Straag Rod Book 1: Fate Goes Ever As it Must, Part 1
Chapter 3: The Attack
“Is it finished?” Haming heard his ma ask from the cooking fire when his da walked in. His da looked pensive as he set his axe against their weathered dining table and took his seat.
“Eggs?” He asked, rubbing his face, like he was suddenly tired or something. He moved his tough, muscled arms out of the way just in time for Haming’s mother to slide a wooden trencher of still-bubbling fried eggs at his place. Nice and runny, just like the ones Haming was working on. His da smiled and sighed. “Thanks, Mattie, just what I needed.” Her name was Matlara, but all in Helgen called her Mattie for short, including da. In fact, da was the one who started it. It was only shorter by a syllable, but it was still shorter, so easier to say, Haming guessed.
“Is it finished?” Haming repeated, as curious as ever. That got a stern look from da and Haming noticed how similar he looked to Grand da then. Only with red hair, much younger, and far less ornery living in his Nordic features. But no one in Skyrim was as ornery as Froki Whetted-Blade, the huntsman of the Rift mountains, the legend who took down the old Guardian Bear all by himself, with nothing but a bow. Grand da had skin that was like tanned leather, it was so lined and seasoned from the wind and frost bite of his hard life. 'Kyne's kisses' he would say. He lived like a hawk high in the mountains, said it brought him closer to the goddess.
His da reached for his tankard of fresh coffee, added a bit of cream and a small sprinkle of the good white sugar, took a sip, and then eyed him.
“They are still reading the Stormcloak’s crimes.” Da then dove into his eggs.
“Still?” Ma looked up from her cooking, her grey eyes widening in surprise. She put her hands on her hips, the stirring spoon for tonight’s boar stew still in one hand. “Well, they are taking their sweet time, Torolf.” She groaned her displeasure while she again bent over the bubbling kettle. “I want them to just finish already and leave Helgen be...”
“There are a lot of crimes. A lot to answer for.” His father countered, scratching his red beard before taking another bite of his breakfast. “Eggs are good, woman.”
“Came fresh from Ingrid this morning. Had enough left from trade for some real white sugar too.”
“I noticed.” Da nodded. “I approve.”
“I’ll make apple fritters for dessert tonight.”
Haming lit up at the mention of apple fritters and so did his da.
“And there are some that disagree.” She continued, like an afterthought, but those words made da frown again. She only resumed her stirring, sweat beading her forehead from being at the fire for most of the day, but already the rich scents of the wild pork simmering in carrots, cabbage, leeks, and broth were filling their small home and it made Haming hungry for better than just fried eggs.
“He killed High King Torygg, woman. In cold blood.” His father’s tone of voice clearly indicated that his was the official opinion of the house. It just left Haming confused and he didn’t like that his parents fought more often since the news of the High King’s death reached Helgen. That it was the Jarl himself who killed the High King. Using the Voice. He didn’t know what that was, only that it was powerful, and the Jarl could do it. He had heard stories of the Jarl’s great deeds, the Great War, Markarth with all those wild naked Reachmen. How does one go from that to killing a king? It didn’t make sense to him.
“Can they even kill a Jarl, da?” He asked. “Behead him like a common criminal?”
“No man is above the laws of Skyrim, little cub. Ulfric Stormcloak must pay for his crimes, like everyone else. It’s not just the High King. Nord blood was shed in Karthwasten.” His da answered, still eating.
“Some say it was the Imperials who shed that blood.”
“Woman, enough.” His da warned, his voice going low. “Not in front of Haming.”
Ma frowned, her stirring going much faster, and she angrily brushed a lock of brown hair away from her face, pushing it back within her bun. Ma’s mood was ever in her stirring. Da gestured with his head towards Haming’s plate. “Eat up, we got a lot of wood to prepare for the Legion.”
“Gerdur’s lumber arrived, Torolf?” she asked, the stirring calming down a bit. They never stayed mad at each other long.
“Aye,” he took a sip of his coffee and another bite of eggs, “just before sunrise. Said her mill blade was dulling though, needs to have Alvor fix it before she can ship wood to us again. Means a slow week coming up." He smiled. "And that means fishing or camping if we want.”
