Chapter 38: Witch Hunt

Riding into Falkreath Hold, I become aware of an odd sound drifting through the trees.  At first it’s just at the edge of my awareness, and other noises are competing with it — wind in the branches, evening birdsong, the steady drumming of our horses’ hooves on the stony road.  But as we ride, the sound grows stronger and steadier until it’s impossible to ignore.

I bring Frost to a halt just off the road and look around.  I hear Jenassa’s horse come to a stop, and I glance behind me, raising my hand to point into the trees.  Jenassa nods once, indicating that she hears it as well.  We stay silent and listen.

The sound appears to be close by, an eerie multi-toned ululation that seems to weave itself through the trees.  It’s apparent that several voices are contributing to the echoing chorus, and more voices are chanting in counterpoint to the unearthly melody.  The hairs on the back of my neck slowly rise as we listen, and it’s all I can do to keep still, instead of urging my horse to run.

Looks kinda dark in there.
I’m not so sure about this.

Jenassa slowly walks her horse up beside mine.  “Witches,” she murmurs.  “No telling how many there are in that grove.”

I peer through the trees in the fading light.  “Are they having some kind of unholy ceremony?  Sounds creepier than a draugr crypt.”

A quick grin flickers over her features, and she nods.  “Indeed it does.  Perhaps it would be best if we…” Her words fade away as her expression changes.

“What is it?”  I ask, clenching the reins and preparing to kick Frost into a fast trot.

“Danica in Whiterun,” she replies thoughtfully, gazing into the trees.  “She mentioned there were hagravens around here, and they possess an artifact she needs to repair the tree.  I believe we may have found their coven.”  Before I can reply, she slides off her horse in silence and readies her bow.

I groan, but I owe it to Danica to investigate.  We start to follow a path through the trees, but after just a few steps, the chanting abruptly stops.  Thinking that they might have heard our approach, we turn aside and move further into the underbrush.  Jenassa points to a stony outcropping with her bow, and I nod.  We’ll take cover behind the rocks.

Ahh crap, they spotted us.
Someone’s got a hot temper.

I reach the outcropping before Jenassa does and start rummaging in my backpack for some mead.  It’s getting really cold out here.  I crouch behind the rocks to start a hidden campfire, but unfortunately they’ve spotted my wife.   Fireballs rain down from the top of a massive boulder, giving away Jenassa’s position, and several robed figures move toward her through the trees.  I pull out my bow and start shooting at the source of the fireballs, but it’s difficult to fire accurately in the darkening woods.

Distracted by fireballs, it’s a couple of minutes before I notice that my beloved wife is fighting several spellcasters at once — and losing.  My heart sinks as I watch her cut down one enemy, only to have two more attack.  I fire my bow at one of the witches, but she’s put up some kind of ward and I’m hardly making a dent in her magical defenses.  Right, this isn’t going so well.

I’m about to summon a conjured ally, when Jenassa cuts down a second witch.  I pause, thinking it won’t be necessary to summon after all, when another fireball strikes my wife and blasts her somewhere out of my sight.  Panicking, I jump down from the rocks and frantically search for her.   Another witch starts to cast, but I make a wild dash, bash her in the face with my shield, and plunge Dawnbreaker into her chest.  She dies screaming as the holy fire of Meridia consumes her — which is all well and good, but where in Oblivion is my wife?!

At least the fireballs have stopped for now.  I climb back on the rocks to see if I can spot her from a higher vantage point.  Then as I turn around, I spot Jenassa stealthily making her way toward my campfire.  Thank the Divines!

By Mara! I love you, but if you ever scare me like that again, I'll kill you myself!
By Mara!  I love you, but if you ever scare me like that again, I’ll shoot you myself!

We stay down near the fire for awhile, keeping warm and making sure no other enemies are nearby.  After a few minutes, we slip out from behind the rocks.  We still have to take out the lead hagraven and retrieve her weapon for Danica — hopefully without attracting any more fireballs.  Those things hurt.

As we quietly sneak through the forest, we run into a couple more more witches.  At least down here we’re no longer in sight of the lead hagraven, and she can’t seem to find the right angle to pelt us with fireballs.  This evens the odds in our favour.

Let's hope there's no necromancers around.
There better not be any necromancers around.  Way too much prime corpse material.

We work our way up a steep hill, looking for a way to get to the top without being discovered by the hagraven.  We find a path and I start to walk alongside it, then stop short.  In front of me is a frost rune half-buried in the grass.  I point it out to Jenassa, and I hear her take in a breath.  Clearly this is some kind of early-warning system set up for intruders.

I glance around and notice a shadowy area close by, studded with sharpened wooden stakes, and on the other side of the path is a bear trap.  Lovely.  Looks like we’ll have to find our way around these hidden snares without attracting unwanted attention.  Now I have to watch where I’m putting my feet, even though it slows me down significantly — and the cold is starting to chill my bones again.

Let's hope there aren't many more of the same.
Let’s hope there aren’t many more of these left.

