Disclaimer: Prongsdeer is the author who generated the idea for this story. She is also the author of the first 15 chapters. I'm simply taking over the story after Prongsdeer has hit a severe case of writer's block. I have gone through and put in a few of my own scenes and added and deleted other scenes. I have also edited the piece as a whole for consistency and grammatical mistakes. You can find Prongsdeer at Tumblr as marvelcapsicle and AO3 as prongsdeer or u/9139894/
I do not own Skyrim or any of its characters.
It was one of those rare days when the sky was not grey but the lightest shade of blue above Winterhold. Amongst the never-ending cold, biting wind, and snowstorms, one could only find a couple days every other month when the weather was sunny and the sun would give warmth to the skin. Only if they were lucky because weeks and months easily passed here without seeing the sun. People who spent all their lives in the north getting used to it.
Despite the cold, Freyja never liked to stay inside, between the grey stone walls of the college, not even when it was snowing hard and she couldn't feel her feet after fifteen minutes being outside. But this was the place where she needed to stay; far away from the heart of Skyrim, in the safety of the College of Winterhold.
Only four years ago the Archmage finally let her go outside on her own – before that day, she either stayed inside or needed to take someone with herself. And even if there was someone who was willing to freeze their limbs off because of her, she was not allowed to leave the small village, not even with company.
"You're wondering what did it look like before the Great Collapse, aren't you?" Tolfdir asked the old Nord mage.
Earlier on that day, when Freyja was preparing to go outside, he asked if he could go with her to collect some berries and roots – but the girl knew he just liked to keep an eye on her. They both wore nothing more than their thick, long, blue mages robes and hoods on their heads. "It was grand," he continued. "The city was gorgeous and you could think about nothing else but power and wealth. Scholars and merchants came from all over Tamriel to…"
"I heard this story a thousand times before, thanks," Freyja sighed before she turned her head away from the scenery and started to walk back towards the village. It was true that she was thinking about it a lot when she looked down at the Sea of Ghost. Seeing the ruins of the city, She wondered how could it have looked like before it collapsed. But she grew bored of listening to the same stories from the same people over and over again.
"No need to be so harsh, Freyja," the old man grumbled behind her, trying to keep up with the nimble girl on the snowy, frosty road. She furrowed her brows when she spotted not one, not two, but at least a dozen horses outside the Frozen Heart – the only inn the village.
"Stay outside!" Tolfdir said warningly. But, she was too curious to stop and listen to the mage. Besides, loud singing and cheering could mean nothing wrong…
Upon entering the inn, she was almost knocked off her feet as a young man bumped into her with the biggest tankard Freyja had ever seen. He murmured a sorry and something more with arched eyebrows as he ran his eyes down her form. His words were slurred and she couldn't understand him.
"I told you to stay outside!" Tolfdir said angrily once he finally reached her. The inn was filled with soldiers in blue uniforms – Stormcloaks, as Freyja recognized. Their loud singing echoed in the room, and they were drinking like there was no tomorrow.
"We should go back to the college," Tolfdir said, looking around with a frown on his forehead.
"I want to stay," Freyja smiled. She stopped asking long ago and all the mages knew it was impossible to convince her otherwise once she decided.
Yet still, Tolfdir tried. "Absolutely not. They are dangerous, violent men."
"I'll go back if I feel uncomfortable, I promise," she said with a sweet smile and stepped closer, so he could hear her better in the noise. "And you know I can take care of myself."
Grudgingly, the mage left the Frozen Heart, leaving Freyja to stay there in the company of the rebel soldiers. She took her hood off, letting her long, dark auburn hair fall on her back. Her hazel eyes were scanning the room, searching for a familiar face while she fought her way through the crowd. She finally spotted the owner of the inn, Dagur, who just brought up a new barrel from the basement. Freyja was sure she had never seen this man so happy before.
"What are they celebrating," she asked him loudly.
Before Dagur could give her an answer, a man with dirty blonde hair and light blue eyes stepped closer to her, talking in a loud, strained voice.
"Haven't you heard, girl? The whole north is ours now!"
Even more cheering and clapping filled the room. The noise so defining, Freyja forgot for a second it was just around a dozen soldiers and not a whole army. She chuckled before she bought herself some wine and joined the soldiers; she didn't talk with them, just listening to their stories over the next couple of hours. Only a few people lived in Winterhold, visitors were so rare – it was refreshing to see new faces around.
It was the dead of the night, and Freyja caught herself wishing she could go with them. Listening to the stories of strangers was not as fulfilling as it once was - but to live with them and experience their adventure! What a dream that would be next to her current dismal like of spending her days with her nose stuffed in a book of spells and history within the cold stone walls of the prestigious college.
