42

The entire room seemed to explode into shouts and cries of surprise and disbelief, like a whirlwind erupting over my head. Everyone was shouting at once, the villagers and the warriors combined, and I could hear only snatches of voices amidst the chaos. Anjolnr looked at me in abject shock, and his warriors seemed unsure of what to do. I returned their distrustful gaze without flinching.

"Silence!" Skjoldr bellowed, standing up, and the babble of voices died down. He glared at me and said, "That's impossible, you can't be the daughter of the Snow Wolf. She was sent to prison after the rebellion."

"I was sent to prison," I confirmed, "and I spent four long years there. But I am Snow-Crown's daughter, and that means that I am the only person in this room who has any right to talk about waging war against the Legion."

"Prove it!" Anjolnr blurted out. "You expect us to believe such ridiculous nonsense? You claim to be Orden Snow-Crown's daughter, then give us some proof!"

In one fluid motion, I swung my arm down, snatched my remaining knife from the top of my boot, and then hurled the blade through the air. It whistled within inches of Anjolnr's face and struck the wooden pillar right behind him with a loud crack. His men flinched in surprise and fumbled for their weapons, but none of them drew.

"Do you want more proof? I could have put that knife right between your eyes if I had wanted to," I snapped violently. "Have you forgotten that I challenged one of your men and how easily I defeated him? Everyone in this room knows what I am capable of. Is there anyone here who would doubt me?"

No one said anything. Anjolnr lifted his hand to his face, his eyes wide with shock, feeling to make sure the blade hadn't cut half his face off. One of his men tentatively reached up to pull the blade out of the pillar, but it was stuck too far. He had to pull with all his strength to yank the blade from the wood.

I turned slowly, studying the faces around me. Most of them looked confused, worried, or scared, but I caught the look of understanding in some of their eyes. A few of the older Nords returned my gaze knowingly, perhaps seeing in me what they had heard about my father all those years ago. Or maybe they just were willing to believe.

My father's war against the Legion and the Imperial Throne started before I was born. For years, the Legion had moved repeatedly into Nord territory along the Skyrim/Cyrodiil border, sometimes justifying their expansion into Nord land by claiming the need for increased patrols to deter criminal activity. But too often, they instigated violence and then increased their presence in order to combat such resistance.

The High King of Skyrim, Gonthmun, was at the mercy of the ruling Jarls, and could not establish enough control to provide a united front against the Imperials. The Imperial Throne was forever at odds with the High King, and the infighting amongst the Jarls made it easy for the Imperial Throne to enforce its position. The sad truth of the matter was that the inability of the High King and the Jarls to properly govern Skyrim's borders was what led to the border skirmishes in the first place. But the cause of the conflict was less important than the effect.

Legion outposts were attacked and vandalized, and in return, rogue Legion troops, or possibly even hired criminals, burned down Nord villages. Innocent people died, and the beginning of the rebellion was begun. And at the center of that rebellion was my father.

My mother died when I was just a baby, so my father raised me himself, teaching me how to use a sword and throw a knife. He raised me to fight beside him, and that's what I did for most of my youth. After years of growing resistance and rebellion against the Legion, my father became known among the Nords as the Snow Wolf, and the Legion placed a hefty price on his head to no avail.

My father's ultimate act of defiance, and also his final one, was when he raised an army and waged open war against the Imperial Legion. The High King and the ruling Jarls, unwilling to risk all-out war with Cyrodiil, were forced to name my father a traitor. They refused to acknowledge the rebellion and disavowed all connection with those who joined, essentially leaving us to the mercy of the Imperial Throne.

As I had learned from Captain Cavorian, our fateful battle became known as the Snow-Crown Rebellion. Our plan had been to attack and decimate an entire army of Legion soldiers sent in to squash the rebellion, but one of my father's trusted commanders gave away our plans in return for protection from the Legion. In the aftermath of the failed battle, my father and the rest of his commanders were all executed. I would have been executed as well, but I was a woman and still young, so they threw me in prison instead.

"If you are Sasha Snow-Crown," Skjoldr said gravely, his voice cutting into the tense silence, "then you should be with Anjolnr, calling for war against the Legion. You fought them with your father, you have more reason to hate them than any of us. Why should you defend them?"

"I'm not defending them," I said firmly. " But I never hated the Legion. I hated the men who invaded our land and burned our villages and killed our people. Yes, it's true that those men were part of the Legion, and my father waged his war against them. But not all men from the Legion are guilty of the crimes that those men were."

