Her father had seen the signs of his arrival. He had warned her that great events were about to happen and that life as she knew it may change. He could not tell her anything except her was Dragonborn and that his arrival was near. He would journey from his homeland to Solstheim and she would find herself in the middle of what could almost be considered cataclysmic events. But the signs never lied. His arrival was imminent.
The man she eventually met was not quite what she expected. Yes, he was a Nord. Yes, he proved himself to be Dragonborn. But she expected the sort of warrior often spoke of in legends. The man she saw the first time as he was introduced was anything but. He was tall. He was broad. He appeared strong as an ox. His blonde hair had started to grey, whether on his head or his beard. He had walked with a slight limp. He was covered in scars. A vicious one down his cheek. Half an ear missing. Two fingers on his left hand gone.
But it was eyes that spoke of things very few had likely ever seen. They gazed with an intensity that caused her to eventually look away. They were eyes of anger. Of hate. But also of agony, and of pain, and of unending exhaustion. She wondered how much he had lived through. She wondered what he now dreamed.
He was monosyllabic at best upon their first meeting. She learned of his name, Ragnar, that he was Dragonborn, and that was about it. But seeing him in battle was something else entirely. Not only did she witness the power of his Thu’um, he fought with a ferocity that beggared belief. He showed no quarter, offered no mercy. Anything or anyone that raised a weapon in his direction was put down without hesitation, and generally without warning.
He had travelled to Solstheim with colleagues. For their investigation into Miraak and his hold on the island they called home, she invited him and his colleagues to their village, a base for them to rest and relax as they helped with the myriad of problems that Miraak’s return had caused.
The Dragonborn was an isolated figure, even when surrounded by those she thought might have been his friends. Around the large fire one evening, she sat down with a woman named Aela. Red hair that was now turning a shade of grey at the sides. A few lines on the face. Scars of battle and war on any skin she exposed, despite the cool mountain air.
“How long have you known him?” Frea asked. She was intrigued by this man named Dragonborn.
“Two decades and more,” Aela replied, “We were once friends. Now we are… I’m not really sure.” She glanced to where Ragnar stood, at the edge of the cliff, overlooking the island and then the sea. “He’s never really been the same since… well, since the whole Dragon Crisis, to be honest.”
“He lost good friends and saw things that no-one should ever see. The horrors the dragons inflicted on us… He is a man who has suffered tremendous loss. Lydia was the first loss. She was his housecarl. Saw her torn apart by a dragon. But it was losing Ysolda that I think broke him. She was slaughtered when vampires attacked our city.”
“Who was she?”
“Perhaps the only woman he’s ever loved. He left Whiterun soon afterwards. He lives in an isolated shack, miles from anyone. He is angry. He is bitter. And he is full of hate. They are only two of those he has lost. Our Order has almost fallen due to circumstances. Other friends have been taken across Skyrim. I’m not sure anyone has suffered as much as him. But it was his curse for the gifts he has.”
“And you are to him?”
“Perhaps his last true friend except for her. He pushed most other people away. I refused to let him do it.” She gestured at the blonde sitting next to her father. “Mjoll has never given up on him either. We can’t even begin to understand everything he’s gone through, but true friends don’t give up.”
Ragnar would come and go over the next few days as he investigated the reappearance of Miraak. Sometimes he would take his friends, but often he would work alone. He did return one afternoon, carrying a few bones and scales. She didn’t recognise them but Aela and Mjoll did so immediately.
“Dragon,” Aela whispered.
“How many?” Frea had to ask.
“I know he used to hunt them. Lydia wasn’t the only one taken by a dragon. That was just the one that hurt the most. Surprisingly, when asked to kill a particular dragon by an old colleague, he refused.”
“Something along the lines of that he’s the Dragonborn and he’ll be damned before he’s ordered to do anything. Let’s just say we only saw said person who ordered him to do that since. Probably dead by now, to be honest.”
“Did he eventually kill the dragon?”
“No. As far as I know, he’s only ever let two live, and purely because they helped him for a time. Any other dragon is fair game, as far as he’s concerned. As I said, he used to hunt them.”
