The Imperial Reach
In the Second Era 541, Emperor Durcorach, the Black Drake (the great and inspirational hero to all us sons and daughters of the Reach, so my Father says), was done in by the tricksey Emeric of Cumberland. Then we get Emperor Moricar, son of the Black Drake and Veraxia Tharn.
Half Imperial, our man, Moricar––raised in Imperial City and just as Imperial as anyone. Looks a treat in a toga, good old Emperor Moricar.
Isn’t that all you need to be Imperial these days? Pop on a toga? Garnish with laurels? Ave Emperor!
No, not good enough for the knobby nobles. I think they get bored if all of Oblivion isn’t crashing down on us. The world's a stage and they love a tragedy.
Moricar’s reign was a quiet one, border scuffles but no more wars, no more expansions (no more 57-day sieges without siege weapons).
Moricar’s son, Leovic, becomes a celebrated warrior, hero to the people.
Guarding our borders from invaders, plague and raiders alike! None could stand before his might!
Leovic takes the hand of another Tharn: Clivia Tharn, daughter of the Elder Council’s High Chancellor Abnur Tharn (all lined up to be Grandfather to the next Emperor, nice one, Abnur).
When it’s Leovic’s turn to take the Ruby Throne, he’s a two-thirds Imperial blooded Emperor, born and raised in Imperial City… and still the nobles are shaking their heads, calling him eccentric, blaming his upbringing.
‘Reach Dogs’ they call us, ‘Barbarians’. When we are the lads next door…
Leovic is a fair-handed Emperor with aspirations for the Empire. My village and those surrounding are made up of his warriors, descendants of the Black Drake’s men and we have stood shoulder to shoulder with Leovic in battle.
So when he legalizes Daedra worship in Cyrodiil, it is with the freedoms and safety of the people in mind.
Daedra worship is nothing new in Cyrodiil. It’s been going on forever—is going on, will continue to go on, legal or otherwise. You can stick your fingers in your ears to the third knuckle and scream yourself hoarse in denial, but the Daedric shrines will stand as they always have.
As if pulling down their shrines and pretending they don’t exist will make the Princes go away! Next time Mehrunes Dagon decides to walk through your hometown you go tell him that you don’t believe in him and see how well that turns out for you. Or maybe, “No domination today please, Molag Bal, we’re Imperial!”
The Princes are a part of the landscape: you have the Earth Bones, our Ancestor Fathers and the Not-Fathers: the Princes. Like the weather or the wheeling of the constellations. You can’t argue away the early frost but you can guard against it.
Take my village, we sit just Northwest of the Shrine to Sanguine. The Daedric prince of excesses, he stands with one foot on a skull and a pint of ale held over his great barrel of a belly. To my people, skulls symbolize power both physical and spiritual. Taking a man’s head, you take his soul, his strength, claiming it for yourself. “Ooh!” Say the local reach tribes, “he’s an impressive fellow isn’t he? What does he do?”
Not one of our usual pantheon, true, but we of the Reach embrace change and transformation, new land and new spirits. Listen, always listen and you will thrive.
When in Cyrodiil they say, “Do as the Cyrodiilians do…”
Needless to say, my village brews one of the finest winter imperial stouts you could ever dream of tasting!
Every winter we start brewing and every winter we roll the first barrel of last year’s down to the shrine: that one’s for Sanguine and here’s too next year’s! We sing, drink and brew thick black beer. Red ale brewed for spring drinking—In the spring we brew cream ale for summer drinking, in the summer we brew pumpkin beer for old Hallowjack during the witches festival—but Sanguine still gets his fair share and so do we!
Say a prayer to Mephala
To send her spider kin
To eat up all the naughty bugs
That would make our crops grow thin
Say a prayer to Namira
To keep us looking pale
So the Legion won’t enlist us
And we’ll stay drinking ale
Say a prayer to Peryite
To send sneezes the other way
We have so many tasks
To save for another day
So we learn the rhymes when we are small, be kindly to beggars for they teach us and always bow your head to old men in the rain. But never dawdle in the lonely places little one, always run for the fires of home.
I was born on the 5th of Last Seed under the sign of the Warrior. My father took this as an omen that I was due for greatness and named me Locryn. I was his first born son and he dreamed I would use my fighting strength to become a king.
As such, my mother fed me my first solid food from the tip of her Legionnaire sword, that I would become a great Warrior and know no pain or death but in battle. That when I was grown, Emperor Leovic would march back into Highrock, the Reach would take back our lands and I would be sitting on the High King’s throne! Hah! Please … you could put me in the arena with a sweet roll and it would be I who ended up creamed.
These days I use my mother's nice Imperial family name, Jullus. I find a solid Imperial name helps strangers overlook the initial head-scratching given name. Much better than, “Hello, I’m Locryn Bonebriar, so named for the giant brambles my Father's family can nurture from the earth… I can do it too, want me to show you? No? Brambles are the easiest, haven’t managed blackberries yet but you never know!”
Best just to say “Hello, I’m Locryn Jullus, I’m a farmer from a small village north of Anvil and I’m very good at growing surprisingly large vegetables … how large? Oh, you would be surprised!”
But then... then I was Locryn, son of Pádraig Bonebriar, a wagon lead and chariot driver. Front lines when they needed men to defend our borders, first to don his torc and war woad and last to lay down his blade.
I was proud of my blood, of my people––this land was ours and we were of the land, feet firmly planted in Cyrodiilian earth.
This was Cyrodiilic life during the reign of the Longhouse Emperors. So when I say I grew up in a Reach clan, I really mean I grew up Imperial.
I knew how to farm, I trained in the household magicks and battle feats of my clan, and once a month all the village children would pile into my father’s wagon with our goods for trade and head into Anvil.
Under Emperor Leovic, Anvil was a hub of trade and culture––one of the safest places in all the Gold coast. With the Imperial navy in the bay and the Legion patrolling roads leading to the Capital, Anvil was a hugely popular summer spot to come paddle in the Abecean sea and buy exotic goods from the merchants unloading foreign novelties.
Father (Or Athair as he preferred I call him in the modern language of our clan) would go to the docks to trade and we’d be filed into a makeshift schoolhouse next to the Mudcrab and Suds tavern to be taught our words and letters.
All good children of the Empire were to be literate in Cyrodiilic (the oldest words of the clans had no written form, Athair only learned to read so he couldn’t be tricked in the markets) so we would sit hunched over our textbooks, copying out passages about how to use the markets, the public baths or the temples and most importantly how very impressive Emperor Leovic is. “Stand up, Locryn, and read aloud of chapter five.”
