Unofficial Elder Scrolls Book 1
by Ben Coleman
A bleak wind blew through the Fort and settlement of Helgen, and bore with it a coldness that crept into the spirit as well as the bone. As bleak winds went this seemed nothing unusual for a place as high in the hills as it was, nestled upon the slopes of the Throat of the World.
Though it normally did its best to drive men inside, and just as normally failed as men did their own best to ignore the cold and go about their business, there was nothing normal about their business today. Men, and even women and children stood in mute witness to the solemn actions unfolding before them. For long moments no words were spoken among the crowd, or Imperial soldiers stolidly moving about in their duties, nor the prisoners they’d assembled to execute.
A single wagon groaned against the weight of its human cargo and settled with a creaking anguish into the frozen ruts of the ground, near a headsman’s block, with a headsman waiting.
Six soldiers stepped forward to attend the unfortunate arrivals, two in front to steady the horses, two to each side to prevent any foolishness, and two to the rear, with waving hands gesturing for the prisoners to disburse.
It was not lost on anyone either, that the two to the rear tending the prisoners kept a hand each on the pommels of their swords, and kept their bodies twisted to keep those same swords out of reach.
Desperate men oft did desperate things, hopelessly outnumbered or not.
“Out.” One soldier said, stepping back to a safe distance as the prisoners stepped down in single file. The soldiers presence remained close enough to kill if needed, yet far enough away to discourage the same idea among the condemned.
Further away and situated higher upon the battlements stood Imperial soldiers skilled in spell casting, silently ready to put an end to any magic use among prisoners as well.
Coupled with archers ready to pepper any runners it left the indelible impression that Imperials knew their business, and knew it well. It was an argument most Nords in Skyrim needed no reminding of.
The condemned hands were bound before them as they stepped down, one, then two, then seven in all. The bleak wind whistled and whispered death as it blew through the settlement, with all eyes upon the procession. The only sounds were a cough or sniff among the crowd mingled with the creaking of the wagon beneath the weight of shuffling bodies.
Finally they were settled and stood in silence before their captors, each upon the other looking on with apathetic scorn. It said that all were eager to be on with the unpleasant business one way or the other.
The Imperials to return to the warmth of their barracks, or the prisoners to be on their way to Sovngarde, their afterlife.
Of the seven condemned, all were dressed in rags, but only four wore the sky blue shred of a cloak pinned to the rags to mark their identity. The other three were just unfortunates, scooped up in the Imperial trap, and important only by proximity, less by association.
Imperial patrols never placed much of a premium on discriminating between guilt or innocence, so the unfortunates were just along for the brief ride.
It was those marked with blue who were important.
They were Stormcloaks, rebels, and fanatics screaming Skyrim is for the Nords! As if they’d been doing something useful with it before the Empire came along, other than scratching out a pale living farming dirt and fighting amongst themselves.
Skyrim needed freedom.
And the Empire was going to bring it to them, whether they wanted it or not.
Dagmar shifted her weight, uncomfortable in her rags and the cold, as well as with the idea she was about to have her head separated from her body.
By all accounts it was a very pretty one with long blonde, hair, platinum in color. She was a fine sight indeed to most men, with a strong but slim figure, cut with muscle from an active Nord life among the beauty and harshness of Skyrim.
But she was among the unfortunates, without the blue, and unremarkable among the captured, except for her remarkable beauty and figure which normally would have been quite a prize among groping Imperial soldiers with perverse appetites. It would have been a brutal night with their pretty prize, had they not an even greater prize at hand, the Stormcloaks, and among them the most hated.
He was Ulfric, Jarl of Windhelm, leader of the Stormcloak rebellion.
And the Imperial patrol was so informed to make haste, and no nonsense with the captured.
Get Ulfric to Helgen.
A very quick but very public execution held the promise of dismantling the rebellion before its fires completely engulfed the countryside and swept up its peoples with it. Only some of the Nords were against an Imperial presence in Skyrim, or at least that vocal about it and willing to fight.
Most preferred to live as well as they could under the circumstance and simply accept.
And removing Ulfric from the equation could see to it it stayed that way, and the rest of his Stormcloak rebellion, fallen to the wayside.
Dagmar did not know Ulfric, at least not personally, nor did she know any of the Stormcloaks, except one, Ralof, who was family.
Civil war was a regrettable business for everyone, as one could not help but know someone close, on one side or another.
And it was indeed the way for Dagmar.
