A Good Man Goes To War, Ch 8: Persuasion




    “There’s your brother. Does that mean it’s time to go?” Britta squinted at the stairs leading down to the village and huffed. She’d done what her uncle had asked and waited one full day after Farkas left the temple to ambush him outside Jorrvaskr, and wasn’t at all pleased he had to meet with the jarl at Dragonsreach that afternoon. Farkas was okay with it – not that he hadn’t wanted to check on Britta himself, and not that he didn’t feel a certain kinship to the little girl after their fiery, near-death encounter – far from it.


    He was just a little tired of sitting right smack in the center of attention. He’d walked Britta down to the Gildergreen, to sit and chat on one of the benches while Vilkas trekked down to Warmaiden’s to explain where Britta’d run off to. The purple and pink-flowered tree was beautiful and peaceful as always, but not a minute or two passed when a (rightly) concerned citizen didn’t walk by and either pat him on the shoulder or give him an overly-encouraging smile. Farkas appreciated the support, he really did, but crowds of people – even nice, friendly people – put him on edge. Especially since he kept imagining all those people hemmed in by city walls and dragon fire, their smiles melting to silent screams and then – nothing at all.


    There had to be a way to stop it.


    Farkas took a deep breath and unclenched his fists, smoothing out crescent-moon indentations in his palms. “That’s what it means,” he said, ruffling her silver-blonde curls. “And here’s your uncle too, and he doesn’t even look mad. Not that you need to do something like that again, mind. Remember, you three are coming up for dinner tonight, so I’ll see you then.”


    Britta pouted a little, and Farkas stood and stretched, a small smile sneaking across his lips. “And I suppose...I could talk to your uncle about you spending more time at Jorrvaskr. Aela could teach you how to shoot. That’d be all right, yeah?”


    She nodded and smiled, but a smile that faded too quickly. “It’s not so bad, is it?” Farkas moved to block Ulfberth’s view. Britta deserved a chance to speak plainly, if there were problems at her new home. “At least you still have all your hair.”


    The joke fell flat, and it was Farkas’s turn to frown. He’d expected at least a chuckle, but Britta only shrugged and picked at green and pink threads on her blue embroidered tunic. “No, it’s fine. Uncle Ulfberth’s nice, and Aunt Adrienne. I just…”




    “I’m scared, Farkas. That dragon – what if it comes back?”


    Farkas squatted down in front of her, his dark blue eyes level with her pale ones. “I’m a little scared too,” Farkas said, wondering if he did the right thing in admitting it. Kids needed assurance that grown-ups believed they were safe, he knew that. But kids weren’t stupid either, and he thought Britta might know if he lied – only a damn fool faced a dragon and came away unafraid. “But that’s why me and Vilkas are talking to the jarl. To figure out a way to protect everyone from that dragon.”


    “Well, you protected me.” She did smile, then, under fearful but sympathetic eyes. “But I just…I don’t see how anything can protect all of us. There’s not a shield big enough for the whole town.”


    “But it’s not just me at the meeting, right? The jarl’s guard captain’s going to be there, and engineers – guys who built the city, yeah? They oughta know something can help. I have to believe there’s always a way. Even if we can’t see it yet,” Farkas said, scooping up fallen, but still sweet-smelling rosy blossoms. He stood and dropped them into Britta’s cupped hands. “And I’ll see you tonight, ok?”


    “Ok,” Britta said, and slid off the bench. She plodded to the stairs to meet Ulfberth, and Farkas and Vilkas took off in the other direction up to the soaring palace of Dragonsreach, its wooden arches and towers glowing honey-gold in the afternoon sun. The seat of Whiterun Hold, Dragonsreach was built in the old, Nordic style – built to impress, and that it did. High on a hill in the middle of the city, the first thing any visitor glimpsed as he cleared the southern forests or descended the northern hills was its grandeur, a monument to glories of Nords of old, and the heart of modern Skyrim.


    But all Farkas saw, just now, was a glorified funeral pyre. “Kid’s got a point, you know,” he said, looking at Vilkas out of the corner of his eye. “Maybe what got me’s heading off past the Sea of Ghosts, maybe it won’t come back. But if it does? I don’t know of a way to stop it, to kill it.”


    Vilkas pressed his lips together and touched the hilt of his sword with one hand. Like Farkas, he found the cool steel reassuring. “Me neither.”



    By the time the twins arrived, most of Whiterun’s high muckety-mucks ranged about the long table in the great hall, chattering over tankards of the jarl’s best mead and stoneware plates of warm bread and fresh fruit. Balgruuf’s brother, Hrongar, waved them over, tilting his tankard a little too far and splashing mead into the firepit. Hissing coals and Hrongar’s own merry shout muffled Vilkas’s snicker.


