1 - Helgen

I can understand the Stormcloaks deciding to hide in my cave. The entrance is well-concealed, which is why I chose it. And it stays that way, if I'm careful how I enter, and don't leave obvious footprints outside.

I can understand how the pursuing Imperials found them, too. What I can't understand is why the Imperials think I'm one of them. Seriously, how many Stormcloaks have horns?

I'm not talking about helmets here. My horns are on my head, just like any of the Kyn. But we are few in Tamriel, so maybe they've never seen a Dremora before.

Whatever they were thinking, we all ended up on the same cart headed for Helgen. I presume I was vocal about the Imperials' incompetence in including me, because I don't remember much about the journey, just waking with a sore head as we approached the town. By that time, I'd given up trying to make our captors actually think. They were military, which would generally mean that thinking was for officers only.

I know this because once, I was an officer. In Mehrunes Dagon's forces, I led the attack that took Ganonah, the city the locals call Kvatch. Which is why I got the blame when it was taken back, even though I wasn't there at the time. I was the officer, so I should have forseen the possibility, and not left the place under the command of a subordinate . Even though Dagon himself had sent me elsewhere, on an assignment beneath my station.

To make matters worse, the woman I'd been given as a reward for my success at Ganonah had turned on me. Admittedly, I'd probably been unfair in the way I treated her. Anger at Dagon can't be directed towards him, and she probably got the worst of my frustration. I was on guard duty - me, a Valkynaz, on guard duty! - inside the gate we'd opened near Bravil. That's where she killed me. A mere woman struck me down, with shock spells to weaken me, and a final blow from a mace! I was so proud of the way she did it, but of course, unable to tell her until I was restored.

And then, equally, I was in no position to do so, because I was somewhere else in Tamriel. I have no idea how long I was in the heatless flames of Oblivion waiting for restoration, but I expected to be restored in the Deadlands, in familiar territory. Clearly I'd lost even more of Dagon's regard by being slain by my own woman, and he'd sent me to guard another gate, this time from the outside.

I'd only been there a few hours, when the fire in the gate suddenly ceased, meaning the gate was closed, and I was stuck in the mortal world until Dagon decided to recall me. Given his recent actions, I did not imagine that happening soon.

Two centuries later, I'm still here. Each time I die, I'm restored to Tamriel, not the Deadlands. So stripping off my armour and wrestling a bear wasn't as much use as I thought it would be. It just lost me some useful equipment, and I had to replace it with lesser things that mortals had made. Since then, I've learned to make my own.

When these Imperial clowns have finished with me, I'll need to make some more, as they took everything when they put us on the carts. Since I'd just crawled out of my bedroll when the Stormcloaks arrived, I wasn't even wearing my armour, and they gave me some crude sack-cloth things to cover myself.

I can see Helgen gates now, so it looks like we'll be there in a few minutes. Hopefully there will be a competent officer in charge, and I'll be released.

The horse-thief the soldiers had rounded up with us didn't have any confidence in officers, and tried to run as soon as we got off the carts. He died in a volley of arrows.

There was a legionary calling the roll of prisoners, and lining us up for the General. I'd heard of this Tullius, and he seemed like a man who could think. I was confident that their mistake would soon be rectified.

Obviously, my name wasn't on their list. They didn't even know it yet, because I hadn't told them. The unthinking grunts hadn't asked; it wasn't their job. The legionary asked his commander, a woman, what he should do. This was as it should be, pass the decision-making up the chain, and do not take responsibility on yourself. I expected her in turn to ask Tullius, but she decided that she didn't need to bother him with this level of decision, and arbitrarily condemned me to join the others in line for the block.

Part of me admired her confidence in her own decisions, but most of me just wanted to kill her. I stared at the Captain, learning her features so I would know her if we met again. No, when we met again. Even if I had to return from the dead to kill her, and of course I would do so.

I was the second to the block. It had me thinking that I might even be returned before all the executions were complete, and how beautiful would be the justice if I could place her head on this very block in my next life. But then the dragon came, and everything was confusion.

I found myself running into a tower with one of the Stormcloaks. My hands were still bound, and he had nothing to cut the ropes. How he'd got his own free, I wasn't sure. We went looking for weapons, and eventually found some. With my hands loose, and an axe in one of them, I could determine my own fate.

And fate led my nemesis to me. The same Captain led a small group of Imperials into the chamber, and my Stormcloak allies helped me deliver justice. I took her armour, adjusted the straps to suit my very different shape, and put it on. Her ample chest meant that she wore a size large enough to protect a male, but it wasn't quite the right shape. I discarded the top half, even though it was plate that might have melted down. There was no smelter or forge here.

Ralof laughed when I tried it on. "We'll no doubt find you some more as we go further in," he predicted. "Probably not plate, but the regular Imperial armour isn't too bad. Of course, I can understand you not wanting to be mistaken for one of them. Especially not for a woman!"

I felt the thought he hadn't expressed. The hope that I wouldn't get the chance to take any Stormcloak amour. He didn't want to find any fallen comrades on our way out.

Some did fall, but they were crushed by the collapse of part of the buildings just after we passed, and out of our reach. I managed to add a basic long bow and some iron arrows, from an Imperial archer, but didn't bother to trade any armour. His covered more, but was thinner. We both picked up some potions, lockpicks and minor items as we passed through the cave beyond the dungeons. Some of those arrows went into fighting spiders and a bear.

Ralof and I parted company at the exit from the cave. He was going to head for another small town called Riverwood, where his sister lived. I was more inclined to try and head back towards my cave. I'd survived well enough in Tamriel by keeping away from the people, so going into town wasn't my first choice.

But I wasn't familiar with this part of Skyrim, so I ended up finding myself in the same town I was trying to avoid. It seemed that all the trails on this side of Helgen lead to the same place.

I went into the general store, hoping to trade some of the Imperial military junk I'd picked up for something a bit less tied to one side of the Civil War. I walked into the middle of an argument betwen the shopkeeper and his sister about something that had been stolen. Since he didn't seem to want to discuss trade until that subject was dealt with, I found myself agreeing to look for the missing item. I really had no intention of going to look for it, but his description intrigued me. It seemed to resemble a Clannfear Claw, something I hadn't seen for decades. I wondered if it actually was one that had been gilded as a trophy.

I got a decent trade for my goods, so apparently my agreement had put him in a good mood. His sister pointed out Bleak Falls Barrow on the hills at the other side of the valley as the likely place it had been taken. The map I'd bought put it on one of the trails that crossed the hills towards Whiterun, and I had to pass near that city to get back to the Rift and my cave. It was a bit longer that way, but why not take a look?

I suppose I was also looking forward to the prospect of some combat. There would be bandits this way, the ones that had stolen the claw at least, and the other route was a well-used road that would be relatively boring. I headed for the hills.