Chapter 3: Forsworn
Bronmir drank deeply from a water skin while Throngarr stoked the flames of the fire they had built not an hour hence. He shivered. He knew Skyrim would be cold but this was far from his expectation. The older warrior laughed deep in his throat.

“You really are an Imperial at heart,” Throngarr chuckled. “It’s not even cold!

Before Bronmir could respond, Throngarr threw a charred rabbit haunch at him.

“‘Ere, eat this. You’ll feel better.”

Bronmir murmured in thanks and took a bite from the leg. The meat was tough and gamey, not much flavor, but it was roasted well and it was warm enough.

“It’s too bad that I’ve already drunk all my spiced mead,” the grizzled veteran grumbled. “That would warm you up right quick, and I’m a bit thirsty meself.”

“You really do drink your weight, old man,” Bronmir chuckled. He withdrew a bottle of brandy from his own pack and carefully extricated the cork, taking a deep draw from the fiery liquid, feeling the spices and alcohol warm his throat and spread throughout his body. He offered it to Throngarr, who hastily took it, murmured his own thanks, and took an equally deep swallow.

Upon swallowing, the old Nord coughed. “This isn’t Nord mead, but it’s not bad. Who made this, boy?”

“Cyrodiilic Firebrandy. I thought it might be more exquisite than you might typically drink. It runs about eighty septims, give or take. A far cry from the cheap mead you’re accustomed to. Not that Nord mead is bad, just cheap.”

The old man laughed yet again.

“Cyrodiilic Brandy, eh? I have not tasted this stuff since I was a Lieutenant-General in the Imperial Army. You are quite right, my friend. It is too expensive for me. Delicious, but the little coin I’ve left from my time as a soldier…. Well, let’s just say no, I don’t feel right buying it.” He took another sip, then handed the bottle back to Bronmir.

“Why’d you leave the Empire, if you don’t mind me asking?” Bronmir asked.

“Difference of opinion, we shall say. Though I know they hadn’t much choice, I wasn’t okay with the signing of the White-Gold Concordat. The Elves were thinning, damn it! I know we could have beaten them! The treaty was as much to save themselves as it was to save ourselves!”

“Well, the Emperor thought differently. He did what was best for the Empire.”

“I understand that, but it was a coward’s decision. This Empire was built on blood, not kowtowing to the Dominion! We should still be fighting them!”

“Well, some of the Nords do still fight, it seems.”

And then the Nord soldier did heave a mighty laugh. “Those Stormcloaks? I had the pleasure of once commanding that upstart Jarl Ulfric. A fine warrior, great battle sense. He could use the Thu’um, you know. A good grasp of politics, but he was always loyal to the Empire. I don’t know what happened, but when he finally returned from the war – you know the Dominion captured and tortured him – he was angry and resentful. And now, though he knows the Empire’s best chance against the Dominion is to stay as one, he is rebelling.

“He doesn’t seem to understand that, despite the signing of the Concordat being pretty much against everything we Nords stand for, it keeps the Dominion from continuing to attack us. So we have to give up the worship of Talos. I don’t like it, but I can tolerate it. No. With how much we lost in the Great War, the last thing this Empire needs is a form of secession. He claims to fight for our people, but this division only makes us weaker.

“He is a fool. He is doing exactly what the Thalmor want! They have always resented Nords for our worship of Talos. They scoffed at it. How could a mortal become Divine? It was preposterous to them. The only reason it was one of their demands with this Concordat was because they knew it would make much of Skyrim angry, and, aside from those from Yokuda, the Redguards, us Nords are their biggest threat. We were the backbone of the Imperial army! Without us, the Dominion would crush the Empire, but without the Empire, the Dominion will annihilate Skyrim!”

The heated Nord paused for a moment. “I…I am sorry. I did not mean to tirade like that. I just am strongly against what those Stormcloaks are trying to do, even if my love for the Empire is distant at best now, I just do not see how this cause of theirs will ever work in our favor.”

