Author note: The first couple of chapters follow game-play fairly closely. But following that, the story becomes more expansive and original. Thank you for taking a moment to read! ~e
Elspeth felt the frigid air pierce her exposed skin as she slowly woke up. She tried to bring her hands up to her throbbing head, but the soldiers had bound her arms tightly, so she leaned forward, touched her forehead to her knees and let out a low groan. She looked at her clothes—tattered prison rags. Everything was covered with mud. The soldiers took everything—her sword, her weapons, her money.
From the other side of the cart she could hear someone talking to her. She looked over and saw a youngish blond Nord. His voice was warm and comforting. “Hey you,” he said, “you’re finally awake. You were trying to cross the border, right? Walked into that Imperial ambush, same as us and that thief over there.”
“Damn you Stormcloaks,” complained the thief, “Skyrim was fine until you came along. Empire was nice and lazy. If they hadn’t been looking for you. I’d have stolen that horse and been halfway to Hammerfell.” He turned to Elspeth and said, “You there, you and me, we shouldn’t be here; it’s these Stormcloaks the Empire wants.”
The horse thief’s voice was rough and it irritated her head. She gave the thief a hard look and said, “If I agree, will you please stop talking?” Then to the blond one she said, “I am not convinced that the horse thief is my preferred association.”
Ralof smiles, “What is your name?”
“Ralof. Of Riverwood.”
The horse thief gestured to the man sitting next to Elspeth, “And what’s with him, huh?” The man was bound, but also gagged.
Ralof took offense to this inquiry and scolded him, “Watch your tongue! You’re speaking to the Ulfric Stormcloak, the true High King.”
Elspeth turned around to get a closer look. Ulfric Stormcloak? When she left Bruma, Torygg was the High King of Skyrim and Ulfric Stormcloak was a name that started many brawls back at the Tap and Tack. Elspeth tried to ask Ralof to clarify but was interrupted by the horse thief: “Ulfric? The Jarl of Windhelm. You’re the leader of the rebellion. But if they’ve captured you? Oh gods, where are they taking us?”
Ralof looked toward the direction the cart was heading and said calmly, “I don’t know where we’re going but Sovngard awaits.”
Elspeth takes a deep breath, “Not for some of us.” She looked at Ralof who gave her a sympathetic smile. “Somewhere in Aetherius then,” he said reassuringly.
Elspeth looked down at her bound wrists. She tried to cast, but the soldiers must have given her something to drain her Magicka. She closed her eyes. Was this really the end? She thought of Xeri and all those years of training that brought her to this point. This couldn’t be the end. She looked up. The horse thief was working himself up into a huge panic. She could hardly blame him but she really wanted him to shut up.
Ralof turned to him and asked, “Hey, what village are you from horse thief?” His voice had such a calming quality and she wished he keep talking to her, instead of encouraging the horse thief.
The horse thief was indignant, “Why do you care?”
“A Nord’s last thoughts should be of home.”
Elspeth tried to imagine what a Breton’s last thoughts should be. She thought of how disappointed Xeri would be with her. She thought of her mother and realized she couldn’t even recall how her mother would react to this predicament. She thought of her father and if he would recognize her now. She thought of Andil. She thought of Runa. A voice interrupted her thoughts, “General Tullius sir, the headsman is waiting.”
“Good, let’s get this over with,” another voice, General Tullius presumably, confirmed.
Elspeth knew her mother still had—if not support—then unspoken sympathy within the Legion. She had left her family’s name at Frostcraig over ten years ago and had vowed to Xeri that she would not speak it again, until it was safe to do so. But how was her secret keeping her safe now? And would this Tullius spare her anyway?
“Look at him,” Ralof was disgusted, “General Tullius, the military governor. And it looks like the Thalmor are with him. Damn elves. I bet they had something to do with this”
Thalmor. Elspeth felt the sickening weight of her own mortality creep in.
“This is Helgen,” Ralof continued to talk. “I used to be sweet on a girl from here. Wonder if Vilof is still making that mead with the juniper berries mixed in. Funny, when I was a boy, Imperial walls and towers used to make me feel so safe.”
Ralof’s voice took the edge of the numbness that had settled in and she swallowed hard against the lump that was forming in her throat. Around them she could hear people gathering to watch, parents shooing their children back inside their homes. The carts pulled up near the center of town, where the headsman was, indeed, waiting. The Imperial soldiers were organizing the prisoners into lines and began calling their names. Ulfric Stormcloak, Jarl of Windhelm. Ralof of Riverwood. Lokir of Rorikstead.
When the horse thief heard his name he screamed, “No! I am not a rebel. You can’t do this,” and took off running and yelled, “You’re not gonna kill me.” It was a bold move and one immediately cut short by an arrow to his neck.
“You there!” The Imperial with the list called out, “Step forward. Who are you?”
“My name is Elspeth Aurilie. I’m from Cyrodill.”
“You picked a bad time to come to Skyrim, Elspeth.” He looked over his list and frowned, “Captain, what should we do? She’s not on the list”
“Forget the list! She goes to the block.”
“By your orders, captain. To whom should we send your remains?”
Xeri had given very specific instructions but this was surely not the introduction she and Runa had planned. She swallowed and croaked, “Lydia. In Whiterun.”
“Please follow the captain.” He paused and then said, “I’m very sorry.”
“I’ll bet,” Elspeth said sardonically as she moved toward the rest of the prisoners, catching Ralof smiling at her as she passed.
“Ulfric Stormcloak,” the general addressed the rebel leader, “Some here in Helgen consider you a hero. But a hero doesn’t use the power of the voice to murder his king and usurp his throne. You started this war, plunged Skyrim into chaos, and now the Empire is going to put you down and restore the peace.”
From the distance came a screech and a howl like nothing Elspeth had ever heard—or for that matter, felt. It wasn’t loud but it vibrated in her spine and rumbled in her head.
The next moments were a blur interrupted only by the THWACK of the executioner’s axe and her call to the block. She was pushed to her knees. As she turned her head she saw a large winged creature in the sky and felt that rumbling in her head again.
“WHAT IN OBLIVION IS THAT?” Elspeth could hear General Tullius yelling. The executioner remained undeterred in his task but as he raised his axe the howls and roaring shook the ground and he lost his balance. And then Elspeth saw, clear as day, a dragon land on the tower right in front of her.