After clearing out the bandits from Valtheim Towers, Jenassa and I reunite with our travel companion and continue our journey. Just before we head out, I glance up at the lowering sun and feel a twinge of anxiety. The afternoon has started its transition into early evening, and I’m hoping there won’t be any more time-consuming encounters before dark. Our tent isn’t big enough to accommodate more than two people, and given that Maurice is an unarmed pacifistic pilgrim who can’t even get on a horse, I doubt he’d survive the night.
As we ride, both of us keep a sharp eye out for any roadside threats that might endanger our companion. When we find ourselves at the border of Eastmarch, I cautiously relax. Darkwater Crossing isn’t too far now, and with any luck, the sanctuary of the Eldergleam should be just beyond. The road ahead seems completely clear of any dangers, so I sit back in the saddle and start to enjoy the ride.
But of course, this is Skyrim — a harsh land that seems to take sadistic pleasure in punishing the complacent. Just as we cross a bridge, Jenassa and I hear a vicious hissing noise coming up from below. Reining in our horses, we turn to see an enormous frostbite spider scuttle toward us from under the supports, and it doesn’t look very friendly.
Worse yet, Maurice is just coming up on the other side of the bridge. It’s apparent that we have to kill this thing fast, before it decides in favour of the easier prey that’s about to walk straight into its mandibles.
Remaining on our mounts, Jenassa and I grab our bows and start shooting at the giant spider. This attracts the creature’s attention, and it returns the assault by spitting poison in our direction — but it also seems to have trouble deciding where to aim. Its venom lands harmlessly on the road as we keep moving, circling around the arachnid to confuse it further as we continue to fill it full of arrows. Finally it slumps forward, dead, just as Maurice crosses the bridge and rejoins us.
After the spider is successfully squished, we resume our journey. Fortunately no other threats crawl out of the shadows, and we’re already within striking distance of Darkwater Crossing — so it doesn’t take long before we reach the outskirts of the modest mining camp.
Maurice has already fallen behind, of course. However, Jenassa and I are pretty sure he won’t get into trouble in such a short time, unless he happens to get really unlucky — or if Kynareth decides she doesn’t want him around. Which, given that he seems incredibly unprepared to travel anywhere outside a city, doesn’t sound so farfetched.
There appears to be only one permanent dwelling in Darkwater Crossing, and unlike the mining community at Kynesgrove, it’s not even an inn. It’s just an ordinary farmhouse, complete with a small field of crops and a few chickens. Hopefully someone’s at home. Dismounting, I make sure I still have Sylgja’s satchel with me before I approach the farmhouse door.
At my knock, someone inside calls out an invitation to enter. I glance back at Jenassa to make sure she’s heard, then I pull open the door and head inside.
Sylgja’s parents are clearly very pleased to hear from their daughter. After her father accepts the satchel, he immediately empties it of its contents, then starts stuffing it full of letters as he asks me to return the satchel to her. Seriously?! Why does everyone try to make me the new courier? Sure, he’s only one man and Skyrim is a big place, but… oh, for the love of Mara, fine. But this is the last time I’m acting as the pony express or I swear by the Divines, I will go postal on someone’s arse.
As I reluctantly accept the satchel, Verner and his wife start arguing about how much work she does in the mine compared to her husband. It seems that his wife used to be an adventurer, and she still has some of the old wanderlust, which he resents. It’s clearly an old argument, as neither of them even raise their voices, and from their tone it’s evident that they’re going over well-trodden ground. Still, it’s rather embarrassing for an outsider to listen to their disagreement, so I bid them farewell as Jenassa and I swiftly take our leave.
As we exit the farmhouse, Maurice is waiting for us beside our horses. Good to know he didn’t get eaten by wild creatures after all — although I admit if it had happened, I’m sure Jenassa and I would manage to carry on somehow.
Fortunately, from the general appearance of the landmarks around us, the location of the Eldergleam sanctuary must be close by. Maurice confirms our suspicions, claiming that as a pilgrim of Kynareth, he can sense the Eldergleam’s presence. He starts shouting vague directions at us while Jenassa and I exchange progressively more exasperated glances. It’s official — we can’t ditch this twit fast enough.
Soon we find ourselves at the mouth of a dark cave. Our travel companion stops right at the entrance, and excitedly announces that we’ve reached the sanctuary of the Eldergleam. In reply, Jenassa and I just look at him in disbelief. This is clearly ridiculous. Trees don’t grow underground, much less ancient trees that have existed beyond living memory. Obviously he’s suffering from extreme fatigue, and the exhaustion from the long walk has addled his brain.
We politely suggest this as a possibility — okay, maybe we aren’t all that polite — but Maurice is having none of it. Instead of listening to reason, he addresses us in an extremely overbearing manner, insisting that the Eldergleam is right through that passage. Behind his back, Jenassa rolls her eyes, and I shrug. Whatever. It’s rapidly getting darker and we don’t have time to argue. First I make sure my bow is within reach, and then I take the plunge into the cave.
In the darkness, I can hear Maurice chattering like a hyper magpie right behind me. He seems to be chanting a litany to Kynareth, and while some might find his piety inspiring, it just makes me want to brain him. Pilgrim or not, this fool has no concept of caution, and obviously doesn’t care who, or what, might hear us. Jenassa hisses at him to be quiet, but he just shrugs off her warning and keeps up his moronic monologue. My fingers start to get twitchy, and it takes all of my willpower not to reach for Dawnbreaker and silence this so-called pilgrim for good.
Since there’s no point in trying to be stealthy with all the noise, I continue walking deeper and deeper into the passage. Judging by the echoes of Maurice’s incessant babble, there seems to be an open space up ahead — a very large open space. Taking several deep breaths, I force one foot ahead of the other, preparing to grab my weapons at a moment’s notice.
Suddenly a current of fresh air caresses my face, and I halt for a moment, reflexively drawing its sweet scent deeper into my lungs. I have a sudden flashback of a massive chasm, bridges of stone, a dragon wall, and mysterious glowing stones. Ustengrav, another place where forests grow underground.
A few steps later, and my jaw drops. I find myself standing in a dazzling cavern that’s open to the sky, in the midst of a majestic pine grove. I’m astonished, thunderstruck. By the eternal and glorious Divines, what a magnificent place! I have to admit, I owe Maurice an apology.
Then I hear him approach behind me, his pretentious voice still incessantly chanting, and I grit my teeth. On the other hand, apologies can wait. Let’s just hurry and find that damn tree.