Heroes


A/N ~ Sorry this took so long!!! I've gone through a few major life changes since the summer, but I'm hoping to get back on track!

Previously: Whiterun

The battle for Whiterun did not last long at all.

Not only were the Stormcloaks predictably outnumbered, some of them appeared to have some trepidation about fighting against Jarl Balgruuf. After all, he was one of the most respected men in Skyrim, known for his honorable nature as well as his wisdom. That such a man had sided with the Empire seemed to make some Stormcloaks question their role in the war.

Before the battle was even over, dozens had deserted.

Marcurio personally slew over thirty soldiers with his dreaded lightning; unlike the Nords, the Empire didn't balk at the use of magic, especially in battle. 

Minerva Septima expected some chiding from General Tullius about her recent freelancing, but it never came. The stakes were too high; if she and her team hadn't cleared out Greenwall, they wouldn't have thinned the rebel army ranks, wouldn't have intercepted their intel...and that would have been disastrous for the Empire.

After the enemy fled, all of Whiterun was in the streets, weeping and hugging whoever had survived. They cheered their Jarl, of course, and General Tullius too, but they didn't know to cheer Minerva as well. This worried her a little; the last thing she needed was both or either of these men taking all credit for her team's accomplishments.

Her fears were assuaged when the conquering heroes amassed in the great yawning hall of Dragonsreach, where Jarl Balgruuf hosted a victory celebration.

"To the Empire!" the blond Jarl intoned in his deep voice, raising his goat horn goblet.

"To the Empire!" his guests thundered, shaking the castle walls. They drank a ceremonial sip, then awaited his next words.

"To General Tullius," Balgruuf said, with a little less zeal. Minerva raised an eyebrow, wondering if there was some preexisting issue between the two men. They certainly seemed familiar enough.

"To General Tullius!" his guests cheered happily, as though not noticing the slight change in the jarl's voice.

"And to Minerva Septima of the Penitus Oculatus," the jarl finally acknowledged, "without whom this victory would not have been possible. I hereby name you Thane of Whiterun. To our new Thane of Whiterun!"

"To the Thane of Whiterun!" the guests echoed, while Minerva stood, shocked into silence as her comrades clapped her on the back and drank in her honor.

Marcurio's ears pricked up. I could live in Whiterun, he blinked. Despite his admittedly morbid affection for Riften, Whiterun was one of his favorite cities in Skyrim. He'd happily settle down with its new Thane, perhaps buy a house with some farmland and raise some children.

He suddenly pictured himself accompanying Minerva to dinners and meetings at Dragonsreach, or volunteering at the Temple of Kynareth, and it warmed his heart. He'd almost forgotten how much he'd loved her in his youth. She was by no means an afterthought; forgetting her--or at least trying to--had always been an act of self-preservation. He never forgot the day she left or the devastating feeling that he might never see her again.

But now he was more than seeing her again; he was fighting by her side in a great war that would land them both in history books. With such a mythic reunion....

...it's almost like we were fated, Marcurio blinked to himself.

***

"I'm not fucking staying in Whiterun."

Well...there goes that, Marcurio raised an eyebrow, watching as Minerva crossed her room, stripping off her sweaty, bloodstained gauntlets and tossing them onto her bed. Her face was still grimy with soot and blood, her dark hair plastered to her neck, and she was beautiful. It didn't matter if she didn't want to stay in Whiterun. My heart wasn't set on Whiterun anyway.

"Why not?" he chuckled, biting into an apple he'd brought in from the great hall. "The Jarl has made you a Thane, authorized you to buy property in Whiterun. Though to be fair, if these jarls really wanted to show you their appreciation, they'd just give you the fucking property, you know?"

"Whiterun is pretty and peaceful and idyllic," Minerva admitted, unhooking her breastplate, "but I'm better than all that. And Thane? I deserve way fucking more than being Thane." 

Marcurio agreed. "So what's the plan then, great hero?"

"With this defeat, Ulfric will withdraw what forces he has left to Eastmarch and Winterhold," Minerva nodded, thinking. "The Empire won't strike right away, not when they think he can be reasoned with. Which he can't be, by the way."

Marcurio raised an eyebrow. "And why not?"

"Ulfric is a cornered animal," she snorted. "He's actually most dangerous now. He sold his rebels on a pipe dream and he's spent decades of his life accomplishing nothing. Not to mention, he will lose his head for this rebellion. He's got nothing left to lose."

