Whiterun isn’t far, right? No. Not at all. I can practically see it from around the bend! That dragon won’t return, will he? No. Certainly not.
Okay. My nerves got the better of me. I laid more septims on the trader’s table than I had first intended. Potions, spare pieces of leather – by the end of it I had a little over one hundred septims remaining. All of my backbreaking labor for a few vials and skins. Still, I needed to stitch together a tent to keep the rain off. Of course, I won’t find enough leather for one between Riverwood and Whiterun, but I figured I’d finish it once safely behind Whiterun’s walls. I consider telling Gerdur and Hod where I’m going and thanking them for their hospitality. I reconsider when I realize they probably knew by now that I was the one who took their bow. Instead, I shoulder my pack and get going at a brisk pace, foregoing a long teary goodbye to the village that had so briefly been my home.
I pass the river where I had killed the elk hours before and find the way guarded by a trio of drunken nords. I briefly ponder slipping down the slope to my right and get a few cuts and bruises instead of walking close enough to be noticed. I’m not rude, understand. They’re liquored-up nords, for Sanguine’s sake! I would rather take my chances with a cave bear!
Instead, I approach carefully. To my surprise, they are thrilled to see me. The one with the most coherency and least hair greets me warmly and beckons me over.
He’s babbling something about Honningbrew Mead. It sounds intriguing, but I am unfamiliar with Skyrim’s local spirits. I ask him what it is, half-expecting to be beaten to death on the spot for my insult. Instead, the nord surprised me again by fussing over me like some pitiable street-rat. He’s shocked that I have never had a taste of the stuff and goes on and on about its sweetness and potency. He then asks me if I wish to share a drink with him and offers me a bottle of this godly mead. I accept. Their cheer is infectious. And besides, how would you expect me to turn down a bottle of free mead? Honestly, now. They turn out to be good company, though I got odd looks when I laughed at what I thought was a joke. I swear, the other two had started laughing as well. Bah, nords.
With my non-lips pleasantly moistened and my spirits somewhat raised, I set off again. Or, begin to. A stone’s throw and a half away, a small patrol of Imperial Legion soldiers approaches. I consider turning tail and running, but they would notice straightaway and pursue. They didn’t seem to recognize me or even care who I am. I decide to keep my stride calm and easy and keep walking straight ahead. I could see Dragonsreach from above that reveler’s shoulder. I can’t be stopped. Not by this. Not now.
Two of the soldiers are having a word with each other as I approach. One of them turns to me and furrows his brow. “Hey!”
I freeze. I look down to ensure the tiny bit of urine that slipped out was not visible on the outside of my trousers. I make eye contact with him. “Hey,” I say coolly.
He nodded in the direction of the revelers. “You and your drinking buddies interested in joining the Imperial Legion? We could use some fellows as stout as them in our ranks.”
“And me.” Why did I say that?
“And you,” he conceded, impressively straight-faced.
“Apologies. I am hardly acquainted with them. I merely ran across them on my way to Whiterun.”
The soldier tilts his head at the nords and nodded, satisfied. “I see. Thank you, argonian.” The three soldiers walk right by me as if I had suddenly faded into the aether. Once they are gone, I resume breathing.
The sun has only just begun to approach the horizon by the time I enter the farmlands surrounding Whiterun. Off in the distance, I spy a massive humanoid form. It’s difficult to make out from here.
I feel I should be more impressed than I am when I witness three heavily armored and rugged types defeat a great gray creature together. I approach the trio out of morbid curiosity and am quickly overpowered by the collective stench of the three mingling with the scent of the freshly felled giant. My hand shot up to shield my nostrils out of instinct, but I am able to masterfully play the gesture off as politely clearing my throat.
“Greetings,” I say.
“What is your business, argonian?” asks the redhead in face paint.
What is my business, I wonder? I gesture to the giant. “Are there a lot of those around here?”
“Yes,” she responds curtly.
“Thanks,” I say and wander off. The response is sufficiently awkward enough for them not to bother stopping me to question me further.
It’s now late afternoon and I’ve arrived at the gates of Whiterun. A guard stops me at the gate and approaches.
“Halt, traveler. The city is closed due to-”
“-Dragons?” I ask. I cut him off before the lie has fully formulated in my head. I shall not be turned away. On the other side of those gates is that mercenary I need to get the claw back.
I can’t see his expression through that hideous mask of his. He watches me for several moments as if sizing me up. “News has traveled fast,” he says. He sounds irritated.
