I took a detour on my way back to Whiterun. The Stormcloaks were on their way there, and I was in no hurry to see the town burn.
When I'd first entered Whiterun, I hadn't yet taken ten paces past the city gates before I'd been asked whether I sided with Clan Battle-Born or Clan Grey-Mane. After some discussion, I'd learned that Clan Grey-Mane, an ancient and venerable clan, had sided with pro-Stormcloak elements in Whiterun and the jarl's court, while Battle-Born had chosen the financial comfort of imperial affiliation. Over the course of my time in Whiterun, I came to hear that a member of the Grey-Mane family had been secretly kidnapped by Thalmor and imprisoned in a fort along the north coast. As a direct agent of Ulfric, it seemed worthwhile to help the local sympathizers. And I would get a chance to meet these Thalmor I've been hearing about.
I've since freed Thorald Grey-Mane. He asked me to bring word back to this family in Whiterun. I hope the town is still there.
The Thalmor lived up to their reputation. They weren't about to release Thorald Grey-Mane — at least not without direct Imperial order, and I didn't exactly have strong friends within the Legion. (You may recall that the Legion had tried to execute me.) It turns out they're not just antisocial; they were torturing Thorald. Once I'd rescued him, he asked me to get word to his family that he was not returning to Whiterun, assuming that he would have to hide or risk bringing Thalmor to his family home.
The Stormcloaks don't know about my trip to High Hrothgar yet. What they do know is that Whiterun is old, and largely built of ancient hardwood on the dry steppe of central Skyrim. Like anywhere else in Skyrim, the winds were strong and will cut your cheeks with whipped snow. It's no place to lay a siege, but it's an easy place for fire to spread. The Stormcloaks would not patiently wait for Jarl Balgruuf to surrender while they stayed camped in the elements, vulnerable to counterattack by Imperial reinforcements. No, the Stormcloaks would come hard and fast. Whiterun would burn.
Whiterun might be burning now, and fire doesn't pick sides.
The magnificence of the city aside, that meant that the home of Clan Grey-Mane might be burning now. How could I get word to Thorald's family if his family had been scattered to the winds along with the ashes of their home?
This is Balgruuf's fault. Ulfric may not know about the Dragonborn, but Balgruuf certainly does. I'd just killed a dragon when last we spoke. I had been summoned by the Greybeards to High Hrothgar. Jarl Balgruuf may not know this, but I've even confronted and bested the Daedra Lord Sheogorath after an unexpected trip to the outskirts of Solitude. During my short stay in Whiterun, it seems every guard there had come to respect me as "Dragonborn" — at least when they weren't cracking wise about my love of sweet rolls.
I command the Wabbajack. I speak in the tongues of men and of dragons. Looking around Dragonsreach, I see no person with better armor or weapons than mine. It strikes me that the home of the Companions would be a bit better at respecting the strength they're facing in me.
But Balgruuf returned Ulfric's ax, even claiming that Whiterun had defeated the dragon, not me. I might be able to handle that slight, if it weren't part of a justification for inviting so much death to Whiterun.
And not only did he invite the death of his people. Balgruuf invited the Legion in.
Hopefully Balgruuf would put the Legion on the front lines. He was respectful in returning the ax. He'd expressed remorse at being forced into the White-Gold Concordat. Maybe he isn't so bad.
Maybe the whole situation isn't as bad as I feel. What was that Thorald had said? "Suffer the winter's cold wind, for it bears aloft next summer's seeds." There certainly is a hard wind blowing through Skyrim these days. I suppose my own breath propels that wind. But I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't think it was right, if I didn't think that this wind carried the seeds of a better future.
And at least I hadn't put down money on buying a home in Whiterun.
Enough thought. I need to see if the Grey-Manes are still in Whiterun, or at least to join the Stormcloaks. Perhaps I could help the Grey-Manes survive the fight. If nothing else, I should be able to get things over with more quickly.