She slowly opened her eyes and tried to move, her body screaming in pain all over. Everything was a blur as she slowly tried to sit up. Once she managed to sit, a stabbing pain shot through her head.
This must be what it’s like to get hit in the head with a lightning bolt spell.
It took a minute for her eyes to adjust to the darkness, relieved only minimally by torchlight, as her eyes started to come into focus. As her vision cleared, she saw she was in a small room formed by wet stone walls. She could hear water dripping and smell the dank stench of mold and rotting corpses. Her stomach roiled with nausea and she fought down the urge to vomit. It was very cold and she found she was sitting in a puddle of water. She heard a moan coming from somewhere nearby. She quickly surmised that she was in some sort of prison.
Shivering, she scooted sideways to get out of the water and wrapped her arms around herself for some sort of warmth. She couldn’t remember how she got here or what had happened to cause all this pain in her body. She took a quick inventory. She felt battered and bruised. Her skin felt as if she’d run through a patch of briars naked. Touching her head, she could feel a large lump, most likely the reason for the pounding headache. Feeling the left side of her face, she felt a horrible stinging sensation. Her hand came away wet and sticky. Blood. She had no way of knowing how deep the wound was, she only knew it was painful. She was wearing some sort of torn and dirty shift and the sleeveless straps kept slipping off her shoulders. She cringed inwardly. Someone had removed all her clothes and put on this sorry excuse for a rag. What else had they done to her while she was out?
Runa. My name is Runa Storm-Bringer.
Remembering her name gave her an anchor. More memories surfaced. She had vague recollections of some battle or fight where people died. She shook her head as if to clear out the cobwebs so she could better remember what happened. That was the wrong thing to do. Pain stabbed her head and she breathed in sharply at the same time a particularly loud groan came from the other suffering soul in the dungeon.
She remembered screaming...fire...bodies flying like rag dolls. Then the full wave of memories hit her full force and her face twisted with horror and loss. People had died! Not just people! The Thalmor had slaughtered her father and brothers! Bastards!
We were at camp and they just attacked us after we saw that dragon! Why would they do such a thing?!
Her father was a staunch supporter of the Empire. They should have no cause to harm him—or any of them! She remembered wanting to fight back and defend her family, but all she could do was scream. Then...she struggled to remember. She had heard this loud booming noise or some sort of shout, then everything had gone black. She must have been hit over the head. She remembered nothing else until waking up in this prison cell. She wondered why they hadn’t killed her, too. How long had she been here? Why would they take her?
Still hugging herself, she looked around the darkened room. She had to get out. Somehow. Looking toward the cell door, she started. A guard clad in golden Elven armor stood there with his back to her.
Has he been there this whole time? Why? I’m not a threat.
Runa wasn’t the biggest or strongest woman, but she was quick and agile enough to move silently. In spite of a noble heritage, living with all men in her family had taught her many ways to survive the harsh life of Skyrim. Her family had valued the ancient Nord ways. She was a Nord and she was going to fight like one.
Her oldest brother, Balen, taught her how to hunt quietly through the woods using a bow or even a thrown dagger. Her next oldest brother Baldr taught her how to use a few essential spells; he as a mage like their father. And her third brother, Tabor, the youngest of the three, taught her how to wield a one-handed sword and axe. He’d even schooled her in lock-picking. Where he had picked up that particular skill he wasn’t clear on.
Her father was the one who had educated her, ensuring that she read daily and learned a bit about plants and herbs. Whenever she would complain about all the reading, he would lecture her.
“Surviving with weapons is good, but you need an intelligent mind to help you get out of those really tough situations. Knowledge will be your greatest strength.”
Now she stared hard at the guard, feeling her anger grow. He had his back to the cell door, leaning back against it with his arms crossed, clearly bored with watching a woman who was apparently passed out. She rose quietly—slowly to minimize the pain in her skull. Then she silently moved towards him. Her strong, long legs carried her across the room barely making a sound. Her bare feet on the stone floor sounded like a mammoth walking to her ears but the guard didn’t seem to notice. Her only option was to quietly move her arm through the bars and try to strangle him unconscious, which would not be easy. She wasn’t at her best at this moment. Thankfully he was not wearing a helm.
