Introduction Note: This story was a great find from one of the authors down at syrimforums.org. The author, Gunnbjorn as he is known, created this very original Elder Scrolls adaptation of Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” with the prologue of his story Viking. The other chapters of this fantastic story will be posted later on, so watch for them and enjoy,
Viking: The Story of Gunnbjorn Skull-Splitter
A man stood upon a bridge in northern Falkreath, looking down into the swift water twenty feet below. The man’s hands were behind his back, the wrists bound with a thick piece of rope. His executioner was masked, holding a giant Axe. With him were two soldiers of the Stormcloak rebellion, directed by a Lieutenant. At a short remove upon the same bridge was an officer in the uniform of his rank, armed. He was a captain. An archer at each end of the bridge stood with his bow in the position known as “support,” that is to say, vertical in front of the left shoulder, the strings resting on the forearm thrown straight across the chest – a formal and unnatural position, enforcing an erect carriage of the body. It did not appear to be the duty of these two men to know what was occurring at the center of the bridge; they merely blockaded the two ends of bridge.
Beyond one of the sentinels nobody was in sight; the roads on either side ran straight away into a forest for a hundred yards, then, curving, was lost to view. Doubtless there was an outpost farther along. The other bank of the stream was open ground – a gentle slope topped with a stockade of vertical tree trunks. Midway up the slope between the bridge and fort were the spectators – a single company of infantry in line, at ‘parade rest,’ their swords and shields on the ground, and their bows inclining slightly backward against the right shoulder. A lieutenant stood at the right of the line, the point of his sword upon the ground, his left hand resting upon his right. Excepting the group of four at the center of the bridge, not a man moved. The company faced the bridge, staring stonily, motionless. The archers, facing the banks of the stream, might have been statues to adorn the bridge. The captain stood with folded arms, silent, observing the work of his subordinates, but making no sign. Death is a dignitary who when he comes announced is to be received with formal manifestations of respect, even by those most familiar with him. In the code of military etiquette silence and fixity are forms of deference.
The man who was engaged in being executed was apparently about nineteen years of age. He was a soldier, if one might judge from his habit, which was that of an overconfident brute. His features were good – a straight nose, firm mouth, broad forehead, from which his military buzz cut comfortably rested atop. His ears were small, but easily visible regardless of his heavy amour. He wore a shaved upper lip and cleft chin, but no facial hair; his eyes were large and dark green, and had a calm expression which one would hardly have expected in one whose head was hovering over a chopping block. Evidently this was no vulgar assassin. The liberal military code makes provision for executing many kinds of persons, and young men are not excluded.
His face had not been covered nor his eyes bandaged. He looked a moment at the bucket his head would fall in, then he let his gaze wander to the swirling water of the stream racing madly beneath under the bridge. A piece of dancing driftwood caught his attention and his eyes followed it down the current. It appeared to move so slowly, making the stream look sluggish.
He closed his eyes in order to fix his last thoughts upon his wife and young children. The water, touched to gold by the early sun, the brooding mists under the banks at some distance down the stream, the fort, the soldiers, the piece of drift – all had distracted him. And now he became conscious of a new disturbance. Striking through the thought of his dear ones was sound which he could neither ignore nor understand, a sharp, distinct, metallic percussion like the stroke of a blacksmith’s hammer upon the anvil; it had the same ringing quality. He wondered what it was, and whether immeasurably distant or near by – it seemed both. Its recurrence was regular, but as slow as the tolling of a death knell. He awaited each new stroke with impatience and – he knew not why – apprehension. The intervals of silence grew progressively longer; the delays became maddening. With their greater infrequency the sounds increased in strength and sharpness. They hurt his ear like the trust of a knife; he feared he would shriek. What he heard was the executioner, sharpening his axe.
He unclosed his eyes and saw again the water below him. “If I could free my hands,” he thought, “I might be able to spring into the stream. By diving I could evade the arrows and, swimming vigorously, reach the bank, take to the woods and get away.”
