The damp, slightly stale air of Helgen Keep was a welcome respite from the stench of blood and burning flesh on the other side of the doors. With a groan, Lysjan let himself slide down the door and let his eyes shut. He tried not to listen to the muffled screams coming from outside as he caught his breath. He was amazed that he’d managed to survive both an execution and a dragon attack in the same five minutes. He attempted to calm his pounding heart, but was given no time as the Stormcloak soldier--Ralof, he remembered-- pulled him to his feet and cut his bonds, telling Lysjan to take what gear he could from his fallen brother.
All Lysjan could fit on his body from the dead soldier was the gloves and the boots; the cuirass was far too small and the padded trousers weren’t even worth taking a look at. He hefted the man’s axe, testing its weight and balance. It was… well, it would be better to use it as a mace rather than a cutting tool with how blunt the blade was. As he was giving it an experimental swing, Ralof told him to get down and whispered, “Imperials!” motioning him to crouch by the door. With a nod, Lysjan moved to the opposite side of the frame, back to the wall letting his years of training with the Khajiit and Ta’Alzhaar relax him into a fighting state.
As soon as the first legionnaire came through the door, Lysjan sprung, he grabbed the man’s sword arm and breaking his wrist before he imbedded the axe in the man’s throat. A swift kick sent his body into his comrades, forcing them back slightly, giving him enough time to pick up the dead soldier’s sword and face the approaching legionnaires. The one in more study plate armor charged him, sword aiming for his unarmored neck. Lysjan twisted his body to avoid the blade, grunting as it missed his throat but cut a thin line across the top of his bicep. Fueled by the sting of the gash in his arm and the triumphant smile on his opponent’s face, Lysjan used the momentum of his turn to whip his blade across his opponent’s throat, eyes closing tightly against the warm blood that splashed against his face.
Grimacing, Lysjan remembered why he hated bladed weapons; the wounds they inflicted tended to bleed more directly onto whoever was wielding it. Pushing his deep-seated hatred of all things bladed aside, he turned and thrust his sword through the spine of the soldier fighting Ralof. As the soldier slid off Lysjan’s blade, Ralof stood, jaw slack. “By the gods. Where did you learn to fight like that, kinsman?” He asked as he took in the sight of the three legionnaires laying in pools of blood around the room.
Lysjan shrugged and gestured vaguely. “Around,” he said and took the key ring off the belt of the armored soldier. “I’d bet this opens the door over there. Give it a try, yeah?” He tossed the key to Ralof before pulling closed the gate that the imperials came through.
Ralof jiggled the key in the lock and cursed impressively, “No use! The key’s not right.” He kicked the wall. “Dammit all! We’re trapped! Only a matter of time until the imperials find us, now.”
“Move,” Lysjan said, rolling his shoulders. Ralof moved aside hesitantly as Lysjan took a runner’s stance, leveling his shoulder with the door. In a flash he crossed the room, shoulder slamming into the lock; there was a split second where he didn’t think that it was going to give. That fear was laid to rest as both the hinges and the lock cracked and the door went flying. He tumbled, gracelessly, to the ground; the momentum from his charge had knocked the wind out of him.
Ralof helped him to his feet, saying, “By Talos, man! What was that?”
Lysjan mumbled something about desperation and not wanting to get burnt to a crisp or executed. The blond Nord seemed to take that for an answer and helped him up. They made their way through the keep, killing any imperial soldiers that they came across and paying their respects to fallen Stormcloak soldiers along the way. Everything went smoothly until they reached the stream. It was a narrow and shallow thing that had a bridge spanning it. The water wasn’t the issue. The bear that sat between them and the daylight they could seek was.
“Stealth or a bow. Those are our options, kinsman, which suits you?” Ralof asked as they crouched behind a cart.
Lysjan shook his head. “Neither will work,” he replied. “You’re a fair hand with a bow, but you’re a soldier, not a hunter; killing a man and a bear are two very different things. Not to doubt your skill, but I won’t trust my life on a lucky shot. And stealth is out of the question; I’m about as quiet as a thunderstorm.”
“What would you have us do?” Ralof asked, looking for a new way out.
Lysjan shrugged. “How much do you value that axe?”
“Not much,” he replied.
That was all Lysjan needed to have taken the axe from the Stormcloak’s belt and slather it in frostbite spider venom. “On my mark,” he told the blond man, “run for the entrance. Okay?”
Ralof nodded. Lysjan crept out from behind the cart, before standing and bellowing, “Now!” while charging the bear at the far end of the cavern, axe held in a loose grip behind him. Ralof broke into a dead sprint as Lysjan charged the bear. He neared the daylight and paused to see how his kinsman fared; the bear was on its hind legs as Lysjan stopped, maybe a foot from the beast, and whipped the axe around. It hit the bear between the ribs, producing a sickening crunch, and he immediately turned towards Ralof and ran. “Go! Go! Go!” he yelled as the injured animal began to chase them.
