All Quiet on the Imperial Waterfront
The Imperials called them Whistlers.
They were small, usually rough, produced en masse in a matter of minutes – seconds if the Legionnaires had proper mages in their number. Deep holes drilled into the stones set them apart from the rest of the projectiles the Legion shot from their engines. Whistlers were fired from ballistae, always a moment before they were accompanied by a barrage from heavier catapults and trebuchets. As they flew, air rushed in and out of the holes, and the Whistlers produced screeches somewhere between daedra and beast.
The Imperials had been bombarding the fort for three days.
Another round of Whistlers screamed above them and Trecann clenched his teeth, the cords under his neck tightening as he waited. One second. Two seconds. Three. Each second an eternity.
Get on with it. Get on with it, you rat bastards, I know it’s coming, I know it’s-
The volley left the entire castle shaking. Dust fell from the ceiling. Vorelar fell from his bunk as the ground trembled, curling up into a ball and covering his head with his hands.
‘Evening,’ Trecann said wearily.
Vorelar frowned, then turned to the side and ripped the cotton from his ears. ‘What?’
‘You don’t need to shout.’
Trecann gave an irritable twitch of his head as he bent over and began polishing his boots. He started with the brush. He always started with the brush. He was proud of the brush. He’d traded for it from the fat fishmonger he always saw from the harbour the day he set out from Sunhold; traded for it at a bargain with a bit of fishing twine. It was a good brush. Boar-hair bristles, perfect for scraping off dirt and gore and-
Debris, the fucking debris.
Trecann snarled and dug the brush in deep, trying to get a stubborn chunk of gravel out of the lining between the sole and the heel. Then a fresh wave of Whistlers passed above them. Vorelar winced, Trecann paused. Two seconds later the rocks arrived, a dozen solid hitspummeling the western fortifications.
Dust descended from the ceiling again, along with a cascade of tiny pebbles, coating Trecann’s hair, his shoulders, his skin – and his boots.
Trecann set his jaw and stared sullenly at the wall in front of him. There was a rough spot on it that was driving him to madness, a small chip in the stonework, growing night by night by night until Trecann was absolutely sure some saboteur was deliberately making the chip larger out of pure spite. He felt like throwing things. He imagined letting loose with the brush and following it with the polish. He imagined it would be very pleasing to see the bottle break, splattering the foul liquid inside all over the ugly grey-
‘Why do you even bother?’ Vorelar sighed. ‘You’re just going to get the same stuff all over them again when your patrol starts.’
‘Doesn’t matter,’ Trecann growled. ‘I can still at least have clean boots.’
‘For about twenty minutes if you’re lucky.’
‘Clean boots,’ Trecann insisted, getting back to work with the brush.
A quarter-hour later, when his shift started, he marched out of the barracks with the boots so clean he could see his teeth in the toes. For thirty seconds he remembered what satisfaction felt like even with his ears ringing from the Whistlers and his stomach touching his back and mites crawling down his neck and his skin greasy and his hair matted and his every pore stinking of sweat. Water was being rationed, and he hadn’t washed for an entire week. Then he climbed one floor up, where the officers’ barracks were, and ran across Tandcelmo.
Tandcelmo was barely a day over twenty. A toddler. Worse, a toddler who used to being well-off. Not highborn – no highborn Altmer ever woke up to find himself a footslogger – but his family was into business. Gentry. Hence his upstairs living arrangement. But upstairs barracks or not, here in the fort he was absolutely miserable and he made sure everyone else knew it.
‘It never stops,’ Tandcelmo mumbled, his fists clenched as his arms swung back and forth, the two black bags under his eyes stretching as he glared. ‘It – never – fucking-’
A volley of Whistlers howled out past the fort, and even the air inside shook as the trebuchets hammered against their flank. Briefly, Trecann wondered if the floor was loosening again. He hadn’t enjoyed falling into the dungeons the last time.
‘Day in, day out,’ Tandcelmo cried, hysterical. ‘And all through the godsdamned night.’
‘Tune it out and sleep, lad,’ Trecann said, trying his best to be patient with the child, trying his best to hide the fact that he was on the absolute verge of bashing his head into the wall himself. ‘You’ve got the morning shift, and dawn’s in five hours.’ He left the boy there, shaking rigidly to and fro, gnawing on his knuckles.
