Silence's Voice

'Other' fanfiction. Category: AT, or Alternate Timeline. Same universe as canon, but a different point in that universe's history.
Just an assassin. Nothing more since fourteen, when the murder of a thieving Wood Elf who got what he deserved ended in recruitment into the shadowy cult of assassins at home in the deep deserts of Anequina. Until she decided to interfere. She decided to ruin everything!

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4. Snow of Skyrim

The carriage abruptly squealed to a halt, as the moon cows let out a cry of shock, jolting me awake from the nap I’d been enjoying. No dreams this time, and no Mother talking to me in my head. It was pretty comfortable in the stock carriages, despite the rough wood of the crate I’d rested on. Vixen also tucked nicely into a gap between the rolled up rugs, so it was a pretty good spot.

Now awake, the nip in the air got to me. Like the desert air at night, but out in the middle of the desert, far from civilisation, and carrying a block of ice. Looking around, the ground was covered in thick snow, only pierced by bushes brimming with red berries, and the nearby river was a deep iron colour. A few barren rocks protruded from the snow like wounds, and the sky was a dull, matte grey above. Here, the world seemed to be holding its breath, waiting for a moment to exhale. In the distance, an ugly mass of stone sat as a snow-covered blot on the landscape.

“Mmh…are we here?” I groaned, sleep still smothering my voice. The Khajiits were disembarking, so I guessed so, and began clambering off.

“No, Khajiit not at Windhelm just yet. S’Nadahra promised to hide you, and Khajiit makes good on her promises. Now gather everything you own and hold it close.” S’Nadahra replied, clambering onto the carriage with two others, Ainja and Zaysi, and unrolling a large, deep blue rug patterned in black swirls and cream patches. The fringe on either end was deep black, and done in neat tassels.

“Why are you hiding me again?” I groaned, slipping on my knapsack and clutching Vixen and her quiver tight to my chest.

“Stormcloaks have more hatred for Dunmer than Khajiit. The Grey Purge proved that. Now Khajiit hide you so Stormcloak checkpoint can’t see you. Stormcloaks never think to check in here. Now hush, lie down on edge of rug, and hold onto edge please.” She purred.

I reluctantly did as I was told, clutching the edge of the rug and tucking Vixen in closer as Ainja and Zaysi began rolling me into the rug. It was a dizzying experience, and the cold enjoyed seeping through to bite my bones. It was over pretty quickly though, as I lay on my back with Vixen and her arrows held tight to my chest.

“Comfortable in there?”

“Not really.” My voice was muffled through the thick rug, and it was a little tricky to breathe. My arms were wedged in place, and I couldn’t budge an inch.

“Well it have to do until we can get some time. Carriage driver here is old friend of S’Nadahra. Tell him you with Khajiit and he take you to where you want without worry, if you have coin.” She replied, before giving a groan, and I was hoisted into the air in the rug, before being dropped down somewhere. Not hard enough to knock the wind out of me, but it was still pretty rough. I’d barely adjusted myself before the gentle rocking of the carriage started again.

It felt like an era before the carriage stopped again. Through the musty scent of the rug, the sour muskiness of a stable came through, and faintly, the clanking of metal and whickering of horses came over the crunching of snow.

“By order of the High King, stop right there. State your business.” A rough, male voice came from nearby. Like the landscape around me, I held my breath, and froze.

“Khajiit comes simply to trade the wares of Anequina with the good people of Skyrim. Khajiit offers fair prices and honest goods.”

“Alright, cats. First let us look through your wares. We know what you cats are like.”

My heart stilled like the dull sky, as the carriage creaked and the thuds of Khajiit disembarking echoed out. I lay trapped as they clambered on, and the clanking of metal armour drew nearer.

“What kind of things do you sell, cat?”

S’Nadahra gave a soft purr reassuringly close to me, as I lay there and listened.

“Weapons, armour, pelts, jewellery, and the finest goods of Anequina. Our woven rugs are the finest in all of Tamriel. Khajiit are honest folk, just seeking the life of a trader.” She purred.

“Humph, honest cats. Good one. Maybe next time you can tell us the one about the Argonian Maid.” The Stormcloak snorted, as the clank of metal armour drew nearer. “If they’re so fine, show me. Go on, let me see these fine woven rugs.”

S’Nadahra gave a soft purr pretty much directly above me. “Of course, sir. Do’Kharsakhar, please, help S’Nadahra show off our finest rug.”