“Leovic defeats the invading Nordic menace!” I would show everyone the wood cut of Leovic with decapitated Nord heads tied to his saddle. “Ooooh.”
Most of the children from my village are mixed race Cyrodiil born, being more or less Imperial-Reach-Breton and occasionally, a touch of Nord like Harald Thornmeadow, who, at eleven years old, was already taller than my old man.
But if you ask him, he’ll tell you he’s Imperial through and through, we all were… even Maldorgor (a fair-haired bosmer boy who giggled too much). He was born in Cyrodiil so he was as Imperial as the rest of us. You were welcome in our clan so long as you pulled your weight.
After words was number learning, which was around the time I would sneak out to drink in the wonders of Anvil, standing on the docks staring up at Anvil castle. They say you can spot Emperor Leovic on the balcony when he is summering here.
I wanted him to see me: a Reach-Imperial just like him––that I would train hard and become a great warrior, too.
Instead, I usually caught a street performance of The Brave Little Scrib, or one of those beachfront puppet shows. Those were my favorite: when Barbas runs off with the massive string of Orcish sausage links? Hilarious! Those shows taught me an important lesson: Always make sure you are the one holding the very big stick.
At fifteen I had mastered all the Battle feats.
The Horse: Riding bareback all the way to Kvatch (my clan consider saddles a sign of weakness… helmets too, suggests you are scared to get your skull cracked open, ha!)
The Shield Kick: How to kick up a shield and deliver the final blow.
The Gáe Bulg: Throwing a barbed spear whilst prone from the fork of your toes (so as to attack when supposedly defeated, I can also throw a dagger with my toes and pour a kettle).
And finally, the famous Minotaur Leap: Leaping the height of a Minotaur.
We used to bring in a real Minotaur for this feat, lure him into a sturdy wooden enclosure and throw stones at him to get him good and angry. The trainee warriors would all rush in and take turns leaping the bucks and charges. My Mother put an end to it however when too many of our teenagers were getting trampled and gored.
Athair argued that it was good for them, sorts the workers from the warriors and I must say I see his point. No better excuse for not going to war than a matching set of broken legs.
After Mum put an end to it, the Minotaur leap was just my Father in the pen wearing a particularly tall headdress with horns on. He would bellow and charge the would-be warriors, chasing them ‘round and ‘round… sometimes I think the real Minotaur was less scary than when the old man really worked himself up.
When it came my turn, Mother was away in Imperial City. She was military through and through and was often in the Capital working for the good of the Empire.
Those taking the trial this year were myself, Harald Thornmeadow (the Nord boy) Dáire Carriontree (more Breton than most, tall and wiry, a lot of elf in him) and the Plagueweaver twins (two Imperial-looking girls that claimed pure Reach blood, if such a thing exists), Afrik and Banba––one of them did not like me, the other had complimented a blanket I had woven for my Mother… I think, or maybe it was the same one… or maybe they both didn’t like me and one just wanted Mum’s blanket?
Harald (hefty monster of a lad that he was) went first and used Father’s head as a springboard to leap over the horns. My old man didn’t make a peep, but I swear you could hear his spine pop all the way in Anvil… and that was that for the Minotaur headdress.
Father had a better plan and dragged us all up to our Hagraven’s hut (after he was able to stand up straight again).
Geanndra, Lady of the People, was the name of our village’s kindly lady… I think the joke with ours is she really is very kind and we all rather liked sneaking up to see her.
Listening to stories about how Nirn came to be and the people of Tamriel and beyond, munching on fat oat cakes as she twisted the fire into the shapes of heroes and gods.
She lived a little way into the forest away from the longhouses, in a smaller version of our Great Round Hall, a sort of circular thatched house (the hall is round so all are equal within… and presumably her house too?) She had a low doorway that was barred with a rug today, meaning she had company but my Father barreled in anyway with his entourage of giggly teenaged nitwits (That’s us, we were excited now, mischief was afoot! Breaking the rules!).
Geanndra, of course, was expecting us.
“And here is my proud Pádraig now,” she announced to the youngsters gathered around her, who had snuck up here as I once had, to munch on oatcakes whilst using her fat milking spiders like throw pillows. “He is taking your Brothers and Sisters to hunt a Minotaur … is that not right dear heart?” She shot my Father a small smile, knowing full well what he intended and where we were headed, having prepared her alter for the Hunting blessing.
“Aye, good lady! Now watch, you little ones, these five will be returning today Warriors of the Blood Branch, taking their places in the Round Hall! Will you be prepared to face the bull when your turn comes?” Father grinned at the gathered children putting his pointed index fingers to his temples like bull horns and stamping at the ground.
They squealed and giggled blowing oats all over the lazy spiders they were nestled among as we stripped down to our small clothes to prepare for the hunt blessing.
On Geanndra’s rough stone altar sat a large earthenware bowl of freshly slain bull’s blood, she had been mixing it with red earth and the beast’s bone marrow and fat to form a thick red paste. With this she began to paint over our bodies and faces: symbols of power asking the Gods, Fathers and Not-Fathers all–grant us the power of the bull in our hunt, return us home hale and whole. Her long taloned fingers expertly traced spirals of cold, copper-smelling blood.
“Come now, young Carriontree,” she chided, trying to pry a lightning staff from Dáire’s hand. He was rarely parted from ‘Brainboiler’ (we had named the staff together after I crafted it for him).
I don’t typically make staves, but after his fire staff, ‘Fleshmelter’ got banjaxed in a game of Kickshins, I felt obliged. I had kicked too high in a rage and got Harald square in the clackers–he stumbled, stepped on it and snapped it clean in two.
The guilt was eating me up when a storm knocked a branch from our Briarheart tree, I took it as a sign the Gods wanted me to right my wrong. Geanndra had helped me treat the wood and carve the runes of Meip. Together we gathered the finger bones of mages to spike its end from an old battle pit. It was a very fine staff, if I do say so myself.
Dáire’s original fire staff had been his Mother’s, she had fallen in a raid by the Rage Claw clan some summers earlier. We had taken her body to the Briarheart tree, it’s where we put all the clan members so part of them can be with us again, the pulse of our heart, family and blood.
A branch of that tree was a precious thing and Dáire wanted his Mother to see him on his final test.
My Mother wasn’t here either and she didn’t have being dead as an excuse, but Geanndra knew our hearts and she soothed.
