I do not own the Elder Scrolls. The main OC's, however, I do own.
As we stepped out into the sunlight, my breath was taken away by how starkly beautiful the landscape was in the bright sunlight. The mountains blazed a stark white in the light against the bright blue sky, the clouds dispersing to white puffs of smoke across the canvas of Kynareth. My breath turned to steam in the air as I exhaled, an uncontrollable grin plastering itself across my face, my blood pumping through my veins as I took in the view, a slight laugh escaping my lips as I took a few steps out into the cold.
"Beautiful, isn't it?" Ralof huffed, "that right there... that is part of what the Stormcloaks are fighting for. Not just the traditions of the Nords, not just our people. It isn't even simply Talos we fight for. No, what the Stormcloaks fight for... is Skyrim herself. Our homeland."
I nodded, still grinning "I can see why. I don't think I've ever seen anything like this," I crossed my arms, then turned to Ralof, "so... what do we do now?"
Ralof scratched at his chin slightly, then stated "this place will be swarming with Imperials soon enough... we better clear out."
I nodded again as he strode past me, still speaking, "my sister, Gerdur, runs the mill down in Riverwood, which is pretty much straight down the river along the road from here. I'm sure she'd be willing to help you out," he stopped, thinking for a moment before turning to me again, "you reckon we should split up?"
I snorted, continuing until I was standing beside him, "Oblivion, no. You know why. Don't ask again."
He chuckled, nervously rubbing the back of his head, "good point. Let's go."
With that, we started down the road, the silence of the world around us setting me on edge. But it was a good feeling; refreshing, eager rather than fearful. I couldn't restrain my grin as we descended the hill, and Ralof spoke up, "you know, you should head for Windhelm and join the Stormcloaks. Become a true Son of Skyrim. We could use men like you. Besides, you've seen the true face of the Empire today."
I smiled in response, my fingers trailing each of my weapons, "I saw the true face of the Empire a long time ago, Ralof. The only way I'd join them is if someone sensible replaced the Emperor. Like Ulfric."
Ralof grinned, "spoken like a true Stormcloak," he scratched at his chin, his eyes narrowed as he stared at the sky, "Ulfric... the Emperor?... that's actually not a bad idea."
"We should bring it up next time we see him then," I stated as we continued down the road. A few seconds later, Ralof piped up again.
"Besides... if anyone knows what the coming of that dragon means, it's Ulfric."
I raised an eyebrow, "I would assume it would be a good guess that said giant flying lizard was not on our side?"
Ralof grinned again, chuckling, "a very good guess. Ulfric is the true High King of Skyrim, but I don't think even he could pull a dragon out of his pocket. Otherwise Skyrim would already be free. There would be no need for a rebellion," he put his hands behind his head, "although we are lucky it attacked when it did. I wasn't looking forwards to getting a shave from the Imperial headsman."
It was my turn to laugh; a fully blown rumble from my gut that was more true than any laugh I'd ever had until now. I was about to retort when I stiffened, a familiar roar reaching my ears from on high.
"Speak of the Daedra and they shall appear," I hissed, glancing up to see the dragon from before as I rushed off of the road into the bush, Ralof following soon after. We both hit the dirt surrounded by underbrush, staring at the sky, listening as the wingbeats of the beast grew ever more distant, its roars fading as it grew farther and farther away.
After a few minutes, the only sound that hung about us was the sound of the light breeze of the mountains.
Once we pulled ourselves free of the underbrush, Ralof shook his head, staring up at the sky towards High Hrothgar. He licked at his lips slightly, "looks like he's gone for good this time."
I shot him a warning glare, "don't say stuff like that. Haven't you ever heard of Sheogorath's law?"
Ralof's gaze was one of utter confusion, "... No...?"
I crossed my arms as we began walking again, "I'm not surprised. It's an old Imperial saying, but it's one I've found tried and true nonetheless. When you say things like that, you tempt Sheogorath. Apparently, Sheogorath requires very little reason to do something. And given what you said, well..." I grimaced, "let's just say that whatever can go wrong, will go wrong if you tempt him."
