Chapter 3: The Mage, The Warrior And The Thief
Eventually my eyes readjusted to the brightness of the afternoon sun, to reveal a truly beautiful view. From the mouth of the cave I could see a path tailing off into the distance, snow laden rocks to either side of it. Further down the track, which descended gently, was a lush green woodland area, tall pines hurling themselves into the sky. They were, all of them, however entirely overshadowed by the mountains in the distance. The jagged snowy peaks gave for an incredible sight as they climbed through the cloud layer and beyond. I took a step forward near to where Ralof was stood, and as I did so the sound of large wings could be heard behind, where the wreck that was Helgen remained and the dragon now swooped over. Ralof turned to face it as it made for a pass over our heads.
“Wait!” he hastily said to me, grabbing my shoulder. The dragon flew over our heads, above the great pines and off into the horizon with incredible speed, gliding through the clouds.
“There he goes. Looks like he’s gone for good, this time.” He said as he released my shoulder, turning to face the winding trail down the hill side. “No way to know if anyone else made it out alive. But this place is going to be swarming with Imperials soon enough. We’d better clear out of here”. While saying this he had begun to walk along the earthen path, I followed, at a loss as to what else I could do.
“My sister, Gerdur runs the mill in Riverwood, just up the road. I’m sure she’d help you out”. He said to me as we walked together. He broke into a jog at this point, calling after me “It’s probably better we split up. Good luck. I wouldn’t have made it without your help today!” Completely lost I hastily made after him, and together, despite his suggestion we yomped down the hillside into the great woodland spread before us. As we made our way down the air warmed and filled with the scent of rich earth, filling us with its smell, as if filling our very stomachs. Stomachs. Now that was something I had forgotten – when had I last eaten? If one thing was for certain, as soon as we arrived at Riverwood, I was going to feast like an animal. The more I thought about it, the hungrier I became, to a point of almost getting hunger cramps. I thought it best to not consider food for the rest of the journey and instead decided to focus on just keeping moving, despite my exhaustion. Ralof looked to me as we ran through the edge of the woods.
“You know, you should go to Windhelm and join the fight to free Skyrim. You’ve seen the true face of the Empire here today.” He was right, the Empire was failing. It had already begun to lose its grip on Skyrim when I was a child and as time had continued it had turned sour, sacrificing its mercy in order to dictate the future of a free land. I needed to think for a moment, though, for my entire life I had been a supporter of the Imperial forces, they were, after all my own people. A decision needed to be made, but for now my allegiances were the least of my worries. I silently followed Ralof as he continued.
“If anyone will know what the coming of the dragon means, it’s Ulfric.” He loyally stated. We carried on moving without talking for a few more paces before a cobbled road appeared to our right, and the path we were on connected with it just a little way down. That was bound to be a good sign, surely we were close to civilisation once more? And with any luck we weren’t about to be incinerated by a dragon or ambushed by Imperial forces. Eventually we came to a wooden sign post at a tee-junction in the road and followed the route for Riverwood. I remembered Hadvar calling to him and mentioning he was from there but I had no idea Helgen was so close to his home. Still, we followed the cobbles as the hill steepened towards a river at the centre of the valley. As we got to a corner, Ralof stopped and pointed into the distance to the other side of the valley.
“See that ruin over there?” I followed where he indicated and my eyes were met with a vast black ruin, like ribs jutting out from the mountainside. “Bleak Falls Barrow,” he continued “I never understood how my sister could stand living in the shadow of that place.” He shuddered “I guess you get used to it” he said merrily as he shrugged it off before carrying on around the corner, descending towards the river. At a sharp bend in the road he slowed a little, looking towards three distinct standing stones changing his course and ran straight for them. A little confused I followed, almost a little irritated by the diversion. He stopped and stood by them.
“These are the Guardian Stones, three of the thirteen ancient standing stones that dot Skyrim’s landscape.” He smiled to me “Go ahead, see for yourself.” I tiredly made for them, my legs now feeling like lead weights. Looking at them, they appeared almost magical, with distinct carvings made upon them traced over several distinct marks. Each were the same size, but with different carvings. One had a great bearded man wielding a staff, probably to signify a mage. Another had a heavily armoured man, shield in one hand, war axe in the other, to show him as a warrior. The third appealed to me above all others – a cloaked man running, dagger in one hand, coin purse in the other. I touched the stone, tracing my fingers over his face, the smooth stone seeming to warm at my touch. Suddenly without warning my hand was thrown from it and a hole in the top of the stone filled with a blue light. More lights then spread throughout the stone, joining together the markings made beneath the carving. A little confused and taken aback I stepped towards Ralof, facing the stone to see what it would do next, and as I did so a third light shot through the top of the stone into the sky beyond where my eyes could see. Ralof laughed a little.
