‘Next, the renegade from Cyrodiil!’
My eyes were fixed onto the headless body of one of the Stormcloak soldiers. I looked up towards the Captain, and then a dull, ethereal roar sounded. Everyone assembled gave a start, and searched the skies. There was nothing there as far as I could see…though a fleeting shadow seemed to flit out of the corner of my eye. I paid it no attention…my mind was too occupied with my impending death.
‘I said, next prisoner!’
The male soldier’s surprisingly gentle voice called out next, ‘Step up to the block, prisoner. Nice and easy.’
I walked towards the bloodstained block. My pulse was hissing in my ears, nothing around me seemed to actually be there…everything seemed transient, not quite real. The soldier was looking at me, his face stricken with a melancholy look. I probably looked as pitiful as I felt. The Captain’s booted foot was forced into my mid-back, and my knees buckled. My face was pressed into the still wet block, and I saw the axe rise. I almost shut my eyes, but then…the shadow appeared again. It drew closer with surprising speed, landing with a deafening sound onto the tower behind the headsman.
‘What in Oblivion is that?’ the General yelled.
The headsman turned, just as the beast’s mouth opened. The sound that came out tore through my senses, sending my vision blurry and weak. My ears simply seemed to stop working…until one word, uttered by one of the Stormcloak soldiers broke through.
I felt myself being pulled roughly to my feet. Ralof was there, pushing me ahead of him and into another tower. I stumbled through the entrance, almost falling flat on my face. Someone else caught me, and steadied me until I could find my bearings. I blinked rapidly, breathing shallowly through my nose. I looked around to see the Jarl, Ulfric, holding onto my shoulders.
‘Jarl Ulfric! What is that thing? Could the legends be true?’ Ralof looked utterly shell-shocked, like the rest of us.
‘Legends don’t burn villages,’ Ulfric spoke for the first time, letting go of my shoulders as I moved to lean against the wall. His stunning baritone voice was ringing with authority, and was strangely calm. Could he have had something to do with this dragon’s appearance?
There was another roar of fury from the dragon, and we all collectively stared up at the ceiling. I half expected the dragon to rip the tower to shreds at any moment.
‘We have to move, now!’ Ulfric said urgently. Ralof nodded, and looked around swiftly for a second.
‘Damn, the sword we picked up must have fallen outside…’ he groaned, ‘looks like you have to stay in binds for now, my friend.’
I twisted at the ropes, but to no avail. Ralof placed a hand on my arm to get my attention again.
‘Up through the tower, let’s go!’
I nodded, and started walking up the steep, spiralled stairs. I took each step cautiously, and felt little jumps in my chest whenever I teetered off balance because of my bound hands. Just as I was getting to the top, there was a cracking noise that almost made the hairs on the back of my neck jump right out of their pores. The wall above us exploded, and the force sent me flying back down the stairs, and into the two men behind me. I caught sight of the dragon’s gnarled, fearsome face, right before the void in the tower was filled with tongues of fire. I briefly saw within the rubble a broiled human hand, and I swallowed the rising bile.
Ralof half pulled and half dragged me up the stairs again as the smoke cleared. ‘He’s gone back for the Imperials, it seems. See that inn there?’ he pointed below us to a house that was missing half of its roof, ‘You can jump down into there. Some of the men down the stairs are injured, so we might be a little slow in following you. Gods be with you.’
‘You know, I didn’t want to take sides in this war,’ I remarked, ‘but you’ve treated me like a comrade when truthfully, I’m just a stranger…and an Imperial stranger at that. I won’t forget this.’
He smiled warmly, and watched as I took a slightly shaky leap into the house below. I landed a little harder than I meant too, and I whimpered as I ended up collapsing onto one of my legs. The cramping, throbbing pain was intense, but the adrenaline rush kept me going. I could feel the pain… but somehow, it didn’t matter anymore. Only survival mattered.
‘Haming, you need to get over here, now!’
I peeped outside, and saw the soldier from the execution beckoning a small boy over to him. The dragon meanwhile was circling overhead, dangerously low. It seemed to vanish, but then, I realised that it had flown above the inn. My blood ran cold, and I ran outside almost automatically. The dragon circled round and landed a little distance away, near a fallen man. He was still alive, and was twitching in agony. The dragon opened its mouth, and fire erupted.
‘Gods… everyone get back!’ the soldier yelled, grabbing the boy by the scruff of his neck and almost throwing him to the other man. The boy screamed something almost unintelligible. I realised, with a pang, that the man who I’d just seen killed was the boy’s father. He had been calling out for him.
The soldier seemed to notice me for the first time. ‘Still alive prisoner? Stay close to me if you want to stay that way.’
