Chapter 30: Community Service

After a cozy night in our little house in the woods, Jenassa and I head out the next morning as semi-official rangers of the Rift.  Our first assignment is to check out the rumours that bandits have taken over the nearby fort.  Fort Greenwall is close enough to Shor’s Stone that the villagers are understandably nervous to hear about a large encampment of criminals close by.

We ride out from the ranger cabin as the sun is rising over the hills.  Bandits don’t tend to be morning people, so this seems like the ideal time to pay them a visit, like typical nosy next-door neighbours.  Next-door neighbours who happen to be armed with deadly weapons.  Okay, maybe that’s not so typical.

C'mon Jenassa, let's greet our new neighbours with all the kindness they deserve.
C’mon Jenassa, let’s greet our new neighbours with all the friendliness they deserve.

As the fort comes into view, we dismount from a safe distance and approach on foot.  No point in giving the bandits a bigger target.  We can’t see any sign of life yet, however, so this might turn out to be an unnecessary visit.

It's a neighbourly day for a beautywood, neighbourly day for a beauty...
It’s a beautiful day in the neighbourhood, a beautiful day for a neighbour…

As we come within a bow-shot of the walls, we finally see some movement up on the ramparts.  Aha!  So the place is inhabited after all.  And a few of them are even coming out to greet us!  How thoughtful.  I think we’ll return the greetings with a volley of nice pointy arrows.   I’m sure they’ll appreciate that as much as we do.

It's a neighbourly day in the beautywood, a neighbourly day for a beauty...
It’s a neighbourly day in the beautywood, a neighbourly day for a beauty…

We banter back and forth with our new neighbours, who respond in kind.  They aren’t quite on our level of repartee, but Jenassa and I decide to overlook their shortcomings and respond as if they’re our equals.  It wouldn’t do to seem condescending, after all, and you only get one chance to make a first impression.

Let's make the most of this beautiful day...
So let’s make the most of this beautiful day…

The conversation gets a bit more serious as we exchange some honest opinions, but soon our new acquaintances relent as we take the time to explain our point of view.  Our views are quite pointed indeed, and soon we’re also demonstrating our sharp wit and keen insight.  You know, Jenassa, I think we’re having quite a positive effect here.  I’d even call it productive.  Such a shame that our neighbours won’t be around long enough to appreciate the results.

Would you be mine? Could you be mine? Won't you be my victim?
Would you be mine? Could you be mine? Won’t you be my victim?

Since our initial conversation went so smoothly, we decide to invite ourselves inside.  In some circles this might be considered a bit forward, perhaps even rude, but it’s not like we can expect our friends outside to introduce us to the others.   Not when they’re so preoccupied with kissing the dirt, at any rate.  I’m sure they won’t mind if we just head on in.

It's not every day you can help out a neighbour.
It’s not every day you can help out a neighbour.

It’s clear the residents inside weren’t expecting us, but we soon move past that trivial little detail and everyone rises to the occasion.  After the initial flurry of pleasantries, the discourse is every bit as energetic as it was with the others.

There’s some minor points of disagreement, of course, but most of that turns out to be nothing more than mere quibbling.  Jenassa and I hold our own quite well, and soon it’s apparent that we’ve gained their respect.

Admittedly, sometimes things got a bit heated.
Admittedly, sometimes things got a bit heated.

We go on a grand tour of the household, checking out all the amenities and meeting everyone.  I have to admit, the place is much larger than our little cabin, but personally I don’t find it nearly as charming.

There’s also a definite veneer of untidiness and general neglect throughout the building, not to mention an alarming spider infestation down in the basement — but of course I’m not about to patronize our new friends by complaining about it.  I wouldn’t want to appear uncivilized.

You'd think someone would've called the exterminator.
You’d think someone would’ve called the exterminator.

Instead, Jenassa and I decide to be helpful and dispose of the spiders.  At first our neighbours won’t hear of it and start to protest — but once they realize we’re not just being polite, they fall in line and let us get on with it.

The spiders don’t take too kindly to being disturbed, of course, but by now we’ve had enough experience with vermin that we’ve become quite expert at eliminating the pests.  Besides, no one likes a cobwebby basement.

No trouble at all. Glad to help.
No trouble at all. Glad to help.

Eventually we meet the matron of the house, an impressive woman who the others affectionately refer to as “the boss”.  Upon learning that we’re here to pay her a visit, she immediately steps forward to greet us.  We aren’t shy, and we let her know exactly how much we appreciate the gesture.

Introductions move along swiftly, and soon we’re bantering away as if we’ve known each other for years.  Unfortunately it comes to an end just as it starts to get interesting — but I enjoyed myself, so I’m not about to complain.

