Grazhir :: Skyrim :: Yvara :: 02

06042015

1.2

CollegeOfWinterhold

Under Saarthal
Last Seed, 21st, 4E 201

On my way back to the college (oh, yes, someone had apparently stored a bunch of Jyrik’s things in a chest there by the wall with the word that I looted) I ran across some Legionnaires escorting a prisoner. But why? I fished out my map and looked at it in confusion. The only thing in the direction they were headed was Saarthal. Were they going to march that poor bastard, who was wearing mere rags, through the snow, past Saarthal, and. . . . I shook my head, put the map away, and kept going.

When I got back to the College I found Savos up in his quarters. I asked him about the Psijic Order, but aside from saying that one of them used to advise the Arch-Mage back when he was still an apprentice he only really mentioned that that was a long time ago, before all of them were recalled and Artaeum disappeared. I dutifully passed on Tolfdir’s message and headed back downstairs. In addition to other books I wanted to read, I needed to do a little research on Saarthal. But as I stepped into the entryway I was approached by Faralda.

“You might want to be careful,” she said in a hushed tone, her eyes flicking around as if to see if anyone was near enough to listen in.

“Eh?”

“Ancano is very interested in what goes on here at the College and I know you’ve just returned from Saarthal. Be careful of what you say to him.” She looked at me with meaningful intensity.

“I understand,” I replied quietly. Unfortunately Ancano could be found in all sorts of places. I suspected he wandered around listening to conversations and reported anything of the least interest back to his superiors. I considered heading into town to get away for a bit, but it had been a tiring day, so I returned to my room instead.

Hitting the Books
Last Seed, 22nd, 4E 201

I managed to avoid Ancano and slip out of the College in the morning. As much as I wanted to hit the Arcanaeum it was asking for trouble. I thought, though I could have been mistaken, that Arniel had brought the other students back from the trip without any of them ever seeing the orb, so I was likely the only one Ancano could interrogate.

As soon as I got to town I clucked my tongue at Horse and set off to pillage the land for alchemical ingredients and burn anything that was presumptuous enough to attack me—and why are wolves so damn hostile when there are plenty of rabbits and goats around? I saw three people in muted blue along the way, Stormcloak soldiers. One of the men was complaining about having to eat so much rabbit, but the woman just snorted and said it was better than working a field. I’m sorry, was it really such a hassle to also kill goats? Maybe the odd horker? Gods forbid, deer or elk? What a whiner.

I found another one of those odd curved walls near one of the passes in the area; it resonated in my head: Slen—Flesh. I wasn’t sure, but I thought it had some connection to the word I stumbled over at Saarthal. There were some hostile mages there I had to put down, and with the help of my familiar I managed, but the ward one kept using dragged things out (a win for Tolfdir, then, I supposed, regarding caution).

Nearby was a shrine—or at least, nearby in terms of sight as opposed to walking distance. I ignored it and headed down the side of the mountain and met back up with the road I had earlier disdained. It led me down past Windhelm, which I ignored in favor of heading south. There were plenty of jazbay grapes, creep cluster, and dragon’s tongue along the way, getting ever nearer to an area dominated by hot springs. I didn’t actually know a whole lot about alchemy, just enough to mix together a simple healing potion, but there was no reason not to collect things.

The hot springs looked supremely inviting given that it started drizzling cold rain and the sky had gone a leaden grey. I found myself thinking it’d be nice if the College taught us a spell to summon flowers and the like to us, but that was just being plain lazy. As evening was coming on (I estimated it was about an hour or two until dark) I ran across a party of two, apparently headed to Solitude.

“Come along, no more stops,” the finely-dressed man was saying in a snotty Imperial sort of voice. “We need to find our way to Solitude.”

I arched a brow, wondering why in Oblivion they were on this side of the country, and why they weren’t mounted. They were nobles, right? They could surely afford horses. Those clothes practically screamed for every bandit in the area to come and attack.

“Why are we even going to a wedding at this far flung end of the Empire anyway?” the woman complained.

“I told you, it’s the wedding of Vittoria Vici, an extremely well connected merchant with the East Empire Company,” he explained, not at all patiently. “The Emperor’s cousin? Remember? Hopefully these gifts will put us in her good graces, secure that important deal, and lead the way to an audience with the Emperor.”

