I didn’t count them all, and I lost track anyway after a few hundred and the first onslaught of a pack of wolves, but it were really 7000 steps. At least.
Farkas had fun with me mumbling numbers, nudging me, yelling false alarms or telling dirty jokes just to break my concentration. But to count the steps seemed to be the only way to deal with burning calves and the lack of breath as we circled the peak above us on the steep, narrow, icy path over and over again. It didn’t seem to come any nearer for hours, and I was glad that we had allowed ourselves an extensive rest in Ivarstead and not taken the bait of the inn keeper to visit the allegedly haunted local barrow.
The snowfall became denser the nearer we came to the top, until we could barely see the next few steps. But I pressed onward, no way I would spend a night on this path with nothing but frost trolls as company. When High Hrothgar finally became visible I was frozen to the bones, but we already stood nearly in front of its entrance – if the huge, wooden double doors were any indication, the building they belonged to was really impressive.
An impression which proved to be true as soon as we entered. The huge hall wasn’t any warmer than the outside, but at least we were out of the snow and the storm. Blank black stone walls, impressive stairs and a circle of old men in grey robes, silently staring at me – I didn’t feel very welcome. In fact, suddenly I felt very small, and only Farkas’ reassuring presence behind me made me step forward.
“Are you the one we called?”
I just nodded. The man’s face was unreadable under the grey hood. No welcome, no smile, no acknowledgement, no “good to see you, Dragonborn, have a drink.” After 7000 steps! I wasn’t so certain any more that this journey was worth the effort.
“Prove it.” He pointed to a symbol, shimmering in the polished surface of the black stone floor.
If they didn’t want to be polite, I could do without as well. They had summoned me, I had taken on an entirely unwanted journey to follow their call, and I’d rather return to Whiterun sooner than later. I let the force build up in my throat until it hummed through my whole body, but when it erupted, I somehow failed to target the symbol exactly. One of the robed figures flew backwards against the stairs. After all, I was weary from the walk and not very practised. Farkas behind me couldn’t suppress an amused snort, but somehow this audacity seemed to break the ice. The man didn’t smile openly, but at least he didn’t shout back.
“Welcome to High Hrothgar, Dragonborn.” Finally. “I am Master Arngeir. It seems you’re tired – we sometimes forget how exhausting the journey up here is. We don’t get many visitors.” Why wasn’t I surprised?
I didn’t know if anyone beside these four men lived in the complex, but the chamber Arngeir led us to was warmed by a crackling fire, and a meal waited for us – for both of us, as if they had expected that I wouldn’t come alone. We were left alone for the rest of the evening, and I was glad to have Farkas by my side, although he obviously felt at least as uncomfortable as me.
“Why do these sages with their ancient wisdom always have to live in such inhospitable places?” he muttered while popping an ale and filling our tankards. “No fun, no women, no music, and these,” he raised the bottle, “are probably only for guests.” He became earnest.
“I don’t like this place, Qhouri. It’s too quiet. Like a tomb, but I’m not allowed to draw my blade although I can feel that something powerful lurks in the dark. Promise to be careful when you deal with these guys, okay?”
I was here to learn, no to fight. And if there was danger ahead, probably not even Farkas could protect me.
The Greybeards didn’t carry their name by chance. Everything in High Hrothgar was grey – the building itself, the surroundings, the weather, its resident’s robes, hair and skin, and even the voice of Arngeir sounded as if it was muffled by dense, grey fog. And it wasn’t just grey – it was the absolute absence of colours that was so deeply disturbing. Down in the valley we had enjoyed the deep, luminous colours of fall, but up here endless winter ruled, where nothing ever grew and everything seemed as lifeless as the dark stone around us.
Nothing that could distract from the knowledge held and taught in this temple of ancient wisdom.
Breakfast was sparse, and after it we gathered again in the huge main hall. Farkas joined me, but lingered in the shadows, just watching… I didn’t know if out of curiosity of because he thought I’d need his protection. Again, it was Arngeir who addressed me.
