Grazhir :: Skyrim :: Yvara :: 30

29052015

9.2

Interlude

Rain’s Hand, 14th, 4E 202

Talked to Uthgerd at the Bannered Mare. She was both boasting and complaining. After I inquired she said, “You been talking to those Companions? ‘Too hot-headed’, they cried. Weak, pathetic cowards, the lot of them!”

Right. “Why did the Companions reject you?”

“It wasn’t my fault! I told them over and over that it was an accident! They wanted me to prove my worth, so they threw me up against a young whelp of a lad, hardly old enough to grow his first chin-hairs. I guess they thought a woman wasn’t strong enough to hurt him.”

‘Oh gods, don’t ever let Aela hear you say something like that. Or Ria. Or Njada.’

“I didn’t mean for him to die! Why would I want that? I just . . . I just lost control,” she finished, sounding, well, not exactly ashamed, but almost sulky.

I nodded. Sounded to me like she was a berserker, and not someone I’d trust at my back in a battle, not that I would be willing—generally speaking—to haul a heavy armor-wearing blade wielder around. Still, I was curious, so I said, “Think you can take me on?”

“And why not?” she said confidently. “I could beat anyone in this city, bare-handed. A hundred gold says I knock your hide to the ground.”

Naturally, I beat the stuffing out of her. She took it really well, though, and I got to have some fun. After that I headed back out with a mind to perhaps visit Farkas and happened to notice Danica sitting on a bench at the Gildergreen. I’d heard her lamenting over that damn tree often enough, so I finally stopped and asked her what the deal was.

“The Gildergreen, yes,” she said, glancing back over her shoulder. “It’s a bit of an eyesore at the moment. More of a problem for the pilgrims than for me, but not many of them are around anymore.”

It was a tree. “What’s so special about it?”

“To the east of here is a hidden grove where the Eldergleam resides. It’s the oldest living thing in Skyrim. Maybe in all of Tamriel. Our tree here in the city was grown from a cutting of that tree. You can still feel the glory of the mother tree through it. Even its name is an echo.”

Okay, it was the baby of an ancient tree. “And is there no way to revive it?”

“I’ve thought about that. . . . Trees like this never really die. They only slumber. I think if we had some of the sap from the parent tree, we could wake up its child. But even if you could get to the Eldergleam, you couldn’t tap it. Not with any normal metal.”

‘Then how did anyone get a cutting of it in the first place?’ I wondered.

She then went on to speak of a blade called Nettlebane, and I agreed to go fetch it, if only to stop having to see her moping around outside when she should be enjoying her breaks from healing in the temple.

I stopped in with Farengar to sell a few things, pick up a few spell tomes, and then I checked with Avenicci for any bounties. He gave me one for the bandit leader at Valtheim Towers. Gods above, bandits did love that place, so the target of the bounty was of no surprise to me.

It was . . . kind of sad, really. Not all of the damage done during the assault on Whiterun had been repaired. One of the homes was inaccessible and the trellises around the Gildergreen were tilted or still resting on the ground. And I realized, Heimskr wasn’t out there preaching and his house had been badly damaged. I think he might have died that night. Sad, too, since he was a staunch Talos worshiper, but the Stormcloak attack . . . well.

Farther along, closer to the gates, I saw Lydia. She was being just as rude to the non-Nords as ever. Sure, she toned it down some for her Thane (who might well have been a short Nord for all she knew), but for a random Breton in town? Oh, no, full speed ahead with the disdain. She was lucky I didn’t send her off to the afterlife early.

It was a leisurely walk to the bandits, picking flowers and exchanging greetings with the guards out and about on patrol. They seemed a lot less tense now that the overt threat posed by Ulfric was gone. Dragons were a cause for panic, but they knew those could be killed, so. . . .

I detoured to a cave I’d passed a thousand times. Found a note on one of the bandits outside; he was in no shape to object to me rifling through his pockets. Someone, quite possibly the same bandit, liked to play tricks on people, including some watchman. But the way it read almost made it seem as though the watchman could no longer see.

But since it was bandits and bandits should generally be eradicated, I went inside. The first thing I saw was a long passageway with a desk and chair fairly near the entrance. An old man was sitting there. I attempted to sneak up on him for a snack, but he had excellent hearing. Well, he also made for an excellent meal. The rest of the place almost wasn’t worth the effort. They had to be new to banditry because they had next to no gold and all of them went down so quickly . . . wow.

