Prologue: Hadvar

  • Hadvar

                  “Whoa, girl,” Hadvar said calmly, coaxing his horse down the hill. “Don’t worry. We’ll be there soon.” She whinnied and shook her head, as if disgusted with the situation. Hadvar knew she didn't like being behind the cart—she seemed afraid that she would topple down the hill onto it—so he did his best to take her mind of it, rubbing her neck as they trudged along.

                The cart was about eight or ten paces ahead of them, slowly making its way down the slope towards Helgen. It had been dreadfully slow for the last couple of miles through the mountains, but just ahead the path turned to a cobblestone road and the land became more level. Hadvar knew his horse would calm down when they reached it, at least.

                Satisfied that his horse was taken care of, he turned his attention from his horse to the cart and the three prisoners inside.

                Ulfric Stormcloak didn’t look nearly as intimidating tied up and gagged as he did on the battlefield. Hadvar had seen him single-handedly cut down four of his fellow Imperial soldiers before they finally managed to subdue him. Even seeing Ulfric tied up like that, he couldn’t forget the fire he had seen in the Jarl’s eyes. He couldn’t forget the twisted grin on his face as Ulfric lopped the head off of young Marcus, and nearly cut J’Darr in half at the waist. Despite all that talk of honor, Talos, and the freedom of Skyrim, Ulfric was just a man who enjoyed killing. If they hadn’t captured him, and Ulfric had defeated the Imperial forces in the province, Hadvar knew the Bear of Markarth would just go off and start another war.

                Hadvar found a sense of solace in that Ulfric’s end was just moments away. The end of the war was not without its price, however. Across from Ulfric sat Ralof. Just as he couldn’t forget Ulfric’s burning eyes, he could not forget the fun he and Ralof had had together as children. Ralof was a few years older than him, and Hadvar had always looked up to him. They spent every day together, playing with the chickens as children, hunting together as teenagers, and drinking together as adults. A man cannot forget his best friend, no matter what choices his best friend makes that he does not agree with.

                Hadvar decided that, despite all Ralof had done; being a traitor, leaving Riverwood behind to go fight with the Stormcloaks, and despite all the anger that he still had for him, Ralof was still his friend. He decided to make a point to say something to Ralof before he died. Ralof, had his head turned away from him, or Hadvar might have offered him a reconciliatory nod.

                Alas, Ralof never turned his head back to look at him, and they continued quietly onward toward Helgen.

                “Damn you Stormcloaks,” Hadvar heard the third prisoner in the cart say, breaking the silence.

                Yes, damn you Stormcloaks, Hadvar thought. Damn you Stormcloaks for taking my friend away from me.

                “Skyrim was fine until you came along,” the prisoner continued. “Empire was nice and lazy. If they hadn’t been looking for you, I could have stolen that horse and been halfway to Hammerfell.”

                “We’re all brothers and sisters in binds, now, thief,” Ralof replied, his voice low. He didn’t sound happy or sad or even angry. He just sounded tired and worn out, like butter scraped over too much bread.

                “Shut up back there!” The cart driver demanded, but the horse thief either didn’t hear him or just didn’t care.

                “What’s wrong with him, huh?” he inquired about Ulfric, indicating him with his head.

                “Watch your tongue!” Ralof snapped back, with a hint of anger. “You’re speaking to Ulfric Stormcloak, the true High King!”

                “Ulfric? The Jarl of Windhelm?” the horse thief asked, with a look of surprise on his face. “You’re the leader of the rebellion. But if they’ve captured you…” His surprise was quickly buried by realization, and then overwhelming fear. He spoke again, panicked. “Oh gods, where are they taking us?”

                “I don’t know where we’re going,” Ralof replied. “But Sovngarde awaits.”

                The horse thief began to tremble, eyes wide. “No, this can’t be happening. This isn’t happening!”

                Hadvar found himself wondering which of these two men he would be more like in the face of the inevitable. Would he tremble in fear like the horse thief, or would he be stoic and accepting as Ralof was? He then found himself hoping he would never know the answer to that question.

