Authours's note: I decided to move the events of unbound one month forward in time, the following event takes place on 17th Hearthfire (September). Oh and an imperial legion is a unit of roughly a thousand men, the imperial legion is also the organisation to which all imperial legions belong. A thousand men may seem a bit much but the roman ones were between 3.000 and 5.000.
Author's note 2: I'm thinking of moving the event back to their proper place.
Author's note 2: I'm thinking of moving the event back to their proper place.
Actius Arcturus woke up startled, he could have sworn he had heard a sound and he had been living out here in the wilderness of Skyrim long enough to know the difference between dream and reality. He got out if his blankets, the could see the first golden rays of dawn shining through the fabric of the tent. Despite being cold on this altitude it was still early autumn and in the summers the sun barely dipped beneath the horizon in Skyrim. He grabbed his dagger before peeking out. What had he heard? A roaring? Was there a bear in the camp? Now Skyrim's bears usually did not go after people. there were easier prey for them. Well he did not see any sign of a bear, nor of wolves, trolls, were wolves or anything else he knew that could make such a noise. He stopped into the tent again the get dressed and then climbed out.
He was camped a few miles away from the village of Helgen, a village that served as the lifeline of the white pass, one of only two passes that pass from Cyrodiil to Skyrim, the trade through the pass had made Helgen a rich town, in the summers when the pass was open there was little point in hunting here, to many travelers scaring of the game. But because of the altitude the white pass closed early every autumn and opened late every spring. The pass was probably already closed. Helgen and the land around it was covered in a thick layer of frost already and the pass was even further up.
Arcturus had approached Helgen hoping to sell some pelts a few days ago but had decided against it when he realised that because of the recent civil war the imperial garrison in the village had been increased massively. Even now there were almost an entire legion camped on the opposite side of the village from where Arcturus had camped. He cared little for the civil war, the rebels, these Stormcloaks hated him because he was from Cyrodiil the imperial capital province, meanwhile he had his own reasons for wanting to stay away from imperial forces. He had left Cyrodiil for a reason and though he doubted anyone in the legion would know him it was better not to risk it.
He sighed. Well he must have dream the roar after all. There was nothing out here except the now frozen over cinders from his campfire. For a moment he wished he had not been traveling alone, if he had had company then someone would have kept a watch on the fire and it would still be burning. But why wish for what was not the case. He reached into the tent again for his bow and arrows. No point in going back to sleep now, he might as well check the traps he had set the night before, at least if he kept moving he'd be warm.
It took him several hours to do so, and he had little luck, he had found a rabbit in one of the traps but that was it, he was returning to his camp, half climbing down the mountain side of one of the mountains that made up Skyrim's southern border, as he heard the sound again this time it was not in a dream. He had been focused on his footing and looked up startled. There is was,a roar unlike anything he had ever heard before, a bestial roar yet it seemed to carry words in some harsh language in it. And a sound he had heard even earlier but dismissed as gusts of wind, but no he realized was the sound of the beating of massive wings. As soon as he looked up he saw it. It was perched on top of the imperial tower i Helgen. And there was no doubt what it was. A dragon.Arcturus just stared, he had hunted every kind of creature there was and even done some moonlighting as a treasure hunter, delving deep into the ancient nord tombs of the country, but the being before him radiated power and terror in a way he had never experienced before. He was miles away from it, and yet as it roared as it attacked Helgen he left like just turning around and fleeing. Finally he got his mind together and realized that where he stood on the mountain side was totally exposed. If the dragon gave up on Helgen and came this way he was a mouse caught before an eagle. His only hope that he was to small a prey for it to bother with. He looked around himself and saw a rocky outcrop a couple of hundred yards away, he climbed over there and hid. He pulled his hid up and sat motionless. Some large animals had a hard time registering things that did not move. He sat there for what felt like hours, hearing the roaring of the dragon and the sound of battle as the imperial legion fought a dragon. Then the roaring stopped and the beating of wings grew louder and louder, he saw how everything turned dark and realized that the massive creature just passed above him. But apparently it was either not interested in him or didn't see him because then the beating faded away in the distance.
He waited a while longer and then looked up. Helgen was on fire. every building in the entire village seemed to be burning. Over half thousand people had made the town it's home. Most of an imperial legion had been defending it. Over fifteen hundred people might have perished here today. He shook his head, he had not been born when the great war had been fought but now he realized what it must have been like. He started climbing down the mountain again, when he approached his camp the sun was already on it's way down, he had not eaten anything except a few snow berries he had found while checking the traps all day, his little morning excursion had turned into an all day affair. As he approached his camp he heard voices. He covered low and started sneaking towards them. They were coming from his camp. he approached it unseen and saw three Stormcloaks with two unarmed legion members in captivity, the legionaries were not bound but one of the Stormcloaks were aiming a bow at them. the other two were ransacking Arcturus' camp, they had found his food, thrown most of his carefully maintained furs out on the cold ground.
