Samuel opened the doors to Dragonsreach. Jarl Balgruff was lounging on his throne. Samuel walked up to him.
"May the gods watch over your battles, friend."
"There's no easy way to say this, but..."
"But what?" asked the Jarl.
"I need your help. I need to trap a dragon in your palace."
Jarl Balgruff laughed. "I must have misheard you," he chuckled. "I thought you asked me to help you trap a dragon in my palace."
"You heard right. It's the only way to stop the dragons."
"What you're asking for is insane! Impossible! You want me to let a dragon into the heart of the city, with the threat of war on my doorstep?!" the Jarl yelled.
"The threat is worse than you know," pleaded Samuel. "Alduin has returned."
"Alduin? The World-Eater himself? But...how can we fight him? Doesn't his return mean it's the end times?"
"It's only hopeless if we give up," said Samuel.
"I'm Dragonborn, remember? It's my destiny to defeat him."
"I don't know about such things, but I heard the Greybeards summon you. That's good enough for me," said Jarl Balgruff. "But this nonsense about trapping a dragon in my palace..."
"It's the only way to find Alduin before it's too late."
The Jarl sighed. "I want to help you, Dragonborn. And I will. But I need your help first. Ulfric Stormcloak and General Tullius are both just waiting for me to make a wrong move. Do you think they will sit idle while a dragon is attacking and burning my city? No. I can't risk weakening the city while under the threat of an enemy attack. I'm sorry."
Samuel bit his lip, thinking. "What if you didn't have to worry about an enemy attack?"
Jarl Balgruff scoffed. "Then I would glad to help you with your mad dragon-trapping scheme. But getting both sides to agree to a truce will be difficult at this point. The bitterness has gone too deep. Maybe...hmm...what if of the Greybeards? They are respected by all Nords. High Hrothgar is neutral territory. If the Greybeards are willing to host a peace council...then maybe Ulfric and Tullius would have to listen."
"Leave that to me," said Samuel. "I'll talk to Arngeir about hosting a peace council."
"Aye, Dragonborn. Maybe you can stop the dragons...and the war as well."
Samuel walked into High Hrothgar. Arngeir jogged over to him.
"Alduin...we heard the Dragonrend Shout from here...you defeated him?"
"Yes, but he escaped. I need to find his portal to Sovngarde."
"I feared as much," muttered Arngeir. "I thought it was him when we saw him flying east after your battle.
"I need your help," said Samuel. "I need to capture a dragon."
"We are not warriors. What is overlooked in the Dragonborn is not permitted to any other followers of the way of the Voice."
"I'll worry about capturing a dragon. I need your help to stop the war."
Arngeir frowned. "You misunderstand our authority. The Greybeards have never involved themselves in political affairs."
"Jarl Balgruff won't help me while the war rages."
Arngeir smiled. "Aah. I see...The dragon will lead you to Alduin, but without the Jarl's help..."
"Both sides respect the Greybeards. They'll listen."
Arngeir sighed. "Paarthurnax has made the decision to help you. This is the road we have to walk. Even the Greybeards must bend to the winds of change, it seems. So be it. Tell Ulfric and General Tullius that the Greybeards wish to speak with them. We will see if they still remember us."
Samuel pushed up the gates of Solitude and asked a guard for directions to Castle Dour.
"Just up that ramp, first door on your left. Can't miss it."
Samuel walked up the ramp and opened the door. General Tullius and his assistant, Legate Rikke, stood in the main room, looking at a tactical map of Skyrim.
"Ulfric has troops here, here and here," said Rikke.
"No, no that can't my scouts report--"
"Excuse me?" asked Samuel.
General Tullius looked annoyed. "What is it, citizen? Are the guards now giving free reign to anyone who wanders into the castle?"
"I have a message from the Greybeards."
"The Greybeards? What those old hermits want with me?"
"They're convening a peace council at High Hrothgar," said Samuel.
Tullius laughed. "There's nothing to discuss as long as that traitor Ulfric is in arms against his rightful Emperor."
"We need a truce until the dragon menace is dealt with."
"They are getting to be a problem," said Tullius. "But I wasn't sent to Skyrim to fight dragons. My job is to quell this rebellion, and I intend to do just that, dragons, or no dragons."
"The dragons are a bigger problem than the Stormcloaks right now!"
