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.

Riding through the Rift requires constant vigilance.
Don’t get too relaxed when riding through the Rift.

We’re close to our old shelter, the ranger cabin, and it’s tempting to simply stop there for the night.  We halt for a few moments to discuss it.  The cabin is within a stone’s throw of the fort — but now the fort is full of soldiers, and some might already be under Maven Black-Briar’s thumb.  Also, several people in Shor’s Stone know that we used to stay there, including the guards.  All things considered, we conclude that it’s probably safest to put some distance between ourselves and the ranger cabin.

Jenassa mentions that she knows of a place where we could stay for the night if necessary.  There’s a small house on the other side of Riften, tucked away in the woods and owned by a middle-aged alchemist.  Apparently he was known to a few people in the Thieves Guild who appreciated his expertise in making lethal poisons.  When Jenassa came to realize that she was a better assassin than a thief, he offered to become her mentor.

“Besides you, my patron, he’s one of the few people in Skyrim whom I trust implicitly,” she adds.  “Last time we parted, he told me that I would always be welcome.  He dislikes politics and never asks questions — his only ambition is to further his expertise in the alchemical arts.  Not only would it be a safe place to spend the night, but we could obtain some useful potions as well.”

Sounds good to me.  I nod at her, urge Frost onward, and we continue on our way.

Let me guess -- trouble ahead.
Let me guess — there’s trouble ahead.

We haven’t traveled very far when we reach a clearing in the woods — and the clearing is definitely occupied.   From a distance, it looks like a couple of large beasts have made it their home, and we can just make out a strange ominous glow moving through the trees.  The clearing is bordered by a steep cliff on the opposite side, effectively blocking our route.  We approach slowly, looking for an alternate path, but it’s going to be difficult to find a way around the clearing without attracting the beasts’ attention.

Hard to out-stealth a sabre cat.
TIL:  It’s hard to sneak around a sabre cat.

Needless to say, we fail miserably.  In seconds the sabre cats are upon us and the only option is to fight.  We both reach for our bows, but one of the cats dashes straight for Jenassa, and she starts hacking at it with her axe and her double-pronged war pick.  As I’m shooting at the cat attacking my wife, the other one charges toward me like a feline hurricane made of teeth and claws.  Behind them, the green glow emerges from the trees and resolves into the shape of a spriggan — and unlike the one we recently rescued, it doesn’t seem like the friendly type.

Now I know what a catnip toy feels like.
Now I know what a catnip toy feels like.

Thanks to Jenassa’s lightning-fast blades and my powerful bow, we manage to take down both cats just as the spriggan joins the fight.  I take a few shots at the elemental creature as it approaches, and then I rush it down with Dawnbreaker, on the theory that fire should do more damage to something that’s made primarily of wood.

It's like an ambulatory campfire.
It’s like an ambulatory campfire.

As soon as I set it alight, the spriggan makes an attempt to heal itself, but with every swing of my weapon the fire relights itself.  Soon it’s apparent that its natural magic can’t keep up with the rate of conflagration.  Jenassa keeps up the pressure by shooting it full of arrows, and moments later the spriggan collapses to the ground near the remains of the sabre cats.

The cats and the kindling.
The kitties and the kindling.

After skinning and processing both cats and looting the spriggan, Jenassa and I investigate the rest of the clearing.  In the shadow of the cliffside, we discover the bodies of a couple of hunters who obviously didn’t survive their encounter with the local wildlife.  Poor bastards.

As we’re looting the bodies, I can feel my face break into a wide smile.  Hircine works in mysterious ways.  Looks like we’ve finished our assignment from Aela.

No idea who you were, mate, but now you'll be fondly remembered.
I’ve no idea who you were, mate, but now you’ll be fondly remembered.

By the time we’re ready to leave, it’s apparent that we’ve lost a lot of daylight.  We decide to pay a visit to Jenassa’s old mentor and hopefully spend the night at his cottage.  The rapidly fading light makes the forest difficult to navigate, but fortunately we stumble on a path that seems to be heading in the right direction.

Ride, ride against the dying of the light.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.

On the way, we pass by an old fortress that’s clearly occupied by a gang of bandits.  The outlaws attempt to set their dogs on us, but we kick our horses into a fast gallop and head straight for the bridge to the other side of the lake.  Behind us, we can hear the barking of the dogs fade away as they eventually give up the chase.

On the other side of the bridge is a logging mill, and just beyond we can see the alchemist’s cottage.   It’s set in a clearing close to the lake and in the fork of a rushing stream, so it’s almost on its own island.   It’s good that we’ve managed to get here before dark, and I find that I’m looking forward to meeting the man who was briefly my wife’s mentor.

At least we don't have miles to go before we sleep.
At least we don’t have miles to go before we sleep.

Unfortunately, there’s no answer when we knock at the door.  We try to open it to let ourselves in, but it’s locked up tight.  I can tell Jenassa is surprised, but she admits that she’s known her old mentor to lose track of time when he’s out collecting fresh herbs in the forest.  Since we aren’t able to enter the alchemist’s cottage without breaking something, we decide to explore the immediate area and see if we can find him.

