The next chapter, out a lot faster than the last one (though still not quite as fast as I hoped.) The next chapter will probably be a Nelkir; I really need to do a Thorek one again, but I can't be bothered right now, and I figure I'll be able to get this stuff out if I just focus on the characters I want at the moment. Talk about lazy!
The thanks; To Guest, thanks for the review. Yeah, that happens, I'm afraid. To Erienon Winter, what next story? The next chapter? Thanks for the review. :) To Shade4500, thanks for the review. I hope you like the chapter. Thanks everyone! Please keep reviewing.
Okay, here goes.
It looked the same. All of it. Skyrim had hardly changed since Hadvar had left it eleven years ago for the last time. The grass looked the same, a wheat yellow, and indeed the sharp chill in the air felt the same, but he couldn't shake the feeling that there was an air of defeat in the land. Autumn was extendng its grip on the land, turning things into dust, sucking the colour from the world. Preparing it for death.
Emperor Reman rode beside Hadvar, not in his armour, but instead dressed in a well-made tough leather outfit, made for harsh riding, all black with red lines depicting a small dragon on his breast. A dark red cloak hung from his shoulders and a fine sword by his side, with gilded greaves on his shins and bracers on his arms. He looked an Emperor, but his eyes betrayed his nervousness. That was reasonable, Hadvar supposed. They had left everything, and although the Imperial army followed at their back, they were hardly safe. They were beggars, looking to ally with Skyrim's High King, Balgruuf, if the man was still king, or his son. Hadvar forgot the name, but then he hadn't been much involved in Skyrim's politics for many years.
The army he headed was large; made up of every man they could find and draw together. Cyrodiil was in hiding, the people fleeing. Gods be good, even if they did win this war, the aftermath would be devastation. Hadvar sighed wearily; as much as he wished he could help the people, it was a necessity. They had no choice but to continue this mad march, taken on for only a little less than a month now. The men were weary and ready to give up, Hadvar's limbs ached, and their food was beginning to see an end. What they needed was a place to bunker down, to plan a war, and to enact it.
Hadvar beat his fist against his thigh in frustration, and the Emperor raised an eyebrow. 'It's getting dark. Perhaps we should call a rest?'
The Prefect nodded. 'As you command, Talos.' He called the order and watched as the camp was built, trying not the notice the gaps, the missing tents where a group had deserted, looking for a better way out of this mess. But there was no better way; it was defeat and enslavement, or pathetic battle.
Winning the siege of the Imperial City hadn't helped Hadvar's mood much. They had lost so many men, more than they should have fighting in a city as strong as the Imperial City, and even then they had nearly been broken. This black cloud of regret hung over Hadvar as he paced through the finished camp, unable to sleep, thoughts swirling through his head like wasps.
'Sir!' Hadvar turned to face a young scout, his face dirty, yet eager.
'What is it?' he asked, somewhat sourly, not willing to be pulled from his dark mood. His thoughts had turned to the arena now.
'Sir, the Emperor requests your presence.'
'Did he say why?' he asked, not overly interested.
'Come quickly, sir.'
That spiked his interest and Hadvar made his way to the Emperor's tent, following the scout. The guards outside let him in without a word, watching the night carefully. It was dry inside the tent and warm, but Hadvar hardly noticed that when he saw the men inside. For a second, he was speechless. Then he frowned, caught himself, and stared. The tall Nord turned to face him, his eyes unrecognising. His companions sat, but he stood, dirty and travel stained. He wore high boots which had seen better days and midnight blue breeches, with a slightly darker shirt over that. A plain black belt buckled no weapon, and he wore a long, mud stained black duster coat, reaching to his shins, or just above, which was quite a feat considering his height. He stared down at lesser men, and Hadvar, always nothing more than average height, but a Nord nonetheless, felt slightly dwarfed by him. But what was most shocking, was his face. Hadvar barely recognised it, like coming out of a dream. But it was there.
'Jon?' His hair was different, and he looked younger than the man he had seen some eleven years ago, but who else could it be? 'Ulfgar?' He had heard Jon had had another son, with Ulfric Stormcloak's hair, but this man was far too old to be a boy of thirteen, or fourteen. He looked to be about eighteen, maybe even a year old than that.
