I awake to the patter of rain against my tent. I am amazed that it is still coming down. After a light breakfast I pack up and walk due north. After my flight from the necromancer, I am even more lost than I had been before. It looks the same in every direction, so I am forced to merely aim myself in the general direction of Whiterun. It doesn’t take long before I find the road once again. Where the road leads matters little to me as it will eventually pass through a settlement, be it Whiterun or Windhelm or the Imperial City. I yearn for a proper roof over my head. It has been two days since I have felt it.
Before an iota of the sun’s light can properly permeate through the clouds above, I come across a familiar landmark that proves that I am on the right track.
Hert’s mill. From this, I know that I am north of Falkreath, where I want to be. And I am in significant peril for lingering here. Moving on.
The trees grow sparse and stone begins to rise on either side of the road as I continue north. Eventually the scenery shifts from open wilderness to become a sort of mountain pass. I see a pair of humanoid figures in the distance standing in the road. From where I am I can only tell for sure that they are human and don’t appear to be armed. Still, I’m sure to keep my guard up as I approach them.
A man and woman garbed in simple clothing block the path. They don’t appear to be armed with anything deadlier than a dagger. The woman stares off to the north and doesn’t appear to notice me. The man fingers his weapon and squints at me.
“Who goes there?”
“Billy McGonian, MTS.”
“MTS? No. Don’t tell me. I don’t care.” I can’t see his face but I can detect the fear in his voice. “Are you going to hurt us?”
I laugh. “You don’t look like you have anything good on you, so no.” The man cringes and takes a step back. “Relax. I won’t hurt you. What are you doing out here?”
Getting the words out is a clear struggle for him. “A dragon destroyed our farm. Our home and our livelihood is gone.”
“Do you have anything to offer us, Billy? We have nothing.”
“I have no more livelihood than you,” I say with a disarming smile. I shift my cloak ever so slightly to keep my pouch of septims well-concealed. “May I pass?”
The farmer deflates visibly. “We can’t stop you from doing so,” he says sadly. As I pass, he asks if I have food to share. I pretend not to hear him.
Amazingly, the Divines smile upon my course of action. Before I’ve left them behind, the rain stops and the clouds begin to part for the glorious sunlight that I have been prevented from seeing again and again lately. The road slopes downward and I see the familiar tundra where Whiterun is located stretching to the mountains on the horizon.
The wide open tundra is a welcome change from the confined and dark woods around Falkreath. There are dangers here, but unlike the woods I can see them coming from miles away. Game is plentiful, though my arrows are not. I spend far too much time and lose far too many arrows on deer that would just not die. I had one of the blasted things on its last legs when it had the brilliant idea of galloping through a giant’s camp. I was not about to follow. Not even for the two arrows sticking out of its rump.
My route takes on a circuitous nature as a result of sprinting after every deer and fox I see like an starving dog. Every unplanned deviation does not bear fruit, save one. A surprised deer grazing by the side of the road makes the fateful decision of galloping toward me rather than away. Three arrows later, I have its pelt. The day grows brighter and there is hardly a cloud in the sky when I spot Whiterun in the distance. Nearly there.
Not far from one of the farms dotting the outskirts of Whiterun, I see a flash of brilliant blue light accompanied by a crash not unlike the sound of thunder. When the light and sound comes a second time I take cover behind a nearby stone on the side of the road where I listen and wait.
There’s a pained scream, and then silence. I count to twenty in my head then slip out from behind the stone. A band of feline khajiit mill about in the open, talking in low tones. Oddly, they are the first I have encountered since entering Skyrim. I see no one else in the area. One of their number waves to me. “Hail, traveler!” he calls.
“I’m not going over there,” I call back.
He cups his hands to his snout and shouts his response. “Is there something wrong?”
“Someone was casting spells!”
“Oh!” The leader turns his head and seems to be looking for something that isn’t there. He turns back to me. “He’s dead!” he shouts. “Disintegrated! It’s safe!”
“Why did he disintegrate?”
The leader looks over his shoulder again. I think I see him conferring with a female. He turns back to me. “This one doesn’t know!”
