Friday, January 2, 2015

Black Horse Dispatches 12 - Tears of a Clown

Continued from Dispatch 11 - Messages.

After an attack by a trio of Alik'r Warriors (sadly, their corpses did not have any clues on who in Hammerfell was annoyed at my reporting this time, but I have more pressing concerns at the moment anyway) we once again see the same dragon circling above the cliffs down to the White River. I am sure it saw us, but it merely watched us for a while before flying off. Was it reporting to anyone? To whom? Regardless, I felt it prudent not to linger.

Back on the main road, we encounter an elderly orc who felt that it was his time to seek a good, "glorious" death. Well, considering the proliferation of dragons in these parts, he might just get his wish - and hopefully, he will take one of them with him.

To avoid having to walk all the way back to Whiterun, we take a shortcut across Valtheim Towers - I assume that given the bridge spanning the river there must at least be a trail here. But if there ever was a trail, it had long since weathered away. Past a mountain pass we spott a strange, ancient monument on a plateau, similar to the inscriptions I saw in Bleak Falls Barrows - and on top of the monument crouches a pale, nearly translucent dragon. It hasn't spotted us yet, so we double back. South of the mountain was little better - an old ruin lies in our path which is patrolled by black-robed figures, and I think I saw a fire atronach in the distance.

We sneak past them, closer to the river - only to watch a skirmish that unfolded along our new path. Finally, the few survivors - Stormcloak soldiers, as it turned out - wander off. We examine the scene, and it appears that they had fought Imperial soldiers... and two Thalmor justicars. Why had the Thalmor been accompanying an Imperial unit? While the Empire had very reluctantly agreed to let Thalmor operate in the Empire, this did explicitly not extend to protecting them - only noninterference.

Something was very wrong here, but the dead yielded no further clues. However, I decide to relieve the Thalmor of their superior armor, since they were clearly not needing it any more.

Close by is an ancient mound, surrounded by stone monoliths. Unlike the Barrows, there is no entrance, no obvious tunnel complex, so maybe it is a solitary burial ground for a chieftain. It is  surrounded by a circle of roughly-hewn but regular stones, in a pattern that remins me of a seal. I will have to ask a scholar about their meaning.

Then my murderous minions decide it is time for lunch, and slaughter a wild horse that had made the mistake of wandering too closely to our path.

We finally reach the main road coming from Whiterun, and witness a man looking forlornly looking at a wagon with a broken wagon wheel. He dresses as a jester, and after introducing himself as "Cicero" explains that he was transporting the remains of his "poor, sweet mother" to a new location. He remains jocular, in that special clown way that has never been funny, but then I look into his eyes.

And see the gaze of a stone-cold killer, someone who will kill you given only the slightest provocation - or less, perhaps.

Plenty of people have tried to kill me over the years. Many were gloating during their attempts. The faces of others were twisted in fury. Still others saw killing me as a job - "just business". But almost all of them did so from understandable, human motives. The few exceptions still give me nightmares - people who saw killing me, or anyone else for that matter, as nothing more than swatting a fly. For them, there was no point in gloating, or feeling angry at me. That would have meant they saw me as a person they could relate to.

And that jester had that same gaze, a gaze I last saw during that terrible night in Bruma, 13 years ago.

I did not flinch. I did not broadcast the slightest awareness of his true nature. Instead I nodded, smiled, and expressed sympathy at his problem, and agreed to talk to a nearby farmer to help him with the broken wagon. The farmer has his own suspicions, but I manage to appeal to his basic decency and get him to help. This is by far the safest for him - "Cicero" seems invested in his jester personality, and as long as he has no reason to do something drastic, he will probably leave the farmer alone.

"You have? Oh, you have made Cicero so happy! So jubilant and ecstatic! But more! Even more! My mother thanks you!"

I feel a chill racing down my spine at these last four words, and do not linger.

Continued in Dispatch 13: The Road to Ustengrav.