The prisoner, to Terrfyg’s surprise, survived the journey to Whiterun.
After departing the Horme camp, they had stopped in Riverwood, where Hrotti spoke to her family about the Companions’ offer to join them. The huntress’ parents graciously hosted them; though they slept on hays and furs instead of beds, they had a roof over their heads. It was more comfortable than camping in the wild, and they did not have to spend coin on rooms at the local inn. They still had to keep watch however, to ensure the prisoner didn’t try to escape or use his magic on them.
The next morning, the huntress said her goodbyes and they set out from the town. The five of them followed the winding road along the river, passing between the mountains to either side until they reached the plains of Whiterun. From here, the city of Whiterun was already visible in the distance- a great walled settlement built on a hill, crowned by a large keep atop the very summit. They crossed the farmlands that covered the plains outside the city and reached the stables by the walls, where the Companions left their horses behind.
Through all this time, the elven prisoner remained on good behaviour. They had tried to question him that night in Riverwood. When asked why he was working with the Horme, he replied simply that it was “an alliance of convenience.” When Freya inquired why he wanted the Prince dead if he did not share the Horme’s goals, he said ominously, “The spilling of dragonblood is only the beginning.”
The Companions could get no more coherent answers out of him and so gave up further questioning until they decided what to do with the prisoner. That time was soon upon them now as they passed through the gates and stepped foot into the city proper.
They arrived in the Plains District, where all entered the city from. It was the lowest of the three districts of Whiterun and received its name due to being closest to the plains beyond the walls. Home to the inns and marketplace, the Plains District was the busiest region of the city, filled with locals and travellers alike.
The five of them did not have to squeeze their way through crowds, however. The residents of Whiterun recognized Terrfyg, Bakir and Freya as Companions and made way for the members of the respected guild. Any outsiders quickly followed suit and the crowds parted for them whenever they approached. As they passed through the market, a good few locals spat at the elf, who was clearly their prisoner. A young boy even tossed a rotten tomato his way, but his mother quickly held him back for fear that her son would accidentally hit one of the Companions.
From the market, their group turned north, proceeding up some stairs to the Wind District. This was where most of the homes and temples of the city were located, but they did not head to any of those. They turned right, where above another flight of stairs sat a single large building: Jorrvaskr, ancient Nordic mead hall and home of the Companions.
The roof of the building was the hull of a ship, one of the Atmoran longboats which brought Ysgramor and his original Five Hundred Companions over the sea. It was taken to the hill and turned into the mead hall it is today when its crew settled down, becoming the very first building in Whiterun. The only things in the city older than Jorrvaskr were the hill itself and the great Skyforge situated next to the hall, which as legend told was the reason the crew settled here.
“Is the Skyforge really older than the elves?” Hrotti asked as they climbed the stairs towards the mead hall.
“That’s what the Snow Elves said, according to the Songs of the Return,” Terrfyg answered her. “No one knows who built it.”
“All we know is that it’s the source of our weapons,” said Bakir. “Skyforge steel, some of the finest there is in all of Tamriel.”
“You’ll get your own soon, once you become a full member,” added Freya.
“Should I return this one to you?” Hrotti asked, her hands immediately moving to unclip the sword from her belt.
Freya laughed, “No, that’s not Skyforge steel, just a regular steel blade I bought from the market.”
“But you still bought it,” Hrotti said. “I should have enough coin to buy a sword of my own for the time being, until I get a Skyforge steel one.”
“Keep it,” offered Freya. “I can easily buy another.”
Money was not a problem for Freya, as Terrfyg well knew. She was a member of Clan Battle-Born, one of the oldest Nord clans and among the elite of Whiterun. Though Companions sold their blades to those who paid them, Freya did not join to make a living. She had become a Companion to honour her family, as the Battle-Borns descended from Ysgramor’s Five Hundred Companions.
Bakir was quite the opposite. He was a mercenary who came to Skyrim for work and joined the Companions to increase his career reputation. That did not mean he fought solely for coin; Bakir was an honourable man, otherwise he would not have been granted entry into the guild. But he had a very different outlook to Freya, as well as a very different fighting style. That was why Terrfyg had asked the two to accompany him on the Horme contract.
Reaching the top of the stairs, Terrfyg pushed open the doors into Jorrvaskr. They had arrived during the midday meal, and most of the other Companions were gathered around the long firepit that was the centrepiece of the hall. A table surrounded three of the four sides of the pit, where Terrfyg’s fellow Companions dined, drank, conversed and laughed merrily.
In the very centre of the table sat Ragnhild Frost-Kissed, the current Harbinger. Many outsiders saw the Harbinger as a leader, though the Companions had not possessed a leader since Ysgramor, the harbinger of us all. Those Harbingers that came after him were mediators who resolved disputes between Companions and determined changes in tradition. In that way they did resemble the leaders of other guilds throughout Tamriel. Unlike those guild leaders however, the Harbinger of the Companions never gave orders; they did not have to, for their word held great respect and the honour of every Companion compelled them to heed the Harbinger’s advice.
