She was frozen to the bone. The mere act of breathing was rendered painful by the chill of the air and her fingers had gone numb hours ago. The snow she was lain on had melted; freezing her skin in the process and soaking the threadbare rough spun tunic she was wearing. Through the near cold-induced coma she was in, she was vaguely aware of the other prisoners. They were all Nords, wearing leather padded chainmail and warm looking blue wool wrapping. Their hands were bound, like hers and their weapons had been taken away, but they did not appear troubled by that fact. More so, by didn't even seem to be bothered by the paralysing cold. They were talking quietly amongst themselves, whispering jibs and insult to the Imperial soldiers walking about, taking kicks and insults back when their jailors had had enough.
She could remember the events that lead her to this predicament. Though some details were blurry, she could definitely recall the fear. One moment she was minding her own business, desperately trying to light a fire with wet wood to warm herself up when she heard horses neighing, men and woman shouting and swords being drawn. Orders were barked, blows exchanged. She tried to run, tried to escape the ferocious battle when the air itself seemed to boom, sending her flying pell-mell on the soldiers. The last thing she saw before blacking out was a giant of a man being restrained and gagged by four Imperial soldiers. He had been wearing the warmest looking fur cloak she had ever seen. She remembered thinking she would give just about anything just to ball up inside of it and forget about the detestable white curse that was sticking to her clothes.
Her eyes were getting heavier with each passing minutes. She knew that closing them, succumbing to the numbness, would be her death sentence, but she couldn't keep on fighting. The shivering had stopped about half an hour ago and she could barely move anymore. She had tried to call for help a few times, but the Imperial had ignored her completely and the nearest blue dressed man had snickered and called her "Damn Elf" and "Milk Drinker" before dragging himself closer to his friends and resuming his hushed dialogue. Maybe closing her eyes only for a few seconds wouldn't be that bad. It would give her the strength to go on. Just a few seconds…
"Might as well leave her here. She's done for anyways," said a faraway voice.
"Who in the Void is she? There are no Elves in the Stormcloak"
"She was with them in the attack, I saw her running with flames in her hands"
"She charged at us!"
"Ralof! Have you lost your mind?" hissed a female Stormcloak.
"They'll kill you if you try to move" added a man, his gruff voice catching the ear of a nearby Imperial.
"Shut up down there!" barked a heavily armoured Imperial woman. "Nobody moves except when I order it!"
"Talos! She's dying, woman!"
"What do you care? She's nothing but an elven beggar." Sneered the imperial woman. "Ashborn as it is!"
"Maybe he's lonely! After all, a woman's a woman." Supplied a laughing imperial soldier.
"Might as well warm her up, or else her corpse will attract wolves. Get a move on will you" ordered the Legate. "The next one caught talking will have his tongue cut out, got it!"
The man named Ralof then got on his knees and half-crawled half-kneeled toward the elf, falling twice because of the snow and his bound hands. He had not seen Dunmers often in his little village of Riverwood. One or twice, an odd mercenary would pass and stay the night at the Sleeping Giant Inn but that was about it. Even though he had little experience with their people, the blackish hue of her finger, toes, lips and ears could not be good. The white frost coming out of her parted lips was thin and irregular. She was almost dead, but any enemy of the Empire was a friend of the Stormcloak, Greyskin or not. With his bound wrist, hoisting her frail body on his was no menial task. After a few failed attempts, he managed to bring her back to his large chest, sitting her on his leather-covered thighs to protect her from the frozen ground. Slipping his arms over her head and around her waist to secure her in place, he began to untie his blue mantle with his teeth. It wouldn't do much to protect her from the Skyrim winter, but it would keep a little of the heat he was producing and hopefully warm her enough to keep her alive.
