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Soldiers, Young and Old: a Skyrim Fanfic


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A/N: I've noticed that Fanfiction.net is filled to the brim with stories about the Dragonborn. Those few that do involve the war either paint Ulfric as Hitleresque as possible (not the case, if you'll look at the second half of this essay, written by a friend of mine), or paint the Empire as a horrifically oppressive regime stomping on everyone's rights. This, IMO, is an insult to the writers of the game, as they went out of their way to show both sides as having pros and cons; Ulfric and Tullius are sympathetic in their own ways, but both have character flaws of their own, and so do their subordinates. Therefore, I decided to delve into what I think makes these characters tick. If you prefer stories involving action or romance involving the Dragonborn, or prefer a black-and-white story that ends with a victory for your favorite side while vilifying the other, or generally hate stories that make you think... go read something else. If, however, you're like me, and want to experience the drama of these old and young soldiers, why they fight, and what they fight for (while overlooking a plot twist I added in for extra drama while keeping with the theme. Bear with it, and read to the end. It's not what it appears to be)... then read on, and feel free to review and comment, either here or on FF.




Arngeir sat alone in the darkened meditation hall. He considered himself a patient man; indeed, the Way of the Voice had taught him to control his emotions well. But the events of the day tested that patience to the limit. These fools, these men of war, arguing and threatening each other while their cities burned and the World-Eater brought Mundus closer to its end! How could they be so blind to the truth--that in the end, they were no different? That their pointless bloodshed served no one, least of all themselves?
"Season Unending"... truly, an appropriate description of something so barbaric as war.




So much talk and so little substance. The Jarl of Windhelm let out a heavy sigh; of all the problems he had to deal with, the last one he wanted to deal with at this particular moment was the one in front of him now. Two days had passed since the ceasefire between the Stormcloaks and the Empire. Brunwulf Free-Winter, as usual, was pleading on behalf of the Dark Elves in the ancient city. And if there was someone arguing in their favor, it was inevitable that Yrsarald Thrice-Pierced would be there to argue the opposite.

"...and just this morning, I had to stop two of our own citizens from harassing and even openly threatening one of the many Dunmer that actually work for the Shatter-Shields, your supporters! If you simply gave a small speech, or at least an official statement--"

"Then those grey-skins would just get encouraged, and that's the last thing we need from them! I know Rolff personally, and as a true Son of Skyrim he seeks only to root out those red-eyed milk drinkers as the spies they are! If we show them sympathy it would be like opening the gates to the Thalmor themselves..."

The two men had been at it for over an hour, and Ulfric's headache grew by the minute. A headache, however, was itself a relief compared to what he had been through. He was not exactly in the prime of his life, and neither was he old. But the events he had experienced seemed to have sapped nearly all his youth and energy. Before he knew it, the arguing voices faded away, and were replaced by unwanted memories, ghosts of his past that frightened him more than any dragon...


Darkness and pain. That was all he knew now. How long had it been since the battle, since his capture? Days? Months? A lesser man would have broken long ago. Ulfric was no such weakling; he was a Nord, and not only that, but a warrior, a descendant of Ysgramor, a student of the Greybeards, one who had learned to use the voice. But even a man with the power of the Thu'um had his limits. When he broke, the words came out not as a shout, but as a whimper; they left his mouth unbidden, automatic, as if he were no longer in control. His only hope was that the information they tore out of him was worthless, but he couldn't even remember what he had said. So he prayed. He prayed that rescue would come. He prayed that, if rescue never came, that his captors might finally kill him when they next appeared, and in doing so release his soul to Sovngarde.
He almost didn't register the door opening. A female Altmer approached; Here was his tormentor, the one who had captured him, the one who had broken him. She stood over his broken and bloody form and spoke with practiced condescension. "I have news for you, great Nord hero."

The harshest curses he knew could not have sounded more insulting. "What... what do you want now? Haven't you... done enough to me?"

"Why so hostile, proud Nord? I simply came to thank you."

No. Please. Say anything else. Cut my flesh a thousand times more. Rip my heart from my chest, tear out my very soul, but don't tell me...

"The information you gave us was quite useful. Your precious Imperial City..."

No... Gods no...

