Chapter 5: Making An Impression
As the guard made each step closer to me, his leather boots kicking up the dust and small stones beneath them, he broke into a defensive stance looking me up and down from behind his full faced helmet, probably thinking to himself about what a state I was in and whether I was ‘worthy’ to pass the great threshold of the main gates.
“Halt.” He said, stepping intrusively close, “City’s closed with the dragons about, official business only.” Holding my ground, our faces mere inches apart I simply declared to him in full confidence;
“I have news from Helgen about the dragon attack”. A little taken aback by what came from the mouth of me, a half dead wreck of a man, he stepped away, maintaining eye contact he slowly replied.
“Fine. But we’ll be keeping an eye on you.” Walking past him, almost brushing shoulders, I stared down the other guard who seemingly terrified, turned away, perhaps he was new. He certainly didn’t know how to react to me.
As I stepped through the heavy doors and into Whiterun I was met by a glint of the evening sun which tinted the sky a pale orange as it descended into the mountains on the horizon. The main entrance and perhaps the only, for I wasn’t sure of the city’s layout, opened up directly into a sprawling mess of shops, stalls and other sales locations. On my left as I walked into the lower area of the settlement was the guard house. It was a small building, built out of huge hunks of granite, thrown together and given a wooden door and windows, despite its simplicity I’m sure it did its job, keeping the guards of Whiterun warm and dry while not on duty. To my right was a smithy, ‘Warmaiden’s’ read the sign. Outside stood two people, a man and a woman, who were conversing about weaponry for the Imperial forces, the man in full Imperial light armour forcefully asking the woman, the smith, judging by her outfit, to forge more swords for the legionnaires. She denied, claiming the order to be of too great a size, saying something about how she couldn’t ‘fill an order that size on her own’. She proceeded to offer another smith’s name forward, insulted, the imperial rudely denied the offer and thus the woman’s argument was lost, she accepted the order feebly while the imperial stomped off towards the nearest inn which was, conveniently, just behind him across the street. Short of daylight I decided to stop people watching and ascended through the town, for it was built on a slope. The lowest area appeared to be consisting of commercial businesses; stores and the like. The next area was built up of private homes and clan houses, above these, on the final level, was the famous Dragonsreach. Although I had never been here, I had heard of Dragon’s Reach in tales many times before – it apparently gained its name when King Olaf (or Olaf ‘One Eye’ as he was also known) captured the great dragon Numinex, imprisoning him and mortifying him before the hold before finally slaying the beast. I pondered over the story as I made my way slowly through the homes of the many people who lived here, stopping by a vast tree in the centre of a courtyard below the steps leading to Dragonsreach. Gazing at the decaying tree I made my way past it, and climbed the many flights of stairs past another of the guards (which gave me an odd look, as my half destroyed armour flapped about while I ran past). Sprinting the final few steps, and bursting through the entry way of the keep I ran directly into the point of a steel sword, held steady at the other end by a rather irate looking Dunmer warrior.
“What’s the meaning of this interruption?” she ordered “Jarl Balgruuf is not receiving visitors!” Choked by the blade holding me in place I coughed out a reply
“I have news from Helgen.” She lowered the blade a little, her face softening “About the dragon attack” I continued.
“Well, that explains why the guards let you in. Come on then, the Jarl will want to speak with you personally.” She said with a shocked expression, lowering her sword. Once the sword was lowered I finally felt safe to continue and breathing out finally, I followed the woman past a huge fire in the centre of a grand dining area, tables filled with silver-wear and a huge amount of food – more than I can recall form any other tables in my life time. We stopped as we came before a throne, upon it was sat a tall man, tall by even Nordic standards. His golden beard merged with his hair as it lay across his chest, he wore a blue and tunic with grand decorations made upon it, further accessories such as necklaces and brooches added purely to express this man’s wealth. Leaning his aged face on his hand he looked at me, one of his gold rings pressing into his cheek while he looked me up and down. I pulled the hood from my head once more, revealing my face as he looked me in the eye. His look was severe, clinical, he was a man who could see into another’s soul just at a glance. Slowly his gaze drifted once more, I noticed him eye up the tears upon my armour which at this point was barely intact. His eyes eventually settled once more, staring into my own.
“So, you were at Helgen?” he slurred slowly. “You saw this dragon with your own eyes?”
“The dragon destroyed Helgen.” I replied, unsure as to whether or not to mention my experiences with the Stormcloaks and Imperials present, “And last I saw it was headed this way”.
“By Ysmir, Irileth was right!” He exclaimed, his face becoming animated as he lifted his head from his hand, looking to his right where his advisor stood. “What do you say now, Proventus? Shall we continue to trust in the strength of our walls? Against a dragon?” he asked, clearly doubtful of their defensive position. Irileth, the Dunmer who had stopped me stepped up to the throne.
“My lord, she should send troops to Riverwood at once. It’s in the most immediate danger, if that dragon is lurking in the mountains–” She said. The advisor, insulted by the interruption of his duties stood on the other side of the throne. He interrupted as she continued.
“The Jarl of Falkreath will view that as a provocation! He’ll assume we’re preparing to join Ulfric’s side and attack him! We should–”
“Enough!” Barked the Jarl, clearly fed up of the childlike behaviour of his subjects. “I’ll not stand by while a dragon burns my hold and slaughters my people! Irileth, send a detachment to Riverwood at once” Further irritated by the overlooking of his advice, the man at the Jarls side, Proventus, turned away.
“Yes, my Jarl” replied Irileth graciously.
“If you’ll excuse me, I’ll return to my duties” commented Proventus, rather shortly. The Jarl picked up on this and reciprocated.