Bronmir had been sitting and listening intently for quite some time, pondering Throngarr’s every word, analyzing his emotions. He felt much the same way himself, though he hadn’t fought in the Great War so his emotions were less ingratiated than Throngarr’s.

“I met Ulfric Stormcloak, actually. A few months back, on the edge of Skyrim’s borders. Quite by accident. I was camping in the forests just on the edge of Cyrodiil, on the border, and got captured by a contingent of Stormcloaks and turned out Ulfric himself was there. He seemed passionate about his cause, but maybe a bit misdirected. He seems to harbor most of his resentment towards the Thalmor and the Emperor himself for agreeing to the White-Gold Concordat, but he is directing his rage onto the Empire and Skyrim’s people. That show of force with High-King Torygg was unnecessary. I’ve actually heard the late king might have even agreed with Ulfric, but he needed a martyr to rally the Nords behind him and to stake his claim as High-King, which is what he really wants.

“I may have only been in this country for a few months, but I’ve seen and heard enough to know Ulfric does not care about Skyrim. He just wants to rule independently.”

“I’m not so sure I agree with all of that, but you are right about one thing. He doesn’t care about Skyrim. This war of his is tearing the country apart. I do not know how much longer she might last.”

They sat in silence for a few more minutes, slowly sipping the Cyrodiilic Brandy Bronmir had uncorked. When the bottle was emptied, Throngarr mumbled a goodnight and turned over on his roll. He was soon snoring. Bronmir chuckled silently. He remained awake for a few minutes longer.

The Civil War bothered Bronmir greatly. As a Nord, Ulfric’s anger at being unable to worship Talos was in the right of heart, but the way in which he was expressing it was misplaced. At the same time, it was impossible to forget the threat of the Aldmeri Dominion, and the fact that the Empire’s presence was the only thing keeping the Dominion from invading Skyrim. Would it not be more permissible to accept that they could no longer openly worship Talos and had to entertain Thalmor ambassadors than to fight the overwhelming military superiority of the Aldmeri Dominion? Bronmir certainly thought so. Besides which, in any strong Empire, sacrifices have to be made to remain strong.

Bronmir shook himself and closed his eyes, laying his head on the bed roll. Thoughts for another time. For now, his only focus was reaching Winterhold as soon as possible. Breathing softly, he was soon fast asleep.

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He smelled it first. After the incident at Helgen, he knew that smell anywhere. Charcoal, acrid smoke, brimstone. The smell of something burning. Fire. Lots of it. Fire everywhere.

Bronmir opened his eyes and leapt to his feet, not even worrying about the fact he was half naked in the cold of Skyrim. Honestly, he did not even feel it too much. The fire was warm, heating the air around him.

It really was everywhere. The trees, the grass, half the village of Rorikstead was ablaze. It was strange. They hadn’t encountered so much as a Giant on the road to Rorikstead – in fact, it had been eerily quiet – but now here, something was clearly happening.

The villagers were shouting, a few scatterings of guardsmen were barking orders, passing buckets of water while others brandished swords, spears, and shields. On the hillside were fur-clad savages, wielding crude axes and horn-bows – fitted with flaming arrows.

Throngarr noticed Bronmir awake. “Forsworn!” he hissed. “We can either fight or flight.”

“These people have shown us kindness, for the most part. Ennis allowed us to use his farm ground to sleep on. We should help them.”

“So be it. Better get your axe ready.”

Bronmir put on his tunic and pulled out his axe. The very same from Helgen. He preferred a sword, but the iron was sturdy and it was made very well. He pulled it from the loop in his belt and looked up at the hillside. He’d heard of the Forsworn, the so called Witchmen of High Rock. From his understanding, Ulfric had destroyed all of them during the Markarth Incident. Seems these were a few survivors.

