Balgruuf found it hard to pin down why the Dragonborn got to him the way he did. The man was just an ageing Breton spellsword, dressed in his usual leather armour, glass war axe on one hip and a golden sword that was said to burn like the sun on the other, accompanied by his daughter and his Orc bodyguard Borkul, and was being perfectly charming and polite as he always was. And yet something about him rattled Balgruuf somehow, as if the man was secretly plotting something. It was the eyes. Those light blue, almost silver eyes that seemed to pierce right into Balgruuf's soul, cold and bright and seeming to disdain Whiterun and everything in it. Balgruuf also suspected it was not a coincidence that not long after Medane had visited the city for the first time, Heimskr had been brutally murdered in his own home with the words “WHERE IS YOUR GOD NOW?” painted on the wall in the man's own blood, but no one could ever prove anything.
Still, he had saved the city from dragons on a number of occasions, not to mention turning up unexpectedly one day with the Dragonstone after Balgruuf had started putting out word his court mage was looking for it and was offering gold, and Lydia, after being assigned to his service for a good three months now, said he was a perfect gentleman. No doubt about it, Medane Dareche was a complicated man.
Said complicated man was now before his throne again, and Balgruuf could have sworn the man had just asked if he could trap a dragon in his palace.
“That's right,” Medane confirmed in that gravelly eastern High Rock accent of his. “I know, I know, it's a crazy idea, but it's very important we capture one and I'm not sure I could rig up a halfway decent dragon trap on my own in time.”
“You want to trap a dragon?? Here?” Balgruuf roared. “Have you taken leave of your senses, man? That thing could burn down half my city!”
“And that would be...? I mean, that would be a problem, yes, I can quite see that,” said Medane quickly. “But dragons have attacked the city before, and yet it's still standing.”
“There's a difference between one turning up and luring one here on purpose!” Balgruuf cried. “And what about Ulfric, hmm? Do you think he's going to stay put while a dragon ravages my Hold? No! Once he gets wind of what we're planning, he'll get troops in position, wait for it all to go wrong and take advantage of the aftermath! Absolutely not, Medane. What you're asking for is insane!”
Medane didn't answer. At the mention of Ulfric's name, both he and his two companions had gone very still, a little frisson passing between them, and Medane was now looking very thoughtful, eyes narrowed.
“What if Ulfric were no longer a factor?” Medane asked, stroking his chin.
“What do you mean?” Balgruuf asked, a sense of unease prickling at the back of his neck.
“What if Ulfric were no longer in a position to attack?” Medane repeated. “Would you do it then?”
Balgruuf sat up, staring at Medane. The man actually looked serious, as if he might, just might, be able to do something about the civil war.
“If Ulfric were no longer camped on my borders waiting to attack, then yes, I'd happily consider assisting in your mad dragon trapping scheme,” Balgruuf sighed.
“You mean it?” Medane pressed. “You swear it on your honour as Jarl?”
“Yes, yes, I swear on my honour as Jarl that if the civil war ceases to be a problem, I will help you trap a dragon in my palace,” Balgruuf sighed. Anything to get the madman off his back. What were the chances of having to honour this promise? Not like Medane Dareche had an army at his back after all.
A week later and two Bretons, father and daughter, and their Orc bodyguard, were seen chatting to Susannah the Wicked in Windhelm, and later hanging out in the New Gnisis Cornerclub and on the docks.
Three weeks after that, and the Argonians were bringing in a lot more shipments than usual, from ships that all seemed to be crewed by Bretons and brought a lot of cargo in by night, but never seemed to take anything away. Meanwhile the Dunmer were looking just that bit more cheerful than usual, and even took Rolff's abuse with a smile.
Two weeks after that, and the uprising happened. Rolff Stone-Fist was out in the Grey Quarter shouting his usual abuse, heard the flare of magic and cries of “The Forsworn shall rise again!” and the last thing he saw was a horde of fur-clad barbarians swathed in flame cloaks pouring out of the Dunmer homes around him.
The guards were quickly overwhelmed, although those that surrendered were spared and homes and businesses were left alone. The effort focused on the Palace of the Kings, and the building might have held had those two new Stormcloak recruits, Borkul the Orc and Lydia Ice-Veins not turned traitor, killed the gate guards and opened the doors to the howling Forsworn horde, led by none other than the feared King in Rags himself, Madanach of the Reach, wielding his Destruction magic to devastating effect.
Ulfric appeared in his steel plate armour, sword at his side, shouting “I have won this battle before, Madanach! FUS RO DAH!”
To his eternal surprise, all the Forsworn soldiers threw up wards in unison as soon as the first syllable left his lips, and Madanach staggered but did not fall. Then he just looked up, cruel, vicious smile on his face that none who saw it ever forgot.
“Is that all?” he purred. “SU GRAH DUN!”
No ordinary mortal should ever have been able to move that fast, but Madanach of the Reach had left behind all claim to being one of those the night he'd finally decided his people needed him and broken out of Cidhna Mine, run into a dragon on the way back, managed to kill it with help from his fellow ex-prisoners and then staggered back in shock as the thing fell apart in fire and yielded up its soul, and suddenly those strange glowing words on all those walls in the various Forsworn hideouts finally made sense. Much research later, not to mention sending Kaie and Odvan off to Solitude in disguise with orders to find some students at the Bards' College, buy them drinks and get every single story about dragons off them they remembered, and Madanach had felt his world pivoting on one single word: Dragonborn.
