Chapter 63: Methodical Madness

Daylight returns to its former brilliance as the summoned storm rapidly dissipates, only to reveal a more pressing issue.  Shaking itself awake from its long sleep, the newly-raised dragon lurches to its feet and slowly swings its scaly head in my direction.  Knowing I won’t be able to remain hidden for long, I take a deep breath and reach for my bow.  As I raise my weapon, the dread beast reacts to the movement and immediately takes to the air, roaring a challenge.  Great.  As if I don’t have enough enemies trying to kill me.

Putting the dragon back down where it belongs.
Getting the dragon back down where it belongs.

Jenassa races past me with her bow in hand, and the two of us start peppering the beast with arrows.  The dragon is obviously none too pleased with this rude reception, and soon we’re busy dodging multiple fireballs.  I pause briefly to summon Barbie, on the principle that we might as well fight fire with fire.  Our combined attacks soon force the enemy down — but now we’re really out of the proverbial frying pan.

Dragons aren't much for anger management.
Dragons really aren’t much for anger management.

With a sickening crash, the dragon hits the ground hard, tearing up the turf as it lands.  If it was angry before, it’s now infuriated.  Ironically, my flame atronach is the first to be incinerated — and although she makes a brave stand, my wife is about to become the next victim on the pyre.

Fortunately I manage to pierce the dragon’s hide at a vital spot, and with a deafening shriek it turns toward me instead.  Jenassa takes advantage of its distraction to renew her attack while I follow up with more arrows — until finally it groans in defeat and falls over dead.  My wife and I stand back as the corpse spontaneously combusts, and soon I’m once again surrounded by mystical ribbons of otherworldly light as another dragon soul fuses with my own.

Anyone bring the marshmallows?
Alas, no one brought marshmallows.

After extracting what I can from the dragon’s corpse, I turn to find Jenassa standing with her arms folded, staring off into the distance.  She has a rather odd expression on her face, as if she’s talking herself into completing a distasteful chore.   Considering that we’ve just successfully defeated another dragon, her reaction seems a bit out of place.

As I put away my harvesting knife, I offer my wife a septim for her thoughts.  She turns to me with the ghost of a smile on her lips, and then sighs.

“I think it’s time to visit Delphine,” she says.

Right, that certainly wasn’t what I was expecting.  I open my mouth to ask why — but then I look around at the scorched earth, the heap of dragon bones, and the open burial mound — and I close my mouth again with a grimace.  I can’t deny that this entire scenario is almost exactly like the one back in Kynesgrove.  It’s clear that we don’t know how to stop it from happening again, and our best chance appears to be with the Riverwood innkeeper.

Resigned, I nod at Jenassa.  Now that we’ve decided on our next course of action — or rather, that our course of action has been decided for us — we might as well start heading toward Riverwood.  I have to admit, I love that my wife is intelligent and perceptive — but sometimes I hate it when she’s right.

Rush hour in Skyrim.
Rush hour traffic.

However, we don’t make it very far before we come across a farmer and his cow taking up more than their fair share of the road.  I’m not really in the mood for delays, so I speed up and pass the farmer — but then I do a double take as I get a better look at his livestock.

Post-impressionist art circa 4E. Title: Bovine in Blue; oils on cowhide.
Post-impressionist Nord art, circa 4E. Title: Bovine Dreams in Blue; oils on cowhide.

Curiosity gets the better of me, so I swing my horse back around and approach the farmer.  As soon as he gets within speaking distance, I put my question to him — but his answer leaves me no further enlightened.

Wait, you mean giants commissioned this artwork? That just raises more questions.
Wait, giants commissioned this artwork?  That just raises more questions.

The farmer goes on to explain that it’s an old Nord tradition.  It seems that paint on a cow indicates that the farmer is willingly giving it to the giants.  And giants apparently understand the meaning behind these swirls and squiggly lines.  Right.  Perhaps I just have a suspicious mind, but back in my tavern days I heard plenty of “old traditions” that seemed to grow more and more elaborate as the mead kept flowing.  It’s not my place to say, but I suspect his mates had a pretty good laugh at this farmer’s expense after the pub closed.  Probably sold him the paint to boot.

Probably because you've covered your cows in blue paint. Just a thought.
Or maybe giants don’t want to eat paint.  Just a thought.

