Duty and honour were Orc edicts before the Nords adopted them. Before cities of Man, there were their villages without walls, camps without ramparts to look out of—unprotected, primitive beginnings they were always so willing to forget when faced with "lesser kinds".
I used to look out from the ramparts of the stronghold walls when I had watch. I used to look out to the invisible borders drawn across the Jerall Mountains. I imagined the dark lines of the cartographers ink, where they separated twin peaks and where they decided who belonged where. Up, down, from roaring white to forest greens. On very clear days, I could see Bruma from the tallest watchtower.
I had never been there. I had never been anywhere and even when I joined the hunting teams, we never ventured far from the stronghold.
Often I wondered what the point was, of putting a sword and a hammer in a girl's hands, so that she may forge the sword she would fight with, only to confine her within a prison.
Mother said I was as restless as my father was wandering. I never met my father, but Mother told me he was an Imperial bard, a bloodkin who'd come to stay at her maiden stronghold. He took her one summer and was gone when she found that she was with child. Her marriage to another chief was a death blow, quickly and cruelly dealt. If the clan chief knew I wasn't his real daughter, he never said a word about it but it would explain why he never spoke to me. He took on a fourth wife after my birth. She gave him three strapping sons and a beautiful daughter. There was no reason to pay me any attention after that. I thought I was quite forgotten until it was arranged for me to marry and leave the stronghold.
I watched the sky over the peaks bleed and darken, knowing it was going to be the last time I was able to do so in this part of Cyrodiil. The stronghold I was going to be sent to was somewhere in the Colovian Highlands. Mountain Orcs were rare enough in cosmopolitan Cyrodiil. I wasn't even aware that there were strongholds in the Highlands but I could be assured that the ones there were considered weak. I had seen how the other girls looked at me: some with pity, others with a sneer. I knew the marriage I was entering into was hardly a good one.
One of my half-brothers came to take over the watch when night descended. I left to find Mother waiting for me near the longhouse.
"Walk with me before you go inside," she said.
So, we walked to the silent forge. The embers were still red hot when we arrived. Mother drew a sword I had finished that morning from the weapons rack and inspected it. And she must have seen it—all the longing that was beaten into the arching green blade, all the pain and frustration that I'd kept so well-hidden from everyone—because she asked, "If I let you, will you leave?"
Though my heart beat with sudden hope, my answer was a mechanical and practiced, "I cannot dishonor our clan and our chief."
"I did not raise a daughter who hides," Mother put in sharply. With deliberate slowness, she asked again, "If I let you, will you leave?"
Mother took a newly-made scabbard from the wooden shelves by the armour bench and sheathed my blade with it.
"Go," she said as she shoved the sword against my chest. She sounded fierce, determined, and yet sad at the same time.
"But I cannot—" I began.
"I was a young woman once. I wished to see the cities of Skyrim and swim the Sea of Monsters. But I didn't. Your father asked, but I didn't, and that was really why he left. I was stupid not to go… to stay, carrying a babe that is not of pure Orc blood." She grew quiet, looking away into the distance, and then went on, "A part of me was frightened by the idea of receiving a sword of pain forged by my mother's hands."
Mother paused and then fixed an unwavering gaze on me.
"When you were little, you asked why I never forged anything for you. Now I'll tell you that it was so you may have nothing shackling you to me, or to your people. Take this sword and go with my blessings. Find the first carriage out of this land. Go see the White Gold Tower. Join the Mages Guild. Go to Hammerfell, Skyrim… But don't you ever look back."
Right then, all the years she had spent training me until my fingers were calloused, and educating me until I could craft all manners of potions and recite centuries of eddas by heart, started to make sense.
"At least come with me," I said finally. "The old clan chief is dead now. There is nothing to hold you here."
"Are you stupid, child?" she snapped. "I am not as young as I used to be, and I am the only one in this entire stronghold who can mix potions and enchant a damn sword. I am past my prime, past my chance at adventuring. But you are not." Her voice softer, she went on, "On the day of your birth, there was a strange call in the sky, like thunder, but the day was clear. The others called it an omen and for once I believed them."
She waved at me. "Go! Do not waste this. A fifth wife of some soft chief is not what you're destined for."
"What am I destined for, Mother?" I asked.
It was then that she smiled. "I do not know. And believe me, that's the best part."
She pushed the sword at me once more and I took it, tying it to my belt in place of my old one.
"Go," Mother urged, in a whisper now. "Past the graves and by the mines. There is a small path to a ridge. Watch your step going down. The mountainside is steep. Keep going north until you hit the main roads."
Mother pressed a coin purse into my hand and pushed at me to go. I thought she had more to say, a "Goodbye" or "Be safe", but she turned and started down the path towards the longhouse without another word. I could watch her back and saw how small she'd grown from the ages, but I knew I would not be able to leave if I did.
I had the lightest and fleetest feet of the entire stronghold, and so made my escape quickly without being detected. I found the path that Mother spoke of in the growing dusk—a thin ridge caught between a sheer rock face and a death fall. I gave it brief consideration before making my way down, using a spare dagger to get a grip on the icy face. Foot by foot, strafing left as I kept my body close to the wall, I climbed. Down, down, a dark, fur-wrapped swab against the white. When I finally reached flat ground all I could discern in the dark was a continuous plain of deep snow. I kept a brisk, lopping walk, going north and never looking back. Several times I fell and each time I got up and carried on. It was nearly dawn when I reached my first line of trees.
I took the time to catch my breath, trusting that I was far enough from the stronghold now. It was then that a large shadow washed over me, making me look up in alarm to what turned out to be an empty sky and a quiet forest. The roaring winds were gone and in its place a music like no other made of bird and insect calls. The air smelled of the greens and colours that made it. I thought I could hear a stream.
I decided that I would seek out Bruma and see if I could hire a carriage into Skyrim. Fus was the name of the first running step I took as I put myself into this new adventure. I was laughing, and I had not laughed since I was eight. I didn't know what I was in for, or what I would be, but at least now that the cord had been cut, I had the chance to find out.
I swore not to waste it. I swore on my mother's heart not to waste it.