Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Skyrim Day 092 - The Battle for Whiterun

23 Sun's Dusk, 4E201

I had allowed myself a rare moment of tardiness in convincing myself that my arrival at Whiterun last night was too late to call upon the Jarl. I knew my news of Ulfric's reply to Balgruuf would gain me entrance at any time of the night, but I told myself this morning would not be too late.

It was.

I awoke to the sounds of horns and shouting men beyond the city's walls and realized that Ulfric made good on his word much quicker than I anticipated. I thought he would need to rally his soldiers, gather supplies and equipment, then march on Whiterun.

Instead the Stormcloaks must have nearly marched on my heels last night, for they were arrayed around the city, catapults somehow constructed overnight, and were beginning to surround the city as I rushed to Dragonsreach.

I found the Jarl in an upstairs chamber planning the city's defense with an Imperial Legate I had not seen before. No one gave me a second glance as I ascended the staircase, so I stood to the side and listened to the Jarl and the Legate bicker. The Jarl arrogantly declared that he was not concerned with his guards, only the "Imperial milk drinkers". The Legate tartly replied that he and his men could sit the battle out if it would help...though I doubt that would have been truly possible. Whatever the case, the Jarl apologized. Stress was high.

An Imperial messenger arrived out of breath, shouting that he had arrived just as the Stormcloaks closed off the approaches into the city. The Legate ordered his advisors to see to the Legion's deployment, leaving the Jarl, the Legate, and Irileth peering at a map of the city, the latter whom excused herself a few moments later to see to the city guards.

I announced myself then, startling the two men, but the coincidental return of his axe made the Jarl chuckle, replying that he had a feeling Ulfric would provide such a reply. Anticipating it, he had sent for the Imperial Legion as I left Whiterun, making my journey necessary only to goad the Stormcloak leader into rash action. Balgruuf suggested I resume my duties as a Legionnaire and asked the Legate if he had any business for me. He curtly replied that all Legionnaires were expected to be already at the walls, so I bowed and left Dragonsreach.
Balls of fire were raining down on the city as I rushed down the stairs, but they seemed unable to damage the buildings, even with a direct impact. The villagers were in far more danger, but other than an orphan who quickly scampered into a house I saw no one on the streets who was not armed and heading for the gate.
Unfortunately I was still dressed as a commoner! I dashed into Breezehome, just about turned over the bedroom chest, and quickly armed and adorned myself with my familiar equipment. Lydia asked if I wanted her at the walls or in the house, obviously desiring the former, so I suggested she equip a bow and join the defense. Suitably equipped a minute or so later I followed her out and towards the sounds of battle outside the walls.
The first wave of Stormcloaks were laying before the rushed barricade jammed underneath the decrepit outer gate, the bodies peppered with arrows and bolts.

The Legionnaire at the crumbling battlement over the outer gate shouted that a second group was charging and everyone leapt to what remained of the walls to pick up bows left there in an effort to thin the Stormcloaks' ranks. I had forgotten the bolts for my crossbow and waited, axe in hand, to slow down any rebels that might make it past the barricade. I saw several Stormcloaks fall, one with an arrow in his side from Lydia atop the larger and stronger city wall flanking the outer gate.

More Stormcloaks came pouring down the road towards the gate and the soldiers at the walls had fewer arrows than the rebels had bodies. The took up positions behind me, swords and hammers in hand as the Stormcloaks rolled the barricade away from the gate. I would look stupid suddenly running behind the others, so I stayed in front, a Khajiit bearing the first melee for a city which did not normally let her kind enter.

What happened next is quite a blur. Many of the Stormcloaks simply ran past me to engage the Legionnaires and guards, perhaps thinking I was a member of a caravan caught in-between. So it came to be that out of thirty or so rebels I fought only two at the small stream which the city uses to dispose of its waste.
It was a terribly uncoordinated attack that fed in soldiers in threes and fours, many of them getting shot down by archers on the city wall before they passed the outer gate. Those that survived that (and ran past me) fought Legionnaires and guards standing shield-to-shield with further support from archers on the watchtowers behind them. The Stormcloaks had no chance.

Ulfric, or any Stormcloak of note, was not in the battle. Of course.

