Jenassa and I ride out from Kynesgrove to pursue the task given to us by the Companions. The sun is warm on our shoulders as we head toward Shor’s Stone, but it’s already past the middle of the day. I’m hoping we can reach our destination before dark and find a decent place to spend the night — although we’ll likely have to settle for a campsite somewhere.
The ground is cracked and fissured with steaming vents that smell of sulfur, creating little pockets of mist. Trees are sparse on this rocky soil, and the rest of the vegetation barely rises above the ground. Unlike the dense pine forests of Falkreath, here we can see a fair distance all around us — but certain predators still have ways of blending into the surroundings before they decide to ambush.
We try to make a wide circle around the wolf pack, but we’re hemmed in on both sides by boulders. Sensing that they have the advantage, the pack charges. We spin our horses around and flee for the relative safety of the river, since most wolves won’t bother to swim after their prey. But before we can reach the water, another predator decides to show up.
For a second, I just sit there on my horse with my mouth hanging open. The dragon flying up from the hills looks exactly like the one I saw in my dream! It seems distinctly less friendly, however, given the way it’s roaring at us. I really hope it doesn’t know how to turn into a giant.
I’m about to wheel around and take my chances with the wolf pack, when the dragon swoops in directly toward us. Instantly my fear dissolves, replaced by a red-hot spike of anger. Seriously?! A large vicious wolf pack at our rear while we face down a fiery dragon with an attitude? This is a bit much.
As our enemies close in, my horse rears, terrified. I barely manage to hang on, but it’s just one more thing that aggravates me. As my horse’s feet touch ground, I swiftly dismount and summon Barbie. Behind me, I can hear Jenassa jump down and take some shots at the wolves as they cut off our escape.
The next few minutes are almost complete bedlam. Barbie and I keep attacking the dragon, Jenassa splits her attention between the dragon and the wolves, and the dragon tries to roast all of us indiscriminately.
Soon I’m dimly aware that the wolves have been taken out of the fight. As we focus all of our efforts on the dragon, it veers away from us and dives behind a ridge. Suddenly we hear a trumpeting roar from the other side of the hill, and a tall plume of fire surges into the air. Jenassa and I rush forward to see what the hell is going on.
As we crest the hill, I slow my approach and peek over the edge. Another pair of hunters has claimed the kill, and cheated me out of gaining a dragon soul — but that’s fine with me. Not even mad. All yours, guys!
We turn and start heading back to our horses. All around us, the ground is littered with the scattered remains of the wolf pack. Jenassa suggests trying to find out where the dragon came from, but I shake my head. More than likely it’s just another hole in the ground that used to be a grave. Besides, the day isn’t getting any younger, and we still have a long ride ahead of us.
We recover our mounts and get back on the road. Soon we leave the rocky sulfurous crags behind as we head into the mountains. The river drops away beneath us until we can no longer hear its bubbling chatter, and tall shadowy evergreens surround us on all sides.
We meet a few more wolves on the way, but most are loners and therefore no threat to us as we urge our horses onward. As we cross the border into the Rift, the dark pine woods gradually give way to autumnal stands of birch and aspen, blazing brilliantly in the sunshine.
As evening approaches, we finally reach the outskirts of Shor’s Stone. A watchtower looms over the mountain pass, its location making it ideal for defense. I glance in the direction of the watchtower, but I don’t see any sign of soldiers. That seems a bit strange, given that there’s a war on, but I mentally shrug and continue onward.
We ride into the village and look around. In the middle of Shor’s Stone is an open area paved with cobblestones, with a large campfire burning just outside one of the houses. Aside from the smithy and the mine, there doesn’t seem to be much else of note in Shor’s Stone. There’s no sign of a general store, or even an inn. Looks like we might be camping out tonight after all.
The house closest to the fire matches the description given to me by Aela, so we dismount and approach the door, drawing our weapons. At least we can be reasonably sure we don’t have to deal with a troll this time… I hope.
