Kraldar


Previously: Heroes

When Minerva and her team rejoined the great Imperial camp of the North, they found it was far better supplied than they could ever imagined. There was a field of tents stretched across a snowy plain. Hundreds of Imperial soldiers were comfortably camped, roasting meat, drinking wine, and singing songs of home.

The war was coming to end; everyone could tell, and yet Marcurio carried a heavy heart. He felt guilty about the Nords he'd slain, and grim about the deaths to come.

"When Legate Rikke arrives," Minerva told him, "we'll know it's time to move out." Her tone was as grim as his thoughts. He carried a torch, lighting their way in the dark as they navigated seemingly endless rows of tents.

"You don't sound excited," he gingerly noted, as the snow gently fell and the night rapidly deepened.

"I told you, I want this over," she replied. "My team and I have survived this long, but I can't guarantee we'll all make it out of Eastmarch." She paused. "If anything happens to me--"

"I'll take care of your sister," Marcurio promptly nodded, refusing to even think it. "I'll...I'll escort her to Solitude. My cousin can help find her a position at the Blue Palace. I'm sure Elisif would welcome her with open arms."

"Make sure she marries soon and make sure she marries well," Minerva nodded stiffly. "She always wanted that, to marry some rich lord. I suspect there'll be quite a few when the war ends."

"She will marry a Jarl," he suddenly promised, his tone resolute. "Balgruuf has been unmarried for too long. Igmund will want her dowry."

Minerva laughed softly. "I believe this one's mine, which makes that one yours," she pointed, stopping before a tent. "Fancy a some supper before bed?"

Screenshots are back! Click any to enlarge.

***



Legate Rikke didn't arrive for days as the Empire tried to negotiate with Ulfric Stormcloak in vain. So Marcurio and Minerva Septima settled in, learning the lay of the camp and traveling into Winterhold to help install the new government.

The "city" of Winterhold was really just a small town surrounded by giant walls. The walls were no doubt a remnant from a bygone era, when the city had actually been a great wonder of the wall. Now it was all wooden houses with thatched roofs, where shopkeepers, hunters, fishers, and sailors tried to scratch a decent living.

The town lay in the shadow of the great College of Winterhold, a marvelous giant castle whose beauty, like the great walls, hinted at what the city had once been.

The Jarl's hall, however, was wooden and dank, much smaller than the lavish castles they were used to seeing. It was merely a larger version of the houses they'd seen all over town. The giant roof needed thatching in places, the walls let the wind in, and there were no servants to speak of.

Lord Kraldar, the new Jarl, seemed a reasonable, honorable man. He was white-haired but youthful, descended from an ancient noble bloodline that once ruled Winterhold. He had a jovial temperament and kind smile. He was also extremely comfortable, for his new steward was the same steward who served the last Jarl, an Dunmeri man by the name Malur Seloth. The Legate assigned to Winterhold was also a Dunmeri, a bearded warrior by the name of Sevan Telendas. He seemed grossly out of place with his magnificent heavy Imperial armor.

Nevertheless, the men were hospitable, welcoming Minerva and Marcurio into the Jarl's small dining room, sharing meat they killed and roasted themselves, pouring what good wine they had.

"How's the transition been, my lord?" Minerva asked, serving herself another chicken leg while Marcurio refilled his goblet.

"Most successful, Agent Septima," Kraldar beamed. "I had thought there would be a certain animosity, but I have support from the College of Winterhold and all the business owners in town."

"I recommend visiting the mead hall at the docks," Malur piped. "It's actually quite fine."

"Finer than this hall," Kraldar humbly confessed.

"I see no Lady of Winterhold," Minerva observed. "Are you unmarried, my lord?"

"Until recently, I saw no reason to," he shrugged. "But now I am a Jarl. My bloodline has been given a second chance, and I will wed as the Emperor commands...should he find someone willing to move to Winterhold."

"An Imperial bride will no doubt provide a great dowry," Minerva nodded. "You could restore Winterhold."

