Riding westwards with the sun warm on our faces, Jenassa and I head out from Fort Greymoor and resume our journey to Swindler’s Den. The road is clear and empty, save for the occasional wildlife crossing, and fortunately we don’t encounter any more crazed bandits spoiling for a fight. As we reach the border of Falkreath Hold, we slow our pace and start looking for a narrow dirt path in the long grass. There are rumours of giants in this area, and the last thing we need is to find ourselves overly close to their encampment.
Eventually we discover the path and ride north into the plains, past an ancient stone circle and a minor scattering of Nordic ruins. A herd of mammoths up ahead gives us a fair idea of where the giants are located, and we briefly leave the path in order to avoid any unfortunate territorial misunderstandings.
Glancing toward the camp as we circle around, I catch a glimpse of a strange glowing tree in the middle of it. I’m intrigued, but somehow I doubt Jenassa would be willing to fight a bunch of mammoths and giants just to satisfy my curiosity. Bearing this in mind, I make an effort to keep my thoughts firmly fixed on our goal as we make our way back to the path.
Soon after we leave the giant camp behind, the path comes to a sudden end, and we find ourselves in front of a pair of imposing stone pillars, eerily illuminated by twin bonfires. Between the pillars, we can see what appears to be some kind of altar. Baffled, I look around for an adjoining temple or some other kind of adjacent building, but there’s nothing like that to be seen anywhere in the vicinity. Right. So apparently, this random altar was set up in the middle of nowhere. Weird.
Jenassa and I dismount to investigate. Aside from the altar itself, there’s also a prominent ridge with a profusion of rocky outcroppings, any of which might conceal the entrance to an underground bandit hideout. As we wander around, we’re focused on the surrounding rocks as we search for hidden caverns — which is why we’re completely taken by surprise by the ambush.
Startled by the sudden attack, our horses sprint a short distance away while Jenassa and I swiftly reach for our weapons. Expecting our assailants to belong to Kematu’s band of Alik’r, I’m disappointed to discover that they’re actually elite Vigilants of Stendarr. Well, “disappointed” isn’t quite the right word. “Dismayed” might be closer to the truth, especially as they fight just as zealously as the other pair of Vigilants who once invaded our Falkreath homestead. However, my wife is more than equal to the challenge — and I’m more than happy to help her out.
The Vigilants put up a good fight, but soon both of them lie dead at our feet. After the dust settles, Jenassa and I spend some time speculating about how on earth they could’ve possibly known to look for us here. It’s unlikely they were following us, since we’d have easily been able to spot them on the road, and it’s even less likely that they somehow knew we’d be passing by this remote wilderness shrine. We talk it over for a few minutes and float a few far-fetched theories, but in the end, we have to admit we’re completely stumped.
After we strip the corpses of useful loot, Jenassa heads off to retrieve our horses so we can continue our journey. Out of little more than idle curiosity, I turn to the altar to get a better look at it — and suddenly the mystery of the Vigilants’ inexplicable appearance is resolved.
Right, now it makes sense that we’d run into some Vigilants at this location. For all we know, they hold regular meetings at a different Stendarr shrine every week. Just our luck we happened on this place while they were here.
Mind you, it hasn’t been a complete waste of time. There’s quite a nice pile of valuables on this altar — a flawless amethyst, a goblet crafted from solid silver, some alchemy ingredients, a spellbook, and even a lockbox. Pretty silly of the Vigilants to just leave all this treasure behind where anyone could make off with it — especially someone who might have good reason to dislike their hyperactive fanaticism. Someone like… I don’t know… me, for example.
After a quick bite to eat from our provisions, Jenassa and I mount up and follow the contours of the rocky ridge, riding slowly in case we spot anything that looks like the entrance to a bandit hideout. As we descend into a small hollow, we discover a ragged banner floating in the breeze just up ahead.
Nodding to Jenassa, I bring my horse to a halt, swing off the saddle as quietly as possible, and reach for my bow. My wife likewise dismounts, so softly that she hardly bends the grass. As we covertly approach the banner, I can just make out an orc sentry standing at the mouth of a cave, dressed in the typically indifferent armour of a bandit. Something tells me this is the place.
The orc is swiftly taken care of by a single arrow to the throat. As the falling corpse disappears in the long grass, we slowly make our way to the cavern entrance. Fortunately there are no other sentries around, which seems a tad careless of the Alik’r. It’s apparent the security around here is rather lax for a band of supposedly elite warriors.
Still, that’s no excuse for us to defer our visit. C’mon Jenassa, let’s head inside and give them a warm Skyrim welcome, shall we?