“Dragonborn. It’s an honour to welcome you in High Hrothgar, where we have sought to guide those of the Dragon Blood who came before you. We will do our best to teach you how to use your gift in fulfilment of your destiny.”
“My destiny? What is my destiny? Does it have something to do with the return of the dragons?”
He nodded. That was what I had feared most. “Probably, yes. Even we don’t know for sure, but the appearance of a Dragonborn at this time is certainly more than a coincidence. But we can only show you the path… you will have to uncover the destination for yourself.”
My destiny. The last months – no, actually all my life I had been pushed around by forces I could not control, from the bandits who ransacked the farm of my parents and destroyed my family up to the dragon attacking Whiterun. I had always been used, and it was high time I started to shape my own life. My own destiny. The first step had been to join the Companions. Now there was something new again, something that had descended upon me like an avalanche. But I wouldn’t allow that this so-called destiny would push me around. I would learn to control the powers I had, and I didn’t care for the moment if they were a gift or a curse. I also didn’t want to ask that pointless “Why me?” question any more – I wouldn’t get an answer anyway. If the gods had such a queer sense of humour to make someone like me a Dragonborn, I’d make sure to deliver them a good game.
The training was hard. Arngeir was the only one who talked to me, but all of the Greybeards shared their powers and their knowledge. The problem wasn’t so much to learn new words, that was obviously my inborn ability, but to channel the new understanding into reality. I needed the power of the dragons to do so, and there was so much possible with those Words of Power, I had no idea. While I could attack with pure force, fire and ice, I could also move with incredible speed, soothe animals, weaken my enemies or protect myself. Or at least, some day I would hopefully be able to – for now, I only practised the most basic words until the power of the Thu’um made my body tremble with exhaustion and my lungs and throat burned from the focused, powerful breaths. My teachers were relentless, but they also showed a great deal of patience.
The hours I spent in the company of the silent elders were rewarded with a tranquillity I had never known before. Concentrated on my exercises, their gestures and light touches got a clarity which exceeded every spoken word. The training and the permanent physical exhaustion coming with it, long conversations with Arngeir and hours of silent meditations which left me stiff and chilled to the bone but cleared my head from the overwhelming amount of knowledge – the days passed like a dream.
And with every passing day my willingness to face this new life, this new challenge grew as well. Not only did I finally experience that I had the power to do so; it wasn’t pure luck any more when I did something and survived. With every hour I spent with Arngeir and learned about the history of the dragons and Dragonborns before me, I also learned to accept the fact that it was my very own duty. If I refused to deal with the newly rising danger, nobody would.
But despite all the submersion and contemplation every day had to end, and every evening when I retreated to our shared chamber I had to deal with Farkas’ growing restlessness. He didn’t complain, never even said a word, but I saw in him that our stay here strained his nerves to the edge. I knew the Greybeards let him stroll freely through High Hrothgar, but what could a man like him find here to keep him occupied? Sometimes I thought of him like of a little boy who needed to be kept busy, but that was unjust. This was simply not his world, and he didn’t share the experiences I made.
But it was more than just boredom, and I realised it nearly too late. The deep, undisturbed silence that I had learned to appreciate so much, this silence frightened him to death. He wasn’t used to be all on his own, and he feared the whole atmosphere of this place which left him nothing to do than to deal with himself. He wasn’t ready for it. He had come as my guardian, as my support, but what had become a refuge to me was more like a prison to him. When he felt he wasn’t needed – at least for the moment – he backed out.
At first he made long hikes along the mountainside, hunted deer and goats, even patrolled the path to keep the few pilgrims safe who wandered the way and meditated over the inscriptions. But it wasn’t enough, and one evening I found a short scribbled note on my pillow.
“Off to Ivarstead, I need some company. Will be back in a few days. Farkas”
The small sentiment of hurt that he didn’t bother to tell me about his plans personally dissipated soon. He was right, and I was glad he didn’t press me to leave just because he felt uncomfortable.
