Chapter Two: There She Is: Solitude

“Everyone run!” Someone shouted.

“Hey, Athena,” Polemistís could faintly hear Ralof’s voice amidst the bricks and rocks exploding as they collided with Helgen’s pavement. The dragon roared with a fury as he circled the town, people shouted in fear, villagers were sent scrambling to evacuate.

“Follow me!” Ralof stood before her, where the Nord soldier with the book had previously been standing.

Polemistís lifted to the ground and started to follow Ralof when another meteor crashed only a few feet ahead of her, which sent her almost tripping as she stayed close to Ralof, her only sense of security, who led her into a watchtower. After Polemistís entered, Ralof pushed his body against the door and shut it, heaving as he finally stood before Ulfric and a couple of other Stormcloaks who had taken refuge in the tower.

“Jarl Ulfric!” Ralof almost sounded surprised that Ulfric had made it to the watchtower, “What was that thing?! Could the legends be true?” he gasped for air.

Finally, Polemistís heard Ulfric speak, his voice was brawny and deep, confident, but underestimating of people. He no longer had his hands bound and the gag was nowhere to be seen.

“Legends don’t burn down villages.” Ulfric simply stated. Ralof then looked to Polemistís and approached her, the dragon still roaring outside.

“We need to move.” He furrowed, “Now!” he commanded Polemistís up the tower. “Up through the tower! Let’s go!” Polemistís followed closely behind him as they climbed the stairs of the tower. At the top, a Stormcloak tossed away bricks that blocked the rest of the path leading up through the tower.

The wall suddenly exploded as the dragon’s head peered inside the tower. Polemistís gasped as she fell to her knees from the sheer force of the dragon’s interruption. She looked at his enormous head, his eyes seemed hungry for her, and then as clear as day, he spoke.

“Yol toor shul!” He opened his great jaws, a burst of heat and flames ejected from his powerful mouth, leaving the Stormcloak burnt to a crisp. As soon as he appeared, he flew right back out to torment the rest of the city.

“You’re okay, right?” Ralof asked Polemistís. Polemistís could only nod she was in such shock. She’d fought Frost trolls, legions of rebels, a pack of wolves, but never a dragon. “Okay. See that inn on the other side?” Ralof now stood in the newly created hole from the dragon.

“Yes.” Polemistís finally breathed.

“Jump to it–” Ralof shoved Polemistís up the steps. Polemistís spotted a clear area between a destroyed bed and the west wall. “Hurry!” he shouted.

Polemistís breathed in and flung herself down to the burning building. She landed with a roll on the second floor of the inn. Smoke smothered her lungs as she searched for a way out. At the northern end of the inn, she spotted a gaping hole in the floor where the dragon had burned part of the inn. She sprinted to it and dropped down to the first floor of the inn and then out into Helgen. After recovering her footing, she glanced around.

Women were carrying children, holding the small heads of their babies to their breasts as they squealed in horror. Men were shouting, directing people to safety from the open areas of Helgen. Soldiers had their bows pointed skyward as they took aim to the black dragon that now wreaked havoc on their small city. Buildings were engulfed in flames and black smoke floated to the sky like wraiths of doom.

Polemistís looked to her left where she recognized the area where she would have been executed. She ran toward it and saw the Nord soldier that previously held the list of prisoners coaxing a little boy away from the road along with the boy’s father.

“Haming, you need to get over here.” He shouted to the boy. Polemistís noticed another man crouching down beside a burnt building, alongside the road and she joined him. “Now!” The Nord soldier and Polemistís could both see the imminent danger, the dragon flapping its powerful wings, creeping closer with each beat.

The boy obediently went to the Nord, “That a boy. You’re doing great.” The dragon hovered ahead, flapping its wings inward as it prepared to land on the ground. The boy’s father looked upward after seeing his son had returned to the soldier safely. The Nord covered the boy’s head and ducked to cover with the crouching man beside the house.

“Gods!” The Nord shouted as they went to cover right in time, “Everyone! Get back!” he ordered.

Flames burst down the road and all four watched as the dragon spewed fire and then soared back to the skies.

“Torolf!” the Nord cried as he watched the boy’s father hit the ground, his skin blackened by the flames. The boy looked on in bewilderment at witnessing the death of his father.

“PAPA!” he struggled, tears began to stream down his soft cheeks.

“You still alive?” The Nord addressed Polemistís, who looked on in a daze. Polemistís looked up at the Nord who now stood directly in front of her while the crouching man comforted the child.

