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Six: Finally, Friends

– 18th Last Seed, 4E 201

The sun was already a glaring alpine flare when it broke the crest of the mountain range at my back. The verdant valley before me was lit with an intense wint’ry brilliance, and I knew immediately that I had slept into the late morning. The mountaineering sun is already very high when it finally crawls over the ragged peaks, and I wondered if this ruggedly carved valley ever witnessed the true blush of sunrise. Rising stiffly, I shivered at the sight of the long-dead campfire and walked warily to the edge of the cliff the camp was perched upon. I gazed down into the valley and chuckled a weary chuckle, for there below me were the plumes of smoke and the golden thatch of the town I sought, not two hundred yards from me all the cold night.

There was no further incident on my way down the paths to the village, and as I descended I took in the loveliness of the place. I knew that here, finally, was a place of warmth and rest. Not only from the sights, but from the homey sounds and smells I knew there were families and neighbors: life here. No more dragons and wildermen for me. A child and her dog ran past me as I entered the charming center, and not only a few Nords but another Bosmer strode about! This last I ran to in a manner more embarrassingly desperate than I intended. But seeing a fellow Wood Elf in a friendly town got the best of me, and I was drawn like a moth to flame.

The pleasure of the meeting was not as mutual as I would have hoped, though, and the slightly dour fellow went on chopping wood in a distracted fashion as he spoke. His name was Faendal, and I had indeed discovered Riverwood. He didn’t seem to be in the mood for conversation, so I left him to explore the town, but I have since learned that Faendal is a very smart chap; quite willing to share tales and a wonder with a bow!

His was the first of many new faces, though Riverwood is not crowded by any means. The grumbling trader Lucan and his lovely sister Camilla, bright Sven, stony Alvor, Orgnar and Delphine at their charming inn, gentle Hod and his angel of hospitality, Gerdur… They and a handful of other hearty souls made their home in this peaceful valley.

I had once spent nearly a moon at the Imperial Bridge Inn on the Silverfish exploring and sketching the lovely Nibenay region, and Riverwood brought back fond memories of those warm days roasting mudcrab along the shore as the songs of worshippers drifted in the honeysuckle breeze. This valley, though colder and sharper than the Nibenay, had a deep, heady beauty so much… “realer” than any I’d encountered in Cyrodiil. Perhaps the harshness of the alpine heights serves to heighten or delineate the brisk lushness about the town; its provincial activity seeming warmer and more precious with the dread mountains’ looming contrast.

Talking of warmth, there was mead! Mead and strong Nordic ale to be had in bulk. Seems the breweries are thriving here in the North, and I have learned to love their fare. Mead began alien and a little harsh on the tounge, but has since become my refreshment of choice. Faendal favors it as well, and a few nights’ chatting at the tavern with the elf soon had me hooked. Not to say I’ve been in my cups since I came to town- on the contrary: the next days were eventful, surprising and positively thrilling, for I have been, thus far, fortunate in my adventures. Tomorrow I shall tell of some highlights before I bring this journal up to speed with the harrowing tale of how I came upon the book itself.

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Five: Wrong Turn

– 17th Last Seed, 4E 201

I was still walking as evening fell, every hour adding to the elation of my newfound independence among the beauty of what I now know to be part of the great Southwestern swath of Skyrim called “Falkreath Hold”. Riverwood was somewhere about, I could sense it, but on choosing a promising-looking eastern path stumbled upon a cliffside campsite at a stony dead-end above me. Vowing to continue my goodwill toward the natives of this land, I hailed the two men sitting at their dinner fire while still at a distance. My goodwill turned to hesitancy as they immediately drew ugly-looking weapons and leapt to their feet. An arrow sailed past my ear even as the other ran toward me. Hesitation turned to preservation and I had just time to launch one hasty arrow in reply to the other archer before I was forced to take up the shortswords in my belt.

The work was quick and brutal, but the battle frenzy took over just as it had in Helgen’s keep. Not to say that I wasn’t harmed; I was hacked at with a sword almost as long as myself and had to remove an arrow from the edgeflesh of my arm, but I prevailed. Bloodied and heaving with unaccustomed exertion and pain, I sank to the furs of a strange bedroll and wondered where Riverwood was. What if I became lost in these frigid woods? How many mountain ruffians populated the area? What if Riverwood boasted a similar cast? I could not continue battling for my life forever. Pressing bloody hands to my wounds, I offered an exhausted and hare-brained prayer to whomever of the eight Divines cared about my future.

Turning my head to the bodies about me, I wondered who these men were. What made them lose their humanity and turn to furious predation? It seemed to me that it would be far more logical for these two to play the traveler’s friend for a chance to size up the tenacity of their visitor and the worth of his possessions. Instead, they rushed headlong into what turned out to be their demise at the hands of a stranger. Poor bandits, these. Perhaps it was this country of ice that numbed them into savagery. But a book on the barrel! A chest of supplies! A well-used spit and a pot of stew! All these lay about me, and it dawned on my weary mind that a much more civilized camper had probably met his end at the hands of these unfortunate, wandering two. I needed to get to the village, or my body would adorn this mountain just like my two friends there, and my miraculous escape would be all for naught.