    “Does he even know why he’s here?” Vilkas pulled out two chairs near the foot of the table and sat down.


    Farkas took the other chair and grimaced. Hrongar refilled his tankard, failing to notice Balgruuf’s expression of disgust at the mead dripping down the front of his tunic. “Shit, I don’t even know why he’s here. You know, every time I’m forced to be in a room with that idiot, it hurts more and more when you call me ‘ice-brain.’”


    Aela calls you ‘ice-brain,’” Vilkas said, bumping Farkas’s shoulder with his own. “I can’t tell you what she calls Hrongar, though.”


    “Why not?”


    “Because,” Vilkas said, lowering his voice to a whisper as Balgruuf stood to address the council, “you won’t be able to stop laughing and we’ll get kicked out. Remind me later.”


    Farkas chuckled and turned his attention to the head of the table. Kodlak sat at the jarl’s left hand, while Irileth, housecarl and captain of the guard, claimed his right. Irileth hadn’t said much yet, just stared around the table with dark-red gimlet eyes, quietly assessing the crowd. Farkas had a feeling she didn’t miss much, and made a vow to himself to stay far away from her bad side.


    The other chairs were filled by thanes from Riverwood and Rorikstead, the palace steward, several engineers, and Jarl Balgruuf’s mage – his Nord mage. Farkas couldn’t help but feel surprise and unease around a Nord who willingly practiced magic. And not just the sort of thing Danica used (and try as he might to remember Danica called it Kyne’s gift, it still gave Farkas the shivers), but college magic.


    Plainly put, the College of Winterhold couldn’t be trusted, and he had a hard time understanding why a Nord like Balgruuf put his trust in a man like Farengar Secret-Fire. Farkas’s contempt must have been palpable across the table, for Farengar looked up, his brown eyes boring into Farkas’s blue ones. Farkas held his gaze.


    It’ll take more than a cold stare to scare me, wizard.


    “Ah, brother?”


    Farkas twitched at his brother’s voice and the nudge at his elbow. Had he knocked something over, or taken someone’s seat? No other reason for anyone to address him at the jarl’s table. “Yeah? Um, yes?”


    Vilkas pursed his lips underneath raised brows, prompting Farkas to peek around the table. Everyone else watched him, as though waiting for him to perform like some sort of trained horker. Fuck. So much for mages cowering under the fiery force of his glare, he thought, a pink flush rising under his stubble. “I, ah, I’m sorry. Did I miss something?”


    Kodlak chuckled under his breath. “A little inattention is to be expected after your ordeal, my boy. But we do need your help, now. You’re the only one who’s seen this beast with your own eyes. Tell us,” he said, gesturing around the table with an open hand, “what this means for Whiterun.”


    Farkas huffed a little and scowled. He’d already described the attack to Kodlak and Vilkas in gruesome detail, back at Jorrvaskr – excepting the dragon’s laughter and strange speech, of course. That, he wasn’t ready to share with anyone. And he knew Kodlak briefed the jarl. But if his boss wanted him to talk…


    “Well,” he began, and cleared his throat, pausing to pour mead from a stoneware pitcher into his pewter tankard. He wasn’t sure where to start, or how to describe the city everyone loved – their home, for the gods’ sakes – as little more than a bonfire waiting to happen. “If the monster they saw in Ivarstead and Winterhold is the same dragon who attacked us, he’s big. Way taller than our walls, but, ah…I guess that doesn’t really matter.”


    “Why not?” An anxious city engineer leaned his way, her lacquered fingernails gripping the table’s edge.


    Farkas tipped his tankard and swallowed a warm mouthful of mead, scratching at the nape of his neck. Damn short hair. “Well, um…dragons fly and breath fire, don’t they?”


    Hrongar scoffed, reaching over to grab a bunch of grapes. “Everybody knows dragons ain’t real,” he said, popping several in his mouth. He laughed, a sort of braying cackle, and sprayed the table in front of him with purple juice. “Ivarstead‘s boring. Living at a lighthouse is, too. Trumped-up tales and moon sugar explains it all. End of story. We should be talking about what Ulfric gone and done. Taking the fight to the Stormcloaks. You know, real problems for real men, not fucking fairy tales, eh?”


    Irileth let out an impatient sigh and glared at the thanes, who were nodding and muttering in agreement. “Our Companions are neither fanciful nor prone to indulgence, Hrongar,” she said, rolling her eyes and lifting her chin toward Farkas. “So, if you would continue...”


