Chapter 21: Blazing Trails

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.

We head out early the next day.  Fortunately the weather is fine and clear.  Our eventual goal is to recover the lost horn of Jurgen Windcaller, but we’re not in any particular hurry.  The Greybeards were rather vague about directions — all we know is that the ancient ruins are located somewhere in the marsh northeast of Morthal, and the last thing we want to do is camp out in a marsh. We decide to head for Morthal and worry about the rest later.

Gettin' the hell outta Dodge.
Gettin’ the hell outta town.

As we ride away from all the stress in Solitude, my mood lightens.  The day is beautiful, my horse is eager, and I have a gorgeous kickass girlfriend.  By the time we ride through the village of Dragon Bridge, I feel so good, it’s like I’m flying.  I turn to wave at Jenassa, and she smiles and blows me a kiss in return.  I can’t remember the last time I’ve been so happy.

The village is all decked out for the Mid Year celebrations. The display in Solitude was more impressive, but here the simpler lights and banners are just another part of the rural charm.  I have sudden and vivid daydreams of settling down in the country with Jenassa, far away from the tensions of the civil war and the expectations of living up to the dubious distinction of being Dragonborn.

A Merry Mid Year to all!
A Merry Mid Year to all!

We cross the bridge after which the village is named and turn east toward Morthal.  The trip has been uneventful so far, and it’s nearly noon.   I grab some food from my travel pouch to snack on while riding.

While I’m at it, I check my coin purse.  It’s definitely a lot lighter than it was a few days ago when we first arrived in Solitude.  Hopefully the inn in Morthal won’t be quite so pricey.  That said, I don’t regret the little vacation with my new girlfriend in those luxury accommodations.  Except for the strained atmosphere of the city, it was almost like a honeymoon.

Oh look, it's bandit catnip.
Oh look, more bandit catnip.

Soon we reach a ruined fortress.  As a seasoned traveler of Skyrim, my first instinct is to give it a wide berth.  Only the Divines know what’s lurking inside that edifice — certainly nothing as simple as guards or soldiers.

Then as if to prove my point, a frost bolt comes blasting out from the edge of the fortress, barely missing Jenassa.  I pull my horse up to a sudden halt, instantly infuriated.  Hey!  How dare anyone try to glaciate my girlfriend!

I catch a glimpse of a dark figure running for cover behind a ruined stone wall, and without thinking, I dismount and give chase.  I can hear Jenassa bringing up the rear as I draw Dawnbreaker and close in on the enemy.   Part of me is a bit surprised that they’re actually running away, but the rest of me is out for blood.

Get back here, you filthy skeever!
Get back here, you filthy skeever!

Together Jenassa and I swiftly take down our adversary, who turns out to be a necromancer.  Excellent.  Instead of being apprehensive, I feel as if I’ve been given a birthday present tied with a big red bow.  Necromancers are ideal quarry for the champion of Meridia, and I feel a rush of excitement.  My girlfriend flashes me a dazzling smile, reading my thoughts, and I grin back at her in anticipation.  Then we brandish our weapons and storm the fortress.

Go back where you came from, skinny!
Go back where you came from, skinny!

The risen skeletons aren’t much of a challenge individually, but there’s a quite a few of them between ourselves and the necromancers.  Jenassa and I keep up a constant barrage of arrows in order to keep our enemies at range as much as possible, and when they threaten to close in, I cut a swath with Dawnbreaker while simultaneously dodging the worst of the spells.  Fortunately most of the sorcerers are fairly weak, so once we manage to get close enough, it doesn’t take a lot of effort to overcome them — and once they’re dead, all their minions collapse into piles of ash.  Handy.

The only good necro is a dead necro.
The only good necro is a dead necro.  Meridia told me so.

Soon we’ve reduced their numbers enough that we start charging them down directly.  It takes time for a necromancer to raise an undead minion, so I put away my bow and simply bash them with my shield while I set them on fire with my sword.  It’s a devastating attack, and if they somehow manage to avoid it, Jenassa’s right there with her deadly blades to finish them off. She’s just awesome that way.