I just stood there confused. Even I had a horse! True, I didn’t often ride him because I used him more like a pack mule, but still. Why were they walking through Skyrim, without the guide they so obviously needed, and through some of the coldest parts? They had a very long walk west once they got closer to Windhelm.

Last Seed, 23nd, 4E 201

I had spent an uneasy night outside one of those ubiquitous Nord tombs, but I had more shelter than just my tent because of the entryway, which was covered, and Horse was there to wake me if necessary. He’s an awful coward, but he does alert me to danger, if only because of his frightened squeals and subsequent clattering (or thudding) of hooves while racing off to a perceived spot of safety.

If I was going to roam around like this trying to improve my magic (and avoid Ancano for a while) I really ought to consider having some sort of companion. At any rate, nothing happened, no alarms in the night, so I simply packed up and moved on, eventually running across M’aiq the Liar, a Khajiit from a long line of the same name.

“M’aiq can travel fast across the land. Some lazy types take carriages. It is all the same to M’aiq,” he said to me conversationally, then followed up with, “Too much magic can be dangerous. M’aiq once had two spells and burned his sweet roll.”

I blinked at him as he wandered away. That poor sweet roll!

Some time later I bent down to pick some flowers and was hit in the face with some glutinous substance that stung and made my vision go funny. I wiped it away and looked up. There, across the river, was a damn frostbite spider, spitting at me. Actually, after I scuttled to the side and crouched behind a wall, I peered around the edge and saw it was in the water. I ended up chasing the thing a ways down, dodging venom, to kill it off. I really do love flinging fire around, which is a funny thing for a vampire to say.

Up ahead—was not good. There was a tower at the side of the road, a bridge of sorts leading across the river from the second level, and a matching tower on the other side. I could see people patrolling the bridge and moving around on the rocks over there, but there were no banners of any kind. An outpost would have announced itself, so they were probably bandits, which meant one was likely out front to confront travelers.

‘I can try sneaking around the back, under the bridge,’ I mused, eyeing the situation, then clucked my tongue and pointed so that Horse would know to wait. I could try just galloping past the place, but if there was trouble I’d rather be on my feet and let Horse run off to safety.

I tried, in my best sneaking effort, to sidle around the backside of the tower, keeping an eye on the fellow patrolling the bridge. I wanted to wait until he was headed back across the river to sneak the remainder of the way. Unfortunately, one of the men on the rocks that side spotted me and sent up the alarm. At that point I stood up and sprinted back up to the road and down it, but whoever was out front let out a frustrated cry and ran after me.

I ended up having to stop and spin around so I could blast her until she dropped down. I was angry—at being spotted and at being followed—so I took a quick look around and then advanced on her. She could beg for mercy all she wanted, but she had pushed this confrontation and I would finish it. I wrapped an arm around her and wrenched her up so I could sink my fangs into her neck and drained her, dropping her to the ground when I was done. Then I nipped over behind some rock jutting from the cliff face and crouched to make myself smaller.

I knew for certain that the bandits had lost interest when Horse came galloping up to me, the silly thing. He’s good about finding me once the danger has passed. I got up and stripped anything of value off the bandit and packed it onto Horse, then continued down the road. If I hadn’t already known I was moving into warmer territory I would on seeing tundra cotton and lavender. As it was my poor horse smelled like an apothecary. Off in the distance I could see what I thought was Dragonsreach, the Jarl’s “palace” in Whiterun. I supposed I could stop in briefly, though it did remind me just how far I’d wandered from Winterhold.

After dealing with a wolf that came out of nowhere and snarled at me I was distracted by tons of butterflies, all colours imaginable, and then by a standing stone. What was it about these things and necromancers or crazed mages? Perhaps I was indulging in a bit of hyperbole there, but the two I’d found thus far had been dangerous. After I dealt with the mage I stepped up to the stone to see what it was.

Ah, the Ritual Stone. I could see why a necromancer might be lurking here, but I shall pass on the “blessing” of this stone. Should I need to raise the dead to do my bidding there’s a perfectly serviceable spell for that. On the heels of that I wondered if perhaps I should ask someone at the College about why my familiar sounded so asthmatic. Could spirits have colds? Lung disorders?