But first, rest. The battle left me half-dead, but I was rewarded with a campsite full of necessities. For this I gave thanks. Not wanting to be reminded of my own capacity for violence, I (with a degree of shame at the indignity for the corpses) rolled the ruffians off a nearby overhang. Ripping a strip of sizzling flesh from the strange ratlike beast on the spit, I filled my belly and chased it with plundered ale as the sun set and darkness fell on my borrowed campsite. Bundled in various firs with my bow at the ready I fell gradually asleep with my back to the bare cliff, whispering “Good gods, let the morrow bring Riverwood…”

Four: Feet of Freedom Firmly in the Frost

– 17th Last Seed, 4E 201

Emerging from the maw of the earth, bloodied battle brothers, the cold was there to greet we haggard two. The cool damp of the caves I was so eager to escape seemed as a moist warmth when my skin tensed against the chill outdoors. Not a moment had passed in the sun before we dove to the earth at the rushing rumble of the great, horny dragon soaring over our heads and away over the mountains. After making certain all danger was passed my companion, whose name was revealed as one Ralof, bid me join him in his nearby vale-town of Riverwood, though for stealth’s sake (we were both still fearful of recapture by Helgen’s Imperials) we agreed to part ways for the interval. Though I thanked him with cheer warm enough for the moment, I knew the chill would be in my bones with the next few breaths… O, how this land would tax me.

The warrior ran into the woods and I was then free, with an abruptness I realized I was completely unprepared for; free and alone as the screeching raptor high above me. Lords, what a mighty relief! My eyes slowly adjusting to the mountains’ harsh morning glare, I began to drink in the incredible beauty of the wint’ry landscape before me. As I clumsily made my way down the hill, I felt miniscule, like a flea on the back of a vast white steer. I was awed by the alpine spectacle; simultaneously cowed and lifted in my soul by this miraculous release from the threat of a certain and mistaken death. With a deep, shaking breath, I began my journey into the vale.

Glancing along the ridge of the neighboring mountain range, I beheld the silhouette of an impressive Nordic ruin. With the exhilarating honey of freedom and adventure still hot on my tongue, I vowed that these wondrous structures would soon be explored! My chuckle has a chill beneath it as now, days later, I recall what lay in store for that naïve, heady Bosmer. Exploration, yes, but discoveries much colder than the icicles adorning those slopes…

But I am heading myself off! What an exciting first stroll in Skyrim, full of its own little discoveries! Still yearning for warmer gear, I rubbed my hands together and trudged straight down the long path to that mystery village of Riverwood. Directly on turning into this path from the cave’s mouth and my eyes still full of nature’s wonders, my gut suddenly dropped and I reflexively notched an arrow toward a fur-clad figure and its savage-looking dog striding down the path a few yards down the hill, unaware of my approach.

As soon as the bow was bent, I checked myself reproachfully. What craven animal had I become in those dragon-blasted halls? Did that blood-duel exhilaration also taint me with a lasting mistrust of all folk about me? True, I had been faced with an unimaginably harrowing morning, but I was now standing free, unshackled and pursued by no one, in the backwoods of a breathtaking Nordic mountainside. There was no reason to launch a coward’s assault on an unsuspecting person now. I was, for all intents and purposes, just another citizen of Skyrim. It was my duty as a gentleman and an elven being to treat others with the same assumption. Also, I am shite with a bow.

Gathering my freshly crafted courage I made my way down the hill. I immediately took pleasure in my hesitance to violence, for here stood an uncommon lovely huntress and her huge, slate Nord-hound. Layers of trail-grime could not hide her rustic beauty as she, in turn, took in my stammering self. Tactfully ignoring my raw-nerved awkwardness, she chatted with me and offered to trade gold for game, or whatever I had on my person. With my plundered Imperial gold I bought some meats (suddenly feeling my shock-repressed ravenousness) and a broad, unidentifiable pelt for a trail blanket (which she informed me was wolfskin) and out of curiosity I followed her to a nearby rockface where she showed me a rich vein of iron ore conveniently near the path.

I will say here that it was a comfort, as well, to be in the (not unattractive) company of a trail-hardened hunter familiar with the immediate country. She assured me the village I sought was but a short hike down the mountain and I assumed she sensed my vagrancy, for she advised me to purchase a pickaxe like her own, for the mountain was rich with ores and precious stones for spending coin and the crafting of better gear. Her hound barking cheerily, she went to work on her own vein as I reluctantly took my leave, admiring the strength of her sinewy limbs. If the rest of the day were to continue as such, I thought, it would be indeed as bright as the previous was fell and dismal.

Trailing a grunting fox a ways, I realized that I had not learned the huntress’ name. Perhaps our paths would cross again. I listened to the snowbirds and glacial wind, following the friendly fox towards my goal, and on the open future mused.

