The next morning dawns bright and sunny. After our morning meal at the inn, Jenassa and I head out to check on our horses, stabled near the gates where we entered last night. We want to make sure the horses are well rested. Somewhere out in the surrounding marsh lie the ancient ruins of Ustengrav and the horn of Jurgen Windcaller — but apparently Ustengrav isn’t the only ruin out in the marsh, so it seems we’ll have to do some exploring. I just hope the mosquitoes have gone into hibernation.
No one would ever mistake Morthal for a tourist trap. It’s a grey, low-lying mudhole in the middle of a swamp, and quite a few of the streets are little more than rickety boardwalks suspended a few inches over the stagnant water. The townspeople seem have a sort of love-hate relationship with the marshlands surrounding their home, quick to mention how it makes the town so defensible and how many rare plants grow here in abundance, while at the same time being fearful of the treacherous muskeg just outside their doors. I have to wonder how much of this town is built on the remains of old sunken bones.
Wrapped in our little cocoon of passion and happiness, it’s tempting for Jenassa and I to blow all our septims on an extended stay at the Winking Skeever. Very tempting. But while we’re delightfully immersed upstairs in our giddy new romance, downstairs it’s a very different atmosphere. The brutal execution of Roggvir weighs on everyone’s minds like a stone. Loud angry noises frequently echo up the stairs, and one night we overheard someone methodically cursing Ulfric Stormcloak in between harsh, choked, heartbreaking sobs.
Eventually the mood permeates even our little bubble. It’s apparent that Solitude itself seems to be sinking into a black chasm of depression and hostility. When a group of soldiers invade the inn one night demanding free drinks, threatening to drag the owner to the block if he doesn’t comply, Jenassa and I decide it’s time to leave.
As Jenassa and I head back to the Winking Skeever, I try to keep my head down. I’m not exactly proud that I made an idiot of myself the previous day, but fortunately no one around seems to recognize me or care, much to my relief. I guess Solitude is a big enough city that seeing foreign drunkards weave around on the streets isn’t exactly a novel occurrence.
It’s apparent that the owner of the tavern recognizes Jenassa, though. As soon as we enter, he nods at us, comes out from behind the bar, and starts leading us to the room that my companion rented while I was still sleeping it off in prison.
I have to say this about the Winking Skeever — their drinks go down pretty smooth. After the Alto wine, I decide to try out the mead. For science, you understand. After all, you could say that mead is my area of expertise. And sure enough, it’s just as good as the wine. The barkeeper knows just how long to keep mead in the cask, whether or not to warm it, and how it should be served. Marvellous.
This place is definitely upscale, as is Solitude in general. I can tell that this isn’t the type of place where you can start a good old-fashioned brawl and expect to get away with it. Even my old pub back in High Rock wasn’t this classy. It’s a great place if you want to have a few social drinks with friends — but if you’d rather drink yourself into a stupor, not so much.
As I nod my thanks to my intrepid companion, I slowly roll onto my feet and quietly retrieve my weapons. Jenassa drops to a crouch and moves forward, motioning for me to stay behind her this time. Since I still feel some pain and stiffness from my recently-healed wounds, I’m not inclined to argue.
All the shades have returned to their original positions. The necromancer has obviously called them back, and with them he seems to be enacting some kind of dark ritual. We can’t see much of it from the narrow corridor, but we can hear him chanting while his minions moan in a strange kind of harmony.
As I step out of Jorrvaskr the next morning, it’s hard to believe that the sun is up. The sky is heavy with dark clouds and the smell of rain is in the air. Great. Today Jenassa and I are supposed to travel to Mount Kilkreath near Solitude, but it doesn’t look like the weather is going to make it easy.
The wind is rising as I walk briskly to the Drunken Huntsman to meet Jenassa. The sky grows steadily darker and low rumbles of thunder roll down from the mountains. By the time I get to the tavern, it’s already starting to drizzle.
Next morning as Jenassa and I are having breakfast, we overhear a conversation between the innkeeper and another one of the townsfolk. It seems this guy is well acquainted with Klimmek, the man we met on the bridge yesterday who gave us the sack of preserved food. The two of them appear to be in business together as the local fishmongers.
Sounds like the Greybeards eat a lot of dried fish. In fact, that probably accounts for most of their diet. And I thought living on top of a frozen rock was bad enough.
Jenassa and I wake up bright and early the next morning. There’s a lot to do before we head out. We check over our gear, pack some extra provisions, and eat a hearty breakfast. We’ve got a long road ahead and those seven thousand steps aren’t going to climb themselves.
The innkeeper has plainly seen all this before from many previous patrons who have made the same journey. He makes a few reasonable suggestions of what to take and what to leave behind, as we intend to bring only what we’re likely to need. However, not every piece of advice he offers is helpful.