They say that sound carries best over water, and I witness the truth of that statement for myself as I loudly challenge the enemy on the other side of the river. Now I have to admit, openly attacking a well-fortified bandit encampment may not have been my smartest idea. But then, no one ever accused me of being a genius.
Moments after my foot touches the bridge, the bandits are on the alert, and their skeevery little heads pop up from all over the structure just before a hail of arrows rains down on us. I deflect most of the incoming missiles with my shield before Jenassa and I start shooting back, but the bandits definitely have the advantage inside their fortifications. Ramshackle it might be, but it affords them control of the higher ground and a decent measure of protection.
With a bloodcurdling scream that I can only describe as a Dunmer war cry, Jenassa charges past me with the ferocity of a sabre cat, making it almost all the way across the bridge before the startled bandits can react. I manage to pick off a couple of the gobsmacked enemy archers, and another bandit who appears to be reaching out to grab some kind of mechanism. Whatever she was trying to grasp, she never lays a finger on it.
Jenassa also shoots a couple of bandits before switching to her blades, carving up the nearest enemy like she’s deboning a chicken. More bandits start pouring out of the fortress as if there’s a special on free mead. I advance to provide my beloved wife some cover, picking off a few more targets before running in myself. Storming the fortress seems to be the order of the day, and I don’t want to be left in the dust.
We fight our way past the primary fortifications on the other side of the bridge, keeping up our momentum as much as possible, and it’s this initial rush that carries us past the first wave of enemies. As we run under a wooden catwalk that the bandits have built over the road, we hear loud noise behind us like the sound of rolling thunder — or rolling boulders — but Jenassa and I are a little too busy to turn around. After a few seconds of thunderous noise punctuated by muffled cries of pain, the sound quickly fades away, and it’s soon forgotten in the heat of battle.
As we fight our way through the encampment, we find ourselves in what must be the residential section — a large area of fur tents inside a fence of roughly-hewn logs. First time I’ve seen bandits living in a gated community. One of the residents takes offense to our gatecrashing ways and fires up a spell — or perhaps I should say he frosts it up, as he nails us both with a couple of ice spikes. I gasp as the intense cold shears straight through me, freezing my blood and slowing me to a crawl.
Jenassa is likewise affected, but she has too much forward momentum to be stalled. She doesn’t so much attack the enemy mage as fall on top of him, and her weapons just happen to be pointed directly at his torso. The bandit shrieks in sudden pain as her blade slices through his shabby armour, breaking his concentration and allowing us to shake off the worst effects of the frost. Since I’m still a few steps behind my wife, I reach for my bow and fire off a couple of quick shots to keep him distracted, while she recommences demonstrating her signature slice-and-dice technique. And like most amateur mages, he crumples like an empty sack in the face of a determined pair of fighters.
By now, the bandits have lost enough of their numbers that they’re down to a skeleton crew, and they seem to be getting desperate as they throw themselves at us with little regard for their own safety. Jenassa and I continue to fight our way through the tents, heading toward a decrepit shack at the back of the camp that appears to be serving as some sort of headquarters.
Our enemies, with a certain amount of logic, seem to have collectively decided that Jenassa is the main threat, and for a few minutes she’s busy fighting several of them at once. I don’t dare assist with my bow, as Jenassa is moving too fast for me to track, and I’m not sure I could avoid hitting her by accident. But since she’s been ridiculously successful at directing everyone’s attention away from me, I decide that I might as well take advantage of it.
Unfortunately, after I dispatch the first couple of bandits from behind, one of their archers singles me out for target practice. I manage to eliminate her with my bow, but for the next few minutes, Jenassa and I are kept busy dealing with the remnants of the gang as they pile on both of us with desperate determination. I don’t even have the extra few seconds required to bring in Barbie for some more firepower, and… wait a minute. I know Jenassa is shockingly good at what she does, but why is she glowing that weird indigo-blue colour? And — ouch!!! — that goes for me too! Hairy balls of Hircine, what the hell is happening?!
I have to admit, I’m somewhat taken aback to see a second mage in this camp. Bandits usually don’t have either the talent or the discipline to take up magic and succeed at it — they’re more into the whole hack-and-slash thing, with some shoot-and-scoot thrown in for the sake of variety. And now this particular mage has made himself especially problematic, as he’s hidden himself in a doorway and keeps hitting us with some kind of lightning spell that jumps back and forth between us. Besides hurting us… a lot! … it’s also a very effective (and annoying) drain on my summoning ability.
However, we have one advantage he doesn’t have — Jenassa’s legendary temper. She doesn’t lose it easily, but the sight of this craven mage cowering in a cabin while he shoots lightning at us has her utterly infuriated. With a howl of rage that would even make a werewolf whimper (look, it was just a little whimper and no one even noticed, go away), Jenassa slashes her way past the bandit she’s fighting and sprints straight for the hapless mage. After making sure that my wife effectively annihilated her last opponent (and of course she did), I take off after her, nearly tripping over the pile of dead bodies she’s left in her wake.
