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It took us three hours to meet the Jarl.

 

Three. Oblivion. Damned. Hours.

 

First the whole thing had started off poorly when we got to the gates and the guards refused to let us in until the lockdown ended. Then we were forced to wait while one of them sent a message to the Jarl saying we were aware of what happened to Helgen and were finally allowed into the city.

 

When we finally made it to Dragonsreach, we were then made to stand around so the Jarl’s housecarl could check us over and make sure we weren’t assassins or something like that.

 

After a fairly thorough interrogation about the reason for our visit, which I basically repeated it was about Helgen and a separate personal matter, we were shown into the throne room to meet Jarl Balgruuf, his housecarl Irileth, and his court mage Farengar Secret-Fire.

 

I couldn’t wait to get this over with.

 

“Well. I trust you have something vitally important to tell me. Important enough to interrupt me in the middle of council?” I looked over Balgruuf and his two advisors before answering. An older Nord not so swiftly approaching his twilight years based on the keen gaze and strong stature even as I saw the dulling in his hair as it started turning grey from age.

 

Irileth was a rare sight since most Dunmer are not held in much regard in Skyrim. Much less being elevated to directly serve a Jarl. I got the impression she didn’t like me much, but considering I was somewhat actively making her job harder it was understandable.

 

Farengar on the other hand didn’t seem to be mentally present at the moment. Certainly he was watching us for hostile moves but going by the unfocused eyes and slight muttering, the Nord mage was more interested in whatever research he had been pulled away from than this meeting.

 

I looked to Irileth. The Dunmer housecarl stared impassively back. “You didn’t mention it to him?”

 

“I hardly could mention something you refuse to talk about.” came the irritated reply.

 

“Helgen was attacked by a dragon. Gerdur is afraid Riverwood is next.” Thor said, trying to keep things civil.

 

“Gerdur? Owns the lumber mill, if I recall correctly. Pillar of the community. Not prone to flights of fancy...” Balgruuf mused. “And you're sure Helgen was destroyed by a dragon? This wasn't some Stormcloak raid gone wrong?”

 

“We were both there. Not a sight I’m about to forget anytime soon.”

 

“It seems Irileth was right then.”

 

That took me by surprise.

 

“You already knew?” I asked.

 

“We knew Helgen had been attacked by some sort of creature, but not exactly what. Dragons were considered but we could not act since they have not been seen in an age.” Balgruuf said. “Irileth brought the possibility to my attention when she found one of my thanes, Lovir, badly burned fleeing from that direction.” I perked up at the mention of Lovir. “You’ve done a great service to Whiterun. I’ll have a suitable reward prepared for you, and if you’re open to the idea Farengar might have additional work for you.”

 

With a nod Balgruuf dismissed the mage, who seemed eager enough to run back to whatever workshop he had. Thor trailed off after him, no doubt interested either in getting access to more spells or asking about whatever task Farengar had.

 

“Irileth will handle sending a contingent of guards to Riverwood, but you mentioned a personal matter?”

 

I nodded. “Yes, a few weeks ago I had actually acquired a life-debt from Lovir when I saved him from a rogue necromancer. I originally wanted to ask you to summon him so I could collect the information he promised me, but if you met him on the way back from Helgen simply tell me where he is and I will go there myself.”

 

Balgruuf and Irileth’s faces did not inspire confidence.

 

“I am sorry to say Lovir didn’t survive the trip back.” Irileth said. “He was badly burned when I found him and we only got a few words out of him before he died.”

 

Dammit. This means my lead dried up and I need to start all over. I was so close too.

 

“I don’t suppose he had a habit of keeping a journal?” I asked desperately. “Or something that would maybe have the information I’m looking for?”

 

Irileth shook her head and looked to Balgruuf. When he didn’t immediately deny the possibility I felt the faintest embers of hope.

 

“Lovir rarely needed to search for information.” The Jarl said slowly. “I’ve never known the man to keep a journal either, but his housecarl Tulvol had a habit of keeping notes.”