“Thief eh? It’s never too late to take charge of your own fate, you know.” I turned to him, completely stunned by what I had seen and he laughed again before turning away and continuing along the track. As we made our way along the river I felt a little strange, why I felt strange I couldn’t say, but the standing stone had changed something within me, I felt as though I was more aware, as though I was lighter in step and softer in touch. Strange, I know, but it confused me. After a long silence between us Ralof turned to me again, still running.
“Remember, this isn’t Stormcloak territory. If we’re ahead of the news from Helgen we should be fine as long as we don’t do anything stupid.” He smirked again. For a man who was due for the headsman’s block a few hours ago he was certainly in a very good mood. “If we run into any Imperials, just let me do the talking, alright?” We both carried on along the path, we were now coming up to a gentle incline on the road, the ground to our right was less densely filled with trees than before and more ground was visible, it was as I scanned the bank that I caught a glimpse of something moving, and then another thing. It was dark, under the shade of the trees though, so I couldn’t be sure. I reluctantly pulled my sight away and continued after Ralof, now a few paces ahead. Then I heard it. A deafening howl came from the bank on our right, as a wolf jumped for Ralof. As if instinctively he drew his axe and evaded the attack as I pulled an arrow from my quiver and drew it in my bow. Ralof hacked at the first wolf as a second, the one who had howled, descended the bank and headed towards him. I released the arrow as Ralof put down the first wolf and the second yelped as my arrow struck its hind leg. Ralof, now finished with the first attacker turned on the second, punching his axe through the wolf’s skull, killing it instantly. He withdrew the axe and the wolf collapsed to the ground. We both dusted ourselves down and lowered our guard. It was then that a third, larger wolf lunged at Ralof. I could do nothing as it made a bite for his arm, except try to ready another arrow. By this point, Ralof had drawn his axe and was slashing at the wolf’s legs. I readied the shot and fired, killing the wolf with an arrow to the neck. As it fell I saw something shine from within its fur, once more the thief within taking over, I moved as swift as a cat towards it, and pulled an Amethyst from the thick hair of the larger wolf. Ralof, tending to his wound with a potion winced as he drank it, but its effects were instant, and before my eyes I watched the holes in his skin cover over with new skin. It always did fascinate me how these potions were so effective so quickly. He dropped the vial and began to run again, without a word we continued, short of breath and utterly exhausted from our struggle.
“I’m glad you decided to come with me.” Ralof eventually said, breathing hard just to get the words out. “We’re almost at Riverwood.” He then puffed. One final push along the road and around a corner, and as if it were always there, it appeared in view. Riverwood. We had made it, exhausted, hungry and wounded we trudged to the entryway of the village, utterly elated that we had made it this far. From what I could see as I walked in, Riverwood was a peaceful place, filled with wooden and thatched houses, much like Helgen, and busy with lumber workers and their families. I followed Ralof as we made to cross over an intersection in the river to a small island like patch of land.
“Looks like nobody here knows what happened yet. Come one. Gerdur’s probably working in her lumber mill.” As we crossed the water it was clear that the island was the main section of the mill, a water wheel driving a saw blade and a huge pile of lumber at the far end. Slowly we made our way around the side of the mill, past several piles of lumber, chopped and sawn. An elf walked past, one of the Bosmer, hunting bow at his back, arms laden with firewood. There are no finer archers in Tamrial than the Bosmer, it is said. They are born with an innate ability to be able shoot bows with incredible power and accuracy, it’s an ability any man or orc would be lucky to learn. As we turned a corner around the back of the mill a Nord woman could be seen leaning over a wooden table.
“Gerdur!” Called Ralof to her.
“Brother! Mara’s mercy, it’s good to see you!” she replied, “but is it safe for you to be here?”
“We heard that Ulfric had been captured!”
“Gerdur, I’m fine. At least now I am.”
“Are you hurt? What’s happened?” she enquired “and who’s this? One of your comrades?” she said, looking to me, completely confused as to what we were doing there and what was going on.