As we get close to the house, we can hear the sounds of an infuriated beast going on a rampage just inside. Yikes. That thing sounds vicious, whatever it us. Jenassa draws her two-pronged weapon in readiness and gives me a nod. I take a deep breath, clutch Dawnbreaker tightly, and swing the door open. Immediately we’re attacked by something big and angry with lots of teeth, but one swing of my sword wraps it in flames. It howls in pain and hits the floor.
After the ice wolf expires, a woman appears out of hiding and starts thanking us profusely. Right, this must be the client. Hope you don’t mind if I go ahead and skin this wolf, ma’am, and maybe harvest a few alchemy ingredients while I’m at it. Don’t worry, I’ll clean up the mess and you won’t even know I’ve been here — but just in case, sign this waiver.
As I process the wolf, she reveals that she’s been recently injured in the mine and is still rather weak, so she can’t make her usual trip to Darkwater Crossing to visit her parents. She also reveals that the mine’s now closed due to unforeseen circumstances, so she can’t work — and if we hadn’t come along, she wouldn’t even have been able to stay in her own house.
I feel rather sorry for her, and before I know it, I’ve offered to carry a message to Darkwater Crossing and let her parents know she’s okay. I figure we’ll be traveling in that direction eventually, whenever we return to Whiterun. She’s delighted at my offer, and hands me a satchel stuffed to the brim with letters for her family. Okay, this wasn’t what I meant by carry a message. It seems everyone wants to turn me into the new courier, but whatever. I guess I asked for it this time.
I’m wondering why the mine has been shut down, so I ask her about it. She replies that she’s been somewhat out of the loop since her injury, and tells us to talk to the blacksmith since he knows more about the situation. Fair enough.
Admittedly, I’m disinclined to deal with more spiders. I’m about to politely sympathize and let the town guards handle it, but the blacksmith says that the guards have been completely useless, and unless the mine is reopened, the village will be sunk for good. I glance at Jenassa and heave a sigh.
I suppose rescuing a client from an ice wolf ultimately won’t amount to much if she loses her job and her home at the same time. Not to mention, the rest of the villagers will have to pack up and leave, and Shor’s Stone will become a ghost town. That doesn’t seem to be a very good fate for the village, especially if we can do something to prevent it.
I mutter to myself as we head toward the mine. The problem is, I’m way too softhearted. That’s blatantly obvious. And you can stop smirking any time, Jenassa.
Amazingly, clearing the mine isn’t a problem at all. All the spiders are on the smaller side — although never small enough for me. We don’t even have to face a matriarch, and I’m not blinded by venom for once. I guess the spiders didn’t have time to build much of a colony in this small mine. After what we had to go through for Roggi’s ancestral shield, this is a cakewalk by comparison. Still, it’s not about to become my favourite leisure activity anytime soon.
As we exit the mine, the sun is already setting behind the hills. I’m sincerely puzzled as to why the guards couldn’t take care of this little spider problem. Surely they can’t all be arachnophobic. What the heck have they been doing in that watchtower, anyway?
Jenassa admits she’s been wondering the same thing, so we head on over to the watchtower to give the soldiers a chance to explain themselves. But soon after we arrive, the reason becomes apparent without anyone having to say a word.
After we discover the bodies, we search the tower, looking for an explanation (and any worthwhile loot). On a table near the entrance, we find a letter that seems to explain matters — although if this is accurate, then the guards are even more useless than the blacksmith said.
So the guards had advance warning, and supposedly they also had reinforcements, but the Legion wiped out the entire contingent without the village even knowing about it? Were these guards fighting with pitchforks and spitballs? I know the Stormcloaks don’t have the best equipment, but you’d think they’d at least have made a dent in the enemy forces, especially from such a defensible position.
Jenassa and I make another search, but there’s not a single dead legionnaire to be seen. So why didn’t the enemy capture Shor’s Stone and take over the mine after they wiped out the watchtower? Maybe the band of Legion soldiers wasn’t what killed the guards after all. I crumple the letter in exasperation and pitch it into the dirt. There’s no answers to be found here, but at least we can return to the blacksmith and tell him that the mine is spider-free.
