Chapter 59: Reaping the Rewards

Riding back to Whiterun in the bright sunshine is an exhilarating experience.  The windswept prairie grasses are like waves on a golden ocean, and overhead is the shining dome of a crystal-blue sky.   Capricious breezes delight our senses with the fragrance of a thousand wildflowers, and even the mountains wreathed in mist seem to smile down on us.

It’s apparent that Frost is also feeling frisky, as he kicks up his heels when I urge him into a gallop.  Behind me, I can hear Jenassa encourage her steed until the two of us are neck-and-neck, and soon we’re dashing through the grasslands in a a spontaneous horse race.  Jenassa is the better equestrian, as she can control her mount with uncanny precision — but I’m more willing to take risks and let my horse have some fun.  This turns out to be an advantage, as instead of steering Frost around a shallow pond, I urge him to clear it in one flying leap.  Jenassa is surprised by my stunt, but it puts me firmly in the lead, and the surrounding hills ring with our laughter as we sprint wildly across the plains.

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Chapter 58: Lunar Eclipse

Just before dawn the next morning, I suddenly find myself wide awake.  Jenassa is still asleep, and I gently ease myself from the furs in an effort not to wake her — not an easy feat, given the small dimensions of our bed.  As I slowly swing my feet around and stand up, she mumbles and turns over.  I stop moving and hold my breath, but fortunately she drifts off again.

I exhale in relief and reach for my backpack.  Before I even bother with my clothes, I find myself frantically rummaging for some food.  I’m absolutely starving.  As quietly as I can, I grab anything from our provisions that looks remotely edible and stuff it in my face.  Bread, cheese, sweetrolls, cold stew, apples, raw carrots, half a cabbage… they all disappear with surprising speed.  When my hunger is finally sated, I’m shocked at how little food is left.

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Chapter 57: Flesh and Bones

As Jenassa and I ride out from Whiterun, the sun is sinking behind the hills, but there’s still enough light to find our way.  We head almost due west through the open fields, taking the more direct route rather than traveling along the roads.  While this is somewhat riskier, we’re confident that we can easily outrun any dangerous wildlife as long as we’re on horseback.

By the time we reach the general location of the bandit camp, the sun has almost fully set.  It takes a few minutes before we find the entrance to the hideout, as it appears to have been built inside a cave, and the doorway is further hidden beneath a rock overhang.  According to the bounty papers, the site is commonly known as Redoran’s Retreat.  I have no idea who Redoran might be, but I have to admit, he certainly has a knack for building secret hideouts.

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Chapter 56: Impostor Syndrome

Crossing the border into Falkreath Hold, the chill wind loses some of its bite as it descends from the mountains to play in the trees.   By now it’s mid-afternoon, and we’ve been on the road since early this morning.  For some reason I’m hungrier than usual, so I reach into my share of provisions.  I end up devouring three apples, a wedge of cheese, half a loaf of bread, and a piece of cold venison the size of my head.  Slightly shocked at the extent of my appetite, I resolve not to eat anything else for the time being — otherwise Frost and I will soon be able to wear the same size armour.

Up ahead is the ruins of Helgen, where I’m expected to find an ex-Legionnaire named Valerius who’s currently posing as a bandit leader.  I have some apprehensions about this assignment, as the last time Jenassa and I were in Helgen, we had to fight for our lives against real bandits.  I can only hope that Valerius and his gang aren’t so dedicated to their ruse that they’d kill for it.

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Chapter 55: Friends With Benefits

Shadowy woods.  A glimmer of moonlight.  The abundance of life.  Radiant stars dance overhead in the midnight sky.  Delicate breezes waft around me, infused with new sensations that seem to be created for my express delight.  My nostrils flare, my ears twitch in response.  I walk through all the dimensions of beauty, and my senses unfold to its glory.  Nature embraces her child.

A trail opens — an invisible trail of pure aroma.  I turn toward it, breathe it in, track it down.  There, on a blade of grass, and again on a leaf.  Dark rich drops that almost seem to glow.  A fresh scent reveals itself, deliciously intense, overwhelming me with its promise.  The scent of fear. 

Soon I’m aware that my prey is close.  I can sense its rapid breathing, the tripping heartbeat, the mindless panic.  Intoxicated, I slow my pursuit and drink it in.  No need to rush.  The night is young, the trail is clear, and the prey is already mine.  In one endless moment, I taste true power.  I am terror, I am fate, I am the shadow of death incarnate. 

I am the Hunt.


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Chapter 54: Expect the Unexpected

After we complete our delivery to Shor’s Stone, Jenassa and I decide to head back to Whiterun.  We still need to take the Eldergleam sapling back to Danica, and although it appears healthy, we’re not sure how long it can survive packed in with the rest of our belongings.  We also need to obtain a cave bear pelt for Aela, but with the woodlands of the Rift all around us, we should be able to find at least one cave bear.

There’s still plenty of daylight, but now it’s late in the afternoon.  The sun is descending toward the horizon and the shadows are lengthening.  If we don’t run into any trouble, we might be able to make it out of the Rift before dark.  However, given our previous journey through these woodlands, I’m expecting that trouble will somehow find us.

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Chapter 53: Special Delivery

Back on the road again, Jenassa and I ride until we find a relatively open area of the woods through which we can travel.  The plan is to head due east until we reach Shor’s Stone.  If we were to continue on the road, we’d either have to backtrack through Eastmarch or find ourselves close to Riften, and neither sounds like a good idea.  Besides, we’ve traveled over most of this route before, so hopefully our previous journey will have cleared the way of dangers.

We head south for a short distance, then turn off the road and into the forest.  Fortunately the clear weather is continuing to hold, and the bright sunshine illuminates the beauty of the golden autumnal forest.  Following the rocky ridge of the highlands, we ride toward the direction of the rising sun.

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Chapter 52: A Likely Story

The next day dawns bright and clear, one of those perfect days that seem to be made of endless sunshine.  As I emerge from the tent and take a deep breath of the rarefied mountain air, it seems to infuse me with limitless energy.  I have a good feeling about today.  The plan is to head through the woods to Shor’s Stone in order to deliver the satchel of letters from Sylgja’s parents, and hopefully find a cave bear pelt along the way.

But as I contemplate our arrangements, I have to admit to a slight feeling of disappointment that our plans are so modest.  This day seems made for grand adventures, daring quests, amazing acts of brilliance and bravery.   Hopefully we’ll run into something exciting… well, except dragons.  I don’t want to see any dragons.  Dragons are scary.   For that matter, so are trolls.   And giants.   On second thought, never mind.  Forget I said anything.

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Chapter 51: Enemy of My Enemy

As Jenassa and I reach for our weapons and enter the cave, my instincts tell me there’s something strange about it.  The way our footsteps echo off the cavern walls seems odd, as if the cave is trying to swallow the sounds we’re making.   I can’t determine the cause, and I find myself slowing down a little more than usual as we proceed.

Up ahead, we hear noises that prove the cavern is indeed occupied by animals — but far from hearing the deep growl of bears or the strident yowl of sabre cats, these noises are more like high-pitched squeaks.  Great.  We seem to have found a cave full of skeevers.  I can’t imagine more useless prey for a couple of relatively experienced hunters, and this certainly won’t help with our assignment from Aela.

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