The fight that had began in the temple of Talos spilled out into the streets, wild, savage, like something out of a confused, nightmarish dream. The frightened townsfolk hastened to take cover inside their houses or behind the protective walls of the Silver-Blood Inn; even the smelter workers stopped their ceaseless labour, straightening their weary backs and wiping sweat off their sooty faces – for their Orc overseer seemed to have forgotten all about them, more interested in watching the blood spurt, fountain-like, into the air, and heads roll off the stony ledges, than in worrying about the silver quota. The inhabitants of the keep, startled by the deafening clamour in the city below, crowded at the few narrow windows cut in the massive stone, with a great deal of shoving and elbowing and muffled cries of awe. The Thalmor soldiers were no exception; much as they strived to appear unperturbed by the commotion, curiosity finally got the better of them and, making the excitedly whispering kitchen servants step aside – with a few imperious, and rather painful, pushes in the chest – they assumed an advantageous strategic position and took to gaping at the sight, rare even for Markarth, all dignity abandoned. It wasn't long before they had to wheel round hurriedly, brought back to reality by the commanding voice of their superior.
'What do you think you are doing? Get back to your duties!'
'Sir, Justiciar Ondolemar, sir,' one of the soldier blurted out, standing on ceremony and looking rather like a boy who had been caught stealing sweetrolls from the pantry, 'There is a disturbance in the streets, sir. Humans attacking each other. I think you should see for yourself, sir'.
'You think?' Ondolemar sneered, 'Pardon me if I am wrong, but it seems to me that I have been assigned by the Dominion to do the thinking here. And I think that watching humans cut each others' throats is a waste of time. Their petty squabbles are no business of ours, as long as they do not concern our mission'.
'But sir!' the soldier protested, shifting away from the window tactfully so that the Justiciar could see for himself, 'It's… extraordinary!'
With a resigned sigh, Ondolemar condescended to take a look down – and raised his eyebrows in astonishment. The soldier hadn't been too accurate when he said that humans were attacking each other. In truth, there was a substantial number of humans – a whole detachment of guards, no fewer than twenty – attacking one. And that one, who stood towering over his adversaries, swarming round him like skeevers fighting over a slice of rotting meat, could or could not be a human; it was hard to tell, what with the distance that separated him from the onlookers, and the ceaseless flashing of limbs and weapons, and the fact that his face was concealed by a dwarven helmet. Ondolemar, for his part, assumed that it was an Orc, driven into the infamous berserker rage, such was the force with which the unknown warrior brought his jagged greatsword down on the guards' heads, cutting through their squirming mass like through butter. No amount of high-elven contempt for such primitive spectacles could stop Ondolemar from following the solitary fighter with his gaze, and the feeling the stirred within him as he watched him fling two guards into the water with one swing of his weapon was dangerously close to admiration.
After several minutes of breathless watching, the dumbfounded audience finally realized that all the attackers had been killed and heaped on top of each other in to form a large, morbid mound, and the victorious warrior was left standing alone, his head flung back, the expressionless face of his helmet looking up at the keep that towered in front of him. 'I wonder what the fool will bring upon himself now…' Ondolemar murmured to himself; as if in response to his words, the stranger staggered forward, apparently worn out by the wild battle and suffering from several grave wounds, and made his way towards the Jarl's palace.
The guards inside the keep, who had remained idle throughout the skirmish, hastened to intercept the warrior as he stumbled inside, flinging the metal doors open and keeping a grip on them for support, while all the others huddled together at the top of the stone staircase, watching, waiting.
'You are under arrest for crimes against Mar…' one of the guards began pompously, but the warrior shook his head. He stretched out his arm, strong and muscular, with bulging veins and deep, bleeding cuts, entreating the guards to stop and listen. Seeing them hesitate, he attempted to say something, but the clumsy helmet turned his voice into an incoherent mumble – so he let go of the door with his other hand and pulled the helmet off, revealing his face. Ondolemar, who was still watching him closely, his expression deliberately indifferent, stepped back with a small cry of shock and disgust. The savage warrior, who had single-handedly defeated twenty guards, relying solely on the strength of his arms, was neither a human nor an Orc – but an Altmer. Passing by the silently frowning guard, he started to move slowly, painfully, up the stairs, never ceasing to look at those who had gathered to gape at him on the upper level, his amber-coloured eyes streaming with liquid desperation.
'Please!' he called out hoarsely as he got to the stairs' middle, 'I can take no more of this! The Jarl… the Jarl needs to know! There is a conspiracy… the Silver-Bloods… Nepos… guard ambush…'
He never got the chance to finish his urgent message – for his eyes met Ondolemar's. He froze, stuck by some sudden revelation, taking in every smallest feature of the uncomprehending Justiciar's face; the moment was lost. The guard who had tried to detain him raced up the steps and laid his hand firmly on his shoulder, 'You are coming to Cidhna Mine'.