Chapter One: That Damn Emblem
"Skyrim legend tells of a hero known as the Dragonborn, a warrior with the body of a mortal and soul of a dragon, whose destiny it is to destroy the evil dragon Alduin."
There was a chilly nip in the air as the sun rose over the Ghost Sea, and the snow whisked around the mountain tops that loomed overhead to the West. The faint sound of gulls flying down by the shore could be heard if the frigid wind calmed for a moment. The sound of firewood being chopped occasionally echoed through the gaps in the cottages, and the smell of ore from the smelter grazed her nostrils if the gusts caught ahold of it just right. For Katara Snow-Child this was just an average morning in the Skaal village. She stepped outside of her home, well, Elysia's home. Elysia Gorman was an elderly Skaal widow that was kind enough to let Katara reside with her for several years. In exchange Katara did most of the housekeeping and hunting if needed. Housing in the village was in short supply, and there wasn't much land to build on even if she wanted a place to call her own; she would have to relocate away from the village in order to do so, which simply was not an option any time soon.
The thick snow crunched under her heavy fur boots and Katara tightened her fur jacket around her neck and chest as the chilly morning air kissed her khaki cheeks and nose when she opened the door from Elysia's cottage. Most of the village elders were already stirring and getting started on their respective duties. In the Skaal, everyone has a role that they must uphold in order to keep balance and routine in the village. There was Baldor, the blacksmith. Elysia, a healer and a shaman. Deor, the woodcutter. Jure and Calder, both hardy hunstmen. Ingrid and Teola, who were in charge of flaying the fresh kills provided by the hunstmen. Lastly there was Storn and his daughter Freya. Storn was the leader of the Skaal. He was a healer and a shaman but he led with sage advice and logical leadership. Freya was his adult daughter who looked after her father, although she was a warrior by heart. She enjoyed adventuring and the fight for life.
Every member of the Skaal had deep roots to the land and were born right in the very village, as was Katara. However, her roots didn't run as thick and deep as the others - she was actually the first of her family born in the village.
Katara's mother was a Nord, which is what most of the Skaal are, except the Skaal are a group of Nords that have adopted a more reclusive and primitive way of life than their other kinsman who live in Skyrim. Her father was an Imperial, hailing from the providence of Cyrodil. Her parents met in Skyrim when they were young and fell in love quickly. Her mother, Kira, was a bard. She would play at small inns and pubs in the Eastern part of Skyrim. Orpheus, her father, came to Skyrim as a teenager and became an innkeeper. Katara remembers stories that her mother would revel in late at night by the fireplace about the first time her and Orpheus met.
"I was playing my lute at the inn one night when a patron - a very drunk patron - tried grabbing me by the arm. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't uncommon that a drunken milk drinker would try to grab me in hopes of getting lucky that night. However this particular man had a bad aurora about him. You know those people, Katara? His intentions were bad. I could feel it in my bones. So I jerked away from him and made my way to the other side of the common area. Well, wouldn't you know it, the drunken bastard followed me. He grabbed my arm - hard! He spun me around and I could smell the putrid stench of mead overpowering me. Just in that moment as I was face to face with him, a tall dark haired man stepped in between us. That man was your father, Orpheus. 'It's time for you to go home, sir.' As quick as I ever saw, the man's face turned from a sloppy smile to an angry scowl. Before any of us could react, the man had balled up his fist and landed it right on Orpheus' jaw. The drunken man and a few of his friends cackled and strolled out of the inn thinking that they were kings. I bent down to tend to Orpheus, who was out cold on the quarry stone floor. When he finally came to the both us spent the remainder of the night talking and munching on grilled potatoes and leeks. The rest is history, Katara. We fell in love."
Katara's parents loved each other deeper than the meaning of the very word. Shortly after they married they found out they were pregnant with her. Wanting a better life for their daughter than innkeeping and lute-playing, they fled to Solstheim and joined the Skaal to live a peaceful life where Katara could be raised without Jarls and Emperors. She was born on one of the coldest nights the village has ever experienced, in the midst of a ferocious snowstorm. Katara was born with hair as white as snow, grayish blue eyes, and tan skin like her father. The villagers said that her white hair was a mark from the All-Maker, having been born during such a terrible frigid storm. The elders took to calling her Snow-Child from that moment on. In fact, Katara had no idea what her actual last name was.