He was silent for a few seconds afterwards, his brow furrowed in thought. Then he gave a grimace of his own, "actually, now that I think about it, I think I know what you mean. Someone said something along those lines on our trip with Ulfric, and not five minutes later, we're caught in an Imperial ambush."
"I've been meaning to ask about that," I started, "how did you guys get caught anyways?"
He met my gaze, his lip curled in a bitter smirk, "I was assigned to Ulfric's guard on the way to Darkwater Crossing, in southern Eastmarch. We were stopped in the middle of our trip by an ambush, surrounded by Imperials, outnumbered about five to one," he sighed, "Ulfric ordered us to stop fighting before long. Didn't want us to throw our lives away for nothing, I guess. I thought they were going to take us to Cyrodiil, parade us in front of the Emperor. But instead, we stopped in Helgen. And you know the rest."
I nodded, licking my lips in an attempt to moisten them in the dry air. But there was still something that lingered in the back of my mind, making me uneasy even as I posed my question, "you really think Ulfric will know anything about that dragon?"
Ralof's face twisted with his own uncertainty, "well... maybe not. Dragons haven't been seen in Skyrim in an age. Probably well more than that. But," he bounced right back from his uncertainty, his eyes blazing with determination, "wherever that dragon came from, and whatever it wants, Ulfric will get to the bottom of it. You can count on that."
I felt my eyebrow raise once again, "you seem pretty certain of that. And of Ulfric."
"I am certain of both."
I felt my smile return, "fair enough," another few seconds of silence, then I grinned, "you know what, Ralof? You've convinced me," I clapped him on the back, "let's go to Windhelm."
Ralof grinned as we stopped, then clasped each others' hands in an ever increasingly powerful death grip, "I knew I could count on you. Skyrim needs people like you to fight for her freedom."
"People like us, you mean," I returned his grin as we released our respective grips, "but we'll need money and supplies to get there. What's the closest city after Riverwood?"
Ralof paused, then nodded, "you're right. After Riverwood comes the city of Whiterun. It's a prosperous place, so we'll definitely be able to get jobs there."
I scratched at my chin, then perked up as I heard Ralof mutter something beneath his breath; something about "Companions." I tilted my head, "what was that?"
He gave a dismissive wave, and a somewhat nervous chuckle, "oh, nothing. Just thinking out loud."
I eyed him suspiciously, then shrugged, "whatever you say," I started back down the road, "we'll figure out what we'll do there later. Right now, let's just get to Riverwood."
The next few minutes were taken over by silence. Eventually though, Ralof stopped, his face grim as he stared up at the mountain. I turned to him, my jaw set, "something wrong?"
He glanced at me, then shook his head, "it's nothing. But still..." he pointed up, "you see that shadow up there?"
I followed his gaze to a great, cathedral-like building built into the side of the mountain, the mere visage of it sending chills down my back as I fixed my own eyes to it. Ralof's voice rang in my ears again, "Bleak Falls Barrow. I never understood how my sister could stand living in the shadow of that place. 'You get used to it,' my hairy ass."
I nodded again in understanding of what he meant, then let him lead on. Upon rounding the next corner downhill, something caught my eye that made me freeze on the spot. A trio of pillars stood in a half circle, nearly completely identical in appearance; the same elongated egg shape, with a piece of black carved metal capping the top of each, and wrapping around the center, with a hole gaping in the center. What was different were the faint carvings upon each stone; upon the center one was a figure with a staff and robes, its hands raised as though casting a spell of some kind. On the left, a figure in a cloak, lightly armoured and baring a longsword at its hip. And the final one, the one that caught my interest, was heavily armoured, carrying a shield, and a heavy halberd that looked deadly even as a carving. Ralof's voice broke through my thoughts once again as he noticed the object of my attention.
"The Guardian Stones. According to legend, whichever stone you pick will determine your future as a person," he crossed his arms, "I've never believed in that kind of hocus pocus myself. The future should be carved out by each individual with whatever weapons they choose. But after what I've seen today..."
