The sun was shining brightly off the snow on this cloudless day; Galmar applied the black paint below his eyes and put his helmet before exiting his tent to address the men. He looked at them as they gathered in front of him once he called for their attention. He knew that once the men found out why they were here; they’d be in disbelief just as he had been when Ulfric had told him a day ago of Meliandra’s discovery. While he hoped the letter that the Breton had come back with was right, he feared this was some kind of trap. The fact that Imperials had been spotted in the distance only rattled his already frayed nerves.
“Alright, you lot of mangy mutts, listen up!” he said loudly. Those Imperials aren’t here by coincidence. Our spies tell us that the Empire believes the Jagged Crown lies somewhere within these ruins, and they don’t want us to have it. But they will not stand in our way!” He looked through the faces in front of him, some older, some no younger than a pup. “I know some of you are ex-legion and may know men on the other side. But remember this.” He paused, making sure all eyes were on him. “They are the enemy now and they will not hesitate to kill you. Keep your wits about you and watch your shield brother’s back.” He saw the Breton in the throng of soldiers; he smirked as he thought of the conversation he had had with the jarl before heading out.
‘Keep her in your sights if you can, make her do the grunt work, test her limits. I want to know her strengths and her weaknesses.’
The idea of keeping a close eye on the thief had made his day and as he looked at her now, his joy was renewed. He addressed the group again, “Ulfric Stormcloak is counting on us to bring him back that crown, and that’s exactly what we are going to do.” He waited for the men’s applause to die down. “Meliandra Valeria,” he called out loudly, “I have special orders for you.”
He watched with satisfaction as she made her way to him as the sea of soldiers parted between them. All eyes fell upon her, watching the petite woman make her way to the front, knowing his putting her on the spot made her uncomfortable. He looked down at her when she finally stood before him. “I’m glad Ulfric made the decision to have you join us and under my command.”
She smirked at him. “Of course, you are. Any opportunity to catch me working with the Empire would make you happy. Hell, if you were to find any sort of proof of it, you’d be happier than a pig in shit, wouldn’t you?”
Galmar laughed heartily as he looked her up and down. “You’ve definitely got a mouth on you, don’t you, girl? I can see why you’ve got Ulfric’s attention, but don’t think that’s going to work with me.”
“And you don’t scare me, Stone-Fist,” she said firmly. “Did you have a reason for calling me up here? Shouldn’t we be heading into this graveyard looking for this Crown?”
He motioned to the elven bow on her back. “How good are you with that thing?”
She narrowed her eyes. “If I weren’t any good with it, I wouldn’t be carrying it. Why?”
He cocked his eyebrow as he said, “I want you to take a supportive position, covering us until we get inside.”
Her eyebrow raised as the corners of her lips turned up. “You’re talking my language, old man.”
“Good.” He raised his voice as he turned and started walking toward the ancient tomb. “Alright, you sons of bitches, let’s get that Crown!”
The steel warhammer crashed down on his battleaxe, the strength behind the swing more powerful than he had thought it’d be; he swore he could feel the vibration rattling down his spine as he swung the battleaxe with the soldier’s side. The resounding sound of shattering bone let him know he had found the weak spot of his enemy’s armor. “Your blood is such a pretty shade of red,” he taunted as the Legionnaire dropped to the ground. As he delivered the killing blow, he heard the hiss of an arrow as it flew past him, followed by the grunt of the Osimer soldier as she fell lifeless to the ground, the arrow embedded deep into her forehead. Galmar looked up to see Meliandra, perched high above him, her bow in hand, an arrow nocked as she scanned the area below. He watched as one by one, she picked off soldiers from her perch.
Suddenly, there was an elven soldier behind her, a sword drawn and ready to strike. He began to call out to warn her but stopped as he saw her drop her bow and spin around, her hands moving rapidly, seemingly blocking her attacker’s strikes with nothing but her arms and bare hands. He watched in awe at the fluidity of her movements, the seemingly nonchalant aura of her demeanor. The sun glinting off the metal in her hands alerted him to the fact that she was, indeed armed. Again, he was awed.
