Chapter 89: Deep Freeze

The snow squall finally clears and the sun starts to shine again, but I hardly take notice of the weather as I track down Frost and wearily haul myself into the saddle.  Almost against my will, my brain won’t stop churning over the implications of finding that ornate dagger on the Silver Hand.  Unlike most weapons in Skyrim — mainly crafted for practicality and swift dispatch — that dagger is a work of art, made to be cherished, and obviously made by a silversmith of considerable skill.

Such a dagger isn’t usually found anywhere, except on sacrificial altars — or in the hands of someone who makes a habit of performing those sacrifices.  And since the dagger is made of silver, and silver weapons are used on werewolves…

That’s usually where my brain breaks, and starts churning everything all over again.

Is it really possible that these people don’t just want to kill me — they want to sacrifice me?  Sacrifice me how, exactly?  And to whom?!  Hircine never warned me about these creeps — and since I did him a favour by eliminating the guy who stole his precious ring, you’d think he might’ve mentioned it.   Just as a friendly warning, at least.

Up till now, I’d assumed that the Silver Hand were merely werewolf hunters — somewhat problematic of course, but essentially not that different from any of the other random enemies who were trying to kill me.  In my mind, they were basically just bandits with silver weapons.  Nothing more.

Now I have to reconsider that assumption — and potentially all the assumptions I’ve been making about the Silver Hand.  Which would be a lot easier to do, if I weren’t more than just a little freaked out.  And if only my brain would stop breaking.

On the plus side, I just found dinner.   Slightly pre-chewed.

In my preoccupied state, I’ve been letting my horse meander around the area while I wait for Jenassa to catch up, trusting that he won’t wander too far away from the road.  But suddenly the reins are almost yanked from my hands as Frost tosses his head with a jerk, backing himself up and nearly colliding with Jenassa’s horse, who whinnies indignantly at us.  As I struggle to regain control over my mount, I glance down to see the remains of a stag just off the road, with a gory trail of blood leading off into the woods.

Then I remember that the Companions want us to hunt down a dangerous beast somewhere around here — and I think I just figured out where to look.

We’re either following a large beast, or a really enthusiastic axe murderer.

The vivid crimson trail leads us on a winding path through the forest, passing close to a crumbling fortress with a tall tower.  As we get closer, I start to reach for my bow, fully expecting a bandit ambush.  Call it paranoia, but our adventures in Skyrim have taught me that any building might be occupied by hostile enemies, no matter how abandoned it may seem.

But unexpectedly, no enemies appear at all, and we pass by the tower without incident.  Slowly I uncurl my fingers from my bow as the fortress disappears behind us, swallowed up by the trees.

Then I realize what must have happened.  Of course — the bandit attack earlier on the road!  While Jenassa and I were busy battling the ice wraith, those outlaws likely heard the sounds of fighting nearby, and they tracked us down to see if they could take advantage of our misfortune.   That explains why they seemed to appear out of nowhere — Jenassa and I would’ve been far too distracted to take notice of them until they were right up in our faces.  I make a mental note to check out the tower later on, just in case there’s anything inside worth recovering.

While musing over these events, I grab some bread and eidar cheese out of my pack and make myself a hasty meal.  Several patches of bloody snow later, we finally reach our destination.

Which would you rather fight: one skeever the size of a dragon, or one hundred dragons the size of skeevers?

Entering the cave is like walking into the heart of a glacier.  A snowy corridor leads us to an icy chamber that opens up into a much wider space beyond.  Instinctively we slow to a crouch to reduce the sound of our approach, but our movements are already muffled by the snow underfoot — and down here, away from the warmth of the sun, these drifts have never melted.  Our feet sink well past the ankle with every step, slowing us down even further.

An icy chill starts to penetrate the thick layers of my warm clothing, insinuating its frosty fingers through all the spaces and gaps it can find, and my breath hangs in the air like a veil, fogging my vision.  Slightly alarmed at how quickly I’m becoming chilled down here, I cover the lower half of my face with my fur cloak, which helps me retain some warmth, but also restricts my upper body.  And without knowing the enemy we’re about to face, nor how frigid this cave can get, either side of the trade-off seems potentially dangerous.

What kind of beast can possibly exist down here in such absolute, penetrating cold?  I hope we’re not entering the den where all the ice wraiths live.

Or all the frostbite spiders.  Maybe there are egg sacs under these snowdrifts, and with each step we’re breaking through the frozen silk and squishing thousands of spider eggs beneath our feet.   Eurgh.

… On second thought, I like this idea.  Until I learn otherwise, I’m rolling with it.

Hey Jenassa, does that snowdrift up ahead have a few too many legs?

Suddenly the muffled silence is broken by an earth-shaking roar — literally.   The loud noise actually does cause the cavern walls to vibrate, and Jenassa and I instinctively duck as bits of snow and chunks of ice fall all around us.  So much for staying quiet and sneaking up on… whatever the hell that was.

Then a very large and very angry shape reveals itself — and it sure doesn’t look like either a spider or a wraith.  Since the stealthy approach was a complete bust, I decide to go with Plan B.  Now let’s hope I don’t start shivering and misfire.

