It was months before Polemistís had the guards’ routines detailed from their bathroom breaks to their torture schedules with the prisoners. She rationed her food, unknowingly to the Thalmor guards, and was able to survive, if not on moldy bread and rotten fruit. When she did escape, it had been almost a year since her capture and she vowed to save Thorald Gray-Mane. The Thalmor however, were not easily lost, they followed her through Skyrim and eventually forced her into Cyrodiil where she visited an old friend, Lerus Odon.
* * *
“Polemistís, you’ll have to return soon.” Lerus poured tea into some cups from the kettle. Lerus was the guild master for the Fighter’s Guild. He was an Imperial from Anvil, he had inherited the guild from his great-great-great grandmother who inherited it from a long lineage of Orcs.
Lerus’s house was a small loft. The front door opened into a quaint living area where all the furniture focused on the fireplace at the left. The back wall opened to a bedroom; only a doorway separated the bedroom from the living area. A double bed with a royal blue duvet peaked through the doorway to the bedroom and a couple of barrels huddled in the corner of the back wall.
Polemistís nodded, just as she did to Thorald so many months ago. Captain Atheneus would surely know of her disappearance now and, unknowingly to her, had started to think she was dead.
“If you want, I can help you get back to Solitude.” The decade Polemistís and Lerus had spent apart had definitely shown their effects; Lerus’s hair had started to gray and thread-like crevices had branched out from the corner of his eyes. Polemistís nodded once more. She missed her comrades, she longed to visit them before returning to General Tullius.
“We can’t leave now. They’re still looking for me—the Thalmor. They’ve been on my trail for a month since I escaped.” Polemistís shoved the tea aside, sloshing it over the small wooden table that was only able to seat two. Her nerves had quenched her thirst.
“How long do you think it will take for them to forget about you?” Lerus removed her cup, throwing it into a wash basin near the fireplace.
Polemistís sighed. She knew the answer, but struggled to say it, knowing it would force her to stay in Bruma for far longer than she would enjoy, “A year, at the least.”
Lerus returned an equally solemn nod and then pulled out some parchment, placing it in front of Polemistís where a quill and inkwell sat in front of her toasted bread. She stared only for a moment at the paper before picking up the quill and writing a letter to Captain Atheneus.
“You’ll need to make sure that the Thalmor cannot trace you back to Bruma. I recommend encrypting it. I’m sure the Legion has taught you something of that sort.” They hadn’t, but Polemistís relationship with Atheneus was strong. He would figure out the message.
Polemistís spent a couple of hours penning away at the paper before finally folding it in thirds and sealing the back of it with wax. She handed the parchment to Lerus who smiled and offered a reassuring, “I’ll handle this. Go rest.”
* * *
The year had passed sluggishly; each of the seasons seemed to be unceasing. Polemistís took odd jobs around Bruma’s small town, just enough to buy food and keep her arrows and sword sharpened. The last week of Sun’s Height, Polemistís spent sprinting after couriers and packing for her return home. She never received word from Atheneus, which worried her greatly, however, Lerus always assured her that he may not have responded to keep the Thalmor off her trail.
Last Seed had finally arrived, and Polemistís was filled with excitement as she approached Lerus stood by a bay roan horse with a black mane. Lerus was tightening the straps on the saddle and adjusting the bedroll and knapsack. Polemistís approached him at the left and he turned to her, his face washed over with worry.
“Polemistís, do be careful.” Lerus handed Polemistís her coin pouch. “I hear the Legion is on Ulfric Stormcloak’s heels.”
Within the year that Polemistís was in hiding, Skyrim’s civil war had escalated. After Titus Mede II was instated as Emperor of Tamriel, things were peaceful in Skyrim until the Thalmor invaded Hammerfell and then Cyrodiil, overtaking the White-Gold Tower. The legion was able to defeat them in the Battle of the Red Ring four years later. This ended the Great War, but was only the start of things to come. Titus Mede II signed the White-Gold Concordat which allowed the Thalmor to enforce the ban of the worship of Talos.
This divided Skyrim; the Stormlcoaks, who followed Ulfric Stormcloak’s thinking that Skyrim belonged to the Nords and that all others were considered outsiders; they were rebelling against the Imperial Legion, the Empire’s effort to reunite Skyrim, believing that the Empire was stronger together and united, they had a far better chance of wiping out the Thalmor. While Polemistís hid away in Bruma, Ulfric had managed to kill High King Torygg, with the thu’um. The thu’um was a form of magic that used the ancient language of the dragons to form a Shout, which was very powerful.