'Nelkir,' the man replied in a deep rumble. And yet, like Jon, his voice broke the air like the rush of clear water. It was deep, but not thick. Utterly, utterly clear to Hadvar's eyes, and powerful. Only Jon had ever spoken like that, and then Hadvar noticed his eyes, a different shade to the Dragonborn's. Almost… new. It snapped together in an instant.
'You're Dragonborn!' Getting excited, he almost blurted out the next part. 'You have the thu'um, don't you!' he exclaimed happily. This was hope, a sign from the gods!
One of his companions stood suddenly, looking shocked. 'How do you know that?' he said, eyes narrowing. He was thin, with auburn hair.
Hadvar shrugged. 'I worked it out.' He turned to Reman, who was watching them all with wide eyes. 'With respect, Talos, would this be the purpose of the meeting?'
'What other reason would there be?' Nelkir interrupted rudely.
Hadvar turned to look at him, then back to the Emperor.
Reman nodded. 'They came in just now, offering an alliance.'
The Prefect looked them over, noting their ragged clothes and stubble. 'Lucky us.'
The Emperor smiled wryly. 'I think you might want to listen to them.' He waved a hand. 'Give me those titles again.'
Another man sat up somewhat reluctantly. He had curly brown hair dusted with grey. 'I am Thane Tor Blackmoore, with my wife, Sonjia Blackmoore, and Nikulas, my son. Leading us, is the Jarl of Windhelm, Nelkir Stormcloak.'
Hadvar, although extremely curious, was less than impressed. His evil mood was descending again. 'So what you mean to say is a disinherited noble family, and a bastard pretender?'
'You doubt Nelkir's lineage?' he asked coldly.
Hadvar shook his head, trying to appear less rude. 'No; I can see it written across his face, and his eyes…' He lingered over the last part as he studied them. 'Nelkir is a son of Jon Stormcloak.'
'That's good then?' the Emperor interjected. 'Son of that great Nordic hero, right? People will listen to that?'
'Aye, Talos, they would a son,' Hadvar agreed. 'Not a bastard.' He expected a frosty look from Nelkir, but the boy just nodded, slumping slightly, and the Prefect realised, like his father before him at the start of that Civil War, he had completely misjudged the boy's character. This wasn't his crusade; he wasn't looking for attention. He had just been dragged into events greater than himself, and unlike Hadvar, had accepted his part in them. It stung to realise that, but instantly focused his mind, drawing out a wealth of possibilities. Suddenly, it wasn't so hopeless again.
'You want an alliance?' he asked again. Nelkir shrugged, and nodded once. 'You own no land, hold no titles, but what if we could give you to them?' He looked at Reman, who had caught on with a glint in his eye.
'Skyrim is a part of the Empire,' he said. 'I am Emperor.' He began to motion, but Hadvar quickly shook his head and leaned in close.
'Talos, with all due respect, they are Nords. Stormcloak and Blackmoore held their lands long before an Empire even existed. Nelkir is one of the last direct descendents of Ysgramor, the founder of men. The Stormcloak's boast a direct male line, the Blackmoore's tell of the days they were Ysgramor's shield-brothers. They would not take kindly being given land, even in their position. But agree to help retake it, and they will serve the Empire.' It felt strange to plot against his kinmen, but Hadvar intended to win the war, and see the Empire stand tall afterwards, not an independent Nordic kingdom.
Reman nodded, somewhat meekly. 'As you say, Prefect.' Hadvar felt a flutter of irritation or how easily he agreed, but it passed quickly.
'What do you want to do then, Nelkir? In this new alliance of yours?' Hadvar asked.
The bastard Nord was silent for a second. 'Isn't it obvious, Imperial?'
'I'm a Nord, like you,' Hadvar pointed out. 'I'm not just an Imperial.'
Nelkir gave him a hard stare. 'I'm not a fool, Prefect.' Everyone shifted uncomfortably, confused by the cool attitude, but the bastard knew, and suddenly Hadvar was very unsure of his place in this new alliance.
'I say we strike out east. Take back Jarl's Head first, and draw out Thane Shatter-Shield's armies,' Nelkir said.