Arcturus put his bow down on the ground, planted a few arrows in the ground and stood. He did not want to show the Stormcloaks that he had it.
"Can I help you with Something, Stormcloaks!" He called to them. Startled they span aroudn to face him. The one with the bow had taken his arrow of the prisoners but as they made a move one of the others Held a sword towards them and mumbled something and they decided not to try anything.
"What is this?" the third one tolerantly a leader, called "Another imperial? A spy perhaps?"
"I'm no spy I am a hunter and those are my things you are digging through"
"An imperial hunter in Skyrim? Well so not a spy a poacher and a thief" The leader called back "These beasts were stolen from the people of Skyrim and as Skyrim's rightful defenders we are taking them back"
"In that case we're going to have a problem" Acruturus said.
"Not really, imperial spy or imperial thief makes little difference to us, you should not be in Skyrim and you'll pay the price" The officer said and drew his sword.
"Well that changes things" Arcturus remarked.
"Well I was going to let you off with a warning but if you intend to kill me I guess I'll have to kill you first"
"Good luck" the officer commanded and then turned to his friend with the bow. "Shoot him" The Stormcloak drew up at the same time Arcturus ducked down and to the side heard the bowman's arrow fly where he had stood a moment before, scooped his own bow from ground and drew one of the arrows from the ground, in one smooth motion he turned and drew it and sent the arrow flying into the face of the Stormcloak archer who was still trying to draw his second arrow. He was dead before he hit the ground. The two stormcloaks stared but before they could react one of the imperial soldiers went for the sword of the man standing next to him. The other one turned only for the other imperial soldier to life his hand and send a fireball soaring into his face. He screamed as his clothes caught fire, the imperial who had cast the spell took the sword of the dead archer and thrust it into the back of the last struggling Stormcloak, before turning and finishing of the one he had previously set on fire.
Acturus looked at how causally this imperial had just ended the lives of two men, himself he was still trying very much not to look at the man whom he had himself killed. Arcturus was an excellent archer he had killed loads of animals in his days, he had even killed humans before, in the wilds of Skyrim one needed to know how to take care of oneself. It didn't mean he liked it. He scooped up the last of his arrows and returned them to the quiver, and then headed down the hill to his camp. The imperial who had cast the spell, taller than the other and from the style of his armour some kind of officer, also Arcturus realized an Altmer, high elf, now stood bent over his friend who was sitting down in the snow.
"No no, don't worry legate, I am fine, just abut bruised is all"
"Are you certain? Well then" The officer stood and faced Arcturus. "I believe we owe you our lives archer, you have out gratitude" He said
"Coin would be better" Arcturus replied with a grin "It's hard to spend gratitude"
"Soon, I fear, it's not going to be very easy to spend coin either in Skyrim" the Altmer replied. "You may be better of taking my gratitude. I am imperial legate Fasendil" he introduced himself. He made a motion towards his friend "This is Hadvar of Riverwood" Hadvar was a nord shorter than Fasendil and with dark blonde hair.
"I'm Actius Arcturus" Acturus replied, hesitantly. He didn't think anyone would actually know his name but to his shock Fasendil blinked as if he had recognized the name. But then the look was gone and he just nodded.
"An imperial traveling alone in Skyrim, you live a dangerous life these days Arcturus" He commented.
"More dangerous than an Altmer member of the imperial legion?" Acturus asked. Fasendil smiled thinly.
"Perhaps not" He mused. "I hate to ask this of you since you have already saved our lives but those lives will not really be safe unless I do, we require your hospitality for this night, food, the use of your fire and perhaps a few of your pelts for bedding?" Acturus opened his mouth but the legate cut him short "You aksed for coin earlier, the imperial legion will obviously compensate you richly for it"
"In that case welcome to my camp" Acrturus said with a smile. He would have preferred the imperials not to be here but the legate was apparently a very dangerous man and resisting might not really be an option. He looked over to the man called Hadvar. He had been busy collecting the corpses of the Stormcloaks. He looked to Fasendil.
"We should bury them" He said.
"We should also bury the twelve men that are dead on the other side of that hill" Fasendil nodded in the direction of Helgen "That's where they captured us" he added to Arcturus, then turned back to Hadvar "Or the several hundred men who must laying dead on the streets of Helgen, but I am afraid we simply don't have time. We need to take care of the living, the dead will have to wait." Hadvar nodded, Arcturus got a fire going and retrieved the rabbit he had caught this morning. As is cooked, Hadvar looked at it.
