4th Era, 175 Cyrodiil, Bruma
Thousands upon thousands stood at the gates, baying for blood since the emperor had abdicated to the terms of the elven filth. But here they still stood in open defiance. Though only numbering little more than a few hundred strong, they were not about to forsake Talos, the patron god of their proud city and man. The Black Eagle would never bow to the gold.
The smoke of death billowed forth from below the battlements. The cries of expendable fodder howled into the air as the men poured hot pitch through the machicolations. "Torches" Legate Guntar's voice boomed. A thick wall of flames and black smoke erupted as fire met oil, flesh, and bone, transforming the cries into a vulgar crescendo of pain. Mage fire and blasts of raw magic lashed out in retaliation scouring the hardstone walls and crenels of the Eastern gate. Joramund heard a horn sound off in the distance, and the remaining Aldmeri forces began to retreat. But for how long. The thought was not comforting and had him wondering when the next wave of zealots was due.
"Rider approaching", Sergeant Korlan cried out. Far across the scorched and bloody fields, Joramund could make out the pale silhouette of a lone horseman brusquely cantering toward them.
"Archers at the ready" Legate Guntar bellowed.
The lone rider on her pale horse drew nearer, kicking up ash and snow and crushing crumpled and mangled corpses in her wake. She pulled up short of the battlements, her horse snorting hot steam from its snout. The woman had fairer features than most Altmer, and atop her mount, she almost had the visage of a wraith, with her silvered armour and her long white hair trailing in the wind.
"Speak elf", the Legate said through gritted teeth.
Cold eyes locked on Guntar, and the wraith opened her maw. "Surender now to the terms of the White gold Concordat and those who lay down their arms will be pardoned. Refuse these terms then you and all your families shall be put to the sword. What say you?" Her icy voice hung in the air for a moment, as she shuffled her stead on the frozen soil in impatience.
"We say, no! True sons of the empire will never bow to Elven rule. Take your false bargains back to your masters, vile harlot". Legate Guntar's words hissed from the battlements.
"As you wish. You'll not be seeing me again. Though some of you may be reunited with your families sooner than you think…" The rider said with the same cold conviction she had delivered her terms in. And with that, she was gone, on her way back to the Dominion encampment. If she had not been so distant Joramund would have sworn he could have seen the flicker of a smile in those last words.
"Shore up defences and restock our arrows men, it's going to be a long night". The Legate's voice sounded ragged and tired, Joramund found himself wondering how much sleep the man had had, over the last few days. Not one of them had had much to be true. But Guntar had been pressing himself to the brink, and it was showing. Dark rings hung under heavy brown eyes, his hair and beard were unkempt, and his face was stained with sweat and soot from the battle.
"Legate?" Joramund asked as he approached the weary old Nord. "Legate when was the last time you slept?"
"Sleep? Ha! Sleep is for the weak. I'll sleep when I'm dead boy. There's too much at stake to worry about something so menial. The men need me, and I'll be damned if I'll be counting sheep while those filthy elves are out there plotting oblivion knows what! Now get back to your detail and be on your guard!" Legate Guntar glowered disapprovingly.
"But sir". Can't he see he needs the rest for all our sakes? "If the-"
"But nothing boy. Do as I say, or I'll have flogged for insubordination". The insult stung, but Joramund relented.
"Yes, sir, of course". He walked alone along the ramparts and gazed out beyond the walls.
Cold winds blew in swirls of ash and snow across the crimson smeared field of battle. Hundreds of corpses on both sides laid lifeless; the glorious yellow tunics of The Bruma Guard, the ruby red of The Empire, the steel and bronze of The Blades, and the black and gold of The Dominion. All were now a feast for the crows and other carrion eaters. They were in the eye of the storm, a lull in the battle and soon chaos would befall them again.
Beyond Bruma, the Aldmeri army had assembled siege weapons. Trebuchets, scorpions, and ballistae surrounded the city walls like a noose slowly closing around their necks.
As twilight set in, he made his way down the ramparts and toward the temple. The destruction was plain to see; the cobbled streets were scarred where the Aldmeri trebuchets had loosed rocks and flaming debris across the walls leaving homes smouldering in burnt-out husks. Further on, there were several old carts full of the deceased tucked into an alley. With only canvas sheets to protect their dignity and mask the pungent smell of decay, it spoke of an ignominious end for those who were destined for better. We must burn these poor bastards before disease takes root. To die in fear and never reach the halls of Sovengarde, a sorry way to go. "By the edge of my blade, the lash of my lightning or blow of my shield these elves will rue the day they set foot in our lands", Joramund vowed.
The temple loomed ahead pot marked and marred from the conflict. At the entrance moths flitted about the lit lanterns, every so often one would fly too close to the flame, and its velveteen wings would be burnt to cinders. You poor pitiful creatures, thought Joramund as he passed through the threshold of the temple.