Leaving the farmer behind with his colourful cow, Jenassa and I continue on past the western watchtower.  The sunshine is bright and warm, and the breeze carries the scent of wildflowers hidden in the vast expanse of golden grasses.  As we ride past the outlying farms clustered around Whiterun, I grab a few edibles from my pack and enjoy a hearty lunch on horseback.

Keeping an eye out for blue cows.
I never appreciated the lack of blue cattle before.

Soon we’re past the Honningbrew Meadery and following the river into the forested hills.  As we ride through the trees, I inhale several sweet breaths of pine-scented air.  I’m not exactly sure what to expect from Delphine once we reach Riverwood, but at least I’ll deal with it on a clear head and a full stomach.

Returning to Riverwood.
The reluctant return to Riverwood.

As soon as we enter the inn, Delphine catches sight of us — an easy feat, since she’s standing right inside the door.  Without so much as a civil greeting, she hustles me toward the back of the main room and into a bedroom, telling her assistant to keep an eye on the place in her absence.

Once inside the bedroom, she heads over to the old wardrobe in the corner and throws open the doors.  Reaching behind one of the hinges with a practiced motion, she releases a catch, and the false back of the wardrobe swings open to reveal a hidden staircase.  Delphine vanishes down the passageway in seconds, leaving me alone with my misgivings just as Jenassa enters the room behind me.

I have a feeling it's too late for that, Jenassa.
I have a feeling it’s too late for that, Jenassa.

Heading down the narrow steps, we find Delphine waiting for us in her well-equipped basement that’s a strange combination of home office, laboratory, and war room.  My foot has barely touched the bottom of the stairs when she launches straight in with her master plan.

Wait... and this is a good thing?
Wait… when did I sign up for this?

There’s no chance to get even a single word in edgewise.  As she rapidly outlines a complicated strategy for me to attend a Thalmor gathering so I can steal some diplomatic papers, my mind is churning.  Why would a Thalmor ambassador make a habit of throwing parties at the Skyrim embassy?  What does Delphine expect to find in the ambassador’s files?  How did her wood elf colleague manage to get a catering job with the Thalmor?  And most importantly — what in Oblivion does any of this have to do with dragons?!

Yes, actually -- exactly how many medications are you on? On second thought, forget I asked.
Yes actually, at least a dozen.  But I’d rather just get the hell out of here.

Since it’s clear that this madwoman would rather bark orders at us instead of attempting a reasonable conversation, I decide to cut my losses and leave before Delphine wastes any more of our time.  Jenassa follows at my heels as I head back up the stairs and out of the building.

Once we’re back outside, we pause in front of the inn to discuss our next move.  I’m all for heading back to our homestead and washing our hands of Delphine once and for all, but Jenassa points out we’ve already tried that — only to see yet another dragon raised from the grave.  Annoyed, I ask her if she has any better ideas.

My wife hesitates, then plunges ahead.  “I think we should go to Solitude as Delphine suggests.”

I’m stunned. “What?!  For Arkay’s sake, why?  She hasn’t made any sense since we met her!”

“That’s not entirely true,” Jenassa replies.  “She tracked down the dragon at Kynesgrove.  She knows quite a bit about the Greybeards.  And she knew how to infiltrate a secret chamber and steal the horn of Jurgen Windcaller out from under our noses.  In short, my love, she knows a lot more than she lets on.  I suspect this mission at the embassy is less about the Thalmor papers than a test of loyalties.  If we succeed, she’ll know we can be trusted absolutely — and since the Thalmor have spies everywhere, we might very well discover something useful.”

I give my wife a skeptical look.  “Fine, but only because we have to head toward Solitude anyway for the Companions.  But first, let’s return to Helgen.  It’s been about a day, and I think that rebuilding the town is worth a try.  We might as well see what that old soldier has in mind.”

Jenassa agrees, and we shake on it.  As we mount our horses and ride into Falkreath, I try to fathom the logic in Delphine’s plan — but it makes about as much sense to me as painting a cow.  This might be a test as Jenassa suggested, but I don’t trust that Delphine is entirely sane.

However, I do trust my wife’s instincts — and that’s always been good enough for me.

Travel Map 42.
Travel Map 42.

 

 

 

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