Actius Arcturus woke up startled, he rolled out of his bedroll and reached for his knife. He had heard sound, a roaring sound, he peeked out if the tent. The sun was already up, though that was hardly surprising, you did not need to go much further north to end up in the land of the midnight sun, though that would have ended a few weeks earlier. The hillside outside the tent with dew as the frost of this night had thawed when the first rays of the sun had hit it. It was only mid Last Seed, yet this far north and this far into the mountains you still had frost in during the nights. The pale pass even further up would already have mudded down, making it impossible to get a wagon through it, effectively ending its use for anything but lone traveler son foot or horseback, another few weeks and the snow would begin and the pass would close entirely.
Though seeing all this Actius could not see any beast that may have made the roaring sound he had thought he had heard, no bears, nor wolves, no trolls nor werewolves. Nor even people who might have been were wolves a few moment earlier.
Actius withdrew into the tent and started getting dressed. Even in the summers a sudden bout of bad weather could kill you if you weren't well dressed. You could for an example have a snowstorm blowing down from one of the higher peaks, Skyrim was never to warm for freak snowstorms, not even down on the plains of Whiterun far far below.
Actius stringed his bow and stepped outside pulling an arrow from the quiver, the stood entirely still as soon as he left the tent. The key to not being seen was not moving, he slowly scanned the area around him with his eyes then slowly turned his head to scan the rest of the scene. Nothing. The village of Helgen was situated down in the pass below him, some wagons rolling towards the town, from Haemar's pass in the east as far as Actius could tell, and the vast imperial encampment beyond it. The empire had brought and entire extra legion into Skyrim because of the civil war. Moving more than a thousand men plus supplies and support through the pale pass will not have improved conditions up there.
Well it appeared that he had only dreamed the roar but it was morning and he might as well check his traps. He threw a last glance down towards the imperial encampment, he was no big fan of the empire, he had grown up in the imperial capital, but had to leave there some years earlier rather hastily as he had made himself powerful enemies, but for all he feared that his troubles would catch up to him, the empire was way better than the alternative, these Stormcloaks.
Oswulf Lichbreaker, Oswulf of Valtheim woke up startled, he had been sitting sleeping on the back of the wagon, hardly a comfortable position but with his legs and hand tied he had little choice in the matter. Three days, three days had he spent almost constantly sitting on this wagon, before that one day as they had stopped in Ivarstead, and another two days from darkwater crossing before that. He glanced over to the other cart, Raolf was sitting talking to some horsethief they had picked up in Ivarstead and Uldric Stormcloak was still bound and gagged. He wondered if either of them had a plan. A week earlier he would have scoffed at the idea of Raolf having much of plan but he had grown to respect the resourcefulness of the man as they had shed blood together on the ford at darkwater crossing.
It had been just after Oswulf joined Ulfric, which was just after Ulfric had slain the old high king in single combat. Ulfric was a veteran of the great war and understood these matters, he had known that, while the legion in Skyrim was fracturing as it's members picked a side, the empire would soon send another legion into the province. As such he had moved to prevent it. He had mustered all his men, his soldiers at jarl of Windehelm, his old militia that had helped him in his war in the reach twenty years earlier, the defectors from the Skyrim legion, all these, and others, and he had taken them south to block the Rift pass, hoping that holding one one of the pass would give him the strategic advanatage he needed to keep the a numerically superior enemy force out of SKyrim long enough for winter to close the passes, and then have Skyrim consolidated before the spring reopened them. His bid had been strengthened by two things, first of the imperial garrison at for Greenwall had mutinied and turned bandit allowing Ulfric to ignore the fort as he marched south, secondly the jarl of The Rift, Laila Law-Giver had declared her support of him and sought t add her troops to his rather than oppose and delay him. But that never had a chance to happen, soon after passing Fort Greenwall a courier had arrived and informed them that as they were marching south the remenant of the Skyrim legion was marching east into the now unguarded eastmarch, heading for the hold capital, and Ulfrics own city, of Windhelm. Knowing his men would soon abandon him if he let their families die Ulfric had had no chocie but to turn he army around and march north again sending messege for jarl Laila to use her troops to hold the Rift pass as long as possible. The imperial forces must have been warned of their approach for they too turned around and made their stand at the ford at Darkwater crossing, the terrain was t their advantage being on the defensive on the far side of a ford Uldric needed to take to defend his own lands, but Ulfric outnumbered the imperial forces almost two to one. He had ordered the attack hoping ti sweep the imperial forces away with the sheer fury of his attack, but the well trained and disciplined imperial soldiers had held, Ulfric had been forced to settle for a slow battle of attrition to make his soldiers wear down the imperials. It was a good plan, simple, but the