                “Hey, what village are you from, horse thief?” Ralof asked of the horse thief.

                “Why do you care?”

                “A Nord’s last thoughts should be of home.”

                A faint smile came to Hadvar’s lips. It seemed that despite all that had happened, and everything he had been through, Ralof had never let go of Riverwood and his friends in his heart. Hadvar felt a bit of closure after hearing Ralof’s words.

                “Rorikstead,” the horse thief replied. “I’m from Rorikstead.”

                They had arrived at Helgen. The cart carrying Ralof passed through the gate, and Hadvar followed close behind. As they entered, a sentry called down from the ramparts to General Tullius, who was waiting atop his horse just inside the gate, flanked on either side by mounted members of the Thalmor.

                “General Tullius, sir, the headsman is waiting!”

                “Good,” Tullius replied. “Let’s get this over with.”

                The horse thief closed his eyes and lowered his head, holding his hands close to his chest. He pleaded to the gods, unable to do anything else but pray and hope. “Shor, Mara, Dibella, Kynareth, Akatosh. Divines, please help me!”

                “Look at him,” Ralof spat, eyes glued to the mounted Imperial general. “General Tullius the Military Governor. And it looks like the Thalmor are with him. Damn elves. I bet they had something to do with this.”

                The cart made its way deeper into Helgen. Ralof’s eyes softened. “This is Helgen,” he said to the horse thief. “I used to be sweet on a girl from here. Wonder if Vilod is still making that mead with juniper berries mixed in.”

                Hadvar remembered that girl. Ilia was her name. He used to come here to Helgen with Ralof when he came to meet her. Ralof never did get the chance to marry her, though, like he was planning to. Ulfric’s war got in the way of that, too.

                “Funny,” Ralof continued. “When I was a boy, Imperial walls and towers used to make me feel so safe.”

                The carts came to a halt in the center courtyard. Hadvar stopped his horse next to them and dismounted. He quickly retrieved his quill and scroll from his saddlebags as a captain barked orders to the other soldiers.

                “Get these prisoners out of the carts! Move it!”

                “Why are we stopping?” The horse thief asked, so scared that his voice was starting to crack.

                “Why do you think?” Ralof replied. “End of the line.”

                Ulfric climbed down from the cart first, but the horse thief paused for a moment, making it unable for Ralof to climb down after his Jarl.

                “Let’s go,” Ralof ordered him. “Shouldn’t keep the gods waiting for us.”

                The horse thief reluctantly stepped down from the cart, half shoved by Ralof, as Hadvar took up his position next to the captain at the head of the line of prisoners.

                “No, wait!” he cried out. “I’m not a rebel!”

                “Face your death with some courage, thief,” Ralof scolded him.

                “You’ve got to tell them,” he begged of Ralof. “I wasn’t with you. This is a mistake!”

                “Step towards the block when we call your name!” the captain ordered. “One at a time.”

                “Empire loves their damn lists.” Ralof muttered hatefully.

                “Ulfric Stormcloak, Jarl of Windhelm,” Hadvar read the first name on the list. Ulfric stepped forward, glaring at Hadvar, and made his way over to join the prisoners from the other carts.

                “It has been an honor, Jarl Ulfric,” Ralof declared.

                Hadvar looked straight in the eye of Ralof at that moment, seeing his name as the one next on the list. He was about to order his old friend’s death, and he almost couldn’t bring himself to say the words. How can any man be expected to order the death of his friend? How can any man live with it afterward?

                There was something in Ralof’s eye though. Something there made him feel as if Ralof had said “It’s alright.” And so he read the words.

                “Ralof, of Riverwood.”

                Ralof nodded, and started over towards the other prisoners.

                Hadvar didn’t take the time to think about what he had just done. He didn’t want to. He read the next name on the list as quickly as he could.

                “Lokir, of Rorikstead.”

                “No!” the horse thief yelled. “I’m not a rebel. You can’t do this!” And he immediately began to run.

                “You’re not going to kill me!”