I had finished stripping the mage of any valuables when I realized one of the books I’d grabbed was unfamiliar to me, and at that, a spell tome, something called Earthbound Weapon. Perhaps it was some kind of variant on bound weapons? Whiterun was so close; I would go and rent a room at the inn so I could do some reading in safety.

Down the hill a ways I saw a man standing there with three bodies in the ground around him. The man was holding an axe and was already facing me, his threatening posture saying he intended to kill. Was he high off battle and looking to blindly avenge his comrades? A closer look showed he wore Stormcloak armor possibly, but that might not mean anything. I could not see the bodies well enough to make a comparison, not from the angle I was at.

He charged and I blasted him with bursts of fire, my familiar flanking and nipping at his sides and back. Once he was down I moved close enough to look over the scene. The corpses wore either Stormcloak or Imperial armor and it looked like they had killed each other in a battle between sides. The fellow I just fried must have been a scavenger I interrupted. Farther down the road I could see a number of guards patrolling. Did they hear nothing of what had happened?

I rifled through the bodies looking for any information on their identities, but found nothing. The scavenger I stripped down and dumped the goods next to the one poor soldier, then rolled the body off the path and down the side of the hill. Perhaps it was stupid of me to care, but the soldier did not deserve to have his body lying there, only in his smalls; so I struggled to get his armor back on him. These men died for their beliefs.

When I did manage to get down to the bottom of the hill I stopped the first guard I saw and pointed back up the road, telling him what I’d passed by. He promised to see about the bodies, so I continued on, passing a meadery. I’ve had plenty of mead in my time so I wondered what sort they made. Some of it is far too dry and unsweet, some of it is much too sweet. I like mine somewhere in the middle, with a silky feel to it on my tongue.

Up ahead were farms and—a giant? I had no idea they attacked settlements in Skyrim. I thought they all ranged around their camps keeping on eye on their mammoths, warning passersby not to get too close. This one must be a renegade, or desperate, or things were just that different here. There was a group of people there (no, not the cowering farm-folk) attacking it head on, which was brave of them, I suppose. Nords are generally funny that way. This going out in a blaze of glory thing was a bit foreign to me. Even more so when one of the women got close enough to reproach me for not helping them.

“Ah, it looked like you had it well under control,” I replied, wondering if the woman was blind to the fact that I was prancing around in mage robes and really not the sort to charge on in screaming and flailing about with a blade.

“Perhaps so. But a true warrior would have relished the opportunity to take on a giant. That’s why I’m here with my Shield-Brothers.

My brow went up in disbelief. Either she was not a typical Nord who disdained mages, or she was riding too high on victory to pay attention. “Shield-Brothers?”

“An outsider, eh? Never heard of the Companions? An order of warriors. We are brothers and sisters in honor. And we show up to solve problems if the coin is good enough.”

“Oh, I see,” I replied. Mercenaries.

“If you’re of a mind to join the Companions,” she added, “you’ll have to talk to Kodlak Whitemane up in Jorrvaskr. The old man’s got a good sense for people. He can look in your eyes and tell your worth. If you go to him, good luck.” Then she turned back to her companions and walked toward them.

I blinked and glanced down at my familiar. “Is she nuts?” I whispered. She also had an odd scent, but she had not gotten close enough for me to figure out what it reminded me of. After they trundled off I approached the farm-folk to see if they were all right. The owner, a Severio Pelagia, looked a bit shaken up, but also frustrated by the damage to his crops. Every so often these fits of helpfulness would come over me; I found myself giving him a hand picking vegetables and he gave me some coin for the assistance. “Honest gold for honest work,” he said. I think I inadvertently made a friend.

He waved as I left and I gave a smile in return. There were stables to my right, a tower ahead to the left with a house not far before it, and a fort in the distance. I walked by the stables and started up the road to Whiterun, but was interrupted by a Redguard in fancy dress sneering at me. “Do you get to the Cloud District very often?” he asked in an affected, nasally voice. “Oh, what am I saying. Of course you don’t.” He continued on as I stopped and turned.

‘I may have to kill this man,’ I thought. ‘Sneak into his house with my admittedly poor skills and drain him dry as he sleeps.’ I spied the house again, thinking it might belong to the Redguard, but he walked in the opposite direction down the road. It was really pretty. ‘It won’t cause any harm to go look before I enter Whiterun,’ I thought.