Found another cave along the way, but it just had some dead bandits and some trolls. Barely worth mentioning.

I finally got to the tower, little harmless me, picking flowers along the way. But what was that? The bandits were all shooting arrows at something. I got closer and realized—a mudcrab in the river? Seriously?

The terms of the bounty only obligated me to kill the leader, but I got them all, even though I did have to drop my summon in some very odd places due to them going after that mudcrab like a bunch of crazed skeevers.

Some time later, as I was making my way toward where Amren said that sword was, a dragon came out of nowhere and toasted a bunch of Thalmor (such a tragedy) and then attacked me. Thankfully it was well after dark by that point so I could handle the problem, absorb the soul, and get well away before anyone in the area could investigate and realize they weren’t seeing the Dragonborn.

The camp Amren spoke of was actually all the way back toward Whiterun and to the northeast, roughly. There were four bandits outside and the only one who put up a decent fight was the mage. I could not find the sword, however, so I was obviously missing something. ‘Yeah,’ I thought, ‘like that damn mine entrance over there, or what looks to be one.’

It was. I was shocked to realize, while I was otherwise occupied with seeing just how well the bandits down there could burn, that they had somehow managed to get a mammoth in there. Was there some secret spell I was unaware of that temporarily shrank things? I of course used my trusty pick on all the delicious ore veins, stripped down the mammoth and looted all the tusks from the place, and headed on out.

Rain’s Hand, 15th, 4E 202

Found that giant camp with the strange purple tree again. I had obviously roamed a bit farther than I had intended. But as I noticed a cave there, I ducked inside. Sneaked by a giant in there and looted its chest, then investigated a dead orc. He had a note from Ysolda of Whiterun. It was . . . intriguing. Apparently Ysolda was a drug pusher. I would have to speak with her when I got back.

There was a giant stomping after me as I hastened off. Dead giant, more like. I don’t generally like killing them, but if they were that persistent—oh, wait, no. He was just taking his mammoth for a walk. I rolled my eyes and sprinted a bit to get away from the constant ground shaking.

Stumbled into Rorikstead. I really needed to get a better sense of direction, stop cutting cross-country, and/or stop getting distracted by silly things like butterflies. There was a young man there (rather attractive, too—I wouldn’t say no to sneaking up behind him while he slept for a little nibble) by the name of Erik.

“You look like you’ve seen your share of adventure. I envy you that.”

I think I hurt myself trying so hard not to laugh.

“In fact, maybe you can help me with something.”

“Hm?”

“I want to be an adventurer like you, but my father says I can’t. He says he needs me to stay here and work the farm, and even if he did let me be an adventurer, we couldn’t afford to buy armor. His name’s Mralki, and he’s the innkeeper here. I hope you can change his mind.”

He was tasty looking, so I asked more. “You lived here all your life?”

“My father was a soldier. He fought in the Great War and when it was over, he retired here to raise a family. My mother passed away when I just a babe, so he did his best to raise me on his own. It’s not the most exciting place in the world, but the people here work hard and don’t cause trouble for anyone.”

“The crops I’ve seen passing by seem to be thriving,” I remarked.

“It’s true. For as long as I can remember our crops have always done well. I’m not sure whether it’s the soil, the climate, or the favor of the Divines, but we’ve never had a poor harvest.”

I nodded. It could be any of those things. “I’ll . . . see what I can do.”

“Thank you,” he said. “I can’t stand the thought of being trapped in this village for the rest of my days.”

So, I went over to the man behind the counter and said, “I would like to speak with you about Erik.”

“My son? What about him? Did something happen? Is he all right?”

I glanced over my shoulder; yes, Erik was still standing right there in plain sight. I had an overprotective mama bear on my hands, then. Well, papa bear. “Perhaps you should let your son choose the life he so badly wants.”

Mralki shook his head almost violently. “But the world is a dangerous place! Erik has no idea what he’s getting himself into. What’s more, he’s got no armor. I’ll have to save up the money for it.”

