As I was being carted to my inevitable and messy execution in the miserable and frozen province of Skyrim, I couldn’t help but think that I deserve this. That thought continued to force itself into my mind upon every twist of fate. I deserve to be executed even after they found my name wasn’t on the list. I deserve to be forced to kneel over the body of the last prisoner that they hadn’t had the decency to clear away first. I deserve this spontaneous dragon attack. Ah, after that dragon showed up, everything went a little fuzzy. I did some things I probably shouldn’t have in the ensuing chaos.
Here’s me. Billy McGonian the Fifth (or maybe the Sixth). I never figured that out. My ancestors weren’t the type to live long, write journals and use protection. I am descended from and happily taking the name of a serial killer in the Imperial City who met his end via execution in the Arena. I’m sure he had an interesting life besides that mess, but that is what we all remember him for. I was hoping to avoid the same fate, but I am who I am, you know?
After accruing a hefty bounty comprised mostly of petty crimes and one or two alleged murders I had no part of, I decided to make my fortune and lose the trail of the Imperial Legion by crossing the most readily accessible border. I arrived in Skyrim and met a host of friendly nords garbed in blue that took me in as one of their own. They failed to mention their hobby of casual treason until it was far too late. Shortly before taking an imperial club to the snout I made a mental note to follow along with local politics in the future, if I had any future to speak of.
I’ve gone off-track. No one wants to hear about my life. Oh, no. They want to hear about the dragon. Too bad, I’m not there yet. The cart. The three nords sharing the cart with me babbled on about various topics I care nothing about. I overheard the most intensely blond of the group saying that a nord’s last thoughts should be of home. In that moment I realized I had no idea what my home was. Sure, I liked the city of Bravil back in Cyrodiil, but it wasn’t home. I never could stay in one place long. And now I’ve lost my chance. For the first time, I feel panic creep up my spine and I get a tingle under my scales. I’m going to die, and I haven’t done anything with my life.
I felt numb. We arrived in Helgen. Townspeople were gawking. I was told to get off the cart. Asked my name.
“Billy McGonian the Fifth, MTS.”
“Maybe The Sixth.”
The imperial guard didn’t find it funny. The name didn’t register with him, either, and I’m fortunate for that. I watched in silence as an escapee took an arrow to the spine and died right in front of me. I watched an angry nord kneel over the block and have his head separated from his shoulders. They didn’t even move the body as I was lead to the bloody chopping block. I knelt over the dead nord. Still warm. I stared into the basket and noted that it had a one head capacity that was currently filled, so my own skull would merely bounce off and go rolling away. My head. Separated from my shoulders. Oh dear.
Shoved down. I tried to think of home, I really tried. The headsman’s axe was a hefty thing and it took ages for him to raise it. I decided to think of a home I had always dreamed of. A nice, warm abode, swamp adjacent. Morning swims in the sunshine with my naked scaly wife. A home in the country. I’d have more gold than I knew what to do with. Wouldn’t have to worry about whether I’d get to eat the next day. I felt a calm come over me and I was smiling as the dragon landed on a tower with such force it knocked the headsman on his arse.
Next thing I know I’m on my back. The sky is boiling. Things that shouldn’t catch fire are on fire. I’m shaking. I rise to my feet with my hands still bound. A nord is shouting to me. I’m dazed, but decide I’m safe with him. I follow him through a door in…the wall? A tower? My earholes were still ringing and I could hardly see or think. He stops inside and says something to another nord. I’m asking him to unbind me, but he’s ignoring me. He takes off up the steps and orders me to follow. I do. There’s an explosion of fire and masonry and the head of a dragon. Down the steps again to narrowly avoid a gout of flame. Nope, door’s blocked, can’t leave the tower. Dragon’s gone, back up the tower. Only way forward is the giant hole in the wall left by the beast. Peeking through I see an exit through the shattered and flaming roof of an adjacent house. I back up for a running start and jump.
I scorch a few scales on my arse then crash and roll onto the floor of what remained of some nord’s upstairs. I scamper down the stairs and end up outside again. An imperial is guiding villagers to safety. He yells at me. I follow him. More crashing, more fire, more dragon. I’m in the open, now. The dragon is perched atop a tower staring straight at me. It opens its mouth and instead of fire there’s a loud crash and I feel as if I’ve taken a careening horse cart to the chest. Everything goes white. I come to moments later and unsteadily get to my feet. The dragon’s moved on, but the nord and the imperial are yelling at each other. They then run off in different directions.
