The Final Dragonborn (The Story So Far…)

Chapter 1: Legends Don’t Burn Down Villages

Have you ever opened your eyes and found yourself somewhere you never intended to be? Yeah, I know exactly what that’s like. Been there a few times. This time, however, meant waking up with my hands bound in the back of an imperial cart of all things. Just my luck. Master thief my ass.

“Hey you, you’re finally awake.” The man opposite openly said, “You were trying to cross the border, right? Walked right into that imperial ambush, same as us, and that thief over there.” With a nudge of his head I felt compelled to look at the other man, a feeble little man, his brown hair swept back over his head. He would have looked suave if it weren’t for the dirt on his face… And the ragged tunic… And the fact that he was also tied up.

“Damn you Stormcloaks. Skyrim was fine until you came along. Empire was nice and lazy. If they hadn’t been looking for you, I could’ve stolen that horse and been halfway to Hammerfell.” He turned to look at me. “You there. You and me – we shouldn’t be here. It’s these Stormcloaks the Empire wants.” He said, with a hint of fear in his tone. The Stormcloak picked up on it and called out, sarcastically; “We’re all brothers and sisters in binds now, thief” and allowed a smirk to appear on his face. It was at this point the Soldier driving the cart turned and pierced the air with a quick reminder of who we now were. Prisoners.

“Shut up back there!” he shouted. Simple enough… But it destroys one’s feeling of happiness and most of all takes away the last freedom we seemed to have. Speech.

Everyone on the cart seemed to take it in for a moment, before the Thief quietly said, while hinting towards another person.

“What’s wrong with him, huh?” With this I turned to my right to see a man sat there, leaning forwards as if in shame. Fully robed in grey furs, probably wolf pelt, with mail leggings and a sharp face, long golden hair thrown back over his head, and most peculiarly, his mouth was bound, unlike ours. It was as if they had taken it as a precaution. As if they feared his very voice.

“Watch your tongue! You’re speaking to Ulfric Stormcloak, the true High King!” The other prisoner snapped.

“Ulfric? The Jarl of Windhelm? You’re the leader of the rebellion… But if they’ve captured you…” With this, the thief’s face turned from confusion to sheer panic “Oh gods! Where are they taking us?!”

With this, the Stormcloak’s head lowered. “I don’t know where we’re going, but Sovngarde awaits.”

The thief was now in a state of complete shock, his face a mix of emotions, his eyes darting about looking for an escape as he stuttered

“No, this can’t be happening, this isn’t happening.”

The Stormcloak, with a look of sadness creeping across his face turned to the thief.

“Hey, what village are you from horse thief?”

“Why do you care?” The thief snapped.

“A Nord’s last thoughts should be of home” came the reply.

“Rorikstead. I’m… I’m from Rorikstead” A moment of silence spread through the group as we each took our thoughts to our homes… And our families. I remember desperately trying to remember the faces of my parents, but alas I could not. I was taken into an orphanage at the age of 6, both my parents killed by a group of bandits. One of the last things I remember of them was the blatant lie my father told me as he drew his steel sword. “We’ll be fine, son. I promise, we will survive this”. I hid myself in the cellar and the next thing I knew, I heard a call from our chief that the village was safe, any survivors were ordered to step outside into the open. At age 6 you do that sort of thing, without a question. At age 36 you fight your way out. It was an ambush to save the bandits the effort of searching the homes, and most everyone fell into their net. I was lucky. My parents were not. My mother was raped and finally her throat slit before the eyes of the entire village, my father was killed while trying to save her. They turned to me and I just ran, ducking this way and that, attempting to simply out run them and by some miracle did so. I hid for days before eventually being found by some passing traders who took me to the nearest orphanage. Honourhall, in Riften. Hell on Earth, but we’ll cover that later.

“General Tullius, sir! The headsman is waiting!” an Imperial called from within the settlement we were now approaching. Tullius replied heartlessly.

“Good, let’s get this over with.”

The thief’s face was once more a panic and awash with fear.

“Shor, Mara, Dibella, Kynareth, Akatosh. Divines, please help me!”

We rolled slowly into the settlement, passing the great oak exterior gates and into a small cobbled road that passed through the small fortress, any settlers that were on looking were filled with a mix of anger, fear, sadness and the occasional child simply wishing to watch the soldiers.

“Look at him, General Tullius the Military Governor. And it looks like the Thalmor are with him. Damn elves. I bet they had something to do with this.” With a look of hate in his eye he glanced quickly over the present Thalmor and then shook it off before looking back to me. “This is Helgen. I used to be sweet on a girl from here. Wonder if Vilod is still making that mead with Juniper Berries mixed in.” He smirked. “Funny, when I was a boy, Imperial walls and towers used to make me feel so safe.”

We passed through a narrow point in the road into a large courtyard where the first of our convoy pulled up. To their left, we pulled up.

“Why are we stopping?” said the thief quickly.

“Why do you think? End of the line.” With that he stood, we all followed suit. “Let’s go, shouldn’t keep the gods waiting for us”.

“No, wait! We’re not rebels!” shouted the thief

“Face your death with some courage, thief!” snapped the Stormcloak.

“You’ve got to tell them! We weren’t with you! This is a mistake!”

A Captain walked up in front of the crowd of prisoners.

“Step towards the block when we say your name. One at a time!”

I glanced over to the Stormcloak who looked at the floor and mockingly whispered

“Empire loves their damned lists”. This brought a smile to my face. May as well look for something to laugh at, right? A soldier came forward with a ledger – evidently filled with the names of the prisoners… Or maybe just the content of his wardrobe. We shall never know.

“Ulfric Stormcloak, Jarl of Windhelm”. The robed man stepped forward, and towards to headsman’s block.

“It has been an honour, Jarl Ulfric!” called the Stormcloak after him.

“Ralof of Riverwood.” With that, the Stormcloak who had been with us the entire time stepped forward. Ralof – that was his name, a good man if ever I met one.

“Lokir of Rorikstead.” The thief starting shaking.

“No, I’m not a rebel! You can’t do this!” With this he bolted, he sprinted away from the crowd, towards the way we came in.

“HALT!” came a cry from the Captain. He didn’t listen and just carried on running.

“You’re not gonna kill me!” The man had evidently lost it, but he didn’t care, he was too busy focussing on getting out.

“ARCHERS!” With that, two archers drew and fired. Both arrows found their target and Lokir found the floor, he died instantly. The Captain returned her gaze to the crowd. “Anyone else feel like running?” she shouted. The soldier with the ledger glanced at me, and then to the book.

“Wait. You there, step forward.” So I did. I walked slowly towards the soldier, now starting to feel a little worried. Something was wrong but there was nothing I could do about it. Each step I took was taking me one step closer to being killed by that damnable Captain. Well, either her or the headsman. “Take your pick” I thought to myself, before smiling a little. The soldier and the Captain both seemed to glance at the same time with the same expression, trying to not laugh at that was torture.

“Who are you?” he asked. I looked him in the eye before stepping close to him, my beard nearly touching his chin. Leaving a pause for good effect I released a breath into his face, evidently pretty bad, I smiled a little before slowly blinking.

“Remus.” I whispered.

Trying to regain some sort of power he stepped back before looking at me inquisitively,

“You’re a long way from the Imperial City. What are you doing in Skyrim?”

So I’m an Imperial, does that matter? By the nine, I was raised in Honourhall – not all Imperials live in Cyrodiil! Bloody idiot. He looked to the Captain, evidently confused as to what I was doing there.

“Captain, what should we do? He’s not on the list.”

“Forget the list, he goes to the block.”

“By your orders, Captain.”

Now that surprised me, I thought the Imperial Soldiers were the forgiving and omnibenevolent workers of the Emperor, not some blood thirsty murderers. Oh, believe me, at this point I was just about ready to drop my allegiance. Bastards.

“I’m sorry, we’ll make sure your remains are returned to Cyrodiil.” Said the Soldier. I mean, come on, you have no idea if I live in Cyrodiil, let alone if I have any family there. Just adding insult to injury here. I may be Imperial, but Skyrim is my home. I wasn’t born here, but it’s my home.

“Follow the Captain prisoner.” Came the soldier’s final order. Fear took over me again, was I really about to die? Just for crossing the border at the wrong time? I walked after the Captain, regrouping with the crowd of prisoners, and just as I reached the group, Tullius stepped up to Ulfric as if about to fight him. It would have been funny if not for the fact that Ulfric was tied and gagged, he made Tullius look like a boy in comparison. Tullius was a small, well-built man, his armour decorating him like fine jewellery, it had clearly never seen direct combat – if it had, Tullius had received not even a scratch upon it, the mark of either a fine warrior or a coward.

“Ulfric Stormcloak. Some here in Helgen call you a hero. But a hero doesn’t use a power like the Voice to murder is king and usurp his throne.”

The Voice – I had no idea what this really was, I’d heard of it before as a child, the Book of the Dragonborn had mentioned it, but I never saw it as any more than just a made up story, a myth created to scare children and inspire young soldiers. It was something for me to try and find out about, if I ever got out of this situation.

“You started this war! Plunged Skyrim into chaos, and now the Empire is going to put you down, and restore the peace!” Shouted Tullius in his face, Ulfric was clearly now angry, but with the gags over his mouth the most he could do to protest was grumble which achieved only more humiliation as opposed to intimidation. Just as Tullius finished his glory speech a call of some kind was heard in the distance, a call from what was unknown, but it drew the attention of every person present.

“What was that?” timidly asked the soldier with the ledger.

“It’s nothing. Carry on.” Ordered Tullius.

“Yes, General Tullius!” replied the Captain, now stood by a priestess at the headsman’s block. “Give them their last rites.” She said to the priestess.

“As we commend your souls to Aetherius, blessings of the eight divines upon you-” she was interrupted by a Stormcloak stepping towards the block.

“For the love of Talos, shut up and let’s get this over with!”

“As you wish.” She replied, a little disgruntled, clearly insulted by the interruption

“Come on! I haven’t got all morning!” he shouted, the Captain stepping behind him, ready to push him to the block. As he fell to his knees he said calmly “My ancestors are smiling at me Imperials, can you say the same?” These were his last words. Words that ring in my head to this moment as I write this. I closed my eyes as the axe fell – a sign of respect for a friend. Shouts of abuse came from the Stormcloaks who were next in line, but I remained with my eyes shut, facing away.

“As fearless in death as he was in life.” Said Ralof, clearly thinking fondly of his now deceased brother in arms.

“Next, the renegade from Cyrodiil!” Ordered the Captain. Renegade? Now hold on a minute, I was chased for days away from my home by bandits -that is not what makes a man a renegade. Again, the same call was heard in the distance, this time a little louder. The same soldier piped up.

“There it is again. Did you hear that?”

“I said, next prisoner!” the Captain called.

“To the block prisoner, nice and easy.” Sickened I looked up at the Captain, spat at the ground and stepped forward, my eyes fixed upon hers. I glanced over at the soldier with the ledger, the only thing between us being a block of wood and a basket with a head in it. The Captain pushed me down and I rested my head on the block, turning to my left to watch the mountains – the same ones as I escaped to as a child. The headsman readied himself, lifting the axe in preparation for the swing. With this, a grand winged beast flew into eye shot, past the mountain I was watching, calling the same great roar we had heard before, now deafening in volume.

“What in Oblivion is that?!” Shouted Tullius, clearly terrified by the appearance of such a creature.

“Sentries, what do you see!” Called out the Captain, as the beast flew out of sight once more, behind a tower. Panic filled each person present, as a deafening roar filled the air once more, and a pause from all soldiers and Stormcloaks alike filled the air with terror. With that the great black beast landed atop the nearest tower and everyone filled with panic. All that could be heard was screams of “DRAGON!” as families ran for their loved ones and archers drew for a feeble attempt at shooting the monster down. Still on the block, I stared at the beast, fear in my eyes as it released a mighty roar, as if shouting at me, and with it came a mighty force sending me flying through the air only to land on the hard cobbles, hands bound, tunic torn and everything hurting.

“Hey, you! Get up! The gods won’t give us another chance!” Called Ralof from across the courtyard. With this I pulled myself to my feet, ignoring the searing pain in my limbs and sprinted to an open door within one of the towers, Ralof followed close behind and slammed the door shut as we got inside. Within was stood Jarl Ulfric and a few other wounded soldiers, everyone except Ulfric showing terror in their eyes.

“Jarl Ulfric! What is that thing? Could the legends be true?” Asked Ralof, hurriedly. Calm and collected, Ulfric replied simply with a single, poignant line.

“Legends don’t burn down villages.” He let it sink in for a moment, the seriousness of the situation now made clear to everyone present. “We need to move, now!” He barked at his men.

“Up through the tower, let’s go!” Ralof called to me. With that I just ran, sprinting 3 steps at a time I made my way up through the tower until reaching a Stormcloak amongst some rubble, desperately trying to move it in an attempt to escape.

“We just need to move some of these–”

It was too late, the beast had arrived. It punched through the wall of the tower with its great skull, the rubble and debris crushing the Stormcloak half to death. The dragon dropped back before letting out a breath of pure flame. With it I thought I heard a whisper of words, but dismissed it quickly. Without even a scream the Stormcloak died, and the fire receded. I took the opportunity to run to the new exit created by the great monster and Ralof was close behind.

“See the inn on the other side? Jump through the roof and keep going!” he said as he pointed towards a gaping hole in the thatching of a rugged old building, burning from dragon-fire. Without a second thought I found myself leaping from the tower, falling several feet through the thatching and into the burning inn.

Hurriedly I made my way through the inn, jumping over beds and dashing past the embers of roof beams. At the far end of the building was a hole in the roof, jumping down into it I found myself on the ground floor, the rooms behind me on the verge of collapse, food, drink and furniture thrown everywhere as the building began to buckle under its own weight. Out of the door I fled, out into the open once more, where the soldier who previously held the ledger now stood, calling to a child in the middle of the cobbled road.

“Haming, you need to get over here, now!” The soldier cried. The boy darted across the street, into an old man’s arms. “At-a-boy, you’re doing great. Gods, everyone get back!” With this, the leathery black wings of the beast could be heard drawing the creature to a halt, and then came another spout of fire. Jumping into the cover of the wreck of another building, the soldier turned to me.

“Still alive prisoner? Keep close to me if you want to stay that way. Gunmar, take care of the boy. I have to find General Tullius and join the defence.”

“Gods guide you, Hadvar” Gunmar called after him as he ran into the street, I followed closely, my hands still bound. I felt immensely vulnerable, staying close to strong man with a sword was the only way I was getting out of there. As we crossed the street there was a clear gap between a building and a tall wall.

“Stay close to the wall!” shouted Hadvar, as the dragon flew overhead, and circled back around for another pass. I obliged not out of respect for Hadvar but for the sake of self-preservation. Just as we reached the wall the dragon lowered itself and landed atop it, its great claws touching the ground from the top of the wall. Not a fight I wished to get into, certainly not a fight I was destined to win. With another bout of fire, it attacked a lone archer, burning the very life from his body. With no need for a further attack, it took off once more, into the sky, deflecting any arrows fired at it, and simultaneously destroying Helgen.

“Quickly! Follow me!” Shouted Hadvar, leading me through another demolished building, darting from pillar to post until reaching another cobbled road. Tullius stood among more soldiers before belting an order to him.

“Hadvar, into the keep soldier, we’re leaving!”

With a nod, Hadvar obliged, leading me through a great stone archway where we were met by none other than the Stormcloak whom I had earlier befriended. Ralof.

“Ralof, you damned traitor! Out of my way!”

“We’re escaping Hadvar, you’re not stopping us this time.” Replied Ralof, confidently, his energy fuelled by the adrenaline of battle.

“Fine, I hope that dragon takes you all to Sovngarde!”

As he said this line, the dragon swooped down only to grab an unfortunate Imperial archer, who was lifted hundreds of feet in the air before being released, only to helplessly fall to his doom amongst the rubble that was once Helgen.

“You, come on! Into the keep!” Cried Ralof, as he ran towards the keep’s entrance. I followed the man as we sprinted across another courtyard into the wooden doors of Helgen’s Keep.

 

 Chapter 2: Some Way To Escape

Short for breath and low on energy after our breakout Ralof and I stumbled into Helgen’s Keep, the entry way was a small circular room with a high ceiling. In the centre hung a chandelier lit with candles and in the centre of the mossy stone floor lay a carpet. Across from us lay a body. One of Ralof’s friends, a Stormcloak by the name of Gunjar. Ralof knelt at his corpse.
“We’ll meet again in Sovngarde, brother.” He then stood to face me. “Looks like we’re the only ones who made it. That thing was a dragon. No doubt. Just like the children’s stories and the legends. The harbingers of the End Times.” Until this day I had not believed in such things existing, but with the sudden existence of dragons, many other questions filled my head about the existence of other things from stories. What of the Spriggans? Vampires? Werewolves? Did they exist? It had to wait, right now I needed to find some way to escape. We needed to find some way to escape.

“We better get moving.” Said Ralof, “come here, let me see if I can get those bindings off.” I walked up to him and he cut my hands free. Freedom at last was mine, I wished I weren’t free in such a desperate place, under such circumstances, but freedom is just that. I could now be my own man once more.

“There you go. You may as well take Gunjar’s gear. He won’t be needing it anymore.” He looked towards his fallen comrade and then back to me. “All right. Get that armour on and give that axe a few swings. I’m going to see if I can find a way out of here.” With that I pulled on Gunjar’s Cuirass and tied his Iron War Axe at my side. I never thought I’d see the day I wore faction armour, but I have to say – I looked pretty good in Stormcloak armour. While I did this, Ralof made his way over to a door made of metal bars. He gave it a tug and a push before giving up

“Ahh, this one’s locked. Let’s see about that gate” He walked across the room, to a wooden gate. There was no handle or lever visible, but you never know with these places whether or not it takes just a little push or something a bit more technical. He gave it a push and a pull, like the other before admitting defeat.

“Damn, no way to open this from our side.” As he said this footsteps could be heard making their way towards the room from the other side of the wooden gate. “It’s the Imperials! Take cover!”

I ducked in behind some rubble that had fallen from the ceiling during the dragon attack, and drew Gunjar’s axe. Once more, it would taste the blood of my people, but this was for a cause that was true, and righteous. The voices were familiar, one more so than the other.

“Get this gate open!” one ordered -it was the Captain from earlier. I’d waited far too long. I stood out from my cover and waited for the door to open. With a turn of some cogs the door slowly lifted, and with it I flew through it, axe first, driving myself forward, cleaving my way through the young soldier. As he hit the ground, his chest torn open by the metal’s impact I moved onto the second Imperial, the Captain who ordered my death. She was about to face her own. Effortlessly I punched my axe through her chest plate, knocking her breathless and to the ground. Looking me in the eye I could see her pain as I drew the axe back once more and made a final swing at her head. With a spray of blood her lifeless body hit the floor. Ralof and I stood there for a moment, breathing heavily.