I cowered slightly as the dragon circled again. The soldier looked towards the old man who was holding onto the boy as if he were a lifeline. ‘Gunner, take care of the boy. I have to find General Tullius and join the defence.’
‘Gods guide you Hadvar!’
Hadvar took off like a shot, and I had to take leaping strides to keep up. I stumbled clumsily behind him, almost slamming into broken pillars and walls. My co-ordination was usually better than this, but with my hands tied, it was all I could do to not fall over. I vaguely heard him growling words at someone, but as we neared the Keep, I didn’t bother to dilly dally, I just kept running. I huddled by the closed door, waiting on him. He came quickly enough, and shoved it open.
We both almost tripped over one another in our haste to get inside. I was on the floor, gasping for air. My lungs burned, my eyes burned…hell, everything burned. I was feeling rightly sorry for myself, and then I looked up at Hadvar and noticed the angry red marks on his skin.
Okay, well maybe I wasn’t as burned as he was.
Small comfort, considering it felt as if my muscles were all on fire… I hoisted myself up and leaned against the wall. Gods, I was dizzy.
‘Was that really a dragon? One of the bringers of the end times?’
‘Well, I’m assuming birds in Skyrim don’t get that big, so I’m gonna say yeah. That was a dragon.’ I stated sarcastically.
He gave me a look that bordered amusement and embarrassment, ‘Come on, we’d better get moving. There’s gotta be some armour in these chests for you.’ He pulled a small dagger from his belt and slipped it under the ropes on my hands. I rubbed at the raw marks that were left on my wrists and walked over to one of the chests. There was some light armour in it, and a one handed iron sword. I glanced back at Hadvar, who was still rummaging around for something to use on his burns.
I felt my face go a little pink, and scanned the room for somewhere to change with at least an iota of privacy. There was a small nook near the door…it would have to do. I changed as quickly as I could, but Hadvar seemed to have taken the hint; he was steadily avoiding my side of the room. Smart guy.
The sword was uncomfortably light, but I supposed that it would have to do. I stepped out of the corner and faced my new partner.
‘We have to get out of Helgen. That thing is still out there.’ He went over to the gated door and pulled on the chain that was next to it. The rusty iron creaked to life and slid down noisily.
I followed him through, and we ended up in another hallway, faced with another gate. I could hear voices on the other side, a man and a woman.
‘Hear that? Stormcloaks. Maybe we can reason with them.’ Hadvar whispered.
I was doubtful, but I let him enter the room first. The woman didn’t waste any time: she raised her war hammer and charged him. He blocked her with his heavy shield and dealt a single killing blow with his sword. Meanwhile, the man was busy trying to skewer me with his greatsword. I parried him, and tried to get in closer. The thing I liked about greatswords was that they were good at keeping an enemy at a distance…and sadly that was working against me. He swung at me, and I blocked him. The weight of the sword coupled with his strength staggered me. I managed to stay on my feet, and turned swiftly away. The tip of his sword hit the ground as he was sent off balance. I took the opening and shoved the sword into his back. His scream mingled with the muffled roar of the dragon outside. He fell over limply, but I could see he was still breathing. Hadvar advanced on him, and brought his sword down on the man’s neck. Blood gushed freely, and he was stilled.
I dropped my own blade and picked up his fallen greatsword. He wasn’t going to be using it anyway.
We went through a torture room, complete with its resident torturer and a grotto filled with Stormcloaks. Now, we were faced with giant spiders. Today was really not my day. By the time the creatures were all dead, I was covered with their sticky webs. Tiny, disgusted sounds left me as I tried wiping them off.
‘Come on, we have to keep moving.’
I sighed and followed him. We crossed a narrow bridge, and I was about to move forward across a clearing when he held me back.
‘Wait, see that bear?’ he pointed to the end of the clearing, where sure enough, there was a large, snoring animal. I hadn’t even seen it. ‘I’d rather not tangle with her right now. We could sneak by her…or if you’re feeling up to it, you could try to take her down with an arrow. My aim’s not the best right now…damn burns are making my arms shake too much…’
I peered through the murky darkness and weighed my options…I wasn’t much of a good shot, but I didn’t think sneaking past her was a good idea…
I took the bow from him. I took a cleansing breath and aimed…Gods…I had to hit her, or I was betting that she would cross the distance before I could get to my sword.
‘Take your time,’ Hadvar whispered. My hands were growing colder by the second…damn it…
I released the arrow, and the bear reared, snarling in pain as it hit home. I quickly sent off another one and she rolled over onto the cave floor, writhing. Soon enough, she stopped.
‘Not the sneaking type I see. Good shooting…now let’s go, I think the way out is through here.’