Inside a low curtain of smoke had formed from the many alight tallow candles. The grand Temple of Talos, once a place of worship was now being used as a place of refuge. Shop keeps, wenches, peasants, and other small folk all huddled together cowering beneath the roof of the great temple while the more fortunate residents sat cosy within the high walls of The Countess's Castle.
To his left, the injured and maimed were being tended to by healers and acolytes of the faith. One man looked as though he'd been struck by falling debris, his leg shattered and broken. Half his face was bloodied and burnt, bubbling blisters and charred flesh was all that remained of his ear which had sloughed away from his face. Ahead a young boy was crying in vain for his still mother, hot tears, and snot streaming down his flushed cheeks.
Joramund pressed on toward the rear of the temple where meagre rations were being given out by an elderly woman. Her steely grey eyes were bloodshot and puffy. From the smoke, lack of sleep, or the atrocities of war? He could not say. She handed him a stale heel of bread and some tepid water, then firmly clasped his free hand in hers. "Talos go with you child", she said, bowing her head.
"Thank you", Joramund lowered his head, "may he grant us victory". And failing that, a death worthy of Sovengarde.
In a quiet corner, Joramund sat alone with his crust and water, steeling himself for the coming storm. The food and drink were doing little to slake his appetite. Damn the emperor and damn the elves. What have I left but war? I'd hoped to live out my days on the farm with Freyda and the kids, but the bastards took that from me too… The touch of Freydas' necklace weighed heavily beneath his armour. The pain of losing his kin was still fresh, and the rage within him threatened to boil over.
-Bong, bong, bong-
The deep toll of the temple bells droned out into the night, signalling troop movement beyond the walls. He could hear the beat of his heart as the exhilaration of war drew near. The clangour of armoured men and women moving into their battle positions echoed in the streets.
"And so, it begins," Joramund whispered and recited a silent prayer. Talos give me the strength to best my foes. Julianos, I ask of your wisdom that I might help my comrades in arms to victory. Stendarr, should fate see me fall, show me your mercy. And Arkay. God of death. You come for us all eventually, but I plead this of you. Shepherd the souls of my enemies this night instead. Rising from his shaded corner, he fastened his sword belt to his waist, grabbed his helm off of the table, slid it down over his head, securing it to his gorget and picked up his shield and slipped his arm between the straps. "Open the doors", he said as he strode toward the temple's exit. The doors parted, and he stepped out into the bitter chill of the night, unsheathing his blade and raising it high. "For the empire! For the mighty Talos!!
"Archers, loose!!" The Legate's arm fell in a cutting gesture. Flaming arrows sprung forth from the longbows, climbing up, up and up before eventually arcing down to the enemy in a deadly barrage. "Draw. Hollllld, annnd Loose" Another cascade was sent forth to bring death from above.
Some arrows struck true, piercing mail and flesh, others ricocheted off raised shields or plate, instead, finding purchase in the frosted slush of the battlefield.
Joramund let forth blasts of forked lightning that fizzled from his palm. The furious magic landing like the crack of a whip amid the elven horde, dropping those it struck to the ground in violent spasms.
In the distance, the elves could be seen arming their war machines by the light of torches and arcane magics. Deadly bolts from the scorpions and ballistae began to cut through the air, battering, and chipping away at the hard-stone walls. Joramunds eyes traced the arc of a trebuchet's great arm as it let its contents fly.
"Trebuchets! Take cover!" Joramund yelled, his voice grown hoarse. "By the nine! What? Are they…"? Through the darkness came the dreadful realization of the true meaning behind the pale riders' words, as blood-curdling wails split the night and began raining down into the streets with sickening thuds. The dead joined in flight too, dashing upon the rooftops and hardstone walls leaving bloody streaks where they fell. Fouler corpse's erupted mid-air showering those below in maggots, viscera, and gore. "No, no, no, no! Legate! Those are our people! Those fuckers are using our people!" Guntar had no reply for Joramund. The old man's face had grown grim and pale as he stared solemnly out toward the enemy.
"Battering ram approaching! Legate, we must rea-"
Sergeant Korlan was cut short as a ballista bolt carried him off of the battlements, sending him hurtling to the streets below.
"Korlan nooo! Gods curse those damned elven bastards! Legate! Guntar, what are our orders?". Joramund yelled. Still no reply. "The elves are at the gates Guntar! There's more approaching! We must ready the pitch and torches!".
"The battle is lost son. They have us". Guntar said, turning to Joramund. The words pierced like the thrust of a dagger. The old man's shield and war axe dropped to the ground with a dull clank. The fight had gone from his eyes; all that remained was melancholy. "I've fought long enough to know when a battle is lost, and I'll be damned if I live to see the elves take everything, I hold dear". Guntar stepped out between the crenel in the battlements.
