Apparently the dragon had just finished with Helgen - as we emerged from the cave, we saw it flying north, past some ruins on a distant mountaintop. Hedvar suggested not sticking around in case it came back, and I agreed - I had had enough brushes with death for the day.
We journeyed down to Riverwood, a nearby town where an uncle of his lived. On the way, he gave the basic recruiting pitch for the Imperial Legions (no thanks, I already have a job, although being a soldier in a warzone might be marginally safer than my current occupation, random dragon attacks excepted). He also expressed his conviction that the dragon had somehow been summoned or controlled by the Stormcloaks, which was contradicted by the surprise evident among the group that had fled to the tower - unless Ulfric Stormcloak is the best card player in all of Tamriel, and he never struck me as overtly subtle.
Oh boy. The rumors are going to fly fast and furious over this, aren't they. Why not blame the Thalmor - after all, they were also present? Or the Forsworn, trying to take the world that humiliated them with them? Or the Mythic Dawn? Or the reborn Tribunal Temple, with Sotha Sil already plotting to build an army of clockwork dragons?
Facts. I need facts.
If Hadvar ever retires from the Legion, he might find a job as a tour guide. The journey might be short, but that doesn't prevent him from pointing out the local highlights - such as the aforementioned ruins ("Bleak Falls Barrow. When I was a boy, that place always used to give me nightmares.") and a trio of so-called "Guardian Stones" (out of a set of 13 scattered across Skyrim, apparently). Rather randomly, I touch the "Mage" (as Hadvar disapprovingly informs me - I suspect that like most Nords he prefers the "Warrior") and a column of blue light shoots out of the stone and into the sky. But Hadvar doesn't comment further on that, so maybe this kind of thing happens all the time around here. We live in a mythological age, after all, what with dragons and whatnot.
We talk about the charges against me, and he says that in his view I've already earned a full pardon, but that we should get checked by Tullius instead. Well... while I am sure he prefers to go through his chain of command (and might still be naive enough to trust his chain of command), there are other people I need to check this with first. After all, the Black Horse Courier is funded by the Elder Council itself, and some of the Council are rather sentimental about our paper - and do not appreciate attacks on its staff. I need something to write and find a trustworthy courier...
Another one of Skyrim's "attractions" we encounter on the way are the local wolves. I remember them being bold, but not bold enough to attack travelers in the middle of summer. Fortunately, there are only two of them, and they are quickly dispatched.
We met up with his uncle Alvor, the local blacksmith, but Hadvar insisted on talking about recent events inside - presumably to avoid causing a panic, though it was probably too late for hat. Already an old crone shouted how she had seen a dragon flying around. Her son didn't believe her, but if the sightings continue, the panic will only be a matter of time.
Alvor reacts as expected, first with disbelief and then with fear. Hadvar plans to travel to Solitude to warn the Imperial Legions. Alvor is willing to give me some much-needed supplies, but asks a favor of me in return. The Jarl of Whiterun needs to be told that a dragon is on the loose, and that Riverwood is defenseless.
And I agree to tell him. How could I do otherwise? The news must be told.
But first I need some background information. The reports I studied back in Cyrodiil painted a largely favorable picture of Jarl Balgruuf, though there was some criticism about his lack of zeal in supporting the Empire - which made me inclined to like him. My host, however, was convinced that eventually the Jarl would throw in his weight with the Imperial Legions. And so, it seemed, would my host - while he didn't support everything the Empire was doing lately (in particular, allowing Thalmor goon squads to kidnap people just for worshiping a long-dead guy who was part of the state religion not so very long ago), he still sees the rebellion as the worse alternative.
But hey, we have first-class torturers working on changing that!
I bid my leave and travel north. As I leave the forest behind me I see the city of Whiterun jutting out of the tundra, lit by the evening's light. I didn't pass through Whiterun 25 years ago, and am curious what this city is like. And at least I will feel marginally safer there than in the wilderness - if another dragon attacks, there should be plenty of other targets to distract it...
I push the thought aside and press on.
On one of the farms outside the city walls, I see my first giant. It is currently in battle with a trio of warriors who put it down before I even can come close. One of the women spots me and comes over, berating me for not racing to join in the "fun" and fight with a very large, very strong giant. She is apparently one of the "Companions", the famous, glory-hounding Nord brotherhood of warriors that make members of the Fighters Guild after long-night pub crawls seem disciplined. I can't help but notice that the woman is dressed in what seems to be rather skimpy clothing for a warrior - clothes that seem almost more designed for getting out of them quickly than for fighting. Her female companion wears even less, in a garish variety of pink. But I sense that commenting on this would be impudent, as each of the trio looks like they could beat me with one arm behind their backs.
Then I discovered that the giant's mammoth had wandered on the land of a different farm, but apparently nobody had paid anyone to do something about that.
The city guard tries to keep me away, stating that only "official business" is allowed because of the dragons.
"You WILL let me in, fool! I am Araneus Venator from the Black Horse Courier, and I bring news about the dragons! Let me in, or else my news will be about a bothersome city guard who didn't listen to the Mace of Truth!"
"Listen to the Mace of Truth!"
That did the trick, as it always does. Make them think that you may have something their superior need (true in this particular case), and also that you are too crazy to get in the way of. If you are just crazy, they might beat you up as a matter of principle, while if you act sane, they will stall you with bullshit because they know that they can push you around.
And with that, I entered the streets of Whiterun.
Continued in Dispatch 04 - In the Jarl's Court.
Continued in Dispatch 04 - In the Jarl's Court.