Tullius smiled. "You may have a point. It's getting difficult to even move troops around without suffering a dragon attack. By all accounts the Stormcloaks are suffering just as badly. Even Ulfric might see the sense of a truce under these conditions."
Samuel's eyes lit up. "You'll come to peace council, then?"
"Yes. Yes, fine, I'll come to this Greybeard council. For all the good it'll do."
Samuel nodded and left Castle Dour.
Windhelm is the oldest city in Skyrim, founded by Ysgramor himself, who brought humans to Tamriel from their ancestral home of Atmora. The White River, which starts at Lake Llinalta, flows past Riverwood and Whiterun, empties out at the Sea of Ghosts near Windhelm. Jarl Ulfric Stormcloak leads his rebellion here, in the Palace of the Kings. Windhelm is the only city in Eastmarch Hold, aside from the village of Kynesgrove.
Samuel walked across the massive stone bridge over the end of the White River. The metal gates into Windhelm were nearly as tall as Dragonsreach. Samuel pushed them open (with difficulty) and entered the city.
Snow covered almost everything. A large inn, Candlehearth Hall, was the first thing that greeted him. He walked along the road until he came to the Palace of the Kings, which was so tall towered over the city gates themselves. Samuel opened the doors to the palace.
The main entrance room was a long, wide hall with a dining table in the center. A door to the left led to the staff's quarters, and one to the right led to the guard barracks and dungeon for prisoners.
Ulfric's throne was at the far end of the room, with the flag of Eastmarch on either side of him. (Blue and grey with a bear in the middle)
Ulfric looked at Samuel. "Only the brave or the foolish approach a Jarl without summons. What do you want, Imperial?"
"I have a message from the Greybeards."
"It's about time they turned their gaze from the heavens, back to our bleeding homeland. What do they want?"
"They want to negotiate a truce until the dragon menace has been dealt with," said Samuel.
Ulfric frowned. "I have the greatest respect for the Greybeards, of course. And the dragon attacks are a growing plague. But the political situation is still delicate. Not all the Jarls are fully committed to me as High King. I can't afford to appear weak. I can't agree to this unless Tullius himself will be there."
Samuel smiled. "General Tullius has already agreed to come."
"Good," said Ulfric. "We still hold half of Skyrim despite everything the Empire could throw at us. I doubt the Empire has the stomach for much more bloodletting."
"So you'll come to the council?" asked Samuel.
"Yes. I'll give Tullius one more chance to quit Skyrim with his tail between his legs."
Samuel walked into High Hrothgar. Arngeir and the other Greybeards stood in the entrance hall.
"So you've done it," said Arngeir. "The men of violence are gathered here, in these halls whose very stones are dedicated to peace. I should not have agreed to host this council. The Greybeards have no business involving ourselves in such matters."
"Don't worry. I'll get them to agree to peace," said Samuel.
"Peace? I doubt it," said Arngeir. They may put down their weapons for a moment, but only to gather enough strength for more bloodletting. They are not yet tired of war. Far from it. Do you know the Ancient Nord word for war? Evgir unslaad. Season Unending...so it has proved. But regrets are pointless. Here we are. Take your seat at the council table and let us see what wisdom we can find among these warriors of Skyrim.
Samuel entered the council chamber. A large table with five seats on either side occupied the room. On the right side of the table sat General Tullius, Legate Rikke, Jarl Elisif the Fair of Solitude, Jarl Balgruff the Greater, and Ambassador Elenwen. On the left side sat Ulfric Stormcloak, his second-in-command Galmar Stone-Fist, Delphine, and Esbern. Two head tables sat on either side of each other. Arngeir took one. One seat was empty: Samuel's. He sat down.
Arngeir stood up. "Now that everyone is here, please take your seats so we can begin. I hope that we have all come here in the spirit of--"
"No!" shouted Ulfric, pointing at Elenwen. "You insult us by bringing her to this negotiation? Your chief Talos-hunter?!"
"That didn't take long," said Legate Rikke.
"Hear, hear!" said Galmar.
"I have every right to be at this council!" said Elenwen. "I need to ensure that nothing is agreed here that violates the terms of the White-Gold Concordat."
"She's part of the Imperial delegation," said Tullius. "You can't dictate who I bring to this council!"
Arngeir looked distressed. "Please. If we have to negotiate the terms of the negotiation, we will never get anywhere. Perhaps this would be a good time to get the Dragonborn's input on the manner."