Marcurio finished his apple, wiping his hands on his dirty mage robes. "So Fort Kastav, then?"

Minerva nodded. "Fort Kastav."

***

There was less urgency in the return to Eastern Skyrim; Minerva actually let her team rest a few days, enjoying beer and brothels as they healed their wounds. But as Western Skyrim began to settle and Whiterun's numbers thinned a bit, Minerva knew it was time to go. With their armors repaired and horses refreshed, they set out for the Pale, reaching it about a day later. 

They spent the night at the Windpeak in Dawnstar, where much like in Southeastern Skyrim, Stormcloak presence was fading. Whatever soldiers had been presented were either dead or returned to the Northeast. Some of the commonfolk were relieved, knowing that an end to war was in sight, but others were quite bitter.

"A farmer spat at me this morning," Marcurio mused, watching as Minerva's soldiers loaded their horses and belongings onto a ship at the harbor. The sun was out and the winds were strong. They expected to reach Winterhold in a matter of hours.

"What did you expected?" Minerva chortled, giving her cloak a hitch. Despite the sun being, it was always cold and snowy in the Pale. "They'd been sold a dream, Marcurio; they'd had hopes, and many had truly believed a Stormcloak victory was imminent. Now they have nothing but dead relatives to bury and mounting debts to pay to new Jarls they don't like."

"Speaking of Jarls nobody likes," the mage chuckled, "The Black-Briars have taken over the Rift. Maven is the new Jarl, can you imagine that?"

Minerva was unfazed. "That family will be overthrown in less than a generation."

Marcurio shot her an alarmed look. "I take it the Penitus Oculatus knows something the rest of us don't?"

"That's our job," she nodded briskly. "Maven is a force to be reckoned with, but her sons are weak and foolish. It's one of the reasons the Empire chose to support her claim, along with Siddgeir of Falkreath, Igmund of the Reach, Brina Merilis of the Pale, and of course, Elisif of Haafingar. Not every Jarl in Skyrim needs to be of Balgruuf's caliber," she smiled slightly. "In fact, it's preferable for the Empire if the majority are simply controllable."

Marcurio's brow furrowed. "Siddgeir and Elisif, I understand; they're both young and inexperienced. But Igmund and Brina? They're fairly honorable, older people with decades of experience between them."

"Igmund is an old man who never married and has no heirs," Minerva laughed, gesturing for him to follow her and board the ship. "He's also spendthrift who can't stay out of debt, and his father was no different. How do you think the Silver-Blood family came to control half the Reach?"

"And Brina?"

"An old woman who never married and has no heirs," Minerva smirked. "Which means the next Jarl of the Pale will simply be appointed by the Emperor."

Marcurio visibly cringed. "By the gods," he murmured. "No wonder Ulfric went to war."

***

The trek to Fort Kastav took longer than the battle itself. The Stormcloaks stationed at the crumbling fort were yet another frozen and starving skeleton crew; slaughtering them took an hour. Burning their bodies took another.

"We could've spared them, you know," Marcurio gently pointed out.

"What for?" Minerva was sitting a little too comfortably across from the funeral pyres, carefully penning another letter to General Tullius while her soldiers took inventory of the dead soldiers' meager supplies and possessions. They all moved with neither regret nor hesitation, and it was really started to bother the mage. In fact, he found it deeply disturbing when Varinius, the second-in-command, actually warmed his hands by one of the pyres.

"So they could go home to their families?" Marcurio haplessly shrugged. "We didn't have to kill every single one of them."

"Yes, we did," she nodded without looking up. "If we didn't, General Tullius would. What did you think this was, Marcurio? We're at war. Besides, it's almost over."

"Not soon enough," he grumbled. "I take it we'll be camping here until we get the summons?"

"Might as well," Minerva cocked her head to the side, starting a brand new letter. "Once word spreads that Kastav has fallen, Jarl Korir of Winterhold will be sent into exile like all the others. Lord Kraldar will take his place as the new Jarl."

"Is that who you're writing now?"

"No, I'm sending word to my sister."

"Tatiana?" Marcurio blinked.

"It's time she came to Skyrim. I'm telling her to take a boat to the harbor at Windhelm. We should've wrapped up this sordid mess by then."

Marcurio shifted uncomfortably from one foot to another. "I don't Tatiana is...'Skyrim' kind of girl, Minerva. This country isn't for the faint of heart."

Minerva snorted. "My sister and I haven't been 'faint of heart' since we were children."

Next: Kraldar

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