'He won't fall for that,' one of the bastard's companions interjected, the older man. 'He is far too crafty, our new Lord of Eastmarch.'
Hadvar nodded. 'You are Thane Blackmoore?'
'Formerly of Jarl's Head,' he said, still proud and aloof despite his circumstances.
The Prefect had never paid much attention to the noble families, but it was a familiar name nonetheless, as was the town to his mind. He gave Nelkir a pointed look at their choice of first move, and he shrugged. He wasn't yet a leader of any sort; he didn't really care for his followers, and although a position had been thrust on him, he knew little of what to do with it. Hadvar felt briefly disappointed; he might have expected more from a son of Jon Stormcloak. Speaking of which, suddenly, Hadvar jerked round, his sudden thought leaping into his head.
'We're following a bastard son of the Dragonborn?' he queried, and Nelkir nodded grimly. 'Jon had two sons? Alsfur and Ulfgar, right?' Hadvar had only seen the eldest once, but even so he still counted Jon as a friend.
'Dead,' Tor said darkly. 'Alsfur in his bed, by my niece.' His face told Hadvar exactly what to expect should he question it further, and the Prefect shook his head gently to warm the Emperor against such an action as well. 'I fought under Ulfgar at Windhelm. Likely he's dead too.'
Hadvar said no more; he knew battles, and war. The boy was most certainly dead. 'And Balgruuf?'
'The reason we are in this mess,' he spat. 'Silver-Blood killed him too, and is only one step from becoming King now.'
It left an unpleasant lump in his throat, but at least he realised what was going on now. Jon Stormcloak had been killed, his son's dead, the land usurped by various forces. It was no wonder an army from Skyrim had never arrived in Cyrodiil. He had been aware of an impending civil war, but had never imagined it to be quite so terrible. Even Ulfric Kingbreaker's rebellion was never this bad, even at its height… but this one… it's destroyed the land, and weakened us all against the Thalmor.
Hadvar looked more carefully at Nelkir now, and also realised why such a noble clan as the Blackmoore's were following a bastard with only a resemblance to a great hero to give him legitimacy. It was all desperation. But then, isn't that why we are here?
Right then, Hadvar swore on the gods that if they managed to survive this, he would never again count out desperation as the most important of human motivations.
'Aye, Nelkir Dragon's Bastard, we will help you,' Reman said. 'You have the Empire's aid, and we expect Skyrim's allegiance to my army in due time.'
Nelkir smiled unpleasantly. 'I'd give you my sword, but I misplaced it, Emperor of Tamriel.' The last remark was cutting, and Hadvar knew what he had wanted to say, what common sense had just caught him from doing. 'It's not the only thing which has been misplaced.'
Aye, Hadvar thought, we've misplaced an Empire too.
Reman nodded. 'We'll march at dawn then, and take back your birthrights, Nords.'
Hadvar sighed. Splendid.
They marched for a couple of weeks, in which time their new Nord 'allies' kept themselves to themselves, rarely coming out of their tents to do anything. That was fine by Hadvar. He was still somewhat uneasy about them, especially this bastard son of Jon's and the implications he threw over everything the Prefect had known. The Dragonborn had seemed to really love his wife, and yet had fathered a bastard? Maybe it was before they had met? It confused Hadvar and made him uncomfortable, and the fact that the boy's presence seemed to just take up the space in a room further disturbed him, leaving an uneasy and slightly cold projection from Hadvar.
They didn't see much as they marched; people ran into their homes, they avoided major cities, and scorched land was an uncommon occurrence, but nonetheless reminded Hadvar that he had been away from home for too long.
The Imperial army was beginning to feel the cold too. As a Nord, the Prefect hardly felt it, but Reman had taken to wearing furs, and the men were donning what winter gear they had. With an unpleasant realisation, Hadvar knew he was going to have to make sure his army was ready for a Skyrim winter, or else suffer the same fate as General Tullius all those many years ago. It was a chilly afternoon when the scouts finally came to him with the good news. Jarl's Head was in sight. They reached it at evening fell, and raised the dragon banner; the Empire had arrived.
They called a council of war that night, around the table with Hadvar's general's and Nelkir's companions. The Emperor was asleep.