Ulfric looked at him. "The nerve of these Imperials, eh? To think that I would sit down at the same table as that...Thalmor dog. Either she walks or I do."
Samuel bit his lip. "What's the harm?" he said carefully. "Besides, Tullius doesn't really want her here anyway."
Ulfric nodded. "Maybe so, but bringing her here is a deliberate provocation. Tullius needs to know I won't be pushed around."
'Let Tullius have his way on this. He'll have to give ground later," said Samuel.
"Hmm. It feels like a mistake to me, but I'll bow to your judgement on this. But she gets to observe, nothing more. We are negotiating with her, is that clear?"
Elenwen smiled sweetly. "Ulfric, why so hostile? After all, it's not the Thalmor that are burning your farms and killing your sons."
"She's supposed to be on our side?" muttered Legate Rikke.
"Now that that's settled, may we proceed?" said Arngeir.
"I have something to say first," said Ulfric.
"Here we go..." said Rikke.
"The only reason I agreed to attend this council was to deal with the dragon menace. There's nothing else to talk about, unless the Empire is finally ready to renounce its unjust claim to rule over the free people of Skyrim!"
"I knew he wouldn't be able to resist," muttered Rikke.
"We're here to offer a temporary truce to allow the Dragonborn here to deal with the dragons! Nothing more! I consider even talking to the Empire a generous gesture!"
"Are you done?" asked Tullius. "Did you just come her to make speeches or can we get down to business?"
"Yes, let's get this over with," said Ulfric.
"Are we ready to proceed?" said Arngeir. "Jarl Ulfric Stormcloak, General Tullius. This council is unprecedented. We are gathered at the Dragonborn's request. I ask you all respect the spirit of High Hrothgar, and do your best to best to begin the process of achieving a lasting peace in Skyrim. Who would like to open the negotiations?"
"Yes, let's get down to it," said Ulfric. "We want control of Markarth. That's our price for agreeing to a truce."
"So that why you're here, Ulfric?" said Jarl Elisif. "You dare insult the Greybeards by using this council to advance your own position?"
"Jarl Elisif, I'll handle this," said Tullius.
"General, this outrageous!" said Elisif. "You can't be taking this demand seriously! I thought we were to discuss a truce."
"Elisif!" shouted Tullius. "I said I'd handle it. Ulfric, you can't seriously expect us to give up Markarth at the negotiating table. You hope to gain in council what you've been unable to take in battle, is that it?"
"I'm sure Jarl Ulfric does not expect something for nothing," said Arngeir.
"Yes, that'd be entirely out of character," muttered Rikke.
"What would the Empire want in return?" asked Arngeir.
"Wait, General," said Elisif. "You don't intend to just hand over Markarth to that...traitor!"
"This is how the Empire repays us for our loyalty?" said Jarl Balgruff.
"Enough!" yelled Tullius. "First, let's be clear. This council wasn't my idea. I think it's a waste of time. You are a traitor to the Empire, and deserve a traitor's death. But at least I will negotiate in good faith." He turned to Samuel. "Since we're all here at your request, I'd like to hear what you think Markarth is worth."
Samuel thought for a moment. "How about Riften?"
"Hmm," said Tullius. "The Rift would help secure our communications in Cyrodiil...and threaten Ulfric's southern flank...You heard the man, Ulfric. We've made you a fair offer. Are you serious about these talks, or are you just here to posture?"
Ulfric sighed. "I expected better from you, Dragonborn. I came here in good faith, now it seems you help the Empire at every turn. As for you, General Tullius, I see now that Galmar was right. Talking to the Empire is just as useless as ever. If you think you can hold Markarth, you're as deluded as the Emperor when he signed away our freedom to the Thalmor. Skyrim will never again bow to your false Empire! Let's go, Galmar. I should have listened to you in the first place."
He and Galmar stood and started walking.
"You were always a fool, Ulfric!" said Tullius. "You're no better at diplomacy than you are on the battlefield."
Esbern stood up as well. "Stop! Are you blind to our danger that you can't see past your petty disagreements? Here you sit, arguing about...nothing! While the fate of the world hangs in the balance!"
Ulfric scoffed. "Is he with, Delphine? If so, I advise you to tell him to watch his tounge around a Jarl."
Delphine stood up. "He is with me. And I advise you both to listen to what he has to say, before you do anything rash."
