In Love and War: Chapter One - Helgen


Chapter One - Helgen

I could see the smoke and smell the burning of flesh long before Helgen came into view. The rancid aroma was enough to make my stomach turn. I encountered the scent before, but only in passing; never had the stench been so potent that it saturated the air and caused me to become physically ill. I had to break strides many times upon approaching the city, as the smell gagged me and nearly caused me to lose my dinner. I could only imagine what had happened to create a fragrance so vile. I reasoned an inn had caught fire during the night, trapping its occupants inside. That was the only scenario I could imagine that could explain the intensity.

Eventually, my body grew used to the odor, and I continued urging my horse closer to the settlement. Helgen finally came into view as I reached the apex of an overlooking hill. The steed stumbled to a stop on the cobblestone road, nostrils flaring in fatigue and fear. I stared down the hill as well, realizing I had underestimated the severity of the destruction. Through the billowing smoke, I could make out the remains of important buildings and structures. There was what appeared to be a tavern across the town, a few lookout towers left standing, and the remains of an Imperial Flag mounted on the crumbling inner wall. Debris littered the ground inside said walls in confusing and sporadic patterns. The town was completely devastated.

I needed several moments to comprehend all I could see. From my perch on the hill, I could make out no signs of life. Not a single soul moved around the square or wandered the streets between homes. Further, the eerie silence confirmed no one was calling for aid from within the smoldering houses. I wanted to believe everyone had evacuated prior to the destruction but, logically, it was impossible for the entire town to make it to safety given the extent of the damage. With no doubt in my mind that a rescue mission would turn up empty, I wondered who, or what, could cause such chaos.

My first assumptions led me to believe the attack on Helgen was an act of war. After all, the country was amid civil conflict. Helgen, as I was aware, was under Imperial control. Perhaps the rebels, the Stormcloaks as they called themselves, had been given the chance to attack the town and wanted to send a message to our empire. My theory was quickly dismantled, however, as it lacked the evidences of such an attack. An assault as large as the one before me would require large artillery, namely catapults, to carry out. There was no sign of such weapons, let alone room for them to be set up in the surrounding forest. Moreover, I hadn’t heard of Stormcloaks killing innocents in mass before. This was their homeland after all.

The next logical choice was to assume bandits played a part in the attack. They certainly had no issue in killing the multitudes, but still, the thieves lacked artillery. I considered mages and even supernatural beings but every theory was missing means or methods. I decided I would need to investigate the hamlet at ground level to know for certain who could have done something so horrendous. Even if I could do nothing to bring back the townsmen, I needed to find out what killed them for my own sanity.

My horse, Epona, was understandably skittish as we approached the gate. On the other side, the sounds of crackling house fires and whispering wind greeted us. Whether they bid us welcome or warned us to stay away, I didn't know but also didn't care. I dismounted, patting the animal’s neck gently and muttered a word or two of comfort. I left her a moment to approach the gate on my own but out of habit she followed me closer, only a stride-length behind. Pressing the back of my hand to the wood, I determined the fires that once raged inside were no longer close to the gate. Just for good measure, I peeked through the opening in the two doors before forcing one the rest of the way open. I took hold of Epona’s reins and coaxed her through the passage. It was safer for the both of us if she was nearby if trouble came our way.

I found a hitching post, rather the remains of a hitching post, just inside the gate. After tying the mare to the beam, she let me know her anxieties by pawing the ground several times. I rubbed her snout to comfort her before remembering I had brought a snack for her as a part of my rations. As I searched through the saddle bags at her side, a tower across town resorted to crumbling. I flinched, glancing to my right to watch the old structure disappear behind the interior wall. Epona looked that way as well, her ears forward and the whites of her eyes flashing. I comforted, “It’s just the tower, Ep; nothing is going to get you.” My words had little effect on the wild-eyed horse, so I continued my search for the ration. I carefully untied the straps on the large pouch at her rear. I rummaged through the contents and found my prize: a large green apple.

As I produced the fruit from the bag, the house closest to us finally gave way. The resulting crash sent ash and splintered wood in all directions, a terrifying sight for the already terrified animal. The fall distracted me as well and I had little time to brace myself from the horse’s outbreak. The mare kicked towards the oncoming debris, nailing me in the chest. I felt my breath hitch as I was sent flying backwards. I hit the ground back first, my head following closely behind. I struggled to breathe as pain surged through my limbs.