“How do we get out of here?” She shouted over the tumbling houses and bellows of the dragon.

“Keep close to me if you want to stay alive!” The Nord ordered. “Gunnar,” he addressed the crouching man, “take care of the boy. I have to find General Tullius and join the defense.” He practically tossed Haming at Gunnar.

“Gods guide you, Hadvar.” Gunnar said, taking the boy under his wing. Hadvar darted down the street and sulked behind a row of houses, Polemistís not far behind.

“To the wall!” Before Polemistís had time to react, Hadvar shoved his hand across her breast and jammed her against the wall. She choked as the blow knocked the wind from her lungs. “Look up.” He whispered to Polemistís as the sun suddenly disappeared. Polemistís carefully turned her head to the right to see part of the dragon’s giant wing hovering just above eye level. Its claw tapped the wall, allowing him to balance just above their heads.

“Why have the Gods forsaken us?” Hadvar whispered to himself. As if hearing Hadvar’s question, the dragon flew off again, arrows flying in every direction to bring him down.

“Hurry! Follow me!” He took off once more, up the steps, weaving in and out of some houses before they emerged back on the street, close to the exit of the city close to Helgen’s keep. The dragon protested above them as Polemistís followed Hadvar under a guard bridge and soon stopped.

Ralof appeared from behind some rubble and stopped too, seeing Hadvar and Polemistís together.

“We’re escaping, Hadvar!” He addressed Hadvar as if they were archenemies. “You’re not stopping us this time.” Ralof sounded as if they had been in this exact situation before.

“Fine,” Hadvar shouted. “I hope that dragon takes you all to Sovngarde!” He cursed as if he had rehearsed that line a million times in his head, knowing he’d meet up with Ralof again. Hadvar gripped Polemistís wrist and they headed straight for the gates of Helgen.

The dragon circled the town, roaring, breathing fireballs on any target he could find. Hadvar sprinted ahead and then slid beneath the gates of the town. On the other side of the gates, he coaxed Polemistís to join him and she did the same.

They scurried down the northward path when Hadvar pulled her under a prickly shrub into the snow, “wait…” he said in a hushed tone. Polemistís could feel the wind from the dragon’s wings as he swooped down and then vanished beyond a mountainside. Hadvar rose and helped Athena to her feet.

They both started their journey down the side of the hill, following a faded dirt path. Polemistís was exhausted from the adrenaline rush and the main object of her mind was sleep. Her mind imagined a tankard, filled with snow and mead, and some apple cabbage soup with a slice of toasted garlic bread. Her stomach growled with eagerness at the thought of a well-cooked meal. Hadvar looked back at the sound, appearing a bit startled which had Polemistís laughing.

“Don’t worry.” She shook her head, “It’s just my stomach—not a dragon.” Hadvar grinned as they finally settled into a nice walking rhythm together.

“So, are you headed anywhere in particular?” Hadvar looked back.

“Solitude.” She sounded confident in her answer. She had just endured a dragon attack; Captain Atheneus would have a hard time believing this when she returned. “I guess it would be alright to inform you that…” she paused, looking Hadvar over again, as if to double check that he really was a legionnaire. “My name isn’t Athena. It’s Polemistís.”

Hadvar slowed his pace as if his walking speed affected his ability to listen.

“I’m a Legate in the Imperial army.”

Hadvar stopped and grabbed Polemistís’s arm before she could continue on the road, “You’re a Legate?” he sounded concerned, but then hostile, “Why were you on that carriage then?”

“It was a complete misunderstanding.” Polemistís shook her head, “That’s one of the reasons I’m going to Solitude. I have to inform General Tullius of this awful mistake his men made and I have other business to settle with him as well.”

Hadvar appeared calmed by Polemistís explanation and they continued their walk, “Care to fill me in on any missing details? We are comrades after all.”

“I was the leader of a regime of soldiers. We were supposed to take care of some Thalmor that had gone rogue and taken over Northwatch Keep, near Whiterun.” Polemistís shook her head once more, “It was a disaster. Our informant was a traitorous spy who purposely misinformed us on the number of Thalmor.”

“You must have lost quite a few men.” Hadvar sympathized.

“It was much worse than that.” Polemistís hadn’t thought about the day she lost the sack on Northwatch Keep for more than a year. It was an event she had pushed to the back of her memory to revisit as little as possible. “I, and a couple of other men (the ones that survived), were captured and kept hostage. It took me months to escape.”