'We can attack directly,' Tor told them. 'The walls are mostly ash from the fire and the enemy has had little time to actually prepare any defences.' He punched areas of a map they had dug out, showing the surrounding area, and moved his finger as he pointed. 'Likely as not though, Shatter-Shield still has his army in the field when he realised I still lived.'
Hadvar nodded. 'So where would he be hiding then? Surely he hasn't gone back to Windhelm?'
Tor's wife, Sonjia, shook her head. She had made sure she was included in any council, and dressed in leather and some light mail now, she looked fierce-some, Hadvar had to admit. 'Shatter-Shield will have scouts watching for an approach of any army. After the last uprising we led, he will be careful.'
'Though I doubt he expected anything like this!' Nikulas interjected excitedly.
Sonjia shrugged. 'He's a snake of a man. I wouldn't put it past him.'
'So,' the hooded man in the corner said slowly, his words measured and careful. He stalked Nelkir like a shadow but said little. 'We should expect the Thane to be upon us at anytime.' Hadvar nodded, and couldn't help but feel uneasy. Nelkir's companion barely spoke or ate, and he remained shadowed in the corner, watching with clouded eyes. Luckily, the Prefect was distracted by Tor speaking again.
'Should we get the men ready for a battle then?'
Hadvar glanced at his own officers, who were watching the Nords suspiciously, then back at said Nords. 'I suppose this is going to end in bloodshed either way,' he shrugged.
Tor nodded, satisfied. 'He'll be here by dawn, most likely.'
'And he's not going to have a clue what just hit him,' Nikulas Blackmoore finished with a smirk.
Shatter-Shield arrived at dawn with an army twice the size of theirs. Horsemen patrolled the flanks, the men were dressed in bright steel and iron, carrying spears for the most parts, and axes, with the nobles carrying sword and shield. Banners whipped in the wind, and Shatter-Shield had taken it upon himself to craft a Jarl's banner; huge, it was superseded only by the High King's own flag. It was made of the finest animal skins, bear and deer, and then splashed with colour. In this case, the iron grey of Clan Shatter-Shield with, as was to be expected, a bloody-red splattered shield blazed across the centre of a green field. It whipped in the winds that circled high above, but barely touched those on the ground, and as the Empire's own dragon was raised in response, Hadvar uttered a sigh of dread.
'Does it pain you, to see him take on a banner that once belonged to your father?' Hadvar asked, seated on his horse beside Nelkir.
The bastard watched impassively, working his jaw ever so slightly. The Prefect was hardly sure what to make of him; he also hardly spoke, and it felt strange to acknowledge Jon as his father. But then, what else could he do? The only reason he was here was because the dragon blood clearly flowed in his veins. The blood of heroes, in a boy better suited to moping on the grass than leading an army. Gods help us.
Finally, Nelkir shrugged. 'He was never my father.' He spurred his horse and rode forward a bit, squinting. His hooded friend followed like a grey shadow. 'I see a man in mail, with a shield like the banner.' He stared again, narrowing his eyes. 'It's Shatter-Shield.'
Hadvar looked from him, to the lines of dots he saw ahead of him. 'How do you know?'
'I can see it. He visited the court when I was younger, and I knew every banner,' Nelkir supplied coolly.
Hadvar looked himself, but he could only see dots. His eyesight was not in fault, but it seemed the bastard's was extraordinary. 'What else do you see?'
'He's raising the banner. Coming forward to treat.'
'Is he now?' Hadvar mused, smiling slightly. This is going to be interesting.
Nelkir was right; Shatter-Shield raised his banners and approached with his retinue, all mounted and proud in full battle attire. The new Jarl himself was dressed in mail and some plate, his surcoat fresh and washed, with his nobles behind him, all of similar dress. Swords shone and shields looked brilliant in new paint. By comparison, Hadvar's armour was dirty and travel-worn. He had kept off the rust but his generals looked of similar wear. The Emperor looked somewhat impressive, in his silver inlaid cuirass, but he was also afraid, and it showed. Rounding off such an impressive picture was Tor and Nelkir, with his hooded friend, naturally. Blackmoore wore dull iron mail, and the bastard still dressed in his travel-stained duster, no weapon by his side to speak of.
