Seven Thousand Steps
We drink to our youth,
to days come and gone.
Bardak the Bold
The Nord stood over the body of a white dragon. His horned helm cast a shadow that obscured his face from view, and his steel armor was painted with blood and grime. The warrior's sword was sheathed deep inside the eye of the beast. But that was not why Bardak the Bold and his ragtag company of six Stormcloaks was frozen where they stood. Bardak was stunned because he had just witnessed the warrior take in something from the dragon. He had heard the legends, every true born Nord had; the legends of the Dragonborn. It was a tale told to young children before they went to bed, something adults passed as myths. It was often told that the Nords of old, the descendants of the First Men, had learned to take in the power of the dragons they killed, and use it against them. They fought for freedom and glory. One of them even became a Divine. They were the pride of the Nord race, and, until now, Bardak thought they were only legends.
This man was Dragonborn.
Without a word Bardak drew his ax. It was an ancient weapon that had been in his family for generations, passed down from father to son. He fell to his knees, laying his weapon on the fresh snow before him. This was an act of respect to some, and an act of fealty to others. His Stormcloaks followed, for they too, knew what they had just been witness to.
The Dragonborn removed his sword from the beast's skull. Black blood coated the blade from tip to hilt. He thrust the still bloodied blade into the snow covered ground. Using both hands he removed his helm, allowing Bardak to see his face for the first time. The old Stormcloak captain was surprised to see how young he was. The Dragonborn's brow gleamed with perspiration, and his face and short blonde hair were caked with mud, soot, and blood.
Bardak held his breath as the warrior, the Dragonborn he reminded himself, march towards him. Bardak lowered his bear skin hood as the Dragonborn knelt in front of him. Bardak's old brown eyes with the Dragonborn's deep midnight blue ones. "Why do you kneel, Stormcloak?" he asked softly.
Bardak dipped his head, breaking eye contact, "Because I am a true Nord, and you are a Dragonborn of legends."
The Dragonborn stood slowly, and offered Bardak his hand. Confused and in awe, Bardak took it, and they stood together. "Stand," the Dragonborn said, "this legend hasn't been written yet."
They would eat and stay for free that night at the Braidwood Inn. The inn keep was very gracious to the Dragonborn for slaying the white dragon. He even swore he would name his next son after him. The Dragonborn smiled and said he was honored, but that 'Revak' was an ugly name. Nonetheless the Inn was small. Its spread was sparse as the crop had been small that year, and so much of their inventory depended on the generosity of traveling merchants, which were, according to the keep, "Growing more and more skittish" as more and more sightings of dragons were being reported.
The entire population of Kynesgrove attended their little victory get together, all twelve of them, plus the Stormcloaks who had arrived with the captain Delphine had nicknamed in her head 'the Old Bear'. In truth, this Old Bear was only a few years older than herself. The cook served a thin but filling venison stew with carrots and cabbage. The soup was served hot, but by the time that the villagers let Delphine and the Dragonborn stop telling stories and eat it had grown cold. Delphine smiled when she spied the Dragonborn whispering to his stew, which was suddenly steaming. She guessed that it was probably improper use of the Voice, but she ignored it and passed him her bowl as well.
Where the Inn was lacking in food they were rich in alcohol, and soon the residents of Kynesgrove were laughing louder, tipping their drinks, and the Stormcloaks were comparing battle scars. The Dragonborn, Delphine noticed, politely refused drink, but he still laughed amongst the men, and was asked multiple times to spin them the story of how he'd defeated the dragon back at the Whiterun Western Watchtower.
The women were swooning over the young Dragonborn. Delphine was sure that one who was particularly deep in her cups had actually proposed to him. But Delphine was impressed with the Dragonborn. He knew how to handle himself. He was always polite and courteous, and he always seemed know exactly what to say. He knew how to work a crowd. Only once one of the residents picked up a lute and started a very off key rendition of "Ragnar the Red" did the Dragonborn pull Delphine aside. "I think it's time we leave these folks to their festivities," he said just loud enough for her to hear. "Let's go to my room, we need to talk."
Delphine nodded. "That we do," she agreed. She followed him up the stairs to the room he rented at the end of the hall. It was a simple room, inhabited by only a bet and trunk. The Dragonborn's armor rested on his trunk, cleaned and shined to perfection. He shut the door behind her, muffling yet another rendition of "Ragnar the Red".
"These small village folk know how to celebrate," he smiled.
"With Skyrim how it is," she shook her head, "you learn to celebrate whenever you can."
"I think we should split up," he said suddenly. Delphine was taken completely off guard. Her mouth sat agape, and she was about to ask what in Oblivion he was talking about when he put up a hand, "We know that Alduin is bringing back the dragons, but I can't just fight these dragons every blasted time he brings one back." He shook his head and continued, "For all we know he is raising another dragon as we speak. We were lucky this time, that's all. We need to stop this at it's source; Alduin."
Delphine scowled, she wasn't liking this, "And what are you suggesting, O wise Dragonborn?"
Now it was his turn to scowl, "Stop it Delphine. You know that I wouldn't suggest anything without thinking it through. I need to go to the Greybeards. They're the only ones who might have any information on what to do with Alduin, or how the ancient Dragonborn stopped him before. But we also need to stop the dragons so they don't kill half the population of Skyrim before I can stop Alduin."
