The first light of dawn filtered through the small window set in the thick stone wall. It's gentle glow flooded over the cramped room, illuminating the shabby wardrobe, chest, and bedside table. In the fur-piled bed pushed into one small corner, a mound of blankets snored softly. Only a tuft of blonde hair could be seen poking out of the top of the blanket burrito. Unfortunately for the burrito's inhabitant, a thundering noise sounded from outside the peeling wooden door.
"OI! PIPPA! GET YOUR ASS OUT OF BED ALREADY, YOU'VE GOTTA GO TO THE MARKET TODAY!" A brash voice in a thick Nord accent accompanied the harsh banging on the poor, abused door until a weak groan arose from the tightly knotted heap.
"I'm up, I'm up," Pippa muttered sluggishly, clawing her way into a sitting position. She rubbed her eyes with a moan of dissatisfaction, blinking around at the room blearily. Then, her eyes brightened dramatically, and a happy gasp tore from her throat. "It's market day!" Pippa flew out of bed, nearly tripping over her ball of furs, not bothering to pick them back up, throwing on the nearest tunic she could find, and dashing out the door.
"Took you long enough," grumbled the disgruntled looking servant retreating down the hallway.
"Sorry, Greta!" Pippa called gleefully over her shoulder, skidding around the corner and bolting up the stairs two at a time, before bursting through the iron door into the cold Skyrim morning. With a gleam in her eye, she stared up at the blue skies and inhaled the crisp air deeply. It was an unusually nice day for Windhelm, and even though she could just barely make out storm clouds encroaching over the tall stone walls, she set out with the intention of enjoying every moment of the rare sunshine.
The alleyway that led from the servant's entrance was quiet save for her cheerful humming, and soon she was turning into Valunstrad. Ahead of her, she could see a figure turning onto the residential avenue as well, and she called out a friendly greeting to him, "Calixto! Weirdly nice day, isn't it?"
The man grinned and sent a pleasant wave her way, "Aye, but there's a storm brewing! Best get your business done and get back inside before you freeze!"
Pippa laughed as she passed him, "I'd much rather stand out here in the snow than be stuck in that stuffy palace all day!"
"Well, that makes one of us then!"
Pippa smiled jovially while she walked down the steps to the Stone Quarter. There, she saw Suvaris, a Dunmer dock-manager she knew from hanging around the New Gnisis Cornerclub, speaking to a traveler in ill-fitting armor. "Suvaris!" She called, approaching the woman with a grin, which quickly faded as she took in the pinched look on her face. "What's the matter?"
Suvaris turned to her, "This is Pippa, she works in the castle," she said to the stranger, who nodded their head politely.
Pippa quirked her lips up in an attempt to seem as friendly as possible amidst the tense atmosphere, before returning her attention back to Suvaris, "It wasn't Stone-Fist again, was it?" Suvaris nodded gravely, and Pippa cursed under her breath. "By the Nine, if that bastard puts one more toe out of line, I'm going to-"
"You know that's too dangerous. His connections with the Palace are too powerful; you could be fired, or worse."
Pippa sighed, "I know, I just hate when people think they get to push others around like that. You let me know if he bothers you again, okay?"
Suvaris gave a tight-lipped smile, "Of course, Pippa. Now, you go on with your duties. I'll be just fine."
Pippa frowned, displeased, but nodded nonetheless, sending one more little smile at the nervous stranger before continuing on her way. The storm clouds had fully rolled over the city by the time she finished at the market, and the first flurries of snow had begun to fall. In her arms, she carried a small basket of cloth and various sewing supplies for the ladies working in the laundry room, along with the written promises from the vendors that supplies would be delivered first thing in the morning. She was just about to turn into Valunstrad once again when a commotion from down by the Grey Quarter caught her attention.
In the distance, two figures shoved each other back and forth. "Yer a disgrace, slummin' aroun' wit them filfy grey-shkins," one of them slurred loudly, his voice echoing across the snowy stone towards her ears. She immediately recognized it as Rolff Stone-Fist. Before she had time to think about it, she dropped the basket and was bolting down the street towards them.
"OI!" she roared, barreling straight into Rolff, sending him flying off of the man she then saw was Brunwulf Free-Winter.
"Lass, what're you-" before Brunwulf could finish, Rolff was back on his feet, swinging violently at Pippa. Through pure instinct, she dodged it, kicking him hard in the stomach and sending him toppling back down.
"The only filthy one here is you, you intolerant milk-drinker!" she spat over his drunken groans.