It took four days until I started to worry. After six days, the serenity of High Hrothgar left me entirely. I was unconcentrated, my throat so constricted I didn’t manage a single Shout to the standards I had worked so hard for. With a frustrated shrug I left the back yard where I had trained with Master Borri, my thoughts with Farkas instead on the Word I practised. I knew something was wrong. He was gone for exactly one week when I woke with the image of golden eyes in my mind. Arngeir just nodded when he saw me enter the main hall, armed and armoured, wrapped in my cloak and ready to leave.
“I will come back, I promise.”
High Hrothgar would never be my home. It could be a safe haven for a limited time, but my home was Jorrvaskr, the Companions my family. When Farkas needed help, even when I only assumed that he needed my help, everything else had to stay behind.
It didn’t take long to find him, the bright red patch shining from afar in the blinding white snow. The sabrecats had attacked him from behind, damned sneaky critters, but nevertheless their huge corpses lay some distance below him, shred to pieces I knew only one kind of creature could cause. Farkas lay in the snow, unconscious, his armour nearly destroyed, bleeding from many wounds but alive. Arngeir didn’t ask when I rushed back into the hall, he just helped. And he also didn’t mind to turn High Hrothgar into a hospital for the time being, brought potions and a substantial chicken broth.
I was asleep in a chair when Farkas finally opened his eyes again, but the light pressure of his fingers let me startle. A feeble smile had replaced the clenched teeth caused by the pain every breath and every move obviously caused him.
“Another life I owe you, sister. Next time it’s my turn again, okay?”
I was so relieved to see him awake that I could only give him a beaming smile.
His expression turned into his typical grin. “I’ve brought you something. Something pretty!” He chuckled. “Have you already looked through my pack?” I had, but only for any leftover potions. “There’s a small package, wrapped in a cloth. It’s for you.”
It was a claw similar to the one Athis and I had “found” in Bleak Falls Barrow, just that its talons were of a bright blue instead of gold. He obviously didn’t expect it when I punched him in the chest, not caring for his injuries. His breath became a pained gasp.
“You’ve been in the damned tomb!” I yelled at him, “are you crazy? Did Kodlak teach you nothing? You foolish, stubborn icebrain, you could be dead!”
His hand reached for my cheek, wiping away the tears of anger and relief, but he also seemed a bit confused about my outbreak.
“Hey… nothing happened, at least not in the barrow! I just did the people down there a small favour. And it was only one guy, not even a real ghost – I didn’t get in very far anyway, couldn’t open one of those silly puzzle doors. Wilhelm gave me the claw as a reward. And it is pretty, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is, but if my guess is right it’s also the key to that silly door that fortunately stopped you. And perhaps there’s another word wall behind it like in Bleak Falls Barrow. We will have to check that out – when you’re on your feet again, and together!”
I wasn’t finished with him. “Never, never again dare to scare me like that, do you hear me? Do you have any idea how terrifying it is to dream of you and wake up with the knowledge that something horrible has happened?”
His eyes darkened with distress and he leant back, withdrawing his hand and his whole self from the contact.
“Yes. Yes, I know how that feels, Qhouri,” he muttered lowly. “Believe me. I don’t know much, but this… I’ve spent so long with nothing but your eyes keeping me linked to this world, it’s just fair that you see mine now from time to time.”
The silence between us grew into infinity. But these were things that had to be expressed, even if it got to his core. He had to rip this scar open to let it heal properly. When I laid my hand on his, lying limply on the blanket, he turned his wrist and clenched my fingers.
His voice was weak and small.
“I was lost… and I didn’t even know it. There was only emptiness, darkness and hunger. Nothing else… not even the feeling that something was wrong. I could have stayed there forever, in that void, if it hadn’t been for the dreams.”
“Dreams? You still dreamt?”
“Yes. Did you know that when the wolf is in control… when nothing is left to keep him in check, he dreams as well? I know them, we all know them, these dreams of the hunt and the kill and the frenzy. They’re dangerous, but then… it was different. In these dreams I knew that I was lost. That I had lost something, and that I couldn’t return. And I only knew it because your face was still there.”
