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.
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.
At first, riding out from Dragon Bridge is a most pleasant experience. The salty air from the nearby coastline mingles with the fresh pine-scented breeze of the surrounding forest, and the whole world seems bathed in brilliant sunshine. Ever since we discovered that we don’t have to be in Solitude right away, there’s been a certain holiday atmosphere in the air, as if this is a bit of stolen time away from the world, a welcome gift from the benevolent Divines.
And since the task assigned to us by Aela leads us well off the main road, I’m glad of the chance to explore the province of Haafingar. After all, besides the capital itself, the only area we’re really familiar with around here is the Temple of Meridia. So when we reach a fork in the road, instead of taking the lowland route that follows the coastline, we turn and head into the mountains.
Early the next morning, I awaken with my stomach already rumbling. It’s been happening quite often lately, and it’s not exactly pleasant. In fact, the time I can stay comfortably satiated between meals seems to be getting shorter and shorter. Now my hunger often appears within a few scant hours of my last meal, making it near-impossible to sleep through the night.
And as if that isn’t enough, my dreams have been distinctly strange lately. Disturbing, even, although I can’t quite call them nightmares. Although I usually don’t remember very much about them, they tend to leave me with a strong sense of disorientation when I first wake up, as I always expect to find myself sleeping on the ground somewhere deep in the wilds. It’s not too pronounced if I’ve spent the night in a tent — but here in an unfamiliar place with four walls around me, my first reaction is that I’ve been caught in a trap, and I start to panic before I realize that I’m safe in a rented bed. Like now, for instance.
After taking a few deep breaths to calm myself, I turn over — and my anxiety instantly spikes up again. Jenassa’s not here. I sit up in bed, alarmed, and quickly look around the room. Her clothing is gone. Her weapons are gone. Her backpack and gear are nowhere to be seen. There’s no trace of her.
As I watch the scurrying townsfolk, the screaming children, and the panicked guards trying to maintain discipline in the face of a dragon attack, my first thought is not now, you miserable lizard. It’s been a long, brutal day of nonstop travel and fighting. I’m tired. I’m cranky. I’m getting chilly and all my muscles ache. The last thing I want to do is fight another ornery wyvern and be the big damn hero. Again.
Even the inspiring sight of my beautiful badass wife is irritating me. Why in Oblivion did the Divines decide that I was the Dragonborn? Why not pick Jenassa instead? With her disciplined and whip-smart mind, she’s far better suited for the role — not to mention she’s a damn sight more useful in a fight. But no, instead my beautiful badass wife has to constantly back up my sorry ass while I flail around like a gutless mudcrab. I can’t help but feel like this whole Dragonborn racket is nothing more than a big joke the universe is playing at my expense. Or maybe it’s simply setting me up. Like Roddy did.
And now this dragon. Septims to sweetrolls, it’s probably the same fire-breathing nuisance that we saw on the road earlier, here to hunt me down after frying the giant into charcoal. Well, it certainly picked its time. I’m weary of the whole business and unlikely to fight well in this frame of mind. In fact, I’m tempted to leave here with Jenassa, head back to the Greybeards, and say, “Take these Shouts back and find some other sucker. I quit.”
The setting sun is still warm on our shoulders as we continue on toward Solitude, but now there’s a telltale chill in the breeze. Nightfall is just around the corner, and we both scan the horizon with some anxiety, aware that the recent unavoidable delays in our journey have cost us quite a bit of time.
Jenassa, who knows the road better than I do, thinks we can still make it to Solitude if we encourage the horses a little and keep going. With that decided, I start rummaging around in my backpack to find something to eat as we ride. Fighting bandits apparently gives me an appetite.
Well, if I’m honest, almost everything these days gives me an appetite. Even the most mundane of sights, like a deer standing in a clearing or a rabbit dashing across a field, makes my mouth start to water. It also doesn’t help that my sense of smell is now heightened, and my reflexes are faster than they’ve ever been — apparently in keeping with my increased metabolism, as I’ve noticed my clothing is looser although I’ve been eating far more often. In short, becoming a werewolf has done wonders for my physical condition.
They say that sound carries best over water, and I witness the truth of that statement for myself as I loudly challenge the enemy on the other side of the river. Now I have to admit, openly attacking a well-fortified bandit encampment may not have been my smartest idea. But then, no one ever accused me of being a genius.
Moments after my foot touches the bridge, the bandits are on the alert, and their skeevery little heads pop up from all over the structure just before a hail of arrows rains down on us. I deflect most of the incoming missiles with my shield before Jenassa and I start shooting back, but the bandits definitely have the advantage inside their fortifications. Ramshackle it might be, but it affords them control of the higher ground and a decent measure of protection.
Normally, it would be a lovely relaxing experience to listen to the rain, intermingled with my wife’s breathing as she sleeps peacefully beside me. But it’s a distinctly less pleasant affair when I’m wide awake, stuck in a leaky tent, and the rain shower is more like a thunderstorm. Not to mention, it’s barely noon. The possibility of being stranded here all day and into the night is not an inviting prospect. Already I’m about to die of boredom, and desperately wishing someone in Skyrim had invented a pack of cards.
And while I’m on the subject, the books in Skyrim are way too short.
So it’s with a great deal of relief when I hear the incessant rain slow to a drizzle. I peek outside to make sure I’m not having some kind of aural hallucination — but hallelujah! It’s true! The sky is looking brighter already! Elated that we’re not going to be trapped in a dripping wet tent all day, I find myself spontaneously clapping my hands in joy — and I accidentally wake Jenassa. Whoops.
My wife jerks into consciousness with a start, her hands flying to grab a weapon even before her eyes are completely open. I have to dodge out of the way before she skewers me, which is not an easy maneuver in such a narrow space, and I manage to grab her arm before she slashes a hole in our shelter. It’s only then that she fully wakes up — and she immediately freezes, her eyes widening as she realizes what I’ve barely managed to prevent.
“Good morning, sunshine,” I say as I slowly release her arm. “I know it’s a bit dim in this tent, but I really don’t think we need a skylight.”
Back in town, the day seemed brilliant with warm sunlight and full of promise, but we’re not long out of Rorikstead before the clouds start to roll in. Serves us right for staying in town for so long — now we’ve not only lost a lot of time, but we’ve also missed the best of the weather. As if to emphasize the point, a sudden gust of wind whips up around us, bringing with it the scent of rain. I glance up at the sky and grimace. Great, that’s all we need. It’s a long way to Solitude, and the inn is well behind us. If we end up having to pitch a tent out in the rain, I will not be a happy camper.
I’m ruminating on these gloomy thoughts when I spot a substantial and comfortable-looking farmhouse near the road, and I slow down for a closer look. This place is easily comparable to the commodious farms of Rorikstead, and quite a bit better than most. I notice someone outside chopping wood near the house, and on the spur of the moment, I guide my horse into the farmyard. I’m hoping that I can speak to the owner, and see if Jenassa and I can make an arrangement to stay here overnight, in case the rain catches up to us and we’re forced to turn back. At any rate, I figure it couldn’t hurt to ask.
The next morning dawns bright and clear, a day that sparkles with sunshine as if the Divines decided to build the world anew. After a decent amount of sleep, the terror and stress of last night seem very far away. By mutual unspoken agreement, Jenassa and I avoid mentioning my previous interference in a certain family squabble, and we devour our breakfast as if it’s our last meal. But just as my wife has settled the bill and we’re about to leave, we run into an old, and rather unwelcome, acquaintance. Oh right — Kematu’s thugs said some of them would be hanging out in Rorikstead, didn’t they? Oops.