"...Has fallen to us. We are ever so grateful for your assistance."

Darkness returned, along with the pain. And it did not stop, even with his eventual release.


The nerve! The audacity! He ought to march over to that damned embassy, put his hands on that elven b----'s throat, and squeeze!

"They're saying I did it?! After I did their work for them?! Damn those treacherous lying dogs! May they burn along with the Thalmor...

"My Jarl, please don't shout at me. I am merely the messenger."

Ulfric barely managed to restrain himself. He had expected the messenger, but not the message. Weeks ago, Igmund asked him to retake Markarth for him, promising on behalf of the Empire that the traditions of his people would be restored, and the Thalmor kept in the dark. It was not an easy task: the Forsworn, as they now called themselves, offered heavy resistance, but Ulfric's men prevailed. After the battle, he returned to Windhelm and awaited news of his reward, and when the small, unassuming man had appeared before him, he hoped his faith in the Empire would be restored.
Instead, it was crushed. After he left, Igmund took the opportunity to slaughter a great number of the surviving Reachmen and toss the rest into the mines. What followed were the three most infuriating things he had ever heard since the Empire signed that Gods-damned treaty: One, the terms he was offered--namely, the restoration of Talos worship--were rescinded because the elves had somehow found out. Secondly, that the same Empire he agreed to serve in this was falsely blaming him for Igmund's crimes. And third... the thing that shocked him more than anything else. The last thing he could have expected. Torygg, the High King... a man he respected, a man he thought he could trust...

"And... you're certain it's true? Is it possible you misheard--"

The courier shook his head. "I wish I could say that, my Jarl. I put my ear to the door and heard it as clear as crystal. The one who told the Thalmor of the deal was none other than Torygg. That Thalmor woman thanked him personally, and from his reaction I'm guessing no small amount of gold was involved."
Ulfric could no longer think; the rage blinded his eyes and deafened his ears. What little was left of his world crumbled around him. He couldn't even pull himself together long enough to further question the man before him. Torygg, of all people! Damn it all to the depths...

"My Jarl... what do you intend to do? What can be done?"

The question rang in his ears for what seemed like an eternity. What can be done? What else is there to do? Standing from his throne, anger gave way to grim resolve. "Send Torygg a message for me: if he is a Nord at all, if there is any part of him that hasn't betrayed his people, he will face me in combat. And know that the so-called Bear of Markarth... is done negotiating." As the courier left, Ulfric made certain he was alone in the room, then slumped back into his throne. With no one to see his weakness, the Jarl of Windhelm put his head in his hands, and wept for the last time.


"That is too far, Yrsarald! I've been nothing but loyal--"

"And yet you side with the enemy! I'm surprised you haven't simply bedded them..."

Ulfric looked up again. He was back in the present, the argument having come to a climax. Finally, as they began to shout over each other, Ulfric pounded his fist on the arm of his throne. "ENOUGH! Both of you!" Both men stopped in mid-speech, startled by the sudden outburst. "Brunwulf, the Grey Quarter is NOT my problem. It is a refugee district, and whatever conditions are there come from that. A speech from me won't fix it, and I most certainly can't, and won't, spare the coin to aid neutral foreign layabouts while the Imperials prepare to break the ceasefire! As for you, Yrsarald, have you ever considered that maybe your friend Rolff is a notorious drunk who wanders the Grey Quarter at night, riling up the Dunmer into causing the very trouble you expect me to deal with? Which, by the way, is yet another distraction from the war I am currently trying to win! Both of you, take your complaints somewhere else, before I throw you out myself!"
After the two men left, Galmar entered with news of the situation in Whiterun. As his right hand spoke, Ulfric Stormcloak shoved aside his doubt. Whether he was in the right or not was irrelevant; he had come too far to stop now. For better or worse, the Jarl of Windhelm would see this war to the end, whatever end that might be.




A map of the province lay on the table. Covering the map were an assortment of large and small flags, of which there were two colors: red and blue. To an ordinary person, the placement of the flags would seem haphazard and random. To Tullius, it was a sign of worry. They had handed Markarth over to Ulfric on the negotiating table. The city could probably be retaken easily right now, but trying to do so would leave Whiterun undefended. And defending Whiterun would offer the rebels time to reinforce their position in Markarth. He had to admit, Ulfric was no fool.
As he continued to ponder the map, the door slammed open, and entering was a Nord man he had seen numerous times while dealing with the local ruler. "Falk Firebeard. This is unexpected..."

