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.
As we approach the gates, I notice that there are no longer any corpses rotting outside on stakes. Since these grisly ornaments seem to be popular with other bandit camps, I’m taking their absence from Helgen as a good sign.
The gates are locked, which is a minor annoyance, but I have plenty of lockpicks handy. It takes me a few minutes, but soon the heavy doors swing open. Trying to seem as friendly and unobtrusive as possible, Jenassa and I leave our horses just inside the entrance and approach the keep on foot.
I’m tempted to make a joke about how realistic their bandit disguises are, but on the other hand, I don’t want to be the first to get staked up at the gates. So I decide to just cut to the chase. I mention Valerius by name, and ask if we can speak to him on an urgent matter.
Right, this is getting a bit silly, but I’ll play along. Making no sudden moves, I hold up one hand and with the other, I retrieve the wedding ring and show it to them. The band of warriors are clearly taken aback, and they exchange glances among themselves for a few moments before the first one speaks again.
Finally, the bouncer — sorry, I mean bandit, because he’s totally a bandit — agrees to escort me to the person in charge. The others lower their weapons but still manage to appear menacing as they fall in behind us. We all march toward the keep in silence.
Entering the keep, a few words are exchanged between Warden Hammerhead and another individual in steel plate with a distinct look of authority. Captain Steely-Eyes turns to me suspiciously, but as I hold up the wedding ring, all his doubts seem to dissolve. Accepting the ring and the letter from the old soldier who sent me, he dismisses his bouncer — I mean fellow bandit. Because we’re still playing that game, apparently.
After establishing that my story checks out, he finally reveals that his name is Valerius and that he and his gang aren’t really outlaws. I decide to be polite and pretend to look surprised.
Then Valerius spends several angst-ridden minutes lamenting his current situation, bemoaning the fact that they’ve been reduced by circumstances to their current unfortunate state. It gets pretty tedious, but his cohorts are standing just around the corner with a lot of big scary weapons, so I try to look like I’m paying attention. Fortunately just as my eyes start to glaze over, he snaps back to his original steely self, telling me to bring his friend back here for old time’s sake — and also to satisfy his curiosity.
After he finally bids us farewell, Jenassa and I exit the keep, walk past all the non-bandits, and return to our horses. As we make our way out of Helgen, I glance up at the sun. That took far longer than I expected, but fortunately we haven’t lost too much daylight.
Despite what Valerius might expect, Jenassa and I have a prior appointment to keep. We’re still carrying the Eldergleam sapling in our luggage, and although it’s been holding up well, we’ll need to return it to Danica soon. After all we went through to get it, it would be rather pathetic to hand her a sad, wilted little stick instead of a living blessing of Kynareth. With that in mind, we head straight for Whiterun.
Passing through Riverwood, I glance toward the Sleeping Giant Inn. I’m a little embarrassed that I’ve essentially stood up Delphine. I’m aware that she’s inside, probably still waiting for my return so she can start making preparations for me to crash a Thalmor party. But it still sounds like utter lunacy to me, and the last thing I want to do is be in close proximity to a large gathering of Thalmor. Urging my horse onward, I continue straight on past the inn without a second glance.
By the time we reach Whiterun, the sun is just starting to touch the hilltops. After dismounting at the gates, Jenassa and I head toward the market in order to sell off some of our extra gear.
Just as we’re about to head into Belethor’s, we happen to spot Danica at the vegetable stand. While she and my wife exchange greetings, I carefully remove the sapling from my backpack and hand it to her with a bit of a flourish. I’m expecting something like an exclamation of delight, or even just sincere thanks — but instead, Danica stares at it as if it’s a dead skeever.
Raising an eyebrow as she watches my expression change, Jenassa slowly takes a step back just in case things turn violent. Taking a deep breath, I carefully explain to Danica everything that Maurice said when we were in Eldergleam Sanctuary. Fortunately, the priestess manages to see reason before I have to paint the market stalls with her blood.
It’s fortunate that my wife is not only a beautiful badass, she’s also very smart. As we walk away from Danica, I’m still seething. Falling into step by my side, Jenassa quietly takes my arm and steers me toward the Bannered Mare. At first I assume that she’s taking me inside so I can drown my anger in a tankard of mead, but as it turns out, she has an even better idea.
I remove two notices from the board that lead to a couple of nearby bandit camps, and my irritation turns into excitement. Great idea, hon! Nothing like a bit of exercise to work off some negative energy.
I’m about to turn on my heel and head straight back through the city gates, when Jenassa reminds me that we still have to sell off our extra items and visit Jorrvaskr. Oh, right. Those cave bear pelts for Aela. Fine, but let’s do this fast. I want to start beating on some bandit heads.
After we visit the shops to sell our unwanted gear, we make our way to Jorrvaskr. We deliver the bear pelts to Aela, and I can tell she’s pleased. As she hands over the payment, she mentions that she has another assignment available from the Jarl of Haafingar. Apparently some beasts of unknown origin have been attacking random passerby, and Aela wonders if I’d be interested.
I hesitate, as I’m not sure when we’ll be heading back toward Solitude, but in the end I decide to accept. It’s been awhile since the execution, and I do have very fond memories of the inn. Perhaps I’ll even manage to stay out of prison this time.
By the time we head out of Jorrvaskr, the sun has almost set and night is fast approaching. However, I’m not even remotely tired. I’m still keyed up and ready for a good fight, and Jenassa likewise seems game to take on a dangerous gang of desperate outlaws.
Wasting no time, we exit the city gates and retrieve our horses. As I swing myself into the saddle, I can’t help but grin. Nice that we’re about to take on some actual bandits this time. Those poor bastards won’t know what hit them — and it will be bloody glorious.