The next morning, there was no sign of him at breakfast. Ragnar and his two companions had been given their own house to reside in during their time. Walking into the dark bedroom, it was obvious he was still asleep. Unsure as to his plans, all she did was rest a hand on his shoulder to ask if he wished to join them for breakfast.
The dagger was at her throat so quickly, she couldn’t react at all. His gaze again stared into her eyes, listening to him breathe deeply. Again, those eyes that spoke of many things, of horrors once seen, and likely still lived to this date. “Apologies,” he whispered, “But I’m not used to be woken by anyone.”
“Are you okay?” She thought he looked exhausted in addition to everything else.
“Fine. Just trying to sleep.”
“Would you like breakfast?”
He lowered the dagger and nodded. “Aye. Thank you.”
She turned to leave the room but stopped at the threshold, turning back to see him already sitting on the edge of the bed, running fingers through his long hair. “Do you dream?” she wondered, curiosity getting the better of her.
"No, I don’t dream.” She looked at him and he seemed to realise that wasn’t enough. “Nightmares. Every night. Constantly.”
“Because of the dragons?”
“Not just because of dragons.” She didn’t move. This was perhaps the first time she’d had a chance to talk to him privately, and didn’t want to waste the opportunity. She would admit he intrigued her. And she felt nothing but empathy for him. “Vampires too.”
“Aela told me…”
For the first time, a smirk appeared on his face. Not a smile, but something that caused the grimness to disappear, albeit briefly. “Aye, she always liked to talk, that one.”
“Apologies, I didn’t…”
He met her eyes again. “Not necessary. I’m sure you’ve had a million questions since my arrival.”
“We haven’t really had a chance to talk.”
He stood up, once again leaving her feeling the need to look up. He was taller than anyone around. Dressed in just a thin shirt, she could see the definition of his muscles. And the scars up his arms and near his neck. She couldn’t help looking and he noticed. “What would you like to know?” he asked, “How many dragons I’ve killed? Vampires? Bandits?”
“No, I’m sure no-one needs to know that, nor do you want to keep count.”
He bent over to pick up his armour. “Trust me, I remember every dragon and their soul I take,” he muttered.
She watched in silence as he put on his armour, noticing him wince more than once, a crack of a bone, and she could sense and see the weariness in his muscles and bones. She stepped forward without thinking, causing him to state, “I can dress myself fine.”
He finished putting on his boots in silence before he rested his elbows on his knees, releasing a sigh. “No, don’t be,” he murmured, before looking up at her, “I’m obviously not used to being around people nowadays. Guess Aela told you that too, right?”
“Don’t you get lonely?”
“I keep myself busy. I have more than enough coin to live. I now do what is necessary to ensure no-one else suffers what I’ve been through, and that others have been through.”
“Your scar on your face…”
“Dragon.” He smirked again, seeing amusement in his eyes. “Most of them are from dragons, Frea.” He held up his left hand. “Lost these to a soldier though. My own stupid fault. Could have taken my head if I hadn’t moved the next second.”
He stood up, and she heard more cracks from his joints. “Are you in pain?” she asked.
“Constantly. You get used to it.” She gestured with her head to follow as he fell in alongside her. “The gifts I have… ever since the day I found out who I was, it is has been nothing but a curse. I wouldn’t wish this life on my worst enemy.” He came to a stop as he gazed around their village. “All I’ve ever really wanted is peace and quiet. But it’ll never happen. Despite my isolation, everyone knows where I live. Almost continuous knocks at the door. Civilians need help with this. Jarls need help with that. One crisis after another. And now I have to deal with Miraak. Part of me hopes to just die when this is over. At least I’ll have eternal peace then.”
She couldn’t help grab his hand, giving it a squeeze. “You don’t really mean that, do you?”
He barked a laugh, nothing but bitter. “I dread to think of what my soul looks like. I don’t even know who owns it any longer. All I know is that I may have tasted the glories of Sovngarde, but I am well and truly damned to the pits of Oblivion when I finally die.” He went silent and met her eyes. “I haven’t talked this much in… in a long time.”
