17 Last Seed, 4E201
"...for what excitement follows a day of chopping wood?"
What excitement indeed.
I managed to sneak past the Ogres still occupying the Cyrodiil side of Pale Pass and emerged on the other side, once again in Skyrim. My vague plan was to spend a few days in Helgen doing odd jobs and then moving on to Whiterun to find somewhat consistent employment. I had no apprehension about the war between the Stormcloaks and the Legion, from what I had heard both sides were content to leave the Khajiit caravans alone and I felt that one more Khajiit in Skyrim would not bother either one of them. As usual, the Gods decided to laugh at me this morning.
I had made it just past Fort Neugrad when a squad of Legionnaires emerged from the side of the road ahead of several bound Stormcloaks. They were just as surprised as I was, but one of the Legionnaires, a rather brash woman clad in steel armor, barked out orders for me to be taken and I was quickly overwhelmed, bound, and thrown into a cart along with some Stormcloaks. We trundled long the road to Helgen and the Stormcloak opposite of me struck up a conversation with a wretched-looking Nord sitting next to him. The filthy Nord was Lokir of Rorikstead and he bitterly complained that if it were not for the rebellion the Legion would have not been alert enough to catch him in the act of stealing a horse. He seemed more confused than I, for I guessed where we were ultimately heading. Lokir had to have our destination explained to him and reacted quite negatively to the thought of his execution. I, on the other hand, found myself wondering if I would somehow be reborn at Red Mountain such as Dagoth Ur's minions were said to be so long ago.
As I recall Red Mountain is utterly destroyed, so that was not a rebirth I was looking forward to as I listened to Lokir panic.
To my surprise, the talkative Nord revealed that the bound and gagged man next to me was Ulfric Stormcloak himself, confirming my suspicion that the Imperial meant to kill us all. As the anxious conversation continued I learned that the head of the Legion in Skyrim, General Tullius, was already at Helgen waiting to observe the conclusion of the Stormcloak Rebellion. That a Khajiit and a horse-thief also had to die was likely not going to weigh heavily on his mind.
When we arrived at Helgen Ralof, the chatty Nord, pointed out with disgust the presence of the Thalmor, a disgust I silently shared with him even though I have had nothing to do with the group. I have heard they are apt to treat a single Khajiit as little better than a slave, though they are carefully respectful of the caravans in Skyrim. I consider them no better than the Telvanni I left behind so many years ago.
We reached our destination and were hustled out of the carts as the woman who arrested me started to call out names. As the Nords' names were called, they filed in front of the headsman, but when Lokir's name was called he protested that he was not a rebel, then ran right between the woman and another Legionnaire, his hands still bound.
The archers stationed right beside us ensured he did not make it far. And such was the end of Lokir of Rorikstead. My turn came after his and of course the woman referred to me as "the cat". To his credit, the Legionnaire to her left with the list of prisoners pointed out that I was not on it, but the woman waved aside his objection and ordered that I was to go to the block the same as the Stormcloaks. The Legionnaire apologized and assured me my remains would be sent to Elsweyr, though I cannot see the point in that.
I told them my name and walked up to the line next to Ralof. I suppose I could have run away as well and taken some arrows in the back for my trouble, but it probably would not have killed me as it did the late Lokir. Still, something inside of me argued against running away, though I do not know why as the alternative was decapitation and possible rebirth into a pool of lava.
A priestess began to deliver us our last rites, but one of the Stormcloaks complained that he had not the entire day to wait for his turn and started to walk towards the block just as an odd animal call sounded from somewhere in the mountains. He was decapitated with a single blow and once again I was beckoned by the woman in the steel armor with "Next, the cat!".
Just as I knelt in front of the block, the Stormcloaks, or perhaps just Ulfric, unveiled their secret weapon: a Dragon. A real, fire-breathing Dragon. At the time I thought it a desperate ploy in order to escape the Imperials, but now I wonder if the Stormcloaks' "capture" may have been staged so that their Dragon might kill General Tullius. Either way, the attack of their Dragon was without warning and the Imperials started to fire everything they had at the creature as it systematically began to reduce Helgen to rubble.
The blast of air or fire or whatever the Dragon used knocked me flat to the ground, but Ralouf picked me up and urged me to run to a nearby tower where Ulfric and the surviving Stormcloaks were taking shelter. Ralouf closed the door behind us and asked Ulfric if that had really been a Dragon, receiving the smug reply that "Legends don't burn down villages."
I followed Ralouf up the tower's stairs, but the Dragon blasted a hole in it, killing a Stormcloak and blocking us from going any higher. The only way we could go was through the hole and into the ruined Inn below. I, of course, was chosen as the first to make the leap so that the others could see if the Inn's floor collapsed under me.
From the Inn's second floor I could see the Dragon flying about and roaring, breathing fire everywhere. The occasional arrow or fireball lanced up from the town towards it, but the Dragon did not seem to notice.
On the ground I met the Legionnaire, Hadvar, who had protested my execution and he urged me to stay with him if I wanted to remain alive. The Stormcloaks had disappeared somewhere else, so I followed him through the town, successfully reaching the town's Keep with only a little singing of the fur. The Stormcloaks had been following a similar plan and Hadvar and Ralouf exchanged obscenities as the Dragon flew over their heads dealing death indiscriminately around us. I felt like interjecting that perhaps a later time could be found for such a conversation.