 

“And do you know where Tolvol is?”

 

“I don’t. Tovol volunteered to assist Farengar with a project of his and hasn’t yet returned. Speak with him if you wish to know more.”

 

I sighed internally. I was beginning to get an idea about what was going to happen. Still if it lets me find her then I’ll just get it over with.

 

“Thank you, I’ll be going then.” I left the two to get back to their normal duties and went in search of Farengar and Thor.

 

As expected I found the two of them off in a workshop. Crystals and gems lined up in a manner I’m sure held some significance. Piles of notes formed mountains that threatened to tip over at any time. Alchemy ingredients were neatly lined up, awaiting use. It was the picture of organized chaos that was natural to any master of their craft. In some ways it reminded me of my own workshop before… well let’s not think about that shall we?

 

“No you fool, if you don’t keep the spell pattern fixed before you release the magika you will twist the blood vessels into knots and you might as well let whatever hurt you finish the job. There is a reason Restoration spells take complete focus and study to even attempt. This ‘combat medic’ role you speak of would be reserved for only a master, not your own bumbling attempts. Stick to Destruction spells if you are going to insist on trying to use magic in a fight. At least that way you might damage your opponent before you light yourself on fire.”

 

It seems I walked in on a bit of a magic lesson. I wonder how that came about.

 

“I know it can be done though! I’ve seen people do it!” Thor insisted before noticing me walk in. “Oh! Thalin, done speaking with the Jarl?”

 

“For now.” I acquiesced. “Farengar, I was told you might know where Tulvol is? He might have something I need.”

 

The mage blinked at me before putting a hand to his chin and starting to pace. “Tulvol...Tulvol… yes, he was helping me with one of my projects. Which one was it? The frost enchantment? No that was a Companion. The ingredient list? Maybe… but I got those yesterday. What was that man’s name?”

 

I felt a headache coming on. It seemed Farengar wasn’t the type to remember people so much past what they did for him.

 

“Ah! I remember now!” He suddenly exclaimed. “He was assisting me with my dragon research. I had sent him to fetch a relic from a ruin. I was wondering what was taking him so long.”

 

“Wait, you sent someone else to Bleak Falls Barrow?” Thor asked, confused.

 

“You know of it? Perhaps you are more of a scholar than I gave you credit for.” Farengar replied. “Yes, I ah, learned of a certain stone tablet said to be housed in Bleak Falls Barrow - a ‘Dragonstone,’ said to contain a map of dragon burial sites. Tulvol volunteered to assist me in retrieving it. Given he hasn’t returned I suppose he failed.” He looked at the two of us. “I suppose the Jarl thinks you would be of use to me in retrieving the stone. Go to Bleak Falls Barrow, find this tabler - no doubt interred in the main chamber - and bring it to me. Simplicity itself”

 

My eye twitched at the presumption that I was just going to go to the ruin and get this Dragonstone simply because Tulvol happened to have gone there.

 

Thor had that vacant look in his eyes for a second before nodding. “We’ll get you the stone.”

 

I rolled my eyes, I never agreed to that.

 

“So Thalin, do you want to stock up on supplies or should we go together? I need to look into getting better armour either way. So we just need to decide when we leave.” Thor asked as if it was certain I would be accompanying him.

 

I kneaded my forehead with one hand. “Why do you think we are going together? I never agreed to look for the Dragonstone.”

 

That caused Thor to pause midstep.

 

“I-I mean, I just kinda assumed we would cause we’re going to the same place and all. And it would be safer to do it together?” He tried. “Like I’m sure you can handle yourself but…”

 

“Fine.” I interrupted. “Go get sorted out. I’m leaving in three days. Make sure to be ready by then.”

 

Thor looked confused. “Why three days?”

 

“Because it takes time to get fitted for armour.” I shot him a glare. The ’you moron’ part was unsaid but by his wince he clearly got the message. “And if we are going into a ruin with who knows what inside, I’m going to make some preparations of my own.”