Polemistís took the coin purse, “don’t worry, Lerus, I’ll be safe. I’m travelling straight to Solitude.” She gave Lerus a final hug and then climbed into the saddle of the horse Lerus had lent her.
“Good luck, Polemistís.”
Polemistís swung into the saddle. As she turned towards the stables, she gave Lerus a heartfelt grin, “Thank you, Lerus. For everything.” Then she gave her horse a kick in the sides and rode off toward the north. Flakes of snow slowly glided down from Sovngarde; winter would be coming soon.
Polemistís was not far from the border of Skyrim. The mountains took a day to cross over and since not many people travelled through Bruma to get into Skyrim, the roads were always rough to travel. Her eyes watered from the freezing wind piercing her unguarded face, and when her horse snorted, she barely noticed. The sun had vanished and dark was setting in making it almost impossible to see.
In an instant though, her horse whinnied with fear and reared back, tossing Polemistís out of the saddle and leaving her in the blanket of snow.
“You! G-give me your h-horse!” a man shouted, his hair was dark and he seemed very startled for a thief. “I-I’m taking y-your horse, Nord!” he jerked the reigns and then leapt in a swift movement into the saddle and then galloped off into the snow flurries.
“HEY!” Polemistís pushed herself as quickly and painlessly as she could manage out of the snow, shouting and cursing the gods, and scurried down the slope beneath a square, rugged arch, crossing the border into Skyrim.
“Stop! Thief!” she cried and watched as gray silhouettes ambushed the man and her horse. She neared the attack to see guards arresting the man. “Thank you! He stole my–”
“Rebel!” one guard accused and tackled her to the ground. Polemistís struggled to push him off; the year she spent in hiding caused her to fall behind on her workout regimen. She then recognized the armor as Imperial Legion armor.
“What?! I’m not a rebel!” she squirmed beneath the soldier. “I’m a Legate!”
“You are a rebel! Why else were you crossing the border other than ambush our fleet, along with this horse ‘thief!’ Probably a Stormcloak spy!”
“I’m not a rebel! I’m in the legion!” She protested as she attempted to wriggle free of the Imperial’s grasp.
“Shut up, Stormcloak!” The second Imperial kicked her in the head with his boot, knocking Polemistís unconscious.
Polemistís opened her eyes, her stomach ached and she was a bit dazed, the sound of a horse carriage beneath her feet. It rattled and swayed with the rocks and bumps in the dirt path below. She grabbed her head. Her wrists were bound to each other with a tough leather strap. Her vision was a little blurry, but she could see there were figures around her.
They were men, burly, muscular men and all three had their hands bound. Polemistís’s sight crisped and she could then take in her environment. The evergreens had turned to mostly softwoods and shrubs that lined the road, the hills were still laden with snow, and mountains that saluted the horizon. The fresh aroma of bark and wild flowers settled her head. She sniffled in the brisk air and let her hot air form a cloud in front of her face.
She looked to the sky and saw it was early noon. She figured they must be somewhere past the border near Riften, where she had crossed into Skyrim. She looked straight ahead to the man sitting in front of her, he looked to be in deep thought as he studied the floor of the carriage. A strand of braided blond hair dangled in front of his forehead, swinging with the rhythm of the cart. He appeared exhausted and as he gradually blinked, Polemistís thought he’d fall to the floor of the cart. He raised his head, and when he noticed she had come to, he managed a grin.
“Hey, you.” He half-whispered, addressing her as if ‘you’ were her name. “You’re finally awake. You walked right into that Imperial ambush, same as us, and that thief over there.” The Nord motioned to the man next to him on the bench. The thief’s hair was a light brown and his skin was paler than a snowy sabre cat. Polemistís glared at the man, her eyes must have had flames in them that made the thief flinch.
“Curse you! I was on my way to Solitude, you fetcher!” Polemistís snarled. The thief leaned back, putting as much distance as he could manage (being bound and tied in a carriage) between him and Polemistís.
“Well if it weren’t for y-you, I could’ve stolen th-that horse and be halfway to Hammerfell.” He stuttered.
“Shut up back there!” the carriage driver ordered. Polemistís placed her back on the carriage, sighing a breath of frustration.
“And what’s wrong with him?” The thief ignored the driver’s order and nodded to the man sitting beside Polemistís.