"Is it true, General?"

The look in Firebeard's eye was a strange mix of horror, disbelief, and revulsion. There was no mistaking what he was referring to. "I'm not at liberty to discuss matters of military concern--"

"Don't give me that talk! One of my close friends 'disappeared without a trace' from his home in the middle of the night... and that Thalmor woman was asking questions about him the day before. I'll ask you one more time: is. It. True?"

Tullius straightened himself and turned toward the man. "He was breaking the law, Falk. The Thalmor were breathing down my neck about it. What did you expect would happen to your friend, worshiping Talos in secret when the treaty with them expressly forbids it?"

The Nord nearly burst a blood vessel in response. "So it is true! You're selling out loyal Imperial citizens to the true enemy be hind this war! Such hypocrisy... I should offer a report to the Emperor himself for your treason--"

It was now Tullius' turn to shout. "DON'T YOU DARE USE THAT WORD WITH ME!" This gave Firebeard pause, but did not change his expression. Tullius lowered his voice again before continuing. "Alright, suppose I tried to be like you. Suppose I hid someone else's Talos worship. Now suppose you were in my position. Would you just march up to the Thalmor Embassy and demand his release? Would you risk a second war on top of the one we're currently fighting out of some misplaced sense of personal honor? I don't like the situation any more than you, Falk. You do your job, and leave me to mine." The Nord opened his mouth as if to say something, but instead let out an angry snort and left as quickly as he came.

That man has no clue what war is...


"Upon my honor I do swear undying loyalty to the Emperor, Titus Mede II, and unwavering obedience to the officers of his great Empire. May those above judge me, and those below take me, if I fail in my duty. Long live the Emperor! Long live the Empire!"

The oath of loyalty; merely speaking those words filled him with pride. A General! It seemed just yesterday he was a raw recruit. Then again, war has a way of forcing maturity on people.
Tullius stood from his kneeling position and turned to face the mass of troops behind him. This would be his first commission as their commanding officer; he would not fail them, or his oath. "Soldiers of the Empire... this war has taken a lot out of you. We've taken no small number of hits. But for all their advancing, for all their bluster and talk of conquest, you have fought with valor and ferocity unmatched by the fiercest of their footmen; in the face of the enemy, you continue to stand, unwavering, fearless. You have proven, beyond a doubt, that the Empire cannot be intimidated by any foe. If the Thalmor wish to continue this war, let them do so... and learn what it is to face true soldiers!"
He smiled broadly as he waited for the cheering to subside. Other generals would have simply said whatever their troops wanted or needed to hear. But for Tullius, every word he had said came from his heart. "I know things have not been easy for those of you who have served longest; this war has been bloodier than most. I myself have lost friends and allies on the front lines. But I put this to you: could you call yourselves Legions of Tamriel if you allowed them to die in vain? Could you set foot in the Shrine of Tiber Septim ever again if you failed in your duty to his Empire? War is dark business... but it is always darkest before the dawn, and I assure you: the dawn is coming, the light at the end of the tunnel is in sight, and a victorious end to this war is in view! So stand tall, Legions! Stand proud and firm against the tide of evil, and remember that for those who will try, nothing is impossible!"

If he thought the cheering was loud before, it was now deafening. With this army... we can win this. There's no way we can lose.


The stench alone was unbearable; it filled the air, causing the inexperienced to vomit and the veterans to gag. Combined with the hundreds of rotting, blood-drenched and/or partially dismembered corpses littering the ground, it was a wonder that anyone could bear to look upon it at all. The battle was technically a victory... with emphasis on "technically". Tullius doubted the people, or the Emperor, or even the Elder Council, would care about that word. No, they would hear "victory", and nothing else. But only a soldier knows what the cost of victory is, and the cost of this particular one was too high.

Four hundred thousand of theirs, Four hundred seventy-five of ours. Over half of the enemy dead, the rest set to retreat... and three hundred thousand of our own died to do it.

"General Tullius? Sir?"