    “Haven’t you all read the report? Or at least heard it?” Farkas panned his gaze around the table. Disbelief rose from the council in nearly tangible waves. Balgruuf trusted Kodlak, and he wasn’t an idiot like his brother. Surely he’d warned his thanes and engineers, and surely


    “They have. But they need to hear it from you,” Balgruuf said, exchanging a wry glance with Kodlak.


    Farkas examined the council members more closely. Proventus, the jarl’s steward, stared right through him with blank, heavy-lidded eyes, a polite smile fixed on his narrow lips. At least Thane Rorik tried to conceal his mocking smirk behind a tankard of mead. If they didn’t believe Kodlak, Harbinger of the Companions, they’d hardly believe the words of one of his underlings. But, Farkas thought, staring into his own tankard, maybe he didn’t have to say anything at all.


    He pushed back his chair and unbuckled his weapons belt, slamming it next to his tankard with more force than he’d planned. Murmurs rounded the table, but Farkas ignored them, peering down at Vilkas. One corner of his brother’s mouth twitched up, and Farkas shrugged. They wanted proof, he’d give it to them.


    In one swift movement, ignoring the throbbing pain of still-healing muscles and ligaments, he yanked his tunic over his head.


    Amid gasps and high-pitched shrieks of protest, Vilkas leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest, settling in for the show. Reasons for Farkas to take his clothes off in public seemed to pop up like weeds these days.


    “See this?” Farkas pointed to a ring of weals around his neck, still puffy and fiery red. “And this?” He turned around, displaying a leaf-shaped splotch covering half his back and disappearing down the waistband of his leggings, and jerked his thumb near a long scab across his ribs. “Vilkas said there was bone poking out when I showed up on the road, what was that now, two nights ago? Three? Ask the priestess what I looked like when she found me, passed out near the gates – if you find Kyne’s priestess trustworthy, that is.”


    He slowly spun around and raised his arms, muscles rippling under red blotches and scabs and slowly-hardening scars. He took a deep breath, and tried to ignore how the walls of the palace seemed to close in around him. “I see your questions, I do. Yeah, I wore armor. Carved Nordic steel, forged by Eorlund himself. Good stuff. Most of it’s lying in lumps by the roadside, back in the Pale. As you read in Kodlak’s report, it didn’t matter, though. The dragon breathed fire and turned snow and dirt covering me and Ulfberth’s niece to steam and boiling mud.” He motioned to his neck and under his arms. “Poured in through the openings and got trapped in there,” Farkas said, and snorted. “Hurt like a sonofabitch.”


    “Pity you can’t ask my guard if I’m telling the truth. The dragon – because that’s what it was – “


    Something like a groan distracted him, and he turned toward its source. One of the engineers crouched in his chair like he wanted to jump up and run from the building. Proventus looked a little green under his olive skin, and his mouth hung open behind splayed fingers. Farkas huffed, remembering his own disbelief, his own denial in the face of the demon itself, and softened his voice the least little bit.


    “The dragon must have used something hotter on them. Nothing left by the time he was done. Three armored soldiers and their mounts, just…ash. And when it landed, the ground shook and trees fell, like they were pulled from the dirt, roots and all.”


    “It could knock down our walls,” Farkas said, his gaze snapping toward the engineers, “it could. But it doesn’t have to, because Whiterun’s made of wood. And thatch. And dragons can fly and breathe fire.”


    He hated to be the bearer of bad news, but there it was, and ignoring it would get them nowhere. In the resulting silence, Farkas shrugged back into his tunic and buckled the weapons belt around his hips. He reached for his tankard and knocked back the whole thing in one gulp before sitting down.


    Farkas counted one, two, three, and bedlam broke out. Balgruuf called for silence above the din, and glared across the table, fixing his engineers and Proventus with a good, long stare. “Are you satisfied? All of you?” He waited for Proventus to tip his head in a quick, clipped nod before continuing. “Now. I’m sending copies of Kodlak Whitemane‘s report, including a detailed rundown of his lieutenant’s experience, to every hold. It’ll be up to Elisif and Tullius to tell the remainder of the Empire,” the jarl said, and motioned to his mage. “Farengar Secret-Fire has more to report.”


    Farengar sipped from his chalice and glanced at Farkas before standing to address the table. His gaze had Farkas fidgeting in his seat, and he eyed the jeweled cup, wondering whether the mage drank ale or wine or some Oblivion-cursed potion.