“Maybe one of these imperials has a key.” Said Ralof finally. I searched both bodies, taking any undamaged armour, and putting it on. Eventually, I discovered an old rusty key hidden within the armour of the deceased Captain. Walking back across the room I allowed myself a smile as I revelled in the death of such an unpleasant person – some might call that sick, or psychopathic. I call it vengeance. Earned vengeance.

“Did you find a key?” asked Ralof. Silently, I nodded. “See if it unlocks that door” I pushed the key into the lock and twisted it. With a turn of my wrist and a steady push, the door swung open.

“Come on, let’s get out of here before that dragon brings that whole tower down on our heads!” Ralof uttered. I ran through the doorway, wielding the sword of the Captain, an Imperial Steel Sword. Excellent craftsmanship, and reliable in battle, just as was necessary for the situation. Turning to my left, I followed a stairwell down to a lower level, Ralof close behind as we reached a long corridor. With another loud cry from the dragon, came a thunderous crash.

“LOOK OUT!” Cried Ralof as the far end of the corridor collapsed, I watched as a small group of Imperials was buried alive. For a moment, I stood there as the dust settled.

“Damn, that dragon doesn’t give up easy…” Said Ralof, piercing the silence. To our left was a small wooden door, on the other side were voices and so carefully Ralof and I stepped inside, weapons drawn as we moved closer to another point of contact with two more imperial soldiers. I charged at this point, taking on both, head to head. I went in for a strike on the first soldier, another Captain, covered head to toe in heavy armour. Making a stab for his chest, the second soldier turned and prepared to attack. While the Captain recovered from the first blow, the second made a swing for me which I successfully blocked when suddenly an arrow flew past my head and struck the more lightly armoured soldier in the arm, crippling him with pain and thus giving me a chance to make a second attack at the Captain. Striking with a flurry of Steel, the Captain fell, the visible skin reduced to bloody fragments of flesh, his armour dented and deformed. The second soldier, now behind me readied for a second strike at me, the arrow protruding through his left arm. Unable to turn in time to block I stood there in panic, ready to receive a blow to my own sword arm. Wincing in preparation, I stood there like a stone when suddenly the soldier just stopped. His eyes glazed over and he fell to his knees. Behind him I could see Ralof, bow in hand. The soldier fell onto his face, and it was now clear to me that Ralof had shot him again. The arrow had met its target perfectly, passing into his chest and killing him instantly. Only once Ralof lowered his bow did I finally breathe again. I nodded to him as I searched the bodies for any gold or items that could be sold, as Ralof stepped over them he looked around.

“A storeroom. See if you can find any potions. We’ll need them.” He said as he opened up a barrel filled with potatoes and carrots. I looked around the room and came across a few things of interest, a couple of small vials filled with potions of various effects, healing being the primary effect. In one draw was a single Septim, the currency used within the empire. Although worth very little alone, they are light and carrying many is easy and doesn’t take up too much space. One barrel contained three Healing potions, as well as a Magicka potion and a Stamina potion, these were bound to prove invaluable to me throughout all of my endeavours and so I took them without hesitation. Turning back to Ralof, my inventory now ripe with useful items he looked at me with a grin.

“Done? Let’s get moving” He turned and headed through another wooden door, and down a stairwell into the depths of the Keep. The stairwell became dark very quickly, and as we lowered into another room the air was thick with the smell of blood. A cage was visible at the bottom of the stairs, two skeletons to be seen locked inside.

“Troll’s blood! It’s a torture room!” Exclaimed Ralof as he hurried down into the room where shouts could be heard and the sound of metal striking shields. As we entered the room, two Stormcloaks were struggling with the torturer and his assistant, and for the first time, I encountered an opponent skilled in the arts. With a bright light and a sound like thunder, a lightning bolt struck one of the Stormcloaks, throwing him to the ground as the second Stormcloak charged the attacker with her Battle-axe. The assistant took advantage of the man on the ground and went to attack him as Ralof and I entered, thus saving the grounded Stormcloak’s life. I jumped at the assistant, sword first, stabbing him in the neck killing him instantly. At this point the torturer realised his mistake, fear overcame him as four opponents wielded their weapons against him. He screamed as each weapon struck, but persevered to attack us with swings from his Steel Dagger and bursts of Mage Lightning. One more scream could be heard as the Battle-axe wielding Stormcloak severed his life from his body, dropping him to the ground before crushing his rips with a final blow from her axe. Only the rubbing of bone over metal could be heard as she withdrew her blade from his lifeless corpse as the blood from both him and his assistant ran together into a drain as a gentle stream. Ralof turned to them both and looked them up and down before asking

“Was Jarl Ulfric with you?”

“No,” the male Stormcloak replied “I haven’t seen him since the dragon showed up.” To this Ralof sighed and made for the exit on the far side of the room before something caught his eye.

“Wait a second. Looks like there’s something in this cage.” He made his way towards a cage at the edge of the room. He tugged at the door before giving up “Aah, it’s locked. See if you can get it open with some picks. We might need that gold once we get out.” The thief within me sparked up. I hadn’t picked locks for a long time, so it was going to be an effort, but I couldn’t wait to give it a go. I walked up to the cage to see what Ralof was talking about. Inside lay a Breton man, dead, in mage robes. At his side lay an ancient spell tome and several coins. Greedily I searched around the room, checking everywhere for any picks that I could use on the lock.

“Grab anything useful and let’s go.” As he said this I stumbled upon a knapsack, inside were four lock picks and a healing potion, which was perfect. As I closed the knapsack I noticed a book on the desk with it – the same book my father once read to me as a child. The Book of the Dragonborn. It brought a wave of emotion over me as I flicked through the pages once more, reading about the tales of the Akaviri and Tiber Septim, or Talos as he was known to the Nords, and the prophecy of the final Dragonborn, facing the World Eater. I shook myself from the trance and dropped the book. I turned back to the cage and made my way over to it, kneeling at the lock before placing a pick within it, feeling for the pins which would enable my entry. With a click and a sharp twist the lock was open and I took the Septims and Spell Tome before finally stripping the body of his Novice Mage Robes and hood – they always fetched a good price from my memory. On him he had two Magicka potions and so I took those as well (never know when one may take an interest in the arts, I suppose). I stepped away from the cage and made my way to the exit where Ralof stood impatiently waiting for me. As I reached him he turned and ran into the cell block, right to the very end before making his way down yet another flight of stairs into a torture chamber. The air down here stank of decomposing bodies and I nearly vomited as soon as I entered, scattered around were dead bodies, some in cages, and some just left to rot on the floor. I rushed through the room, hopping over corpses of men, women and the occasional corpse who could not even be identified as either. At the end of the room was a great hole in a wall, either from collapse during the dragon’s assault or by attempted break in (or break out?). Here the room spread from well-built granite structures into a vast cave system, lit by sconces dotted around. As we worked our way through the stagnant air of the caves we reached another built up area, stone pillars now maintaining the structure of the caves, and then walls once more. Voices echoed around the walls as we neared another larger cave.

“Orders are to wait until General Tullius arrives!” Shouted one voice.

“I’m not waiting to be killed by a dragon -we need to fall back!” Called another. Our small party of four slowly made our way to the mouth of the cave, only to find a group of Imperial soldiers, and another heavily armoured Captain. Across from us, on a walkway were two archers, and patrolling the walkway across the mouth of the cave was another. In the heart of the cave was the Captain and another soldier, the sources of the voices we heard in the tunnel. With a nod from Ralof we rushed the first archer before spreading between the remaining four Imperials. I searched the body of the first archer hastily, stripping him of his bow and quiver of arrows. A first, again for a long time, I drew the first arrow, aiming at one of the two archers on the far walk way. Releasing, my arrow pierced the air, and then its target, a cry could be heard as the archer threw himself backward in shock. By this time the two soldiers on the ground had already been killed by the overwhelming force of the other three Stormcloaks and so the four of us once more worked together to destroy our final foe. With a strike from Ralof, the archer fell to his knee and I seized the opportunity to fire another arrow. I did so, killing the archer in a single shot, and thus returning Ralof’s earlier favour. He smiled and nodded to me once he realised the origin of the arrow and then we all continued to the exit over at the far side of the opposite walk way. The two Stormcloaks from the torture room stopped and spoke to Ralof, I was at too great a distance to hear but it seemed to be concerning Ulfric, they both remained in position and Ralof made his way further into another tunnel, I followed, sprinting after him.

“Let’s see where this goes.” He called to me. After a short distance we came to a drawbridge, the release lever, thankfully, was on our side this time and so with a hefty push the wooden bridge dropped allowing us to cross safely… To some extent. As I crossed I heard the dragon once more make a pass above Helgen, and Ralof, close behind was lucky to escape a falling rock which destroyed the bridge. Breathless, once more we both stood there, stunned by our luck. As we stood, gasping for air, the tunnel we had just come through collapsed. Ralof looked at me and shrugged.

“No going back that way now.” He chortled. “We’d better push on. The rest of them will have to find another way out.” We both turned around to face a long tunnel, carved out by thousands of years of water erosion. The stream that had created it, now akin to a small river. With no other option we both descended to it and followed it on its course into the darkness. Not really to any surprise, within a few feet we had reached a dead end and, and moreover, a dead body. A coin purse and a lantern lay next to it, and so swiftly I pinched the money and stood, waiting for Ralof to catch up to me. He studied the rocky barrier.

“Hmm. That doesn’t go anywhere.” To our right was another tunnel, lit by a sconce a little way down. “I guess we’d better try this way.” I let him lead, and we descended once more. The air became dense and thick with dust. The walls became sticky and as I studied it further, found it to be spider’s silk. We were coming close to Frostbite Spiders. Almost as if on cue we reached another cave, and within it were three Spiders. These small creatures were no match for most any creature – I’d go so far as to say that even a goat could kill these smaller Frostbites. One arrow after the next, I picked them off while Ralof stood there watching them get thrown into the far cave wall by the force of the arrows. The three Spiders lay dead and triumphantly we both stepped down into the belly of the cave. Mistake number one. As we reached the centre of the cave, two larger Frostbite Spiders lowered themselves from their nests in the ceiling. Mistake number two. Ralof and I both drew our weapons and began to hack through the hard exoskeletons of the spiders, their poisonous ranged attacks completely missing and failing to reach their targets. Ralof made the first kill, stunning the spider before plunging his sword through its abdomen. This kill seemed to infuriate the final spider which sent it into a raging flurry of attacks. Mistake number three. With both of our attention now on this spider it was met by a maelstrom of Steel and Iron, and eventually I embedded my own sword into its firm outer protection, killing it instantly. Mistake number three was the final mistake that spider ever made.

“I hate those damned things. Too many eyes, you know?” Joked Ralof. The dark truth of the matter is that a lot of the time these creatures succeed in ambushing their prey and many an unprepared traveller has been killed by them in times gone by. We both stepped away from the corpses of the spiders and deeper once more into the cave, the air now seemed thinner however and we must have been close to an exit of some description, furthermore, we had now returned to the stream that had led us on earlier. Following it we reached a small, naturally created stone bridge, and so naturally, in the hunt for an exit we crossed it, to a small little platform with a cart on it. In the cart, strangely, was three bottles of Alto wine and coin purse. Being a thief I took the coins without a second glance, but the wine still baffles me a little to this day. I stopped to wait for Ralof to catch up again at this point, and took in my surroundings. The air was filled with dust still, but remained easier to breathe than it had been previously, and light poured in through the dust clouds from holes in the roof of the cave, providing a little light to aid the dim sconces placed throughout the cave. I was about to step further into the cave when Ralof grabbed my shoulder.

“Hold up.” He pointed into the distance to my front, “There’s a bear just up ahead. See her?” I nodded. “I’d rather not tangle with her right now. Let’s try to sneak by. Just take it nice and slow, and watch where you step.” I took a step forward before he stopped me again. “Or if you’re feeling lucky, you can take this bow. Might take her by surprise.” I had to think to myself for a minute at this point, I’m a thief by nature so sneaking around I rather enjoy but the whole ‘lucky’ thing also tempted me. I chose to take the easy way out, and sneaked past the old bear, I had a feeling that my luck for today was just about ready to run out. It’s not every day you survive your own execution, a dragon attack and civil conflict, no way was I about to take on a cave bear as well. Slowly I made my way around where the bear was sleeping, treading carefully, trying to avoid the bones of her previous meals.

“Go ahead! I’ll follow your lead and watch your back” whispered Ralof after me, as I edged around the cave towards where an exit appeared to be.

“Almost there!” Ralof commented. Sneaking really is so much easier when you haven’t got a bloody Nord commenting every two steps you take. Still, we made it to the far side and the only way forward seemed to be a tunnel to the right of us.

“Whew. That was close.” Came a final remark from Ralof. Yeah, it was close because of your clumsy antics you damnable moron. Following the tunnel once more a light was visible in the distance, and fresh air poured into the cave, cooling us and feeding our lungs with decent air to breathe once more.

“That looks like a way out! I knew we’d make it!” Ralof called over to me, as he ran towards the light. The tunnel came out into the open and my eyes were blinded for a brief moment. There I was, in blinding sunlight, overcome by the joy of freedom once more.

 

Chapter 3: The Mage, The Warrior And The Thief

Eventually my eyes readjusted to the brightness of the afternoon sun, to reveal a truly beautiful view. From the mouth of the cave I could see a path tailing off into the distance, snow laden rocks to either side of it. Further down the track, which descended gently, was a lush green woodland area, tall pines hurling themselves into the sky. They were, all of them, however entirely overshadowed by the mountains in the distance. The jagged snowy peaks gave for an incredible sight as they climbed through the cloud layer and beyond. I took a step forward near to where Ralof was stood, and as I did so the sound of large wings could be heard behind, where the wreck that was Helgen remained and the dragon now swooped over. Ralof turned to face it as it made for a pass over our heads.

“Wait!” he hastily said to me, grabbing my shoulder. The dragon flew over our heads, above the great pines and off into the horizon with incredible speed, gliding through the clouds.

“There he goes. Looks like he’s gone for good, this time.” He said as he released my shoulder, turning to face the winding trail down the hill side. “No way to know if anyone else made it out alive. But this place is going to be swarming with Imperials soon enough. We’d better clear out of here”. While saying this he had begun to walk along the earthen path, I followed, at a loss as to what else I could do.

“My sister, Gerdur runs the mill in Riverwood, just up the road. I’m sure she’d help you out”. He said to me as we walked together. He broke into a jog at this point, calling after me “It’s probably better we split up. Good luck. I wouldn’t have made it without your help today!” Completely lost I hastily made after him, and together, despite his suggestion we yomped down the hillside into the great woodland spread before us. As we made our way down the air warmed and filled with the scent of rich earth, filling us with its smell, as if filling our very stomachs. Stomachs. Now that was something I had forgotten – when had I last eaten? If one thing was for certain, as soon as we arrived at Riverwood, I was going to feast like an animal. The more I thought about it, the hungrier I became, to a point of almost getting hunger cramps. I thought it best to not consider food for the rest of the journey and instead decided to focus on just keeping moving, despite my exhaustion. Ralof looked to me as we ran through the edge of the woods.

“You know, you should go to Windhelm and join the fight to free Skyrim. You’ve seen the true face of the Empire here today.” He was right, the Empire was failing. It had already begun to lose its grip on Skyrim when I was a child and as time had continued it had turned sour, sacrificing its mercy in order to dictate the future of a free land. I needed to think for a moment, though, for my entire life I had been a supporter of the Imperial forces, they were, after all my own people. A decision needed to be made, but for now my allegiances were the least of my worries. I silently followed Ralof as he continued.

“If anyone will know what the coming of the dragon means, it’s Ulfric.” He loyally stated. We carried on moving without talking for a few more paces before a cobbled road appeared to our right, and the path we were on connected with it just a little way down. That was bound to be a good sign, surely we were close to civilisation once more? And with any luck we weren’t about to be incinerated by a dragon or ambushed by Imperial forces. Eventually we came to a wooden sign post at a tee-junction in the road and followed the route for Riverwood. I remembered Hadvar calling to him and mentioning he was from there but I had no idea Helgen was so close to his home. Still, we followed the cobbles as the hill steepened towards a river at the centre of the valley. As we got to a corner, Ralof stopped and pointed into the distance to the other side of the valley.

“See that ruin over there?” I followed where he indicated and my eyes were met with a vast black ruin, like ribs jutting out from the mountainside. “Bleak Falls Barrow,” he continued “I never understood how my sister could stand living in the shadow of that place.” He shuddered “I guess you get used to it” he said merrily as he shrugged it off before carrying on around the corner, descending towards the river. At a sharp bend in the road he slowed a little, looking towards three distinct standing stones changing his course and ran straight for them. A little confused I followed, almost a little irritated by the diversion. He stopped and stood by them.

“These are the Guardian Stones, three of the thirteen ancient standing stones that dot Skyrim’s landscape.” He smiled to me “Go ahead, see for yourself.” I tiredly made for them, my legs now feeling like lead weights. Looking at them, they appeared almost magical, with distinct carvings made upon them traced over several distinct marks. Each were the same size, but with different carvings. One had a great bearded man wielding a staff, probably to signify a mage. Another had a heavily armoured man, shield in one hand, war axe in the other, to show him as a warrior. The third appealed to me above all others – a cloaked man running, dagger in one hand, coin purse in the other. I touched the stone, tracing my fingers over his face, the smooth stone seeming to warm at my touch. Suddenly without warning my hand was thrown from it and a hole in the top of the stone filled with a blue light. More lights then spread throughout the stone, joining together the markings made beneath the carving. A little confused and taken aback I stepped towards Ralof, facing the stone to see what it would do next, and as I did so a third light shot through the top of the stone into the sky beyond where my eyes could see. Ralof laughed a little.

“Thief eh? It’s never too late to take charge of your own fate, you know.” I turned to him, completely stunned by what I had seen and he laughed again before turning away and continuing along the track. As we made our way along the river I felt a little strange, why I felt strange I couldn’t say, but the standing stone had changed something within me, I felt as though I was more aware, as though I was lighter in step and softer in touch. Strange, I know, but it confused me. After a long silence between us Ralof turned to me again, still running.

“Remember, this isn’t Stormcloak territory. If we’re ahead of the news from Helgen we should be fine as long as we don’t do anything stupid.” He smirked again. For a man who was due for the headsman’s block a few hours ago he was certainly in a very good mood. “If we run into any Imperials, just let me do the talking, alright?” We both carried on along the path, we were now coming up to a gentle incline on the road, the ground to our right was less densely filled with trees than before and more ground was visible, it was as I scanned the bank that I caught a glimpse of something moving, and then another thing. It was dark, under the shade of the trees though, so I couldn’t be sure. I reluctantly pulled my sight away and continued after Ralof, now a few paces ahead. Then I heard it. A deafening howl came from the bank on our right, as a wolf jumped for Ralof. As if instinctively he drew his axe and evaded the attack as I pulled an arrow from my quiver and drew it in my bow. Ralof hacked at the first wolf as a second, the one who had howled, descended the bank and headed towards him. I released the arrow as Ralof put down the first wolf and the second yelped as my arrow struck its hind leg. Ralof, now finished with the first attacker turned on the second, punching his axe through the wolf’s skull, killing it instantly. He withdrew the axe and the wolf collapsed to the ground. We both dusted ourselves down and lowered our guard. It was then that a third, larger wolf lunged at Ralof. I could do nothing as it made a bite for his arm, except try to ready another arrow. By this point, Ralof had drawn his axe and was slashing at the wolf’s legs. I readied the shot and fired, killing the wolf with an arrow to the neck. As it fell I saw something shine from within its fur, once more the thief within taking over, I moved as swift as a cat towards it, and pulled an Amethyst from the thick hair of the larger wolf. Ralof, tending to his wound with a potion winced as he drank it, but its effects were instant, and before my eyes I watched the holes in his skin cover over with new skin. It always did fascinate me how these potions were so effective so quickly. He dropped the vial and began to run again, without a word we continued, short of breath and utterly exhausted from our struggle.

