Chapter 85: Hic Sunt Dracones

The setting sun is still warm on our shoulders as we continue on toward Solitude, but now there’s a telltale chill in the breeze.  Nightfall is just around the corner, and we both scan the horizon with some anxiety, aware that the recent unavoidable delays in our journey have cost us quite a bit of time.

Jenassa, who knows the road better than I do, thinks we can still make it to Solitude if we encourage the horses a little and keep going.  With that decided, I start rummaging around in my backpack to find something to eat as we ride.  Fighting bandits apparently gives me an appetite.

Well, if I’m honest, almost everything these days gives me an appetite.  Even the most mundane of sights, like a deer standing in a clearing or a rabbit dashing across a field, makes my mouth start to water.  It also doesn’t help that my sense of smell is now heightened, and my reflexes are faster than they’ve ever been — apparently in keeping with my increased metabolism, as I’ve noticed my clothing is looser although I’ve been eating far more often.  In short, becoming a werewolf has done wonders for my physical condition.

The downside is that it’s also incredibly stressful.  Not only have I tried to keep this a secret from my incredibly perceptive wife — at least until I figure out a good way to tell her — but I’ve had to watch myself around other people as well.  I’m pretty sure it’s not normal to pick up the sound of mice pattering through a tavern attic when you’re seated in the main dining hall, with all the talking and laughter and bards playing drinking songs.  I never realized before how loud people are.  Even a loving couple whispering in the next room can prevent me from getting a sound sleep — not to mention turn me into an unwilling eavesdropper.

I’m preoccupied by these thoughts while eating eidar cheese and searching my pack for a piece of cold roast venison — I know it’s in here somewhere — so it’s quite a surprise when Jenassa suddenly darts ahead and grabs my horse’s bridle, spooking Frost and nearly throwing me from the saddle.  “Stop!” she hisses at me, bringing her own horse to a halt so quickly that it half-rears and spins around.  What the hell, Jenassa?!  You made me drop my cheese.  Now it’s all covered in dirt and… crap!

Talk about a road hazard.

Oh hell no.  I am not ready to deal with a dragon right now, after fighting not one, but two sets of bandits.  At least the dragon hasn’t spotted us… yet.   Instead it seems to be busy cremating some other poor bastard.  Sucks to be them, but this Dragonborn has had it for one day.  Good luck, whoever you are, but I’m afraid you’re on your own.

My first inclination is to make tracks in the other direction and take cover in the bandit camp we just cleared, but now Jenassa is dismounting and indicating I should do the same.  Clearly my wife has some kind of plan in mind.  Personally I rather like my own plan of running like a coward, but considering she just saved me from riding straight into the dragon’s maw, I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt this time.

Ah, so we’re hiding like cowards instead.  I’m a fan of this strategy.

Jenassa pulls me down to a crouch, and taking care not to make any sudden moves that might attract the dragon’s attention, we duck behind a large outcropping of rock next to the side of the road.  From our new vantage point, we can just barely make out what the dragon is trying to incinerate.  It’s a giant, and I have to admit he’s putting up a pretty good fight.   He even manages to club the scaly beast smack in the face, which infuriates the dragon and keeps it focused hard on its target.

Fantastic.  This is brilliant.  I’m still alert and apprehensive, but I’m also enjoying the spectacle of watching these two massive adversaries locked in a battle to the death.  I flash a grin at Jenassa, then slowly reach into one of the leather pouches around my waist.  Aha!  So that’s where I put that piece of roast venison.  It’s not popcorn, but it’ll do.

Turns out giants are surprisingly fire-resistant. Maybe I should start eating mammoth cheese.

The giant wades across the river, probably to cool off his burning skin, and resumes shaking his club angrily at the tenacious sky-lizard.  Not to be outdone, the dragon swoops to the opposite bank in hot pursuit — literally.

I’m all for staying till the end of the show, but my wife reminds me, with a sharp tug on my cloak, that we’d better get moving before the dragon wants more fresh meat for his cookout.  I have to admit she has a point.  Still grinning, I stuff the last of the venison in my mouth as we return to our horses, mount up, and ride away.

We continue on for awhile, leaving the battle of the behemoths far behind us, when we come across a large pile of wreckage by the side of the road.  As we get closer, we see that it’s the remnants of a wagon, of the type that usually carries a variety of dry goods.  Unfortunately, it’s pretty clear that the owners won’t be needing their wares any longer.  I guess that’s what happens when you find yourself between a rock and a hard place — or in this case, between a giant and a dragon.

I’d call this a hit-and-run, but I doubt there was very much actual running involved.