I stepped up to the stones, inspecting the one on the left, with the warrior, "I still don't. Destiny is for the weak," I smirked, "it's the strong that decide their own futures."
Ralof nodded in approval, and I returned my attention to the monument before me. I reached out my hand tracing the outline of the carving, then reaching into the hollow of the stone.
When the carving began to glow, I jumped back, startled, reflexively grasping my hand.
"What did you do?" I heard Ralof ask.
"I don't know!" I shouted back as a glow began to shine within the hollowed out stone, brighter and brighter with each passing second before launching a pillar of light skywards, breaking through the cloud and sky above before fading into nothingness as quickly as it had come.
I glanced at Ralof, hoping for an explanation of some kind, though I knew that the odds of getting one were about the same as the Gods descending from the sky at this moment in time.
But it would appear that there's a chance that even that could happen.
"I... I think you chose a Stone," he stated.
"You chose one of the Guardian Stones. Stones meant to guide those who choose them on their paths in life," he gestured to the one I touched, that had long since stopped glowing, "the one you chose is the Warrior Stone. If the legends are true, then there is no doubt that it will lead you to greatness and glory in your lifetime."
I glanced at the stone, perplexed by the whole notion. Again, I ran my hand along the edge, before piping up myself, "well... even if that's true, I want to make something clear," I turned back to Ralof, "if I ever do become great... it's because I did it. Under my own power. Not because I touched some stupid rock."
Ralof's grin crossed his face once more, "you'd be insulting yourself if you did things any other way."
I felt my face reflect his once again, "I'm glad you agree."
"Anyways, Guardian Stone or not, we should get moving. We've wasted too much time already."
"Agreed once again."
It didn't take much longer to reach Riverwood. It was a quaint place, with a simple wooden gate barring the north and south borders of town. The road ran straight through the middle of the place, with small businesses on either side; the left had two, including what appeared to be a blacksmith's shop, judging by the scent of smoke that wafted through the air from it and the ringing hammer blows that echoed in my ears as we walked past. On the right, a simple tavern and trade shop sat on the side, accompanied by several smaller homes. Directly to the left of the town ran a river, easily more than thirty feet across and running like the rapids they were. What few people lived here stopped to spare us a glance, as though caught off guard by our presence, then went about their business as though nothing happened, though their nervousness was clear.
"Looks like no one knows what's happened yet," Ralof murmured.
"Looks like it."
"Gerdur is probably working at the lumber mill. May as well go see her."
He gestured for me to follow, and I quickly complied; though I stiffened as an old woman began to ramble, "a dragon. I saw a dragon!"
"What is it now, mother?" another voice asked.
"It was as big as the mountain, and black as night! I'm sure of it-"
Their voices faded out as I picked up my pace, following Ralof across a small wooden bridge to a long structure, with a massive, stone and wood base, and a roof suspended by several massive wooden pillars, though the building itself had no actual walls. The sound of a saw buzzed through the air as the pieces of a great log were spat out from one side, smashing into the ground and reminding me of the sound of collapsing buildings back in Helgen. I shook the thought from my mind, and continued with Ralof around the back of the building.
Ralof spotted who we were looking for well before I did, shouting out, "Gerdur!"
The woman turned to face him, and I could immediately see the resemblance; they had the same long, dirty gold hair, though it was styled differently. They shared several of their facial features; their eye colour; their high cheekbones and strong jaws. The woman's attire, however, was completely different from Ralof's; rather than the Stormcloak's armour, the woman wore a dark turquoise dress that was covered in wood splinters and mud as a result of work. As soon as she made eye contact with the soldier, her face brightened, blooming into a proud smile.
"Brother! Mara's mercy, it's good to see you," her smile faded almost immediately after that, her face one of concern, "but is it safe for you to be here? I'd heard that Ulfric had been captured."
"Gerdur, I'm fine," Ralof started, then glanced at me, "at least now I am."
"What happened? Are you hurt?" she asked, her hands twitching, as though she wanted to grab onto Ralof and look for wounds herself. Then she looked at me, raising an eyebrow, "and who's this? One of your comrades?"