Either way, they were standing atop the hill, shouting and whooping, thrusting their weapons in the air. Amidst the madness, only one real phrase could be discerned: “The Reach belongs to the Forsworn!”

Without warning, the battle started. Flaming arrows began raining upon them as the Forsworn charged. Though they were savages, from the way they moved, Bronmir recognized they were accustomed to fighting. They lived in the hills, fighting to survive every day. The soldiers and villagers of Rorikstead knew no such plight. This would be a short battle unless Bronmir and Throngarr could do something about it.

Not taking any time to stop and think, Bronmir hefted his axe, rolled his shoulders to feel his studded jerkin – a trick he’d picked up from Lod in Falkreath, how to make armored clothing without it being heavy; it wasn’t perfect, but it would stop an arrow or a small blade – and rushed at the oncoming Forsworn. He did not turn to look, but he heard Throngarr stomping behind him.

Bronmir and Throngarr came upon the Forsworn like a clash of titans, Bronmir’s own axe a whirlwind in his hands, slicing through the Forsworn as easily as breathing. They may be used to fighting, but that did not mean they were particularly skilled. Throngarr was faring no worse, his twin war-axes barely visible as he danced. Bronmir did not fancy ever having to go into battle with the seasoned warrior – he might be old, but by the Divines was he still nimble and strong.

After only a few minutes, the last of the Forsworn fell, too proud or too stupid to run away. Bronmir dropped to the ground, heaving with exhaustion while Throngarr let out one of his famous laughs.

“What a glorious battle!” Throngarr cried. “Pity there were not more of them, but least this village is safe, thanks to us.”

Bronmir licked his lips, too tired to respond. More of them? It was lucky there were no more! He heaved himself from the ground and walked back to the makeshift tent he had erected the night before, when Ennis had relented to let them sleep on his farm ground. Wiping the blade of his axe, Bronmir took a drink from his waterskin. He started packing his stuff up – they had planned to move on in the morning anyway – but Throngarr put a hand to stop him.

“Our job is not quite done, friend. We should stay and help these people put out the fires before we depart.”

“You’re right, I wasn’t thinking about them. I guess I’m still in a daze from the battle.”

“Ah, to be young and stupid. I do not miss those days.”

“Shove off.”

Bronmir and Throngarr returned to the village and helped pass out buckets of water to fight the fires. Though they had only been raging for a few minutes, the fires seemed to have done so much damage as if they had been burning for far longer. One building was so damaged it had to be torn down and others would require days’ worth of repairs. Rorikstead had a long fortnight ahead of it.

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Though they had intended the stay at Rorikstead to have only been a night, Bronmir and Throngarr remained another three days, helping to rebuild the village. Bronmir in particular was put under much strain. As a blacksmith, he had the knowledge to craft the proper materials for the buildings, but he had only ever really made weapons and tools. Lod had begun teaching him about carpenter tools and the like, but they had not gotten to nails and fittings and hinges and various other things houses needed.

Even so, Bronmir pushed through, using every ounce of skill and intellect he had in helping these people, though he owed them nothing. Three days came and went and Bronmir realized how exhausted he really was, physically and mentally drained of all his energy.

“Bronmir!” called a now familiar voice. “Throngarr! Come to my manor! I want to thank the both of you for your hard work!” It was Rorik. The fortnight had come and gone and the village was just about repaired to entirety, with a few extra precautions built in with Bronmir’s skill. Throngarr had been a huge help, as well. Even if he wasn’t exactly a blacksmith or a carpenter, he was strong with steady hands, a perfect assistant.

Bronmir and Throngarr headed into Rorik’s manor after washing up, revealing that he had laid about a bountiful feast for the heroes of Rorikstead.
After the feast, Bronmir and Throngarr said their goodbyes to the townsfolk, then laid in their beds in the Inn, planning to shove off for Morthal early in the morning.