best plans often were as far as Oswulf was concerned, and it likely would have succeeded. If not for one thing that they had not known. Guessing that Ulfric would block the Rift pass the second Cyrodiil legion had marched into Skyrim not through the Rift pass which was still held by Jarl Laila, but through the much more risky pale pass in the west, in Falkreth. When they had left Windhelm Falkreth had been under the control of Jarl Dengeir of Stuhn, one of Ulfric's oldest and truest supporters, but there appeared to have been a coup in Falkreth and his nephew Siddgeir, an impeiral supporter, has overthrown his uncle and opened the pale pass to the imperials, who had marched north through the pass unhindered by nothing but the elements, and while the pale pass were really not suitable for major troop movements the empire in desperation had made it work. As such on the second day of fighting an imperial army had appeared at their back with almost twice as many men as Uldric had had to begin with. Ulfric's reminaing forces had been pushed into the river from both sides, determined to save the lives of as many of his men as possible Ulfric had told most of his forces to scatter downriver while moving his honourguard upriver, confident that the imperials would chose to concentrate on him rather than hunting down stragglers. When as many men as would get away had gotten away Ulfric had surrendered to save as many lives as possible, his hopes that a chance for rescue or escape would appear later on, though none had. Roughly a hundred men had been captured by the imperials, and now sat bound on the back on ten wagons, they had initially tried to bring them back to Cyrodiil, but jarl Laila had denied them passage through The Rift Pass, and then they had tried to use The pale pass, but it had been left so badly muddied by the their first march through it for the wagons to be able to pass through, thus they had turned back toward Helgen, which they were now approaching End of the line, thought Oswulf.
He caught a glimpse of the perfect lines of imperial tents in their camps before the passed though the gate into the town. The army had marched directly here when they had heard of Jarl laila's contunued reistance to them, deployed to hol this end of the one remaining pass to Cyrodiil at all costs. Helgen was the largest town in Falkreth hold, yes the village of Falkreth, far to the west, was the capital of the hold but Helgen had almost five hundred people living in it, while Falkreth had about half that and had kept shrinking ever since the empire lost Hamerfell, and thus the passes to the west had lost most of their economic and strategic importance. The pale pass was not nearly as wide as the rift pass but it still served individual merchants well enough, at least during the height of summer.
The dirt roads of Helgen were lined with imperial soldiers on both sides, ever watchful for any attempt by the crowd beyond them to attempt to free the rebels. Oswuld wondered if any soldiers came from his own ancestral lands of Valtheim, what news they would in that case bring back to his father and elder brother.
He realized that now there seemed to be even more people here than the usual population, not just imperial soldiers but also people who looked like they were refugees from other parts of Skyrim, probably displaced by the war. Oswuld shook his head it was ok for the foreigners but many of these were nords, abandonind their homeland rather than fighting for it, disgraceful. But not all of them were nords, he saw two darskinned redgards from Hammerfell, their strange scarfs wrapped around their necks and long curved swords at their belt stood and watched the wagons pass with little if no intrest. And another group, standing just north of the Helgen keep, who could be Bretons but more likely were Reachmen, the now almost extinct aboriginal people of Skyrim's westernmost hold, known simply as The Reach. Some of the reachmen were avoiding to look at the wagons as they passed, but most of them glared with such feverent hatred at Ulfric that it almost caused Oswuld concern, they certainly looked like they would like to tear Ulfric apart with their bare hands. Oswulf could not understand their hatred of him, twentyfive years ago the Reachmen had risen up in the reach and for two years had reigned it in terror, summonin daedra practicing foul rites and butchering every nord they could get their hands on, then after th great war ended Uldric and his militia had defeated them, but Ulfric ever magnanimous has spared all who would accept to live in peace with the nords, a gracious offer after how they had treated nords under their rule, yet most reachmen had refused disappearing into the hills of their homelands and becoming the foresworn , barbarians and bandits and murders who raided outlying nord farms and trade caravans. All Ulfric had ever done to them was end their reign of terror yet they still harboured such hatred for him. Oswulf put it from his mind, the Reachmen, like the somewhat more civilized Bretons, were part elves, their kind could not be expected to act like true humans, hatred for mankind simply ran in their blood, passed down from those of their ancestors, the elves who had resisted humanity's first push into Tamriel. Who had a sacked the first human settlement on the continent, Saarthal, during the infamous night of tears, and butchered the entire population. Aside from Ysgramor who had returned to altmora and gathered his five hundred companions to revenge themselves upon the elves for this unwarranted act of aggression. Speakign of elves he could even spy a an altmer,a high elf, wearing imperial officers uniform. Disgraceful, the almter were the ancestral enemy of the empire now they were commanding it's soldiers.