She had no love for the Empire, and could sympathize with the Stormcloaks, but neither had she joined them. Like most she was more inclined to simply do her best to ignore it, hope it went away, and with it the animosities between families.
That was what struck her most, and struck her own home in Riverwood.
She could not in good conscience support Ralof and his choice, but neither could she condemn it.
She could only accept that he’d made it, just as she had with the other man she’d grown up with and called her brother, in Riverwood.
Hadvar had thrown in with the Legion. One brother choosing to wear blue, the other, scarlet red.
Each had made their choice, but resented that choice in the other.
Each loved the other, and left wishing they may never meet again in unhappy times.
It was no surprise that with Ulfric in tow some important Imperial potentate was present to view the proceedings and assure the commander of the Imperial war effort General Tullius that Ulfric was indeed dead.
But it was a surprise that it was General Tullius himself.
From the covered porch of an important resident he stepped, with fine armor gleaming even amidst the gloom of the day, and cloaked in even finer warmth of a great bearskin cloak.
He was flanked with a small entourage of officers and men and amid the muttered curses of Stormcloaks they strode, approaching the headsman’s block, to provide themselves the finest view.
One of the Stormcloaks spat upon the ground, others grimaced, but said nothing, and in point of fact Ulfric himself could say nothing, as he stood unbowed, and unbroken, but gagged.
Some rumor or another had it he had somehow slain King Torygg with his voice, shouting him to death, which made no sense to anyone. Something about the Way of the Voice and the Graybeards high aloft upon High Hrothgar, atop the Throat of the World.
Nonsense most like, and most like he’d slain him with some spell or another. But Imperials took no chances, and Ulfric could not speak in defense, be it lies or truth.
Dagmar glanced at Ralof, who stood near but not next to Ulfric. He was scowling, his eyes stone cold and glittering with passionate hostility at the General and his men. He had always been a hothead and Dagmar loved that about him, even as much as she loved Hadvar’s level headedness and strict devotion to duty. And she briefly wondered where he was, as at last report he was in Solitude, with his garrison, as had been the General.
It was then a horror that fell upon her and seemed to fall upon Ralof as well at the very same time, as they realized fully, one man among the General’s entourage.
It was Hadvar.
He bore upon his head, as did several others a hood, which he’d just pulled down, and revealed himself against the cold, and people. And within the crook of an arm, he held a book, a ledger.
It was the book in which their names would be entered, the names of the executed.
Dagmar’s spirit fell within her, and she could see Ralof’s too. But his remorse disappeared just as instantly and was replaced with a boiling rage.
His eyes glowed and nostrils flared, and she could see clearly it took all his effort to remain still.
It was an energy that not only Dagmar could sense, but guards too, though they misplaced it as intent toward the General, and for his safety, two of them edged forward almost imperceptibly.
They gave off an energy of their own, an abundantly clear energy.
It was an energy that said if Ralof so much as twitched he would be slaughtered on the spot with an extreme prejudice.
The General took little notice and instead eyed Ulfric closely, as if personally sizing up his nemesis before ending him. Then he turned his head and nodded slightly toward a captain, a female, with dark and shorn hair in the fashion of the legion. She held her horse haired crested officer’s helmet beneath her arm and nodded in ascent. Then with an air of duty placed the helmet upon her head.
She nodded at Hadvar who stepped forward and opened the book. He kept his eyes glued to its pages, passing only briefly across the procession of prisoners. If Dagmar knew him well, as well she did she knew he was ashamed, and pained in his duty, but obedient within it all the same.
She did not begrudge him, as her heart was not in it to do so. But she also knew Ralof would not feel the same, or perhaps would, after his rage left him and he’d choked the life out of his brother.
Ralof had always been like that, loving as fiercely as hating and too oft mixing the two in some passionate outburst or another like a great and passing winter storm.
It was as if each man had taken each to his own, some particular part of the same man who’d raised them, their uncle Alvor in Riverwood. Hadvar, his frequently preached devotion to duty and obedience to always do what was right, even at cost of one’s own wishes. And Ralof, his just as frequent temper, passion for life, and certainty that he personally, always was right.
Dagmar had always fallen somewhere in the middle, level headed mostly, but with no shortage of fire in her heart. She’d just always felt somehow different from the rest, never being quite able to put a finger on it. She just seemed possessed of some serpentine patience, until she’d decided the time was right to let it go, and strike, like a snake, or reptile.
She was then shaken from her forlorn daydreaming when Hadvar spoke.
