After we leave the Jarl’s hall, Jenassa and I try to find the Pit — the local name of a jail cell currently holding a psychotic murderer who viciously ripped apart a child. Try as I might, I cannot conceive of a reason why anyone would do such a horrible thing. I want to look this evil in the face, the better to recognize it — although I hope never to encounter it again.
One of the town guards points us toward the Falkreath barracks, telling us to go down into the prison basement where, in his words, we “can’t miss that filthy piece of skeever dung”. The guard goes on to say that we might as well see the murderer while we still can, as it seems they’re still deciding on the most appropriate method of execution.
Inside the barracks, there’s a lot of activity. Guards are bustling back and forth, sharpening their weapons, checking over their gear, comparing schedules. The captain of the guard looks harried, but he greets us respectfully when we enter. I guess word has already gotten out that I’m the new Thane.
We ask to see the prisoner, and the captain shows us a set of stairs leading to the basement. We’re told that we’ll be escorted to the prisoner’s cell by the guard on duty, and that we may speak to the prisoner if we like, but not to expect much in the way of conversation. It seems that the murderer was given a chance to explain his actions when he was arrested, but he declined to say anything, and he’s been silent ever since.
Downstairs, the guard leads us to the prisoner. It’s apparent why this cell is called the Pit, since it’s a dark stone shaft partially filled with water. But the man locked inside doesn’t seem particularly violent or menacing. In fact, he seems more exhausted than anything. He glances up at me with weary eyes as I approach the bars, and in them I read the resigned expression of a cornered animal who expects no pity.
I approach the bars until the prisoner can see me clearly, making it obvious that I’m not just another guard. He reads my intentions, gives me a short nod, and walks toward me. Seems like he’s realized there’s nothing more to be gained by silence, and he’s willing to trust a stranger with his story. Behind me, Jenassa clears her throat, which I interpret as either a warning for me to be on the alert — or a reaction to the unwashed stench of a prisoner who has been left to rot in a damp hole ever since he was arrested.
The prisoner’s name is Sinding, and his story is strange, to say the least. After he admits to slaughtering the little girl, he confesses an even bigger secret — that he’s a werewolf, subject to becoming a beast when the moons are full. He disliked being at the mercy of his transformations, since it made it hard to live in civilized society, and so he stole a powerful ring that was supposed to be able to give him control of when he would change. Unfortunately, the Daedric prince Hircine didn’t appreciate the theft — and cursed the ring instead.
His transformations were now completely random — and tragically, during a recent shift from man to wolf, the little girl became his prey. Now that he’s had that first fatal taste of human blood, the beast inside him craves more. Because of this, he knows he’ll never be able to live freely among people again — not that it matters, since he’ll soon be put to death.
As he speaks, the prisoner shows me the cursed ring on his finger, saying that it needs to go back to Hircine before it causes any more misery. He mentions that there’s a mystical creature roaming the forests of Falkreath, and the hunter who slays the beast will be able to commune directly with the Daedric prince. However, since he’s been thrown in the Pit, there’s no way he can hunt the beast.
So I offer to do it for him. Sinding gasps in surprise, and Jenassa gives me a dig in the ribs as if to say what in Oblivion are you doing?! But even though I’ve just heard from his own lips that this man brutally murdered an innocent child, I can no longer see him as simply a monster. If he’s correct, then if this ring gets any further out into the world, more tragedies will keep occurring. The only thing to do is to take it back to Hircine myself.
Sinding gratefully accepts my offer, and wastes no time in handing over the ring. I slip it onto my own finger for safekeeping, and a kind of otherworldly awareness takes over my senses. It’s as if I’ve taken on the consciousness of a hyper-intelligent predator. I’m immediately able to locate the presence of several different prey species all around us. I stare at the prisoner, amazed. If I also possessed the insatiable hunting instinct of a werewolf while wearing this ring, then I can easily see myself going on a murderous rampage before my bloodlust was sated. The wonder isn’t that he murdered a child — the wonder is that he had enough willpower to resist taking out half the town as well.
As Jenassa and I start to turn away, we hear a low growl coming from the cell. Looking back, we watch in horrified fascination as the prisoner changes into a monstrous wolf. After the transformation is complete, the beast literally starts climbing the walls as he tries to escape the Pit. Knowing that the basement will soon be flooded with guards, we decide to head for the exit as quickly as possible.
Darkness is fast approaching, but I’m driven by a sense of urgency to complete our task while the mystical beast still lingers within the borders of the hold. Jenassa and I mount our horses and ride into the forest. As we travel, I can sense the life-forces of over a dozen game species, and I’m tempted to track them all down. With this ring, I could potentially become the greatest hunter in all of Skyrim — and the most bloodthirsty.
Before long, the town of Falkreath is swallowed by trees as we ride further into the darkening forest. Soon Jenassa and I reach a side path leading off from the main road, and I bring Frost to a halt. Thanks to the ring, I’m aware of a strong presence nearby. While still technically a prey species, this life-force feels utterly majestic, almost magical.
As we ascend the rocky trail, the moonlight glimmers on a large pale form that’s just visible through the trees. We give chase, and the shape resolves itself into a magnificent white stag, nearly as bright as the moonlit snow. The beast leads us higher and higher into the hills, until it reaches the edge of a cliff. Unable to move forward, it tries to double back, but we manage to cut off its retreat. It turns to attack, but our bows are already drawn — and with a few well-aimed arrows, it staggers, and finally collapses at our feet.
Now that the excitement of the hunt is over, I notice that the icy wind is absolutely frigid up at this elevation. I grab my hunting knife, preparing to quickly skin the beast before we leave, when suddenly we’re faced by a powerful glowing presence that takes on the shape of the stag.
I show the ring to the embodiment of Hircine and ask if he would remove the curse. In reply, he tells me I have another task to perform first. I’m to find a werewolf, whom he calls the rogue shifter, and hunt him down, bringing his skin to Hircine. Only then will he agree to lift the curse from the ring.
I’m not sure I like the sound of this, so I put away my bow and start to pull off the ring — only to find that it’s bound tight to my finger. Bloody Daedra. Now I have no choice but to accept Hircine’s terms. Not only that, but he’s sent other hunters after the same prey — whom the ring confirms to be Sinding. Somehow, he’s escaped the Pit.
As the glowing image shimmers and fades, a sudden blizzard blows in. Jenassa and I fight against the wind to get back down the trail, but the snow is swirling all around us, making it nearly impossible to see where we’re going. Soon we lose all sight of the path. We flounder through the trees trying to find our way back to the main road, but the intensity of the storm and the freezing wind forces us to halt. Looks like we’ll have to spend the night out here in the snowy woods.
Fortunately, we stumble across a relatively sheltered area close to a stream. Despite the blizzard howling around us, we somehow manage to chop some firewood, start a fire, and pitch our fur tent. By this time, it’s become so cold that even standing right next to the campfire doesn’t make much difference.
Shivering, we crawl into our cozy little shelter. We heat up some rabbit stew and wash it down with a few bottles of strong mead, and finally the warmth starts to return to our bones. Wrapping our fur cloaks tightly around us, we slide into our bedrolls and huddle together to conserve heat.
Jenassa and I try to stay awake to discuss the encounter with Hircine, but our mental and physical exhaustion catches up with us. Soon we’re drifting off into a warm, sleepy haze while the blizzard continues to rage outside. As my eyes start to close, I turn over the day’s events in my mind — and an important realization dawns on me.
Hircine might force me to hunt… but I remain the hunter. And it’s always the hunter who chooses the game.