“Your loved ones are always with you, be they in this world or the others. Weapons will not be needed for this hunt, what you need are your wits and cunning… Be like the clever crow who calls the wolf to the kill…” The crows roosting in the vaulted peak of her roof cawed agreement as she finished painting the protective symbols.
“They cannot break the hide so ask brother wolf to help, these markings will protect you should you fail… but you will not fail, be my clever little birds this hunt, together you are strong.”
Beside the stone bowl lay brilliant black crow feathers, a donation from her roosting horde of watchers. She motioned for us to kneel before her and she set to braiding them into our hair. We all had long hair as was the custom of our clan not to cut it until you become a warrior and then only after every successful battle or hunt, beware the hairiest of us they are the most eager for first blood.
Tomorrow should I champion my challenge, I would cut my hair and get my first tattoo (once I had slept off the night’s celebrations that is).
“Fly high my little birds and remember… you are family, Brother and Sister. Today you do not compete against each other, today you are Hunters. Respect your prey… You seek the Minotaur and he is just as clever as you. He knows this land better than you do, he is bigger, stronger than you–even you, Harald, and wiser than you know.
Afrik, Banba, you are the swiftest of any of our hunters. Harald you have the stamina of two; Dáire you are clever and need no tools to channel magic; Locryn…” I raised my head ready to know what she thought of me… why did she hesitate? “... you know the hills, trust yourself.”
She patted my head with her horny old hazel tree hands and sighed, “...Is ait an mac an saol” then shooed us from her hut.
Truth be told, Geanndra had been a little cool with me since an incident when I was eleven and used to sneak bits of liver out to feed the crows in pouches tucked into my belt. Harmless enough right? Except I did this so often the crows started to expect it.
They would wait for me outside the dining hall each evening, calling out when they saw me and playfully diving at my head as I walked to the forest clearing where I would sit to feed them.
Others from the village began to notice this curious behaviour from the crows and asked me the meaning of it. I, of course, ever the storyteller… lied.
I’m a Crow-Caller I told them. Now, it takes a particular kind of person to control crows, I really do not think they ever can be fully controlled it is not their nature and usually Crow-Callers (in our clan at least) are women who go on to become hagravens… but I just blurted out whatever came to mind and everyone believed me.
Everyone but Geanndra. It was the crows calling me ‘Locryn Tasty-pouches’ that finally tipped her off to what I was up to. She caught me one evening slipping from the dining hall with my pouches all filled with stolen shares of meat and she strung me up by my ankles from a hazel tree.
Stolen meats running down my face, I was thankful that the crows were gentle when they came to snap it up and didn’t take my nose along with it!
The clan called me ‘Locryn Lie-tongue’ after that for the longest time… but I never told lies again ...well… not big ones.
“Don’t forget to ask permission from the Master of the Chase!” Geanndra called after us as we marched back to the village. As if we would… impatient we may be but never impolite.
At the edge of the village stood an obelisk all carved in spirals and centrally the stylized figure of a man with great antlers of a stag. It was ancient and had been here long before we arrived.
The stone standing here was a sign that this was fair land for hunting and the reason our Grandfathers had settled here when Durcorach the Black Drake had united the clans and led us all to Cyrodiil and beyond.
We had since circled the stone with a henge to mark the sacred site and a stone altar upon which sat the skull of one of our finest warriors of the blood branch who had died a splendid death in battle. Holes had been drilled into the warriors skull and hazel branches inserted like antlers … bull blood had been poured over it recently, painting the whole thing a slick bright red. We lit the candles on the altar and stepped together towards the obelisk of Hircine.
“We invoke you, O Master of the Chase, in your aspect of Alrabeg the Hunter, to look kindly upon the endeavors of these young warriors, as we praise you by engaging in the hallowed tradition of the Hunt.” Father spoke up with his voice all gravel and kindle pitch … Mine had always been squeaky and weak in comparison and I wondered what you had to do to achieve such a voice.
“Ever do we respect the Law of Fair Hunt, never taking a quarry that had no chance of escape.” I continued, spoken words I remembered, prayers, rhymes and songs were my favorites, especially rude ones.
“Bless us as we hunt, O Hircine. Help us to hunt with honor, Gulibeg guide our minds and feet to be as swift as the quick fox” Dáire followed up drawing a little fox in the dirt with a stick, take his staff and he grabs a stick!
“Let the sport begin!” Cheered Harald.
“Let the blood spill!” Piped one of the twins brightly… Afrik, I think she was the more blood thirsty.
“Hunter and hunted, in a chase to the death!” Banba concluded our prayer grinning with excitement.
“Fellihboh!” We roared in chorus, “We go! We go to prove our might! Although we only have to leap his horns, we won’t back from a fight!”
And off we marched, wearing spirals of paint and less fabric than a nordic bather’s towel, unarmed to find a Minotaur!
Keen eyed and swift footed, Afrik and Banba took point, followed by Harald’s long-legged stride. Dáire behind him eyeing the criss crossing of animal tracks as we passed, I hung at the back with my Father as he kept us all under his watch and scanned the area.
We were headed south to an ancient Imperial site where Minotaur were always to be found at the ruins. Whatever the truth of it, I felt more kinship with these bull men than the Akaviri-blooded nobles that called us animals.
Maybe somewhere across the hills a Minotaur boy sharpened his horns to come hunting me, Alessia’s true heir, hooved and horned. The thought warmed me and I laughed to myself hoping to meet such a fellow.
“You are in high spirits” Father seemed bemused, this was no time for japery.
“I won’t let you down, Athair” I tried to straighten my face into what I hoped resembled sincerity and seriousness, not a common expression for me.
“I know…” A man of few words my old man. He patted my shoulder meaningfully. He’d been distant recently... sad? I thought it was my fault for not being the warrior son he had dreamed of… I mean, I wasn’t bad but… I wasn’t great either and my younger sisters had no interest in learning the feats at all.
Bellicent (3 years my younger) was only interested in learning brewing and secretly consuming large amounts of beer, and Saoirse (7 Years my younger) had turned her back on the Reach completely and said she intended to marry a rich Noble and leave us all in the mud (she had announced this to the village when she was only 5). Father didn’t comment and the elders just shook their heads and muttered about child sacrifice and the old days.
“Locryn … Granddad wanted you to have this.” He produced a bronze torc from ...I’m not sure I wanted to know where due to his obvious lack of pockets! Granddad had headed back north into the Reach with many of the older warriors, doing whatever it is old men do out in the wilds… commune with the old gods? Or just get drunk in a barrow and brag about past conquests more likely.