Thanks, it's been fun!
Lovely visit.  Thanks so much, it’s been fun!

As we’re heading out, it occurs to us to check out their cistern while we’re here.  It’s always a good idea to know what type of water services are prevalent when you move to a new area.  Theirs seems pretty standard at first glance, but as we take a closer look, it’s obvious there’s more to it than meets the eye.

After you, Jenassa? No? Fine, I'll go first.
After you, Jenassa.  No?  Fine, I’ll go first.

Their cistern is quite extensive, and it’s clear that it gets a lot of use.  I’m less certain about the efficiency of their filtration system, as it seems there’s quite a lot of effluvia present, but then their residence is much larger than ours and I’m sure it has its own unique challenges.

It’s obviously an older system as well, which is evident when I go in for a closer inspection.  There’s a surprising amount of abandoned material down here, so I decide to help out by removing as much of it as I can.

Waste disposal can be such a problem.
Proper waste disposal can be such a problem.

At this point, Jenassa and I decide to bring our visit to a close.  It wouldn’t do to overstay our welcome, and I think we have a good idea of the place by now.  The sun is high as we make our way out via the alternate underground exit.

Our new acquaintances generously offered us multiple gifts as a way of welcoming us to the neighbourhood.  We accepted most of it as we didn’t wish to appear impolite, but they were far too lavish and we really have no need for it all.  We decide to head to the village and sell some of it off.

Quite an impressive dwelling, but somehow I don't think they'll be staying here long.
Too bad the sub-basement is prone to flooding.

Back in Shor’s Stone, we unload most of the extra gear at the blacksmith’s.  We update him on our recent activities, and he seems very relieved that we’ve had a productive visit at the bandit fort.  He also mentions that there are reports of a wild beast nearby that’s been attacking livestock, so we agree to hunt it down.

As we inspect our belongings, we realize that we’re running low on certain supplies — namely potions.  There’s nowhere to buy them in the village, and while my skill in alchemy is improving, it’s not that great.  We’re also carrying around a lot of other random items, and that’s really starting to weigh us down.

It’s no surprise that we’re in this situation, given that the last time we saw a general store was back in Whiterun.  Jenassa and I are just starting to discuss the problem when the blacksmith puts in his two cents.

Right, thanks for the unsolicited advice.
Right, thanks for the unsolicited advice.

As we leave the smithy, we consider our options.  There aren’t many.   I’m extremely reluctant to head to Riften, since that’s the home of Maven Black-Briar, the person who assisted my former business partner in plotting my death.  What if she recognizes me while I’m in Riften and decides to finish the job?

I mention this to Jenassa, who’s busy sharpening her blades.  She offhandedly replies that I shouldn’t worry, it isn’t in Maven’s best interest to kill me.  She continues along these lines, asserting that if Maven found out I was alive, she’d consider me a potential asset since I was resourceful enough to escape what she thought was a foolproof plan — and if anything, she’d probably try to get someone from the Thieves’ Guild to recruit me, so that Maven could make some practical use of my resourcefulness.

The implication of what Jenassa is saying gradually dawns on me, and I turn to stare at her.  Jenassa realizes it herself, and quickly shuts up, but it’s too late.

“Right,” I say deliberately.  “When were you going to tell me that you were on such familiar terms with Maven Black-Briar?  I wasn’t aware that you knew so much about what she does and how she thinks.”  My voice takes on a harder edge.   “Did you just forget to mention this earlier?”

Jenassa winces, but she meets my gaze head-on.  “My patron, I sincerely apologize.  I should have told you at once, but it’s from a time in my life that I’ve tried very hard to forget.   I promise to tell you everything, but it will take a long time, and we must first track down a savage beast.”  She holds out her hand.  “I have no right to ask, but… can you be patient?  Will you trust me?”

I look into her eyes, and I see only honesty and concern.  I’m still wary, but my suspicions fade.  I reach out and take her hand in mine.  “Yes.  I’ll trust you.”

We smile at each other, and our eyes lock.  “But,” I continue.  “Don’t expect me to wait forever.”

“I won’t, my patron,” she replies.  “You have every right to know all about my past.  But for now…”  She sheathes her blades.  “We hunt.”

I think we're on the right track.
Something tells me we’re on the right track.

Not far from the outskirts of the village, we find a heap of animal remains, including two goats and a full-grown moose.   The beast responsible must be close.  Jenassa finds some large tracks nearby, and we follow the trail deeper into the woods.

Suddenly we hear a deafening roar, and a massive shape appears in the shadow of the trees.  It heaves itself forward and rushes toward us.  We grab our bows and start shooting.