"Imma show you filfy, you stupid whore," he garbled, heaving to his knees this time and grabbing her by the ankle. With a yelp, her feet were swept out from under her and she hit the ground hard. His hand still an iron grip around her leg, she kicked her feet wildly, nailing him right in the jaw. Brunwulf hauled her to her feet while Rolff stumbled to his, and this time she wound back her fist and hit him straight in the nose. He yowled in pain, and she was winding back to hit him again when a shout stopped her.
"Halt!" A guard rushed towards them frantically.
Pippa shuffled awkwardly under Jorleif's stern glare. The palace was in full swing around them, soldiers stomping through the halls and servants bustling about underfoot trying to keep things looking presentable. Though they did slow noticeably as they passed her by, with quiet snickers floating around her ears.
"So," Jorleif began. "Fighting with the General's younger brother, huh?"
Pippa winced, "I mean, I wouldn't call it fighting..."
"You knocked him unconscious."
"That was the booze!"
Jorleif pinched the bridge of his nose, "Miss... what was it again?"
"Pippa. You know this kind of behavior simply cannot be tolerated from palace staff. You seem a good lass, but frankly, my hands are tied here."
"Your hands are tied?!" Pippa's voice echoed across the hall, passersby stopping in their tracks. "You mean to tell me that it is the policy of the palace to fire anybody that stands up against narrow-minded bullies that take pleasure in the suffering of other people?!"
Jorlief gaped at her in alarm, "Miss, I-"
"NO! Everyone knows that the situation in the Grey Quarter is unjust as all bollocks, but nobody says anything about it because the Jarl is as intolerant and narrow-minded as every other Nord in this damn city! You preach about being the sons and daughters of Skyrim, and yet I don't see any of you doing anything to help her most persecuted! And by the Nine, if Ulfric Stormcloak has a problem with his employees spitting in the face of the injustice he is responsible for, he can come down here and fire me himself!"
Pippa panted heavily, her face burning red. The hall had gone completely silent, and Jorleif was staring at her in abject horror. Wait, no, he wasn't staring at her, he was staring into the space just about her left shoulder...
"He's right behind me, isn't he?"
She turned around slowly, craning her neck back to look up at one very angry Ulfric Stormcloak. "Pippa, was it?" He drawled, his voice low and dangerous. Pippa would be lying if she said she wasn't at all intimidated by the man, especially considering he was twice her size in both height and width.
"Well, Pippa, if you wanted to be fired personally, you needed only ask..."
"Um, I think I did," she said, cursing herself internally the moment the words left her mouth.
"Do you think this is a game, girl?"
"Okay, first of all, please don't call me 'girl'. It's a little weird, to be honest. And second of all, I don't think this is a game at all, actually. I think that you're more concerned with killing Imperials than with governing fairly. Just because you're the leader of a war doesn't mean you're not also the leader of a city."
If looks could kill, Pippa would be a pile of ashes across the palace floor. It's only because of years of living with a Dumner that could literally shoot fire of his hands that the heat of his glare didn't make her back up. "Every day brave soldiers give their lives to protect people like you from unfair governing by the Imperial Legion. You dare mock their sacrifice by suggesting they do not seek to free all of Skyrim's people?" he growled.
"I fully respect the men and women fighting against the Imperials, and I never said that I didn't. What I'm mocking is your decision to use their service as a reason to exclude those you don't deem 'worthy' from the title of 'Skyrim's people'!" Somewhere behind her, she could swear she heard Jorleif let out a quiet groan of despair.
"I will consider them people of Skyrim when they fight and die for her freedom!"
"You've never given them reason to! I'm a Breton and I would fight and die for Skyrim if you put a sword in my hand, but only because I was raised not being treated like scum by all of her people!"
"Maybe I will then!" he roared, his voice practically shaking the windows around them. "If you're so dedicated to Skyrim regardless of your race, then you should have no qualms about fighting for her liberation!"
Pippa fumed venomously, "Fine! Where do I sign up! Maybe if you have an example of non-Nords being competent in battle you'll pull your head out of your ass!"
"GALMAR! GET THIS WOMAN A UNIFORM!" And with that he turned on his heel and swept out of the hall fuming, leaving a baffled Pippa behind him. Galmar emerged from the war room looking positively livid. He stalked toward her silently, and this time she really did take a step back. A quiet Galamar was never good.
"Looks like you've been drafted, whelp." His voice was calm, but it dripped with poison. "What size of armor do you wear."