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Just before the sun came up, Bronmir and Throngarr packed their things, left some extra gold for the Innkeeper – Rorik had said not to worry about, that he wouldn’t let them pay after they’d done so much, and Throngarr was perfectly happy about that, being old enough to take graces when they came, but it left a sour taste in Bronmir’s mouth, to not pay for the rooms, or at least something – and trudged off, heading north-by-northeast.

The sun began to appear overhead but did little to warm their spirits. The weather was fair, but the coolness and stillness of the middle of Frostfall made it cold and frigid. Bronmir shivered and wrapped his fur cloak tighter as the wind picked up. Throngarr just laughed again, but this time didn’t make a foul comment.

As it reached midday, they found themselves in front of a bridge. Across the other side was a bandit camp.

“Well,” Throngarr commented. “This is quite a roadblock. Do we turn back and ignore them, find another way across?”

“No. If we turn back, how many innocents could they ensnare and hurt? We must put them down while we have the chance.”

Throngarr grunted his acquiescence. They both drew their axes and charged forward with battlecries, rushing at the bandit camp. The bandits weren’t expecting it, so they were ultimately caught unprepared. The two warriors smashed into the camp, breaking down on them like a tidal wave.

After a bloody battle, only two fighters were left. Heaving with exhaustion, they put down their axes and laid on the ground. The bandits had been destroyed.

Panting, sweat rolling in thick droplets from his atop his brow, Bronmir revealed a cloth and wiped the blood from his axe and then his face. “Much more of this, and I might have to retire soon!”

Throngarr chuckled, then wheezed and coughed. “You and me both, lad. We are close to Dragon Bridge. I think I see the crest of the Overlook just around the hill. We can make it before nightfall, and rest in the Four Shields Tavern before resuming our journey.”

Bronmir pondered this for a moment. Dragon Bridge was to the west, a bit from the path they had mapped out. However, it was the closest village between them and Morthal. Morthal was still several days off. It would be nice to sleep in a bed one more time before having to make camp the next few days.

After resting for a few more moment, Bronmir and Throngarr cleaned themselves off, took whatever they could scavenge from the camp – some salted meats and cheeses, two full waterskins, a handful of gold Septims, and – Kyne be blessed! – a large sack full of precious gemstones and rare ores. The two warriors then trotted off down the road, with Dragon Bridge as their destination.

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Bronmir awoke to inky, black darkness and a dull throbbing in the back of his head. He struggled to rise, only to notice his body wasn’t responding. He felt groggy and heavy, like he hadn’t slept in a week and had gained a few dozen pounds. He’d felt this feeling before, when the Legion was training them to resist poison and the first time he’d gotten drunk. He’d been drugged! It seemed he had been hit on the back of his head with some kind of club as well, and then perhaps also tied up. It felt like he was bound by ropes, atop the pain in his head and the sluggishness of his body.

But who? Who would drug him and tie him up? And why? And where was Throngarr? What had happened? Why couldn’t he remember anything from after the scuffle with the bandits? What was going on? Where were they?

A groan erupted next to him and he realized Throngarr and himself must be right next to each other. Without warning, a slit in the darkness appeared, as though slashed by an illusory blade, and sharp, stinging, white light burst from the laceration, blinding Bronmir. He felt his eyes well with tears at the sudden onslaught of pure whiteness, a stark contrast to the black darkness from before. Just as suddenly, it closed, and the light was cutoff and everything was black again. However, it had in no way helped Bronmir’s headache, which roared in the back of his head like a raging circus now, stampeding this way and that. He wished it would end. Pain, he determined, was not something he enjoyed.

“Ah,” a scratchy voice said. “This one is awake. Good. You are a strong one. We had to give you a triple dose of Forkroot and club you before you would sleep. Your friend proved just as resilient. But you are calm now, yes? Good. Good. The Hags want to use you in their ritual. Well, not you, your bodies. Have you heard of the Briarheart? No? Well, you will soon see!” He – Bronmir guessed it was a he – left with a cackle, once again exposing Bronmir’s eyes to the torturous sunlight.

