Chapter 33: Urban Decay

After Jenassa finishes her tale, it’s already early afternoon.  My hangover potion wasn’t quite as good as the innkeeper’s in Kynesgrove, but it was enough to make her feel better, at least for now.  The day is still bright, so we decide to head into Riften and pick up more supplies.

On the way, she tells me more about the city.  She’s been back to Riften on many occasions since she left the Thieves Guild, but she spends as little time there as possible.  From what she’s been telling me, I can’t blame her.  Graft, corruption, extortion, bribery — these appear to be everyday occurrences in Riften, and the guards are almost as bad as the professional thieves.

In addition, Maven Black-Briar’s influence is everywhere, from the lowliest street beggar to the Jarl’s palace itself, making it almost impossible for any visitor to avoid lining Maven’s pockets.   It might take a convoluted route to get there, but according to Jenassa, hardly a septim passes through Riften without Maven’s notice.

Let's hope our horses will still be here when we get back.
Let’s hope our horses will still be here when we get back.

It’s this last point that irks me the most.  It’s not enough that I unwittingly paid Maven for her attempt on my life, but now I’m aware that even more of my gold will eventually find its way into her corrupt clutches.   As Jenassa and I reach the city stables, I make myself a promise.  Somehow, I will find a way to even the score a little — ideally without getting myself killed.

We dismount and approach the gates.  One of the guards glances in our direction, and just for a moment, a smirk crosses his face before he goes back to his initial stony expression.  What, do I have a smudge on my face?  A stain on my gear?  A piece of frost mirriam caught in my teeth?

Oh c'mon. You're not even trying.
Oh c’mon. “Visitor’s tax”?  You’re not even trying.

Jenassa raises an eyebrow and stares down the guard.  I let him know we’re not impressed.  Even the other guard gives him a sidelong glance, as if to say you botched that one, mate. 

Suddenly the guard becomes terribly helpful, even opening the gate for us while hissing at us to keep our voices down.  I can feel a smirk of my own cross my face as we enter the city.

Oh sure, we'll pay the tax... said no one ever.
Okay sure, we’ll pay the tax… said no one ever.

If Jenassa hadn’t already told me that all the guards were on the take, and the one outside hadn’t just tried to scam us, I might’ve assumed that Riften was the most law-abiding city in Skyrim.  Guards are everywhere.  We can hardly walk three steps without seeing someone in uniform.  In fact, within the first minute of entering the main gate, we practically run into one.

Erm, well... actually...
Erm… yeah!  Crazy, right?  But who knows?  You could be the Dragonborn, and just not know it yet!

Maybe it’s just me, but I’m getting the impression that everyone in this city is a little too interested in our business.  Not only that, but Riften evidently has other types of people who seem overly concerned about its “protection”.  It’s apparent that Jenassa wasn’t exaggerating about this place.

No, I'm looking for Strife. He's Trouble's brother.
No, I’m looking for Strife.  That’s Trouble’s twin brother.

Holy sweetrolls, we haven’t even reached the inn yet!  This is getting a tad ridiculous.  I manage to shake off Mr. Tactful by giving short answers and continuing to walk forward, but within seconds we’re stopped in our tracks again.  At least this time we’re not the focus of attention — for whatever that’s worth.

Hmm, actually, that could be worth quite a lot.
Hmm, actually, that could be worth quite a lot.

Since neither of them are trying to keep their conversation private — and more importantly, since they’re standing in our way — Jenassa and I overhear the entire exchange.  Seems the young Redguard lad is in some kind of trouble, and the woman he’s arguing with isn’t inclined to be sympathetic, especially since she likely caused the trouble in the first place.

Between the corrupt guards and the obnoxious bouncer, and now this, I’m starting to think that anyone who isn’t a Nord in Riften is considered a second-class citizen.  It seems as though it’s a similar attitude to the pervasive bigotry in Windhelm — the prejudice here just takes a different form.

Either that, or everyone’s just out for themselves, and the hell with anyone else.

Or she'll just try to kill you anyway. This Sapphire sounds like Maven's apprentice or something.
Or she’ll try to kill you anyway. This Sapphire sounds like Maven’s apprentice or something.

I feel sorry for the kid, so I offer to help him out of his debt.  Jenassa shoots me a look that says don’t get involved, but if I don’t do something to offset all the negativity we’ve experienced in the short time we’ve been here, Riften will utterly depress me.  And then the city will have won.   I’m determined that Riften won’t get me down — at least, not today.

Fortunately, I don’t seem to be the only one with this attitude.  When we finally enter the inn, I’m pleasantly surprised to see a priest.  And this priest appears to be a good sort — impassioned, forthright, genuinely concerned about the souls of his flock.  I have to admire the man.  That’s gotta be an uphill battle in this town.

Crap, did someone recognize me as the Dragonborn? I bet it was that guard.
Now wait just a minute… what are you implying?!

Unfortunately, he also appears to be slightly mistaken about certain elements in the chain of cause-and-effect.  Mind you, he’s a priest, and part of their job is to assert things.  You can’t assert very well if you’re unsure about the order of events, or if those events are even related, so I suppose you’d have to make some assumptions and build up some confidence in order to get people to listen…

Okay, never mind all that.  He’s just dead wrong.   Obviously.  I think.

Dude, not to say your ideas aren't interesting, but I'm the Dragonborn and I used to run a tavern. Think about it.
But I’m the Dragonborn and I used to own a tavern.  Wait… did I just prove your point?

