I felt a bit better about things when I woke up; which I almost immediately recognised as a bad omen, given recent events, but I can’t exactly just stay in this bed. I’ll be penniless by the end of the week, for one thing, and still out on my arse.
So I set off to find this dragon-stone thing. Before I get side-tracked with that, though, I’m going to make some notes on the local buildings, because this is what I came here for, by thunder. Even if it was just to get out of a summer beating carpets.
In fact – and none of my family better ever read this – I didn’t really want to be an Orchitect in the first place. I mean, I didn’t really not want to, either, and I’m glad Stompa went into Sums so I didn’t have to, because that looks dry as corpse-dust, but… Well, I can see where Gran’s coming from. She was a humble legionary, she gave birth to Mum on the campaign trail, she lucked out when a dray shed its load of carpets over the bridge into the dry river-bed she was camped in (or so she says)… and one thing and another, Mum ended up as a rug-trader. So one generation claws its way into the mercantile class and of course they want the next to do even better, don’t they? The three of us are going into Society, like it or not. So Corporagoth’s now Dorctor Corporagoth, with a fancy practice in the city, and Stompagoth’s letters are all signed off ‘Stompagoth ORCA (Orcountancy Registered Colossal Arse)’ ha, not really, I just say it to wind her up.
Point is, I suggested Orchaeology, only that’s apparently way common and smacks of grave-robbing. ‘Stick to the present’, Dad said, ‘or better still, the future. Don’t make a living with your hands if you can make one with your brain; what if something happens to your hands?’
(I did say, ‘but you still have to hold a quill’, and I said it only that one time because Mum overheard me giving Dad backchat. My ear rang for a week.)
Orchitecture’s not that bad, I guess. I’m not sure I’m great at it, but I can now look at the Nordic buildings and give my comparative observations. So here we go: exhibit A, typical Nord house.
That looks… human. Very typically human, in fact. Walls not really thick enough, funny insistence on right-angles. Observe the pointy bits, and the presence of the second floor (why? It is an unnatural practice that should be avoided whenever possible, and there’s plenty of clear ground around it to build sideways instead). On the plus side, the windows are small and few, so strangers can’t just wander up and peer at you going about your business. Bonus points for no chimney – no jest, we spent a month on the Perils of Having A Chimney (ghosts and rain get in, the smoke gets out, yada yada yawn) and that end-of-term essay on the subject will stay with me forever.
Unfortunately, so will the way that dragon just threw down a really solid stone tower just the other day. I don’t think I’m ever going to get over that. So I’m really not looking at these buildings with the clinical detachment I’m supposed to. In fact, now that I’m seeing Whiterun in daylight I can’t help noticing that the city walls all seem to have been levelled off just above gate-height and – well, recent events have proved that even if they weren’t, so bloody what, but still.
What did that? Dragons? Giants? Why is there no sign that anyone is doing anything about it? Is it because there is no bloody point?
I… don’t want to think about this, actually.
Anyway. This dragon-stone involved going back to Riverwood first of all, so at least I knew the way and I’d cleared out all the ‘obstacles’ last night on the jog here.
The wolves were back. I mean, different wolves were back, the other ones are all dead, but still, surely that was a bit quick. Also, they all seem to attack on sight. Is that normal for wolves?
Despite my massive amount of misgivings, plus the reception I’ve been getting round these parts, I put my shoulders back and my fangs forward and went to make conversation with the locals. Humans love making conversation, right, none of this minding-your-own-business with them, so I figured I could maybe show them I’m all civilised and everything too. (Better than civilised, I haven’t ever tried to murder anyone coming down the road the other way). Might even pick up some helpful tips, as well.
So within five minutes I’d met this Elf guy who told me all about this human woman he’s got a thing for and how she’s got this other human (a bard! Ha! Mum was right!) moping after her, and could I give her this fake letter from bardy to make him look like an arse. Um, seriously?
I also met an old woman who told me to shove off, which was reassuringly normal, a kid who made a point of telling me he wasn’t scared of me, ditto, and a guy running a shop who told me all about how bandits had run off with some golden claw thing he kept on the counter as a conversation piece or something and could I go get it, otherwise his sister was all for doing it herself. Since she’s even more twig-like than I am, and it turns out to be in the same place I’m headed for anyway, sure, why not.
