A rooster crowing woke me up at 6am sharp. The sun had risen on my first full day after the trauma of Helgen. I made a mental note to kill and eat that bird as well. With growling stomach and parched throat, I sit up in bed and stare at the wall in front of me.
Had I known where I would be spending the next night, I would have crawled back in bed and slept another four hours. Alas, I possess no powers of clairvoyance. I rise, do some stretches, then sit down at the table to eat some pheasant and wash it down with a glass of wine. I could be having breakfast in the common room, but I find solitude more pleasant company than a room full of nords. Sure, it was early, but the other patrons were likely drunk already. Then again, I couldn’t talk. I finished my wine, got dressed and headed for the bath.
It was a glorious sight: My glistening bronze scales. My scalp feathers fabulously erect. The seductive hissing noise of my pleasure. If a she-argonian had entered the bath, she would not have been able to restrain herself from leaping in to join me.
And then she would be put off by the layer of grime and dried blood sloughing off of me and settling over the surface of the water. Such is life.
I exit the bath clean and fresh as an odoriferous flower. I don my rough-spun tunic and re-purpose the imperial legion helmet as a hunting cap.
I look gorgeous. It’s time to set off.
I must begrudgingly admit that the air in Skyrim was crisp and clean. The birds were chirping and the river flowed lazily underneath the bridge. I ran my hands over the worn hunting bow I would be using this morning to ruin some rabbit’s day. Fine craftsmanship. A bit old, but sturdy. I count the arrows I had taken from Gerdur and Hod. Nine. Should be enough. I’m a tad rusty at the old sport of feathering local fauna, but I had a right good time poaching deer around Skingrad for a few years. I follow the path leading north out of town and not thirty minutes had passed before Hircine blesses me with a cow elk drinking from the river ahead. Above her a rocky outcropping could be climbed swiftly and easily and be used as the perfect vantage point to prey upon the animal. I drop to a crouch and creep closer. It hasn’t noticed me, but it raises its head and follows the road behind the rocks and out of my sight. I continue, eager to not lose sight of her, and climb the outcropping to find the cow below. I nock an arrow and take a moment to concentrate.
Then came the sweet sound of the arrow leaving the bow and soaring through the air. The less sweet sound of the cow’s pained groan confirmed the accuracy of my shot. I must have hit it somewhere important as it staggered around in a daze, allowing me to quickly nock another arrow and let fly. The second arrow hit home and the animal turned and dove into the water. A stone’s throw away the river flowed into the first of a series of waterfalls. The current took the frightened beast but my third arrow found its target despite its panicked flailing in the current. Her carcass washed up on the opposite shoreline. I made an expert kill, yet am now faced with a significant problem.
How do I get across? The river was freezing! I wouldn’t die, but it would be intensely unpleasant. Ah, and the waterfall. That was also a problem. It wasn’t a staggeringly long drop, but going over would prove quite painful. At the crest of the falls were a number of large black rocks slick with riverwater. Against my better judgment, I decided this would be my ticket across. I walk to the edge and count five rocks that would serve as my stepping stones.
The first was a long jump but I landed on a long, flat rock. Of course, I almost slid clear across it and into the river but caught myself just in time. The spray of freshwater on my snout was invigorating. The roar of the falls was deafening and my footing was hardly secure, but I straightened as much as I could and prepared to make the next jump. I land on the next rock and keep my footing this time. I pause and catch sight of something in the distance out of the corner of my eye.
A castle! And, presumably, true civilization. I was much closer than I had first thought. I remember the fresh carcass and make the leap to the next rock. And the next. And the next. I hop onto the shoreline and sit down to catch my breath. That little exercise was as fun as it was stupid and dangerous. For the briefest of moments I believe that Skyrim won’t be such an awful place to live. At that precise moment I notice something moving behind a tree and only have a fraction of a second to react to ninety pounds of fur and muscle barreling toward me. I roll to the side and raise my dagger just in time to dodge the wolf’s charge and scrape a nasty gash through its side. It retreats into the bushes and I take the opportunity to scramble to my feet. I’m not confident in my ability to overpower the beast with naught but a dagger and my good looks so I turn my back to it and leap onto the rocks at the crest of the waterfall. I sheathe my bloody dagger and grope for my bow.
I try not to lose my footing as I almost drop an arrow lining up my first shot. The wolf paces back and forth on the shore. I squeeze one eye shut and make a silent prayer to the Eight Divines. I’m blessed with the satisfying sound of the arrow thudding into the wolf’s skull squarely between the eyes. I can scarcely believe my eyes as it crumples to the ground in a bloody heap.