Sadly, Orpheus became bed ridden with ataxia shortly after Katara was born. The only memory she has of her father are the ones her mother would tenderly tell her. Not but a few years after the death of Orpheus, Kira had passed away in her sleep. Storn was unable to determine if it was due to an illness or disease. From that moment Elysia had taken in Katara and the two have lived together ever since.
"Ah, Katara! Good to see that you're up.", Teola broke Katara's morning trance with her motherly voice. "I plan to boil up some clam meat for tonight's dinner. Would you mind going to the shore to gather some clams for me?", she asked. "Of course, Teola.". Katara cinched her fur clothing around her neck and began to walk down the snowy slope that led out to the shore. She turned abruptly and hollered "Any pearls I find goes to Atela, right?". Atela was Teola's 10 year old daughter, who overheard her name in conversation and brightly lit up. Teola smiled and glanced over at Atela's beaming face. "I suppose she's been well behaved enough to earn a pearl or two.", Teola said with a slight smile and a nod towards her daughter. Atela tried to keep her composure, although it was evident she was giddy with the thought of adding more pearls to her collection.
Down by the shore was one of Katara's most beloved places. It was peaceful, calm, and serene. It's not like the village was bustling with commotion, but it was still nice to get away from it from time to time. Katara liked living in the village, it was her home and it would always be her home, but she couldn't help to wonder what else was out there. She walked to the shore line and picked up a damp clam, using her dagger she pryed it open and extracted its mushy meat from the crevice. No pearl for Atela though. Katara gently placed the clam meat into a shallow bucket that was filled with sea water. She gazed over the Ghost Sea, pushing strands of white hair away from her eyes and behind her ears. Solstheim was an island that lies between Skyrim and Morrowind, the Dunmer providence of Tamriel. Morrowind had claimed ownership of Solstheim, so most of the island's inhabitants were Dunmer - dark elves. However there were a few isolated villages and colonies of Nords sparsely scattered in the northern region - the Skaal being one of them. Katara had never even left the village, had never seen a Dunmer, and had never been to Skyrim or Morrowind. There was something both assuring and depressing about that. It was assuring in the sense that her village was safe, it was home. It was familiar. It was depressing because, well, she was a 20 year old girl who had never experienced life outside the village - and as far as she could tell, there wasn't plans to do so any time soon.
The waves of the Ghost Sea lapped gently at the shoreline that laid beneath Katara's feet. The waves were much more choppy the further out to sea one went. She wondered what it must have been like for her parents when they first journeyed to Solstheim. Katara never thought to ask her mom that question, as she had been so young that the thought of asking it hadn't even crossed her mind. She envied her mother and father because, while they were by no means adventurers, they had traveled and experienced a great deal more than Katara had. She does remember her mother telling her stories about Skyrim - most notably the great plains. The way her mother described it made it sound like fields of grain and flowers intertwined with lush green grass and shrubbery met the sky's horizon. Her mother always seemed happy when she was talking about her home. When Katara was just a little girl she had made a promise to herself that her and her mother would travel to Skyrim so she could see the land of her maternal ancestors. Things change, I suppose.
Bending down to pick up another cold clam, Katara noticed something out of the corner of her eye. In the distance she could see two ships - big ships - approaching the shore the West. She squinted, trying to catch a glimpse of the sails. She nearly lost the air in her throat. Red sails, with some sort of black diamond emblem flying on them. She was ignorant to the physical world around her but Katara had read plenty of books before. She recognized these as a Imperial Legion ships.
What business would Imperial ships from Skyrim have here in Solstheim? It made Katara wonder. In 20 years she had never seen the ships here before, then again she hasn't traveled outside of the village so how much could she really know? Still, it was odd. She decided to gather a few more clams and head back up the slope to the village.