Stompa would be better at this Sum, but I calculate roughly half the non-murderous Nords I’ve met have no problem with asking a total stranger for a favour right off the bow. Is this normal?
I didn’t realise until after I’d left that – I think – that was the woman Elf-boy gave me the letter for, too. How was that even supposed to look? ‘Hi, you’ve never seen me before but here’s a note, supposedly from some guy you know, in some other guy’s handwriting?’ Guess who’ll end up getting their face slapped over that one.
Now look at that. Not a right-angle in sight, pleasing curves, sturdy construction, no gaps apart from the doorway. Only one storey. That is a Grade-A piece of building-work; almost Orcish, even. Except, of course, that cow will have that fence over in minutes.
(If I’ve learned anything from college, you always have to have a piece of criticism in there. Everything could be improved on, even if it’s only theoretically, and that’s the difference between a B+ and an A-.)
I ran afoul of some more locals on my way to this ruin. Of course I did. They were hanging out in this ruined tower that I thought at first was my destination – bandits, check; ruin, check – but of course it wasn’t. These were different bandits. You could throw a rock with your eyes shut round here and hit a bandit. Also, seriously, the snow is a foot deep in places – this is summer, mind – and these people are just living in half a tower with no roof? The stairs, if you can call them that, were just this slope of wooden slats fastened onto the outside of the ruined bit. I swear, I threw up in my mouth a little bit, trying to creep up that. I didn’t want to, but some guy at the top kept peppering me with arrows and I had no idea how long he would keep it up if I just left. What if he followed me? The sort of people who chose to live here might choose to do anything.
The bandits I was supposed to be getting down and dirty with were round the corner in a different ruin. Yeah, no, I dunno what I was expecting either.
Actually, I tell you what, I was not expecting this:
Just… what? At first I was thinking, ‘well, use of the arch’ blah blah – I was being peppered with more arrows at the time, made it a bit hard to concentrate – but when you look more closely, there is no physical reason I’m aware of that any of this should still be standing. Hell, none of it should still be standing if it was built yesterday, but it seems to be centuries old. Possibly more, given what I found inside.
Oh hairy bollocks, what I found inside. Animated corpses, I jest you not. The place was huge, though almost entirely composed of winding passages lined with alcoves for the dead, only some of them were… no, that’s not right. They were just as dead as all the other ones, only they’d merrily wake up and attack you. I eventually noticed you can tell which ones will do that because they’ve been buried in armour. So… whoever built this place – or whoever stashed all these corpses in it, maybe not the same person, eh – knew in advance this would happen. Did the guys who became the corpses know? Did they agree, or is this… blech. This is necromancy, is what this is.
There was also some weird caper with the golden claw thing, which I eventually got off this thief who’d been caught by a giant spider. I say eventually; he offered to give it to me if I freed him, but then he laughed and ran off and I found him dead round the next corner. I feel there’s a valuable lesson in keeping my own word, there. Anyway. The claw fit into this hole in this bizarre contraption of a gigantic stone door – kind of like a key, I guess – and on the other side, guess what?
More corpses, of course, half of them looking for a fight. I wasn’t a bit surprised.
There was, however, this big alcove that was… whispering. Well, maybe sort of shouting, only quietly. Is that possible? Ha, yeah, it’s a wall. Making a noise. I eventually went to have a closer look, and yeah that was a mistake wasn’t it, because part of it started glowing and this wind blew up and… I don’t know what happened but the glowing bit sort of got into my head. I feel ill just thinking about it. Is that how the corpses were made? What am I going to tell Dad? What if I tell Gran and she decides to exorcise me with an axe?
Anyway, I got that dragon-stone thing. Those bandits aren’t needing their bed-rolls anymore, and they look clean enough. Definitely cheaper than the tavern, too. Besides, if I’m cursed or something, better if nobody’s around when I wake up as a ghoul, right?
I never thought I’d miss Gran’s campaign tent.