Chapter 5: Wilderness Challenge

The next day, first thing after breakfast, I grab my gear and head out to the Jorrvaskr training yard.  If yesterday’s hunting trip demonstrated anything, it’s that I definitely need to practice my hunting skills.  The last thing I want is to be at the mercy of another malevolent moose.

I was hoping I’d have the yard to myself, but several of the Companions are here ahead of me — specifically Farkas, Vilkas, and Skjor.  I haven’t seen much of Skjor yet as he seems to keep to himself, but he’s one of the elders and very much respected within the ranks.  Great.  So now most of the veteran Companions are about to witness my ineptitude with basic weaponry.  I almost turn around and go right back inside, but that’s not going to help me next time I have to face down an angry beast.

Steeling my resolve, I position myself at the far end of the yard for some target practice.  As soon as I pull out my bow and line up my shot, all three of them stop what they were doing and give me their full attention.  Right, that’s fine.  Just stare at me while I’m trying to focus.  No pressure or anything.

Don't you guys have something better to do?!
Don’t you guys have something better to do?!

I decide to pretend they aren’t there (especially Farkas) and concentrate on the target. I fire off arrow after arrow, trying to practice good breath control.  Inhale… draw and anchor.  Exhale… aim and release.  Next arrow.  In, draw.  Out, loose.  I fire off an entire quiver this way, and ignoring my spectators, casually walk up to the target.

Not exactly Robin Hood, but it'll do.
Just call me Maid Morien.

Seeing the neat line of arrows straight up the middle in a relatively tight group, I’m pleased with myself.  I only missed a couple of shots — all the rest are stuck firmly in the target.  Behind me, Vilkas makes a sort of grunt that I interpret as approval.   I hear him make his way back inside as I pull out my arrows.

Skjor walks up as I turn around.  He nods at me.  “Not bad, but you still need to prove yourself, whelp.”  His face is as stern and unyielding as the mountains, but in his eyes there’s a glimmer of acceptance.   My face grows warm as I flush with relief and satisfaction.  He turns on his heel and follows Vilkas.

Now it’s just Farkas and me.  He flashes me a wide grin and I feel myself grinning back.  Suddenly the sunshine seems wonderfully warm and the sky is blue and beautiful.  He raises an eyebrow as if to say so what’s next?

Pulling out my sword, I approach one of the target dummies that line the wall of the yard and raise my shield.  I hack and slash, feint and jab, occasionally bashing my shield in the dummy’s face.

Not sure who looks more intimidating: me or the dummy.
Not sure who looks more intimidated — me or the dummy.

Even though this is good practice, I’m starting to regret putting away my bow.  In comparison, this type of combat takes a lot more effort, and soon I’m panting and dripping with sweat.  Nice going, Morien.  I’m sure this looks very attractive.  It also doesn’t help that I’m a lot less confident about my mêlée skills.

Despite my best efforts, my self-consciousness starts to get the better of me and pretty soon my technique starts to slip.  Out of the corner of my eye, I can see Farkas approaching behind me as he unsheathes his own blade.  He comes to a stop just behind me and leans over my shoulder.

OHAI FARKAS NO DECAPITATIONS KTHX
OHAI FARKAS NO DECAPITATIONS PLS KTHX

“Take it easy there, sister,” he says gruffly.  “You gotta pace yourself.  Line up your strikes just like you lined up your shots.  You can’t just throw yourself at the enemy and forget about defense.  Raise that shield arm.  Fight smart, and make every blow count.”

I nod, mostly because I’m out of breath, and he coaches me a bit more.  But it’s obvious I’m wiped, and pretty soon Farkas indicates that we should stop before I overdo it.  I stammer out my thanks, and fortunately he interprets my breathlessness as fatigue.   He’s not wrong, either… just not entirely correct.

Feeling that I could really use a nice quiet stroll to soothe my jangled nerves, I meander through the Wind District.  As the main residential section of Whiterun, it’s quieter than the marketplace and at this time of day, the streets are empty save for an occasional guard.  It’s a good time to think of my next move.

Clearly I’m going to need all the help I can get in order to complete Aela’s assignment.  The other Companions are busy with their own tasks, so unless I can find a useful ally somewhere else, it’s all up to me.  I’ve recently improved my armour and it’s barely broken in.  On the other hand, my weapons could certainly use an upgrade.  My bow was last held by a now-deceased soldier and it was probably worn when he got it.  My sword isn’t much better.  Time to visit Adrienne again.