Haming grinned and his da gave him a wink, only for the older Nord’s face to suddenly change, going grim as if what he just said made him feel guilty. He stopped eating, only picking at his food. “Was really strange seeing both Hadvar and Ralof today. Haven't seen them together since Haming's birthday.” He shook his head, before resuming his meal. “They used to be thicker than honey, those too. Like brothers. Cannot belief Ralof turned traitor like that, he used to come here all the time, was sweet on Vilod’s daughter…”
“It’s a loss at any rate. Jyta too, she’s here, Torolf, in binds, her brother as well.” Her face turned sad. “That’s why I went inside. I wanted my last memory of her,” she hesitated and bit her lip, looking like she may cry. She and Jyta were cousins. “I wanted her to be whole when I picture her in my mind, not with her head on a pike. Maybe it’s good for us to get away for awhile. Away from the fighting.”
“I know.” His da sighed, rubbing his eyes again. “Can’t believe it. That they would follow a murderer like that.”
“May Kyne’s kiss greet them in Sovngarde.” His mother gently whispered.
“Not for the one that ran.”
“Mara's Mercy! Somebody actually ran?” She asked, raising her eyebrows.
“Aye, but no, not what you think. Not one of the Stormcloaks. A horse thief from Rorikstead. A quick arrow put an end to that, the coward." His eyes found Haming. "If anything, little cub, always face your death head on.”
“That’s Froki talking.” Ma observed.
“It’s the Nord way.”
“What about that white Elf?”
His da sternly looked up from his meal. “Don’t speak of that one.”
“He’s right, Haming. I didn’t like the looks of him.” Ma explained, taking a pause from her stirring. “I’ve never see—”
“A demon, says I." His da interrupted. "He’ll go to whatever plane of Oblivion takes him. A demon…Or worse. One of those night creatures.”
“You really think?” His mother looked shocked.
“They are pale with eyes like the fires of Oblivion, or so I’ve heard. Vampires.” His father explained while preparing another tankard of coffee. This one had no cream and a lot more sugar. For ma. “That’s all I need knowing. We can agree on one thing, Mattie, they should kill him, and kill him quick. Lest he get away with their magicks or something. Their kind, they know dark ways. Black magicks. Necromancy.”
“It’s the truth.” He placed the tankard of coffee opposite to his place at the table, next to Haming. “Come, Mattie. Sit, eat. Stew smells wonderful, but it can wait. Have your meal.”
His da partially stood, leaned towards him and Haming felt da’s bear paw of a hand tousle his hair. “The faster we prep that lumber, little cub, the quicker we can eat that goodness, eh? And the quicker we can then take a break from it all.” A smile and Haming grinned while his da sat back at his place. No one cooked a stew like his ma.
“I know.” Haming’s mother rested the stirring spoon across the top of the kettle and slid her finished eggs from the iron skillet onto her own trencher. She liked them far less runny than he and da did. Haming wrinkled his nose, they were all bubbling and burnt brown at the edges, crispy and hard. He did not like that, not one bit. She sat opposite da, taking a long sip of steaming coffee. “Mmm, good.” She murmured, then offered the tankard to Haming. “Want a bit?”
Haming pretended to recoil like he was about to take fish oil for a case of the runs making his parents laugh. “No ma, I like it better the way da takes it. Yours is too sweet.”
“You put too much sugar, Mattie.”
Haming felt the bear’s paw on his head again and he smiled while he ate his eggs.
She laughed. “I do no—"
A noise unlike anything Haming had ever heard suddenly drowned out ma’s voice. It was like a bear’s roar, but bigger, and mixed with thunder.
“What was that?” His ma asked, quickly putting down her coffee.
His father stood up and walked briskly, like any Nord, to fetch his axe. “I don’t know.”
It happened again and this time, Haming felt the walls of the house shake, it was so loud. He covered his ears and felt his mother pull him up from the table. “Cellar.” She whispered to his da while he at the doorway, axe ready in one hand, the other poised to open the door.
Torolf nodded quickly. “Little cub, move!”