“This was your plan?” Ralof shouted. “You’re just going to get us killed!”
Lysjan shook his head. “The venom should slow it down enough for us to outrun it.” He ducked a tree branch as they exited the cave. “Besides, the running will only make the venom reach its heart faster, if it doesn’t bleed out first.”
“You’re sure about that?” Ralof yelled.
Lysjan grunted as he nearly tripped on a root. “I pretty sure. If we’re lucky, it will die before it kills us. If we’re unlucky… we’ll be dead so it won’t matter.
Ralof snorted and took that for an answer, as he didn’t exactly have the time to debate Lysjan’s logic, and stopped asking questions as they both sprinted down the path. The bear still thundered behind them, quite angry and bleeding profusely. Another two minutes and the beast had lost too much blood to continue pursuing them. It finally collapsed with an earth shaking thud.
Lysjan and Ralof came to a stop and turned to face the bear, which now lay prone on the ground with blood pooled around it. Lysjan walked over to the great beast, rolled it over with a grunt, and felt around until he touched a bit of splintered wood. He wrapped his hand around it and yanked. It stuck on something, so he tugged harder and with a wet crunch the wood came free. The haft of the axe was almost completely splintered, not useable in the slightest. That wasn’t the worst, however; the head of the weapon had been reduced to a twisted, cracked hunk of iron that would never have been useable for a weapon, even if Lysjan wanted to reforge it.
He handed the mangled weapon to the blond Nord beside him who numbly took it. “You, kinsman, are absolutely insane,” Ralof informed him, a lopsided pseudo smile on his face. “Brilliant and with bigger stones than Talos himself, but insane. Us Stormcloaks could use a man like yourself… what do you say, kinsman?”
Lysjan bit his lip, unsure about whether or not he wanted to pledge his allegiance to a side of a war that wasn’t truly his without at least listening to the other side. Plus, he wasn’t really sure if he was going to stay in Skyrim for very long; this first welcome had been quite lacking in warmth and pledging himself to a cause would mean that he had to stay. It would also mean he would have to abandon the Tal’Ahzaar.
While he was debating, a flicker of movement at the treeline caught his eye. He could just make out the form of an archer with his bow drawn. The man let the arrow fly and time seemed to slow. He saw the arrow headed straight for Ralof and, without thinking, he dove at the blond Nord, taking both of them to the ground. Lying on the ground, it felt as though his shoulder was on fire, but Lysjan couldn’t cry out; his head felt very fuzzy and he found it hard to breath. Black spots danced in his vision and the world was drifting out of focus. He vaguely heard Ralof above him, asking if he was okay. He wanted to scream no, but his voice wouldn’t work. Then the pain turned from a dull burning to a sharp, white hot, blinding pain. It started near his shoulder on his right side and ran down his chest. He couldn’t stop the scream that tore from his throat just before the darkness took him.
When he opened his eyes he was back in the village where the Khajiit picked him up from after his father’s death. Except it was still whole. He was standing in the main street, not far from his old home. Curiosity got the better of him and he began to make his way to where his old house stood, the familiar gravel of the road crunching beneath his boots. While he walked, he began to notice that no one took any notice of him. Not in the way that they didn’t think anything of him, but as though they couldn’t even see him. Not more than a moment after he’d come to this realization, a man walked right through him, as though he were no more than smoke from a far off fire.
His feet carried him away from the market stalls that lined the main road and took him into the slums of the town. Only the poorest of the poor dwelled here; the lepers, whores, cripples, orphans, street rats, and those who could not afford houses in town or rooms at the inn. The people like Havir; a man in his late twenties with stark white hair, fierce blue eyes--common to the men of Skyrim--a son, and no wife to help him raise the child. He lived in a hovel with that little boy and worked from dawn to dusk every day. Never more. He always said that his little boy needed a father more than he needed gold. And even though it meant that Havir lived in the slums, he made sure to take care of his little boy and made sure to spend every morning and evening with him. It was only when he was thirteen that Lysjan, son of Havir, son of Erik, had really appreciated his father and how he taught that family was always more important than money. By then, though, it was too late to thank him.
As he remembered the kind of man his father had been, Lysjan kept walking towards his old home. He rounded a corner and saw his old shack, standing there amidst the dozens of other shacks. Just outside the door, a young boy with dark hair was sitting on his father’s knee while his father whittled a small dragon figurine. Instinctively, Lysjan moved his hand to the center of his chest, right where the very same figurine hung from a leather cord around his neck.
He stopped walking about a stone’s throw from where his younger self sat with his father, and leaned against a corner of another shack. Just watching how happy the two of them were. As he watched, an old woman came to stand next to him and smiled at him. The old woman hummed. “So, you are the man that sweet little boy becomes.” She said, her weathered face wrinkling as her smile widened. “You seem a good sort, lad, but you carry far more pain than anyone of your age should. Whatever has happened to that sweet young lad?”