Finally we reach the top of the hill.  There are several hide shelters arranged in a rough semicircle, and close by is another campfire.  We can’t see any more witches, but the hagraven is up on top of a massive flat-topped boulder, and the only way to reach her is over a log bridge.  And of course, below the bridge is another set of sharpened stakes.

Jenassa and I find a place to hide, trying to devise a way across the bridge that doesn’t leave us fatally vulnerable.  In the end, we decide on a plan of attack that’s definitely risky, but at least has the element of surprise.

We manage to sneak up to the bridge without alerting the enemy.  I dip my arrow into a poison that reduces magical power, shoot the hagraven in the back, draw Dawnbreaker, and rush across the bridge as Jenassa starts firing.

It almost doesn’t work.  The hagraven blasts me with a fireball, and I stagger, nearly losing my footing and falling on the stakes below.  She blasts me again and I quickly down a healing potion, but now I’m on fire.  One more blast and I’m probably done for.  Fortunately at this point, she’s fresh out of magic, and she steps on the bridge to finish me off with her sharp claws.  I strike with Dawnbreaker and set her alight, but she’s still got more way more health than I do.

Suddenly I realize I have another weapon in my arsenal.  I open my mouth in a mighty Shout of Unrelenting Force.  The power of my Voice knocks her right off the bridge, and she immediately expires, impaled on a forest of sharp stakes.

Hag, you just got Fus-Ro-Dead.
Check it out, Jenassa — that hag is Fus-Ro-Dead.

Avoiding painful punctures, we carefully search the body and find the weapon on her corpse.  We also search the immediate area, loot a couple of nearby chests, and find some choice alchemy ingredients on the hagraven’s enchanting table.  There’s also a dead spriggan lying on a makeshift altar, from which I extract a taproot.

By now it’s getting pretty dark, not to mention cold, but it’s still not very late.  We decide to continue on our way to the town of Falkreath — especially since neither of us relishes the thought of camping near a hagraven nest.   So after we locate our horses again, we’re right back on the road.

You'd think spriggans would be less active at night.
Guess the witches had no shortage of spriggans to sacrifice.

On the other side of Helgen, there’s a mysterious green glow illuminating our path.   I bring my horse to a halt just as the glow separates into two distinct gleaming lights and envelops a large dark shape.  Suddenly a thundering roar disrupts the peace of the sleeping forest, and it’s honestly rather terrifying.  Right, I’m thinking a detour might be a very good idea.

Flora vs. fauna. Not sure who's winning, not sticking around to find out.
Flora vs. fauna.  Place your bets.

As we approach, I can see that it’s a troll fighting with a couple of spriggans.   Definitely not something we want to get involved with.   Jenassa and I give them a wide berth, staying far enough away that we manage to avoid attracting their attention.  Don’t mind us, scary creatures of the night.  Just passing by.  As you were.

Finally we reach the town of Falkreath.  By now it’s pitch black and getting very chilly indeed, not to mention I’m starving.  As we ride through the gates, I’m reminded that according to a stranger back at the Drunken Huntsman, someone wanted to meet me at the inn here.  It’s taken us quite awhile to get to Falkreath since then, so let’s hope the message didn’t involve anything urgent.

At the gates of Falkreath.
At the gates of Falkreath.

The inn has a rather disturbing name — Dead Man’s Drink.  Maybe it’s meant as a joke.  I certainly hope it’s not some kind of warning about the alcohol they serve.  On the other hand, I’m not a man, and neither is Jenassa, so obviously we’ll be fine.   Bring it on.

I'm game if you are.
I’m game if you are.

We step inside the small establishment, and to my surprise it’s pretty crowded.  I suppose there’s not much else to do in this town.  It takes us awhile to find the innkeeper, but when we do, I have to admire her birds-eye view of the place.

As I talk to the owner, I scan the inn for any likely-looking individuals who might’ve sent their personal messenger after me to set up a meeting.  No one seems to fit the bill, and I inwardly shrug.  Could be they moved on, or maybe they only drop in from time to time.   If we happen to encounter this mysterious person, great.  If not, I won’t be too concerned.  We have more important things to worry about, such as our audience with the Jarl in the morning.

Great view, and I'll try your mead. I like to live dangerously.
Great view, and I’ll try your mead. I like to live dangerously.

After ordering a hearty meal along with some disappointingly ordinary mead — talk about false advertising! — Jenassa and I check out our accommodations.  Fortunately, it’s just as good as what we had back in Morthal, including a bathtub.  Now there’s a welcome sight.

It’s been a long trip, so after dinner we retire to our room.  I’m very glad we’ve made it here with Frost and kept our promise to Danica, and I’m tempted to celebrate with Jenassa all night long. However, we want to be well-rested before we meet with the Jarl, since I’m pretty sure he’s going to assign us some dangerous and life-threatening task.   Don’t ask me why. Call it a really strong hunch.

A shrine to Arkay. In Dead Man's Drink. I see what you did there.
Right.  A shrine to Arkay in Dead Man’s Drink.  I see what you did there.

 

Travel Map 22.
Travel Map 22.

 

 

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