“I’m glad you decided to come with me.” Ralof eventually said, breathing hard just to get the words out. “We’re almost at Riverwood.” He then puffed. One final push along the road and around a corner, and as if it were always there, it appeared in view. Riverwood. We had made it, exhausted, hungry and wounded we trudged to the entryway of the village, utterly elated that we had made it this far. From what I could see as I walked in, Riverwood was a peaceful place, filled with wooden and thatched houses, much like Helgen, and busy with lumber workers and their families. I followed Ralof as we made to cross over an intersection in the river to a small island like patch of land.

“Looks like nobody here knows what happened yet. Come one. Gerdur’s probably working in her lumber mill.” As we crossed the water it was clear that the island was the main section of the mill, a water wheel driving a saw blade and a huge pile of lumber at the far end. Slowly we made our way around the side of the mill, past several piles of lumber, chopped and sawn. An elf walked past, one of the Bosmer, hunting bow at his back, arms laden with firewood. There are no finer archers in Tamrial than the Bosmer, it is said. They are born with an innate ability to be able shoot bows with incredible power and accuracy, it’s an ability any man or orc would be lucky to learn. As we turned a corner around the back of the mill a Nord woman could be seen leaning over a wooden table.

“Gerdur!” Called Ralof to her.

“Brother! Mara’s mercy, it’s good to see you!” she replied, “but is it safe for you to be here?”

“Gerdur–“

“We heard that Ulfric had been captured!”

“Gerdur, I’m fine. At least now I am.”

“Are you hurt? What’s happened?” she enquired “and who’s this? One of your comrades?” she said, looking to me, completely confused as to what we were doing there and what was going on.

“Not a comrade yet, but a friend.” Ralof said, looking at me with a smile. “I owe him my life in fact” At this point I felt a little embarrassed, but tried to not show it as best as I could. “Is there somewhere we can talk?” He continued “There’s no telling when the news from Helgen will reach the Imperial–”

“Helgen?” Interrupted Gerdur, “Has something happened…? You’re right, follow me.” She turned around and began to walk away before stopping and calling back to one of the mill workers “Hod! Come here a minute. I need your help with something.” A voice came from a distance away

“What is it? Sven drunk on the job again?”

“Hod. Just come here.” She reiterated

“Ralof!” Came the voice again “What are you doing here? I-I’ll be right down!” We carried on a little further over to a huge tree stump where the small group of us were about to start conversing when a small boy ran up to us. Like a little whirlwind he threw a hundred questions at Ralof at once. Poor man.

“Uncle Ralof! Can I see your axe? How many Imperials have you killed? Do you really know Ulfric Stormcloak?” He asked, VERY quickly. Gerdur stepped in at this point, as any mother would.

“Hush, Frodnar. This is no time for your games. Go and watch the south road. Come find us if you see any Imperial soldiers coming.”

“Aww, mama, I want to stay and talk with Uncle Ralof!” moaned Frodnar. The whole event seemed to cheer up Ralof rather a lot, with a big smile on his face he knelt to be at the boy’s level.

“Look at you, almost a grown man!” he exclaimed, “Won’t be long until you’ll be joining the fight yourself.” This made the child smile a great big beaming grin.

“That’s right! Don’t worry Uncle Ralof, I won’t let those soldiers sneak up on you.” With that he turned and ran away towards the south of Riverwood to watch the road we had just travelled on. Running back across the bridge he nearly knocked off one man, who was headed towards us. A large blonde haired man, very classically Nordic in how he looked, arms the size of small trees, hair like honey and a voice like a bear just to top it off.

“Now, Ralof” he said as he approached. This man was Hod, who Gerdur had just called for. “What’s going on? You two look pretty well done in.” he said, eying is both up and down. Ralof perched on the tree stump.

“I can’t remember when I last slept” he began “Where to start? Well, the news you heard about Ulfric was true. The Imperials ambushed us outside of Darkwater Crossing like they knew exactly where we’d be. That was… two days ago, now. We stopped in Helgen this morning, and I thought it was all over.” While saying this he began to look far more sinister, recalling the events brought back the memory of the Stormcloak who had been executed and he choked back tears while continuing. “Had us lined up the headsman’s block and ready to start chopping.”

“The cowards!” interjected Gerdur.

“They wouldn’t dare give Ulfric a fair trial. Treason, for fighting for your own people! All of Skyrim would have seen the truth then.” He paused, playing up to the suspense he began to settle into the story, enjoying telling it a little more “But then… out of nowhere… a dragon attacked!”

“You don’t mean, a real, live…” Gerdur slowly asked.

“I can hardly believe it myself, and I was there. As strange as it sounds, we’d be dead if not for that dragon. In the confusion, we managed to slip away.” He stopped, with a look of disbelief “Are we really the first to make it to Riverwood?”

“Nobody else has come up the south road today, as far as I know” Gerdur replied.

“Good. Maybe we can lay up for a while. I hate to put your family in danger, Gerdur, but–“

“Nonsense.” She interrupted “You and your friend are welcome to stay here as long as you need. Let me worry about the imperials.” She said with a harsh tone to her voice. Then she turned to me and said “Any friend of Ralof’s is a friend of mine. Here’s the key to the house, take what you like – within reason of course.” With this she allowed me access to what she owned, and so I took all that was offered. Some food, ale, a couple of healing potions, a lock pick and a silver garnet ring. It wasn’t much, but it would get me started. Some food and a good night’s rest was all I needed right then, and so I went ahead and took it.

“There is something you can do for me, though, for all of us. The Jarls needs to know if there’s a dragon on the loose. We need to get word to Jarl Balgruuf to send whatever troops he can.”

“Thank you, sister. I knew we could count on you” graciously said Ralof.

“I ought to get back to work before I’m missed, but… did anyone else escape? Did Ulfric…”

“Don’t worry. I’m sure he made it out. It’ll take more than a dragon to stop Ulfric Stormcloak. I’ll let them into the house and, you know, show them where everything is.”

“Hmph, help them drink up our mead, you mean. Good luck, brother. I’ll see you later.” To this Ralof smirked again.

“Don’t worry about me. I know how to lay low” he joked. After this, everyone upped and left, leaving me to stand alone on this small island in Riverwood. This is where the real adventure would begin, but first thing was first, I needed to get some sleep.

 

Chapter 4: Sending Word

The next thing I remember is everything hurting. Each muscle glaring with agony from the day before, but despite my physical condition I awoke feeling well rested which was most certainly a redeeming factor for me. I opened my eyes to see the interior of a gorgeous little building. Simple stone walls, wooden furniture and thatched roofing. As I sat up, placing my feet on the floor I turned to see Ralof and Hod sat at a table talking, about what I couldn’t hear but it seemed serious. Ralof glanced over to me before getting up and walking out of sight. The house, which belonged to Hod and Gerdur, was built in an ‘L’ shape with each area taking up a portion of the single room. One area posed as a kitchen and dining area, with a table placed at one end and an open fire in the middle of the back wall. To the right of the fire place was a second table, completely filled with a spread of food; cheese, fish, potatoes, eggs, cabbages and more, none of which I could resist having barely eaten over the course of the past day. Sitting at the table I studied the remainder of the building. Along one wall was a single bed, on which Hod now sat drinking from a tankard whilst reading a book of some sort, to its right was a large wooden shelving unit, set up like a personal bar with a keg and several bottles of ale and wine atop it. Further along that wall was the bed that I had slept in – a large double bed with night stands either side. I then realised that in my trance-like state the afternoon before I must have slept in Hod and Gerdur’s own bed, blushing a little I turned behind me to see Ralof stood, transfixed by the spread of food upon the dinner table. Clearly as hungry as I, he sat at the table and began devouring all food within his immediate vicinity, like a rabid dog he tore through haunches of rabbit and pan seared slaughter fish, many of the crumbs finding their way into his beard. Having realised that I was watching he stopped abruptly, a little embarrassed and took a small sip from a tankard. He cleared his throat.

“I’m going to rest up here a while before heading to Windhelm.” He took another sip before continuing “Be careful.” With another sip he turned back to his food, and slowly took one bite after the next as if pretending what I had just seen didn’t really happen. I headed towards the door and looked across to Hod who waved me off from the corner of the room as I pulled the door open and stepped outside. As I made my way through the garden I looked to Gerdur and waved, briefly drawing her attention away from her morning chores she waved back to me and I turned to walk along the cobbled road passing their home towards the centre of Riverwood. As I walked the empty street I noticed to my right an Inn, ‘The Sleeping Giant’ read the sign hanging from a post in front of the building, an interesting name for an Inn I thought to myself, as I walked past into the very centre of the settlement. On my left were two buildings, one a shop ‘The Riverwood Trader’, and the other a local smithy. My knapsack laden with goods I headed towards the trading post, carefully avoiding a cart of cabbages inconveniently placed outside. As I reached the door I began to hear voices, opening it slowly revealed the store owner and another woman arguing.

“Well one of us has to do something!” impatiently said the woman.

“I said no!” he shouted “No adventures, no theatrics, no thief-chasing!”

“Well what are you going to do then, huh?” She argued “Let’s hear it!”

“We are done talking about this.” He grumpily replied, as he did so he turned to the door to see me standing there, feeling (and no doubt looking) a little awkward. “Oh, a customer.” He stuttered. “Sorry you had to hear that.” He mumbled looking away, clearly feeling a little uncomfortable. The woman, fed up turned away and walked over to the fire in the middle of the room, sitting at a chair placed near it, fretting as she opened up a book.

“I don’t know what you overheard, but the Riverwood Trader is still open! Feel free to shop!” The store owner cheerily said as he folded his arms, smiling to me.

“What do you have for sale?” I asked, reciprocating his merry welcome, a smile on my face as I hauled my knapsack onto a space on the counter top.

“Trinkets, odds and ends, that sort of thing” he replied, before inviting me to search all the goods he had on display. The list of wares he was selling was virtually endless, as he pulled out item after item from beneath the counter; weapons, clothing, potions, food, books, and it went on! A little taken aback I opened my own knapsack, its contents dwarfed by his plethora of commodities. I took out my coin purse which was particularly light and offered a few of the items I had collected. We bartered like this for a few minutes, me handing him Gunjar’s war axe and him giving me several arrows, a long bow for a few loaves of bread and some ale. Eventually my original inventory of items was almost entirely replaced, the final thing remaining being the Amethyst I had taken from the fur of the wolf along the road to Riverwood. His eyes gleamed. Despite its worth I managed to eventually squeeze thirty nine Septims from him for it, which would, I’m sure, prove a useful investment eventually. As I closed my knapsack, happy enough with the trades made the store owner turned and looked around him.

“I better get back to cleaning the store.” He sighed “What a mess.” I turned for the door and pulled it open before turning back to see if the woman by the fire had even noticed my existence, lowering her book a little she scowled at me and hastily I turned back and out of the door. As I stepped outside I noticed a cool breeze coming from the North, I looked up to see not a cloud in the sky and the sun beaming down over the valley. It was the first time I was able to fully appreciate the weather since I had arrived, what with the day before being as it was. It was beautiful day, considering the majority of the surrounding area being snow peaked mountains it was pleasantly warm, which brought a smile to my face. As I crossed the street I watched the local smith sit at a grind stone and begin to temper an iron sword. It always was an interesting art, that of smithing, I never was much good but it was something I wanted to work on. I walked over to him, still carrying some spare armour that I could sell to him. As I stepped onto the wooden floor of the smithy he looked up at me.

“Ain’t every day we get visitors in Riverwood” he said as he got up. Shaking hands, I asked him what ware he had for sale. “By Ysmir!” he laughed “If it’s simple and strong – I can forge it!” He patted me on the back, and turned me to see the armour he had on display. “Looking to protect yourself, or deal some damage?” He asked. Like before, we haggled for a while as I sold him the remainder of the armour I had to sell, making a neat profit of one hundred and fifty two Septims which was good money considering the damage that the armour had taken. Looking at my own armour I decided to purchase something with a little more quality and perhaps a little less weight. Alvor, for that was the smith’s name, noticed and pointed out to me a fine pair of leather boots and bracers – One hundred and fifty six Septims lighter I took them, instantly swapping them for my current Imperial light armour boots and bracers which he reimbursed me for willingly. While I still had money I also decided to purchase another full quiver of iron arrows for one hundred and eighty Septims, leaving me with just one hundred and thirty one Septims left. I sighed as I fixed the buckles on my new boots and then glanced up to see a pile of unused leather. I always said I wanted to work on my smithing ability and so after a moments consideration decided to buy a few pieces of leather to attempt to make a new cuirass with. Not realising what a waste of money I had just made I made for the forge, desperately trying to warm the leather into a malleable state for creating the new armour piece. It turns out I was shy of a few pieces of leather and so before Alvor noticed I picked up my small pile of warm leather and made for the road again. I remembered that Gerdur had asked me to go and talk to the Jarl of Whiterun and so checking my map and compass I turned to the North road out of Riverwood. Pulling the mage’s hood I had taken from the body in Helgen over my head I began my trek along the river bank, breathing the warm midday air as I walked. Shortly after leaving Riverwood I reached a small stone bridge spanning the river – the White River according to my map. Traipsing over it, the new leather in my boots beginning to rub I listen to the gentle gurgling of the river and the occasional splash as a fish swam to the surface. Calls from wild birds could be heard all around, and the occasional cry from a single hawk way up in the sky. Just as I reached the opposite bank something moved in the bushes opposite, startling me a little, not to mention the flock of birds perched in the canopy above. Taking a sharp breath I stepped back as out from the bracken jumped a young rabbit. Bloody idiot, scared by a bunny? Laughing it off, I stepped off of the bridge and turned right, down a hill alongside the bank of the river. Walking down the hill, humming the old song of Ragnar the Red I heard another rustling in the bushes to my left, dismissing it once more as a rabbit I continued, humming a little more quietly as I listened for some sort of further movement… Nothing. Calming a little once more I took another step, cracking a stick beneath my foot, which was now beginning to rub rather a lot in its boot. I knelt down to readjust the buckle and as I did so something growled in the bushes, I turned and drew my sword in haste, as I did so a young wolf jumped from the brush fangs first, attempting to ground me. As she made her move, so did I, stepping to my left rapidly, pulling my sword around for a counterstrike. The wolf, moving fast, held close to the ground and evaded my strike, making a jump at me again I attempted to ready another strike. Too slowly. With her claws first she tore into my already weakened armour, ripping off several of the straps before attempting to gnaw at what was left of the protective chest plate. Panicking I thumped the she-wolf’s muzzle with the hilt of my sword, stunning her while I made for a stab at her. Cowering helplessly the wolf froze, my sword finding its way into her gullet and then once more into her upper leg. Utterly crippled she cowered back into the side of the road, bleeding profusely from her injuries. Feeling a little inhumane in my actions I made a final swipe at her, knocking her in the head and thus to the ground, killing her where she landed. Breathing hard, my armour hanging off of my chest I sheathed my sword and hurriedly made my way further down the hill, now rushing to try and reach Whiterun before anything else decided to attack me. As I continued down the hill it became steeper, the river beside it transforming into a raging torrent, I broke into a run as I cleared the edge of the woods and entered into the main area within Whiterun hold, the plains. At the bottom of the hill stood two buildings with a guard patrolling near it, and so hurriedly I made my way over to them, sweating under the heat of the cloudless afternoon and my quarrel with the wildlife along the road (Damn wolves – and the rabbits can go to Oblivion, as well!). Pulling my hood from my head and wiping my brow I gazed upon the city of Whiterun, a huge settlement stood on the top of a hill in the centre of the hold’s vast plains, its ancient stone walls protecting the bustling life within. From where I stood I could see that the city had been the site of many battles, the walls crumbling and dilapidated but still the city held its dominant position as a beacon among the great flats that surrounded it. Slowly I made my way along the road towards it until reaching a cross roads. Turning westward I found myself walking in front of the two buildings that I had seen from atop the hill, outside the smaller of the two stood a hanging sign that read ‘Honningbrew Meadery’ – I had once tasted the mead from this place as a teen in Riften, I recalled. Its rival, ‘the Blackbriar Meadery” was famous for being absolutely horrendous, so when given the option I instinctively chose Honningbrew. Delicious stuff, thick like syrup, sweet like honey and it kicked like a Frost Troll on Skooma! Needless to say, as a young teen two pitchers of that drink had me on the floor. I smiled as remembered my friends from the orphanage, but my daydreaming was swiftly drawn to a close as I saw a great dust cloud in the distance to my front. The dust had just settled when I heard a huge thump and felt the ground shake before seeing another cloud of dust. Hurriedly I half sprinted over to where I saw the cloud before stopping suddenly realising that it was a Giant. I drew my bow tentatively as I watched it swipe at a group of warriors, who all seemed to retaliate with equal brutality. Carefully I knocked an arrow and drew, steadying my aim to ensure that one of the Giant’s attackers was not hit. I lifted my aim to compensate for the drop due to the distance and released. I watched, heart in throat, as the arrow flew through the air just desperately hoping that it would meet its target and then, as if by some stroke of luck the great brute was forced to its right by a blow from one of the warrior’s battle axes and the arrow struck, like a bee sting the Giant winced and grasped at the wound with its humungous hands and shortly after a second arrow reached its chest, making it short for breath as one brave warrior stepped forth and forced his axe mercilessly into the Giant’s stomach, knocking it to the floor as its blood spurted from the wound. The beast disappeared out of view as it fell, dropping to the ground behind a fold in the terrain. I made for the battleground with all due haste, sword drawn, and ready to fight. I charged the downed Giant, the other warriors now surrounding it, hacking it to death with their weapons and just as it drew its final breath I jumped upon the beast, readying myself to drive my blade into its chest. With a great effort the Giant threw me from him, sending me a great distance away into the adjacent field. It was at this point that I must have blacked out. The next recollection I have is waking up in heap of my own provisions, broken vials and arrows all thrown a few feet around me in all directions. Pulling myself from the ground and ever so carefully trying to regain my dignity I picked up as many arrows as I could and recovered a few potions. Laughing, one of the warriors approached me, wiping blood from the tip of one of her arrows.

“You handle yourself well” she said, with a smile “You could make for a decent Shield-Brother”. Not sure if she was mocking me or being serious I asked, a little confused

“What is a Shield-Brother?”

