Chapter 21: Blazing Trails

Wrapped in our little cocoon of passion and happiness, it’s tempting for Jenassa and I to blow all our septims on an extended stay at the Winking Skeever.  Very tempting.  But while we’re delightfully immersed upstairs in our giddy new romance, downstairs it’s a very different atmosphere.  The brutal execution of Roggvir weighs on everyone’s minds like a stone.  Loud angry noises frequently echo up the stairs, and one night we overheard someone methodically cursing Ulfric Stormcloak in between harsh, choked, heartbreaking sobs.

Eventually the mood permeates even our little bubble. It’s apparent that Solitude itself seems to be sinking into a black chasm of depression and hostility.  When a group of soldiers invade the inn one night demanding free drinks, threatening to drag the owner to the block if he doesn’t comply, Jenassa and I decide it’s time to leave.

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Chapter 22: Thicker Than Water

The next morning dawns bright and sunny.  After our morning meal at the inn, Jenassa and I head out to check on our horses, stabled near the gates where we entered last night.  We want to make sure the horses are well rested. Somewhere out in the surrounding marsh lie the ancient ruins of Ustengrav and the horn of Jurgen Windcaller — but apparently Ustengrav isn’t the only ruin out in the marsh, so it seems we’ll have to do some exploring.  I just hope the mosquitoes have gone into hibernation.

No one would ever mistake Morthal for a tourist trap.  It’s a grey, low-lying mudhole in the middle of a swamp, and quite a few of the streets are little more than rickety boardwalks suspended a few inches over the stagnant water.  The townspeople seem have a sort of love-hate relationship with the marshlands surrounding their home, quick to mention how it makes the town so defensible and how many rare plants grow here in abundance, while at the same time being fearful of the treacherous muskeg just outside their doors.  I have to wonder how much of this town is built on the remains of old sunken bones.

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Chapter 23: Hot Blooded

I have to admit, leading a lynch mob is an exhilarating experience.  There’s something about an angry, roaring, torch-wielding crowd of vigilantes that demands attention from even the most jaded observer.  It also does wonders for your motivation.  The last thing I want to do is wimp out in front of this gang, as I have a feeling they’d rip out my organs with their bare hands and leave my wretched remains rotting in the marsh.  Compared to that, facing down a few vampires doesn’t sound all that bad.

We charge through the town and storm our way through the swamp.  The vampire den isn’t all that far, and pretty soon we can see the entrance.  It’s not even hidden or hard to find.  Given its proximity to Morthal, I’m surprised the townsfolk haven’t already dealt with these undead abominations.  I suppose they just needed a good excuse.  Either that, or the mead at the inn was stronger than usual tonight.

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Chapter 24: Down To Earth

In the soft light of dawn, Jenassa and I ride through the damp grassy marsh in search of the entrance to Ustengrav.  Since our previous explorations were to the northwest of Morthal, we decide to head northeast this time, roughly following the rising sun.  Soon the terrain begins to slope upward and the ground becomes less boggy as the soil gives way to bedrock.  In the distance we can make out some upright stones that appear to be weathered and worn, some leaning at odd angles.   We turn our horses in that direction and continue to ascend the hillside.

Near the standing stones, we find a large, perfectly circular hole descending straight into the ground.  The hole is lined with tightly-fitted stones, forming a rim that has become mossy and scarred with time, but still appears solid.  I glance back at Jenassa, and she nods.  Something tells me we’re on the right track.

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Chapter 25: Not The Swiftest

Jenassa and I have a lovely picnic close to the engraved wall in Ustengrav.  Although the food is plain since it’s from our travel supplies, the short rest is refreshing and the view is gorgeous.  The scenery looks pretty nice, too.

But soon we agree that it’s time to push on.  We still have the horn of Jurgen Windcaller to find, and I’m starting to be a bit concerned that we haven’t found it yet.  This place is truly vast, and we have no idea how large — or small — the artifact might be.  We talk it over, and decide to keep following the obvious route forward.  Technically the horn could be hiding anywhere, on top of a pillar or under a rock, but I’ll be in Oblivion before I’ll turn over this entire place trying to find it.   I have other priorities, such as having a life.