“...crows…” I mumbled running my thumbs over the matching spiral, beaked bird heads on each end of the braided torc.
“I wasn’t sure you would want it after…” he trailed off miming throwing a rope over a tree branch and hoisting up something heavy before he broke into a chuckle at the memory. He continued in a mocking high-pitched voice, “Athair! Help, Athair! The crows are going to eat my nose, Athair!” He roared with laughter.
“Athair! These crows shall guard my nose!” I Shouted, red-faced.
The others up ahead looked back aghast at the noise we were making and we held up our hands by way of apology, serious hunt faces back on.
Twisting open the bronze torc I put it around my neck as we moved on in silence… I felt powerful and was unafraid.
We soon located our quarry: a lone man-bull sat by a campfire preparing a deer carcass, he had not yet eaten and become sluggish and seemed in fine health simply setting about the common task of dinner.
There were no more of his kin close by to cause us trouble, but we would need to lead him away from the rubble of the ruins; too many tripping hazards, blind turns and dead ends that could cause an upset.
Father huddled us around behind a section of crumbled ancient stonework and with a few brief words we knew our roles and were ready to act.
Afrik set out towards the Minotaur first, bold as brass, she walked calmly right up to him… so we tested our prey.
An older Minotaur might not care that a teenage girl was wandering about his territory in her underwear, but the bull men, unlike Trolls, are not immediately hostile … unless they are young and think they have something to prove.
His ear twitched as Afrik approached and he rolled his great horned head around to look right at her… outrage! We all saw it from our various vantage points.
Afrik stopped dead a grin splitting her face before she gave a little wave and took off in sprint weaving between rocks.
A great bellow boiled up out of the young Minotaur as he scrambled to his hooves, intent on capturing Afrik. Judging by the scars on his face, this young male had come out the worse for wear against his fellows. Probably why he was alone and so angry that he had even forgotten to pick up his cleaver that rested to the side of his camp fire (all the better for us).
She led him a twisting path towards where we waited. She, pumping her arms and light on her toes, while he, bellowing and skidding clumsily after her. Each rock he crashed into made him angrier and angrier––he seemed to be trying to summon the earth magics I had seen them use, but he was unable to concentrate and his fists merely fizzled with red light.
Afrik ducked under a lip of rock to catch her breath and Banba leapt into sight calling out to him. He turned so quickly in his confusion that he nearly fell, but managed to turn the inertia into a full blown charge. Banba, hop, skipped and leapt clean over the charging Minotaurs horns landing in a crouch behind him as he crashed into a tree.
She immediately took off at a sprint towards where Dáire perched on an outcropping. He seemed to be chanting, making signs with his hands. I could see his lips move but not the words. He whipped a rock at the bull, causing him to erupt with rage that forced great spikes of rock out of the ground as he bellowed.
Dáire was prepared. He seemed to almost fly out of the danger as if the wind had just lifted him up and flitted him over the Minotaur like a leaf on the breeze, scoring his feat.
Two down, three to go.
The man-bull still tried to catch Dáire with the exploding rock spires that crashed loudly about him as he ducked and weaved. I saw my opening and ran in, using his rocks as a ramp I launched myself, flipped, just skimming the bulls head as I all but rolled down his back to safety. This surprised the Minotaur so greatly that he at least stopped blasting earth magics… but instead chased after me trying to mash me into jelly with his great dinner plate sized hooves! I just kept on rolling!
Afrik had caught her breath and like a streak of red, shot in, leaped the bobbing horns so fixated on mashing me. The Minotaur was well aware he was being made a game of at this point and was very clearly intent on exacting a blood price from all of us for his humiliation!
The noise he was making… such anger! If he could have caught a hold of any of us then I think he would have just torn us apart.
Just Harald left …
“Oi! Cow-face! Your Mum’s a moo-er!” Harald yelled, catching the Minotaurs' attention whilst the rest of us scrambled for cover… He put his fingers to his temple like horns as my Father had done earlier to tease the children and stamped the ground with his bare feet making like a bull intending to charge…
A long silent moment hung between them… and the Minotaur slowly lowered his head and stamped the ground in response… He meant to charge and it seemed Harald meant to meet him!
We all looked askance at each other while my Father made to intervene should the beefwit really be intending to do what it looked like he was doing… this was not the plan!
The Minotaur charged… Harald Charged… Father charged, too late to stop it.
Harald leapt! He threw all of his weight hard and forward onto the charging Minotaur's head just as quickly pushed himself up and over. Father skidded to a halt with a look of horrified understanding.
Crunch went the Minotaurs spine! As he crumpled with a whimper onto his back, Harald landed heavily and punched his fists to the sky in victory.
“Fellihboh!” We cheered, warriors all.
“Can we take the Minotaur's head back!? Can we?!” Harald asked excitedly, the man-bull wasn’t dead but he had certainly had the fight knocked out of him.
“No.” My Father shook his head laying a hand on Harald's shoulder, “he has been embarrassed enough, it would be a poor death to take a life that can no longer fight.” He sympathetically rubbed his own back as he approached the stricken man-bull.
“Go in peace brother,” he touched his hand to the Minotaur’s back, healing light spreading from his fingertips to ease the worst of Harald’s damage. The bull staggered back to his hooves, deeply ashamed and limped away from us without casting even a glance.
“Gather ‘round Warriors of the Blood Branch!” Father called standing tall on a rock outcropping. “You have completed your final feat and leapt a real Minotaur! Today you stand triumphant whilst he limps away with his head hung low! Do you know what we do now?”
“Uh, return to the village to celebrate?” I suggested.
“Yes, but first we are going to go pinch that deer he was preparing for dinner.” He grinned wickedly and we all cheered again, pleased with ourselves and excited to be returning home warriors and bearing dinner.
The village welcomes us back with much hurrah! We are hoisted onto the shoulders of the older warriors and paraded up and down the longhouses. Horns are blown! Flowers thrown! Then we sit down around the fires while dinner is prepared and we tell the tale of our hunt, each of us speaking our piece, then we tell it again and add and embellish it a bit more.
Everyone crowds into the round hall to feast and we tell it all again along with the other warriors sharing their stories and they only get more fantastic as the night draws on!
The following morning is my first as a Man of the Village. My list of chores will double and I will have more responsibilities. Fifteen is young to pass the feats and I had pushed myself hard. Being born late in the year I was almost sixteen. Had I been born during the harvest I would have had to wait another year.