Trecann continued making his way up the fort. The sounds of the siege intensified tenfold as he reached the battlements and his hands began to shake. Yesterday, he’d contemplated going to the healers and begging them for cotton scraps like Vorelar had, but it would make little difference. Being inside a fort in the middle of an Imperial bombardment was like being inside of a thundercloud. You could be completely deaf and you’d still hear every impact with your bones.
A captain – Trecann hadn’t bothered to memorise any of their names in seven months – stopped him as he started up the last flight of stairs.
‘You there.’ Northern accent. Doubtlessly a cunt. ‘Drop everything you’re doing and head back downstairs.’
“Sir” was a good word. It was all Trecann needed when it came to officers. Especially cunts. ‘Sir?’
‘A stone brought down part of the eastern stairwell. Clear it out; our mages are busy.’
You mean they’ve got their heads too far up their own skirts to do grunt work. ‘Sir.’
‘And be quick about it,’ the officer sniffed.
Six other soldiers were already at work, straining as they crouched, picked up blocks of collapsed masonry, and moved them off to clear the way. Trecann joined in wordlessly. There were two bodies propped up on the stairwell, their heads staved in. Trecann tried his best to ignore them and focused on his task, dragging the debris and bits of Altmer away from the stairs. Nobody he knew, thank the gods. A third body was lying crushed under a small mound of rubble. Trecann tried his best to ignore it too. Then the group reached the mound and began clearing it and the body began to gurgle and whimper and twitch.
‘That one’s still alive.’ Someone on his left.
‘Get him to the healers.’ Someone to his right.
‘You’ll be all right,’ Trecann said as he gripped the fallen soldier’s hand, flinching as yet another barrage of rocks collided with the fort. ‘You’ll be all right. The healers will fix you right up. You’ll be fine.’
So they cleared the rubble off the trapped mer and as they lifted the last piece off his chest there was a pop and a sudden flash of white as the ribcage cracked outwards and Trecann saw the remains of one lung sticking to the slab of rock like a cowpat before peeling off and landing on the floor with a splat and the Altmer gurgled again and was still.
They dragged the body over to the stairwell and propped it up with the other two. And then they continued clearing the staircase. It took them the better part of an hour and when the officer came down to check he was pleased and Trecann was relieved and so he headed first to the mess for his daily ration of porridge before going back up to the battlements.
He vomited half of the porridge back out as he stopped under the battlements and was immediately furious with himself. That was his only meal of the day. And he’d gotten some of it on his boots.
Trecann took two deep breaths before shaking his head and climbing the stairs. Gods, please – don’t let today be the day…
Archer duty. They had the mages to thank for that – under normal circumstances, the Imperials would have been camped outside the reach of their arrows, but the mages attached to their Division had enchanted two dozen bows with a spell that doubled their range. Trecann didn’t know anything about that sort of magic himself, but he cursed whoever the crackpot wizard was that invented such an enchantment. Now two dozen elves had to man the battlements while the mages who actually wrought the spellwork got to stay huddled up inside.
Trecann took up a relatively covered spot and began loosing arrows. He didn’t try to aim at anything in particular – if he sent enough arrows west he was bound to hit someone. Besides, it was pitch black. There was no way someone like him could tell where the arrows were going anyway, and lighting them would only reveal their position. Above all, he tried not to think. Not thinking was key. Just keep pulling… Loose without connecting the Whistlers to the things that followed, loose without picturing what solid rock did to flesh and bone, like Avalenn’s face from yesterday, loose without wondering if the stories about Imperial longbowmen were true, loose, loose, loose, loose until an officer decided he was done and he could head back down and get under cover.
He tugged on the bow for two hours and at the end of the second hour a rock flew right next to him and blasted through one entire section of the parapet and he froze still for ten full seconds and realised he’d shat himself.
Oh gods. Oh gods.
He almost broke, he didn’t think he could be more broken but he almost broke, standing there with wet filth running out his breeches and down his right leg and onto his boots, his boots-
Yes, the boots, just that, focus on just that-
‘You apes, you goatfucking apes, my boots!’ Trecann hissed, moving once more but his hands were trembling so hard he could barely fit another arrow to the string and then – and then came a miracle. The Whistlers stopped wailing. The rocks stopped flying. The fort stopped shaking.