Or maybe he thinks we're selling volumes of the "Brief" History of the Empire.
Darn these unpickable locks!

Back on our mounts, we start following the main thoroughfare, hoping we’ll spot the alchemist picking flowers on the side of the road.  Suddenly, from the depths of the darkened forest, we hear a broken, terrified scream.  I halt my horse and look at Jenassa to see if she’s heard it too — and even in the dim light, I can see her face turn pale.

“Nerevar guide me!  That was his voice,” she whispers.

No sooner do the words pass her lips than she immediately yanks on the reins, turning her mount into the forest.  We ride toward the general direction of where we heard the scream, but the woods are now eerily silent.  We dismount and search the bushes for awhile without finding anything.  I’m about to suggest that we pitch our tent and look for her mentor in the morning, when just then we happen to stumble upon him.

And I mean "stumble" in the literal sense.
And I mean “stumble” in the literal sense.

Right beside the fresh corpse are two other bodies.  As Jenassa mourns the loss of her old friend, I investigate the remains.  With tears in her eyes, my wife angrily declares that the other two must have been bandits, and that they murdered her former mentor in cold blood.  Looking at the similar marks on all of them, I slowly shake my head.  While I believe she could be right about the others being bandits, I have a feeling they all died at the same time from a common enemy — one that could still be close.

Sometimes I hate it when I'm right.
Sometimes I hate it when I’m right.

With a bloodcurdling yell, a crazed maniac suddenly charges from the nearby bushes.  I barely have time to raise my bow before he’s almost on top of us.  Panicking, I manage to shoot him in the chest, but it doesn’t even slow him down.

Behind him, I can see a sliver of glimmering light as the moons start to rise over the hills, and as the silvery light shines down through the trees, things suddenly go from bad to worse.

Why lunatic, what sharp teeth you have!
Why Loony, what sharp teeth you have!

Howling for blood, the werewolf charges at Jenassa as she pulls out her blades and prepares to fight.  I step in to block its path, and it switches its attack to focus on me.  I can feel its fangs pierce through my armour and sink deeply into my shoulder, narrowly missing the soft flesh of my throat.

Screaming in pain, I reach for Dawnbreaker and start hacking at the monster while Jenassa fills it full of arrows.  Soon I can feel its jaw slacken as the life drains from its body, and moments later it hits the ground, dead.   Shaking, I rapidly heal my wounds with a spell as Jenassa runs toward me with a look of horror on her face.  That was way too close.

Thank Hircine that's over!
Whew!  Thank Hircine that’s over!

Now that we know werewolves are running around in these woods, survival takes priority over sentiment.  All thoughts of pitching a tent have vanished — we definitely want solid walls between us and the predators of the night.  With mounting anxiety, we rapidly search the alchemist’s body for the key to his cottage, and I expel my breath in a sigh of relief when my fingers close on the small fragment of metal.

Thanks, Ambroas. Sorry we never really got a chance to meet.
Thanks, friend.  Sorry I couldn’t introduce myself  before I had to do a body search.

Back on our horses, we waste no time in returning to the cottage.  As we race along the road, we keep a sharp eye out for anything that might be lurking in the woods that could get between us and the house.  Fortunately nothing else appears to jeopardize our safety, and we both arrive at the cottage still in one piece.

Ambroas evidently had interesting taste in statuary.
Ambroas evidently had interesting taste in statuary.

Inside, the place is rustic and charming.  It’s also organized, clean, and feels secure.  After racing through the door and locking it behind us, I just stand for a few moments and catch my breath.  My heart is hammering in my chest and I’m a bit lightheaded.  Also, I’m suddenly feeling stifled in my heavy fur cloak.  Probably it’s just due to stress.  It’s not every day one nearly becomes werewolf chow.

I'll be fine, Jenassa. I just need to rest for awhile somewhere with zero chance of werewolves.
I’ll be fine, Jenassa. I just need to rest somewhere with zero chance of werewolves.

Jenassa looks at me in concern, telling me to sit near the fire while she prepares a meal for us.  I shrug off my backpack and cloak, unstrap my weapons, sit down on a comfortable-looking chair and stare into the flames.  She inquires if I need to take a potion or visit a shrine, but I just want to be still for awhile.

A few minutes later, my wife calls me to the table — but I’m not hungry.  I’m still rather lightheaded and my stomach is feeling queasy.  I ask Jenassa to set aside a portion of the meal so I can eat it later when I’m feeling more settled.   By her expression, I can tell she’s a bit worried, but she does what I ask.

No need to worry, Jenassa.  I’m just recovering from shock or something.  I’ll be fine.  Honest.

Just a nice peaceful evening...
Just a nice peaceful evening…


Travel Map 34. Shaded area indicates approximate location of Ambroas' remains.
Travel Map 34. Shaded area indicates approximate location of werewolf and its victims.



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