For me, the quest started when I overheard an argument between Fralia Gray-Mane and some of the Battle-Born clan in the Whiterun marketplace. Fralia's son, Thorald, was captured by the Imperial Legion because of his association with the Stormcloaks. The Battle-Borns, staunch supporters of the Empire, cruelly claimed that Thorald died as a traitor in Imperial custody, but Fralia insisted that he was still alive, and she asked me to investigate the matter for her. She claimed that the Battle-Borns knew more than they were letting on, so I visited their house, exchanged pleasantries with the family (I had helped little Lars with a bullying problem earlier), then Lockpicked my way into a bedroom, where I found an Imperial missive:
|The Thalmor are involved? Shocking.|
|It did not work.|
|So, it had even less to do with the Imperial Legion than I originally thought.|
After arming Thorald, I led him out of the Keep. When we were safely outside, he asked me to deliver a message to his mother, then left to find the nearest Stormcloak camp. I did as he asked, and his mother gave me her bittersweet thanks.
Ironically, it was this quest, undertaken on behalf of a Stormcloak family, that solidified my decision to join the Imperial Legion. Stormcloak or not, Thorald did not deserve torture, and certainly not at the hands of the Thalmor. I felt genuine sympathy for the Gray-Manes, as well as legitimate dissatisfaction with the Empire's willingness to roll over (however begrudgingly) for the Thalmor. Ideologically, I agree with the Stormcloaks, but their naivete and single-mindedness actually work to the Aldmeri Dominion's advantage; the White-Gold Concordat is an odious treaty, but by agreeing to it, the Empire bought time to rebuild and prepare for the nigh-inevitable next war. In starting a civil war over the ban on Talos worship, the Stormcloaks have unintentionally strengthened the Thalmor's position. Prior to the Concordat, there were no calls to for Skyrim to secede from the Empire, mainly because the Empire allowed each province to govern itself as it saw fit, as long as it continued to provide economic and military support to the Empire. The Concordat splintered Skyrim, which was probably the Thalmor's intent, but it was the only move the Empire had left.
Jarl Ulfric Stormcloak seems like a good man with a bad idea. Instead of trying to reclaim the Province for the "true sons of Skyrim," he ought to be investing his admirable faith in his men into creating a formidable commando unit in order to take down the Thalmor when the Empire is strong enough to wage another war. Missing in Action not only demonstrated the magnitude of Thalmor treachery, but also taught me that taking out a Thalmor stronghold isn't all that difficult. Jarl Ulfric's inability to see the bigger picture forces me to side with the Imperial Legion, even if that means I will eventually have to spill Stormcloak blood -- something I would really rather not do.