For a solid minute Trecann was convinced it was a trick. Then he heard it; they all heard it. The distant rumbling of spoked wheels and the creaking of wood and metal as the Imperials began pulling up their encampment and rolling their machines back.
‘We beat them back,’ a nearby archer breathed. ‘We beat them back!’
There was no cheer, only a collective sigh. Trecann headed back down to the barracks to change his breeches.
As he took the stairs down he heard the mages arguing with the captains.
‘It’ll take us another four days at the least-’
‘Unacceptable. Work faster; we need to mobilise-’
‘Look, we’re not Psijics! There’s only so much we can do and if we rush through the geomancy we could end up collapsing the entire fort instead!’
Trecann went on his way. He wasn’t the type to pretend he understood magebabble.
It wasn’t until a full hour after he’d changed and returned to the barracks and he sat down dully on his bunk that it dawned on him.
The sweet, blessed silence. No more rocks, no more tremors, no more of those damned Whistlers tearing through the air-
It was delicious, it was better than wine, better than sex, better even than sleep. Trecann fished a piece of jerky out of his pack and dug in with relish, unexpected tears sprouting in his eyes as he realised he could hear it again; hear the crunches and pops and wet squishes as he chewed, and when the dried beef softened and gave way to his molars it was pure bliss and the taste of pepper and salted meat had never been so divine.
It lasted for about six hours. Then the day broke and all of a sudden the sun was shining on the fort and the Imperials recalibrated their machines and drove out the smaller ballistae alongside the Whistlers and the catapults and the trebuchets and now they couldn’t risk having archers on the battlements anymore; the Imperials were skilled enough with the bolt throwers that they could pick individual soldiers off the battlements.
So Trecann spent the fourth day of the siege like everyone else, hunkered down in the fort as the rocks came crashing crashing crashing into the fort, which was a different sort of misery compared to being on the battlements but misery nonetheless. The worst part was watching the mages scurry around using their magicks to keep the castle standing, knowing full well they were prolonging their torture.
As Trecann sat on his bunk with nothing to do and his buttocks numbing to a point where they could no longer be considered flesh, he began to think. He did not want to, and he managed to hold off thinking until some time in the afternoon – he wasn’t sure because he wasn’t thinking – but the thoughts came with the same inevitability as the rocks after the Whistlers.
Why are we here?
They were here to hold the fort.
Why do we have to hold the fort?
The fort was on the hill.
Why is the hill so important?
Something about the river, or the mountains, or a road. The hill was territory-
Why are we fighting for territory again?
Trecann couldn’t find an answer that sat right with him, and he thought and thought and thought, twisting in place and scratching at his scalp and fuming until he finally turned to Vorelar and asked him instead.
Vorelar was staring like he could see the horizon through the wall in front of him. His eyes slid off slightly to the right as Trecann asked the questions, then he shrugged and continued to stare. Drool was building at the corner of his mouth but before it could drip Vorelar sucked loudly through his teeth and his mouth was dry again. And he kept on like that through the evening and into the night. Drool. Suck. Drool. Suck. All without breaking the stare.
Vorelar knew how to not think much better than Trecann did.
Trecann fumed some more, then tried loosening his jaw like Vorelar and drooling himself, but the saliva moistened the flecks of jerky still dotting his mouth and after a few minutes the insects caught the scent and began crawling out of his hair and onto his lips and he stopped.
More hours passed. The afternoon passed into the evening and into deep night and then it was morning again and throughout it all Trecann stayed coiled up atop his bed as his hair slowly turned white from the continuous stream of dust falling from the ceiling. He’d started nodding – whether it was from drowsiness or his subconscious counting the impacts from the catapults, he didn’t know, but he was nodding all the same as the fort continued rumbling and shaking, holding together only with Altmer magic at this point, dying the slowest death there was.
Why are we here?
Gods, why were they here?
The fifth day passed and the Imperials continued to hurl their stones. And late, late into the fifth night, Trecann heard Tandcelmo scream.
There was a frenzied tapping as he took the stairs four by four, shoving both footmer and mages aside as he sprinted his way straight up to the battlements, all while he continued to scream.
‘Just let us sleep, you inbred whores,’ the boy shrieked. ‘Let us sleep; just let us fucking sleep!’