When she reached the village she heard more voices than usual, deep demanding voices. Katara rushed up the hill and was almost taken back by the sight she was met with. Imperial soldiers, about 10 or so, here in the village! All the elders and villagers were gathered around the fire in common area, with the soldiers sparsely mixed in. Katara set the bucket of clam meat down on the flaying table and slowly walked towards the crowd, peering and being keen to the conversations.
"Everyone settle down. We're here for just the 2 young ones then we'll be on our way.", one solider announced to the chattering group of villagers. He was wearing a suit of armor that looked heavier and more defined than the others. Katara believed him to the Commander.
Storn raised his hands to his group of loyal villagers in an effort to hush them.
"Commander, what's the meaning of this...intrusion? We've not broken any laws. We're but a peaceful people who keep to ourselves. We're just common folk."
"I know who you're people are. I also know that you've willingly been disconnected from the rest of the world for quite some time so allow me to catch you up to speed", the Commander spoke, a condescending undertone detected in his voice. "Skyrim is in the midst of a Civil War. The Jarl of Windhelm, Ulfric Stormcloak, has killed the High King Torygg and thrown Skyrim into turmoil. I'm Commander Pavo and we represent the Empire, and we'll fight and die to protect Skyrim from treasonous rouges like Ulfric. However, the Stormcloaks are growing in numbers by the day, they seem to be putting up quite the fight.", Commander Pavo seemed surprised in his own words.
The chatter and whispers began again, but nobody was alarmed at the Commander's words. The Skaal didn't involve themselves into politics and wars, it went against their very way of life. Katara inched a little closer to the gathering, feeling the warmth of the fire brushing her thigh.
"Commander, you know the Skaal do not entertain such wars and politics. Even if we did, the war is being fought in Skyrim - not here.", Storn said sincerely. He seemed to be growing more confused by the second.
Commander Pavo turned to Storn as if to speak directly to him, the villagers once again hushed and waited with baited breath.
"I know, Storn. The reason I'm standing here is because two of your villages are direct descendants of Imperials. Cyrodil law states that -"
"Oh...Oh, I-I see where this is going...", Storn interrupted, his tone suddenly shifting to ominous and worried.
"Cyrodil law states that any man or woman who is of age and has a direct maternal or paternal Imperial blood tie must serve in the war should the Empire ever call upon them. By my records, Storn, two of your villagers fit that criteria."
A shriek erupted from Drita, who was a middle aged woman that lived with her son, Nikolas. Nikolas was about the same age as Katara.
"No! Not my Nikolas! Please!", Drita screamed, pushing the other villagers out of the way and towards Commander Pavo. "He's never even been out of the village, he's never felt the weight of a sword in his hands. If you take him then he'll surely -"
"I'm sorry, ma'am.", Commander Pavo pulled out a scroll and unrolled it. "But our records show that the boy's father was an Imperial by the name of Talias."
Drita hung her head low. "Yes, yes that's correct. He died several years ago. Nikolas never knew him. We were married briefly and -", she trailed off, almost as if admitting defeat.
Katara shifted uncomfortably in her spot and slowly began to back away from the crowd. She knew she was the other name on that list. She knew what this meant, that she was being drafted in the Legion army.
The other village women began to console Drita as Commander Pavo further read aloud from the scroll.
"There's also a Katara Aventus here. We need to see her at once, as she is the other person we're here for.", he collapsed the scroll and peered over the crowd, looking for her.
Aventus? So that's my given last name. There was no time to react to this new information, she had to find a way to get out of this. Her, a soldier? That's not possible. No. She'd run for the mountains and stay holded up there until the soldiers gave up and returned to Skyrim on their fancy ships. Katara shuffled further away, but the quiet gaze from the villagers led Commander Pavo's vision directly to her. Her identity was given away.
"You there, girl! Halt, in the name of the Empire!", Commander Pavo hollered out.
Katara froze with all eyes, both Skaal villagers and Imperial soldiers, focused on her next move.
She turned on the heels of her feet and ran.
"Guards, stop her!"
Without hesitation three of Commander Pavo's men sprung into action, swords drawn, tailing after Katara down the slopes.