My vision was blurry for a few seconds, but I was conscious enough to see the animal go into a panic. Her whinnies sounded like shrieks as she reared, the reins that were tied to the post going taut. Her hooves pounded at the wood, eventually breaking it in two. After breaking free, I expected her to leave me, fear driving her far from Helgen. Contrarily, she calmed herself down once she was no longer tied, pacing up and down the street a few times before walking the short distance over to me. As I laid on the ground, breathless, she lowered her head beside mine, sniffing the short blonde strands of hair that fell from beneath my helmet. I thought she meant it as an apology, but as her nose moved to my trembling hand that still grasped the apple, I knew her true motives. She nudged the fruit from my grip, eating it happily and snorting. I groaned, barely managing to voice my displeasure, “You mule.”

It didn’t take me long to take control of my body and breathing again. I got up, using the horse to steady myself until the dizziness ebbed away entirely. I didn’t believe I had a concussion, but out of habit I checked for injury. I removed my leather helm and ran my fingers through my hair to feel for blood and tenderness. I was relieved to find nothing of concern, but took precautions regardless. I wasn’t going to remove all my armor, especially with the threat of whoever destroyed Helgen returning, so I resorted to feeling for breaks in my ribs through the lightly armored breastplate. Luckily, the horse had struck the piece near center, avoiding the sensitive and breakable areas of the ribs. I would have a large bruise but I wouldn’t be anything I hadn’t received before.

Epona’s attention returned to me after she finished the remnants of her apple. I scowled at her, picking up her lead. “Are you done?” She looked at me with much calmer eyes, her tongue licking at her fuzzy lips. “I’ll leave you loose if you stop trying to bolt at every noise. Everything here is dead.” The last sentence I said with more solemnity, but the animal acted indifferently. She was still alert, but not as wary as she had been while secured to the hitching post. Regardless, I decided to close the gate. If we needed to leave in a hurry, we could find another way. She was far too skittish to go near the crumbling walls alone, so I could almost guarantee she would be in the clearings waiting for me. I looped the reins around the saddle horn and commanded her to stay even though I knew she probably wouldn't. I then drew a deep breath as I began my investigation.

I didn’t have to walk far to come across the first body. The genderless form had fallen just outside their home, the house that had crumbled nearby. The body was curled into a neat ball, mimicking the fetal position. I carefully approached, resting a hand on the scorched skin. The body still felt warm but the skin flaked away at my touch, telling me they had been burned alive but not too long ago. Alarmed, I retracted my hand and stared into the house. I could make out the remains of at least one other person in the wreckage, but they were in the same state as their counterpart.

I left those bodies where they laid and continued to the next house. While I saw no occupants inside the home, two bodies were sprawled out on the steps. Both wore remnants of dresses, but the smaller form was clearly that of a child. Like the bodies before, both were burnt and stiff. Their roof had collapsed in several places, but overall the building stood stable. Curious, I stepped past the bodies and entered the home. While everything inside was covered with a fine layer of dust and ash, it largely remained untouched. The family had quite a few items of value on display, even more stored away in a strongbox on the mantle, but they had not been taken.

One of the central walls within the town had collapsed prior to my arrival, so I was forced to work my way through the inn to reach the other side. Again, I found plenty of things worth looting including gold, jewelry, and untouched ale. I reasoned if burglary had been a motive, the thieves would have made off with most if not all the loot. Similarly, had Stormcloaks sacked Helgen, they would have taken at least something as a prize, notably the mead. I wasn’t satisfied with who didn't attack Helgen, however. I determined within myself to continue my search, exiting through the door at the far side of the inn.

As I pried the door open, my heart ached at the sight before me. Droves of corpses littered the ground throughout the square and surrounding streets. I stumbled out of the tavern, struggling to accept the death of so many people. They appeared to be fleeing in mass exodus towards the gates, but all had been cut down before they could reach them. In fact, the doors were still shut on the east gate, as no one had yet reached it. From what I could gather, there were men, women, and children among the wreckage. The attacker had no prejudice in choosing its victims. I searched each person for cause of death and they all turned up the same. None had the scratch of a blade or bludgeoning of a mace on them; they all burned in fire.

I was at a loss for who could have done such a thing. Mages or Necromancers could have come through the town and wiped out all the townsmen, but they lacked a motive. They didn’t steal bodies or anything from the homes, and as far as I could tell, they hadn’t set up a camp to fortify their new stronghold. Additionally, magicians tended to be weak defensively, meaning the town guards could have taken them out on their approach or in combat. Even if they the mages had an army strong enough to take over Helgen, there would have been bodies of their fallen intermingled with the guards. Baring this in mind, I concluded what happened at Helgen was beyond the normal races. Whether it was by Aedric or Daedric origin, I didn’t know, but something unworldly had happened to the town.