He had been on guard patrol, and his lantern was still on his hip. The Imperial manning the ballista couldn’t miss. Tandcelmo was still screaming as the javelin punched through the armour over his navel and pinned him to the far end of the battlements. It took half an hour for him to bleed out. The trebuchets drowned out his moans towards the end.
They left the body there, impaled. No one else was about to head up to the battlements after that.
The sixth day dawned and just as Trecann thought he was truly about to lose his sanity, the captains gathered them up. They were mobilising.
Trecann’s mouth dried and his heart convulsed as despair set in. Gods, are they marching us out? Can’t… they can’t… we can’t-
And they marched – but not out to battle. The captains led them all the way down to the dungeons. Trecann was far too nervous to gossip, but he heard snippets of conversation from the mer filing in front of him.
Tunnels. The mages had been working on tunnels, leading all the way out of the fort and two miles into the plains. His despair lifted. This was it; they were retreating. The news brought the slightest glimmer of hope. I haven’t seen Alinor in three years…
He ought to have known better after all this time. The endless hours of underground marching sobered him quickly enough, and their orders crushed his hope entirely.
They were bound for the Imperial City.
Trecann tried not to be bitter. It was supremely difficult.
He wasn’t sure how the mages had produced the tunnel they were in, and he certainly didn’t trust whatever magic was keeping the entire thing from collapsing. What if it weakens? Do we get any warning, or are we just going to be buried alive like this-
Stop- fucking- thinking-
When they finally emerged on a plain miles away from the fort, Trecann looked up, his mind conjuring up distant memories of blue skies and lazy drifting clouds. Cyrodiil laughed in his face. Her skies were grey, her clouds heavy and dark. So Trecann licked his chapped lips and – after spitting out the tick he had foolishly run his tongue over – wished for rain.
Cyrodiil’s laughter intensified to the point where he could almost hear it. The clouds thickened and thickened some more, growing fat and full and bloated and hanging quivering above the marching elves, but the stubborn niggards refused to surrender even a speck of their bounty. It was spring and not excessively hot, but the warm, humid air and their armour trapped their sweat against their bodies as they marched and in barely an hour everyone was completely drenched. Trecann felt himself grow dizzy. There was the stink, of course, he smelled every bit as fetid as the rest of his comrades, but their rations of water were also nearly depleted. Their speed slowed by half after two more hours as the first elves began to collapse. The healers began working even as they marched.
When it grew dark whoever was leading them decided that was that and they made camp next to a sluggish little creek. The creek was brown and muddy and when Trecann looked closely at the surface he could spot tiny wriggling things bobbing up and down, but he no longer cared; he bent over the foul water and drank. Ignoring the cries of warning from their comrades, at least two dozen other Altmer joined in. Five of them ended up spending the night in the newly dug latrines, and when morning came two were dead, having expelled more water from their bowels than they could take in.
As for Trecann, he had a mild stomachache. They pulled up camp and kept on marching in the morning.
It took them eight days to reach the Imperial City. Trecann reminded himself on the third day that they had taken the city a little over ten month ago. That lifted his spirits somewhat. No fighting – with the Legion, at least. On the fifth day it started raining, but the rain came as the lightest of drizzles, delicate and maddening, touching their skin just often enough to add to their sweat without washing it away. On the sixth day the top layer of the ground had transformed into mud. It was the first day in almost two months that Trecann gave up trying to clean his boots.
When they finally arrived at the city the captains looked almost half as haggard as the rest of the troops. Trecann found that more satisfying than the sight of Dominion colours flying over the battlements of the Imperial capital, to which some of the younger mages led a cheer. ‘Ril va Aldmeri Vende!’ rang out over their heads and echoed once, the chorus tinny and pathetic, absorbed almost immediately by the rest of the troops, who stared at the patriots, silent, weary, scornful. Though they were separated by three rows of footmer, Trecann’s eyes found Vorelar’s, and the two exchanged a sneer.
In the beginning, they saw only fellow Altmeri troops on the streets as they marched through the city. The conquering army had ravaged the city, as conquering armies were wont to do. Shopfronts had been smashed in. Cinders were scattered across the cobblestones. The occupying mer were still clearing out the last of the Imperial defenders’ corpses. Trecann wondered vaguely where they were dragging the rotting bodies. Standard procedure was to have them immolated – but he had heard rumours of Lord Naarifin and his experiments.
