The aged nordic city of Whiterun rest atop a snowy hill, an old, sprawling place with dwellings and halls of well-worked wood and straw-covered roofs, with stone foundations as old as the earth they rest upon. The great city stretched out across the valley hill, an old stone wall surrounding it's great length. From a distance, it almost looked as if the hill upon wich the city rested was the top of a giant's head, poking out of the earth, it's walls and city an old weathered crown, still gold and gleaming, as if harkening back to it's youthful glory. The city did not end at it's walls, bursting out on to the plains, those who could not afford to live within the walls built upon the land outside, or pehaps it ran out of room long ago, and even after this, farms stretched out for miles in each direction, giving the impression of an endless city of pale, earthen gold.
Indeed, this half-gold city of wood and straw was a world unto itself, a kingly city in its own right, and though indeed the jarls were no less than kings, it had been ages since a true king had reigned here. The horse lords of Whiterun had not worn the title of kings since long ago in the second era, before the age of Talos, before the Empire. Now the kings were jarls, part of a greater whole, no less honorable, no less glorious. Though not all shared this sentiment, there were those who sought to remake the north, to return the land to her ancient glory, those who yearned for the return of the old ways, and the glory of the northern kings.
Those like Ulfric Stormcloak, Jarl of Windhelm, he who would proclaim himself King of all the Nords. He called upon the Nordic Kings, the other Jarls, rallying them to throw off the yoke of the corrupt and failing Empire which had long since fallen from it's past glory, going so far even as to abandon Talos, and yet clinging so arrogantly to it's self-righteousness. It was sick and dying, and Skyrim deserved better. At least that was what the rebel king preached far in the frozen north, from his ancient throne in the Palace of Kings. But now his army of stormcloaks, his tempest horde, lie encamped upon a forested ridge, overlooking the expanse of the city of Whiterun, stretching along the horizon below as it's faint, distant torchlight shimmered dimly under the light of the moons and stars.
It was the 201st year of the fourth era, the 20th of Evening Star; the last night before winter in Tamriel, but in the north, in Skyrim, winter had already begun. The rolling plains and hills of Whiterun were painted white, snow falling from the northern night sky with it's glowing ribbons, like rivers flowing from Aetherius. Perhaps the ancestors and the gods were watching from these rivers, peering down from invisible boats, waiting to welcome their progeny to the halls of Sovngarde, where the honored dead feasted and waged war eternal.
Perhaps Talos himself was watching, Ulfric thought to himself, looking up at the sky. What a beautiful place his home was, no other place in the world was like it. The very air gave an excitement, a feeling of freedom, a crisp and cold freshness that would wake a man's mind and soul. It almost made him feel youthful again for a brief moment.
Outsiders would complain in the summer, they likely couldn't even survive the winter. Only it's people really understood this land, appreciated it like no one else could. She was an old and beautiful place, she shouldn't be ruled over by a foreign people who thought her no more than a backwater, she deserved to be respected, loved as a mother. Do not worry, Ulfric thought. Your children will set you free.
"Jarl Ulfric!" A gruff voice called. "Riders approach! Here come those Imperial dogs!" The rugged old voice belonged to Galmar Stone-Fist, Ulfric's personal huscarl and advisor.
Ulfric looked down from the stars and his thoughts, looking east and returning his focus to the present. Fast approaching were 40 white colovian warhorses, smaller and leaner than those native to Skyrim, wearing gleaming armor. Atop each horse, men and women in gleaming plate with leather skirts and helms with crests of horse-hair, short red capes flowing behind them. They carried the legion standard, flapping in the wind as they rode, a black dragon stylized in the shape of a diamond upon a field of red.
The horses approached in a clean, square formation and came to a halt near the tent Ulfric's men had set up. At the head of the horsemen, General Tullius removed the helm from his golden armor, revealing short white hair cut in clean military fashion. He had light brown eyes under a furrowed brow, a serious man, his face clean shaven and gaunt.
Ulfric awaited him at the large fur tent, drinking mead from a hollowed-out ram's horn. The difference between the men was striking. Ulfric was at least a foot and a half taller than Tullius, strongly built, with a thick dark blonde and brown mane, the sides kept in braids, and a short beard recently grown to keep the winter air at bay. He wore dark furs over a dark suit of chainmail, exhaling white clouds of hot breath as he watched Tullius from blue eyes. His nose and brow were both prominent, and his face was angular with strong features, an old scar reaching down his left cheek from his own time in the Legion. An amulet of Talos hung boldy from his neck, bearing the likeness of an axe.
"We should kill him, you know," Galmar said softly, stepping to Ulfric's side. "While we have the chance. Without their general, we could break them swiftly."
"Perhaps," Ulfric replied. "But it would not be honorable. Whiterun will be ours regardless. We will toy with him yet a little longer."
"They do not deserve honor."
"No," Ulfric said grimly. "They do not."
"We are here, Ulfric, to free Skyrim. Not to play fair with prancing generals."
"I will consider it."
"And if the fool tries the same on you?"
"Then we kill him, and return his head to their camp."
Tullius had been exchanging words with his own men. The two had agreed to meet here on neutral ground. Both armies had been camped near the city of Whiterun for almost two weeks now. Ulfric's army had arrived first, and set themselves up on the high ground, besieging the city, bombarding it with stones and burning oil pots from catapults, and cutting off suplies. Tullius and his forces arrived less than a week later and Ulfric pulled his men back to the ridge, allowing the Imperials to set up camp just outside the city. The two poked and prodded one another, skirmishing here and there, looking to gain any advantage over the other.