I knew the attack had nothing to do with why I was stationed in Skyrim but common sense told me my superiors would want to know. I decided to record my findings in my journal to preserve every detail of the town. I made my way back to Epona and began to rummage through the bags again. This time, I produced a leather-bound journal, a quill, and an inkwell. I then made my way back into the ruined tavern. Sadly, it was the only building that had a table left standing. As I sat, I shook the inkwell, mixing the contents thoroughly. After uncorking the ink, I dipped the quill inside and began writing.

I listed the date and address the letter to the Penitus Oculatus Outpost in Dragon Bridge. It was halfway across the country, but in case I didn't make it to them alive, I hoped whoever found my journal would deliver it to them. I then described the conditions of the town as I found it: the stench, the crumbling architecture, the valuables as I found them. I even made sure to list the number of dead and whether they were man, woman, child, citizen, or possible Legionnaire.

As I wrote, I remembered why I came to Helgen in the first place. General Tullius of the Imperial Legion was supposed to be visiting there for a reason that had not been given to me. I tried not to ask questions that were above my rank, but I was curious as to why the general would be so close to the capitol of the Stormcloak Rebellion to begin with. Regardless, I was supposed to meet him there and escort him to Dragon Bridge to meet with Uncle Maro, Commander of the Penitus Oculatus. They had intended on discussing matters of our Emperor, but given the condition of Helgen and the lack of life therein, I realized there was a bigger issue than the emperor's arrival at hand. While I found it implausible that Tullius had made it out of town before the attack, I couldn’t confirm his death since none of the bodies were recognizable beyond a few legion-emblemed breastplates. Regardless, I planned to follow the road to Solitude in hopes of catching anyone that had survived. The opened third gate at the far end of town gave me hope that at least someone escaped.

I read over my findings once more and I dipped my quill into the inkwell again to correct a spelling error I had made in haste. Suddenly, a rumble like thunder erupted from the silence. What I heard sounded like a voice, followed by the noise of rocks shifting and rolling. I hurried out the door of the tavern and through the streets, searching for the source of the noise. I waited in silence several seconds, my eyes resting on a decrepit tower across the square. For a moment, I believed I had imagined the sound, but again, I heard the word echo from within the wreckage. The word was clearer and more powerful this time, but it was spoken in a tongue in which I was unfamiliar. The word lingered in the air, giving me time to process it: “Fus…”

At the realization that someone or something had survived the attack, I immediately went to action. I jogged to the tower ruins across the way, carefully avoiding the dead on the ground. I heard the word again upon my approach, watching in amazement as more stone flew from the entrance of the tower to make a path for whoever was trapped inside. Unsettling, however, was the noise that followed. The tower moaned and trembled as its support was slowly being removed. It was threatening to collapse in full with every stone that moved away. In a panic, I ran to the structures edge, shouting to whoever was on the inside, “Stop! The tower is going to collapse!”

A long silence answered me. I stared at the tower wall in front of me, cautiously moving to where the entrance should have been. A few large boulders supported the structure, but also blocked the way. Smaller stones filled in the crevasses between the larger ones and blocked me from seeing inside. I called again, “Can you hear me? The tower is going to collapse if you do that again!”

To my surprise, a man answered me. “I hear you, barely.”

Stay put,” I directed, carefully moving the smaller rocks so that we could hear each other better. “I’m going to see about getting you out.”

As I cleared an opening, I heard the man scoff. “Stay put? Where else would I be going?” I couldn’t see him, but by his accent alone I could tell he was a Nord. His voice was thick and hearty, as I imagined any Nord’s would be. Additionally, the deep tones in his voice allowed me to assume he was middle-aged, while his short-temper caused me to believe he was injured in some way. My suspicions were confirmed as I noticed his labored breathing and slight groan as he shifted positions.

How bad are your injuries?” I asked him, continuing my work in removing the stone.

I’ll manage,” he replied shortly.

I’m a healer,” I informed him, pulling a stone from its place in the wall. I cringed as the entire tower groaned, shaking slightly before growing still again.

The Nord mocked, “I won’t be needing a healer should you crush me beneath the rocks.”

I won’t crush you,” I assured him, tossing the small stone aside looking through one of the openings between the rocks. I couldn’t see him well enough to assess his injuries, but I knew he wouldn’t be getting out on his own. He was propped against the back wall, a knee to his chest and the other at an odd angle in front of him. He wouldn’t ask her for help, as pride made up a Nord’s very being, so I would have to force my help upon him. “I have an idea to get you out, but I need you to move as close as you can to the opening.”