The bodies of both sides were collected for the funeral pyre and a speech given by the victorious Jarl with the ever dour Irileth standing alongside. I did not see either of them in the battle either.
The speech was as expected: praise for the bravery of the survivors of Whiterun and Sovngarde for those that did not. A nod to the Imperials was also provided in the form of the obvious prediction that Ulfric would soon attack the other cities and that we would all need to band together to finally end Skyrim's civil war.

With that everyone walked back inside the city to tend to the wounded, but a Legionnaire stopped me as I turned to enter.

It was Hadvar, equipped as a front-line "heavy" Legionnaire. He laughed when I turned to face him and joked that he had expected to find me face-down in the dirt somewhere in Skyrim. A bit insulting, perhaps, but he seemed sincerely happy to see me again. Having already run out of things to say he clapped me on the shoulder and jogged down to the outer gate to make sure no corpses had been missed.
The town was smoldering, but the fires seemed under control and I had to report back to Solitude with news of the Imperial victory.
So it was on the road once again for me.

I had just passed the ruined watchtower which Skyrim's first awakened Dragon had nearly destroyed when one of the sentries shouted "Dragon!". I had just enough time to duck as a giant gold-colored Dragon swooped low over the road, attacking someone further ahead of me.

The "someone" was a mounted Imperial detachment returning to Castle Dour and they rushed back to the tower as the Dragon swept around for another pass at them. They reached the tower just in time to save themselves, but their horses were not so lucky. The Legionnaires joined the guards in loosing arrows at the beast from atop the tower as I drew my axe. I am sure it looked stupid, such a short weapon against the Dragon, but I have suspected that they know of the Dragonborn and anticipated that they would start targeting me. In this I appear, at least, to have been correct.
Once the Dragon noticed the Khajiit standing alone on the road it ignored the watchtower and landed right next to me with a bone-shaking thud. This provided my allies an easier target, but their cheap iron-headed arrows mostly glanced off the Dragon's hard scales. As usual it was down to my hand weapon to fell such a great creature.

The strategy I have found to be effective is to concentrate on the wings first to limit its mobility, then the head. Plodding along the ground seems to wear them down very quickly.
With a grateful wave to the cheering soldiers on the tower I resumed my journey to Solitude...

..and encountered absolutely nothing else along the way, reaching the city before the gates locked for the night. I chose to not repeat the mistake I made last night and immediately reported to Castle Dour with news of the Imperial victory. As expected I found the General and the Legate still at the map table.
General Tullius congratulated me on "my" victory and promoted me to Quaestor, which I gather has no practical benefit to me. He stated that my unique skills would be wasted on the line and felt I would be more useful as a "flexible agent", which I agree with. To that end I am to report to The Pale, an L-shaped region containing Dawnstar and little else. The Legate will be on her way there tomorrow in order to take command of a raid there, one I anticipate I shall be taking part in.

Best to rest up and travel with the dawn. The sooner the Empire regains its hold on Skyrim the sooner the menace of the Dragons can be countered.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Skyrim Day 091 - Underwhelmed by Windhelm

22 Sun's Dusk, 4E201

It had not occurred to me before I accepted the axe, but there was only one Khajiit at Helgen and it was possible that Ulfric  would recognize her, which is to say myself. I spent more time last night thinking of creative (mostly magical) ways of disguising myself before realizing that the answer lay within forty Septims or so.

My plan was very simple: store all my gear at Breezehome and purchase the cheapest, most worn equipment Belethor and Ulfberth had to offer at their respective shops. This meant waiting for Belethor to stagger into his shop apparently whenever he pleases.

I decided to wait in the plaza as the town awoke around me.  The smaller merchants have stalls in the plaza square, most selling sundries I had no use for. I listened in on a conversation between a townsperson and an elderly merchant named 'Fralia' who was selling a small quantity of weaponry from the Battle-Born family forge.

The customer asked if the family had ever considered selling their wares to the Khajiit caravans, but she haughtily replied that they had enough customers as it was and did not need the help of Khajiit. A more vengeful one than I would relieve the Battle-Born of their goods, but I have no time for petty thievery...nor the skill to succeed, probably.