They rounded a corner heading to the left, “Then, I return to Skyrim, and I’m ambushed by this foolish thief and captured by men I’ve probably trained myself!”

“That’s quite the tale.” Hadvar nodded, “I’m headed to Solitude myself. We could go there together. The road will be much more exciting, and less dangerous, with a fellow soldier.”

“I wouldn’t mind a companion.” Polemistís gave Hadvar a warm smile.

“Oh! Look!” Hadvar pointed to the end of the road, where it turned to the right and downward again. At the end, three of Skyrim’s Standing Stones were poised in the dirt. “The Guardian stones! I fancy the Warrior myself.”

Polemistís approached the raised platform with the three pillars as tall as a man. The tops had circles in them and at the base of the stones, they each featured constellations: the one at the far left featured a thief, his dagger at his side, a cloak covering his head, the middle one a mage, who held a staff at his right and a robe covering his feet, and the last one at the right, a warrior with a horned helmet, a shield covering his body, and a war axe.

Polemistís reached out and placed her hand upon the stone with the warrior. A beam of golden light shot into the heavens, reaching far beyond the clouds.

“A very smart choice.” Hadvar smirked. Polemistís joined his side again and they followed the path that face Skyrim’s northeast. About a mile down the road, they entered Riverwood, a lumber village that had been set up next to the White River. Riverwood was rustic and unstable as far as the architecture was concerned, but there were quite a few villagers. A lumber mill was operated to the west of the village and a blacksmith across the river from the mill, and across the street from the blacksmith, a merchant shop was opened called the Riverwood Trader. Behind the Riverwood Trader, a couple of houses, one with chickens and cattle were built to house a couple of the village’s families. At the opposite end of the town was the inn.

“My uncle and aunt live here.” Hadvar explained as they passed under the guard bridge. “I’m sure they’ll be more than willing to lend us some supplies for our travels.”

Hadvar and Polemistís neared the blacksmith. “Uncle Alvor!” Hadvar called happily, “Hello!” he took a step onto the porch. The blacksmith turned to reveal a man with an ebony black apron and a burgundy colored shirt. His hands were covered in a black film from working at the forge and his face was darkened by the smoke at the open furnace. He was brown haired and bearded, his arms seemed as though they’d tear through the fabric of his shirt, and his belly made his apron strings struggle around his frame.

“Hadvar?” his voice was mid-toned as he wiped his hands on his apron, approaching the edge of the porch. “What are you doing here?” he asked in surprise before starting his next question, “Are you off leave from…” as he neared Hadvar, he saw the cuts and dirt that painted Hadvar’s face. “Shor’s bones, what happened to you, boy?!”

“Shh…” Hadvar looked around for eavesdroppers, “Keep your voice down. I am fine,” He soothed his uncle’s concern, “but we should go inside to talk.” Alvor’s tone was unchanged by Hadvar’s suggestion.

“What’s going on?” he demanded and then turned his attention to Polemistís. “And who is this?”

“She’s a friend. Saved my life, in fact. Come on, I’ll explain everything,” Hadvar grabbed his uncle by the back and lured him into the house, “but we need to go inside.”

“Okay, okay,” Alvor took the lead ahead of Hadvar and Polemistís. “Come inside, then. Sigrid will get you something to eat and you can tell me all about it.”

Polemistís’s stomach grumbled satisfied at the mention of food; her mouth watered thinking about a crisp ale and a perfectly cooked leg roast. They stepped inside the lodge, where they were greeted by a bed and chest and to the left, a table set for six, just in front of a cozy fireplace where stew was bubbling in a pot. Past the table, at the far left end of the house, stairs led down to the basement, beneath the house’s creaking wooden planks. To the right of the room, a single bed and closet were placed against the right wall.

“Sigrid! We have company!” Alvor called as he took his place at the table, sitting in the seat nearest the door. A light brown headed girl in a gray-brown dress with a similar burgundy long-sleeved shirt as her father, came bouncing up the steps of the house; upon seeing her cousin, Hadvar, she excitedly embraced his waist, as far as she could reach from her height.

“Cousin Hadvar!” she cheered.

“Hello, Dorthe.” Hadvar grinned, lifting her off the ground and taking a seat at the head of the table, near the stairs. “My, you’ve grown since I’ve left for Solitude!”

