After a miserable rainy night stuck in a leaky tent, Jenassa and I decide to head to Solitude as soon as possible — and avoid any distractions such as bandits, sabre cats, corpses, dragons, small pathetic-looking children, and any other forms of Skyrim wildlife. Fortunately the road is totally clear and completely safe for once, and in no time at all we find ourselves walking through the city gates.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.