Feeling slightly confused and out of my depth, I glance around and catch sight of my quarry.  Leaning against the wall in a deliberate show of boredom, she’s making a point of ignoring the prohibitionist sermon.  There’s something about her practiced apathy that’s deeply irritating.  Sapphire, my arse.  Looks more like Cubic Zirconia to me.

I approach her and mention her public argument with the Redguard.  At first she tries to brush me off, but I’m not as easy to ignore as the priest.  An Argonian barmaid casually wanders over, alert in case there’s trouble.  Remembering how the guard at the gate reacted when he thought someone might overhear his lame attempt at extortion, I raise my voice a little.

That's what I thought.
That’s what I thought.

Once Sapphire backs down, Jenassa gives me a friendly nudge, reminding me that we still have to find some supplies.  As we turn to head out, I spot the priest of Mara being escorted outside by another Argonian employee.  He mentions something to the priest about arranging a marriage, but it’s too low for me to hear.   Interesting.

Outside, Jenassa leads me down a set of wooden stairs to the boardwalk surrounding the canals.  It’s apparent that this is the poorer section of the city, but for whatever reason, it’s also the location of the alchemy shop.  I consider the possibilities for a few moments, but then I figure I probably don’t want to know.

Hell of a place to make a living.
Not the best place to make a living.

I approach the woman behind the counter, but instead of assisting me, she starts lamenting about how hard it is to learn alchemy, how many ingredients she’s already wasted, and how much she owes to the master alchemist.   Look, lady, none of this is my problem.  I’m just here to pick up some healing potions.  Hopefully not made by you, because frankly, it sounds like you’re in the wrong business.

Look, I'll try to make this simple. I can haz bottled red stuff, kthx?
Right, I’ll try to make this simple.  I can haz bottles of red stuff, kthx?

Since it’s clear I’m getting nowhere with her, I head toward an older woman working at an alchemy table.  Fortunately this one seems to be a little more receptive to the idea of customer service.  I buy up their entire supply of healing potions — which is, unfortunately, just a handful.  She apologizes for the lack of finished supplies, adding that she’s been working hard trying to replenish their stock.

Tell you what. I'll make the trip if you make some more potions. Deal?
Tell you what. I’ll make the trip if you make some more potions. Deal?

Feeling charitable, and still determined not to let Riften’s negative atmosphere get the better of me, I offer to help out by traveling to Shor’s Stone on her behalf for an ore sample.   After all, we’re heading back anyway, and since the ranger cabin is a stone’s throw from the village, it isn’t that much of an imposition.

She’s delighted and jumps at my offer, promising that she’ll have several potions ready for me when I get back with the sample.  As we conclude our business, I can tell that Jenassa has had enough of Riften for one day.  Fair enough, we don’t have any reason to stick around.  Let’s get out of here.

Well, yeah. You could say I already heard.
Well, yes, actually. You could say I already heard.

After we run the gauntlet of guards a second time on the way out, we head back to the stables.  Fortunately the Redguard lad is on duty and tending to the horses.  The sky has clouded over and there’s a hint of rain in the air, but when I tell him the good news, the smile on his face is like the sun coming out.

Well, no one does, but we're not from Riften... y'know what, just go with it, kid.
Well, no one does, but then we’re not from Riften… y’know what, just go with it, kid.

His obvious gratitude makes the effort worthwhile, but he also gives us a potion as a reward.  It’s not a healing potion, but it’s a useful one all the same — a potion of invisibility.  It’s the first one I’ve seen since I was left for dead back at that Dwemer ruin.  I thank the lad and store it away carefully.  Never know when it might come in handy.

Jenassa and I mount up and head straight to Shor’s Stone, hoping to get there before the rain arrives.  Although it remains cloudy, the weather doesn’t break.   As we arrive at the village, I glance at my girlfriend and notice that she’s looking a bit worn out.  I can’t tell if it’s due to the physical exertion after her hangover, or the emotional exertion of spending time in Riften.

The village might be small, but it's certainly pretty.
The village might be small, but it’s kinda pretty.

Turns out that the ore sample is being kept by our old friend, the blacksmith.  After we exchange greetings,  I let him know that we’re here on behalf of the Riften alchemists.   I guess he knows them pretty well, because he has a good idea of how their business functions — not to mention their marriage.

Since I just met them today, I'll refrain from personal remarks -- but you can go on as long as you like.
Since I just met them today, I’ll refrain from making personal remarks — but you go right ahead!

He hands me the lump of ore, explaining that he’s never seen anything like it, and that it showed up around the same time that the spiders moved in.  Oh, goody.  That doesn’t sound ominous or anything.  I wrap the sample in a spare piece of leather and tuck it away in my backpack.   I’m thinking I’d better take this ore back to Riften straight away, in case spiders mysteriously decide to infest my luggage.

However, it’s clear that Jenassa isn’t up for another trip, not to mention that she’s got more reasons to avoid Riften than visit it twice in one day.  We ride back to the cabin so that she can get some more rest.  After reassuring her that I’ll be back by nightfall, she gives me an affectionate kiss and some excellent advice.

Isn't she a treasure?
Isn’t she a treasure?

As I head back out, I smile to myself.  Unbeknownst to my girlfriend, I have another reason to head back to town.  I’m planning a little surprise, but I’ll have to work fast to get everything in place by this evening.

As I remount my horse, I glance up at the sky and send a silent prayer to the heavens for luck.  There’s a saying back in High Rock that the gods always bless the fools, the lovers, and the bold.  Right now I feel like all three in one.  That’s got to count for something.

I cross my fingers as I turn my mount back toward the city.  May the Divines guide me.

Travel Map 19.
Travel Map 19.

 

 

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