The Nord started to protest, but the crumbling tower above him silenced his objections. I assured him I would return and hurried to get Epona. I carefully lead the animal through the carnage and around to the tower. As she arrived, she curiously pressed her nose to one of the clefts. To both of our surprise, a hand reached through the hole to pet the mare’s nose. She flinched at the sudden gesture, but didn’t pull away. I smiled faintly as I watched the thick, callused hand rub her snout. I didn’t see his face, but the man seemed a bit relieved I hadn’t left as he muttered, “You’ve got a horse. Now what?”

I tossed off my helm and matching bracers to make my work easier, and untied Epona’s reins. I passed one end into the dark and told the man my plan. “We’re going to use the reins as rope and tie it around this boulder. Epona’s going to pull it out, and I’ll help you out before the tower falls. It will be easy.”

Easy?” The Nord questioned, passing me the rope on the other side. “If you’re wrong, the tower will come down on both of us.”

I stayed quiet a moment as I took the rein from his hand, making sure the rock was fairly secure before tightening the line around it. “Well if I’m right, I’ve managed to save your life.” I heard the man scoff and hummed in amusement. “Don't worry. I won't hold it against you, sir.” I heard what sounded like a faint chuckle as I took the rein from him again. I tied the loose end of the reins together, and wrapped it around the horn of Epona’s saddle until the entire design was near taut.

As I looked over our work, I realized it was actually a terrible plan. Should the rope snap, or the rock move the wrong way, the tower would come crumbling before we had time to escape. Even if I managed to get him out in time, we still risked the tower falling into the clearing and crushing us as we ran. The man must have detected my hesitation. “If it won't work, I can try to get out of here myself.”

I frowned as I responded, “I'm not leaving you. This will work.” I took an apple from the saddle bag and drew deep breath. “Are you ready, sir?”

Sovngarde awaits us…” The Nord murmured as he removed his hand from the hole. I heard him get to his feet within the hollow. “I’m ready.”

I nodded though he couldn’t see me and clicked to get the mare’s attention. She looked my way, and I hurled the apple far across the square. The glutton rushed after her treat, halted only a moment by the boulder. I readied myself as the stone made small lurches forward, moving in time with the horse’s motion. Within moments, it was freed from the wall and the tower began to rock and groan. Adrenaline driving me, I dove into the opening and wasted no time in supporting the Nord, tucking myself under his shoulder. His speed was slower due to the injuries, so I had to match his pace to prevent tripping. Our destination was the gate which, if we could reach it, was far enough away to prevent being crushed.

I knew I couldn’t look back, but the temptation grew as I heard the roar of the crumbling tower. It started to finally give as we began our trek across the plaza. Even with the slower pace, we still tripped up on the dead scattered on the ground. I kept my focus ahead, but the man must have stolen a glance behind. I heard him nearly growl his words. “It’s falling our way.” As I felt the wind from the falling stones at our heels, I too realized we would not be making it to the gate.

In desperation, I grabbed the Nord and tossed him away from me, out of the tower’s path. He staggered a distance on his injured leg before collapsing and sliding into the stone wall at the town’s center. I planned to follow, but once I shoved the larger man to safety, I lost balance and tripped on one of the many dead that plagued the ground. I slid to a stop and reflexively curled into a ball, covering my head with my arms as an involuntary squeak left my lips. It was all I could do to brace myself from the stone. The roar became deafening, but even it was drowned out by three words.

Fus Ro Dah!” The words, thick in Nordic accent, seemed to vibrate my very core. They lingered in the air for just a moment before silence answered them. After what seemed like decades, I looked up from my position to find the top half of the tower scattered in the square behind me. The crumbling structure should have crushed me, and still I laid untouched.

I turned my gaze to the man I had rescued. He laid against the rubble, breathing heavily. His eyes showed no fear but were concentrated on where the tower should have fallen: right where I laid. For a while, we stared at each other. I was in too much shock to process what had happened. I slowly sat up, a hand running through my hair to pull the strands away from my eyes. Finally, I could feel a smile pull at my lips. The empty courtyard was filled with my joyous laughter. I was so overcome with relief that I couldn’t help myself. Many thoughts raced through my mind. First, I ensured I wasn’t dreaming lucidly or on my way to Aetherius. I pressed a hand over my heart. Though I couldn’t feel it through the armor, it still pounded within my body. The pulse was so vigorous that I heard it in my ears. Still, I was happy to just feel it beat. My voice trembled faintly as I confirmed, “We’re alive!”