I got close enough to see it was rather swanky. It had its own stables and there was a smaller building out back, but then a wolf loped up, chasing a deer, and it quickly decided I was a better prospect. Perhaps it thought I couldn’t run so fast. As it went down to the crackle of flames I saw a ruin atop the mountain behind the house. Perhaps at some point I would investigate. For now the house was of interest.

So. Stables, an apiary, a little covered area on the side with planters full of various growables, a little building back there that could be anything, and—‘Oh, wow,’ I thought. ‘A bathing pool complete with water coming from a hole in the rock above? Whoever owns this place must really like their luxury.’ There was a more proper garden up front with various vegetables and wheat, as well, and whoever managed to get a juniper tree to grow there had my admiration. The stable could hold three beasts and there was a fenced in area with a cow and a goat, and chickens wandered around clucking importantly.

Back at the front I noticed a piece of parchment propped up on a narrow ledge next to the door. No one was around so I sidled over to read it.

According to legend, long before this home was built, a lost and weary traveler came to this spot of land to give blessings upon Kynareth’s shrine. While the gods rarely show favoritism to mortals, She became fond of this man.

For years he traveled the lands, with renewed strength of Kynareth’s love, and spoke of Her beauty and good nature. For this man, She blessed this spot of land with Her divine power, where he and his kin lived many generations.

His line has died out now and this home is abandoned. Locked to those who aren’t worthy.

If you seek this land as your own, visit the Shrine of Kynareth here in the flower nursery. There it will be decided if you are worthy.

I will be watching.

All right.

I took a few steps back and looked at the house. I was not a particularly religious person. I didn’t think I was particularly blasphemous, either. I was not always the nicest of people; some would call me a monster. But, the worst that would happen if I wasn’t acceptable was nothing, I hoped, so I was willing to take the chance. I headed around the side into the nursery, as the note called it, despite it having more than just flowers.

After sending up a brief prayer I stepped back and prepared to leave, and was subsequently surprised when a key appeared and hovered in front of my face. What? I was acceptable? I reached out for the key after a moment, hardly daring to believe, but it easily slipped into my hand. “Thank you,” I whispered, mostly to the shrine because it was the only visible symbol of Kynareth.

I stood there for a bit longer, just dumbfounded, then finally went to the front door and carefully fit the key into the lock. It turned easily and slipped back out, and I opened the door to see a lovely home. I went inside and started looking around. There off to my right was a little area with a chair, plus some books atop a cabinet. Before me was a table with chairs enough for six. To my left was a kitchen area with a cooking spit and stew pot, plus a baking oven, and storage for goods. One side even had ethereal wisps coming from it and I wondered if it was icy cold.

Straight ahead I could see doors to either side on the short hallway and a grouping of chairs around a table. On the far wall was a fireplace with more chairs. I decided to start with the books and moved right. One of them looked like a journal, so I opened that first.

Ah, so you are worthy. What makes you worthy? Only Kynareth knows, in all Her ancient wisdom. She has decided you are, and so I follow Her will. Welcome to your new home, the Elysium Estate. This house and the exterior grounds are full of Kynareth’s blessings, which allow plants to grow in the dimmest light and the strangest of places.

As to who I am? I am The Gardener. I have been the caretaker of these grounds for many years . . . until recently. We all must go in the end, and I had a full life. My last task was to leave the worthy one this journal. This home has been left to you, the one Kynareth deemed worthy, and I will take my leave. But you can visit me out back, if you’d like.

~ The Gardener

Out back? Wait, was this Gardener person referring to the little stone plaque on the opposite side of the house from the nursery? Was that a grave, and if so, who had buried him there? Creepy. Or maybe Kynareth arranged for it in return for his service? That was . . . actually a comforting thought. I set the journal down and set about exploring.

It was awfully far from the College and it wasn’t as though I could afford to live here properly yet, but given that it had the eye of Kynareth on it I suspected it’d be safe enough for me to store some things. I could see plenty of furniture already, but it might be that I’d have to arrange for certain things to be delivered. I fully intended to learn enchanting properly at some point, after all.