‘ “I’ll have to”?’ I thought. ‘Not “I would have to”? Weird.’ I set my expression to somewhere between sympathetic and stern. “You’d prefer your son to grow bitter and resent you? There are dragons out there still, friend, and bandits, and thieves. No matter how much you try to keep him away from the world, the world will come looking at some point. Should he not know how to defend himself?”

The corners of his mouth drooped down unhappily. “I—I cannot deny the truth of what you say,” he admitted. “Erik is all the family that I have left, but it’s wrong to hold him back as I have. Go and tell Erik that I’ve changed my mind. I’ll see about borrowing some money in Whiterun for his armor.”

I gave him a smile and nodded. Of course, then I made the mistake of asking about any rumors of interest, and Mralki gossiped about Falion again. I swear, these Nords just love being all freaked out by magic. Back over by Erik I let him know the news.

“I can’t thank you enough, friend. I hope you’ll come back to Rorikstead soon and pay me a visit. Maybe we can swap stories about our adventures over a mug of ale at the inn!”

‘Some of the tamer ones, perhaps,’ I thought. I was very tempted to take Erik out myself, just so that he had someone, you know, competent nearby when he first ventured out into the uncertain world and blooded himself. But, until he had armor that would be a fool’s game. Perhaps later down the road.

There were more of those intense fellows from Hammerfell at the inn. Finally decided to ask them what the damn fuss was about. “She sold the city out to the Aldmeri Dominion,” the taller one said. “Were it not for her betrayal, Taneth could have held its ground in the war. The other noble houses discovered her betrayal and she fled. They want her brought back alive. The resistance against the Dominion is alive and well in Hammerfell, and they want justice.”

Well now. I couldn’t sense any hint of deception, but I’d have to give the woman a look-see before I decided. I was fairly certain it was that Redguard at the Bannered Mare. She had the “scar”, or what I assumed was it.

I figured I would make my way back to Whiterun, but I’d swing by Orphan Rock first, even though it meant going down by Helgen. Blech. On a side note, Lemkil, a farmer there in Rorikstead, was a very bitter man. His wife had died years ago, leaving him with two girls. He was bitter and hated the kids, and the eldest daughter liked to bully the younger one relentlessly. Sad. But I wasn’t about to off the father just so the kids could be sent to Riften and have to suffer the dubious affections of Grelod the Kind.

Along the way I summoned Arniel for a fight with some fauna. He seemed to prefer shock spells, but yeah, he sounded like a Dead Thrall. A sad end for a nervous and sad man.

Saw an ore vein and went for it. Got attacked by a necromancer and her raised servant for my troubles. Got the ore, of course. And then I was passing through Falkreath, which I had not intended. I seemed to recall that forever ago a courier had brought me a message from the Jarl there. I supposed I could stop in and see what he wanted, if indeed he still wanted whatever it was, except that I honestly didn’t care to. Not then, anyway.

The fog was just awful. I came at Helgen from the mountain, which made it harder to just sneak around it. Ended up in one of the towers in pursuit of one of the bandits who had taken over the place. Not good memories being in that ruinous place. I didn’t see the point in entering the keep itself. If the bandits in there were so deep in their cups as to not hear the utter ruckus outside, well. . . . I hated Helgen, and I’d rather not relive any more of it than I had to.

I . . . happened to look up at the moon, Masser, from Orphan Rock and just stared. Four or more dragons up there, flying around, weaving back and forth between the pink-red of Masser and the indigo-black of the sky. It made me feel kind of hollow. And joyous.

Headed north and cut through a ruin I’d gone through during my Destruction Mastery quest. Worked my way down the mountainside and dropped into Riverwood in time to be embarrassed for Brynjolf’s sake by a very inept thief being caught and killed on the road through town. I decided to get some rest—it wasn’t like Delphine was there any longer, so I needn’t worry about seeing her and erupting in fury, even if she wouldn’t have recognized me. I kept meaning to at least check in on them, but. . . .

Rain’s Hand, 16th, 4E 202

It was not long after midnight and plenty of people were still awake at the inn, Hadvar amongst them. I was glad to see he was still alive, and pleased that he also didn’t recognize me. Perhaps it took a thief of quality to spy those similarities.

Before I could bespeak a room I was waylaid by the bard, Sven. “Faendal thinks he can woo Camilla Valerius away from me,” he confided to me. “She’s already mine, I keep telling him.” He mistook my blank look for interest and continued, “She knows I’m the best man in Riverwood. That elf is kidding himself if he thinks she would choose him over me.”