The wagons had turned around the keep and a few houses right next to it and then rolled unto a big plaze just south of it. There they stopped. In the middle of the plaza was a platform upon which stood a block and a headsman. Oswulf kept his face controlled, he had known this was probably where it was going to end. He was the younger son of a noble house, he had always known he would not die of old age but die bringing glory to his family, he would have preferred it to be on the battlefield, but standing up for Talos, the hero god of man, against the empire, that Talos had created but who had fallen under the influence of elves and rejected the very god hero who created it, would have to be enough. No point in complaining about what the gods had in stores for them. Talos had alfter all become one with Lorkhan the god who had created man, who was also the missing god Shor, who was the ruler of the afterlife home of the brave, Sovrngard, so standing up for Talos would have to count for something with the lord of the afterlife.
As the wagons were being emptied legate Fasendil, were overlooking his troops formation, granted these were not really his troops, his own troops had been left in the Rift, but these were troops he had been assigned command of. he chanced a glance up hill. General Tullius, the imperial commander of the empire's forces in Skyrim was talking to one of the Thalmor, one of his fellow Almter, high elves, but not like him. The Thalmor were the ruling body of the Aldmeri dominion, the other power of Tamriel from the Cyrodiilic emprire which Fasendil served. The Thalmor were elven supremecists, they believed that man was inferior to mer, or elves as the human caleld them, and that non pureblooded elves such as the Bosmer, wood elves, Dunmer, dark elves, or Orsimer, orcs were inferior to pure blooded elves which is what they regarded thr Altmer as. Though of if they hated one thing more than lowborn elves and men, it was altmer like Fasendil who they felt betrayed their kind.
The dominion and the empire has fought a massive war only some twenty five years earlier, a war the aldmeri had starteed and a war that had ended with a victory for them, as part of this war the worship of Talos, who was once Tiber Septim, the founder of the empire, ascended to godhood, had been outlawed, under pain of death, initially the empire had been charged with upholding that law but when they Thalmor realized that the empire were intentionally doing a shoddy job of it they had demanded to be allowed to police it themselves. As such Thalmor agents now policed all of the Cyrociilic empire, looking for worshippers of Talos, elven defectors, and other undesirables. It was one of the leading causes of the current civil war in Skyrim.
The Thalmor Tullius was talking to wasn't any Thalmor either, it was Elenwen, the commander of the Thalmor forces in Cyrodiil. Fasendil edged closer to hear what they were saying,.
"Your Emperor will hear of this. By the terms of the White-Gold Concordat, I operate with full Imperial authority!" Elenwen snarled at the general
"I already told you, ambassador, that your authority is strictly restricted to enforcing the terms of the white gold concordat, Ulfric Stormcloak is here to be sentenced for treason and murder, neither crime which falls under the jurisdiction of the Thalmor"
"Ulfric Stormcloak is a self confessed Talos worshipper..."
"Yes, a fact for which you held him in prison for over twenty years! If you were so certain he was unrepentant then why did you let him go? I am sorry but the Thalmor has already let Ulfric Stormcloak slip through their fingers once with disastrous consequences, I will not permit that to happen again"
"You're making a terrible mistake" Elenwen informed him coldly. the general just ignored her, her rod past her and then saw Fasendil.