“Aye. I’ve come from Helgen. It’s been attacked by a dragon. You can see the smoke from here, can you not?” I peer off into the distance. “You could have yesterday, anyway.”
The guard relents surprisingly fast. “Fine. Go in. But I’ll be keeping an eye on you, argonian.”
“Fine by me, nord!” I laugh, but the brutes don’t seem to appreciate my joke. They open the gates and allow me through. I walk past the smith and take in the sights.
Hideous. Blech. I feel something prod me in the ribs. I turn my head to see the guard who had let me in.
“You’re here to see the Jarl,” he said. “So, see the Jarl. I trust you know where to go?”
“Yes, of course. I go to the massive keep atop the hill. Patience, man!” Okay, no time to take in the sights, then.
Though I have never before been to Whiterun, it’s easy to figure out the way to Dragonsreach. Follow the largest street and go up more flights of stairs than I care to count. On the way I pass bunches of nords and various other human races speaking of inane things like old rival clans within the city and difficulties with mudcrabs. It isn’t until I reach the top of the hill and approach the door to the keep that I realize I’ve made a terrible mistake.
This is no place for an argonian like me! No, no, no, no. Wrong, wrong, wrong! I am a race considered inferior in these parts of Tamriel, I am wearing rags and I am often up to no good. And I’m about to see a jarl in his own keep! I even lied to get this far! The guard prods me in the ribs again. I whimper.
I enter the hall. I can hardly take in my surroundings before I hear the scrape of steel against a scabard. A dunmer female brandishes a sword and rushes toward me. By the Divines, what is a dunmer doing here?! The guard has not followed me inside and has shut the door. I used my silver tongue to get in, damn it, I can use it to get out! Crap, what appeases a nord? One of those nord revelers mentioned a…gah, what was his name?
I throw up my arms to shield my face and shout, “YSMIR IS LORD, YSMIR IS LORD!”
To my credit, it worked for a moment. She paused in her tracks, confused. It quickly wore off and she scowled. “Who are you? No visitors are allowed in-”
“Stop, Irileth!” shouts the Jarl from his throne. Both myself and the dunmer turn to him in shock. “Let him speak,” he demands.
“Dragons! Oh, Divines! Dragons everywhere!” I pause and slow my breathing to cease my hyperventilating. I try to speak again in a voice that is a touch less shrill. “Okay, one dragon. In Helgen.”
“Calm yourself,” says Balgruuf. “What is your name, argonian?”
“Billy Mcgonian. The Fifth.”
“So, Bi-…Er. Billy McGonian?”
Balgruuf blinks slowly. “It, ah, suits you. Yes. Calm yourself, and tell us what has happened. Start from the beginning.”
I came here under a dishonest pretense, but the guard’s kindness has given me a chance to make up for it. I calm myself quickly and relay what I have seen in Helgen to the Jarl. It is surprisingly difficult to describe what had happened to me that day. At times I must pause to collect my thoughts when the fear and violence of the day returns to me in sudden vivid recollections. When I finish my tale, the Jarl nods.
“I will send soldiers to Riverwood at once to aid in its defense. Come with me.” Balgruuf lifts his jarly rear out of its seat and leads me to an adjacent room. Scrolls, potions and soulstones of various sizes are strewn about on the desk in the center of the room. Behind the desk stands the court wizard.
“We have a job that may suit you, argonian.”
“Fishing?” I ask. Balgruuf laughs. It wasn’t a joke.
“No, no! Farengar, tell our friend here what you need of him.”
“I require the Dragonstone,” says the court wizard. Either he doesn’t pick up on my incompetence or he has no concern for my well-being or the success of his mission. “You may find it deep within Bleak Falls Barrow, to the north of Riverwood.
“I know of the place,” I say against my better judgment. Bleak Falls Barrow was where the thieves who had taken the golden claw from Riverwood hid out.
“Good. You will have no trouble locating it, then. The Dragonstone is a stone slab. On one side are words written in the tongue of dragons. On the other side is a map of dragon burial sites.”
“Okay,” I say. “Why are you asking me to do this?”
“Because,” Balgruuf says as he claps me painfully on the back, “Your retelling of events in Helgen has led me to believe that you are quite the resourceful one. Unless, of course, you were lying.”
I hadn’t lied. I wonder if I should have, to sound less competent. I swallow. “I merely got lucky,” I say.