“Watch your tongue.” The Stormcloak across from Polemistís appeared agitated, and so was Polemistís from him attempting to steal her horse. “You’re speaking to Ulfric Stormcloak, the true High King.” He looked for a reaction from Polemistís, as if to see if she would protest, but she didn’t speak as she studied Ulfric, bound, gagged with a rag, and wearing a dark brown robe, its collar lined with wolf fur, his hair pulled back out of his face. His eyes were unmoved even by his follower’s clear devotion to his cause.
There he was. The murderer of High King Torygg; it was men like him why Polemistís joined the Legion. She’d never seen him in person; she remained silent, partly at a loss for words, but mostly because she didn’t want to give away that she was in the Legion.
The thief sounded astonished, he gasped as he studied the man across from him, “Ulfric? The Jarl of Windhelm? You’re the leader of the rebellion! But if they’ve captured you…”
Polemistís ignored the thief briefly, directing her attention to the left, and noticed they were approaching a city. There were guards pacing the overhead bridge above the gates. Two guards peeled back the doors and the two carriages began their journey into the town. She recognized the town: Helgen, it was small, halfway between Riften and Solitude, which meant that she had been on the carriage for a day and a half which explained why her stomach ached.
“Oh gods, where are they taking us?!” The thief started to panic. Polemistís figured he’d leap from the carriage, had there not been another guard behind, patrolling the carriages’ prisoners.
“I don’t know where we’re going, but Sovngarde awaits.” The Stormcloak sounded content about his fate.
“No, this can’t be happening! This isn’t happening!” The thief mumbled to himself, his leg shaking uncontrollably. He rubbed his hands together, his eyes darted back in forth; he appeared to be having skooma withdrawals.
“Hey.” The Stormcloak tried to pat the thief’s leg, but his hands were bound, so he settled for a nudge with his elbow. “What village are you from, horse thief?” His voice was gentle as he tried to put the thief at ease.
“Why do you care?” The thief glared at the Stormcloak, who had previously put him in his place.
“A Nord’s last thoughts should be of home.” The thief turned back in his seat, his eyes glazed over as he remembered his home life. Polemistís thought back to her home in Falkreath. She missed her parents dearly; she hadn’t thought of them since the day she came home from Bruma so many years ago.
“Rorikstead.” The thief replied, his voice shaky. “I’m… I’m from Rorikstead.”
“Ah, no big village, eh? I’ve been there before. One summer a few years ago with my pa.”
The thief nodded. He was clearly listening, but his trepidation only worsened as they neared the end with every hoof clopping on the cobblestone. The carriage then passed by a couple of guards inside the city. A soldier shouted to an Imperial on a stout horse. The horses of Skyrim were hardy, able to endure long winters, but not built for speed. The appraisal of their endurance was one to be awarded for; they could ride for miles and endure a Frostbite spider’s poison for days before needing a remedy.
The Imperial’s armor was bronze, a feathery emblem on the breast plate underlined a dragon insignia in the center of his chest and mahogany red sleeves that covered most his biceps. He carried a sword, sheathed in a smooth leather, decorated with steel fastenings.
“General Tullius, sir!” the solider shouted, his breath forming a cloud as he spat when he spoke. Polemistís perked up. “The headsman is waiting.”
“Good. Let’s get this over with.” The General sounded grim, but maintained a business-like composure as he led his horse in behind the carriages. Polemistís desperately wanted to call out to him, but something stopped her, something inside her was saying it was her duty to follow through with the execution. She looked ahead, they were almost to the execution block. She then looked back to the Stormcloak across from her.
“Look at him, General Tullius the Military Governor.” The Stormcloak mocked. “And it looks like the Thalmor are with him.” The soldier turned to reveal her yellowed skin tone, her eyes red as she glared at the General behind his back. She wasn’t dressed in armor, but rather black robes with silver lining.
“Curse those elves and the magic they use. First they ban the worship of Talos… and I bet they had something to do with this.” The Stormcloak spat on the carriage’s wooden planks, giving the Altmer a malicious stare. Polemistís had no choice but to go through with the execution now; she didn’t spend a year in hiding to be found out now. She’d rather die in her homeland than be killed by those elves.
The Stormcloak pointed out how close to the end they were and added, “I used to be sweet on a girl from here.” Polemistís ignored him and examined her surroundings; a little boy accompanied his father on an inn porch as they watched the guards drag in the prisoners on the carriages. “I wonder if Vilod is still making that mead with the juniper berries mixed in.” The Stormcloak continued to reminisce.