The soft creak of leather came at my feet, as the Khajiit Do’Kharsakhar leapt up onto the carriage. A grunt came from down there, before the rug I was in shifted, and I tumbled sideways, landing roughly on my side within the rug, trapping me further and knocking the wind out of me with a slight groan.

S’Nadahra coughed at the exact same time as my groan, unfurling the rug so it went over me as heavy as the midday desert sun through the leather of shrouded armour. “See the quality of Khajiit rugs?” She purred, standing on my side in her ebony boots. “This one has been made of finest silks, woven in colours of the great Anequina desert. Can you see the shifting sands in the weaving?”

Metal clinked louder, and the rug was briefly lifted off me, before being dropped down with a heavy whumph. “Alright, cats, go on your way. The city is not a place for you sneak thieves either, unless you want to meet our Galmar Stone-Fist. He’s always eager to deal with unwelcome little thieves.”

“Of course, good sir. Khajiit will not set foot within city walls. Khajiit will just set up camp out here by the stables, selling honest wares to travellers.” S’Nadahra purred, finally hopping off me and dropping the other end of the rug so I was smothered by it.

“Make sure you don’t. We don’t want any trouble from you cats.”

With a clank and a grumble, the Stormcloak soldier finally left, and I could gasp for breath again. The rug fibres threatened to suffocate me as I writhed a bit, getting air. Over the grunts and growls of the Khajiit, the carriage creaked and scraped as it was pushed aside, sinking with a muffled crunch into the snow by the roadside. With a shriek of hinges, the tail-gate of the carriage was lowered, and what sounded like crates were dragged off into the snow as paws and boots pattered and clunked all over the carriage.

“You still can breathe in there, child?” S’Nadahra whispered, leaning close to my rug.

“Just about.” I groaned back, the rug stifling my voice so it sounded like I was talking with a mouth full of cloth.

“Just try and hold out a little bit longer now. Khajiit will unroll you when we can. Now hold still, and Khajiit will lift you out and make you more comfortable.”

I grunted in discomfort from the air being knocked out of me again, as two Khajiits lifted the rolled rug with me in it up onto their shoulders, and carried me off the carriage. When I was set down, I was laying on my back, with the cold lightly seeping through to latch onto me.

At least it was marginally more comfortable, and I could move a bit. Not much, but enough to pull my scarf from my face, and adjust Vixen so she wasn’t digging into my thigh anymore. Small luxuries that cost very little but made a lot of difference.

Blinded and stifled by the thick rug, I was left using only sound as my guide to the area, and what was going on. The scrapes of wood and thudding from nearby told me the Khajiits were still setting up camp and unloading their wares, whilst clanking boots and scrunching footsteps marked out the patrols of the guards and Stormcloak soldiers. Either side of me, the thunks and clatters of the carriage being unloaded rang out, whilst faint in the distance the familiar clang of the blacksmith’s anvil added to the din.

It sounded like Anequina. Like home. The sounds of Cyrodiil were nothing like the comforting din of the Anequina cities. If I ignored the chill seeping through my back and the crunching of snow, I could even imagine I was back in Anequina, hiding in the storeroom of a tailor’s, ready to take out the contract. If I lifted my scarf up to the bridge of my nose and ignored my knapsack arching my back, I could convince myself even further.

I froze completely when I heard the clanking of metal approaching over the thuds of crates and chests being stacked around me. The Khajiits seems to freeze too, as the gentle pattering of paws in the snow stopped. Holding Vixen close to my chest, I dared not hold my breath in case I needed to gasp for air, and just resigned myself to slow, shallow breaths. Cold sweat ran down my back, threatening to soak the back of my robes, as my heartbeat thudded away in my ears, like footsteps drawing nearer and nearer.

“We heard you cats were setting up a camp out here. We order you to stand aside and let us inspect your wares. None of your foul Anequina poisons around here.” A deep male voice growled. It sounded like a dog was trapped in their throat, and was trying to attack one of the Daedric Princes in there.

“Khajiit have already had wares inspected by the Stormcloak guards at the checkpoint. There is no need to exert yourselves.” S’Nadahra purred in reply from somewhere at my feet.

“I said stand aside, cats! Stand aside and nobody gets hurt.” Dog-voice barked, as nervous shuffles came from either side of me.

