High Rock: More bloodshed and Thalmor scum.
We left the Redguard compound at about 7:30AM and reached the “Procul Praesidium Reach”, the Imperial Embassy, at about 8:15AM.
Dominating the courtyard was a tribute to the ‘Plucky Longfin’. It was an East Empire vessel that the Imperial Army temporarily commandeered to act as a troop ship. The platoon of Imperial troops rescued the crown jewels of Waycrest just before it was sacked in 4E 188.
No heroic defence, rescue of civilians or defeat of an evil tyrant. All this garrison has done to earn respect from the populace is to preserve the jewel encrusted symbols of oppression.
In the corner of the courtyard was a shrine to Lord Akatosh.
A young, injured soldier had been praying when we unintentionally intruded.
We entered the main building and overhead the following conversation between a Thalmor officer named Naruman and Drugo, the garrison’s commander.
- Naruman: Commander, you must understand that this costly operation you’ve scrawled will set you back on your debt to the Kingdom.
- Drugo: And you must understand, Naruman, that this is our last opportunity to justify our presence here. After local guards disposed of the Redguard presence last night, this has to be done and properly, otherwise suspicions of our ineptitude will only deepen.
- Naruman: I advise great caution with the occupants of Deepcrag, Drugo. They could hold invaluable information; all you need do is stay your hounds.
- Drugo: Keen to see them survive? Why is that Naruman?
- Naruman: We shouldn’t debase ourselves by imitating the barbarous Bretons here. They have already bled the Orcs dry. Why should we add to the slaughter?
- Drugo: The plans have been inked; we are not dealing with civilians here. Any rights the Empire would bestow are now forfeit. This is our decision and not anything to do with your Dominion. There will be no further delays.
- Naruman: Very well Drugo, very well. All the blood that spills will be on you.
Down the stairs came a walking epitome of Thalmor conceit.
“I didn’t know the Thalmor were involved in High Rock? You must have been asked here by local businesses or something because our new Emperor told you all to fuck off.”
“Oh my, how unbecoming. Do the Imperials let every brute within this wretched compound? Address me properly little one.”
“Do not try claim to be better than me Naruman. All are equal in death.”
“Threatening a superior? Uncouth worm, dangerous people will hear of your sedition, I promise you this.”
“I quoted a standard teaching of The Divines and you regard that as a threat? Find me anybody in High Rock who would believe that to be so.”
“Get out of my sight, lest I show you the face of Altmer supremacy!”
“So there you have it. You do this whiny little act of concern for the criminal elements of Deepcrag when all along you are just another racist piece of shit. Using them to stir up trouble are we? Do they know how they are being used by slime who care naught for their welfare? Then you threaten me, a law abiding citizen of The Empire, and I haven’t even shown you my Talos amulet yet!”
“Blasphemy to add to your charges!”
I leapt and put my hand over his mouth whilst pinning him to the wall and whispered, “The previous Emperor fully revoked the White Gold Concordat. You know as well as I that the divinity of Talos is irrefutable. The new Emperor is the son of Tiber Septim as sworn by several senior Divine priests and priestesses. He has torn up the treaty signed by Titus Mede II. You are illegally on Imperial soil even if the High King here has been too ill to issue the order for your removal. So acting on behalf of him and our Emperor, I shall have you removed.”
I signalled to Argus who came close enough for me to whisper to him, “You and Calder gag this piece of shit, search him and hold him downstairs whilst I talk to Commander Drugo. Tell Serana and Rayya to stay with you and if any more of his slime appear and try to free him, they are to be cut down.”
Argus signalled to Calder and quickly replaced my hand over the idiot’s mouth with his. Rayya ripped a nearby tablecloth and made a gag and some restraints for the Justiciar. As he was being manhandled to the lobby below I entered Commander Drugo’s office. I knew him. He is a good and loyal officer. There is no way he would recognise me though.
He showed annoyance and said, “Citizen, no matter how much you despise them, it is not wise to poke them with sticks. They can bite!”
“If you saw the atrocities committed by the Thalmor you would be congratulating me, not warning me. You were right to be suspicious, the Thalmor are using whoever is in Deepcrag.”
“You know this how?”
“Experience and he used his superior race bullshit on me. Do you really think slime like that cares about anybody?”
“I would not be surprised if what you say is true.”
“How important is The Reach to the Empire, especially to the new Emperor and his Queen?”
“Important enough for us to have been entrenched in this swamp for centuries and I have a feeling the value will be immeasurable in the near future.”
“Why is that?”