With my hair clipped short just under my ears, it was extra curly. While the fresh clippings itched down the back of my linen shirt, I waited for my turn in our Shaman’s tattooing chair.
Afrik had crows at her ankles for swiftness, and Banba, Foxes behind her ears for cunning.
Dáire with some complicated runes on both wrists, whatever their purpose, he was clearly pleased. Harald burst forth next from the Shaman’s enclosure; he had a bull’s head on his back and said we should call him the ‘Bullbreaker’ from now on. I laughed and told him not to get any more pats on the back today… It was my turn.
What to get though? I was a blank… My Father had a roaring, black Senche. They had called him the Shadowcat for his ability to disappear in plain sight, his silent step and brilliant black hair. What did I do? Roll on the floor?
Fiach Inkveins, Hag Husband and Shaman called me forth to take the chair as he washed his hands and set aside his bloody tools for cleaning. Long sticks of incense burned and he made signs over them to purify the area. Muttering old words I could not catch, he acknowledged me and poured two cups of tea, handed me one and took a seat beside me.
“You’re Pádraig’s boy… Quite the shadow, your Father.” He smiled sympathetically.
“Aye,” I agreed.
“But today isn’t about him… so, who are you, Locryn?” The old Shaman asked with genuine interest.
I sipped my tea to buy time… but the cup could be endless and I would still have no good answer.
Fiach had a hard dry laugh like a raven’s call. Normally young warriors came in and would only stop talking to take a breath, so sure of themselves and their destiny. I walk the walk of a self important know-it-all, but I can’t talk the talk.
He had a little porridge and herring cooking for his lunch, so we shared it together and talked about plants and animals and nothing, really, as the sun climbed slowly over our heads. We sat in an enclosure of stretched hides all stitched together, open to the sky to make use of the natural light and to let out the smoke from the fire. I was helping myself to my third cup of tea.
“You were born under the energy of the Hazel tree… Aye, even your hair seems to be caught in the Hazel’s twisting energies.” He smirked at my curls and I sat on my free hand to stop myself twirling a lock of them between my fingers––a bad habit when I’m thinking or nervous (winding my brain, Mum says).
He rubbed his cheek thoughtfully, seemed to make a decision and topped up my tea “...bet you know all the stories, mm?”
It was true, I loved stories––devoured them, but did I know them all? No, that was not possible! There were always more stories.
He noted my puzzlement and pressed on, “...along the sacred river of Brena, there are many Hazel trees who drop their nuts into her waters. They are often eaten by her fish…”
“If they eat enough, the fish can become magically filled with knowledge––like the Salmon of Knowledge!” I added, everyone knew the salmon of knowledge, if you could catch it and eat it was the real trick.
“Aye… and should you meet a wounded wolf cub with a thorn in his side?” He asked.
“...Then you should help them because ‘Blessings are won, By a good deed done’.”
He gave another crowing laugh and clapped his hands. “Locryn! Have you considered training to be a shaman?”
I pondered this “...do I have to marry a hagraven?”
“Drink your tea,” he sighed, “...there is a lot of your Granddad about you, did you know? He was not of the Bloodbranch, your Granddad. Not originally.”
I knew almost nothing of my Father's Father, or Athair Críonna Bonebriar. I had met him only a few times when I was very small, Granddad Tierney! Always pottering about in the herbs or the berry bushes. I frowned trying to pull the memory closer, his dark leathery skin and black slicked hair barely touched by old age.
“He came from the Boneshaper clan… that is, until Róisín became pregnant with your Father.” He nodded to himself, “Very skilled in the earth majicks, the Boneshapers––Tierney could sprout a score of little vines in a blinking, weave them through an enemies corpse and send it lurching back.”
Twiddling a lock of my hair I wondered if I could do that? Control the vines enough to manipulate them? A sort of puppet necromancy without harming souls.
My Grandfather in battle, rode a chariot between the fallen––the very air about him crackling with magicka as the dead rose in his wake. Father never spoke of him, I think because he feared him. It was hard to imagine Pádraig fearing anything… especially a kind-faced old man.
“A new warrior for every one of them we cut down… not the best fighter, but clever. I see a lot of him in you… and I’ve seen you growing vines.”
“They want to grow,” I grappled with an explanation, embarrassed and surprised that anyone had noticed me at all (and I chose to ignore the backhanded compliment). “There is a pulse of power running through the ground, running through everything… and when you reach into it, draw it up to you… the vines come.
Maldogor says it is the song of Y’'ffre that I’m feeling, that I can’t hear it because I don’t have Bosmeri ears, but I feel it like distant drumming.” I patted out a vague rhythm on my knee, I never was very musical not that it stopped me singing and dancing at every opportunity.
“Bosmeri ears? I don’t know about that.” Fiach scratched his silvery stubble, he clearly felt my spiritual education was severely lacking. Too much word learning. The old ones would whisper, filling our heads with useless words. We forget the earth bones, the old gods, our spiritual selves.
“There is more than just rigid, old Y’ffre. Aye, he started the song, but all our ancestors joined in, weaving in new rhythms––the dancing skip of a stream to the powerful thunder of our own Brena. When you feel that pull, the power resting deep below: that is the earth bones speaking to you. They will lend you their strength, protect and empower you. Remember that when you call on the vines, you are calling on your ancestors––Ah, ha!” Fiach clapped his hands, a smile splitting his wrinkled old face. “We have found your tattoo, Locryn Vinesinger, Thornslinger … Bonebriar.”
I grinned back despite myself a whole new sense of self welling up within me. To be recognised, to belong, To feel like a part of something greater than myself that stretched backwards and forwards through time. Family, blood the pulse of the land.
“I shall do you two full sleeves of briar thorns, though it will take a long time to complete and many sessions. You will return once a week and we will add to your tattoo and also your spiritual education,” he finished, looking triumphant.
“Once a week?! Will I have time to heal?”
“Trust me, I’ve been doing this since your Grandfather was in his first hunt paints,” Fiach beamed producing a fresh set of tattooing tools from a cauldron that reflected my own grimacing face.
“Is––will it hurt?”
“All the best things do,” the old man laughed and set to his work.
Two hours later, I stood at the villiage’s central fire, fresh tattooing itching on my already swollen upper arm. I wanted to show my Father the start of my tattoo, ask him about Granddad… but I had seen his black riding wolf dashing across the hills, her shadow stretching in the light of the distant guide fires. He only mounted his direwolf when he wanted to move fast and silent. Wherever my Father was going, he was going quickly and alone. He would not be back tonight.