"Don't you understand the danger?" continued Esbern. "Don't you understand what the return of the dragons means? Alduin has returned! The World-Eater! Even now, he devours the souls of your fallen comrades! He grows more powerful with every soldier slain in your pointless war! Can you not put aside your hatred for one another for even one moment in the face of this mortal danger?"
"A pretty speech," said Elenwen. "But what does this have to do with--"
"Shut up," said Ulfric, who had sat down with Galmar.
"I don't know about the end of the world," said Tullius. "But this dragon problem has gotten out of hand. If this truce will help the Dragonborn put an end to that menace, we both gain. Remember that, Ulfric. Now, back to the matter at hand."
"Don't hand me a plate of sheep's crap and call it venison," said Ulfric. "These terms are still not acceptable."
"I'm sure you something in ind," mused Tullius.
"Damn right, we do," said Galmar.
"You surrender Hjaalmarch to us," said Ulfric. "And take Jarl Igrod Ravencrone with you. Sorli the Builder will take over as Jarl of Morthal."
"Where do the demands stop, Ulfric?" asked Tullius. "Do you expect me to surrender all of Skyrim?"
"It seems I have no choice but to let the Dragonborn decide," said Ulfric. "Though I'm starting to doubt your fairness."
Samuel pondered for a moment. "The Empire should surrender Hjaalmarch, but should get Winterhold in return."
"I suppose that's the fairest deal we're likely to get," said Ulfric.
"It seems we have reached an agreement," said Arngeir. "Jarl Ulfric Stormcloak...General Tullius...These are the terms currently on the table. Markarth will be handed over to Ulfric's forces. Jarl Igmund will step down, and Thongvar Silver-Blood will be come Jarl of Markarth. The Stormcloaks will withdraw from the Rift, allowing Imperial troops unhindered access. Jarl Laila Law-Giver will step down, and Maven Black-Briar will become Jarl of Riften. Hjaalmarch will be turned over to Ulfric, with Sorli the Builder assuming the Jarlship. Ulfric will allow Imperial troops to enter Winterhold. Korir will replace Kraldar as Jarl. You both agree to this?"
"The sons of Skyrim will live up to their agreements," said Ulfric. "As long as the Imperials hold up to theirs. What about you, Elisif? Are these terms to your liking? Speak up. I'm sure General Tullius is waiting to do your bidding."
Elisif folded her arms. "I have nothing to say to that murderer. General, you've proven yourself a good friend to Skyrim. I continue to trust that you will do your utmost to safeguard our interests."
"Thank you, Elisif, I appreciate your loyalty," said Tullius. "The Empire can agree to these terms, yes. For a temporary truce, until the dragon menace is dealt with. After that, Ulfric...there will be a reckoning. Count on it."
Ulfric and Galmar started leaving. "Come on, Galmar. We've a lot of work to do."
Jarl Balgruff walked over to Samuel. "Giving up Markarth was a heavy price for this truce. I hope it was worth it."
"Jarl Balgruff," said Arngeir. "I assume you are familiar with the Dragonborn's plan?"
"Yes, I'm ready to do my part. Just say the word, and my men will be ready to help you spring this trap."
"But the difficulty remains," said Arngeir. "How to lure a dragon to Dragonsreach at all?"
"Well, that's an excellent question," said Tullius. "You haven't overlooked that little detail, have you?"
"Ah," said Esbern. "I believe I can help you there. I anticipated this problem. While you were arranging this meeting, I was busy in the library of Sky Haven Temple. An unguessed trove of lost lore...but the important thing is that the Blades recorded the many of the names of dragons they slew. Cross-referencing this with Delphine's map of dragon burial sites, and I believe I've identified one of the dragons that Alduin raised up."
Samuel frowned. "How does that help us?"
"Ah, don't you see? The names of dragons are always three Words of Power. Shouts. By calling the dragon with the Voice, he will hear you wherever he may be."
"Why would he come when called?"
"He's not compelled to, but dragons are prideful by nature and loath to refuse a challenge. Your Voice in particular is likely to intrigue this dragon, after your victory over Alduin. I think it very likely that he will be unable to resist investigating your call."
"So what's the dragon's name?" asked Samuel.
"Ah, indeed. I'm no master of the Voice like these worthy gentlemen, but it is written here in this scroll. Od--Ah--Viing. Winged Snow Hunter, as I read it."