"Yes general!" Fasendil replied quickly
"You know better than to eavesdrop on the conversations of your superiors"
"I am sorry general, it won't happen again"
"See that it don't"
"Yes general" the general nodded and made a missive motion with his hand. "General?" Fasendil called his attention again. Tullius looked at him with eyebrows raised in surprise.
"Yes legate?" he replied with a mix of amusement and irritation in his voice.
"You did the right thing, if you had turned over Ulfric to the Thalmor he'd be back in Windhelm this time tomorrow" Fasendil noted. General Tullius game him an apraising look, then nodded once aknoledging that he had heard the leggate but not commenting further on his statement and then rode over to the wagons and dismounted.
Actius was climbing down a steep hillside carrying two rabbit that he has snared. He was king of glad he hadn't gotten anything bigger, he would already have to change his original plan to sell pelts and furs in Helgen, with the imperial presence there it simply wasn't worth the risk. It was unlikely that anyone down there would know him but why risk it at all? No he would head west to Falkreth, he would get less for his pelts there, but there was no helping that.
It was then that he heard the sound again, the same sound that had awoken him that very morning. A roar, so loud that it made the roar of an angry giant seem like a whisper and seemed to fray on the fabric of reality itself.
He dropped down into a crouch, he was far to exposed on the hillside like this but there was no helping it, moving would only make him more visible. He scanned the landscape for the origin of the sound and then he found in sweeping down from one of the lower mountains of the side of the throat of the world, the highest mountain in all of tamriel, was a flying shape, and by how far it was from Actius and how big it looked from here it he concluded that it was immense. He had once seen one of the gargoyles that vampires sometimes use to protect their stronghold, this thing had wings too but there the similarities ended. This was not a gargoyle, it could only really be one thing. A dragon, and it was heading directly for Helgen.
Oswulf looked up at the sudden sound. What was that, it sounded distant yet it echoed of the surrounding mountains in a way that suggested it was incredibly loud. There also seemed to be something odd about it, it was a roar yet it seemed it carried words in some strange language. The imperials had just chopped of the head of one of Ulfric's officers now everyone had stopped and looked around themselves in fear.
"What was that!" the imperial captain shouted.
"Forget the rest! Ulfric is the important one!" General Tullius commanded. He looked to the captain who was still watching the skies "Captain! Do as you are told!" The captain jumped as if startled, looked and him then tooka depp breath and collected herself. "You heard the man, Get Ulfric Stormcloak up here!" Two men grabbed Ulfric and started dragging him towards the platform and the headsman, Oswulf knew he neede dot do something, he charge the closest of the men despite his hand being bound. He could see Raolf doing the same thing on the other side, for a few moments there were struggle but then the guard that Oswulf had attacked got his shield arm free and bashed Oswulf sending him flying down into the mud. Oswulf lay on the groudn panting as he heard the other guard know down Raolf, he started struggling to his feet despite his mouth tasting of blood, he could not allow them to kill Ulfric. But getting to his feet with his hands bound was harder than he thought and he fell over again. Then he heard the sound again, much much loser and much much louder then before.
"What in Oblivion is that!" He heard general Tullius shout. Then more roaring then the sound of fire, words being drawn, and crossbows beign fired. He felt soemone tug at him. And flipped him over, it was Raolf he had gotted his hand free soemhow and he had a knife, he cut Oswulf's hands free.
"I would appear that the gods have given us another chance, let's not waste it!" He called to Oswulf as he puleld him to his feet. Oswulf got up and what faced him was the scene from a nightmare, perched on top of the main keep in Helgen sat a black dragon, so massive that it made the walls of the keep crack under it's sheer weight. Oswuld just stared it at but Raolf tugged at him.
"Let's go!" he roared. Oswulf caught his senses and started running after Raolf towards one of the lesser towers, he threw a glance backward seeing the dragon throwing itself into a formation of imperial crossbowmen crushing a dozen of them under it's sheer bulk and then with claws tail and wings sending the rest flying some even being thrown over the wall. More than fifty people wiped out in an instant. All around him the townsfolk were fleeing while the imperial legionaries seemed to be of two minds, some joined the in their flight but a remarkable lot did what Oswulf wasn't sure he could have brought himself to do, they moved to stop the dragon. Some just charged some took pot shots with their bows or crossbows others locked shields to forma wall between the dragon and the fleeing townsfolk. Yet others were hurling throwing spears and javelins at it. Oswulf had seen the imperial legion in combat at darkwater crossing, but it wasn't until now he really realized just how impressive a fighting machine the imperial legion really was. Likely they were all going to die, yet only handful in almost a thousand men deserted the others did what they were ordered to do and turned to face this being out of a nightmare. He reached the door of the tower and ducked inside. Ulfric was there and to Oswulf's relief he was uninjured. Uldric had gotten rid of the gag and was now speakign to Raolf.
