After a refreshing morning swim in the river, Jenassa and I prepare to take our leave of the cozy little fishing hut. After further discussion, we’ve decided to head back to Whiterun via the scenic route — more specifically, by way of the Rift. Since we still have yet to find any cave bear pelts for Aela’s assignment, we’re hoping that traveling through the woodlands will offer us more opportunity to hunt bears. In addition, we plan to swing back to Shor’s Stone and deliver the satchel to Sylgja from her parents in Darkwater Crossing.
Also, given that Maven Black-Briar may still be on the lookout for her stolen horse, we’re making it a priority to avoid the actual city of Riften. This may make travel somewhat awkward, but with most of the Riften guards in Maven’s pocket, it seems like a sensible precaution. After all, it’s not paranoia if someone really is out to get you.
As if in a dream, I walk forward into the sanctuary of the Eldergleam — a resplendent cavern open to the sky, filled with all the natural beauty one would expect from a place blessed by Kynareth. Maurice and Jenassa follow behind me, all of us rendered speechless as the wonders of the sanctuary unfold before our dazzled eyes. And high above like a monarch’s crown is the Eldergleam itself, most precious jewel of this treasure trove, branches spread over all like a heavenly benediction.
Moonlight pours through the roof like a fountain of liquid crystal, its silvery light illuminating every leaf, every drop of water, every blade of grass. If my heart were to burst right here, and I were to perish in the presence of such beauty, I would count myself the luckiest being in creation to have this wondrous place be the last thing my fortunate eyes would ever see.
After clearing out the bandits from Valtheim Towers, Jenassa and I reunite with our travel companion and continue our journey. Just before we head out, I glance up at the lowering sun and feel a twinge of anxiety. The afternoon has started its transition into early evening, and I’m hoping there won’t be any more time-consuming encounters before dark. Our tent isn’t big enough to accommodate more than two people, and given that Maurice is an unarmed pacifistic pilgrim who can’t even get on a horse, I doubt he’d survive the night.
As we ride, both of us keep a sharp eye out for any roadside threats that might endanger our companion. When we find ourselves at the border of Eastmarch, I cautiously relax. Darkwater Crossing isn’t too far now, and with any luck, the sanctuary of the Eldergleam should be just beyond. The road ahead seems completely clear of any dangers, so I sit back in the saddle and start to enjoy the ride.
After Jenassa and I have a few hours of rest at the Bannered Mare, we awaken in time to partake of a hearty lunch downstairs. We only have a vague idea of how far we’ll have to travel to reach the Eldergleam, and so we make sure we have reasonably full bellies and a decent store of provisions.
Our new companion Maurice is eager to start, saying that he’s wanted to see the Eldergleam for years, but he’s been reluctant to make the journey on his own. Understandable, especially now that there’s a war on. The roads are far from safe for an unarmed traveler.
But after we exit the main gates, it’s apparent that there’s going to be a minor problem with our travel arrangements.
Take it from the Dragonborn — fighting a dragon in the dead of night isn’t the easiest thing in the world. Attempting to track a dark shape against the night sky is bad enough, but when the best view you have of that dark shape happens to coincide with it incinerating your face — well, let’s just say that it’s not an ideal combat situation.
It’s fortunate that I didn’t have to dip into my stock of healing potions during our encounter with the werewolf, because after the dragon sets me on fire multiple times, I’m guzzling down several vials. In the meantime, Jenassa keeps a steady eye on its flight against the starry sky, but for such a massive creature, it’s annoyingly difficult to hit. Between the two of us we loose a veritable volley in its direction, but only a couple of our arrows manage to find their mark. At this rate it’s going to take all night to down this damned lizard — if it doesn’t cremate us first.
Under the sinister light of the Blood Moon, the shadows deepen and a chilling howl echoes through the trees. That sounded far too close. Evidently Sinding is still in wolf form, and after seeing what he did to the other hunters, I can only hope he’s exhausted from all the fighting. I swallow and try to ignore my rising panic.
Exchanging wary glances, Jenassa and I reach for our weapons and cautiously move deeper into the grove. Just past the bloody remains of the hunter camp, we reach a natural alley bordered on each side by high, stony cliffs. I’m not too enthusiastic about heading in there with a werewolf on the loose, but it’s apparent we don’t have much choice.
Waking early the next day, we emerge from the tent into a clear and sunny morning. After Jenassa and I strike camp, we grab a quick breakfast and mount up to take a tour of our new homestead. In the daylight it looks even better — the Jarl’s steward wasn’t kidding when she called it a fine piece of property.
Most of the land is high on a ridge, bordered on one side by a stony cliff. Atop the ridge it’s relatively level, with a beautiful and secluded forest clearing. Facing south, we can see the clear waters of Lake Ilinalta glimmering through the trees, with the ancient structure of Bleak Falls Barrow visible from the opposite shore. In every way it’s the ideal site for our home.
As Jenassa and I ride through the gates of Falkreath, the falling snow changes into rain. Despite the milder temperature, however, the weather is still quite chilly and it’s just as unpleasant, perhaps even worse now that we’re getting soaked. Even though it’s only mid-afternoon, the rain showers have turned the sky gloomy and dark, and the lights of the town shine almost as brightly as if it were nightfall.
We guide our horses toward the middle of town, coming to a halt just outside the Jarl’s hall and out of the wind. Falkreath doesn’t seem to have stables anywhere in town, or any other place that would be an appropriate shelter, but fortunately the horses of Skyrim are a hardy lot.
The blizzard rages throughout the night and into the next day. Jenassa and I awaken to a frozen world that’s nearly unchanged since last night. Our fire has gone out and the chill threatens to settle into our bones, so we strike camp and set off on our horses in an effort to find our way back to the town of Falkreath.
Unfortunately, within minutes it’s clear that we won’t make it back in this weather. The blinding snow is being thrown in our faces by the icy wind, and our horses continually flounder and plunge in the deepening drifts. Our progression is far too slow, and soon we’re in real danger of freezing. Eventually we reach the main road, but by now we’ve lost all sense of direction, and even the horses start milling around in confusion.
After we leave the Jarl’s hall, Jenassa and I try to find the Pit — the local name of a jail cell currently holding a psychotic murderer who viciously ripped apart a child. Try as I might, I cannot conceive of a reason why anyone would do such a horrible thing. I want to look this evil in the face, the better to recognize it — although I hope never to encounter it again.
One of the town guards points us toward the Falkreath barracks, telling us to go down into the prison basement where, in his words, we “can’t miss that filthy piece of skeever dung”. The guard goes on to say that we might as well see the murderer while we still can, as it seems they’re still deciding on the most appropriate method of execution.