“Lokir, of Rorikstead.”
His voice was true, and measured, but Dagmar could sense the reluctance and pain behind it.
To her left the one called Lokir, a lean, rabbit of a man squirmed, and pissed himself.
Both Dagmar and the other unfortunate, an evil looking hulk took a single step away.
The guards closest scowled in disgust and did not begrudge them the step.
“No, no, no.”
Lokir muttered, struggling to free his hands and throw them up in protest.
“I’m not a rebel! You can’t do this! This is a mistake I’m not with them!”
As a guard touched him, herding him by the shoulder he panicked, and ran.
With a speed driven by terror, and guided by as much sense, he bolted, feet kicking up cold mud and stumbling, threatening to fall, and just as determined not to, focused only on putting as much distance as possible, as fast as possible, between him and his tormentors.
The Captain for her part, seemed almost to have expected it, and did not turn, nor even move.
Instead she simply called out with a practiced command.
The word had scarcely needed be spoken before the prisoner was skewered thrice, in rapid succession, his body peppered as it fell, pitching face forward into the mud, unmoving.
“Anyone else feel like running?”
And she, and her Imperial companions seemed grimly satisfied, and she nodded again to Hadvar.
“Colm of Kynesgrove.”
A red haired Stormcloak male stepped forward, contemptuously sneering, and bound hands thrust forward, as if eager to be led.
A guard took hold, and led him, with the Captain in stride to the block. The guard stepped away, and the Captain paused, glancing reluctantly to a Priestess standing near.
The Priestess, one of Arkay, deity of the balance, of life and death stared back at the Captain with an expression that showed no fear, and much concern that Imperials observe custom.
Imperials might be in charge of their lives, but their deaths were her bailiwick, and that was a charge she did not take lightly.
That, was the balance.
The Captain glanced askance at the General, who nodded assent, not being completely without mercy in his own mind.
“Give them their last rites.”
The Captain said, holding the red hair at the elbow. And the Priestess began.
“As we commend your souls to Aetherius, blessings of the Eight Divines be upon you, for you are the salt and earth of Nirn, our beloved…”
Her words were cut off as the condemned red hair spat and stepped forward of his own accord toward the block.
“Oh for the love of Talos shut up, and let’s get this over with.”
Her look of scorn doubled upon his own, one for being interrupted, and two, for his invocation of Talos, a belief not exactly appreciated by one of her own stripes.
The Imperials however, holding no love for Talos themselves, nevertheless seemed impressed.
His bravery in facing his fate was admired, as well as his irreverence in the doing.
“I haven’t got all morning.”
Colm snarked, as if he had a pressing schedule.
It was not lost that several soldiers nearby held thinly concealed smirks.
Black humor was a thing all warriors shared, no matter their color of cloak.
Colm knelt and the Captain placed her boot upon his back as he fell to his knees, willfully settling his head upon the block.
The headsman, a tall and broad brute of a man concealed behind the black mask of his profession readied himself, and hefted his axe.
And the Captain stood back.
“My ancestors are smiling at me Imperials. Can you say the same?”
His last words were a testament to the severity of sentiment the Empire was dealing with.
And as the face of the Empire, General Tullius’s glower offered the only proper Imperial response.
A permanent solution to a temporary problem.
And the headsman’s axe came down.
Colm’s head rolled upon the ground in a gruesome display of spurting blood and gore.
Then Ralof spoke, giving eulogy to his companion, and sharing thoughts not completely un respected even by Imperials.
“As fearless in life, as he was in death.”
He said solemnly.
A brief emotion of regret crossed the visage of the General, revealing if only in passing that he was not completely inhuman, and if only in private probably wished for peace.
But he would not shirk from war.
Then, as if to underscore the point in his opinion that the decision, and blame, was not completely his to bear he turned toward his nemesis.
He spoke the words with more than a tinge of contempt, indicating quite clearly with rising resentment he viewed the man’s continued existence as no small pain, and more than very probably an impediment to his own.
“Some here in Helgen call you a hero. But a Hero doesn’t use a power like the voice to murder his king and usurp his throne. You started this war, and now the Empire is going to put you down.”
Ulfric did not budge, but merely glowered back.
Then it was that the General was interrupted, by a thing. A great and mighty sound, from the throat of a great and mighty beast not heard in Skyrim for many hundreds of years.
Not one in that moment recognized it for what it was, sounding unsettling to be sure, but leaving one not quite sure it had been a sound at all, but rather a thing of shared imagination.