That went better than expected.
That went better than expected.

The cave bear attacks with unmitigated fury, but we fill it full of arrows and it drops dead at our feet.  As I’m skinning it, I can just make out a couple of smaller yet similar shapes lingering in the tree line, and my heart sinks.  Ahh, crap.  This bear had cubs.  She was probably stealing livestock in order to feed her family.  I gesture at the cubs, and Jenassa spies them as well.  She looks back at me and shrugs, resigned.

I sigh and continue with my task.  I’m not feeling cold-blooded enough to slaughter the cubs as well, although that’s probably what we should be doing.  I decide to leave the goats and moose behind as food and give the little ones a chance to survive.  Hopefully they’ll move on and find a more suitable place to live.

My thoughts are interrupted by a low, vicious-sounding snarl.  The smell of fresh blood has attracted a wolf pack, and seconds later they’ve surrounded us.  I glance into the trees, but the bear cubs have evidently taken off at the first sign of trouble.  Smart little guys.

Dangerous to walk in the woods around here.
Dangerous to hang out in the woods around here.

Jenassa and I unleash a hail of arrows, but several of the wolves rush us down and we have to resort to our blades.  It’s a tough fight, and I have to fall back on my dwindling supply of healing potions, but eventually we prevail and I gain some more pelts to add to my collection.

After we dispose of the wolves, Jenassa and I decide to explore the other side of the woodlands around Shor’s Stone.  We head toward the eastern mountains, and eventually we come upon the entrance to a cave in the hillside.  We discover a wooden cart parked outside the cave, which seems rather unusual.  Thinking there might be bandits inside, we opt to investigate.

Generally animals don't use carts.
Pro Ranger Tip:  Animals don’t use carts.

We drop to a crouch and head inside the cave.  After our eyes adjust to the dim interior, we notice that there’s a flickering light up ahead.  We follow it to an area that was recently used as a campsite, complete with bedrolls and scattered supplies, with a fire still burning.

This is starting to look ominous...
Not sure I like the looks of this.

Jenassa and I start looking around the abandoned site, searching for anything useful.  Near the campfire are two stools, one of which is overturned and lying on the ground.  On the stool that’s still upright is a journal.  I pick it up and start reading.

Can't say this is making me any less apprehensive.
Can’t say this is making me any less apprehensive.

Jenassa heads deeper into the cave as I’m reading the journal, but soon I hear a soft gasp as she spots something just out of my line of sight.  I replace the journal and make my way toward her — but then I really wish I hadn’t.

Right. This is not getting better.
Right. This is not getting better.

I can see some of the ruins mentioned in the journal, but given that there’s a dismembered body on the floor, my thirst for adventure is notably absent.  Jenassa and I decide not to push our luck, especially as we’ve already had a busy day and we’re both low on healing potions.  We turn around to head back out — but we don’t quite make it to the entrance before we’re attacked by something huge with way too many claws and teeth.

No, Jenassa! You're too awesome to end up as cat food!
No, Jenassa! You’re too awesome to end up as cat food!

The snowy sabre cat takes bloody chunks out of us both, but after a considerable struggle, eventually we manage to gain the upper hand.  I heave a sigh of relief as the corpse of the beast hits the floor.  I’m down to a single healing potion by now, and I’m not feeling lucky.  We turn and head out of the cave before anything else decides to rip us to shreds.

Something something discretion and valour...? Whatever, let's just get out of here.
Is this where I say something pithy about discretion and valour? Whatever, let’s just get out of here.

Outside it’s cold and rainy, and night has already fallen.  I’m not feeling too confident about our ability to make it back to the cabin in the dark, since that’s well on the other side of Shor’s Stone from here.  We start looking for a place to set up camp — ideally someplace that’s not the interior of a death cat lair.

Let's move far away from the cave while we're at it.
And let’s get the hell away from the entrance while we’re at it.

We travel for a short distance before we find a reasonable place to camp.  The ground isn’t entirely level, given that we’re still on the lower slopes of the mountain range, but we’re not inclined to be picky.

After the tent is set up, Jenassa glances at me and asks if I want the explanation that she promised me earlier.  I think it over, but we’re both exhausted, and this doesn’t seem to be the time or the place.  I’ll want to know before long, but right now I just want to eat a warm meal and fall asleep with her in my arms.

After all, she’s my girlfriend.  And I meant what I said before.  I trust her.

Not as cozy as the cabin, but it'll do.
I miss the cabin already.

 

Travel Map 18.
Travel Map 18.

2 thoughts on “Chapter 30: Community Service

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