“If you attempt to leave now, I will kill you.”
“I must not have heard right,” I say hoarsely.
“I believe you have.”
It feels as if I am choking. I clutch my throat and wheeze, “We had an agreement!”
“This is no longer about any agreement we may have made,” she says. “Behave, and I will let you live. You can even take that dragonstone back to the Jarl. I’m sure he’d make better use of it than I.”
“But the claw-”
“The claw is mine. In exchange for doing as I say, you will keep your life, your current possessions and your dragonstone. That is all I can promise you.”
“I do this because I shall profit from it and I am able to do it. Nothing personal.”
My mind races as I think of a potential out. If I don’t freeze to death or get cut down by a bandit in the deepest reaches of the nordic ruin, I’ll come out of it not one septim richer. I could attempt to give Jenassa the slip and flee to Cyrodiil, but I’ve seen her fight. I know better than to attempt that. I throw up my hands in resignation.
“This makes me very sad,” I say.
She raises an eyebrow but otherwise ignores the comment. Taking a hostage bothers her not one whit. Lovely mer. “Are you rested enough?” she asks.
The dry firewood I had gathered the previous night still burns away in the pit I had hastily thrown together. The tower is so exposed the fire is but a temporary relief and does little more than stabilize my temperature. I fear I have wasted almost all of the firewood I had brought on a flame that would provide no safe haven from the chill. “As ready as I’ll ever be,” I reply.
The winds dies down and to my delight the snow is now drifting downwards rather than blowing into my snout. My jailor and I take that as an opportunity to move on to the barrow.
Wouldn’t you know it, as soon as we’re out in the open halfway between the tower and the barrow the storm returns with such ferocity that every gust of wind forces the air out of my lungs. Every breath causes a painful burn in my chest. My leg doesn’t move when I tell it to and I stumble. A particularly powerful gust knocks me off my feet and sends me crashing down onto the hard-packed ice covering the earth below. I curl up and decide to wait out the storm right there on the ground, but I feel Jenassa grab my shoulder roughly and get me to my feet. She allows me to lean on her and gets me walking again. As we struggle through biting wind and blinding snow, my mind wanders.
“Do you know my Black Marsh name?” I ask Jenassa.
“No,” she says.
“Neither do I.” I frown. “Those nasty crab things. Dreugh, they’re called. In some places, the land dreugh are called ‘billies’. Did you know?”
“No,” she said again. “Draw your bow, if you can. There’s more. They think they’re going to ambush us, but I spotted one.” There’s an odd quality to her voice, but for the life of me I cannot unravel what it is. I feel sad for her. “Be careful,” she adds. “You may not realize, but the cold is starting to get to you.”
“I feel fine,” I say as I draw my bow.
I don’t remember arriving, but the great stone monuments of Bleak Falls tower directly above us. We ascend a flight of old stone stairs to the terrace in the shadow of the archways. The moment our feet touch the terrace, four bandits slip out from behind the stones and arches with weapons drawn. Sure enough, it’s an ambush.
The four move onto the terrace from different directions, trying to surround us. In moments an arrow sent from Jenassa’s bow strikes one of the buggers in the shoulder. I take aim and fire at the same target, but miss by an embarrassingly wide margin.
Something slams into the back of my thigh, but I keep my feet. I spin around to face my attacker, but I see only empty air and snow. I spot a bandit with a bow that has slipped behind us to the very edge of the terrace.
I nock an arrow and let it fly. The bandit is struck in the stomach and plummets to the ground below. I feel my heart beating for the first time since leaving the tower. I glance around and realize that I am shaking violently. Did I just murder someone? Again?
Jenassa is under the archways standing over the corpse of one bandit and struggling with another clad in thick furs. I line up another shot and fire, but it flies far to the left. I try to force myself to stop shaking to steady my aim. Oddly enough, my tremors cease! My next shot lands in the bandit’s side and Jenassa takes advantage of her opponent’s surprise to dispatch him with ease.
My fingers strain against a taut bowstring as I spin around searching for the final bandit. Jenassa approaches with her hand raised.
“They’re all dead,” she informs me with a slight nod. “Let’s keep moving. They need warmth as well. There must have built a fire within the barrow.” She looks worried. Perhaps she isn’t handling the cold as well as I had first thought? I nod and follow her up the stairs.
We reach the door leading to the ruin proper. She glances to me. “You’ve stopped shaking.”
“Isn’t that a good thing?”
No answer. She pushes the door open and slips inside. I follow and what I see inside is a lovelier sight than any generous banquet made in my honor could ever be.
And bandits. I count the arrows in my quiver: Five. No. Six. That’s enough. I draw one and pull back the string. Jenassa hurries to my side.
“What are you doing?” she hisses. “You’re in no shape to-”
The arrow strikes the bandit between the shoulder-blades. He falls forward and doesn’t move. Jenassa draws her bow and feathers the second before he realizes what is happening.
Fire. Warm, sweet, beautiful warmth. Jenassa joins me, rubbing her hands together to warm them. “Are you alright?” she asks.
“What?” I look down and notice the man who had perished at my hands face-down on the ground. “Ah. That poor man. I believe it shall take a few moments before I realize fully what I have done.”
Jenassa nods, frowning. “I was referring to the arrow in your leg.”
“Oh,” I say, inspecting the wooden shaft buried in my flesh. “How did I not notice it?”
Jenassa shrugs, still frowning. I then scream loud enough to wake the dead.