Haming snapped to attention at the hushed command, crossing from the dining table to the sturdy stairs that led to the cellar. Without warning, the earth beneath their feet shifted, as if something extremely heavy had touched the ground. His father opened the door, took one look outside and shut it again, his face going as white as that Elf’s.
“Cellar! Now!” He barked. “We’ll be safe there.”
“What is it?” His mother asked. “What is it, Torolf?”
Another roar and it was so loud, Haming felt like his ears were going to explode. Ma screamed.
“What is it?” She panicked and his heart started to beat real fast in fear.
“Ma, the cellar!” He yelled, motioning her to come with his hand.
“What is it?!” She creamed again, frozen.
There was a strange popping sound coming from outside, like the pop lighting can make when it’s about to strike and Haming felt the hair on the back of his neck and head rise. He saw the hairs of his parents’ heads rise too and he felt the charge build in the air, the strangeness of it.
All three jumped when a loud booming sound rattled throughout the house, sending bits of thatch to the floor. Another boom and their windows exploded, sending sharp shards of glass everywhere. He heard his da’s growl of pain and saw blood out of the corner of his eye. Another deafening roar and Haming could now hear the screams outside, the soldiers yelling. The ground shook again, and a thick, black smoke poured through the windows.
“Da!” He cried, seeing blood stain the abdomen of his hide armor. He could see a glass shard poking through the flesh.
“I’m coming! It’s just a bit of glass.” He yelled. “Get your ma! Now!”
Haming started towards his mother, only to stop at the sound of wood splitting and burning thatch. An explosion rang through his ears and he saw something flaming burst through their roof, sending debris everywhere. He quickly covered his face with his hands and ducked. His mother’s scream was high pitched and then it stopped, replaced by the impact of solid rock upon their wooden floor and the crunch and splatter of bones and blood. He felt a splash of thick, hot wetness on his hands and felt his da’s hands roughly grab his shoulders, yanking him away from the fire that now engulfed their home. Another fiery stone hit the stairs, blocking their route to the cellar.
“Mattie, Mattie, Mattie…” His da kept repeating while they pushed through the door of their home into the black smoke.
“Ma? Ma? No!”
“Mattie…she’s gone, boy...”
The smoke was hot, choking him, forcing him to close his eyes, and his da’s big hand covered his mouth while he practically dragged him outside. They left the inferno that was their house behind and cleared the smoke, escaping outside. He knew he was outside, because there were still cool spots wherever the smoke thinned.
Only outside didn’t seem any better, from what he could now see through the film of his tearing eyes. People were running, streaked with soot and blood. Some sat on the earth, just screaming, frozen in place in horror, like his ma had been. Out of the corner of his eye, he thought he saw Vilod, only the publican was hanging awkwardly from the railing of the inn, his body broken and twisted in a way that was impossible to describe. Haming ran, or rather, was forced into running by his da, but it was jerky running, because they would stop and rapidly change direction all the time whenever another fire rock hit the ground. It was raining fire rocks and Helgen was burning. How does it rain rocks? The roars continued and Haming felt the strong breeze of something whooshing quickly close above him, smelled acrid sulphur mixed with the smell of… an animal. Chicken? Chicken feet? He did not have time to take anymore guesses when both he and da were pushed hard to the ground by the wake of what moved past them. He heard his da groan in pain.
“Grab him.” His da gasped weakly from the ground.
“Torolf! I can get you too.” Another voice.
“No, grab him!” A moan of pain and then a roar from his own da, as if he was summoning all his remaining strength. “Take him now, now!”
Another pair of rough hands grabbed Haming’s shoulders, lifting him up, and he felt the security of iron armor against his back. Gunnar, it was Gunnar Stone-Eye.
“Take him. I’m done for.”
“Da!” He cried out, opening his eyes, forcing them to see.
His da was on the ground, clutching his stomach, the blood seeping through his hands, his face very pale under the soot, blood running from a wound to his head onto his eye. Haming could see part of his da’s skull, and the left side of his body was burned black. Close to him knelt an Imperial soldier and to the left, struggling to get up, was the white Elf, his hands still tied, the back of his tunic almost soaked in blood. He was watching the sky while he struggled to get up, his eyes blazing. Like he was tracking the beast.