He stared at me from wide open eyes full of hurt, as if he relived it. This revelation was horrible, and I turned my head away, avoiding his gaze. But his index touched my chin and lifted my face to his.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered, “if I had known…”
He shook his head. “Don’t be. I never felt so alone. It was all that was left… but I didn’t want to lose it. I fought for it, it was… like an anchor. But when the pack overwhelmed me and Farengar put that spell on me… it didn’t feel like returning. It was like being pushed into another abyss. Suddenly I knew what was wrong, but knowing alone wasn’t enough, and the beast was so much stronger than me. Yes, there were Vilkas and Kodlak and the others. They showed me where to go. But without your smell and your eyes, without you being there I would have never believed.”
He leant back against the pillow, his voice that was usually so resounding only a barely audible whisper.
“I owe you so much more than just my life, Qhouri. Nothing is certain any more, nothing can be taken for granted, but this is something I still trust. You will have to send me to Oblivion to get rid of me. Though I would probably go if you told me.”
This huge gruff man looked at me with the eyes of a child, full of faith and trust.
I bit my lip. “I won’t send you anywhere, Farkas. But… I don’t know what will happen. What’s waiting for me. I’ll have to deal with those dragons…”
It was frightening to say it out loud. Of course I would need help with this. But… whatever I’d have to do, it wasn’t the Companion’s business, and I didn’t want him to feel obliged.
But there was no hesitation in him, no doubt, only certainty and determination “Whatever it is… let me have your back, sister. It’s the least I can do.” He saw through me, that I shied away from his offer, from the commitment that came with it. His hand reached out, touching my wrist lightly, and a small smile flickered over his face. “We’re a good team.”
“You think so? Or do you just wanna slay more dragons?” I gave him a weak grin.
“Both. I won’t press you, Qhouri. But I want you to know that I’ll be there when you need me.”
I lifted my head, looked up into his face. His eyes were bright, clear and calm. He had made a decision, for himself and perhaps for me as well, and somehow I felt safe. Somehow I knew that this promise would hold.
“What’s that grin for? You’re not laughing about me again, are you?”
“Of course not, brother. Never!” I couldn’t withhold a giggle. The spikes that had been crashing out of the ground in front of the trapped chest had nearly pierced his kneecaps although I had pointed out the thin wire that tied the trigger to the lid.
We were back in normality, and we were both glad about it. People could only endure so much emotional strain without going crazy or – worse – becoming awkward with each other. Nothing was awkward between us, fortunately, and the temporary parting from High Hrothgar had been on good terms as well. I knew I could come back whenever I felt the necessity, and I also left with an assignment – a trial – which gave me the good feeling that I’d perhaps be able to repay what the Greybeards had done for me: to retrieve the horn of Jurgen Windcaller, their founder, from his grave.
And now the crawl through the dark passages of Shroud Hearth Barrow and hacking through half-rotten undead felt so incredible routine in comparison to the things we both had been through, it was outright relaxing. Obviously too relaxing and boring for my shield-brother, I was nearly convinced he triggered all the traps on purpose just to amuse me. Although I could have killed him when he released the mechanism of the rotating doors when I was just between the first and the second. It had taken me ages to stop them all three with the opening just large enough for us to squeeze through. His hysterical giggle from behind the massive stone wall didn’t make it any better – as didn’t mine when it took him even longer to find the correct position of the levers again.
Only when we reached the final room, the laughter suddenly died in my throat. Thirteen coffins, of course all of them opening at once, and behind them the word wall we had come for, tugging at my conscience. I gestured to Farkas to stay back and quiet, and for once he obeyed – with the result that the heavy gate closed between him and me. With me inside and him out. I had a problem.
Fortunately the inhabitants of the anterior coffins were mere skeletons, easy to kill but also inconveniently noisy when they collapsed into piles of bones. The draugr hadn’t localised me yet, hiding in the shadows behind an enormous column, but with several skulls suddenly rolling around they became curious and moved towards the gate. Where Farkas suddenly appeared, just to kick up a riot that must have been audible up in Ivarstead. He clenched to the bars and yelled abuses at the draugr I’d preferred not to have added to my vocabulary, but it was hilarious to see them pile up before the gate, sticking their bony limbs through it and Farkas raging just out of their reach, hacking at their swords, axes and arms when he got the opportunity.