Briarheart? Forsworn? It must be. Only they commune with the Hagravens to create undead warriors of unusual power through the embedding of a Briarheart within their bodies. Wait…did that mean they meant for Bronmir and Throngarr to become Briarhearts? No! That cannot happen!
Bronmir thrashed and struggled against his bonds, desperate to break free. Despite the strength of the ropes, he could feel them slowly begin to slip, as though they weren’t tied with extreme caution. It was certainly possible. After all, they were drugged, so perhaps the Forsworn figured they didn’t need to be as constricting with their captives.

Bronmir kept fighting, pushing against the loosened knots, striving to escape before the Forsworn returned. It felt hopeless. They could be back any second. The thought made him work harder, though he knew the situation was a bad one.

Mayhap Lady Kyne is punishing me for unknown sins…. The thought wasn’t comforting at all, to say the least.

After what felt to be hours, at last the bonds slipped free and that was when he noticed the burning sensation on his wrists and hands. In his attempt to break free, surged with adrenaline, he hadn’t noticed. The bonds hadn’t been loose at all. He ignored the pain for now. He needed to free Throngarr and escape before he lost too much blood. Once they were in the clear, he could heal himself. Restoration magic was useful that way, though he hadn’t much skill with that either. It would do until they could reach a village with an apothecary or a temple.

Bronmir strained in the darkness to locate his companion. He feebly felt around with his hands, doing his best to not make his own situation even worse. After precious seconds, he located Throngarr’s wrists, and set to work untying the knots. It was difficult. The blood dripping from his wounds made it tough to grasp the ropes, while the ropes themselves cut into his stripped and mangled flesh. He wanted to cry out, the pain was intense, but he grit his teeth and steeled his resolve. Even if he failed to save himself, he could at least ensure Throngarr might not suffer the same fate.

With one last mighty wrench, the knots fell and Throngarr was released, though there was still the issue of Throngarr still being under whatever drug had been used upon them. The Forsworn from earlier had mentioned something…some kind of herb…what was it? His mother had tended a general goods store, but she was knowledgeable of many things. If he could remember what it was, perhaps one of the things she taught him might come in handy….

Like a lightning bolt, his memory surfaced. Forkroot! Not that it did him any good. He’d never heard of it before, but it was something. Without much other choice, Bronmir attempted to resuscitate his fallen comrade with cranial recalibration. It worked.

Throngarr groaned and opened his eyes, the pain in his head worse than before.

“What….what happened? Why does my head ring so?” he asked.

“Forsworn. They clubbed and drugged us. I managed to release our bonds, but you were still unconscious, so I hit you really hard in the head. We need to get out of here. I think we were captured by Forsworn. I hear something about Hags and Briarheart. I think they mean for us to fall under the spell of a Hagraven!”

“That doesn’t sound so fun. If we can find our stuff, we can probably fight our way through.”

“You might be able to, but I’m not sure I could hold my axe. I tore the skin from my hands and wrists struggling out of my own bonds. It was all I could do just to get yours off.”

“That’s bad. We need to get to safety, then. See if we can close your wounds. Then maybe we can find our way back here and destroy these disgusting Forsworn and get our stuff back.”

“As good a plan as any. Let’s go. We’re wasting time.” Without another word, Bronmir tenderly lifted up the tent flap, squinting his eyes against the blazing light from the midday sun. That alone was cause for worry. It had been after midday when they set off from the bandit camp towards Dragon Bridge. How long had they been unconscious in the Forsworn camp?

Of course, that did nothing to settle him for what he saw. There were at least half a dozen tents set up outside their own, and perhaps twice that number of Forsworn patrolling the camp.

Bronmir retreated back into their tent. “I see at least a dozen Forsworn, and probably half that around their borders. Thankfully, we do appear to be more on the edge, close to the tree line. If we rush for it and stay low, I’m sure we can make it. Either way, we need to move soon. No idea when they’re coming back to check on us, and I won’t last much longer.”