He watched as her fist swung toward her attacker widely, hooking his arm with the tip of her blade she held in her hand, pulling his arm away from her. She brought her fist back toward the Bosmer’s unprotected side; the Breton was sprayed in blood as the elf fell back a step. He saw the elf say something to which Meliandra laughed. The elf lunged toward the Breton, grabbing her wrist in the process. Her arm was pushed against her chest, but she brought her other hand in from below and against his abdomen. She pushed back at the soldier using the full weight of her body as she gained control of his arm, twisting it painfully and instantly forcing him to lose his hold on her wrist as her own blade, once again, found the unprotected area of his side, wounding him once more. With her free arm, she put the elf in a chokehold and, with her now free hand, quickly thrust her blade into the Bosmer’s neck, twisted the blade to the side and severed the arteries as she savagely ripped her knife out his neck. Blood spurt from the gaping wound as she released her hold on him, his life already departed from his body before it hit the ground.
He watched as she turned and walked to the edge of the wall, and, finding a spot she could safely jump to, made her way down to the ledge her bow had fallen to then made her way to him. The Bosmer’s blood was smeared across her face from where she had wiped away at it using her arm. Her eyes shone with bloodlust as she looked at him, a smirk on her bloody lips.
He nodded at her slightly as he walked past her, his voice stern as he said, “Glad you’re fighting on our side, but I still don’t trust you.”
She crept along the walkway, her magic muffling her steps as she counted the Imperial soldiers in this section of the tomb; her detect life spell illuminating their life essence to her eyes. She knew she could easily handle a handful of them before they determined her position accurately, possibly a few more if she could get them on the oil covered floor long enough for her to be able to break one of the clay jars above them that would drop another oil that would combust once it touched the floor. That would hopefully take care of the most of them while Galmar and the others made their way into this chamber from their positions in the antechamber outside, waiting for her signal.
She saw her opportunity when a group of soldiers stood in a group on the oil while one of them stood off to the side and began pissing against the wall. Her arrow flew from her bow, crashing into the clay jar, shattering it loudly followed by a flash of flames as the oils mixed. The chamber quickly filled with the anguished screams of the soldiers who found themselves engulfed in flames. She trained her next arrow on the man who had been urinating, now hurriedly trying to pull his pants back up and secure them while trying to locate their attacker. A moment later, the man lay upon his back, an arrow in his heart, his blood pooling beneath him.
Below, she saw Galmar and the others rushing in, the sounds of steel against steel echoing loudly against the ancient walls. She secured her bow and sprinted down the walkway she was on, making her way to her companions. As she had expected, Galmar and the others took care of the remaining soldiers and were finding their way through the passageways. At one junction, she heard the shaky voice of a female Stormcloak, “What in the nine holds is that?”
Meliandra answered, “Draugr, the accursed dead that still lives. Haven’t you ever seen one before?”
Her voice quivered as she stared at the dead body sprawled across the floor. “No. And I’m not sure I’m better off for it now neither.”
Meliandra chuckled as Galmar made his way through the group. “Steady. A few dusty bonewalkers aren’t going to stop us anymore than the Imperials could.” He pushed forward and entered another passageway. “We’re not leaving until we get what we came for.”
Soon, they encountered more Imperial soldiers and before long, the floors were splattered with blood and fallen bodies. Meliandra smiled as the Imperial body count added up, her laugh echoing off the ancient walls making soldiers on both sides, nervous.
Galmar entered a passageway and his demeanor became more positive. “Ah! The Hall of Stories… we must be getting close now.”
“Oh,” came a gruff, masculine voice, “I’ve heard of this. They say these walls show the history of the ancients who built this place.”
“Too bad we can’t read these carvings. Who knows what secrets we’d uncover.”
Meliandra listened to the Nords speak of their legends as she looked at the carvings upon the walls, feeling out of place. A glimmer caught her eye; she bent down and picked up a claw, much like the claw she had taken off the Dunmer at Bleak Falls Barrow. She noticed the emblems on the back of the claw and began turning the rings. Sliding the talons of the claw into the holes of the center, she turned the center piece, releasing the locking mechanism and spinning the rings around, opening the large door.
She could almost hear Galmar’s smile on his face as he said, “Alright, everyone! Keep your guard up. No telling what we’ll find down here.”