"There's no need for your men to have their weapons drawn on an innocent girl!", Jure yelled out. He then drew his weapon out of anger, and two more Imperial soldiers held their swords to his throat if he dared to bluff them. Jure angerily grunted and visible steam radiated from his mouth and nose as he was eye to eye with the soldiers.
"Katara, don't run! This will surely make things worse!", Storn yelled out through cupped hands.
Katara was halfway down the slopes when she landed on an icey patch and slipped, rolling downwards a few feet. She staggered and struggled to regain her footing but the soldiers already had their arms outstretched to grab her. They hoisted her up, despite her kicking and screaming, and carried her back up the slope and into the village.
The villagers looked on in horror, their peaceful way of life was abruptly broken tonight by the forces of war. Weapons were rarely drawn in the village, the only sound of steel clashing was Baldor smithing weaponry to trade.
The men brought Katara face to face with Commander Pavo. He leaned in close to her face, so close that she could smell the burnt wood from the fire on his beard.
"You've got some fire in you, Katara. I only hope that you can channel that fire towards the fight in Skyrim - against your kinsman." Katara almost thought she heard a faint laugh come from him, like a part of him enjoyed this. Enjoyed ripping her people from their homes and forcing them to fight and die in a war that didn't concern them. Katara shuddered in anger and turned her face away in compliance.
Commander Pavo straightened up and turned towards his men and the villagers.
"Now then. We will give you two a couple hours to pack some light clothing or gear and say goodbye to your loved ones.", he turned towards Katara again, "and I'll be keeping a close eye on you while you pack. Well, let's get a move on. The sooner the better. It's quite a lengthy sail back to Skyrim."
The wooden ship rocked back and forth endlessly. Katara had only ever been on a small fishing boat not but a few yards from the shore when she was fishing for salmon and slaughterfish. This ship was much different, it was bigger and felt heavier. There were small windows that gave her a glimpse out into the snowy sea that cradled them. It was dark and gray, quite gloomy. Fitting. She was on the lower deck, hung on the walls around her were the red emblems that she saw flying high not but a few hours ago. That damn emblem. A few lit candles rested on nearby tables, providing dim lighting for the cabin of the ship. It made the cherry red wood interior of the ship look almost black.
Katara looked around the cabin. There were about 8 other people down here with her, all sitting in silence. The only sound was the creaking of the wood and the waves crashing against the side of the ship. Katara sat there in silence, still in her Skaal clothing. Commander Pavo told them to pack light clothing or armor and this was all she brought with her.
Because Katara Snow-Child did not intend to play this game. She did not plan to serve in this war. And she was getting out of this situation one way or another.
She peered around the cabin, scanning for that one familiar face until her eyes landed on him.
"Nikolas...psst, Nikolas...", she whispered. Nikolas was slouched over on a bench sound asleep. She peered around then got up and sat next to him.
"Nikolas, wake up.", she nudged him until he came to. He wearily opened his eyes and looked around, turning to her he said "Katara? Why haven't you slept at all? Commander Pavo said that we need to sleep all that we can on board because we'll be assigned to our ranks and begin training once we dock in Skyrim."
"I'm not being assigned to anything!", she answered in a sharp but quiet tone, making sure eavesdropping passengers were unable to hear their conversation.
"As soon as the ship docks, wherever it docks, I'm hoping off and making a run for it. I have to get back to Solstheim even if that means riding in on the back of a horker. Are you with me?"
Nikolas' eyes widened and his facial expression was confused at first but quickly turned into a joking smile.
"You're jesting with me, aren't you?"
Katara was confused at his question.
"Not in the slightest. We have to get back to the village and be with -"
"Katara,", he interrupted her mid sentence, "I'm not going back to the village."
She was stunned at his response, moreso because his tone was as serious as the snow was white.
"What do you mean?", she asked, genuinely confused and slightly irritated.
"Katara, this is the break I've begged the All-Maker for since I was a young boy."
She sat in silence, staring over at him. He continued.
"Haven't you ever wondered what life is like outside of the village? What other races and cultures are like up close instead of just reading about them in books? There's got to be more to life than just chopping up firewood and snowstorms. This is my chance, our chance. We have the opportunity to see Tamriel, to meet new faces, to fight in great battles and be a part of epic tales. "
Katara slowly turned her head away and looked down for a moment. She wanted to scream at him but instead decided on a more understanding and logic approach.