She leaned back on the wooden chair, a small smile on her face, her eyes staring off into the distance. She tapped her fingers against the empty tankard, lost in her thoughts.
She was only ten years old when the Archmage brought her here, over a decade ago, and there was not a day went by she didn't think about leaving Winterhold. Going home, traveling around the Empire…
But that simply wasn't a possibility. The College of Winterhold was as much her sanctuary as it was her prison.
"What are you doing here?" the dirty blonde soldier she saw earlier pulled a chair closer to her, nearly falling into the fire as he stumbled. The alcohol had long since blunted his senses. He managed to fall into the chair with a low grunt before he turned to the girl again. "Sorry," his voice friendlier than before. "I'm Ralof."
"Freyja," she smiled, and it softened his features immediately. Under the weight of the war that roughened the lines of his face, Ralof seemed young, not much older than Freyja.
The Civil War had been going on for three years now, but it escalated quickly after the High King was killed by Ulfric Stormcloak. It happened only a couple months prior, but now it was extremely dangerous to travel. Everyone was advised to stay in the cities. Even then, it clearly wasn't safe to be in Skyrim itself.
"Young Nord girls like you usually can't be found amongst wizards."
That was true. Most northerners were afraid of magic and even despised it. The college was full of elves and orcs too; who only added to the college's unfriendly reputation. Freyja and Tolfdir were the only Nords within the Winterhold vicinity.
"That's a longs story," she said with a small smile, peering down into his empty tankard.
"We have plenty of time," Ralof said, leaning back on his chair, putting his leg up on another. "Of course, I understand if it's something you don't want to talk about."
Freyja looked around in the place. It was nearly empty now; most of the soldiers returned to their rented rooms for the night, others fell asleep in their chair. One part of her wanted to tell him all those things that happened to her ages ago, the other part of her sunk into the pit of her stomach as she remembered the bloody scene to ending her childhood.
She wondered how it would feel to finally talk about it with someone – anyone. She had never done it before.
The scene of her family's murder grew more vivid in her mind as she contemplated telling the Stormcloak the reality of her situation: her mother's screams, her younger brother choking on his own blood, the family home collapsing in on itself.
Taking a deep breath, she tapped her fingers against the tankard again before she said, "I don't."
Ralof's nodded. He clearly expected this answered. "I'm sorry for prying."
"It's alright," Freyja cut him off quickly with a small smile. "The Archmage was a good friend of my family. He took me in when I was young. I've been here ever since."
Ralof sat in silence. "This war has affected us all whether we care to admit it or not. I understand wanting to stay neutral. But, I think everyone will have a time where they will have to choose a side. I'd like to imagine that people who choose their side based on their beliefs, but I think loss is what causes most people choose their allegiances." Freyja decided it was best not to correct the soldier's assumptions of her past. It would be best for her own safety if she didn't go around spreading her sad story. Despite the Archmage's best efforts on that fateful day, it was a real possibility the murderer was still at large.
Ralof grabbed his brown leather flask from the ground and filled Freyja's tankard.
"What is this?"
"Best wine of Markarth," Ralof smiled, clicking his tankard against hers.
She felt her insides heated up immediately after the first sip. It was strong but sweet, not like those sour, cheap drinks from the north. Ralof laughed as he saw the girl eagerly emptied her tankard.
"It isn't like anything you've ever tried before, is it? I hope one day our people will learn to make something like this, too."
Freyja shrugged. "I think, for the northerners, it doesn't really matter unless it keeps them warm."
Ralof let out another short laugh, but before he could say anything more, the door of the inn burst open with a loud bang.
"Run!" the blonde man shouted to Freyja after they both jumped up from their chair. The soldiers in red armor stormed into the inn, bows, swords, and axes in hands. Her first instinct was indeed to run – but there was nowhere to go. There were at least two or three Imperials for every Stormcloaks. They were outnumbered, and as they were tired, half asleep and drunk anyway, it wasn't hard to take them down.
Freyja watched the scene with her feet frozen to the hardwood floor. She looked around Ralof caught her eyes and shouted again, "Run!" Immediately taking heed to his command, Freyja started for the door. She had barely taken a step when a strong hand closing around her upper arm.
Without thinking about it, she raised her other hand and directed it at the soldier's face. Fire emerged from her palm, burning the man's skin from his bones. He let her arm go, screaming, trying to save his own burning flesh.
