Chapter 1: A Chance Meeting

Bronmir drank from his water skin and sighed, wiping sweat from his brow. Who would have guessed travelling from the Imperial City all the way to Falkreath would be so…tiresome? Grunting at no one in particular, he capped his skin and stood from the fallen tree he had been resting upon, brushing dust and debris from his pants. He pulled out his map and carefully examined it. After all, before him was a fork in the road. He needed to be sure he was taking the right path, lest he get lost. Surely getting lost this close to the edge of Skyrim would be disastrous. According to his map, the right path was a direct road to Falkreath, though it would take several hours yet, but if he took the left path, he could cut through the forest and make it there before nightfall. Take the direct path and have to set up camp and make it there tomorrow, or take the indirect path and take a shortcut. It did not take him long to decide.

Wiping yet more sweat from his brow, he shouldered his knapsack and leather bag, made sure his steel sword was fastened securely to his belt, and headed down the path, turning right at the fork. Best to not risk getting lost in the forest.


A few hours later….


Bronmir had set up a small fire to roast the rabbits he’d managed to snare earlier that day. Though they hadn’t much meat, and the meat on them was tough and gamey, it was still a far better meal than the fish and stale bread he’d been eating.

There was a stream he’d found to set up his camp near – no so close as to attract unwanted attention by anyone who might be nearing the stream, but close enough that it was only a short walk to it. Leaving his camp, he left to fill his water skin – which he’d just used to douse his fire. However, as he was returning, he heard a rustling of the brush. Though he knew better, curiosity swayed him into investigating the source of the noise.

As he approached where he’d heard the sound from, Bronmir noticed there was nothing there to be noticed at all. Maybe he’d been imagining it? Shaking his head, he began to turn back when something caught his eye. He moved towards whatever it was and studied it. A piece of fabric, caught on a branch.

Setting his skin down, Bronmir pulled it from the branch and inspected it more closely. A piece of padded fur, not fabric. From the density and smell, probably a bear. It had definitely come off someone kind of hide armor or cloak.

“This is strange,” he said aloud. “Who would be out here wearing bear fur?” Shaking his head again, he dropped it, opting to ignore it and return to his camp.

As he reached his campsite, he sat down and took a drink from his skin when he noticed something disturbing. His armor, sword, and shield, which had been securely fastened to his knapsack before he’d left to get water, were now curiously missing.

“By the Divines, what is happening here?”

He grabbed his firestone and struck it, breathing a bit of magicka into the sparks, giving them life atop his outstretched hand. He was not too adept with destruction magics, but he made do where he could.

Bronmir searched his campsite and the nearby surroundings, looking for a sign of his armor – or the thief, for surely no animal could have cut the bonds on his knapsack and walked off with his armor. As he was searching, he saw shimmering lights, the sign of a distant camp. Snuffing his flame, he crept closer, so he could see who they were and maybe see if they had his armor and weapon.

While watching, he felt the tip of a blade press against his side. Raising his hands, he slowly stood.

“You, imperial spy scum, who are you, what are you doing here?” a gruff voice said from behind him.

Imperial spy? What is he talking about? Bronmir swallowed. “I am no imperial spy. My name is Bronmir. I am a visitor to Skyrim, traveling while I am still in my youth.” He felt it wise to not mention he was here because of what he had discovered in his mother’s possessions not six months ago. He did, however, feel he should not withhold certain information. “I was camping by the river and went to fill my waterskin. Upon my return, my things were missing, and I saw the lights of your fires while searching for them.”

He felt the blade lower, so he turned to see a soldier wearing fur armors with a blue leather jerkin. The blonde hair and blue eyes identified the soldier as a Nord.

“You look Nord, but Bronmir sounds like an imperial name to me. Who are you?”

“Well, I think it is an imperial name. I am a Nord, but I was born in Cyrodiil, Bruma to be specific. Like I said, I’m a traveler. I left Cyrodiil to find my fortune in Skyrim before age prevented me from coming here and seeing the homeland of my heritage.”

The soldier sheathed his blade. “I think you’re being honest. You definitely don’t smell like a spy. But we can’t just let you wander around right now. You’re going to have to come with us until such a time we can let you go. Walk to the camp.”