She watched him depart alone later that morning. She was kept informed of what he was doing, and was hopeful that the situation with Miraak would eventually be solved. Aela disappeared to go hunting, leaving her with Mjoll. She probed his other friend for more information this time, wondering what he meant by his soul being damned.
“Ragnar is… an enigma. People think of the Dragonborn as this mythic being, almost a god-like or messianic figure. What do you think of him?”
“I’m not sure, to be honest. This morning was the first time we shared more than a few words.”
“There is good in him, but… it’s buried underneath everything else. He is angry, and he is bitter. But it’s not just that. I met him while he worked in Riften as a thief. I should have hated him for it, but before he was Dragonborn, he was… well, he was a very different man. The man you see now? That is all that is left. Broken. Battered. Tormented by memories, visions of events he could not prevent happening.”
“He spoke about wanting to die…”
“He won’t do it by his own hand. No honour in it, so he says. And he has yet to find anyone good enough to do the job for him. So he wakes every morning and carries on, whether it’s hunting dragons, bandits, criminals or whatever else needs a sword put through it.” Mjoll sighed. “The only thing anyone wants for him is peace in the end. And a good night’s sleep.”
“Aye. With all the things he has seen, the acts required by his hand, the deeds committed, the agreements made, I’m not surprised. But it shows his strength of character, his endurance as a man and as a warrior, that he continues on each day. Anyone else would have just given up by now.”
Ragnar had spoken of his cursed life. She didn’t know whether to believe it or not until tragedy struck their own village. And the life of her father was taken by Miraak. That’s when she saw not only anger from the Dragonborn, but righteous fury. Knowing what had to be done, he promised he would not return until her father was avenged and Miraark lay dead.
She believed him too. Either he or Miraak would see the next day. The other would be dead.
He was gone for a long time. So long, even those who believed most fervently in him started to believe that this was one battle too far, that Miraak was too strong.
Their fears were unfounded. Ragnar returned. Bruised, bloodied, and his eyes spoken of further torment, but he returned with news that Miraak was dead, her father avenged, and peace would return to Solstheim, once and for all.
She organized a joint wake-celebration once the funeral was held, and many from the nearby settlements were invited, as all were now free of Miraak’s grip on them. Many wanted to thank the Dragonborn for saving them, but of the man himself, he had disappeared. Wondering where he had got to, she eventually found footsteps leading away, tracking them across the wooden bridge then up the nearby hill.
That is where she found him standing the darkness, gazing out over the island. Somewhere in the distance was Skyrim. She wondered if he longed for home. “Are you not cold?” she asked.
“I’m a Nord. We’re built for this weather.”
“Everyone is wondering where you are.”
“I’m not really one for feasts. Not anymore. It’s quiet here. Quite the view.”
She stood next to him, gazing out over the island and the sea. For the first time, she heard him sigh, not in pain or in annoyance, more through… contentment? She couldn’t quite figure it out. She glanced at him from time to time, for however long they stood there.
When she took him by the hand, he glanced back at her in surprise. “Come on, we should join the others,” she insisted, albeit gently, “I’m sure they won’t bother you too much. And maybe we could share a drink?”
He seemed surprised by the last question and, for the first time, the slightest of grins seemed to be form. In the moonlight, his blue eyes changed for a moment, though it was brief before he looked away. Still, she didn’t let go of his hand until they were back in the village, making sure he sat on one of the logs by the fire as she poured two tankards, handing one off to him as she sat next to him.
He didn’t say much, though accepted the offered hand when someone came to thank him, though he waved away any gushing praise. She noticed Aela and Mjoll chatting away with everyone else, as despite the loss of her father, which still weighed heavily, life would continue the same as if he were alive. Only now, she would be the one that they came to advice for.
Slowly but surely, villagers returned to their homes, many others having departed as the sun had set, not wanting to journey in the darkness. Soon, only she and Ragnar were left sitting by the fire. He had been quiet nearly the entire time, no doubt listening into the conversation, but unless he asked, he seemed content to just sit and enjoy the peace.
Escorting him to his house, that is when he finally spoke. “We will depart tomorrow,” he stated.
“Oh…” For some reason, the news upset her. Despite the fact he was quiet, he was never rude. She had enjoyed his presence, so had many of the others. And she had noticed his interest in their way of life in return. It was perhaps the only time he really talked, when asking about their way of life, their beliefs and their customs.