Ragnhild was in her fifties and among the oldest warriors in the hall, which was no surprise given that the wisdom required of the role often came only with experience. Her hair was as white as snow, though that was not a result of her age. It had been that same colour since Terrfyg first met her over a decade ago. Naturally white hair was rare, but not unheard of among the Nords of Skyrim, and was traditionally seen as a blessing from Kyne, the goddess of storm and Mother of Men. As such she became known as Ragnhild Frost-Kissed, favoured of Kyne.
Her son Gunnar sat beside her at the table. He had inherited the white hair from his mother, though he did not bear the same title, as he wished for one he earned rather than something he was born with. Gunnar was a good warrior from what Terrfyg had seen of him, but he was still young and had yet to conduct many deeds of note. Terrfyg was sure the young Companion possessed a glorious future ahead, though.
The other three members of the Circle, the group of senior advisors among the Companions to which Terrfyg belonged, were present in the mead hall today as well. Holskar, master of the axe, was on the other side of the Harbinger from her son. Everild Theohart, a Breton knight from Evermore and mentor to Freya Battle-Born, sat further along the table, as did Ulfdir Gray-Mane, the expert archer who hailed from the other prominent clan of Whiterun.
Terrfyg recognized all the others around the table as well, for every Companion knew one another. There was Svangar Shield-Breaker, so named for his tendency to sunder the shields of his opponents with his warhammer. Beside him sat Tildi Sharp-Eye, who was renowned for her accuracy with throwing axes. Bold Brynvar was at the very end of the table, always the first to charge into any battle and ready to leap into action even at a meal.
Katrida the Bard, on the other hand, sat near the middle as she typically did. A graduate of the Bard’s College, Katrida was a warrior-poet, and naturally liked being the centre of attention. Near her were Sigunn and Sighild, brother and sister by blood as well as shield. Jalmund Swift-Bow sat beside Ulfdir, who was his mentor. Though Ulfdir had three children of his own, it was to Jalmund that he passed on most of his archery skills, and the younger Companion was as much his son as any of the offspring he had sired.
Last but certainly not least, there was Shelaz Gra-Ushka. Each generation of Companions had a skilled blacksmith to work the Skyforge and maintain the warriors’ weapons and armour, and Shelaz had been their smith for the last seven years. The smiths were not always members of the guild, but as one of the physically powerful Orcs, Shelaz was both an expert in metalworking and battle and had become a full Companion.
Three Companions were not present in Jorrvaskr- Lyris the Lesser, named after the hero of old Lyris Titanborn, Netja, a specialist of horseback fighting due to being raised on a stable and Runmar Atrius, who had a Colovian mother and thus the appearance of a man from the Imperial heartland. Terrfyg knew that Lyris and Netja had departed on a contract together before he set out to deal with the Horme, and Runmar must have done the same sometime after Terrfyg had left Whiterun.
In addition to the members of the Companions, two servants tended to the mead hall. One of them, an elderly Nord man, had just delivered four goblets of mead to the table. Terrfyg called to him as he walked away with the empty platter.
“Kjal! We have a prisoner. Find a place to keep this elf until we decide what to do with him.”
“I’ll go with him,” offered Freya. “In case the sorcerer tries anything.”
Kjal nodded, leading Freya and the prisoner to the right of the mead hall’s entrance, where a staircase extended down to the living quarters of Jorrvaskr. While they made their way further into Jorrvaskr, the Harbinger stood and approached Terrfyg.
“You brought a prisoner?” Ragnhild asked. “I don’t remember that being in the contract.”
“It wasn’t,” answered Terrfyg. “We dealt with the Horme. The prisoner is not one of them.”
The Harbinger waved them towards the table, “Come, join us. You must be hungry after your journey. You can tell us about your captive as we eat.”
As Terrfyg and Bakir moved to seat themselves around the table, Ragnhild turned her gaze to Hrotti, “And who is this? She is also a stranger to this hall, but she is no prisoner.”
“My name is Hrotti, daughter of Kirstild” the newcomer introduced herself.
“She fought the Horme with us, and fought well,” Terrfyg added. “I think she would make an excellent Shield-Sister.”
“If you say so, then we shall give her a chance. I am Ragnhild Frost-Kissed, Harbinger of the Companions,” she dragged a chair up to the nearest end of the table, patting the back of it. “Dine with us, Hrotti.”
“Thank you, Harbinger,” Hrotti replied, sitting herself down on the chair.
“You are henceforth welcome in this mead hall,” proclaimed the Harbinger. “We will send you on a few jobs once you are settled. Should you continue to demonstrate the same degree of skill and honour Terrfyg has observed in you, then you shall be made a full Companion.”