“That would be best.” He muttered. Turning to me once more he sighed before moving to leave his throne. “Well done, you sought me out, and on your own initiative. You’ve done Whiterun a service, and I won’t forget it! Here, take this as a small token of my esteem.” He said, signalling a guard to bring something forth. The Jarl took the item from him and handed it to me, holding it in my hands I came to realise that it was in fact a new cuirass, Imperial light armour once more, but it was in perfect condition. Smiling to me as I placed it within my knapsack he continued on with his discourse. “There is another thing you could do for me, suitable for someone of your… Particular talents perhaps?” He said, as if he knew of my background in thievery and criminal involvements “Come,” he digressed “let’s go find Farengar, my court wizard. He’s been looking into a matter related to these dragons… and rumours of dragons” He ushered me on as he led me to a room at the side of the main hall, passing several wall hangings and shelves filled with silver-wear and books among other fine things. Gazing around as I walked towards the room I nearly tripped as I passed through the entryway. Within the wooden-floored room was a Wizard’s laboratory, complete with soul gem collections, a map of the province (which was considerably more detailed than my own), an alchemy station and an enchanting table. Completely astounded by the vast amount of equipment I followed the Jarl into the middle of the room where he stopped opposite a desk. On the other side of the desk stood a tall hooded man, his eyes in shadow, focused on some ancient tome. Murmuring as he read, I studied his robes. They were the robes of a royal mage, I had seen tapestries of the mages that worked for the Jarls and his matched perfectly, from the shade of blue that dominated the clothing to the tan stripe that came from the centre of the neck down the right hand side of the robes to the ground. Now seemingly aware of our presence he looked up, the book still open.
“Farengar, I think I’ve found someone who can help you with your dragon project” The Jarl said to the man as I leant against the pillar next to the desk. The hooded man turned to me. “Go ahead and fill him in with all the details.” With that the Jarl circled the room, and studied the recent works of his court wizard. Farengar looked me up and down with the same look that the Jarl had earlier given, one of unimpressed boredom.
“So the Jarl thinks you can be of use to me?” Asked the mage rhetorically, seeming a little lost in the orders of the Jarl. “Oh yes, he must be referring to my research into the dragons. Yes, I could use someone to fetch something for me. Well, when I say fetch, I really mean delve into a dangerous ruin in search of an ancient stone tablet that may or may not actually be there” he laughed, evidently finding the task as outlandishly obscure and thus entertaining.
“All right, where am I going and what am I fetching?” I asked, slightly bewildered by the terrible description of the objective. He looked at me, giving a disconcerting grin before continuing in his deceptively young voice. For a man who had the knowledge of an eighty year old, and had the appearance of a fifty year old it came as some surprise to hear the voice of a twenty year old, despite his body now aging, his voice remained young and strong.
“Straight to the point eh? No need for tedious hows and whys.” He spoke “I like that. Leave those details to your betters, am I right?” Seeing my irritation at that point he brought conversation back around to the matter at hand. “I, ah, learned of an ancient stone tablet said to be housed in Bleak Falls Barrow – a “Dragonstone,” said to contain a map of dragon burial sites. Go to Bleak Falls Barrow, find the tablet – no doubt interred into the main chamber – and bring it to me. Simplicity itself.” He bluntly stated. Simple? He clearly hadn’t been out of Whiterun for some time, just walking a few miles is a task in this land, let alone crawling through ancient burial grounds, filled with who-knows-what kinds of traps, curses and bandits. I turned away and made back for the entryway to the room, but as I got to the exit something glinted in a corner. Needless to say, I snatched it and made off, although I didn’t check to see what it was that I had stolen until I was well on my way out of Dragonsreach. When I finally unclenched my fist I found myself staring at a beautiful gem, as the moonlight struck it blues, purples, pinks and many other colours reflected and bounced out from within it. It was truly mesmerising, however I knew for certain that it was worth very little – having stolen soul gems before I knew the selling prices and this could not have been worth more than ten Septims. A pittance for something so beautiful. Making my way back down the stairs leading into Whiterun I found myself growing ever more tired and so decided to make my way over to one of the inns. Passing back down into Whiterun I passed the great tree once more and then instead of returning the way I came, descended back into the lowest level of the city via a different route, which took me right to the front steps of a large in; ‘The Bannered Mare’. Pushing the door open I walked in, hood on back on, weapons on display. It was as if Mehrunes Dagon himself had just marched through the inn’s threshold, the entirety of the people within just stopped. All eyes became fixed on me as the music stopped and the only sound left in the room was that of the fire crackling gently in the background. Slowly I walked over the bar as whispers began to fill the air, and slowly the noise level returned back to normal despite remaining a little uncomfortable. Taking a seat at the bar, I leant over and pushed a small amount of gold over to the woman stood at the other side. As if she had dealt with me before she instantly took the gold and fetched a tankard for me. Sitting down I listened to conversations, the subject of which all seemed to revolve around the same things, either “the strange man over by the bar” or “did you hear about Helgen?” The woman returned with a tankard full of mead, sipping at it I came to realise just how exhausted I was and so drew the attention of the maid.
“I’d like to rent a room” I said, wearily, holding out a hand full of Septims. She took them without hesitation and placed them in her pocket.
“Sure thing. It’s yours for a day” she replied, leading me up a set of wooden stairs and into a room with a large double bed and a few cupboards. She looked at me and gave a forced smile before turning away and shutting the door as she left. Exhausted, I threw my knapsack onto the floor and fell into the bed, the conversation in the main room of the inn now dying down for the evening. I slept lightly that night knowing that in the morning I would have to leave early in order to make it safely over to Bleak Falls Barrow, which lay a few leagues from Whiterun and well into the wilder lands within the hold. Before sunrise I needed to be up and so I made the most of what time I had in the warmth and comfort of the inn.