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.
I wake slowly the next day, my consciousness still entangled in the shimmering ribbons of strange and wonderful dreams. They fade in the morning light, leaving barely a trace of their otherworldly touch. Jenassa is already out of bed, her back to me as she rummages through the kitchen cupboards — but when I sit up, she turns to me with an expression of concern on her face. Startled, I ask her what’s wrong.
She hesitates for a moment. “You seemed to have a rough night, my love,” she replies. “How are you feeling?”
As she speaks, my mental fog dissipates, and I realize I feel fantastic. My aches from last night are gone, my body feels strong, and my mind is sharp and clear. By way of reply, I practically leap out of bed and embrace my beautiful wife. Laughing at my exuberance, she pretends to struggle as we wrestle our way toward the bed. Grinning, I playfully push her onto the furs. Breakfast can wait.
Eventually hunger takes over, and we get up to find food. I’m absolutely ravenous. While Jenassa puts together a meal from her share of the provisions, I bite into a large piece of cheese and place a tender cut of venison to cook over the fire. The scent of the searing meat is wonderful, and I devour most of it while it’s still rare. Huh. Guess I was pretty hungry.
Jenassa has that concerned look again, but she doesn’t say anything at first. We start packing up our belongings, and as I’m strapping on my weapons, she finally suggests that we look through the alchemist’s stock of potions. Seems she’s still worried about my encounter with the werewolf last night, and wants to find something to counteract any possible adverse effects.
It’s hard to roll your eyes politely, so I pretend to yawn instead. Jenassa doesn’t buy it, of course. She sharply reminds me of what happened to Sinding, and I reply that since he was stupid enough to steal Hircine’s ring and slaughter an innocent child, he deserved his fate. But now it’s starting to turn into a real argument, and I can hear a note of desperation creeping into her voice, so I voluntarily capitulate. Fine, Jenassa — you win. Let’s go find some potions.
Following her to the other side of the room, I stand back as she opens a trapdoor leading into the basement. It’s somewhat musty down there, but also cool and dry, ideal for preserving a wide variety of reagents. Well-stocked shelves contain various containers of alchemy ingredients as well as a few potions, but there’s nothing stored here that we don’t have already.
Disappointed, Jenassa remarks that her mentor must’ve been running low on materials, which might explain why he was out in the woods so late. A cloud of grief passes over her face as she recalls how her old friend met his demise. I reach out to hold her for a few moments, offering my sympathy as she bends her head and weeps a few heartfelt tears into my cloak.
Finally, I softly suggest that we start our journey back to Whiterun before we lose too much daylight. Nodding her head against my shoulder, she silently agrees.
A few minutes later, we’ve locked up the cottage behind us and we’re back on our horses. The weather is brilliant and beautiful, perfect for traveling. As we head out, my spirits once again start to lift. For sheer pleasure, it’s hard to beat riding through the golden woodlands of the Rift on a bright sunny day.
Jenassa and I ride for awhile before I realize that our journey seems strangely peaceful. Although they’ve lately become more of an irritation than a danger, usually we encounter a few wolves on the road, and often there are considerably more than just a few. But today, we don’t seem to attract their attention at all.
Then as I think about it, I realize that’s not entirely accurate. We do see a couple of wolves, but it’s like they no longer perceive us as a threat. Quite the opposite, in fact — they notice us, but they seem quite friendly, almost as if we’re packmates. I’m hardly upset by this development, but if this is a side effect of becoming a champion of Hircine, it’s strange that I’m only noticing it now. I try to recall if we’ve been attacked by wolves since Bloated Man’s Grotto, but I’ve encountered so many wolf packs in Skyrim that it’s all one big furry blur. Shrugging to myself, I decide to just accept it and be grateful for the respite.
Lulled by the warm sunshine and my own ruminations, I’m forcefully reminded of how dangerous it is to become complacent. Within the space of a heartbeat, a cave bear suddenly charges out of the woods and viciously attacks Jenassa. Her mount screams in panic as the bear tries to tear her from its back and drag her off. She reaches for her blades, but she’s also struggling to control her terrified horse, and her weapons end up entangled in the reins.