You’re an Imperial.” The gruffness in the Nord’s reply was in sharp contrast to my jubilant announcement. His tone caught me off guard, making my relief change to caution. I looked him over, considering my reply. Since I was finally able to get a good look at him, I tried to take in every detail. My assumption about his age was confirmed as I examined the wrinkles and condition of his hair. The fair-colored strands were slicked back and braided in some areas but were of decent length. He kept his facial hair well-groomed, but I could see small tinges of silver beginning to make in appearance in his beard. His cold hazel eyes were fixed upon me in a way that showed distrust, almost hatred. Nords were known to have thicker bodies than the Cyrodillic race, and this one was no exception. He was nearly twice my size in terms of mass but in his injured state was quite vulnerable. Moreover, by the attire he donned I assumed the man was a noble of some sort. The only armor he wore were bracers, and judging by the wear on them, he had only used them a few times. He had no weapons on him, but I kept mine close just the same.

My body still aching with adrenaline, I rose to my feet to address him. “And you’re a Nord. I don’t see how our races change the fact that we both escaped death by a hair.” He didn’t respond but didn’t take his gaze away from me, either. If anything, the glare seemed to get stronger. I took a moment to calm my breathing and continued, “Now that you’re free, let me have a look at your injuries.”

My injuries? Imperial scum! You’d just as soon kill me than heal my injuries!” He nearly growled his words as he propped himself higher against the wall. Growing up in the Cyrodiil, it wasn’t uncommon to hear about hatred between people or slurs about the lesser races, but never in my life had I witnessed expressed hatred for an Imperial, especially me. I knew many Nords, specifically Stormcloak sympathizers, sought freedom from our Empire for reasons I did not understand, but I didn’t know their hatred for my kind would run so deep.

Rather than feel angry, I pitied the man. If he hated the Empire, and myself in turn, surely, he had a reason. I reasoned his experiences with the Legion hadn’t been the best or he had been force fed Stormcloak propaganda. Either way, he didn’t seem to understand what kindness we could give. I met his unwavering gaze before drawing my sword and burying the tip of the blade into the earth at my feet. I showed him my empty hands before approaching. “If I wanted you dead, sir, wouldn’t it have been easier to leave you in that tower?” My question seemed to comfort him slightly. His hands softened out of the fists he clenched together and he visibly relaxed. I pressed, “Even if I killed you now, what would I have to gain? There’s no glory in killing an unarmed, injured man.”

I took his silence for acceptance and knelt at his feet. His leg was in bad shape. From the bruising, I could tell the knee had been crushed while the shin was split near center. I made sure my touch was gentle as I ran my fingers along his limb. Still, he winced as I felt of his knee. I kept my voice soft as I told him, “I'm surprised you were able to walk at all. I can restore it partially with my Magicka reserves, but it will take more than what I’m able to give at one time. I can do what I can now, and when I’m able I’ll try again, if you’re willing to accept my help.”

The Nord considered my offer for a moment, deeply weighing his options. His stern gaze broke from mine and he looked towards the sky. His voice was a tad gentler than before as he shifted his weight against the wall. “Do what you can then. I don’t have any other options.”

I smiled slightly, giving a nod in agreement. “No, sir, I don’t believe you do. You’ll just have to trust me.” I looked down at my hands, concentrating on them as a white-gold flame materialized in each palm. The Nord’s gaze shifted to my hands as well. I informed him, “It may hurt for a moment, but the pain will ebb eventually.” With his nod of approval, I positioned my hands over the knee and began casting the spell to heal the limb.

We both winced as we heard the cracking of bone beneath my hands. I could only imagine the pain he was feeling, but he didn’t show a sign of it besides the occasional scowl. I envied the man for his resolve. If he was this robust in times of pain, surely he was a fine warrior at top form. It worried me slightly that he might turn on me once he was healed, but I had faith that he would repay my kindness with his own. After all, I risked a lot for him. I must have proven myself in some way at least.

After a minute or two of holding the spell, I felt myself growing weary. I hesitantly withdrew my hands, the flame diminishing. I sat back on my rear, propping myself up by stretching my hands out behind me. I shut my eyes and drew a deep breath. It took a lot of energy to heal something so damaged. The Nord must have recognized that as he muttered in a soft voice, “Thank you.”

The appreciation caught me off guard. My eyes opened slowly as I sat back up to face him. “Sir?” I asked with a small smile. “Did you thank me?”

The man frowned, scoffing quietly, “Don’t expect me to say it again, Imperial.” The scowl slowly faded into a neutral expression as he asked, concern laced in his voice, “Why are you helping me? I would have expected less of you.”

I raised an eyebrow. “You don’t have much faith in Legionnaires, do you?”

