The next morning dawns bright and clear, a day that sparkles with sunshine as if the Divines decided to build the world anew. After a decent amount of sleep, the terror and stress of last night seem very far away. By mutual unspoken agreement, Jenassa and I avoid mentioning my previous interference in a certain family squabble, and we devour our breakfast as if it’s our last meal. But just as my wife has settled the bill and we’re about to leave, we run into an old, and rather unwelcome, acquaintance. Oh right — Kematu’s thugs said some of them would be hanging out in Rorikstead, didn’t they? Oops.
Caught off guard by the sight of an Alik’r here at the inn — especially as I thought we’d killed them all — my mind goes blank as I grasp in vain for a casual, offhand response that doesn’t sound suspicious. The warrior clearly expects a reply of some kind, and the silence is rapidly becoming awkward, when my wife, noticing my predicament, smoothly steps in. Giving me one of her meaningful sidelong glances (just back slowly toward the door and let me handle this, dear), Jenassa sternly reprimands the warrior for his rough demeanor and uncouth questions, asking him why he’s not doing any honest work instead of sitting around harassing people at an inn.
Nettled, the Alik’r slowly rises to face my wife, his tankard still in his hand. This tactic likely works more often than not as a form of intimidation, but as he stands to his full height, he can’t help but notice that Jenassa is slightly taller than he is, and staring him directly in the eye with a hand resting — almost-but-not-quite-casually — on the hilt of her weapon. Having been on the other end of that stare myself, I can say from experience that it can be a distinctly unnerving encounter. The Alik’r suddenly thinks better of his position and sinks back down into his seat, unwilling to start a fight with nothing but a tankard handy. Jenassa snorts dismissively as she sweeps past me toward the exit, and I quickly duck my head to cover my grin as I follow her outside.
From the steps of the inn, we scan the village for any sign of a general store, or failing that, a blacksmith. There has to be someone around here who can keep the farmers supplied with hoes and rakes, or at least keep them sharpened, or… whatever else farm tools need. It seems unlikely that the community could manage very long without some kind of basic services. Surely they can’t rely on passing traders for everything — it’s just not logical. On the other hand, this is Skyrim, a region where giants herd painted cows and dragons are raised from the dead. Logic doesn’t seem to have much to do with this place.
As Jenassa and I search for any sign of commerce, there’s a sudden commotion behind us. Turning, we see that a wolf has stolen past the stone walls and is wreaking predatory havoc on several farm animals, much to the alarm of the villagers. Before I can react, Jenassa grabs her axe and races forward, giving the wolf a swift blow to the head just as it sinks its teeth into a goat. The wolf drops dead immediately, but sadly it’s already managed to thin out the domestic herd.
It’s too bad we weren’t a little quicker, but at least it seems that my wife’s efforts have been appreciated. From all around us, farmers call out their thanks with barely a pause in their labour — it seems that nothing short of a thunderstorm, a dragon attack, or the sun setting could keep these villagers from their work. So it’s a surprise when they suddenly straighten up and bend their heads respectfully to a well-dressed older man strolling through the fields. He nods graciously to the farmers, acknowledging their deference, then bends to inspect something on the ground just on the other side of the fence from us. Curious, I decide I want to meet this gentleman. Whoever he is, he’s obviously influential and well-respected — and I bet he can point us toward a store, if such a thing exists around here.
The gentleman straightens up from his examination of a dead chicken as we approach, and upon learning that we killed the predator responsible for its loss, he shakes our hands warmly by way of thanks. He carries himself with remarkable dignity that could rival even that of a Jarl, and although he’s expressing his gratitude to us for slaughtering the wolf, I feel like I should be thanking him for being so gracious. We exchange introductions, and as he mentions his name, I can’t help feeling like I’ve heard it before. There’s something really familiar about it… give me a second… it’ll come to me…
After affirming that he owns most of Rorikstead, he then tells us about the history of the village. Apparently, back in the day, these fields were no different than anywhere else on the plains of Whiterun — a region of thin, rocky soil where very little grows except dry grass and thorns. But later on, the area around this village became an exceptionally fertile region, and against all odds, Rorikstead transformed itself into the breadbasket of Skyrim. Which is interesting and all, but I guess this gentleman doesn’t get to tell this story too often, as he takes an exceptionally long time to get to the bloody point.
