Chapter 6: Ditches Low, Mountains High
Pulling myself from the bed after just a little sleep was hard, but ultimately necessary. Keeping quiet, and being sure to avoid stepping on creaky floorboards I made my way out of the bedroom, knapsack on my back, and decided to make a quick round of the inn in order to take any provisions I may need, be them either food, drink or coin. Slowly I sifted through the upstairs area that I was placed in, emptying all of the cupboards and bedside tables of their gold and ever so carefully I made my way down the stairs and cleared out the ground floor. In the dead of night the inn was empty, the only person remaining down stairs being one drunken old man who had passed out hours before, I thought I saw him as I walked inside initially. Allowing a smirk to appear on my face I turned left at the bottom of the stairs and entered a small room at the back of the building. In the room was very little in comparison to my own room, just a single bed and a cupboard with a few clothes in. By the bed was a nightstand and within that sat seventeen Septims which I snatched with all due haste before exiting the room. As I snuck out of the room I tripped and lost my footing on the corner of a rug, almost finding myself face first on top of the old man, but by some stray act of Nocturnal managed to regain my balance before falling. Breathing out heavily I managed to bring my heart rate back to normal and limiting the panic that shot through my system. Pulling my knapsack back onto my shoulder I proceeded through the main room of the inn, the fire within now just a pile of smouldering ash, the acrid smoke half choking me as I crept past it. On my right I noticed an entryway to another area of the inn and so I made for it as quickly and quietly as possible, making each step virtually silent. Entering the room I noticed another fire and a huge spread of food, my eyes bulging and my stomach empty, I filled my knapsack almost half way with provisions; ale, mead, cheese, sweet rolls, venison steaks, as much as I could carry without weighing me down with supplies. While pillaging the food selection I caught sight of a lockbox set upon the table in the room. I finished packing away the food and then drew out a lock pick before tip-toeing over to the table on which the box was. With a few sharp turns and after almost breaking the pick a few times I heard the familiar click as the lock’s cylinder finally turned and I opened it, eyes gleaming as they fell upon just shy of sixty Septims, all glinting in the light of the dying fire. Upturning the box, the heavy clink of the coins rattled around the room as they fell into my coin purse, making it considerably heavier than it was. Starting out at twenty Septims I counted a total of one hundred and twenty eight, which from an inn was an excellent take, and I hadn’t even cleared the building! Once more I closed up my sack and threw it on my back, and taking care to not make too much noise, I made my way across the room to another set of wooden stairs. From the bottom of them I could see very little and so hesitantly I moved up them, making not a sound as I scaled the steps. At the top were two doorways, separated by a small corridor – at the end of which sat a cupboard. Beginning to be aware of the amount of time I had spent moving around the inn I made hastily across the corridor, taking care to keep my volume low, my heart in my throat as each step took me closer to potentially being caught. That was the last thing I wanted, I had been imprisoned while in the north of Cyrodiil and it was awful, the beds were made of mouldy straw, the food may as well have been mouldy straw and the clothes felt like mouldy straw – all in all, not somewhere I wanted to go back to. ‘Prison is not an option’ I thought to myself as I opened the cupboard, now beginning to become nervous about the possibility of being spotted. Inside the cupboard lay a few coins and an outfit of some rather well made clothes, sure they looked good but I wasn’t going to shift stolen goods without a fence, so I closed the cupboard and made for one of the rooms. Opening the door slowly I made my way into another small room, a single bed in the corner as before and a small table with some food on it. Taking a coin purse that lay on the table I then caught sight of a chest that sat on top of a large cupboard, and so standing up fully I flipped the top of it open and peered inside. Another virtually useless storage unit, only three measly Septims were within, completely pointless having such a large chest when you only have three damn Septims to put in it. It’s enough to infuriate any thief! Closing the chest, a little irritated, I made my way back out of the room and crossed the corridor to the other door. Repeating as before, I opened the door slowly to reveal an even smaller room. From one end of it to the other there must have been about 5 paces, it was barely large enough to fit me in, let alone all of the furniture stacked within it. On my right was a small night stand, in its one small draw lay a few Septims which rapidly found their way into my possession. As I closed the draw I noticed a book on the floor, picking it up I read the cover. ‘Thief of Virtue’ I quietly chuckled as I pocketed it, it was a book that I had wanted to read for some time, from what I had heard it was a good read – certainly something that I could relate to. Clearing out the last few cupboards I made for the door once more, eager now to leave the inn as fast as possible. Out the door and down the stairs I fled before hastily turning left and leaving through the back door, flooding the room with a bitter draft as I stepped into the cold night of Skyrim, becoming just a shadow in the dark before sunrise. A little hesitant to move quickly I snuck around behind the inn and made my way back through to the main gate while skirting around the homes and stores of the lower level of the town. As I slowly crept through the town I began to notice the sky lighting up, the dawn was coming and so I needed to rush. Forgetting all aspects of stealth I broke into a run, dashing from shadow to shadow until I reached the final building before the main gate – the smithy. So as not to arouse suspicion I walked upright into the middle of the road and then towards the gate. Hiding in plain sight, my heart beating even faster than it had when the dragon appeared back in Helgen, I walked confidently past the gate guards, back through the main gate and into the wilderness of the hold once more. With haste I returned back to the path which had led me to Whiterun in the first place, rain clouds seeming to converge upon me as I did so. As I got to the road I checked my map and identified the location of Bleak Falls Barrow, it appeared to be situated within a small mountain range to the south west of Whiterun and so turning westward I made my way along the long cobbled road that trailed off into the distance.
