Battle of Fort Dunstad (Part III)
"The fool!" Drubgurz yelled as he sealed the door of the fort with such strength that the slam was loud enough to drown out his voice. This time, it wasn't just a move to keep up his brutish mask. The action helped reinforce that aspect, but he was truly furious. Despite going through such a dire situation, the Blade still refused to change his honourable ways. One bad move and he could lose his life, yet he chose to follow his petty ideals of morality.
Morality never got anyone anywhere. The great founder of the Empire, Tiber Septim, was not a good man. He was a great man, precisely because he transcended above notions of good and evil. Drubgurz had read all the books there were to read about the Empire- that was why he had idolized them so much in his youth. He knew that Tiber Septim was not the saint the Imperial priests and historians made him out to be. He did bring peace to a world in chaos, and in the process he also committed terrible atrocities. Today, the Empire regarded him as a hero, not because he abided by some restricting code but because he was powerful.
Power wouldn't matter if Drubgurz didn't make it out of the fort with his life though. For the moment, his attention still needed to be focused on surviving. He motioned for the men and women who had made it into the fort to continue following him, but just as he turned to lead the way, he came face-to-face with the Nord leader of the bandits. Despite his age, he was still a large and intimidating man, his stature almost matching Drubgurz's own. The Nord looked even angrier than he was, and for a moment Drubgurz feared that the bandit had discovered his plot. Of course, the answer to the man's fury was obvious as he bellowed out his order.
"About time Drub! The damn Legion is probably here for you and your men so you better help us hold this fort!"
Now that was a true fool. The old man must've not even seen what he was up against! He was wearing his armour and carried a large battleaxe in addition to the small war axe he usually kept by his side, which meant that he and the men with him must have been equipping themselves the whole time. They may have glanced out the windows and seen a few of the horsemen and archers, but they had no idea of the size and discipline of the Imperial force they were facing. The Nords would never stand a chance, and Drubgurz didn't even have to send them to their deaths. They were heading right for it themselves. All Drubgurz had to do was make sure he didn't get pulled along with them.
"You got people upstairs?" Drubgurz inquired.
"No need," the old man replied. "The commander's room has been blocked off forever and the trapdoor's buried under the snow by now. Removed the ladder just in case but they're never gonna find the entrance. We just need to keep them out of this door."
"Probably a good idea to get somebody to keep an eye out in case they do stumble upon it," suggested the Orc.
"Whoever's the worst fighter here, that's your job."
"We were caught unaware out there. We'll all be the worst fighters if we don't get geared up," Drubgurz asserted.
"Fine! But make it quick," the Nord relented with a grumble.
With a wave of his hand he motioned for the ones who had just entered the fort to follow him deeper inside. He always enjoyed the gesture- it gave him a feeling of power and control. He had been meaning to do it before he ran into the true leader of the bandits, but now that he had permission to lead them he was free to give the command. The main section of the fort was not particularly big, especially with the commander's quarters being blocked off from the rest of the area. They soon reached the makeshift armoury, where they stored the stockpile that they were known for.
They had various sorts of weapons and armour, from rougher ones the bandits had forged themselves to worn ones looted off enemies, but most notably and the finest of them all was the pristine Imperial gear. Most of the ex-legionnaires were not fond of wearing their old armour, but they had retained it all due to the quality of their craftsmanship. Drubgurz counted that five of the seven who came into the fort with him were his old men- three Imperials, one Redguard and one Dunmer. The two others were Nords who were loyal to the old man.
Grabbing a warhammer from a weapons rack, Drubgurz turned as if he was preparing to hand it over to someone, then suddenly thrust it in the face of the larger of the two Nords. The force of the impact knocked him out instantly. Everyone froze silently, unsure of how to react to the unexpected move, and Drubgurz took advantage of that. He thrust the hammer into the stomach of the second Nord just hard enough to stun him, forcing him to hunch over. The Orc moved behind the man, swinging the handle of his weapon over the Nord's neck before pulling it back to lock him in a choke hold. The Nord gripped the warhammer to struggle free, but in his weakened state he was no match for the strength of the Orc.
"Drub! What are you doing?" one of the Imperials finally exclaimed.
"Getting us out of here," Drubgurz responded as he continued to choke the man, the action taking little effort now that the Nord was beginning to slip into unconsciousness. "I won't kill them, just need them out of the way so they can't call that boss of theirs."
"He's our boss too, you know?" an Imperial woman said.
"Yeah, and he's gonna be a boss in Sovngarde soon," the Orc remarked. "You can try to join him if you like but I'm pretty sure none of us are welcome there. Look, we owe him no loyalty. We gave him our swords and he let us stay, that's all."
"So what is this brilliant plan of yours?" the Dunmer asked. "Stab the old man in the back and then hope the Legion won't kill us?"
"Not exactly," Drubgurz smirked his usual toothy smirk as he let the Nord drop and waved dramatically around the room. "We got our old armour. We all know what it's like in the chaos of a battle. No one's got an eye on every single legionnaire. We look like the Legion and then hope they won't kill us."
"That...actually makes sense," the third Imperial agreed, and soon the rest of the group was slowly nodding as well.
"I've led you this far," Drubgurz continued. "We've lost people, but that's inevitable. You stuck with me and you survived. This way, we'll keep breathing another day. Trust me, it's our best chance."
"It's a slim chance," the Dunmer was the last to agree. "But it may be only one."
"Get dressed then. Whoever finishes first, get the ladder back into position."
