As Jenassa and I head out from our fledgling homestead, the day itself seems sluggish and slow to awaken. Early morning mist rises from the sodden earth, obscuring the land in every direction, and the surrounding trees loom over us like dim arboreal ghosts. Shallow puddles lie over the road from last night’s rain, reflecting the cloudy sky as if through a broken mirror shattered at our feet. As we ride, we’re barely aware of a continual soft splashing that almost lulls us back to sleep. With our perceptions blunted and the forest shrouded by heavy mist, it’s no wonder that an assassin manages to get the drop on us.
My horse stumbles with a sudden cry of pain as I ride straight into an open bear trap. A Khajiit assassin immediately jumps out of the bushes, taking advantage of my horse’s incapacitation, and tries to stab me with a particularly wicked-looking dagger. I manage to kick her away before she can connect, but the motion unseats me from the saddle and I’m forced to dismount, leaving me acutely vulnerable to her next attack.
Fortunately, Jenassa reacts in an instant. With remarkable precision, her arrow flies through the air and pierces the assassin’s armour between the neck and the shoulder, forcing her to drop the dagger as her arm spontaneously convulses. My attacker bursts into an incomprehensible string of curses as she spins around, drawing a pair of swords and charging at Jenassa in a blur of incredible speed. I grab my bow and start firing, but Jenassa has already dismounted to meet the assassin with her own blades drawn. In seconds it’s all over, and the Khajiit is just another obstacle on the road.
After I examine Frost to make sure the bear trap didn’t leave any significant injury to his leg, I walk over to help loot the body, congratulating my wife on her amazingly precise arrow shot that made my attacker drop her weapon. Jenassa turns to me with an eyebrow raised, a tiny self-deprecating smirk twitching at her lips. “Indeed, I’m exceedingly glad it worked out as well as it did, my darling,” she replies. “But as a matter of fact, to be perfectly honest — I meant to shoot her in the head.”
I look at my wife and start to laugh. She joins in, and for a few moments we just stand there on the side of the road, holding our sides and wiping away tears as we nearly fall over from an excess of hilarity. The surrounding forest and stony hills echo with our combined mirth, until all of Falkreath seems to be laughing with us.
Finally I bend down to loot the corpse, still giggling, and my fingers discover a small folded note hidden in a side pocket of the assassin’s jacket. Mildly curious, I unfold the paper — and my laughter dries up in my throat.
Shaking, I show the note to Jenassa, who scans through the missive and hisses in fury. As she reads, I try to think of anyone who I might have angered enough to warrant the Black Sacrament, but it’s as if my thoughts have been strangled by fear. There’s no need to ask my wife what it means — the Dark Brotherhood is known throughout Tamriel, although these days only through whispers of rumours that seem more like the stuff of myth. But this note in my hand is no myth — and neither is the assassin at my feet. I’m not naive enough to think that this will be the end of the matter. I know that these relentless legendary agents of Sithis will never stop pursuing me until they steal my last breath.
Jenassa takes the note from my hand, and I’m expecting her to crumple it into a ball or tear it to pieces. To my surprise, she does neither. Instead, she folds it up carefully and tucks it in with the rest of our belongings. In response to my questioning look, she murmurs that the handwriting and signature might prove useful in tracking down this new enemy — but I can see her hand tremble as she stores it away. Our intelligent and sensitive steeds seem to grow more skittish as they pick up on our altered mood. We mount up in silence and continue onward, each of us lost in our own disquiet.
A short while later, we reach the site of the Half-Moon Mill, our preferred source of lumber in Falkreath. We could also get our lumber from the mill in the village, but the proprietor there has a noted prejudice for anyone who isn’t a Nord, which means both Jenassa and I are at a definite disadvantage. Besides, we’ve dealt with the owner of Half-Moon Mill before, and she seems to be the friendly sort. Perhaps a bit over-friendly if anything, but I’m sure that can hardly be a cause for concern.
By the time we conclude our business at the mill, the sun finally starts to make its way through the mist. As our surroundings gradually seem less and less foreboding, our mood starts to improve, despite the threat of the Dark Brotherhood.
The horses still seem somewhat nervous after our encounter with the assassin, and Jenassa suggests that we let them have a good run before we head for home. I agree right away — I could use a good run myself. As we leave the lumber mill, we head north where the road slopes downhill and loosen the reins. The horses react instantly, bounding forward with a burst of speed as we race toward the plains of Whiterun.
As we fly downhill, the sun suddenly breaks through the clouds, burning off the remaining tendrils of mist and bathing us in its benevolent warmth. It feels utterly wonderful — uplifting, inspiring, exhilarating. My past and future troubles vanish with the mist, leaving me suspended in this perfect moment in time. Against all odds, despite everything out there that wants me dead, the truth is indisputable… I! Am! Alive! I’m astonished at my own inner strength. I can do anything, be anything — an infinite world of possibilities lies open before me. Leaning back in the saddle as my horse seems to grow wings, I spread my arms wide as waves of pure delight wash over me like a benediction.
But, perhaps inevitably, my rarefied state of mind is all too fleeting. By the time Frost and I reach the bottom of the hill, the sun has dimmed once again and there’s a distinct chill in the air. All at once, I’m jolted back to reality as a sudden gust of wind nearly lifts me off the saddle. Then as I’m trying to get my bearings and control my horse, darkness falls like a stone, followed by a savage thunderous scream that’s almost loud enough to split the heavens. Wait a minute… I’m sure I’ve heard that sound before… oh, crap.
Leaping off my horse before I’m thrown, I manage to crouch behind some rocks as a sudden unnatural storm howls around me like a choir of the damned. Lightning flashes just overhead and sheets of rain threaten to drown me as if I’m of no more consequence than a sewer rat. I can only watch, dazed and helpless, as yet another dragon emerges from an ancient grave, raised by its infernal master — my old enemy from Helgen.
Then, as the revived beast takes its first stumbling steps away from the open burial mound, the blazing dragon veers sharply and vanishes into the clouds, taking the sudden tempest with it. Thunder rumbles off in the distance as the sun slowly peeks out from the gloom, but this time my spirits are far from elated.
I’m almost starting to miss that fluffy little feline assassin.