Why hadn't Ulfric assaulted the city when he had the chance? Why wait for a larger force to come to it's defense? Tullius had been surprised when his army was met by Ulfric's skirmishers, they had harassed Tullius' army from the edge of Hjaalmarch all the way to Whiterun. Did he really intend to fight a battle here, on open ground? It would be madness, Tullius had the numbers, and more than that, Ulfric didn't have the cavalry to challenge him on open plains like this, especially not if Jarl Balgruuf sallied out from the gates to join the fight. And why bother hauling catapults all this way? With a power like the Voice, he could likely break down the city gates without siege engines. It was unnecessary destruction, he was sending a message.
If Ulfric attacked, he would be at a severe disadvantage, even with the Voice, but if Tullius attacked, that ridge would put him at the disadvantage, his cavalry could end up all but useless. Whichever army took the offensive, would ultimately lose the battle. They were at a stalemate. No, not a stalemate, Balgruuf had already agreed to support the Empire, Tullis had already won. It was over, what was Ulfric doing? He'd all but backed himself into a corner. Unless... could he have put himself in this situation on purpose? Placed himself in a corner and pinned everything on this one battle so that his soldiers would fight to the last man?
Divines! Tullius cursed at himself. The situation was more dangerous than he'd realized. He still had the advantage, a battle would still be winnable, but he needed to be careful, and adjust his strategy. For now, he dismounted his horse. Ulfric was growing restless by the tent, casting glaring looks at Tullius. He approached the tent cautiously with some of his guard following on foot, trying to dismiss the tension in the air. Ulfric's rebels had stopped their idle chatter, and now stared in silence, carefully watching the Imperials as they walked, some spitting at the ground near their feet.
The two men locked eyes, neither said a word. Hanging in silence, measuring their opponent.
"Wasting your gold on expensive horses instead of feeding your men, General?" Ulfric jeered.
Tullius said nothing. He motioned for his guards to wait outside, and entered the tent. Ulfric scoffed and followed. It was much warmer in the large fur tent, there were chairs and a table. Ulfric poured a mug of mead and offered it to Tullius.
Tullius looked at him, confused, annoyed. "We're not here to drink." Ulfric frowned, but seemed to expect the response, setting the mug on the table. "You brought furniture with you?" Tullius was becoming convinced that Ulfric was nothing more than a madman, but these Nords did have a tendency toward strange behavior. They would call you their friend as they stabbed you in the gut. Sure, a Cyrodiil might do likewise, but not at the same time. Perhaps this whole land was mad. "Perhaps you've forgotten, but we're at war. This isn't a holiday."
Ulfric had seated himself. "We're old. Standing and walking about on our feet all the time doesn't suit us." Ulfric met eyes with Tullius, the intensity from before had faded from his eyes. Perhaps the Nord was drunk. "Sit." Ulfric motioned to the chair across from him.
"I'll stand, thank you," Tullius said, voice growing annoyed. "This should be brief. I assume you called me here to discuss the terms of your surrender? Unless all you seek is to waste my time."
"I will not surrender," Ulfric shook his head. "I cannot."
"Then what are you doing here?" Tullius demanded. "What is it you think you'll accomplish? Is it a battle you want? You can't win. You don't have the men for it, we both know it. I have the numbers, I have the city, I have Balgruuf. You hardly have any cavalry, my men are better disciplined, and better equipped. You lead your people to their deaths!"
"I lead my people to freedom! I lead my people to what is right!" The fire had returned to Ulfric's eyes. "If Sovngarde awaits us, then so be it! We will be welcomed with open arms as heroes. We will know peace, and we will die knowing that we gave our lives for what we believe in. I will not tolerate an Empire that does not stand up for it's people, that denies them their rights, and outlaws their gods!"
There was a pause. Those words struck a chord. Tullius couldn't help but feel a tinge of guilt.
"You can dress your farmhands outside in expensive costumes, but it does not change them. I see them for what they are, and farmhands and stable boys will not stop me. My men don't claim to be anything but who they are, nor do I. Your display of horses and pretend legionaries does not impress me, and neither do you."
"They want us to kill each other, you know?" Tullius said, meeting eyes with the Nord. "They're funding all this, the Thalmor. Pulling strings, sending gold and weapons to fuel your rebellion. They want us to waste our men and resources fighting each other. This whole thing, it's just a sideshow of what's to come."
"Then I will make sure they regret their mistake once Skyrim is free. If this war is so pointless, then leave. Take your men and leave Skyrim. Why does it matter if we rule ourselves?"
"Because you fool, it will provoke war with the Dominion! The Empire is not ready for another Great War."
"And when will it be ready? We must be ready now. We grow weaker fighting amongst ourselves while the Elves gain strength and grow bold. They step on all of us and bend the Empire to their will, and what does the Empire do? Nothing! You stall, because you are cowards! You are afraid of failure, you are afraid of death, you are afraid to do what is right! You stall against the Elves because the odds are not in your favor. Is this world ruled by luck or is it ruled by fate and the will of Gods and Men? We stall here for the same reason. My faith in Talos and in my people is stronger than any force. There will be no more stalling. There will be battle tomorrow."