Right, so I wasn’t expecting to discover the secret life of the barmaid when I walked into the Bannered Mare this afternoon. But after I mention that some men are out looking for a Redguard woman, Saadia immediately gasps in alarm and asks for my help. She then requests to speak to me in private, and starts leading me up the back stairs of the inn.
Before I follow her up the stairs, I turn to Jenassa with a shrug. In for a penny, I suppose. Jenassa folds her arms and nods, indicating that she’ll wait until I return. I’m not entirely certain I want to get involved in all this intrigue, but like it or not, I guess I’m involved now.
Over a hearty dinner at the Bannered Mare, Jenassa and I discuss our options. Fortunately the Breezehome property is still on the market, and although my wife isn’t completely convinced that we really need a second home, she concedes that it would be rather hardhearted of us to refuse Lucia’s request to be adopted. Also, given the number of attacks we’ve already had to endure at Lakeview Manor, it would undoubtedly be safer for a little girl to remain here in Whiterun, where there are guards and city walls to protect her.
So now it’s just a matter of raising enough money for the house and its furnishings — and one of the best ways to raise money in Skyrim is to take on risky work that no one else wants to do. Fortunately, there’s plenty of that kind of work available. From the notice board we learned of a giant that the Jarl wants exterminated, and its camp is fairly close to the city, just on the other side of the Western Watchtower. We decide to tackle that first. With luck, we can dispatch the giant quickly, and then continue on our way to Swindler’s Den.
Night falls over Whiterun Hold, and with it, the rain. The storm is so intense that water spills from the clouds as if pouring from a bucket. By the time Jenassa and I reach the Western Watchtower, we’re soaking wet and shivering. Given the dangers of coming down with a chill in this climate, we’re going to have to warm up fast.
Fortunately the guards have stacked a generous pile of firewood within the tower, and in a few minutes we’ve built a large campfire just inside the entrance. Gratefully we stretch our hands over the blaze as the flames crackle and dance, driving away the worst of the frigid damp. After some time beside the fire and a quick bite from our provisions, we both feel warm, refreshed, and ready for anything.
Next morning, even before I’m fully awake, I can tell that the weather hasn’t improved much since last night. Rain falls steadily on the roof overhead in a constant murmur, and the ashen atmosphere outside hardly seems like daylight. Groaning, I turn over and yelp out loud from a sudden stab of pain, startling Jenassa from her sleep. Great. It would seem that I injured my leg yesterday when I was clambering over boulders to escape giants, running up the slippery steps of a ruined tower, and fighting off crazed werewolf hunters. Can’t imagine how that could’ve happened. I’m guessing that adrenaline, and later on, exhaustion, did their part to mask the pain from the injury — whenever that was. I don’t really care. I just hope that we’ve got a few healing potions left.
After Jenassa examines my leg to make sure it’s nothing more serious than a muscle strain, she nods her head when I ask for a remedy. Sliding out of bed carefully to avoid jostling me, Jenassa finds our backpacks in the corner and retrieves a potion. She hands it to me as I struggle to sit up, and I’m disappointed to see that it’s only for minor healing. I look up at her with what I hope is an adorably pathetic puppy-eyed look. But honey, my leg really hurts. Surely we have the good stuff stashed away somewhere? Please?!
My wife manages to look sympathetic and resolute at the same time. “My love, you know we rely on these potions far too much to use them on trivial injuries. This should take away most of the pain and start the healing process. You should be as good as new by tonight if we don’t do anything more active than stroll around town — and in this weather, I doubt we’ll want to do much else.”
Jenassa and I decide to remain at Breezehome for awhile, partly due to the continuing rain, and partly to spend more time bonding with our new daughter. Lucia is simply adorable, a source of unending surprise and delight, and our housecarl Lydia seems just as fond of her as we are. The four of us find it easy to amuse ourselves despite the ongoing inclement weather, and we get along so well that our time together flies by in a revelry of mutual affection and laughter.