I had crawled behind one of the now empty coffins for cover and took them out from behind. Another lesson learned: draugr focused on a single enemy weren’t easily distracted as long as this enemy was still alive and kicking. Not even by bodies going limp beside, behind and in front of them. They were really dumb. I only had to confront one of them personally, their master, the strongest of them all. The way he got rid of of his unreachable enemy left me speechless for a second – a barked “FUS” crashed Farkas against the wall behind him. When the bright blue glowing eyes turned to me, I shouted back. And the gate opened.
Farkas was already on his feet again when I rushed over. “That was awesome!” he grinned, rubbing the back of his head.
“Yes, it was, but you know…” I pointed at the quiver on his back, “instead of only yelling vulgarities, you could have just used your bow and not let me do all the work, meatshield. Leave the shouting to me, okay?”
His puppy eyes were irresistible. “Oh, but this was so much more fun!” he sulked. “It’s so rare I can use all these funny words I learned in the Bannered Mare! Aela always slaps me when I try them out.”
I had nearly forgotten about the wall. When I approached it, it was different than the first times. Much more controlled, much more conscious. I felt the word drown into my brain, but it didn’t overwhelm me any more. It was “KAAN”, the dragon word for Kyne.
The hall was bustling with life, I had a mug of hot ale in one hand, the other busy with the fresh venison roast on my platter, around me nothing but familiar and friendly faces – we were home again, and we were happy to enjoy the safety of Jorrvaskr and to relax for this one evening, although everybody was aware that we were only passing through.
If I really thought that the Companions didn’t want to get involved in the Dragonborn business, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Yes, they got paid when they did a job, but their true interests were much different from those of ordinary mercenaries. They fought for honour and glory, and as Farkas had expressed it: “I fight for those who can’t fight for themselves.” They were warriors first and foremost, they lived for battle, the fiercer the better, and what could be more glorious than a battle against dragons, the oldest fiend of mankind?
They acted as if the Dovahkiin of legends could righteously only be a Companion as well. They wanted to take part in this epic battle, every single one of them. No way I could have talked them out of it, and anyway – I didn’t want to. The Greybeards had taught me what it meant to be Dragonborn and what the rising of the Dov meant for Skyrim. But I still didn’t know what exactly I would have to do. I couldn’t slay every single dragon on my own. To have a whole bunch of people around me speculating and spinning plans for the heroic deeds they would perform with me felt nothing less than comfortable.
“So, what are your next steps?” Aela looked curiously from Farkas to me.
“Apart from killing as many dragons as possible, gather their souls for Qhouri and their scales and bones for Eorlund?” Farkas leant so relaxed in his chair as if he slew dragons every day before breakfast. Just for fun.
“Don’t brag, brother,” I chuckled. “Let’s see what happens when we meet the first one just the two of us, without an army in the back. You have just proven that you’ve neglected your archery skills rather recklessly.”
“Oh!” his eyes sparkled, “I wanna try if what works with the draugr also works with dragons! They do understand us, don’t they? They don’t speak only their own language?”
My irritated sigh was only met with laughter. The idea of Farkas yelling expletives at a dragon was as ridiculous as improbable. Especially as the beast would probably answer him with a shout of fire.
“We have to go to Ustengrav and retrieve the Horn of Jurgen Windcaller, the founder of the Greybeards. Not sure what they need it for all of a sudden, but they will have their reasons.”
Skjor spread out a huge map of Skyrim in the middle of the table, searching for the location in the jumble of marks, symbols and remarks.
“Ustengrav, hm? That’s here, in the northern swamps, between Morthal and Solitude. You’re gonna take the carriage to Morthal and go from there?”