Distracted, I did not notice the Dunmer striding into the square until she was just about in front of me, leaning against a post holding up the overhanging roof of Belethor's shop.
She was extravagantly equipped, fully dressed in steel armor adorned with meteoric glass shaped to deflect and absorb blows. The stuff is too heavy for my liking, though I do prefer a glass blade to steel.

Obviously a mercenary, she introduced herself in typical Dunmer style: as an artist of blood painting upon the canvas of life...or something like that. I do not believe such flowerly language is appreciated by the Nords, less by a potential customer. We talked for a few moments, but it was clear to her that I was not a potential customer. Belethor unlocked his shop a few moments later, so I wished her fortune and stepped inside the shop as she nodded at me. 

Belethor had a better selection than I had been hoping for. I was looking for a farmer's canvas shirt and pants, but the man had specialized in expectation of the coming war between the Imperials and  the Stormcloaks, so I settled for a poorly-made set of fur armor into which large iron studs were set. It made me look more a bandit than impoverished wanderer, but I had to settle for what I could find.

Ulfberth was more accommodating, stocking dozens of the steel daggers Nords use a hundred times for just as many reasons every day. With the axe strung tight against my back and the dagger into my ill-fitting fur armor I set out on the road once again.

With my crossbow, bolts, weapons, armor, flasks, and ingredient pouches at Breezehome I felt very light on my feet with just a dagger, axe, and soft fur armor. I was also defenseless at range save for my magicka, but I had decided that was a last resort just in case Ulfric has agents along the roads.

That wound up not being a concern, the road between Whiterun and Windhelm was empty, I encountered only a single Sabre Cat which I bypassed with the aid of a Calm spell.
Windhelm is aptly named, the city sits on the coast north enough of the springs to receive no help against the cold coming over the sea from the north. 

The location is a bit of a mystery. Windhelm's docks are built in the shallows of the river, unlike Solitude's deepwater docks on the sea. The navigation into the river is treacherous, one can even see an old wreck nosing into the river from the city's gatehouse.

I was allowed into the city without challenge, making me suspect that my identity and arrival were already known, but Windhelm is so chaotically built that I would have had no trouble dodging the guards if it came to a chase. The twisty alleys reminded me, poorly, of Markarth's channels and chambers.

Finding the palace was easy enough, all I had to do was head in a general direction for the largest building within the walls. Again I was let inside without a single question and this was to see the leader of the rebellion! I cannot help but wonder if I would have been allowed inside if I had been wearing my Imperial gear. Perhaps I would have for all the security I have seen in the place.
The outer door opened right into the throne room, another perplexing strategic decision. It was surprisingly blue, with blue banners along the wall and ceiling facing a rough, blue carpet which led to a throne draped with blue fabric of some kind. Probably needlessly expensive.
But Ulfric was not in attendance. His steward, who readily admitted he did almost nothing, pointed me to a side-room. The door was open and the voices of several men floated out of it.
This was a meeting of the Stormcloak war council, which apparently is open to the non-Nordic public. I did not know of this. Apparently neither does General Tullius. 

Ulfric was not a very active participant, seeming to prefer to listen than speak. He looked smaller than I remembered him being and far more tired. I felt the best way to handle this situation was to play it very proper, for it could easily turn into a hostile one.

So I bowed to "War Leader Ulfric", a title which brought a wry smile to his face, and announced that I had a gift from Jarl Balgruuf. He did not move, but everyone else in the room drew blades and axes. Ulfric waved them down and asked if the gift was the axe or the dagger. In response I handed him the axe, but he handed it back immediately, telling me to inform Balgruuf that he would be entertaining visitors shortly.

A Stormcloak invasion it is then...but with what troops and hardware, I cannot tell. I have not seen one war-engine in the entire province or anything to suggest either the Imperials or Stormcloaks are capable of even battering down a simple gate. Perhaps they simply all rely on ladders.

Ulfric excused himself from the council and went into the Hall, giving orders to his steward before he was seated.
No one paid any attention to me, so I left the palace. I thought at first to immediately continue back to Whiterun. I hurried out of the gates, again unchallenged, hit the Sabre Cat outside with another Calm spell and proceeded along the road for several hours.

Again I was undisturbed, reaching Whiterun as the night's guards began their patrols. It was too late to call upon the Jarl, so I have retired to my own home and will attend to Ulfric's business tomorrow morning.