I admit that I sulked, feeling a little lonely to watch the bustle of the village preparing for dinner, tending the animals, cleaning and repairing equipment for the morrow, happy families. Maldorgor, eating what appeared to be rat-on-a-stick, ambled by with his mother. She was talking expressively to Dáire’s father who was a rather brooding and stocky fellow. As if to escape the conversation, the bosmer boy grinned at me and approached.
“Come on then! Show us your tattoo!” He tilted his head trying to make sense of the swollen mess of my arm in the fire light.
“You should have come too, you would have your own.” I lowered my arm so he could better see the outlines of what would eventually be spiraling briar thorns in a deep charcoal ink.
“Nah, I’m a Bosmer.”
“You’re a Bloodbranch.”
“... Naaaah.” He shrugged dismissively and swiftly changed the subject. “So, what is it? Like… curly-worms-like?” He pointed at my ink with his partially masticated rat.
“It’s not finished, it will look deadly when it’s done,” I say mostly to reassure myself … did it really look like curly worms?
“Oh, yeah?” Mal mumbled, not sounding like he believed it.
“Yes.” I already knew this would be a conversation I would be having with every village member.
“––Oh!” The bosmer exclaimed, remembering something important: “Your Mum’s here, she told me to come get you when you were done with all the… mm.” He puffed up his cheeks.
He found my Mother terrifying: yes, her work for Anvil's prefect, Ephrem Benirus, was primarily paperwork and menial tasks, but she carried a weighty sword at all times and knew how to wield it.
Me? I feared her words more than her weapons, and her disappointment most of all.
I quickly sought her out and found her near the village forge, she was having her dappled grey mare re-shooed by the village blacksmith and she flung her arms wide to hug me as I approached only to withdraw as she saw my swollen arm.
“Oh, Locryn...” She frowned, concerned to see her eldest child marred.
“I’m a Warrior, Mum.” I grinned nervously. I should have felt proud, but something was wrong. Was this not what she wanted for me?
“That you are, son.” She smiled sadly pulling the un-tattooed half of me into a fierce hug. She finally let me go and looked me up and down like she was only just really seeing me for the first time.
Ruffling my fresh cut hair, she gave a small laugh as she swatted the crow torc about my neck. “I can’t believe your father gave you that. You were up that tree for hours before I got you down. He should have got you a new one.”
“It belonged to Grandad, I like it.” I shrugged helplessly, I didn’t blame the crows for tormenting me when I hung from the tree. They hadn’t hurt me.
She gave me a long hard look then and turned her attention to my tattoo. “So this is your Warrior Fylgja? What is it? Curly...what are those… worms?”
“What––I mean, no, no it’s not finished yet… It’s briar thorns ...see?” I twisted my arm that she could see it better, what was everyone seeing? Your Fylgja is your follower, your spirit animal or familiar of sorts… did they think me a worm? “It’s more like my Hugr… like my thought, or mind… my inner self.” I struggled to explain.
“Your inner self is brambles?” She teased.
“Well… yes.” It wasn’t incorrect, tangled and not easy to get close too.
Shaking her head she gestured away from the longhouses, “Come, walk with me.”
We strolled together into the stretching shadows of the Colovian hills.
“I received a promotion––a new placement in the Capital.”
“Oh! Well, congratulations!” I blurted without thinking, “Imperial City… that’s really far, though, for everyday work.”
“I’m moving to the Capital, Locryn. Your sisters are as well. Come with us. Become a real Imperial Soldier. You are nearly old enough to join the Legion, son. I could get you the best training––you could enter at the junior officer level, become a Centurion for Leovic in the White Gold Tower.” She nudged me with a big grin, knowing exactly how to press my buttons.
But her words were lost on me as she had hurt my pride. A real Imperial Soldier? I was a real Imperial Warrior. I had not yet fought a war, but my clan had judged me and I had passed. I was a man and she saw me as only a baby.
“... My tattoo isn’t finished. I––I have to stay,” I choked out through clenched teeth, “...what about the clan––what about Father?”
“Your Father and I are separating,” she added bluntly, if a little too bitter, “we have been apart for a while now. I was waiting for your trial to finish to tell you. I know becoming a Warrior is important to you and I did not want to upset you. Come with us, you will be closer to your Grandfather and Grandmother. I’m worried for your safety––making you face a real Minotaur, what was that man thinking! I––”
I reached out and touched her shoulder. If I was a man, it was time to act like one.
“I want to stay with the clan, Mother” I stated clearly.
Her eyes glazed with tears then and she hugged me again.
“I know.” She smiled sadly. “I know. If you change your mind, there is always a place for you in the Capital. Send word anytime, for anything at all... you promise?”
“I promise.” I clenched my jaw, feeling a small sting of guilt, but not strong enough to change my mind.
“That’s my boy,” she murmured, obviously biting back tears. She touched my cheek and pulled me into another half hug. “Vale, Locryn.”
I was at a loss for words, didn’t really know what to say other than, “Goodbye.” She patted my shoulder and strained a smile before I watched her head back to the village. I was left with my thoughts and couldn’t help wondering if I would see her again.
My Father did not return the next day, nor the day after that… It was months later that our scouts saw his black direwolf headed back to the village.
And hot on his mounts heels… RageClaw clan-slayers. My Father's she wolf looked spent, unable to keep her usual pace as the Rageclaw clan gained ground in their chariots pulled by trained bears, through steady pace made up the distance in great lumbering strides.
The war horns sounded and adrenaline shot through me like lightening. The village moved, every Warrior grasping weapons, shedding work clothes, children and animals tucked away… The Rageclaw were child snatchers and clan destroyers… something must have gone badly wrong for my Father to lead them to our home.
I mounted my own direwolf, Rush; a willful red pit wolf and tore out of the village past our own charioteers. Our clan’s chariots were plated in polished bronze bearing the image of the Earthbones and Mother Brena of the river.
The RageClaws preferred rough wood for their chariots––bristling with bone, claw and antlers, painted in the blood of past battles.
“Athair!” As I neared him I could see he looked gaunt, not a scratch on him, although I suspected this was a testament to his skill in healing magick as his leather armour was tattered revealing his Briarheart, pulsing with red magicka.
“Great Mother Brena hear me… Ancestors hear me. Come now!”