"Nikolas, these people don't care about us. They just want us to fight their mindless war because we happen to share the blood of an Imperial. We're political pawns. What about the villagers? What about...what about your mother, Nik?"
Nikolas looked down for a moment and thinned his lips.
"Seeing my mother teary and upset when my name was called was one of the hardest things I've ever witnessed, I can't deny that. But...I'm not living my mother's life. I have to make my own destiny. I have dreams and ambitions and needs. Perhaps someday I can return to the village donned in shiny armor with a medal for hung around my neck for heroic efforts... "
Nikolas' eyes drifted upwards as if he was picturing it all in his mind and life had panned out exactly as he just described. Katara knew he was serious. She only wished that he wasn't.
"So...that's it then? You're going to be a solider for the Empire?", she asked with sincerity in her voice.
Nikolas nodded and gave her a slight smile.
"If I don't try, then I'll always regret it."
Katara returned the faint smile and looked back up at Nikolas, who was now staring wide eyed out the cabin window.
From the tiny window she could see land growing nearer. There were snowy mountains lining the horizon, it actually looked just like the northern region of Solstheim. The sillouette of a dock was beginning to emerge through the thick snow flurries.
In that moment the cabin door creaked open and an Imperial soldier walked down the stairs. Katara and Nikolas, along with the other passengers in board with them, shuffled back to their seats and awaited what he was about to say.
"Listen up, lads. We're about to dock in Skyrim. Gather your belongings and be ready to file out of the ship on our command. We have a carriage waiting for us at the docks that can take us to Solitude. We have to move swiftly and carefully, this is Stormcloak territory." He watched as everyone gathered their knapsacks and began to stand up and stretch.
Several minutes later the ship had docked and Commander Pavo was giving his men on the main deck a quick run through of the routes that the carriage was to take once we were all off the ship.
In a single file line all the passengers stepped from the lower cabin to the main deck. The air was frigid, Katara was glad that all she had was the heavy Skaal clothing. Although she had to admit that after spending hours in that stuffy ship, the crisp cool air felt good on her cheeks once again.
There was no time to take everything in. Her moment to escape was here and she had to seize the opportunity before it was lost forever. Up ahead Commander Pavo stopped the passengers from unloading so he could wave his carriages over to prepare for loading. Nikolas, who was standing behind Katara, grabbed her hand and leaned over.
"Wherever you end up, whoever you become, please be careful. If you make it back to the village then send my mother my love. Tell her I'll see her again someday. Take care of yourself, Katara."
Katara smiled at him, then Commander Pavo began moving the passengers along again. She looked around feverishly. There was a wooded area just a few yards away from the docks. If she could make it there without being noticed by one of the soldiers then she could figure out her next plan of action in the hidden shrubbery of the woods- and map out a plan for getting back home.
"Commander, we've received word that a Stormcloak caravan is nearby - Ulfric is possibly traveling with them. We outnumber them, sir.", Katara overheard one of the soldiers tell Commander Pavo. The Commander asked a couple more questions and had his back turned, which allowed for Katara to veer from the line of passengers and make a beeline for the woods. She ran faster in that moment than she ever had before. She ran like her life depended on it, which in this case, it did.
Katara made it to the shrubbery, out of breath and lungs feeling like squeezed apples, but free from the grip of the Empire. She took only a moment to catch her breath before strategically making her way deeper into the woods. Her fur boots were crunching snow and leaves as she carefully placed one foot in front of the other, bending back small limbs and twigs that stood in her way. She paused for a moment when she overheard the sound of wheels rolling on quarry stone, coupled with the soft trotting of a horse. She must be near the road. She quietly inched closer towards the road.
A caravan full of men dressed in blue curicass's was rolling past. There was indistinct chatter on board and the occasional snort from the horse, getting cold more than likely. A few of the men had shields that donned a bear on them.
She heard a soft crack behind her, like footsteps on leaves. Katara spun around quickly and in the blink of an eye she was hit over the head with a wooden Imperial shield.
She was knocked out cold.