“Nonsense,” replies the Jarl. “You’ll figure something out, I’m sure. I’d prefer if as few souls as possible knew of this, you understand.”
“Of course,” I say. I feel like I may vomit.
“Very good.” He claps me on the back again. “Prepare yourself well for your quest. I will be here when you return.” He turns to leave.
“You don’t happen to have any Honningbrew mead?” I ask.
“We’ll share a few bottles upon your return!” replies the Jarl without turning back to me.
I stand perfectly still while I absorb what has just happened to me. I don’t snap out of my reverie until Farengar clears his throat and begins to fiddle with his alchemy lab.
I leave Dragonsreach and head back down the hill and enter the first tavern I recall seeing: The Drunken Huntsman. In a shadowed corner, I spot a female dunmer having a drink by her lonesome. I seat myself at her table a respectable distance away and say nothing. She stares at me with an intensity that is entirely unwarranted for the situation. I peek at her out of the corner of my eye.
“Selling your sword, miss?” I ask.
“Depends,” is her reply. “What do you need it for?” Her stare had not softened for an instant. She seemed about ready to gut me.
“Some thieves have stolen a solid gold claw from a trader in Riverwood. They are now hiding in the near the village.”
“What is your name?” she asks. More of a demand phrased as a question, really.
“Billy McGonian,” I say.
She blinks slowly. “Billy McGonian?”
“Maybe the Sixth.” I laugh. She frowns.
“Stop making that awful sound.”
I tilt my head. “I was laughing.”
“It sounded more like hissing.”
“No. This is a hiss. Hiissssssssss.”
“And what, then, is a laugh to you?”
I pull back the skin around my teeth in a smile. “Hisssisssisssississississ.”
She buries her face in her palms. “Never mind. I’ll sell my sword to you, argonian.” Her hands slid to her lap and she stared at me again. More staring! “If you can meet my price of five hundred septims.”
I have about one hundred and twenty septims to my name. “I’m sure I can scrounge that up tomorrow,” I say.”
“In addition, any unclaimed treasure we come across is mine, be it on the body of a freshly killed bandit or in a nordic burial cove.”
“I’ll be glad to leave the graverobbing to you.”
“And, finally, you must accompany me there.”
I don’t hesitate. “Absolutely not.”
“Suit yourself,” she says. “Leave, then. Your very presence offends me.”
I ignore the insult. “I apologize. I – I don’t understand. Why do you need me to come along?”
“You’ll have your uses,” she says with a grin. “You don’t hide it well. There is something about this you are not telling me, and it is distressing to you. I am not stupid. You’re coming because you may prove useful, and I know you will accompany me if asked.”
“That’s not fair,” I say hoarsely. “I’ll find someone else to help me.”
She laughs harshly. “I wish you luck in that, McGonian. When your efforst bear you no fruit, return and ask for Jenassa.”
Needless to say, I didn’t take her up on her offer. Five hundred septims seems like it would be a good amount to have before I ask for the aid of a mercenary, however. The sun has finally set and my aching body does not agree with the idea of chopping more wood. I spot a woman walking home alone just outside the tavern. She turns off the main street and down toward a small cluster of houses by the wall encircling the hold. I follow at a distance and once I am in the shadow of a building I drop to a crouch.
I hold my breath and creep closer…closer…closer. I see a purse of gold at her waist. I reach for it slowly, trying to match her pace. Careful, now…
She stops. I am marginally disappointed to find my fingers encircle a firm buttock instead of a pouch of gold. It is then I notice the nasty looking mace on her other hip.
Bothersome. I have just attempted to pick the pocket of Adrianne Avenicci, the surly blacksmith who worked with her husband at the establishment called ‘Warmaiden’s’. I am about to discover how the smithy got its name.
She whirls about. “Pickpocket!” She shouts. Before I have time to react the mace is in her hand. She bludgeons me in the ribs with it and I hear something pop. The excruciating pain immediately follows. I dodge a second blow and run (or, limp quickly) back to the main street in search of a guard.
“Help! She’s going to kill me!”
I come across a guard and stop dead in my tracks. Who else would come to my aid but the very guard I had lied to to enter the city? “You again?” He sounds rather cross.
Adrianne’s mace finds my ribs again. “H-help,” I gasp. The guard stares at me through his ridiculous helmet. I gasp and use the last tactic I know to get out of trouble. “Ysmir is l-”
I am interrupted by a blow to the head. I remember seeing sparks.