Bronmir sighed, realizing he had no option to argue. He walked towards the camp and found it was much larger than it had appeared. At least half a dozen tents with a few fires and a workbench for a smith, as well as nearly twenty soldiers dressed in a similar fashion to the one behind him, plus what appeared to be two or three higher ranking members of whatever Nordic army this appeared to be.

As he approached the camp, a few of the soldiers drew weapons, then relaxed when they saw their comrade behind him. Swallowing, Bronmir proceeded and stopped when instructed. The guard or scout who had caught him reported to who was clearly his superior. This soldier, who was wearing more intimidating garb as well as a fur cloak, approached him, sizing him up.

“Judging from the way you hold yourself,” the man said, in a gruff and commanding voice, leading Bronmir to assume this was the officer of the group, “You are more than just a traveler. You clearly have some training. And did you not mention something to the effect of looking for your armor? A common milk drinker wouldn’t be wandering these woods with armor with the civil war going on.”

Civil war? “What Civil War?”

The man scoffed. “You have to have been living under a rock if you’ve not heard of the Civil War. Where have you been these past few months?”

“On the road, actually. Like I said, I’m from Bruma, travelling to Skyrim. I haven’t exactly been worrying about making good time, more of enjoying the journey than anything. I also have been avoiding villages, because I like the country side. I stop in them to restock on supplies, but don’t really stick around long enough to pick up gossip.”

The man pondered this for a moment. “I see. Well, then, you’re in for a treat. For if you are a true Nord as you claim, you should enjoy this spectacle. I am Ulfric Stormcloak, Jarl of Windhelm, the true High King of Skyrim after killing High King Torygg in trial by combat, leader of the Stormcloak Rebellion against the traitorous empire. We are liberating Skyrim from the crippled rule of the empire who cares not for our struggles and allows the Thalmor to roam our lands, unquestioned and unchallenged, killing true Nords at will. They outlawed the worship of the mighty Talos, our god hero, and bent to the will of the Dominion. The cowards. The empire is broken and weak. The only way to defeat the Dominion is to rally the armies of the Nords and bring the fight to those golden bastards!”

Bronmir listened to this mighty speech intently, feeling a fire arise within him he did not know existed, though perhaps not in the same spirit as this man and his company. In his heart, he remained loyal to the Empire, and did not want to let such an affront to the Mede Dynasty go without complaint, but saner heads prevailed and he opted to have no opinion.

“I agree the Empire’s decision to succumb to the wishes of the Dominion may have been a move made in haste, but I’m not sure I agree with outright war. I do not wish to impede your efforts – indeed; I hope you are successful in what you believe is right – but many of those loyal to the Legion are Nords, and I’m not sure I would feel right in taking their lives. I will not get in your way, but I do not believe I will help you either.

“As I said, I’m a stranger to Skyrim. Perhaps a few months walking my ancestral home will change my mind, but for now, I wish to remain separate, and find myself first.”

Ulfric nodded. “I can understand your reluctance to take up arms against those you may have called brother a few moons prior, but I cannot allow you to leave until our mission here in Falkreath has come to fruition. By the by, welcome to Skyrim. You crossed our borders when you entered our camp. When this is over, we shall send you on your way, but for now, you will remain our unprivileged guest.”

Bronmir sighed. “I don’t suppose there’s any way you’d let me go until your business is concluded. Very well. Though your intentions are honorable, I disagree with the method, but for now, I could at least be of some use, I suppose. When I lived in Cyrodiil before moving to the Imperial City, I ran a small store with my mother before her death, at which point I took over and turned it into a smithy. I was then asked to move my shop to the Imperial City to forge for the Legion. Perhaps I can assist you, for the time being, with your forge here?”

Ulfric seemed to think about this for a moment, but before he could answer, the sound of a horn was heard. “Imperials!” he hissed, eyes filling with fury. “How did they manage to find us?”

Unfortunately, the answer to that question was left undiscovered, as mere seconds after he finished speaking, arrows dressed in red cloth zipped through the trees. Though most seemed to miss, a few found targets, striking legs and unprotected torsos. Dozens and dozens of arrows whipped past, miraculously missing Bronmir, Ulfric, and the blonde-haired Nord guard who had first come upon Bronmir, but hitting most everything else. In the span of a few seconds, the amount of soldiers in the camp dwindled from over two dozen to just a handful. The Imperial Legion cavalry burst from the trees and circled the few remaining Stormcloaks – as well as Bronmir himself. From their ranks came out a more ornately armored soldier – clearly an officer – atop a gilded horse.