“No, not Morthal. Solitude, that way we can avoid the swamps nearly entirely.” Farkas’ smile had drained away for an uneasy growl, his lips pursed to a firm line. I was surprised, we hadn’t mad any plans yet.
“But Morthal is much nearer, Solitude would be a huge detour! What’s the matter, are you afraid of swamp wisps?”
“No, I’m not!” he flared up, every humour vanished from his voice. Vilkas, who had been mostly quiet so far, chimed in. “Morthal is only a hamlet, Qhourian. Just an inn,” the telling glance he sent to his brother didn’t escape me, “a mill and a crazy Jarl whose job is so stressless that she has time to have visions and drive her people crazy. You won’t get any supplies there, nor any advice how to get to the barrow safest and quickest. I’d say, travel to Solitude and make your way from there.”
He had a point, I was sure however that something was seriously wrong here. But now I didn’t want to stress the relaxed atmosphere any further. This was our well deserved break, and I was dead set to enjoy it. We would need our strength on our further way, wherever it would lead us.
Solitude could have been a beautiful city if it hadn’t been for all the soldiers. They were everywhere, gathering in the inn, the shops and the streets, evoking an atmosphere of fear and distrust. This was the headquarter of the Imperial legion in Skyrim and one of the epicentres of the civil war against the Stormcloaks, and the hatred I saw in so many words and eyes of the citizens against their fellow Nords left a foul taste in my mouth even the fresh breeze from the sea couldn’t dispel. Even the famous bard’s college was affected by it, seeing that their yearly festival had been cancelled because of the murder of High King Torygg. It was heartbreaking, and we were happy to leave that miserable place after buying a map, some food and as many potions as we could carry.
I hadn’t argued the question of our travel route any further – if Farkas didn’t want to go to Morthal, we would avoid it. Concerning the why – he was my shield-brother, but he also had the right to keep his secrets. If he wanted to tell me, he would.
When we approached the barrow, we found a camp – again. Camps at the entrances to these places were bad, that much I had learned already, and we weren’t sure if the corpses of the outlaws laying around were a good or a bad omen. At least it weren’t Silver Hands. But it could also mean that the werewolf hunters were waiting inside. Farkas shrugged and pushed the door open.
But it weren’t Silver Hands. He froze the moment I had closed the doors and he had made the first steps into the darkness, turning his head and sniffing, drawing his sword with narrowed brows.
“Necros,” he whispered under his breath.
Now I heard it as well, the distinct sounds of magic users fighting, the sizzling of lightning, shouting and screaming, the air sated with the iron tang of magic.
Farkas tensed as I gave him a concerned look, laying a hand on his shoulder. Not that I could have held him back if he ran off in a frenzy.
But he bared his teeth in a feral grin. “I’ll be fine. Don’t worry.”
I gestured him to stay back and let me sneak ahead to find out who was fighting whom, but we got our answer without moving on – an outlaw like those we had found outside came dashing around the corner of the corridor, screaming, with frenzied panic in his eyes and stumbling steps, and behind him… a wolf. It looked like a wolf, somehow, or it would have if it hadn’t been… ethereal. A gigantic beast consisting only of something that looked like mist, incorporeal and irreal.
But the bandit stopped dead when he saw us standing at the exit he had made for, weapons drawn. And in the same moment the creature proved that it wasn’t incorporeal at all, its weight hurling the man to the ground when it crushed into his back and crunched his neck with a sickening sound.
The wolf stood above the corpse with bared flews, watching us, ready for the next victim. While I still tried to swallow the lump in my throat and nocked an arrow, Farkas already charged, disturbingly silent and efficient. He held his sword high and brought it down onto the beast’s neck. When the thing crumpled into a small heap of glowing dust, he turned to me, disgust in his face.
“Let them kill each other,” he whispered, “we’ll take on the rest.”
The rest, that were only two mages in the familiar dirty black robes, bent over the corpse of a heavily armed man. One of them died with an arrow in his back, the other with Farkas’ sword in his guts. After this first encounter, there weren’t any more of them deeper in the tomb – both groups had probably only looked for a secure refuge and come into each other’s way.
