Chapter 11: The Blind Side
As we reached the lowest level of the city, a few paces from the guards’ barracks –where several of the city watch had now gathered- it began to rain once more. The skies blackened and slowly but surely the rain got heavier and heavier until within those few seconds we were all soaked through. Now much heavier Irileth and I drew to a halt in front of the guards, each stood deathly still in their yellow tunics, some with full face helmets on, others revealing their battle-scarred features. These men were not merely guards, surely? They looked as though they had fought among the ranks of the empire, seen the fiercest of battles. One looked at me as I stopped, his breath condensing in the air as he exhaled. He looked unimpressed, whether that was with me and how I looked or the weather I wasn’t quite sure, but regardless, I felt judged in front of these warriors.
“Here’s the situation.” Began Irileth, taking a deep breath, clearly struggling to find a way to make this battle sound like one they could win, “A dragon is attacking the Western Watchtower.” Instantly the guards looked unsettled, they murmured amongst themselves, fear clearly taking their hearts.
“You heard right! I said a dragon!” She continued. She really wasn’t making this very inspiring…
“I don’t care much where it came from or who sent it. What I do know is that it’s made the mistake of attacking Whiterun!” As she finished one of the men stepped forward,
“But Housecarl… How can we fight a dragon?” he enquired nervously.
“That’s a fair question. None of us have ever seen a dragon before, or expected to face one in battle.” She said boldly, marching in front of the guards, “But we are honour bound to fight it, even if we fail. This dragon is threatening out homes… our families. Could you call yourself Nords if you ran from this monster?” She called out to them. Some replied with a “No Housecarl!” and suchlike, others merely stood silent and still “Are you going to let me face this thing alone?” At this some of them were clearly becoming more ready for war. This Dunmer woman had just insulted their very race, they were not about to stand and let her be right. Some shuffled into a stronger pose, chests open and shoulders back. “But it’s more than our honour at stake here. Think of it – the first dragon seen in Skyrim since the last age. And the glory of killing it is ours, if you’re with me!” She called out, fist raised to the sky, the men now rallied fully and ready to kill this beast. Cries of enthusiasm roared from the men, swords were drawn and raised and shields were rattled. “Now what do you say? Shall we go kill us a dragon?” Shouted Irileth in the faces of the great men about to embark on their quest. More shouts came from amongst the ranks and the faces that previously looked ill with fear now looked bright and strong in the face of danger. Irileth stood next to me and looked at me with a smile, as if to say “look what I did.” And with that she turned back to the men.
“Let’s move out.” She said plainly, now ready herself for the battle that was about to ensue. She turned and began running at a steady pace and one at a time the guards each followed. I made my way back to Irileths side and together we ran in the rain, ahead of a great stack of men, each with swords and shields in hand, ready to fight this ancient creature. Together we all left through the vast gates and out into the wilderness of Whiterun’s hold. Over the drawbridge and down the ancient cobbled road we ran, each footstep more laboured than the last under the weight of our armour alone. Passing through the stables I noticed the Khajiit traders packing up their stalls and shutting their tents as the weather worsened. The Khajiit were a strange race, I’d never had many dealings with them, I had always been slightly intimidated by stories of them as thieves and murderers – I know, that sounds strange coming from a thief, but what’s worse than being pickpocketed after having just pickpocketed someone else? It just seems a little bit like a waste of time. If I wanted a middle man in my dealings I’d go to the East Empire Trading Company. Regardless, I had a level of respect for them despite the hesitation to be in their company, perhaps one day I would have a proper conversation with them. But not today, today was to be a true test for me – for the whole hold. We needed more than a single thief’s skill, we needed an army.
As we ran along the cobbled roads I noticed some familiar ground – the ruined watch tower that I had come across before, that I had stayed in on my journey to Bleak Falls – that was the western watchtower. If that was it in working order, I wonder how it looked after the dragon’s attack, it was already a ruin before so after the flames that I remember striking Helgen it could be no more than a pile of rubble by now, surely?
Eventually, after at least a half hour of running we rounded a corner and as if out of nowhere the tower sprang into view, standing tall amongst the wreckage that the other structures had become, smoke stacks rising into the grey clouds, choking us even from the hundreds of paces that we were in distance from it. Irileth drew us all to a halt behind the cover of a large rock and all of us breathing heavily listened to what she had to say as she gazed over the flaming ruins.
“No signs of any dragon right now, but it sure looks like he’s been here.” She said with her hand over her brow as if it made her see better through the smoke. She turned back to look at us. “I know it looks bad, but we’ve got to figure out what happened.” She stopped and took a gulp of air “And if that dragon is still skulking around somewhere.” The Dunmer drew her sword and left the cover of the rock, the men all followed suit and so I pulled the bow from my back and followed on behind.