“It comes for another pass.” The Elf warned, finally pushing himself up with his strong legs. “From the Northeast.”
“I know, prisoner!” The Imperial soldier barked. “C’mon Torolf, get to your feet! Gunnar, you got the boy?”
“I do, Hadvar.” Haming felt Gunnar press his shoulders back against the old Nord’s armor.
Hadvar! Haming had not seen him since his ninth birthday. It was him, he could recognize him now. Hadvar eyed the Elf, but refocused his attention on Tofolf. “C’mon Torolf.”
Da moaned and Haming felt a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach, smelling the sudden stench of urine in the air, saw wetness between his da’s legs. His da had wet himself. Why?
“He is dying. I can smell it.” The Elf pressed. “We need to move.”
“Can’t you help him, prisoner? I know you can heal. Saw it at the camp.”
“The Thalmor took too much from me. Maybe make his passing easier, that is all.” He bent his head. “Sorry.”
“Fuck.” Hadvar cursed, “Then save it for those who still have a chance, prisoner.” He put a hand on his da’s shoulder. “Fuck!” He cursed again. “We’ll take the boy, Torolf.” He gave his da’s shoulder a squeeze."You can count on us."
“Da? No, wait, help him.” Haming began to squirm away from Gunnar, only the Nord held him fast.
“It’s over, Haming. Let him go.”
“No, no, Da!”
“I'm done… for, little… cub. Go. Run… for it!” His da moaned. He grabbed Hadvar’s forearm. “Take my boy,” he pleaded, his face contorted in pain. “Please! Save him! Gun—”
Another roar and Haming finally had the courage to look up. To the sky, his mouth opening slowly in absolute terror. Its massive scaled body was the color of hot coals, the color of coal when it’s at its most dangerous. Not red hot, easy enough to see and avoid, but darkest black on the outside, so one thinks it’s cold, but if one looks closely enough, it can be seen, the outline of red embers. The deep heat. The immense blackness of its leathery wings almost covered the sky, which now churned and whirled purple and grey like a mighty thunderstorm as it rained more fire rocks upon Helgen.
It was heading straight for them and as it approached, Haming could now see the huge, many horned head with rows of sharp black teeth, and two eyes, like two jewels of purest fire.
“Run! It’s coming!” The Elf yelled. Hadvar got up and pushed towards Gunnar, while Haming, snapped to attention. His da. He needed help.
“Da?” He tried to break from Gunnar’s grasp.
“Go!” His da managed. “Run Haming! Make me proud! Ru—”
All of them, even the large Elf, stumbled when the great beast’s feet and wings landed upon the ground, making the very earth tremble. Haming could not even fathom the size, it was so, so large, the size of the entire Keep, it seemed to him. It had landed about three lengths of its immense head away from them and Haming could feel the heat radiating from the beast. The maw then opened.
“RUN!” The bound Elf cried, turning quickly, using his broad, muscled shoulder to begin pushing Hadvar away from the beast’s path. It was like he was putting his own body between the Imperial soldier and the beast, like he was shielding him, while Haming and Gunnar were in front of Hadvar. The action confused Haming because why would a vampire do that?
“We won’t make it!” Gunnar yelled. “Its fire is coming. NO!”
Haming turned back to look, his eyes widening, fixed on the beast’s maw. What was the black depth of its throat began to glow like the hot fire of Alvor’s forge. It grew and grew and grew in intensity until it could be confined no longer within the beast’s mouth. Then the beast's voice thundered so loud, Haming’s ears rang, he felt the blood trickle from them and he screamed in pain at the pressure in his head. They started to run, but not fast enough.
“No time!” Gunner bellowed. “Talos! Please! Not like this!”
“Auri-El! Give me strength!” Haming vaguely heard someone cry out. “Hadvar, hold me steadfast! NOW!”
“YOL TOOR… SHUL!!!”
A huge stream of fire left the beast’s mouth and rushed towards them. His da became nothing, charred bones in the path of the fire. And all Haming could do was watch, helpless.