I like to think my victory screech could be heard from Riverwood to the Imperial City across the border. I killed a wolf with an arrow between the eyes while standing at the crest of a raging waterfall! Sure, the shot was a bit of a fluke, but I have had a rotten week, so I allow myself a moment of celebration. After I force my limbs to cease their shaking, I leap back to shore and start gathering the pelts I had earned. I felt unstoppable, which is likely why I was less careful crossing the river to the other shore and slipped.
The shock of cold water stunned me and I could scarcely begin to reorient myself underneath it before the current grabbed me and tossed me over the frothing crest. There’s a moment of weightlessness as I drop twenty feet into the rapids below. Luckily it wasn’t my skull that struck the rocks, only everything else. I finally right myself under the surface and begin to fight the current when something large smacks me square in the snout. I instinctively grab it and pull it away from my face and fight my way to shore before the current can snag me again and I go over the next waterfall. I dig my fingers into the soil along the shore and pull my torso out of the freezing water. I’m scraped up, soaked and for some reason clutching a flailing salmon in my right hand. Oh. That’s what hit me in the face earlier. Convenient.
As I get to my feet with two pelts and a fish I gaze off at the castle. I had read the Traveler’s Guide to Skyrim at Gerdur and Hod’s. (Yes, I read quite often, thank you very much. You weren’t the first to doubt it.) I must be looking at one of Skyrim’s major Holds. The city of Whiterun, the settlement town built around the Jarl’s castle Dragonsreach. The river’s current had taken me even closer to civilization. If I set out now, I would certainly arrive before sundown if I kept a good pace. Only reluctantly do I turn back and head for Riverwood.
I kill a second wolf before I arrive. The stupid beast had stood back and snarled at me. It had three arrows in it before it came upon me. Bashing it over the skull with my bow could not have been good for the weapon, but it felled the thing well enough.
I arrive at the Sleeping Giant Inn still dripping wet from my little swim. A good hunt – three kills in as many hours, plus a fourth. I’m counting the chicken. I could have been more careful with the disposal of the bird’s body, however.
“It was wolves.”
After having a light lunch I head out to chop wood for Hod…after stowing my stolen bow back in my room. This time I ignored the protestations of my body and do a day’s honest work like a true Son of Skyrim would. Or would a true Son of Skyrim get fall-down drunk then charge a wild boar? I don’t know. I don’t pretend to understand nords.
I bring several bundles of wood to Hod over the next few hours. The reward for my hard work totaled four-hundred and twenty gold septims. I head over the smith and use the tanning rack to clean the pelts and sell them. Alvor the smith chatters on about inane things for a while before bringing up a better use for the pelts I earn. Using leather I could stitch together a tent to keep the rain off in Skyrim’s southern Holds. With cleaned pelts, I could keep the bone-cutting chill off, if I ever planned to journey that far into Skyrim’s northern wastes. I didn’t, of course. But it was good to keep in mind. A place to sleep and cook would serve me quite well in the wilderness. I would need far more leather to work with to make the tent, however.
When I finish and (and sell off the Stormcloak armor, slightly used) I stop at the trader with the intention of buying a few healing potions and other supplies. The merchant is having an argument with his sister about whether or not to confront thieves. I politely wait in the corner for them to finish. Eventually he cuts off the conversation and his sister goes to the corner to fume by the fire. I’m curious, but not that curious. I purchase a few potions and leathers, leaving me at a mere eighty-six septims. I feel the sister’s eyes boring into the back of my skull. I allow myself a glance behind myself to find her doing exactly that. They’re searching for someone to chase thieves, and the river had not completely washed off the animal blood on my tunic.
I sigh inwardly. “Did something happen?” I ask.
The shopkeep explains that thieves had come and taken something from them to Bleak Falls Barrow to the north. Solid gold, he said. The feathers on my scalp stand on end. The sister must have noticed.
“Will you help us get it back?” she asked.
I turned around and stared her straight in the eye. As slowly and deliberately as I could, I gave my answer. “Nnnnnope.” She seemed to sink into the chair at my answer. My business concluded, I leave without another word. I find myself stopping on the other side of the shop’s door. The events of Helgen and my flight through the caves plays again through my mind. It should prove simple to locate a mercenary up in Whiterun to do the dirty work for me.
Minutes of standing in the road in silent deliberation later, I open the door and poke my head through.
“How much are you offering for it?” I ask.