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.

Vermin often hide in caves -- and we're the exterminators.
Vermin often hide in caves — and we’re the exterminators.

We dismount, reach for our bows, and head inside.  Dropping to a crouch, I note that there are several crates and barrels just inside the entrance, full of stolen goods.  Apparently Redoran’s gang have been using this hideout for quite some time.  The cave is narrow and winding, so it’s difficult to guess how large it is.

Up ahead, there’s a rustling noise that sounds like it’s coming from an animal.  Steeling ourselves against the possibility of having to fight giant skeevers — or worse yet, spiders — we slowly continue forward.  What we actually find is even more distressing, but sadly there’s no way around it.   With a pang of genuine regret, I nock an arrow, take careful aim, and shoot the guard dog in the head.

You first.
No, I insist — after you.

The dog dies instantly, which is fortunate, but there’s no time to congratulate myself on my merciful marksmanship.  From behind a rock, an infuriated bandit appears and starts shooting at us between angry curses.  I can’t really blame her — we just killed her precious widdle doggy-wuggums right in front of her eyes.  Still, I have a strong suspicion that she’d be much happier if she could join her beloved pet.  Lucky for her, I’m feeling positively saintly this evening.

I'm sure they're playing fetch together in Sovngarde.
I’m sure they’re now playing fetch together in the afterlife.

After looting the body and a nearby chest, Jenassa and I quietly make our way forward.  We come across another stash of stolen goods packed away in crates, some of which appear to have been stored here for months.   I guess they started filling the area around the entrance when they ran out of room back here.

Further ahead, we become aware of more sounds — but these are definitely human.  Someone up there is murmuring to himself, and as we get closer, his mutterings become more audible.  I listen for a bit, then clap my hand over my mouth in order to stifle any escaping laughter.  Behind me, I can hear Jenassa’s soft chuckle as the bandit continues his unintentionally amusing monologue.

Here, you can borrow this wooden arrow and give it a try. Heck, take a few. For practice.
Here, I’ll send a few wooden arrows your way so you can practice.

Moving forward a little more, we halt just around a corner from the next room. We make a rough approximation of the bandit’s location from his continued mutterings, and ready our weapons in silence.

Jenassa nods, and at her signal, I sneak around the corner and take my shot.  I hit the outlaw in the shoulder, and he howls in pain.  My wife is right behind me with her bow as I charge forward with Dawnbreaker.  We promptly take out the first bandit, and we both rush down a second figure decked out in heavy armour.  Startled, he draws his sword, but we’re already descending on him like a fiery bladed hurricane.  Seconds later, the cave walls echo with his screams as as he drops to the ground, wrapped in flames.

Such a warm greeting.
Mister Redoran, I presume?  Do allow me this warm greeting.

I’m still feeling charitable, so I do my best to relieve his suffering as swiftly as possible.  I’m certain he’d thank me if he could.  Really.

May you rest in pieces.
May you rest in pieces.

Our enemies dispatched, we investigate the rest of the cave.  There’s not much else to see, however, and it doesn’t take us very long to loot everything worthwhile.  Along with more containers of stolen goods, at the back of the cavern is a large chest, and we open it to find a couple of decent items, a scattering of gold coins — and a written promise of further riches.

How intriguing. Looks like we'll be doing some exploring into parts unknown.
How intriguing.  Looks like we’ll be doing some more exploring soon.

By the time we exit the cave, night has fallen and the stars are coming out.  I’m not feeling especially confident about riding all the way back to Whiterun in the dark, not to mention it’s getting chilly.   Jenassa agrees that we’re better off finding a place to camp out for the night, and with that in mind, we start heading toward our horses.

Now to find a good campsite.
Nice of the bandits to leave their porch light on.

We’ve only taken a few steps away from the cave when we hear a low, vicious growl.  Crap.  Before we can mount up, our horses run off in a panic, and we turn to see a couple of large angry beasts bearing down on us from the shadows.

Surprise bear attacks certainly keep you awake at night.
Surprise bear attacks certainly keep you awake at night.