“During the Great War our supplies and troops to High Rock came by sea. The ships would skirt the shore of Tamriel all the way to this province. You might think, ‘Why not send them overland via The Reach and save a lot of time?’ The answer is The Reach was, and is, far too dangerous for trade.”
“The Reachmen posed more danger than the Thalmor Navy? I suppose that was shown to be so when they captured Markarth.”
“Now the well-publicised tension between the new Emperor and Queen and the Aldmeri Dominion threatens war once again. We would need to make the overland travel safer than the seas if we were to win a fight to the end, which it would be this time around.”
“The crags and valleys you have to navigate from Skyrim to here are a dizzying maze and perfect for ambushing slow moving convoys. This must be a difficult posting. It seems the Bosmer are not too impressed with Imperial rule or troops.”
“No, we are not ecstatic in our stay. It does not mean we’ll forgo our duties here so fret not.”
“Good to hear. Can a group of honest mercenaries do anything to assist?”
“The Empire doesn’t employ the services of simple murderers and thugs.”
“We wish to serve Tamriel but no longer have the stomach for soldiering after the horrors of the New Order campaign. We are honest and skilled warriors offering our help.”
“In that case we could use you. It would not be hard to be more effective than the raw recruits I mainly have at my disposal. Empire troops are the best bar none, if they live long enough to grow whiskers or a decent breast size. That experience in Skyrim would also explain your love for the Thalmor.”
“That is far more personal. If you could see the scars they gave my wife when she was but a teenage girl you would weep. They were given to her as punishment for being the daughter of a hero. Many hardened warriors have seen and wept.
You can also blame the current instability on them if you wish. Emperor Titus Mede II was going to cede the Forlorn much of The Reach after they had governed Markarth with genuine respect for the Skyrim civilians still there. Then the Thalmor pushed their favourite traitor, Ulfric Stormcloak, to gather a force and rescue those poor well looked after civilians from the nasty savages. Being the puppet he was he did so with a brutality equal to anything the lords of this land or even the Witchmen have done.”
“Ancient problems. Let us talk about a new and improved one. You would be aware of the significant Orc population to the west of our hold. It is no longer a neutral party. Scouts have reported that they’ve burnt down a small outpost and built around it rapidly. We fear that their expansion may reach Arnima and further.”
“I hope your soldiers realise that the average Orsimer has the same wishes they do, family, home and honest work. They are fleeing High Rock as the trouble makers stir up racial hatred. These rebels do not represent their people. Do you have sufficient men to deal with them?”
“Our men respect the Orcs. I have been careful to make sure any racist element is quickly removed. Those who keep showing such tendencies are shipped back to Cyrodiil to be posted in some obscure and even more miserable outpost elsewhere.”
“Our auxiliaries and a few town guards may be sufficient to clear the outpost. We just have to pray they don’t send more through the ravine. Go meet with the officer stationed just on the ridge, overlooking the lake. If you’re still breathing, find your way back to this outpost and I’ll have a most generous reward waiting on the table.”
“Not our motivation Commander but we do have expenses.”
“As we all do.”
“Deepcrag is important for the Empire’s reputation is it not?”
“Correct. It could consist of a shed and bucket yet it will still make us irreducibly vilified if we do not relieve it. That will create a cascade as more daring opportunists would lunge at us when are at our weakest. It could destroy everything we’ve built here.”
“We have already helped eliminate pockets of opportunists. Your scouts must have told you of the utter defeat of the Redguard river pirates. We were at the forefront of that. We also eliminated the mage that destroyed Sabbat and dozens of raider scum that had infested the mine there.”
“How many men do you have?”
“I have five individuals. Half a dozen good men are more than a match for most of the scum infesting these parts.”
The Commander sat there with his mouth open.
“I will explain more in a minute. These rebel Orcs are in no way protesting about that ill-advised event at Orsinium centuries ago. They are part of a multi prong effort to distract you, the lords and the populace from something else. Something that concerns Mother Mara so much she has asked me to investigate. She has placed the burden on me to resolve it.”
“Who the hell are you?”
“Remember that General who strode up to Tullius and told him he had just ended the Civil War by chopping off Ulfric’s head? You were standing near Legate Rikke. Her batman at the time I think. The next time you saw the same General was when he came in to help with the disappearance of Emperor Mede. Commander Maro vouched for him as he had slaughtered the Dark Brotherhood some time before that. The last time you saw him he was sitting next to High Queen Elisif. We all drank a toast to your new promotion and wished you the best with this command.”