 

“Oh, okay.”

 

“We’ll meet at the south gate at noon. Sound good?”

 

At his nod we went our separate ways until we planned to head for Bleak Falls Barrow.

 

-o-

 

“Nords are freaks.” I decided as the two of us climbed the mountain towards the barrow.

 

I was bundled in a heavy woolen cloak that replaced my normal traveling one. It was even enchanted to warm the wearer and I was still cold.

 

Thor was walking around in less clothing than he originally had and seemed perfectly fine.

 

He had traded the borrowed Stormcloak uniform for a set of hastily adjusted iron armour. Not the best for protection considering it left his arms bare, but he had a very limited budget and an even more limited timeframe so it was likely the best he could get.

 

“Sorry?” He half-questioned.

 

“It’s snowing, and you aren’t even wearing sleeves.” I elaborated. “How are you not freezing?”

 

He looked himself over. “I mean it’s a little chilly, but as long as there's no wind it’s not that bad.”

 

“Like I said. Freaks.”

 

“There’s a watchtower up ahead.” Thor said, trying to change the topic. “If bandits have taken over the barrow then they probably have some people there. How do you want to handle that?”

 

I gave him a look just long enough to make him understand I knew what he was doing. “I imagine even if we try to ignore them they will pick a fight anyway. You go up ahead alone and I’ll perch up on the rock face there.” I said pointing to the location. “It’s snowing enough that they shouldn’t spot me if I take it slow. Once they draw weapons, I’ll pick them off. You just focus on staying alive.”

 

Thor nodded. “I draw aggro, you DPS. Got it.” and walked off.

 

I had no idea what he meant by that, but I assumed he got the plan. It wasn’t exactly an Otuman’s Gambit as far as tactics go.

 

True to form, a few of the bandits stopped Thor as he approached the ruined watchtower. I couldn’t hear the exchange since I was too far away, but it appeared to be the same ‘give us your stuff or we kill you’ speech they all seemed to use. Thor said no, and the bandits drew a variety of weapons.

 

The lead bandit got an arrow to the throat before anyone could make another move. The one behind him got one through the eye for not wearing a helmet. Thor charged the third, ruining my shot, and bashed him in the face with a mace, following it up with a shock spell.

 

I spotted another archer emerge from the inside of the tower. She got an arrow through the heart before she could even sight in on Thor.

 

The whole encounter was going very well, which of course was when Thor naturally decided to charge into the watchtower by himself.

 

Cursing, I quickly scrambled down from my perch and ran after him.

 

My bow was swapped out for one of my daggers since I didn’t want to waste time retrieving another weapon, and I only slowed down when I went through the door.

 

Well at least the reckless kid managed to get past the first bandit based on the body with a crushed skull crumpled near the stairs. There were no noises I could hear upstairs, so Thor either took care of any remaining bandits or they were waiting to see if anyone was coming after him.

 

I slowly crept up the stairway and once I made it to the top I saw Thor concentrating a restoration spell on a nasty gash on his left arm, two more bandits dead at his feet.

 

“That all of them?” I asked, eyes wandering to make sure no surprises jumped out at us.

 

“Yeah, only those three in the tower.” Thor said, still distracted by his arm. “So, uh, quick question. How long does it take to fix a sword cut to the arm with the healing spell?”

 

“A few days.” I said dryly. “I know you spoke to Farengar about healing spells. Why are you trying to use that one for an open wound?”

 

“I kinda didn’t? I asked him about spell casting in general and he gave me a few tips, well when he wasn’t being super condescending about it, and I mentioned using a healing spell in the middle of combat and he decided to give me a lecture. Then you walked in.” he responded. “So doesn’t it work faster?”

 

I sighed. This kid was going to kill himself.