    “I’ve spent the past two days – and nights – in the basements, digging through old texts and locked chests. There’s not much there referencing dragons, but I pulled everything. Even old fairy tales, because as we know,” he said, nodding toward Farkas, “dragons aren’t fairy tales anymore. I didn’t find anything about why they’re here or how to stop them –“


    He broke off amid another cacophony of murmurs and expletives.


    “If you didn’t find anything, why are we here?”


    Farengar fixed the engineer who’d interrupted with a withering look, and Balgruuf echoed it. The engineer settled back in his seat, his face flushed. “If I may continue?” Farengar paused, and Farkas frowned, again finding himself troubled by the trust Balgruuf placed in the man. How did he know the mage wouldn’t take the dragon’s side? Wouldn’t be the first time a magic-user chose power over principle. Or loyalty.


    “I did find an old book with a clue where we might find more information,” Farengar said. “On the inside cover, there was a map, and when I compared it with current maps of Skyrim, I noticed markings coinciding with the locations of old Nordic barrows – Dustman’s Cairn, Folgunthur, even Labyrinthian. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised Labyrinthian could harbor secrets of dragons, its mysteries are legion. Shalidor himself –“


    Balgruuf cleared his throat, and Farengar broke from his impending ramble. “Right…where was I? Ah, yes. The rest of the book is badly damaged, but from what I could decipher, it made claims that the barrows were connected to dragons. In some fashion.”


    “I’m sorry,” Proventus said, shaking his head dismissively, “but those barrows are merely crude resting places for ancient kings of old. From Atmora. What light could they shed on…on dragons?”


    “First of all, they’re anything but crude,” Farengar retorted, his voice laced with ice. “I admit to being less adventurous than the average man, but I invite you to step through one, sometime. You’ll eat your own words. Our monuments to the ancients still stand, many of them in better condition than Dwemer cities, so…have some respect.”


    Farkas sat up a little straighter, surprised at the reverence in Farengar’s tone, and listened more attentively as the mage continued. “Second, ancient Nords worshipped a pantheon that included a dragon at its head. Wolves, foxes, whales…they’re all real beasts. Snakes…real. So, maybe they knew something about dragons we don’t,” Farengar said, and inclined his head toward Balgruuf. “We have considered the possibility it’s merely a reference to Akatosh – the Lord of Time, represented as a dragon. It’s been done before.”


    “And maybe that’s all there is to it,” Balgruuf said, and leaned back in his chair, tracing his jeweled torc with lazy fingers. “But if there’s the smallest chance something in one of these barrows might point to a way to defend ourselves from dragons, or tell us why they’re here, we owe it to Skyrim to see it through.” He turned to Kodlak. “Can we depend on your Companions?”


    “You can,” Kodlak said, and Farkas nodded in agreement. “Just tell us what we need to do.”


    “I’ve been through some of those barrows,” Vilkas said, and set the empty tankard he’d been twirling on one finger down on the table. “You need a special key to get through most of them, at least to their inner chambers. Heavy stone doors with unpickable locks.”


    “Yes, I’ve seen such as well,” Farengar agreed, picking at the nails of his right hand. Farkas noticed both sets of nails were ragged, bitten to the quick, and the mage’s eyes were red-rimmed and shadowed, his robes rumpled and covered in dust. He hadn’t been lying about the search, and his sleepless nights. “But at the time, you didn’t have this specific goal in mind. Maybe you’ll find something useful in an outer compartment. We need anything we can scavenge right now. Whatever you can manage…”


    Vilkas glanced at Farkas. He shrugged and nodded again, trying not to appear too eager. Getting out of the city sounded like a plan. “Where do we start?”


    Farengar let out a heavy sigh and pushed a marked map across the table. A smile of relief relaxed the taut lines of his face somewhat, and Farkas’s brow twitched in surprise – the mage wasn’t nearly as old as he’d looked a few minutes ago. “Bleak Falls Barrow, just northwest of Riverwood. That’s the closest one. Seems as good a place to start as any.”





2 Comments   |   Karver the Lorc and 3 others like this.
  • Paws
    Paws   ·  October 12, 2018
    Is Farky getting in his birthday suit something which features prominently? Iirc, we've already had a butt in the moonlight shot :p I'm enjoying this take on proving dragons exist. In the game it comes across as common knowledge as soon as you get anywher...  more
  • SpottedFawn
    SpottedFawn   ·  June 11, 2018
    Another great chapter! I wish this scene - a council with Balgruuf's inner circle and the city's engineers - had actually happened in the game. The terror and the massive change Skyrim is about to go through with the dragons' return is written really well...  more