Soldiers picked up their pace as they ran through the now revealed chamber, crossing a threshold that the Imperials had failed to cross, putting the Jagged Crown, if it truly existed, squarely in their hands. They found themselves in a large, locked chamber, seemingly with no way out. “Come on boys,” echoed Galmar’s voice against the walls. “Let’s spread out and see what we’ve got.” His eyes met hers, hard and cold. “Meliandra, do what you do best.” He laughed half-heartedly. “See if you can find some way to get that gate open.”
She nodded and looked around; upon seeing a pathway, she followed it into the darkness. Casting a candlelight spell, she looked around, finding a couple gold coins and some jewelry. She slipped them into her hip satchel and continued on. Seeing a pull lever on the wall, she pulled it and was rewarded with the sound of the gate creaking open.
“That’s done it!” Galmar hollered. “Alright, boys, let’s get moving. We’ve got more-“ Suddenly the sound of sarcophagi breaking open filled the place, draugr stepping out, their eerie eyes reanimated and searching. “Steady now!” the general shouted firmly. “They may be uglier than Imperials, but they’ll go down just the same.”
Meliandra cast a fireball at one of the walking corpses, slamming the creature against the wall, the glow in it’s eyes ebbing to nothing. She turned to see one of the undead approaching Galmar, an ancient Nord battleaxe in its raised arms, ready to strike the right-hand man of the jarl. She cast an ice spike at the creature, stumbling it backward a few steps. Galmar turned to see the draugr and immediately swung his own weapon squarely through the midsection, slicing the thing in half.
In a few moments, the skirmish was finished, and they continued through the now opened gate. As she walked next to Galmar, he said to her, “Let’s hope that’s the last of them.”
She laughed as she looked at him. “You know as well as I do that there’s more to come.”
They walked through a doorway to find themselves in an inner chamber filled with sarcophagi. In the distance Meliandra saw the corpse leaning off to the side, a crown upon it’s skull. She cast a spell and two swords appeared, one in each hand, and walked toward the focal point of the room. She heard Galmar behind her, he had noticed her fixation and followed, his battleaxe in his hands. She heard his sharp intake of breath then whisper, “Shor’s Balls, the Jagged Crown.” She was steps away when sarcophagi started to break open around them. She glanced at the general and said, “I told you there was more to come.”
The sounds of battle echoed off the walls as she found herself in one on one combat with a draugr armed with a battleaxe, preventing her from nearing the Jagged Crown wearing corpse. As she swung her swords at vulnerable spots, she found herself tempted to Shout at the draugr before her but knew that to do so would bring unwanted attention to herself. She finally brought the undead warrior to its knees as she delivered the blowing strike, dropping the body to the floor. At that moment, the crown wearing corpse stood.
“Yup,” she breathed under breath. “I knew that was going to happen.”
The thing laughed at her. She rushed it. It Shouted her back against a wall. As she stood up, it pointed at her, taunting her in the ancient tongue it spoke. She snarled at it as she walked back toward the dead creature, recasting her sword spells. “You’re going to have to do better than that, you pile of dust and bones.”
Galmar watched the Breton in astonishment. She fought with a vigor he hadn’t seen in non-Nords before; this took him by surprise to see, this Breton thief fighting for something for a cause she wanted nothing to do with. He saw that she was skilled with her swords, though he detested the magic used to create them.
Gripping his battleaxe firmly, he joined the assault against the dead. His weapon crashed hard against the back of one of the raised warriors, he quickly brought the two-handed axe down atop its head, the light in its eyes dimming into nothingness. Upon hearing a maniacal laugh, he looked in time to see Meliandra thrusting her phantasmal swords upwards through the creature’s abdomen, lifting the towering corpse off the ground and above her. The glint in her eyes stopped him in his tracks; it was more than bloodlust that rages fiercely in her eyes, it was something he had never seen in all his years as a soldier.
He watched as she pulled her swords out, dropping the corpse to the ground and then cancelled her spell. She reached down and removed the crown, then turned to face him, a smirk on her face. “Good,” he said. “Get to Windhelm with the crown as quick as you can. We’ll stick around here for a while and see if we can find anything else useful. “She nodded and turned to leave; he watched as she walked out of his sight before turning around and shouting orders to the men.