A sad smile curled Lysjan’s lips, and he opened his mouth to respond. Only for the world before him to shift: the gravel road became ancient cobblestones, half taken by nature, and the shacks become trees while the sky changed to a clear blue, with wisps of cloud drifting lazily. The woman was gone, replaced by Ralof, who was looking down at Lysjan, who was now on his back. There was panic in Ralof’s eyes and his hands covered in blood. “Hold on kinsman! Stay with me!” Ralof pressed down and Lysjan saw the wad of bandages that Ralof held to his shoulder.
There was too much blood. Lysjan had lived through dozens of wounds, some that certainly should have killed him, but none were as bad as this one. His chest and shoulder felt as though they were on fire; every breath burned and every heartbeat sent a fresh wave of pain through him. Knowing that he was dying should’ve scared Lysjan more than it did, he only felt a small twinge of fear that was nothing compared to the relief he felt knowing that he would die having saved a halfway decent man. “It’s fine, Ralof. Don’t worry about me; I fulfilled my oath and I would do it again in a heartbeat.” Lysjan croaked as the pain returned. “Go find that girl from Helgen, don’t worry about me. Live your life and leave me. Just promise me that you’ll send my body back to Hammerfell.” The world went black once more and Lysjan drifted off, waiting to awake in Sovngarde.
When he did wake, it was not in Sovngarde as he’d expected, but in a warm bed, covered by a fleece blanket. He opened his eyes, only to immediately screw them shut to block out the near blinding light that poured through the windows. As he layed in the bed, his senses slowly returned to him; his chest burned and his head swam. Every breath felt too shallow and he couldn’t feel his right arm. In a panic, Lysjan’s eyes shot open once more, despite the pain, and he threw off the fleece blanket as he felt for his right arm with the other, frantically trying to reassure himself that his arm was still there.
It took only a moment before Lysjan found his arm, but the numbness persisted and he had to look. He found a thick layer of bandages covering his clavicle. Gently, he poked the center of the bandages and immediately felt an excruciating pain run through his chest, tearing a short howl from him. He quickly removed his hand from the wounded area and blinked the tears from his eyes as he lay still on the bed, fearing to move as even breathing caused small, sharp pains throughout his chest.
Not long after a woman in a plain dress came into the room, upon seeing that he was awake she turned around and called into the rest of what appeared to be a house. Lysjan couldn’t quite make out what she had said and tried to sit up to see who she was talking to. The movement only brought a wave of dizziness and nausea over him and made him fall back onto the bed with a muffled thump.
The woman hurried over to him, a kind of motherly concern on her face. “Don’t push yourself, lad. You took quite a hit there.” As she spoke she gently helped him into a semi-upright position, which relieved a little of the pain in his chest, but did nothing for the numbness in his arm.
The woman grabbed at bone cup from the small end table and pressed it to his lips. “Drink. Slowly,” she ordered him. So he did.
It was only after he started drinking that Lysjan realized how thirsty he was; his lips were dry and cracked, his head pounded, and swallowing hurt. But the water provided relief, so he forced it down, trying not to choke.
When the cup was drained, the woman placed it back on the end table and told him to rest until there was food ready for him. A hoarse “thank you” was all Lysjan could croak out. The woman gave a warm smile before she left the room. Only a moment later a familiar blond figure entered.
“Ralof.” Lysjan said, a grin splitting his face. “I have never been more glad to see someone I met on my way to the chopping block.”
The Nord smiled and walked over to where he laid. “I have never been more terrified that someone I met at the chopping block was dead.” He replied, putting his hand on Lysjan’s undamaged shoulder as his expression turned somber. “You gave us quite the scare, kinsman. You weren’t breathing, then you started coughing up blood when you finally started to breathe again. I thought you were well on your way to Sovngarde…”
An awkward silence filled the room as Ralof trailed off. He ran a hand through his hair as Lysjan picked at the woolen sheets around his legs. The silence was broken by Ralof who blurted out “Thank you, kinsman.” The blond Nord colored slightly, and coughed before elaborating. “Thank you for saving my life. You… you really didn’t have to, I mean you just met me. Why would you save me? It’s not like you know me; you don’t have a reason to give your life to save mine an-”
Lysjan clamped the hand that he could move over Ralof’s mouth, a good-natured smile on his face. “I would do it again in a heartbeat, friend, and while I may not know you, you have given me ample reason to save your life.” He explained, removing his hand from Ralof’s mouth. “You saved my life in Helgen. I have always lived my life by what a good friend once told me: ‘If a man buys you a drink you buy him one in return, if a man offers you his blade you give him a shield, and if a man saves your life you save his, buy him as many drinks as he can take, and suffer the hangover together.’ I figure you saved my life, now I’ve saved yours, it seems that the only thing left to do is to buy you a drink.”
The Nord across from him laughed, “Aye that’ll just about make us square, kinsman.”
“Call me Lysjan.” He replied with a grin, “I figure that we are well past ‘kinsman’ at this point.”