After leaving Dragonsreach, I make a point of dropping in on the Companions to inform them of recent events — namely, that there are dragons on the loose and I seem to be the local dragon-catcher. I mention the Jarl’s insistence that I go to visit the Greybeards, and that I’ll be heading out in the morning.
The reaction is mixed. Most of the whelps are polite but somewhat suspicious, as if they think I’ve invented this story to make myself seem important. The exception is Ria. She actually looks a bit weepy, and says she’ll hunt a bear for me while I’m away so that I don’t owe Aela anything. The last thing I’m concerned about is that third bear pelt, but I give her a hug and thank her.
The elder Companions seem startled when I break the news, especially Vilkas. He doesn’t say much, but looks uneasy, as if he doesn’t quite know how to deal with my new status as Dragonborn. Aela admits she’s envious — hunting dragons sounds like the ultimate challenge. Skjor gives me a curt nod after hearing about the dragon fight. “Well done. You handled that like a Companion. Now try not to get yourself killed.”
Farkas, like a true Nord, reacts much like the guards did. He’s completely fascinated and eagerly asks questions about what fighting a dragon is like. I’m happy to relate all the details. It’s irresistible to watch this tough strong man act like an excited little boy.
The last person I speak to is the Harbinger. Kodlak listens to my tale with interest, leaning back in his chair and nodding like a patient grandfather. As I draw to a close, he smiles warmly.
“When you first arrived and asked to join us, I suspected you had both inner strength and courage, but you were still unproven. Eorlund says that you cannot know if a blade is good until that first strike, for even the best steel can have a hidden flaw. But now your spirit has been tried and tested, and it is sound. Go with my blessing, young one, and learn all you can. Perhaps when you come back, there will be things you can teach me!”
It’s hard to leave Jorrvaskr in the morning. What I want is to stay here, learn from the elders, practice in the yard, and take on a few tasks. More than anything, I just want to be a regular Companion again. But there’s another path I have to travel first.
Most of the Companions have already said their farewells, but Farkas walks with me out to the steps of Jorrvaskr. For a few moments, we watch the sun grow bright over the mountains, and then he pulls me close in a warm bear hug. “Look,” he says gruffly. “I’m not much good at talking… but you, I like. So take it easy out there, sister. I want you back in one piece.”
I nod and try to smile as we reluctantly part. Descending the steps to the village green, I meet with Jenassa at the temple of Kynareth. We ask for the Divine’s blessing, make our final preparations, and head out of the city. I pause to look behind us as the gates slowly close. Someday, I hope I’ll see them open for us again.
The Greybeards live near Ivarstead, so we decide to take the southeastern road through the mountains near Helgen. It seems to be the most direct route and half the trip will be through familiar territory.
We ride through Riverwood without incident, but after we reach Falkreath the weather takes a bad turn. Dark clouds start to gather, the wind is getting chilly, and there’s the distinct scent of rain in the air. In minutes we’re in the middle of a downpour and rapidly getting drenched.
It’s apparent we’re not going to make it to Ivarstead by tonight, and we’re too far from Riverwood to turn back without getting thoroughly chilled. We’ll have to find a place to pitch a tent and wait this out.
We search for a campsite just off the road, narrowly avoiding having to fight a pack of wolves. Fortunately we’re in a heavily-forested area so there’s plenty of extra firewood handy, and I’ve learned to start a campfire in minutes. Even so, the heavy rains and chilly wind make for a dangerous combination. We get the tent up and a fire going just in time.
The leather tent does a good job of keeping us dry, but it doesn’t hold warmth quite as well as the fur tent. But since the fur tent leaks in the rain, there really isn’t any other option.
We tell stories, eat, and sleep for a few hours, but the rain continues. Looks like we’ll have to spend the night here, which means we’ll need more firewood. I crawl out of the tent and chop down a couple of trees, trying to stay within the warm radius of the campfire. In no time I’m completely soaked again, but at least the fire keeps me from freezing. I throw more wood on the fire, crawl back into the tent, have another meal and sleep till morning. If it’s still raining the next day, I’ll need to have a talk with our sky-goddess and patron of travelers.
The rain ends overnight but it’s cloudy the next day, so we don’t waste any time. We break camp, pack our gear, and mount up — we’ll eat breakfast on horseback.
We reach Helgen and notice there’s something different about it. For one thing, someone’s added to the apocalyptic decor by staking a bunch of dead bodies just outside the gates. For another, we can hear loud voices inside, and I’m pretty sure dragons don’t use arrows or tell me that I’ve picked a bad time to get lost.
Bloody bandits! I summon Mr. Wuffles while Jenassa carves up the nearest thug like a turkey. We manage to take out the rest without too much hassle, but the last one, an archer, makes his final stand trying to defend the keep. That probably means the keep is their main base.
We briefly consider simply leaving and continuing our journey, but that means we’d have more brigands to fight on the way back — assuming we come this way again. Might as well try to get rid of them while we have the chance. I head to the entrance of the keep with a sigh. Great. First the downpour, now a fort full of bandits. Ivarstead is looking pretty far away.