As they marched deeper through the city, heading west, they passed through what had once been the Elven Gardens District. It was a massive residential area, so here Trecann caught his first glimpse of civilians – but something wasn’t right. The men shielded their women and children as the Altmer passed, wrapping cloaks around their bodies and ushering them indoors. Windows slammed shut and entire buildings closed off their shutters at once. There were no contemptuous spits, no loose bricks, no ‘Old Mary’s muttered under bated breath, no chamber pots emptied at their heads, none of the resentful, fearfully defiant gestures Trecann usually saw in captured cities.
‘Third Division spent some time here,’ an officer some rows behind him murmured. ‘Gods, it shows.’
With fresh understanding, Trecann spared another glance at the Imperials and their desperate attempts to avoid the elves. Commander Larethor’s troops committed at least fifty times more rape than the average footmer. Trecann had never met the Twinstinger himself – but once, when he was stationed in Leyawiin, he’d come across two of his Hornet lieutenants, the twin sisters Nerunae and Karinae. They had held down a little Nord boy, torn his breeches off, and were making a game out of how much they could fit inside. Trecann had spun around and continued straight on his patrol as they moved from ale bottles to the butts of their spears.
He had felt some pity then. But now his feet were tired, and his boots were dirty. Trecann marched on.
They stopped somewhere on a square close to the centre of the city and the officers headed to their debriefings while Trecann and the other footmer waited. They waited for what felt like six hours but was likely closer to two. Then the officers returned and broke up the company. Trecann and Vorelar were deployed to one of the patrols on the Imperial City Waterfront.
The march there was slow, uneventful. The thick silence looming over the districts they passed was punctured every now and then with dry sobs, distant screams, and the echoing barks of starving mongrels. Dust and ash floated down, leftovers from battle. Vorelar wrapped a kerchief around his nose and mouth. Trecann coughed. They reached the City Isle and the Waterfront District came into view.
The dust had dyed Lake Rumare grey, collecting on the water’s surface like pond scum. The patrol dispersed. Vorelar turned to Trecann. ‘We’re assigned to the lighthouse,’ he said, the kerchief muffling his voice.
There was a small group of soldiers already stationed inside the lighthouse and Trecann almost smiled. He could already tell it was a going to be a comfortable position. The Altmer here were actually clean. They looked well-fed, and they’d even had time to polish their boots.
Vorelar settled in, and Trecann followed suit. If he was lucky, he could keep this station until the end of the war. He took the time to learn names this time around. Yalen, Vinen, Moraath, Nertil, and Ravndilaran. Together with Trecann and Vorelar, that made seven footmer assigned to the lighthouse patrol.
Trecann’s first impressions had been correct. Before the war, the Waterfront District had been home to the most impoverished of the Imperial capital – as well as storage warehouses for a great deal of the East Empire Trading Company’s goods. Now, the contents of those warehouses made Trecann and the other elves in the Waterfront lighthouse patrol the richest footmer in Dominion history. They had three meals a day with regular meat – the EETC warehouses were stocked full of salted fish and dried pork and beef jerky. There were even pickled vegetables and fruits. Trecann had almost wept. He hadn’t seen anything green on his plate in a year.
They could happily have lived on what they already had, but Vorelar managed to strike a deal with some of the patrols circulating around the Market District, exchanging some of their own food for fresh bread and even eggs. The elves went to their bunks every night with full bellies.
Days rolled past, turning into weeks, and although the sensation of purposeless paralysis never left Trecann, it had become infinitely more bearable.
The end came swiftly one night on Rain’s Hand.
The elves had been gathered around the lighthouse flame, talking over a bottle of spiced mead confiscated from a merchant. The topics had been light – Yalen had seen a most agreeable young Bosmer undressing out of a window through his spyglass, Moraath had walked past a pile of waste and excrement the size of a house, Nertil was having a mild debate with Vorelar on whether or not he ought to have given the urchin who tried to steal his sword the beating that he did – but then Vinen spoke up, a haunted quality to his voice.
‘What do you miss most about Alinor?’