"I will eat anything right now because I amstarving but I swear, the smell of roasted meat will never smell right to me again." He said. "Damn Ulfric, damn him to Oblivion"
"Ulfric? Ulric Stormcloak? The jarl of Windhelm? What does he have to do with this?"
"We had captured him, were going to sentence him to death for murdering the high king, I take it you heard about that part?" Arcturus nodded so Hadvar continued "He was right on his way up to the chopping block when the dragon attacked. and in the chaos Ulfric disappeared" He shook his head "I guess it's to much to hope for that he's in the belly of the beast"
"That why there was a full legion outside Helgen? Because of Ulfric?" Arcturus asked.
"Not a full legion" Fasendil said bitterly, "the full legion" eight out of every ten men that the legion has in Skyrim, and now they are all dea, another one out of ten fell in battle to capture him, the legion has only one tenth of the strength it's supposed to have in Skyrim and it's unlikely we'll be able to bring more men or resources through the white pass before it's closed for the winter." Fasendil looked into the fire bitterly "In one fell swoop Ulfric has pretty much won the war already. If he can take Falktreth hold and hold the White pass and keep holding the Rift pass when spring comes the full might of the imperial legion will not be enough to take them from him. Meanwhile we have almost no men, almost no resources and the only pass we control to cyrodiil is frozen over to thirds of the year so we have no way of bringing more of either in." Fasendil spat. "Why didn't I just attack Riften when I had the chance, it's not like I would have lost more men there than I did today and at least might have been able to reinforce now"
"You can't blame yourself legate, no one could have known that a a dragon would show up at Helgen" Hadvar commanted.
"So most of the legion are dead?" Arcturus asked. "How about the townsfolk?"
"The legion gave their lives so that as many of them as possible would be able to flee the city. I have no idea how any actually got out" Hadvar answered.
"Did you see if the damn thing at least managed to eat Elenwen?"
"She leads the Thalmor in Skyrim, ah but she probably fled along with all the civilians, wouldn't wan to shed her blood for humans now would she? Damn elves" Fasendil muttered.
"You're an elf" Acturus pointed out.
"Yes I am, and the Thalmor gives us all a bad name" Neither Hadvar nor Arcturus commented on that. The three of them ate their rabbit in silence.
"Someone should warn Riverwood of this dragon" Hadvar commented. Riverwood was the closest town now that Helgen was destroyed, it lay at the bottom of a valley where overflow from lake Inalta formed the rapid White River heading down towards the city of Whiterun, capital of Whiterun hold, one of the nine holds of Skyrim "They may be attacked next"
"Not sure how much good a warning will do them, that thing tore through almost a thousand men like they were wet parchment." Observed but then he shook his head. "No you are right they need to know, but I must return to the Rift, with the loss of our men We'll be much harder pressed there. If the Stormcloaks push west into Falkreth"
"Not though these mountains" Arcturus interrupted him "If a significant military force could be brought through these mountains then you could have brought reinforcements from the empire, it is specifically because the high passes, the white pass from Cyrodiil and Haemar's Pass between Falkreth and the rift, are hard to travel with significant amounts of men that you are vulnerable, but it also protects you from your enemies doing the same thing"
"The Haemar's pass is lower than the white pass though, but maybe you're right. But if Whiterun hold sides with Ulfric..." This time Hadvar interrupted him.
"Not going to happen Balgruuf and Ulfric hate each other"
"I admire your sense of loyalty to your jarl, Hadvar, but Jarl Balgruuf is a pragmatic and if he sees the chance to end the war quickly he might take it even if it means siding with Ulfric" Hadvar looked a little less certain but kept shaking his head, though he did not contradict the legate this time. "As I was saying I need to return to the Rift" He turned to Arcturus "May the empire enlist your services again Arcturus? With compensation obviously"
"Depends on what services you want rendered" Arcturus replied not looking at him, instead staring into the fire. "I am not fighting in your war.
"I want you to help Hadvar to get to Riverwood, he took quite a beating when we were captured"
"I cna make that trek on my own legate!" Hadvar protested. "I grew up these parts, I know the land well there's no risk, also any imperial stragglers will be going west. You on the other hand will be going east to the Rift, where the stormcloak survivors will be going, and you don't know the land nearly as well as I do" Legate Fasendil opened his mouth to object.