The rest of barrow was just more of what we were used to, lots of draugr and even more traps. It was beautiful though, in its own way – not quite as dark and tight as some of the other tombs I had visited, but the halls and caves much larger and the corridors much better lit. We crossed several large caverns that even contained some upperworld vegetation, crippled trees and bushes where bright rays of daylight beaming in from above.
It was in one of those cave halls we had to cross over a small stonen ledge when Farkas found out about one of my biggest weaknesses. The dripping of water in the huge room and the way our steps echoed around us made me nervous from the start, and I eyed the narrow bridge with suspicion. It left us entirely uncovered, but that wasn’t the worst. Panic hit me only after a few steps when I felt the pebbles beneath my feet drop down into the depth but didn’t hear them reach the bottom. I dropped to my knees, eyes tightly shut, cold sweat pouring down my spine.
Vertigo. It had never been that bad before.
Farkas stopped behind me, unable to pass on the small ledge, and I thought I felt the stone shiver under his weight. He realised at once what was happening and knelt beside me. His hands on my shoulders restored my ability to breathe, but I didn’t dare to open my eyes.
“Calm down, Qhouri,” he said quietly, his touch never leaving me, “I need to get on your other side, I will climb over you. Don’t be afraid, I’m here, but don’t move.” His movements were slow, as if he didn’t want to scare me any further. Panic coiled in my stomach and paralysed my limbs, my head swam even behind closed lids. I knew, when I opened them I would look directly into the chasm.
Farkas nestled at my belt, then I felt something slung around my waist and secured safely – a rope. I didn’t even know he had one in his pack. The gods bless his foresight and experience.
“I’ve tied us together. Now you can’t fall any more.” The confidence in his voice was much more important than his words. “You have to move now, Qhouri. I’m here, I’ll guide you. You can’t fall. You don’t have to open your eyes, just follow me.” I felt him close, I could clench the cool metal of his gauntlet when he made the first step, a reassuring presence I didn’t want to lose. It took an eternity, but step after step we made it until the light breeze from below suddenly stopped and the sound of our steps became different, more solid. My knees turned to jelly when I finally touched the wall, but Farkas’ grip was firm. He led me further into a small room where I dropped against a broken table.
When I was able to see clearly again, I felt only embarrassment. Farkas sat hunched against a wall across from me, carefully observing my state and smiling when he saw my cheeks flush.
“How did you make it up to High Hrothgar with that… condition? That path was at least as narrow as this one, and it was much higher.” I didn’t know. I knew I suffered vertigo from time to time, but it had never been so extreme. Perhaps it was the knowledge that this time there was nothing but nothingness beneath my feet instead of a solid mountain.
“Thank you, Farkas, that would have been a miserable death without you. Won’t happen again!”
“Don’t make promises you can’t keep, sister. Next time, we will be prepared. I knew that rope would come in handy some day!”
The rest of the tomb was routine. Lots of traps most of which I could trigger from afar before Farkas had the chance to step into them, and another word wall. They were either indeed scattered all over Tamriel, or we had been extremely lucky in our dungeon choices. The draugr population seemed strangely sparse though, many coffins broken but abandoned with their residents nowhere to be found.
The centre of the barrow was impressive, with four gigantic stonen dragonheads emerging from a huge pool when we approached, but it was also empty. No enemies, and most of all, no horn. Instead, I found a note on the pedestal where it should have been.
Dragonborn – I need to speak to you. Urgently.
Rent the attic room at the Sleeping Giant Inn in Riverwood, and I’ll meet you.
– A friend
This was a joke, wasn’t it? What’s this gonna be, a scavenger hunt?
More than frustrated after this wasted effort and more than angry about the nameless thief we crawled out of the barrow. And of course it had to be in the middle of the night when we left. I hated to camp near these old tombs, but with a night as pitch black and foggy as this, we didn’t have much choice. Even though we tried to find a place a bit higher and dryer than the entrance to the barrow, the cold dampness of the swamp and the humid air soaked through marrow and bone. We both needed a fire to keep us warm, even if we didn’t know what lurked in the marshes. But we would keep watch anyway.