Ulfric, Jarl of Windhelm and leader of the Stormcloak insurgents, was, unbeknownst to his benevolent soldier, watching the complicated procedure. He had first noticed her during the battle; she had been running with a flame alight in her hand. He had assumed she was with the Empire, considering she was not with him. Though, seeing her bound and left to freeze on the unforgiving Skyrim winter ground, he had to admit she was probably not an Imperial sympathizer. Being the leader, he had his man to look out for, so he had turned his attention from her shivering form to them until the Imperial soldiers brought his attention back to her. By then, she had stopped shivering and was seemingly asleep, facing them. He would have called her dead had Ralof not insisted so much on reaching her. He had a hard time seeing what the man hoped to achieve by his actions excepted getting himself killed before his time. He was astonished by Ralof dedication. Even though he fell and was mocked by the Imperials, he kept on going until her slender body was awkwardly secured in his strong one. The man had managed to cover her with his storm cloak and was now rubbing his bound arms around her immobile arms and ribcage while breathing in the crook of her neck. During this little scene, he had had time to study her. She was grey, dark grey with a touch of indigo and her surprisingly white hair was cut short in the most repulsive way, almost like a little boy. Her body was "Merish", which for Ulfric meant, "devoid of the generous Nord curves". She looked young, very young and her face had the distinctive Mer brow, a little more pronounced than the human's yet delicate. She had slightly shallow cheeks despite her young age with full dark lips. Her nose was ever so slightly crooked and a tad larger than the average Mer's. Finally, her eyes were closed so he could not see if they were that detestable shade of crimson or any other "Merish" tint. He really could not bring himself to feel any pity for such a miserable and weak female, but yet, he could not bring himself to completely not care, though he would never admit to such a thing.
It had been a very long night for Ralof. He had thought about trying to lie on his side to get a few minutes of sleep, but the woman in his arms would have ended up lying in the snow again. She had begun shivering lightly again, and he could not bring himself to put her back where he had picked her. He had finally managed to get his back to a jagged stone without too much trouble and managed to close his eyes when the Imperials kicked them awake and ordered them to climb back in the wooden carriage they had used to get them this far. He was more than shocked to see his childhood friend, Hadvar, walking up to him. With a contrite expression, he lifted the blond man's arms and dragged the woman to a cart. In the process, the blue mantel fell to the snowy ground. Standing up without help, Ralof picked it up. Feeling like he was wasting time, a black-haired Imperial nudged him harshly in the back forcing him to drop the woollen piece of cloth to clutch the wooden edge of the carriage. Climbing in the cart, the Stormcloak caught Hadvar's gaze.
"Please", he said, looking from the blue patch in the snow to the still unconscious woman sprawled on the bench.
Without a word, Hadvar picked the wrap, slapped the snow out of it a few times and draped it on the Dunmer shivering shoulders.
Ulfric was angry, as usual, would many say. The weakling of an elf was, not only still unconscious, but also leaning on his shoulder. At the beginning of the trip, his man, Ralof, had nudged her with his feet to make her fall on the fur-padded shoulder of his leader instead of the hard wooden planks of the carriage. He had hushed an apology to the gagged man, but before the Jarl could understand why he had a Greyskin breathing softly in his neck. Had she been a Nord, a proud Stormcloak shieldmaiden, he would have tugged her closer, maybe even nuzzled her hair a bit. If there was something that could compete for Ulfric's love of Skyrim, it was Ulfric's love of a strong Nord woman; the right curves in the right place, a strong body and a will to match his own. The Mer, on the other hand, was the extreme opposite; she had next to no curves, a frail-looking body and not even enough will to stay awake. Even her breathing was annoying for Talos sake!
The cart had been wobbling and jerking along the cobblestone path for about an hour and a half when he felt a change in the Mer breathing. It had gotten deeper and he felt her rubbing her cheek on his cloak. Jerking away at the feeling, he kicked Ralof who had finally fallen asleep.
"You're finally awake!" said the man with a despicable cheer in his voice. They were going to the chopping block, he was almost sure. Could the younger man not see that? "I was beginning to wonder if we had lost you". It would have been such a shame he thought bitterly.
Then, a dirty, smelly, brown-haired, poor excuse of a Nord started to whine about the unfairness of the situation. How he was a horse thief and had nothing to do with rebels destined for the headsman's axe. Had he not been gagged, Ulfric would have shouted him out of the cart for his spinelessness. Hopefully, the blond man, Ralof (he would have to remember this name for he was a good and loyal soldier), chastised him for his cowardice and told him rightfully that a Nord's last thought should be of home. In the end, it appeared the blond man was conscious of their impending death. He was simply facing it like a true Nord; with pride and strength! He spent a few minutes, thinking about his beloved Skyrim he was about to quit, having not had the time to free her from the Imperial plague. To his greatest disappointment, his meditation was interrupted by a soft voice.
"Where are we going?" said the elf.
She was obviously not used to speaking the Norse tongue for she pronounced it slowly and without the comfortable flow of someone fluent in it.
Ralof, as a true Son of Skyrim, answered truthfully and without wavering.