"That would require the entirety of Emperor's vault, my lady," Malur generously assured her. He was the heaviest drinker present. "To be fair, we are well, or we will be now that war has left this hold. Commerce will flourish, students will flock to the college, and we will carry on better than we did before."

"Hear, hear," Sevan raised his goblet.

***

"Don't do it," Marcurio chuckled, shaking his head as they headed back to camp. "Don't make your sister marry that man."

"Kraldar is, by all reports, a good and decent man. And I've provided for Tatianna," Minerva nodded firmly. "She'll be comfortable in Winterhold."

"No one is comfortable in Winterhold, Minerva," the mage cackled. "They wear cloaks indoors and have to keep their hearths burning all day. She'll be miserable."

"She'll be the wife of a Jarl," Minerva countered. "I need to get to him first, before some noble-born bitch sinks her claws into him."

"I thought we agreed Tatianna would be better off with the likes of Balgruuf or Igmund."

"Balgruuf has three healthy heirs; he will fight tooth and nail to remained unmarried," she shook her head. "The man offered up his brother in his stead to House Ravencrone. And as I said early, Igmund is a spendthrift; I don't trust him with Tatianna's dowry. Beside, if either of those Jarls agreed to marry, they'll want countesses, princesses, and the like...not the bastard of a bastard and a simple diplomat."

"And if Tatianna disagrees?"

"She won't," Minerva gritted her teeth. "She knows better."

***

Legate Rikke finally arrived to announced what everybody already knew: Ulfric Stormcloak wasn't going to surrender. Instead, he'd recalled his soldiers to Windhelm and heavily garrisoned the city. Imperial forces had been ordered to converge upon Eastmarch within a day.

This time, the battle did not go quickly, and the Imperial side suffered several casualties.

Windhelm was almost a labyrinthine city of high stone walls; for many Imperials, it was hard to navigate and the Stormcloaks used their ignorance to their full advantage. But in the end, it was all for naught; they were outnumbered and low on supplies to begin with. The city fell to the Imperials within a day.

To their credit, the Stormcloaks really did fight to the last, until all that remained was Ulfric Stormcloak and his defiant housecarl, Galmar Stone-Fist, holed up in the Palace of Kings.

Minerva and Marcurio knew the city well and used it to their advantage; Minerva made sure she was present when the General and Legate confronted the doomed Jarl of Eastmarch.

She gazed upon Ulfric, trying to read him, hoping to feel...something after his name so often. He was neither daedra nor tyrant, nor larger than life. In the end he appeared to as tired, mortal nuisance who'd spent decades making wrong decisions.

He was strong, with blond hair and beard, much like Balgruuf. But while Balgruuf was known for his patience and wisdom, Ulfric had an edge to him, as if the years of prison, exile, and rebellion had turned his heart to stone. He seemed a little mad even, dressed in his finest furs, sitting upon his throne and refusing to surrender in the face of imminent defeat.



It was about honor, of course; they knew their manner of death would be remembered, to be sung about by empathizers and enemies alike. They fought, and they were felled; Minerva killed Galmar quickly, riddling his body with arrows while Tullius and Rikke battled Ulfric.


And when the great rebel was finally bested and kneeling, gasping for breath, Tullius gleefully took his head.

The next several minutes were surreal. At some point, the conquering heroes did exit the castle so the General could address the troops. Minerva made sure she was by his side as he gave his speech. As she stared out upon the burning city and weary soldiers, not hearing a word Tullius said, her shoulders sagged as she finally gave into the exhaustion.

It is done, she told herself, even as her heart thudded in her chest. I will be made Thane of Eastmarch by the new Jarl. Tullius will grant me title of Legate. She would get a chest of gold, a feast in her honor, a huge new salary, a giant pension, and a permanent place in both Skyrim and Imperial history.

If she played her cards right, money and status would never be a problem ever again.


And now...for the next part.

Comments

Popular Posts