“Good enough for me!”
They’re a nice group of cats. After doing some trading with them I lose some unwanted possessions and gain about one hundred septims. I now sit comfortably at two hundred and seventy-two. Our business concluded, it’s a short walk on roads heavily protected by the guardsmen of Whiterun before I arrive at the gates. Once safely inside the walls, I don’t feel like doing anything other than heading straight for Dragonsreach to rid myself of the Dragonstone. After doing so, I shall amass a great fortune and retire in the country, never so much as hearing the word ‘dragon’ ever again. While pondering things I would never want to see or hear from again, I come across the Drunken Huntsman. It is directly by the gate, after all.
A strange feeling grips my heart. I feel I should enter and see if she’s still there. The dunmer who captured me then dragged me through the bowels of a nordic crypt then robbed me of what I had come there to retrieve. One of the things I came there to retrieve, anyway. If I confronted her, what would I say? What would I do? What could I do? Charge her and hope I catch her by surprise? It would be a quick yet honorable death if I attempted it.
Ah, but I am not a nord. I turn away from the tavern and continue up the hill toward Dragonsreach.
The guards recognize me at once and allow me into the hall. The jarl is conspicuously absent. I wander into the room where the court mage Farengar has his lab. There’s a hooded stranger in leather armor at his desk. They’re discussing dragons. Dragon Wars, dragon texts, dragons returning, blah, blah, blah. I’m tired of it. The woman looks up at me and informs Farengar that he has a visitor. The mage is clearly surprised to see that I have returned.
“Ah!” He hesitates. “I want to say…Illy Gonian? You’re alive. Have you brought the dragonstone?” Without a word I reach into my pack, grab the stone then shove it forcefully into his gut. He grunts then clutches it to himself. I step back and watch him as he inspects it.
His guest watches him anxiously. “Is it the dragonstone?” she asks.
“It is!” He glances at me, wide-eyed. “How did you-”
A familiar yet unwelcome voice calls out from behind us. “Farengar!” Irileth, Balgruuf’s dunmer housecarl, enters the room. “A dragon has been sighted at the western watchtower!”
Farengar’s jaw drops. When he regains his composure, he sputters out a response. “Are you sure?”
“Damn sure. Report to Jarl Balgruuf at once.” She glances at me. “You too, argonian.”
“You survived Helgen. You have more experience with dragons than any of us within this city do.”
“I have experience running from an unstoppable force that somewhat resembled a flying lizard and that hardly counts as-” She turns and walks away before I finish. I reluctantly follow her up a flight of stairs and into a wide open room clearly reserved for strategy or particularly intense games of chess.
We’re all assembled. Jarl Balgruuf, Farengar, Irileth, a pair of guardsmen who may as well not have names, and yours truly.
“Is it true?” Balgruuf asks the guard. “Are you sure it was a dragon?”
The guard nods vigorously. “I am certain. It was fast. Faster than anything else I have seen.”
Balgruuf nods. “Irileth. Rally the city guard and investigate the tower. Be prepared for battle if the dragon is still lurking about.” He turns to me. “You. Go with her.”
I find myself asking the question again, knowing full well what the answer will be. “Why me?”
“You were there when Helgen was destroyed. You’ve seen a dragon.”
“That doesn’t mean I know how to kill it! Why are you so eager to march me to my death?”
Irileth steps forward but stops when the jarl raises a hand. “You will be rewarded.”
“You have nothing to offer me that would convince me to do battle with a dragon.”
“You will be rewarded with the title of Thane. I will allow you to purchase property in Whiterun. You will have a housecarl of your own.”
“Oh.” I feel my chest tighten. When will I ever have this opportunity again? Should I allow it to slip through my fingers, just like that?
Balgruuf frowns at my silence. “Have I convinced you?”
I nod. “Yes. Will I have time for one short diversion before I leave the city?”
Balgruuf agrees. I was grateful at the gesture, though terrified of what the approved diversion involves. I leave Dragonsreach with Irileth. While she gives a rousing speech to the guards gathered at the gates, I walk to the door of the Drunken Huntsman. I take a deep breath and enter.