“Round them up,” he said with a brusque tone, his a voice clearly used to giving orders and expecting them to be followed without hesitation. “Find those who fled. General Tullius wants them brought to Helgen.”

Following his orders, the soldiers tied up the Stormcloaks – and Bronmir, who, unfortunately, was still only in his smallclothes, a rugged fur jerkin and roughspun shoes; the nip of tundra frost in Skyrim already lapping at his skin – and led them into caravans for transport.

Ironic, Bronmir thought. I meet the Stormcloak Commander and get captured all in the same day. What luck I must have in my ancestral home. As he had this thought, something struck him in the back of his head and he saw stars for a moment before pitching forward; then, everything was black.


                                                                ∆                             ∆                             ∆


Bronmir slowly opened his eyes, the throb and hum of his ringing head diffused to the sound and sway of the carriage rumbling upon the rugged rocky road. Groaning, he blinked a few times, his eyes adjusting to the light of the morning.

Wait a minute, morning? It was night time. How long was I out?

“Hey you,” a voice said, tingling the recesses of his mind. It sounded distant, as though far away, but not like a shout. Odd. “You’re finally awake. You got caught across the border by the Imperials. Same as us, and that thief over there.”

Straining, Bronmir craned his neck and looked upon on the face of the strangers around him. A blonde hair, blue eyed Nord as plain as day, the source of the voice. Another – probably a Breton, but his face had Nordic features – with ragged black hair and a narrow face with sunken eyes, next to the Nord. Next to Bronmir was a third figure, his mouth bound and gagged, wearing a lavish robe.

“Damn you, Stormcloaks,” the thief said. “Skyrim was fine until you came along. The Empire was nice and lazy. If it hadn’t been for you, I’d have stolen that horse and been halfway to Hammerfell by now. You there… You and me, we shouldn’t be here. It’s these Stormcloaks the Empire wants.”

“We’re all brothers and sisters in binds now, horse thief,” the Stormcloak Soldier retorted.

A guard in the carriage turned his head. “Shut up back there!”

“And what’s his deal, huh?” the thief said, gesturing to the bound and gagged man in the carriage with them.

“Watch your tongue! You’re speaking to Ulfric Stormcloak, the true High King!”

The horse thief gulped. “Ulfric Stormcloak? The Jarl of Windhelm? You’re the leader of the rebellion! But if they’ve captured you…gods, where are they taking us?”

“I don’t know where we’re going, but Sovngarde awaits.”

“No, this can’t be happening, this isn’t happening.”

The Stormcloak sighed. “Hey, what village are you from, horse thief?”

“Why do you care?”

“A Nord’s last thoughts should be of home.”

“Rorikstead. I…I’m from Rorikstead.”

Suddenly, the carriage slowed a bit and another Imperial Soldier said, “General Tullius, sir! The headsman is waiting!”

“Good, let’s get this over with.”

The horse thief bowed his head and bundled his hands in prayer. “Shor, Mara, Dibella, Kynareth, Akatosh. Divines, please help me!”

As they passed into the

As they passed into the village, there was a company stopped after the gate. A few Imperial Soldiers, one dressed in cloak and dragon-emblazoned breastplate – presumably the commanding officer – and, dressed in golden armor and robes, Thalmor, the military enforcement of the Aldmeri Dominion.

The Stormcloak soldier snorted. “Look at him, General Tullius, the military governor. And it looks like the Thalmor are with him. Damn elves. I bet they had something to do with this. This is Helgen. I used to be sweet on a girl from here. I wonder if Vilod is still making that mead with juniper berries mixed in. Funny, when I was a boy, Imperial walls and towers used to make me feel so safe.”

There was silence in the carriage for the rest of the trip, but the murmurs of the townspeople, come to check the noise, could be heard all around them. They traveled for a moment longer, then the caravan slowed and stopped.

The horse thief raised his head. “Why are we stopping?”

