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.