“An outsider eh? Never heard of the Companions?” she said, seeming to look a little irritated by my not knowing of who she was, or was involved with. “An order of warriors,” she continued, “brothers and sisters in honour. And we show up to solve problems if the coin is good enough.” Impressed, and captured by the thought of more coin, I looked her up and down.

“Can I join you?” I asked

“Not for me to say. You’ll have to talk to Kodlak Whitemane up in Jorrvaskr” With that she turned away, looking over her shoulder to me as she walked towards her ‘Companions’ as she called them, leaving me stood alone in the middle of the field. A little annoyed I threw my knapsack back on and trudged to the edge of the field where I climbed over a fence and back onto the main road to Whiterun, the farmers giving me a strange look as I did so. Eventually, after brushing myself down, I reached a horse and cart stood outside of some stables, nodding the driver I walked on past and up to the main draw bridge to Whiterun Hold’s capital. The walls truly were in ruin, still standing, but only just by the looks of things. This place was old, though, it was clear to see that the stones that had built the walls were placed there centuries, perhaps even a whole era ago. Slowly I made my way up the winding road, over another, smaller draw bridge to the main gate. Two uniformed guards stood outside, clearly standing watch for any trouble that may come to the city from bandits and other such unpleasant people. As I neared the great wooden doors, passing several wooden guard towers, one of the two gate guards approached me, his right hand crossing him in order to reach for his sword.

 

Chapter 5: Making An Impression

As the guard made each step closer to me, his leather boots kicking up the dust and small stones beneath them, he broke into a defensive stance looking me up and down from behind his full faced helmet, probably thinking to himself about what a state I was in and whether I was ‘worthy’ to pass the great threshold of the main gates.

“Halt.” He said, stepping intrusively close, “City’s closed with the dragons about, official business only.” Holding my ground, our faces mere inches apart I simply declared to him in full confidence;

“I have news from Helgen about the dragon attack”. A little taken aback by what came from the mouth of me, a half dead wreck of a man, he stepped away, maintaining eye contact he slowly replied.

“Fine. But we’ll be keeping an eye on you.” Walking past him, almost brushing shoulders, I stared down the other guard who seemingly terrified, turned away, perhaps he was new. He certainly didn’t know how to react to me.

As I stepped through the heavy doors and into Whiterun I was met by a glint of the evening sun which tinted the sky a pale orange as it descended into the mountains on the horizon. The main entrance and perhaps the only, for I wasn’t sure of the city’s layout, opened up directly into a sprawling mess of shops, stalls and other sales locations. On my left as I walked into the lower area of the settlement was the guard house. It was a small building, built out of huge hunks of granite, thrown together and given a wooden door and windows, despite its simplicity I’m sure it did its job, keeping the guards of Whiterun warm and dry while not on duty. To my right was a smithy, ‘Warmaiden’s’ read the sign. Outside stood two people, a man and a woman, who were conversing about weaponry for the Imperial forces, the man in full Imperial light armour forcefully asking the woman, the smith, judging by her outfit, to forge more swords for the legionnaires. She denied, claiming the order to be of too great a size, saying something about how she couldn’t ‘fill an order that size on her own’. She proceeded to offer another smith’s name forward, insulted, the imperial rudely denied the offer and thus the woman’s argument was lost, she accepted the order feebly while the imperial stomped off towards the nearest inn which was, conveniently, just behind him across the street. Short of daylight I decided to stop people watching and ascended through the town, for it was built on a slope. The lowest area appeared to be consisting of commercial businesses; stores and the like. The next area was built up of private homes and clan houses, above these, on the final level, was the famous Dragonsreach. Although I had never been here, I had heard of Dragon’s Reach in tales many times before – it apparently gained its name when King Olaf (or Olaf ‘One Eye’ as he was also known) captured the great dragon Numinex, imprisoning him and mortifying him before the hold before finally slaying the beast. I pondered over the story as I made my way slowly through the homes of the many people who lived here, stopping by a vast tree in the centre of a courtyard below the steps leading to Dragonsreach. Gazing at the decaying tree I made my way past it, and climbed the many flights of stairs past another of the guards (which gave me an odd look, as my half destroyed armour flapped about while I ran past). Sprinting the final few steps, and bursting through the entry way of the keep I ran directly into the point of a steel sword, held steady at the other end by a rather irate looking Dunmer warrior.

“What’s the meaning of this interruption?” she ordered “Jarl Balgruuf is not receiving visitors!” Choked by the blade holding me in place I coughed out a reply

“I have news from Helgen.” She lowered the blade a little, her face softening “About the dragon attack” I continued.

“Well, that explains why the guards let you in. Come on then, the Jarl will want to speak with you personally.” She said with a shocked expression, lowering her sword. Once the sword was lowered I finally felt safe to continue and breathing out finally, I followed the woman past a huge fire in the centre of a grand dining area, tables filled with silver-wear and a huge amount of food – more than I can recall form any other tables in my life time. We stopped as we came before a throne, upon it was sat a tall man, tall by even Nordic standards. His golden beard merged with his hair as it lay across his chest, he wore a blue and tunic with grand decorations made upon it, further accessories such as necklaces and brooches added purely to express this man’s wealth. Leaning his aged face on his hand he looked at me, one of his gold rings pressing into his cheek while he looked me up and down. I pulled the hood from my head once more, revealing my face as he looked me in the eye. His look was severe, clinical, he was a man who could see into another’s soul just at a glance. Slowly his gaze drifted once more, I noticed him eye up the tears upon my armour which at this point was barely intact. His eyes eventually settled once more, staring into my own.

“So, you were at Helgen?” he slurred slowly. “You saw this dragon with your own eyes?”

“The dragon destroyed Helgen.” I replied, unsure as to whether or not to mention my experiences with the Stormcloaks and Imperials present, “And last I saw it was headed this way”.

“By Ysmir, Irileth was right!” He exclaimed, his face becoming animated as he lifted his head from his hand, looking to his right where his advisor stood. “What do you say now, Proventus? Shall we continue to trust in the strength of our walls? Against a dragon?” he asked, clearly doubtful of their defensive position. Irileth, the Dunmer who had stopped me stepped up to the throne.

“My lord, she should send troops to Riverwood at once. It’s in the most immediate danger, if that dragon is lurking in the mountains–” She said. The advisor, insulted by the interruption of his duties stood on the other side of the throne. He interrupted as she continued.

“The Jarl of Falkreath will view that as a provocation! He’ll assume we’re preparing to join Ulfric’s side and attack him! We should–”

“Enough!” Barked the Jarl, clearly fed up of the childlike behaviour of his subjects. “I’ll not stand by while a dragon burns my hold and slaughters my people! Irileth, send a detachment to Riverwood at once” Further irritated by the overlooking of his advice, the man at the Jarls side, Proventus, turned away.

“Yes, my Jarl” replied Irileth graciously.

“If you’ll excuse me, I’ll return to my duties” commented Proventus, rather shortly. The Jarl picked up on this and reciprocated.

“That would be best.” He muttered. Turning to me once more he sighed before moving to leave his throne. “Well done, you sought me out, and on your own initiative. You’ve done Whiterun a service, and I won’t forget it! Here, take this as a small token of my esteem.” He said, signalling a guard to bring something forth. The Jarl took the item from him and handed it to me, holding it in my hands I came to realise that it was in fact a new cuirass, Imperial light armour once more, but it was in perfect condition. Smiling to me as I placed it within my knapsack he continued on with his discourse. “There is another thing you could do for me, suitable for someone of your… Particular talents perhaps?” He said, as if he knew of my background in thievery and criminal involvements “Come,” he digressed “let’s go find Farengar, my court wizard. He’s been looking into a matter related to these dragons… and rumours of dragons” He ushered me on as he led me to a room at the side of the main hall, passing several wall hangings and shelves filled with silver-wear and books among other fine things. Gazing around as I walked towards the room I nearly tripped as I passed through the entryway. Within the wooden-floored room was a Wizard’s laboratory, complete with soul gem collections, a map of the province (which was considerably more detailed than my own), an alchemy station and an enchanting table. Completely astounded by the vast amount of equipment I followed the Jarl into the middle of the room where he stopped opposite a desk. On the other side of the desk stood a tall hooded man, his eyes in shadow, focused on some ancient tome. Murmuring as he read, I studied his robes. They were the robes of a royal mage, I had seen tapestries of the mages that worked for the Jarls and his matched perfectly, from the shade of blue that dominated the clothing to the tan stripe that came from the centre of the neck down the right hand side of the robes to the ground. Now seemingly aware of our presence he looked up, the book still open.

“Farengar, I think I’ve found someone who can help you with your dragon project” The Jarl said to the man as I leant against the pillar next to the desk. The hooded man turned to me. “Go ahead and fill him in with all the details.” With that the Jarl circled the room, and studied the recent works of his court wizard. Farengar looked me up and down with the same look that the Jarl had earlier given, one of unimpressed boredom.

“So the Jarl thinks you can be of use to me?” Asked the mage rhetorically, seeming a little lost in the orders of the Jarl. “Oh yes, he must be referring to my research into the dragons. Yes, I could use someone to fetch something for me. Well, when I say fetch, I really mean delve into a dangerous ruin in search of an ancient stone tablet that may or may not actually be there” he laughed, evidently finding the task as outlandishly obscure and thus entertaining.

“All right, where am I going and what am I fetching?” I asked, slightly bewildered by the terrible description of the objective. He looked at me, giving a disconcerting grin before continuing in his deceptively young voice. For a man who had the knowledge of an eighty year old, and had the appearance of a fifty year old it came as some surprise to hear the voice of a twenty year old, despite his body now aging, his voice remained young and strong.

“Straight to the point eh? No need for tedious hows and whys.” He spoke “I like that. Leave those details to your betters, am I right?” Seeing my irritation at that point he brought conversation back around to the matter at hand. “I, ah, learned of an ancient stone tablet said to be housed in Bleak Falls Barrow – a “Dragonstone,” said to contain a map of dragon burial sites. Go to Bleak Falls Barrow, find the tablet – no doubt interred into the main chamber – and bring it to me. Simplicity itself.” He bluntly stated. Simple? He clearly hadn’t been out of Whiterun for some time, just walking a few miles is a task in this land, let alone crawling through ancient burial grounds, filled with who-knows-what kinds of traps, curses and bandits. I turned away and made back for the entryway to the room, but as I got to the exit something glinted in a corner. Needless to say, I snatched it and made off, although I didn’t check to see what it was that I had stolen until I was well on my way out of Dragonsreach. When I finally unclenched my fist I found myself staring at a beautiful gem, as the moonlight struck it blues, purples, pinks and many other colours reflected and bounced out from within it. It was truly mesmerising, however I knew for certain that it was worth very little – having stolen soul gems before I knew the selling prices and this could not have been worth more than ten Septims. A pittance for something so beautiful. Making my way back down the stairs leading into Whiterun I found myself growing ever more tired and so decided to make my way over to one of the inns. Passing back down into Whiterun I passed the great tree once more and then instead of returning the way I came, descended back into the lowest level of the city via a different route, which took me right to the front steps of a large in; ‘The Bannered Mare’. Pushing the door open I walked in, hood on back on, weapons on display. It was as if Mehrunes Dagon himself had just marched through the inn’s threshold, the entirety of the people within just stopped. All eyes became fixed on me as the music stopped and the only sound left in the room was that of the fire crackling gently in the background. Slowly I walked over the bar as whispers began to fill the air, and slowly the noise level returned back to normal despite remaining a little uncomfortable. Taking a seat at the bar, I leant over and pushed a small amount of gold over to the woman stood at the other side. As if she had dealt with me before she instantly took the gold and fetched a tankard for me. Sitting down I listened to conversations, the subject of which all seemed to revolve around the same things, either “the strange man over by the bar” or “did you hear about Helgen?” The woman returned with a tankard full of mead, sipping at it I came to realise just how exhausted I was and so drew the attention of the maid.

“I’d like to rent a room” I said, wearily, holding out a hand full of Septims. She took them without hesitation and placed them in her pocket.

“Sure thing. It’s yours for a day” she replied, leading me up a set of wooden stairs and into a room with a large double bed and a few cupboards. She looked at me and gave a forced smile before turning away and shutting the door as she left. Exhausted, I threw my knapsack onto the floor and fell into the bed, the conversation in the main room of the inn now dying down for the evening. I slept lightly that night knowing that in the morning I would have to leave early in order to make it safely over to Bleak Falls Barrow, which lay a few leagues from Whiterun and well into the wilder lands within the hold. Before sunrise I needed to be up and so I made the most of what time I had in the warmth and comfort of the inn.

 

Chapter 6: Ditches Low, Mountains High

Pulling myself from the bed after just a little sleep was hard, but ultimately necessary. Keeping quiet, and being sure to avoid stepping on creaky floorboards I made my way out of the bedroom, knapsack on my back, and decided to make a quick round of the inn in order to take any provisions I may need, be them either food, drink or coin. Slowly I sifted through the upstairs area that I was placed in, emptying all of the cupboards and bedside tables of their gold and ever so carefully I made my way down the stairs and cleared out the ground floor. In the dead of night the inn was empty, the only person remaining down stairs being one drunken old man who had passed out hours before, I thought I saw him as I walked inside initially. Allowing a smirk to appear on my face I turned left at the bottom of the stairs and entered a small room at the back of the building. In the room was very little in comparison to my own room, just a single bed and a cupboard with a few clothes in. By the bed was a nightstand and within that sat seventeen Septims which I snatched with all due haste before exiting the room. As I snuck out of the room I tripped and lost my footing on the corner of a rug, almost finding myself face first on top of the old man, but by some stray act of Nocturnal managed to regain my balance before falling. Breathing out heavily I managed to bring my heart rate back to normal and limiting the panic that shot through my system. Pulling my knapsack back onto my shoulder I proceeded through the main room of the inn, the fire within now just a pile of smouldering ash, the acrid smoke half choking me as I crept past it. On my right I noticed an entryway to another area of the inn and so I made for it as quickly and quietly as possible, making each step virtually silent. Entering the room I noticed another fire and a huge spread of food, my eyes bulging and my stomach empty, I filled my knapsack almost half way with provisions; ale, mead, cheese, sweet rolls, venison steaks, as much as I could carry without weighing me down with supplies. While pillaging the food selection I caught sight of a lockbox set upon the table in the room. I finished packing away the food and then drew out a lock pick before tip-toeing over to the table on which the box was. With a few sharp turns and after almost breaking the pick a few times I heard the familiar click as the lock’s cylinder finally turned and I opened it, eyes gleaming as they fell upon just shy of sixty Septims, all glinting in the light of the dying fire. Upturning the box, the heavy clink of the coins rattled around the room as they fell into my coin purse, making it considerably heavier than it was. Starting out at twenty Septims I counted a total of one hundred and twenty eight, which from an inn was an excellent take, and I hadn’t even cleared the building! Once more I closed up my sack and threw it on my back, and taking care to not make too much noise, I made my way across the room to another set of wooden stairs. From the bottom of them I could see very little and so hesitantly I moved up them, making not a sound as I scaled the steps. At the top were two doorways, separated by a small corridor – at the end of which sat a cupboard. Beginning to be aware of the amount of time I had spent moving around the inn I made hastily across the corridor, taking care to keep my volume low, my heart in my throat as each step took me closer to potentially being caught. That was the last thing I wanted, I had been imprisoned while in the north of Cyrodiil and it was awful, the beds were made of mouldy straw, the food may as well have been mouldy straw and the clothes felt like mouldy straw – all in all, not somewhere I wanted to go back to. ‘Prison is not an option’ I thought to myself as I opened the cupboard, now beginning to become nervous about the possibility of being spotted. Inside the cupboard lay a few coins and an outfit of some rather well made clothes, sure they looked good but I wasn’t going to shift stolen goods without a fence, so I closed the cupboard and made for one of the rooms. Opening the door slowly I made my way into another small room, a single bed in the corner as before and a small table with some food on it. Taking a coin purse that lay on the table I then caught sight of a chest that sat on top of a large cupboard, and so standing up fully I flipped the top of it open and peered inside. Another virtually useless storage unit, only three measly Septims were within, completely pointless having such a large chest when you only have three damn Septims to put in it. It’s enough to infuriate any thief! Closing the chest, a little irritated, I made my way back out of the room and crossed the corridor to the other door. Repeating as before, I opened the door slowly to reveal an even smaller room. From one end of it to the other there must have been about 5 paces, it was barely large enough to fit me in, let alone all of the furniture stacked within it. On my right was a small night stand, in its one small draw lay a few Septims which rapidly found their way into my possession. As I closed the draw I noticed a book on the floor, picking it up I read the cover. ‘Thief of Virtue’ I quietly chuckled as I pocketed it, it was a book that I had wanted to read for some time, from what I had heard it was a good read – certainly something that I could relate to. Clearing out the last few cupboards I made for the door once more, eager now to leave the inn as fast as possible. Out the door and down the stairs I fled before hastily turning left and leaving through the back door, flooding the room with a bitter draft as I stepped into the cold night of Skyrim, becoming just a shadow in the dark before sunrise. A little hesitant to move quickly I snuck around behind the inn and made my way back through to the main gate while skirting around the homes and stores of the lower level of the town. As I slowly crept through the town I began to notice the sky lighting up, the dawn was coming and so I needed to rush. Forgetting all aspects of stealth I broke into a run, dashing from shadow to shadow until I reached the final building before the main gate – the smithy. So as not to arouse suspicion I walked upright into the middle of the road and then towards the gate. Hiding in plain sight, my heart beating even faster than it had when the dragon appeared back in Helgen, I walked confidently past the gate guards, back through the main gate and into the wilderness of the hold once more. With haste I returned back to the path which had led me to Whiterun in the first place, rain clouds seeming to converge upon me as I did so. As I got to the road I checked my map and identified the location of Bleak Falls Barrow, it appeared to be situated within a small mountain range to the south west of Whiterun and so turning westward I made my way along the long cobbled road that trailed off into the distance.

Just a few short minutes after beginning along the road the clouds broke, dowsing me with cold rainwater. Now wet, and becoming increasingly hungry, I trudged along, my eyes tracing the horizon through the fog. In the distance appeared to be a mountainous region which was both a blessing and a curse – I at least knew I was headed in the right direction. Unfortunately, it meant that not only was I going to become soaking wet, I would also have to climb into the snowy peaks of the mountains before me. Wonderful.