"Legends don't burn down villages" he told Raolf. He turned to Oswulf "I see you are still with us Lichbreaker" he said with a wide smile. "You may claim that your reputation is unwarranted but I am beginning to think that you are indeed everything it promises you would be, assaulting an imperial legion with you hands tied certainly is a new watermark".
"Those people out there" he panted "Jarl Ulfric, we got to help them!"
"There is nothing we can do for them that the legion is not already doing, we got to make sure that whether the dragon or the legion wins we are no longer here when they do"
"You ahve th thu'um!"
"As do that dragon, listen to it's roars, can you not hear the words upon it? That it the Thu'um and on a level beyond anything I can do." Jarl Ulfric listened and then seemed to grow pale "Besides if what it is saying is true..."
"What is it saying Jarl Ulfric?" Raolf asked, clearly perplexed by the idea of the dragon saying anything.
"'It refers to itself as Alduin"
The smoke from Helgen made Actius choke, the smell of burning wood, stone and flesh. The dragon had attacked the town detroyed it and most of the imperial legion stationed around it. then it had rampaged through the ruins for a good hour as if intent on not leaving a single stone upon one another before finally taking of. Actius hadn't been born when the great war ended, he had never seen destruction on this scale before, probably around a thousand people wiped out in less than the span of three hours. Growing up he had seen a certain look in the eyes of the older generation, those who had witnessed the war, he now knew he would forever be marked by that look too. After the dragon had left Actius had sat on his spot on the hillside for a considerable amount of time fearing that if he moved the dragon might come back, it was an irrational fear of course but seeing destruction on this scale was a very good invoker or irrational fears.
As Actius approached his camp site he heard voices, someone was there, he crouched low and saw three stormcloak soldiers, two swordsmen and an archer, with two imperial prisoners, one of them clearly wounded, ransacking his camp, his precious furs scattered in the mud. They were probably looking for food. Actius stood and called out to them.
"Is there something I can help you with Stormcloaks!" He called a edge to his voice "Those are my things you are looting" the stormcloaks span around in chock and gawked at him.
"Who's there!" one of them called out, one of the ones with sword and shield "Come forward so we can see you" this one was obliviously the leader. Actius stepped a bit closer.
"An imperial spy!" the leader of the stormcloaks said when they got a better look at Actius. The archer aimed his bow at Actius, he kept it drawn as he aimed, clearly the bow and arrow was not his usual weapon. Only amateurs aimed with a drawn bow if held that way for long his arm would stiffen and his aim would suffer as a result.
"Hardly, just a hunter"
"Is that so? You're one of Jarl Sidgeirs hunters? Well Sidgeir had taken the side of the imperials against Skyrim so that again means you are an imperial spy"
"I am not with the jarl"
"Oh I see so not an imperial spy then, an imperial thief and poacher. These beasts belong to the people of Skyrim, you had no right to take them we, we are the true sons of skyrim and we are taking them back"
"So what you're saying I should just walk away and let you take what you want"
"Who said anything about letting you walk away imperial?" the leader replied and made a motion toward the archer whe drew the bow even further, Actius was not particularly scared, he was a considerable distance away still and the man had clearly overdrawn not to mention he seemed to be a louse archer at best. "There are enough imperials in slyrim as is, it matters little if you are a spy or a thief I am a lot more confortable if you're not sneaking around in these hills"
"Is that so? Well that changes things" Actium replied coldly taking several deep breaths and preparing.