 

“Okay. You seem to have the wrong idea about healing spells and whoever taught you should never be allowed to teach again.” Even if I knew full well he didn’t have a teacher. “Anything below adept level spells will only speed up your natural healing rate and generally need full concentration to avoid mistakes. Potions will quickly stop bleeding and patch open wounds but won’t usually fix the damage done, so you might cause a permanent injury if you push it too much.”

 

I motioned at the still bleeding cut.

 

“Drink a healing potion and push the edges of the cut together. Give it a few minutes and you will be fine. Then you can use Healing to get it back into shape faster. While you do that I’m going to see what the bandits had on hand.

 

It turns out they didn’t have much.

 

Maybe three hundred Septims and some random gear between all of them. Thor and I split the Septims and he dug through their gear. I don’t know if he kept anything since bandits rarely kept things well maintained but he was free to take what he wanted.

 

For the most part we repeated the same strategy when we reached the main ruin. Now that Thor had shown he was somewhat capable of taking care of himself in a fight I stuck to the back and simply put an arrow into whoever was an easy target while Thor used shock spells and his mace to take care of everything else.

 

“So why the mace?” I asked as we finished looting the main camp of the bandits. There had been no sign of Tulvol yet so he had likely made it inside the barrow at the very least. “I thought you preferred a sword since that’s what you used on the giant.”

 

Thor sighed. “I do prefer a sword. I’m only using this,” he waved the iron mace around, “because Farkas basically said he would break my arm if I kept using one before he gave the okay.”

 

“Farkas?”

 

“Oh, right. Well, while I was waiting for my armour to get adjusted I spent two days training with the Companions. The ones we helped out put in a good word for me so they don’t mind if I train with them. Farkas saw me and basically made himself my teacher when he saw what I was doing.”

 

“I take it he wasn’t very impressed?” I asked mildly.

 

“He took one look and said, ‘if anyone knew a pup like me killed a giant the rest of the Companions had trouble killing, they would be laughingstocks for the whole province.’ and made me a student.” Thor sighed again. “Personally I think he was bored and wanted to beat me up for a few days. Still, I learned a lot.”

 

“I see.”

 

“Yeah, anyway ready to check out the barrow? I don’t see anyone here who isn’t a bandit. The guy you’re after might have gone inside already.”

 

“Possibly.” I agreed. “Though a bow isn’t the best weapon to use inside, so give me a minute.”

 

I reached down to the Void Armoury and thumbed a metal tab which caused a brief flash of light and suddenly there was a sword hilt where my arrow shafts used to poke out. With a smooth motion, I pulled the sword from the Void Armoury and felt a familiar weight settle into my hand.

 

Thor gaped at the elegant weapon. “What is that?!”

 

“This is an ebony longsword.” I tilted the weapon to give him a better look. The black metal gleamed harshly in the light coming from the bandit’s campfire. The golden engraving stood out quite a bit as well. “You probably won’t see many blades like this, this far north. It took me forever to finish getting this one enchanted and it's pretty rare even in Cyrodiil.”

 

“It’s beautiful, but what’s wrong with using a bow?” Thor asked even when he refused to take his eyes off my longsword.

 

“A couple things really.” I lectured. “Unexpected bends or turns mean enemies can jump out at you, taking you by surprise, and if you miss you are in deep shit if they get close enough. Bows are great for wide open spaces with lots of room to move around, but inside I actually use the same battlemage style you do.” I waved my left hand and particles of ice trailed after it. “Of course I would recommend avoiding fire unless you know you won’t accidentally ignite something you didn’t mean to.”

 

“You’re a mage!?” Thor exclaimed.

 

“Among other things.” I said neutrally.

 

“Why didn’t you say so! Man, I had so much trouble trying to figure out Shock. If I knew you were a mage I woulda asked for some pointers.”

 

“And that's why I didn’t bring it up.” I say with a sigh.

 

“Huh?”

 

“I’m not looking for an apprentice kid. Teaching someone is a responsibility you don’t take lightly. It’s years worth of investment into someone and not something to just jump into. If you want casual lessons hire a court mage for tutoring or go to the College.”