                “Archers!” The captain called out. Three soldiers drew bows and fired quickly. Lokir was hit by all three of them. Hadvar clearly saw one of the arrows pierce the back of his skull, scattering bits of brain across the dirt. Lokir crumpled forward to the ground in a heap. The poor sod hadn’t even made it thirty feet.

                “Anyone else feel like running?” the captain asked the prisoners. None of them replied.

                Hadvar lowered his pen. There were no more prisoners on his assigned cart. He returned the list to his saddlebags as the captain made her way over to the headsman’s block, where General Tullius and a cadre of soldiers had assembled, along with the executioner and a priestess. Hadvar took his position next to the block when he had finished stowing the scroll.

                General Tullius captured everyone’s attention next.

                “Ulfric Stormcloak, some here in Helgen call you a hero.” The general spoke directly to the captured Jarl, but the speech was really intended for all ears in the courtyard, Hadvar knew. “But a hero doesn’t use a power like The Voice to murder his king and usurp his throne.”

                Ulfric grunted, unable to speak through his gag, but his eyes said enough. They were burning even hotter than before with the desire to rip Tullius’ head from his shoulders.

                “You started this war!” Tullius declared. “Plunged Skyrim into chaos. And now the Empire is going to put you down, and restore the peace!”

                There was a hushed silence for several moments after Tullius had finished speaking. There wasn’t even the sound of the wind. Once he had given it enough time for his words to sink in, Tullius gave the order to the captain. “Carry on.”

                “Yes, General Tullius!” The captain responded, and then, to the priestess: “Give them their last rites.”
                The priestess nodded and addressed the prisoners, raising her hands to the sky in reverence to the gods.

                “As we commend your souls to Aetherius, blessings of The Eight Divines upon you, for you are the salt and earth of Nirn. Our beloved…”

                One of the prisoners, a red-haired, wide-eyed Nord, stormed forward and interrupted her. “For the love of Talos, shut up, and let’s get this over with!”

                “As you wish,” the priestess replied, and stepped aside.

                The red-haired prisoner marched right up to the block and waited to be lowered to his knees.

                “Come on!” he taunted. “I haven’t got all morning!”

                The captain grabbed ahold of his collar, lowered him to his knees, and pushed his head down onto the block.

                “My ancestors are smiling at me, Imperials.” The red-haired prisoner continued. “Can you say the same?”

                The axe came down right as he finished his parting question, and his head rolled disgracefully into the crate at the side of the block. The captain kicked his body disrespectfully down from the piece of stone and onto the dirt.

                “As fearless in death,” Ralof said of the red-haired prisoner. “As he was in life.”

                “You Imperial bastards!” One of the other prisoners called. The captain quickly stormed to that prisoner and grabbed her by the arms, dragging her to the block.

                “You can be next then, if I’m such a bastard.” The captain whispered in the prisoner’s ear, so no one else could hear. She pushed the woman down onto the block even as she struggled, holding her in place with her foot.

                “No!” The woman screamed. “Let me go, you bitch!” The captain punched her in the back of the head for that outburst, slamming her nose and mouth into the block, breaking several bones in her face, and spraying blood and teeth onto the dirt. The prisoner made an awful pained sound that Hadvar wished he never had to hear again.

                “Get on with it, then!” The captain demanded of the headsman, who quickly raised his axe and brought it down again on the woman’s neck.

                In that moment Hadvar found himself thinking of the words of the red-haired prisoner. Were the ancestors smiling at him for being a part of this? He sincerely doubted it. This was wrong.

                Tullius seemed to think the same thing.

                “Stop with the brutality, Captain, or I’ll have you remanded! We are not barbarians, and I will not have my men behaving as such!”

                “Yes, sir.” The captain obeyed, even if reluctantly. She turned to the next prisoner.

                The headsman brought them down one-by-one until the only living Stormcloaks left in the courtyard were Ralof and Ulfric himself. Hadvar’s heart sank. He did not want to have to watch Ralof’s head part from his shoulders, but the time had come.