Once again Freyja barely took a step towards the door when she felt a blunt, deep pain on the back of her head and everything went black.
"Freyja. Freyja, wake up," Ralof called in a choked voice, his foot brushing against hers. The first thing she noticed was the throbbing pain in her head. The small bumps and jolts of the carriage just made it worse. The second thing that she was sweating. She finally opened her eyes, trying to see through her blurry vision. There wasn't any snow – they must be far away from Winterhold.
"Finally awake," Ralof sighed. "We're almost there."
She looked down to see her wrists were tied together – it wasn't a rope but white, glowing lines hugging around her wrists, and she knew it would prevent her from doing any magic. Taking her chances, she tried anyway, but nothing happened.
"You've been knocked out for days. I tried to tell them to let you go, that you aren't one of us, but they didn't care," he said with disgust in his voice. "What does one more innocent life matter to them," he shouted, causing the driver of the carriage to turn his head back at them.
"Shut up back there!"
"Where are they taking us?" she finally asked. Her mouth was dry. It made her voice sound hoarse.
"Helgen," Ralof replied with sadness in his voice. "They're too cowardly to go to take us to the capital – too far you see. The sooner we're all dead the better. I'm surprised they didn't kill all of us right and there."
Freyja felt as all the air leave her lungs. After all these years she's finally returning home, her real home, only to take one last look at the town from the chopping block. They are going to be executed – does it really have to end like this?
"Are you okay?" Ralof asked softly as he saw the girl's tears filled eyes.
She looked up and cleared her throat, nodding slightly. "I was born in Helgen."
Ralof closed his eyes with a sigh. "I'm sorry, Freyja," then added a bit later, "At least you'll die in your hometown."
She let out a shaky breath she felt she was holding since forever – every part of her screamed. She didn't want to die. Not here, not yet, not like this…
They arrived before Freyja had time to process everything that had happened to her in such a short time. Hadn't she been in the Frozen Hearth just moments ago? No, it had been days. She state of unconsciousness in the travel between Winterhol and Helgen had left her with a warped sense of time.
Imperial soldiers dragged them down from the carriage, one by one, guiding them through the small, quiet town. Freyja heard the whispers and saw the curious eyes, and she wondered if there was anyone who knew her once. They stopped somewhere that seemed like the main square of Helgen; the headsman was already waiting for them.
She felt her heart banging against her ribs, and even now, she still felt the tiniest hope. She watched as two Imperials walked down on the row of the Stormcloaks, one of them with a parchment in his hand.
"Freyja," she looked up at the man, and she was surprised to find her voice was strong. She saw his eyes scanned through the parchment once and twice before he turned to the woman on his left.
"Captain, what should we do? She's not on the list."
The tall woman with dark skin and strict eyes looked at Freyja for a second before she said simply, "Forget the list. She was with them and she attacked our soldiers."
"That was self-defense, you fucking cowards!" Ralof shouted at Freyja's right, earning a punch in the face from the woman. He choked back a grunt and spat blood on the ground.
The Imperial captain took a last glance at the blonde man before her dark eyes stopped on Freyja; a tiny smirk tugged on the corner of her lips before she grabbed the girl's forearm. "You can be the first."
"You bitch!" Freyja heard Ralof's shout – it seemed he was a thousand miles away. Every noise was muffled while the Imperial captain dragged her to the log in the middle of the square. She took a last look at the darkening sky – it rumbled deeply like a storm was coming, even though the sun was shining only a few minutes ago. The woman forced Freyja's head down to the wood before she stepped back and waved to the executioner.
"Any last words?"
Any last words? The question echoed in Freyja's head as she turned her head to the side, trying to look up at the man in the black mask with the huge axe in his hands. She stared the shiny edge, but her eyes found something else soon in the distance.
The great black wings cast dark shadows above Helgen. For a split second, Freyja was sure she was hallucinating, or she lost her right mind. Until she heard the first screams and the shouts and then felt the heat from the dragon's fire. The execution fell into chaos within seconds.
Once again, Freyja couldn't move or think. She was frozen to her spot until she felt a hand around her arms, pulling her up on her feet.
"Come on," Ralof said, quickly cutting her magical bindings off with a knife as black as midnight. "I need to get you out of here!"
Screaming citizens were running in every way, trying to save their lives from the dragon's wrath. Freyja and Ralof tried to fight their ways through the burnings pieces of the town. The black dragon destroyed everything on its way. She could hear nothing but death and the low rumbling from the beast's chest.