The Elf’s big body was between them and the creature, his back towards the beast, with both Gunnar and Hadvar pushing against him, as if bracing him. Something in Elf’s skin began to change, like it was suddenly highlighted by a golden-white energy. At first, it was all over the Elf’s body, but then it traveled, concentrating within his bound hands. Finally, it erupted, becoming a shimmering white-blue light, like rippling water to Haming, or a whirlpool. The whirlpool grew and grew, and Haming’s eyes grew wide with wonder. Magicks! Like one of those witch elves some people grumbled about. Like the elves in black that had left just before he went inside for breakfast.
The Elf cried out in pain when the jet of fire smacked the magical wall. The impact from the beast’s fire was so hard that all of them lunged forward, but the wall held steady as fire coursed all about them, deflected by its shimmering light. “It’s holding!” The white Elf snarled through clenched teeth, straining from the effort, his face going from white to nearly red, the veins on his muscular neck and forehead throbbing. Haming screamed in terror, feeling the heat of the flames build all around him. The Elf let out another cry and the wall grew bigger. It was as if the fire was trying, searching for a way around the shimmering wall, but trying as it might, it could not find a way around. Gunnar pulled him closer, nearly cutting his shoulders with his chest plate.
“Hold on, boy! Hold on!” The old Nord encouraged.
The fire died and the Elf’s wall failed soon after, sending him to his knees breathing heavily, his braided long white hair almost totally soaked from the effort, the face now devoid of any color, a ribbon of dark red blood coming from one of his nostrils. The beast roared in anger and vaulted to the air. Leaving a great cloud of dust in its wake. Haming saw the Elf's eyes follow the beast with a furrowed brow, his mouth open in awe.
“Gunnar, take care of the boy. I have to find General Tullius and join the defense!” Hadvar ordered, dragging the still dazed Elf to his feet. “You better stay with me, prisoner, and pray to that god of yours that you’ve some magicks left.” Hadvar pushed the Elf forward,nearly making him fall in his attempt to drive him towards a cluster of soldiers with fire almost pouring from their hands. More mages, flanked by other soldiers and the general himself, his gold-trimmed Imperial armor covered in a black grime.
“Into the Keep, Hadvar, we’re leaving. We’re LEAVING!” The General ordered.
Hadvar roughly turned the Elf in the other direction. “This way!”
The Elf seemed to not like that decision, resisting the push, and once again, he locked eyes with Haming, the slanted brow further with what looked like concern to the boy.
“There are people who still need help.” The Elf said in a breathless voice, as if it took a lot energy for him to even speak still. He wanted to help people even though he was bound and that surprised Haming. This wasn't a vampire or a demon like da said. The Witch Elf turned back to Hadvar. “Hadvar, please.”
Hadvar groaned, shaking his head in worry, like how Haming sometimes would when he knew he was going to do something he was told not to do, but he was going to do it anyway. “I know, I know, shit. But I have orders."
"Hadvar." The Elf repeated, the eyes growing intense.
"Shit. We’ll see what we can do. You and me, prisoner, let’s go. Get as many people into the Keep as possible.”
The Elf nodded, looking relieved, and Haming last saw both disappear into the billowing smoke towards the Keep, towards the screams.
Haming felt a push against his shoulder, urging him to move. “Gods guide you, Hadvar.” Gunnar murmured. Another nudge. “Move boy, move. We’ll take the back exit towards Pinewatch. Lose the monster in the woods! Damn Witch Elf saved our lives. Still don't believe it. Did better for us than that spineless General. Already running! Imperial Cowards! Poor Hadvar’s too brave for the likes of them! Move! Move boy!”
They bolted towards the back exit. It was a stone archway, well hidden behind the keep. It lacked a gate and he always used it with his da and ma when they would go fishing or camping. There was a small pond southwest, towards Falreath, his favorite, favorite place… Haming felt the sting of tears as he ran, but he stopped it. They were gone now and he had to be stronger than a cub. He had to be a bear. He swallowed the pain away and gritted his teeth.
Make me proud, he heard his da’s voice.