Quickly she stretched her right arm through the bars and before he could react, grabbed her right hand with her left, bracing her feet against the cell door. Pushing back with all the strength in her legs—she started choking him. He was caught completely off guard. He struggled, pawing at her arm, but the bars between them prevented him from getting a good hold. Runa held fast, fueled by adrenaline, and tried to ignore the screaming pain in her head. Once he finally quit struggling and she was sure he was unconscious, she let go and collapsed herself. Stars swam in front of her eyes from the exertion. She lay there for a minute or two breathing heavily until the shooting pain and the need to vomit subsided. She’d felt this way once after waking up from an evening of drinking Honningbrew Mead with her brothers the first time. Something she’d vowed never to do again. The hangover from that night was a hundred times better than what she was feeling at the moment.
She had to get moving before more guards came. Reaching through the bars, she rifled his pouch and found the keys to the cell. After letting herself out, she picked up his axe and pulled the dagger from the sheath at his middle. The pouch yielded a couple of health potions. She greedily drank one of them and felt a wave of warmth radiate through her body. It took just a few minutes to feel almost whole again. Tearing a piece of cloth from her tattered shift, she used it to tie her long, wavy black hair into a side ponytail. The long bangs were still a problem, but at least the rest of her hair was out of the way.
Then she looked at the guard. He was still alive, but she knew she just couldn’t let him stay that way. If he woke before she got away—she didn’t want to think about what would happen to her if she were caught trying to escape.
Once while hunting with her brother, she’d taken down a deer. It did not die cleanly and they were forced to track it through the forest until it weakened enough to collapse. Balen had made her slit the animal’s throat, so it would no longer suffer.
Make your strike strong and quick, Runa. You don’t want it to suffer any more than you have to.
Taking a deep breath, she slashed across the mer’s jugular quickly. The expected wave of nausea washed over her, but she choked it down.
It was my life or his!
The moaning came again from the cell on her right, making her jump. She cursed under her breath.
I can’t just leave him there to suffer. No matter what he’s done, no one deserves torture from the Thalmor.
She walked up to his cell and could see a man sitting on the ground covered in dirt and blood. His medium-length black hair was wet and stuck to his face, so she couldn’t really tell what he looked like. He was shirtless and wearing some torn pants. His back looked like raw meat. Clearly, they’d been whipping him. She used the guard’s keys and unlocked his cell.
I can at least give him this health potion. He can figure his own way out.
She leaned over him and held out the potion. “Hey there, here I have...”
Suddenly she found herself on her back with him on top of her, his hands around her throat.
“I’m going to kill you all!” he growled, eyes wild. Even as weak as he must have been, he was too strong and heavy for her to push him off of her. His thick hands squeezed her throat and she started to see stars. She kept clawing at his hands to try to pry them off, but they were like vices and were starting to crush her windpipe. She couldn’t breathe at all, let alone try to explain to him that she was just trying to help. Her eyes felt like they were about to pop out of her skull. Her vision was darkening.
I knew I should have just kept going!
Then miraculously the pressure was gone. She found herself gasping for air and coughing, his heavy weight pressing her painfully against the stone floor and making it difficult to regain the breath she’d lost. He was so very heavy with dense muscles. It took all her strength to roll him off of her. Then she lay gasping until she could breathe normally again. She rolled over and crawled to her hands and knees, almost retching in reaction. Her throat felt raw and bruised. She almost drank the last potion, but one look at his raw back made her soften somewhat.
He didn’t know what he was doing. But he nearly killed me. I’ll leave the potion, but I’ve got to get out of here.