The Commander stared at me, suddenly realised who I was and stood to attention with a perfect salute. Just then Rayya entered and said, “You need to read what we found on him!”
“Leave it on the table. Make sure the door is closed again on the way out and that our guest can’t hear us.”
Once she left I told Commander Drugo to relax and sit back down.
“At the moment I am General Marcus and on a mission to access the problems here. I am not to be addressed as Majesty or Dragonborn or Guardian General or any other title. To your men I will simply be a mercenary for hire. It is important we keep up this charade.”
“Understood Maje… sorry… General Marcus.”
“There is a great evil behind all of this. The list of likely culprits is long and most probably a Daedric Prince but could also be some ancient God. Not everybody is knowingly contributing to a single plot. The Thalmor would be stirring up the Orcs. They are doing what they can to prevent my Queen and I from unifying the provinces in preparation for the Akaviri invasion. Hoping enough problems in High Rock will make them open the doors and become another protectorate of the Aldmeri Dominion. They play politics that endanger all the mortals of Nirn.”
“I understand the principles but all of this, it is well above my pay grade. I am a soldier. Keeping our good name here is an obvious strategic manoeuvre. The rest will give me a headache.”
I laughed and replied, “I understand Commander. Let me read what our guest had on him.”
The letter was an order from the Thalmor command in Alinor. I told Commander Drugo the details.
“Justiciar Naruman is currently hog-tied and gagged downstairs. Thinking I was just a citizen of the Empire he threatened me with execution for daring not to lick his boots. He has been asked by his superiors to hunt down and eliminate a Blade hiding around here somewhere as well as the Blade’s ally, an Imperial living in Evermore. He is co-ordinating assassinations of Empire citizens. What are your cells like? You are about to have a new prisoner for a few days.”
“We keep them dank, smelly and horrible.”
I opened the door and asked The Sentinel to bring the Justiciar up.
When they dragged him into the room I had his restraints and gag removed.
“How dare you treat a senior representative of the mighty Aldmeri Dominion like this? Commander, do something about this low-born scum or I will make sure you regret this insult as well!”
“Shut the fuck up you snivelling piece of excrement. I outrank the Commander by a long way and am here on behalf of the Emperor and his Queen. I charge you with the planned assassination of Empire citizens. That will be enough for now to have you bundled into a wagon with shackles and chains to make sure you can’t run away if the wagon is waylaid. Further charges may be added depending on what else I dig up. Since the witnesses to your threats against me are senior members of the Penitus Oculatus your future looks grim. Planning the assassination of a fellow Blade is also a rather personal insult to me.”
“A Blade? I have so enjoyed killing your friends over the years.”
I backhanded him and he cowered before me. He then stared into the eyes of an enraged Dovah and death.
“You have no diplomatic immunity and are a spy. I could plunge my sword into your guts here and now and it would not only be legal, it would be fitting. Not a word of protest would be issued by your bosses in Alinor. Your family may never even hear the truth behind your fate and would probably get a letter telling them you died for the nation in some heroic exploit. You are now going to vanish. You will be held in the cells here till an escort to the Imperial City arrives. The Emperor himself will decide your fate once there.”
I turned to the slightly smiling Commander and ordered, “We need some good Imperial soldiers to guide my escort and the Justiciar to the holding cells. There he will strip, subject himself to a cavity search and then don the standard prisoner rags. He can do this voluntarily or they can beat him till he is senseless and they will do it for him. His nice uniform will be unstitched and searched for any further incriminating evidence. He is to receive the standard rations and no visitors allowed. If other Thalmor scum come looking for him they are to be informed he is under arrest for engaging in bestiality.”
I kept my back to Naruman and growled, “Please do this now before I rip his heart out!”
They all quickly filed out of the room and I was alone with my beast. When the commander did not immediately return I assumed he was personally escorting them to the cells. I took the opportunity to sit at his desk, grab some official and expensive Imperial paper and envelopes and wrote two letters.
The first to Rigmor said,
“My dear beloved and the growing bump,
Lady Mara did not prepare me for this cesspit of corrupt lords, factional tensions and a sense of pure evil laughing and directing a merry dance of chaos and death.
I have already had to kill in great numbers and today I am committed to even more slaughter. If I do not find a solution the whole region will explode and as The Divine fear, it will be a cascade effect that consumes all of Tamriel.
There is so much evil here I have no idea who is behind it. Evil is its own best camouflage.
But there are good people here. They are hard-working people who deserve better. All the lords of this land could die and I would not shed a tear. They are nobility of the worse kind.