The Stormcloak chuckled. “Why do you think? End of the line. Let’s go. Shouldn’t keep the gods waiting for us.” He stood.

An Imperial soldier shouted to the ranks, “Get these prisoners out of the carts. Move it!”

An Imperial Captain stood at the base of the carriage as they got off and stepped on the ground. “Step towards the block when we call your name. One at a time!” She unfurled a scroll with a bunch of names inscribed upon it and handed it to the officer next to her.

“Empire loves their damn lists,” the Stormcloak muttered.

“Ulfric Stormcloak, Jarl of Windhelm.”

As Ulfric stepped to the block, the Stormcloak soldier lifted his head in a fashion of salute. “It has been an honor, Jarl Ulfric!”

“Ralof of Riverwood.”

The Stormcloak left the line.

“Lokir of Rorikstead.”

Panic entering his face and voice, the horse thief stepped forward, shaking visibly. “No, I’m not a rebel, you can’t do this!” He began to flee, running for his life in a wild pattern.

The Captain reached out to stop him, but missed. “Halt!” she cried.

“You’re not going to kill me!” Lokir laughed.

“Archers!” the Captain commanded. A trio of Imperial archers raised their bows and fired arrows at Lokir, felling him quickly.

The Captain turned back to the prisoners. “Anyone else feel like running?”

The officer looked at Bronmir, then at his list, then back at Bronmir. “Wait…you there…step forward.”

Bronmir approached the officer.

“Who are you?” the officer asked.

“I am Bronmir, a Nord but I’m from Bruma. Born and raised in Cyrodiil.”

“An Imperial Nord, eh? Visitor to Skyrim? Not sure what you were doing with a bunch of Stormcloaks but… Captain, what should we do? He’s not on the list.”

“Forget the list,” the captain barked. “He goes to the block!”

The officer sighed and turned back to Bronmir. “I’m sorry. I’ll make sure your remains are sent back to Cyrodiil.”

“I appreciate the sentiment.” Bronmir approached the block, standing with the rest of the prisoners.

General Tullius faced Ulfric Stormcloak. “Ulfric Stormcloak. Some here in Helgen call you a hero. But a hero doesn’t use a power like The Voice to murder his king and usurp his throne.”

Ulfric grunted, muffled.

“You started this war,” Tullius continued. “Plunged Skyrim into chaos, and now the Empire is going to put you down, and restore the peace.”

Suddenly, an intense billow came from the clouds like a scream or roar in the distance.

“What was that?” the Imperial officer said, looking into the sky.

“It’s nothing,” General Tullius said, “carry on.”

“Read them their last rites,” the Imperial Captain said to the Priestess of Arkay.

The Priestess stepped forward and raised her hands to the heavens.

“As we commend your souls to Aetherius, blessings of the Eight Divines upon you, for you are the salt and earth of Nirn, our beloved-”

A Stormcloak Soldier stepped forward to the chopping block. “For the love of Talos, shut up and let’s get this over with.”

The Priestess of Arkay dropped her arms. “As you wish.”

The Captain pushed him to his knees and bent him over the chopping block.

“Come on, I haven’t got all morning,” he declared, pure confidence and pride in his voice. “My ancestors are smiling at me Imperials, can you say the same?”

The Executioner hefted his axe and swung it down. The last expression on the Stormcloak’s face was one of daring aggression. His head rolled across the stone ground.

“As fearless in death as he was in life,” another Stormcloak – Ralof – said.

“You Imperial bastards!” a red-head Stormcloak cried.

Cries of “justice!” and “death to the Stormcloaks!” could be heard ringing from the townsfolk watching the spectacle.

The Captain pointed to Bronmir. “Next, the renegade, from Cyrodiil!”

Suddenly, there was another loud booming in the clouds.

 “There it is again,” the officer said. “Did you hear that?”

“I said, next prisoner!” the Captain ordered, her tone harsher than necessary.

“To the block, prisoner. Nice and slow,” the officer said, a twinge of regret in his voice.

Sighing, seeing no way out, Bronmir stepped up to the chopping block. He felt the Captain’s boot on his back, forcing him to his knees. The last thing he saw before his neck slammed onto the block was the executioner’s massive battle-axe, glistening in the sunlight, looking for all the world something so grisly that even death’s sweet kiss seemed better than being decapitated by that bloodstained blade.