We don’t see eye to eye,” he muttered, not offering much else of an explanation.

I nodded slowly. I thought a moment, looking myself over. My fingers traced the insignia on my breastplate, pointing it out to him. “I’m with the Penitus Oculatus. I’m not here to fight in your war. I am here to protect the emperor and the empire’s people. I don’t care what side of the war someone chooses; if they need aid and I’m able to lend it, I will.”

For reasons unknown to me, the Nord looked amused. His lips moved in such a way that hinted a smile. He responded in an entertained tone, “The empire’s people? What of the Nords that don’t consider themselves a part of the Empire? Do you still help them?” He paused only a moment before continuing, “Would you help a Stormcloak?” I had to take a moment to consider his questions. I realized while in this land I would have to face this problem eventually: should I encounter a Nord in need that would slaughter me for being a daughter of the empire, what was I to do? I must have remained silent long enough for him to realize it was a hard question for me. He asked instead, “Are you here to only help those that can help you, or are you here to help the oppressed?”

I wasted no time in answering, “The oppressed. I can't stand the sight of people being preyed upon...” I glanced away from him a moment to recollect my thoughts. “As much as I can, I will help anyone who needs it. If the need arose, then I would even help Ulfric Stormcloak himself.”

The Nord raised a brow and crossed his arms. “You’re for the wrong side, Imperial.” I flinched at the response, confusion in my expression as I turned to face him. Before I had a chance to respond, he clarified, “You fight for the oppressed, but protect their oppressor. The Empire and its emperor have betrayed us. We fought for her and were rewarded by burdens.” I tilted my head slightly, intrigued yet offended by this notion. He drew a deep breath and muttered, “If you plan on being in Skyrim for much longer, look around. Her people are suffering at the hand of the empire.”

I didn’t have a rebuttal to his claim, so I simply agreed to take a closer look. I stretched out my arms before readying the spell again. “Where do you plan on going after this? Was Helgen your home?”

He shook his head. “I don’t live here, and I don’t plan on ever coming back either.” He winced again as I began the spell, but continued speaking, “There is a camp east of here I can make it to. They’ll see that I make it home.”

I nodded to him, unable to speak while preforming the restoration. As I neared the end of my reserves however, I asked, “Can you move it?”

The Nord looked over his leg, hesitantly pulling it to his chest. I flinched as I heard a loud pop from the joint, but he seemed unfazed. He practiced bending and extending the limb a few times before nodding at me. “It seems all right.”

I removed my hands, sighing in relief, and took a moment to regain some energy. I watched the noble with a soft smile and rose to my feet. “Let’s see you walk, then.” I extended my hand down to him. He studied me a moment before grabbing my forearm to hoist himself up. I returned the gesture and held my other hand out in case he fell. He put a small amount of weight on the leg and tried to step on it. I frowned as he swayed slightly and put the weight back on his other leg. “I can try to heal it again, if you wish.”

He shook his head. “I just need a potion or two and I’ll be fine. There will be plenty at the camp.” He tried to walk on the injured limb again, this time making it a few steps before having to adjust his weight.

I watched him struggle for a few more steps, running my fingers through the short strands of my hair as I debated on what to do. I hesitantly walked in front of him to get his attention. “I’ll take you to the camp. I have a horse you can take there. Besides, I wouldn’t feel right leaving you on the road alone after everything that’s happened.”

The man frowned down at me huffing and hesitantly nodding. “Fine, but only to the camp.” I nodded to him and helped him sit back down. I walked back to the wall to my sword and sheathed it once again. I then paced the length of the crumbled tower to find my helm and bracers barely out of the way of the stone. I pulled them back on before making my way to where the horse waited. She was far from the tower, licking the remains of the apple I had tossed to her. The boulder and rigging was still tied, but it was surprising how it even worked. The reins were stretched beyond repair but usable for the time being.

I came back to him, leading Epona to where he sat in the courtyard. The mare sniffed his hair and he reached to rub the animal’s nose again. He stated, “Cyrodiil’s horses are so thin. It’s a surprise they can support any weight.”

I smiled faintly. “There’s no faster breed in all of Tamriel, though. She doesn’t need to carry much if she’s fast.”

I extended my arm to him again and he took it without hesitation. “Perhaps, but they sure are sickly looking creatures.” He limped to Epona’s side, using her for support until he pulled himself up. The horse snorted as he sat down in the saddle. “I’m surprised she can carry my weight.”

I scoffed teasingly and rolled my eyes. I gripped the reins once again and started for the east gate around the corner. “How far until we get to this camp of yours?”