They stopped under a half-collapsed house, watching as the winged beast destroyed the last pieces of her childhood. Ralof clenched his jaw. He peeked out from their shelter – Their escape was filled with stones and burning wood, closing their way out. Ralof heaved a sigh, and Freyja could tell the last pieces of his hope started to leave him.
"The Jarl's storage tower," she whispered, causing the blonde man to look up.
She grabbed his forearm and pulled him out from under the ruins, pointing her fingers at a grey tower, standing near to the main square, next to the Jarl's house. "It has a tunnel that leads out from the town."
Freyja could see as hope sparkled up in his eyes, staring at the building before he shook his head. "We'll be burnt to death before we could reach it."
"It's our only chance." Freyja rushed out into the open area of the main square. There was no cover and she could practically feel her death approaching her from all sides.
The smell of smoke and burning flesh filled the air – it was sickening. Freyja felt the intense heat pressing up against her face, even when there was no fire nearby. There was not a single building that wasn't damaged. She saw Imperial soldiers fighting, shooting their arrows at the dragon, but none of them could penetrate the dragon's skin. She saw screaming men and women, their flesh burning under their armor. Freyja wanted to stop and help, but Ralof, who had been right on her heels, gripped her tight and pulled her with him.
They reached the tower sooner than they thought they could. It wasn't a moment after when Freyja found the door was locked tight that Ralof began to kick at the door with all his might. But the door wouldn't give.
"Wait," Freyja said, pulling out two lock picks from her robe pocket. She opened the lock sooner than the soldier on her right had the time to process what she was doing. They quickly ran in, closing the door shut after themselves.
"Are those wizards taught you this?" Ralof asked, still out of breath.
"No," she replied with a tiny smile. "It's a game I use to play with my father. We should hurry."
"You're right," Ralof nodded, looking around the huge storage room. He picked up an axe, before turned to Freyja. "Choose a weapon. I had a feeling we'll need it."
Freyja picked the weapon closest to her– a sword, and followed Ralof through the dark chambers. She bit back the thoughts in her head. She'd had never used a sword before.
They could hear the dragon's rage even down there, under the town.
"How is this even possible?" Ralof asked suddenly, his voice low but filled with anger. "The legends are true?"
Freyja, who had read more books in her life than she could count, said nothing. Mages treated it like a fact, that dragons indeed existed once – Skyrim just hasn't seen any in a long time. Most of the Nords, on the other hand, thought it was only tales to scare children.
"Stop," Ralof said in a choked voice, stopping before a door. They heard voices, but it couldn't be more than two or three people.
"Maybe they will let us through…"
Ralof snorted. "If Imperials are in there, they'd rather see us eaten alive by the dragon." She closed her eyes. Seeing her so scared, Ralof stepped closer and put an arm on her shoulder. "We got another chance. I'm not going to let us die here."
Freyja nodded and let out a shaky breath. she shook her body and tried to pull herself together. They were in a good way to escape from a dragon, they couldn't get killed by some men now… She felt her legs trembling under her body as Ralof opened the door of the room.
"Well, well, well, look at you," one of the two Imperial soldiers said, his hand clutching his hilt. "I thought all of you traitors were crushed into the ground where you belong."
Ralof's grip tightened around his axe. "Let us through and no one else has to die."
The two imperials laughed in answer. "And why do you think we're afraid of you? you and that witch?"
"I've had enough of this," the other, taller Imperial said, drawing his sword and rushing towards to Ralof. He answered immediately, blocking it easily with his axe, even though the man was nearly twice of Ralof's size.
Freyja stepped backward. She wanted to help him, but she knew she'd get killed before she could even raise her arm up. They were trained soldiers, and she had never been in a fight before.
The other Imperial set his sights on her– a smirk on his lips. He swung the sword in his hand. "Come and dance, darling."
What was she doing? This sword was useless to her. It was only a hindrance. She dropped the sword down on the floor. The soldier laughed. "You're making it too easy. I love it more when a girl plays the hard to get." Disgust engulfed her. She could feel the bile rise in her throat.
Freyja reached her hands out with her palm facing with the Imperial as he ran at her with his sword held high. Her invisible shield made him halt in surprise. He swung his sword at the shield and watched as his sword bounced off it. He tried again and again, but couldn't get any closer – not until the anger made him strike down repeatedly until Freyja fell down on the cold ground, hitting the back of her head to a wooden pillar, causing her nearly lose consciousness.
"Freyja, stand up!" she heard Ralof's voice whilst he was still fighting with the other man. She tried, but the next thing she felt an arm pushing her back down the ground, the sword coming closer to her face.
she grabbed the blade just in the last moment. It split her skin open, cutting deeply into her flesh. Instinctively, she pushed magically energy into the sword. It froze and shattered into tiny pieces.