"That means this is self defence" Actius shouted and drew and shot an arrow while taking a step to the side. Not that he really needed to take that step, the arrow of the stormcloak archer was no where near ether him or where he had been, in return Actius' arrow punched straight into the neck of the stormcloak archer. He fell slumping to the ground as the force of the impact broke his neck and killed him instantly. The stormcloaks reacted, brandishing his sword the leader charged Actius who relaized he would not have time to get another arrow of, atleast not if he wanted any hope of defending himself if he missed, he thre the bow and quiver and drew his long knife, while the same size as a small shortsword the knife was more of a tool than it was a weapon. Behind the stormcloak leader the other stormcloak took a few steps forward not knowing if he should follow his leader in the charge of keep watch on his prosinder. Truth be told either would have worked, but this half measure left his back exposed to the unhurt prisoner who quickly took a step in behind him drew the belt knife of the stomcloak and buried it in his back. Meanwhile the officer reached Actius who did a dance of desperate parries and dodges. He would have prefered to shoot all three stormcloak soldiers before they even saw him but he wasn't really all that comfortable with shooting people to begin with never mind assassinating three people in cold blood. Actius made a little to ambitious a dodge and found himself falling backwards, the stormcloak leader stepped forward sword raised and a grin of furious triumph on his face he swung downwards only for his blade to be parried. The imperial soldier, actually impeiral officer, Actius realized, had taken the sword of the stormcloak he had backstabbed and ran face the remaining stormcloak. After parrying the blow he did a twist of the blade forcing the stormcloak backwards, and himself stepping in front of Actius. Actius scrambled to his feet in time to see the end of the duel. The stormcloak was clearly outmatched, during his youth in the imperial capital Actius had once seen a show fight between two swordmasters, this was nothing like it, the imperial officer did not have that kind of training, but he was a professional with a lot of training and experience, the best that could be said for his opponent was that he was brave. After being pushed back a dozen steps he launched into a frenzy of attacks but each was parried if not with ease then with a meticulous efficiency, the stormcloak grew more tired with every strike he attempted, finally he missed altogether as the imperial officer simply took a step tot he side, his miss left him open and the imperial officer grabbed his sword with both hands and ran it straight through his opponents chest. The imperial officer stood there frozen with this sword in the gut of his enemy for a few heartbeats then he released the sword and the stormcloak collapsed on the ground. Ignoring Actius he picked up the blade the stormcloak leader had dropped and turned and walked back to the stormcloak he had stabbed in the back ealier, actius followed him. The man was still alive.
"Please" he choacked as the imperial officer came up to him "Please no, I don't want to die" Actius realized that the stormcloak was little more than a boy, probably not even twenty years old, some of the stormcloaks were been defectors from the imperial legion, this boy clearly wasn't one of them.
"You are dead already" The imperial officer said with a careful exact pronunciation. "You will slowly drown in your own blood, the only thing I can do for you, is a quick death" he said raising the blade.
"Damn you elf" the stormcloak spat "And then as the blade came down he whimped "Mother" before the blade ended his life. Again the imperial officer stood frozen for a moment before releasing his grip on the sword and straightening himself. Actius realized he was looking to see the life leave the eyes of his opponent. Though he could not really say why anyone would willingly do that.
Finally the imperial officer turned to him and took his helmet of. Actius was surprised, the man who stood before him was not a man at all, he was an elf, and altmer, high elf. Actius had heard the now dead stormcloak call the imperial an elf but his mind had not realy registered it before he saw his face. His skin was a pale golden colour just like most altmer, his eyes were slated almond shapes and a bright yellow, and he had long blonde hair slicked back from a rather
"I thank you for your aid citizen" he said slightly reclining his head in what might have been a small bow or a curt nod. Actius shrugged.
"You did most of it yourself" he pointed out.
"But you gave me the opportunity. "Though as you said yourself it was self defence" he turned toward his wounded companion.
"Unlike what you did" Actius said before he could stop himself, the elf glanced back at him.
"Yes... unlike what I did" he said with a rueful smile. "I am a soldier, I go where the empire says I should go and i kill who the emprie says I should kill, it has been like that for a long time now" Actius felt a bit ashamed with himself, this man had just saved his life. The elf kneeled beside his friend and talked to him. The other imperial was a nord, with long dark blonde hair, clean shaven like most imperial soldiers.
"How are you feeling soldier?"
"I'm all right legate" the solider replied.
"You're not all right you took a really bad beating back there"
"Don't worry I'll be up as soon as the world stops spinning long enough for me to stand up without throwing up" the legate nodded then looked at Actium.