So as I have always done I will make guesses and use my intuition to muddle my way through. But even doing my best, I do not think all the innocents will survive this mess.
I have a feeling I will have to leave some things in place I would rather remove.
I may be here for several weeks but will return as soon as I can.
Wishing I was with you both. Please keep telling the bump how much her father already loves her and misses her.
With all my love, your Dragonborn.”
The other letter was asking for the following to be sent via ship ASAP.
- An enclosed carriage for transporting a prisoner back to the Imperial prisons.
- The Sentinel uniforms and weapons of my team to be sent.
- My Guardian General armour and my usual weapons to be sent.
- My father’s armour to be sent.
I sealed them both with wax and my signet ring I kept on me at all times.
Half an hour later The Sentinel and the Commander arrived.
I asked how long it would take for my letters to arrive in the Imperial City and for a return ship to bring what I requested. He estimated a week.
We left the headquarters and headed for the mustering point of the Imperials.
On the way we were attacked by two Orcs who obviously could not count.
The six of us carved them up in seconds.
We reached the imperial troops who seemed to have some local guardsman with them.
I approached the officer and said, “We have been sent by Commander Drugo to aid in the assault.”
“So you made it her then. We’ll soon be cutting a path through these barbarians and taking back the post. Get ready.”
“I have dealt with Orcs before. Do they have civilian hostages? If so I can slip in unseen and rescue them. Otherwise they will be slaughtered as soon as you attack.”
“Well, you do look more suited for ancillary support. Alright, why not? No good wasting your skills in the coming frenzy. Fortunately I’m a pendant and have come more than equipped. I hope you are familiar with flares, no time to explain their use in this moment. So to be brief: aim it towards the sky at an angle that we are sure to see. And let me be clear. This should only be used as a last resort. Everyone will see its glare bringing both us and the Orcs crashing onto your location.”
“Yes, I see how it works. Seems the Redguard Black Powder is finding many uses. What are we facing?”
“From the scouts assessments; Orc capabilities range from small artillery, arrows and such, to the main bulk of their arsenal which are the blunt weapons stolen from the sacked depot within Deepcrag. Reports have spoken of them fostering great hounds, so avoid those beasts if you want to keep your limbs from rotting as their incisor are known to be coated in the foulest fluids. Apart from that, standard affair, we’ll break through their ranks in closed formation, shield raised. The knights will deal with the larger Orcs as we strike at the archers.”
We cautiously approached an overhang that let me see part of the compound.
I moved around a bit more and could see a pit where the captives were being held. There was a single guard ready to kill them at the first sign of an attack.
I crept back and told my team they were to get as close to the front gates as possible. As soon as they heard fighting they were to attack.
I went back to my vantage point and gave them a few minutes to get into position. I then killed the guard with a single bolt and leapt into the compound to protect the civilians.
After disposing of a few Orcs that rushed me I set off the flare. My team had already infiltrated far into the compound and were carving their way to me.
I untied the prisoners and escorted them through the chaos back to the mustering point. I told them to stay there till we came back to escort them elsewhere.
I ran back to the melee and found everybody desperately trying to bring down an Orc lieutenant. I walked up and finished him off. He was no desperate rebel. He was a veteran of many years I would say.
I gathered my crew and headed along some rickety scaffolding to where the Orc leader was holed up.
I killed his elite guard and then confronted him.
He lasted a few seconds.
There were two women in a cell. One was deceased, the other chained to the wall.
“Men, turn your backs now! Serana and Rayya, find her clothes and get her out of those shackles.”
The survivor’s name was Denize. She staggered outside once dressed and I approached her.
“Why did it take you so long? Did you forget about us? The things they did… “
I did not tell her we got there as quick as we could. Her nightmare at the Orc hands would have seemed like an eternity.
“I can feel it writhing inside me, the Orcs placed one of their devils inside me! Get it out! Please!”
I silently prayed, “Mother Mara, if that is a normal mortal child then help this women come to terms with it. I can’t but help think aborting any child could generate lifelong guilt. You expected Rigmor and me just to accept a child of rape!”
Denize continued, “I can’t raise a damn Orc spawn, no no no. I’d rather die than be placed with that burden.”
She walked toward the Imperial Officer and pleaded, “Have mercy and strike me down, please, I can’t live like this. I-I can’t…”
I approached her and said, “The child is not a demon no matter how placed in your womb. If you believe in Mother Mara than pray to her for guidance. Make sure the assumed burden is not the only reason you would kill this child. I make no judgement. I just want you to really think on such a decision for your own sake.”