Just a few short minutes after beginning along the road the clouds broke, dowsing me with cold rainwater. Now wet, and becoming increasingly hungry, I trudged along, my eyes tracing the horizon through the fog. In the distance appeared to be a mountainous region which was both a blessing and a curse – I at least knew I was headed in the right direction. Unfortunately, it meant that not only was I going to become soaking wet, I would also have to climb into the snowy peaks of the mountains before me. Wonderful.
Eventually as the path wound on, I came to a large half-ruined watch tower. Desperate for a little shelter, and now ravenously hungry I walked over to it warily, my hands ready to grab my sword or my bow, dependant on which would be needed for the situation. I could see from the ground a large black and red flag, which as I drew ever closer to, appeared to be one of the Empire’s banners. Drenched with the rain and flapping in the wind it, despite its condition, eased my mind – This must have been one of Whiterun’s watch towers – thankfully it was still under Imperial control which meant that I would at the least, not have to battle with bandits in order to rest within briefly. Trudging off the path and towards the entrance to the tower I noticed a few guards within. These guards, to my luck, were Whiterun’s guards, not as I had imagined, Imperial soldiers. Being run-of-the-mill guards meant that my identity would be unknown to them, for I had of course, been arrested by Imperials just three days ago and broken free of their custody a mere two days ago, and so any survivors of the attack would surely be searching the local area for the escaped prisoners. I needed to remain hidden, and so with my hood on I slowly approached the guard at the door, who without question, stepped aside allowing me within. The guards that I had seen within stopped their conversations as I entered and split off back to their posts. Clearly their allocated break was not at this time, and so before I could begin to converse with them they left. Alone now, at the bottom floor of the tower I opened my knapsack and pulled out some of the food I had stolen and swiftly devoured it while drinking one of the smaller bottles of mead. My stomach full and blood warmed by the drink, I sat there for a little while and reflected on the past few days. Quietly I thought back to being sat on the cart, a prisoner of my own people, and thought of the kindness that was shown to me by a total stranger, Ralof. He was an honest and kind person, a true friend. I thought back to the unpleasant nature of the soldiers, of Tullius himself, and of the sheer brutality they showed to us all. It was in these silent moments, as the cold rain seeped through to my skin that my thoughts turned once more to my allegiances. Was I really going to fight for the very people who ordered my death? Under the command of a man who showed a complete lack of patriotism, a dog who fought under a flag not true to its own people, its own standards, its own beliefs? It was in these silent moments that my love of the empire truly failed. It was in these silent moments that I become a Stormcloak at heart. My people, the Imperials, had failed me, but my home remained strong. My home, the land of the Nords, the land of the free and the strong. It was time I fought for my home, not for a false heritage filled with deceit and lies.