As we approach the doorway, we get a good glimpse of the interior. Turns out our electrified opponent was attempting to blockade the entrance and guard the bandit chief inside. After we’ve made it clear that the mage has failed by breaking a few of his bones — such as the ones in his neck — Jenassa and I lunge through the dilapidated door at the same time. The rickety frame creaks, groans, and finally gives way as we burst in on the bandit chief. Unlike most of his underlings, he’s fairly well-armoured and a skilled fighter, but ultimately he’s unable to withstand our combined force. Soon he falls dead at our feet, with a multitude of lethal wounds and the flames from Dawnbreaker still licking at his skin.
Since the body is busy smouldering, Jenassa and I leave it to cool off while we take a look around. A cursory search of the cabin reveals a chest in the corner, containing some bits of jewelry, one or two inexpensive gems, a couple of gold ingots and a fairly modest amount of coin. Surprised that such a relatively large bandit camp seems to have accumulated so little wealth, we start emptying out drawers, cupboards, barrels, and anything else that can possibly hold a few extra septims. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, this doesn’t result in finding anything monetarily significant — although I do make one welcome discovery.
Somewhat disappointed in the unexpectedly low profit margin, we turn our attention back to the bandit chief’s corpse, which by this time has cooled off enough to search thoroughly. It’s likely due to my dissatisfaction that I start rummaging through every fold and pocket of his clothing — and fortunately I find an intriguing little reward for my efforts.
Gratified by this little shard of hope, Jenassa and I renew our search — and at the back of the cabin we find a locked trapdoor set into the floorboards. As we open it up, we descend a ladder and find ourselves in a cozy little cave, with a waterway connecting the hidden cove to the river.
Poking around the small subterranean hideout, we take in the various furnishings. There’s a table cluttered with a number of items, a few barrels and sacks lying around, and even a small boat tied up to a decent-sized dock. Mind you, whoever tied this rope must’ve been a sailor in a former life, because it’s not so much tied as bound in an unrelenting rock of a knot that refuses to yield, and it’s so slick that our blades just slide right off when we try to cut through the rope. Jenassa mutters that one of the bandit mages must’ve enchanted the rope to resist anyone removing it except themselves, or maybe just the chief. Either way, it seems like a ridiculously high level of security in order to safeguard a leaky little dory.
There’s also a half-open chest down here, tucked away in a sort of alcove, but when we investigate — much to our frustration — we find it completely empty.
Irritated and rapidly running out of options, we turn our attention to the table, which frankly does not look promising. It’s covered in cheap wooden dishes and bits of half-eaten food, but we’ve long passed the point of mere determination and are well into pigheaded stubbornness, so we start rummaging through it all. And fortunately for our overall mood, we actually find something useful this time.
Relieved that we haven’t done all this work for nothing, we head up the ladder and back through the bandit camp. (What? We aren’t about to jump in the freezing cold river with all the slaughterfish and swim to the island. Who even does that?!) Jenassa makes a point of searching all the corpses for valuables, on the off-chance that a few of the bandits kept behind some treasure for themselves, but for my part I just enjoy the stroll and appreciate the view.
Back at the bridge, I look out over the rushing water. Sure enough, I can see a small island a short distance away to the south, but the water is far too cold and turbulent for swimming, and trying to ride my horse over the rapids would risk him slipping on the wet rocks and breaking a leg. But leaving here without the treasure simply isn’t an option — that’d mean a bunch of dead bandits would win. Looks like I’ll have to give this some more thought.
Fortunately the island isn’t all that far from the shoreline, and looking closely at the rapids, I can see some places where the rocks rise up out of the water. Sort of like stepping-stones — or maybe jumping-stones. It’s a bit risky, but I think I can see a way to make it to the island.
Of course, I can also see myself breaking my fool neck — but that’s just a technicality.
Miraculously, I manage to make it to the island in one piece, and I immediately start searching for the treasure. It takes me about two seconds to find it — the island’s not very big, and there’s only one stump large enough to hide a chest from sight. You can tell that someone made an attempt to bury the chest at some point, but gave up when they hit bedrock and called it a day. Works for me.
The key that opened the trapdoor back in the cabin also opens up the chest — which, when you think about it, is pretty darn strange. Either the same locksmith was hired for both, or the locks were so compromised that almost any key would work, or… never mind. Let’s see what a thieves’ chief’s secret stash looks like.
Well now, that’s more like it. As I lift the lid, the bright sun overhead makes the contents of the chest glimmer and shine, but even without the extra glamour I’d be pretty pleased with the haul. I stuff everything into my backpack and head back over the river, where Jenassa is waiting just up the hill with the horses, like the brilliant and considerate spouse she is.
After gloating over our riches and transferring some of the bulkier items into our saddlebags, Jenassa and I mount up to continue our journey. It’s early evening by now, and it seems unlikely we’ll make it to Solitude before nightfall — but I’d say the delay has more than paid for itself. And it’s good to know that somewhere out in the wilderness, a brother wolf has now been avenged for the death of his mate.
Speaking of which, I really have to sit down and have a talk with Jenassa very soon. Well, pretty soon. Eventually. In the meantime, let’s hope she doesn’t mind the occasional smell of wet dog — and that she thinks finding fur in strange places is sexy.