It had been a bit of a shock to put it mildly, but he was a practical man and once he'd finished calming his nerves with strong drink, he'd admitted the Nords might have some use after all, and trekked up to High Hrothgar.
The result was currently tearing into Ulfric Stormcloak, laughing like a madman as the fruits of all those dragons killed, all those Words of Power his Forsworn had diligently scoured Skyrim for, copying down the strange markings and bringing them back to him, finally ripened. Ulfric didn't stand a chance. Between the brutally fast axe blows, flame cloak, and Madanach's beloved Dawnbreaker leaving fire in its wake, it was all over far too soon for Madanach's liking. Ulfric fell to his knees, bleeding from a thousand cuts, his housecarl Galmar already having fallen to Borkul's axe, with Kaie and Uraccen's magic as backup.
He looked up, seeing Madanach standing over him, pulling off that Forsworn headdress and finally letting Ulfric see his face clearly. Older, harder, a few new scars, but still recognisably the man whose hate-filled eyes had glared at him as they'd hauled him off to prison. He wasn't glaring now, quite the reverse.
“Any last words, Stormcloak?” Madanach laughed, passing his axe off to Braig and transferring Dawnbreaker to his right hand as his flame cloak sputtered out.
“You're the damn Dragonborn,” Ulfric gasped, knowing his strength was failing and his cause was lost. For the gods to give the dragon blood to the Witch-King who didn't even believe in the Eight Divines and certainly didn't follow Talos was a cruel, cruel irony.
“Yes,” Madanach replied, still sounding as if he couldn't quite believe it himself. Ulfric just shook his head, laughing to himself.
“The wuldsetiid makes fools of us all,” Ulfric gasped, every breath a trial now and yet he treasured them all. They'd likely be his last. “Go on then, Witch-King. Give me a death to sing about.”
“We will dance after yours has ended, I promise you that,” Madanach growled, swinging Dawnbreaker down in one flowing motion, ending both a life and a war in one move.
“Now what, boss?” Borkul asked, staring down at the ex-Jarl of Windhelm.
“Get this mess cleared up, this city must have a Hall of the Dead somewhere,” Madanach yawned. He'd been fighting for hours and was feeling his age. “I want guards on patrol tonight, although I doubt anyone's going to be leaving their house until sunrise. Uraccen, get the prisoners to the cells. Let's see what sort of city Ulfric's been running here. From what our Dunmer friends have been telling me, I have a feeling we have a tough job ahead of us. And someone get some fire runes cast on the walls, this place is freezing.”
As the massed Forsworn set to work, Madanach sat back in Ulfric's throne and closed his eyes, feeling rather pleased with himself. The Nords had taken his lands? He'd take theirs. Madanach ap Caradach, Jarl of Windhelm. It had a pleasing ring to it. It was just a pity his new city was so damn cold...
It took two weeks for the Legion to respond and lay siege to the newly-conquered city. It took a further five days of protracted negotiations and Imperial observers making sure Madanach was not actually slaughtering the citizens of Windhelm for his own entertainment, and aside from having had Calixto Corrium impaled on a stake in front of the Palace of Kings and left to die for nearly two days (would have been more but people were complaining about the screaming) (and after testimony from Viola Giordano, Brunwulf Free-Winter and Belyn Hlaalu regarding the evidence found in Corrium's home and in an abandoned house in the west of the city, the Imperial officers investigating found it hard to really fault Madanach's judgement there), there was really very little to complain about regarding his custodianship of the city. Madanach had even adopted two young orphan children living rough in the city, and Sofie and Aventus ap Madanach were said to be doing very well and loving their new father and his impressive illusion magic and bloodthirsty stories.
In the end, a peace deal finally got hammered out – Elisif had been incensed at her country being partitioned, right up until finally meeting Madanach in person and realising he was the charming Breton mercenary who'd cheerfully sorted out that whole Potema mess for her. He'd kept on being that charming Breton mercenary, offering her drinks, inquiring after her health, shamelessly deploying his new children to devastating effect, and assuring her Torygg was quite, quite avenged and Elisif need not worry any more, justice was done. After a whole evening of this, Elisif had returned to Tullius looking quite starstruck and saying what a lovely man he was and how she was sure Windhelm was safe in his hands. At which point, Madanach had coughed quietly and said it wasn't really appropriate for a Reachman to be ruling Ysgramor's city, but he'd be happy to step down in favour of Igmund Hrolfdirsson if it meant he could step in and take over the Reach. And if this could happen quickly, he'd greatly appreciate it as Viola Giordano kept visiting the Palace with an Amulet of Mara round her neck and he was running out of invisibility potions.
And so it happened that Igmund, former Jarl of the Reach, found himself governing the City of Kings while Madanach returned to Markarth in triumph, the story having been blown out of all proportion by this point and involved him turning into a dragon and descending on Windhelm in a rain of fire and blood, ripping the roof off Ulfric's palace and eating the man whole. Madanach just smiled and let them get on with it. He'd not got where he had in life by not knowing how to cultivate his public image.
And so it was that after all the dust had settled and Madanach had signed all the necessary treaties and got the Reach in order, Jarl Balgruuf received notice of an official state visit from said newly-crowned Reach-King. He'd been prepared for a lot of things, but not the mercenary formerly known as Medane Dareche turning up at the head of a troop of armed Forsworn, with his daughter and heir Princess Kaie on one side and Balgruuf's own former housecarl on the other. He'd definitely not been prepared for Ulfric Stormcloak's preserved head to be thrown at his feet, while Madanach just glared at him.
“Now can we use your damn palace?”