Eventually as the path wound on, I came to a large half-ruined watch tower. Desperate for a little shelter, and now ravenously hungry I walked over to it warily, my hands ready to grab my sword or my bow, dependant on which would be needed for the situation. I could see from the ground a large black and red flag, which as I drew ever closer to, appeared to be one of the Empire’s banners. Drenched with the rain and flapping in the wind it, despite its condition, eased my mind – This must have been one of Whiterun’s watch towers – thankfully it was still under Imperial control which meant that I would at the least, not have to battle with bandits in order to rest within briefly. Trudging off the path and towards the entrance to the tower I noticed a few guards within. These guards, to my luck, were Whiterun’s guards, not as I had imagined, Imperial soldiers. Being run-of-the-mill guards meant that my identity would be unknown to them, for I had of course, been arrested by Imperials just three days ago and broken free of their custody a mere two days ago, and so any survivors of the attack would surely be searching the local area for the escaped prisoners. I needed to remain hidden, and so with my hood on I slowly approached the guard at the door, who without question, stepped aside allowing me within. The guards that I had seen within stopped their conversations as I entered and split off back to their posts. Clearly their allocated break was not at this time, and so before I could begin to converse with them they left. Alone now, at the bottom floor of the tower I opened my knapsack and pulled out some of the food I had stolen and swiftly devoured it while drinking one of the smaller bottles of mead. My stomach full and blood warmed by the drink, I sat there for a little while and reflected on the past few days. Quietly I thought back to being sat on the cart, a prisoner of my own people, and thought of the kindness that was shown to me by a total stranger, Ralof. He was an honest and kind person, a true friend. I thought back to the unpleasant nature of the soldiers, of Tullius himself, and of the sheer brutality they showed to us all. It was in these silent moments, as the cold rain seeped through to my skin that my thoughts turned once more to my allegiances. Was I really going to fight for the very people who ordered my death? Under the command of a man who showed a complete lack of patriotism, a dog who fought under a flag not true to its own people, its own standards, its own beliefs? It was in these silent moments that my love of the empire truly failed. It was in these silent moments that I become a Stormcloak at heart. My people, the Imperials, had failed me, but my home remained strong. My home, the land of the Nords, the land of the free and the strong. It was time I fought for my home, not for a false heritage filled with deceit and lies.

My heart filled with a new passion I returned to my feet and put on my knapsack before heading once more into the cold and the wet and left the cobbled road, into the wild. The ground beneath my feet seemed to move like liquid, the mud saturated with rainwater. As I hesitantly stumbled through the grasslands I made my way towards a steep sloping path that appeared to be carved into the mountainside, at its peak were trees dotted around, barely visible through the thick fog. Suddenly I stumbled. Sliding onto my back, the ground beneath me seemed to throw me further down, tumbling down into a ditch I found myself eventually being thrown into a small stream that must have formed in the rain (which seemed to be getting worse). As I pulled myself back to my feet a blinding flash filled the sky and was followed almost instantly by a deafening crack of thunder. Now particularly cold and wet I heaved myself and my drenched knapsack out of the ditch and back to higher ground, before once more hauling myself through the sludge that was once the foothills beneath the mountains. Reaching a patch of half-melted snow I caught sight of the path once more, and so hurriedly and carelessly I ran towards it, desperate to escape the boggy grounds that lay beneath me. Stepping onto the path, my foot once more falling upon hard ground, a howl could be heard to my left. A howl that seemed dangerously close. Without a second warning a wolf bounded up towards me and baring its teeth it made a jump at me, entirely unprepared I stood there helplessly as the animal drove me to the ground. Hitting the floor with a thump, the beast sunk its claws into the armour that the Jarl had given me. Enraged, I pushed it from me, punching it in the eye so as to stun the creature. I dragged myself desperately to my feet and drew my sword with great haste as the wolf recovered, making a second pounce at me. Ready this time, I caught the animal with one arm before driving my sword through its skull with the other. Lifeless, the wolf fell to the ground, its last breath forced from it as it contacted the floor. I wiped my sword on the wolf’s pelt before sheathing it once more, water dripping from my face as a second flash of lightning filled the grey sky. With another crash of thunder I turned to move again, the path inclining rapidly before me. With as much energy as I could muster I pushed on, climbing the mountain path as the ground around me morphed from green grasses and brown mud to a uniform white, the pristine snow perfect as the falling rain gradually turned to snow the higher I climbed. Eventually I forced myself through the cloud layer and was met by clear blue skies as the morning sun fell on the mountain top. Clearly the plains were already at a relatively high altitude, as climbing to the snowy peak took what felt little more than an hour. The air became thin as I neared the top, and I realised the chill in the wind as the water that had drenched the tunic beneath my armour seemed to make it become stiff. My clothes were freezing. This was not good – I needed to hurry, or at least find some way to heat up, otherwise I would have only a couple of hours left to live at best. Time was of the essence.

As I neared the top of the mountain I caught sight of ruins. ‘This must be it’ I thought to myself ‘Bleak Falls Barrow’. Breaking into a jog I pushed on through the snow, my clothes now heavy and thick with increasing amounts of ice. As I ran snowflakes seemed to settle in my beard, causing it to turn white in my peripheral vision as the wind blew it up towards my nose. Rushing towards the ruins I noticed a figure standing upon them. A person, up here? I stopped dead and crouched behind a boulder in the hope that I would not be seen. Peeking hesitantly over the top, my hood now barely moving in the wind, I saw another figure walk towards the first. These were no soldiers, and they definitely weren’t guards, otherwise Farengar wouldn’t have sent me here. These people were bandits. Slowly I lifted the bow from my back and drew an arrow from my quiver. I needed to find a better place to attack them from, though. I was in no position to attack but I needed to be quick whatever I did. Looking to my left I saw a sheer rock face, with no other option I scaled it, grazing my fingers as I heaved myself from ledge to ledge. Knowing what I was about to face, I truly was between a rock and a hard place. My palms now sore, my fingers bleeding and my clothes becoming ever heavier and less manoeuvrable I settled myself on a ledge overlooking the ruins. I searched the visible area and counted a total of three bandits. This was not going to be an easy task, I was not about to take on three bandits in open combat, I needed to be careful, to be stealthy. Knocking an arrow I chose my first target, a young wood elf armed with a hunting bow overlooking one of the steep cliffs that lay at the sides of the ruin. Carefully drawing the arrow I pulled the string to my ear, one eye closed, I fixed the other on the Bosmer. This first shot was crucial – I couldn’t risk being spotted before having taken out at least one of the three. Taking a final deep breath I loosened my grip and the arrow leapt from the bow, a split second later, the elf collapsed to the ground without so much as a wince. Now for the others – annoyingly they were frequently passing one another, it needed to be quick if I were to do this without alerting anyone. I needed to relocate before I did anything else though, hitting a target at this range would have been nigh on impossible. Descending on the other side of the rock face I scrambled over some of the ruins to the opposite side of them, giving me a better view of the two bandits’ rounds. As quickly as I could I darted into the shadow of one of the pillars before nervously readying a second arrow and knocking it. Drawing it half way before aiming, I leant against the cold stone and sighed worriedly. This needed to work if I was going to win this fight. Turning quickly, revealing myself to one of the bandits, I pulled back the arrow the remainder of the way. Releasing as quickly as I could, the bandit forced out half a cry before being silenced by the tip of my arrow. The final bandit, completely shocked, darted around looking for an attacker, or for an ally to help him. Alas he found none, only the same fate as his two friends before him. He fell to the ground with a horrified expression on his face, an expression that would remain upon it for ever – the ice and snow quickly claimed the dead and before long they were almost entirely covered in the snow. Such an innocent thing, snow. So innocent, yet incredibly deadly in circumstances such as this. Watching the snow accumulate on the bodies I became suddenly aware of how cold I had become, I rushed for the huge iron doors that stood at the entrance the barrow, my movement awkward and slow. I was beginning to succumb to the cold.

 

Chapter 7: Notches In The Blade

With great effort I forced open one of the doors, hauling myself through it and inside the ruined halls of the barrow. Bleak Falls Barrow was truly in ruin. Walking through the door I found myself in a surprisingly well lit room, by that I mean that I was expecting most of the roof to at least be intact – clearly not. The floor beneath the holes in the ceiling were a good two feet deep with snow, which didn’t really help my deteriorating condition at all, and so shivering like a dog I crept through the first half of the hall, until stumbling across a dead Skeever, it had had half of its head lopped off by a bandit by the looks of things, not a pretty sight at all. Looking up I noticed another of the mutilated rats and a perfectly preserved (if not a little chewed) bandit that had been killed by one of the attacking animals. Searching the body for any gold I heard voices off towards the far side of the hall and so throwing the three coins that I had taken into my purse I pulled my bow from my back, my fingers now hurting from the chill and the grazes that they had earlier received. As I readied an arrow I listened on the conversation as best as I could form the distance that I was at. By the sounds of things these two bandits had assumed that one of their own had gone rogue (surprise, surprise) and that they had recently stolen some sort of golden item – a claw. Now what bandits were doing with golden claws in places such as this was beyond me, but I could place any money on that claw having something to do with this ‘Dragonstone’ that the wizard had asked me to retrieve. Pulling the bowstring back, arrow trained on one of the bandits I winced as my fingers became strained by the weight of the bow. Releasing the arrow, I clenched my fist in pain – there was no way that I was going to carry on like this without warming up. I placed the bow back onto my back and drew my sword – it was considerably more comfortable in my hand. The first bandit dropped as my hand reached my sword and the second turned directly to me in shock as he drew his own sword. Pulling his helmet on, he picked up a shield from his fallen comrade and charged me, damn – this was unfair! I mean, I didn’t want to damage his feelings as well as his face! Flying towards me, the bandit’s shield raised to my head I dived out of the way of the attack, quickly moving in behind him for a strike at his back, unfortunately a little too slowly. Turning quickly after his assault, he lifted his shield to meet my sword, blocking the attack almost entirely, the only effect being that he staggered back a little, my blow sending him off balance. A little annoyed I made for a second strike at his torso, once again met by his shield, and so making a third attack I prepared for his block. As expected he raised the shield to meet my weapon and with a harsh blow from my right arm, I took a hold of the shield with my left hand and quickly twisted it towards the ground. Doing so I heard a loud crack as his fore arm snapped and he screamed in agony. Relentlessly I continued to attack, releasing the shield from my hand and swiping at his chest with my sword. Panicked, the bandit went to lift the shield once more, but his arm failed him – the broken bone pushed its way out of his arm and with a face filled with desperate horror he screamed once more as not only his arm was gravely injured but my sword strike tore open his chest. Falling to his knees, bleeding from his chest profusely and his arm limp, cradled in the other, he looked me in the eye as I readied for a final strike. I held my sword to his throat, and as he lowered his head, I shut my eyes before making a final jab at his neck. Withdrawing my sword I turned away as the bandits pain stricken body dropped the floor, the sound of gurgling blood filling my ears as his final breath forced it from his gullet. Opening my eyes once more I looked at my sword, its tip drenched in the man’s blood and turning back to his body I picked up his own sword. Carefully looking over it I noticed several markings, they were made intentionally. As I scanned my eyes over it I came to realise that these were markings to show how many people he had killed. This sick bastard deserved what he got – there is no honour in carrying the lives of dead men as a trophy. Throwing the sword to the ground I sheathed my own, once more becoming aware of the temperature within the hall. I ran to the fire that the bandits were stood by, sitting upon one of their bed rolls I huddled into a small ball and sat close to the fire, my clothes slowly thawing as I did so. Realising that I wasn’t going to be able to remain in my now-soaked-tunic I hunted around the room in order to find some new armour from among the bodies of the deceased bandits. Pulling some fur armour from one of the bandits that appeared to be of a similar size to me I stripped out of my Imperial armour and tunic, leaving them by the fire to dry as I stepped into the cold furs of the bandit’s armour. Despite being cold as I put them on they quickly warmed and soon enough I found myself back in a state of comfort, despite being hungry again. Sitting by the fire, which thankfully had some dry wood to maintain it with, I opened a small bottle of ale and pulled out half a loaf of bread and an apple to eat. Just as I bit into the apple I realised that I was sat opposite of a chest, and so hastily crunching through the apple, I rummaged through my knapsack to pull out a couple of picks to have a go at the lock with. After a few attempts and a broken pick I eventually cracked the lock and opened the lid, much to my delight, inside was a total of sixty eight Septims, four more lock picks and a healing potion. Perfect. Taking all of the contained goods I sat back at the fire and happily chewed away at the bread and sipped the ale, waiting for some time as the orange flames leapt upon the firewood, turning it slowly into embers as the flames filled the immediate area with a warm flickering glow. Warm and full up once more I sat at the fire for a few hours, until eventually realising that by the way the light hit the floor from the gaping holes in the ceiling that it must have been coming close to midday. I needed to get on if I were to even hope to return to Whiterun before sunset. Getting back to my feet and stuffing my now dry, yet badly worn armour into my bag, I pulled my knapsack onto my back and made for the dark tunnel that lead on before me. Hood pulled over my eyes, and a hunting bow (taken from a dead bandit) in hand I slowly made my way into the cold black of Bleak Falls Barrow. It wasn’t long before the air became filled with dust as I walked towards a dim orange glow at the bottom of the tunnel, coming closer to the light I realised that it must have been a sconce lit by the bandits who had recently been inhabiting here. Moving warily through the now dimly lit walkway I stepped carefully over the roots of ancient plants, walking past the fading carvings created by the ancient Nords of Skyrim. I truly was walking through time as I paced through the catacombs of this first-era necropolis. Walking for some time I was led up stairs, down deeper into the veins of the barrow, around corners, past age-old cave ins, and finally I was led to another dimly lit room. It was here that I stopped. In the middle of the room stood another bandit, this one seeming even larger than the others – he was like a bear in human form. Torch in hand he walked over to a strange lever that stood in the middle of the floor. His back turned to me, I slowly made my way to the entrance of the room, trying to get a closer look of what he was doing. Pushing the lever forwards a large mechanical ‘clunk’ was heard. Not the good sort, either. Next came the sound of stone sliding over stone and almost as soon as that sound ended a veil of darts descended over the bandit. Without so much as a whimper he fell to the ground, perforated by darts as his body emanated a sickly green colour. He had not only been repeatedly shot, but he had been poisoned. Hesitantly I snuck into the room, gazing around me and before me in order to search for any potential traps, or clues as to what had just happened. Before me stood a great iron portcullis, which, I assumed was connected to the lever. But the lever had not lifted the gate, it had just caused the release of a field of poisoned darts. Searching about the room I eventually noticed three small statues at the western wing of the room. Upon two were etched eagles, and on the centre one was some kind of sea creature, a Horker perhaps? Stepping closer in order to inspect them I leant at an angle against one, rotating it a little. Then it clicked – it was a puzzle door! To open to gate I needed to rotate the statues until they were upon the correct etching and then pull the lever. Searching about the room for some kind of clue I looked high and low, desperate for mention in the wall carvings of a code, or some kind of carving. Alas, not a thing. I sat down, leaning against one of the statues, and looked at the gate once more, now irritated that I had become stuck within this damnable place. I couldn’t go back, not empty handed. I needed to find a way through. With that I looked down, catching a glimpse of a small pile of rubble that appeared to have fallen from the northern wall – the wall in which the gate was placed. Among the rubble I noticed the remains of a snake, etched into a material similar to that of the statues. Confused, but intrigued I looked to where the rubble appeared to come from and to the left and right were two more etchings. One of another snake – on the left, and one of the same Horker-like creature I had seen on the centre statue – to the right. Looking back to the statues I realised that there was a third etching, and so turning the far left pillar I eventually revealed a snake carving. Now to simply match up the pictures, ‘surprisingly simple after all’ I thought to myself as I turned the second statue, to reveal another snake. Finally I rotated the third, so as to match up to the etchings on the wall and returned to the lever. This had to work. Pulling the lever back I heard the same mechanical sound as before, and wincing a little in anticipation of a field of darts, the gate before me lifted and opened. Breathing out heavily, satisfied with the result I pushed on into the newly available room. A room, might I add, that was surprisingly well lit. At the far side of it I noticed another chest and a table to its right. Grabbing the potion that sat upon the stone table I then turned to the chest. Anticipating the need for lock picks I half opened my back before giving the top a tug and much to my surprise the ancient chest opened. In it lay a beautiful little Amethyst and a few Septims, snatching my prize I shut the chest and turned away once more, making for a wooden stairwell that seemed to lead deeper into the ruin. Now worried that I would be facing more bandits, or worse still – draugr, I clutched my sword, carefully making my way down, farther into the ruin. No sounds came from below and so relaxing a little I sped up my descent, which was a rather careless manoeuver considering what then happened. Out of nowhere I heard a harsh squeaking noise and then came a sharp bite from a damned Skeever. Pulling my sword from its sheath I swung at the rodent, killing it instantly as another two jumped at me. Swinging for a back hand I killed both of the rats with a single swipe, but the bite I had received from the first Skeever became quickly very sore. My hands started to shake and despite feeling well mentally my hands would not cease to shake. The Skeever was diseased and its bite had infected me and from what I knew of the symptoms it was Ataxia. Ataxia, from what I remember of it, was also known as ‘Thieves Bane’ among the children at Honourhall– the shaking caused by it notoriously put many thieves out of business very quickly as without treatment it, rather obviously, removed any slight-of-hand that one might have had. I needed to be quick about this and get out of here, I was not about to lose my thieving ability to a damned rat. Downing a small vial of healing potion I snatched a small vial upon a table within the room that the Skeevers had ambushed me from, and next to it lay a scroll which seemed of some importance. Taking both things I headed on through the room, yet further into the barrow, but this time something had changed. I heard a timid voice as I made my way deeper into the tunnel. There was actually someone down there, someone alive, and by the sounds of things, someone who wasn’t actually a bandit. The voice was soft, despite being clearly terrified. As I neared where the voice seemed to come from I noticed a large increase in the amount of spider’s webs around, and it was getting to be yet more as I took each step until the walls were thick with silk. Drawing my sword again, my hand shaking violently as I did so, I swiped through some webbing that seemed to block my path. Walking through a small arch way I entered a large room, walls entirely covered with spider’s silk. It was a Frostbite nest. With this realisation my heart drummed through my chest, pushing adrenaline through my body as I noticed a man tied up in spider’s silk across the room from me. Looking up he began to scream in terror.

“No!” he cried “Not again. Help!” he called as a huge spider lowered itself from the ceiling. And by huge I mean the size of at least two horses. The man’s terror seeped into my very blood as I watched the creature descend from its nest in the ceiling. As it hit the ground I swallowed my terror, charging at it sword first, swiping manically at its massive legs. Seeming to not affect the spider, it turned to face me before swiping me with one of its mandibles, throwing my back several feet before it jumped at me. Rolling out of the way instinctively, the spider drove its great fangs into the ground where I previously lay. Returning to my feet I once more made swings for its legs, this time hitting one of the joints in its leg. Crying out the spider turned rapidly, but it was too late. As it turned I had made the necessary swipe and had cut its leg off. Feeling triumphant as the tree-trunk of a leg reached the ground I let my guard down for a moment. The spider seemed to sense this and made a lunged at me, biting my arm as I tried to make for a block. Feeling a rush of ice fill my body I desperately made for the doorway to get into the room. As I did so the spider somehow spat a great ball of webbing at my back, winding me as I pulled my knapsack from my back in order to desperately search for a healing potion. Tearing the webbing from my back, and downing the potion I turned back to the spider and charged it once more. Driving my sword into one of its eyes it seemed to cower away a little, and so I proceeded to stab at its face, forcing my sword into one eye, then the next, eventually leaving the spider entirely blind. My body, invigorated by adrenaline from the fight, seemed to become stronger as the spider weakened and finally I pulled my sword back for a final stab at the beast’s head. The tip of my sword cracked through the monster’s hard exoskeleton and into its head and with a final cry the Frostbite spider collapsed to the ground, dead.