“Good, you cats can show respect for your superiors after all. Perhaps you’re not as primitive as we first thought. Galmar, start searching.” A second voice purred. This voice was completely different, but still male, and still harsh. Though underneath, the same Nordic roll bubbled away, creaking with many decades of age. A little bit like Ingrid Palgus’ accent, rolling their ‘r’s a bit and mispronouncing ‘thought’ as ‘tought’. He must be well into his eighties, or even older.

“Certainly, Ulfric.” Galmar Dog-voice growled, before a grunt came from just in front of me, and then the clinking of something glassy pouring out. Dog-voice must have emptied the chest of soul gems out onto the snow. That or the contents of the potions crate now rolled free and possibly leaking.

“Now then, what sort of things do you sell, cats? Any stolen goods perhaps? Maybe something with more of a zing?” Ulfric purred, as the clank of armour drew a little closer to my hiding place.

“No, no, certainly not, High K-King Ulfric. Khajiit only sell honest wares to the good people of Skyrim. N-None of the Moon Sugar, none of the black soul gems, none of the skooma, and nothing stolen. Just honest wares, H-High K-King.” S’Nadahra stammered, somewhere just past my feet.

At her words, my body slowly began chilling from the back of my neck right down my spine. I had been told the story of the Ashes Quarter, and the three fires set in every Dunmer-owned building, until the former Gray Quarter became nothing but a heap of smoking ashes. S’Nadahra said that none of the Dunmer living there survived, either from the fires or the fifty-odd Stormcloak soldiers that just happened to be there. Of course, it depended who you asked. Naturally any true Stormcloak would say they were trying to save them but were too late, and it was too dangerous for them to go inside the burning buildings.

Dodgy event if ever I heard of one. Ulfric Stormcloak has a lot of Dunmer blood on his hands, and I happen to be trapped in a rug right at his feet.

“Honest wares, huh? We’ll put that to the test. What are these then, cats?” Galmar Dog-voice barked, as metal clanked directly over me and I froze, biting my lip as the rug I was in slipped sideways and I landed on my side, wedged between another rug and a crate.

“Those are Anequina’s finest silk rugs Khajiit brings for trade. The one you hold has been woven to imitate the great jungles in the south of Anequina. For a small price it can be yours, Commander Stone-Fist.”

So that was Galmar Stone-Fist…more like Galmar Dog-Voice, he sounded like a war hound. I’d heard rumours of his actions, and I just hope they weren’t true.

“A small price, eh? What about for this blue one?” Ulfric asked, as I felt him give a pull on the rug which I was rolled up in.

“The blue one?” S’Nadahra asked, her voice barely more than a squeak as the scrape of metal on metal rang out. “Oh yes, the blue one. That…that one is very special indeed. Just forty septims for the rug, and Khajiit even deliver it to wherever you want for no extra coin. Here, Khajiit get Keshir and Ma’Shundza to carry it in for you, High King.”

“Absolutely not!” Ulfric snapped, as S’Nadahra let out a small squeak of fright. “Let you filthy thieves into the city, and give you the chance to steal every septim from our people? You must be mad. No, Galmar can carry it easily.” He purred, before the thudding of footsteps and clinking of coin rang out.

I froze inside, biting my lip further as I clutched tight onto Vixen and her quiver inside the rug. I tensed up further as with a grunt, someone – probably Galmar Dog-Voice - lifted the rug onto their shoulders. If I moved even an inch, he would feel, and I’d be caught in a second. With Vixen held tight in my arms, I had no choice but to let myself be carried into the city.

Inside the city walls, it didn’t sound a thing like Anequina. Here, it was a raucous din of foulness and scum. Over the chatter of general people, market stallholders yelled into the air, refusing to give their wares a chance to speak for themselves. The squeak and hiss of the forge groaned from somewhere nearby, and the banging of hammer and nails echoed out even closer. The hungry cries of a beggar rang out nearby, and over that, the hideous squealing of an off-key flute. Everywhere, footsteps echoed, with a prayer to coming from one side, and from the other, the drunken ravings of a mead-riddled racist.

“Filthy elvesh, hic the dung of their wretched Daedra Godsh! If only the whole lot of them – the whole lot! If only they all burned in the Ashesh Quarter! He-Hey brother, how mu-how musch do you betted, that all thoshe pointy-eared grey-shkinsh hic they shet the firesh themshelvesh and planned to blame it on the Shtormcloaksh, but burned themshelvess to death? Eh brother, shound like them?” They slurred, hiccuping close as my fingers twitched towards Vixen.