"Sir!?" Joramund dashed toward the Legate too late, as he disappeared over the edge into a sea of death. "You fucking craven bastard!"
Joramund lifted his shield in defence as a gout of fire leapt up at him. The flames coursing to the sides, sending out a surge of hot air and smoke.
"Pitch-We need to throw the pitch!" Joramund coughed, the smoke stinging his lungs.
"Joramund!? Jorammund where's the Legate?" Alyse, an Imperial battlemage, was running up the ramparts toward him.
"Guntars, gone". He died a coward.
"Gone? What do you mean he's gone? Her voice was exasperated and full of confusion. "I saw him up here but a few moments ago".
"He went over the edge. Damned elves got him". Better you think he died fighting than learn the truth. For now, at least.
"Fuck…" Alyse's eyes had grown forlorn as she gazed across the battlefield, her scarlet cloak rippling on the cold highland winds.
Across the battlefield, the familiar punch of a trebuchet releasing could be heard. Anguished howls and corpses came plummeting down from the abyss. One barrelled into the archers sending several men reeling over the parapets. Another came shrieking into the crenel striking with a meaty crunch, not a foot from where Joramund was standing. The impact sending her corpse somersaulting over the battlements and onto the gate guards below. Beside him a bloated arm whirled off of Alyse's spaulder, spattering them in putrid blood and filth.
"Argh fuck!" Alyse spat and threw back her hood, her chestnut hair flickering slightly. "Oh, gods… Joramund it got in my mouth. Spffft". She spat some more using her cloak to wipe the decay from her face. "Fucking monsters".
"Those wretched bastards. In all my years I've never seen such atrocity!" A fury boiled within Joramund an unquenchable flame of unbridled rage that was becoming harder and harder to beat down. Each body slung. Each mother, father and child. Each babe. The anger rose. "What living being can condone such horrors as this!" How could the elves do this? Had they no conscience? Aye, it was war, but this was too much. What fiends would pluck babes from the breasts of their mothers and condemn them to a fate so cruel?
"Where's that god's damned pitch! The bastards are at the gates with their fucking ram". Joramund cursed.
Below the elves had begun pummelling at the gates. The great beak of an eagle-headed ram rocking them with a vicious shockwave upon each methodical blow.
"Alyse come with me. We're going to give those knife eared sons of whores a warm wel-"
"Ladders! They're bringing in siege ladders!"
"How many?" Joramuund feared the answer.
"It's hard to make out. Give me a moment". Alyse quickly incanted a spell and a pale tendril of light trailed from her palms, gliding out toward the unknown. Joramund had almost lost sight of it when the magic exploded into a shower of magnificent white gold light, bathing the lands before them in an enchanting radiance.
"Well… Shit". Light shimmered off of Joramunds helmet as he squinted down toward an ocean of writhing gold and steel. Dozens of siege ladders were bobbing like the sails of great galleys readying to make dock. The steady thump of the battering ram almost keeping a rhythmic beat with the pulsating mass of elves. Retreat. Gods damn it all. We must retreat. The light began to fade and flicker, and the brilliant magic turned to a bleak grey and then all was darkness once more.
"That. That didn't look good." Alyse said, turning to Joramund.
"No." He said, taking a deep breath and chewing his lip. Fucking, fucked is what that looked. "We need to retreat to the castle and damned soon. Those gates can't take much more of a battering, and those fucking ladders will be at the wall any moment. We haven't the numbers to stop that many of them. I need you to take some men to the temple and get as many people as you can to the castle.
"I don't take orders from you". Alyse quipped back.
"Did you not see what I just saw? They have got us beat Alyse! If we stay here, we are fucked! Korlans dead! Guntars dead! We have no fucking leadership. We're the only ones left of this ragtag defence that's got a damn in Oblivion of leading folks out of this mess."
"Joramund!" Alyse raised her palms and a translucent wall of magic warped out in front of them, blocking a rush of frost, sending flashes and ripples across the ward as it absorbed the hostile spell. White hoarfrost glistened and crackled where it had met the stone.
"Son of a! "That was too close. "Thanks", Joramund rasped. "Just…. Gods damn it, Alyse, don't fight me on this".
Her brown eyes focused on him, and for a moment, he thought she was going to argue the point again. "Very well, Joramund. But what will you be doing?"
"I'll hold them off for as long as I can, try and buy you the time you need to get folks to safety. Then I'll fallback with as many as I can muster to the castle. Can you signal with your magic when you're leaving the temple?"
"Good. Well, there's no sense in waiting around. Get going now, hm". He clasped Alyse's gauntleted hand and patted her on the shoulder. "I'll keep em busy long as I can."
"Good luck Joramund, and may Talos guard you."
"And you". The Imperial turned from him, her crimson cloak flowing down the ramparts after her.