"Sorry, Legate. Lost in thought. You were saying?"

The young man before him noticed the lines of worry on Tullius' face and seemed hesitant to speak, but mustered his courage anyway. "I just... permission to speak freely--"

"You don't need to ask, son. You have every right."

"As you say, General. I just wanted to know... did we... did we do anything? Did we make a difference here? Are we winning? Does all this mean anything, in the end?"

Tullius himself wasn't certain. This was the third battle he'd been in that resulted in so much death; it was hard to believe the war was going well for their side, regardless of 'victory'. But he couldn't say that. Not to his soldiers. At least the ones that were still alive...

"Son, we can't believe otherwise. The moment you start thinking those kind of thoughts, the people who died here die in vain. If we lose hope, if we give up now, then it won't matter. We have to have faith. We have to believe we can win..." As he spoke those words, he saw an imperial courier on horseback approach, and a smile forced its way onto his face. "You don't believe me, soldier? Listen to this man. No doubt the battle near the City went well. You there! How did we do? The bastards finally leave with their tails between--"

"The Imperial City has fallen. We're to abandon this position immediately."

Tullius could not speak. His face went pale, and for a moment that seemed an eternity, he felt his very soul shatter. All of it, for nothing.


"Let me make this clear, honorable General; your opinion does not matter. You either do what you're told, or you'll lose your job!"

"You don't make that decision, Elenwen! I answer to the Emperor--"

"The Emperor who told you to cooperate with us, regardless of our demands. Is that not correct, General?"

Tullius shut his mouth. Satisfied, the b---- continued ranting, clearly enjoying her position over him. First there was the dragon business, then there was the upcoming ceasefire negotiations, and now the face of the Thalmor in Skyrim was demanding she be present during the talks. He would give anything for the chance to say something, to shut her up, to throw her words back at her smug face... but he couldn't. Not with the treaty still in effect. Then there was the other matter she held over his head at every opportunity...

"...and for their sake, you had better get rid of whatever thoughts of insolence you have in that head of yours. It'd be such a shame if something were to happen to..."

And there it is again. Damn her to the depths of Oblivion... It was hard to believe he had come to this. Made to obey the very people he fought so hard against... but she was right. With the way things were, fighting back was pointless. It would only lead to more death. And he had seen more death than he would ever care to see again. Nothing to do but stand and bear it. Nothing he could do...


Not ten seconds after Falk Firebeard stormed out of Castle Dour, Legate Rikke entered the war room. "Sir, what happened? That one seemed angry enough to punch a hole in the castle walls."

Tullius looked up at her, and silently observed her. Too much death. No more.

"Sir, are you alri--"

"It's... it's nothing, Rikke. Nothing to worry about." Other generals would have said something they believed. But for Tullius, telling her what she needed to hear was more important.


A/N: Once again, feel free to read and review. The next part of the story (dealing with Rikke and Galmar) shouldn't take long to finish, and perhaps may even end up being the last chapter. This was never going to be a particularly long fic, so if you're still wondering about a few unanswered questions (such as the Torygg thing and Elenwen's threat), don't worry; it'll all be answered soon enough.

Edited by CoGDork
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Damn faithless Imperials! Galmar looked over still smoldering remains of the village. Bodies of villagers, young and old, littered the ground, many of them burned beyond recognition, and everywhere were Imperial banners planted into the ground.

"First they blame Markarth on us. Then they say we massacred the people of Karthwasten, and now they do this?!"

As Galmar relieved his frustration by kicking a piece of burning rubble, one of his men approached. "Sir, something here doesn't seem right..."

"I don't want to hear it, Ralof."

"But sir, I knew people in the Legion. They want to conquer Skyrim and enslave us, not burn it and slaughter us. And the number of banners everywhere just feels--"

"I SAID I DON'T WANT TO HEAR IT! You have eyes, what else could it be? If we don't start this war up again and kill some Imperials..."

The look in Galmar's eyes was not unlike that of a rabid beast. "Sir, I hate the Empire as much as you do, but we ALL knew people in the Legion. Even you. Does this seem like something they would do?"

Galmar stopped what he was doing and looked up, his eyes focusing once more as he considered the younger soldier's question. Some forgotten memory tugged at him. It was one he had willfully suppressed, but had nagged at him off and on since the ceasefire. Rikke...