Freyja could only enjoy a second of relief before the soldier pushed her down again and put his hands around her throat, squeezing as hard as he could. She gasped for air and managed to bring her wounded hands up, clutching her fingers around the man's naked arm, burning it with her fire.
His eyes widened and he loosened his grip for a second before squeezed harder again, harder than before, roaring from the pain as Freyja burned his flesh.
Her head spun from the lack of oxygen, blood pumped bluntly in her ears. She felt her hands weakened more and more around the arms of the man above her. She was loosing. She was going to die. Freyja felt her anxiety reach a height she had never know before.
A moment before her arms would lose their grip completely, the Imperial's eyes widened in pure shock, blood leaking from his mouth before Ralof pulled a sword out of his throat and pushed him away before his body could collapse on top of her.
Freyja desperately gasped for air, shoving the deadman away from her. It almost felt like his hands were still around her neck.
Ralof sat down next to her and pulled her up. Blood colored his face, but otherwise, he looked unharmed. "Slowly," he said softly, his hands either side of her shoulders. "Slow down."
She tried to do as he said, but it still took a long minute until her breath went back to somewhat normal. She looked up then, her eyes still teary. "Thank you."
Ralof shook his head slowly. "You've never used a sword before, have you? I understand," he continued, not waiting for her answer. "But you could just go straight to melting his face off. If you don't kill them, they'll kill you. You saw the true face of the Empire earlier."
Freyja merely nodded before she tore a piece off of her robe, making a quick bandage around her wound. "We need to get out of here."
Further, into the tunnels, there were no stone walls, no torches, nor any sound except their own footsteps and ragged breaths. They both found some peculiar items down in the tunnels. Freyja managed to collect an old hunting bow and a few arrows. This made her feel much safer. She had spent many years practicing the art of the bow. It's one of the few excuses she found that would consistently get her outside. The Archmage new it was imperative that she learned to defend herself. And even though she was a talented mage, magic was a limited art. The amount of magical energy one possessed determined how long a mage could use magic for. It was always smart to have a backup plan. Or, so this was the argument she'd given the Archmage when they discussed her learning archery. So, Freyja practiced every chance she got. It became her meditation. The sport calmed her nerves and strengthened her senses as well as her arms.
Freyja gulped down the fresh air the moment she stepped out of the tunnels. It felt like it had been ages since she had stepped into the sunlight.
"My family run an inn in Riverwood. We'll go there."
Looking around, it seemed impossible that on the other side of the mountain there was a town burning down to the ground – was the dragon still there? Freyja shook her head. "I'll accompany you there but I'm heading to Whiterun. Someone needs to warn the Jarl about the Dragon attack and I'm sure Riverwood will need the aid of the Jarl with this dragon flying around."
Ralof's lips pressed together. "I'm not sure that's wise. The roads are dangerous and you're a wanted woman whether your innocent or not."
Freyja let out a hearty laugh. She could feel her stress rising as she came to the conclusion that her little adventure has not yet ended. "I'm not wanted anymore. Everyone who knows I'm affiliated with the Stormcloaks all burned today."
Rolaf searched her face. "You're taking this incredibly well for someone who's never been in combat."
Riverwood was only two hours of walk from Helgen. They didn't talk at all on the road. Everything seemed too surreal than put into words.
The small village looked quiet and peaceful; clearly, no one knew what happened a few miles away. There were people talking, working, children playing…
"Ralof!" A young, black-haired woman yelled with sparkling eyes, but her smile faded away after he turned to her and she saw blood and smoke covered his body. "What…"
"There's no time now, Frea," he said. Quickly, he turned to Freyja. "Are you sure you want to go on." Now several pairs of eyes were watching, and Freyja couldn't blame them; they were dirty, their clothes ragged and bloody.
"I'm sure. The jarl needs to be warned." But, Ralof didn't hear her. A blonde woman had stepped out from a small house into the garden. Ralof's relative, no doubt. She had the same features, her face kind, the hair blonde, the same icy blue eyes.
"Gerdur," he said almost weakly, causing his sister to turn her head to them quickly.
Freyja couldn't help but smile at their embrace, tears and mumbled words exchanged. But she couldn't stay. She had to leave. "Thank you. For everything," she said before she turned to cross the bridge and slipped away before Ralof noticed her absence.
Every once in a while, Freyja would glance across the river to view the peaceful A moment later she trotted away, and despite everything that happened in the last few hours, she felt more hopeful than ever before.