Three: The Beast of Steel and Flame

– 17th Last Seed, 4E 201

Amid the burning wreckage of the town I shambled in a daze, dizzily attempting to comprehend the shouts of the rebel warrior trying to save my life. Within minutes, a dragon had destroyed the entire area. Yes, a dragon! O, the size and horrifying might of the creature! Even now, at this table, fire and mead at my hand and days since the event, my hands quake at the image in my mind! That such beasts still fly inspires both awe and dread, and sends my mind back to tales of old Cyrodiil, when the Septim heir, Divines bless him, took dragonform to slay the great Mehrunes D.

I watched arrows career from his great crown as countless soldiers volleyed away, and he noticed not. I was running dead, dead from fear; running in a dream of hot chaos. And before I knew what was happening I was indoors; my bonds were cut and two Imperial soldiers lay at the feet of that rebel stranger and I. I looked at my hand, grasping a long war-knife, and was convinced I stood in a dream. A nightmare. The sensation continued unbroken as the stranger and I tore apart the barracks to find a key for the only escape route from the town.

Down long hallways and past strange faces we rushed and fought, and Divines help me, I fought for my life! I was no longer myself, but an embattled man of war, now rushing to slash an unwary guard, now loosing arrows into another with shaking hands. Knee-deep in rushing water to scrabbling across filthy cobble, skulking and dashing and sneaking! It was exhilarating, and I know now what had filled me: it was Skyrim. Her cold, hard kiss of life and death.

Like or no, I was changed forever.

Two: From De-cat-itation to Decapitation

– 17th Last Seed, 4E 201*

There are good days, and there are bad days, and there are days you find yourself beaten, shackled, loaded into a prison cart with filthy Nords and ridden through endless miles of frigid, rocky terrain only to arrive at your own beheading. Ah, sweet Skyrim.

To say I was unjustly arrested would be, as is the case with most prisoners, difficult to prove. But I must state it here, for posterity, that the Countess’ cat was quite sick already (anyone could tell at a glance) and the clumsy lout of a guard whose horrific sneeze so skewed my aim should have been in that greasy cart beside me. Besides, Telekinesis is a terribly hard spell to aim in the first place, and I made an honest attempt to catch the poor beast! Damned cathedral spires…

Sentenced to exile in the Great White North, I was loaded up with several true ne’er-do-wells on their way to a similar fate. Two cart switches and a brutal mountain road later, and I found myself with much grimmer company than I had thought to be chained with. It is now clear that I was assigned to the wrong wagon along the way, for I was now in the company of Nordic traitors being dragged to a border town whose name I did not recognise. The Imperials were in no mood to entertain my assertions of the mistake, and lo, I was counted among the ranks of these so-called “Stormcloaks”.

No sooner had I begun to contemplate this sorry twist of fate when the man in my own wagon was revealed to be the actual claimant to the ancestral throne of Skyrim: Ulfric Stormcloak- commander of the rebel faction! To die in such illustrious company (I thought as my wrists chafed and chapped lips bled) not only warriors but an uncrowned king of the uprisen downtrodden! To die with such as these… was still very bad.

And must needs be avoided, but hope was far from me. Cold steals hope with a thoroughness I had never experienced before. I was emptied of light. My fellow prisoners were in no brighter mood, but they seemed hardy and, I daresay, even a bit heroic in defeat. This tribal king had sacrificed himself to save others. All the while I listed to their story, I wondered why it was that only the commander, Stormcloak, had been gagged and not his talkative friend. But I had not long to postulate, for we soon entered the guarded gate of (doomed) Helgen.

At unloading, the grim headsman and his basketed block within eye-shot, names were taken by the Imperials garrisoned there. A whining Breton just ahead of me made a pathetic attempt at escape and received a volley of arrows in the back for his effort. My poor, ill-fated name was scrawled into the soldier’s book of death-tallies (a most insulting end to my family’s colorful history).  I was shoved into place as a stone-faced rebel stoically lost his head in a splash of crimson.  I was summoned and floated to the grisly block in a nightmarish quietude, not knowing how one must act when about to be accidentally beheaded for magically throwing a sick cat.

Then, the dragon appeared.

*I have decided to date these entries retrospectively, for the sake of journal clarity. The date will correspond to the respective entries’ documented activities.

One: A Book, A Beginning

Though I greatly desire to pour out the events of the last few days, my time in the harsh land of Skyrim was already brimfull with adventure by the time I finally acquired a bound book adequate for true journaling. Thus, I must quiet myself for recall of that first incredible week, setting the stage for more recent events, and the beckoning future!

My grief at the seizure of all my (admittedly meagre) earthly possessions at the hands of the Countess’ fools in Chorrol was hardest with the loss of both my previous journals. So much time and tenderness sunk into their many pages… all thrown like refuse into some gaoler’s cart, never to be seen again. I don’t know if I can ever match the subtlety of those sketches of Cheydinhal’s fields and forests, and it pains me deeply to think of my extensive notes on Cyrodiil’s flora and fauna. All dreams of a quiet academic career writing, sketching and dozing by a fire are gone.

But ah! new dreams have begun to take shape!

Speaking of quieting myself, the day spent acquiring this book has worn me down more than I thought, but for once I can rest easy, and shall set to work on the morrow.