"How many did you get, Gal?"

The Nord in question turned to face the woman asking it. He was burly, covered in dirt and blood, and the beginnings of a beard were showing on his face, which had just received what would be the first of many scars. "Last count I had forty-three. Would've killed more if the milk-drinkers hadn't started running from my better half here!" Galmar laughed heartily, patting the haft of his massive battleaxe as he did so.

"Only forty-three? I'll have you know I just finished off number fifty when the horn blew! And isn't referring to your axe as a wife going a little overboard?"

"You're just jealous of my skill, Rikke, and you know it! Also, HER name is Ve--"

Before he could finish speaking, an imperial courier arrived on horseback. All eyes turned to him; this was undoubtedly news of the reclamation of the Imperial City, which had been captured by the Thalmor not long before. The courier leapt from his horse, took a deep breath... and smiled.

"We did it! The war is over!"

Raucous cheering followed, survivors embraced each other, and two Nordic soldiers breathed a sigh of relief.


After a successful war it is customary for Nords to go to the nearest tavern and drink, brag, and sing for the better part of a year. Under the circumstances, however, only the first occurred, and the tavern was eerily silent.

Galmar frowned, looking down at his glass. "But why? We won, didn't we?"

"Yes, but the Thalmor had reserves. There really wasn't a choice in the matter."

"The treaty is nearly identical to the ultimatum they gave us at the start of it all. We won! We should be making demands of them!"

Rikke downed another tankard and shook her head. "I don't like it either, Gal. All that fighting and we end up back where we started. At least the Empire is still alive for a second round..."

"Is it?"

If the room had been silent before, it was still as the grave following that question. Galmar's eyes were oddly focused for someone with eighteen ales in him. "They signed over an entire province. They demanded the ability to oversee war councils. Oh, and let's not forget the fact that we have to abandon one of the most important parts of our culture because the damn elves say so!"


"No, Rikke. The Empire is dead. It died when it signed that damnable treaty. Hammerfell may have the right idea about abandoning--"


He looked across the table toward Rikke, whose face displayed both shock and anger. "Not another word, Galmar. That's treason."

"Rikke, why does it mean that damn much to you? You saw what Ulfric looked like when he was returned. They did that to who knows how many other people, and now they get to keep doing it while your precious Empire looks the other way! Does that sound like--"

"NOT. Another. Word." A moment passed between the two. They saw each others' faces, read each others' hearts, weighed each others' souls. More was said in that short silence than they had said with words in the past hour. Finally, they had said enough. Galmar slowly stood up from the table, with Rikke mirroring his posture.

"So this is it, huh. End of an era. Fall of the companions. You're willing to turn your back on me, just like that?"

"If you're planning what I think you are, Galmar? You're the one who turned their back. Out of respect for what was, I'll let you go. But don't expect to see me again."

Nothing more needed to be said. Rikke marched out the door with the poise of a legionary; as for Galmar, he waited until she was out the door, then sat back down, ordered another drink, and did his best to wash away all memory of their friendship.


Back at the dead village, Galmar came to his senses. The smell of burning flesh lingered in the air, and just as his rage began to fade his eyes fell upon an Imperial banner, rekindling it. Ralof repeated his question.

"Sir, the legion is full of Nords just like us. Don't you think..."

"Ralof, just shut up. That's an order. If they want to side against their kin... let them die with their elven overlords. I'm going back to Windhelm; this ceasefire has gone on long enough."

As he stomped off, Galmar saw his reflection in a shattered piece of glass on the ground. His face was covered in scars, but the deepest one was invisible to all but him.



The ceasefire was over. Whiterun had requested Imperial soldiers in anticipation of what was to come. Legate Rikke, second in command to General Tullius, stood over those troops that would be sent to protect the city from the rebels who were even now preparing to assault it.

"...and I expect each of you to do your duties faithfully and without question. Whiterun may be one of the more easily defensible cities in the province, given its layout, but if we're not careful the enemy could easily take it from us. Do not give them that chance. Any questions?"

One hand in front went up; Rikke pointed to the man in question. "You there! State your name and question."

