Waking early the next day, we emerge from the tent into a clear and sunny morning. After Jenassa and I strike camp, we grab a quick breakfast and mount up to take a tour of our new homestead. In the daylight it looks even better — the Jarl’s steward wasn’t kidding when she called it a fine piece of property.
Most of the land is high on a ridge, bordered on one side by a stony cliff. Atop the ridge it’s relatively level, with a beautiful and secluded forest clearing. Facing south, we can see the clear waters of Lake Ilinalta glimmering through the trees, with the ancient structure of Bleak Falls Barrow visible from the opposite shore. In every way it’s the ideal site for our home.
We continue to ride around the property, and soon we discover what appears to be a tangle of animal hides lying in the grass below us. We head toward it, and the object resolves itself into the corpse of a woodcutter dressed in rough fur armour. The body appears recently fallen, and we dismount in order to investigate.
As we approach the body, suddenly we’re startled by the baying of angry wolves. I barely have time to grab my bow before they attack, but Jenassa is quicker. Within seconds she whips out her blades while I manage to fire off a couple of shots. Fortunately it’s a fairly small pack of wolves, and pretty soon there are a few more animal hides lying on the ground.
After skinning the wolves and extracting some of the more useful bits for alchemy purposes, we continue our tour of the property. I’ve noticed an odd cluster of stone pillars toward the lake on our side of the road, and thinking there may be some interesting ruins nearby, we head over to check it out.
As it turns out, the circle of stone pillars surround a necromancer’s altar, and the site is guarded by undead skeletons. Fortunately for us, they make for relatively weak adversaries. We take down the skeletons without much trouble and start looking around for the source.
Experience tells us that the necromancer won’t be far away, and sure enough, we find a suspicious woman robed in black near the road. I rush toward her, intending to bash her with my shield and prevent any spellcasting, but the sorcerer manages to keep her cool.
Jenassa dashes past me, blades at the ready — and although the giant snowman blasts her with cold, soon she’s right up in the necromancer’s face. I hang back and start chipping away at the icy golem, distracting it from freezing my wife to death. This is surprisingly effective, as it really doesn’t like the Daedric fire emanating from Dawnbreaker — and without the atronach’s protection, the necromancer ceases to be a match for Jenassa.
After we loot the necromancer’s body and dump it in the lake, we clear the altar of ritualistic objects and remount our horses. There’s a logging mill located just down the road, and we’ll need plenty of timber delivered if we plan to continue building our house.
From inside the treeline we hear more howling, but we manage to avoid another wolf attack, thanks to a pair of hunters who successfully take on the beasts. However, it seems there are more dangers along this road. A rusty arrow whistles past my ear, but it definitely wasn’t fired from any hunter’s bow.
Startled, I turn my horse in the direction of the trees, and two more skeletons appear from the underbrush. Apparently that necromancer had a busy life. As Jenassa rides up to attack from horseback, I pull out my own bow and start shooting.
Fortunately we manage to dispatch both skeletons without having to dismount. Off in the trees, I can just make out the remains of ancient ruins, but I decide against further exploration for the time being — otherwise we’ll never get to the lumber mill. And that means our house won’t be built, which is simply not acceptable. Saving the world from abominations of nature will just have to wait. It’s all about priorities.
Finally we reach the mill without any further encounters with the living dead. We ride around to the back where the logs are being cut, and a woman approaches us. She seems friendly enough — perhaps a little too friendly. She moves closer to us, and I find myself stepping back, while Jenassa turns away from her as if by instinct.
The woman invites us to stay and visit, which strikes me as a rather odd thing for a merchant to say when we’re just here to purchase lumber. On the other hand, cutting up logs for a living can’t be the most exciting career. I guess it’s no wonder she’s a bit desperate for company.
After ordering some lumber for delivery, Jenassa and I continue to ride west on the road that circles Lake Ilinalta. Soon we’ve crossed the border into Whiterun Hold, and the ring of Hircine shows me where Sinding has gone to ground.
As we reach the northern road, we guide our horses toward the werewolf’s refuge, with the afternoon sun warm on our backs. I reach into my backpack for some sustenance, as I don’t know when we’ll next be able to enjoy a square meal. Assuming, of course, we manage to survive our encounter with the werewolf.
Finally we turn off the main road at a low stone cairn marked by a skull. Beyond, we can make out a shadowy path that leads toward a dark cave. As we dismount, the pull from Hircine’s ring increases, indicating that we’re closing in on our quarry.
Approaching the cave, I’m surprised to feel a breath of wind emanating from its depths — and dismayed to smell the scent of fresh blood on the breeze. I glance back at Jenassa for reassurance, and she nods as if to say I’m right behind you. Taking a deep breath, I drop to a crouch and enter.
After winding our way through a narrow stone passage, we emerge into a hidden grove that’s open to the sky. Slowly straightening, we gape in wonder as we look around. It’s a beautiful place, full of tall trees and wildflowers, with waterfalls cascading into deep pools — or it would be beautiful, if it weren’t for the bloody carnage right at our feet.
Just ahead of us, we hear a low harrowing moan. Stepping over pools of blood, we follow the sound to a badly injured Khajiit propped up against a rock. He regards us with a resigned expression, knowing that his wounds are fatal, but he inclines his head in a gesture that invites us to approach. As soon as we’re within whispering distance, he haltingly speaks.
I ask him what happened here, and he obliquely replies that the prey proved to be too strong for the hunters. Then he gasps that I should bring down the werewolf for the glory of Hircine, whereupon he drops dead at my feet. Great. Just great. This doesn’t seem like a suicide mission or anything.
Alarmed, I turn toward Jenassa. Her brow is creased with worry, but at my questioning look she shakes her head. “I know it looks bad, but we have to go on,” she says. “Hircine is a Daedra, and if we disobey his command, he will surely make us regret it. If we turn tail and run, even Meridia won’t help us. None of the Daedra can abide cowardice.”
I open my mouth to argue, but then I close it again when I recall the grief-stricken face of the farmer’s wife back in Falkreath. I might be able to stand fast and defy Hircine, but I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I disregarded the horrific death of Indara’s daughter. Swallowing my reply, I face Jenassa under the eerie light of the Blood Moon, and give her a single short nod.
Ready or not… the hunt is on.