Shatter-Shield smiled as he watched them approach, totally confident. He also wore curious shimmering steel chain mail… Something else Hadvar recognised from all those years ago: Jon's armour. Anger bit at his gut at the sight of that. 'Is this the Empire, now? What remains of it?'
The Emperor scowled. 'You are still my subject, Nord!'
'I have a new King,' he replied easily. 'He is much more powerful, and generous. It is his world we stand in now.'
'Silver-Blood?' The Emperor said, frowning.
Shatter-Shield smirked as Hadvar cursed Reman's foolishness. 'I wouldn't want to ruin the surprise, for the all seeing Emperor of Tamriel, now would I?'
'Did you just come here to trade taunts?' Hadvar asked, moving forward, his face dark.
'Hardly,' Shatter-Shield snapped. 'I came here to see Tor.' He looked the other Nord, and tilted his head slightly. 'You survived I see. How disappointing.'
'I'm going to rip you apart,' Tor growled. 'You'll regret the day-'
'What's that?' Shatter-Shield interrupted, pointing at Nelkir. 'Is that your new pet, Blackmoore?' he asked, chuckling slightly. 'I thought bodyguards were dressed better than that! He doesn't even have a weapon!'
'That's because it's over there,' Nelkir said quietly. Shatter-Shield stopped, frowned, and looked at his saddle. Hanging there was a beautiful weapon, shimmering in the light. Hadvar recognised it.
'Kodaav,' he breathed.
Shatter-Shield looked at it angrily and pulled it out. 'This… wasn't here,' he said slowly. Then it clicked. 'Your weapon?' He studied Nelkir, and fear began to eek into his eyes. 'Your weapon you say? Then take it?' Suddenly, he was in control again. He held it out with both hands, hilt first, growing in confidence. His nobles began to smirk, and laugh. They knew something Hadvar didn't, and he hated that.
'Take it, Stormcloak. Prove me your better,' he laughed harshly.
Nelkir let out a breath, and Hadvar finally saw an emotion. Apprehension. He rode his horse forward slowly, and reached out his hand. Shatter-Shield still smiled smugly. Slowly, his fingers shaking slightly, he grasped the hilt. And pulled.
Steel rushed like water until Nelkir was holding a magnificent sword. It began to hum lightly, the blue light glimmering along the edges. Shatter-Shield's jaw dropped. His nobles began to talk frantically, and the new Jarl tried to take back control. 'But, but, I… you… It'll have no edge! No true bite! It's nothing to just pull out a sword!'
'No edge…?' Nelkir wondered. 'Let's see.' With one fluid motion, he decapitated Shatter-Shield. The former Jarl had no time to react, and his head fell to the ground, leaking blood. His body began to tip off his horse, and Nelkir lightly grasped Kodaav's sheath, and pulled it from Shatter-Shield's dead hands, leaving the former Jarl's body to fall to the ground in a ruined heap. Nelkir cleaned the blade on his duster, and then sheathed the weapon. He held out his hand to the nobles, who shied away slightly. But this wasn't a friendly gesture; he wanted their allegiance. 'On your knees, and swear to Clan Stormcloak. Swear to the dragonblood, you will uphold your oaths to death, serve me and my kin,' he pronounced in his ringing voice. It cut through the land. 'Swear until the end of time, and I will make you lords of Eastmarch again, and not worms in the ground.'
Behind him, Tor swept off his horse without hesitation and knelt in front of his new lord. 'As I live, I swear, Tor of Clan Blackmoore, to serve the Lord Nelkir of Clan Stormcloak, Jarl of Windhelm. We are the Jarl's Man,' he recited.
The other nobles didn't look so scared now. Instead, they were beginning to look hopeful. One by one they dropped from their horses and knelt in front of the bastard, and Nelkir nodded, pulling Kodaav from its sheath and lifting it high. 'Rise, my Lords of Eastmarch, and welcome in the new day.' He looked at Hadvar, his eyes alight. 'And haven't we all waited too long for the dawn already.'
What do you think of that Please review me with your thoughts and I hope that was a good guy chapter for once! They win this time! And I did say Nelkir is going to come in with a bang.
Also, sorry the story did a quick time jump there. :p Just really wanted to write it before Thorek.