Chapter 10: A New War
Stepping out into the light I came to realise that I must have been unconscious for a pretty long time, I entered in broad daylight and to my knowledge I didn’t spend an entire day within the barrow. The cave entrance opened out onto a rocky ledge on the southern face of the mountain, a good distance from where the main ruin seemed to lie. As I peered over the ledge to see my surroundings I saw a lake in the distance – Lake Ilinalta according to my map as I tried to pinpoint my exact location. Slowly I made my descent down the rock face, the rain still pouring as it had done before my entrance to Bleak Falls Barrow. Now soaking wet once more I found myself at the bottom of the great mountain once more, on the opposite slope, facing an entirely off road walk back to Whiterun – or at least that’s what I thought at first. Snaking down the foothills of the mountain I noticed in the distance three distinct figures clumped together across the river that ran from Lake Ilinalta. As I drew closer to the river bank I noticed that they were in fact the three standing stones! Following the bank of the river I walked parallel to the road to Riverwood, remembering the last time I had made the journey with Ralof after the incident at Helgen. Looking back to the mountain I noticed a building amongst the woodland that clung to the rich earth near the jagged rock faces of the small mountain range and so leaving the bank in hope of finding some kind of shelter and perhaps more food to be eaten, I climbed up the hill towards the wooden shack. Nearing the front door I noticed a hooded figure sat by the doorway, seeming to be completely oblivious to the rainfall. A few paces away the person seemed to notice me.
“I’m just a poor old woman, dear. No need to trouble yourself with me.” Came a gentle voice from under the hood. An old woman? Out here? Despite the strangeness of the situation I felt safe as I approached and so fearlessly I walked straight in and through the door, the old crone not seeming to even notice that I had done so. Stepping into the shelter of the shack I noticed a shelf filled with alchemical ingredients and wooden utensils, perhaps she was some sort of healer –who knows. Slowly I moved around the corner of her ‘L’ shaped home and came to see a small straw bed sat in the corner and more straw strewn across the floor in the opposite corner, ‘a little messy but what does it matter when one is this far from society’ I thought to myself as I explored the little hut. In another corner of the hut sat a table with some food that lay upon it, and so quietly I snatched a loaf of bread and chewed upon some roasted pheasant meat that lay upon a wooden plate. Packing the bread into my bag I then turned to leave the building, attempting to act as ‘normal’ as I could (although I had just walked straight into a strangers home without permission). Stepping through the doorway I looked to my right to see the old woman gone.
“Fool!” Came a voice in front of me – the old woman then stepped forth into view “None may know my secret!” She shouted as she cast some strange spell. I really wasn’t in the mood for this. I didn’t even know what she was talking about – secret? Crazy old hag. Just then a strange wolf-like beast flashed into existence in front of her. She was a witch! Oh I really, wasn’t in the mood for this. Pulling my bow from my back, I drew an arrow with all the strength I could muster and released, easily with the most force I had used since leaving Helgen. With a wooden ‘twang’ the old woman simply hit the ground, my arrow piercing her directly between the eyes, killing her in the blink of an eye. She dropped to the ground and, as expected, the wolf disappeared. Carelessly I walked forwards and past the old woman, leaving my arrow embedded in the sorceress’ skull. Placing my bow on my back I hastily marched back to the bank of the river, not a care in the world as I came to a crossing point in the water and so holding my bag up, I trudged through the channel and to the road on the other side. Squeezing the excess liquid from my clothes I heaved my weighted sack upon my back once more and plodded down back along the road to Riverwood, just as I had done a few days earlier. Passing the location where the wolves had attacked Ralof and I, I took a moment once more to stop and realise the change in weather once more, as if the world had returned to the way it was when I left Helgen, the sky became a sapphire blue with not a cloud in sight – strange considering that just an hour earlier there was nothing except clouds in sight (that and torrential rain with a slight chance of crazed sibyls). Eventually the familiar view of Riverwood burst through the trees as it had done days before and stepping through the main entrance and into the settlement I found myself once more comfortable, despite now being sick with Ataxia. Walking just as before into the Riverwood Trader I was met by the very-stressed-yet-smiling-to-hide-it shopkeeper (who I now believed to be Lucan Valerius as the journal had named him).
“Did something happen?” I asked him abruptly. He looked at me confused for a moment before realising what I meant.