She looked at him, wondering whether or not the world had been cursed with a mad Dragonborn, "And how exactly am I supposed to fight dragons?"
He laughed, "I don't even know how I do it."
The Dragonborn thought for a moment, "I need you to rebuild the Blades." His face grim, "I want a dragon hunting army. It's time the Blades returned to their roots."
She was at a loss for words. Rebuild the blades? Her mind raced to Esbern. He'd said that years ago. But he disappeared. If she were to find him, he could help her. It was a start.
At that the conversation was over as he opened the door for her, "I'll find a way to contact you if I figure anything out."
He had to admit. He was nervous about going off alone. He had grown used to the Blade's company, but he was positive that she could handle the task he set out for her. Returning the Blades to their ancient roles as dragon hunters he thought was the best plan they could follow. He did not sleep well, knowing that she wouldn't be happy when she awoke at dawn and found his room empty. After a few hours of fitful sleep he woke, donned his armor, and slowly moved down the hallway. When he reached the tavern floor he found it empty. Even the inn keep was gone, Revak took the opportunity to take some supplies from the cupboard. He felt bad for taking the supplies, and even leaving a few coins behind, he knew, wasn't worth the price of the food.
His horse was still tacked from the day before. He mounted and rode South towards Ivaarstead.
It took almost three days to reach Ivaarstead. The town was larger than Kynesgrove, but compared to Whiterun it was tiny. He rode into the town, feeling the eyes of the villagers as he passed. They did not bother to speak to him. They were so used to pilgrims coming to the town before climbing the Seven Thousand Steps. He was tired and road weary, and decided to stay a night at the inn before Vilemyr Inn. Revak found it was better equipped to handle travellers than the Braidswood had been. He greeted the inn keep, ordered a meat pie, and sat in front of the hearth. He listened as a golden haired bard played her lute softly in the corner.
The morning was cold and the sky was overcast when Revak crossed the bridge and began his ascent up the Seven Thousand Steps to High Hrothgar, and to the Greybeards. The Seven Thousand Steps were, at their heart, a pilgrimage for any who wished to find something. Whether it be something about themselves or some sort of spiritual fulfillment. Along the climb there were small shrines with etchings that told the tale of the Greybeards and how they were founded. He passed the first etching, stopping to read the first words of the pilgrimage.
Before the birth of man, the Dragons ruled all of Mundus
Their word was the Voice, and they spoke only for True Needs
For the Voice could blot out the sky and flood the land
He meditated on the first words. He thought of a world where dragons ruled. He began to climb. The steps were worn with time and use. He kept a steady pace, controlling his breathing, for he knew the higher he climbed the harder it would be to climb. A half hour later he found himself at the second etching.
Men were born and spread over the face of Mundus
The Dragon's presided over the crawling masses
Men were weak then, and had no voice
Before the Dragonborn then, he thought as he read the last line. That was a time when the Nords had worshiped the dragons, thinking them gods. He stared up the path, closing his cloak tight around him. He followed a small group of mountain goats. Soon he passed the third etching, then the fourth, all telling the story on how the Nords rebelled against their dragon overlords with the help of the Dragonborn. The higher he climbed the thinner the air became, and he soon found himself breathing heavily and growing more tired. He knew he was almost there when he saw a very familiar statue that hadn't been there the last time he'd climbed the steps so very long ago.
Underneath the statue of Talos he read the etching:
For years all silent, the Greybeards spoke one name
Tiber Septim, stripling then, was summoned to Hrothgar
They blessed and named him Dovahkiin
He smiled at his old name. He remembered his first trip up the mountain well, for it was almost his last. Partway up he'd been attacked by a frost troll. It had the element of surprise, and the help of a snowstorm. It wasn't that he couldn't easily defeat the troll, it was the fact that while fighting it, he almost stepped off the mountain because he was unable to see the ground below him.
He continued on until he could see the home of the Greybeards, High Hrothgar. It stood ancient and grim looking in the shadow of the mountain, which still loomed just above it. He walked the worn steps, the last of the journey. He reached for the great doors, finding them unlocked, and entered.
She swore that if she saw the Dragonborn again she'd be sure to have a few strong words with him. Instead she followed his lead and left Kynesgrove, heading North to Windhelm. She had a plan. She had set the seeds in Kynesgrove before she'd left. Sending couriers this way and that, trying to contact the right people. If anyone knew where Esbern was, it was the Thalmor. So it would be the Thalmor that would lead her straight to him.
Windhelm was a completely different city than Whiterun. It was the center of the Stormcloak rebellion, and the war had clearly taken the toll on the ancient city. It's stone alleys and streets were guarded by Stormcloak soldiers, and their numbers were in full force. The city was as cold as its stone, and it's people were colder still. Dark Elves were restricted to the city's Grey Quarter, and Argonians and Khajiit to the docks outside the city. It was the Nordic race that was prominent within the city, and they wanted it known.
Wrapping her cloak around her she entered the tavern. Ignoring the bartender she went upstairs and found a table in the darkest corner of the room. She gazed at the table, and there, carved into the side was a symbol; a circle within a diamond. She sat waiting for the contact to show himself. She was nervous he wouldn't show when she heard a voice behind her, "Are you looking for a professional?"
The man sat down. He was dressed in black leather and hood, "Tell me what you need done, sweetheart, the Guild is at your service."