As we stop to check out the wreckage, I can’t help but feel sorry for the victims.  Talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  They probably never saw their imminent demise coming until it was too late.  At least it looks as if their deaths were quick.  The wooden cart is scorched in places, and there’s the distinct scent of charcoal and burnt flesh hanging in the air.   Looks like they didn’t even have time to get off the road before the cart became their funeral pyre.

Jenassa heaves a sigh as I dismount and start poking around the cart to see if there’s anything worth scavenging.  Most of the cargo consists of bulky objects that are too big to take with us, or everyday items that aren’t worth cramming into our already stuffed bags.  I’m about to give up and get back on my horse when I finally find something worth taking.

Since you’re dead, can I have your stuff?

To my surprise, half-buried in the rest of the junk is a shrine to Arkay, Lord of the Wheel of Mortality, the Divine who balances the forces of Life and Death.  I guess Arkay figured these people had already lived long enough.  But the shrine itself seems to have survived the deadly encounter and there’s not a scratch on it.  That probably means something profound, but I’m no priestess.  I’m just taking it because it looks cool.

Just so you know, I’m the champion of Meridia and Hircine already.  No offense, Arkay.  Don’t judge.

In the meantime, Jenassa has been doing some investigative work herself.  While I’ve been busy with the cargo, she’s been examining the bodies.  When I jump down from the cart, she shakes her head at the object in her hand, then hands me what she’s found.

Ahh jeez.   I think I must have some road dust in my eye.

Poor innocent souls.  I’d love to stay and give them some kind of proper burial, but daylight is fading fast and we have to keep going.  Like I said before, I’m no priestess — and neither is Jenassa.   The best we can do is find a decent-sized town and notify the authorities of this tragic accident.

We mount up and continue on our way, but soon twilight starts painting the sky with soft hues of peach and rose.  It promises to be a lovely sunset, but it’s also pretty clear we aren’t making it to Solitude tonight.  As we ride on, I start looking around for a potential campsite.  Ideally it should be near fresh water, on level ground, well away from colossal rampaging monsters, and — whoa.   Impressive feat of engineering there.  Bet that brings in the tourists.

Ten septims says they named the town after it.

Jenassa tells me we’ve reached a town that’s likely to have an inn, and she suggests we stay here for the night, even though we’re practically on the doorstep of Solitude.  Fine with me.  I’m starting to feel tired and I’m a bit peckish (as usual).  Not to mention we’ve been traveling non-stop since Rorikstead… well, except for the bandit attack on the farm.  And the bandit fortress.  And before that we had to stop for the thunderstorm, and then to avoid the brawling behemoths, and to investigate the wagon accident — okay fine, so we may have had a few stops along the way.   No one said the Dragonborn has to be punctual.

My wife goes on to say that we’d best not call any attention to ourselves while we’re here, since the town also holds a large Imperial military contingent, and there’s even an outpost dedicated to the training of the Emperor’s personal guard.   Not sure why she’s telling me this, but whatever.  I bet she’s thinking about the last time we were in this neck of the woods, when I had maybe a drop too much to drink and a slight altercation with the Solitude guards.  Relax, Jenassa, I get it.  I’ll be on my best behaviour and won’t even think about drinking.  All I want is a nice warm meal, immediately followed by a nice warm bed.

We cross the bridge — excuse me, the Dragon Bridge — and find a fairly large building that appears to be the local inn.  It looks sturdy and in good repair, with a line of extended beams set into a low stone wall to serve as hitching posts.  We’ve just reached the equine parking lot when we hear the incongruous cry of an authoritative voice, edged with the unmistakable tone of rising panic.

Well, good thing that was the plan all along.

Startled by this unusual reception, Jenassa and I exchange looks, but we obediently dismount and hitch up our horses as quickly as possible in preparation for getting indoors.  All around us, people are rapidly finishing up their various tasks, calling their children home, or simply dropping whatever they were doing and racing for the nearest building.  I have to say, the discipline in this place is pretty remarkable.  No one is standing around gawping or demanding that the guards tell them what’s happening.  Guess that’s what comes of living in a military town.

Then another cry rends the air, a much louder one this time — so loud it practically shakes the ground.  Jenassa and I exchange looks again, but this time we have no intention of obeying the panicked guard’s orders.  Instead, we reach for our weapons and prepare to fight.

So much for not calling attention to ourselves.

Seriously.  A dragon in Dragon Bridge?  This story is getting way too meta.

 

Travel Map 56.  (Blue square = wrecked cart, shaded area = giant vs. dragon fight.)

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