The next morning feels somewhat ominous, and not just because I’m finally going to tackle Aela’s assignment and clear out a den full of unknown beasts. There’s a distinct chill in the air and it feels like rain might be on the way. Glancing at the skies, I send a small wordless prayer to Kynareth that she might hold the rain off for a few more hours. Of course, given that I recently pummeled one of Kynareth’s priestesses — y’know what, never mind! Forget I even asked!
With the skins I collected yesterday, I craft Jenassa a cloak and a fur-lined hood. Those long pointy elf ears look like they could get cold easily. She doesn’t accept them graciously, but she concedes that they might be a good idea.
I also give her a new sword looted from one of the few humanoids I’ve battled in the past week. It’s a curved sword! Curved. Sword.
After I make some tweaks to my own gear, Jenassa says we should probably get going and not waste the daylight. I reluctantly agree with her and we head out. I try to shake off a sense of foreboding that’s probably due to the weather. But now that I think about it, “den of beasts” is pretty vague, and I’m fairly certain I haven’t seen Skyrim’s entire menagerie of fauna. I mention to Jenassa that I’m not entirely sure what we might find on this assignment, but she waves off my concerns with an offhand comment that we’ll worry about it when we get there. Somehow I find her indifference less than comforting.
Crossing the bridge east of the Honningbrew Meadery, we meet up with another traveler. He keeps examining the ground and seems a bit… preoccupied. To put it politely.
After learning that I never heard of the Gourmet, he gets extremely huffy and sets out to “educate” me in the most condescending manner possible. I briefly consider letting my Dunmer ally deal with him. I can see she’s thoughtfully running her fingertips over the hilt of her sword, as if she’d like to test its sharpness on this idiot’s throat. However, I decide that being a pompous twit isn’t quite a big enough crime to deserve murder, so we’re about to let him go on his merry way when a wolf sneaks up and bites him on the arse.
The poor sod screams and flails as Jenassa and I pull out our bows and take a few shots at the predator. In seconds the wolf disengages and both of them take off in opposite directions. We let the pompous twit go, but a wolf is an ambulatory pelt and a decent collection of alchemy materials. Of the two choices, we know which is the more valuable.
The wolf careens down a hill with the two of us hot on its heels. It veers around a rocky outcropping, dodging Jenassa as she tries to corner it. I race forward to cut off its retreat as it finds itself at the edge of a cliff. The wolf tries to turn and escape, but I fire and it drops like a rock, my arrow firmly embedded in its head.
I approach, intending to skin the carcass, when I realize I’ve made a discovery.
The cavern is deep, but not especially dark. I can see a fair way inside. Huh, maybe this won’t be so bad after all. We certainly don’t need torches, and if anything tries to ambush us we’ll be able to see it coming. Feeling slightly less concerned, I drop to a crouch and motion for Jenassa to follow as I step inside the den.
All is quiet at first. Light is streaming in from a hole in the roof and nothing seems too scary. I take a few steps forward when the disgusting stench hits me, right before a powerful roar makes the walls shake. Whoa, I don’t like the sound of that. It sounds awfully… big. And really mean.
I stealthily check my pouches where I stored some of the more useful potions I made last night. Aha, this one might come in handy. I carefully dip an arrow in a vial of oily toxic liquid and step forward.
Another roar shakes the cavern walls, and up ahead I can see movement. Jenassa races ahead, already pulling out her weapons. A massive hairy form lurches into the light.
Wait… is that… oh crap.
I shoot the poisoned arrow and stumble forward to help Jenassa. She’s wielding a woodchopping axe as well as her sword, and she’s busy carving up the troll into little chunks while simultaneously dodging its slow clumsy attacks. It’s extremely impressive, and soon we’re gaining the upper hand.
Another roar shakes the walls… but it’s not coming from the troll who’s nearly at death’s door. Then I see a second shape emerge. Double crap.
The first troll goes down with a thud, but the dark elf is starting to tire and she switches to her bow. We start filling the second troll with arrows, which drives him toward the back of the cave — but he seems more annoyed than hurt.
I summon Mr. Wuffles, and he charges forward howling a challenge. He flings himself at the enemy, who swipes at him in a rage. I ready another toxic arrow, this time one of lingering poison, and I shoot the monster in the gut.
The troll roars and lurches forward, almost running in its effort to get to me. I backpedal and keep shooting while Jenassa and my little spirit buddy continue their attacks. The poison is definitely having an effect and the troll’s health is draining rapidly. It’s starting to look pretty good for the attractive team when, with an infuriated howl, the monster takes out Jenassa and Mr. Wuffles in one swipe. Mr. Wuffles vanishes with a yelp and the Dunmer falls to her knees. Gulp.
Fortunately the monster is on its last legs, and my arrow finds its mark. The troll’s last bit of health drains away and it drops dead. Jenassa stands, a bit shaky, but none the worse for wear.