A woman, Sigrid, entered the room after Dorthe, and her eyes widened at the sight of her nephew. Hadvar placed Dorthe on the ground who took her place at the edge of the full-sized bed in front of the door. Sigrid, dressed in a salmon colored dressed with a faded white tunic underneath, threw her hands around Hadvar, who was at least two feet taller than she.

“Hadvar! We’ve been so worried about you! Come, you two must be hungry!” She looked to Polemistís and pulled out a seat for her, who nodded thankfully and took her place at the table, “Sit down and I’ll get you something to eat.” Hadvar took his place again at the head of the table. Sigrid made her way to the cauldron and began mixing in herbs and spices in the stew she had boiling over the fireplace. Polemistís couldn’t help but eye the freshly toasted bread loaves in a basket set at the center of the table.

“Now then, boy.” Alvor began, seeing everyone had settled into their chairs. “What’s the big mystery? What are you doing here, looking like you lost an argument with a cave bear?”

“I don’t know where to start…” Hadvar admitted, pinching off a corner of the toast and stuffing it in his mouth, “You know I was assigned to General Tullius’ watch. We were stopped in Helgen, when were attacked…” He swallowed the bread, and then looked at Sigrid, who was also listening intently, and then back to Alvor, “by a dragon.”

“A dragon?!” Alvor looked to his wife who stared at Hadvar with much disbelief. “That’s ridiculous.” Alvor argued, “You aren’t drunk, are you, boy?”

“Husband, let him tell his story.” Sigrid protested, offended at Alvor’s accusation.

“Not much more to tell. This dragon flew over and wrecked all of Helgen. It was mass confusion with the prisoners being transported there. I don’t know if anyone else got out alive. Polemistís and I have to return to Solitude in the morn to rendezvous with General Tullius and any other survivors.” He then looked to Polemistís. “My friend here helped me escape.”

Sigrid placed some venison stew with chopped vegetables and more freshly toasted bread on the table.

“Can I get you anything to drink Polemistís?”

“Please! Do you have any ale?”

“Of course. Now, eat up, from the sound of it, you two must have worked up an appetite.” Sigrid then left to fetch tankards and ale. Alvor turned to his nephew, munching on a loaf of toast. Polemistís immediately grabbed up a venison chop and a loaf of toast and began to chomp ravenously on the meat and bread.

“What was this talk of prisoners?” Alvor recalled from Hadvar’s description of his adventure.

“Stormcloaks. We captured them crossing the border into Skyrim along with Ulfric Stormcloak.” Hadvar broke off another chunk of toast.

“Ulfric Stormcloak?! The leader of the rebellion?!” Alvor exclaimed. “What happened to him, Hadvar? Did he escape?”

“Yes, no thanks to the dragon.” Hadvar’s face washed over with the realization of something, but he didn’t say what, he didn’t mention anything else to Alvor as he munched on his toast. Sigrid returned with two tankards in her right hand and two bottles of mead in her left. She yanked out the corks and poured the bottles into the flagons and then set one in front of Polemistís and the other in front of Hadvar.

“Here you are.” Sigrid eagerly said. “Now is there something else I could help you with, Polemistís?” Polemistís opened her mouth to speak, but Hadvar interrupted.

“Actually, yes. I thought you could help us out with supplies and place to stay. We’ll be heading back out to Solitude, like I said, to tell them what happened in Helgen.”

Alvor rose from his seat and opened the chest in front of the full-sized bed.

“Any friend of Hadvar’s is a friend of ours. We’re glad to help however we can.” Alvor granted permission for Polemistís to take whatever supplies she could manage out of the chest. Dorthe suddenly riled by Hadvar’s tale of the dragon attack on Helgen.

“Hadvar, did you really see a dragon?! What did it look like? Did it have big teeth? What color was it?” Alvor ignored his daughter as Hadvar took an interest in answering Dorthe’s petty questions.

“All this talk about dragons has got me worried.” Alvor looked to Polemistís with concern. “I need you to do something for me, in return for lending you supplies.”

“Anything. I’m happy to help and thank you very much for allowing me to borrow some supplies. I really do appreciate it.” Polemistís felt a yawn growing in the back of her throat, but swallowed the air. “What can I do for you, sir?”

“The Jarl of the Whiterun hold needs to know if there’s a dragon on the loose. Riverwood, being as small as it is, is defenseless. I need you to travel to Whiterun and ask him to send whatever soldiers he can; if you do that for me, I’ll be in your debt.”

