Sundas 5 Sun's Dawn, 4E 202 4:00 PM
I was walking south along the trade roads towards Whiterun returning from the Throat of the World after defeating Alduin, the World Eater and god of destruction. Every step was pain as I forced myself to place on foot in front of the other like a lone soldier's march. "Left, right, left, right", I muttered to myself. My mare nickered softly behind me being led by her reins. I had ridden her to the point of exhaustion, but had been unwilling to stop moving. The thought of being still was too much like the thought of being dead.
The sky was dark overhead, pregnant with storm clouds. Maybe it would rain. That would be the perfect ending to my journey home. I would arrive in Whiterun soaked to the bone and covered it mud. It would be like the gods pissing on me from heaven. "Go on. Do it. I dare you," I muttered darkly. I even flipped a rude gesture to the skies in the hope someone up there would notice. Especially Tsun.
Sovngarde lingered in my thoughts. The Nordic afterlife had been setting for the battlefield of my final battle with Alduin. I thought of the bright halls, and the brave warriors, and the fine drink and song. And the only thing I could think was of how pointless it all was. You live and you die to only have one long feast forever more.
It all seemed so damned pointless.
It was as if the only point of honor was to celebrate how wonderful you had been. When Tsun, Nordic god of trials versus adversity, had proudly offered for me to return one day as an honored spirit, I had looked him straight in the eye and said, "To the Void with that."
His response and my following ejection from Sovngarde had been less than graceful.
Now I was simply tired both to the bone and spirit. Anxiety settled into my shoulders and stomach making me feel tense and uneasy. I was rushing to Breezehome, my first home in Skyrim, but for what purpose? What does one do after she saves the world?
Suddenly my dragon scale armor felt too heavy. I threw off my helmet and left it lying on the side of the road with all the care of a discarded apple core. Parts of armor quickly followed until I wore only my sweat stained dress. Armor that was worth more than a farmer could make in ten lifetimes and enchanted enough for jarls to give up their kingdoms for, I threw aside. Maybe some other "lucky" soul would find it and put it to good use.
I walked another fifteen minutes before I saw the wagon pulled to the side of the road, a wagon wheel lying several feet away. The wagon was very big; much too big for one man to handle. Its entire bed was taken up with a large crate that was easily fifteen feet long and six feet wide. Several coils of rope firmly strapped the crate into place to prevent it from slipping during travel. I frowned at the sight. Not many people traveled nowadays, not since dragons had returned to Tamriel six months ago. In fact, I had not seen another soul on the road all day. A man, an Imperial like myself, was standing over the wheel kicking the rim.
"Ah, damned wagon wheel!" his voice was shrill with frustration. I couldn't help but note the jester's outfit that he wore. The red and black suit looked well-worn with faded color and various patches. The gloves and boots seemed to have fared a bit better with their black velvet and gold swirl patterns. A belt pouch hung on one side of his belt while an ebony dagger hung on the other. The trademark jester's cap's flap fluttered in the wind as the man bounced up and down.
Skyrim did not have jesters, which I always considered a damn shame. I could never wrap my head around a country that insisted that every court have a wizard and housecarl, but would neglect any good old fashioned humor. I watched as he leapt onto the wheel and jumped up and down on it while screaming, "Bother and befuddle!"
A bark of laughter escaped my lips before I could stop myself. I held my hand over my mouth, but I couldn't stop laughing. The man stopped jumping and looked over his shoulder with an irritable look on his face that quickly melted into one of hope.
"Problem?" I managed to say around my laughter. Since harnessing the thu'um, I had found that speaking had become difficult for me when I felt extreme emotions. Much like the Greybeards, my voice occasionally rumbled even if speaking the language of man and not that of dragon kind. I had always been gregarious, so losing reliable use of my voice had pained me.
"Yes, yes, yes! Cicero is stuck! Stuck! This damnable wheel broke off my wagon," the jester said rapidly. He danced back and forth on his feet nervously. Gloved hands fluttered like birds taking flight as he talked. "Cicero was taking his mother to her new home. Well, not quite. She's dead you see, but her crypt was desecrated in Bravil and Cicero must take her to a new one. We were doing just fine but the wheel broke and Cicero has no tools or knowhow on how to fix the cursed thing." He was speaking so quickly and moving around me in circles like an overexcited lap dog. I was getting dizzy from his motions. "Loreius won't help. Cicero tried but he was turned away by the farmer on his farm. Where else would the farmer be? He certainly isn't here helping Cicero and Mother! What help is he? None!"