Hugging close to Rush I felt the land beneath us as he raced, the rise and fall of his stride. I reached deep, reached out for the Earthbones… and in an eruption of vivid green energy a twisting briarthorn exploded under the lead Rageclaw’s chariot, tipping him into the path of those behind.
The great Briarthorns are like the standing stones, they pulse with power, earth energy, raw and just what my Father needed to put him back in the fight.
The following chariots were forced to slow and swerve out to avoid their fallen clansman and this gave my Father a moment to turn his mount for the attack.
I readied the barbed spear I had slung over my shoulder, I also carried a dagger and small hand axe but hoped things would not come to close quarter blows.
My father went for those that split right and I headed left, Rush eager to run made light work of dancing around the lead charioteer’s bear and I bore down on him leveling my spear. I saw my window of attack I could have ran him through… but I had never killed a man, under that skull face paint were a pair of brown eyes just like mine.
He saw my hesitation and swearved hard catching my pit wolf a hard blow that threw me to the ground knocking the air from me. The second chariot came at me meaning to run me down, I rolled at the last moment ducking behind a rocky outcropping.
Rush at a loss without his rider, pursued the second chariot growling and snapping, he would not be calmed until he had shaken the driver like a rag doll and buried him up to his ankles, head first.
The charioteer that had thrown me had doubled back on my hiding place.
Me, scrabbling to my feet, fighting to draw breath. He, considering letting his bear have me and decided against it. Better to take the kill yourself––he leapt down intending to run me through with his savage looking greatsword as bristeled as his chariot.
Drawing my hand axe and dagger he came at me full force, much larger than I––the combined weight of his charge and the heavy weapon staggered me as I deflected the first blow. He swung again, my arms numb from the first blow. This one nearly sends me to the ground, a brutal kick to my gut finishes the job… I watch his hands shift grip on the long hilt, he prepares for one final downwards thrust...
Hot, dark blood paints my face!
I drive my barbed spear up hard into his stomach, holding it with my toes the full extension of my leg driving it forwards! He lurches with a wet gurgle of a scream, I push him back and with a meaty crunch to retrieve my spear… He gurgles no longer.
I have no time to reflect on what I have done, more chariots thunderd towards my position. A wave of arrows met their advance as our warriors entered the fray. The Rageclaw are outnumbered now, our bright brass chariots unloaded archers and berserkers.
Arcing lightning crackled across the floor from the point my briar vine erupted. Dáire stood beside it, one hand on the vine the other out reaching, Brainboiler held aloft spitting sparks.
The charging bears danced on the electrified earth colliding with their own charioteers, as more of our arrows sought out the drivers fired by Maldagor who stood at Dáire’s side drawing bone arrows with practiced movements. Those two had become a curious team in recent days, their parents were officially together making them an oddly matched pair of brothers.
The remaining Rageclaw finally routed, withdrawing back over the hills, my pit wolf chasing after them until he grew bored and joyously bounded back to us, all wagging tail and lolling tongue.
Leaping atop of Rush I directed him to my Father, five dead Rageclaw warriors lay at his feet … he did not think it too many.
I lent him my Pit wolf to take him back to the village, he was more hurt than he would show, I knew that… When he was well again I would ask him where he had been, why he had drawn the Rageclaw here…
I walked his direwolf home that night and tended to her wounds. She looked like she had been raked down one side by something huge, something with claws like plows… How could that be possible?
It was three days more before my Father came down from the hagraven’s hut to join us for dinner in the round hall.
Dressed in a simple green tunic and footless hose, he strolled in like he had never been gone and took the seat beside me. He handed me a tankard of ale though he drank only water himself and we chatted of this and that, nothing serious, nothing of my Mother’s absence, of my first kill, of my tattoos––no, just of the food, of the young men’s ridiculous first beards, of my own sloppy shaving job… how he had never taken the time to show me how.
As the rabble of dinner died down and everyone had eaten their share, Father leapt onto the center round table and clapped his hands calling the hall to silence.
He told us how he had traveled far North, to speak to the clan heads, to the elders out in the wilds. He was fearful for our village, for our culture. That he had heard everywhere that change was coming and we would have to change or die. The Northern clans thought us weak, that we had become too domestic as bad as the city dwellers, we were detached from the earth, from our ancestors.
My Father had sought out an alliance, a joining of the clans as once we had long ago, that whatever was coming we would face it united instead of bickering between ourselves… the Rageclaw had agreed... but only if we handed over our children and our youngest warriors to their clan.
Which lead to my Father giving the Rageclaw king some choice words, which was shortly followed by the untimely death of one of their favorite warriors at the jaws of my Fathers direwolf as he made a rather messy exit… and was then pursued all the way back into the Colovian Highlands.
He hoped to try again with the other clans, perhaps find a way to apologize to the Rageclaw also. Although they’d retreated, this scuffle was far from over, but since it was his fault he would take it upon himself to right it.
In the following months my Father made many trips North. He took gifts, ale and fine cuts of meat but returned more and more frustrated each time, until the trips stopped and we returned to farming life. Occasionally messagers would arrive from other clans. We treated them well as was our custom and sent them back on their way drunk and fat… though I was not privy to what the messages contained.
Towards my mid twenties, attitudes started to change: I was a warrior now. When called upon, I had stood in defence of Cyrodiil, my home.
But the greeting in Anvil was no longer the warm one I remembered and faces of those I played with as a child would turn from us along the road.
One day my Father and I were turned away before we even arrived in Anvil. The Gold Road had been closed! Impossible! Madness! The main trade route in and out of the capital closed?!?
Varen’s Wall, they called it. There it stood, an outrage on the landscape… Varen’s trade-blocking, tourist-obstructing, gold-sucking, monument to ignorance.
Who was this Varen? Some Colovian Duke’s son? Some Knobby Nobody Noble? We had never heard of him, but we soon found his publications and propaganda… calling us ‘Foul strangers from the North’. Strangers?! We were born here! So was Leovic and his Father, too! We feed and fight for this land and what do you do?
Varen had no more claim to the Ruby Throne than I did; Gold and some loud followers does not an Emperor make.
My Father takes our clan’s elder warriors to Varen’s wall, to breach and give aid to Anvil's Imperial Prefect Benirus and his troops––loyal to Emperor Leovic. Anvil is stranded behind the divide without it.
News reaches the village that our warriors are unable to breach the wall (we never were any good at sieges) and our men have joined other warriors moving North-West. There is a whispering among the clans;
A Reachmage from the North named Angof speaks of a way for the clans to gain power again, to reclaim the lands stolen from us.