Die in a fire -- literally.
Go die in a fire — literally!

Before long, we’ve successfully secured the exterior of the fortress.  We find a couple of chests with some decent loot.  The edifice is large, and there are multiple entrances, so we spend some time deciding where to focus our efforts.

As we discuss how best to press our advantage, I find myself savouring the sight of my badass girlfriend.  I’ve always admired her proficiency on the battlefield, but now that I’ve had a front-row view of her supple body, I have a new appreciation of her agility, beauty, and strength. She notices that I’m a bit distracted, and her eyes grow soft as she smiles, again reading my thoughts.  Soon we’re in danger of being sidetracked by an overwhelming wave of mutual admiration, and she shakes her head as if to clear it.   “Come along, my patron,” she winks at me.  “Back to work.”

Huh? ...oh right. Bad guys. Got it.
Girlfriend, you look so fine …Oh.  Right.  Bad guys. Got it. 

Stepping out of the sunlight into the dingy interior of the fortress, it’s plain how badly this structure has been neglected.  Dust lies on every surface, sections of the stone walls have crumbled, and the odour of rotten wood permeates the stale air.  We stealthily dispatch a couple of skeletons guarding the entrance and have a look around.

I wonder what that big red button does?
Not a fan of the sight lines in here.

The fortress has multiple floors, and its staircases are in varying states of disrepair.  Shabby battered furniture is scattered around, most of it giving testament to ongoing heavy use.  A wooden gate bars the way ahead.

Approaching the gate, we find a button switch embedded into the wall.  Jenassa and I look at each other for a moment, considering the possibility that it could be a trap.  We search the room but there doesn’t seem to be any other mechanism to open the gate, nor does there seem to be any indication that the way is unsafe.  Finally I stand to one side and punch the button.

The gate slides open with a slight rattle, and we descend a set of stone steps leading into the cellar.  More animated skeletons are there to provide fodder for Dawnbreaker, and the stench of mould adds its pungency to the atmosphere.

Smart and deadly. She's a keeper.
Smart and deadly.  Jenassa’s a keeper.

The floor slopes down into a partially flooded area where a necromancer has hidden herself.  She raises a couple more skeletons and a dead skeever, but they fall quickly to our arrows.   Avoiding the worst of her spells, I rush her down with my glowing sword.  If the necromancer was hoping that the stagnant water would extinguish the almighty flames of Dawnbreaker, she soon learned her lesson.  Or maybe she just died too fast before she learned anything at all.  Works for me either way.

I guess the same principle applies to flame atronachs in rainstorms.
Looks like the same principle applies to flame atronachs in rainstorms.

Turning a corner, we reach a long curving staircase.  As we ascend, more animated skeletons emerge from the shadows.  I summon Mr. Wuffles, who does an admirable job of rounding them up for us to shoot down.

We reach a landing, and Jenassa touches my arm in warning.  In front of us is a glowing magical rune, nearly hidden by all the dirt on the floor.  I stand back, hit it with a basic flame spell, and set it off harmlessly.  We find another one as we continue our ascent.

At the top of the stairs, we enter another room that’s clearly been set up as some sort of laboratory.  Various alchemy ingredients and some enchanting scrolls are sorted on wooden shelves, and there’s the bubbling sound of a working alchemy table.  Two more necromancers appear, but we swiftly bring them down before they can get a chance to summon their skeletal minions.

After the enemies are dispatched, I approach the table that one of the necromancers was working on.  Well, now.  That’s disturbing.

Right, these are really not nice people.
On the whole, I think I would’ve preferred the bandits.

Also on the table is a key.  I slip it into one of my pouches, grab some of the more valuable loot, and we continue toward the innermost section of the keep.

After dealing with a few more skeletons and another necromancer in a side room, we reach a locked door leading to a central chamber.  It opens with the key.  The door swings open, but the interior is dark and shadowy.  We drop to a crouch and proceed, weapons at the ready.