Jenassa and I race toward our horses with the cave bears in hot pursuit, but it’s soon apparent that we’re not going to outrun the bears.  Drawing her blades, Jenassa turns and strikes at the nearest cave bear, while I grab my bow and start shooting.  With our combined efforts, we manage to take down the first bear fairly quickly, and soon afterward the second beast falls dead at our feet.

Too bad Aela doesn't need more bear pelts.
Too bad Aela doesn’t need more bear pelts.

I briefly consider skinning and processing the carcasses, but it’s already pitch dark, and I have more than enough alchemy ingredients and plenty of pelts.  While I’m generally disinclined to let useful materials go to waste, right now they’d just be taking up precious space.  Besides, we still need to fetch our horses before we can resume our search for a campsite.

Our mounts have traveled even further while we were battling the bears, and now they’re standing near some ruins on a nearby hillside.   But as we approach the ruins, Jenassa suddenly stops and holds up her hand.  “Did you hear something?” she whispers.

I halt beside her and look up ahead.  Just beyond the horses, I can see something white and slender slowly rising from the ground.  It coughs once, almost delicately, before arming itself with a rusty sword.  Without thinking, I swiftly nock an arrow to my bowstring and fire.

Rolling the bones.
Rolling the bones.

Two more skeletons rise from the ancient cemetery as we approach.  Deliberately, they move forward to attack us, one with a greatsword and the other with bow and arrows.  Jenassa rushes at the archer and cuts it down, while I shoot the other skeleton in the ribs.  In seconds, their bones lie scattered across the graveyard.  Well, that was easy.

At the back of the boneyard is a stone wall, and standing against it is a chest next to an upright sarcophagus.  Remembering some of our previous experiences with the undead, Jenassa slowly approaches the chest while I keep my bow pointed toward the coffin.  Sure enough, the lid of the coffin explodes outward in a shower of dust, revealing its withered occupant.

Look boney, it's not like you can use that treasure!
Look here skinny, it’s not like you’re using that treasure!

The draugr is considerably tougher than the skeletons.  It actually gives Jenassa enough of a fight that after my first couple of shots, I rush forward with Dawnbreaker in hand.  Moments later, the undead abomination is lit up like a torch of holy fire.  For Meridia!

Maybe we should cremate the remains too. Just to be sure.
Maybe we should cremate the rest of the remains too.  Just to be sure.

The chest is locked up tight, but with determined effort and several lockpicks, I finally succeed in opening it.  We have a look inside, and while we’re slightly disappointed with the weapon as neither of us are likely to use it, we certainly can’t complain about the rest.

Dibs on the shiny rock, Jenassa!
Dibs on the shiny rock, Jenassa!

During our fight with the undead, the horses wandered away from the ruins, and Jenassa and I spend some time tracking them down.  We discover them standing next to a curious-looking shelter.  Containers of food and alchemy reagents are just outside the door, and there even appears to be a warm fire inside, crackling away invitingly.  Huh.  Maybe we won’t have to pitch a tent tonight after all.

Well done, Frost! You get an extra apple tonight.
Well done, Frost! You get an extra apple tonight.

Inside, the place is definitely small, but there’s enough room for two people.  There are a few pieces of battered furniture, a necromancer’s staff, and a chest containing some animal pelts, but the distinguishing feature is the unique bed that appears to be crafted from the ribcage of a mammoth.  The room is warm and cozy thanks to the fire, and altogether it seems like a snug little place to spend the night.

It may be small, but it's a lot bigger than the tent.
It may be small, but it’s a lot bigger than the tent.

I show it to Jenassa, who flashes a delighted smile when she sees the interior.  “I have to admit, it’s rather charming,” she says.  “But, my patron, whatever shall we do with that bed?  It’s clearly meant as a single,” she adds with a twinkle in her eye.

I put a hand on my chin in a show of concern.  “By the Divines, you’re right,” I tell her, giving her a wink.  “Good thing we hardly ever follow the rules.”

She chuckles, taking my hand and pulling me over to the bed.  “Good thing indeed, my darling.”  And as it turns out, we can both fit in the bed after all — with a little creativity.

Travel Map 37.
Travel Map 37.

 

 

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