“Yes, we did have a bit of a… break-in.” he stuttered, a little forlorn “But we still have plenty to sell.” He continued, attempting to lift the mood “Robbers were only after one thing. An ornament, solid gold. In the shape of a dragon’s claw.” He told me, clearly worrying about having lost such a valuable item. It was then that I thought I’d reveal to him that I had it.
“Wait, you mean this golden claw?” I said, laughing as I placed it on the counter.
“You found it?” He said as his face lit up, all the stress seeming to pour away as his eyes became fixed on the claw while he laughed, clearly amazed that I had located it. “There it is. Strange… it seems smaller than I remember. Funny thing, huh?” He laughed as his face began to drop a little. Once a trader, always a trader – he saw it as more than it was, despite its evident value. “I’m going to put this back where it belongs.” He proudly said, turning it around and placing it back on the counter where the gap in his display was those few days before. “I’ll never forget this. You’ve done a great thing for me and my sister.” With that he reached under the counter and heaved a huge coin purse onto the counter and pushed it towards me. Taking it with a smile, I dropped it in my bag as I brought out several of the items that I had taken along my journey and once more we haggled just as we had done before, both happy and contented, although I still needed to find a healer to cure my disease, either that or I would have to turn to religion to heal my ailments, but in a small settlement like this finding either a shrine or a healer was unlikely – I would need to find my way back over to Whiterun to get the proper medical attention that I required. But just as these thoughts crossed my mind, I noticed a potion amongst Lucan’s display. The tag upon it read “Potion of Cure Disease”. Throwing a few coins onto the counter I purchased the potion and made for the door, opening the vial and drinking it as I left the building. As quickly as the disease had set itself upon me, the potion seemed to counter it. Within just a few seconds the prolific shaking seemed to stop and once more I felt strong and well. Walking across the street and back to the smithy I traded what I had left to do so with and then headed towards the north road in order to visit the local in for a warm meal (the first in a long time) and a soft bed. Walking into the building I took down my hood and headed over to the bar, as I did so a bard stood up and introduced a song that he then began to sing – Ragnar the red. I remember humming it as I last walked to Whiterun, before the wolf attack brought my relaxation to an abrupt end. Nearing the bar, the man behind it stopped wiping up some crumbs and looked up to me.
“We got rooms and food. Drink, too. I cook. Ain’t much else to tell.” He said in a particularly ill-mannered way, putting me off a little as I placed twenty Septims onto the table, each one gleaming in the warm light of the inn. With that he placed before me a bowl that had within it a venison chop and some grilled leaks. As he took the coins he also lifted out a bottle of mead – Honningbrew, of course. Digging into the food before me and sipping from the bottle I looked up to the man who seemed a little lost concerning what he needed to do. He obviously didn’t own the place.
“Where’s the innkeeper?” I asked, attempting to make conversation
“Out. She owns the place, she does what she wants.” He replied, being rather short with me.
“So how do I rent a room?” I asked, wondering where I would stay for the night, I was hardly about to knock on Gerdur’s door again.