“Not a comrade yet, but a friend.” Ralof said, looking at me with a smile. “I owe him my life in fact” At this point I felt a little embarrassed, but tried to not show it as best as I could. “Is there somewhere we can talk?” He continued “There’s no telling when the news from Helgen will reach the Imperial–”
“Helgen?” Interrupted Gerdur, “Has something happened…? You’re right, follow me.” She turned around and began to walk away before stopping and calling back to one of the mill workers “Hod! Come here a minute. I need your help with something.” A voice came from a distance away
“What is it? Sven drunk on the job again?”
“Hod. Just come here.” She reiterated
“Ralof!” Came the voice again “What are you doing here? I-I’ll be right down!” We carried on a little further over to a huge tree stump where the small group of us were about to start conversing when a small boy ran up to us. Like a little whirlwind he threw a hundred questions at Ralof at once. Poor man.
“Uncle Ralof! Can I see your axe? How many Imperials have you killed? Do you really know Ulfric Stormcloak?” He asked, VERY quickly. Gerdur stepped in at this point, as any mother would.
“Hush, Frodnar. This is no time for your games. Go and watch the south road. Come find us if you see any Imperial soldiers coming.”
“Aww, mama, I want to stay and talk with Uncle Ralof!” moaned Frodnar. The whole event seemed to cheer up Ralof rather a lot, with a big smile on his face he knelt to be at the boy’s level.
“Look at you, almost a grown man!” he exclaimed, “Won’t be long until you’ll be joining the fight yourself.” This made the child smile a great big beaming grin.
“That’s right! Don’t worry Uncle Ralof, I won’t let those soldiers sneak up on you.” With that he turned and ran away towards the south of Riverwood to watch the road we had just travelled on. Running back across the bridge he nearly knocked off one man, who was headed towards us. A large blonde haired man, very classically Nordic in how he looked, arms the size of small trees, hair like honey and a voice like a bear just to top it off.
“Now, Ralof” he said as he approached. This man was Hod, who Gerdur had just called for. “What’s going on? You two look pretty well done in.” he said, eying is both up and down. Ralof perched on the tree stump.
“I can’t remember when I last slept” he began “Where to start? Well, the news you heard about Ulfric was true. The Imperials ambushed us outside of Darkwater Crossing like they knew exactly where we’d be. That was… two days ago, now. We stopped in Helgen this morning, and I thought it was all over.” While saying this he began to look far more sinister, recalling the events brought back the memory of the Stormcloak who had been executed and he choked back tears while continuing. “Had us lined up the headsman’s block and ready to start chopping.”
“The cowards!” interjected Gerdur.
“They wouldn’t dare give Ulfric a fair trial. Treason, for fighting for your own people! All of Skyrim would have seen the truth then.” He paused, playing up to the suspense he began to settle into the story, enjoying telling it a little more “But then… out of nowhere… a dragon attacked!”
“You don’t mean, a real, live…” Gerdur slowly asked.
“I can hardly believe it myself, and I was there. As strange as it sounds, we’d be dead if not for that dragon. In the confusion, we managed to slip away.” He stopped, with a look of disbelief “Are we really the first to make it to Riverwood?”
“Nobody else has come up the south road today, as far as I know” Gerdur replied.
“Good. Maybe we can lay up for a while. I hate to put your family in danger, Gerdur, but–“
“Nonsense.” She interrupted “You and your friend are welcome to stay here as long as you need. Let me worry about the imperials.” She said with a harsh tone to her voice. Then she turned to me and said “Any friend of Ralof’s is a friend of mine. Here’s the key to the house, take what you like – within reason of course.” With this she allowed me access to what she owned, and so I took all that was offered. Some food, ale, a couple of healing potions, a lock pick and a silver garnet ring. It wasn’t much, but it would get me started. Some food and a good night’s rest was all I needed right then, and so I went ahead and took it.
“There is something you can do for me, though, for all of us. The Jarls needs to know if there’s a dragon on the loose. We need to get word to Jarl Balgruuf to send whatever troops he can.”
“Thank you, sister. I knew we could count on you” graciously said Ralof.
“I ought to get back to work before I’m missed, but… did anyone else escape? Did Ulfric…”
“Don’t worry. I’m sure he made it out. It’ll take more than a dragon to stop Ulfric Stormcloak. I’ll let them into the house and, you know, show them where everything is.”
“Hmph, help them drink up our mead, you mean. Good luck, brother. I’ll see you later.” To this Ralof smirked again.
“Don’t worry about me. I know how to lay low” he joked. After this, everyone upped and left, leaving me to stand alone on this small island in Riverwood. This is where the real adventure would begin, but first thing was first, I needed to get some sleep.