"Hadvar of Riverwood, Prefect, 2nd Infantry."

"Ah, yes, the team at the wall. I assume that's where your question lies?"

"Actually, captain, I was wondering about any prisoners we capture..."

"No prisoners, Prefect. General's orders."

"But sir--"

"NO. Prisoners. They had a chance to give up the fight, and now they make up some story about a massacre in a blatant attempt to break the ceasefire and justify the slaughter of the citizens of Whiterun. If they show no mercy, they will receive none."

Hadvar considered speaking again, but Rikke's face seemed to be made of stone. It was clear that any more talk against her orders would be viewed as treason. "...by your orders, Legate. No further questions."

Underneath the expressionless gaze, however, Rikke was as confused as Hadvar. The lines between friend and foe blurred constantly in this war, and her trust had been broken before...


"How is he? Will he make it?"

"The Healers say he'll be okay physically, but... the things they probably did to him... he may not be Ulfric Stormcloak when he wakes."

Galmar and Rikke sat across from each other in the barracks. Their close friend had just been rescued from a Thalmor prison camp; his fingernails had been torn, he was missing teeth, and there were clear signs of... other violations. Mara's mercy, how could anyone do this...

"At least there'll be good news when he wakes up. Thank Talos, we won..."

"At the cost of hundreds of thousands of men and women. And that's just the number they're giving right now. Somehow I doubt Ulfric will be that comforted by your 'good news', Galmar."

The two said nothing out loud; instead, their eyes did the talking for them. It was something neither of them could explain, but both could feel.


Galmar. It couldn't have been anyone else. Rikke stood in her quarters, where her personal trunk had been emptied, its contents strewn about the room. One thing in particular was missing, however: a key. Specifically, the key to the armory. Normally, that wouldn't be enough to gain access; there were guards in the armory who were made familiar with those who had clearance and those who did not. But aside from Rikke, only Galmar had both the authority to enter as well as first-name familiarity with the guards... which explained how every piece of weaponry and armor "vanished" overnight, along with the guards.

She ought to have known after the conversation they had in the tavern. The man was slipping as surely as Ulfric. Then a few days later they met again, with Galmar claiming to be apologetic, but clearly hiding something.

What frightened her at that time was the fact that they couldn't read each other anymore. During the war they could hold entire conversations without saying a word, but that day he apologized for his behavior in the tavern he was unreadable. It was as if he were an entirely different person. And now she knew why.

"DAMN YOU, GALMAR!" Rikke screamed at the top of her lungs, tossing the chest against the wall and causing the crash to reverberate through nearly the entire building. A solitary guard came running to investigate and found her staring at the wall.

"Legate? What's the matter? What happened here?"

Rikke did not turn around, and her voice did not change. "Soldier... put out a warrant... for the arrest of Galmar Stone-Fist. The charge is... treason."

The soldier paused for a moment, then hurried on his way. Rikke made certain not to turn around, even after he was gone, lest anyone see the tears streaming down her face.


"...by your orders, Legate. No further questions."

Rikke looked over the troops one last time, then nodded. "Very well. Don't fail Whiterun, and don't fail your Emperor. Dismissed!"

Hadvar looked up at her, but eventually followed his unit out the gates of Castle Dour. He couldn't read her. No one could. From this point on, she trusted no one but herself and her own resolve.


A/N: Sorry this chapter took so long. The section involving Galmar took me forever to figure out (Thanks, Rev! I appreciate the advice). Hopefully the next chapter won't take nearly as long, but I doubt it will since it merges two character's stories into one... specifically, Ralof and Hadvar. Also, yes, the "massacre" (notice the quotation marks...) in Galmar's section has an explanation, and it will be revealed in the epilogue along with the unanswered questions from the first chapter. I'm sure some of you have guessed part of it, but please refrain from spoiling it for other people and be patient! Oh, and reviews would be nice as well.

Edited by CoGDork
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Excellent! Enjoyed reading your perspective on the war in Skyrim and the actions of the Empire. I have also had doubts about the Emperor's, and Empire's, actions in the storyline. The characterisation is finely done. I look forward to more of this story.



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  • 3 weeks later...


