even the female housecarl seems to dwarf the priest, clad as she is in heavy steel armour. As you serve them their meal, the Imperial bows his head and prays over the food, and the others – the Nords – go along with it.

You watch more covertly, using your innkeeper's instinct to see when more drinks are needed, or trouble is on the way. The Nords are edgy. Hands stray to weapons when a stranger gets too close to the group. But the priest seems unaware of the attention that's on him. He sips his glass of red wine calmly, surveying the room with an almost regal air. Something about his manner as he sits on your wooden bar stool reminds you of a Jarl on his throne. He already has the housecarl and guards.

The Legionary touches his arm, and says something to him which makes him blush. The two men exchange an affectionate glance which makes you expect them to disappear into the bedroom at any moment. But instead the priest walks up to the bar, trailed by his friend. “I was wondering,” he says, cheeks aflame against his dark skin. “Would it be possible to borrow your laundry equipment? We haven't washed our clothes in far too long.”

“Of course,” you answer. “You'll find it all in the basement. I can't leave the bar when I'm the only one working” - you're always the only one working, but you can't let them know that - “but you shouldn't have any difficulty finding it.”

“Thank you,” replies the priest, with a smile that warms you right through. You realise, to your surprise, that if well-rested and in smarter clothing he would be considered quite handsome.

An hour or so further on, and you're out of Honningbrew Mead. You were right about the amount those huge brothers would put away. Most of your regulars prefer Black-Briar, or the cheap unbranded mead. Slipping down to the basement to bring up another crate of bottles, you come across the Imperial and his friends doing their laundry. The priest has rolled up the sleeves of his robe and has his hands in a tub of hot water, scrubbing underwear and socks against your metal washboard. His friend, the Legionary, is dunking each item in turn into a bucket of cold water, rinsing out the soap suds. The housecarl is turning the handle of your old mangle, wringing out each item of clothing before pinning it on the washing line that's strung up here so you have a place to dry sheets in Skyrim's harsh winters.

The three of them are laughing and joking, turning a boring chore into something more enjoyable. You feel a pang of loneliness followed by another of jealousy. You wish you'd been able to persuade Frynhilde from the village to step out with you. You wish it was safe enough to shut up the inn and travel. You need a wife, or at least a close friend. Someone who cares about you the way these travellers care for each other.

In the middle of the night, you're awakened by yells. You hurry upstairs to find the priest hurtling out of the door shouting “Dragon!”. Two of his companions are following, their fully-armoured state suggesting that they hadn't taken it off. The other two are hastily trying to get dressed, stuffing feet into boots and struggling with leather straps and catches.

The female housecarl, Lydia, pauses as she sees you at the top of the stairs. “Please stay inside,” she says, drawing her blade as she runs towards the door. “It's not safe.”

An almighty roar from overhead, louder than anything you've ever heard echoes her statement, and you nod in agreement. If you were a braver man, you might ignore her and go anyway. There's the warhammer you keep behind the bar to break up fights... But using it would take you far closer to a live dragon than you'd ever want to get. You pray that these travellers really are as experienced in the art of dragonslaying as they claim.

Watching from the window, you can see the dragon flying overhead. It's too dark to see well, just a silhouette against the sky, and the Hold Guards' arrows are failing to reach their target. The priest, meanwhile, has cast some sort of spell and is outlined in glowing blue, making him far too visible. He still isn't wearing any kind of armour – is he crazy? The big Companion, the one who doesn't speak much, is trying to lure the dragon towards him, waving a steel greatsword and shouting.

The dragon breaks from its pattern and flies low, spraying the attackers and nearby houses with fire. The Guards are swearing, some of them rolling on the ground to put out flames on their tunics. The woman is speaking to them urgently, waving her hands, and you see about half of them leaving the battlefield. What's going on? Sharp icicles form in the priest's hands, and he throws them upwards, hitting the dragon easily and piercing its scales. Frost forms on its wings, and it veers to the left. Then the priest Shouts.

You've heard that the Dragonborn could Shout. You'd even heard that Ulfric Stormcloak Shouted High King Torygg to death. You didn't realise before what that means. The Imperial Shouts a single word, and the walls of your inn – of all the buildings around – rattle. How can a man's voice hold so much power? Something like snow streams from his open mouth towards the dragon, freezing it solid for a moment. Unable to flap its wings, it drops to the ground, whereupon the Companion brothers – the talkative one now armed with a sword and shield – slice into it deeply. You can see the dark blood dripping from its cut skin.