 

Chapter 8: Fear And Sickness

“You did it. You killed it.” Said the man, still completely stuck in the spider’s web, “Now cut me down before anything shows up”.

“Where’s the golden claw?” I asked, my sword gently pressed against his hide chest plate

“Yes, the claw” He stuttered, “I know how it works. The claw, the markings, the door in the Hall of Stories. I know how they all fit together!” He told me, clearly terrified – be it of me or the dead spider that lay behind me didn’t matter, he was telling me everything I needed to know. “Help me down, and I’ll show you.” He pleaded “You won’t believe the power the Nords have hidden there.”

“Hand over the claw first!” I demanded, pressing my sword a little harder into his chest.

“Does it look like I can move?” He snapped “You have to cut me down, first.” Removing my sword from his chest I made an incision in the webbing that held him up, just to the right of his arm.

“It’s coming loose. I can feel it.” He sighed, clearly happy to be close to freedom. Making a second slice in the silk, on the other side this time, the strength of the web failed and the man came crashing to the floor in a heap. Pulling the remaining webbing from himself he got to his feet, giving me a dark look as he did so.

“You fool, why should I share the treasure with anyone?” he laughed, turning away and running off into the passage behind where he had been held captive. Bastard, double crossed by a half-naked Dunmer who had just been at the very tip of my blade? I should have killed him and taken the claw from the start. Breaking into a sprint to attempt to reach him as he sped away we darted through an ancient burial preparation area, urns seeming to fill the dust-ridden room. Attempting to put more distance between us, he pulled an urn out behind him and watching it topple I made for a jump over it. Panicking at my quick reaction he turned and made another break for it, into another dusty passage leading us ever further into the barrow. Room after room I gave pursuit, dashing between ancient coffins and burial urns until eventually we came to a large burial chamber. Flying around a corner, I lost sight of the rogue bandit and the next thing I heard was a crash of metal on metal and a scream come from the fool that I was chasing. Sliding around the corner I stopped almost instantly, almost tripping as I did so. The man whom I had chased was on the floor, his sword lying at his side and his lower arm a small distance away. Above the corpse of the bandit stood something I truly dreaded. Raising my sword ready to fight, I looked into the eyes of the undead beast that had killed him, the faint blue glow emanating from them threatening me as the ancient Nordic warrior lifted his axe from the mess of broken ribs that it sat amongst. Bringing its ancient axe to rest in its hand the monster gestured towards me. Opening its mouth it dryly uttered words in an ancient tongue, and with it two more Draugr were summoned from their slumber. One now stood behind me, one to my right and the first to my front I stood, shaking like a leaf, not sure if the cause was the fear seeping slowly into my skin or the ever worsening Ataxia. Each of the ancient Nords took a step towards me, now encircling me. The first pointed its axe at me before trying to create a smile upon its ancient leathery face.

“Qiilaan Us Dilon!” it bawled. The other two seemed to react to this, one banging its sword against its iron shield.

“Aav Dilon!” screeched the second, stood behind me. Turning quickly to face it I saw that this Draugr was once a woman, her ancient golden hair now barely akin to wisps of smoke trailing down her shoulders. A loud crack filled the room from behind me, turning back around I saw the first of the Draugr step upon the corpse of the bandit I had chased, his head now crushed under the weight of the Draugr’s iron cladded boot. With a click of its neck it gestured to me once more.

“Aar Viik Ok!” It barked, and with that the other two took another step in, both readying their weapons to attack. I had no idea what had just been said but I feared that the first Draugr had just ordered my death. The Draugr armed with a sword and shield made for the first strike and as if acting on instinct I dodged the attack, jumping to the side, narrowly avoiding a strike from the female Draugr at the same time. My back to a pillar, the first Draugr made a rush at me, arm pulled back ready for a swipe with his axe. Pulling my sword up to meet his blow I parried his strike, knocking him out of balance and thus leaving him open for a strike. My dilemma was that by going in to strike I opened myself up to receive one from the other two Draugr. Deciding it best that I at least remove one foe I made for the attack and at the same time, so did both of my other attackers. Ducking as I swiped at the first Draugr’s chest I narrowly avoided having my head taken off by a strike from the female Draugr, which to my luck, ended up knocking the weapon from the shielded Draugr’s hand. As I pierced the first Draugr’s skin, no reaction came from the monster’s face. ‘Wonderful’ I thought, as black dust poured from the open wound, ‘they can’t feel pain’. Hauling my sword up for a second strike at the Draugr, the other two seemed in dismay, confused as to how I had evaded their strikes. My sword crashing down upon the Draugr’s helmet seemed to finally affect the Nord on more than an aesthetic level. Falling to its knees, clearly now actually injured, I withdrew my weapon from its skull, as I did so the blue light in its eyes ceased to be and the Draugr fell to the ground, finally dead for good. Turning back to the other two Draugr, I nearly laughed as I watched one of the creatures reaching down to pick up his weapon just as the other was readying an attack at me. Charging headlong at the female Draugr, I knocked her axe away with my sword before giving a backhanded swipe at her head, lodging my blade in her skull and killing her instantly. Struggling desperately I tried to pull my sword from her head as the final Draugr returned to the fight. Running at me I glanced over to him and then back to my lodged sword before finally letting go of the blade and grabbing a hold of the second Draugr’s axe, parrying the attack from the final Draugr and simultaneously damaging his shield. I had not used an axe in battle before, and so didn’t know what to do concerning attacks but I couldn’t risk getting hit by this foul beast. Running at the stunned monster I hacked heavily into his shield, cleaving it in two and leaving it entirely useless. Not seeming to be phased by the attack he swiped at me with his sword, but to my luck missed due to his lack of depth perception. I looked up to see that a splinter had found its way into the Draugr’s eye from where the shield had been held together. Not affected by pain, the only reaction from the Draugr was his now particularly poor attacks. Moving quickly around him, I swiped at his back, pushing him to his knees as he flailed with his sword, hoping desperately to hit me. Making a second strike I released the axe, leaving it embedded in the creature’s head. Dropping its sword suddenly, it fell to the ground, limp, the axe stood up, resting in his head. Breathing heavily and still shaking I returned to my own sword before heaving it from the Draugr’s skull, a sea of black dust pouring into the air as I did so. It was only now that I realised, with all the years that these creatures had been lurking in this dark place, their blood must have dried within their very veins. The dust that had been pouring from their wounds was their blood. Returning to the bandit’s mutilated body I searched his knapsack, and almost as if I didn’t expect to, I pulled out a large golden ornament. The claw. On it seemed to be some strange etchings, so I searched the man’s belongings for some clue as to what their purpose was. Finding his journal eventually I opened it and quickly scanned through it. Little of value was to be found within, except for the mention of one “Lucan Valerius” and his “favourite store decoration” – perhaps he was the shop owner from Riverwood who was robbed? I would need to check with him when I returned next. The final note in the journal was mention of a “test that the Nords put in place” and a riddle stating that “When you have the claw, the solution is in the palm of your hands”. Confused I closed the journal and placed it into my knapsack along with the claw, closed it up and pushed on into the ruin. Things were about to get a lot more challenging, I felt. Creeping warily on into the dim light of the crypt I nearly stepped onto a pressure plate on the ground. Testing it from a distance, I threw some of the broken shield from the recently departed Draugr onto the plate. Watching it lower I held my breath, and as if built just moments before, a wall of spines swung around and into the main walkway, throwing everything in its path directly at me. Moving quickly to the side I watched as the debris that previously lay before me was catapulted behind me. Glad that I had missed the opportunity to fly like a hawk, I moved forwards once more – stepping carefully around the side of the pressure plate – and on into another burial chamber. I wished to not have to fight anymore Draugr and so taking care to sneak past the bodies of the ancient Nords I held my breath as much as I could. I couldn’t risk being heard by anything in here, for each separate burial could pose a threat to me. Slowly I tip-toed on through the chamber to the far side, from which I heard the sound of metal sliding across stone. My sword now drawn I edged towards where I thought I heard the noise come from and just as I made to step inside a narrow corridor, a bladed pendulum flew past my face, missing it by the most miniscule amount. Breathing out heavily after such a close shave I sheathed my weapon and prepared to move quickly between the swinging axes. Judging the timing carefully I made my first step, the first axe gliding behind me just as I drew to a halt in front of the second. Once more I made the step, almost slipping into the path of the third axe before finally diving across in front of the third axe, hitting the floor with a heavy thud and throwing up dust all around me. Patting myself down quietly I got back to my feet and continued to stoop low through the narrow corridor, walled with ancient skeletons of the Nords of old. Reaching the bottom of another dimly lit stairway I noticed a Draugr ahead, asleep or dead I did not know, but I didn’t wish to find out. Walking slowly I made my way past it, hesitantly, watching its face closely for any flicker of life as I passed it, my heart thumping like a war drum and my hands shaking like sails in a storm. Crawling over a gap in a cave-in further on I found myself in another section of the corridor, but this time the smell of fuel filled the air. Looking down to the puddle that I had stepped in after passing through the rubble I realised the source of the smell. I was stood in a pool of oil. I looked around me desperately searching for some sort of booby-trapped tripwire or another pressure plate but found nothing, nothing but a pair of precariously hung lanterns that swung from the ceiling. ‘There is no way I’m going to even try to take them down’ I thought to myself, trying to weigh up the risks between me either walking through a stream of oil under a pair of poorly hung lanterns, or pulling down a pair of lanterns, naked flamed, while I stood in a stream of flammable liquid, which, as luck would have it, was now seeping into my leather boots. Slowly trawling through the oil I came to the far side of the corridor which was, thankfully, at an incline. Climbing to the highest point inside the tunnel I tried to squeeze as much liquid as possible from my boots before continuing on. My boots, now a little less heavy with torch fuel, began to rub for the first time since first wearing them as I trudged on through a less well build tunnel and so loosening the buckles I marched on into another open room, this time not a crypt (much to my surprise). Walking into the room revealed a small waterfall tumbling off the northern wall and passing in the form a small channel through an Iron Gate in the south wall. Stepping into the room, amazed by the survival of such a place after so long, I marvelled at the well-lit carvings. For a brief moment I actually began to relax – until I heard the familiar sound of the undead rising once more into the world of the living. With a crash, and the falling of a great stone coffin lid, a Draugr armed with a battle-axe climbed out from in the corner of the room. Drawing my bow quickly, I pulled back an arrow and released, throwing the Draugr back into its coffin as the iron tip punctured first its eye, then its brain and finally pinned the creature to a wooden ornamental piece within the coffin. The grazes on my fingers now reopened I winced a little, but overwhelmed by the success of my shot I couldn’t help but smile. Walking over to the dead Draugr I pulled the arrow from its head, wiping the tip of it in the decaying cloth that he wore. Placing the arrow back into my quiver I noticed a chest at the side of the room. Eager to find some sort of treasure beyond just the Dragonstone I quickly paced over to it, opening it up to find a veritable plethora of items; arrows, a soul gem, a few Septims, an iron chest plate and gauntlets, and a potion said to replenish magicka. Piling the loot into my knapsack I caught sight of a chain to the right of the Iron Gate that the water was running through and so, replacing my bag on my back, I walked over to it and gave it an almighty tug. The rust crumbling from the ancient chain I heard the sound of cogs in the wall, and almost instantly following, the gate began to lift. Smiling at my good fortune I rinsed my hands in the fresh water, and made sure to wash all the oil from my boots before making my way on through to the area that had now been revealed to me. Through a small cave I ventured, until finding myself in somewhat of a cavern, the stream that had poured off of the wall running at my side. Walking on through the soft ground of the cave I noticed a strange green aura to the cave’s light. Looking more closely at the walls I discovered that the entire cave was, in fact, lit by a type luminescent fungus. “Glowing Mushrooms” as they were known were apparently common in underground water sources such as these, growing off of the algae and moss that thrives in the area closest to the streams and pools. Walking along gazing at the mushrooms I nearly tripped as I stubbed my foot on something metallic, upon closer inspection it appeared to be a pick axe and just next to it, a skeleton. ‘Miners, down here? But this is a tomb, not a mine’ I thought to myself, confused. Picking up the axe I noticed a glimmer in the ground that I walked on. Beneath was what appeared to be an iron deposit. Throwing the pick axe down upon it, a large chunk of rusted iron dislodged from the ground. Suddenly interested by the prospect of finding my own ore I made a second swipe, and a third, and then a few more until I eventually found that I had completely depleted the deposit. Going around, collecting the larger chunks of ore I once more thought back to the skeleton – how had he died performing such a simple task? Was there a cave-in or was there something else involved? Slowly I moved on, my mind busy with the thought of miners and deaths-by-cave-ins. A little disturbed by my own thought trail I urged myself to stop as I came across another chest. Opening it I found another collection of valuable goods; one amethyst, more Septims, a scroll which upon it was drawn a crude bonfire (what in Oblivion that meant, I had no idea), and another magicka potion. I really was getting a good take from this barrow. My mood now at the highest it had been for some time, I walked on into the darkness once more, following another tunnel at the end of the cavern. Bow in hand I descended ever further into the abyss, my way lit only by Glowing Mushrooms as I pressed on until reaching another opening, this time leading out onto a walkway. This would have been of no worry to me had there not been another damned Draugr in my path. ‘Why can’t the dead just stay that way?’ I joked to myself, drawing an arrow from my quiver, both hands shaking violently as I did so. Pulling the arrow back, the Draugr seemed to notice me and before I could release, it was almost upon me. Panicking, I released the shot but unfortunately, it only winged the creature, embedding itself into the Draugr’s arm. Laughing some sort of demonic threat it continued its charge and so out of sheer desperation I drew my sword once more. Pushing it forwards I stepped into a defensive stance and the Draugr seemed to blindly continue on. It seemed that despite hearing me walking, this Draugr was in fact unable to see, and so staying as quiet as I could, I simply held my sword forward as the blind Nord ran neck-first into it, killing it almost instantly as its face turned from malicious intent to complete shock. Chuckling at the stupidity of the beast, I sheathed my sword once more, my hand quaking from the Ataxia. Pulling the arrow from the Draugr’s bicep I glanced over the edge of the walkway – it was a long way down. No way was I going down there without necessity. Passing over the natural stone bridge I walked into another narrow path within a tunnel, lit up with the faint green from the Glowing Mushrooms. Around a corner and up a steep incline I eventually found myself once more in a room built by the ancients, carved walls and ancient sconces filled the room with character as I slowly made my way on through the part-cave, part-corridor of a pathway. Gazing ahead I could see another room before me, lit by the familiar orange glow of a sconce in the far corner. As I made my way to the door I noticed a large shadow creeping across the wall – it was being patrolled by a Draugr. A large Draugr. Battle-axe in hand it marched from one end to the other, standing by the fire and then repeating once more. I knew at a first glance that I couldn’t handle this monster of a Nord in single combat so I stuck to what I knew best – sneaking. Stepping into the shadow of a pillar, I made my way anxiously across the room in the darkness. As he made for another round I darted to the next pillar, and the next until I was merely a couple of paces from the door. Waiting for a third pass I jumped out into the open, alerting the bulking Draugr, and with shock darting through my body I pushed through the oak doors, shutting them as soon as I passed through. Desperately I reached for a battle-axe that lay on the ground beside the door and barred it, my hands shaking violently through a mix of fear and sickness. The restless Draugr hammered at the door from the far side, shouting its empty Nordic curses at me as it did so. Breathing heavily I wiped the sweat from my brow before turning to find myself faced with yet another long tunnel. My hand rested on my sword’s hilt, I once more started on through the ancient walkways of the Nords.

 