‘And maybe she’s not a racist skeever like you.’

“I’ve seen him sneaking over to the Riverwood Trader to speak with her when I’m not around. He’s wasting his time.”

I nodded thoughtfully. “Yes. Two people spending time together never blossoms into courtship.”

“Is that sarcasm?” he said with a frown—I was surprised he even knew what sarcasm was. “I’ve heard better wisecracks from Orgnar. Still, you have a point. Camilla letting Faendal visit her isn’t a good thing for me. Here,” he said, fetching something from his pocket and practically pushing it into my hand. “Let me give you a particularly venomous letter. Say it’s from Faendal. That should get Camilla to stop inviting the elf over.”

Oh, I would deliver the letter, but I would be honest with her about the circumstances surrounding it. Using that kind of tactic to get the lady you wanted? Such malicious and vulgar dishonesty? No.

Orgnar was happy to confide in me that, “We’ve got something of a love triangle here in Riverwood. Faendal and Sven, both vying for Camilla’s affections.” But then he succeeded in annoying me by saying, “Nobody trusts those mages, way up north in their College. Gods only know what they do up there.”

‘We hold secret parties in the Middens and take turns summoning Dremora to sacrifice sweet rolls and jazbay crostatas to,’ I thought. ‘Those Dremora have a fierce sweet tooth.’ I would actually say that to the man, but I just knew it’d come back to bite me on the ass later on. As I turned away from him to head to my room I noticed my Dremora Lord had somehow acquired a tankard of something and was dancing around in a goofy sort of way to whatever it was Sven was singing. I found myself to be a little stunned at that.

After some sleep I headed on over the see Camilla. She and her brother were having some kind of argument when I walked into the shop, but I confess I was distracted by the two thieves running around their shop-cum-home in full Thieves Guild gear. Once I stopped wondering if those two were fronting an independent thieving ring I moved to speak to Camilla. She was suitably disgusted with Sven’s behavior and thanked me for my intervention. She did ask me to speak briefly with Faendal, so I got that out of the way before leaving town.

In Whiterun a bit later I ran into Amren on the way to see Danica and handed over his sword. He taught me one of his father’s techniques, board and sword. Whatever. Danica, as expected, asked me to retrieve the sap for her because she didn’t want to touch Nettlebane. ‘But it’s okay for me to tainted, is that it?’

After she wandered off to presumably heal one of the patients in there an Imperial quick-stepped over to me. “Was I correct in hearing that you were traveling to the grove of the Eldergleam?”

And I thought I was nosy. “Can I help you?”

“I am a traveler. A pilgrim. I follow the voice of Kynareth wherever it can be heard. I’ve dreamed of seeing Eldergleam for years. Might I travel alongside you? I promise not to get in the way.”

‘Oh, why not. At least he’s an Imperial. Odds are I won’t have to hear racist comments or listen to him rabbit on about how mages are all Oblivion-bent milk-drinking cowards.’ “Sure.”

“I thank you for your kindness.”

Well now. He was obviously an educated man and not from the lower classes, not with that kind of diction. He tagged along as I headed up to Dragonsreach to turn in the bounty. Avenicci paid me a whole one hundred septims. I was overwhelmed with gratitude.

Farengar was eating so I declined to pester him.

At the Bannered Mare I asked the Imperial fellow—Maurice, I think his name was—to wait while I took care of something real quick, then wandered into the kitchen area to speak with the Redguard woman. She led me upstairs to her little room and pulled a dagger on me. I just gave her an unimpressed stare and mentioned the Alik’r warriors after her.

I carefully took note of her reaction, her scent, her words, and her manner as she explained her side of the story. She was shifty, uneasy, and not because people were after her. That meant she was lying to me. I decided to err on the side of the Alik’r and told her I had seen a number of them outside the city and it was obvious they had discovered her location.

“What? How? I thought they weren’t allowed within the city!”

I shrugged and smiled crookedly, kind of sadly. “There are ways into this city that aren’t the main gates,” I pointed out. “You should probably get out of here.”

“But where will I go?” she protested. “I can’t keep running forever!”

