The stars wheel in their heavenly dance high above us as we mount up and start riding toward Rorikstead. Watching the stars, we plot our course through the dark grass over seemingly endless plains, searching for a glimpse of the road that will lead us to the small but prosperous farming village that manages to feed most of Skyrim. During my time with the Companions, and among the tavern-talk of farmers deep in their cups, I’ve heard rumours of how Rorikstead produces bumper crops year after year, despite the droughts and early frosts that plague less fortunate farmers. Sacred soil, magery, deals with the Daedra — rural gossips are a creative lot when it comes to speculation.
As we finally reach the road, I find myself wishing for the light of day to better illuminate the land surrounding us. I half-expect to see bigger trees, lusher grass, the very air rich with pollen and ripe with potential as the rumours suggest. But the lanterns along the road barely pierce the darkness, and I can only make out the next few paces ahead. Even the stars are blinded as the clouds roll in.
Our trip is hardly uneventful, however. After reaching the road, we soon hear someone calling to us, as if in need of help. We slow down to approach — and to better see this unfortunate stranger — when we’re suddenly attacked from all sides by a pack of bloodthirsty predators.
None of the vampires appear to be too dangerous individually — but like any predators who travel in packs, they threaten to overwhelm us through sheer numbers. As Jenassa draws her blade and starts dealing with the vampires directly, I circle around and skewer a couple of them with some well-placed arrows. This is mostly to buy time, however, as I ready my two most effective weapons against all such creatures of the night — Dawnbreaker, backed up by that fiery femme fatale, Barbie.
In a few genuinely dangerous and nerve-wracking moments, we’ve managed to clear away all life-threatening obstructions between us and our destination. I have to say, Skyrim certainly does keep one’s adrenaline levels topped up.
After we retrieve and calm our skittish horses, we continue on our way to Rorikstead. The darkness is almost palpable now. It’s slightly terrifying to realize that, if there are any other dangers waiting for us in the shadows, my wife and I would make a perfect target.
So it’s with considerable relief when we finally make out the village gates, newly constructed and manned by a small selection of Whiterun guards. It was built at the Jarl’s expense in order to protect the province’s agricultural heart against all manner of dangerous wildlife — such as the kind we just met with on the road.
As we enter Rorikstead, the place looks practically deserted, and the darkness makes it hard to get our bearings. Just as we’re about to start knocking on doors, a guard appears out of the gloom. We come to a halt as he approaches, and it’s clear that we’re the most exciting thing he’s seen all day. Much to our surprise, before we even mention our recent encounter, he brings up the subject of vampires himself. I’m not saying I’m suspicious or anything… but I’m suspicious.
The guard proves useful in one respect, however — at our request, he eventually points us to the local inn. Since it’s set well back from the road, it’s more than likely that in the dark we’d have missed the inn entirely. There’s also a cow pasture right smack in front yard, which might raise some uncomfortable questions about hygiene if I allowed myself to think about it — but with vampire gangs roaming around out here, I’m not inclined to be picky.
The sound of raised voices is the first thing we hear when we open the door, which is what you might expect from this type of public establishment. But it’s not the sound of loud chatter or voices raised in song. Instead, my wife and I seem to have arrived just as the innkeeper is scolding his son for snooping around in his private possessions. Awkward.
The innkeeper is so focused on his scolding that he doesn’t even notice our approach. There’s a scattering of other patrons present, but they’re all fixedly staring at their drinks or finishing in a hurry so they can make an unobtrusive exit. I’m a bit apprehensive about interrupting the innkeeper’s tirade, but I very much doubt there’s another place to stay in this small farming village — and even if there were, I doubt we’d be able to find it in the dark.
Jenassa, unimpressed by the family squabble taking place, pointedly drops her backpack on the floor and clears her throat at a volume guaranteed to rouse the sleeping livestock in the yard outside. At first the innkeeper clutches a tankard as if he’s about to throw it at us, but after he gets a good look at my tall, intimidating, and gorgeous companion (did I mention I love my wife?), he’s suddenly very apologetic, excusing himself repeatedly for his lack of manners and hospitality. Soon Jenassa and I are ushered into the best room in the place — which isn’t saying much for an inn run by farmers, but at least it’ll keep the rain off. Not to mention the bloodsuckers outside.