This deep in the cave, the stench is even worse. I examine the troll carcasses and note with some surprise that their pelts are thick and fairly soft. Huh. I wonder if I can… where’s that hunting knife?
Jenassa watches with disturbing interest as I process the trolls. I draw off some blood, thinking it might be useful in alchemy, before I field dress and skin them. I even butcher some of the meat. There’s lots of it and it’s certainly fresh, if somewhat stringy. In the right recipe it might be delicious, or at least edible. I’m sure it’s at least as “refined” as anything that fan of the Gourmet picked from the dirt.
After I finish with the carcasses, we head up a ramp to the very back of the cave. It’s not a pretty sight. A couple of human corpses are decomposing beside a large campfire and the trolls have clearly been gnawing at them for awhile. Well, that certainly explains the disgusting smell. We hold our breaths as we search for anything valuable.
Jenassa and I don’t find a lot — mostly pieces of armour, coins, a book or two, and a few weapons. One of the bodies has a fur cloak similar to mine, except that it’s thicker and cozier, almost seeming impervious to the chilly dampness of the cave. I decide to keep it. There’s a knapsack in the corner with a couple of potions and a shiny gold necklace, but nothing else of significance. If these corpses used to be bandits, then they were spectacularly bad at their job.
One of the weapons, a bow, has its owner’s name scratched on the side, and it glows with a green phosphorescence. I decide to keep it, just in case I ever run into a guy named Froki.
As we head out of the cave it’s apparent that the weather has changed for the worse. Even though it’s only late afternoon, the clouds have rolled in, the sky is dark, and there’s the sound of distant thunder. We decide to hightail it back to Whiterun before the storm hits. Getting caught in the rain without shelter nearby is a dangerous prospect in the cold Skyrim climate, and a soaking wet fur cloak is about as warm as it sounds.
Of course we’re attacked by a couple more wolves on the way, which slows down our progress, but we manage to make it to the outer walls before the downpour starts. The storm’s been threatening to break for awhile now, so now that it’s finally here, it’s not about to waste any time. By the time we reach the main gate we’re already getting waterlogged.
We enter the city victorious, but also tired, cold, damp, and slightly hungry. The rain pours down in earnest. In a few minutes we’re soaked to the skin. I make a mental note to buy or craft a leather tent at my earliest convenience.
We dash inside the Bannered Mare where it’s warm and dry. While Jenassa gets herself a mug of ale and takes a seat at the fire, I order some mead and head to the back of the inn near the roasting spit. I’ve got a backpack full of raw meat to cook.
Saadia, the barmaid, delivers my drink as I’m opening my backpack. She swiftly retreats from the smell of congealed blood and fresh hides, wrinkling her nose in disgust. There’s something about her that I can’t quite put my finger on. She’s polite enough, and obviously a good worker or Hulda wouldn’t keep her employed. But she always gives the impression that she’s slumming it. I’ve never seen anyone make bawdy jokes at her expense or try to flirt with her, even when they’re clearly smashed. And for a barmaid she seems oddly antisocial. Well, I suppose if she stopped to talk with everyone then she wouldn’t get any work done, and Hulda seems to value physical labour over social graces. After all, she keeps trying to get me to chop firewood!
I take a healthy swig of mead and pull out chunks of troll meat, stringing pieces onto the spit. I’ll be the first to admit that my cooking skills are not very “refined”. I’m sure the Gourmet would look down his delicate and sophisticated nose at my initial efforts, but at least they’re edible… sort of. Palatable might be stretching it. Maybe it’s an acquired taste?
No problem. I just need some more practice. Maybe I won’t roast this batch quite so long. It probably shouldn’t resemble leather. And I suppose I should turn the spit occasionally. I’ve seen people do that and I guess it’s for a reason, right?
Okay, that’s not going so well. Let’s try the wolf meat. I have tons of that… and some of this other stuff that I was going to use for alchemy. Maybe I’ll try grilling this instead, and kind of smoosh up the plant material and slap it on. Hrm, I think I might be onto something this time.
By the time I finish cooking and sampled the more appetizing results, I’m warm and happy with a belly full of mead and wolf chops. I’m not inclined to head back out into the wet weather, nor am I too steady on my feet, so on impulse I decide to treat myself and rent a room for the night. Aela can wait. I check my coin purse and find that I have just enough gold. Hey, Hulda! Tonight I’m a paying customer!
Turns out that there’s only one room available (does this inn even have any other rooms?), so Jenassa comes with me as Hulda shows us where we’ll sleep. It’s a pretty nice room, definitely an improvement over the communal “whelps room” that I share with about four other Companions. But there at least I have my own bed, and this room has only one bed that sleeps two. Looks like I’ll be bunking with the dark elf tonight.
I shrug and tell Hulda the room’s fine. Normally I’d be apprehensive about sharing a bed with a mercenary that I’d barely met… but what can I say? That was some really good mead.