“If you say so, brother. Any luck convincing Tolbjorn Shatter-Shield to join up?” Dog-Voice growled, shifting the rug a bit and threatening to dislodge me.

“Nah…guy’sh too old…keeps beggin’ for poishon so he can hic… join Tova, Friga, and Nilshine wherever they are. No- hic! Not Shovngarde for sure. Eh, brother?”

I was very rapidly starting to loathe Dog-Voice’s brother, Drunk-Voice. My fingers twitched around Vixen, dying to send an arrow screaming into his throat and silencing his drunken ravings. I bet Sithis would adore his company and servitude in the Void, alongside those three he mentioned.

“Hehe, you’re not wrong there, brother. He still refusing to go back into the family home?” Dog-Voice growled.

“Yep. Shaysh-hic! Shaysh he can’t shee Tova’sh body like that. Huh, milk drinker. Ya gotta deal with shacrifices. Dere ain’t no more shpace in the Hall, and the plots are for proper Shtormcloak sholdiersh only.”

“You said it, Rolff. Old guy needs to get over it. It’s been over twenty years since his daughters were murdered and his wife killed herself.”

Alright, now I really wanted to kill this Rolff guy. I didn’t know who by the sands he was, but I didn’t need to know that to kill him. All I needed was to nock an arrow into Vixen, pull back her string, and let it fly right into the filthy s’wit.

“Yahs, he needsh to move on. Life’sh too short.”

He’s going to find out how short once I get outta this rug. Even if it takes me forever, for all that, I will chase him relentlessly like a dark cloud until I can send an arrow into his spine.

“Bet he still carries the key to the clan’s old house. It wouldn’t surprise me one bi-”

“Galmar, come on! I didn’t make you my general so you could stand around and waste time!” Ulfric suddenly yelled, over the banging and chatter of the city.

“Coming!” Dog-Voice barked back, before I received a harsh shaking from him hoisting the rug back onto his shoulders, trapping Vixen in the crook of my elbow, and pinning my right arm against the inside of the rug. The musty fabric muffled me, crushing me and threatening to suffocate me completely, pulling on the end of my scarf at the same time as crushing me into the thick and stifling rug. The blackness inside was silencing, and the angle I was at was warping me more than a thread in a loom.

The city sounds faded slightly, as the heavy clunking of boots on cold stone replaced the din. Over the musty reek of the rug, a sharper scent came through. Rough and acrid, the scent stole right down to the back of my throat and clawed at it with black claws.

Charcoal and ash. The scratchy leftovers of fire. What was left of the Gray Quarter must be nearby, still smouldering away after the fires.

A door creaked loudly nearby, and I was jolted again on Dog-Voice’s shoulder, before a wave of warmth washed over me, and a door banged loudly, silencing the city’s cries.

It was almost dead silent in here, aside from the clunk of boots and a quiet crackle of a fireplace nearby. Warmth bathed me within the rug, threatening to tease out beads of sweat. The dry cold of the snow-covered city of Windhelm was being eased off my bones.

“Where shall I put it then, Ulfric?” Dog-Voice growled.

“Just on the floor there.” Ulfric purred, before I was rolled off Dog-Voice’s shoulder and smacked the floor with a hard thwack, forcing the air out of my lungs with a soft groan. Vixen was now poking me hard in the cheek, and I was stuck wedged in the rug with my arms pinned to my chest.

“Now the- did you hear that?” Ulfric exclaimed, as ice slowly began creeping down my spine.

“Hear what? Didn’t hear nothing.” Dog-Voice grunted, giving the rug a light kick, hitting me right in the gut. It was only biting my lip that stopped another groan from slipping out. “Hold on…there’s something solid in there. I just felt it. Could be some kinda pest, like a skeever. Them filthy cats live in squalor, so one could’a snuck in without them noticing.”

“Anequina’s too hot for skeevers. Could be a hyena. Maybe one of the filthy cats put one in deliberately, to act as a distraction whilst they rob the buyer.”

“Well, there’s only one way to find out.” Dog-Voice barked, as the scrape of a weapon being drawn rang out, and the edge of the rug was yanked out from under me.

I was forced to roll once, twice, three times until I was free, gasping for sweet and precious air and clinging to Vixen. Dizzy, I could barely pull her quiver on in the familiar, instinctive movement, as the world stopped spinning and let me adjust.