All seven footmer fell silent. Five seconds later, an uncontrollable rage howled to life in the pits of Trecann’s stomach. Why couldn’t Vinen have just kept his fucking mouth shut? They had been living well, they had been doing well – and now he came along and brought them all back, brought them all home even though there was no longer any way they could ever be home just as there was no way the Whistlers and the Imperial catapults and the sieges and the battles and the insects and the mud and the filth and the sounds of the killing and the stench of the dying would ever disappear-
As Trecann opened his mouth, furious, Ravndilaran spoke.
‘There was this Aurelenya sculpture of – I don’t know, some saint or politician or whatnot – in the town square, just two streets from where my house was,’ he said, staring into the depths of the fire. ‘Everyone passed it over the day… I sold bread there, so I saw everyone every day. Children lined up to attend chantry school in the morning, all the shopkeepers headed from their homes to their storefronts, farmers and millers coming in at noon to trade grain, then children returning home from school all through the afternoon… all while the statue just looked on, smiling like it knew everybody by name. That statue – just… that statue in the dusk.’
‘Please,’ Vorelar said quietly, pleadingly. ‘Could we not-’
‘You were a baker?’ Nertil’s lips twitched.
‘Best loaves in Arminen.’
‘I ran a printer’s in Firsthold,’ Yalen said slowly, as if in a daze. ‘There was this young scholar who always came in eating a fresh loaf, so fresh it was still steaming. He didn’t even care if he got ink on the bread, he always ate the whole thing while he waited for his manuscripts. It smelled heavenly, like none of the bread I’d ever had before. I scoured the city for months trying to find the baker who made that bread, and when I finally did – gods, it was the most delicious thing I’d ever eaten; she adds some kind of herb to the dough that expands in the oven and ends up in the bread as little salty lumps, and there’s nothing like it when you eat it piping hot.’
‘We’ve been eating cold bread with rough flour,’ Vorelar muttered. ‘And we were happy about it.’
‘My wife and daughter…’ Moraath said hoarsely, then cleared his throat and continued. ‘I spoke to my wife and daughter last week.’
Vinen blinked. ‘You never told us.’
‘No… no I didn’t, did I?’ Moraath tried to smile, but the expression he’d forced onto his face was more grimace than smile. ‘One of the battlemages over in the Palace District was coming down to survey the place. He lent me a scrying mirror…’
‘How was Lillandril?’
‘Gods, it-’ Moraath swallowed. ‘It hasn’t changed at all… nothing’s changed. It’s eerie… it’s terrifying. The city is the same; everything is still there, even my room – she’s kept my room exactly as I’d left it, but it – but it – it wasn’t my room anymore. I can’t look at any of this as my home… anymore. All while the two of them were passing the mirror to every mer around and my little girl was bragging about her brave hero soldier papa and asking me if I’d killed any Imperial monkeys yet and I can’t even look at them anymore, I feel more connected with the enemy than I do with my own kin – none of them understand! How could they…?’
There was a long silence after that. Then Vinen turned to Trecann.
‘You haven’t said anything yet.’
‘Fuck you,’ Trecann whispered furiously as Vorelar nodded, wiping his eyes. ‘Fuck you for doing this. We were happy, we had food.’
‘The coast!’ he spat, shuddering. ‘The coast… running barefoot on the beach, feeling the surf on my feet… sand between my toes.’
Another long silence. The elves finished the mead and went to their bunks, leaving Trecann and Vorelar on the night watch.
An hour passed. Then two. Beneath them, the gentle waves of the lake lapped slowly at the shore, and if Trecann closed his eyes he could just imagine-
He heard Vorelar gasp and turned to face him, annoyed.
Something small and sharp came spinning out of the shadows and lodged itself into Vorelar’s throat. Trecann yelped and drew his sword as his friend collapsed, choking and grasping at his neck.
Who- what- where- how-
A shadow flitted in front of him and he yelled, swinging his sword – and then a silver crescent moon flashed upwards at his arm. His sword shook and swayed to the left.
Trecann caught a glimpse of two bright green eyes amidst a short streak of gold. Then the silver flash swept downwards.
There was a sudden coldness under his knees and he felt himself falling, falling as the coldness turned wet and his world flickered and died and his only sensation became that of detached horror.
When he woke, he was lying on a cot. Someone was mopping his face.