"Slow down," I said calmly. Cicero's voice had gone beyond shrill on the last word. "You're going too fast. Start at the beginning."
As Cicero rambled, I couldn't help but notice his shoulder-length red hair. I stifled a wistful sigh as it flounced under his cap. By the Eight, I had always had a weakness for red hair. There was something about that fiery gold color that made me want to run my fingers through it. Twist strands of it between each joint. I found my fingers itching to do so. I restrained myself since he would probably think I was a bit mad. Not that he wasn't a little off himself. Maybe the jester's outfit was a warning rather than a sign of profession.
"You seem like a kindly stranger. The first Cicero has seen. Maybe you could convince Loreius for poor Cicero. There would be shiny, clinky coin for you if you help Cicero," he promised solemnly. His amber eyes were wide with sincerity.
"I'll see what I can do," I murmured. Part of me wanted to continue down the road towards the familiarity and warmth of home, but I couldn't in good conscience leave anyone stranded on the side of the road. It was a surprise something had not attacked him yet with how laden with bandits and wild animals Skyrim seemed to be. Instinctively I glanced to the skies for signs of a dragon in flight and was relieved to see none. I tied my horse to the wagon and began the ascent up the hill to the farm Cicero had pointed out. His shrill laughter of joy followed me as I walked up the hill.
Sundas 5 Sun's Dawn, 4E 202 4:15 PM
"Oh, for the sake of Mara, what now?" a grumpy male voice complained. The farm door swung open to reveal the frowning face of a middle-aged Imperial man. His expression softened when he saw me. "Oh, you're not that man."
"Who is it, Vantus?" a female voice came from inside.
"A woman," Loreius said over his shoulder. He turned back to me, his expression still guarded. "How can I help you?"
"There is a man down by the road that has a broken wagon," I gestured vaguely behind me. "I was hoping you would help him repair it."
"That Cicero fellow?" Loreius frowned. The door edged closed. "I told him five times I wanted nothing to do with him."
"Five times?" I practically screeched. "How could you turn him down so many times?"
"Because there is something wrong about him," Loreius said. "Did you see the way he is dressed or the way he acts? It's better to not get involved with him."
"Look, we're all Imperials," I started.
"And that's why I shouldn't get involved!" Loreius interrupted. "Do you have any idea what the Pale is like with this Stormcloak rebellion going on? Dawnstar is allied with Windhelm and our kind is not exactly treated positively right now." He glanced inside. "My wife is an Altmer and that just makes matters worse. I love her to death, and I fear what the soldiers might get into their heads one day."
The Stormcloak Rebellion had started last year when Jarl Ulfric Stormcloak of Eastmarch traveled to the capital of Skyrim and killed High King Torygg. Some say it was murder and Ulfric used the thu'um to shout the young king to death. Others, particularly Ulfric, claim it was an honorable duel and the king died under Ulfric's blade. According to old tradition, Ulfric should become the next High King for winning a duel against the previous ruler.
Ulfric had challenged Torygg as a protest against the White-Gold Concordat, a treaty that ended the Great War between the Aldmeri Dominion and the Empire almost twenty-five years ago. Many Nords had raged at the treaty, especially the clause of forbidding the worship of Talos, a god who was once a man who ascended to godhood. Ulfric, a soldier for the Empire at the time, had been particularly vocal on the matter.
The Empire had not taken kindly to Ulfric killing their representative and openly declaring segregation of a free Skyrim. General Tullius had been dispatched to lead the Imperial army and had even managed to capture Ulfric in an ambush, which I had unfairly been caught in as well. Ulfric, his men, and I were all almost beheaded at the executioner's block when Alduin appeared looking to kill me personally. Maybe he wanted to devour my dragon soul or maybe he didn't trust mortals to get the job done, but it allowed me to escape and start my journey as the Dragonborn.
Another huge point of contention was that many Nords felt Skyrim should be only for Nords and that the inclusion of other races, especially any elves, was an affront to their culture. Loreius might have had good reason to be scared for a High Elf wife from the Stormcloaks, but what should he fear from other Imperials?
"Listen," I said. I tried to edge the door open more. "He just needs a little help. I know for a fact you'll be paid."
"It's not about money," Loreius snapped. "I don't trust him. I think he's trafficking in illegals goods, probably weapons for the Imperial forces. I want nothing to do with it. Keep me out of this damn war! If you know what's good for you, you'd find a guard and report that fool!" With that, the farmer slammed the door shut.