The dragon rallies, snapping its teeth at the brothers. The one with the shield dodges easily, the other with the greatsword is more clumsy. The beast picks him up in its mouth and throws him across the village – but somehow the priest is there, casting what must be a healing spell. Golden light surrounds the Nord as he gets back on his feet, gathering his strength for another charge. As the dragon takes off, the Legionary and the housecarl pull arrows from their quivers and take aim. Their bows must be enchanted because you can see a flash of magic each time an arrow hits.

The town Guards return with buckets full of water and start to put out the burning roofs and hedges. It seems a thankless task because the dragon circles back, spraying the village with flame once more. The priest Shouts again, two words this time, covering the beast with frost even as his hands form shards of ice. Between his spells and his friends' arrows, the dragon slows, obviously wounded. If you were the creature, you think you'd give up now, and head home to recover. Perhaps try another settlement that wasn't so well guarded. But you once heard one of the Stormcloak generals explaining how dragons are driven by the need to dominate. You can see that in this dragon's battle with the priest. It's fighting everyone who's fighting back, but its real battle is with the Dragonborn.

The priest's magical attacks are relentless. He reminds you of a dragon himself, the anger in his eyes visible in flashes of light from his magical attacks. Though he must be exhausted from so much running and Shouting, he's still upright somehow, driving the dragon away from the village and towards the lake. His friends are supporting him with swords and arrows; while the Hold Guards are fully involved in fire-fighting, realising that their job is to protect the village while these travellers slay the beast. It's now flying erratically, unable to use its left wing properly, trying to beat twice as hard with its right. Too tired to breathe fire continuously, it's emitting flames in little puffs. When it manages to set the Legionary aflame, he simply dives into the lake.

Eventually the dragon crashes to the ground. The huge brothers leap onto its back, with sword and greatsword. One of them drives his sword through the beast's skull while the other holds it down. Its great eyes close, and you can tell when its life ebbs away. You never thought you'd get to witness the slaying of a creature out of legend, and you feel strangely sad. You'd like to rush outside with a torch, to look at the beast's scaly skin and the ridges on its back, perhaps even touch the membrane of its damaged wings.

But the priest staggers over, falling to his hands and knees in front of the mighty corpse, and something unimaginably weird happens. What you can only describe as “magical fire” rushes out of the dead dragon and into the Dragonborn. It's not the same colour as real fire, Talos knows you've seen enough of that tonight, and it shouldn't be damaging anything. Yet the flesh of the creature disappears to leave nothing but a clean skeleton – even as the Imperial collapses in a dead faint.

You open the door of your inn, ready to greet the travellers with mead or ale, anything they desire for saving your village. However the Legionary, dripping wet, waves you back. “Don't get any closer! He's not safe!”

You have no idea what he means, but then the priest seems to wake. His eyes open, he raises his head – and Shouts, spitting fire at his companions. He props himself up on his elbows, legs still trailing on the ground - and gasps for breath, the oddest expression on his face. The Legionary leans down to speak to him, and is rewarded by another Shout which sends him flying across the road into your neighbour's hedge.

Lydia, shaking her head, dives back into the inn. She returns with a large square of cloth, which she is folding even as she runs. The priest is scratching at his allies with hands held like claws as they try to restrain him, and a Shout makes a fireball burst from his lips. You wonder how he hasn't burnt himself.

The Legionary's back on his feet, looking slightly sick, yet continuing to distract his friend with feinted attacks. When he falls again, the Companion brothers throw themselves on top of the Dragonborn, just as they did with the real dragon - and you get a sudden flash of insight about what might be wrong with him. As the two muscular Nords hold the priest down, Lydia forces the cloth into his mouth and ties it tightly behind his head, effectively gagging him. They've done this before, you realise.

As the talkative brother helps the injured Legionary up, the quiet one lifts the priest easily. The big man carries him gently, almost reverentially. He is twitching in his friend's arms, still afflicted by the powerful magic that streamed into him when the dragon died. The Legionary limps alongside, an expression of deep concern upon his face despite his injuries, saying the man's name over and over again. “Martin. Martin, look at me. For gods' sakes, Martin!

When they enter your inn, the talkative brother catches your eye and shakes his head. You might have liked to take advantage of the commotion by selling drinks to awakened villagers, but the black-haired Nord turns the key in the lock behind him. The priest looks pale, his head thrown back; and as the group passes, you catch sight of his eyes. No longer blue – and no longer human, they've turned golden like those of the dragon he killed. Even the pupil in the centre has changed shape. You spit a curse, terrified, as the four men go into their room.

“Don't hate him,” whispers Lydia, low-pitched. “It's not his fault.”