“Of course, I’ll go to Whiterun, and consider your debt paid by lending me supplies.” Polemistís bargained with a smile. After finishing her mead and sipping on some hot soup, she moved to the chest near the bed. Alvor had a steel sword and a leather cuirass that was much too big for Polemistís, but it would have to do, at least until they got to Solitude.

“We should stay here for the night. You must be exhausted from the carriage ride and the attack on Helgen.” Hadvar suggested. “I never really got to thank you, either.”

“Thank me? I didn’t really do much, Hadvar.” Polemistís removed the armor and set it back in the chest with the sword, without looking up, she added, “I should be thanking you.” She made eye contact with Hadvar who was sitting on the single bed nearest the door.

“If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be alive right now.” She joined him on the single bed. “Thank you.”

“I’m really sorry about the mix-up.” Hadvar rubbed the back of his hands. His apology made it seem like he caused the incident, which Polemistís knew couldn’t be true.

“It’s fine. It wasn’t your fault.” She patted his arm. “That’s between me and Tullius. When I get to Solitude, I’ll be sure to rip him apart for this mistake.”

Hadvar smiled, “They really ought to have the faces of the higher ranked officials posted around the cities.”

Polemistís laughed, “I agree.” She yawned, covering her mouth daintily. “Well. We have a big day ahead of us and I’d like to leave before sunrise to head to Solitude.”

Hadvar nodded in agreement.

 

Polemistís laid in bed, staring at the wooden beams that reached across the ceiling. She and Hadvar would be leaving soon for Solitude, but she couldn’t quite bring herself to sleep for another couple of hours. It was as if she were still in hiding; she couldn’t settle herself and still imagined Thalmor agents bursting through the door and blasting her with a lightning spell.

Hadvar suddenly appeared above her face, “Are you awake?” he asked in a raspy whisper.

“I’ve been awake for an hour.” She threw off the wool blanket and placed her feet on the cold floor. She raised her arms above her head and stretched, arching her back, and letting out a long yawn. She walked over the wash basin, which had been replaced with clean water and splashed some on her face. She slipped into the cuirass from the chest and strapped on the sword.

Hadvar pulled his boots on, slipped into his own cuirass, and grabbed his blade. He handed Polemistís a knapsack, “Here. My aunt already filled it with water and food, and a couple of healing elixirs she had on reserve.”

“Thank you, Hadvar.” Polemistís slung it over her shoulder. “Are you ready?”

“Yes.”

Outside, the stars were still glimmering and night wind was brisk. They turned to the right, following the path that lead them to Riverwood. Polemistís had been rehearsing what she’d tell General Tullius when she got to the castle dour. More than anything else, she longed to see Atheneus.

Captain Atheneus had joined the Legion just a few years before Polemistís; he was her superior and best friend during the hard times during the war. He taught her everything she knew about battle strategies and taking down large groups of soldiers one-by-one. She knew he worried about her during the time she was in Bruma.

“Polemistís.” Hadvar’s voice startled Polemistís. When she looked around, she realized they were almost to the fork that split to go towards Falkreath, just southwest of Helgen.

“Y-yes?” She adjusted her knapsack which had started to make her shoulder sore.

“Can I ask you something about your history with the Legion?”

Oddly, this frightened Polemistís; she had nothing to hide, but Hadvar knew nothing about her, so if he even took anything she said out of context, it could end brutally. “Of course!” she replied, trying to remain chipper.

“You never really explained your imprisonment.”

“Oh?” Polemistís wasn’t confused about the question, but why Hadvar suddenly had a curiosity on the matter.

“What happened while you were imprisoned?”

Polemistís felt a lump growing in her throat. She had made a promise to a dear friend and it ached to think about him still chained up in a cell, if he was still alive at all. “I’ll never forget the day…” she looked down at her feet as she began the story, “It was two years ago, the 27th of Evening Star, and so very cold. It had just snowed the night before and it rose to our shins. I, my men, and my authority went to Northwatch Keep, to take care of the Thalmor.

To keep this shorter, the Thalmor in question had been taking Stormcloaks and Imperial legionnaires alike off the roads and keeping them as prisoners. These kinds of acts, as you know, are not protected by their precious White-Gold Concordat.” Polemistís scoffed. “I had just been promoted to Legate and my Captain left me in charge of the small band of soldiers. As I mentioned yesterday, it was a disaster; there were far more Thalmor than had been reported. Most of my men died, some injured, some died while imprisoned. I met Thorald Gray-Mane while captive there.” She felt the lump growing, but decided to continue with her story.

