Chapter 68: Closing Ranks

Early mornings at the Helgen keep are a busy time.  The sleeping soldiers are awakened soon after dawn, as their beds will be needed by the guards who were recently on night watch duty.  From my seat at the table, I watch as the soldiers organize their gear and sharpen their weapons in readiness for the upcoming sentry rotation.  Amid the hustle, Jenassa swiftly packs away our bedrolls as Marcus finishes his tankard, picks up a broom, and starts sweeping the floor.  Ten septims says he volunteered for this duty in order to remain useful.

I’m feeling like a sloth in the midst of all this bustling activity, so after the soldiers file out of the room, I walk up to Marcus and offer my help with whatever is needed.  To my surprise, he says that he’s been waiting for a chance to discuss that very topic, and asks if we’d mind delaying our breakfast for a few moments.  Curious, Jenassa and I encourage him to continue, and without even a pause in the rhythm of his work, he begins his explanation.

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I can’t really argue with this logic.  It’s true that there’s a civil war on, but ever since the dragon attack, Helgen has essentially been left to the bandits.  The decision to keep Helgen neutral and independent would certainly have its risks.  But as Marcus says, it’s unlikely that the Jarl of Falkreath would make any serious attempt to bring it back under his control, and it’s equally unlikely that any other army would try to claim it — at least until after the outcome of the war has been decided.

That just leaves the question of where to obtain some extra guards who aren’t already committed to the war.  Before we can rebuild an independent Helgen, we have to find a way to ensure that the town remains safe and secure.  Since we won’t be able to rely on the Jarls for help, we’ll have to figure out how to hire the guards ourselves — if that’s even possible.

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Glancing at Jenassa, I can tell that she’s reached the same conclusion.  She nods her assent, adding that it would be good if we didn’t have to rely solely on the corrupt Jarl of Falkreath to maintain our position in the hold — not to mention our new home.  Considering neither of us want to get directly involved in the civil war, the choice seems pretty clear.

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I grimace to myself when we receive these marching orders, but I suppose I can’t complain.  That’s what we get for offering to help out a military outfit.

Jenassa dryly remarks that his servant had quite the erratic tour of Skyrim, and hopes that Marcus isn’t counting on our immediate return.  The old soldier grins at her, saying that he suspects Patsy was more interested in sampling different types of mead from various establishments around the province than in posting notices.  However, having traveled by carriage himself, he understands how all the bouncing and rattling can be hard on old bones — and neither he nor Patsy are young anymore.  He realizes this is somewhat of an imposition for us, and promises that we’ll be compensated for our time whenever we return.

With that, Jenassa and I agree to do what we can — and leaving Marcus to his cleaning duties, we grab a quick breakfast and clear out of the barracks.  Outside the keep, one of the guards appears with our horses, and after our farewell to the troops, we ride out of Helgen in the chilly morning light.

It sure is brisk out here. I'm nearly blue with briskness.
It sure is brisk out here.  I’m about to turn blue from the briskness.

Since it appears we’ll be on the road for some time, we’ve decided to drop by the town of Falkreath for supplies.  Then we’ll return home to inform our housecarl of our extended travel plans. I’m sure Rayya can manage just fine on her own for awhile.

Coincidentally, Jenassa and I happen to be riding along the same road that I traveled last night as a werewolf.  I think.  It’s all a bit hazy, especially the first few hours after I transformed.  At least I know for a fact that I was chasing deer instead of going on a bloody murderous rampage.   I’m sure people would notice if there were a bunch of ravaged bodies lying around — like that one over there, for instance.  Oh wait.  Whoops.

Yep, that's a body all right.
Suddenly I feel like coming down with a serious case of amnesia.

Glancing at the ground without turning my head, I try to casually ride past the corpse — but unfortunately I’m married to the most perceptive woman in all of Skyrim.   Of course Jenassa stops to take a closer look.  She then calls me back to point out the unusual pattern of claw marks on the body, saying that they appear to have been made with gigantic hands rather than the paws of an animal.  My heart stops for a moment as I search for an appropriate response — then I make an offhand quip about a giant who really needed a manicure.

Jenassa doesn’t bother to reply.  She just turns and stares at me for the longest few seconds of my life.  Okay, I admit that was sort of lame.  Forget what I said, love.  I don’t know what came over me.  Let’s just drop it and keep going — we can’t do anything anyway for this poor bastard.

Erm... thanks, you too. Out for a nice walk, are we?
Erm… thanks, you too. Out for a nice walk, are we?

We’re still a fair distance from town when we happen to meet up with a Falkreath guard on the road.  That’s rather unusual, to say the least.  Guards generally don’t go wandering away from town on a whim, so there must be a pressing reason why he’s out here — although personally, I’m not sure I want to know.

Jenassa has no such misgivings.  Ever conscientious, my wife first informs the guard about the body we found with the strange claw marks, then she asks what’s brought him so far from town.  As if reciting lines from a script, the guard replies that they’re currently investigating the presence of a highly dangerous element somewhere out in the forest — and all civilians are advised to head straight to town or get indoors as soon as possible.  He doesn’t even seem all that surprised to hear about the corpse.

Needless to say, we’re a bit taken aback.  Jenassa tries to ask him a few more questions, but the guard politely deflects them all, insisting that it’s all he really knows.  He offers to escort us into town, but since we’re on horses and he’s on foot, all that would do is slow us down.  So we leave the guard to his mysterious investigations, and continue on to Falkreath.

Unlike most shopping trips, I just want to get what we need and get out.
Unlike most shopping trips, I just want to get what we need and get out.

We notice the tension in the air as soon as we arrive.  There are definitely more guards around than usual, either standing at attention or actively patrolling.  By their expressions, all of them are on the emotional scale somewhere between distinctly uneasy to downright spooked.  We also can’t help but notice that except for the guards, the streets are empty.  Even the blacksmith is hovering as close to his front door as possible.  I think that’s the first time I’ve seen him concerned over something other than his forge.

Besides his odd nervousness, the smith is even more taciturn than usual.  We try to ask him what’s happening, but he refuses to talk about it, saying that he’s not one for gossip or spreading foolish rumours.  Exasperated, Jenassa and I leave the smithy and are just about to head into Gray Pine Goods, when we happen to overhear two guards talking in hushed tones — about wolves.  Great.

Well, you heard wrong. I'm actually more to the southwest of you at the moment.
Well, you heard wrong. I’m actually more to the southwest of you at the moment.

Nervousness must be catching, because I’m getting a bad case of it myself.  It’s certain that the mere presence of wolf packs wouldn’t cause this much widespread alarm.  By necessity, the Falkreath guards are quite expert at eliminating wolves if they roam too close to town, and I can’t imagine them calling even an unusually large pack a “highly dangerous element”.

I’m about to drag Jenassa into the store before she can ask the guards any more questions — but as one of them walks away, the other one keeps right on talking.  Like the guard we met on the road, he advises us to get indoors as soon as possible.  However, unlike his comrade-in-arms, he doesn’t try to hold back any information.  In fact, he just can’t wait to offer his opinion — the witless milkdrinking blabbermouth.

I thought guards were supposed to be all brave and stoic.  But no, today we find the exception.  Clearly someone must’ve stolen this guy’s sweetrolls.  Both of them.

I'm getting a bad feeling about this.
Maybe you should say it a bit louder — my housecarl may not have heard you.

 

Travel Map 45.
Travel Map 45.

 

 

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