Not far,” he told me. “Follow the road towards the mountains.” His thick hand rested on the horn of the saddle as we walked while the other rested at his side. He looked ahead, stealing a glance at me every so often.

After unlocking the gate, I pushed open both doors and studied the road ahead for signs of danger. As long as the town had been abandoned, I wouldn’t be surprised of opportunistic predators had come to investigate. I could handle bandits and the like well enough on my own, but I worried about cats and bears along the way. I had yet to face those in battle. Still, I didn’t voice my concerns for fear that the Nord might ridicule me.

We walked for a while in silence, both of us seeming to enjoy just being away from that condemned city. The stillness between the two of us allowed my mind to wander, however. “You must have been in Helgen when it was attacked to end up trapped in that tower.” I glanced back at him in time to see him nod. I continued, “Do you know what happened then?”

A dragon attacked.” The absurdity of the statement caused me to stop dead in my tracks. I asked him to repeat and in a completely serious tone he stated, “A dragon attacked Helgen.”

I turned around to face him, my hand resting on the horse’s neck. I felt my eyebrow cock as I asked, “You aren’t serious, are you? A dragon?” He stared at me in response, a frown on his lips. “You are?” I was silent several moments, staring down at the ground trying to fully understand. “How… How did a dragon attack Helgen?”

He sighed. “You asked what happened, and I told you. I don’t know how or why, but I know it was a dragon. There is no other beast that can do what it did.”

I nodded slowly and hesitantly started walking again. “Did you actually see it? Dragons have been dead for a long time. Maybe it was something else.”

He grumbled his words. “If it had been anything else, I would have told you. It was a dragon, Imperial. I saw it burn down homes and swallow up people. It called down fire and stone from the skies. Its skin was darker than night and its eyes as red as the flames it spewed. If it was anything else, I would have been grateful, but it was a dragon. If you don’t believe it, just look at the town. What else could have done something so terrible?”

I nodded quickly. “I believe you. I just… I don’t understand.” I looked back ahead, cautiously looking at the sky. “If you turn out to be the only survivor, you need to tell someone. You can tell a Jarl or someone of power, and I’ll tell my commander. He’ll know who to get the word to.”

I’m not the only survivor,” he stated. “I’m sure there are others. Some Legionnaires started retreating the moment the dragon appeared. The cowards probably made it to Falkreath by now.” He looked back ahead and motioned to a bend in the road. “Take that path.”

I changed our direction and glanced back at him. “Can I ask something else?”

He sighed, “You’ll ask even if I say no.” He looked back at me with the faintest hint of a smile.

I returned the gaze. “How did you do that shouting?” He raised an eyebrow at my question. I clarified, “When the tower was falling, you shouted something to make it stop, right? How did you do that?”

The Thu’um?” He asked glancing ahead of us. “It’s dragon tongue. It took years to learn how to speak in that voice, and those are three of the six words I know. That particular shout pushes and moves things, be it people, stone, animals…”

I hummed slightly as I listened to him speak. “Did the shout have anything to do with the dragons coming back?”

He shook his head. “If a simple shout could summon a dragon, the Greybeards would have drawn their attention long ago. They speak in dragon tongue all the time. I doubt my shouting had anything to do with a dragon attacking Helgen.” He turned his gaze to me, cocking a brow slightly. “You’re full of questions, aren’t you?”

I glanced back at him with a small smile. “I like to know things. I’m analytical.” I paused a moment, spotting campfire smoke above the wood line farther up the hill. I continued the trek up the steep slope, asking, “If you don’t live in Helgen and you have a camp so close by, why were you there to begin with?”

The Nord smiled shrewdly. “Now you’re asking the right questions.” I looked at him over my shoulder, his answer making me suspicious. “The Legionnaires brought us there. We were set to be executed.”

I pulled the horse to a stop, turning to face him fully. I scowled, my hands resting on my hips. “Executed? Why is that?” He didn’t answer me immediately, letting me put together everything I knew. His words began to sink in and my heart nearly skipped a beat as I realized who I may have been helping. To be certain, I asked in a soft, wavering voice, “Are you a Stormcloak?”

He began to answer, but his eyes darted up the hill at the sound of a sword drawing. Instinctively, I reached for my own blade, turning on my heels to face whoever came our way. I raised my blade in time to deflect a fatal blow, but stumbled a few steps backwards in response. The armored Nord stood between me and the man on the horse, sword and shield at the ready. I could have easily taken him alone, but looking beyond him, I saw at least seven or eight other equally deadly soldiers rushing down the hill towards us. Outnumbered, I slid my sword back into the sheath, and slightly lifted my hands in a submissive gesture.