When she stepped forward to embrace him, he was certainly caught by surprise for a few seconds before he embraced her back. When she felt him gently stroke the back of her head, she closed her eyes and simply enjoyed the sensation. “Haven’t done this in a long time either,” he whispered.
“Hold a woman in my arms. A long time indeed.”
She leaned back and met his eyes, and couldn’t help smile as he gazed back at her, and none of what she had first witnessed was present. They were full of life and, dare she say it, even hope. “I will make sure I see you off in the morning.”
“Of course. Can’t leave without saying goodbye.”
She couldn’t sleep that night. He had only been present in her life for a matter of a few days, maybe a couple of weeks, but the idea that he would leave so soon. She didn’t quite understand why she felt that way. He was still a stranger in many regards. She’d learned a little about him but nothing to make her lie there, almost feeling the need to cry because he was leaving.
After breakfast the next morning, Aela and Mjoll wished her goodbye first, as Ragnar found his hand shaken by nearly every villager, leaving her until last. They looked at each other, hesitating, unsure how to say goodbye to each other. When he stepped forward to embrace her first, feeling his strong arms wrap around her, that was it. What she had been feeling the night before needed release.
“You weep because I leave?” he wondered.
“Aye,” she whispered back.
He leaned back, lifting her face to him with a finger under the chin, leaning down to leave the softest of kisses on her lips. When he gently caressed her face, she felt her lip start to tremble. “I will remember you, Frea of the Skaal.”
“I hope you find peace, Ragnar Dragonborn.”
Another soft kiss before he let her go, watching him pick up his gear and weapons. They walked towards the edge of the village, turning back one last time to wave, before they disappeared over the crest and out of view. She could only stand there, rubbing her arms, suddenly feeling rather alone in the world. But she knew she had to let him go. His life was elsewhere.
Days and weeks passed by. As shaman of the Skaal, she offered guidance to the villagers, but even those from outside would come to visit her for advice. But the village seemed… empty after the Dragonborn and his companions left. Their visit had been brief, but it had left its indelible mark on them. And on her. She found herself thinking of him at the strangest of times, always provoking a smile. He had been nothing she had ever expected. But she missed him terribly.
“Frea, visitor!” a voice called from outside one afternoon.
Wondering who it could possibly be, probably another stranger seeking spiritual guidance, she wandered outside into bright sunshine. A large man stood with his back to her at the fire. When he turned around and gazed at her, it was the first time she ever saw a genuine grin on his face. She burst into tears, striding towards him, quickly enveloped of his arms of his once again.
“I was on the ship back to Skyrim when I finally realised where I might just find that peace I’ve sought for so long,” he whispered.
“Who knows you’re here?”
“Two people. They will take the secret to their grave. Otherwise, I travelled incognito.” She lifted her head to see his face. “The entire walk back to the docks, I thought about turning around. But… I thought I had to return. But when I walked into that empty house, and there was that knock at the door the next day, I had had enough. That wasn’t my life. It didn’t need to be my life. I understood that the gods had given me an opportunity, and that I should not waste it. I will find the peace I long for here…” He paused for a moment, adding quietly, “But also something else I’ve longed for as well.”
Leaning down to kiss her, she couldn’t help but smile then giggle. That made him stop a moment, leaning back slightly, amused but confused at the same time. “I missed you,” she admitted, “I didn’t want you to go.”
“So we’re both fools?”
“I think we are.”
He kissed her again, and she would admit to just melting into his arms. No-one had ever made her feel like this before. And hearing him admit, finally, that he may just care for her in the same way… confirmed her own feelings for him even more.
She watched him as he bent down to pick up their five year old, their three year old playing in the snow beside him. The giggle of their little girl squealing, yelling ‘Higher, daddy, higher!’ near enough made her start to cry. She figured that was just all the emotions flooding her like usual, running a hand over the bump on her belly. “This time he’ll get the boy we both desire,” she murmured.