But when the skies finally clear and the sun shows its face once again, my wife and I prepare to go back on the road. We haven’t forgotten our promise to confront the Alik’r on Saadia’s behalf, and the date of the reception at the Thalmor Embassy is fast approaching as well. Lucia is touchingly sad to see us go, and clings to us both as we say our goodbyes, making us promise to return safely. Our capable housecarl assures us that our house and daughter will be under her constant supervision, and with a final round of farewells, Jenassa and I step out into the bright morning sunshine.
As Jenassa and I pass through the heavy oaken doors of Fort Greymoor, we find ourselves in the middle of a wide entrance hall that branches off in all directions. A fine dust hangs in the air, as if recently disturbed — yet the metal brackets on the walls and the orderly weapon racks gleam as if polished. Even the hinges on the doors appear to be well-oiled. Huh. I’m not used to thinking of bandits as responsible property owners — or rather, responsible property squatters.
Proceeding ever further into the fortress, we slowly become aware of a constant murmur of voices echoing off the stone walls. Careful to raise as little additional noise as possible, we pause to get our bearings as we listen closely to the various sounds within our immediate surroundings. After a few moments, we pinpoint the location of the nearest bandits by their idle chatter, and silently reassure ourselves that our weapons are ready to hand.
Riding westwards with the sun warm on our faces, Jenassa and I head out from Fort Greymoor and resume our journey to Swindler’s Den. The road is clear and empty, save for the occasional wildlife crossing, and fortunately we don’t encounter any more crazed bandits spoiling for a fight. As we reach the border of Falkreath Hold, we slow our pace and start looking for a narrow dirt path in the long grass. There are rumours of giants in this area, and the last thing we need is to find ourselves overly close to their encampment.
As Jenassa and I prepare to enter the shadowy cavern — and the supposed location of a band of Alik’r — I reflect that all we have to go on is the word of a disgruntled captive back in the Whiterun prison. So far, we’ve seen no evidence that these Alik’r are headquartered around here, and it occurs to me that a single prisoner with a grudge hardly seems like a reliable source of information.
Even if our informer was telling the truth, you’d think it would make more sense for Kematu to remove his warriors to another location after the first one was captured. At the very least, the Alik’r must know that they aren’t exactly on good terms with the Whiterun guards — reason enough to find some other hideout, perhaps in another Hold altogether. In a province that seems to have more ruins and fortresses than citizens, you’d think that holing up with a bunch of low-life bandits in a musty cave would be a last resort.
Pondering this line of reasoning, I’m about to mention my considerable doubts to Jenassa, when we overhear one bandit talking to another as we enter the cave.
As soon as she hears someone speaking to me from the other side of the waterfall, Jenassa grabs my arm and hauls me toward her. Startled, I nearly lose my footing on the wet stone as I’m suddenly dragged backwards, but despite this I’m grateful for her fast reaction. Besides Kematu’s voice, we can detect other sounds echoing in the cavern ahead, revealing that our quarry is surrounded by at least half a dozen men — and all of them know exactly where we are.
However, in the last few seconds, Jenassa has already come up with a plan. She rapidly explains it to me in a low voice under the obscuring sound of falling water. As she finishes, for a moment all I can do is stare at her in utter incredulity. Admittedly, her plan does restore some of the advantage of surprise, so it’s possible we might pull this off — but it seems equally likely that we’re going to die painfully at the hands of the Alik’r in this dark watery hole.
The stars wheel in their heavenly dance high above us as we mount up and start riding toward Rorikstead. Watching the stars, we plot our course through the dark grass over seemingly endless plains, searching for a glimpse of the road that will lead us to the small but prosperous farming village that manages to feed most of Skyrim. During my time with the Companions, and among the tavern-talk of farmers deep in their cups, I’ve heard rumours of how Rorikstead produces bumper crops year after year, despite the droughts and early frosts that plague less fortunate farmers. Sacred soil, magery, deals with the Daedra — rural gossips are a creative lot when it comes to speculation.
As we finally reach the road, I find myself wishing for the light of day to better illuminate the land surrounding us. I half-expect to see bigger trees, lusher grass, the very air rich with pollen and ripe with potential as the rumours suggest. But the lanterns along the road barely pierce the darkness, and I can only make out the next few paces ahead. Even the stars are blinded as the clouds roll in.