He willed his legs faster, only for Gunnar to grab him, nearly making him fall on his arse. “Stormcloaks! By the gate. Shit.” Haming barely caught a glimpse of a small group of Stormcloak soldiers, now free from their binds and fully armed, crouching against the stone wall before Gunnar dragged him behind a singed building where they hid, trying to inch closer. “Stay still. I’ll have a look.” Haming froze while Gunnar peaked from their hiding place and then spit, hiding again. “The Jarl. He’s there.”
“Is that bad?” Haming asked.
“Dunno yet, son.” Gunnar Stone-Eye answered, his one good eye squinting to get a better look at the gate. Haming poked his head out as much as he dared. They were so close, close enough for them to make a run for it. Close enough to hear them talking.
“Where’s Ralof?” The Jarl asked, his soot-streaked face on edge. “Gunjar, Jyta, Erald?” He beat his thigh with his fist. “Fuck, we are missing people! We’ve lost enough already.”
“We need to go on, my Jarl.” One soldier warned, tall, but much thinner than the others, carrying a gnarled oaken staff with a crystal at the tip. A girl? Haming couldn’t tell, she wasn’t built like his ma. “It’s not stopping. The...the…”
“Dragon, go ahead and say it, Sigva.” The Jarl finished, looking very tired to Haming just then. “The end times…”
“No. It can’t be.” The soldier shook her head in disbelief. “They are gone.” Haming and Gunnar lowered their heads and just stared at each other, their eyes saying the same thing.
“Hold a minute. Let me think, dammit.” The Jarl nodded, rubbing his face. “What’s the closest camp?”
“Sun-killer’s.” She answered.
The Jarl nodded. “Well-supplied, but, shit, he is very east of here and I’m not doubling back through fucking Helgen. We’ll have to… let me think. We need to get out first. Maybe wait. See if anyone else comes out. A day.” He pointed towards the woods. “There, in the woods, If we stay low. We can avoid it. See if others make it.”
“I don’t advise--”
“Don’t presume to advise me, mage. I will lose no more men!”
"Yes, my Jarl." She nodded, but Haming could see that she wasn’t happy about waiting. He didn’t blame her, he didn’t want to wait either. They all waited several tense moments and the mage spoke again. “I do not think he made it, my Jarl. The Witch Elf. You’re waiting for him too, aren’t you?”
The Jarl faced her, his brow lowering, almost as if he was angry, but then his features softened. “Perhaps.” he mumbled. “We were at the Keep’s tower, he jumped to the roof of the inn. Then I lost track of him.”
“Is it true, that you knew him?”
“He saved my life once.” The Jarl looked past the archway, towards the burning keep, his blue eyes on the dragon that, after what seemed like forever to Haming, still managed to find new things to burn down in Helgen. “It’s moving closer. Shit.”
Gunnar looked worried when he faced Haming. “The Jarl’s right. We need to make a run for it and join up with them. I don’t think… well, I hope they just see us for what we are, gentlefolk, and let us be. When I say ‘move’, you move. Head to the archway. You hear me, son?”
Haming nodded, his heart hammering at his chest.
The dragon roared and abruptly changed its position from the far gate, flying from the keep’s entrance, as if something had suddenly angered him to no end.
Without thinking, Haming rose and both he and Gunnar escaped the ruined building, heading towards the archway as fast as their legs would carry them. That caused the Stormcloaks to ready their bows, the Jarl included. The one the Jarl had called ‘Sigva’ was different. She didn’t have a bow. Instead, the crystal at the head of her staff began to glow with an ice-blue light. Haming thought they were going to shoot at them as they ran.
It quickly grew dark, as if clouds covered the sky, and Haming looked over his shoulder, only to see the great mass of the dragon fast approaching, its maw opening wide. It shut out the very sun!
“YOL TOOR… SHUL!!!”
Words became flame.
Haming felt Gunnar grab him and toss him roughly to the side. He landed and rolled, feeling the flames only nick at his legs. The heat was searing, the smoke billowed like thundercaps, and Gunnar’s screams filled Haming’s ears. Just like ma’s, high-pitched, shrieks, and then nothing. Out of the corner of his eye, Haming saw arrows volley towards the beast and many shards of ice. The arrows, though true, merely bounced off the beast’s scales while the many ice shards became nothing but harmless steam.