“I will prove myself worthy of Terrfyg’s recommendation.”
Terrfyg and Bakir pulled two more empty chairs up to the table while Ragnhild made her way back to her seat in the centre. Once they were all settled, Terrfyg began to explain what had happened during their hunt for the Horme. He told the Harbinger and all the Companions in the mead hall of the attack on Prince Enman’s convoy and the mages in red robes who worked with the Horme. He recounted their fight in detail, making sure to emphasize Hrotti’s significant contribution as well as the deeds of the Companions. Then, he explained why they had taken one of the mages captive and made mention of his cryptic comments.
“And now we await your counsel on what to do with this prisoner, Harbinger,” Terrfyg finished.
Ragnhild set down her food as the tale ended, “You have not heard the news yet, I take it.”
“What news?” Terrfyg asked.
“Enman was not the only prince to die that day,” said the Harbinger. “All the princes were murdered. And the Emperor, not long afterwards.”
“Shor’s bones!” exclaimed Terrfyg. “The entire line of Talos, dead?”
Ragnhild nodded, “All struck down by assassins in red robes and conjured armour, like the elf you captured.”
“This is bigger than we thought..." Terrfyg muttered.
“We must take this prisoner to the Jarl,” urged Ulfdir Gray-Mane.
“This is a political matter,” Holskar argued. “Companions should not be involved in political matters, as decreed by Mryfwiil the Withdrawn.”
“Our own Harbinger decided that we would take contracts against the Horme,” countered Ulfdir. “These red-robed mages are working with the Horme. I think that decision should extend to them.”
Holskar shook his head, “The Horme aren’t a political faction. They’re just common thugs who use politics to justify their banditry. These mages assassinated the Emperor. That’s political.”
“You’re misunderstanding Mryfwiil’s decree,” Katrida the Bard chimed in. “He said Companions should not be hired out as soldiers in other people’s wars, lest it lead to our destruction. There is no war going on, so Mryfwiil’s decision has no bearing here.”
“You could say by killing the Emperor, the assassins have declared war on the entire Empire,” said Everild Theohart.
“But I doubt these assassins have an army to wage an actual war,” Jalmund joined the argument in his mentor Ulfdir’s defense. “We won’t be drawn into any conflict by siding against them.”
The Harbinger spoke, and the rest of the table fell silent, “We have not been hired to deal with these assassins yet. Terrfyg’s contract was against the Horme. The assassins chose to ally with the Horme and attack our Shield-Siblings while they were carrying out the contract. Since the prisoner has already been brought all the way here to Whiterun, we have no reason not to hand him to the Jarl.”
“There is one reason,” Katrida spoke up again and all eyes turned on her. “You remember the rumours that Jarl Jsashe was involved with the Horme attacks? One of her chief naysayers was killed when the Horme burned down his farm outside the city. The Imperials even call her the Witch-Queen of Whiterun, and she dabbles in sorcery just like the assassins.”
“You think the Jarl could be involved in this?” Terrfyg asked. “Behind it, even?”
Ulfdir nodded, “I must admit...it is a possibility. But the prisoner has knowledge on the assassination of Prince Enman, perhaps even the assassination of the Emperor. Are we to keep him at Jorrvaskr and interrogate him ourselves? That would be us getting involved in politics.”
“We can take him to Black Moor,” Everild suggested. “There is a Legion garrison at the fort by that village. If we can’t trust the Jarl, then we hand him directly to the Empire.”
“An excellent idea,” commented the Harbinger. “Does anyone have objections against handing the prisoner to the Imperial Legion?”
After a moment of shaking heads and silence, Ragnhild continued, “It is settled, then. Who wishes to escort the prisoner?”
“I’ll do it,” Everild volunteered. “It was my protégé who advocated for taking the assassin prisoner instead of killing him on the spot and forgoing this dilemma. The new blood can come with me; this will be a good opportunity for another member of the Circle to evaluate her.”
“Very well,” the Harbinger said, and the matter was resolved.
The Companions returned to their usual banter as they finished their meal. Terrfyg filled his stomach with bread, meats and mead, but he didn’t feel the satisfaction he usually had upon returning to Jorrvaskr for food and rest after a job well done. The contract had been completed, no Shield-Siblings were lost in the fighting, and the guild had even gained a new recruit. By all accounts, this was a resounding success.
Still, there was something nagging in the back of his mind. They had stumbled into the midst of a plot which had resulted in the death of the Emperor and all his heirs. Terrfyg had fought everything from vampires to giants, but never assassins of royalty. He tried to convince himself that once the prisoner was handed over to the Legion, it would no longer be the Companions’ business. But he couldn’t shake the feeling that a terrible thing was about to happen.
The elf’s words echoed in his ears, “The spilling of dragonblood is only the beginning...”