As they argued the Dragon swept down and grabbed a Legionnaire archer and dashed the poor man upon the ground, killing him. His death brought the end of the utterly stupid argument and Ralouf rushed for one portion of the Keep while Hadvar ran for the other, both for some reason expecting me to follow.
I chose to follow the Legionnaire, not feeling very comfortable joining a group that claimed control (or partial control) of a Dragon. News of that will eventually reach Cyrodiil and I believe the Stormcloaks' rebellion will not last much longer.
Once inside Hadvar cut my bindings and asked me to look around the room for equipment. We were in some sort of barracks, so a suit of Imperial leathers and an iron blade was readily available for me, despite the fit of the armor requiring some further work.
Further inside the Keep we ran into some Stormcloaks. Hadvar wanted to talk to them and try to avoid a fight, but the rebels attacked him as soon as they saw him, but the battle was a short one in Hadvar's favor. One of the Stormcloaks had a light shield which I took with me.
We proceeded deeper into the Keep, but were blocked by the collapse of a hallway following a fly-by of the Dragon. This forced us to make our way through the torture chamber/prison, the likes of which I cannot say I enjoyed. On our way we fought two more groups of Stormcloaks, one of them with the assistance of the Imperial torturer and his assistant. The torturer did not believe Hadvar's story about the Dragon and refused to evacuate the Keep. I hope it collapsed on top of him. His assistant was more accepting of such stories and followed us out of the torture chamber.
The assistant was evidently more used to his foes being restrained, for he fell in the next encounter with the Stormcloaks. This time we faced more than a few, with one group engaging the three of us in melee while a second group on the other side of the room fired arrows at us. My combat skills are certainly not what they used to be, but some of it came back reflexively as a Stormcloak soldier charged at me with a two-handed hammer. I turned aside his blow with my shield and buried my blade in his chest. I judged Hadvar and the toturer's assistant to have the melee under control and made my way, under arrow fire, towards the Stormcloak archers, killing the three of them myself, but not before the assistant caught an arrow in the throat.
Hadvar and I each claimed a bow and some arrows from our assailants and followed a cobbled path whose walls gave way from stone and mortar to the dirt and rock of a cavern. This must have been a secret escape route at some point in Helgen's history, but it did not seem to have been maintained in some time.
This was made very clear by the den of giant spiders that had taken up residence. With a Dragon now flying around I was equally loathe to waste arrows as much as I was to engage the creatures up close. Hadvar had no such qualms and waded grimly into the seething mass of creatures, forcing me to follow. A sleeping bear in the next chamber he was more willing to leave alone and we crept past it without any trouble.
After the bear: freedom! The path we were following led us to a cave entrance well-concealed by bushes. Just as we stepped outside the Stormcloaks' Dragon flew overhead, roaring while departing Helgen, its mission evidently complete with the escape of Ulfric Stormcloak.
Hadvar and I walked from Helgen to the small town of Riverwood where he had an uncle. As we walked he talked of the Legion, its future, and that I should consider joining. I nearly laughed. While I do not think the Stormcloaks have any chance of success, I also do not want to join their opponents and become a baked Khajiit. No, I will do as I have been doing since the Oblivion Crisis: take small jobs at small places and move on when my welcome starts to become over-stayed.
Riverwood is a small town near, as the name suggests, a river. There also seems to be plenty of wood for the town's lumber mill. Hadvar introduced me to his uncle, the town's blacksmith, who believed Hadvar and asked him to talk with the Jarl of Whiterun to ask for the city's protection against further Dragon attacks. I was more worried about finding work, so I excused myself and walked around a bit. At the lumber mill I exchanged some coin for a wood-cutting axe and spent a few hours chopping wood which helped to clear my mind.
While I was working a Bosmer introduced himself as Faendal and asked if I had met a man named Sven. When I asked him why that was his business he replied that the man was a Bard and was wooing a woman of the town that Faendal himself had his eyes on. He handed me a letter he wrote to make it look as though Sven was a demanding domestic partner.
The woman was Camilla, an Imperial and a sister to the owner of the 'Riverwood Trader' general store. When I entered the store I was forced to watch Camilla and her brother argue about some item that had been recently stolen from them. After I had been finally noticed they broke off their disagreement, allowing me to approach Camilla and tell her that Faendal was a complete liar. She thanked me and suggested I speak to Sven and let him know what occurred.
Her brother, Lucan, bought the wood I had chopped and explained that a golden ornament in the shape of a dragon's claw had been stolen from his shop a few nights ago. Camilla spoke up behind me and offered to show me where the claw had been taken, if I was interested in earning some coin. I agreed and the two of us walked outside.
Camilla and I went as far as the town's bridge from which she pointed out a ruined temple or hall of some sort kind and warned me that there were quite a number of bandits, and worse things, living within the place, Bleak Falls Barrow. It has been a long time since I willingly engaged a group by myself, so I am not certain I am yet up to the task, but I shall keep it in mind for the future.
I rented a room at the local Inn and found Sven playing and singing in the common room. I told him what had happened and he gratefully gave me a handful of coin as a reward. Having taken care of that, I retired for the night.
Tomorrow I will look for more work, perhaps some hunting or fishing to supplement my wood-cutting before someone starts to resent the newcomer. It has always happened before. I shall be cutting wood tomorrow, or catching fish, or hunting, yet any one of those three things is already been done by someone else. It is just a matter of time before I will have to leave Riverwood, though after what I have been through today I think a few days is not too much to ask for.