In retrospect, scouting during a snowstorm was a bad idea. While fighting their way through blinding snow, the Nord and his fellow scouts were ambushed by the enemy. There was no one left, most likely, but at least he had found shelter in a nearby cave. And that's when he realized he was not alone.

"Who's there? Friend or foe?"
"Wait... I know that voice!"
Two men stepped from the shadows, revealing two Nords facing each other, dumbfounded.
As the surprise faded, recognition turned to rage as they drew their weapons. This was a personal battle, one that would be settled in blood. But as they prepared to charge, a deafening roar shook the cave, and all light within was suddenly gone, leaving only darkness. The Nord called Ralof fumbled around for his travel lantern and lit it, holding it up to what was once the entrance, now a thick wall of snow.
"Damn. Looks like we're stuck here."
Hadvar opened his mouth to say something, then simply sighed and sat on the floor of the cave. "Perhaps it's a sign from the Gods. I thought they'd abandoned us, but it seems they are actively out to kill us now." Ralof followed Hadvar's lead and leaned back, his arms crossed behind his head.
"Or perhaps they want us to talk. As if it were that easy. Let's see... didn't we last see each other at Helgen? When the dragon business began?"
"Ah, yes. Didn't we try to kill each other then?"
"As I remember it, the headsman was trying to kill us. I merely thought about killing you just before we entered the keep to escape."
Hadvar chuckled at the dark humor. Both remained silent for a long moment, staring at each other across the cave. The light from Ralof's lantern seemed brighter for the darkness, highlighting the scars and wrinkles on their respective faces. It wasn't said, but both thought it. You look like you've aged a century since then. The tired smiles faded, and were replaced by tired frowns as both asked the silent question:
How did it come to this?
"Here's the part where you lie down and bleed to death! RAAAAAARGH!"
The wooden sword slashed through the air until a small shield with a crude painted image of the Imperial dragon stopped it.
"Uh-uh! I'll stop you in the name of the Empire, foul bandit! FOR RIVERWOOD!"
The two young boys tossed aside their toy weapons and began to wrestle, laughter filling the air, mixing with the creaking of a watermill and the ring of a hammer striking an anvil. Spring was in full effect; the sun shone radiantly, the flowers bloomed, and frogs sat upon their lily-pads, adding their croaks to the ambient noise. One more noise broke the silence: that of a burly Nord man standing near the mill. "Battle's over, boys! Ralof, come on up here and help your old man."
The child in question sat up and pouted. "But papa, isn't Gerdur already helping you? Besides, milling's boring! I wanna be a warrior one day!"
A new voice, this one feminine, rose from the smithy. "Come on, Heorot, let them practice for a while longer. You never know when a bandit raid might come!"
"Ha! Well, that would make your smithy more popular, wouldn't it? You know it's been ages since anything like that happened. Boys..."
Heorot looked at the two children for a bit, then sighed. "Bah, I'm getting soft from all this peace. Alright, warriors. as you were!"
The laughter continued as if it were never interrupted.
"Upon my honor I do swear undying loyalty to the Emperor, Titus Mede II, and unwavering obedience to the officers of his great Empire. May those above judge me, and those below take me, if I fail in my duty. Long live the Emperor! Long live the Empire!"
A large mass of soldiers stood in the yard, waiting for Tullius, their new General, to address them for the first time. As his speech began, two soldiers in particular smirked at each other. "Of course they'd give us a speech-maker! Why can't we just get to the battle part, eh Ralof?"
As cheering and applause punctuated the continuing speech, the man in question laughed heartily. "So soon? Don't you want to hear what's-his-face talk more?"
"You're just worried I'll show you up when the fighting begins. I'm the tougher one, remember?"
"You had a few to many pints, friend. I seem to recall knocking you on your ass last time we sparred."
"I told you, the sun was in my eyes. If we fought in the afternoon, I would've been the winner."
"Oh really? Why don't we test that when..."
Both were silenced as a centurion placed his hand on their shoulders. "Hadvar and Ralof; I should have guessed. When you're done reminiscing, you have cleaning duties to attend to."
A shrug and smile passed between them. From the day they signed up, they had been brothers in all but blood. Nothing, it seemed, could separate them, and neither would this war. This they silently vowed.
"What happened to your pride as a Nord?"
"I could ask you the same thing, traitor!"
"Damn you..."
