Chapter 90: Northern Exposure

As we leave the troll cave in search of a place to spend the night, an odd sense of disconnection begins to creep over me.  And honestly, it’s no wonder.  It’s just that my brain is finally slowing down from being hyper-alert all day, through various threats such as multiple fights, dangerous creatures, and other unpleasant surprises.  It’s a relief not to be fighting for once, but at the same time it’s hard to take any enjoyment out of it right now.  I have several injuries, I’m bone-tired, and I feel as if I’ve aged twenty years since this morning.

Jenassa and I are following a path through the woods that appears to lead down to the shore, as we’ve previously decided that going back to the road is a bad idea. We’d be too exposed, and it’s too easy for our enemies to find us.  If nothing else, our recent fight with the Silver Hand has proven that.

So the new plan is to make our way to Solitude by following the shoreline instead.  We’ll have to get back to the road at some point, as there’s no other way to approach the city gates — but Jenassa tells me that we can travel most of the way without having to see a road at all.

It seems like a reasonable plan.  Mind you, from what little I’ve seen of the ocean, it’s not exactly going to be a nice pleasant stroll along the beach.   This is the northern coast of Skyrim, after all — a stony, windswept, hardscrabble boundary between the harsh frozen land and the icebound ravenous deep.

But I’m sure, if we’re careful, then it’s likely safer than the road.  If only it weren’t so damned cold.

I can’t say I’m a fan of the ocean breeze right now.

Our horses plod along the trail in a slow, steady gait.  Jenassa and I soon discover that there’s no point urging them to go any faster, as they can’t continue at a brisk pace for any length of time.   The harder we encourage our horses, the more quickly their nostrils get coated in the frost of their own breath — and then we have to stop, dismount, and melt it off with our hands before they can breathe properly again.  Any further exertion means we lose more time than we gain.

So as we amble along, I’m becoming slowly resigned to the fact that I can no longer feel my toes — and my fingers are likewise losing touch with the rest of me.   I’m not sure exactly when it happens, but I dimly start to realize that Jenassa has been calling to me for some time, as if from far away.  In my disconnected state, it’s hard to make out what she’s saying, and part of me wishes she would go back to being quiet so I don’t have to make the effort to respond.  I just want to sit in the saddle, letting Frost navigate the trail, and not have to think or worry about anything, or wonder what it is that my wife might be trying to tell me.

Unless I’m about to ride straight off a cliff or something.

Suddenly Jenassa appears right behind me, frantically grabbing my horse’s reins and shouting at me to Go back! Go back! through her chattering teeth. Okay, honey.  Calm down.  You don’t have to yell at me.  I heard you.  You were yelling just now, right?  At least, I think you were.  What’re you trying to say?   Now dear… calm down… no yelling… I’m sleepy… is okay… so sleepy… where we go now…?

And where’d this house come from?

I’m vaguely aware of Jenassa leading my horse along by the reins, shouting at me to stay awake and keep focused.  Minutes later… or maybe days… I start to become annoyed with her for expecting me to do the impossible — but on the other hand, actually arguing the point seems like it would take far too much energy.  I have to admit though, it’s harder for me to fall asleep when I’m getting angry.  Slowly.  I’m slowly getting angry.  Everything’s kind of slow actually.  Except for Jenassa.  She’s doing everything way too fast for me to follow.

So when she pulls me off my horse in front of a strange log cabin, I’m not ready for it at all.  My body suddenly crumples in her arms, and she gasps as she barely manages to hold onto my dead weight.  Leaning against her, I can now feel as well as hear her teeth chattering as the spasms shake her whole body — and I’m also just barely aware of a certain warm hazy sense of smugness, because my teeth aren’t chattering at all anymore…  actually… not chattered in…  long time ago… hours… ages…

Guess some of us can handle the cold.  (Or not.)

Some time later, my brain slowly starts to wake up again.  I find myself lying on the floor in front of a roaring fire as I try to piece together the details of what happened.  I still have no idea how my wife managed to wrestle my unresponsive, half-frozen body into the abandoned cabin, other than by sheer force of will.   When asked, she says she doesn’t remember it very clearly either — only that she knew she had to find a way, or resign both of us to our deaths.