Inside the fortress, at first all we see are dead soldiers from both sides of the civil war. We loot whatever seems worthwhile and keep going, trying to make as little noise as possible. We start to explore down a corridor when part of the roof gives way, causing a major structural collapse that shakes the whole building and effectively blocks our progress. Yikes. That was kind of terrifying.
After the dust settles, we decide to keep moving. Since the corridor is now in ruins, we take a detour into a side room. Three bandits are seated at a table and haven’t even noticed the cave-in just outside the door. Clearly they’re too stupid to live. We take it upon ourselves to do the compassionate thing and swiftly put them out of their misery.
We pass through more rooms in various states of disrepair, eventually reaching the prison area. Halfway through the narrow hallway between cells, I drop to a crouch, and Jenassa follows suit. The passage widens into a larger room, and we can hear echoing voices and footsteps. There are definitely more bandits ahead.
Once we’re in sight of them, Jenassa unsheathes her weapons and rushes forward while I summon Mr. Wuffles. One of the outlaws focuses on Jenassa while Mr. Wuffles keeps another thug occupied. I draw my bow and start shooting.
A third bandit in heavy armour charges in. She’s clearly the chief, and she fights almost as well as Jenassa with a sword in one hand and an axe in the other. She’s tougher and deadlier, but after her henchmen hit the ground, she’s outnumbered. Soon she joins her minions in kissing dirt. We loot the corpses and a chest which contains some gold, a couple of potions, and a two-handed axe.
The next room widens into a natural cavern. As we approach, the ground starts to skitter and heave. Three spiders reveal themselves, but before they get any closer, I pick them off one by one with my bow. Two more spiders drop from the ceiling. I shoot one, but the other rushes toward us and spits venom in my face, blinding me for a few moments. Fortunately Jenassa takes it out within seconds, and the venom wears off with no ill effects. We commence searching the cave.
We retrieve some potions, coins, and the occasional weapon from the remains of the spiders’ prey, but nothing especially valuable. Following an underground stream, we discover the path to another cavern which has an outside exit. We emerge close to the road just outside of Helgen. Fortunately we haven’t lost too much daylight. We grab a quick lunch from our provisions, store the loot in our horses’ saddlebags, and continue on to Ivarstead.
The road through the mountains is snowy and cold. Despite my fur cloak, I need a constant level of alcohol in my blood to keep out the chill. Fortunately I’ve packed plenty of mead for just such an emergency. I pace my drinking, careful not to let myself get more than a bit tipsy. If I were to get completely smashed I’d likely fall off my horse — which is not a chance I’m willing to take on a rocky mountain pass full of ravenous wolves.
As we reach the other side of the mountains, we ride through a magnificent autumnal forest. It’s late afternoon now and the sun hangs low in the sky. When we make it to Ivarstead, we’ll have to find a place to spend the night. Those demanding old hermits will just have to wait.
Ivarstead is a charming little village, but it definitely has its limitations. We dismount on the other side of the bridge and have a look around. There doesn’t seem to be much in the way of trade, and the townsfolk seem to consist mainly of farmers, fishermen, and woodcutters. I’m thankful there’s at least an inn.
The village is typical enough, except for a building that’s set away from the rest. It’s clearly a house of the dead — it seems ancient and somewhat out of place in this small settlement. Something about it reminds me of Bleak Falls Barrow, but in the evening light it seems quiet and peaceful. I’m sure the dead within are sleeping soundly. Besides, I doubt the townsfolk would have settled here if they had to worry about zombies creeping around in the middle of the night.
There’s not much else to look at in Ivarstead, so we head over to the inn. It’s certainly smaller than the Bannered Mare, but inside it’s pleasant enough. The innkeeper greets us enthusiastically as soon as we walk in the door. He’s evidently a gregarious sort who likes to talk to newcomers. It’s probably the most excitement he gets in this town.
He and I exchange pleasantries while Jenassa takes stock of our remaining provisions. I’m about to ask about renting a room for the night when he starts giving out unsolicited advice.
Jenassa’s ears, I swear, perk up like a cat when she hears his comment. I narrow my eyes at her, but the damage is done. She nods at him to continue, and that’s all the encouragement he needs.
Soon we hear the entire story — how he’s seen one of the spirits with his own eyes, how its unworldly gaze burned into his soul, how another traveler came through one day to visit the barrow and mysteriously vanished, never to be seen again. I ask if the spirits ever come out and trouble the townsfolk, and he replies that they don’t. Well then, fine. Nothing to see here. Room, please!
I suggest that we stay here at the inn for the rest of the evening, but Jenassa’s got that look in her eye. “Let’s go for a walk and stretch our legs,” she says. “We spent quite awhile in the saddle. We don’t want to climb up a mountain trail tomorrow with sore legs, do we?”
I raise an eyebrow. “Nice try,” I respond. “That almost sounded convincing. You want to check out that haunted barrow, don’t you?”
“Haunted barrow,” she scoffs. “What superstitious nonsense. I’m sure it’s just a pack of miserable bandits, frightening the locals away from their hideout.”
“Right,” I reply uncertainly. She’s caught me wrong-footed — that wasn’t the answer I was expecting.
“Well then, I can’t think of a better way to stretch our legs than a rousing skirmish with those witless louts,” she finishes with a note of triumph. “Can you?”
I look at her levelly — then I sigh and grab my weapons. I know when I’m beat.