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.
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.
Next morning, I awaken in the middle of a large comfortable bed with a soft pillow under my head, and for a moment I’m not entirely certain where I am. The accommodations certainly seem top-notch, however. Is this an upscale inn? A friendly noble’s dwelling? Then I remember that this is my own house, and that I’m the noble — at least here in the region of Falkreath. Grinning, I sink back down under the warm bedding and stretch out, slowly and luxuriously. It’s good to be Thane.
Now that my brain is starting to work again, I piece together more details from my surroundings. From what I can tell, Jenassa seems to be downstairs and in the middle of breakfast. I can’t hear anything from the housecarl’s room, so I assume she’s already outside on patrol. I suppose I must’ve slept in — not too surprising, given recent events. Especially that whole rampaging werewolf thing. Which I’m refusing to think about right now, since that would ruin the first morning in my newly remodeled house — sorry, I mean manor. I’ve never had a manor before, and by the Divines, I’m determined to enjoy it while I can.
Naturally, after learning from the Falkreath guards that they suspect the presence of a werewolf, both Jenassa and I are rather anxious to return to our homestead — for just slightly different reasons. It doesn’t take us long to wrap up our business in town, which we conclude in tense silence — save for the occasional brief remark such as, “We need some more broadhead arrows,” or “Let’s pick up another case of mead.”
In the meantime, my head is buzzing with questions. Where exactly did I go last night? How many people are dead? Did I kill them all or was some other werewolf around? What really worries me is that I have a clear memory of chasing deer, but not of eating any — and I have a clear memory of eating humans, but not of chasing any. At least not for any distance. Perhaps this feeling of disorientation is what Sinding felt when he killed that little girl.
Early mornings at the Helgen keep are a busy time. The sleeping soldiers are awakened soon after dawn, as their beds will be needed by the guards who were recently on night watch duty. From my seat at the table, I watch as the soldiers organize their gear and sharpen their weapons in readiness for the upcoming sentry rotation. Amid the hustle, Jenassa swiftly packs away our bedrolls as Marcus finishes his tankard, picks up a broom, and starts sweeping the floor. Ten septims says he volunteered for this duty in order to remain useful.
I’m feeling like a sloth in the midst of all this bustling activity, so after the soldiers file out of the room, I walk up to Marcus and offer my help with whatever is needed. To my surprise, he says that he’s been waiting for a chance to discuss that very topic, and asks if we’d mind delaying our breakfast for a few moments. Curious, Jenassa and I encourage him to continue, and without even a pause in the rhythm of his work, he begins his explanation.
Intoxicating. As the transformation completes its course, my mind sings, releasing itself from the abstract rudiments of logic, the rigid rules of language, the shackles of convention by which we humans bind our thoughts. A flood of sensation pours through my body, heightening my perception far beyond that of mere human sensibility. In the space of a heartbeat, I am aware of the surrounding forest in all its sublime detail, rendering the darkness insignificant.
Clear as a flash of lightning, a trail of scent wafts like a banner from the treeline. Nose twitching, I turn my head and feel the steady breeze on my face, carrying the unmistakable smell of prey. Upwind. Good. Facing into the wind, I lope out of the gates, pausing by a rotten log to roll in its soft shards. Crushing the pungent wood into my fur to mask my scent, I note that the prey is moving closer. With growing excitement, I open my mouth a little wider until I can almost taste the rich aroma, and a sudden spike of hunger makes me salivate.
Riding through Helgen after the success of our mission, Jenassa and I take the lead as we head toward the keep. Behind us, the rest of our party strides through the town gates as if on parade. Glancing over my shoulder, it’s clear that they’re both pleased and relieved to be back. The patrolling guards enthusiastically greet the returning soldiers as they make their way through the town, and even the imposing presence of the keep itself seems to welcome them home. Every window of the tower is alight with a warm golden glow — a decidedly heartening sight on this chilly winter evening.
I have to admit, I’m feeling pretty pleased with my part in the rescue. Okay, so it got a bit tricky back there with the Justiciar, and apparently I can’t act the part of an Imperial officer to save my life — or anyone else’s for that matter. But at least there are now several less Thalmor to worry about. Surely that’s got to count for something.
A small squeak of terror escapes from my lips as the Justiciar’s smirk takes on a leer of triumph. I recall that right from the start, I had serious doubts about this rescue mission — but it’s cold comfort now that I’m facing a fortress full of Thalmor.
Willing myself to move, I start backpedaling just as everyone draws their weapons. As if in slow motion, I watch as the Justiciar raises both hands toward me, swiftly summoning a glacial light between his palms. I gasp as I’m hit in the chest with a diamond lance of ice.
Blood chilled, muscles seizing, I manage to summon my atronach just as a couple of guards rush in to protect the Justiciar. My wife is already charging at the nearest Thalmor, and our allies follow her lead while Barbie distracts the enemy with fireballs. Seconds later the frost spell wears off — and I reach for Dawnbreaker as I join the fight.
Although they hold many dangers for the unwary traveler, the forests of Falkreath always seem at their most peaceful as the day moves toward sunset. Shadows dance between the stately evergreens, and the woodland birds practice their evening chorus as the shimmering river catches the golden rays of the late afternoon sun. But right now, I’m far too distracted to fully appreciate the surrounding beauty — my mind is occupied with the details of Delphine’s plan to infiltrate the Thalmor embassy.
Reluctantly, I acknowledge that Jenassa has a point — the embassy mission is a necessary test of loyalty for Delphine. Although the events at Kynesgrove confirmed that I’m the Dragonborn, the Riverwood innkeeper doesn’t know if I’ve aligned myself with any of the other influential factions in Skyrim. The ongoing Civil War provides enough reason to be suspicious of potential allies, but the return of the dragons represents an extraordinary supernatural threat over which few mortals have any influence. It’s just my luck that I happen to be one of those mortals — and my motives are likely just as mysterious to Delphine as hers are to me.
Daylight returns to its former brilliance as the summoned storm rapidly dissipates, only to reveal a more pressing issue. Shaking itself awake from its long sleep, the newly-raised dragon lurches to its feet and slowly swings its scaly head in my direction. Knowing I won’t be able to remain hidden for long, I take a deep breath and reach for my bow. As I raise my weapon, the dread beast reacts to the movement and immediately takes to the air, roaring a challenge. Great. As if I don’t have enough enemies trying to kill me.