He closed his eyes, said his prayers to Lady Kyne and Lady Mara and Lord Shor and Lord Tsun and made his peace with death, accepting his fate. Then, as the executioner began to heft his axe, a third roar was heard, from incredibly close.

“What in Oblivion is that?” Tullius cried.

“Sentries!” the Captain barked. “What do you see?”

“It’s in the clouds!”

Almost as the sentries finished shouting and scrambling, a massive, scaled, horned black creature landed with a crash atop one of the towers, smoke billowing from its nostrils.

“DRAGON!” a Stormcloak shouted with fear.

The Dragon opened its maw, but no fire came out. Instead, it Spoke, with its Voice. “Mah! Lok! Yol!”

Bronmir recognized the words from Dovahzul, the Dragon Language. What the Dragon had said, Bronmir was unsure. He did not know enough of the Dragon Language to recognize more than one of the words – Yol, meaning fire. However, he knew it Shouted, a powerful means of using nature energy to manipulate magicka using your Voice, called a Thu’um. By the sound of it, it was bad.

The executioner started, then fell to the ground as a storm of fiery rocks began to rain from the sky.

“Don’t just stand there,” Tullius shouted amid the chaos, “kill that thing! Guards, get the townspeople to safety!”

“Hey,” the blonde Stormcloak from the carriage said to Bronmir. “Come on, the Gods won’t give us another chance!”

Bronmir staggered to his feet in a daze, and followed the Stormcloak – Ralof – to one of the battlements. Ralof hastily shut the door behind him, then turned to Jarl Ulfric, whose gag had been removed.

“Jarl Ulfric,” Ralof said, out of breath. “What is that thing? Could the legends be true?”

“Legends don’t burn down villages,” the Jarl said stoically. “We need to move. Now!”

“Up through the tower, let’s go!”

Bronmir ran up the stairs, but the way to the top of the tower was blocked by debris and rocks. Another Stormcloak was trying to move the rocks.

“We just need to move these rocks to clear –”

The Stormcloak never finished, for at that moment, the Dragon’s head burst through the tower, and fire formed in his throat, filling the chamber with flames, killing the Stormcloak. “Yol! Toor! Shul!” Bronmir recognized those words from the language of the dragons, but he did not know what they were, beyond that Yol meant fire.

When the flames and smoke cleared, Ralof put his hand on Bronmir’s back. He gestured to the burning inn through the now gaping hole in the side of the tower.

“See the inn on the other side? Jump through the roof and keep going! Go! We’ll follow when we can!”

Bronmir sucked in his breath, then ran headfirst through the smoke and flames, leaping through the broken battlement, crashing through the straw roof of the inn, down onto its second level, where smoke had already filled it and flames were licking at the stairs and a few holes in the floor. Not really seeing anywhere else to go, Bronmir jumped down the hole with the fewest flames, then he ran through the inn and out to the streets on the other side.

“Haming!” the Imperial officer from earlier shouted. “You need to get over here. Now!”

As the young boy – Haming – ran around to the officer, the massive black Dragon landed in the street and flames spewed from its mouth, engulfing another man who was running towards them.

“Torolf! Gods… Everyone get back!” The officer turned to Bronmir. “Still alive, prisoner? Keep close to me if you want to stay that way. Gunnar, take care of the boy. I have to find General Tullius and join their defense!”

The older Nord nodded to the officer. “Gods guide you, Hadvar.”

The officer – Hadvar – ran up to the stone wall and jumped down behind a house where a wooden ramp once had been.

“Stay close to the wall!” he shouted. Bronmir followed him and heeded the officer’s instruction. As they approached the burning house, the Dragon landed atop the wall, blood glistening off his claws. The Dragon seemed to simply survey the scene before jumping back up with a mighty beat of his wings.

Once the way ahead was clear, Hadvar ran through the house, back around to the front of Helgen, towards the gate. When they reached it, they rejoined with General Tullius, a few of the Thalmor, and a handful or two of Imperial Soldiers were waiting.

“Hadvar!” General Tullius shouted. “Into the keep, soldier. We’re leaving! Get the battlemages out here!”