Ralof chuckled, clapping me on the back, "not a comrade yet, but a friend. Saved my life in fact."
I snorted, "how am I not your comrade yet?"
"You're yet to officially join the Stormcloaks. Until we're officially on the same side, you only qualify as a friend," Ralof's mischievous grin made my eye twitch before I reached to put him in a headlock. After a quick friendly scuffle that lasted all of a few seconds, we were both laughing again. Then Ralof's expression returned to a serious state as he looked at Gerdur, "is there somewhere we can talk? There's no telling when the news from Helgen will reach the Imperials."
Gerdur was clearly startled by that, her voice raising, "Helgen? Has something happened?"
I crossed my arms, "oh, something happened alright. But we probably shouldn't be talking about it here."
Gerdur put her hand to her chin, then finally nodded, "you're right. Follow me," she turned on her heel, and called out, "Hod! Come here a minute. I need your help with something."
"What is it, Gerdur?" a voice called down from the mill, "Faendal drunk on the job again?"
She turned around again, fire burning in her eyes, "Hod, just come here."
I turned to the voice to see a Nord in the mill, his long blond hair tied behind his head in a short ponytail. His clothes were the simple trademark of a mill worker, a white long sleeved shirt accompanied by a pair of pants and boots. His eyes widened as he saw Ralof.
"Ralof? What are you doing here?" he started, then shook his head, "I'll... I'll be right down."
With that, he was gone, and I continued with Ralof and Gerdur to a more secluded area, fairly open, but far enough away from town that no one would be able to hear us.
It was then that a young boy ran up to us, grinning widely as he immediately went after Ralof, a big, furry dog barreling after him. I wasn't even the one he was talking to, and I felt my head begin to spin as his questions began to pelt the blond Nord one after the other, "Uncle Ralof! Can I see your axe? How many Imperials have you killed? Do you really know Ulfric Stormcloak?"
Gerdur approached the boy, her voice the stern scolding tone of a worried mother, "hush, Frodnar. This is no time for your games," she glanced about, then pointed back at the town, "go and watch the south road. Come find us if you see any Imperial soldiers coming."
Frodnar's face quickly turned into a pout, "aw... but mama, I wanna talk to uncle Ralof."
Ralof gave a smile, kneeling down to look the boy in the eye, "look at you, almost a grown man! Won't be long before you're joining the fight yourself."
Frodnar's expression once again shifted to one of proud determination, "that's right!" he turned on his heel, looking back at us, "don't worry uncle Ralof, I won't let those Imperial soldiers sneak up on you."
With that, he was gone just as quickly as he had come, his dog following close behind.
"Cute kid," I mused.
"Exhausting boy. But he's my nephew. I love him all the same," Ralof got to his feet after dodging a smack upside the head from Gerdur.
Hod finally walked up to us, his expression stern, his arms crossed, "now, Ralof. What's going on? You two look pretty well done in."
Ralof sat down on a large tree stump, his elbows on his knees. He sighed, "I can't remember when I last slept," he muttered. He put his hand to his forehead, "where to start? Well... the news you heard was true. The Imperials ambushed us outside Darkwater Crossing," he brought his fist down into his palm, "like they knew exactly where we'd be. That was... two days ago now," he leaned back, staring at the sky, "we stopped in Helgen this morning. I thought it was all over. They had us lined up at the headsman's block and ready to start chopping."
Gerdur's fists clenched along with her jaw as she spoke through a fence of teeth, "the cowards!"
Ralof nodded in agreement, his own fists clenching, "they wouldn't dare give Ulfric a fair trial. Treason, for fighting for your own people!" his knuckles began to turn white, "all of Skyrim would have seen the truth then," he once again raised his head to the sky, his hands coming loose, "but then... out of nowhere... a dragon attacked."
Gerdur's teeth and hands unclenched as her jaw hung open slightly, and Hod raised an eyebrow as Ralof's sister spoke, "you don't mean a real, live..."
