At first, riding out from Dragon Bridge is a most pleasant experience. The salty air from the nearby coastline mingles with the fresh pine-scented breeze of the surrounding forest, and the whole world seems bathed in brilliant sunshine. Ever since we discovered that we don’t have to be in Solitude right away, there’s been a certain holiday atmosphere in the air, as if this is a bit of stolen time away from the world, a welcome gift from the benevolent Divines.
And since the task assigned to us by Aela leads us well off the main road, I’m glad of the chance to explore the province of Haafingar. After all, besides the capital itself, the only area we’re really familiar with around here is the Temple of Meridia. So when we reach a fork in the road, instead of taking the lowland route that follows the coastline, we turn and head into the mountains.
It’s a fact that, in Skyrim, snow is always just around the corner — and we’re reminded of this truth a short time later. As we approach the foothills, the air turns colder and grey clouds arrive to darken the sky. Icy drifts slowly appear in the distance, blanketing the road ahead and obscuring any landmarks. The change in weather dampens my earlier enthusiasm for exploration, but it also draws me out of my sense of complacency and puts me on alert for further changes. As it happens, this turns out to be a very good thing indeed.
Surrounded by the snowy landscape, the ice wraith is practically invisible before it attacks — and worse yet, it’s also ludicrously fast. Beneath me, Frost rears in sudden panic, and for several moments it’s all I can do to just stay in the saddle as my horse explores a new career as a dancing biped. (And I discover — to my considerable alarm — that career can also be used as a verb.)
As I struggle to keep my mount between myself and the frozen ground, Jenassa swiftly dismounts and unsheathes her blades, in seemingly one fluid motion. Since she’s rushing to my aid while I’m trying to control my badly spooked horse, I’m feeling far too much love and gratitude toward my beautiful badass wife to be envious of her skill… okay, that’s a lie. I’m incredibly envious of her skill. In fact, ever since I’ve met Jenassa, on any given day there are at least a few moments when I’m low-key seething with envy. (In the most loving and grateful way, of course.)
Finally I manage to dismount, and while Frost makes for the shelter of an old fort, I rush in to join the fray. But to my surprise, my beautiful badass wife is having considerable trouble with this elemental adversary. The ice wraith, besides being near-invisible, is also quick, agile, and extremely unpredictable. It’s like trying to pin a live eel to the sand with a toothpick — except this eel is potentially very lethal, and it fights dirty.
Finally we manage to destroy the slippery little beast, and it explodes in a spray of razor-sharp ice shards in a last act of defiance, leaving nothing behind but a patch of frost on the ground and a small pool of shimmering liquid. Plus a few very cold, very sharp teeth.
As if in sympathy with the elemental’s death, the cold settles in and snow begins to fall, slowly covering the land like a frozen shroud. Shivering at the sudden drop in temperature, I bend to gather up the remains of the ice wraith, when my skull suddenly implodes with a muffled crack. At least that’s what it feels like at first.
Then I notice that my hood is dangling at an odd angle, and stranger yet, it seems to have somehow sprouted feathers. Looking down, there’s the bottom half of a broken arrow at my feet. Fortunately my instincts figure it out before my brain does, and I’m already shooting at an indistinct figure in the distance by the time I finally piece together what the hell just happened.
I’m wearing a jeweled circlet under my hood, and it just saved my life. After being struck by a bandit arrow, the force caused the arrow to snap against the hard central gem, leaving the business end on the ground at my feet and the other half caught in my hood. Praise Arkay and Dibella! Saved by the shiny thing!
The snow is falling in earnest now, veiling the landscape and making it difficult to clearly see my adversary — but fortunately the bandit isn’t much better off. That first shot must’ve been a lucky one. I down a couple of potions as we trade a few arrows back and forth, but suddenly my peripheral vision alerts me to a source of rapid movement, and I quickly glance around for any sign of my wife.
But as I’m distracted, another arrow finds my side, piercing through the thick fur of my cloak and reminding me to pay attention to the person in front — y’know, the bad guy who’s literally at this moment trying to kill me. Infuriated that I can’t immediately dash off to find Jenassa because of this annoying archer wannabe and his pathetic twiggy excuses for arrows, I reach for Dawnbreaker and rush him down.