“FUS RO… DAH!!!”
Words became force. That wasn’t the dragon and Haming’s eyes followed the sound. It came from the Jarl himself. A thunder pulse of force flew from the Jarl’s lips as he spoke, hurling it towards the dragon. A force that the dragon took directly, not budging from his place in the sky. Hovering mid air, it tilted its head to the side, as if assessing something. And then it did something that horrified Haming to his very core.
It threw its head back and laughed. A deep rumbling hearty laugh that made the hairs on Haming’s neck stand on end while it resumed its dive, extending its taloned feet, ready to grab any or all of them at once, the feet were so large.
“Run boy! Run like Oblivion is at your heels!” The Jarl urged, his eyes still wide from the Dragon's power. “Men, ready another volley!”
Haming got up and raced towards the Jarl. The older Nord’s face darkened and he opened his mouth just as the dragon opened his. Was this the Voice? The Voice that killed the High King? Haming sped up, still looking over his shoulder. There was no way. He was going to die. He would be dust, like ma, da, and Gunnar. Like the Keep and everything else he had ever known in his life.
And as soon as Haming thought it was going to be over for both him and the Jarl’s men, the dragon pulled up instead of completing its dive, pushing back its legs to rebuild its air speed, while it flapped its wings. It used its long, powerful tail to balance itself in the air, turning towards the Keep for a second time like it was a nothing move for it, seemingly drawn to something there.
Haming saw stars when he slammed right into the Jarl’s great chest, knocking him to the ground. There were cries from the soldiers and Haming was practically thrown from on top of Ulfric Stormcloak. He felt the back of a strong hand strike his face, the force of the blow knocking him back to the ground, and he tasted his own blood.
“Wait, wait, don’t hurt him, I’m fine.” The Jarl started to get up, coughing from the wind being knocked out of him while the battle mage helped him to his feet. “It was just an accident.” The hand that had cuffed him now picked him up by the fabric of his shirt and set him standing again. The same hand then ushered him towards the Jarl, who was rubbing his jaw of any residual stiffness. Haming didn’t even turn to see whose hand it was, he only knew that it belonged to a great big Nord. One of the Jarl’s soldiers from the other carts that drove to Helgen. All of them were free now.
“Now is our chance.” Jarl Ulfric spoke. “We go. Quickly!” They quietly crossed the stone archway, avoiding the road, and headed straight into the dense woods of Falkreath hold. Haming went with them, because there was nowhere else for him to go. “We’ll head south, southwest, towards the Jerrals, for a spell.” The Jarl spoke, his voice still hushed and breathless, because the dragon’s angry roars could still be easily heard. It’s not finding what it’s looking for, Haming thought, his terror building again. “Then make the turn east,” The Jarl continued, “towards Sun-killer’s camp when we’ve truly lost the beast. Hunting and making camp along the way. If any others survive, they’ll know to go find Sun-Killer.”
Haming felt the big Nord’s hand on his shoulder. “And the boy?”
Ulfric stopped and stared at the lad. “Shor’s Bones, I totally forgot about him.” The Jarl sighed, taking a seat at a stump to catch his breath. “Come here, boy.” He beckoned. Whether Haming wanted to come or not was not up to him, but to the large hand that steered him towards the Jarl anyway.
The Jarl was tall and large-framed with some extra fat at the waist just like his da, though his presence, even when seated, conveyed strength. His firm face was lined from exhaustion and hunger, with its share of cuts and bruises, the graying dark blond hair at his left temple caked with blood from an old blow. His noble clothing was dirty from dried blood and the dust of travel. At his side was an ebony sword in the Nordic style and an Imperial bow was crudely slung at his shoulder, the almost empty quiver of arrows at his waist. When Haming was close enough, the Jarl put a strong hand on his shoulder and Haming fought hard the coming tears because it felt big and sturdy, just like his da’s own hand.
“You’ve a name, boy?” He then shook his head, as if realizing something, closing his eyes in thought before opening them quickly. “Wait, no. Haming, that is what the Nord called you before he fell to the dragon’s breath. Is that your name?”
Haming nodded. “Yes, Jarl Ulfric.”
