It took Terrfyg a moment to realize that the title now belonged to him and he was the one being addressed. Though he was selected as Harbinger the previous day, it still felt odd for him to take up residence in Ragnhild’s old room and so he slept on his bed in the Circle’s quarters. Having just woken up and emerged from that familiar place, he was ill-prepared for reality to sink in once more.
He turned to the source of the voice to see Svangar striding down the hall.
“Is something wrong, brother?” Terrfyg asked. “Has another Gate opened?”
“No, no, this is good news!” exclaimed the younger Nord. “Runmar has returned from his journey.”
The new Harbinger smiled upon hearing of the safe return of another Companion, “Has he been informed of what happened yet?”
Svangar nodded, “We were just speaking with him about that up in the mead hall.”
Terrfyg wasted no time, immediately heading up the stairs which led into the main hall. There, Freya and Gunnar sat in regular clothing opposite the half-Imperial Runmar Atrius, who was still in his steel armour. Upon seeing Terrfyg emerge from the stairs, Runmar rose to his feet and rushed over. The two Shield-Brothers embraced for a moment.
“It’s good to see you, Runmar,” Terrfyg stated.
“It’s good to see you too, brother,” Runmar replied in kind. “I wish I’d been here to fight with you against the hordes of Oblivion. If only I had not taken that contract..."
Terrfyg shook his head, “Then someone else would have taken it, and we’d be a warrior short in any case. Do not blame yourself for doing the work of our guild.”
“Of course. I just cannot help but feel I’ve failed our brothers and sisters who fell in the battle.”
“That goes for those of us who were here as well. So many of us, lost..."
Runmar nodded sadly before looking back up to Terrfyg, “At least there is still something left to fight for. Have you heard what happened to Kvatch down in Cyrodiil?”
“No, I haven’t. Did a gateway to Oblivion appear there as well?”
“They say the Daedra overran the city, burned it all to the ground.”
“By the Nine..." muttered Terrfyg.
“Now that I’ve returned, I shall do my part in making sure that never happens to Whiterun,” Runmar promised.
“We need every warrior we can get. Have the others told you of their choice for Harbinger?”
“Yes, and I agree with them,” the half-Imperial smiled. “I have faith in you, Terrfyg.”
“Thank you for your confidence, brother.”
Terrfyg did not share that confidence. He understood the reasoning; he was the last surviving member of the Circle, and even if he wouldn’t have been Ragnhild’s choice of successor, he was the best remaining person to be Harbinger. But he wasn’t ready to advise the Companions. Even great Harbingers of old such as Mryfwiil or Kyrnil would probably have struggled in the wake of losing half the guild’s number to a single battle. How could someone who would otherwise never have been a Harbinger handle such a situation?
The Companions needed strength now, so Terrfyg kept these doubts to himself. Grabbing some breakfast, he sat down with Runmar and the others. They conversed for some time before dispersing, with Runmar heading down to take off his armour while Terrfyg returned to his quarters to put his on. He was not preparing for battle, though with the Oblivion Gates, one could erupt at any time. The Companions were more vigilant than usual due to this, but it still did not call for wearing armour every waking hour.
Terrfyg was wearing armour because he was heading to the Jarl’s palace, and a warrior should present himself in his battle regalia. He still believed that Jsashe was involved to some extent in the events that had occurred, but he decided that he would give her a chance to prove her innocence. It was what Ragnhild would have done. There was no danger hearing her out after all; the Jarl could not order him executed, not with an honourable man such as Hadmir leading the city guard.
Once Terrfyg was dressed, he headed out the front doors of Jorrvaskr, turning north at the Gildergreen tree which stood proudly in the centre of the Wind District. From here, a long staircase flanked by beautiful fountains to either side led the way to the top of the hill upon which the city was built. The path up to the Cloud District was carefully cultivated to display Whiterun’s power and prominence as the heart of trade in Skyrim.
Terrfyg did not come to the Cloud District very often. It was a place of politics, something the Companions liked to avoid. He frequently looked up at the keep from below, though he rarely crossed the bridge over the source of the fountains to the doors of Dragonsreach.
The only building in the Cloud District, the keep of Dragonsreach was the largest building in Whiterun, larger than even Jorrvaskr. Once, it had been a much smaller longhouse, but the structure was greatly expanded by Olaf One-Eye. The would-be High King Olaf had commissioned the stone portion of the building to serve as a prison for the dragon Numinex which he had captured, earning the keep its name of Dragonsreach.