As these thoughts, which have here to be set down in words, were flashed into the doomed man’s brain rather than evolved from it the captain nodded to the lieutenant. The lieutenant stepped aside.
Arillious Peleus was a young Imperial soldier, of an old and highly respected Imperial family. Being a soldier for the Imperial Legion and like others, he was naturally an original infantryman and ardently devoted to the Imperial cause in the Civil War. He chafed under the inglorious restraint of the ropes, longing for the release of his energies, the larger life of the soldier, the opportunity for distinction. That opportunity, he felt, would come, as it comes to all in wartime. Meanwhile he did what he could. No service was too humble for him to perform in the aid of the Legion, no adventure too perilous for him to undertake if consistent with the character of a kid who was at heart a soldier, and who in good faith and without too much qualification assented to at least a part of the frankly villainous dictum that all is fair in love and war.
One evening while Arillious was sitting on a rustic bench near the entrance to his grounds, an imperial-clad soldier rode up to the gate and asked for a drink of water. His Housecarl was only too happy to serve him with her own hands. While she was fetching the water Arillious approached the dusty horseman and inquired eagerly for news from the front.
“The Stormcloaks continue to scout the wilderness and are slowly destroying all of our camps,” said the man, “and are getting ready for another advance. They have reached the northern part of Falkreath from Markarth, they have put the bridge in order and built a stockade on the north bank. Ulfric Stormcloak has issued an order, which is posted everywhere, declaring that any civilian caught on the roads between Falkreath and Markarth will be killed.”
“How far away are they?” Arillious asked.
“About thirty miles.”
“Is there no force at all near the town?”
“None that I know of. Either way, I am to report to all citizens of the possible danger of going such a route.”
Arillious smiled, “Thank you for the heads up soldier, where did you go to basic? You look familiar.”
The soldier had somewhat of an astonished look on his face, “Solitude, why? Did you serve?”
“Yes.” Arillious replied, “I still do, I trained in Cyrodiil – Imperial City. I am undercover as of now.”
The lady had now brought the water, which the soldier drank. He thanked her ceremoniously, bowed to Arillious and rode away. An hour later, after nightfall, he repassed the plantation, going northward in the direction from which he had come. He was a Stormcloak scout.
As Arillious fell straight downward through the bridge he lost consciousness and was as one already dead. From this state he was awakened – ages later, it seemed to him – by the pain of a sharp pressure upon his throat, followed by a sense of suffocation. Keen, poignant agonies seemed to shoot from his neck downward through every fiber of his body and limbs. These pains appeared to flash along well defined lines of ramification and to beat with an inconceivably rapid periodicity. They seemed like streams of pulsating fire heating him to an intolerable temperature. As to his head, he was conscious of nothing but a feeling of fullness – of congestion. These sensations were unaccompanied by thought. The intellectual part of his nature was already effaced; he had power only to feel, and feeling was torment. He was conscious of motion. Encompassed in a luminous cloud, of which he was now merely the fiery heart, without material substance, he swung through unthinkable arcs of oscillation, like a vast dwemer pendulum. Then all at once, with terrible suddenness, the light about him shot upward with the noise of a loud splash; a frightful roaring was in his ears, and all was cold and dark. The power of thought was restored; he knew that the rope had broken and he had fallen into the stream. He opened his eyes in the darkness and saw above him a gleam of light, but how distant, and unacessable. He was still sinking, for the light became fainter and fainter until it was a mere glimmer. Then it began to grow and brighten, and he knew that he was rising toward the surface – knew it with reluctance, for he was now very comfortable. “To drown,” he thought, “that is not so bad; but I do not wish to be shot. No; I will not be shot; that is not fair.”