Throngarr pondered their options, few though they were, for a moment. “Guess we’ve got no choice. If they spot us, just keep running. We’ll run all the way to wherever we go if we have to. You ready?”

Bronmir merely nodded his compliance. Together, the two Nord warriors carefully snuck out of the tent. Lady Kyne must have been smiling on them, for they made it out of the Forsworn Stronghold without much effort. There was one point where they thought they had been spotted, but the Forsworn in question had simply been too drunk to notice.

After escaping from the trees, they realized they were on the Overlook, and could see Dragon Bridge in the distance. It was close!

Sharing eager smiles, they cautiously climbed down the cliff and made their way down the road and across the great Dragon Bridge after which the village was named. Once in the township, it was a simple matter to find someone both capable and willing to heal Bronmir’s wounds without asking too many questions. Of course, it then allowed them to realize a slightly bigger problem.

A look of shock almost encroaching fear appeared on Throngarr’s face when he realized. “They took all of our stuff! We have no money!”

Bronmir sighed. “We knew that. The plan was to get weapons and go back to…oh, by the Divines. What’re we going to do? This is quite the predicament.”

Throngarr thumped Bronmir on the head. “You’re a great, hairy lummox, aren’t you? What did you think I meant by ‘they took all of our stuff’?”

“I wasn’t thinking,” Bronmir responded, slightly flustered.

“A more obvious statement has never been made. No use bickering over it. That won’t get our stuff back. We’re just gonna have to bust in there and fight for our stuff and then kill them all.”

Bronmir grimaced at the thought of taking on the Forsworn with his bare hands, but they might have the element of surprise if they move quickly enough.

“All right, let’s go. I’m feeling up to it. Best get to it before they have a chance to notice we’re gone, if they haven’t already.”

Without another word, they set off back in direction of the Forsworn camp. The sun was just beginning to descend the horizon when they reached the cliffside. Looking up it, Bronmir wondered how he ever scrambled down it with his hands injured the way they had been only a few hours earlier. He grit his teeth, putting the thought out of his mind, and started climbing it alongside Throngarr. He was glad the grizzled veteran was still by his side. They seemed to have encountered the worst luck together, it was a mystery why he stuck around.

Bronmir heaved himself up over the edge of the cliff and rested for a moment, catching his breath in the safety of the trees before getting to his feet and following Throngarr back towards the Forsworn camp. It was a foolhardy mission, to be sure, but they did need their stuff back. It would be a long and uncomfortable journey without money alone, much less their weapons and, most importantly, their provisions.

As they approached the camp, they kept low and quiet, doing their best to remain hidden. Suddenly, a shadowy figure entered Bronmir’s vision.

“Get down!” Bronmir hissed at Throngarr as he noticed a scout enter their field of view. He appeared to be alone, which was perfect.

The two warriors remained hidden, laying beneath the tall grass and leaves, just out of sight. As the scout passed by them, Bronmir erupted from the ground, Throngarr following, and they attacked the surprised Forsworn scout, knocking him clean out before he had a chance to scream or shout.

Now that they had weapons – Throngarr took the scout’s axe while Bronmir took the horn bow – the odds were a bit more even. The seasoned veterans made short work of the camp and quickly found their things, among other various scores.

As they were leaving, Bronmir spotted a glint from a sack they had overlooked. He walked over to it and, upon further inspection, it contained an ancient shortsword, made in a style similar to that of the Ancient Nords, but a bit more decorative and embellished. There were ancient runes inscribed upon the hilt, but Bronmir was no scholar. He knew there was one place they might be deciphered. The College of Winterhold. The need to reach Winterhold grew with every passing moment.

Could this sword be a relic of the ancient history of Nords and Skyrim, or was it simply a trinket crafted by a daydreaming smith, longing for battle? Only Winterhold would uncover new secrets and unearth old truths.

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