Pushing open the doors, Terrfyg entered the Great Hall. By the fire pit at the far end of the hall, members of the Jarl’s court were gathered. There was Jarl Jsashe herself, the Witch-Queen of Whiterun as foreigners called her, seated in her throne beneath the skull of Numinex. On the Jarl’s left stood the woman who accompanied her to the funeral. Terrfyg knew her to be Yrdis, one of Jsashe’s priestesses of Shor, now serving as her court wizard. Court wizards were meant to advise the Jarl on magical matters, and in the rare case when the Jarl was an accomplished sorcerer themself, the role was usually forgone. However, Jsashe had appointed one of her own disciples to the position, no doubt to fill the court with her allies.
To Jsashe’s right was her housecarl, Vanakr the Dwarf, who was charged with the Jarl’s personal protection. Vanakr stood taller than most Nord men, including Terrfyg himself. His name was due to the copper armour he donned, crafted by the ancient dwarves before they vanished from the world. No one Terrfyg spoke with had ever seen Vanakr’s face beneath the carved visage of his helm, which has led to various rumours circulating about him. Some believed that he was a thrall controlled by Jsashe, while others speculated that he was nothing more than an enchanted suit of armour given life by the Jarl’s magic.
Another Nord man, this one dressed in fine clothes instead of armour, was in the midst of speaking with the Jarl. Terrfyg recognized him as Arnvald, the Jarl’s steward, who managed the day to day affairs of ruling the Hold. He was the man most citizens of Whiterun dealt with when they had business in Dragonsreach and was a decent administrator. Arnvald had served in his position for many years, being steward under Jsashe’s husband before she took over as Jarl.
Hadmir Battle-Born was sitting at one of the tables by the fire pit. The Guard Captain only visited the Great Hall when the court was discussing something related to the city’s defense. He did not seem actively involved in the ongoing conversation, though he was present when the Jarl offered to prove her innocence at the funeral the day before. This made Terrfyg suspect that Hadmir had come to Dragonsreach for the same reason he did.
There were two others seated at the tables. One of them was Thane Torleif, a highly successful trader who was given the honourary title of Thane for his contributions to the city. He had become more and more involved in politics the past few years and was a staunch supporter of Jsashe, so it was no surprise to see him in Dragonsreach. The other was an Imperial woman by the name of Lorina Falvius, whom Terrfyg had seen from time to time in the markets. She too was a merchant, albeit a far less prominent one than Torleif. Terrfyg assumed she was waiting for a personal audience with the Jarl or steward.
Jarl Jsashe focused her gaze on the new Harbinger of the Companions as he approached the fire pit. Arnvald drifted off as he realized that his Jarl’s attention had gone elsewhere. Turning around, he spotted Terrfyg, gave him a curt nod, and stepped aside.
“Terrfyg,” the Jarl addressed him. “You want that explanation now, I take it.”
“I’m in no hurry,” Terrfyg replied, gesturing to Lorina. “If any of the others are here for important business, they may speak with you first.”
“How very courteous of you,” Jsashe smiled. “Trying to live up to Ragnhild’s reputation?”
Terrfyg gritted his teeth. The Jarl had seen right through him, but he wasn’t about to admit that to her.
“I may not care much for you, Jsashe. That does not mean I don’t care for the people of Whiterun.”
“Contrary to what you believe, I also care for the people of my Hold. Lorina.”
The Imperial woman rose from her seat and made her way around the table to the middle of the hall. Terrfyg began to move away when he noticed that Lorina was walking towards him, not the Jarl. The woman reached into her cloak, taking out a sword. The blade was still within a scabbard, meaning it was not a threat of attack, so Terrfyg did not draw his own weapon.
“Do you recognize this weapon, Companion?” Lorina asked.
Terrfyg examined the sword more closely. The scabbard was long and thin. It had a slight curve to it, indicating that the blade beneath was primarily a cutting weapon. The sword was far too slender to be a Redguard scimitar or a sailor’s cutlass, though the shape of the blade was closer to the latter. It was the circular crossguard and the styling of the grip on the hilt that allowed Terrfyg to confidently identify the weapon.
“This is an Akaviri-style katana, the signature weapon of the Blades.”
The Imperial nodded, “You know me as Lorina Falvius, a humble merchant from Cyrodiil. My true name is Lorina Nerva, Agent of the Blades.”
“Are you here to look into the Prince’s assassination, then?”
“No, I was sent here long before that by the Emperor himself,” Lorina explained. “He had similar concerns to you about Jarl Jsashe. So I came to Whiterun under the guise of a merchant to investigate her.”