“It’s obvious that you desperately need some help, so let me go scout out where precisely they are and see about giving you a way to flee that isn’t just on foot. There’s no point in haring off wildly. But keep yourself out of sight as much as possible in case they get in before I return.”

She seemed fine with that so I returned downstairs and collected Maurice. It wasn’t until I was a ways on that I remembered I had forgotten to speak with Ysolda about that note, but I could do that when I got back.

Valtheim Towers showed evidence of a fresh infestation of bandits. I had only just cleared the place out, it seemed! Maurice cowered behind a damn rock while I took care of it. Farther along I was pleased to see Imperial Legion banners flying from a fort up ahead, telling me ahead of time I would not be having to fend off more bandits.

Maurice seemed a little shocked by the bathers at the hot springs, but. . . . pfft.

I was extremely unhappy to realize that the only way up to the tree itself was by threatening the root system with Nettlebane—even with how high and how well I could jump I could not get past the massive roots without brandishing Nettlebane.

I had just made it to the top when Maurice snapped out of whatever fantasy he was enjoying simply by being at the Eldergleam Sanctuary and rushed over to me. “I had no idea you were a woman of violence,” he said, aghast. “What exactly are you intending to do here?”

I rolled my eyes. “Were you sleeping during all those fights I had to deal with to get us here? I’m sure those rock formations you kept staring at on the way were absolutely fascinating, but really. As for what I intend to do, I’m not actually sure. I happen to like Kynareth, so the idea of doing what Danica wants is more than a little blasphemous and unsettling.”

“What is it she wants?” he asked, frowning.

“She wants sap from the Eldergleam to fix the Gildergreen.”

“That’s abominable. Barbaric. I’ll have no part of that.”

‘Nobody asked you to.’ “I am open to suggestions. Do you have any ideas as to how to approach this issue?”

“Well . . . yes. There is something. It won’t repair the tree back at the temple, but we could bring them a new one.”

“How so?”

“Follow me,” he said. “I think I can convince the tree to help us.”

Well all right, then. I trailed behind as he approached the tree. He knelt down and started praying. I was more than a little shocked at the result. Perhaps I should have tried prayer to get past the roots?

“The Eldergleam has blessed us with a sapling.”

‘The Eldergleam? Or Kynareth?’

“You should take it to Whiterun. Danica will want to see that the true blessings of nature lie in renewal, not a slavish maintenance.”

“An interesting way to look at it,” I said with a nod, then carefully picked up the sapling. “Thank you for finding a much more palatable solution.”

“It was my pleasure, friend. In a way, I envy you getting to carry such a direct sign of Kynareth's graces. Good luck on your travels. May Kynareth’s wind carry only the sweetest scents.”

Right. I could only take so much flowery talk. I gave him a smile and hastened off. It was tempting to swim out into the Sea of Ghosts and drop the damn dagger. Imagine if Danica had asked a Bosmer to do this task?

Night had fallen while we were inside—Maurice stayed, actually—which was fine. If a dragon attacked I’d rather not have people see me clearly, and there was one on a peak in the hot springs area.

Rain’s Hand, 17th, 4E 202

I managed to run down some of those Alik’r warriors on my way back and told them what I intended to do regarding the fugitive. They assured me they would be ready for me to bring her out that day.

With that done I hurried home, got some rest, and went back into Whiterun. Ysolda spun an interesting story that didn’t entirely jibe with the note I’d found, but. . . . I declined to sell her any of the sap I’d looted from the place. It was all edging into territory I wasn’t at all thrilled about. If her supplier was dead, maybe that’d be the end of it. Or maybe she’d find some other brave fool to make the runs for her.

On my way to Danica a guard confided that, “I caught a glimpse of that captured dragon. It was . . . beautiful. In its own way.”

Danica seemed a bit impatient when she said, “Do you have the Eldergleam sap?”

I raised my brows at the tone and said, “No. I have a sapling.”

“But. . . . I can’t run the Temple without the support of the people who are inspired by the Gildergreen. How can this little tree bring new worshipers?”

I eyed her sadly. “For one thing, I donate to the Temple in every town I visit. Having a mighty Gildergreen isn’t the only reason people donate. For another, Maurice, the man responsible for getting this sapling without any violence, wanted me to pass on a message to you. He said: Renewal is more important than maintenance.”