"My friend is pretty badly bruised, we'll need to trespass upon your hospitality a little further" Actius didn't like the idea at all, but then again it wasn't really a request.
"Sure, as long as you need" He said trying to feign actual entusiasm. The legate nodded.
"I am legate Fasendil of the second legion of the imperial army"
"Actius Arcturus, self employed" Actius said with a faint smile.
"Poacher" Fasendil translated.
"I keep getting that comment today" Actius grinned.
"Can't imagine why" the imperial soldier on the ground chuckled. "I am Hadvar of Riverwood" he introduced himself.
"But several of our patrols have not returned yet my lord" the stormcloak scout unformed him. Oswulf Lichbreaker made an irritated grimace. Having to explain himself to this commoner! Ulric was a great leader but the organisation of his forces left quite a lot to be desired.
"If they are still alive they'll have to catch up with us" he explained and then repeated his order "we march for Haemar's pass immedeatly"
After having escaped Helgen they had gathered their forces east of town, Ulfric and ten men of his bodyguard tgey had managed to find horses for a d they had ridden immedeatly for Windhelm. They could not permit their leader to be captured again. Ulfric had left Oswulf in charge of gathering up the survivors. He had managed to gather up about half of the roughly hundred men that the imperial had been shipping to Helgen for execution. Any who had not yet been found he was fairly confident would not be found either. He had even had small parties out harrying the surviving imperial and trying to rescue any remaining prisoners, not tenting salvaging for supplies amongst the ruins. What the scout said was right two such groups, a total.of ten men, had yet to return but again Oswulf was relativly certain that they would not return either. It was a gamble he had made he had known some would not return when he sent them out, but because he had the imperial would take longer to regroup their survivors,not to mention his scouts had killed more than twice their numbers in imperial stragglers. And secured supplies they would need for their march east. It was a sucessor even haven lost almost a fifth of his men to it. Of course none had been more effective at it than Ulfric himself who had returned from his first and only sortie with a dozen horses.
"My lord" the scout began. Oswulf sighed.
"What is it now?" He asked. The scout pointed towards a bruised man who had just returned. Oswulf turned to him.
"Report?" He demanded. The man was an old soldier probably a veteran from the great war. Someone who had himself been part of the imperial army until almost half of the Skyrim legion had defected at the onset of the civil war. The veterans always liked when proper military terms were used. The scout saluted.
"I am the only one returning from my group sir" he informed Oswulf.
"How come?" Oswulf asked.
"We found one if the thalmor sir, cost us three men in the fighting and the last one died of his wound on the way back. But that thalmor won't be dragging anyone's family of to be tortured ever again" Oswulf nodded, four men for one of the Thalmor was a good exchange. Granted Ulfric had told him not to waste men on trying to fight the Thalmor, but the deed was done chastising the man for having killed one of those elven butchers would only make Oswulf's men angry.
"You did well soldier" he is teas told him. "Get those wound seen to and get a ride on one of the wagons. We are leaving"
"What about the last group sir" the younger scout asked again. Oswulf turned to his older comrade. "You've been out there,what are the odds of then still being alive?"
"The legion is actually starting to muster quite large groups of stragglers, this was Jermund's group? The one who went west?" Oswulf nodded. "They are dead sir, I saw Tullius ride west at the head of a larger force than we had here and a dozen thalmor was marching that way too. Fortunately for us, unfortunatly for Jermund,they all seems to be going either north west toward Riverwood or directly west towards Falkreth. If we head east now we should be able to put a stopper in Haemund's pass and prevent them from pushing it to he rift."
Oswulf nodded,it was almost word for word what Ulfric had predicted they would do,and concluded that they themselves should do as a response.
"What is your name soldier?"
"Well Herman for sucess in the battle against the thalmor I am promoting you to sergeant and placing as my second in command" replacing the whelp who kept questioning him Oswulf concluded with satisfaction.But it was also a move well liked by the men. Rewarding bravery was always popular either the men. "See to that we get moving" the veteran saluted and then turned and started giving orders and very soon the preparations were underway. After someone was looking at Herman's wounds he told his comander "sir I really don't deserve the promotion, I wanted to avoid the thalmor, it was the others who were brave"
"Wanting to avoid a mere five on one odds against a thalmor makes you smart not cowardly"
"All I did was surviving"
"That's all I did to earn the nickname lichbreaker" Oswulf told him with a bitter smile. "You have seen the world sergeant, this is how things go, it is good for the morale for the men to think it isn't but it's not the reality of things, who dies and who comes back is as much luck as it is skill"
Actius wasn't sure how he felt about the way the rabbit roasting above the fire smelled, while he was undoubtably hungry it also reminded him of the smell that still were carried down from Helgen whenever there was a gust of wind, the smell of burning flesh, not roasting rabbit but roasted people. He looked at his companions, they were undoubtedly feeling the same way.