Thunder rumbled and rain poured as the two men grappled with each other. Punches, kicks, and bites were traded in a violent frenzy. Suddenly, rough hands pulled them apart forcefully.
"Ralof, brother, that's enough!"
"What's gotten into you, Hadvar? Stop it!"
The two men struggled to escape the grasp of their loved ones, eager to return to their fight, until a loud peal of thunder signaled the worsening of the storm.
"Ulfric, Ralof? You know what they said about the man. But I guess our friendship takes second place to your murderer."
"At least he isn't just doing whatever those damn Altmer tell him to do, unlike some people here!"
"Why you son of a-"
Once again they were pulled apart. Finally, the rain became enough to force them to abandon their fight. The two men looked at each other, then made a silent promise:
You are no longer my friend.
The light within the cave continued to flicker. "I guess we were both too stubborn."
"Yeah. I'm betting your people had about as much to do with Karthwasten as ours did with Ivarstead."
"As in, 'nothing'. I thought so. Didn't sound like you. This stupid war..."
"Who do you think did those things... bah, doesn't matter now anyway. Like you said, this war..."
A moment passed between the two. They briefly considered the possibility of reconciliation. They imagined themselves grasping each other's hands, ready to bear arms for each other like the old days.
But a new realization crushed those dreams.
"You know, whichever side rescues one of us will kill the other."
"Nah. They'll kill both of us just because we didn't immediately gut each other. And if that doesn't happen, that still leaves the problem of us being stuck in a cave with no rations and no way out."
Another pause. "So what do we do? Finish it here?"
"I did swear that day that I'd be the one to kill you. Didn't think I'd be doing it to spare you."
"Yeah, well, I made a similar oath. Still, better than starving... or watching the other get cut down by someone else."
The two men clasped their forearms and made one final vow. Brothers, to the last.
No one would know the outcome of their battle. Outside the cave, the blizzard continued to rage.
From the desk of Elenwen, First Emmissary of the Thalmor
Members of the High Council of the Third Dominion;
My time in Skyrim has been quite productive. Planting the seeds of rebellion was easy enough; that courier we sent to Ulfric falsely indicating Torryg's betrayal (Still don't understand why the latter wouldn't take our gold) was more convincing than predicted. Our psychological torture of the former undoubtedly played a role in his readiness to believe whatever we wanted him to; of course, we killed the courier soon after, as protocol dictated.
The council's worry over Tullius is unfounded, I assure you. We learned of his Legate's Talos worship and have been using the threat of her arrest and execution to bind Tullius to our will. If he makes even the slightest attempt to resist, we have people in place to assure the deed is done. The council may also rest easy in the knowledge that orders to carry out the threat regardless are already in place should the Empire win the war. In that event, Tullius will follow her shortly.
However, I am most eager to tell you of what I believe to be my personal crowning achievement in this conflict, which I hope the council will recognize and reward. As the successful ceasefire negotiations created an unacceptable possibility of reconciliation between the two factions, I determined a cause for continued war for both sides was necessary. To that end our Justicars were sent to Karthwasten and Ivarstead in force, eliminating all therein and placing evidence implicating the Stormcloaks in the former and the Imperials in the latter. No evidence of our presence was left, and no witnesses to our work were allowed to escape. The execution of the teams we sent was unfortunate, but necessary to prevent the possibility of any leaks. The plan worked perfectly; both sides blamed the other for the actions we carried out, and within the week they were back to killing each other.
The war is not over, but our plans for the future of Tamriel are assu/[`^-|/
(The text ends suddenly. This note was found on what was left of the First Emissary, some strange force having shattered her against the wall of her office.)
A/N: Well, it's done. I told you it would all be explained in the epilogue, didn't I? :smile:
I'm almost certain people will throw things at me for having Hadvar and Ralof kill each other off, but that's war for you (Ow! The throwing thing was metaphorical, people! Stop it!). At least the mastermind got hers. I hope you enjoyed this story; feel free to leave a review, maybe favorite it, or (if you are moved by my pitiful begging) perhaps recommend it on the TVTropes fanfic recommendations page for Skyrim.
Edited by CoGDork
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