Weirdly, freezing to death felt distinctly more pleasant than recovering from it does now.  As I start to regain some of my strength, I make an attempt to struggle to my feet — but my knees are far too shaky for me to stand for very long, and my extremities really start to hurt as the blood sluggishly returns to my limbs.  I half-sit, half-collapse into a chair near the hearth and try my best to relax, but it’s hard not to wince and groan from the intense pain — which sounds like the croonings of a draugr bard with the rattles, since my teeth have once again started chattering.

After Jenassa recovers from the cold herself — which, irritatingly, takes her far less time than me for some reason — she heads over to a convenient alchemy table and gets busy concocting various tonics and restoratives, which she insists I swallow as fast as she can mix them up.  But after tasting the first one, I categorically refuse to touch the rest.  We argue about it for awhile before settling on a compromise — I agree to take her Oblivion-damned medicines, and she agrees to let me pace myself with a big healthy swig of mead between each dose.  Neither of us are exactly happy about the deal, but at least we both get to feel somewhat vindicated.

Please Jenassa, I’m feeling much better.  I swear.  One more “medicinal potion” and I might puke.

After ruining my much-abused taste buds — temporarily, I hope — I make my way over to the cooking pot on the hearth to do some of my own concocting.  What with all the recent attacks by various enemies, we’ve used up a great deal of our potion stash.  So after checking to make certain I’m all right, Jenassa admits that she could use some help in replenishing our store.

As a form of payback, I briefly consider choosing ingredients that would make my beneficial potions taste as bitter as possible — but I quickly abandon that idea when I realize that I’d probably have to drink them during a fight before Jenassa would.  Sadly, I also can’t come up with a surefire way to convince our enemies to consume a bitterly poisonous brew, instead of just coating it on our weapons or shooting them with it.  Which is really a shame, because after our recent adventures, I’m convinced that they all deserve every last ounce of suffering that we can inflict on their miserable hides.

Fortunately, my idle speculations appear to have some use after all, since, after experimenting with some rather exotic ingredients, I end up with a surprisingly decent result.

Too bad I can’t tie a bow on this when I deliver it.  A big, black bow.  That says GET REKT.

During my experiments, Jenassa finishes up and walks around, checking out the rest of the place.  Minutes later, she returns with the news that this appears to be another ranger cabin, similar to the one we stayed at near Riften.  Hearing this, I can’t help but feel sorry for any rangers who were stationed here at such a frozen, isolated location.  Whoever those poor bastards were, I heartily hope that now they’re in some tropical paradise that’s warm, dry, welcoming, and fully stocked with excellent drinks.

As I put the finishing touches on my latest deadly creation, Jenassa serves us a hot meal by heating up some of our provisions on the hearth.  Now I have to admit, even though I know my beautiful badass wife is a genius in many ways, I wouldn’t have expected a combination of herbs, grilled tomatoes, and melted goat cheese over crispy bread to taste so amazingly delicious.  In fact, it’s so good that I even forgive her for dosing me earlier with all that medicine.  (Mostly.)

Not wanting to waste our good drinking water for cleaning purposes, I head outside briefly with the cooking pot to scoop up some snow.  I’ll need to melt it over the fire and wash out any leftover poisonous residue before we can use it again for food preparation.  But even though I’m only outside for a few moments, it’s just long enough to set me shivering — and when I get back, my wife is slumped in a chair next to the fire, already half-asleep.   I swiftly finish my task and lead my exhausted wife downstairs to the bedroom, where she barely has enough time to remove her armour before sleep overtakes her completely.

How can you tell you’ve had a really good meal?   When you pass out immediately afterward.

Smiling to myself, and feeling pretty drained as well, I discard my own clothing and join my wife in bed.  Lying here in the warm furs beside her, it’s hard to believe that I nearly died of exposure only a few hours ago.   Once again, the beautiful badass Jenassa has saved my life.  I’m so lucky to have found her — and to have married her.

If I’m certain of just one thing, it’s that we’ve been through so much together that nothing could ever come between us.  My trust in her truly is infinite, and absolute.

To sleep, perchance to dream…


Travel Map 59.


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