Or that my bow doesn’t snap in half from the cold.

No matter how often I’ve had to stand my ground and aim while some huge beast is charging toward me, it’s still nerve-wracking, and landing the shot is by no means guaranteed.  Fortunately, my arrow finds its mark, lodging itself deep in the creature’s shoulder.  It staggers back with a howl of pain, recovers, and keeps right on coming — but I note with satisfaction that it’s slowing down, stumbling and tripping as it rapidly loses all feeling in its limbs.

Right, you’re a frost troll.  So we’re not stepping on spider eggs.  Not sure if relieved or disappointed.

Behind me, I can hear Jenassa reach for her own bow, and we manage to get in a couple more shots on the beast before it’s practically on top of us.   Grabbing Dawnbreaker, I start carving bloody scorch-marks into its miserable hide, and it doesn’t take long before the troll collapses in a messy heap at my feet.

Good thing the cold keeps down the stench.

There’s clearly more of the cave to explore, so I sheathe Dawnbreaker as I smoothly step over the corpse — but after a few steps, I make the rookie mistake of looking down.  From this perspective, most of the floor drops away into the endless depths of a stony canyon, leaving me standing on a narrow, slippery, ice-covered bridge.  Great.  Just great.  Looks like there’s more than one way to die painfully in this place.

Is it even legal to be in here without proper safety equipment?

Seeing that I’m being a tad overly-cautious — okay, I’m refusing to budge and I may or may not have squeaked like a mouse — Jenassa comes to my rescue.  Reaching for my hand, she carefully steps around me, gently pulling me along the icy bridge after her and murmuring words of loving encouragement.   It’s a testament to our bond that I trust her enough to follow her without protest.  In this way, we both manage to cross without either of us falling to our untimely deaths.

In some part of my brain that’s not utterly petrified, I’m aware that I’ll be pretty embarrassed about all this by tomorrow.   But at least this way I’ll have a tomorrow.

Sure Jenassa, but you have to admit, food preservation is no problem.

On the other side of the bridge, the path forward takes us through a narrow icebound crevice, barely wide enough for one person to squeeze through.  Jenassa offers to take point, as I’m still feeling a bit shaky.  I nod my head and wave her on, but I’m not actually all that worried.  I figure there’s not a whole lot that can fit into such a tight space and still be dangerous.

Or it could be bigger on the inside.  It’s the Tardis of Skyrim.

Jenassa is halfway through the crevice when the second frost troll attacks.  With no time to use her bow, she immediately reaches for her blades — but with hardly any room for her to swing them around, their effectiveness is significantly hampered.   Seeing her predicament, I back straight out of the narrow fissure, then I pull out my own bow and start shooting.

You saved me, I saved you.  So I guess you could say we just saved our marriage.

Beyond the frost troll, which is rudely blocking our path even in death, we discover a slightly larger chamber containing the skeletal remains of an unlucky adventurer, with his sword and some of his gear still intact.  As I’m busy processing the troll for its thick furry hide and various alchemy ingredients, Jenassa picks through the late adventurer’s belongings to see if there’s anything worth taking.

Fortunately, there is — but for him it was a matter of too little, too late.  Guess he was a very unlucky adventurer.

Looks like he meant to disappear all along — but the troll disappeared him instead.

The chamber continues a bit further before coming to a dead end, but underneath a frozen curtain of icicles we can see a large chest.  No doubt that’s why the adventurer came here in the first place — to seek his fortune.  Good to know there’s something more to this cave than old bones and angry trolls.

But before I get to that chest, there’s something else I have to do first.  As I try to control my shivering hands, I fumble open my backpack, grab a bottle of good strong mead, drain it dry, and immediately chase it with another.  With absolutely no warmth to be had, not even from a random torch or a lousy candle, my teeth are already starting to chatter — and I’ll be damned if there’s going to be two skeletons lying on the floor of this bloody frozen hellhole.

Now that’s my kind of ice.

As the alcohol lends me a nice warm glow — and a good bit of false courage — Jenassa and I make our way back over the icy bridge.  On the other side, I attempt to harvest something of use from the other dead troll, but in the short time we’ve been here, it’s already frozen solid.  Annoyed, I try to kick its corpse into the canyon, but all I manage to do is stub my toe — and then as I’m hopping around in pain, I slip and fall on my arse in the snow.

Seconds later, Jenassa suddenly joins me — but in her case, she lost her footing when she fell over laughing.   Pretty soon the sound of our combined mirth is echoing throughout the cave.  Not even the deep snow can muffle that for long.

As soon as we can stand, we wipe the tears from our eyes and brush each other off before heading back outside — where we’re stopped dead in our tracks by the breathtaking view.  With the deep golden light of the late afternoon sun on the vast northern sea, it’s truly a dazzling sight.

Mind you, I’m surprised our horses haven’t turned into ice sculptures by now.  Those stinging cold blasts of salty air are no joke.  C’mon Jenassa, let’s find somewhere nice and warm, preferably indoors, with a big roaring fire.  Last one there is a frozen troll!

I’d love to stay and watch the sunset with you, my darling… but then I’d never be able to leave.

 

Travel Map 58.

 

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