I was in the throne room, with the stone seat of the High King just in front of me, flanked by low-burning braziers. The walls were dark grey stone, crudely built, and draped over by limp, blue banners. Two of which, either side of the throne, were inscribed with the crude profile of a blue bear’s head, growling as a clear warning, yet not as fierce as the two warriors clad in thick fur at the foot of the rug I’d been hiding in.

“Looks like I was right, Ulfric. There was a skeever hidden in there after all.” Dog-Voice growled, running a finger down a blade on his double-axe. The fangs on his bear pelt helmet and cloak set glinted lethally, as he bared his teeth in an unpleasant grin.

“Indeed you were right,” Ulfric purred, “there was a skeever, but not just any kind. We’ve got ourselves a killer skeever, directly from Solstheim by the looks of things.”

He drew out his steel axe, metal as grey as his hair, and looked down at me with a lethal grin, as the ice that had encased my spine suddenly flung itself outwards and caked my entire skeleton. With the desert-toned, traditionally Dunmeri over-robe set I’d chosen – a loose, knee-length Deshaan Chemise and wide Foyada Fredag bottoms under a sleeveless leather waistcoat, wide, layered waist belts made of cloth and leather, and a protective scarf originally to keep out the ash – I looked like what I was. A Dunmer assassin on a contract.

Just not the one people were thinking.

I couldn’t risk it, I had to get out of there. With Vixen clenched tight in my hand, I scrambled up and bolted, leaping onto the long table in the middle of the room and bolting for it. The two colossal doors with snow leaking under them had to lead outside to the city, and once I was out there, I’d have a chance of getting away.

Something hard thudded into the wood inches from me, as Dog-Voice barked out an order for the guards. My thighs complaining from the sudden start, I was approaching the end, preparing to leap off into the chilled air, aiming for the threadbare rug ahead of me, when the voice rang out.

“IIZ SLEN NUS!”

With the shout came a wave of pure cold that hit me on my bones and stuck fast as I ducked down and landed on the rug, rolling over forward once before leaping up in a break for the door, and catching my right arm in the frozen force.

It bit into my arm with glassy teeth, savaging at my skin and tearing at my flesh. My arm was stuck in position, bending slightly at the elbow, forced backwards at the shoulder, and tightly gripping Vixen until my knuckles blanched to a light fossil grey.

I daren’t look back at what that frost attack had done to my arm, not just as what I’d see would repulse me. A second looking behind, is a second not moving forward out of danger. Slamming roughly into one of the rusted iron and wood doors, I forced my way out.

Now out of the rug, I could see Windhelm was nothing but a city of grey, from the deep iron of the cloud-smothered sky, to the dull granite of the worn slabs of stone. Even the mounds of snow looked like charcoal from filth, stained Dunmer-skin grey by the ash and soot the smoking chimneys were belching out.

I had no time to admire the…delights of Windhelm. Weaving around the three burning braziers leading down the courtyard to the main city, I heard the bang of the doors swinging open, and the yells of my pursuers. All around, the scrape of weapons being drawn rang out, as I skidded down the ruined steps into the main city.

From here, I had three ways to go, by the looks of things. To my left, up two small flights of stairs then to my right and down a road under an archway beneath a large house. Straight ahead, down the two flights of steps past the three beggars huddled by a very large tavern-like building, weaving around past the building and through the front gate. Or, down the two flights but instead of going past the tavern, taking a sharp turn to my right and down a tight alley, past the cries of an old woman praising someone called Arkay.

A sleek, steel arrow tipped with a rust-toned feather bounced off the stone steps just at my side, sparking me to run, first down the two sets of steps, then taking a sharp right as I skidded on the ice that slathered the stone slabs.

My alleyway was wider than I first thought, spreading out down a high flight of stone steps into an open graveyard, full of stone crypts and dying trees. A few graves were sprinkled with flowers, but most were just covered in the dying ick of rotting plants. The only person here was the woman I heard praising Arkay, wrapped in the dull orange robes of priesthood, and sheltering under a worn, yellow hood. Her praises turned to shrieks of fear as I skidded down the stone steps.

“Dunmer in the city! There’s a Dunmer in the city! Guards, guards help! Kill the filthy elf!” She shrieked, staggering back against the stone mausoleum as the clanking of armour came down the alley just to the side.