And so the ex-legionnaires retrieved their armour from the place where they had been untouched for many months now. The well-crafted Imperial steel had not rusted, though many of the blades had seen use without being properly sharpened afterwards. Drubgurz brushed the obvious cobwebs off his plate armour; the rest of the dust was actually difficult to distinguish from snow and made it look like he had been in the storm as long as the marching soldiers should have. His Legion training kicked in as he put it on and despite the weight of the metal he quickly swung it over his shoulders like it was nothing, then began to methodically buckle the straps. After finishing with his armour, he grabbed an infantryman's metal helm and a simple Imperial sword to ensure he would look like a legionnaire without attracting too much attention.
Several of the others who had chosen light leather armour finished before him, and when Drubgurz reached the trapdoor they had already found and raised the ladder. As they waited for everyone else, he instructed the Imperial woman to climb up and check whether or not it was safe for them to ascend. Drubgurz waited anxiously, expecting any minute for the woman to drop with an arrow through her skull. This was the part of his plan that relied the most on luck, and he didn't like his fate to be out of his hands. Many in this time would pray, but Drubgurz was not that kind of person.
His confidence in his plan paid off when the woman returned with an affirmative nod, "The coast is clear. Some archers are putting up a fight over at the tower and they're drawing all the attention on the upper level."
"Let's move while it lasts," Drubgurz suggested. "We should split up when we make it outside, less likely for someone to notice that we're not one of theirs that way. Move with the Legion if you have to, but get away from them as soon as you can. The longer we're in the company of real legionnaires, the higher our chances of being exposed. You all know where the meeting point is."
One by one they climbed up out of the fort. Drubgurz let three of the others leave first and when it came his turn to use the ladder, he waited for a moment, leading to anxious glances from the rest who still remained inside. Six soldiers suddenly coming out of a trapdoor at once was more likely to be spotted than three at a time. The sound of shouting and metal clanging began to echo through the halls, meaning the Legion had probably broken down the door and the Nords were making their last stand. Satisfied that he had stalled enough, he finally grabbed one of the ladder's rungs and made his way one step closer to surviving.
The icy wind was a welcome feel on his face as Drubgurz finally emerged on the top of the fort walls. He was planning to head for the stairs to his left, on the western side of the palisade which was untouched by the fires. However, his attention was drawn across the courtyard to where the archers fought, which was now more of a retreat. The bandits were falling quickly to the Legion's barrage, but he could make out one man who stood his ground, visible only by a large round shield between the Imperial arrows and their targets. That was all he had to see to understand what was happening.
He needed Cato. He had tipped off the Legion so he could control the bandit group and have a chance at securing Cato's skills for training and hardening them. The Legion came in greater force than he had expected them to muster so soon after the war with the Aldmeri Dominion, and only a handful of his men was going to make it alive. Drubgurz was not as keen to die as the ex-Blade, but he was not a coward who never took any risks. This whole scheme was a risk, and the only way for it to pay off now was if he could get Cato on side.
Grunting at the Blade's stubbornness, he turned towards the stone steps at the other side of the walls. As Drubgurz descended into the courtyard he saw the shield drop to the ground and feared the worst, but then he witnessed the shield's owner being towed inside by another figure. This gave him not only hope, but also an idea. In the courtyard near the tower, one of the Imperial archers lay with an arrow through his stomach. Drubgurz ran to him, yanking the soldier's jacket and dragging him towards the door to the prison area of the fort with the appearance of dragging a fellow legionnaire to safety.
As he expected, the entrance was bolted shut, but Drubgurz was all too aware that this door only had a simple lock and a plank which could be placed across it. The large Orc slammed his body into it and his heavy weight, augmented by the armour he now wore, was too much for the wooden door. It burst open and he quickly ducked inside, bringing the wounded Imperial with him. He moved the man out of view from the doorway before proceeding to strip his armour, the Imperial too delirious to notice what was going on. The equipment was bloodied, but in the middle of a battle that was a common sight on the garb of a fellow soldier. Once Drubgurz had all the gear that was required, he put the man out of his misery by sliding his sword across his neck.
With the armour in hand Drubgurz sheathed his blade and hurried up the prison tower. He only made it halfway up the staircase before he saw a figure in the candlelight. It had spotted him as well and reached for what he presumed was a weapon. Drubgurz yelled for them to wait- if it was a legionnaire they would be fooled at least for a moment by his armour, and if it was one of the bandits they would recognize his voice. The figure did indeed freeze, and then she spoke with a voice familiar to him as well.
"Drub? Is that you?" Asa asked.
"It's me," he answered. "Armour's to fool the Legion, think it's doing pretty well. Where's Cato?"
"Over here," the Nord woman motioned to a landing in the middle of the staircase where the Blade was sitting. Drubgurz could see that his shoulder was bloodied and a trail of red ran down his arm- an arrow wound to the shoulder most likely, a non-lethal wound given that they could cook up some potions or otherwise prevent infection.
"I thought you would've run off by yourself," Cato commented as the Orc took the last few steps to reach him.
"Can't say I didn't think about it," remarked Drubgurz as he dropped the Imperial leather armour before the Blade, "But I said we'd look after you. Come on. We'll get you healed up when we reach safety. Get this on and I'll take you out the fort as an injured legionnaire."
"What about her?" Cato nodded in Asa's direction.
"You're not seriously..."
"I'm not leaving her behind."
Drubgurz shook his head in disbelief, "I can't go out there and grab another set of armour. With the fighting pretty much finished they'll notice me."
"Then I'm staying right here," the ex-Blade insisted.
"Cato..." Asa began when the voice of a second woman joined into the conversation out of nowhere.
"You know with the fighting over you'll probably be noticed anyways. That disguise isn't going to cut it..."