DISCLAIMER: I do not own anything even remotely related to Skyrim; this disclaimer extends to every chapter here on out.

(AN: Sinmir is the guy in The Bannered Mare who sounds a little like Arnold Schwarzenegger when he talks, so that's who I always picture when I'm playing Skyrim and I hear his voice. Just for kicks, try it out yourself – go ahead and picture Arnie sitting there in the inn instead of Sinmir. It makes this first part even more fun!)

Chapter One
Magic is for the Weak

Fredas, 8th of Second Seed, 4E 198 - three years before the main events of Skyrim.

Raucous laughter filled the bar area. Jon Battle-Born raised his pint to Sinmir as the burly warrior in the crooked horned iron helm continued his drunken tale.

"So I went to go outside – no listen! I went to go outside, but…somehow I ended upinthekishhen." He stopped to take a quick swig of his mead, oblivious to the other drinkers laughing at his slurred word jumble, which had gotten progressively worse since the last half hour. Sinmir slammed his mug down. "Where was I? Oh, kishhen… So, I'm in zhere, and I smell somesing real good. Turns out Olfa –"

"—It's Olfina—"

"—Olfina… Olfina was batching up a cook of leeks. Er…"

The whole inn burst into a fresh round of roaring laughter, but Sinmir could only manage a boyish giggle as he realized where he went wrong. "Cooking a…batch… You getze idea! Anyhow – no listen! So anyhow, I start grabbing zem from the pan and shoving zem in my mouth when Olfifa walks in, and she says 'Sinmir, I thought you was going to take a leak?' And I look her dead in ze eye and says…I am! BWAHAHA!

And this is what Lynette had the pleasure of walking in to.

"Ah!" A darker man in rags, grimy from his boots to his frayed cap, slapped an arm around the young woman and laughed. "Well if it ain't my favorite drinkin' buddy! Let's get some mead."

"E-Excuse me?" Lynette stammered. Her nose wrinkled at the heavy aroma of alcohol on his breath.

"How ya been, buddy?"

"I'm sorry, do I know you…?"

A middle-aged woman called out from behind the bar where the laughing group of men gathered, "Brenuin! Leave the poor girl alone!"

"Girl?" The old beggar looked her over, confused, then released her somewhat ungracefully. "Oh."

"Leave the fine lady be," another called, this one male. He was dressed in somewhat cleaner clothes and was strumming a beautiful lute in his hands.

"I ain't done nothin'!" Brenuin said, and sulked away to find his bottle.

Lynette blinked. Barely stepped two feet into this inn and already I'm getting accosted by strangers…

Skyrim had so far turned out to be a very cold, very strange, and very lonely place for the young woman. Though, she had been to Whiterun once before (just the day before, actually), she had not stayed long enough to witness the hold's nightlife, and when she was up during the evening in The Bannered Mare, she had stayed locked in her room with a book in her lap and a pillow propped behind her head.

Of course, she was by no means new to raucous drinkers. At the inn in Bruma where she had worked as a barmaid until very recently, she had to deal with drunken patrons nearly every night. But what was it about Nord drinkers that was so different? That they were taller, broader, more prone to a fistfight? Is that what made her nervous, or the fact that she was merely in an unfamiliar land surrounded by complete strangers?

She shook the snow from her hood and approached the bar. One stool stood empty. She claimed it quietly, trying not to look at the burly brute in the horned helm beside her.

"What can I get you? We've got warm drinks, warm food, and warm beds," the innkeeper announced from behind the bar. Hulda was her name; Lynette remembered her from her last visit.

"I'd like a bowl of soup," she replied. "Any kind, just something hot."

Hulda smiled at her, then turned to a young woman with a broom behind her. "Olfina, dear. Soup for the young lady."

"Yes, mum."

"Say, don't I know you?" Hulda asked, studying her face.

"I rented a room from you yesterday." Lynette slid her hood off and let her brunette hair fall from the pins holding it back.

"Ah, yes. I remember you now." The Nord crossed her arms and tilted her head to the side. "What's wrong, girl? You were all smiles yesterday. What's got you so down?"

The Nord named Olfina returned from behind the innkeeper with a steaming bowl and a spoon. She set the meal before Lynette and gave her a quick smile before being called over to tend to someone else. The group of men to her right abruptly burst into a fresh line of laughter. Lynette waited for their voices to die down before answering.

"I got rejected from the college."

"The College of Winterhold?"

"Yes. They turned me right around." She cleared her throat, suddenly feeling a knot there. "I couldn't summon a Flame Atronach."

Lynette was expecting some kind of sympathy from the woman, even if it was just an, "Oh, I'm sorry dear," but Hulda's pretty face became a snarl.

"Pfft. I should have guessed as much. Your kind sticks to that college, as well as they should."

Lynette visibly shrank in her seat. "I-I'm sorry…?"

Hulda put her hands on the bar top and looked at her with something akin to pity. "Magic is for the weak, dear. For the elves. Let them keep to their college, away from here."

Lynette had no idea what to say. In Cyrodiil, while necromancy was illegal, magic was something exciting, and it was a privilege to be able to wield such energies. At least, it used to be… Cyrodiil had its fair share of negativity, as well.

But this was downright prejudice.

She took her spoon and began sipping on her soup. It scorched her tongue to eat at its current temperature, but it was better than sitting there, staring at the floor in awkward silence.

"Of course, there is Farengar," Hulda went on, reaching for a cloth to clean the bar top with. "He may be a wizard, but at least he's a Nord. You'd never think to learn from a Nord like the Jarl's wizard."

Keep your head down and your mouth shut, Lynette told herself. Head down, mouth shut.

She finished her soup as fast as she could and paid for it as well as a bed for the night. She wanted only to sleep now and leave bright and early in the morning to go far, far away from Skyrim as she possibly could. Maybe she'd even pass Bruma and go straight to the Imperial City, live quietly as a failure away from her family. She wasn't sure she could look them in the eyes. They were so excited about her leaving for the college. Hot tears stung her eyes.

Lynette hurried to the steps in the back of the inn, her head down and her heart heavy. A drunken patron bumped into her, almost knocking her over, and tried to apologize, but she was already up the stairs by the time he wobbled around to face her. Once she was safely in her room, she locked the door, sat on the edge of the bed, and wept into her hands.