 

Thor looks dejected but understanding.

 

“It’s that big a deal? It’s different than in the...well anyway, sorry for that.”

 

I nodded in return and we headed into the interior of the ruin.

 

I was completely correct in my assumptions about this place when Thor had been trying to convince me to come here on the way to Whiterun. Aside from some heavily damaged cloth or the odd book, years of grave robbers, bandits, and the odd adventurer had picked this place clean of any valuables.

 

We still were cautious since despite the intact state of the exterior, the interior was considerably unstable and deadly. The skeletal remains of an unfortunate soul crushed under a collapsing ceiling and a bandit catching a volley of poisoned darts were the proof of that.

 

“How did he not see the combination to open the gate? It’s right there!” Thor was looking a little green at the sight of a man, bandit or not, riddled with deadly darts.

 

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the keystones reset after a while.” I replied. “He probably came through this way before and didn’t notice it changed.”

 

I’d come across similar mechanisms before. Some of the engineering I’d seen over the years was fascinating even if I didn’t have the first clue how it was done.

 

“Well good riddance I guess. Since we would have probably killed him anyway.”

 

Despite the bold words, his face had a green tinge and he was swallowing often.

 

We continued in silence for a while. Nothing particularly interesting happened until Thor brushed up against a loose stone and knocked it out of the wall. In the silence of the ruin the sudden sound of stone on stone seemed louder than normal.

 

"Is... is someone coming? Is that you Harknir? Bjorn? Soling?"

 

And it seemed to have caused someone to notice us.

 

"I know I ran ahead with the claw, but I need help!"

 

Abandoning all attempts at stealth, Thor walked confidently to the arched doorway and stopped. I followed with a sigh.

 

Past the wall of semi-suicidal Nord I saw a large room filled with the desiccated remains of several people wrapped in spider web cocoons. A clear sign as any that there were Frostbite Spiders nearby.

 

Hanging trapped in a giant web blocking the only other doorway was a Dunmer dressed in the same mismatched hide armour as the bandits we encountered earlier.

 

That he hadn’t been eaten by the spider that caught him was probably only due to luck.

 

"What? Who are you? Oh, never mind. Cut me down before that thing gets us!" the bandit demanded.

 

As if summoned by his words, or perhaps just attracted by the screaming of its next meal, a gigantic Frostbite Spider descended from the ceiling.

 

Wonderful, a broodmother. The fully mature form of a Frostbite Spider capable of spawning hundreds of others in weeks if there is plenty of food around.

 

Thank Auri-El that this one seems freshly molted. Its carapace still has transparent sections showing it hasn’t fully hardened so it likely hasn’t spawned yet.

 

Not that the potential of facing a hundred deadly spiderlings seemed to intimidate Thor. The moment the spider made an appearance he let loose with a torrent of lightning. The weak shock spell arced over the creature causing it to screech in pain.

 

Instantly Thor had the spider’s complete attention as it reared back and spat a wad of venom soaked webbing at him. It was easily dodged though, since Thor simply needed to step back from the door to avoid the projectile.

 

“Not charging in after it this time?” I asked dryly, referencing his misadventure with the giant.

 

Thor laughed, “Nah, why mess with the giant spider when I can just -huh?”

 

The blonde Nord had leaned back into the room, spell ready, only to find the target was no longer in sight.

 

“It went back up to the hole in the ceiling.” I stated. I don’t know why he was surprised. Most animals are naturally afraid of sudden increases of light and sudden pain. And spiders were ambush predators, if it couldn’t catch him immediately of course it would run.

 

“Dammit, that's new.” Thor huffed. “Okay so how do we draw it out again?”

 

“Simple. We just give it a target to ambush.” I said with a smile. “And since you are so much bigger and tastier looking than me, why don’t you go do that.”

 

His face shifted to the most perfect look of ‘shocked horror’ I had ever seen, and my laughter rang throughout the ruined halls of the barrow.

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