Ralof nodded again, his voice stern, "I can hardly believe it myself. And I was there," he looked each of his relatives dead in the eye, "as strange as it sounds, we'd be dead if not for that dragon. In the confusion, we managed to slip away," he raised an eyebrow, "are we really the first to make it to Riverwood?"
"Nobody else has come up the south road today. As far as I know," Gerdur confirmed.
Ralof sighed, clearly relieved, "good. Maybe we can lay up here for a while. I hate to put your family in danger, Gerdur, but-"
"Nonsense," Gerdur cut him off with a dismissive wave, "you and your friend are free to stay here for as long as you need to," she brought her fist to her chest, "let me worry about the Imperials," she threw a glance my way, "any friend of Ralof's is a friend of mine."
I grinned, "in which case, I guess introductions are in order," I extended a hand, and she clasped it, "Gerdur, right?"
She nodded, "yes. And you?"
"Fenric," Ralof stated, catching everyone aside from me off-guard with another mischievous smirk.
I glared at him, "can you not do that from now on?"
Gerdur chuckled, then tossed me something. I held it up, recognizing it to be a key as she spoke, "here's a key to the house. If you need anything else, just let me know."
I smiled again, "thank you. Let me know if there's anything I can do."
Her smile faded, "actually, there is something you could do for me. For all of us here," she pointed to the north, "the Jarl needs to know if there's a dragon on the loose. If you could deliver the news to Jarl Balgruuf in Whiterun, we would all be in your debt."
I shrugged, "eh, sure. Ralof and I were going to go to Whiterun anyways. We need cash to get to Windhelm, and I don't like the idea of mooching. Off of anyone."
She started to reply, but thankfully, Ralof thought it was a good point in time to jump in, "thank you, sister. I knew we could count on you."
She smiled, "I ought to get back to work before anyone misses me. But did anyone else escape? Did Ulfric..."
Ralof laughed, giving another dismissive wave, "don't worry. I'm sure he made it out. It'll take more than a dragon to stop Ulfric Stormcloak."
Hod finally chose to speak for the first time since the conversation began, "I'll let him into the house and, you know, show them where everything is."
Gerdur snorted, "help them drink up our mead, you mean."
I let out another hearty laugh, then stated, "don't worry about your mead. I don't drink."
At this, everyone looked at me, clearly shocked. I crossed my arms, grimacing slightly as bad memories began to surface, "there's a reason... me an alcohol... we don't mix well. At all."
Ralof and Hod each gave me a deadpan stare that few could match, only stopping once Gerdur decided to cut in, "good luck, brother... I'll see you later."
As she began to walk away, Ralof chuckled, "don't worry about me. I have to lay low. Besides, I've got Fenric watching my back."
I smirked, then blinked as the boy - Frodnar - came rushing back as fast as he could, sweat coating his forehead, his dog barking like mad. He only stopped when he reached us, panting like a wolf after a mile's run, and looked up at each of us. He tried to speak, but no words would come out, just a symphony of grunts and half formed letters.
"What is it, Frodnar?" Ralof asked, rising to his feet and grasping the axes at his sides.
The boy just pointed, and I followed his hand. Then I ran back to the town, Ralof close in tow.
When I finally got back, I flattened myself against the side of the blacksmith's house. I peeked around the corner, and swore, pulling back almost immediately.
"What is it?" Ralof asked.
I glanced at him, my face grim, "we aren't the only ones who made it out of Helgen."
With that, I risked one last look around the corner of the building. By then, three of the five Imperials I'd seen had disappeared down the road, probably looking for the tavern. The final two stood there, speaking with the blacksmith for a few minutes before finally walking into the building. The first was the Imperial that had read off the names back in Helgen.
Eyes like amethysts.
That was Valkyrie.
"We can't stay here, Ralof," I stated.
"I know," he muttered, putting his axes back down at his sides.
Silence took us both for a time before we peeled ourselves off the wall, and I spoke up, "alright... here's the plan. We sell what we can, get some armour that won't be recognizable, and make for Whiterun. We leave tonight."
Ralof merely nodded in response, and then we were off, walking down the street towards Gerdur's house to say our goodbyes.