As if in a dream, I walk forward into the sanctuary of the Eldergleam — a resplendent cavern open to the sky, filled with all the natural beauty one would expect from a place blessed by Kynareth. Maurice and Jenassa follow behind me, all of us rendered speechless as the wonders of the sanctuary unfold before our dazzled eyes. And high above like a monarch’s crown is the Eldergleam itself, most precious jewel of this treasure trove, branches spread over all like a heavenly benediction.
Moonlight pours through the roof like a fountain of liquid crystal, its silvery light illuminating every leaf, every drop of water, every blade of grass. If my heart were to burst right here, and I were to perish in the presence of such beauty, I would count myself the luckiest being in creation to have this wondrous place be the last thing my fortunate eyes would ever see.
We continue forward, and soon reach a grassy meadow at the foot of a waterfall. As we approach, we’re greeted by a tall blonde Nord woman in her prime. She’s dressed in simple peasant clothing, but has an authoritative presence, and has evidently been in the sanctuary for some time. This must be Asta.
We exchange a few pleasantries, and all seems to be going well until I reveal that I’m carrying the dagger Nettlebane that I obtained from Orphan Rock. To my surprise, Asta visibly recoils at the mere mention of it, and she practically begs me not to use the dagger for fear it will harm the Eldergleam.
Behind her, Jenassa looks slightly exasperated, and I just barely restrain myself from rolling my eyes. Sheesh, dial it back a notch, lady. I just said I wanted to tap it, not cut the tree down. Besides, Danica’s expecting me to return with the sap, and where else am I supposed to get it? Ye Olde Eldergleam Souvenir Shoppe? Dismissing Asta’s paranoid warnings, I give Jenassa a nod. Let’s do this.
Eldergleam’s roots are certainly impressive, and as we were told, they effectively block the path leading up to the tree itself. Removing Nettlebane from my backpack, I wield it in one hand and raise my shield with the other — just in case the tree somehow manages to fight back.
Leaning forward, I cautiously prod one of the roots with the dagger, and it immediately moves out of my way. I look down at the relocated root, and there’s not even a scratch on it. Huh. Well, that was easy.
In this way Jenassa and I proceed up the path, poking at the roots with Nettlebane whenever they block our way, and watching with no small measure of astonishment as the Eldergleam snatches them off the trail at the dagger’s lightest touch. Blessed tree of Kynareth or not, this is one of the strangest examples of Skyrim’s vegetation that I’ve ever seen.
Soon we reach the top of the path, and I find myself standing under the shade of the Eldergleam. I look up at it in awe. It’s even more magnificent from this perspective, and I can’t help but feel reluctant to damage such beauty, even just to retrieve some of the sap. On the other hand, it’s for a good cause. I grasp Nettlebane firmly and take a deep breath as I approach the Eldergleam.
Suddenly I hear a loud noise right behind me, sounding very much like a wordless cry of outrage. I stop and turn around to see Maurice coming up the path with a shocked expression on his face. His countenance is so red and angry that I almost expect him to start shaking his fist at us. Beside me, Jenassa deliberately drops her hand toward the hilt of her axe as he approaches. I can tell she only intends it as a subtle threat, but Maurice is no warrior, and the intent of the gesture sails right over his head.
By the Divines, this moron has a short memory. I didn’t notice him complaining about our so-called violence when we were busy saving his skinny arse from outlaws and spiders. But try to make one little nick on a tree trunk and suddenly I’m some kind of arboreal vampire.
Annoyed, I explain that we’re on a mission from Danica herself to revive the tree in Whiterun, and ask him sarcastically if he has a better idea. To my surprise, he thinks about it for a moment, and then says that he does. I blink, then exchange glances with Jenassa, who shrugs her shoulders. Fine. We’ll see what the skinny pilgrim has in mind before I resort to injuring the tree.
So we agree to follow along, and Maurice leads us directly under the crowning branches of the Eldergleam. Suddenly he drops to his knees as if he’s been shot, and raises his arms toward the tree in a gesture of supplication, chanting some sort of canticle under his breath. Jenassa raises an eyebrow, looking supremely unimpressed, while I just stare at the kneeling figure beside me in disbelief.