Hadvar turned and ran through the opening in the wall, towards Helgen Keep. “It’s you and me, prisoner. Stay close!”

As they approached the Keep, Ralof, Ulfric, and a few other Stormcloaks ran up, essentially blocking their path.

“Ralof,” Hadvar said, his voice seething with disdain. “You damned traitor! Out of my way!”

Ralof smirked. “We’re escaping, Hadvar. You’re not stopping us this time.”

“Fine. I hope that Dragon takes you all to Sovngarde!”

Ralof looked to Bronmir. “You! Come on! Into the keep!”

As Hadvar approached another entrance to the keep, Bronmir was torn. Go with Ralof and the Stormcloaks who, despite hostility, had offered him warmth and hospitality, or with Hadvar and the Imperials, who, despite being his kin, had treated him with likeness hostility and more than a bit of aggression and hastened anger. Considering Hadvar had only ever referred to him as prisoner, despite knowing his name, it was a no-brainer as to who Bronmir would accompany into the keep.

As Bronmir approached the door to the keep with Ralof, the Dragon, now circling overhead like a vulture, roared again, and Bronmir heard his Voice. “Hin sil fen nahkip bahloki!” Bronmir wasn’t quite sure what that meant – something to do with the Dragon being hungry, which seemed odd considering the current situation – but he didn’t stress about it.

Ralof held open the side door to the Keep and hustled in behind Bronmir, hastily closing the door. After cutting Bronmir’s bindings, he kneels down, tending to the fallen body of a former Stormcloak.

Sighing, Ralof stood. “You may as well take Gunjar’s gear,” he said, indicating the fallen Stormcloak. “He won’t be needing it anymore.”

Unfortunately, the fur armor that Gunjar wore was too small to fit the taller and more broad Bronmir, but the light one-handed war-axe that Gunjar had once wielded was a good match. Bronmir lifted the axe and gave a test swing, feeling its weight. Confident he could use it if he needed to, he looped it into the rope across his robe and pulled it taut. Offering a small prayer to Lady Kyne for a safe journey, he faced Ralof.

“Ready?” Ralof asked him. “I’m not sure what we’ll encounter. Be prepared for any situation.”

Bronmir merely grunted in response as Ralof checked the bars on either side of the room they were in.

“Damn!” Ralof cursed. “No way to open this from our side.”

“What of the caged door on the other side?” Bronmir asked, gesturing to the door towards stairs leading deeper down into the Keep.

“Locked. And we don’t have a key. Wait…who’s that? Imperials! Hide! Maybe we can take them by surprise!”

The gate started to rise as Bronmir took cover behind a wall. The Imperials – an Auxiliary and a Captain – entered and Ralof shouted, “Now!” as he jumped out and started hacking and slashing.

Bronmir followed suit, whirling with the axe in his hands, the blade a blur as he combined his flesh with the iron of the axe. Crude though the weapon was, it was sufficiently efficient for slicing through Imperial steel. Clearly, the axe had been made by a smith of some talent, for it did not dull or break by the end of the skirmish. The Imperial soldier and captain lay in a mangled mess upon the stony floor of the keep. Bronmir felt quite guilty about what they had just done, but it was clear the Imperials would only have captured him again, and he would prefer to live with freedom.

“I’ll watch the door,” Ralof said. “You check the captain. Maybe she has some keys on her person.”

Bronmir rummaged through the small purse the captain had slung on her belt, and found a few Septims and a ring of keys. Of the three keys on the ring, only one of them fit the door that led downstairs. Praying it would be the correct one, Bronmir turned the key in the lock. With a snap like thunder, the lock gave and turned, and the door opened.

They proceed through the door, opening into a small hallway with a set of stairs going down farther into the bowels of the Keep. At the bottom of the stairs, there is a door and a hallway. As they approach the hall – which hopefully leads out of the Keep – the ground rumbles and the ceiling caves in, blocking their path.

“Damn,” Ralof says. “That dragon sure is persistent. Come on, through here.” Ralof opens the door to reveal a large store room, and two Imperial Soldiers – clearly oblivious as to the dragon attack outside – talking to each other about nonsense.

“Let’s take them by surprise,” Ralof whispered, crouching down low, fingering his weapon out of his belt loop.