“Spread out and look for survivors. We need to know what we’re dealing with” she shouted to us all and with that she disappeared into the smoke. One by one each of the men vanished from vue, hidden in a vast cloud choking black air, calling occasionally when they found bodies. Knocking an arrow, I felt a presence somewhere around, and as I marched slowly across the sodden ground and through the dark plumes of smoke I eventually reached the base of the tower, and through the door limped a figure. Drawing my bow back I became suddenly ready for action, my arrow trained on whatever the body was that was leaving the tower. As I got closer the being noticed me and with a panicked voice it shouted out to us all.
“No! Get back! It’s still here somewhere! Hroki and Tor just got grabbed when they tried to make a run for it!” cried a Nordic voice. As he limped closer to me I release the tension from my bow – the black smoke had stained his yellow robes so badly he looked as though he were in a completely different outfit – he was one of the guards. One of the survivors. The only survivor. Just as I placed my foot on the hard stone of the tower’s steps the air seemed to pulse, the smoke rippled around everything and for a brief moment all was still. Then another pulse. The guard drew his beaten up sword – the tip had been broken off. Fear filled his eyes as he looked at me.
“Kynareth save us, here he comes again…” he whispered. Everyone drew their weapons at this point, and banded together. I knocked an arrow and took my place amongst the guards, if we stood any chance of survival we needed to stand together. The air pulsed ever more and became ever more strong as each became louder until between pulses a leathery sound could be heard as the air was pulled over the creature’s body. Everyone stood silent and still, each with our breath held as the air stopped once more and at that moment even the rain seemed to pause. The tension now passed through everything, no longer was there merely tension in my bow string, it was in everything, everyone, and everywhere. Just as it all became unbearable a vast shadow swept over us all, a deafening roar and the smoke cleared for a brief moment to reveal the vast black body of the dragon. With the heavy pulse of its wings the air soon clouded once more and we all stood in silence once more, glancing around in terror as we awaited the dragon’s flames. We waited only a little longer. One more pass and it revealed itself fully to us, hovering a few feet from the ground, the beast – as big as a house- flapped its great wings to maintain its height and with one more roar it lowered its head to meet our own head’s heights. What came next was something truly from the pits of Oblivion. The dragon opened its jaws and from it shot out a stream of pure flame. Like liquid, it enveloped a few of the guards who stood among us, their cries drowned out by the sheer noise of the fire crackling as it burned the men’s skin and as the flames receded the only things remaining were a few small burned areas of flesh, a spread of charred bones and the glinting metal, cleaned by the heat of the flames. In panic I released my arrow but with its scaled skin the projectile was merely cast off its surface as the shaft of the arrow shattered. Knowing now that the arrows in my quiver were useless I dropped my bow and ran, drawing my sword as I dived behind cover, a fresh bout of flame washing over the stones as I hit the ground. Breathing heavily, my allies all left my mind, I had to think of none but myself now. I was in no position to aid them, not as a thief. These fighters were experienced but as was proven by the two piles of bones, even experience wouldn’t save them from dragon fire. With my Imperial Sword in hand, I shut my eyes for a moment as the beast stepped ever closer to me with its four powerful limbs – two winged, two just legs. I took a moment to think over the anatomy of the beast, judging by its colouring, it was weaker at the belly and in the eyes alone. I needed to either be directly in front of it or underneath it if I were to stand a chance at killing it, or even damaging it. In the meantime I had to rely on the others to distract it for long enough for me to gain a good position. I heaved my knapsack from my back and dumped it on the floor along with my quiver, neither were of use and both would have hindered me in this fight, I could collect them later. I needed to be light, fast and as strong as possible.