Polemistís could see the horse carriage ahead stopping and soon they pulled in at the left. The prisoners began to unload like a travelling farmer with bushels of vegetables.
“Whoa!” The driver shouted and their carriage jerked as it stopped. The first off was Ulfric, then the thief, then the Stormcloak. Polemistís glanced around, hoping for once, that no one would recognize her, after all, she wasn’t wearing her legion armor.
“No! Wait!” The thief began to plead. “We’re not rebels!” He motioned to Polemistís, who backed away, not wanting to cause a commotion. They faced two Imperials, one dressed in captain’s armor, steel armor with high shoulders and silver platings at the skirt. Her bracers covered her forearm and her boots rose to her knees, shining in the Skyrim sun. Her face was covered partially with a helmet, a Tamerialic mohawk with black down lifted at least a foot from the crown of the helmet. The man next to the Imperial captain held a book in his right hand and a quill in the other. He wore the familiar Imperial armor, brown leather, plain, bracers that only covered half of the forearm, and the leather lying flat on the shoulder.
“Step towards the block when we call your name. One at a time.” He instructed, waving his quill as he spoke, and then he read from his list of prisoners.
“Empire loves their lists.” The Stormcloak scoffed observantly. Polemistís ignored him as her heart pounded in her chest with anxiety, her peripheral vision catching sight of the headsman overlooking the heads he was about to strip from the prisoner’s bodies. She wanted to flee and stand completely still at the same time.
“Ulfric Stormcloak, Jarl of Windhelm.” The Nord soldier shouted. Ulfric stepped to the left, his head held high with pride. Polemistís resisted the urge to scoff at his pretentious gait.
“It’s been an honor, Jarl Ulfric.” The Stormcloak solemnly bowed his head to his leader.
“Ralof of Riverwood.” The soldier continued with his list. The Stormcloak smiled at Polemistís and then followed Ulfric to the chopping block not thirty feet away. She couldn’t help but wonder how he kept his composure, so proud, as if he had been through these circumstances many times before. The pride that Ralof and Ulfric shared amazed Polemistís.
“Lokir of Rorikstead.”
The thief squirmed in his bindings. “No!” he struggled to free himself. “I’m not a rebel! You can’t do this!” In an instant, he darted off, towards the entry where the carriage had dragged him into Helgen. “You’re not gonna catch me!”
“Halt!” The captain commanded, but Lokir kept his sprint up. “Archers!” A guard near the watchtower to the right lifted his bow and before Lokir could pass the house with the little boy, an arrow sent him collapsing to the ground.
“Anyone else feel like running?” The captain gave Polemistís a stern look. Polemistís took a step backward, demonstrating her submissiveness.
“Wait. You there. Step forward.” The soldier pointed at the Nord woman with his quill. “Who are you?”
“A-Athena.” She lied.
“You picked a bad time to come home to Skyrim, kinsman.” The soldier gazed at her, sympathy shined in his eyes.
The soldier then turned to the female captain and asked in a hushed tone, “Captain, what should we do? She’s not on the list.” A rush of hope suddenly overcame Polemistís, but the captain interrupted her optimism.
“Forget the list.” She stated loudly. “She goes to the block.” Polemistís was astonished. Even though she wasn’t sentenced to death, they still ordered her to die.
“By your orders, Captain.” The Nord soldier sounded in disagreement with his authority, still, Polemistís had this suspicion that something wasn’t right. “I’m sorry… at least you’ll die here, in your homeland. Where should we send your remains?”
“Solitude.” Polemistís wanted her remains to be a message to General Tullius about this irresponsible mix-up.
The legionnaire scribbled in the notebook and without looking up, ordered sternly, “Follow the Captain, prisoner.” He closed his book, the quill in between the page where he read the names, and tucked it beneath his arm. Polemistís followed them to the left where the rest of the prisoners were lined up to die.
She stepped in beside Ralof and another Stormcloak whom she didn’t recognize. Ulfric was standing dangerously close to General Tullius. Polemistís bowed her head, doing her best to hide her face.
