Northwatch Keep

 
Previously: The Bird's Eye

It was a gloomy day in Skyrim. The skies were grayish with a hint of gold, and snow was falling. Whatever charm the land had held the day before vanished in an instant as Indrathel's boots crunched in the snow. Her stomach grumbled as the cold winds blew and the journey to the Northwatch Keep ending up taking much longer than she expected.




Seeing the place up close didn't improve her mood. Immediately she knew the assignment was a mistake. Northwatch Keep was yet another rundown Skyrim fort in the middle of nowhere. And despite having had time to settle in, the Thalmor hadn't done a damn thing with the place.

They had secured it of course; there were archers on the wall and a steady patrol but that just annoyed Indrathel even further. What exactly were they patrolling? Aside from the Imperial patrol and a bunch of corpses, it appeared no one liked to come all the way out here.

The soldier at the gate greeted her with a brief nod. "Commander."

"Soldier," she blinked irritably. "I'm here on behalf of the Ambassador. She requires a full report of the status of the fort."

The soldier shrugged. "I figured Elenwen would send someone out sooner or later." He gestured to the fort behind him. "Make yourself at home."




Seriously?

The whole place looked desolate, utterly bereft of civilization. There were some targets for practice in the courtyard, but the courtyard itself was mostly empty, save for a single guard at the door. Like the one up front, the soldier simply opened the door and wordlessly let her in.

As she walked down the dark, dank halls of the keep, Indrathel noticed something. Neither guard had made a comment about her appearance. As far back as she could remember, full-blood High Elves always had something to say about half-breeds. Aside for her height and her ears, Indrathel obviously didn't look like the average Altmer. She was darker-skinned, her eyes more human. And yet neither guard could so much as muster a quip.

They really must not give a damn out here.

And why would they? They'd left their homes, crossed half a continent because the Dominion told them to, and this was the thanks they got for all their sacrifice.

Indrathel didn't know what the Ambassador expected from her, but she didn't plan on staying. In fact, she planned to leave at first light and deliver her report to Elenwen in person. Her official report was that Northwatch Keep was a crumbling hellscape that made the grim, dim Embassy look like a palace.




The whole place smelled of rainwater and dust. Moss grew everywhere, on the floors and the walls. There was a single healer set up in a dingy room (out of countless dingy rooms), and there was even small tavern of sorts, deep in the bowels of the fort. The place was stocked with--of all things--mead, and not even one of the good vintages. It was the cheap stuff in the small bottles, and it was appalling to see High Elves guzzling it without shame.

"Yes," nodded soldier doubling as bartender, even though Indrathel hadn't said a word.

"Yes?" she blinked, irritation giving away to confusion.

"Yes, we really do live like this," he shrugged. "To answer your next question, no, your assignment here wasn't a mistake."

Indrathel looked about herself, bewildered. "You must be joking."

The lone patron of the tavern cackled heartily, raising a rusty tankard to his lips, but not saying anything.

"Don't get me wrong," the bartender told her, "we all thought this place was a shithole when we first arrived, but then it started to grow on us."

"How the hell did this grow on you?"

The bartender paused, looking her over and then meeting her eyes. "You're only half Altmer? The other half being Redguard, I'm guessing?"

"What does that have to do with anything?"

"My parents were servants," he replied simply. "And Gannar here is the son of a harlot. As you no doubt are aware, not every member of the Thalmor has vaunted ancestors. In fact, no one here at Northwatch comes from a great family."

Indrathel's voice deepened and turn grim. "So it's dumping ground...for all the 'undesirables'."

"At first that pissed us off," the bartender shrugged. "But then we realized that none of the assholes from the noble families were here to look down on us and tell us what to do. We eat when when we want, drink all the mead we want, and can pretty much be ourselves."

Indrathel was tired. "I need a bath," she said suddenly.

"Out back," the bartender gestured, while Gannar chuckled.

Indrathel raised an eyebrow. "You bathe in the sea? In this winter?"

"It grows on you," the bartender shrugged again. "While you bathe, I can make something to eat. I hope you like fish, 'cause...."

***


Thank you, Mara. Thank you very fucking much.

This betrayal was the sort of plot twist she'd expect from the likes of Elenwen, but not the goddess of love compassion herself. For all she knew, once she reported back to the Ambassador, the old witch would simply shrug her shoulders and order Indrathel to return to the Northwatch.

If I resign, I'll be deemed a traitor. If I refused to serve a prison sentence after being declared a traitor, I'll be hunted as a fugitive.

Thanks a lot, Mara.

Indrathel grumbled as she stripped on the banks of the Sea of Ghosts and sank into the freezing water. Her shocked stiffened in shock as she forced herself into the water, determined to make this a short wash. As her body adjusted as best it could, she took in her surroundings, noting the beauty of the landscape, and a tall castle on a nearby island, shrouded in mist.


Uh uh, not this again
, she warned herself. She was quickly learning that Skyrim's beauty came with a heavy price. And unlike her fellow Thalmor, she refused to accept pay. She refused to end up a broken, withered woman like Elenwen, puttering around some dusty old tomb.

Even so, there was something refreshing about bathing in the cold sea. Indrathel was surprised to find herself relaxing as she inhaled the salt and mountain air. The snows had stopped and the sky was started to clear. She might not have gotten the hot bath, but at least there would be a hot meal waiting for her once she finished.

She closed her eyes and sank in deep, letting herself calm.

But as soon as she let her guard down, she was ripped from her reverie by a piercing scream. In the distant, she heard voices, blasts of fire and lightning and the clash of weapons as chaos unfolded behind her.

Indrathel's eyes opened and she turned around.

We're under attack.

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