As soon as she hears someone speaking to me from the other side of the waterfall, Jenassa grabs my arm and hauls me toward her. Startled, I nearly lose my footing on the wet stone as I’m suddenly dragged backwards, but despite this I’m grateful for her fast reaction. Besides Kematu’s voice, we can detect other sounds echoing in the cavern ahead, revealing that our quarry is surrounded by at least half a dozen men — and all of them know exactly where we are.
However, in the last few seconds, Jenassa has already come up with a plan. She rapidly explains it to me in a low voice under the obscuring sound of falling water. As she finishes, for a moment all I can do is stare at her in utter incredulity. Admittedly, her plan does restore some of the advantage of surprise, so it’s possible we might pull this off — but it seems equally likely that we’re going to die painfully at the hands of the Alik’r in this dark watery hole.
On the other hand, neither of us is willing to leave Saadia to the tender mercies of a bunch of well-dressed thugs from Hammerfell — at least, not without a fight. Since there are relatively few options available, I reluctantly agree to Jenassa’s proposal. Perhaps the reluctance is misplaced, as I trust my wife implicitly — but right now I also really, really hope she knows what she’s doing.
The moment I step through the waterfall, I’m immediately surrounded by a group of Alik’r, who escort me up a wooden ramp toward Kematu. As I’m about to be presented to their leader, I look around for Jenassa, who quietly emerges from behind the waterfall. Keeping her head down and her hands well away from her blades, she glances around at the Alik’r as if nervous, appearing about as dangerous as a cornered mouse. I have to admit, even though I’m aware it’s all just an act, my first reaction is to run over and comfort her.
Remembering Jenassa’s instructions, I keep my hands relaxed and away from my weapons, regard Kematu with a steady gaze, and assume an air of confidence that I don’t actually feel in the slightest. Kematu stares at me for a moment, then casually flicks his hand toward the Alik’r in a gesture that says keep an eye on this one. Behind me, I can hear the warriors shift positions as they surround me a little more closely, ready to spring into action if I should dare to threaten their leader. Taking a deep breath, I decide to state my mission in a way that ensures their undivided attention.
Kematu is a smooth talker, all right. I can see how he managed to rise to a position of leadership among this band of warriors. His tone is even and pleasant, and he has a gift of making his suggestions sound perfectly reasonable, while at the same time implying that there are greater forces at work of which you know nothing. When he speaks, you can’t help but feel that the wisest course of action would be to do exactly what he says.
However, my attention is divided. Despite the illusion that Kematu and I are merely having a friendly discussion, I’m well aware that his men have now surrounded me in a tight ring, alert for any sudden moves. I don’t think any of them have reached for a weapon yet, but out of the corner of my eye I can see one of them take a deliberate step toward me, practically breathing down my neck. With an effort, I keep my gaze fixed on Kematu’s face. Although he continues to talk in that smooth and reasonable voice, I have only the vaguest notion of what he’s saying, as I’m concentrating instead on the shufflings and rustlings behind me.
Suddenly from the back of the cave, I hear the quiet sound of a pebble rolling along the ground and falling into the water with a soft splash. There, that’s the signal I’ve been waiting for. Time to ruin Kematu’s day.
Just as my wife predicted a few minutes ago, the Alik’r are so over-prepared for an attack on Kematu that they’re taken by surprise when I do the exact opposite. Readying my Whirlwind Sprint, I spin around, whip out Dawnbreaker, and barrel straight through the ring of warriors surrounding me. As I race toward the back of the cave, I catch a glance of Jenassa running interference in a deadly whirlwind of blades. One of the Alik’r tries to stop me as my Sprint wears off, but soon he’s wrapped in flames even as I’m reaching inside my satchel of potions.
As I come to a halt just inside the narrow tunnel at the back of the cave, I swallow a few more potions and turn to assist Jenassa. Against all odds, she’s managed to distract the rest of the Alik’r with amazing success, as none of them are anywhere close to me save for the recently deceased (and slightly charred) warrior at my feet. Just before I reach for my bow, I summon Barbie for a little extra firepower. It’s purely practical, of course. After all, in this shadowy environment, targets are so much easier to see when they’re already ablaze.
However, despite the success of our attack, it’s far from an easy fight. With their expertise and advantage of numbers, the Alik’r are formidable adversaries, and both Jenassa and I are kept busy. My potion effects start to wear off and my atronach has to be summoned multiple times before the tide finally begins to turn in our favour. The Alik’r sense this as well, and fight with increasing desperation as they strive to protect their leader.
As we slowly turn the mighty band of warriors into a pile of fresh corpses, Kematu finally faces us completely exposed and alone. He puts up a brave fight, but by now the result of the skirmish is a foregone conclusion, and it doesn’t take long before he hits the floor and joins his comrades. After he falls, Jenassa and I just stand over his body for a few moments, silently and respectfully acknowledging the impressive display of skill, intelligence and prowess he demonstrated during the short time we came to know him.
Then we gleefully loot him and his warriors of everything they’ve got.
After we relieve the deceased warriors of their possessions, we find a large chest that appears to contain the rest of the valuables that the late Alik’r didn’t want to carry around. Fortunately, Jenassa and I don’t mind carrying valuables around — and even more fortunately, we still have some room in our bags.
After some judicious sorting of a decent collection of armour, gold, gems, and weapons, we head past the stripped corpses of the Alik’r and back into the tunnels. I’m thinking there isn’t a lot more to see here, except for some random crates and a few scattered coins — when we happen to find a rather suspicious-looking container filled with strong-smelling liquid. Right. Holing up with regular bandits was bad enough, but it’s apparent the Alik’r really weren’t too picky about the company they kept. With a certain smug pleasure, I kick over the cask and watch its contents spill on the ground before we move on.
Winding our way through the rest of the tunnel system, Jenassa and I find ourselves looping back toward the first chamber. From there it’s a simple matter to find the way out, and we emerge from Swindler’s Den under a truly magnificent night sky.
It’s quite late by now, and we’ve made plans to spend the night in Rorikstead, which is still some distance away. But for a few moments, we just stop to enjoy the cool fresh air as we gaze up at the brilliant host of stars. It seems as though we’ve spent a month inside those caverns, fighting in the shadows with thugs and criminals. But we’ve also purged the province of a desperate gang of drug dealers, and we even managed to liberate Saadia — not to mention all the Redguard women in Skyrim — from being unjustly harassed and persecuted by the Alik’r.
With a sense of pride and deep contentment, I smile to myself as I reach for my wife’s hand. Not bad at all for an evening’s work.