“Ulfric Stormcloak, some here in Helgen call you a hero, but a hero doesn’t use the power like the Voice to murder his king and usurp his throne.” Polemistís could hear the faint irritated sigh behind Ulfric’s gag as he rolled his eyes. “You started this war!” General Tullius raised his voice, “and plunged Skyrim into chaos, and now the Empire is going to put you down and restore the peace.” The General continued, ignoring Ulfric’s resist to hear his reasoning as to why he was about to be decapitated.
A faint screech then filled the chilly air, it carried far and it was formed by something big. It cried like a hawk but roared like a sabre cat. Polemistís glanced to the skies, but only fluffy white clouds drifted across the blue landscape. What was that sound?
“What was that?” The Nord soldier with the book questioned, a bit startled.
“It’s nothing. Carry on.” The General ordered.
“Yes, General Tullius.” The Captain saluted. She stood next to a priestess and the headsman. The priestess was draped in gold colored robes and her face was hooded. She held a book up to her breast. The headsman, stared aimlessly ahead, his face covered with a black cloth and in his right hand, he advertised a large axe, stained with blood of previous prisoners.
“Give them their last rites.” The Captain directed to the priestess. The priestess opened her book and waved her hand in a matter-of-fact manner. She spoke deeply, but serenely as she read the last words the prisoners would hear.
“As we commend your souls to Aetherius, blessings of the Eight Divines upon you, for you are the salt of Nirn, our beloved–” she was interrupted by the Stormcloak to Polemistís’s right who stepped forward, his hands bound, as he stood behind the chopping block.
“For the love of Talos, shut up and let’s get this over with!” he knelt down, ready for his life to be taken.
“As you wish.” The priestess slammed the book shut, annoyed. The captain kicked the Nord in the back, knocking his head across the chopping block, blood staining his cheek. The headsman lifted the heavy axe and in a swift motion, it fell to gravity’s will and the Stormcloak’s head rolled off into the basket on the other side of the block. The dead Stormcloak’s body flopped sideways onto the ground, blood gushing out of his severed neck.
“You Imperial bastards!” A villager groaned.
“As fearless in death as he was in life…” Ralof despondently prayed over the fellow rebel’s soul.
“Next!” The captain waved a pointed finger in Polemistís’s direction. “The Nord in the rags!”
Polemistís’s heart raced faster, sweat beads formed on her forehead, her hands became clammy. It felt like a dark cloud was looming overhead as Polemistís’s fate edged nearer and nearer. Then, the screech returned, closer and bolder, only a few miles ahead of Helgen. Polemistís once again examined the skies, but nothing was there.
“There it is again!” The Nord soldier stated the obvious. “Did you hear that?” he looked to the captain.
“I said, next prisoner.” She emphasized every word as her attention never wavered away from Polemistís.
“To the block, prisoner, nice and easy.” The Nord soldier directed Polemistís to the block ahead of her. Polemistís turned and faced the block. She looked on with disgust as the smell from old blood and the previous Stormcloak’s head crept up her nose. The Captain grabbed her shoulders and shoved her down to her knees. She then kicked Polemistís in the back, just like with the Stormcloak, until Polemistís’s head lay across the block.
Polemistís gagged as the warm blood from the Stormcloak squished between the slate block and her skin. She had been splattered with blood from wars past, but this was different. She had a clear view of the headsman and the watchtower behind him. He lifted his axe, his large arms bulging from the weight of his weapon. He lifted the axe high above his head. Polemistís squeezed her eyes shut, bracing herself for the axe’s cold steel to cut her head.
The roar returned, Polemistís opened her eyes just in time to see a black winged figure emerge from behind the mountain.
“What in Oblivion is that?!” A guard shouted.
“Sentries! What do you see?” The captain asked.
“It’s in the clouds!” The Nord soldier sounded as if he were pointing behind Polemistís, though she couldn’t see him from her angle. The figure swooped down and then rounded the corner of Helgen’s city wall and landed on the watchtower, bricks crumbled from the beast’s weight. His landing caused a rumble through the earth and the headsman faltered with his axe, and then toppled over from the earthquake the monster had vibrated.
Polemistís had perfect view of the beast as its eyes pierced her soul, glowing a fluorescent sky blue, his scales as black as Nocturnal herself, and an incredible fifty-foot wingspan. He gripped the top of the tower with the claws on his wings.
“DRAGON!” A soldier cried in terror. Polemistís lifted her head, but the dragon gave a Shout that sent the skies spinning, turning a charcoal gray, and as Polemistís pulled her legs forward to lift herself up from the block, meteors began crashing to the earth.