Ulfric Stormcloak took a deep breath. “You’ve any kin, Haming of Helgen?”
Haming shrugged and everything that he had experienced was hitting him all at once, making him shiver even though it wasn’t cold outside. “Fr…” He mouthed. “Fr…” His teeth started to chatter. “Fr…”
“What?” The Jarl’s brow lowered.
“Fro…” His ma, his da, everything burning. The dragon, the demon elf with his magicks. He saved his life and so did Gunnar, and so did the Jarl. He felt so sick to his stomach, the pressure building and he had to release it.
“Fro...ki… Whet...ted...Bl...bl...bl...” Fluid filled his mouth and he felt the bitterness of bile, tasted his own breakfast for the second time. “Blade.” He managed before his vomit fell all over the Jarl’s clothes and lap, his legs suddenly going out from under him. The cool damp ferns felt so good on his hot face. He wanted to stay there, just become a part of the plants of the forest floor forever and ever. He wanted to sleep.
“He’s in shock.” The Mage offered, and out of the corner of Haming’s eye, he could see her kneel next to him, her hand already starting to glow in a similar way to the Elf’s. “We should take him with us, at least to Sun-Killer’s camp.”
“He’ll slow us down.” Argued the big Nord. “What if the Imperials catch up. We can’t risk the Jarl again. He almost died today!”
The Jarl used a stolen Imperial cloak to begin wiping Haming’s vomit from his clothing. “Eggs, you had eggs, boy.” He mused before giving his soldiers a concerned look. “What are we fighting for then if we just leave him here to die?”
The big Nord growled, but then sighed, crossing his arms over his chest. “Alright.”
The mage turned Haming over and he saw her face clearly for the first time. Red hair, like da, her weathered face splattered with many freckles, cuts, and bruises. Her hazel eyes were blood-shot with fatigue. He saw her tan calloused hand glow and she rested it on his stomach. “This’ll help.” She said quietly, her formerly battle-worn features softening with a calming smile. The energy went into his body and he tensed up, frightened at something touching his body that wasn’t natural. “Shh, shh. It’s alright. Try to relax. Not all magic is bad.” She whispered, her forehead dampening from her efforts. “This will help you be strong enough to travel.”
It made Haming remember the white Witch Elf.
The Jarl got on his knees and bent over Haming. “Who’s Whetted-Blade to you?” He asked. “Answer, son. If I don’t have to send you to Honorhall, I won’t. I’ve had to do that far too much already.”
Haming took a deep breath, easier since the mage used her magicks on him. “Grand da.” He managed sleepily.
“He goes to Froki then.” The Jarl said, rising to his feet. “I know Whetted-Blade, he was the finest scout under my father. Lives in the Rift now .Some cabin near the Jerralls. He can travel there when he’s recovered.”
“Froki...” Haming murmured, his eyes growing heavy, while the girl finished with her magicks. “He can’t cook…not at all...”
“Jagyr, carry the boy. We move now, make camp at dusk.” The Jarl ordered. Haming felt the big Nord scoop him from the ground up like he was nothing but a sack of potatoes, hoisting him over his shoulder so he could still use his hands for combat if he needed to. The action made Haming moan and he felt the blackness of sleep creep over him.
Note: This is actually a brand new chapter. One of the things that bothered me about Straag's initial drafts when I reread them was how much Aelberon knew about everything. Why he has such knowledge is explained in a subsequent chapter, but sometimes when I put things in his perspective, we lose the sense of wonder and instead get an analysis. How very Altmer. There's nothing wrong with that, that's just his nature and to not write him that way goes against his character, but I always wanted Alduin's first appearence to be a moment of pure awe, horror, more than what is communicated within the limitations of game engine and gameplay. So I wrote this chapter in my attempt to channel that. In the game, we can meet young Haming again, with his Grand father, Froki, in the Rift. As one of the few survivors of Alduin's attack on Helgen, I thought it would be fun to show the dragon attack from his young perspective. And, yes this totally throws off all my numerically symbolic chapters, of which I have several. I don't care, telling Haming's story was well worth it. Still can't believe it flowed out in about a day.