Riding back to Whiterun in the bright sunshine is an exhilarating experience. The windswept prairie grasses are like waves on a golden ocean, and overhead is the shining dome of a crystal-blue sky. Capricious breezes delight our senses with the fragrance of a thousand wildflowers, and even the mountains wreathed in mist seem to smile down on us.
It’s apparent that Frost is also feeling frisky, as he kicks up his heels when I urge him into a gallop. Behind me, I can hear Jenassa encourage her steed until the two of us are neck-and-neck, and soon we’re dashing through the grasslands in a a spontaneous horse race. Jenassa is the better equestrian, as she can control her mount with uncanny precision — but I’m more willing to take risks and let my horse have some fun. This turns out to be an advantage, as instead of steering Frost around a shallow pond, I urge him to clear it in one flying leap. Jenassa is surprised by my stunt, but it puts me firmly in the lead, and the surrounding hills ring with our laughter as we sprint wildly across the plains.
As we reach the city walls, we slow to a trot rather than risk our horses’ necks, not to mention incur the wrath of the guards. Jenassa is right behind me, so I turn in my saddle and give her a saucy little wink, meaning better luck next time. In response, she makes some sort of pointed Dunmer gesture. I’m not entirely certain what it means, but I’m willing to bet that it’s something quite rude. I’m still grinning in amusement as we approach the gates.
We dismount and head into the city, nodding to the guards at the gate as they greet us. One of them happens to mention that there’s a fine house called Breezehome currently for sale. Interesting. I might be tempted to ask for more details if we hadn’t already started building our own house in Falkreath, but I make a mental note of the information.
Soon we’re making the rounds of the market shops, selling off all the extra gear we’ve accumulated and deciding what to keep. It doesn’t take very long before our load is lightened by a significant amount. We briefly make a stop at the Bannered Mare to restock some of our provisions before heading up to the Cloud District. Time to visit the Jarl’s steward to claim our reward for clearing out those bandit camps.
On our way to Dragonsreach, we pass through the Wind District, and both of us gasp in amazement. The little sapling we so carefully transported from the Eldergleam Sanctuary has already become a beautiful young tree that towers high above our heads. Surely Kynareth herself must have blessed the tree for it to have grown so tall. Of all the strange and fascinating things I’ve seen in Skyrim, few have filled me with such a sense of wonder as this new incarnation of the Gildergreen. Jenassa and I turn and smile at each other as we pass beneath its delicate branches.
Entering the Jarl’s hall, we find the steward and make our report. He’s obviously pleased that we were able to rid Whiterun of a couple of dangerous bandit camps, and wastes no time in rewarding our efforts with a substantial sum of gold. I briefly consider asking about the available house in the city, but on second thought, we’d probably be better off finishing the one we’ve already started.
Heading out of Dragonsreach, we make our way toward the gates. As we exit the city, I pull out a piece of parchment that we found back in one of the bandit camps. Jenassa and I study the paper for a few moments, then we ascend the city walls and peer out over the landscape. After a few minutes, she points toward the southern hills, and we grin at each other before we run to retrieve our horses.
We follow the road for awhile, then turn off into the grass. Pulling out my parchment again, I examine the landmark in front of us. There’s no doubt we’re on the right track. I nod at Jenassa in confirmation, and soon we’re guiding our horses up into the hills.
Our mounts flounder a bit as the path gets steeper, but fortunately Skyrim horses appear to be part mountain goat. Soon they regain their footing and we press on. As we ascend into the chilly heights, we start to climb the snow-covered cliffs, leaving the sun-drenched plains far behind us.
When we first see the mountain path, it appears to be nothing more than a faint line in the snow. As we approach, however, it widens into a shallow fissure, and finally resolves into a narrow trail. Guiding our mounts onto the path, we ride to the top of a cliff, where we discover a chest half-hidden under a clump of stunted trees, high above the distant city.
Sliding carefully out of the saddle, I steady my feet on the icy rocks and open the chest. Once again I feel a slight pang of regret that neither of us wear heavy armour, but I’m certainly not about to complain.
After looting the contents of the chest, we remount and make our way back along the trail. Once we’ve left the snow behind, we turn south and ride through the forest toward Riverwood.
We stop in the village briefly to sell off the heavy armour and pick up some building materials, then we mount back up and ride into Falkreath. By now it’s mid-afternoon and I’m starting to get hungry again, so I rummage through my provisions, eating various morsels of different foods in a solitary buffet on horseback. Unfortunately, this has the effect of attracting some unwanted and dangerous wildlife. My bad. Completely my fault. Sorry, Jenassa!
After we dispatch the giant spider, we continue on toward our homestead. As we approach the property, I spot the pile of lumber we recently ordered from the mill. The logs are lying beneath a dense stand of trees, and the thick branches overhead have kept them relatively dry and out of the rain.
Pleased that the lumber is in good condition, I head straight to the drafting table and start studying the plans to build a small cottage. It appears to be roughly the same size as the upper floor of the ranger cabin, which means we won’t have space for a separate dining area and bedroom. But that’s fine for now. I don’t want to start anything more elaborate, like digging a basement or trying to add an upper floor, without first understanding the basics.
I guess I must have a natural talent for carpentry, because in hardly any time at all, there’s a small but charming cottage sitting on the previously-built foundation. I craft some basic furnishings, then I decide to add some fencing for a future garden, and also a stable, because our horses need a home as well.
As the shadows lengthen and evening falls, Jenassa and I take a stroll around the cottage, then we pause for a few moments in front of our new home. Reaching for one another’s hand, we beam at each other in delight, open the door, and walk over the threshold together. I can’t keep the smile off my face. Except for our wedding day, I’ve never been so happy.
Once inside, Jenassa starts unpacking some of our belongings, while I set the wood alight in a stone-lined fire pit. Soon the place is warm and comfortable, and our evening stew is merrily bubbling over the fire. In the back of my mind, I’m making plans to expand our humble little cottage into something grand and magnificent, a manor worthy of the Thane and Lady of Falkreath. But right now as I gaze at my wife’s expression of deep content, I know that this place is already home.