A Thousand Dead at Sunrise
Attack the Dark Lord’s fortress, they said.
It’ll be heroic, they said.
I am Ramir the Windblown—a trueborn Nord. Veteran of the Imperial Legion. First sergeant of the third phalanx of the Felix Battalion.
What’s left of it, anyway.
Soldiering wasn’t always my profession, but it is certainly the one that suits me best. There is something calming in the structure of each day. Peaceful, almost, even though we are in the business of warfare. It is the only thing that managed to quiet the wandering ways I kept in my youth. The drifting got so bad they put it in my name.
The spear and the sword gave me roots, after a fashion. The army may have kept me traveling, but we carry a kind of foundation with us. Steel roots you can pull out of the earth, then stab in somewhere else.
I fought abroad for half my life. Grew old and scarred out there in the red parts of Tamriel. Most of a soldier’s life is walking and boredom, though. A great, endless stretch of road where nothing happens. And then you cross a few blood-soaked cobblestones that’ll put such terror in your soul, you get to wishing you didn’t have one.
Battle. There is nothing else like it.
I am not one of those men who craves a fight. Some get to where they don’t feel alive without the bloodlust in their veins. But I can’t deny that those dark moments have had an effect on me.
A knot that’s been tied deep down in my guts, never to be undone.
Then the Felix Legion was brought back home to deal with Ulfric Stormcloak. I grew up near Windhelm, but never met the man. Didn’t care much for him one way or another. He was just another king or baron or upjumped warlord that needed killing.
I stopped discriminating some years ago about the types of men and mer we made war against. Judging an enemy one way or another never did me much good.
Tormund Kinslayer’s the one who actually did for Ulfric in the end. Something to see, that business. But Tormund always was always a crazy one. He can have his fame, long as I get to have my life a little longer and as much ale as I want at the close of each day.
Anyway, after the Geyser went off, most of Northern Skyrim got drenched in that purple acid. The landscape rearranged into a fortress for the Dark Lord, Akavarin. And I guess the whole I-reunited-Skyrim-thing must have gone to Legate Orion’s head.
Because the next idea he got in that thick skull of his was to go storm the newly formed fortress.
“We shall end this scourge, just as we ended Ulfric’s tyranny!” Orion had called.
The men had pounded their horns of ale against the tables of the barracks. Not me, though. I’m old enough to know the difference between rebel lords and dark lords. For all the good it’s done me.
We saw to our weapons and armor. Got our rations from the outfitter of Solitude. Then we marched—three thousand strong. Trooped our way into the strange, burned land that was once home to some of our number.
Pliny—a short, devious bastard from Dawnstar—said he couldn’t recognize a single thing. Neither tree nor path nor hill. All of it cut and sculpted anew.
That just about set old Pliny to ruin, which made me nervous from the start. Here’s a man I’d seen keep a cool head while pressed up in a shield wall—shoving against a thousand men who all wanted him dead in the worst way possible—reduced to sobbing beneath the shade of a burned-out pine tree. All cause of a vista he didn’t care for.
Like I said, dark lords ain’t the same as rebel ones.
Four days, and we saw the fortress. Stretched out across a long flood plain.
Biggest fucking thing I ever saw.
Take Solitude in your mind. Then Windhelm. Then mash ‘em up together—stack those stones and towers on top of and alongside each other in every direction. That’s about a quarter of what Akavarin built out there in the desolation.
Even from a handful of miles away, the walls were intimidating. Black and sharp and sheer. I’m not a man to assign emotions to architecture, but that castle is evil. No other way to put it.
I guess Orion ain’t as attuned as I am to the nature of things, though. He ordered us forward into the flood plain, just as the sun was rising up from the eastern sky.
I’ve heard stories of the Falmer. More, of late. Men in their cups give you tales about sharp teeth, sightless eyes, and ragged breath. Savagery.
But nobody ever told me about their arrows.
They rose from all directions, even from behind. A dark blanket pulled upon us—turning time back a stitch and putting as into a nighttime march again. And then they fell.
Now, there ain’t a man in the Legion that don’t know how to take a volley. We got our shields locked and up. And the familiar, heavy plunk of iron and wood rained down upon us. Wasn’t the fact they shot at us that was different from the other score of battles I been through.
It was the fact that they never stopped.
A shield weighs about twenty or thirty pounds, depending on the size. Fill it with arrows though, and I’ll get a sight heavier. Didn’t take more than ten or fifteen minutes of that endless onslaught before men began dropping their shields—overcome by the weight of an attack that didn’t seem like it was going to end.
There were screams. Many screams.
I guess the fact that I’ve been carrying my shield around for twenty years gave me a bit of an edge—let me keep it up longer than most. But that’s not why I’m still alive.
It’s just dumb luck that saved my hide.
When I finally dropped my shield—and drop it I did, the entire thing looking more like an enormous porcupine than a piece of armor—it unhooked the wall I’d had going with the two men next to me. Turns out they’d actually been dead on their feet for some time, ‘cause they collapsed around me like the sawn trunks of rotted-out trees. Fell in such a way I was totally covered by their corpses.
The arrows kept raining down, but not a one found its way through my meat shield of fallen comrades.
The barrage didn’t stop until the heat of midday has turned my armor all hot. Like a metal oven. But I didn’t move until the dead of night, hours later. Felt like days. If anyone else had been as lucky as me, they’d already cleared out by then. All I saw on that floodplain was corpses.
What is there to say about the way it felt to look upon the ruined Felix Legion? I imagine it was similar to what a villager feels in his chest as he sees his town put to the torch before his eyes. Home reduced to cinders. First you feel rage. Then—after that settles down but the wreckage remains—just a cold kind of hollowness. Like your bones have had the marrow sucked out of them.
I unclipped my armor and I ran from that place as fast as I could.
Ramir the Windblown. True to his name once more.