As Ragnar bent down to pick up the three year old this time, she turned her attention back to their guest, who had travelled many miles to seek her advice. She had a fairly good idea who may have spread word of her skills, and for that, she would always thank them. They were the only two who knew where he was. They would write to him on occasion, and he would reply, though always under an assumed name. According to their letters, the disappearance of the Dragonborn remained a mystery. Some believed he had simply ascended to Sovngarde, his job now complete. Others thought he had departed to travel the world. Then there were others that seemed to have an inkling of the truth, that though he had saved the world, he had been damned.
Frea knew the truth. The Dragonborn now lived and he had his longed for peace. Skaal did not normally wear anything to signify they were married, but she wore a ring on her third finger, as did Ragnar, to show they were husband and wife. They had married quickly once he had returned, though they took their time for the romance to build, and did not leap into bed together immediately. Ragnar… hadn’t been with anyone in a long time, and she was pleased that he simply wanted to talk to her, get to know her, and enjoyed just relaxing with her, holding her in his arms, taking long walks and, with her, he finally opened up about things he had done and had seen.
It took longer than either planned for children, but now they had their small family, two girls with another child on the way, both hoping for a boy this time. If it was, that was their little family complete. If not, they would simply try again until they were content.
She understood immediately that their relatively idyllic life could be destroyed the day strangers walked into their village. She did not recognise the uniform but, when she noticed the Dragonborn look their way, the eyes that we now so kind, gentle and full of nothing but love for her and their family, changed in an instant, she knew that she had to step forward.
“Who are you?” she asked, stepping between the strangers and the rest of the village.
“Lieutenant Corvus Aurelius, Imperial Legion. Who are you?”
“Frea of the Skaal. What brings you to our humble village?”
“We are here for the Dragonborn. Does he reside here?”
“Dragonborn? He visited our village many years ago but, no… he is not here.”
“Not according to our reports.” He held out a hand, a parchment deposited into his palm. “According to our spies, the Dragonborn has not been seen within the borders of Skyrim for approaching ten years now. It is noted that he journeyed here prior to his disappearance and it is believed he return here. To this very village.”
Frea could only sigh. She knew their friends had not betrayed them. Despite all their efforts, those who wanted to find him would not give up. So she tried another tactic. No point lying as they probably recognized him anyway.
“Follow me, Lieutenant,” she asked, gesturing for him to follow. Only he did, as they walked to the other end of the village, where they turned to gaze up on it. “See how peaceful it is here, Lieutenant? We have our small community. We bother no-one and all we ask is for that in return. But what we do want is peace.”
“Understandable. It is what most people want.”
She swallowed, then gestured towards Ragnar. “You see that man there, Lieutenant?” She met his eyes as he nodded. “He is now at peace. He has a wife, young children, another on the way. He fought a long time ago, for many years. He was consumed by it. A fury that was not quenched until he came here, to live with us. The man you see in front of you is unrecognizable to the man I met that first time. Love had replaced hate. Peace has replaced war. If you take him away from here, it will destroy him. And everyone around him.”
“Are no longer his problem, Lieutenant. He has fought for long enough. You do not know the nightmares he continues to suffer, the wounds he still carries, on his skin and on his soul. His body is battered, almost breaking. But look at him now with his children. See the smile on his face. I longed to see that for a long time. Now I see it constantly. I do not wish to see it disappear. Let him have his peace, Lieutenant. That is all any old warrior wants.”
They stood there for at least five minutes before he stated, “Follow me.” Rejoining his other men, she managed to hold back the sigh of relief as he said, “The Dragonborn is not here. The Skaal here stated he left many years ago and never returned. I guess we’ll have to investigate other avenues.”
“But sir, our spies said…”
“Our spies have been wrong before. The Dragonborn is not here. If rumour has it right, he’s probably dead anyway. We will return to the ship at once and report to Solitude.”
The trio of soldiers departed, the lieutenant turning back once, exchanging a nod with her. Once they were out of sight, she released a sigh of relief before turning to look back at her husband, the Dragonborn. Looking back at her and smiling, he picked up their children and walked towards her, leaning down to kiss her when he was close. “Anything I need worry about?” he wondered.
“No. You will have your peace, Dragonborn. That will always be my promise to you.”