“The Officer said, “We will look after her, get her to a Temple and make sure she doesn’t do anything irrational.”
“I would like your opinion on why the Orcs are doing this.”
“I can see from you and your squad’s skills and compassion that you are far from being mercenaries. You carved up the enemy so efficiently is made the knights stand and watch in awe. I do not ask you to tell me who you are. I also guess you have your own theories.”
I did a small nod of my head in agreement.
“Since we’ve lost contact with many of our Orc consorts, having been cut off from the enclaves, their motives are ultimately left to what we can infer. Looking at where they strike and when, it seems not to be out of some savage streak. Rather, they seem to be distracting us from something.”
“Your Commander and I agree.”
“In every instance when we find ourselves combating these vandals, a whole slew of refugees will be seen making their way through the crags of The Reach. They seem to be following some hidden route to a destiny unknown. We have sent scouts to tail them yet we haven’t retrieved anything valuable in terms of where the Orcs are going, or who is organising them. We were foolish to underestimate the Orc’s cunning.”
“I think you will find it is not the Orcs who are cunning.”
“Even a dullard can see how fruitless their violence had been up to now. I sincerely think they’re being sent on forlorn missions, with no hope of survival. There is a grander scheme at play and we just have to uncover it.”
“That is why I and my team are here. We were sent by Mother Mara to find out what is behind all the ills of this region. She believes it is a great evil and so do I.”
“We will attempt to piece together and rebuild this fractured outpost with help from the garrison to the east, and try and root out any remaining radicals. But between you and me, I wish I wasn’t here in the first place. The situation in The Reach is quite frankly hopeless.”
“If it was hopeless Mother Mara would not have sent us. Despair is the weapon of our enemies you can be assured of manifesting long before we find their identity. Your men fought well and bravely and that shows that despair has not won them over yet.”
He laughed and said, “You have been sent by the Gods and so has the golden tongue. I look forward to finding out who you lot really are.”
“Ask your Commander and watch him turn blue as he fights to remain silent on the matter.”
With that we made our way back to the embassy and I reported to Commander Drugo.
“We have forced the horde back for now. I killed several of their commanders who were obviously veterans of many campaigns. The other Orcs were not overly skilled.”
“One of my scouts ran to tell me the outcome of the fighting. Firstly he was in awe how you saved the civilians. Then he was almost at a loss of words describing how you and your men carved the Orcs to pieces.”
“We take little pleasure in killing Commander. We try to do it well so we minimise the time we are doing it.”
“Something arrived while you were helping my men. Lord Mortifayne believes the Witchmen up the valley ran away with something dear to him.”
“I saw a family man beheaded for stealing a loaf of bread from this lunatic.”
“Well if you answer this bounty notice you may find some clues to who is behind this chaos.”
“True and I am more than used to dealing with deranged men so no need to warn me to be careful. He was going to be my next step in my investigations anyway. I assume he leaves you alone as you help protect his precious trade and slaves, I mean serfs.”
“Yes. He may be deranged but he is not stupid.”
“Is there anything else commander?”
“Oh yes, I almost forgot. This letter arrived by courier just after you left.”
He handed me a letter and upon opening it a familiar script met my eyes,
“I was told by my mistress to address this to Marcus care of the Imperial Embassy near Evermore.
So I hope it reaches you!
I just so happened to be inspecting the Cyrodiil shrines like you had asked after the wedding when Azura contacted me.
I have arranged with Blackwell to immediately send you and The Sentinel your armours and weapons as Azura believes you will need to be seen for who you are very soon.
I think Blackwell has given up arguing against all this mystical mumbo jumbo and just gave in to the insanity.
He is rightly pissed off with you though. Not because you had to follow an order from The Divine.
He was ranting, out of her earshot mind you, and asking why you didn’t take ‘the most annoying royal arse that has ever sat on the Ruby Throne.’
It was said with genuine affection though.
Anyway, good luck with the shit over there. My mistress thinks it is some of her Daedric buddies playing games but if so they are not bragging like they usually do.
Hope to see you soon, Sethri.”
I chuckled and said to the Commander, “You would not believe the amount of immortal gobblygook I have to put up with.”
“No, I don’t suppose I would. Gobblygook is not taught at the Imperial military colleges.”
We left for the inn near the Divide and to say the innkeeper was pleased to see us is an understatement.
I told The Sentinel that we would be visiting the lunatic lord on the morrow.
After a good feed I retired to my room, wrote this journal entry and climbed into bed.
I know not what time I fell asleep.