The bandit is still blazing away like kindling as I turn to find my wife. After a few anxiety-filled seconds, I finally locate her on the other side of the road. At first she appears to be dulling her blades against a big pile of icy rocks — which seems somewhat out of character, to put it mildly. I guess if she wants to attack a pile of rocks, there’s probably a good reason. Although I could’ve used her help while I that bandit was using me as target practice back there. Just saying.
But even as I’m heading toward her, the icy rocks resolve into a distinctly humanoid and dangerously mobile shape, which effortlessly staggers her and cuts off her attack. Then as I watch in horror, it surrounds her in freezing mist, raises its massive arm, and punches my wife to the ground.
Fear for Jenassa’s safety gives me an extra burst of speed, but my forward charge is soon hampered by missiles of a different kind — ones of conjured ice. To my considerable relief, my beautiful badass wife rises to her feet and manages to deflect the next attack from the frost atronach before resuming her own. With a sense of pride, I watch as she actually gets in a few good hits, despite its attempts to punch her down again.
Another ice lance streaks through the air toward me, and I barely manage to avoid it — but now I’ve discovered where the frost mage is hiding. The offensive spell certainly hurts, but I’m more than willing to turn the wizard’s attention away from Jenassa and use my determined advance as a distraction. Reaching for another potion and continuing to close the distance, I manage to fend off the next icy projectile with my shield, just before I set the cowardly conjurer on fire.
The mage is still screaming when yet another projectile whistles through the air toward us. Jenassa quickly dodges out of the way just as an arrow strikes the frost atronach in the chest, and it crumbles to pieces just as the conjurer dies. Okay, at least we don’t have to worry about those enemies anymore — but holy sweetrolls, what now?!
As Jenassa and I spin around, an unfriendly pair of warriors emerge from the swirling snow. We can tell they’re unfriendly because, like everything else today, they’re clearly trying to kill us. It’s sad how no one’s original anymore.
Another arrow flies through the air and punctures my arm — and the pain is far worse than I anticipated, nearly bringing me to my knees. I recognize the tormenting paroxysm almost immediately — these arrowheads are made of silver. That means these new enemies are Silver Hand. And that means, unless I’m very, very lucky, I’m probably one very, very dead werewolf.
Despair almost overwhelms me in that moment. The Silver Hand couldn’t have chosen a better time to attack us. Both Jenassa and I are exhausted from fighting, chilled by the cold, weakened by our various injuries. But, as our formidable opponents close in on us, I realize something vitally important. I have nothing to lose by fighting back with everything I’ve got left — and that suits me just fine.
I risk a swift glance at my wife, and I can tell she’s come to the same realization. Jenassa and I exchange grim looks as we stand our ground, waiting until our enemies are almost upon us — and then without warning, we charge.
As we meet the Silver Hand with all our strength, the force of our collision puts both of them on the back foot. Jenassa slices into the archer with her blades, while I tackle the swordsman by ducking under his swing and bashing him in the face with my shield. Staggered, he utterly fails to block me as I follow up with Dawnbreaker and set him alight. Then I turn my attention to Jenassa’s target, and he goes up like a living torch, uttering only a soft moan as he dies.
Whirling past me like a deadly cyclone, Jenassa takes the brunt of the swordsman’s next attack on her blades, deflecting his strike back into his face and staggering him once again, spinning him almost completely around. Swinging at him while his back is turned, I rapidly slash at him with Dawnbreaker until he’s burning just as brightly as his friend. And despite my exhaustion, I’m amused to discover that although he looks so much more intimidating, he shrieks like a terrified skeever as the flames swiftly take him. I guess steel plate must be pretty good at conducting heat.
Jenassa and I remain tense and alert for a few moments afterward, but for once there’s no movement around us but the falling snow. Then, dropping our weapons at the same time, we thankfully collapse into each other’s arms.
We’re tempted to remain in our embrace for a good long while, but the cold is a relentless enemy we can’t afford to ignore. Calling our horses back, we quickly start checking the bodies, but we don’t expect to find much that will interest us — so it’s with a certain amount of surprise and alarm when I find something that interests me very much indeed. And it’s not in a good way. At all.
Horrified, I simply stand up and walk away from the corpse as quickly as possible. From the corner of my eye, I can see Jenassa’s look of surprise as she checks the remains herself — but I can’t explain. I can’t even speak to her. I just need to find Frost and get away. Far, far away.
And I’ll try very hard to forget what I saw — but I doubt that’ll be happening any time soon.