“He was a good friend to me while I planned my escape. That was a year ago. When the elves discovered my disappearance, they searched Skyrim, high and low, every city, every village. They drove me right to the border of Skyrim and then eventually into Cyrodiil, right to Bruma. The guards there are not as forgiving to the Thalmor though, so I was safe there. They don’t let people just wander in with death threats.

“I stayed with my old Fighter’s Guild guild master, Lerus Odon. I don’t know if you know him, but he’s a remarkable trainer. I learned how to use a blade and bow from him. He also taught me some hand-to-hand fighting as well. Anyways, I stayed with him for a year until the Thalmor tired of trying to track me down in Skyrim and then I began my return home. I was headed to Solitude when this thief, out of nowhere, comes running up to me stuttering and telling me he’s stealing my horse.

“Fetcher didn’t get 30 yards down the road before we were both ambushed by the soldiers, and well, you know the rest.”

They were halfway to Rorikstead by the time Polemistís had finished her tale. The trees had vanished and the hills had turned to golden plains and rocky slopes. The afternoon sun was starting to lower in the sky, hidden by clouds spread across orange and blue like a wool blanket.

“Enough about me though. I’ve talked plenty and I barely know you.” Polemistís tried to hide her embarrassment. Hadvar didn’t say anything for a little while. He then rubbed the back of his neck and looked down at her; Polemistís was a good three inches shorter than he, “I’m sorry about Thorald.”

Polemistís cut Hadvar off before he could say anything else, “Don’t be. I’m going to General Tullius to request—or rather, demand, a group of soldiers to gather at the fort. I’m going to save Thorald if it’s the last thing I do.”

Hadvar admired Polemistís’s confidence, “I hope General Tullius sends me as one of the men on that mission then.”

“I’d like that.” Polemistís smiled up at him. She felt guilty for talking so much and decided to change the subject. “So, tell me about yourself, Hadvar. When did you join the Legion?”

“About two years ago, I suppose. I was an inactive soldier, mostly doing training, until Ulfric murdered High King Torygg. That’s when they had divided the soldiers into different parties to go searching for Ulfric.” Hadvar sounded tired as he told Polemistís this, as if just thinking about the past traveling he had to endure exhausted him.

“You miss your home, don’t you?” Polemistís empathized.

“Very much.” Hadvar adjusted his sword strapped around his waist, “It was nice to visit my aunt and uncle, even if for just a short while.”

“I understand completely.” Polemistís tried to rejuvenate his spirit, “I doubt the Civil War will last too much longer.”

Hadvar glanced over at her as if she could tell the future, “Why do you say that?”

“Just a feeling I have. It only took the Legion a few months to catch Ulfric. I know he’s gathered quite an army in just a short time, but the Empire has gathered legions and has been around since before Ulfric was even born. If I had to guess, I’d say he didn’t stand a chance.” Polemistís attempted to restore Hadvar’s hope, “He may have words of honey, but he has a sword arm like a mountain flower.”

Hadvar chuckled. Polemistís had always had a gift for rallying crowds and using humor to pump bravery and sensibility into people. They entered Rorikstead, the sun was growing late, and Polemistis could feel it. They were still a few hours from Solitude, “We should stop here for the night. I have a few gold coins to pay for the inn room.” Polemistis held the door of the Frostfruit Inn open for Hadvar. The warmth of the hearth renewed their spirits. The autumn nights of Skyrim were cold and unforgiving; they approached the counter, rented a room, and retired to their beds after a meal of bread and cheese.

Morning came rather too quickly for them both, but they were too close to Solitude to stop. After an early tankard of mead, they

They had passed through Rorikstead and were almost to Robber’s Gorge, a bandit camp that was overrun with bandits trying to steal coin from wanderers on the road. Polemistís figured they wouldn’t have too much trouble dealing with the bandits.

The gorge was just beyond a large creek that opened into a pond. A stone bridge crossed over the water and met up with a watchtower on the left side. On the right, up on the hill where the spiked wooden fence enclosed the gorge, another watchtower was nestled. There was a broken log shack on the far right of the cliff where the rest of the fence circled around back to the mountain.

“I’ll take out the two on the towers. After that, you can run ahead and take out the guard nearest the gate further down the road.” Polemistís had crossed by this area many times, and every time her and her men wiped out the current inhabitants, others came and occupied the gorge in their place. It was a perfect spot for robbers to ambush traveling caravans and merchants because of the easy access to rocks that could be pushed off the cliffs.