Finally our historian comes to the end of his narrative, and I happen to glance over at my wife and notice her expression. Jenassa is paying a surprising amount of attention to this rather dull tale, and she’s looking both thoughtful and slightly incredulous, as if there’s something in his story that doesn’t quite add up. As Rorik turns from me to face her, however, she lets a mask of bland politeness drop over her features, and actually thanks him for regaling us with the region’s history before asking him whether the village has any shops or a place to trade.
As he answers in the affirmative and points out the location of the general store just up the road, I mull over what he’s said. Nothing stands out as being suspicious, at least not that I can figure out, and I mentally shrug. It’s no secret that Jenassa is smarter than I am, and she’s certainly nobody’s fool. If this gentleman hasn’t been entirely honest with us about the origins of Rorikstead’s legendary fertility, then I’m sure he has his reasons. I just want to find this shop and hit the road. In a couple of days, we have a party at the Thalmor embassy to crash, and I get the feeling that the Thalmor would take a dim view of latecomers.
Walking back up the village road in search of the general store, another farm comes into view. This one is much smaller than the field we were just standing in, but no less productive — and one of the workers definitely seems familiar. Evidently he recognizes us as well, as he pauses in his labour, waves cheerfully, and heads over toward us.
It’s the innkeeper’s son, Erik, and he’s a transformed man. The frustrated, impatient, embittered youth we met last night is now beaming with hope and purpose. He excitedly tells us how much he’s looking forward to his upcoming trip with his father to acquire armour, and in that moment, all my misgivings about my role in his fate vanish. Perhaps I didn’t set his feet on the safe path, but I no longer doubt that I set him on the right path — and even if his destiny is to die young, at least he now has a chance to blaze his own trail, and become truly alive.
After wishing Erik well wtih his new career and bidding him a warm farewell, Jenassa and I finally find our destination just a little further up the road — although if we didn’t have some idea of where to look from talking to the locals, we would have probably walked straight past it. Like the inn, the general store is set back from the road and up a flight of stairs — and although it’s true that there’s a sign outside, it’s also easy to miss, as it’s nowhere near eye level from the street.
As we enter the store, we’re relieved to see that there’s a relatively normal amount of selection available, and that the shopkeeper isn’t busy having a loud argument with his son. In fact, I have to admit that the owner has a rather nice little place here. The shop section is directly adjacent to his living room, with the glow of the fireplace casting a warm flickering light over his wares, giving them the glimmering lustre of priceless treasure, even though they’re the same sort of items that you’d find in any general store.
Oh wait. I was wrong. There is actually priceless treasure here — especially if you’re a child, or if you have a child yourself. Like, say, a darling adopted daughter named Lucia. The shopkeeper starts a long-winded explanation about his wife, who started making these items last year after she had a surprisingly non-lethal encounter with a mother bear and her cub, and it’s apparently one of their most popular items, and something something, whatever… I don’t care! I must have one! Just give it to me already!
After some more trading, my wife and I have much lighter packs. As we finally finish selling the items we picked up from the bandit cave, the shopkeeper casually mentions that there’s also a blacksmith in the village, and a skilled man to boot, although his usual work is making and repairing farm tools. He also mentions that ever since the Alik’r have shown up in Rorikstead, their blacksmith has taken an interest in learning how to forge their strange curved swords.
And for the second time that day, I notice my wife taking a surprising amount of interest in the rambling chitchat of a random villager. I have no idea why. I suppose it’s handy to know that there’s a blacksmith in this backwater hamlet that knows his craft, in case we ever come this way again and happen to need a decent blade. But other than that, I can’t imagine why Jenassa would care — or why, when we leave the shop, she actually wants to look for the forge. Having a loving wife who is smarter than you are is an amazing experience, but it also leaves you wondering exactly how much vital information you’re missing on a daily basis.
By now the sun is high in the sky, and it’s well past time we left town. So rather than pay a visit to the blacksmith, we walk back to the inn to retrieve our horses. It’s hardly a long walk, but on the way we pass a couple of patrolling guards, a pair of kids, and some elderly townsfolk, all of whom try to get us to stop and talk. I’m getting the uncomfortable feeling that Rorikstead really doesn’t see many visitors, and that they’re going to be talking about us long after we’ve left. It’s a slightly alarming thought — not to mention claustrophobic.
Needless to say, I can understand why Erik was so desperate to leave this place. We’ve only been here overnight, and the back gate toward Solitude is starting to look like the shining pathway to freedom. Even if I’ve been roped into crashing a Thalmor party by an obsessive ex-Blade with delusions of grandeur, it sure beats staying in Rorikstead.