The action-packed events of this evening have left us starving, so we head back into the main room for a hearty meal. The innkeeper disappears into the cellar to fetch us some ale, and I find myself conversing with his son. The lad wants nothing more than to become an adventurer and seek his own fortune, instead of being stuck in Rorikstead ankle-deep in cow dung for the rest of his life. He’s understandably frustrated by his father’s unwillingness to let him go, and I slowly come to the realization that I’m starting to sympathize with him.
It’s obvious he’s a typical farm boy, as he’s big, strong, and very naive about the ways of the world beyond the confines of his small native village. But as I watch him rapidly sort through various food items and deftly catch a bottle of mead before it falls off the counter — all the while talking to me without missing a beat — I realize he’s also agile, quick, and intelligent. I’ve seen adventurers with far less natural ability find success in their chosen field — like, for example, myself.
He also seems like a genuinely good person, and Skyrim isn’t exactly a warm and friendly vacation resort, so for a moment I consider telling him that he’s better off safe at home with his father. But I just can’t make myself say it. He’s clearly feeling suffocated here, and it’s only fair that he gets a chance to make something of his life. Before I’m entirely aware of the words coming out of my own mouth, I find myself offering to talk to his father. It’s not that I’m planning to take the lad with us — my beautiful badass wife would probably divorce me if I tried — but if a lack of funds is part of the problem, then I can do something about that. And it’ll help me as well; it’s darn heavy work carrying all this gold around. (I know, I know — rich adventurer’s problems.)
Noticing that I’ve been deep in conversation with the innkeeper’s son for several minutes, Jenassa wanders over out of curiosity. When I explain the situation to her, she says nothing, but lifts her eyebrow in a way that expresses volumes. Knowing her as I do, I can interpret her expression and its meaning almost as well as if she’d spoken her thoughts aloud: this is hardly our concern — why get involved in such nonsense — one usually visits an orphanage when one wishes to adopt a stray — might as well scatter your gold for the birds — oh very well, if you insist. I flash her a big smile to thank her for putting up with my whims, and she briefly rolls her eyes before deigning to talk to the innkeeper’s son herself while I sit down to eat. It’s my working theory that my wife hangs around largely because I keep her entertained… even though she’s kind enough to insist otherwise.
As if on cue, the lad’s father reappears and begins polishing the counter. Finishing my meal, I drop off most of my heavy outerwear back in my room before I approach him. From my time when I ran my own tavern back in High Rock, I’ve discovered — somewhat to my annoyance — that I’m far more persuasive to the opposite sex when they can get a good look at my cleavage.
I consider leaving my weapons back in my room as well, but on second thought, I decide it might be best to have them on hand. A show of weapons can come in handy for discouraging bar brawls — not to mention possible physical altercations with the local barkeep when he’s having a bad day. Especially if you’re just about to barge in, challenge his parental wisdom, and tell him to break up his family.
Since I clearly can’t win this debate from a purely logical standpoint, I opt for a blatantly emotional appeal backed up by fat stacks of cash. I figure either guilt or greed will win out over fatherly affection — and to my surprise, it actually works. Not sure what this says about this guy as a parent… or about me, for that matter. I’ve probably just ensured that his son will live a very short and painful life. Not sure if that makes me a hero or a heel, and aside from the questionable morality of what I’ve just achieved, I’m also down a couple hundred gold — an amount which could probably buy the entire inn, pastured cows and all. I’m starting to think this may not have been my smartest move. Story of my life, really.
So with that business concluded, I head back to the bedroom and rejoin my wife, who has decided to take advantage of the local room service so that she can eat her dinner in peace. She notices that I’m unusually quiet as I prepare for bed, and so she asks me about my conversation with the innkeeper. Eventually I tell her how it went down, and also that I’ve donated a large amount of gold to sponsor an inexperienced farm boy so he can head off into the unknown and probably get himself killed. I try to make the endeavour sound worthwhile — noble, even — but even as the words are coming out of my mouth, I’m uncomfortably aware of how irresponsible it all sounds.
To her credit, Jenassa doesn’t interrupt, even as I finish my story and stumble to a stop. She doesn’t say anything afterward, either. She just sits there and stares at me for several minutes, drink in hand, ignoring the fact that her meal is growing cold on the table beside her.
I get the feeling that neither of us will be sleeping well tonight.