Actius had spent what had remained of his afternoon tending to the wounded Hadvar, while Fasendil had removed anything valuable from the bodies of the dead stormcloaks and dragged the bodies away from the campp, wouldnät do for them to draw scavengers to the camp. When he had been finished he had taken over keeping an eye on their friend, who was no looking a lot better, while Actius has skinned and cooked the rabits he had caught that morning.
They ate in silence, every one of them lost in their own thoughts. When they had finished the legate looked up at Hadvar.
"How are you feeling now soldier?" He asked him.
"Much better sir" the nord answered.
"Well enough to travel in the morning?" The legate pushed. The soldier shrugged.
"Depends on where, if you're planning on returning to the rift... I don't think I'll be climbing up an down a mountain in the next week"
"I can't wait a week for you, I can't even spare the time to bring you to safety" the legate said with a sigh
"If I may offer a solution legate" Hadvar interjected, the legate looked at him then nodded.
"I have family in Riverwood, I could go there, I could make it there on my own, rest up and then head on to Solitude, it would also let me make sure they are allright"
"Are you certain you can make it to Riverwood on your own?"
"I grew up in these parts sir, I know them like the back of my hand, I just follow the road north and it'll take me to the lakeview hunterscamp, I can spend the first night there I know some of the hunters who live there well, and then I should be able to reach Riverwood the next day"
"That'll leave me free to go to the Rift" He paused "I'll need a guide through these mountains though" He looked up at Actius "The imperial legion would obviously compensate you well for your help."
"You live in these mountains, I dare say you know the way to Haemar's pass?"
"Yes... I do..." Actius stopped and though about it, he did know these mountains very well.
"And you are also a experienced woodsman and mountaineer, the Stormcloaks will mostly have withdrawn east, if I am to avoid them I could really use your help" Actius nodded, knowing the terrain avoiding the Stormcloaks would not be easy.
"They are already ahead of us, they'll likely reach and shut Haemar's pass before we get there"
"So you're saying there is no way to get into the Rift?" Actius smiled.
"There are very few places I can't get in to if I want to legate" he said. "I could probalby sneak right though their camp if I needed to, steal the food of the plate of their commander as I did so, no the problem is getting you past"
"So you will do it?"
Actius stopped and thought, when had he decided to do it? He didn't want anything more than necessary to do with these imperials, it left him as considerable risk to keep dealing with them, but he also could not stop himself from considering the possibilities on how to get into the rift. Damn it this is always how I end up getting into trouble. He chided himself silently.
"I will do it, we'll keep of the road, see how far they have gotten, if getting you past them is not an option then there are other paths through these mountains, if one is travelling on foot and knows where to look. He looked at his camp, he'd have to abandon most of his furs and pelts though. Or atleast find somewhere to stash them..."
"I can bring your things to the lakeview camp, they'll hold on to them for you" Hadvar told him Actius looked up at him, that was a much better solution
"Can you carry them? You are wounded"
"It's all down hill there should be no problem, I might even meet some more imperial survivors along the way to give me a hand."
"Then it's settled" the legate said "Hadvar take the things you don't need for this trip to the Lakeview camp where they'll keep them for you, meanwhile you and I go east to the rift"
"Nothing is settled legate" Actius objected "You said I would be compensated, what kind of compensation are we taking here"
"five hundred septims if you can get me to the western rift inside of a week, lus I may decide to do something about your criminal records"
"I don't have a criminal record" Actius objected hurridly, the legate gave him a stern look.
"No then why does someone, who by the accent comes from the imperial capital, live alone in the Jerall mountains? Almost like he is running from something. And in my experience that something is usually the law" Actius decided it was best to change subject."Ok ok you got youserself a deal"