"Hadvar is right legate" Arcturus interrupted him "There is no way that you're going to be able to reach the Rift though Haemar's pass, not if Ulfric is going in that direction., but there are other paths to the east. I have been living up here six years, I know these mountains pretty well" Arcturus stopped to consider, why had he just offered to get involved? Maybe he was simply tired of travelling alone. maybe he was angry at the Stormcloaks for raiding his camp, maybe it was the foul bigotry that Ulfric's followers were spouting that left him with bitter taste in his mouth every time he heard it. "If you want to have any chance of reaching the rift then you need my help" Fasendil looked at him then turned to Hadvar.
"Are you certain you can manage on your own Hadvar?"
"I grew up in Riverwood don't worry"
"Very well, I'll send someone to look for you once I reach my men"
"As you say legate" Hadvar replied.
There was little speaking for the rest of the evening. It was fortunate they needed someone to watch the fire at all times because while two people could squeeze into Arcturus' tent all three of them would not have managed to do so. Instead they took turns on the watch. Faendil took the first watch and was the to wake Hadvar who would wake Arcturus. Early in the morning however it was Fasendil who woke Arcturus, he silently commented that he wanted Hadvar who was wounded to sleep thus had taken his watch too. Arcuturus took over the watch and sat there thinking, the legate was hardly a pleasant person. He was cold, bitter and stiff, but he seemed to care about the man under his command.
When they woke next morning they quickly paked up the camp, aside from some food Hadvar took very little. if all went well he'd be down in the valleys before night hit and be much better of.
"There's a semi permanent hunter's camp down at the guardian stones stones, right on the eastern end of lake Inalata, the road pass there and I should be able to stay with them for the night, and reach Riverwood tomorrow. I know the hunters these parts, it should be no problem" He had stowed his imperial armour into his pack and cowered p the imperial insignia on his sword with some leather scraps he had borrowed from Arcturus. Not that it was really needed, last time Arcturus had been down in the camp he referred to the camp leader had been a Redguard, one of the dark skinned people from the desert lands of Hammerfell to the west, and he had been feeling very anti Stormcloak at that time. Though as Hadvar had pointed out some of the nord hunters in the camp may feel otherwise.
They said their goodbyes then Fasendil and Arcturus headed east on a small trial up the same mountain side where Acturus had sat crouching from the dragon the other day. The first two days day of marching was largely uneventful, but as they camped the second night there was a glow from above one of the nearby hills.
"What is that?" Fasendil asked Arcturus, who threw a look that way to look at what he was referring to.
"Oh probably the torches on Neugard" he said dimisevly.
"Neugard?" Fasendil asked.
"Fort Neugard, though as I understand it fort Altgard was destroyed when Tiber Septim united Tamriel so it's not particularly new"
"There's a fort up here? An imperial fort"
"Not exactly, there are the ruins of an imperial fort up here. it's been the base of bandits for decades if not centuries, they use it as a strong point from where to raid either the white pass trade route or the Haemar's pass one. They're hard to dig out you see since you can't marshal big forces up here in the mountains so a prolonged siege is basically impossible."
"Why did no one tell me it was here?"
"My guess is that the people who were stationed her before the civil war began just assumed you knew those who weren't didn't know either and so couldn't have told you. It lost most strategic importance when the keep at Helgen was built." Arcturus shrugged.
"But the keep at Helgen is no more, I'd like to take a look at that fort in the morning"
"Not much to see really, a fairly standard imperial fort, one of the walls are a bit in disrepair, filled with bandits"
"Have you ever traded with them?"
"With bandits? No way, now don't get me wrong I don't mind a skilled burglar but bandits are murderers rapists... the lowest of the low"
"So you've never been inside"
"Well actually they did raid my camp once when I was out, took my food so I kind of had to sneak in and take it back, with some interest obviously" Arcturus stopped, he had just realized he had said a lot more than he had intended too. Exactly what had he said about burglars.
"You sneaked in?" Fasendil gave him a perceptive look.
"Uh yeah I'm fairly good at sneaking" Arcturs found himself squirming slightly.
"Could you do it again?" the legate asked with a calculating look.
"Yeah I guess, but why? I would rather stay away from the place, those people are dangerous" The legate only nodded.
The next day they went up over the hill and had a look at the fort.
"How long has it been ruined" Fasendil asked Arcturus, who just shrugged.