The blacksmith has closed the forge for the day, but we find him in his house. He’s very glad to hear about the mine, but his happiness is short-lived after we tell him about the murdered guards at the watchtower. It’s apparent that he feels a bit guilty about blaming the dead soldiers for abandoning the mine, but it’s clear there’s something else on his mind.
With our encouragement and some mead, he tells us what’s troubling him. Apparently the murdered guards are only the tip of the iceberg. It seems that before the war started, each hold had a pair of rangers who lived in small hunting cabins. Their duty was to roam the wilds, hunt down any dangerous beasts and bandits that might threaten the townsfolk, and establish a safe perimeter around the smaller settlements that weren’t as well-protected as the cities. Shor’s Stone was one of these settlements, and the rangers of the Rift did a decent job of protecting the village.
But when the war began, all that changed. Rangers were recruited by both sides in order to fill the ranks with experienced archers and scouts, and the wilderness cabins were abandoned. Riften sent guards to Shor’s Stone to help protect the mine after the rangers were drafted into the army, but now with the murders at the watchtower, there are only two or three guards left. Their numbers are clearly inadequate to protect even this small village, given that a wild beast invaded someone’s home and spiders took over the mine. In addition, there have been persistent rumours that bandits have taken over a nearby fortress. The blacksmith is certain that it’s just a matter of time before Shor’s Stone falls to some combination of hostile forces.
Jenassa and I look at each other after he finishes his tale. We’ve both picked up on the fact that there’s an empty ranger cabin nearby. We need a place to stay, and the village needs extra protection. So Jenassa and I offer to stick around for a few days, live at the cabin, and take over the ranger duties for awhile until the guards can handle it themselves. The blacksmith jumps at our proposal, assuring us that the cabin is still well-stocked and in good repair. He gives us directions, hands me the key, and invites us to stay for as long as we like.
By the time we leave the blacksmith’s place, night has fallen. Fortunately we don’t have to ride very far, and soon we find the ranger cabin in the woods on the other side of town. It’s not far off the road, and it’s a handy distance from the village.
We ride around the back of the house to find a place for the horses. The cabin has evidently been designed to allow the rangers some measure of self-sufficiency. I dismount and start checking out the amenities, when suddenly I hear the sounds of a large beast attacking Jenassa. Looks like that blacksmith wasn’t exaggerating about all the dangers around here! I grab my bow and rush to her aid.
The troll corners Jenassa on the porch and cuffs her over the head, knocking her down. Bastard! I start filling its hide full of arrows, but the troll is surprisingly tough. At least it’s no longer focused on my girlfriend, but Jenassa is taking a distressingly long time to recover. I need to buy her more time, and fast.
I distract the troll by shooting it in the eye. As it roars and paws at its face, I rush around the side of the house and resume the attack. Blocking its path to Jenassa, I plug the beast with arrows and prepare to follow up with Dawnbreaker if it gets too close. Realizing that I’m no longer in its line of sight, the troll staggers around, takes a single shaky step in my direction, and pitches forward, dead.
Behind me, I can hear Jenassa getting to her feet just as another beast rushes at us from the underbrush. I whip around and shoot the wolf in the face, and Jenassa follows up with a blow to its head. It yelps once and drops like a stone.
With the savage wildlife defeated for now, we unlock the cabin and open the door. Inside it’s warm and pleasant, with a bright fire crackling cheerfully in the fireplace. There’s also plenty of supplies in various containers, including some food, and there’s even an alchemy table. It’s not the most opulent place we’ve ever seen, but it’s easily on par with some of the better inns.
A set of stairs near the front door leads into a finished basement. After glancing in the main room with the fireplace, where there’s a dining table, chairs, and shelves full of kitchen supplies, we turn and head down the steps.
The bedroom downstairs is cozy and well-furnished, and the small room beside it has even more storage space. Jenassa and I look at each other and smile gleefully at our good fortune. This little cabin has everything we need, and it’s in one of the prettiest areas in Skyrim. Tomorrow we’ll have to do some exploring and check out that fortress full of bandits, but tonight we can revel in the fact that we have a house all to ourselves.
A house. All to ourselves. Praise Mara, I could get used to this. I really could.