He was not conscious of an effort, but a sharp pain in his wrist apprised him that he was trying to free his hands. He gave the struggle his attention, as an idler might observe the feat of a juggler, without interest in the outcome. What splendid effort – with magnificent, superhuman strength. The rope fell away; his arms parted and floated upward, the hands dimly seen on each side in the growing light. His neck ached horribly; his brain was on fire, his heart, which had been fluttering faintly, gave a great leap, trying to force itself out at his mouth. His whole body was racked and wrenched with an insupportable anguish. His disobedient hands gave no heed to the command. They beat the water vigorously with quick, downward strokes, forcing him to the surface. He felt his head emerge; his eyes were blinded by the sunlight; his chest expanded convulsively, and with a supreme and crowning agony his lungs engulfed a great draught of air, which instantly he expelled in a shriek.
He was now in full possession of his physical senses. They were, indeed, preternaturally keen and alert. Something in the awful disturbance of his organic system had so exalted and refined them that they made record of things never before perceived. He felt the ripples upon his face and heard their separate sounds as they struck. He looked at the forest on the bank of the stream, saw the individual trees, the leaves and the veining of each leaf – he saw the very insects upon them: the locusts, the brilliant bodied flies, the gray spiders stretching their webs from twig to twig. He noted the prismatic colors in all the dewdrops upon a million blades of grass. The humming of the gnats that danced above the eddies of the stream, the beating of the dragon flies’ wings. A fish slid along beneath his eyes and he heard the rush of its body parting the water.
He had come to the surface facing down the stream; in a moment the visible world seemed to wheel slowly round, himself the pivotal point, and he saw the bridge, the fort, the soldiers upon the bridge, the captain, the lieutenant, the two archers, his executioners. They were in silhouette against the blue sky. They shouted and gesticulated, pointing at him. An archer had drawn his bow, but did not fire; the others were unarmed. Their movements were grotesque and horrible, their forms gigantic.
Suddenly he heard a sharp report and something struck the water smartly within a few inches of his head, spattering his face with spray. He heard a second report, and saw one of the archers with his bow at his shoulder, the string still responding to the release. Arillious saw the eye of the archer on the bridge. He observed that it was a gray eye and remembered having read that gray eyes were keenest, and that all famous marksmen had them. Nevertheless, this one had missed.
A counter-swirl had caught Arillious and turned him half round; he was again looking at the forest on the bank opposite the fort. The sound of a clear, high voice in a monotonous singsong now rang out behind him and came across the water with a distinctness that pierced and subdued all other sounds, even the beating of the ripples in his ears. As a soldier, he had frequented camps enough to know the dread significance of that deliberate, drawling, aspirated chant; the lieutenant on shore was taking a part in the morning’s work. How coldly and pitilessly – with what an even, calm intonation, presaging, and enforcing tranquillity in the men – with what accurately measured interval fell those cruel words:
” Attention! . . . Shoulder arms! . . . Ready! . . . Aim! . . . Fire!”
Arillious dived – dived as deeply as he could. The water roared in his ears like the voice of a Greybeard, yet he heard the dull thunder of the volley and, rose again.
As he rose to the surface, gasping for breath, he saw that he had been a long time under water; he was perceptibly farther downstream – nearer to safety. The soldiers had almost finished knocking more arrows; the steel arrowheads flashed all at once in the sunshine as they were drawn from the quivers, turned in the air, and thrust into proper position on the bow. The two archers fired again, independently and ineffectually.
The hunted man saw all this over his shoulder; he was now swimming vigorously with the current. His brain was as energetic as his arms and legs; he thought with the rapidity of lightning:
“The officer,” he reasoned, “will not make that martinet’s error a second time. It is as easy to dodge a volley as a single shot. He has probably already given the command to fire at will. Talos save me, I cannot dodge them all!”
An appalling splash within two yards of him was followed by a loud, rushing sound, diminuendo, which seemed to travel back through the air to the fort and died in an explosion which stirred the very river to its deeps! A rising sheet of water curved over him, fell down upon him, blinded him, strangled him!