Many looks passed among them all, even between Stormcloak and Imperial.
“Did you hear that?”
Hadvar asked, to a Legionary nearby.
The man said nothing, but his expression affirmed most certainly that he did, and did not like it.
“It was nothing.”
The General exclaimed, partly out of annoyance at its interruption, and partly out of annoyance he could not hide his own concern.
Hadvar nodded and obeyed, but as his eyes fell upon the ledger so too did his own heart.
A tear crept and stung his cheek and just as truly could have been from the biting cold as he spoke. But it was not, and those who knew him knew it, and thought no shame in it.
“Dagmar of Riverwood.”
The young, adopted daughter of Alvor the Blacksmith and kin of Hadvar and Ralof stepped forward without word, sharing a cheek staining tear. The only expression that could be shared.
Ralof cried, spittle flying from his lips, and overcome with emotion. It was enough that his own brother had turned against him, but to do so against his own sister, adopted or not, and no Stormcloak at all, was too much, and he burst forward against restraint.
Three legionaries held him, but did not strike him, as those nearest had seen it all before, and knew of shared bonds, broken or frayed, but bonds all the same. And none truly begrudged Ralof’s outburst, if even it could not be tolerated.
Then even Ralof’s composure broke and he let his own tears flow.
“For the love of blood do something Hadvar, she’s done nothing. She wasn’t with us…she was..”
He could not finish but his pleas were not completely without result as Hadvar spoke, and in his way grasping for clemency also.
“Captain..she’s not really on the list…”
But the Captain was not moved.
“Forget the list. She goes to the block.”
Ralof strained again, and was held again.
And for all his own freedom Hadvar seemed as pained, and as much a prisoner as they.
But obediently he nodded and Dagmar was led to the block.
There she knelt, and the headsman’s axe was raised.
And he stopped.
The air above was rent with a roar, echoing with force all around them as if the very earth took vengeance.
And this time the roar was unmistakable, it’s source unmistakable, and it was not from the earth, but rather from something within it, spewed from it, and unleashed.
“What in Oblivion is that?!”
Shouted the General looking about in fear stricken confusion.
“It’s in the clouds!”
A guard shouted.
“There! By Gods it’s there!”
Another yelled, pointing.
And not a man, woman, or child among them was not wrought with soul stirring terror.
It was a dragon, black, massive, and swooping with purpose and anger, cutting effortlessly despite its gargantuan size through the air upon great, and evil wing.
Shouts and cries tore from throats and orders were commanded by terrified officers to terrified soldiers. Arrows flew, and spells cut through the air, sizzling, spiking, and fomenting magic.
But nothing struck true, nor could even break through scales as taut and strong as steel.
Events and actions unfolded too quickly and chaotically for any man to track and all the hells were breaking loose upon Helgen.
The Dragon then landed, as if heedless and uncaring of the pelting rain of spell and arrow, and massive white talons like ivory spears took root upon a wall, a tower, right above the execution grounds.
Dagmar could do nothing, arms and limbs prostrate before her, with helpless disarray.
The executioner crouched and turned, with his back to her, his axe held limply.
Then the Dragon roared again, as if offended at the scene before him, and all eyes and attentions were upon him, with politically upheaving struggles, and prisoners forgotten. And the deep black pools of the dragons eyes bored into them like an abyss staring back.
The very earth around them shook, and men fell, and rose, scattered, and fell again.
And with the dragons roar this time, came fire, and the very air above them was engulfed in inferno.
The flames passed above the day maid and caught the buildings behind in flame, explosions rocked the fort, and pure pandemonium reigned, as the dragon stood perched upon his throne.
Many and most were in shock, but not all, and Ralof sprung into action, raising his arms, and wrapping is bound hands around a legionary throat. The Stormcloak yanked with all his might and bore his foe to the ground, crushing his windpipe and throttling the body still. And with a quickness born of terror and purpose ripped the soldier’s dagger free, fumbling and slicing at his bounds.
The dragon roared again, engulfing men in flames, bodies sprawled and stumbling like cooked and smoking marionettes, calling weakly for mercy. But from their torment there was none.
Suddenly hands were yanking her, and Dagmar dismally looked up, coughing and sputtering against the smoke, and stench of burning buildings, tinder, and men.
It was Ralof, freed, and freeing her and his eyes glowing in fear, and his voice drenched with dread. The primal, paralyzing dread, of the dark, evil, and ancient.
“The Gods won’t give us another chance!”