She looked shamed. “I—you’re right, of course. It can be hard to hear the winds of Kynareth when all you hear are the rabble in the temple.”

‘Well now. Maybe if you stopped thinking of them as a disorderly mob of commoners rather than worshipers. . . .’

“Death feeds new life,” she added. “I’m sure that, in time, this little sapling will grow into a new Gildergreen that will tower over Whiterun. Thank you.”

I left it at that. It really wasn’t my place to lecture people on their idiocy. That Redguard lady was next. I told her I had a horse waiting for her. That I had rarely seen any Alik’r down by Riverwood and that area, so perhaps she could head for the pass and into Cyrodiil.

“After all this, I have to pick up and leave again?” she said unhappily. “If you really think this is the only way, I trust you. Let’s not waste any time.”

Down at the stables the leader of those Alik’r was waiting, hidden by the wall of the house there next to the stables themselves. As soon as he saw the woman he sent out a paralyzation spell at her. “We meet at last, my dear lady,” he said, staring into her panicked eyes. “You didn’t really expect to manipulate people forever, did you? Your luck had to run out sometime.”

To me he said, “Now, we’ll take our friend here back to Hammerfell, where she will pay the price for her treason.

“I sincerely trust she won’t be harmed on that journey,” I pressed.

“Not on the way back. Once she gets there, it’s not up to me to decide what’s done with her. And as for you, I owe you a portion of the reward, don’t I? Well, here you go. Spend it wisely, and if I may. . . . Don’t allow yourself to be fooled by a pretty face. You’re better than that.”

As I watched him haul off his bounty I scowled. What in Oblivion was that supposed to have meant? If I’d been fooled by a pretty face—and she was pretty—I’d not have lured her to be captured. On the other hand, it had paid well.

I took care of any number of tasks at Elysium before I decided, on a whim, to pack up my collection of Dragon Priest masks and check out that weird place at Labyrinthian. The little structure seemed ready-made to place all of them, but I admitted I had only poked my nose in briefly as I’d had more pressing things to do usually when I cut through the area. I was curious to see what would happen, if anything, and if I lost them, well, they were just decorating the place anyway.

Rain’s Hand, 18th, 4E 202

Standing there, paying attention—that display? There was a wooden mask on the ground, a skeleton, and a note, part of which read: “He’s put on that mask and vanished.” And then: “Well, after a while we didn’t know what to do, and Groz picks her gear up to head home, when he poofs back, that mask in his hand.”

The mercenaries were entirely too creeped out by the man poofing in and out with that mask and promised to put a dagger through his chest if he showed up again before they took off at sunrise. Considering that there was a skeleton, I’d say they killed him.

So, I picked up the mask and wore it. It was like . . . going back in time. There were chests, urns, and the place looked almost new. But the door out was blocked. The mask display was unharmed, also like new, so I fetched out my mask collection and starting putting them in place. Placement of the final one caused the dragon head at the center to lift up and reveal another mask. I retrieved it, plus the ones I’d brought, and prayed that removing the wooden mask would return me to whence I came.

It did.

I was almost back to Elysium, nearly at the very walls, when two sabre cats attacked. And when they were dead I saw four bandits strolling by, easy as you please. Then they saw me and the game was on. Honestly. The guards over at the watchtower didn’t even bother to help.

I decided, after seeing Valdimar look so miserable when he didn’t realize I was eyeing him, that I’d take him with me. To that end I went down into the cellar and crafted him some much better armor than he had, along with a sword and bow. I didn’t actually know if he’d use the bow, but it was more of a “just in case”.

He looked really nice when I was done!

Decided to take him to find Red Eagle’s Sword, something I had read about ages and ages ago. Spotted a Thalmor patrol on the road, so I paused. Valdimar already knew I was unfond of them so he didn’t bother to question it.

We made it to Old Hroldan Inn before sunset so I got us rooms. It was very quiet there, just as it was previously, so we sat companionably at one of the tables. I mostly played with my food as he ate. Eventually he worked himself up to comment on my summon.

I took that to mean he questioned why have him along if I used a summon, so I replied, “Yeah, he’s all right. I’m still working on my Conjuration so I keep summoning him any time a new hostile approaches. He’s odd, though. I caught him dancing to a bard’s tunes not too long ago. I had no idea Dremora liked music.”