Polemistís went to the left, crossing through the shallow creek and at the side of the tower. There were stairs leading up between two boulders. She crouched down, creeped forward toward the steps. On the platform of the lookout, she could see two bandits patrolling the bridge that connected the two watchtowers. Polemistís never trained in the art of stealth; Lerus had always been a “run in there and bash them to death” mentor.

Her sneaking was terrible, the first step of the stairs let out a loud squeal under Polemistís boot, which startled the bandits who noticed her down below.

“Hey!” he shouted, flinging himself over the ledge of the tower, meeting Polemistís below with his blade drawn. Hadvar noticed this and decided to charge in, taking out the second bandit out on the other tower with his bow.

Polemistís drew her sword, blocking the bandit’s swing. The blade felt heavy, which was odd for Polemistís. She’d spent most of her teenage years and adulthood swinging blades and shooting arrows. The year she’d spent away in Bruma had taken its toll on her. She was knocked back by his second blow though, but she shoved him back with their swords interlocked. She then quickly regrouped and took a good jab at the bandit between his ribs.

He fell over as Hadvar appeared from behind the rock, “Come on!”, he reached forward, jerking Polemistís forward, almost making her trip.

“Hadvar! What is it?!” she followed behind him as they darted on the road facing north.

“There’s too many!” he looked back at the group of bandits standing at the edge of their territory, shouting profanities as Hadvar and Polemistís fled around the mountain.

They crossed over the bridge that headed westward towards the tiny village of Dragon Bridge. The town housed barely more than 10 people, but it did have an inn where Hadvar and Polemistís decided to rest and eat.

The inn was named the Four Shields Tavern. It only had two empty bedrooms for rent and a small dining area. When they walked in, they were greeted by a rush of flame, chatter, and a bard playing a lute and singing some tune Polemistís didn’t recognize. To the right, the innkeeper welcomed them with a smile and nod. To the left were the two bedrooms available for rent, both adjacent to each other, and barrels of food and beverages stacked along the walls before meeting up with more dining tables.

“I’m so glad we’re almost to Solitude.” Polemistís entered the inn behind Hadvar, who held the door open for her. Their feet ached and stomachs began to rumble with every step they took. They took the table nearest the door, lit by cylindrical candles and plates already set. The waitress came by with flushed cheeks and a cute grin that had Hadvar blushing, “What can I get you two?”

“Uh… a, uh, couple of ales and whatever you have cooking in that pot.” Hadvar nervously replied. Polemistís sneered, covering her mouth with the palm of her hand.

“Alright, I’ll be back with your food in just a moment.” She twirled her dress and went to retrieve their drinks while Polemistís relentlessly teased Hadvar about his sexuality.

“You think she’s cute!” Polemistís eagerly whispered, continuing her tease as the waitress returned with the ales.

“Hush!” Hadvar quickly reached out, thanking the waitress for the drinks and slid one to Polemistís. “I do not.” He impatiently whispered back. The waitress then went to ladle soup into bowls for them.

“Do you have…” Polemistís paused; she didn’t want to intrude, but Hadvar seemed defensive at her jesting, “Do you have a love interest?” she moved the tankard in circles, swirling the ale around the cup.

“I did…” Hadvar’s voice drifted off. The waitress returned in a hurry with their stew. The aroma of elk meat, carrots, and onions reminded Polemistís of home. Its steam made her face sweat and her stomach growl loudly.

“Tell me about her.” Polemistís turned back to Hadvar after taking a bite of the stew. It made her mouth water profusely and forget that they had travelled for almost an entire day.

“Um… she passed…” Hadvar sulked, stirring his stew with no direction. Polemistís was washed over with guilt, and Hadvar noticed this, “It’s fine. I mean, it’s not fine, but… it’s fine. It happened this year, so the wound is still fresh. It’s why I joined the Legion.”

Polemistís didn’t want to intrude further, so she stopped talking and focused on eating her soup, however, Hadvar went ahead and continued, sensing her curiosity, “After Ulfric killed the High King and Skyrim became divided… the Stormcloaks started off as very relentless. Before the Empire stepped in, they would go around, forcing anyone who wasn’t a Nord out of their homes; some of them…”

Polemistís looked over; Hadvar was bent over his bowl, rubbing the back of his head with both of his hands. He was choking up, so Polemistís placed an empathetic arm around his back, rubbing his shoulder gingerly.