No time to think about it. One of them took part in my execution and capture. I take my chances with the nord. We enter the keep proper (finally, some quiet!) and come across the body of one of his nord buddies. He cuts the rope binding my hands then tells me to dig through his dead friend’s possessions for something I could defend myself with. It takes me a moment to get past the shock of the situation before I do as I’m told. An axe and light armor. I only have time to nab the axe and tug off the dead nord’s armor before a pair of imperials charge in shouting about Stormcloaks. I try to convince them I am no Stormcloak but they are having none of it. Both go for my nord companion – Ralof, I think he said his name was – and it’s clear that if he goes down, I’m next. The axe is too heavy to bother with. As I toss it aside Ralof makes a blow to an imperial’s chest that drops him to his knees. I hold both fists above my head and bring them down on top of the man’s unprotected skull before he can rise. Crack.
The other imperial crumples to the ground from an axe wound to the side courtesy of Ralof and I am once again in shock. I took a life. I shouldn’t ever do that. That is very, very bad. Ralof yells at me again.
He repeats himself. “We have to go!”
“Hold on, I gotta – gotta sit down.”
“There’s no time! The keep is coming down around our ears!”
“Okay, okay!” I cast my eyes about the room. “Lemme suit up, alright? I’d like a layer of metal on me before I go any further.”
“Fine! Just be quick about it.” He runs off ahead. When I’ve donned my new armor and caught up to him, he gives me a dirty look.
“What? I blend in better this way.”
The dragon is mostly forgotten as we plow forward. We hear the sound of battle and Ralof sprints ahead to cleave some skulls. I crouch and remain behind, hoping no one notices me. Luckily Ralof didn’t need my help. I rejoin him and he orders me to pick a lock on a cage housing a dead mage. Not wanting to anger him, I do as I’m told like a good little lizard. He allows me to keep what I find, which is okay with me. A few gold coins, a spell tome (that I can’t make heads or tails of) a fancy steel dagger and of course the mage’s robes. Perhaps he assumed I was a spellcaster after seeing how awful I am at hand-to-hand combat? I couldn’t help but feel I was disappointing him, but the biggest disappointment would come when I abandoned him in the cave ahead.
I don’t feel bad about it, to tell the truth. I’m no warrior. I don’t know what he was expecting from me. We enter the cave on a raised section on the left side, with a shallow stream and slight incline between me and the exit. There are three or four imperials. I didn’t count them all as I immediately bolted to the right when Ralof’s attention was elsewhere. I passed one imperial aiming an arrow at the nord. Fortunately, she ignored me. I wasn’t so lucky when I tried to pass a third imperial standing in front of the exit. She took a swipe at me and got a small chunk of my side. I grit my teeth and kept sprinting without looking behind me.
I didn’t pause to smell the lichen. I sprinted further into the cave, my lungs burning. I stopped at the mouth of a larger section of cave and caught my breath. Finally I allowed myself to look over my shoulder. I heard the distant sounds of a skirmish echoing through the cave, but no approaching footsteps. Finally, I was free! Or so I thought. I took a step forward and six giant spiders descended from the ceiling, blocking my path.
I pause, looking for an out, until one spat venom at me. The glob of spider spit struck my thigh and burned through my armor. No time to think! I took off between two spiders, ducking legs and fangs. I didn’t stop until I could not go another step without catching my breath. I felt fresh air on my face. I looked up and sure enough, there was the exit. No sign of any spider or man behind me. Unable to believe my luck, I exit the cave.
The entire province of Skyrim seems to stretch before me. Mountains, trees, air, freedom! I stand on a rock at the crest of a hill and take it all in. With luck, every imperial involved in my capture had perished and any evidence of my alleged wrongdoing would be erased. I can start again. That dream I had on the chopping block – I can make that a reality. I can live a life fuller and richer than that of my infamous ancesetor. I ponder my first move as I take a bite out of a raw rabbit leg I had pinched in the keep’s kitchen. I should learn to cook. Raw rabbit is not the greatest and I haven’t had a proper meal since before my capture.
I see a small village in the distance along a river. If I hurry, I can get there before sundown and stock up on supplies. I hop off of the rock and locate the main road that passes through town. I try to forget the devastation behind me and put one foot in front of the other.