Suddenly he felt himself whirled round and round – spinning like a top. The water, the banks, the forests, the now distant bridge, fort and men, all were commingled and blurred. Objects were represented by their colors only; circular horizontal streaks of color – that was all he saw. He had been caught in a vortex and was being whirled on with a velocity of advance and gyration that made him giddy and sick. In few moments he was flung upon the gravel at the foot of the left bank of the stream – the southern bank – and behind a projecting point which concealed him from his enemies. The sudden arrest of his motion, the abrasion of one of his hands on the gravel, restored him, and he wept with delight. He dug his fingers into the sand, threw it over himself in handfuls and audibly blessed it. It looked like diamonds, rubies, emeralds; he could think of nothing beautiful which it did not resemble. The trees upon the bank were giant garden plants. He had not wish to perfect his escape – he was content to remain in that enchanting spot until retaken.
A whiz and a rattle of arrows among the branches high above his head roused him from his dream. The baffled archer had fired him a random farewell. He sprang to his feet, rushed up the sloping bank, and plunged into the forest.
All that day he travelled, laying his course by the rounding sun. The forest seemed interminable; nowhere did he discover a break in it, not even a woodman’s road. He had not known that he lived in so wild a region. There was something uncanny in the revelation.
By nightfall he was fatigued, footsore, famished. The thought of his wife and children urged him on. At last he found a road which led him in what he knew to be the right direction. It was as wide and straight as a city street, yet it seemed untravelled. No fields bordered it, no dwelling anywhere. Not so much as the barking of a dog suggested human habitation. The black bodies of the trees formed a straight wall on both sides, terminating on the horizon in a point, like a diagram in a lesson in perspective. Overhead, as he looked up through this rift in the wood, shone great golden stars looking unfamiliar and grouped in strange constellations. He was sure they were arranged in some order which had a secret and malign significance. The wood on either side was full of singular noises, among which – once, twice, and again – he distinctly heard whispers in an unknown tongue.
His eyes felt congested; he could no longer close them. His tongue was swollen with thirst; he relieved its fever by thrusting it forward from between his teeth into the cold air. How softly the turf had carpeted the untravelled avenue – he could no longer feel the roadway beneath his feet!
Doubtless, despite his suffering, he had fallen asleep while walking, for now he sees another scene – perhaps he has merely recovered from a delirium. He stands at the gate of his own home. All is as he left it, and all bright and beautiful in the morning sunshine. He must have travelled the entire night. As he pushes open the gate and passes up the wide white walk, he sees a flutter of female garments; his wife, look beautiful as ever. At the bottom of the steps she stands waiting, with a smile great joy, and an attitude of unmatchable happiness. He willingly springs forwards with extended arms. As he is about to clasp her he feels a stunning blow upon the back of the neck; a blinding white light blazes all about him with a sound like the shock of a dragon shout – then all is darkness and silence.
Arillious Peleus was dead; his body lay mangled on the ground of the bridge, with his head lying upward in the basket next to the chopping block. The executioner rested the axe there for but a few seconds before eventually lifting it.
Thank you very much for reading the prologue to my first ever fan fiction. I really hoped you enjoyed it as much as I did writing it. As some of you may know, I am an avid Role-player on these forums. When I first joined the site on September 2nd, 2011, I came in with the sole purpose of role-playing. I knew I would only use one Role-play character, and for that I made his name my username – Arillious. For the people who have read the Roleplays or have roleplayed with me, you would know that Arillious was a young, bone-headed hot head who loved to partake in verbal and physical conflict. However, as much as I enjoy role-playing with him, I decided to come up with a similar yet completely different character – a character whom this Fan Fiction will be about. The death of Arillious in this prologue is not symbolism for me no longer using him in Role plays, I just thought it would be cool to have him involved in this story.
I also would like to give credit to Ambrose Bierce, the author of “An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge”. For those not into older english literature, it is a great book. I borrowed the mold of that story, and gave it a slight Skyrim spin-off, I highly recommend you read it.