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.

While Jenassa sleeps, I quietly get dressed and head out with my hunting knife in hand.  Hopefully those dead cave bears will still be nearby, and I can retrieve some of the meat.

As it turns out, one of the bears has already been torn apart by animals, but the other carcass remains almost untouched.  Thanking Hircine under my breath, I skin the bear and start slicing off some of the choicer cuts.  Just as I’ve stored the last of the meat and I’m back on my horse, I notice I’ve gained an interested party.

Early morning pack meeting.
Mark my trail.

The wolf looks at me in a hopeful sort of way, and I immediately understand what it wants.   Smiling, I take out a piece of bear meat and toss it toward the friendly beast.  The wolf catches it in his mouth and bows its head slightly in a gesture of thanks before it turns and runs off, disappearing without a sound into the long grass.

By the time I get back to the shelter, Jenassa is already awake and just finishing her own breakfast.  She seems somewhat concerned at first by my recent absence, but when I tell her that I went back for the bear meat and show her the freshly-skinned hide, she nods and says it was a good idea.  I wonder if she’s also noticed that our provisions are getting low, but I’d rather not be the one to point it out.

On our way.
Planning the day.

As we’re getting our horses ready, I examine the second bounty notice.  Seems that the location of the next bandit camp is fairly close, and it’s even on the way back to Whiterun.  From the name, Silent Moons Camp, it’s probably a small gathering of tents out on the open plains with a good view of the sky.  I imagine it’s similar to Darkwater Crossing, minus the house or the mine.  I share my thoughts with Jenassa, and she agrees that it’s worth taking a look.

Right, that's not a bandit camp -- that's practically a bandit castle.
Right, that’s not a bandit camp — that’s practically a bandit castle.

Far from a minor scattering of tents, what we find is an imposing stone fortress built into the side of a mountain.  Worse yet, unlike Valtheim Towers, there doesn’t appear to be any way of approaching it except from the front — and needless to say, the sightlines are terrible from our perspective.  Muttering to myself, I slow Frost to a walk, ambling forward by degrees as I try to get a better look at the fortifications.

Photobombed by a butterfly. Couldn't happen to a nicer bandit.
Photobombed by a butterfly.

Despite my caution, we’re soon spotted by the enemy.  With a war cry that alerts the rest of the camp, a bandit rushes out toward us from a small stone guardhouse.  Before I can even reach for my bow, a wolf races out from the tall grass and attacks the bandit with all the force of a furry cannonball.  I jump off Frost while the outlaw is distracted, and as I get closer, I recognize the wolf as the one I fed earlier this morning.  Thanks, mate!  I owe you one!

Hello. My name is Morien the Dragonborn. You killed my wolf buddy. Prepare to die.
Hello.  My name is Morien the Dragonborn.  You killed my wolf.  Prepare to die.

But before I can reach them, my new canine friend dies as the bandit blasts it in the face with a fireball.  For a moment I’m deeply saddened, and then the sadness resolves into a kind of steely determination to seek revenge for my late wolf brother.  Behind me, I can hear Jenassa dismount and run toward us as I draw my bow and start shooting.

Feel my wrath! My sharp, pointy wrath!
Feel my wrath!  My sharp, pointy wrath!

The spellcaster in front of me is already badly beaten up from the wolf, and it doesn’t take much before he eats dirt.  However, the rest of the bandit camp is now on high alert.  An archer starts shooting at us from the guardhouse, and I keep him pinned while Jenassa circles around, approaching at an angle that’s outside his vision.  By the time he realizes where she is, it’s already too late.

Jenassa attacks the bandit from behind, and while he’s distracted, I draw Dawnbreaker and rush him down.  Moments later, his corpse is ablaze on the stony floor of the guardhouse.

Great prediction, Jenassa! Spot on!
Great prediction, Jenassa!  Spot on!

On the other side of the guardhouse, we get our first full view of the rest of the fortress.  It may be old and in bad repair, but it’s still solidly built and easy to defend.  Worse yet, we have to go through a wide enclosed yard and up a long flight of steps.  With nothing to hide behind and no other apparent path to the top, we’ll be in an extremely vulnerable position.

Not liking the looks of this.
Not liking the looks of this approach.

But we don’t have much choice if we want to proceed.  As Jenassa and I cross the yard, we shoot down a bandit near a campfire, but then two more appear at the top of the stairs.  One of them is an archer and the other is clearly another spellcaster.  Great.  Just great.  Two ranged opponents firing at us from a height.  Not exactly an ideal situation.

As soon as we get within range, the two bandits start shooting at us.  Jenassa and I duck around the side of the fortress and use the wall for cover, but it’s going to be near-impossible to take down both of them from here. With their superior sightlines and dual ranged attacks, they could easily keep us pinned until the rest of the bandits arrive.  Only one way to break the stalemate.  It’s probably insane, but we’re running out of moves.  I whisper to Jenassa to cover me, pull out Dawnbreaker, and charge.

Die, criminal scum!
Surrender or die, criminal scum!