“Let me guess, you didn’t find anything sinister about her?”
“Jsashe strongly opposes the influence of the Church of the Nine Divines, but I’ve been able to find no evidence that she is involved with the Horme or any activities which directly threaten the stability of the Empire.”
“As I have told you,” the Jarl added, “I hold no ill will against the Empire. I don’t even have anything against their Divines. As long as they do not dilute the hearts of good Nords with those foreign interpretations of our own gods, the Imperials can praise the World-Eater and worship the founder of their dynasty all they like.”
Terrfyg looked from Jsashe to Lorina, “How do I know the Jarl didn’t just pay you off?”
“We Knights of the Blades live by a code of honour, not unlike yourself,” Lorina answered.
“And how do I know you really are a Blade? Perhaps you looted that sword off the corpse of one. We saw a dead knight among the Prince’s convoy, and we didn’t take her sword with us.”
The supposed Blade widened her eyes, “You were there, at the site of the attack? Why didn’t you tell anyone?”
“We didn’t trust the Jarl. We were going to tell the Imperial garrison at Black Moor, but one of those Oblivion Gates opened and the Daedra attacked my Shield-Sisters and freed our prisoner.”
“You fools,” Jsashe uttered, shaking her head. “That was why they opened a Gate in the city, not me!”
“We don’t know that for sure. Whiterun is an important target for other reasons as well,” Lorina said to the Jarl before turning back to Terrfyg. “As for your proof...”
Reaching into her cloak once more, the Imperial woman produced a letter and handed it over to Terrfyg. He read through it quickly. The letter outlined Lorina’s orders to spy on Jsashe, exactly as she had described. When he had reached the bottom, he saw that the paper was signed ‘Uriel Septim VII.’ Terrfyg was not an expert with signatures and would not be able to verify whether it was forged, but the royal seal of the Empire he did recognize. He could not deny the authenticity of the letter.
It was still possible that the woman before him had murdered the real Lorina and taken her possessions to impersonate her. She may also be a Blades agent who has had her mind twisted by the Jarl’s magic. Terrfyg realized the chances of these wild ideas being true were quite low, and he was grasping at straws. Jsashe had presented evidence to support her story, while Terrfyg had none to prove these theories. He had no choice except to concede.
“Thank you,” he said as he returned the letter to Lorina. “So you’ve seen nothing to suggest that the Jarl was involved in the Prince’s death and the opening of these portals?”
“Nothing at all,” the Blade affirmed. “We have it on good authority that the Emperor and his sons were assassinated by a group called the Mythic Dawn. They’re a cult dedicated to the worship of Mehrunes Dagon, the Daedric Prince of Destruction, and it is his forces coming through those gateways. Jsashe has no association with him or any other Daedra. She is a follower of Shezarr, or Shor as your people call him.”
“That lines up with what we know. So how do we stop Dagon and his Daedric army?”
Lorina frowned, “I don’t know. We believe the Oblivion Gates are opening due to the death of the Emperor. The Dragonborn rulers of Cyrodiil have a covenant with Akatosh that as long as one of their blood sits on the throne, the barrier between our world and Oblivion would be maintained. With Uriel and all his heirs dead...”
“Is there anything more that can be done beyond venturing into Oblivion and closing every Gate they open?” Terrfyg asked, turning to the Jarl. “Anything your magic could do to shut the portals without stepping through, or ward the city to prevent them from opening?”
“If there was, I would have done it already,” replied Jsashe. “I am a devotee of Shor. I look to Sovngarde, not the realms of Oblivion. However...”
“I’ve heard that members of the Glenmoril Wyrd have come to my Hold,” the Jarl continued. “They are very knowledgeable about the Daedra and Oblivion, and the loyalty of this coven lies with a Prince other than Mehrunes Dagon. The Glenmoril Witches are true witches however, not some brand cast upon a faithful Nord by zealous Imperial priests. I cannot say for certain if they will aid or hinder us.”
“Then we protect the city with blood and steel,” Terrfyg stated. “We lost half our number dealing with that last Gate. I don’t know how much more we can take, but I promise the people of Whiterun that as long as one Companion still draws breath, we will stand against the Daedra.”
“And my blade will be there beside yours,” Lorina pledged.
Hadmir Battle-Born pushed back his chair and stood, joining the vows, “My guards and I will stand with you, as we did before.”
Jarl Jsashe followed suit, rising from her throne, “Then let us set our differences and disagreements aside. Warriors or sorcerers, Nord or Imperial. In this time of crisis, we stand together as one in defense of Whiterun.”