“Inn’s closed. Bar’s still open, though.” He said. I sighed and took a gulp of mead “Feel free to sit and put your head down on the table as long as you like. I won’t bother you.” I said in his deep voice, trying to offer a solution to my predicament. Nodding to him I took the last of my meal and my mead over to one of the tables near the fire. Finishing the venison off (which was utterly delicious) and having the last mouthful of the drink I cleared the table in front of me and rested my head in my arms, shutting my eyes as the bard finished off his song and began to play a pleasant tune on a lute. Slowly I drifted into a state of complete relaxation and calm, my entire body warmed through by the comfort of the inn. I eventually fell into a deep sleep where I sat, however I did not sleep peacefully. During the night my dreams were haunted with Draugr and memory of the raging inferno as one of the barrow’s sentries was burnt alive. Following the thought of the burning I then found myself back in Helgen, attempting to hopelessly outrun the great black dragon that conquered the men of the settlement who fought in vain as they tried to defend their land and families. My last dream was one of Hadvar, the soldier who had guided me through Helgen, being eaten alive by the beast and then the dragon turned to me, spoke some strange language and made to kill me as I woke up, sweating and cold in the early morning light. Lifting my head from my arms I clicked my neck and looked around me. The inn was empty now, empty except the bar man who remained at his station. He must have barely slept – if at all. Getting up I nodded to him to thank him before heading to the door and back out onto the road that passed through Riverwood. Back along the road into Whiterun I wandered, gnawing on a hunk of bread as I passed the place where the wolf had attacked me and on down the hill to the Meadery. When I last passed through it must have been closed, the air surrounding it for a good half mile seemed to be filled with the scent of honey, it was an incredibly distracting smell for one with a mission to complete – I’d have to return later in order to sample some fresh Honningbrew Mead, now there was something to look forward to. Eventually I reached the main gates once more, the guards who denied me entry seeming to lower their guard as I approached in the mid-morning sunlight. It was going to be a beautiful day – if not for the cold breeze. On I hiked, returning once more to the great doors of Dragonsreach after climbing through the tiers of Whiterun. Pushing the huge doors to the keep open I strode in, strong, confident and powerful. I truly felt as though I had completed a mission worth my while, and walking up to the wizard’s room I had an uncontrollable grin stretched across my face. Approaching the room I noticed a hooded yet rough looking figure bent over his desk, studying a book as he said something to her – it was unmistakably a ‘she’ judging by the figure that her armour held, clutching at her waist and widening for her bosom. As I reached the entryway I could hear Farengar’s voice trying to prove a point to the woman.
“You see? The terminology is clearly First Era or even earlier.” He said as the woman scanned the pages of the ancient tome. “I’m convinced this is a copy of a much older text. Perhaps dating to just after the Dragon War. If so, I could use this to cross reference the names with other later texts.” At this point I was so captivated by the conversation that I felt compelled to merely stand and listen to what was being said and so leaning against the door frame unnoticed, the conversation continued.
“Good.” Came a harsh female voice from under the hood “I’m glad you’re making progress.” She continued as she lifted herself from her hunched position over the desk, “My employers are anxious to have some tangible answers.”
“Oh, have no fear. The Jarl himself has finally taken an interest, so I’m now able to devote most of my time to this research.”
“Time is running Farengar and don’t forget. This isn’t some theoretical question. Dragons have come back.”
“Yes, yes. Don’t worry.” He said with a dismissive look on his face “Although the chance to see a living dragon up close would be tremendously valuable.” As he said this the woman turned and noticed me, interrupting him as continued.
“You have a visitor.” She said, hinting towards where I was stood. Know that I had now been seen I jumped to attention, for being seen leant against a doorway is never good for one’s image when in the command of a powerful wizard.
“Hmm? Ah yes!” he exclaimed, “The Jarl’s protégé! Back from Bleak Falls Barrow? You didn’t die, it seems.” He chortled, grinning as he greeted me with a warm look. Pulling my knapsack open, Farengar instantly noticed the ancient stone I had taken from within the barrow. “Ah! The Dragonstone of Bleak Falls Barrow! Seems you are a cut above the usual brutes the Jarls sends my way.” He said excitedly whilst whisking the stone from my hands. If that wasn’t a two faced compliment, I honestly couldn’t tell you what one was. Still, I did the job.
“I got you the Dragonstone. What next?” I asked plainly, partly hoping that he would say ‘oh no, you’ve done everything I need now you can enjoy a quiet evening with a few pints of mead and a hot meal.’ But no, things never seem to turn out that way.
“That is where your job ends and mine begins.” He said, instilling a little hope in my heart. “The work of the mind, sadly undervalued in Skyrim.” He joked. “My… Associate here will be pleased to see your handiwork.” He said, raising one hand in the direction of the woman, “She discovered its location, by means she has so far declined to share with me.” He turned to her, and with an almost bitter note returned to conversation with her. “So, your information was correct after all. And we have our friend here to thank for recovering it for us.” With that her opinion of me seemed to chance, she looked over to me, almost wide eyed – clearly impressed.
“You went into Bleak Falls Barrow and got that? Nice work.” Turning back to Farengar her face turned a little more sinister once more. “Just send me a copy of it when you’ve deciphered it.” She ordered.
“Farengar!” came a cry from the great hall, seemingly from the direction of the great doorway at the entrance. Everyone paused and turned to the doorway. “Farengar!” it came again, the voice now much closer. As the cry was made a second time, Irileth flew into the room, short of breath.