They were a menacing lot, the guards. Clad in chainmail with a leather cuirass on top, the sea blue sash of Windhelm shone diagonally over their chests, tucked into their leather belts. Their steel helmets gleamed in the dim light, blocking their faces and leaving them with hollow, black pits for eyes.

I didn’t have time to see how many there were, or which one drew their weapon with a metallic screech. I just had to run. Run, and escape this city. S’Nadahra and the rest of the Khajiit caravan weren’t kidding when they said Windhelm wasn’t exactly friendly to Dunmer. Taking a sharp right up a low flight of steps, I found myself in a stone courtyard surrounded by huge houses, a rainbow of spindly mountain flowers, and no way out.

I cursed to myself, looking around. The houses were all Nordic style, made of stone and wood, with slate tiles for rooftops. Nothing at all like the homes of the Anequina desert cities and towns I was used to climbing. I doubt I could even get a decent grip even with time for planning and execution.

The yells were drawing closer, and my thigh suddenly burned in cold hatred, leaving me relying on my left leg only. The ice spike sticking out of my thigh laughed and stung, as I dragged myself down a gap between a house, and a low, stone wall topped with a rusting fence.

It was a little warmer back here, and even more so when I wedged myself in the small gap between the back of the house and the stone wall. Crouching low, I began inching backwards through the gap, when the floor vanished under me.

I didn’t know what happened until I landed in the darkness, crouching down to absorb the shock and shattering the ice spike in my thigh. The room was about as tall as me when standing, with shadows of twin torch brackets on the far wall, flanking a wood and iron door. The only envelope of light came from the small, square trapdoor above, and it had the wet, musty smell of richly-textured earth mingling with the sour reek of mould, and the choking dusty smell of aged boxes layered with dust. On the far wall, wine racks cradling dust-covered bottles bounced back the little square of light above me, glinting in the gloom.

The clanking footsteps from above were drawing nearer, so I slammed the trapdoor shut behind me, fixing the weak latch in place. Now in the darkness, I had to rely on the magical glow of the solid ice encrusted around my arm to make my way through the gloom.

Though, there was one idea. My mother said a true Dunmer always carries her flames of life and death on her. My right hand was out of action from the ice, but my left…well, that could still burn.

The zinging crackles began deep in me, as in my bare hand, flames sprang up, dancing and writhing yet no hotter than if I held empty air. They spiralled and waltzed in my palm, as I drew in a deep breath, held my palm out in front of me, and forced my energy into the spell.

Fire exploded from my palm, racing out like a torrent, drawing out sweat beads on myself and painting the far wall of the cellar a vivid, flickering orange. The fire didn’t burn my palm, but caught a torch with ease, letting a little orange point illuminate the cellar.

It wasn’t bad for a quick fix, and the ice on my shoulder had melted from the heat, leaving just my elbow and hand encased. Weaving around dimly-lit boxes, my muffled footsteps were hushed further by something soft – a rug perhaps – that I’d walked over briefly, before pulling out the lit torch, and taking a look around.

It was a reasonably large, stone room, though the heavy stacking of crates and barrel pyramid in the corner seemed to drag the walls inward. Under the trapdoor I’d fallen through, a rotting ladder was nailed forlornly to the wall, and a veil of cobwebs shimmered through the haze of dust I’d kicked up into the air. Yet despite the dilapidated look and smell of the place, when I looked down at the rug-like thing I’d walked over, a relatively clean-looking bedroll sat proudly in the middle of three crates, and a makeshift dining table had been made out of another. The simple meal of some kind of roasted meat with a fat slab of cheese looked fresh, and when I got closer, very faint coils of white steam were spiralling up from the wooden plate. Even the midnight blue bottle nearby was still cold when I picked it up.

“Black Briar Reserve” I mused, running over the thorny vine around the name, before replacing the bottle. Whoever had laid this out might still be around here, and it would not be best if I was around when they came back. Keeping the torch in my hand, I crouched low, and slipped through the door.

A flight of plain wooden steps tumbled down a narrow corridor to me, leading up from a yawning archway in the stone. Keeping crouched with the torch in my hand, I tentatively inched my way up the steps, peering over the lip into the dim room.

Muted light stole in through the narrow windows, barely making it past the stained glass panes to sparsely illuminate the bare boards and dust that managed to sneak everywhere. A set of fat double-doors stood tall at one end, with little flakes of snow leaking underneath, and the strange word ‘Hjerim’ carved into the wooden frame above.