Rather than race straight up the stairs, I run in a random zigzag, making myself a more difficult target to hit.  Even so, I can hear the spells and arrows as they zing past my ears, barely missing me as I dodge and weave.  It’s kind of terrifying, honestly, but even fear has its advantages.  Using the adrenaline boost, I put on an extra burst of speed, rush down the spellcaster, and smash my shield into her face.  She staggers, and before she can recover, I slash with Dawnbreaker until she falls at my feet, wrapped in flames.

Down in a blaze of glory -- or just a blaze.
Down in a blaze of glory — or maybe just a blaze.

Thanks to Jenassa’s archery skills, the other bandit is already on her last legs by the time I turn around.  It doesn’t take long to finish her off, and soon she’s lying next to her partner in crime.

Soon my wife is at my side, and we loot everything valuable off the bodies.  We then proceed to the top of the stairs, where we find a small room that appears dedicated to smithing weapons — and also storing stolen treasure.

I admit, I really like thieving from the thieves.
I have to admit, I like big chests.

There are a couple of weapons lying around as well, but they have an odd appearance.  The metal has a bright silvery-green cast to it, and there’s an odd shimmer that ripples over the surface whenever the weapons are in shadow.

There's something about that blade...
Like moonlight on water.

There’s a notebook nearby that seems to explain some of the odd effects, but it doesn’t tell us much.  Apparently these are enchanted weapons, but all it says is that there’s “some connection between the weapon’s power and the appearance of the moons”.  Seems the bandits only discovered these weapons when they took over the fort, but they never quite got the hang of how to smith their own.

I mention this to Jenassa, and she shrugs as if to say a blade’s a blade.  Fair enough.  Might as well take them along.  Even if we don’t understand how the enchantment works, it looks impressive.  They’ll probably be worth something.

Planning our next move -- and enjoying the view.
Planning the next move — and enjoying the view.

As we head back out to the stairs, Jenassa and I discuss the best way to enter the fortress and eliminate the rest of the bandits.  The main entrance is no longer an option — as Jenassa points out, the rest of the gang will likely be right on the other side of that door, ready to avenge their fallen comrades.  If possible, we’ll have to find another way in.

Meeting at the side entrance.
Meeting at the side entrance.

Since the fortress is so large, we decide to split up.  Jenassa heads back down the stairs to investigate the ground level, while I make my way over the rooftops.  I’m almost back to where we started when I make a discovery — the ruined tower at the front is open to the sky, and it’s accessible from above by an elevated stone walkway.  Peering down at the semi-rotted wood floor in the upper part of the tower, I carefully jump down to find another enchanted weapon on a table, while along the wall there’s a set of shelves with several potions.

Collecting the potions and the lunar weapon, I jump down again through a hole in the floor to the ground level.  At my feet is a trapdoor, and an iron grate is built into the wall leading to the yard outside.  I find the pull-switch for the grate and let Jenassa in.  She looks around, then peers at the floor and grins, reaching for her bow.  I follow suit, and as quietly as possible, we open the trapdoor.

You're in luck, bandit -- today's your day to retire.
You’re in luck, bandit — today’s your day to retire.

We move down the ladder swiftly and silently, and find ourselves in their other treasure room.  Scattered gold coins are on a table, shelves are filled with potions and stolen goods, and there’s even a chest in the middle of the floor.  Opposite the ladder is a heavy closed door that leads to the rest of the interior.

Jenassa’s assessment appears to be correct — most of the remaining bandits must be waiting for us at the main entrance.  However, by the sounds from the other side of the door, there’s at least one bandit in the next room.  Needless to say, we can’t afford to be careless.  Working quickly, we fill our backpacks with all the worthwhile loot — and then with our weapons at the ready, we open the door.

Thinning the herd.
Thinning the herd.

The guard on the other side is completely unprepared, and barely has time to draw his weapon before Jenassa and I shoot him dead.  However, the noise of fighting alerts an orc in the next room, who comes in swinging a massive greatsword.  Yikes!

I manage to avoid his swing and get behind him as Jenassa shoots him in the face.  He roars in fury and raises his weapon over his head to strike her down, but I bash him with my shield and stab him in the back with Dawnbreaker.  Between my continued attacks and Jenassa’s arrows, it doesn’t take long before he crumples in a heap at our feet.  Which is honestly a relief, because he was kinda scary.

All clear?
Clearing out the rest of the vermin.

We make our way through another small room before it opens up into the main living area of the fortress.  We meet a couple more bandits who try to forcefully oppose our explorations, but compared to the orc, they’re amateurs.  Soon they’ve joined their colleagues on the dusty floor.

Jenassa and I make another circuit of the interior to make sure we haven’t overlooked anything valuable, then we head back out into the midday sunshine.  Our backs are weighted down with all the loot, but our spirits are light.  We’ve done good work in the past 24 hours.  We’ve destroyed a graveyard of undead, eliminated some dangerous beasts — and even killed a couple of bears.  It’s an excellent start to a beautiful day.

To Whiterun and Dragonsreach! Tally ho!
To Whiterun and Dragonsreach!  Tally ho!

 

Travel Map 38.
Travel Map 38.

 

 

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