The soldier didn’t put his blade away. His eyes stayed locked on me until his comrades drew closer. He then addressed the noble on the horse, his words making my heart ache from fear. “Jarl Ulfric! Are you all right?” My eyes shifted away from the soldier and back on the man. His gaze remained on me as well even as the other soldiers chimed in: “What happened?” “Why are you alone?” “Where are the others?”

The Jarl finally nodded down to them from the horse. “I’m fine. I’ll fill you in when we get back to the camp.” He gripped the saddle horn as he slid off the horse, motioning one of the soldiers to help support him. “Some potion and mead and I’ll be like new.” The soldier put away his bow and rushed to his superior’s side to support him.

Jarl Ulfric,” the first soldier addressed, approaching me. “What do we do with the Imperial? Are we killing her?” I felt the cool metal tip of his blade at my neck. I didn’t move or say anything in response. Even though I could feel a thin cut forming from the blade, I was not giving him the satisfaction of seeing me weak.

Ulfric halted his walking to turn and look back at me. The two of us stared at each other in silence, neither breaking the gaze. I liked to assume I was as unreadable as he was, but I had always been terrible at keeping hidden my emotions. His gaze was cold for a long moment before something changed in his eyes. He finally broke my gaze, addressing the soldier once more. “Let her go.”

The charge must have stunned the soldier. He looked back at the Jarl asking for clarification, “Sir?”

Let her go.” Ulfric repeated. “It’s an order.” As the blade lowered from my throat, the Nord continued. “Escort her back to Helgen and show her the road to Riverwood. She can find her way to Solitude from there, I assume?” He looked back at me.

Yes, sir.” I kept my voice soft, confused but also pleasantly surprised. I stayed my distance as Epona was brought to me and I was ordered on. As the Stormcloak began leading the horse back down the slope, I stole a glance behind me to the Jarl. His eyes were still fixed upon me as I left. For a moment, I could actually read his complicated expression, perhaps because his emotions so perfectly mirrored my own. We were thankful for each other's compassion, yet conflicted on whether that compassion was misplaced. We were on opposite sides of the war after all. There was no guarantee he wouldn't kill me the next time our paths crossed, but for that moment, I didn't regret my actions.

I realized there would be Oblivion to pay for my blunder, but I knew my uncle would take it better than the general would. Neither of them would be too happy with the questions in my mind however. Did anything Ulfric say have any weight to it? Was Skyrim really oppressed like he suggested? Was the empire really in the wrong? While I fancied the ideas on my trek home, I tried not to entertain them much longer. These ideas incited rebellion, and the last thing I wanted was to cause problems for the empire I loved.



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    • Awe~ I'm glad you liked it. This was my first major attempt at a multi-chapter story so my storytelling evolved with the chapters, but still, I'm major proud of this. Thank you so much for giving it a read.

  • Oh shit, he was Ulfric! I feel stupid for not realizing that as soon as he began to shout, but somehow I was completely caught off guard when the soldier called him Ulfric. I honestly have no idea how I didn't see that coming. I figured he might have been an OC, like your Imperial who still remains nameless, unless I missed it. 

    I'm a bit disappointed her reaction was not more detailed, as I would have loved to see or at least visualize the look on her face when she learned she had rescued Ulfric Stormcloak. . . 

    I have to ask, why Epona as the name for the horse? I understand that it's likely due to your love of Zelda, but to me it's just very distracting. Perhaps that's just me. Also, I didn't realize our main character was a woman until she referenced herself as a daughter of the Empire. Perhaps this is the intention, but that tends to be a problem with first person stories. 

    Other than that, I found a few stylistic matters I take a bit of issue with and a few typos, but nevertheless I find myself intrigued. If I were her, I wouldn't be so keen on telling the general I inadvertently saved Ulfric! I'll be sure to check out the rest soon!

    • Heyo! Glad you gave it a read. This was my first major attempt at writing for the Sky Forge, so there was a lot I learned in the process. Leaving Talia's name out was unintentional, but it is given in the TOC. 

      Her reaction, however, was intentional. Most of my writing for her is written by placing myself in her shoes. I really wouldn't have time to process the entire event until well after the fact. Don't worry though. You'll get plenty of her emotions in later chapters. Haha.

      I actually have never played Zelda. All of the names of OCs in my story have meaning, so I chose a name that fits her. I didn't realize it was a distraction, but I'll keep that in mind with my new story.

      Regardless, I'm glad you gave it a read. :)

      • What I like about your writing is how believable it feels if one were to find themselves in the situation you've placed your characters. 

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