Trecann moaned. He opened his eyes, staring up at the robed figure of a Dominion healer.
‘You’re up?’ the healer said, shaking his head. ‘It’s a miracle that you survived in the first place…’
The healer looked him over twice more, then moved to a cot next to his. Trecann twisted his head to see that he was in a tent filled with cots. At least a hundred wounded Altmer were gathered in the tent. Sunlight was streaming in through the flaps, and he heard birdsong. They were no longer on the Waterfront. In fact-
The healer was moving away.
‘Wait…’ Trecann croaked. “Wait!’
The healer frowned, glaring at him. ‘Yes?’
‘What- what happened? We’re not in the city any-’
‘The city is lost,’ the healer said dispassionately. ‘We’ve fallen back to the countryside… there’s been talk of a peace conference.’
Trecann stared up at the tent’s canvas. Peace.
The hours passed. The day grew dark.
He tried to be excited, conjuring up images of the Isles appearing over the horizon as he watched from the ship taking them home. It almost worked and he tried to sit up. But his legs would not move.
Trecann reached down with his hands, groping, panicking, feeling for what was there – only to feel what was not.
He opened his mouth, gagging, then closed it again, his teeth chattering.
The healer came back, chewing on his lip.
‘I’ve news,’ he announced to the tent. ‘A Concordat has been signed… there will be peace.’
The healer tried for a cheerful smile. ‘Well, now we can all go home!’
He left. The tent continued to darken. The sun was setting.
Trecann began to scream.
Well shit. What read. Man I have few words at the moment other than: that was freaking incredible. Nevertheless, I'll try to conjure up a few words here to respond.
I had been thinking of doing a "horror of war" themed story at some point soon here, but I'm not so sure anymore. It would be woefully inadequate compared to this story. The Elder Scrolls games never give you the sense of what people are actually going through, and I was especially disappointed with that in the Civil War in Skyrim. Damn does this ever capture that feeling though. I can see where you drew inspiration from old accounts I've read from World War I and Vietnman vets. This touched on so many of the themes I've seen in those types of stories but masterfully wove them into the Elder Scrolls setting seemlessly. I never once felt like "oh yeah that's ripped right out of WWII" or anything. The transition seemed effortless and very well done. Great details like Trecann clinging to small things like his boots to keep his sanity, the attempt at not thinking, the lack of motivation to fight, etc.
I loved that you kept the "plot" in this one pretty loose. In fact it was barely even there at all. It was focused almost entirely on the character and it was perfect that way. Loved what you did with Trecann and his comrades. I could pretty much feel what he was feeling in a way as I read. Another thing that really stuck out in this piece was the dialogue. Believeable, personal, characteristic. Overall just awesome.
One of the details that didn't escape my notice was the setup of the terror of Trecann losing his legs when he said that his favorite thing was the sand between his toes. Knowing he would never feel that again made his final injury all the more impactful. The other thing I really liked was the opening. It hooked me in, giving context to an important detail without feeling like needless exposition and more feeling like a dull reflection of one of the soldiers. Interesting decision to tell this story from the Dominion perspective as well, I haven't seen that too often. One final thing to gush about before I move on to the few criticisms I have, I appreciated that you didn't shy away from very dark themes like rape and violence, without being overly or grotesequely descriptive. Everything in that vein felt as if it had just enough detail to give you a horrific picture of what was going on but didn't go into unnecessary detail to risk encumberng the story. Well done there.
I always try to add some sort of hopefully helpful criticism, which is hard with this one. If I had to recommend something ... man I really can't think of anything lol. I'm sure something will come to me and I might add it later but I just want to get this out there so you can get a reaction to your awesome work. Well done indeed, sincerely hoping for more work like this from you.
Gotta agree. I have thought of writing a Civil or Great War centric fic in the POV of civilians, taking inspiration from This War of Mine and such
Thanks for the support and encouragement! This is a piece I wrote a while ago and I'm glad it still holds up. I'm in the middle of revising a lot of my work and I'll be posting quite a bit on the site in the near future. I'll be looking forward to your input since you seem to be amazing with it!
This was fantastic! Really cool to see a story like this told from the Aldmeri perspective. Lots of great little details here covered by Pixel in their comment. Looking forward to more from you!