Having felt guilty already about killing the imperials earlier, Bronmir shook his head. “I’m sorry. I can’t. I was with the Legion before my mother fell sick. The ones earlier were trying to kill us, too. These two…they don’t have any idea what’s going on. Kill them if you wish, I won’t get in your way, but perhaps we can try to reason with them, first. If they attack, then I will fight back, but I’d like to avoid unnecessary bloodshed wherever possible.”

Ralof hesitated, then sighed. “Imperials won’t listen to reason, but fine. Have it your way.”

Bronmir thanked him, then entered the room and approached the two soldiers, his hands raised to show he wasn’t going to attack.

“Do you happen to know how to get out of here?” he said to them. “There’s been a dragon attack – yes, I know, hard to believe. Dragons have not been seen in Skyrim for quite a long time. Crazy at it sounds, it is true. A dragon is attacking Helgen, and we need to get out of here if we are going to survive.”

The soldiers looked at each other and shook their heads. “Too much skooma, eh?” one of them snickered.

“I saw this one brought in with the Stormcloak prisoners,” the other one said. “He’s just trying to trick us to get out. How did you escape?”

“Now, hold on,” Bronmir said. “I am no Stormcloak. In fact, I was with the Legion up until a few years ago, when my mother came sick with Brain Rot. We just want to—”

The Imperial soldiers drew their swords. “Get back aboveground, prisoner, and we won’t have to get rough.”

Bronmir sighed. “I was hoping to avoid unnecessary bloodshed, but so be it.”

As Bronmir backed off, hands raised in surrender, Ralof burst from the shadows, his own axe staining the room around with a myriad of reds and silvers and browns as he hacked and slashed the two Imperial soldiers apart.

When the slaughter was over, Ralof turned to Bronmir, breath heavy with exertion. “I tried to tell you that you can’t reason with these faithless dogs, but you didn’t want to hear it.”

“Let’s just get out of the Keep.”

They left the storeroom, going down another flight of stair which revealed a torturer’s dungeon…and it was under attack by a few Stormcloaks. The torturer and his assistant were attempting to defend themselves, and although the torturer was evidently skilled with shock magic, it was clear they were not going to survive. Even so, Ralof jumped in and decapitated the torturer before he could have a chance to kill one of the Stormcloaks.

“Was Jarl Ulfric with you?”

“No,” one of the Stormcloaks responded. “I haven’t seen him since the dragon showed up.”

Ralof suddenly looked around, as if just realizing they were in some kind of holding area with cells. He walked up to one of them.

“Looks like this poor sod didn’t make it. Wonder how much pain he was in before he died.” Ralof shivered, as if the very notion of torture had shaken him to his bones. “Come on. Let’s keep moving.”

Continuing down the cell-lined hall led them to a wide natural cavern, inside which several Imperial soldiers were milling about. One of the Imperials spotted the Stormcloak soldiers, and a battle ensued.

When all was said and done, Bronmir doing his best to avoid killing blows but also fight fiercely enough to survive, the Imperials were defeated and the Stormcloaks had suffered but one casualty. Ralof hurried ahead, urging Bronmir to come with him.

“We’ll stay here and wait for Jarl Ulfric!” one of the Stormcloaks shouted after him.

Ralof and Bronmir reached a drawbridge, in front of which rested a level, presumably to drop the bridge. Ralof pulled it hesitantly, but the drawbridge creaked and opened for them to come across. However, the very second Bronmir stepped off the bridge and into the next section, the dragon’s roar echoed throughout the cavern, causing a minor cave-in, smashing through the drawbridge and narrowly missing Bronmir.

“Well, that was close,” he exclaimed, sighing with relief.

Ralof studied it for a second. “Looks like there’s no going back that way, then. Come on. Jarl Ulfric and the others will have to find another way through. We have to keep going!”

As they continued through the cavern, the evidence that something else lived there became more and more prevalent, with the floor scattered with various skeletal remains and the ceiling festered with desiccated corpses hanging from massive webs.