My heart filled with a new passion I returned to my feet and put on my knapsack before heading once more into the cold and the wet and left the cobbled road, into the wild. The ground beneath my feet seemed to move like liquid, the mud saturated with rainwater. As I hesitantly stumbled through the grasslands I made my way towards a steep sloping path that appeared to be carved into the mountainside, at its peak were trees dotted around, barely visible through the thick fog. Suddenly I stumbled. Sliding onto my back, the ground beneath me seemed to throw me further down, tumbling down into a ditch I found myself eventually being thrown into a small stream that must have formed in the rain (which seemed to be getting worse). As I pulled myself back to my feet a blinding flash filled the sky and was followed almost instantly by a deafening crack of thunder. Now particularly cold and wet I heaved myself and my drenched knapsack out of the ditch and back to higher ground, before once more hauling myself through the sludge that was once the foothills beneath the mountains. Reaching a patch of half-melted snow I caught sight of the path once more, and so hurriedly and carelessly I ran towards it, desperate to escape the boggy grounds that lay beneath me. Stepping onto the path, my foot once more falling upon hard ground, a howl could be heard to my left. A howl that seemed dangerously close. Without a second warning a wolf bounded up towards me and baring its teeth it made a jump at me, entirely unprepared I stood there helplessly as the animal drove me to the ground. Hitting the floor with a thump, the beast sunk its claws into the armour that the Jarl had given me. Enraged, I pushed it from me, punching it in the eye so as to stun the creature. I dragged myself desperately to my feet and drew my sword with great haste as the wolf recovered, making a second pounce at me. Ready this time, I caught the animal with one arm before driving my sword through its skull with the other. Lifeless, the wolf fell to the ground, its last breath forced from it as it contacted the floor. I wiped my sword on the wolf’s pelt before sheathing it once more, water dripping from my face as a second flash of lightning filled the grey sky. With another crash of thunder I turned to move again, the path inclining rapidly before me. With as much energy as I could muster I pushed on, climbing the mountain path as the ground around me morphed from green grasses and brown mud to a uniform white, the pristine snow perfect as the falling rain gradually turned to snow the higher I climbed. Eventually I forced myself through the cloud layer and was met by clear blue skies as the morning sun fell on the mountain top. Clearly the plains were already at a relatively high altitude, as climbing to the snowy peak took what felt little more than an hour. The air became thin as I neared the top, and I realised the chill in the wind as the water that had drenched the tunic beneath my armour seemed to make it become stiff. My clothes were freezing. This was not good – I needed to hurry, or at least find some way to heat up, otherwise I would have only a couple of hours left to live at best. Time was of the essence.
As I neared the top of the mountain I caught sight of ruins. ‘This must be it’ I thought to myself ‘Bleak Falls Barrow’. Breaking into a jog I pushed on through the snow, my clothes now heavy and thick with increasing amounts of ice. As I ran snowflakes seemed to settle in my beard, causing it to turn white in my peripheral vision as the wind blew it up towards my nose. Rushing towards the ruins I noticed a figure standing upon them. A person, up here? I stopped dead and crouched behind a boulder in the hope that I would not be seen. Peeking hesitantly over the top, my hood now barely moving in the wind, I saw another figure walk towards the first. These were no soldiers, and they definitely weren’t guards, otherwise Farengar wouldn’t have sent me here. These people were bandits. Slowly I lifted the bow from my back and drew an arrow from my quiver. I needed to find a better place to attack them from, though. I was in no position to attack but I needed to be quick whatever I did. Looking to my left I saw a sheer rock face, with no other option I scaled it, grazing my fingers as I heaved myself from ledge to ledge. Knowing what I was about to face, I truly was between a rock and a hard place. My palms now sore, my fingers bleeding and my clothes becoming ever heavier and less manoeuvrable I settled myself on a ledge overlooking the ruins. I searched the visible area and counted a total of three bandits. This was not going to be an easy task, I was not about to take on three bandits in open combat, I needed to be careful, to be stealthy. Knocking an arrow I chose my first target, a young wood elf armed with a hunting bow overlooking one of the steep cliffs that lay at the sides of the ruin. Carefully drawing the arrow I pulled the string to my ear, one eye closed, I fixed the other on the Bosmer. This first shot was crucial – I couldn’t risk being spotted before having taken out at least one of the three. Taking a final deep breath I loosened my grip and the arrow leapt from the bow, a split second later, the elf collapsed to the ground without so much as a wince. Now for the others – annoyingly they were frequently passing one another, it needed to be quick if I were to do this without alerting anyone. I needed to relocate before I did anything else though, hitting a target at this range would have been nigh on impossible. Descending on the other side of the rock face I scrambled over some of the ruins to the opposite side of them, giving me a better view of the two bandits’ rounds. As quickly as I could I darted into the shadow of one of the pillars before nervously readying a second arrow and knocking it. Drawing it half way before aiming, I leant against the cold stone and sighed worriedly. This needed to work if I was going to win this fight. Turning quickly, revealing myself to one of the bandits, I pulled back the arrow the remainder of the way. Releasing as quickly as I could, the bandit forced out half a cry before being silenced by the tip of my arrow. The final bandit, completely shocked, darted around looking for an attacker, or for an ally to help him. Alas he found none, only the same fate as his two friends before him. He fell to the ground with a horrified expression on his face, an expression that would remain upon it for ever – the ice and snow quickly claimed the dead and before long they were almost entirely covered in the snow. Such an innocent thing, snow. So innocent, yet incredibly deadly in circumstances such as this. Watching the snow accumulate on the bodies I became suddenly aware of how cold I had become, I rushed for the huge iron doors that stood at the entrance the barrow, my movement awkward and slow. I was beginning to succumb to the cold.