The door to the left led to what I’d call a main or master bedroom. It had a desk, a ton of shelves for books or decorative items, niches for scrolls and notes and supplies, plus a lovely double bed. It also had its own bathing pool. A hole in the wall should be the thing to deliver water and a drain at the center of the pool could empty it. A bit of magic to heat the water would handle the rest.

The opposite room had five beds and another bathing pool. I would have expected to perhaps see some evidence of children, but there was none. Each bed had a chest at the end. Perhaps the children of the family had grown up and put away childish things? Or perhaps the room had been used for trusted guards or traveling companions? And on that thought, should I ever come across someone to travel with, seeing if they could enter the house would be one way to know more about them, without prying, and they would have a bed to sleep in if necessary. I found a loft. It was a bit cramped, but it’d be a nice bit of privacy. There was a small bookcase up there, a set of sleeping furs, and some shelving.

I realized once I went down into the cellar that I would not need to be purchasing anything. Straight ahead from the doors were an arcane enchanter and an alchemy lab, as well as storage space. I opened the doors to the right and saw an entire smithy awaiting me as well as storage for weapons and armor. Back through the other doors—well, I must say I’d never seen so many weapon racks in one place at once, nor armor stands. There were even displays on the walls in places where I could hang weapons or other things.

Kynareth had her eye on the place so I trusted in that and went back out to unload Horse of anything I wouldn’t need during travel and started putting things in their proper places. I noticed during the last trip that it was close to dark, so I would be staying at Elysium for the night, but that wouldn’t stop me from visiting the city and seeing what it had to offer.

A guard at the gates leaned in confidentially when I got close enough and said, “I’m telling you, I heard it. Howling. Those werewolf tales are true.”

I blinked and stepped away a few paces. Did the man not know just how many damn wolves were out there? I killed I don’t know how many on my way down from Winterhold, simply because the things just wouldn’t leave me alone. A fleeting thought of Kynareth made me wonder if I should be using calming spells instead of frying them, but. . . .

Then the other guard leaned toward me. “They say Ulfric Stormcloak murdered the High King . . . with his voice! Shouted him apart!”

Gods, guard duty must be horrifically boring if the guards ramble at anyone passing by. “That’s terrible,” I murmured, then slipped through the gates before either could say anything more. A smithy and attached shop was right there at the entrance and I noticed a sign for an inn or tavern as well. I could go left or straight ahead, and since it looked like houses up the path to the left I went straight.

As I walked I overheard a conversation between who I assumed was the blacksmith and some man arguing over an order of weapons for the Legions, but I paid it no mind. Barely beyond them another guard wandered by to confide, “One of the guards said he saw a mage appear out of thin air. Claimed it was one of those Psijic Monks. Man’s been hitting the skooma, I say.”

A faint frown creased my forehead. Why would a Psijic Monk be anywhere near Whiterun? Was there some secret cabal of wizards in the area doing experiments on things man or mer was not meant to know? I kept going and hit a marketplace with stalls, two shops, and another inn or tavern. I slipped into the shop with a sign of “Belethor’s” and was greeted heartily by a fellow Breton, but I confess I paused in doubt when he cheerfully told me he’d sell his sister if he had one. What a slimy little skeever.

I warily checked over what he had for sale and purchased a few small things, including a glass jar with holes in the lid. I knew exactly what I wanted to do with it. As I was leaving his assistant eyed my robes and pronounced that I must be a mage from up at the College! Gods help me.

Outside I saw three people arguing, two Nord males and a Nord female. Seemed her son was a Stormcloak and was missing, and she believed the two men, obviously aligned with the Imperials, knew where he was. The mockery and sarcasm they hurled at her was just brutal. Whiterun might nominally be Imperial, but I could see it’s divided in truth, just like the civil war itself has divided kith and kin.

Arcadia’s Cauldron boasted an Imperial shopkeep, who seemed rather defensive at first about her race, but then she gave me a searching look and said, “You look rather pale. It might be Ataxia. I’d be happy to sell you a remedy if you like.” Pfft. I gave her a thin smile and browsed her wares, picking up a few rare things.

“May I use your alchemy table?” I asked and moved to it when she agreed. I only wanted to mix up a couple of healing potions as a just in case, forgetting for a moment I actually owned the tools myself now.

Arcadia seemed to want to talk. She confided that she had lived in Whiterun for twenty years now and still couldn’t wrap her head around Nord customs, nor appreciate so many of them saying “Skyrim is for the Nords!” so often.