As Bronmir wondered how large these spiders must be, they entered another section of the cave, this one reeking of death and decay, with great stone spires stretching from the floor to the ceiling. As he looked up, he saw several holes in the ceiling, and he began to wonder what they might be for. As he had this thought, however, several spiders dropped from the holes, sensing prey nearby. They were five or six feet long – the smallest ones, anyway – and reached nearly four feet in height. They were quick, and covered in blue spots with slashes of black and brown all over. Frostbite Spiders. Among the most dangerous creatures within Skyrim’s frozen tundras. A single bite would nearly freeze a man, their poison carrying the cold kiss of death.

Bronmir drew his axe, swallowed air, and charged, Ralof behind him. Despite the size and ferocity of the Frostbite Spiders, they were easy to kill, and there were only five of them. After Ralof made many excuses about how he hates the crawly things – something to do with their eyes – they continued to the next chamber. A large brazier was burning – oddly, considering it was inhabited by animals, not people – casting devious shadows about the room. There was a small stream with a rocky bridge crossing it. Upon crossing the bridge, Ralof suddenly ducked behind the wall, motioning Bronmir to join him.

“Hold up!” he whispered. “There’s a bear just ahead. See her?” Among the shapes of the shadows, Bronmir was able to make out the mass of fur and muscle of a large brown mountain bear, a grizzly. “I’d rather not tangle with her, right now. Let’s see if we can sneak past.”

Staying low, Ralof and Bronmir crept along the edge of the cavern, doing their best to make as little sound as possible. It seemed like an eternity passed before they were able to release breaths held for the past few minutes, exhaling large sighs of relief.

“Thank goodness. I thought we were going to startle her for sure!” Bronmir merely nodded in agreement.

As they continued around the bend, light began to filter in, and they saw an exit to the cave.

“There it is!” Bronmir said excitedly. “I thought we’d never make it!”

Outside the cave, Bronmir and Ralof slumped to the ground, exhausted after their adventure underneath Helgen, but it wasn’t over yet. Another roar could be heard and the big black dragon flew overhead, screeching through the skies towards what looked to be an old Nord tomb.

“Ah,” Ralof said. “Looks like she’s gone. And towards Bleak Falls Barrow, no doubt. Come on. Let’s get to Riverwood. My sister – Gerdur – runs a lumber mill, there. Why she insists on living in the shadow of those ruins is beyond me, but at least we will have a place to get some rest and supplies. You are more than welcome. You saved my life.”

Bronmir thought about this for a moment. “You don’t owe me. You saved my life, too. You will always be a friend, but I came to Skyrim to find something important to me, and, hospitable though your sister may be – and welcoming it may be – I do not believe I will find it down south. I was not entirely…upfront with you, before. I think, considering what we went through, I at least owe you more of an explanation.

“After my mother died, I took over her store like I told you. Then, a few months back, I was cleaning out the attic to the cottage she left me, and I was going through all her things to settle her affairs – meager though they were – I discovered an old and tattered journal she had kept, detailing her life in Skyrim. I found that quite strange. She had always told me she had been born and raised in Cyrodiil. So I kept reading. She seemed to have lived in Winterhold for nearly four decades, but some event forced her to flee to Cyrodiil. My mother was certainly an Imperial, but was born and lived in Winterhold. I have to go there to find the truth. Maybe, afterward, I can meet up with you somewhere, and we can share a mug of Skyrim’s finest mead over it, but, for now, I think I should stray this journey alone.”

Ralof listened intently. “I understand, friend. I wish you luck. You will always be welcome at my door, and, when you feel the fire in your heart, come to Windhelm. We Stormcloaks could use a lad like you to fight the Imperials and take back our home. Safe travels, friend.”

They clasped arms and then Ralof hurried down the path, heading west by northwest, towards Riverwood. Bronmir sat back down and sighed, wondering how he was going to get by without any supplies. He didn’t want to impose on a man he might call enemy in a few months’ time. He knew in his heart he would never join the Stormcloaks, but maybe he could have gone with him and at least gotten some food.

Bronmir sighed again, then stood, deciding he’d fashion what he could from nature, and that would be that. He still had the axe and was soon determined to make it to Winterhold. He looked to the skies and smiled. He was home. He started on his journey, entirely unaware of the presence watching over him, silently judging him and dismissing him as a threat to the Pine Forest.


Chapter 2: Throngarr Stone-Singer

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