                Ralof was marched to the block and lowered. He did not say anything for a few seconds, just waited for the end, until the captain spoke to him.

                “Any last words, traitor?”

                Tears welled up in Ralof’s eyes.

                “Hadvar,” he said, voice low and quiet. “Tell my sister, and Hod, and the boy, Frodnar. Tell them I love them.”

                “I will,” Hadvar replied, without even thinking about it. Ralof was not a Stormcloak making a request of an Imperial. He was a friend making a request of a friend. Hadvar smiled.

                “I’ll see you in Sovngarde.” Ralof promised.

                Hadvar did not look away as the axe came down. He watched Ralof die, and a part of himself died with him.

                The captain cleared Ralof’s body from the stone. Hadvar just stood silently, not sure of what was proper to do. He had just lost a friend, but he still had a duty as a member of the Legion. To mourn a Stormcloak would be unacceptable.

                “You knew that one, didn’t you, lad?” It was Tullius’ voice. Hadvar turned to look at him, but he didn’t say anything. He just stood staring at the general with intense grief in his eyes. Tullius understood well enough.

                “It doesn’t get any easier, Hadvar. Watching people die.” Tullius said. “I’m not going to lie to you and say it does.”

                Hadvar still didn’t say anything for a moment, he just lowered his head for a moment and closed his eyes, and then brought it back up, having buried his feelings for the time being. Right now, he needed to be a soldier, not a mourner. General Tullius was telling him that without scolding him in front of the others.

                “Yes, sir,” he said to Tullius. “Thank you.”

                Tullius nodded, and then turned to the captain.

                “Carry on, Captain.”

                “Yes, sir.” The captain led the final prisoner, the Bear of Markarth, the Jarl of Windhelm, the man many called High King to the block and pushed him down, his knees sinking into the bloody soil.

                It doesn’t matter how great you were in life, Hadvar thought. We’re all equal in death.

                The captain pushed Ulfric’s head onto the block. The headsman raised the axe and lined up his swing. Hadvar watched the fire leave Ulfric’s eyes in their final moments. He looked pathetic, not like some great warrior or jarl or king. At the end, he was just like everyone else. And he could die like everyone else. Ulfric seemed to finally be realizing that he wasn’t some invincible leader. He was just a man.  

                Ulfric tried to speak again, but all that came out were muffled huffs and grunts.

                “Do it.” Tullius ordered.

                And he did. With one final, powerful swing of an axe, Ulfric Stormcloak was dead.


  • Laurie Bear
    Laurie Bear   ·  October 8, 2014
    Why I love the way you write and like this take...  Man I love Ralof, sad he had to meet the axe...
  • Soneca the Exiled
    Soneca the Exiled   ·  May 7, 2014
    This is a nice perspective man, I do hope you use some of the stuff I sent you.
  • Saryn
    Saryn   ·  May 7, 2014
  • Bryn
    Bryn   ·  May 7, 2014
    14 actually, I like Ellisf :)
  • Bryn
    Bryn   ·  May 7, 2014
    Ok, that's 4... Still missing that other 15 :P
  • Saryn
    Saryn   ·  May 7, 2014
    I am going to replace the Jarls in the Stormcloak controlled areas, if that makes you feel any better. 
  • Bryn
    Bryn   ·  May 7, 2014
    I hate hipsters... Things were not better back in the day, you just like more things from the past then you do in the present and can't get over it...

    Also, I said never said every person... I said every person tied to the civil war questline...  more
  • Saryn
    Saryn   ·  May 7, 2014
    Thanks Emer!
  • Todd
    Todd   ·  May 7, 2014
    I actually love this story. You're getting a well-deserved like from me, my friend!
    And Nelaf, I think you may be right. 
  • Saryn
    Saryn   ·  May 7, 2014
    Really, I was just thinking to myself one day. What would happen if Alduin never got shot forward in time? Or what if he got shot forward like another 1000 years past 4E 201, realistically? What would happen then?
    Well, for one, there wouldn't be a ...  more