"They are members of a corrupt organization," Anjolnr said harshly. "They are as guilty as the rest."

"Are all Nords guilty of the crimes of the few?" I replied. "One of your own men kidnapped and raped an innocent woman. Does that mean the Legion should come here and punish everyone because of what one man did?"

"That's not the same," Anjolnr said, but he did not bother to explain.

"Have the soldiers at Fort Frostmoth ever done anything to you?" I asked. "What have they done to earn your hatred? I've spent weeks living at the fort, and I can tell you that the Legion soldiers there want nothing more than to leave Solstheim. They all hate it here, and none of them have any wish to confront the Nords. Like Wolf-Runner said, all they do is stay at the fort and mind their own business."

I faced the crowd of onlookers once more. "Listen to me," I said. "It's true that I fought against the Legion, but that's because I had a cause to fight for, and I would fight them again in a heartbeat if there was a reason to do so. But right now, you have no reason to wage war against them."

I continued: "The Legion is not your friend and it is not your enemy. Right now, they are just your neighbor. If they ever dared to invade your villages or attack your people, then I would be the first person to call you to arms against them. But they are not doing that. I've spent time with them, and I think that many of them are good people. But if you seek to make them an enemy, then they will be the most terrible enemy you will ever face. If you seek war against them, then you will be the aggressor, not them. And I have already seen one too many wars with the Legion end in misery. I do not wish to see another."

I didn't know if anything I said would make a difference. They had only listened to me because of who my father was, but that didn't mean they were going to agree with me. Resentment against the Legion ran deep, as I knew better than anyone.

Skjoldr Wolf-Runner studied me carefully, sitting back in his throne. His hand casually swept along the handle of his sword, and then he gripped it decisively and rose to his feet. He stepped down and walked toward the crowd, seemingly towering over them. I had not realized how tall he was, but he must have reached six and a half feet tall. He looked down at me briefly, but then spoke to his people, his voice deep and imposing.

"You know what I believe," he said. "You know how I feel. You know I have no love for the Legion. But they have done nothing to us. I do not know if this woman is who she says she is, but I think she is right."

He paused for effect, and looked over to his warriors, who had all gathered to one side of the crowd, behind Anjolnr and his supporters. "I will not allow any of you to raise arms against the fort or the Legion. If any of you wish to challenge my authority, now is the time to do it."

But Anjolnr merely shook his head and looked away, ending the confrontation completely. I supposed that Anjolnr might face some loss of respect among his peers for standing down, but Skjoldr would probably give him added authority to soothe his ambition. Anjolnr would have his day eventually and they both knew it. He would probably become clan chief someday.

"But we still have an enemy that we must face," Skjoldr continued evenly, accepting Anjolnr's submission without comment. "The criminals and invaders who attacked the Legion sought to blame us for their actions. They wished to start a conflict between us in order to cover their tracks, like the cowards they are. If anyone deserves the wrath of our vengeance and the edge of our swords, it is the ones who would seek to blame us for their crimes."

Skjoldr waited a moment to gather his thoughts, and I took the chance to add, "They are nothing but mercenaries, hired to fight and kill for someone else's greed. And they have not just attacked the Legion, they also attacked the innocent workers at the ebony mine, and those people were unarmed and unprotected. Any mercenary who would strike down unarmed men who can't even defend themselves is deserving of our contempt and hatred."

This struck to the heart of Nord philosophy. As Cavorian had himself explained unnecessarily to me, it was strongly against Nord culture to attack those who could not defend themselves. A true Nord only fought against a worthy opponent. Honor was paramount in combat. Fighting against unarmed civilians was cowardly and disgraceful, and the thought of someone killing indiscriminately like that, and then seeking to blame the Nords for those deaths, was enough to make any Nord furious.

Skjoldr raised his voice as the crowd began to cry out. "It is time to raise our swords! Let us fight for our reputation and our honor! If this band of cowards wishes to bring the Nords into a war, then so be it! Let us bring the war to them!"

All around, the people screamed and shouted in agreement. Even Anjolnr seemed caught up in the moment, and he lifted his sword, crying out for justice. I let their words and their passionate energy wash over me, but I could only sigh and close my eyes, a relieved smile forming on my lips. I almost couldn't believe it, but I had done what I had set out to do. Despite all the setbacks and problems, somehow things were falling into place. Maybe, just maybe, things were going to work out in the end.