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Chapter 26: Hornswoggled

After clearing out the remaining treasure from the depths of Ustengrav, we find our way out of the ancient ruins just as the sun is starting to set.  Our plan is to return to Morthal, report to the Jarl, and stay the night at the inn.  After that, we’ll make our way straight to Riverwood to recover the horn of Jurgen Windcaller from whomever removed it from its resting place — and if we’re dissatisfied with their explanation, that horn might well become a permanent part of their anatomy.

The evening air is chilly and carries with it more than a hint of snow.  It feels like there’s a storm on the way, but it’s impossible to tell how far off it is.  The wind from the Sea of Ghosts blows constantly over these marshlands, channeled between the mountains on either side, making weather prediction difficult at best.  We don’t waste any time — we immediately mount our horses and head toward Morthal.  The last thing we want is to be caught in a blizzard and forced to take shelter in this frigid swamp.

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Chapter 27: Crisis Management

Jenassa and I stand on the steps of the Sleeping Giant Inn and watch Delphine make her way to Kynesgrove.  I guess the hospitality business isn’t all that profitable in a small town like Riverwood if the owner of the inn can’t even afford a horse.   Might as well help her out by staying here overnight, because we’re certainly not going back out on the road so soon after that long ride from Morthal.   If Delphine wants to camp out somewhere on the road overnight, that’s her prerogative.  We’ll catch up with her tomorrow soon enough.

Then my girlfriend mentions that we have a letter to deliver in Whiterun.  Say what?  Did someone appoint me as the new courier and no one told me?  My confusion must be obvious, since Jenassa reminds me of the Jarl’s daughter back in Morthal, who gave us a note to deliver to Danica about her little brother.  Oh!  Right!  The weird kid who never saw a Breton before.  I’m sure I still have that letter somewhere… don’t I?

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Chapter 28: Nightmare Fuel

Even though there aren’t that many people in the small mining outpost of Kynesgrove, most of them head over to the inn later that night.  Everyone seems to know what happened up there on the hill, and the townsfolk drag us back out of our room and lead us to a table, laughing and pushing full frothing mugs into our hands.  Just like in Morthal, once again Jenassa and I are in the middle of an admiring and grateful crowd.

This time there’s no reason to pace myself, so I happily drink all the mead that’s handed to me as the miners offer toast after toast in our honour.  Soon I’m so knackered that I can barely walk.  I guess I must’ve made it to the bed somehow, because that night in the Braidwood Inn, as I sleep all warm and cozy next to my wonderful girlfriend, I have the strangest dream.

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Chapter 29: Mending the Rift

Jenassa and I ride out from Kynesgrove to pursue the task given to us by the Companions.  The sun is warm on our shoulders as we head toward Shor’s Stone, but it’s already past the middle of the day.   I’m hoping we can reach our destination before dark and find a decent place to spend the night — although we’ll likely have to settle for a campsite somewhere.

The ground is cracked and fissured with steaming vents that smell of sulfur, creating little pockets of mist.  Trees are sparse on this rocky soil, and the rest of the vegetation barely rises above the ground.  Unlike the dense pine forests of Falkreath, here we can see a fair distance all around us — but certain predators still have ways of blending into the surroundings before they decide to ambush.

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Chapter 30: Community Service

After a cozy night in our little house in the woods, Jenassa and I head out the next morning as semi-official rangers of the Rift.  Our first assignment is to check out the rumours that bandits have taken over the nearby fort.  Fort Greenwall is close enough to Shor’s Stone that the villagers are understandably nervous to hear about a large encampment of criminals close by.

We ride out from the ranger cabin as the sun is rising over the hills.  Bandits don’t tend to be morning people, so this seems like the ideal time to pay them a visit, like typical nosy next-door neighbours.  Next-door neighbours who happen to be armed with deadly weapons.  Okay, maybe that’s not so typical.

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