“Farengar, you need to come at once. A dragon’s been sighted nearby.” She stated urgently. With this Farengar almost dropped the Dragonstone. “You should come, too” she then continued, looking at me. The room filled with silence, although as I turned around to Farengar it was clear that he was actually in a better mood for hearing this news, despite the clearly destructive potential of another situation involving dragons. He placed the Dragonstone on the desk, shaking with excitement as he did so.
“A dragon!” he exclaimed manically, “How exciting! Where was it seen? What was it doing?” he enquired as he paced up to Irileth, almost as if to grab her and shake out the answers. Backing away slowly she made her reply.
“I’d take this a bit more seriously if I were you. If a dragon decides to attack Whiterun, I don’t know if we can stop it.” Turning around and making for the planning area within Dragonsreach she shouted back “Let’s go!”
I was a little lost at this point and so blindly followed, not sure of where exactly I was supposed to go – I’d never been further back into the building than the Jarl’s Throne. Irileth led us through the great hall and towards the North wall – the wall with the throne. At the eastern corner was a flight of stairs which we all bounded up 3 steps at a time, two out of duty and panic, one out of excitement and naivety. At the top of the stone stairway was a dimly lit and partially carpeted room with a large map on a table towards one side and more great doors at the other side of the room, opposite from the stairs was another set of doors – one would assume for personal living quarters for the Jarl’s family and closest allies. Holding the ceiling from was two great wooden pillars, which stood at either side of the room, a fair distance from the walls. As my eyes ceased scanning the room they fell upon a clearly stressed Jarl, stood upon the cold stone flooring in the middle of the room awaiting our arrival. Opposite him were two guards, one bent double, breathing heavily and the other stood tall, his hand on the hilt of his sword.
“So,” Began the Jarl “Irileth tells me you came from the Western Watchtower?”
The breathless guard stumbled forwards.
“Yes, my lord.” He wheezed. Irileth nudged him as if to urge him to continue.
“Tell him what you told me. About the dragon.”
“Ah… That’s right.” He said before taking another gulp of air. “We saw it coming from the south. It was fast… Faster than anything I’ve ever seen.”
“What did it do?” Enquired the Balgruuf, “Is it attacking the watchtower?”
“No, my lord. It was just circling overhead when I left.” Stopping for air once more he stood upright “I never ran so fast in my life… I thought it would come after me for sure.”
“Good work, son. We’ll take it from here. Head down the barracks for some food and rest. You’ve earned it.” Replied the Jarl, commending the guard with a pat on the shoulder. The guard turned and slowly made his way down the stairs, clearly shocked by his experience. It brought back the memory of Helgen to me, the chaos. The fear. But that all snapped out of my mind as the Jarl called forth Irileth.
“Irileth, you’d better gather some guardsmen and get down there.”
“I’ve already ordered my men to muster near the main gate.” She replied without a single note of fear, despite the clarity of the danger of the task she was about to undergo.
“Good. Don’t fail me.” With that he turned to me. “There’s no time to stand on ceremony, my friend, I need your help again. I want you to go with Irileth and help her fight this dragon. You survive Helgen, so you have more experience with dragons than anyone else here.” He ordered. Me, help fight a dragon? He does realise I’m not a warrior I hope! “But I haven’t forgotten the service you did for me in retrieving the Dragonstone for Farengar. As a token of my esteem, I have instructed Avenicci that you are permitted to purchase property in the city. And please, please accept this gift from my personal Armoury.” With that he gave me a hide helmet but upon it seemed a faint blue hue, and with it I felt almost more intelligent. I placed it in my knapsack as conversation continued between the court wizard and the Jarl.
“I should come along. I would very much like to see this dragon.” Pleaded Farengar.
“No.” Ordered Balgruuf, “I can’t afford to risk both of you. I need you here working on ways to defend the city against these dragons.” As the Jarl said this Farengar’s face visibly dropped as his excitement was dissipated with that single sentence.
“As you command” he replied, heavy hearted. Irileth was just about to turn and leave when one final order came.
“One last thing, Irileth. This isn’t a death or glory mission. I need to know what we’re dealing with.”
“Don’t worry, my lord.” She said with a smile. “I’m the very soul of caution.” With that she turned and left. I followed as were my orders and as we darted through the city towards the main gate not a single word was passed between us – we both felt it. A new war was beginning, one more deadly than the civil war that raged on even as we did this.