Right, I’m sure this seems like a perfectly sensible course of action if you’ve spent most of your life in a temple. But for down-to-earth adventurers like Jenassa and myself, this is obviously going nowhere. I just hope Maurice won’t take it too hard when we have to damage his precious tree after all, and — hold on. What in Oblivion is that?
Sprouting rapidly from an underground root, a sapling swiftly appears in response to Maurice’s mystical murmurings. He nods and gestures toward it, and as if in a daze, I slowly bend down and take hold of the sapling. One gentle twist and it comes off in my hands, and by the time I stand up again, it’s grown a healthy root ball already encased in papery bark. I glance over at Jenassa and she seems even more gobsmacked than I am. Feeling somewhat ashamed of my rude behaviour, I turn and thank our recent companion for his assistance.
As Maurice starts a paean of thanks to Kynareth for her bounty, Jenassa and I transfer some items between us and carefully pack the sapling into my backpack, ensuring that its tender growth is protected from incidental damage. After Maurice finishes and heads back down the path, Jenassa and I take a look around. Since we’re not likely to be coming back this way anytime soon, we decide we might as well see the sights.
This turns out to be a very good idea, as our explorations uncover a couple of chests tucked away in overgrown alcoves. It’s apparent that they used to be receptacles for worshipers to place their offerings, but clearly they’ve lain neglected for a very long time. Jenassa and I decide to liberate the objects inside, including a stunning silver shield that’s truly a work of art.
Leaving Maurice behind at his request, Jenassa and I make the return journey through the caverns leading out of the sanctuary. Outside, night has fallen, and the darkness is nearly palpable. The ground is damp and spongy from multiple steam pools, interspersed with uneven ridges of cold, bare rock. Needless to say, the landscape is not exactly ideal for pitching a tent, and for a few moments we consider heading back to Darkwater Crossing and seeing if they’ll let us sleep in the farmhouse.
Mounting our horses, we decide to head toward the river and try to find a patch of ground near the road that might be more suitable for camping. But soon we run into a massive pack of wolves, forcing us to veer to the northwest, and shortly after that we have to change direction again to avoid a giant camp.
However, it seems the Divines are with us after all. All these unexpected detours lead us straight to an unoccupied shelter near the water, and it looks like it might be a very suitable place to spend the night.
Leaving the horses to graze by the river, we climb a set of stairs toward the back of the dwelling and investigate the place. There’s a small enclosed room with a table and chairs, a wide cot, and a few shelves and containers for storage. Beneath this room is a covered patio with an alchemy table and a tanning rack, plus some barrels containing food, salt, and various alchemy reagents.
A wooden balcony juts out from the main room, leading to a cooking fire, a rack for drying fish, and several narrow catwalks leading out over the water. A small collection of rods and bait confirms that this place is primarily used for fishing. It’s small, but altogether charming, and definitely more comfortable than spending the night camping on the damp, cold ground.
Using some of the ingredients found in the barrels, I start experimenting with the edible parts of the last dragon we encountered. My cooking skill must be improving, as I manage to create a hot and hearty meal for both of us.
After our meal, Jenassa and I remain at the table and discuss our future endeavours. When we get back to Whiterun to return the sapling to Danica, we plan to start working on our homestead in earnest. While both of us still appreciate our life of adventure, we’re very much looking forward to having our own permanent place to live. And so we talk over our plans and dreams far into the night, until the moons rise high in the sky.
Next morning dawns clear and bright. The fresh pine-scented breeze swirls through the open windows of the little fishing hut, and in minutes I’m wide awake. It promises to be a beautiful day, and after we breakfast on baked salmon and boiled eggs, I step outside to bask in the warm sunshine.
It occurs to me that Jenassa and I have been traveling for quite awhile, and since we didn’t bother to pay for a bath at the Bannered Mare in Whiterun, I’m feeling somewhat rank with accumulated travel grime.
Then I look at the sparking river below me, and I break into a wide grin. C’mon Jenassa — last one in is a stinky horker!