I crept into the cavernous hall, disturbing rat droppings and the scribbled remains of deceased spiders under my feet, as the torch flickered. Empty bottles glinted in the torchlight, shining the same muted orange tone as the skin of a freshly ripened pumpkin. They lay scattered across the floor amongst their dropped corks, as if knocked from a ghost table. In the far corner, a worn chest crouched against the wall, and a bare flight of wooden steps escaped upstairs. The main part of the house was abandoned then, and just the cellar served as somebody’s home. As long as I stayed in the main body of the house, I might have a possible refuge from the Stormcloak guards outside. Straightening up from my crouch, I stretched up and made my way upstairs to have a look around.

The upstairs was as much like the Anequina desert as downstairs, with nothing to show for itself besides a double bed and single chair thrown drunkenly into the most distant room. Light dust hung in the air as I crept through into the distant room, testing the furs piled up on the bed. Nobody had been up here in a while either, if the cobweb veils crossing the ceiling were anything to go by.

I pulled my scarf tighter around myself, as a draft nibbled at my cheek. Chilled, it seemed to seep in from the stained glass window, through which the shadow-grey outer wall loomed. Going over to it, my hand brushed the dust-powdered pane, causing the window to swing open and graze the outer wall.

I could make that. The wall was quite narrow, but I could easily climb onto it from this window. Plus from looking around, the area was shielded from view, so it would be pretty easy to slip out.

I dragged the chair over to the window, using it to climb out and perch like a cat on the ledge. The frozen air brushed lightly past me, teasing the edge of my scarf as I looked up a little at the wall. The clouds had parted a bit, revealing the edges of a sky thinking about descending into sunset, and the first few smatters of stars. Yeah, if I played my cards right, I could get out of Windhelm and be in the nearest city by dawn.

I let go of the ledge and lunged forward, grasping the narrow stone buttress with both hands and swinging forward to smack into the wall. Scrabbling, I pulled desperately, forcing my elbows to go down then pushing further, until the stone dug into my stomach. With a final swing of my leg, I managed to pull myself up onto the wall, lying flat on my stomach with an arm and a leg hanging either side of it, like a skin rug left hanging out to dry on a stone washing line in the snow. Scraping the toes of my boots on the wall, I forced myself again into a cat-like crouch, before slowly beginning to inch forward on my hands and knees.

I was eventually blocked by the stone guard tower, looming up a good two metres from the wall. The glints of the ageing sun bounced off the guards’ helmets right at the top, and on the other wall, a lone Stormcloak patrolled. His steel mace clattered at his side, swinging slightly in its leather holder as he turned and began pacing back the other way.

Damn. Looks like I can’t get out that way. Peering over the other side, I looked down the sheer drop out of Windhelm, and bit my lip.

The drop was way more than I was expecting, sheer and straight down to a mound of unblemished snow that washed up against the grey stone wall. A fox pawed tentatively at the edge of the snow pile, stark orange against the sea of white, before looking up at me and running away. An iron grey ribbon of a river crawled slowly by underneath, speckled with solid sheets of ice that clung to both banks.

Looks like this was going to be the only way out, even though it could go drastically wrong. I shuddered and tensed up, glancing up briefly at the clouds slowly parting, and tilting drastically side to side as I put my arms out and slowly stood up.

This did not look good at all. Slowly, I turned to face the wilds outside the city, and dived forward into the thin, cold air.

The gentle hand of ice that once caressed my bare cheek now turned into frozen hooks, scratching and goring and whipping at my flesh, threatening to tear my clothes or snatch the arrows out of Vixen’s quiver. My scarf was whipped away as I rolled once in mid-air, dragging my knees to my chest and hugging them tight as the snow loomed closer and closer, before wrapping me in its frozen embrace, catching me in its wintery arms in a grip colder than water, yet just as wet.

Pain soared up my legs, crushing then up into and through my chest, pushing down on my spine as weights shoved my shoulders down, trying to ram them through the rock under the snow. If I wasn’t bleeding from this, it would be a miracle, as something had definitely given out.

I began thrashing until I found air again, breathing in deeply once I was free, and snatching up the mustard coloured blot that was my scarf. My left leg whimpered and shook as I tried putting weight on it, sending stabs of pain through me as I began wading my way through the thick snow mound.

Once on solid land, I tried putting weight on my left leg again, but still the entire limb cried, leaving me forced to drag it behind me as I eased my way down to the river’s edge.