Secretly, I worry. I never craved power, I never wanted to rule or own. To claim this power Angof speaks of, are we no better than the greedy nobles we so despise?
Then the news comes... Leovic has been murdered. Stabbed in his throne room by Varen Aquilarios––not in honorable battle... but sitting in his throne room? The whole thing stinks of treachery and foul play.
Varen spares no time in calling himself the new Emperor and Daedra Worship is banned again. The Reach clans are forced off their land or are absorbed into the New Emperor's Army.
I am shocked… gutted… lost. My Emperor assassinated and I cannot even mourn him without being marked a traitor … My blood is treasonous, my culture a plague on Varen’s Cyrodiil?
Who am I now? The poster boy of the Empire one day and an Outsider dog the next!
We wait, knowing Varen’s men will come marching over the hills any day to inspect our little farming village and decide our fates. We are bitter and stubborn, we had plenty of time to slap a facade of Imperial domesticity over our culture but no one wants to do that, we are proud, this is our way of life and always has been why should we hide?
One crisp autumn morning, Maldogor comes tearing over the fields, quick as an arrow on his small Bosmer legs… “They are coming!” He gasps and that is all he need say.
A river of glinting armor is snaking over the hill side… They are coming.
Suddenly, everybody wants to be Imperial. All in a panic our village moves, donning long sleeve togas to cover up body tattoos, tossing table cloths over shrines!
I’m so focussed with trying to bury a ten foot bramble in the compost heap that I nearly toss Maldogor in with it when he tugs on my sleeve.
“Hate to like… bother you, brother.” He grins nervously.
“Little busy right now, Mal!” I huff, still hefting great piles of rotting plant matter onto my hard tended bramble patch.
“Yeah, and you are doing a right fine job and all, but I can’t help thinking that the soldiers are going to be a little more suspicious about all the severed heads… rather than your surprisingly large vegetable collection.” He spreads his hands in a wide gesture towards the numerous heads dotting almost every inch of fencing in the village.
“....rrrriiiight.” Namira’s Knickers! That was a lot of heads! For a moment I was rather proud, some of those I had gotten, and a very large sum were my Father’s prizes he had let me cut off and carry home myself when I was big enough to heft an axe. For a moment I swam into the happier times of my childhood––watching Father hack down invaders and cheering him on from the wagons with the other kids. Huzzah! Collecting up all the heads and preserving them with oils. All spices and camphor and the smell of boiling heads…
“We can’t get them all down in time… What do we do?” I ask aloud, all but tearing my hair out at the enormity of my oversight.
Harald appeared around the edge of the storage shed holding two of the barrels we had been preparing for the next winter’s stout, he had filled both to the brim with heads…. Well, the next stout was going to have a real... head, that's no lie.
“Got all these off the front gates, Loc!” He beamed dropping them at my feet like the legion wouldn’t notice the rest if the gates looked pretty––maybe we could hang some ribbons on the others and call them Samhain decorations for old HallowJack?
Dáire followed behind him, rolling an empty barrel with his staff.
“Perhaps we could just put the barrels over the ones remaining?” He suggested not even sold on the idea himself; covering them would be quicker than getting them all down but it was still a lot of heads and very little time.
“Ah, but it’s a shame to cover up all that hard work…” Harald continued, almost looking tearful at the idea. He pulled a head from the top of one of his barrels holding it by its bone-studded, matted locks for me to see. “You’ll be wanting to keep this bloke though, right, Locryn? Look, it’s your first kill!” He grinned and picked up a second head with his other meaty fist: “Not as big as mine, but not the size that counts though, is it? You’ll be wanting to show your children this right? When you have some that is.”
“If we don’t get those heads down, Harald…” I growled between gritted teeth, feeling my anger hot and threatening to burst forth in my panic, “...no one is having children. We will be gutted where we stand, or marched to Imperial City to be lynched for the pleasure of Varen-May Molag Bal swallow him sideways-Aquilarios!!!”
I snatched up the empty barrel and stomped off to the front gates of the village to see if there was anything I could do, or if it would be better to just pile everyone into the wagons and leave… leave our homes? The crops? The animals? It all seemed like madness.
Our warriors had headed North, our Hagraven and Shaman, with them. We had no leaders, no one to turn to. Just us younger warriors and the farming families of our clan. We could not fight… we had nowhere to run.
My rage and fear erupted and with a roar I smashed the barrel against the front gate and set off across the hills to meet the Legion. No hiding, no lies. I was not ashamed and I would not live in fear.
I admit as I marched towards the soldiers, I secretly hoped they were not coming to our village, perhaps they would pass us by, perhaps they were lost… but as I approach, I see bows drawn, arrows nocked and diamond shaped arrowheads aimed right for me.
I raised my hands to Magnus and continued my approach.
The most fantastically plumed soldier at the front of the Legion held up her hand to hold off the archers. She must be in charge, I held her eye until she pulled off her Helmet and––
“Mother?!” I gaped at a loss, all hope gone, had my own Mother come to kill me?
“All able bodied men and women of age are to be drafted into the Imperial Legion by order of Emperor Aquilarios!” She barked at me, shooting a look that would make a Nord shiver.
“... Oh.” What could I say? My heart fell. I had come out here ready to fight and die… but this? Somehow this seemed worse than I could have imagined.
I was disarmed by the soldiers, no need for my “savage” weapons anymore. We would be learning “civilized” sword and shield fighting where we were headed.
The last of our young warriors were rounded up to join the legion, even Maldagor, despite his protests, was selected and several of the older children.
We were allowed to pack a few personal items and were marched away from our village most assuredly for the last time.
“Don’t worry, Loc.” Harald nudged me as we walked and pushed into my arms a distinctly head-shaped bundle, “saved the important things, yeah?” He beamed, hitching a thumb to another that was tied to his rear belt loop, he pulled his woolen traveling cloak over it and pressed a finger to his lips hissing a sloppy, “Ssssshhhhhh, the Bullbreaker knows where his head's at.”
Here went we, the last of the Bloodbranch warriors ... about to join the Imperial Legion… carrying a pair of decapitated heads in floral tablecloths.
I grinned at Harald then and could not help laughing. Seeing me laugh made him laugh too––simple, honest laughter … I knew there would be little of that in the days to come.
But we were men of the Reach! We were men of the wilds, the land, rivers and sky!
And no one could ever change that.
Written by Jaz