I backed away from the farm house. My body was shaking and I found that my hand was on my dagger. It had probably been a good thing Loreius had slammed the door in my face. I carefully pried white knuckled fingers away from the blade. My temper was on edge and I didn't want to imagine what I would have done if he had continued to yell in my face like that.
I stomped back down the hill still furious. My face was as stormy as the clouds above. Oblivious to my mood, Cicero asked anxiously, "Did the kindly stranger convince the farmer to help?"
"To the Void with Loreius!" I snapped. Cicero straightened at my curse. I assumed he was taken aback by my strong language, but there was an intrigued look in his eyes. "I cannot believe he actually refused to help you five times because he was paranoid that you're doing some illegal trafficking."
The nerve of that man infuriated me. Back in Cyrodiil we were taught to treat all men and mer equally and fairly. Living in Skyrim had made Loreius become as petty and paranoid as the xenophobic Nords. It was an all too common attitude of some of these "traditional" Nords that left me little sympathy for them in the civil war Ulfric Stormcloak led. Too damn many of them thought of themselves and their own instead of their community as a whole. Only united as one could we hope to become more than we were alone.
To my surprise, tears sprung in Cicero's eyes. "What will Cicero do now!?" he shrieked. "Oh Mother, poor Cicero has failed you!" He began to box himself on the head as I watched. I threw my hands up in a defensive posture, not sure what to do. I wasn't really good with emotions or comforting people.
"L-look, calm down, okay?" I tried to grab his hands and pin them so he wouldn't hurt himself, but it was difficult. The man was stronger than he looked. I found myself uncomfortably close to him, our faces inches apart. Practically kissing distance. His eyes were those of a mad man, but there was a sincerity of his plight that hurt to see. I leaned closer so I could whisper into his ear. I didn't trust that my voice wouldn't crack if I used it above a whisper. "I'll find a nearby guard and have him help you. I'm surprised one hasn't come across you already if you've been here as long as I suspect. It is their duty to help travelers."
Cicero burst from my grasp to dance a joyful jig. "Oh thank you, kindly stranger!" he crowed. "Humble Cicero won't forget this!" My laughter mingled with his as he capered around me. Although he looked a few years older than myself, his unrestrained joy was more like someone many years younger. Suddenly I felt a lot better about my own situation. This was a man who was a little a lot strange, but he managed to struggle to take care of his dead mother's remains. And if he could find laughter in that, maybe I could find some happiness of my own.
His gloved hands engulfed mine in a frantic handshake. "What is the kindly stranger's name so Cicero will not forget?"
"Diana," I told him. He dropped to one knee and kissed my hand much like the knights of Breton were said to do once. I blushed, pleased more than I should have been. I have never been what one would call romantic. "If you're ever in Whiterun city, just ask for " I paused. I had almost said "the Dragonborn", but I didn't want him to remember me that way. I wanted to be remembered as a woman, not the legend at least by someone somewhere. " ask for Breezehome," I fumbled. "It's my residence and not hard to miss. I'm neighbors with the blacksmith next to the main entrance."
I disengaged my hand from his. A cold breeze whipped loose strands of hair into my face. "The rains will be coming soon. You won't want to be caught outside when they come. The cold can make even the healthiest Nord sick. I'll ride ahead so I can find a guard as soon as possible." As I mounted my mare, I noticed Cicero's gaze towards the Loreius Farm.
"What you said, about Loreius to the Void," the jester's voice was cautious. There was a stillness there that left me chilled to the bone.
"He'll get his due one day," I said. "People like that always do."
A huge grin broke out on Cicero's face. "Oh yeeees!" he giggled. "Ahem, how long do you think it will be before help arrives for Cicero?"
"I'll try to have the guard come as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, with all the dragon attacks lately, they may be a while," I said apologetically. Even with Alduin dead, there were now dragons in the world, for better or for worse.
"No matter, no matter," Cicero glanced towards the farm again. "Knowing help is coming will keep Cicero happy." He smiled slyly. "I'm sure I'll find something to keep me occupied."
As I turned my mount towards Whiterun, I could have sworn I heard a female voice from behind me whisper, "Thank you, my child."The voice sent a chill through me like autumn leaves on the wind.
"Did you say something?" I asked Cicero. He looked up from adjusting some ropes on the large crate on the wagon.
"No," he answered. "Did you hear something?" His face was strangely hopeful.
"I guess not," I said. "Must have been my imagination." I waved goodbye and set off towards home.
"We will meet again soon."