Finally, she got up and scanned the outside of his cell, listening. Their rumble had made a lot of noise and she worried other guards might have heard them, but all was still quiet. She knew they were somewhere out there and eventually they would make their grand appearance, probably with gleeful smiles, anticipating the joys of potential torture. She was certain Thalmor children were taught to torture by learning to tear off the wings of little dragonflies.
She started toward the cell door, stopping when she heard him moan. She bowed her head, fighting an internal battle. If the roles were reversed, she would hope that he would help her.
Damn it all to Oblivion! I can’t just leave him.
Walking back to the man, she sat down on her legs and tried to roll him over. It was no easy feat as she was weak and he was so very heavy and so very large, but she finally managed it. Then she pulled his head onto her lap, thankful that he was unconscious and unable to feel the cold rough stone on his torn and bloody flesh.
With his head leaning at an upwards angle on her lap, she gently pried his mouth open and pulled the cork off of the health potion bottle with her teeth. Spitting out the cork she started to slowly pour the liquid into his mouth. He swallowed reflexively. She dribbled it in small doses, trying not to lose too much of it. Finally, his eyes started to flutter open.
Then she was scrambling back in fear as he shot up off the floor and crouched defensively, ready to pounce on her should she make the wrong move. He relaxed slowly as he realized she was a prisoner, like himself. Her face was bloody and battered, but her eyes were the bluest he’d ever seen. Her shift had slipped down again from her shoulders and he could see the top of her shapely breasts. He stared frankly, too angry and in too much pain to feel ashamed.
"You’re a prisoner too, like me,” he said, deflated. Then he saw the empty potion bottle. He picked it up. “You gave me this? Where did you get it?”
She motioned toward the dead guard and he turned to look over his shoulder. He turned back to her, his eyes wide with astonishment.
“You took out a Thalmor guard? All on your own?”
Her lips tightened in irritation and she glared at him. “Yes. I am Nord after all. Then I gave you my last health potion, even though you tried to strangle me. So, you’ll forgive me if I’m not in the best of moods. I believe I’ve done enough.” She started painfully to rise.
“I…what?” He could see her very red throat, which was starting to bruise. It was clearly visible even under the little bit of torchlight available. He had no memory of it. “I…must have thought you were one of them…I’m sorry.”
“I know you didn’t mean it. You were out of your head. But it was fortunate that you passed out when you did. You nearly killed me.”
She began to move toward the cell door.
She turned back to him.
“I really am sorry. Why would you still help me?”
“I don’t know for sure really. After I rolled you off me, which was NOT easy by the way--you are like a rock--I...I saw your back. I just couldn’t leave without trying to heal you a bit. No one should suffer like that. How are you feeling now?”
“Much better thanks to you. That potion is a miracle in a bottle. Or, maybe you are my miracle.”
She blushed, thankful for the darkness. Then she berated herself. She was in a Thalmor prison, listening to a man flatter her and enjoying it! She needed to leave before more Thalmor came!
“I’m Kaidan,” he said.
“I’m Runa,” she responded, feeling foolish. If she was going to leave, she needed to get going. But she couldn’t make her feet move.
“We need to leave.”
Kaidan rose to his feet. He could see the keys dangling from her hand and could not believe he now had a way out. But…he couldn’t leave without…
“Runa, I..I know I have no right to ask this—I know we need to leave quickly—but I can’t leave without my sword.”
“You can have this axe,” she said, holding the Elven weapon she’d pilfered from the guard out to him.
“No,” he shook his head, “this isn’t me being sentimental. That sword is important. It’s the reason I’m in here. If the Thalmor want that sword, then they shouldn’t have it.”
She lowered the axe, sighing in frustration. “Kaidan…”
“I’m a good and strong fighter, Runa. I could help you. But I need that sword. I’d like to get my armor back too—but I’ll settle for just the sword.”
Runa could see his desperation, and she was feeling very weak. She was beginning to wonder if she could get out of this prison alone in her condition. She let out a heavy sigh. It was insane.
“Very well, but please don’t make me regret this. I’m still not sure I can trust you. But we can talk about that later. Let’s go get your stuff.”