As I turn and head to the forge, I hear the patter of tiny paws behind me.  It takes awhile to register as I’m still thinking things over, but eventually I look behind me and realize I’ve made a new friend.

You got competition, Mr. Wuffles.
You’ve got competition, Mr. Wuffles.

Adrienne comes around the forge and flashes a smile as she notices the little fluffball at my feet.  “Fenrir!” she says in a tone that’s half-scolding, half-amused. “Where have you been?  Half the marketplace is looking for you!”   The fluffball gives her a saucy little yip in reply, and she laughs.

“He’s quite the cheeky one,” I say as she bends down to scratch his head.  “Is he yours?”

“Oh no,” she says.  She goes on to explain how Fenrir belongs to no one, or rather, to everyone in Whiterun.  It seems that he’s quite the free spirit.  He mostly hangs out in the marketplace, socializing and loving the attention.  The food vendors give him scraps and all the children carry treats for him in their pockets.  Seeing his fat little belly and happy doggy grin, I can well believe it.

We fuss over the puppy some more before a couple of kids run by, and Fenrir takes off after them, yipping excitedly.  After hearing that I intend to do more hunting, Adrienne talks me into trading in my sword for a steel mace, as a bludgeoning weapon leaves less marks on animal hides.  She also demonstrates some general bowyer techniques, and in the end I craft myself a bow that I’m quite proud of.

So it looks like a bunch of sticks -- but it's MY bunch of sticks.
It may look like a bunch of sticks — but it’s MY bunch of sticks.

It occurs to me that my backpack may not have enough room if I plan to get serious about hunting, so I buy some leather from Adrienne and craft a few belt pouches.  I figure I can use them for emergency supplies as well as alchemy ingredients.

A girl needs more than one purse!
Fact: A girl needs more than one purse.

I’m feeling much more prepared, but after yesterday’s embarrassing and nearly fatal moose encounter, I decide to seek out some advice from other hunters.  Most of them hang out at the Drunken Huntsman, so that’s my next stop.

Inside, it’s pretty quiet.  Not too many people are around this early in the day, and those who are mostly seem to be nursing hangovers.  The proprietor is behind the counter selling hunting supplies, but I can’t really see anything that my visit to Adrianne didn’t already provide.  I’m about to head back out when I spot a dark elf sitting in the corner, keeping a level eye on the entire room.  She looks lean, agile, and vaguely dangerous.  Figuring I have nothing to lose, I approach her to see if she cares to help me out.

You want HOW MUCH?!
Just who do you think you are?!  (Definitely more badass than me.)

You’ve got to be kidding.  500 gold?!  That’s a lot of furs!  Why not just ask for your own tavern and all the mead you can drink?  At least I have a chance of providing that… if I ever make it back to High Rock.

But even as I’m inwardly protesting, my mind is working it out. I suppose I could craft some leather goods if I’m successful at hunting, and I could always gather some plant materials for extra alchemy ingredients.  As I run through the possibilities in my head, the sum becomes less outrageous and more of a minor inconvenience.  Fine, lady!  You’re on!  I’ll be back with 500 gold or die trying!

I head outside the city gates and start my hunt.  Fortunately it’s not even noon yet, so I’m hoping I can bag some decent game before it gets dark.  I head toward a small grove of trees that gives me a little bit of cover, and almost immediately I spot a deer.  However, this deer is already being hunted — by a wolf.  On the spot, I develop a brilliant new strategy:  Let the wolf finish its hunt first, and then shoot the wolf.  Double the game for half the effort!  What could possibly go wrong?

Why Mr. Wolf, what a big fur coat you have! I'll just
Why Mr. Wolf, what a big fur coat you have!  (Mine now.)

For once, it works exactly as planned.  I guess the wolf received several kicks to the head because I manage to kill it fairly easily.  I put away my weapons and pull out my hunting knife with a small sigh.  I’m less enthusiastic about all the skinning and butchering I have to do, but at least this time I’m not already exhausted before I start.

The deer takes longer to process, but way less time than the moose did.  I must be getting better at this because I actually get usable furs from both animals.  I take a break for a late lunch but there’s still plenty of daylight left, so pretty soon I’m back on the hunt.  I spot some movement off in the distance and head toward it… then I quickly drop to a crouch.

That does not look good.
I’ve got a bad feeling about this.

Something’s on fire?  That could be bad with all this dry grass around.  No wait, there are two fires… but it looks like the first fire blasted flames at the second?  And now it’s spun around and frying something else.  Yikes.  That’s some serious burninating.  What does that?  I’m pretty sure I don’t wanna know, except… oh, crap.  It’s spotted me.