Chapter 9: The Solution At Hand

Walking for another few moments I began to calm down from my experience with the huge Draugr in the hall I had passed through. I nearly didn’t make it – without finding that axe to block the door I would have experienced the sharp end of a different one. A strange quietness filled the air as the only sound I could hear was the gentle pad of my leather boots against the cold stone floors of the barrow. Admiring the carvings as I slowly moved on I eventually heard the familiar sound of metal on stone; by the sounds of things there were more pendulums ahead. Walking up a slight incline I came to the inevitable view of another narrow corridor with three bladed pendulums swinging from one side to the other, and on the other side of them – by the looks of things – there was another room (which was surprisingly well lit). Step by step I walked through the death trap, now used to the prospect of a severed limb at every few paces. Placing my foot into the room I gazed up to the high ceiling, following the carved walls right to the peak of the room. My viewing was cut short, however. With a crack of stone, I turned quickly to my left as I pulled my bow and an arrow from my back. As I turned one of the coffins burst open, the heavy stone lid cracking the floor as it fell to the ground. Dust thrown into the air, I pulled back the arrow in preparation for a shot, I just needed to wait for the right moment. With a deathly moan, a grey hand clutched the side of the coffin and the weathered face of a male Draugr climbed up out of the dust. Waiting for sight of the creature’s body I remained stationary, my fingers once more bleeding. Heaving itself once more, it brought a leg over the side and lifted its torso up and out of the coffin. Without hesitation I released the bow string, the arrow instantaneously throwing the Draugr back into its stone bed where it would remain, its leg awkwardly hung over the side of the coffin. Tearing some cloth from my Imperial armour’s tunic I bound my hand, my fingers shaking and weak. Biting my tongue to overcome the pain I readied another arrow as I snuck on through the room, keeping as low as I could. Walking towards a stone walkway that arched above me I noticed more oil on the floor, and as before, above it hung two lanterns. Drawing back an arrow I took a shot into the darkness towards one end of the walkway and as if it were waiting, a Draugr archer stepped out into the open. Drawing back a second arrow I watched as it vaguely searched the ground before it for the source of the arrow. Waiting carefully for the right moment, I slowly and agonisingly drew back another arrow as the Draugr turned and just as it showed its back to me, I released the shot, throwing the Draugr off the edge of the walkway and down onto the opposite side of the oil from which I stood. Waiting nervously a third Draugr armed with an axe made its way down the stairs to investigate the body. Bending down to search for a cause of death, I stood up drawing its attention straight to me. Standing up it taunted me with its axe, and readying what I hoped to be a final arrow it slowly began to make its way towards me. Waiting for the right moment I took a deep breath as the pain surging from my fingers distracted my attention from my target. Eventually it happened. With a gentle splash the Draugr stepped directly into the oil and within a split second I had released my shot. The crack of pottery could be heard as the ancient lantern smashed to the ground, and another split second later the entire floor on which the Draugr stood was a raging inferno. Covering my mouth and nose as the air filled with the stench of the ancient flesh burning I jumped across the burning oil, landing on the other side without so much as a single burn. Taking my arrow from the dead archer I admired the craftsmanship of the Draugr’s ancient Nordic bow. Throwing my own to the floor I picked up the weapon and drew back the string – it certainly felt stronger than my bow, and so kicking mine into the fire I stripped the Draugr of its arrows and made on through the room and up some stairs that led to the walkway that the archer had once acted as a sentry upon. Over the great stone arch I walked, and on into another small corridor. Following the corridor around a corner I eventually stopped before a pair of great oak and iron doors. With a hefty push they both swung open, blowing up all the dust that had collected over the many years that this room had been in existence – and this room truly was many years old, most certainly first-era masonry. One step at a time I walked slowly through the room, running my shaking hand along one wall as I tried to read the runes and carvings made upon it. Reaching about half way through the room I realised that the far end of the room was blocked off by a huge black stone with four white stones inlayed upon it. As I came closer to it, intrigued by the sheer beauty of it, I came to notice strange markings all over it, and what seemed more important was that there were carvings upon the three stones that lay vertically down the centre of a circular pattern on the door. In the centre was the fourth stone which its own strange carvings but they had seemed to be of a different pattern to the other three white stones. Gently I ran my quaking fingers over the smallest white stone which lay closest to the centre of the circle, upon it was what appeared to be a carving of a bear. Stroking down the back of the bear I noticed a looseness in the stone and so with a hefty push the carving receded a little, and the black stone that was at the same distance from the centre of the circle all rotated, bringing with it a choking lungful of ancient dust. As the stone rotated I noticed another carving of the same size appear upon its circle. This time it appeared to be of a dragonfly. Completely confused I stood gawking at the age-old mechanism, thinking desperately for any clue as to how to activate it fully – assuming of course that this was another puzzle like I had seen before the incident with the Skeevers. It was then, standing for several moments facing the cold stone of the ancient door that I understood – the riddle that the journal had within was to do with this door, this room was the Hall of Stories! I rummaged in my bag, pulling out the journal once more to read the riddle. “When you have the golden claw, the solution is in the palm of your hands.” – I had to think, what could this mean? A claw is what, the hand of a dragon? And what lays in the palm of a dragon? Was this a reference to the prey of dragons? That certainly seemed a broad riddle if that was the case. Pulling out the claw I gently rubbed it with my weak fingers, eyes closed as I attempted to dissect the puzzle. I rotated the claw in my hand, still focussing on the puzzle, and as I did so ran my finger across a rough patch between the talons. A little surprised I opened my eyes, expecting to find a spider or some sort of damage that had been done to the claw, instead I opened my eyes to see three creatures carved within the palm of the claw. The palm! That was it, the solution was in the palm of the claw! My face must have lit up a great amount at this point, my eureka moment flooding me with newfound hope and motivation to actually complete this quest. Jumping to my feet I compared the carvings on the white stones to those upon the golden ornament, the claw had them in the order of a bear on top of a dragonfly which lay atop an owl. This was far from what appeared on the stones and so stretching to reach the height of the top stone I pressed it in, and with a hollow echo the outer ring rotated, revealing a carving of an owl – wrong. Waiting for the machine to stop I pressed it once more, and a second later the first carving was in place. Repeating as necessary with the other two carving I filled the air with a completely fresh layer of dust and through the cracks in the black stone circles came a very gentle, yet pleasant, cool breeze. But the door, as a whole, remained closed. Once more I studied the riddle -that had to be it? “The solution is in the palm of your hands” Again I shut my eyes as I thought of the possible answers to the riddle, was this now about my own hands, about the claw itself as some sort of solution? An answer? A key? Opening my eyes again I studied the carvings in the white stones, the top one was certainly correct, as were the middle two. What of the fourth, the centre carving though? It had engraved the faint markings of some sort of hand and where the finger tips should have been were three distinct holes. Just three. Slowly it began to dawn on me as I studied first the carving, then the claw, and once more I looked over the carving as I moved the claw up against it, carefully fitting the talons of the claw into the three holes. With the gentlest contact of the stone the entire door before me seemed to react. With a loud crunch and a huge puff of dust the three rings that surrounded the middle carving all rotated rapidly, each stopping at a carving of an owl, identical to the one in the palm of the claw. Another crack followed and with a huge flood of air that reinvigorated the room, the black door dropped to the ground, falling into a hole beneath it into a mechanical system that locked it in place as it fully lowered. Beyond where the door once stood was another set of stairs in a corridor, a faint glimmer of natural light appearing at the top of the stone steps. Throwing the claw and journal back into my knapsack I swiftly darted up the steps, eyes wide as the carved walls of the barrow opened up into a huge cave, the first section of which was rife with stalagmites and other naturally formed stone structures which appeared to be holding the entirety of the ground above it aloft. As I passed through the low ceiling I saw the cavern’s largest hollow. Waterfalls descended the cold stones as I made for the centre of the grand room – this must have been the main chamber that Farengar had spoken of. Marvelling at the beauty of the natural structures I noticed a curved wall build atop a large platform at one end of the cave. Running to it, now with no fear of Draugr or any other threats, I heard a faint echo of voices. Each step closer brought the voices equally close until they became almost deafening as I stepped within the crescent of the wall which had runes of an ancient language strewn across it. Looking at the words one seemed to begin to glow when I came near to it, emanating a blue light as other strange lights flew into my vision from the other carvings. Moving ever closer the voices organised into a heavy chanting, ever growing in volume as I reached out to touch the glowing rune, my hands now seeming entirely steady. Touching it with my finger-tips the blue light engulfed me, fading to black as the voices changed their chant, calling out in glory as my mind filled with this strange carving, filling me with this new word, empowering me with this new meaning. Slowly the chanting faded and I was left as I had begun with my hands shaking once more and my body cold and tired. Breathing in slowly, and then out again I noticed a strange sickly feeling washing over me. A second breath and it left me completely. Completely stunned I turned back around to see a black stone coffin atop another platform. Next to it sat a chest and so trying to focus on my task again I warily stepped over to it, my heart racing from the strange experience I had just had. As I got within a few paces of the coffin it exploded into life and simultaneously made me jump out of my skin, scared stiff from the sudden animation. Making to grab for my bow, I watched, terrified, as a huge grey body stepped from the annihilated coffin, drawing its sword as it paced over to me. Shaking like a leaf I pathetically loosed a shot from my bow, shooting the great monster in the lower abdomen as it unflinchingly made its way ever closer to me. Dropping the bow in fear I drew my sword, holding it limply up to defend myself as the Draugr lord stepped forth in an attack, sword in mid swing I attempted to block it which did little other than weaken my stance, opening me for a second attack. Darting around behind him I fled to a more decent position, preparing myself as the Draugr relentlessly made its way over to me again – I was never going to fight this creature and win in a fair fight. Utterly terrified I clutched my sword with both hands, pulling it behind my back as I waited for the ancient Nordic lord to come closer to me. Breaking into a run, the creature pulled its own sword behind him in preparation for a strike and just as it reached a few paces from me I tugged at my sword, dragging it heavily over my head as I made to throw the weapon. The Draugr now seeing my plan slid to a halt as I released the projectile, paralysed as we both watched it spin through the air with a force that I didn’t know I really possessed. With a heavy metallic crack the blade drove itself into first the helmet and then the skull of the Draugr lord, throwing the monster to the ground heavily as the air around him filled with the black dust that was once the beast’s blood. Exhausted, the world around me seemed to fade and the next thing I remember is the floor rushing to meet me as a cold feeling filled my limbs.

Waking up damp from the spray of the waterfalls I saw before me a silent and still body, the ground around it covered with a thin layer of black dust. Clutching my head as it pounded, I heaved myself to my knees and crawled over to where the grey body rested, my sword stood straight in its forehead. Pulling my sword from the Draugr’s corpse I noticed a pale carved stone near where it lay and slowly getting to my feet I wearily ambled over to it. Plucking it from the mossy stone on which it rested I ran my juddering fingers over the carvings. They appeared to me as if they, as a whole, formed a map of the province, revealing a series of different locations that were clearly marked with crosses. It was the Dragonstone – I had finally found it! Laying it gently into my knapsack I looked back to the platform that the Draugr rested upon and over the chest that sat beside it. Tottering over to it I flicked the lid open to reveal a pleasant sight. Within it sat an almost new set of Studded Armour and leather boots, and so, as if unconsciously, I stripped from the now torn and ruined fur armour and water-filled boots that had protected me and climbed into the new outfit – it fitted me perfectly. Beneath the armour in the chest lay also a plain golden necklace, a garnet and a hefty purse of coins. Taking all three things I packed my knapsack once more, taking out a load of bread to eat, and made for a set of stairs that seemed to lead up and out towards the surface once more. If one thing was for certain, I had had enough of being underground for one day. Climbing to the top of the stairs I found myself faced with yet another tunnel. Sighing as I chewed on the bread I sauntered on until reaching what appeared to be a dead end – typical. The only thing here was a lone handle atop a podium. Feeling that I had little to lose I gave it a tug and with it a part of the cave wall to my left was lifted up revealing an extension to the walk way. Finishing the bread as I did so, I ambled on into the passage way and into another small cave. Jumping down from a ledge I looted a chest that sat within, taking almost eighty Septims, and moved on towards the natural light that spilled inside the small grotto. ‘Sunshine’ I thought, ‘finally’.

 

Chapter 10: A New War

Stepping out into the light I came to realise that I must have been unconscious for a pretty long time, I entered in broad daylight and to my knowledge I didn’t spend an entire day within the barrow. The cave entrance opened out onto a rocky ledge on the southern face of the mountain, a good distance from where the main ruin seemed to lie. As I peered over the ledge to see my surroundings I saw a lake in the distance – Lake Ilinalta according to my map as I tried to pinpoint my exact location. Slowly I made my descent down the rock face, the rain still pouring as it had done before my entrance to Bleak Falls Barrow. Now soaking wet once more I found myself at the bottom of the great mountain once more, on the opposite slope, facing an entirely off road walk back to Whiterun – or at least that’s what I thought at first. Snaking down the foothills of the mountain I noticed in the distance three distinct figures clumped together across the river that ran from Lake Ilinalta. As I drew closer to the river bank I noticed that they were in fact the three standing stones! Following the bank of the river I walked parallel to the road to Riverwood, remembering the last time I had made the journey with Ralof after the incident at Helgen. Looking back to the mountain I noticed a building amongst the woodland that clung to the rich earth near the jagged rock faces of the small mountain range and so leaving the bank in hope of finding some kind of shelter and perhaps more food to be eaten, I climbed up the hill towards the wooden shack. Nearing the front door I noticed a hooded figure sat by the doorway, seeming to be completely oblivious to the rainfall. A few paces away the person seemed to notice me.

“I’m just a poor old woman, dear. No need to trouble yourself with me.” Came a gentle voice from under the hood. An old woman? Out here? Despite the strangeness of the situation I felt safe as I approached and so fearlessly I walked straight in and through the door, the old crone not seeming to even notice that I had done so. Stepping into the shelter of the shack I noticed a shelf filled with alchemical ingredients and wooden utensils, perhaps she was some sort of healer –who knows. Slowly I moved around the corner of her ‘L’ shaped home and came to see a small straw bed sat in the corner and more straw strewn across the floor in the opposite corner, ‘a little messy but what does it matter when one is this far from society’ I thought to myself as I explored the little hut. In another corner of the hut sat a table with some food that lay upon it, and so quietly I snatched a loaf of bread and chewed upon some roasted pheasant meat that lay upon a wooden plate. Packing the bread into my bag I then turned to leave the building, attempting to act as ‘normal’ as I could (although I had just walked straight into a strangers home without permission). Stepping through the doorway I looked to my right to see the old woman gone.

“Fool!” Came a voice in front of me – the old woman then stepped forth into view “None may know my secret!” She shouted as she cast some strange spell. I really wasn’t in the mood for this. I didn’t even know what she was talking about – secret? Crazy old hag. Just then a strange wolf-like beast flashed into existence in front of her. She was a witch! Oh I really, wasn’t in the mood for this. Pulling my bow from my back, I drew an arrow with all the strength I could muster and released, easily with the most force I had used since leaving Helgen. With a wooden ‘twang’ the old woman simply hit the ground, my arrow piercing her directly between the eyes, killing her in the blink of an eye. She dropped to the ground and, as expected, the wolf disappeared. Carelessly I walked forwards and past the old woman, leaving my arrow embedded in the sorceress’ skull. Placing my bow on my back I hastily marched back to the bank of the river, not a care in the world as I came to a crossing point in the water and so holding my bag up, I trudged through the channel and to the road on the other side. Squeezing the excess liquid from my clothes I heaved my weighted sack upon my back once more and plodded down back along the road to Riverwood, just as I had done a few days earlier. Passing the location where the wolves had attacked Ralof and I, I took a moment once more to stop and realise the change in weather once more, as if the world had returned to the way it was when I left Helgen, the sky became a sapphire blue with not a cloud in sight – strange considering that just an hour earlier there was nothing except clouds in sight (that and torrential rain with a slight chance of crazed sibyls). Eventually the familiar view of Riverwood burst through the trees as it had done days before and stepping through the main entrance and into the settlement I found myself once more comfortable, despite now being sick with Ataxia. Walking just as before into the Riverwood Trader I was met by the very-stressed-yet-smiling-to-hide-it shopkeeper (who I now believed to be Lucan Valerius as the journal had named him).
“Did something happen?” I asked him abruptly. He looked at me confused for a moment before realising what I meant.

“Yes, we did have a bit of a… break-in.” he stuttered, a little forlorn “But we still have plenty to sell.” He continued, attempting to lift the mood “Robbers were only after one thing. An ornament, solid gold. In the shape of a dragon’s claw.” He told me, clearly worrying about having lost such a valuable item. It was then that I thought I’d reveal to him that I had it.

“Wait, you mean this golden claw?” I said, laughing as I placed it on the counter.

“You found it?” He said as his face lit up, all the stress seeming to pour away as his eyes became fixed on the claw while he laughed, clearly amazed that I had located it. “There it is. Strange… it seems smaller than I remember. Funny thing, huh?” He laughed as his face began to drop a little. Once a trader, always a trader – he saw it as more than it was, despite its evident value. “I’m going to put this back where it belongs.” He proudly said, turning it around and placing it back on the counter where the gap in his display was those few days before. “I’ll never forget this. You’ve done a great thing for me and my sister.” With that he reached under the counter and heaved a huge coin purse onto the counter and pushed it towards me. Taking it with a smile, I dropped it in my bag as I brought out several of the items that I had taken along my journey and once more we haggled just as we had done before, both happy and contented, although I still needed to find a healer to cure my disease, either that or I would have to turn to religion to heal my ailments, but in a small settlement like this finding either a shrine or a healer was unlikely – I would need to find my way back over to Whiterun to get the proper medical attention that I required. But just as these thoughts crossed my mind, I noticed a potion amongst Lucan’s display. The tag upon it read “Potion of Cure Disease”. Throwing a few coins onto the counter I purchased the potion and made for the door, opening the vial and drinking it as I left the building. As quickly as the disease had set itself upon me, the potion seemed to counter it. Within just a few seconds the prolific shaking seemed to stop and once more I felt strong and well. Walking across the street and back to the smithy I traded what I had left to do so with and then headed towards the north road in order to visit the local in for a warm meal (the first in a long time) and a soft bed. Walking into the building I took down my hood and headed over to the bar, as I did so a bard stood up and introduced a song that he then began to sing – Ragnar the red. I remember humming it as I last walked to Whiterun, before the wolf attack brought my relaxation to an abrupt end. Nearing the bar, the man behind it stopped wiping up some crumbs and looked up to me.

“We got rooms and food. Drink, too. I cook. Ain’t much else to tell.” He said in a particularly ill-mannered way, putting me off a little as I placed twenty Septims onto the table, each one gleaming in the warm light of the inn. With that he placed before me a bowl that had within it a venison chop and some grilled leaks. As he took the coins he also lifted out a bottle of mead – Honningbrew, of course. Digging into the food before me and sipping from the bottle I looked up to the man who seemed a little lost concerning what he needed to do. He obviously didn’t own the place.

“Where’s the innkeeper?” I asked, attempting to make conversation

“Out. She owns the place, she does what she wants.” He replied, being rather short with me.

“So how do I rent a room?” I asked, wondering where I would stay for the night, I was hardly about to knock on Gerdur’s door again.

“Inn’s closed. Bar’s still open, though.” He said. I sighed and took a gulp of mead “Feel free to sit and put your head down on the table as long as you like. I won’t bother you.” I said in his deep voice, trying to offer a solution to my predicament. Nodding to him I took the last of my meal and my mead over to one of the tables near the fire. Finishing the venison off (which was utterly delicious) and having the last mouthful of the drink I cleared the table in front of me and rested my head in my arms, shutting my eyes as the bard finished off his song and began to play a pleasant tune on a lute. Slowly I drifted into a state of complete relaxation and calm, my entire body warmed through by the comfort of the inn. I eventually fell into a deep sleep where I sat, however I did not sleep peacefully. During the night my dreams were haunted with Draugr and memory of the raging inferno as one of the barrow’s sentries was burnt alive. Following the thought of the burning I then found myself back in Helgen, attempting to hopelessly outrun the great black dragon that conquered the men of the settlement who fought in vain as they tried to defend their land and families. My last dream was one of Hadvar, the soldier who had guided me through Helgen, being eaten alive by the beast and then the dragon turned to me, spoke some strange language and made to kill me as I woke up, sweating and cold in the early morning light. Lifting my head from my arms I clicked my neck and looked around me. The inn was empty now, empty except the bar man who remained at his station. He must have barely slept – if at all. Getting up I nodded to him to thank him before heading to the door and back out onto the road that passed through Riverwood. Back along the road into Whiterun I wandered, gnawing on a hunk of bread as I passed the place where the wolf had attacked me and on down the hill to the Meadery. When I last passed through it must have been closed, the air surrounding it for a good half mile seemed to be filled with the scent of honey, it was an incredibly distracting smell for one with a mission to complete – I’d have to return later in order to sample some fresh Honningbrew Mead, now there was something to look forward to. Eventually I reached the main gates once more, the guards who denied me entry seeming to lower their guard as I approached in the mid-morning sunlight. It was going to be a beautiful day – if not for the cold breeze. On I hiked, returning once more to the great doors of Dragonsreach after climbing through the tiers of Whiterun. Pushing the huge doors to the keep open I strode in, strong, confident and powerful. I truly felt as though I had completed a mission worth my while, and walking up to the wizard’s room I had an uncontrollable grin stretched across my face. Approaching the room I noticed a hooded yet rough looking figure bent over his desk, studying a book as he said something to her – it was unmistakably a ‘she’ judging by the figure that her armour held, clutching at her waist and widening for her bosom. As I reached the entryway I could hear Farengar’s voice trying to prove a point to the woman.

“You see? The terminology is clearly First Era or even earlier.” He said as the woman scanned the pages of the ancient tome. “I’m convinced this is a copy of a much older text. Perhaps dating to just after the Dragon War. If so, I could use this to cross reference the names with other later texts.” At this point I was so captivated by the conversation that I felt compelled to merely stand and listen to what was being said and so leaning against the door frame unnoticed, the conversation continued.

“Good.” Came a harsh female voice from under the hood “I’m glad you’re making progress.” She continued as she lifted herself from her hunched position over the desk, “My employers are anxious to have some tangible answers.”

“Oh, have no fear. The Jarl himself has finally taken an interest, so I’m now able to devote most of my time to this research.”

“Time is running Farengar and don’t forget. This isn’t some theoretical question. Dragons have come back.”