"What am I your local historian, a century perhaps how old is... was the imperial keep at Helgen?" Arcturus asked rhetorically
"Two hundred years, one hundred and eighty three years to be exact, it was the first outpost built in Skyrim by the Mede dynasty when they took power in the empire in 4E 17" Fasnedil corrected him absent-mindedly. Arcturus blinked in surprise, and turned to look at him "No way that fort has been abandoned for that long though. I'd say at most fifty years, the far wall seems to have collapsed, but otherwise it's in excellent shape, and wit Helgen gone this is becomes the most important strategic locations in these mountains"
"One problem though Legate, you have no way of taking it, even if I sneaked in again I couldn't take out almost eighty bandits on my own. And as I said yesterday you can't siege a fort in a location like this"
"What oh sorry, Arcturus, I was just thinking out loud. We should head on to the rift" Arturus gave him a look with narrowed eyes, he was not at all certain that the legate hard really given up the idea to take this fort.
"We should head north from here to the road, we might not be able to use it, but we might as well try it
before we try something more radical."
When they about an hour later stood on an outcrop overlooking the road they could clearly see there was no way whatsoever that they could use the road. Before them sat a fairly large encampment of Stormcloaks. right on the only road leading to Haemar's pass.
"So how about those other passes?" the legate asked Arcturus.
"There are no other passes, Haemar's is the only one."
"But you said..."
"Other paths not other passes" Arcturus said slooping. He drew a deep breath. "There are tunnels, under the mountain, built by the ancient nords, most of mountains of Skyrim are riddled with them, well the ones in there mountains are connected so one can pass from one side to the other. For an example there is the Skybound watches to the north on the throat of the world, but the ones we''ll have to use are in the mountains to the east. He crouched and grabbed a stick and drew in the sand before him here's for Neugard, behind it is an entrance to the tunnel system, in the ruins of fort Altgard here in Haemar's pass in an exit, a cave called haemar's shame, and here on the far side of the mountains is a large ruin called Arcwind point" He looked up at the legate "Altgard is filled with ghosts, those who fell when Tiber Septim took the fort, Haemar's shame is filled with vampires, and and Arcwind Point is swarming with draugr. It would probably be safest to pass from Altgard to Haemar's shame, the vampires in Haemar's shame may even let us, they sometimes allow smugglers to use their tunnels in exchange for a tribute of blood, if not vampires are cowardly creatures and usually scurry away if you put up to much a fight, they want to live forever and dying kind of screws that up for them, meanwhile the draugr at arcwind point are a lot more dangerous, they can't be bargained with, nor do they retreat in fear. The upside of Arcwind Point is that it leads us all the way to the rift, while if we're unlucky the Haemar's shame exist will lead to us getting trapped in the pass by the Stormcloaks."
"So which one do we pick?"
"That is up to you, legate, I am only here as hired help"
"Haemar's shame it is then, if we meet the stormcloaks in the pass we'll just have to head for Arcwind Point from there"
They once again sneaked past fort Neugard, this time on the northern side. Arcturus found the legate standing looking down at the collapsed wall on the north side and muttering to himself, but when he gave him a quearing look he just motioned to Arcturus to keep showing the way.
It was getting dark when they finally approached the ruins of old fort Altgard. When they got closer the legate looked with surprise at the ruins.
"This wasn't built by the nords" he commented. Arturus stopped and looked at him again. "This architecture is clearly elven"
"Then maybe it's not Altgard for old but for Altmer" Arcturus said shrugging. "It makes sense why would Tiber Septim attack and burn down a nord outpost? Then again it still connects to the old nord tunnels further in, maybe the elves built their fort on top of older nord ruins? At any rate we should camp here and enter the ruins when the sun is up tomorrow. These ruins are supposedly haunted much less risk or running into anything nasty in sunlight."
"It's never sunlight where we are going" The legate pointed out.
"We have to face darkness eventually so why not walk in the sun as long as possible?"
"Very well, we camp here and continue at first light"
When Arcturus awoke the next morning he found that the legate was missing, he was just about to start tracking him down when he returned from the direction of the ruins.
"Morning legate, these are not places to go on unannounced walks"
"Sorry Acturus, I wanted to look at the ruins before we headed on, it's not Altmer, I have no idea what it might be, some sort of long forgotten type of mer, the elves who fought Ysgramor perhaps" Arcturus drew a deep breath and rose, he disliked when the legate became like this.
"What is on your mind legate, starting to agree with the Thalmor that this land rightfully belongs to the elves?" Fasendil span around, his eyes blazing.
"Never compare me to the Thalmor" He sneered. Then his face softened "On the contrary this ruin is a reminder of how much has been lost because of the pointless struggles between man and mer"
"You really hate the Thalmor don't you?" Arcturus asked him.
"More than you can imagine, perhaps more than even the Stormcloaks do." He mused, Arcturus opened his mount but the legate cut him of "One day I may even tell you why"
Arcturus nodded to accept the rebuke. Fasendil then shrugged.
"Let us pack up, I believe we have a date to keep with a place that is dark damp and cold."