War. War never changes.
And one of the things about wars that never change is that there are huge profits to be made. Case in point - as I walked through the Gate of Whiterun, I overheard an argument between a local blacksmith and her customer. Apparently his order for "steel" for the Imperial Legion was so large that she didn't feel confident of completing it on her own - but he refused to go to another local blacksmith, presumably because one of those clan feuds that make the history of Skyrim so colorful (blood-red, in particular).
In such times, weapon and armor-smiths have a seller's market.
The streets had began to empty out and the market stalls were closed, but that didn't stop a lone priest of Talos ranting about his faith on a plaza below the palace. While Alvor in Riverwood had claimed that Jarl Balgruuf would support the Imperials, clearly he had ways of keeping the Thalmor out, or else they would have dragged the priest away and demolished the huge statue of Talos he was standing in front off. Or maybe General Tullius had "requested" that the Thalmor stay out of Whiterun until this rebellion was crushed. Not that the Thalmor would really care about what Tullius wants, but at this stage they probably don't want too obvious a slime trail leading back to them.
Inside the palace, a dunmer woman confronted me with her sword drawn and demanded what I was doing there. Paranoid, but these are paranoid times.
"I am Araneus Venator, and I bring the News - the News from Helgen!"
No need for crazy acting this time - to her credit, she immediately let me pass through to the Jarl. Apparently the Jarl had heard rumors, but no confirmation - until now. Furthermore, she immediately suggested sending additional troops to Riverwood, without my prompting. The Jarl's aide, an Imperial who had the airs of a courtier who hadn't been able to make it in the Imperial City, protested that the Jarl of Falkreath might see this as a provocation, but the Jarl angrily dismissed this, rightly arguing that the threat of a dragon takes precedence in such a case.
He has elevated non-Nords to the highest positions in his court, which means that he values their different perspective instead of presuming that the way of his home province is always the best - and he seemed genuinely concerned for the welfare of his people. I was beginning to like this Jarl Balgruuf, and I like very few politicians.
I also couldn't help noticing the dragon's skull mounted above his throne. Which, unless the dragon in question was found dead, meant that we can defeat such beasts - an encouraging thought.
Then the Jarl turned his attention to me again. He thanked me for my service, and rewarded me with a set of steel armor - in a neutral design, unlike the Imperial armor I was still wearing. A message, perhaps - or did he just grab the first thing he found in his armory? Not that I was planning on wearing it - I am uncomfortable with any armor in which you can't run quickly and for extended time - but it seemed churlish to refuse.
...and of course, the actual reward for a job well done is another job. Apparently his court wizard, one Farengar, had been doing his own research into these dragons, and needed assistance.
"Yes, I could use someone to fetch something for me. Well, when I say fetch, I really mean delve into a dangerous ruin in search of an ancient stone tablet that may or may not actually be there."
Perfect. I swore off crawling through ancient ruins after one Ayleid death trap too many. But still...
I questioned him on his research, and he elaborated that he had been gathering information on where the dragons might have come from - and he discovered (from "reliable sources" that he refused to name - which means I should find them as soon as possible) that a so-called "Dragonstone" was interred in Bleak Falls Barrow (the same ruin I had seen earlier in the day, close to Riverwood) was supposed to show a map of dragon burial sites. The barrow supposedly was built during the time of the "Dragon War" in the Mythic era, when dragons were supposedly worshiped as gods in Skyrim, until the Nords were somehow able to overthrow them.
And, of course, he needed someone to retrieve it.
Reluctantly, I accepted. Dragons were the News now, likely more important than the Civil War, and delving into an ancient ruin full of traps, vermin, and who knows what monstrosities still seemed like a marginally safer approach to researching dragons than researching live specimens up close and personal.
But that could wait for the next day. It was already close to the 10th hour, so I searched for the nearest inn - the Bannered Mare. Normally I would have stayed in the common room for a few hours and get drunk until I'd collapse in a puddle of vomit (mine, someone else's - who cares?), but I had been nearly executed, nearly fried by a dragon, and then ran more than can be healthy for a man of my age, so I retired to the bedroom above.
Yet sleep wouldn't come easily, as the day's scenes replayed themselves in my mind. So I first got some paper and wrote the day's events down for my editor, so that he couldn't complain (again) that I didn't put in the work for the back pay he owed me. Then I memorized the "Sparks" spell from the spell tome I found in Helgen, watching the tome disintegrate after I was finished with it (whoever invented self-destructing spell tomes must have made quite a few mages very rich indeed...).
Finally, I turned to the "Book of the Dragonborn", which I had also found at the Keep. It went on about the different definitions of the term "Dragonborn", a number of people supposedly blessed by Akatosh himself, starting with the legendary St. Alessia and continuing with the Reman and the Septim dynasty, starting with Tiber Septim/Talos himself and all the way to Martin Septim, who sacrificed himself to end the Oblivion Crisis. But it is unclear whether being "Dragonborn" was a matter of heredity or solely divine blessing, and the book also notes that there were Nord legends of "Dragonborn heroes who were great dragonslayers, able to steal the power of the dragons they killed." Did they fight in the "Dragon War" Farengar had mentioned? It seemed possible, but the book didn't say.
Another interesting tidbit from the book that I didn't know is that the Blades - the long-disbanded bodyguards of the Septim emperors - originally came from Akavir and were searching specifically for a Dragonborn. They found Reman Cyrodiil, and pledged their allegiance to him, and possibly sought out a new Dragonborn to follow after the Reman dynasty was extinguished.
Are Dragonborns still around? "Stealing the power of dragons" certainly seems useful in times when dragons are around, so maybe one will be revealed if more dragons emerge. But where would they come from? It is said that the Septim dynasty was very thoroughly extinguished by the Mythic Dawn cult at the start of the Oblivion Crisis, but personally I doubt it - like many leaders of nations, the Septims certainly slept around, and who knows how many forgotten by-blows survived. Heck, half the population of Cyrodiil might be descended from them. But is this enough to qualify as a "Dragonborn"?
The book ended with a prophecy, allegedly coming from an Elder Scroll (like they all do, as any carnival soothsayer will tell you. As a source of Ancient Prophetic Wisdom, they can't be beaten):
"When misrule takes its place at the eight corners of the world
When the Brass Tower walks and Time is reshaped
When the thrice-blessed fail and the Red Tower trembles
When the Dragonborn Ruler loses his throne, and the White Tower falls
When the Snow Tower lies sundered, kingless, bleeding
The World-Eater wakes, and the Wheel turns upon the Last Dragonborn."
"World-Eater". Didn't Hadvar say something about dragons being the harbingers of the End Times? And that dragon in Helgen sure looked hungry...
With that, I fell asleep and dreamed of black wings, and fire in the sky.
End of the 17th of Last Seed, 201 4E.