I winced as my toe caught on a rock and pulled at my leg, sending stabbing up my leg as I dragged myself onto the sheet of ice. I needed a health potion, and I needed it pretty bad. Something was probably broken in there, and it had to be healed before I could move on.

The pain made myself as I made the jump to the other ice sheet, trailing my injured leg in the frozen waters and soaking it, provoking icy needles to stab into my leg as I shrieked. It was a rough, animalistic screech that scraped at my throat as it came out, catching to make a kind of whinnying noise, like a horse in terrible pain.

Eventually my screech petered out, and I dragged my dripping leg up onto the ice sheet and continued dragging it up the bank towards where the bridge sloped down to meet solid, snow-encrusted earth.

I pulled myself fully up onto the roadside, sinking into a snowdrift and gasping in pain. A flourish of red berries hung from a snow-encrusted bush above me, practically begging me to take a handful and eat them; letting the sour, sweetly creamy juice inside flood inside my mouth and run down my throat.

They seemed to help, as I felt the cold stabbing pains in my sore leg fade away, and the energy within me peak enough so I could stand up again.

It ached as I stood, dragging myself back to the front. The Khajiit caravan was still setting up, as I limped my way over to them, throwing my scarf over my shoulder as I crept there.

“Child? Is that…S’Nadahra heard the commotion and the Shout. We thought you were dead. Khajiit apologises for the event, it was entirely S’Nadahra’s faul-”

“Don’t…apologise,” I groaned, “not your fault…be killed if you hadn’t sold that rug to Ulfric. Got…got any health potions?”

I couldn’t really hold it against the Khajiits. They’d tried to stop me being sold in that rug, but when you’re up against two burly Nords in full armour wielding axes, you just give in so your blood stays in your veins.

“Of course Khajiit has some. Ainja, bring a health potion over here! What happened to you child?” S’Nadahra asked, her paw on my shoulder as I staggered onto my good knee.

“Long story…badly judged leap into…a shallower snow mound than I thought. Agh…Gods, I think it’s broken.”

I winced and clutched the red bottle that had been forced into my hand, taking out the cork and feeling the white strips of parchment bound around the teardrop shaped bottle. It was pretty large, but I managed to neck it in one, letting the warm liquid run down my throat.

My bones were starting to knit together again as the taste of the potion ran over my tongue. Sweet and warming, the mix of sweetly sharp fruit-like tastes blended with the smooth texture of honey and juicy chunks like whole berries that burst in my mouth as I swallowed it. My leg no longer hurt, but instead felt like I’d woken from a warm nap in the Anequina sanctuary, fresh and preparing to kill.

Putting my weight on my leg no longer sent a blade through my hip, and even both the scraping feeling in my knee, and the scratching, pinching feeling covering my right arm was gone.

“You think you are good to ride, child?” S’Nadahra purred, taking her paw away once I was able to fully stand without shaking.

“I should be…thank you, for getting me here, and for everything.” I replied, before a steel arrow shot through the air and bounced off the rocky outcropping at my side.

“Child, go! Just take one and go! Follow the signs for Whiterun, and don’t stop for anyone! Khajiit camp will be there now. Windhelm is not safe for Khajiit caravan any longer. At least Whiterun Nords do not threaten us. Go child, go and may your road lead to warm sands!”

I didn’t have time to wish safe travels back to S’Nadahra, as another arrow shot by, inches from the tip of my nose as I turned and ran for the stables. The carriage was impossible, but theft wasn’t.

Windhelm stables only had two horses. Both chestnut with white socks, but only one was saddled up and available to ride. It whickered at me as I approached, nuzzling its nose into my sleeve as it scrounged for treats, and snorting as I roughly mounted, straddling the saddle and tightly gripping the reins.

The beast sure didn’t like it when I gave its flanks a hard kick, that’s for sure, as it reared up and tried bucking me off, galloping ungainly out of the stables and staggering onto the road.

It had to obey me though, or we were both dead. Yanking hard on the reins, I made the horse pull in, before flicking the reins out to make it run, adding a kick to its side as I heard the cries of “Kill the Dunmer filth,” ring out behind me, alongside its companion of “elven scum, Skyrim belongs to the Nords!”

I didn’t care though. Kicking the horse’s flanks again, I tugged on its reins and spurred it on to run on into the snowy wilderness of Skyrim.

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