“I could never hate him,” you gasp, still in shock. “He saved our village. But... What in Oblivion happened?

“When a dragon dies near him, he absorbs its soul. Sends it on its way to Akatosh. But sometimes he... he forgets who he is for a while. Forgets that he's supposed to be human. Takes on the characteristics of the one he killed.”

“And then he thinks that you're his enemies?” You wince in sympathy. The priest seemed so peaceful when you'd met him earlier that afternoon. Tired, yes, but serene.

Your eyes flick unbidden to the open door of their room. The scene inside is anything but serene. The Legionary is sitting in a chair drinking a health potion and holding the priest's hand, while he shivers and writhes on the bed. Muffled noises suggest he's trying to Shout even through the gag. The brothers are frantically stroking his back and rubbing his limbs, trying to get him to calm down; but they look terrified somehow in a way they never did while fighting the other dragon. Drained of his humanity, moving in an entirely unnatural way, you can see the beast under the man's skin.

“It used to only be if the dragon was too strong, but lately it's happening more and more,” says Lydia. “One day... he might not come back at all.” She sniffs, obviously upset.

“I always thought being Dragonborn was some sort of honour,” you mumble, unsure how to reply. “But that looks more like a curse.” Reaching a decision, you gather up several bottles of mead and thrust them at the housecarl. “Take these, with my compliments. It looks like it's going to be a long night, and you... you need them. Take as many as you need.”

As you flee downstairs, you hear an agonising howl as someone removes the gag from the priest's mouth, followed by loud sobs.

The next morning, there is no response from the travellers' room, which surprises you not at all. They were up late fighting first the dragon, then the Dragonborn... You're fairly sure that they haven't all been burnt to death or eaten because you heard crying rather than combat, but you're worried about them. Especially that priest of Akatosh, such a gentle man when in control of himself.

It's lunchtime before anyone emerges. The Imperial Legionary limps out, looking rather pale. There's pain in his grey eyes, and you're not sure it's entirely due to his injuries. You ask, “Can I help you?” - the usual statement of an innkeeper, which he can interpret however he likes.

The Nord hefts himself onto a barstool. “Could we get some breakfast? Whatever you have.”

As you busy yourself cutting fresh bread and cheese, he leans heavily on the bar counter. “You know, some nights when I close my eyes, I see the battle stretched out before me, like I'm still there...” He sounds exhausted, emotionally if not physically.

You feel you should respond, but you have no idea what to say. In the end, you mutter, “Is it easier killing dragons than men?”

“Ha!” The Legionary laughs, but you know he isn't amused. “The men I've killed haunt me. Dragons, not so much. Except, Martin...”

“Will he be all right?” you ask.

“I don't know!” His eyes blaze with anger, or fear. “He spends so long praying. He does so much good for people. But it isn't enough. Each time we fight another dragon, he loses himself.” He sighs. “But what can we do? We've got a job to do. He's the only one who can do it.”

There's nothing you can do except to slide a bottle of mead towards him, and then offer him the platter with bread, cheese, and salted meat. He looks at it and says, a note of desperation in his voice, “Do you have any apples? Martin loves them.”

You fetch apples from a barrel and watch the brown-haired man carry the platter back to their bedroom.

It's mid-afternoon before they leave. Armoured and armed, but clean this time, with mostly-dry laundry stuffed into bags. The Dragonborn – Martin - is wearing a fresh robe, yet otherwise looks no different than he had the day before. If you didn't know better, you could still mistake him for a simple priest. But you do know better, and you can see the power rolling under his skin, the dragon which lurks inside the man.

He takes both your hands in a very human gesture. “Thank you for everything. Akatosh be with you.” His blessing seems entirely natural. Yet you can't forget seeing his blue eyes changed to gold, the way his body twisted as he fought his friends.

You smile. “It was no problem. Come back any time.” You don't mean it. Part of you hopes to never have to deal with this terrifying Imperial ever again.

You wave, and a man – a creature – out of legend walks out of your life forever.
StellarWind Elsydeon likes this.
  1. Burner251
    Hehe, sorry. Got a little carried away. Editing it right now.
    Sep 28, 2013
  2. baratron
    Heh, @Palkiax55 - if you don't have anything constructive to add, that's what the "Like" button is for :). Also, 18 shocked faces in a row would count as spam most places on the forum. Don't want you getting in trouble from the other mods for posting like a 12 year old ;).

    It's nice to know my story was amazing, though.
    Sep 27, 2013
  3. Burner251
    Sep 27, 2013