“Yes, yes. Don’t worry.” He said with a dismissive look on his face “Although the chance to see a living dragon up close would be tremendously valuable.” As he said this the woman turned and noticed me, interrupting him as continued.

“You have a visitor.” She said, hinting towards where I was stood. Know that I had now been seen I jumped to attention, for being seen leant against a doorway is never good for one’s image when in the command of a powerful wizard.

“Hmm? Ah yes!” he exclaimed, “The Jarl’s protégé! Back from Bleak Falls Barrow? You didn’t die, it seems.” He chortled, grinning as he greeted me with a warm look. Pulling my knapsack open, Farengar instantly noticed the ancient stone I had taken from within the barrow. “Ah! The Dragonstone of Bleak Falls Barrow! Seems you are a cut above the usual brutes the Jarls sends my way.” He said excitedly whilst whisking the stone from my hands. If that wasn’t a two faced compliment, I honestly couldn’t tell you what one was. Still, I did the job.

“I got you the Dragonstone. What next?” I asked plainly, partly hoping that he would say ‘oh no, you’ve done everything I need now you can enjoy a quiet evening with a few pints of mead and a hot meal.’ But no, things never seem to turn out that way.

“That is where your job ends and mine begins.” He said, instilling a little hope in my heart. “The work of the mind, sadly undervalued in Skyrim.” He joked. “My… Associate here will be pleased to see your handiwork.” He said, raising one hand in the direction of the woman, “She discovered its location, by means she has so far declined to share with me.” He turned to her, and with an almost bitter note returned to conversation with her. “So, your information was correct after all. And we have our friend here to thank for recovering it for us.” With that her opinion of me seemed to chance, she looked over to me, almost wide eyed – clearly impressed.

“You went into Bleak Falls Barrow and got that? Nice work.” Turning back to Farengar her face turned a little more sinister once more. “Just send me a copy of it when you’ve deciphered it.” She ordered.

“Farengar!” came a cry from the great hall, seemingly from the direction of the great doorway at the entrance. Everyone paused and turned to the doorway. “Farengar!” it came again, the voice now much closer. As the cry was made a second time, Irileth flew into the room, short of breath.

“Farengar, you need to come at once. A dragon’s been sighted nearby.” She stated urgently. With this Farengar almost dropped the Dragonstone. “You should come, too” she then continued, looking at me. The room filled with silence, although as I turned around to Farengar it was clear that he was actually in a better mood for hearing this news, despite the clearly destructive potential of another situation involving dragons. He placed the Dragonstone on the desk, shaking with excitement as he did so.

“A dragon!” he exclaimed manically, “How exciting! Where was it seen? What was it doing?” he enquired as he paced up to Irileth, almost as if to grab her and shake out the answers. Backing away slowly she made her reply.

“I’d take this a bit more seriously if I were you. If a dragon decides to attack Whiterun, I don’t know if we can stop it.” Turning around and making for the planning area within Dragonsreach she shouted back “Let’s go!”

I was a little lost at this point and so blindly followed, not sure of where exactly I was supposed to go – I’d never been further back into the building than the Jarl’s Throne. Irileth led us through the great hall and towards the North wall – the wall with the throne. At the eastern corner was a flight of stairs which we all bounded up 3 steps at a time, two out of duty and panic, one out of excitement and naivety. At the top of the stone stairway was a dimly lit and partially carpeted room with a large map on a table towards one side and more great doors at the other side of the room, opposite from the stairs was another set of doors – one would assume for personal living quarters for the Jarl’s family and closest allies. Holding the ceiling from was two great wooden pillars, which stood at either side of the room, a fair distance from the walls. As my eyes ceased scanning the room they fell upon a clearly stressed Jarl, stood upon the cold stone flooring in the middle of the room awaiting our arrival. Opposite him were two guards, one bent double, breathing heavily and the other stood tall, his hand on the hilt of his sword.

“So,” Began the Jarl “Irileth tells me you came from the Western Watchtower?”

The breathless guard stumbled forwards.

“Yes, my lord.” He wheezed. Irileth nudged him as if to urge him to continue.

“Tell him what you told me. About the dragon.”

“Ah… That’s right.” He said before taking another gulp of air. “We saw it coming from the south. It was fast… Faster than anything I’ve ever seen.”

“What did it do?” Enquired the Balgruuf, “Is it attacking the watchtower?”

“No, my lord. It was just circling overhead when I left.” Stopping for air once more he stood upright “I never ran so fast in my life… I thought it would come after me for sure.”

“Good work, son. We’ll take it from here. Head down the barracks for some food and rest. You’ve earned it.” Replied the Jarl, commending the guard with a pat on the shoulder. The guard turned and slowly made his way down the stairs, clearly shocked by his experience. It brought back the memory of Helgen to me, the chaos. The fear. But that all snapped out of my mind as the Jarl called forth Irileth.

“Irileth, you’d better gather some guardsmen and get down there.”

“I’ve already ordered my men to muster near the main gate.” She replied without a single note of fear, despite the clarity of the danger of the task she was about to undergo.

“Good. Don’t fail me.” With that he turned to me. “There’s no time to stand on ceremony, my friend, I need your help again. I want you to go with Irileth and help her fight this dragon. You survive Helgen, so you have more experience with dragons than anyone else here.” He ordered. Me, help fight a dragon? He does realise I’m not a warrior I hope! “But I haven’t forgotten the service you did for me in retrieving the Dragonstone for Farengar. As a token of my esteem, I have instructed Avenicci that you are permitted to purchase property in the city. And please, please accept this gift from my personal Armoury.” With that he gave me a hide helmet but upon it seemed a faint blue hue, and with it I felt almost more intelligent. I placed it in my knapsack as conversation continued between the court wizard and the Jarl.

“I should come along. I would very much like to see this dragon.” Pleaded Farengar.

“No.” Ordered Balgruuf, “I can’t afford to risk both of you. I need you here working on ways to defend the city against these dragons.” As the Jarl said this Farengar’s face visibly dropped as his excitement was dissipated with that single sentence.

“As you command” he replied, heavy hearted. Irileth was just about to turn and leave when one final order came.

“One last thing, Irileth. This isn’t a death or glory mission. I need to know what we’re dealing with.”

“Don’t worry, my lord.” She said with a smile. “I’m the very soul of caution.” With that she turned and left. I followed as were my orders and as we darted through the city towards the main gate not a single word was passed between us – we both felt it. A new war was beginning, one more deadly than the civil war that raged on even as we did this.

 

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.

 

Chapter 12: Thieves Are Everywhere

Cold and wet I continued moving in the rain, trying to replay what had happened in my head. I couldn’t get what had happened to make sense, I had just made a word have a physical effect. I saw that happen. I shouted a word and it pushed a group of fully grown men, how does a voice do that? To make things even worse for me I had left most of my provisions back at the Watchtower and by no means felt it was a good idea to return just yet and so all I had upon me was the few potions I could carry, my lock picks, my sword and a few bones that I simply found in my hand. Without realising I must have picked them from the ground. From the ground or the dragon… They were a deep, almost green, beige and weighed a great amount. They were by no means human but I don’t remember taking them from the beast’s skeleton… I slid them into some straps in my armour and continued running back, I was hungry and the only way I was going to eat would be by returning to Whiterun. What was I to do once I returned, though? I couldn’t tell the Jarl, surely? As I neared the gates I decided to rest in one of the inns, I needed time to think, I needed time to understand what exactly was happening to me. Reaching out to touch the gates with my right hand the ground began to shake. A huge thunderclap sounded and the entirety of Nirn felt as though it were about to be shaken into nothingness, amongst the quakes of the earth came a vast chorus of voices – or at least that’s what it must have been to produce such volume – in the air I heard them chant a single word all but once.

“DOVAHKIIN!” They called and as the word was completed the world ceased its movement. Silence fell again with the exception of the rain and I found myself rekindled with strength somehow, I pushed through the door and stood tall as I stepped through the threshold into the city once again. My sword sheathed and clothes filthy with dirt and blood I pulled the hood from my head, displaying my face proudly as I marched over the stone bridge at the entrance to the town. Upon the bridge stood two men, halted by the guard on duty as it seemed. They appeared to be arguing about their presence in Whiterun, the guard arguing against it and the two men, tall, muscled and dark skinned, arguing that they were seeking out a person. Walking past I brushed shoulders with one and made my way boldly towards the Bannered Mare as I had done those few days ago. Bursting through the front door I strode brazenly over to the bar, everyone staring at me. At my eye in particular. Straight faced I sat at the bar and stared the maid at the bar in the face, placing some gold coins on the wooden counter as I did so.

“Saadia, Wake up dear!” She shouted to a dark skinned woman behind her – she was new here, or at least wasn’t in the building when I last visited.

“Yes, mum!” she replied, obeying the unspoken order of her superior as she darted to my side, looking at the ground as if ashamed to look me in the face. “You want a drink?” she asked. With that I nodded and turned back to the bar and she moved off once more returning swiftly her arms laden with provisions for me. One tankard of Mead – Honningbrew, a Venison chop, some grilled leeks, a wedge of cheese and half a small loaf of bread. She walked past, arms heavy with the food and drink and placed them at a table in the corner. The same as I had sat in when last I lodged here. The music played as it had and the fire burned on just as before, everything here was exactly like it was beforehand. Everything except me. I had changed, this had been a true rebirth of me. I was a thief, no doubt, but I was able now in more ways than I had been before, I could fight, I could run, I could kill and moreover, I was more than capable of doing it many times over. Stronger, faster, better in every way. I was able to revel in my differences and allowed them to become me. The next thing I needed to do was go to the Jarl, then maybe I would be able to find a place to put myself to the test – find the infamous Thieves Guild. A few short hours passed and after two tankards of mead I was once more warmed in both heart and body. Standing from my table I slowly made my way to my chambers for the night, collapsing heavily into the guest room’s bed and sleeping deeply.

For what must have been at least fifteen hours I slept, dreaming of dragons and thieves and finally awakening feeling well rested. I woke to sunlight pouring into my room from the holes in the ceiling – used to allow smoke to escape while the fire is lit – and for a few moments watched the dust dance in the white morning light, it truly fascinated my how something so simple could be so beautiful. Just light and dust. Even the darkness I was used to – and favoured – had no magical properties to match it despite the invisibility created for thieves such as I. Blade at my hip I walked through the doors and outside into the cold air of Skyrim again, basking for a few moments in the ever such mild heat given by the sun. My moment of pleasure was rudely disrupted however, an old man in fine robes lectured a shopkeeper over ‘struggles’ – like he knew what that meant. I walked past in silence and scratched my scar as I did so. I still wasn’t used to it, I had been able to see for my entire life and now I needed to adjust to sight with one eye. A thief with one eye. It’d be funny if it weren’t my life’s calling. I crossed the cobbled square and entered a shop – I needed a new knapsack, my old one would be ruined by now and so there was little point in me even bothering to find it. I was greeted by a middle aged man with an unreasonable amount of facial hair, cheerily smiling and peddling his goods

“Take a good look around. I’m sure you’ll find what you’re looking for. If not, let me know, I might have it stored away.” He said grinning profusely at me. Something about him certainly seemed a little fake, but I wasn’t here to judge character, I was here for some goods to help me on my journey to Riften, for that was where the Thieves Guild was said to reside now-a-days. From his store I purchased a few things, a new knapsack of course, some more arrows and a new set of armour. I also got some healing potions as I felt two would not suffice in a time of need, and who knows when that time may come – better now than never. Taking a few items of food and selling him one of the dragon’s bones I made no great loss and still had one bone to keep for my own, not to mention a great deal of coin to go with it. Loading my new knapsack on his shop floor I looked to him, smiled and then took my leave. I walked out of the door and towards The Drunken Huntsman, I needed a new bow if I were to survive in the wilderness, just having arrows would be of no use to me whatsoever. Through the lower level of Whiterun I walked, the hustle and bustle of daily life seeming to wash over me as crowds of merchants, farmers and customers barged past me, almost all the way to the front door of the Huntsman. Stepping inside I was met by the wood elf who ran it, a sour looking man. We bartered only briefly for I had no interest in conversation and with a new Orcish built bow in hand and more arrows I left and headed up the hillside to Dragonsreach. It was time to talk to the Jarl and explain the situation fully. As I climbed I struggled in my head to figure out what to say, but decided to simply leave him to lead the conversation and I would answer as truthfully as possible. I nearly reached the top before a guard approached me and grabbed my shoulder in awe.

“By Ysmir! You did it! You killed a Dragon!” he congratulated me, smiling brightly until he noticed my eye. He stopped and looked at me with a shocked expression and smiling emptily I brushed his hand off and continued up the steps to the familiar oak doors of the keep, hood back on as I made my entrance. Pushing the doors open I walked in onto the wooden planks of the keep’s floor and slowly I walked up towards the throne. I noticed immediately that Irileth was not yet here. I had been away for almost a whole day and she hadn’t yet arrived… That seemed strange. Had I done something? Had she been injured, or was she simply pre-occupied?

“Finally you’re here. The Jarl’s been waiting for you.” Avenicci impatiently said as I walked past. He clearly didn’t notice the eye. As I neared the throne I saw one of the Jarl’s protectors talking with him and the Jarl talking of some kind of “summons”. Then it all flooded back. When I was a child I was told about the Dragonborn, the story had been told to me many times – a man with the blood of a dragon, capable of absorbing the very life force of actual dragons, able to speak their tongue with deathly accuracy. To control their voice. The Thu’um. It struck me, like a sword against a shield, like my own against the dragon. I believed finally in myself and understood what had happened. I absorbed some kind of power. I was that which I was told about as just a small child. The Dragonborn. My moment of glory was halted by the interruption of the Jarl, clearly eager to hear what had happened.

“So what happened at the watchtower? Was the dragon there?” he asked quickly.

“The watchtower was destroyed, but we killed the dragon.” I replied nervously, with the lack of Irileth’s presence I was uneasy, what would she say when she returned?

“I knew I could count on Irileth.” He proudly stated, “But there must be more to it than that.” I paused, taking a moment to think about what I should say. I decided to not mention the shouting…

“When the dragon died, I absorbed some kind of power from it.” I said to him, shaking a little as I did so.

“So it’s true.” Said Balgruuf, his deep voice reverberating around the silent hall. “The Greybeards really were summoning you.” I paused again.

“The Greybeards?” I asked, I had never heard of them at all.

“Masters of The Way of the Voice.” He explained, “They live in seclusion high on the slopes of the Throat of the World.” I was confused still, so asked another question.

“What do these Greybeards want with me?”

“The Dragonborn is said to be uniquely gifted in The Voice – The ability to focus your vital essence into a Thu’um, or Shout. If you really are Dragonborn, they can teach you how to use your gift.” At this point the man who spoke to him earlier interrupted.

“Didn’t you hear the thundering sound as you returned to Whiterun? That was the voice of the Greybeards, summoning you to High Hrothgar! This hasn’t happened in… centuries, at least. Not since Tiber Septim himself was summoned when he was still Talos of Atmora!” Now Avenicci stepped in.

“Hrongar, calm yourself. What does any of this Nord nonsense have to do with our friend here?” he rudely asked rhetorically, shocking the other man, Hrongar, into a point of almost blind fury “capable as he may be, I don’t see any signs of him being this, what, Dragonborn.” Hrongar had heard enough.

“Nord nonsense?! Why, you puffed up, ignorant- These are our sacred traditions that go back to the founding of the First Empire!”

“Hrongar. Don’t be so hard on Avenicci.” Ordered the Jarl, like a father scolding a son.

“I meant no disrespect, of course.” Bitterly apologised Avenicci, clasping his hands and bowing his head. “It’s just that… What do these Greybeards want with him?”

“That’s the Greybeards’ business, not ours.” Replied Balgruuf, “whatever happened when you killed that dragon, it revealed something in you,” He said, looking to me once more “and the Greybeards heard it. If they think you’re Dragonborn, who are we to argue? You’d better get up to High Hrothgar immediately. There’s no refusing the summons of the Greybeards. It’s a tremendous honour.” He said sincerely, clearly thinking highly of these men, these ‘Greybeards’. “I envy you, you know. To climb the 7,000 Steps again… I made the pilgrimage once, did you know that?” He said, looking me in the eye with slight jealousy and yet what was almost a hint of pride. “High Hrothgar is a very peaceful place. Very… disconnected from the troubles of this world. I wonder if the Greybeards even notice what’s going on down here. They haven’t seemed to care before.” Everyone was silent and listening, even the guards turned their heads to hear the words from their Jarl. The whole hall had the feel of a small room, we gathered like children to listen to an ancient tale. The tale of the Jarl’s own experiences. “No matter.” He then said, breaking the spell, “Go to High Hrothgar. Learn what the Greybeards can teach you. You’ve done a great service for me and my city Dragonborn, by my right as Jarl I name you Thane of Whiterun. It’s the greatest honour that’s within my power to grant. I assign you Lydia as a personal Housecarl, and this weapon from my armoury to serve as your badge of office.” He said, signalling to a guard to bring forth a weapon – a fine steal axe. Although not a weapon I would use. Perhaps it could serve my new Housecarl better, not that I would be using a Housecarl – I didn’t need people following me around. “I’ll also notify my guards of your new title, wouldn’t want them to think you’re part of the common rabble now, would we?” He joked. “We are honoured to have you as Thane of our city, Dragonborn.” He said, with a smile creeping across his face. He then stopped and turned to Avenicci. “Back to business then Proventus, we still have a city to defend!”

“Yes, my lord” he loyally replied, bowing to him once more. I turned away and made for the exit, rather than leaving with a scolding from the Jarl, potentially punishment, I was awarded with a title and a personal Housecarl?! I should shout at people more often!

As I neared the door I noticed a woman stood there, covered from her neck down in steel armour, shield in hand. A few paces away she turned and faced me and made up the distance to talk to me.

“The Jarl has appointed me to be your Housecarl. It’s an honour to serve you.” She said, bowing her head.

“Follow me.” I said, “I need your help”

“Lead the way” she replied, happily enough. Just as I was about to make my way out the door I then remembered that I had this axe to give her. I stopped and turned to her, pulling my knapsack from my back as I did so.

“I need to trade some things with you.” I stated. To that her face dropped and she took off her own knapsack.

“I am sworn to carry your burdens.” She said in a begrudged tone. She seemed to lighten up somewhat when I pulled the axe from among my possessions, however. Instantly she tied it at her hip and bowed her head once more. I closed up my knapsack and told her that it was time to part ways, despite the briefness of our time together, and then I simply walked out the door. Hood on and sword at my side I strode through the streets of the city, walking now as one of the few Thanes of Whiterun, it truly was an honour to be here now. But what of the rest of the world – would I answer the summons of these Greybeards instantly or would I first seek out the Thieves of Riften? Wandering the streets I decided that it had been long enough since my last raid and that Thievery was so deep in my blood that it would be a sin to not at least search for some of my brethren and competition. So it was decided, I would go to the stables and find a carriage to Riften. I may even get to sleep on the way. I also thought it important to get some food and drink before I left, you never know what could happen along the road that may leave you stranded and hungry… Thieves are everywhere, after all.

TO BE CONTINUED…