The room is almost perfectly round.  In the middle is a large altar with a fresh skeleton lying on it — someone’s been recently carving up the poor bastard.  Tall bookcases line the walls and a massive chest is beside the altar.  I’m about to take a closer look when the entire room lights up from a powerful spell.  Lightning sizzles through the air, striking both of us and making my hair stand on end.  Ouch!!! 

The necromancer in this room is the most powerful one yet, although he’s an amateur compared to the one in Meridia’s temple.  While Jenassa pelts him with arrows, I take a few seconds and apply a poison that drains magical power to the blade of my sword.  Then I rush forward, bash him in the face with my shield, and slash at him with Dawnbreaker.

Eat Meridian fire, necro!
Eat holy fire, necro creep!

After his powers drain away, he’s not much of a threat, and pretty soon he’s burning like a torch.  He takes a few ineffective swipes and finally falls to the floor, dead.   After we loot his corpse, we open the chest and find several enchanted pieces of armour.  Unfortunately, none of the enchanted items are especially useful for us, but they’re sure to be worth some decent coin to the right buyer.

When we finally exit the fortress, night has already fallen and the stars are coming out.  The wind has risen and it’s definitely getting chilly.  Hopefully we’ll be able to make it to Morthal before it gets much darker.

A lone hooded necromancer appears in the courtyard and makes a foolish attempt to stop us.  I teach her the error of her ways with Dawnbreaker before we take our leave.

You may have a headache in the morning.
Warning: Contact with Meridian artifacts may cause intense headaches.

Fortunately our horses haven’t wandered very far.  After we load up our saddlebags, Jenassa and I head straight for Morthal.  I chug a couple bottles of mead to keep out the cold, and pray to the Divines we won’t have to ride much longer.

We reach the town just as the gates have closed.  It’s almost completely dark and getting chillier by the second.  Fortunately the guards haven’t yet locked us out, but where in Oblivion are they?  Regardless, it’s far too cold to stand on ceremony, so we get down from our horses and swing open the gates ourselves.

The gates of Morthal.
At the gates of Morthal.  It’s self-serve.

We lead the horses to a stable just inside the gates, when we suddenly take notice of a large crowd just outside of what appears to be the Jarl’s hall.  It’s apparent these people are not happy campers.  The town guards are trying to calm down the dissenters, but there’s a lot of yelling and waving of torches.  Huh.  No wonder there weren’t any guards around to open the gates for us.  We approach cautiously, hands close to our weapons in case things get ugly.

Welcome to Morthal, home of the lynch mob.
Welcome to Morthal, home of the lynch mob.

Fortunately the mob disperses before things get out of hand.  Even so, Jenassa and I make a beeline for the inn.  We’d rather have solid walls between ourselves and the torch-wielding locals, just in case they’re still having problems with anger management.

Here's hoping you also have rooms.
Here’s hoping you also have rooms.

It’s a pretty modest little inn, especially after the Winking Skeever, but it’s clean, warm, and cozy.  It also appears to be free of bitterly depressed patrons, which counts for a great deal.  Jenassa and I ask for a meal and the best room they have available.

The food is simple, but very tasty and filling.  All that deadly combat has definitely given us an appetite, and we make short work of our supper.  The room is another pleasant surprise.  Of course it’s not as opulent as the upstairs suite in Solitude, but it’s better than we expected.

I give it 4 out of 5 stars.
I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

The private bath is another welcome sight, especially after that long ride.  That’s a luxury we didn’t have back at the Winking Skeever.  After the innkeeper leaves us to ourselves, we grin at each other and start making plans of how to put that bath to good use.  I have a feeling it’s going to be quite awhile before we actually fall asleep — but as I watch Jenassa start to remove her gear, I’m definitely not complaining.

So, think we can both fit in that tub? Let's try.
So, think we can both fit in that tub? Let’s get creative, baby.

 

Travel Map 11.
Travel Map 11.

 

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