He sighed and continued, “Some of them would drag out the men, women… even the children… and murder them. My… my wife was a Breton… we were living in Ivarstead…” His voice cracked, “They came in the night.” He dropped his hands and began to sob uncontrollably, covering his face with his palms.

“Hadvar, I’m so sorry…” Polemistís thought back to when the Thalmor invaded Skyrim. Once Hadvar settled some, she said, “I went through something similar, Hadvar, a few years ago, but it feels like it was yesterday that it happened.”

“What happened to you?”

“Well… my parents sent me to Bruma to train at the Fighter’s Guild. I was 15 when I went. I trained there for 2 years before I returned home to Falkreath. My parents were supposed to come visit me in Bruma, but they never did, and when I went home…” She swallowed the lump in her throat, “I found out that the Thalmor had ransacked Falkreath, burned the village to the ground; my parents didn’t survive.” She stared into her soup that had started to cool. It was the first time she didn’t cry when she spoke of her parents.

“I’m sorry, Polemistis.” Hadvar managed a smile, “However, I’m glad to have someone who’s gone through a similar loss as I.” He then continued with his meal, until at last he pushed the bowl away and poured the last drop of ale into his mouth, wiping his face with the back of his forearm with a sigh of satisfaction.

Polemistis had also finished her soup, but refused to take another sip of her ale. One thing the men in her regime used to tease her about was being a lightweight when it came to drinking. She could kick all their asses, but when it came to drinking, Polemistis became staggering drunk after just one tankard of mead.

She pushed the bowl away as well, and suggested to Hadvar they leave now so they could get to Solitude before nightfall. Hadvar agreed and tossed a few golden Septims onto the table, thanked the waitress for a delicious meal, and then followed Polemistis out the door and northeast on the road to Solitude.

“Do you have a love?” Hadvar had been quiet for a while.

Polemistís hesitated. She had told herself to forget him for the time-being, and though it seemed harsh to think such a way, the war had kept them separated for so long, she finally came to terms with not seeing him for long periods of time, “I don’t think about him much.”

“Ex-lover?”

Polemistís glanced up, “No,” she shook her head furiously, “absolutely not. My husband; the war kept us apart…I finally settled my heart so it wouldn’t get excited anytime they told us we would get to go home soon.”

“I see.” They were nearing Solitude, “His name?”

Polemistís could feel the heartache returning, thinking about his warmth, his tender lips against hers, his gentle hands in hers.

“You don’t have to tell me.” She hadn’t realized Hadvar was looking at her, “I understand that pain all too well.”

The walk took a couple of hours before Polemistis finally set her eyes on the city she had hoped to see for more than two years. She suddenly became completely aware that she hadn’t been to Solitude in so long, she wondered how much different the city had changed. The path to Solitude sloped downward and then split; a road leading east went further down and curved to the stables. However, straight ahead, the path went up a steep, lengthy hill where up on the cliff, sat the great capital of Skyrim. It stretched over a ridge in the cliff where the Blue Palace hovered over the Carth River.

Polemistis couldn’t help but smile that their trek was almost complete.

“There she is: Solitude.” Hadvar wasn’t smiling though, if anything, he looked angry about having arrived. “I’m sorry if I’m not in a cheery mood. I just know that they’re going to send me off to a camp somewhere as soon as I walk through those doors.”

“You’ll do fine, I’m sure, Hadvar. You’re an excellent warrior.” As they climbed the hill, Polemistis felt herself sinking back into her long-lost title of Legate. She missed her armor; she wore it with pride and missed its satin interior and gleaming steel that reflected the sunlight. She missed the enchanted dagger Lerus had gifted to her when she left for Falkreath. She missed the worn map that she carried everywhere with her. “Hadvar, whatever happened to my belongings when I was captured?”

Hadvar seemed surprised at this question, “Well. After you were captured, we took role, made sure all the prisoners were on board, and then, well, we shipped off the belongings to wherever the person hailed from; you weren’t on the list, so yours got sent to, well, here.” Hadvar pointed a finger to the gates.

“I’m sure General Tullius will know where they are.” Polemistis pushed open the gates of the city, a refreshing wind caught in her hair, “There was no murder! Ulfric challenged Torygg. He beat the High King in fair combat!”

Cries filled the air, “Traitor!”

“He doesn’t deserve to speak!”

Polemistis whipped around to the right to see a man dressed in rags, his hands bound, and he looked just as appalled as she had been in Helgen. The guards pushed the man down onto the execution block, and the hooded executioner lifted his axe which came down swiftly, separating the man’s head from his body.

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