Curse that blue sky. Where's a good rainstorm when you need it?!
Where’s a good rainstorm when you need one?!

I get hit with a fireball (OW!) and instinctively start shooting at the scary burning thing.   This makes no logical sense since my mostly-wooden arrows should just turn to ash on contact, but amazingly it works.  The living flame falls to the ground and explodes.  Fortunately I’m well outside the blast radius, so after all the fires die out, I cautiously approach.

You could say it died in a blaze of glory.
You could say it went out in a blaze of glory.

I carefully extract what looks like alchemy materials, but I decide not to test them using standard methods right now.  I expect it might give new meaning to the term “heartburn”.  After it cools down a bit, I slip the fire salts into one of my leather pouches and check out the second scorched corpse.

And this, kids, is why you should never play with fire.
Ouch, hon.  Major burn.

Whoops.  Well, that happened.  Y’know, I’m rather glad I can only summon Mr. Wuffles.  He seems to be much less hot-tempered.  Not to mention inflammatory.

There’s not much on the corpse but I strip it anyway.  Every gold piece helps.  The third corpse is a wolf, which except for some scorches to the face is reasonably intact.  I skin it and get another decent fur.  Not bad!

You could say we really saw the fur fry. (Last fire pun, I promise.)
Yep, we really saw the fur fry. (Last fire pun, I promise.)

I’m pretty pleased with my haul so I start heading back to town.  On the way, a deer dashes right across my path and stumbles as it runs headlong into a pile of boulders.  It’s too good of an opportunity to pass up, so I take aim and shoot.  It panics and tries to backtrack, but it’s too late.  A couple of arrows later and it hits the ground.  Huh, well, that was easy.

Anyone for venison shish-kebab?
Anyone for venison shish kebab?

Suddenly there’s an angry growl behind me.  Yikes!  Make that two angry growls!  I don’t even look; I just start running.  I head straight for the watchtower, hoping for some help from the guards, but the beasts behind me are fast.  And they bite.  A lot.  Soon my health is hanging by a thread that’s getting thinner by the second.  A wall blocks my path but there’s no time to avoid it.  I turn and wildly bash my mace into a ferocious double-headed furball.

Waaayyy too close!
Waaayyy too close!

Where the hell were those guards?!  I was thisfreakingclose to being wolf chow.  Great, they’ve actually been up on the ramparts cheering.  Thanks for nothing, assholes!

Well, no point in wasting a couple of perfectly good kills.  I field dress the pair and take everything I can extract.  Hmm, I’ve actually got quite the pile of furs now, and it’s getting dark out here.  It’s also rather chilly and I’d rather not hike all the way back to town in the freezing cold.  I decide to find a place to spend the night and break in my camping gear.

I head toward some trees that promise to be a good source of firewood.  I’m carrying some wood with me, but not quite enough to start a fire.  Man, these furs are heavy.  Sure is getting cold fast.  I’d better start chopping and hope I don’t get too chilled, or… wait a minute.  I have an idea.

Sometimes I amaze myself.
Sometimes I amaze myself.

In minutes, I’ve assembled a makeshift portable tanning station.  Perfect.

And fully transportable, too.
Yeah, I know.  I’ve got a nice rack.

I really need a new cloak, as the one I have is somewhat threadbare.  Like my old bow, it was last used by a now-deceased soldier and had already seen some hard use by the time I inherited it.  Wolf furs aren’t worth a lot anyway, so I’m not even losing out on much gold.  Besides, with the crazy day I’ve had, I feel like I’ve earned a bit of luxury.

Now that looks cozy.
Now that looks cozy.

As the cloak settles around my shoulders, I feel warmer already.  I chop down some more wood and build a campfire close to a rock wall.  There’s a flat area nearby that will do just fine for setting up my tent.

I unroll the tenting kit and examine the pile of fur, bedding, and wooden poles.  Huh, this looks a bit complicated.  Where’s that beginner’s manual?

If only hunting came with clear instructions.
If only hunting came with such clear instructions.

By the time it’s completely dark, I’ve set up my home away from home.  My cloak makes for a comfy bedroll lining, and the fur tent is blissfully warm.  I’m feeling pretty pleased with myself as I eat some of my provisions and settle down for the night.  Another day gone by in Skyrim and I’m not dead yet!  I smile even as my eyes start to close.

I bet many wolves were harmed in the making of this tent... and that's just fine by me.
I bet many wolves were harmed in the making of this tent… and that’s just fine by me.
Hunting Grounds 2.
Hunting Grounds 2.

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