The dragon came upon us shortly before dawn, when the night was darkest. Farkas, sitting at the lowly smouldering fire only had a few moments to alert me and get prepared himself before the beast already clawed at him, letting out the typical roar. I didn’t see anything. There were no moons or stars the dragon could have blacked out, and the fog had become even denser. We had to deal with a deadly enemy which could come from every direction including above, and which we couldn’t see. Quickly Farkas drenched the fire completely to not give the dragon an additional advantage, but I supposed his senses were much sharper than ours, or at least than mine – he certainly didn’t need that lead to find us. On the other hand, our only clue was the heavy flapping of his wings, which we only heard when he was already far too close. Our only chance would be to force him to land as soon as possible.
“Stay behind me as long as he’s above us,” I yelled. “I will try to shout him down, don’t wanna hit you!”
I needed to concentrate, but it was hard while crouching in the mud, listening for the muffled sound of the wings. Twice I missed him directly above our heads, but he missed us as well. It wasn’t the same kind of dragon we had encountered at Whiterun – this one spit ice instead of fire. At least we didn’t have to deal with smoke to obscure our view even more. The last cover was lost when he carried away our little tent, I heard the claws rip through the sturdy leather and shivered at the thought of them catching one of us.
With the third try, I got him. The force that hit him wasn’t as powerful as it could have been, but at least it stopped his endless circling. He started to hover above us, and finally we could use our bows and try to hurt him, though we had to be fast to avoid his relentless ice jets. Soon the mud surrounding our makeshift camp was deeply frozen, making every movement even more slippery and dangerous. We desperately needed a lucky shot to force him to land, and I finally got it – my arrow pierced through the thin skin of the wings right into the joint of that body part that was probably the draconian equivalent to a shoulder. His shriek was earshattering, but still drowned out by Farkas’ roar of triumph.
Once bound to earth, the dragon wasn’t half as fast any more. His fangs, frost shouts and the long, spiked tail were still dangerous weapons, but now it was much easier to avoid them, as long as we kept our distance. The downside was that as long as we kept our distance we simply couldn’t hurt him seriously enough, with his vulnerable belly unreachable and his throat constantly twitching from left to right. I already felt myself stagger from exhaustion, and Farkas wasn’t better off – if this took much longer, our dance around the dragon would soon have a single winner, and he wouldn’t be human.
Not sure if it was an act of heroic megalomania or just a temporary attack of madness, but suddenly Farkas threw away his bow, drew his sword and charged in, yelling from the top of his lungs.
“Hey! … HEY, you filthy lizard! Wanna play seriously, you pathetic heap of scales? Or do you choke on your own breath? Gods, what did Akatosh think when he made a crap-eating ugly worm like you?”
I groaned loudly, not really believing what I just heard. This man was insane, I had always known it.
Farkas stayed under the long swinging neck, following his movements and holding his blade up above his own impressive height. As soon as the dragon would lower his throat, he would impale himself on the steelen tip. He would also crush his attacker, but that thought I better blocked out.
The situation was ridiculous, especially as the fight was suddenly deadlocked, but I had to act soon, a single false step on Farkas’ side and he would be dead. When the creature stood still for a short moment and tried to snap at the man below it, I ran and jumped, used one of his bended legs as a ladder and landed on his back. The scaly spikes along his spine provided a reasonably good hold, but as my only weapon was my trusted Skyforge mace which would never be able to pierce his scales and hurt anything vital, I would have to crush his skull to bring him down. Easier said than done with the long, muscular neck twitching from side to side, the whole body bucking and trying to cast me off while I hammered away with every bit of force I could muster.
The shriek he let out when skull and spine finally shattered at the joint to his neck had nothing of an intelligent being any more – it was pure pain, bestial and ferocious. But with his last breath, he also reared up his whole body until he towered above Farkas, and with a final frantic jerk he managed to cast me off. Everything went black.