Although they hold many dangers for the unwary traveler, the forests of Falkreath always seem at their most peaceful as the day moves toward sunset. Shadows dance between the stately evergreens, and the woodland birds practice their evening chorus as the shimmering river catches the golden rays of the late afternoon sun. But right now, I’m far too distracted to fully appreciate the surrounding beauty — my mind is occupied with the details of Delphine’s plan to infiltrate the Thalmor embassy.
Reluctantly, I acknowledge that Jenassa has a point — the embassy mission is a necessary test of loyalty for Delphine. Although the events at Kynesgrove confirmed that I’m the Dragonborn, the Riverwood innkeeper doesn’t know if I’ve aligned myself with any of the other influential factions in Skyrim. The ongoing Civil War provides enough reason to be suspicious of potential allies, but the return of the dragons represents an extraordinary supernatural threat over which few mortals have any influence. It’s just my luck that I happen to be one of those mortals — and my motives are likely just as mysterious to Delphine as hers are to me.
Jenassa and I leave the sparkling river behind and pass the trio of standing stones as we continue on our way to Helgen. As we ride higher into the hills, I gradually become aware of a distinct chill in the air and a thin layer of snow on the ground. Ahead, the blackened walls of the ravaged town stand out against the sky, much like an ancient Nord ruin.
The brisk wind quickens my senses as we enter the gates. Refreshed, I leave my tangled thoughts behind and start looking forward to what’s ahead — a chance to help transform this town from a burnt-out husk into a lively community. Right now I feel more than ready to assist with such a simple and noble goal, and almost grateful for the opportunity.
Once inside the gates, Jenassa and I turn our horses toward the keep and dismount near the doors. The man guarding the entrance recognizes us with a respectful nod, ushering us through and telling us where to find our hosts.
Following the passageway off the main entrance, we head down a flight of stairs and into an open space. Seated at a table near the fireplace is Marcus, the old soldier we met in Falkreath. His friend Valerius is there as well, talking casually to two people in Imperial armour. As we approach the group, Marcus looks up and greets us.
Marcus then asks his friend to fill us in. Valerius ends his conversation with the pair in Imperial uniform and turns toward us. But instead of an explanation, he asks if Jenassa and I have ever thought about why he and his soldiers originally came to Helgen.
I just look at him blankly. Right. Sorry, but we’ve been a little busy dealing with bandits, trolls, draugr, giants, assassins, werewolves… and y’know, the return of the dragons, which is why this town is such a wreck in the first place. Forgive us if we haven’t spent a great deal of time pondering the reason why you decided to hole up here — other than, of course, pretending to be bandits. Brilliant strategy, by the way. Top notch. Really.
I’m very close to responding in this sarcastic fashion to his inane query — but since we happen to be surrounded by several military veterans in full armour with lots of pointy weapons, I manage to bite my tongue. However, he’s clearly expecting an answer, and since we were speaking earlier with Delphine and her plans to infiltrate the embassy, I blurt out something about spying on the Thalmor.
One of the other soldiers approaches, and I’m handed a rather heavy parcel. I open it to reveal an armoured breastplate, elaborately decorated with Imperial insignia. This outfit weighs a ton — I’m definitely not going to be able to retreat very fast if we get into trouble. Suddenly I find myself extremely interested in making sure this rescue of Korst goes as planned.
But it appears that isn’t the end of it. Clearly in a helpful mood, Valerius continues with a few more pertinent details of what we might have to face. Now I’m not just interested in the success of this mission — I’m downright invested.
Great. So I just left an innkeeper back in Riverwood who’s simply itching to send me on a dangerous mission involving the Thalmor, only to find another group — armed to the teeth, no less — who expects me to do the same. I must say, I’m getting pretty tired of being conscripted for all the risky work. Have you people never heard of consent? What in Oblivion do you need me for? Do I have patsy written across my forehead?!
As I’m inwardly seething over my predicament, Valerius goes on to explain that his soldiers happened to find some samples of the Thalmor ambassador’s handwriting scattered around the keep when they arrived. Using these samples, they’ve forged an official-looking letter to lend an appearance of authenticity to the mission. I glance at the paper I’m handed — and although I hate to admit it, they’ve done a good job. It seems they’ve thought of everything. I’m feeling a little more optimistic about our chances — but I can’t say I’m anxious to get started.
Ever the helpful one, Valerius marks the location of the Thalmor prison on my map. Unfortunately, it’s quite close by, just a short distance from Helgen. We could easily make it there and back tonight, so it doesn’t look like I’ll even get the chance to sleep on it. Let’s hope the Thalmor are in a trusting and generous mood.
Jenassa helps me into the heavy Imperial armour — which, after my own light gear, feels like I’m being sealed into a metal straitjacket. As we exit the keep, one of our escorts suggests that it might be better if I removed my leather hood. According to him, it isn’t something a high-ranking Imperial officer would wear and makes it too obvious that I’m an impostor. Fine. I’ll do it, but I’m not a fan of removing bits of armour and making myself even more vulnerable. I’m rather attached to my head.
As we ride higher into the hills, the wind rises and it starts to snow. Soon the icy flakes are falling thick and fast, and in minutes the road ahead is obscured by a shifting curtain of white. I’m hopeful that we’ll have to abandon the mission due to inclement weather, but just as I’m about to suggest that we turn around and head back to Helgen, we find our destination. Hard as it is to believe, for once I’m not eager to take shelter from the cold.
As we enter the fortress, I take a quick look around. By my rough estimate, there’s at least half a dozen Thalmor stationed around the room. Two of them guard what must be the entrance to the prison area downstairs, and the others can be seen on an upper floor. As I straighten my shoulders and try not to think about poor sightlines and lack of exit routes, an imperious Thalmor in fancy robes approaches, demanding that we state our business. I hand over the forged document with all the authority I can muster.
Guess I don’t muster authority very well. With a suspicious glance at our group, the Thalmor takes the document and marches off into the next room. Moments later, another robed figure appears with the forged letter in hand. Catching sight of us, he raises an eyebrow, and a condescending smirk slowly crosses his face. Rolling up the document briskly and handing it off to a lackey, he approaches us with a terribly polite but most insincere apology.
From the corner of my eye, I can see Jenassa casually drop her hand to her side, her fingers lightly brushing the hilt of her blade. As if in response, the Thalmor official gives a tiny flick of his finger, and a pair of elven archers appear on the balcony to join the other guards. No one yet has openly reached for a weapon, but I can feel the tension in the room abruptly rise.
Jenassa crosses her arms in an offhand manner, and does a great impression of looking bored. I try to swallow, but my mouth seems to have suddenly gone dry. Fighting to keep my voice steady, I make another attempt to sound authoritative.
As if on cue, everyone in the room leans forward slightly as the tension rises another notch. Behind me, I can hear one of my companions inhale sharply. Steeling myself, I take a deep breath — and double down on my role.