Alarmed, I swing my own horse around and reach for my bow. I rapidly fire off a couple of shots that pierce the bear’s hide, but I only succeed in maddening the beast. I grab another arrow before I realize that it’s the last one in my quiver. There are more arrows stored away in my backpack, but they sure aren’t going to be of much use in there.
I’m cursing my own carelessness and about to draw Dawnbreaker when a wolf suddenly runs out of the bushes. Before I have time to react, it leaps high in the air, and in one fluid movement it tears out the cave bear’s throat.
The bear staggers back, releasing my wife, and moments later it drops dead. Stunned, I dismount and slowly approach our canine saviour. It howls in triumph over the corpse of the cave bear, then licks the blood off its jaws and seems to grin at me. In a gesture of trust and gratitude, I slowly reach out to the wolf. It sniffs me, then licks my hand before it lopes away, melting back into the forest.
Jenassa dismounts and runs toward me as the wolf departs, an empty potion bottle in her hand. Now it’s my turn to be concerned about my wife. Even though Jenassa insists she’s fine, I can still see some of the marks inflicted by the bear’s claws. It’s apparent that she could use some more healing.
Up in the hills is a small cabin, and I decide to drop in and hopefully borrow some potions from whoever lives there. Jenassa has already used all of hers to recover from the bear attack — and I’m not sure we can rely on friendly wolves to save us again if we meet another hostile enemy. Better safe than sorry.
As we approach the cabin, I notice some letters carved over the door, spelling out the word FROKI. Something about it seems oddly familiar. I ponder the inscription for a few moments, then I start digging around in my horse’s saddlebags. Eventually I find a bow that’s been with us almost since the beginning — a bow that we once found in a troll cave, still glowing brightly with a green phosphorescence.
Inside, the cabin is tiny and cramped. The entire place is about the same size as the alchemist’s kitchen. It’s occupied by an elderly man and a young boy, and I can already tell that they won’t have extra potions lying around. They seem to be barely scraping by as it is, and most of their belongings show signs of heavy use.
The man seems to be grateful for the return of his bow, and offers to teach me about the Sacred Trials of Kyne. Noticing my confusion, he reveals that Kyne is an ancient name for the goddess Kynareth. Apparently there used to be a series of challenges that every dedicated Nord hunter undertook in order to receive the deity’s favour. I’m about to demur when I realize that he’s trying to repay me for returning his bow — so I decide to humour him and accept his offer, since it seems his pride will have it no other way. I’m to seek out the guardian beasts of Kyne and hunt them down, in accordance with the old Nord traditions.
After bidding farewell to the elderly hunter and his grandson, I hand over some of my own healing potions to my wife before we resume our journey. As I’m rummaging through my backpack for the rest of my arrows, my finger slips through an unfamiliar object. I withdraw it to see a wedding ring sparkling in the sunshine — the same ring that the old soldier Marcus gave me back in Falkreath to take to his war comrade in Helgen.
Well, it’s on the way to Whiterun if we take the route through the mountains. Might as well drop off the ring and deliver the message. As we approach the snowy pass, I wrap myself in my warm fur cloak and urge my horse to go faster. The frigid wind is being channeled through the mountains, and it’s almost enough to start my teeth chattering. Grabbing a bottle of mead, I gulp it down to stave off the bitter cold.
The sun is still high as we approach Helgen. We’ve encountered a few more wolves, but none of them have so much as bared their teeth at us. I have to admit, it’s definitely strange, but it’s also welcome. I’m more than willing to do without some extra pelts if it means never having to fight another wolf.
Better yet, it seems that some wolves may be willing to fight for us — a distinct advantage. Now I’m even more certain that this is the result of becoming a champion of Hircine. I’ve heard that the gifts of the Daedra are not without cost, but it’s hard to see a downside to any of this.
Slightly tipsy from the mead, I can’t help but feel pleased at my uncanny good fortune. Grinning, I raise my bottle in a toast to Hircine and the other unseen members of my new pack. Good luck to all, good health — and good hunting!