I listened from in cover as I heard bout after bout of fire engulf the guards, but I heard no woman at any point, which mean Irileth was either alive and in cover, or worse – dead. I opened my eyes and searched about me for some sort of good position and realised that I was in fact hidden behind a set of stairs – in the rush to escape the dragon I simply hid behind the nearest stone structure, not thinking what it could be. Peaking over the top of the steps I saw the dragon engaged with two of the soldiers, one helplessly emptying arrows from his quiver and the other charging the monster. The dragon grabbed the assaulter in its powerful jaws before shaking his life from him and releasing his corpse several paces away. The archer, now out of arrows, simply stood watching and waiting for his own doom to arrive. I took the opportunity to move. I climbed the stairs onto the top of a granite wall and jumped down to meet the dragon in combat. The archer now no more than ash was of no entertainment to the beast and with a strike from my sword at its tail its attention was instantly sprung onto me. With a slight swing from the spiked tail I found myself gliding through the air before landing heavily in a heap amongst the rubble, armour partly torn and heavily damaged and my left eye unable to see. I was blinded. I lifted my hand to touch my face and found it covered in deep ruby blood. A dull throbbing then began as I pulled myself from the ground, lifting my sword from the floor. The dragon had turned to face me in this time and we stood almost nose to nose as blood dripped from my chin. I wiped my cheek carelessly and the monster watched intently, clearly its lust for blood now reaching an uncontrollable level. Smoke poured from its nostrils and then came a mighty roar, directly in my face. Standing straight against the beast I lifted my sword to touch the dragon’s nose as if to challenge it to single combat and partly to my surprise, it seemed to accept, all be it with a little less integrity. With a butt from its head I found myself disarmed and the dragon made to grasp me in its mighty teeth before I had time to react, so when it came to striking me there was little more I could do than randomly throw myself in a direction away from it, thankfully landing a few paces from my sword. Scrambling to my knees I heaved myself over to it as the dragon whisked over to me and with a huge amount of fumbling in the wet grass and mud I found myself on my back, facing the dragon with sword in hand. I had no idea just how far it was from me anymore, my perception of distance seemed completely disrupted from my lack of sight and excruciating pain. I swung the blade helplessly back and forth in front of the dragon’s scaled face as it made its move ever closer towards me and just as it made to bite at me once more I found myself instinctively jumping to my feet and onto its muzzle. Clutching onto its horns I found myself being swung to and fro as I held on tightly with my one free hand, swinging heavily at its eyes as much as I could. Now almost as blind as I was I took the opportunity to mount the beast’s head fully and with one foot either side of its head I stabbed it in its left eye, like it had me. With a vast howl of pain it flayed its head once more and so I made for a second stab but at its other eye. Just as my sword was about to make contact the creature moved once more and I found myself dislodged and holding on by one arm once more. I couldn’t fall now, I had come this far and was not about to get killed by this behemoth. My grip slipping and blade heavy in my other arm I made a great swing at its eye, slicing it cleanly as I flailed around on its crown. Falling heavily the beast hit the ground, thrashing around in the dirt in what appeared to be sheer agony and so to put the fiend down I drove my sword finally into its eye directly and fell from its head as my hand released its grip finally. We both now fell heavily, the dragon lifeless and myself almost at a match. A few seconds passed as I lay on the ground and I shut my one working eye before hearing the footsteps of several people. Opening my right I eye I was met by the shocked face of Irileth and several other guards who had all taken cover while I fought the dragon. One man offered his hand to me and gladly taking it, he heaved me from the pool of wet mud, the rain pouring into the blood and dirt in which I lay. Irileth nodded to me and then looked to the dragon which lay bleeding from both eyes, lifeless and heavy.
“Let’s make sure that lizard is really dead.” She said before turning back to the small band of men who had survived. “Damn good shooting boys.” She proudly said to them -as if they were the ones who had been in close combat with it! I remained close to the dragon and resting one hand on its muzzle I felt an incredible warmth rushing over me, whether it was some sort of natural reaction to my wound or from the dragon, though, I did not know. Before I could say a word the scales of the beast seemed to flash at the edges, light pouring from within the beast seeming to burn through it. Everyone watched in awe as the light the poured from the cracks in its scales overcame the creature, burning through it until nothing remained but a skeleton, the flames however never died, they seemed to curl into a tube and then bend towards us all… To me. Stood, wide eyed and mouth open I stared at the wonder before me and as if it was targeting me, the flames all rushed at my chest. Taken aback by what was going on I threw myself backwards as the heat cut into me, rushing through my very veins, filling my head, my heart, my entire body. Lying on the ground once more I felt the wound in my cheek and eye heal, the skin seeming to bind itself together once more although my sight remained black. I would be blind in my left eye forever, no doubt, but what had just happened? Standing on my feet I felt a new power wash over me, the heat from the fire died but the feeling in my blood remained the same. I turned and looked at the guards. They all bore the same facial expression, one of wonder and fear. Opening my own mouth I found myself unable to speak, only able to see in my mind’s eye the wall from within Bleak Falls Barrow, the one with the runes carved upon it. But I could read the rune that had overcome me, I understood it. The only word in my mind, the only word I felt I could say was a new word, and so I said it. I looked at the men, staring them all in the face and shouted.
“FUS!” came the word, erupting like the red mountain from within me and out came with it a flood of blue air, rushing heavily into the group, throwing them all off balance as if they had all just been stricken by a great force. Standing in shock I watched as they pulled themselves from the ground and before any could say a word I found myself running from them. Running back to Whiterun. I needed to find out what was happening, I needed to find out what this magic was. I’m not a warrior, I’m a thief, and this was not a power I should be wielding. Not a power I deserved. I sprinted all the way back onto the road, my feet padding against the wet cobbles as the clouds dropped ever more cold rain up on me and the rest of the world around me. Everything had changed.