"I don't know, but Sovngarde awaits" he was about to add something when the horse thief broke into sobs while the rock walls of Helgen came into view.
Even though it was neither the time nor place to do so, Ralof had to admit the Dunmer woman was surprisingly pleasing to the eye. Her large white eyes seemed unseeing and were a little unnerving, but he noticed they were following the conversation, always looking at the person speaking. She also had a youthful beauty he had never witness in elves. The few ones he had seen had prominent cheekbones, huge circles and wrinkles below their eyes, receding hairline and thin, dry lips. It was a shame really that he would not have the opportunity to know her better. Her body, even cold, had been pleasant to hold onto.
Damn the Nine, she was not on the list! He was already feeling bad enough about manhandling the young woman, but her absence from the list brought fire to his conscience, bringing him to question his superior.
"Legate, she's not on the list"
"She goes to the block with the others!" looking Hadvar in the eyes she added, "Get a move on, I haven't got all day".
Grabbing the dark elf delicate wrists in her iron grip, she dragged her amongst the Stormcloak insurgents, in front of the headsman.
"I'll make sure your remains are sent to Morrowind, Elf", said the Imperial soldier, too shaken by Legate Rikke lack of heart.
She was already too far away for him to hear her whisper, "It will rot there".
He would never admit it, but he was proud of the little elf. She walked with her head held high when she was called to the block. Unlike that horse thief, her pants were still piss-free and she had not cried or tried to make a run for it. Maybe he had misjudged her after all. Well, it was too late to care; the headsman was already raising his axe.
Even though she had a bloody axe ready to chop her head off, her gaze was not directed toward the covered face of the headsman. A small part of the mountain seemed to have grown wings and was flying toward the village. His eyes of burning ambers seemed to look right through her soul. As this creature of nightmare landed on the watchtower, making the ground rumble, she stood there, on her knees, unmoving, mesmerized by the creature's call. It was chaos all around her. Stormcloaks and Legionnaire alike were running like scared rabbits. The Legion General barked orders. Very few were followed in the midst of the panic. The black monster was speaking, and yet she couldn't understand a word of it. Then, she felt it again; like the air had taken solid form and was pushing her back. Before she could react, she was knocked down and her vision blurred. Through the commotion, she felt someone lifting her up and dragging her by the back of her shirt. She came through when she felt the relative safety of the strong rock walls around her. Her saviour, the man who had identified himself as Ralof of Riverwood, was talking to his leader, the giant of a man who had apparently killed a man with his voice!
"It was a dragon, like in the legends!" said Ralof loudly.
"Legends don't burn down villages", replied Ulfric after taking off his gag and unbinding his strong wrists.
"We need to move," said someone.
"Up that tower" supplied the younger blond man, nudging the dark elf in front of him. Her hands were still bound, but he didn't have time to untie them. It would have to wait until they escaped both the Imperial soldiers and the dragon.
She stopped mid-run, making him collide with her back. At the same instant, the tower wall burst open and the sleek black head of the dragon slipped through the opening, washing the stairs in fire. When it had receded, the Stormcloak and the elf came up to have a look at the breach. The way up was a no go, being as there was no more stairs but a pile of rumbles. Ralof motioned for her to jump through the flaming roof of a house down below. She was scared; he could see it in her eyes.
"Are you mad?" she asked, her voice wavering.
"I'll follow you as soon as I can, but you have to jump now before that dragon comes back", he said that while placing his heavy hand on her shoulder, giving her a comforting squeeze.
She took a laboured breath, closed her moon coloured eyes and jumped. He saw her land roughly on the wooden floor and saw more than heard her pained cry. She escaped from his sight as she went further in the house.
"Get him to safety" barked Hadvar to a scared villager, pushing a young boy in his arms. From the corner of an eye, he could see the Dunmer prisoner running. How she was still alive in the middle of all this, he couldn't understand. Yet there she was; her steel grey face covered in soot, sweat and blood. Gods, her hands were still bound! "Stay close to the wall prisoner", he said to her. She had told him his name, but in the middle of all this, he couldn't remember it. It began with an "L" but that was the extent of his knowledge. The dragon was coming back toward them, breathing fire and turning the building to ashes. "Stay close to me prisoner". Honestly, he didn't know what he could do to protect anyone against such an opponent, but he had sworn to protect the subjects of the Empire until his dying breath and as far as he was concerned, she needed the protection. She followed him to the Keep where they were met with Ralof, his childhood friend. Stopping in her tracks, she looked at both man, not knowing which one to follow.