I started to just nod to show I had heard her, but reconsidered. “Some people seem to forget that Skyrim is still a part of the Empire and the Empire tends not to be racist like that.”

“Exactly right!” she agreed.

Mind, I felt I was bending the truth a little for I surely don’t recall seeing any Legionnaires out on the road who were Argonian or Khajiit, but that might be a cultural thing. I knew people of all races used to fight in the arena for coin and glory and citizens cheered madly for their team regardless of what race the combatants were.

I straightened up and shoved the potions in my pouch and smiled at Arcadia. “Well, it’s getting late and I’m sure you want to close. Thank you.”

“Come back anytime,” she invited.

It was true dark when I stepped outside so I headed to the inn I saw. I figured since I had wandered so far from the College I might as well see if there was any interesting gossip.

“You’re that one from the College. Heard about you,” the lady behind the counter said, shocking me. “I’m Hulda, by the way.”

“Heard about me?” I parroted. “How could anyone have heard about me?”

“Oh,” she said, “maybe I’m assuming. We’ve all heard about the College excavating at Saarthal. You look a bit like one of descriptions that were passed on.”

I frowned. Descriptions? What was there to describe? Mage robes, a hood that shaded the face, and odd eyes? “Uh, right. Yeah.” Already having heard some gossip that made me feel uneasy I asked her what she had for sale and ended up buying a selection of wine, mead, and ale. I would take it back to Elysium to sample. No sense in getting tipsy or worse in town when I had a house I could sleep at.

A little girl caught my eye as she seemed more than a little dirty and really did not appear to fit in with the other patrons. “What’s your story?” I asked her.

Turns out she was a beggar. Her parents were dead, aunt and uncle inherited the farm, and she was kicked out as being useless. A beggar in Whiterun advised her how to go on. Sound enough advice this far south, I supposed, but it would be better if someone would take the child in. Rather than simply accept that I bought her a meal, a room for the night, and gave her advice of my own.

“Look, Arcadia seems like a nice enough woman. Start gathering ingredients here in town, or even within sight of the town walls. You can sell them to her to get the coin for a room and food. Maybe even start learning how to make potions. There’s also nothing wrong with helping the farmers with their crops. Even I’ve done that and so far they’ve all seemed grateful for the help and they will pay some coin. There’s no reason for you to beg, Lucia. You will have to be careful with any money you earn, though. Don’t be frivolous.”

“Can’t you adopt me?” Lucia asked, almost begged.

I sighed and shook my head. “I’m a student; I sleep in what amounts to a dorm or barracks. You try this, instead of begging. I know, you’re a child and shouldn’t have to support yourself. Times aren’t easy and too many people are caught up in the war. If you can learn to be self-sufficient enough you’ll be learning something for life.”

Lucia’s expression drooped, but she nodded. “You’re still really nice,” she offered.

I smiled. “I’m going to give Hulda enough for a week of room and board, but I want you to promise me to get working on this idea, okay? Don’t run yourself into the ground, but work hard and earn your way by something other than begging.”

Lucia jumped up and hugged me. “I will, I promise!”

Once I finished my meal I spoke with Hulda, telling her of the deal and handing over a pouch of coin, then headed outside to look around some more. Up from the marketplace was a huge dead tree, a temple, a mead house (a nearby guard informed me it was Jorrvaskr, the place that woman had mentioned), a statue of Talos, and the way up to the Jarl’s palace.

I would have to check it out later, during the day, as I recalled someone saying there was a court wizard in residence who might have spell books for sale. On my way out of town I stopped at the first inn, which turned out to be just a tavern. The Bannered Mare was much more lively in comparison, but perhaps it was racism at work? The Drunken Huntsman was run by two Bosmer and sold hunting supplies, food, and drink. There was a Dunmer sellsword sitting quietly at one of the tables and I made a note of her.

The walk back to Elysium was pleasant and I was able to capture a firefly in my jar. The little thing would be fine living on pollen and given how many flowers I picked in the course of a day he should never lack for any. I glanced back at the city before I stepped into the house. I could have let Lucia live there, but it was outside of town and she would have no supervision of any kind. For all I knew she could burn the place down by accident. No, another solution would need to be found there.