"Prisoner, come with me", pleaded Hadvar. She was wasting time, precious time, which could make the difference between being burnt to a crisp or living to see another day.
"Luthien, follow me", said Ralof, motioning for her to come. He remembered her name from the call earlier. It had been quite exotic among the Norse names being called.
Hearing her name, she looked toward the man, then, with one last glance to Hadvar, she ran toward the blond barbarian just as the dragon was circling back over their heads.
The Keep seemed safe enough for a quick stop. Anyways, he needed a moment to grasp the situation and the elf needed to be freed from her bindings.
"Let me get your hands untied, then we'll get you some armour", said Ralof briskly looking around him.
Without a word, Luthien held out her arms to him and he proceeded to cut the crude ropes that held her prisoner. They had bitten in her flesh, leaving bloody marks on her delicate wrists. Having heard all kind of stories about the Mer and Jarl Ulfric thoughts about them, he was a little surprised to see red blood oozing from her broken skin. He had half expected her to have tar-like blood going by the colour of her skin. He was even more surprised when she balled up her fist, his hand instinctively reaching for his sword. The attack he was expecting never came tough. Instead, gold light shimmered in her now open palm and flowed with grace to her wrists and right ankle, mending the flesh. In the field of battle, he had often witnessed the prowess of the Norse healers. Coming from the ashen hands of a Mer though, it was even more magical.
"You're a mage then?"
"No. I know a few simple spells, but I'm no mage"
"Well, grab Gunjar's armour than we need to get moving", said Ralof. He couldn't wait to be out of this place. He had lost his Jarl in the midst of the battle and he hoped to find him safe and sound when they finally made it out.
Luthien stared, blankly at Ralof. "You want me to loot the dead?" she said, flabbergasted. He simply replied "He won't need it anymore" before kneeling next to the man and muttering something about Sovngarde. He then proceeded to free the armour with the help of the elf. She removed the smaller pieces of equipment like the boots, gloves and belt while he was bodily lifting the corpse of his shield brother to remove the leather-covered chainmail. It looked much too large for her but it would protect her a lot better than the half-torn tunic she had on at the moment. Hesitantly, she looked at the man who had saved her.
"Would you mind turning around, please?" she might have lived in the streets, wearing nothing but rags but she was not about to give a show to this man, saviour or not.
Ralof gingerly complied. They were not in a safe place; keeping an eye out on each other was the only way to stand a chance of making it out of Helgen. He would have to keep an ear out then, in case Imperials tried to sneak upon them.
The armour was heavy and broken mails from the killing blow to its previous owner were scraping against her shoulder blade but it would have to do.
"I'm ready, do you know the way?" she asked the tall man.
"No, but I think the outside is out of the question, so this door seems to be the only option".
Unfortunately, the door was locked and could not be picked. To add to their misfortune, two Imperial soldiers were coming their way, talking loudly. Whispering, Ralof ordered the elf to hide "We might take them by surprise" he added. The blond soldier unsheathed his axe, crouching on the left side of the door. Luthien couldn't help but think he looked quite fearsome, his muscled arms holding the weapon at the ready while his eyes were fixed on the door.
Taking his example, she lit both her palms on fire. Her flames might not be as powerful as his axe, but in these closed quarters, it would grant them an advantage. As soon as the Imperial passed the door, they were hit by a wave of flame and the furry of an unleashed barbarian. Unfortunately, the surprise didn't last long and in a few instants, the two escapees had two very angry soldiers aiming to kill them. It became clear very early that the elf had never fought armed soldiers. She was attacking the anatomical weak spots without any consideration for the armour covering them. Soon, she was tossed against the wall by a frustrated Legionnaire who then focused his attention on the tall Nord. The Legionnaire fell quickly beneath the iron axe, but the female officer proved to be much more of a challenge. She parried every blow, dealing quite a few herself until she managed to knock the axe out of Ralof hand. Trying to reach for the gladius of the fallen man, the Nord took a powerful sword blow to the shoulder. Much of its potency was deflected by the chainmail, but the force of the blow still made him groan and retreat a bit. Seeing her misfortune companion in such bad shape, Luthien ran behind the officer and, lighting her hands once more, applied both flaming palms to the woman face making her scream in agony as she fell to the ground defeated. The dark elf then kneeled beside her companion to ascertain the damage. Lifting the chainmail sleeve despite the protests of the man, she saw a large bruise beginning to form.
"I don't know any healing magicks that works on others but this will help", she said, materializing dancing cold flakes in her right hand. "Please, don't move". Under the scrutinizing glare of the wounded man, she applied her frost-coated hand to the bruised shoulder. The man groaned and tightened his jaw at the contact but did not move. Once she deemed the wound cooled enough, she banished the frost from her palm, looking expectantly at the blue-eyed man. "Feeling better?" she asked.
"Yes. It's numb. It's much better, thanks." He said, flexing his arm and lightly rotating his shoulder.
She could sense his pride had been hurt, being saved and healed by a weak looking elf so she did not extend her hand to help him up and when he failed to properly lift his axe with his wounded arm, she pretended not to see.
After defeating the torturer and his sadistic assistant. She managed to acquire a mage's hooded robe and a spellbook. Seeing that they were in a relatively safe place she asked her companion to stand watch while she changed and learnt the new spell. The blond man, once more turned around, granting her some privacy while protesting that she could be attacked at any time if he wasn't looking after her. He was also extremely curious about what she looked like under that armour. He had never seen a Mer woman before but holding her this close all night… Well, he was curious. If they made it out of this mess, he was stopping by the first tavern he could find to get a drink and maybe a few hours in agreeable company. His train of thought was broken by a muffled cry of pain. Unsheathing his sword, he turned toward the woman. There was no enemy, not even a rat in sight. She was simply passing the chainmail over her head, the broken links scraping a bleeding wound on her shoulder. She must not have been disturbed by the noise his blade made, because she didn't turn around. She was wearing the leather pants and boots they had looted on Gunjar. The pants were sitting low on her hips, giving him an excellent view of her hips, waist and back. She crooked her neck to look at the wound on her back, swearing softly in what he assumed was her native tongue when her probing fingers came back soiled with blood. To his surprise, she didn't cast magic on the wound and bent to retrieve the mage robes. His sword tip must have hit the ground then, because she turned abruptly toward him, clutching the robes to her chest. She looked scared and her left hand was ready to summon her flames should the need arise. Sheathing his sword, he quickly apologized and turned his back on her. He cursed himself for being so disrespectful. He should have turned around the moment he saw no danger. Had she been scared he would attempt something with her? What kind of man must she think him to be now!
Shit, she had seen that look before. That mix of lust and need had always been a reliable sign to get the Void away. Living in the streets she had met very shady people, drunken guards, rogue noblemen, and the list kept on going. Except now, she could not get away. That man with the much-feared look was her only way out of this. She would have to be careful, she thought, changing the leather pants for the mage's trousers that were closer to her size. Even the boots were a better fit.
She then proceeded to open the book. She had not seen many spellbooks in her short time, but they were fairly simple to use. She flipped the pages until she found the incantation, then, placing her hands on both pages, she recited it. Hearing her talking in a strange language, Ralof turned around again. Hopefully, she was fully dressed. What she was doing, he had no idea. He had met very few mages and he had never witnessed the learning of a new spell. As she read the incantation, little sparks appeared on the paper around her hands; their white light dancing across her fingers and licking her arms without causing apparent pain. After a while, the book suddenly turned to dust, the sparks disappeared and she turned toward him.
" I'm ready", she mumbled, looking at him with a deadly gaze. "How's your arm by the way?"
"It's getting worst, but you don't have to bother yourself with it. Listen I'm sorry for…" said Ralof.
"I'll have a look", she said dryly, cutting him mid-sentence.
Without waiting for his answer, she lifted the mail sleeve to find the skin an angry shade of purple and black. Without any notice, she applied her frost-coated hand to his shoulder, putting a little more pressure than was necessary. The Nord grunted low at the pain she was causing him but he didn't lash. He really deserved it…
When she was done, she began walking toward the cell corridor without waiting for him. He faintly heard her mumble, "Apologies accepted" before he lightly jogged to catch up with her.
If Ralof had to be honest, he would say that he was glad Luthien was on his side. They had come across four Imperial soldiers in what looked like a man-made cave. She hadn't hesitated a minute when she saw the shimmering light on the ground and shot flames at it. He remembered thinking for half a second that the girl had finally lost her mind until the floor was on fire, crippling the archers standing on it. After that diversion, it had been a piece of cake to dispatch the enemies still standing and they had made it out of the cave without further injuries.