“So we’re just supposed to sit here while Arvel runs off with that golden claw?”
“That dark elf wants to go on ahead, let him. Better than us risking our necks.”
“What if Arvel doesn’t come back? I want my share for the claw!”
“Just shut it and keep an eye out for trouble.”
That damn elf. I had a feeling he would try to take the treasure for himself, though I knew better than to follow him down the temple. Harknir was restless; I could tell by the uneasy shift in his stature. I knew him too well, but we just had to wait. Bjorn already went after the elf, and if neither of them return, then they’re both dead, either from the traps, the skeevers, or those dreaded draugur.
Bleak Falls Barrow. What a cursed place.
The guards stationed outside began to shout. Some unfortunate hikers? Or maybe a group who also heard about the treasure buried here. What were they shouting? Get him? Ah, so it’s only one. Must be that idiot merchant we stole the claw from back in Riverwood. Poor fool, throwing away his life for something he doesn’t even understand the value of. We should have taken his sister too. At least then Harknir and I would have something to do right now. I caught a glimpse of her walking out of the tavern when I was scouting the place. She had dark brown hair with hazel eyes, and her features were oddly Nordic for an Imperial. She reminded me of a girl I knew when I was a child.
Something wasn’t right. The shouting was still going on? Just for one man? I looked to Harknir, but he was staring intensely at the ground, his knuckles white from gripping his longbow. He never was one voice left, but whether he was shouting or screaming I could not tell. And then he fell silent. All that could be heard were the approaching crunches of heavy iron boots trudging through the wet snow; a sound I knew all too well growing up in Windhelm.
There was the grinding noise of the massive stone doors opening, and then a pause.
“Is someone there?” the restless Harknir called out.
Of course, there was no answer, but there didn’t need to be one.
“Must’ve been the wind”, he said quietly, almost like a murmur, as though he were talking to himself. No, he was talking to himself. He was convincing himself because he knew this was it. In front of us was the demon who had single-handedly mowed down every last man outside, and behind us was the cruelest deathtrap in Skyrim. It had to have been the wind, because otherwise there would be no way out.
What if I just left at this very moment and headed back to Windhelm, as though the last nineteen years were but a dream? Would they still accept me? Would they even recognize me?
I always wanted to become a blacksmith as a child. Oengul told me he dreamed of becoming the greatest blacksmith in all of Skyrim, surpassing even the legends of Eorlund Gray-Mane. I wonder if he succeeded. Maybe if I go back, he would let me train under him. I suppose I’m too old to learn anything effectively anymore, but I could still help make some items for the war effort. Or maybe Ulfric would let me serve as a strategist. I’ve been to nearly every corner and crevice that Skyrim has to offer. Someone like me would be invaluable right? Or maybe not. But at least it would be an honest life.
What if I never left Windhelm? Harknir would have stayed too since he only left because I did. We could have lived normal lives. I could have become a blacksmith like I always wanted, maybe even a better one than both Oengul and Eorlund. I had a penchant for metalwork anyway. I always liked being around Hermir too. She also liked blacksmithing. We would often play together with Harknir in the snow near the marketplace, running around and building forts, throwing snowballs at dummies we would pretend were Imperials or the Dunmer. But she seemed to enjoy following Oengul more, even though he was far older than all three of us. Maybe she would have fallen for me instead if I was a smith myself. Maybe I could have even married her later on; proposed to her with a stalhrim ring crafted in my own forge, travelling all the way to Solstheim to mine that glittering ore. Maybe we could have even raised children together; maybe she wouldn’t want to raise children. She was always too ambitious to settle down like that. Maybe we could have instead gotten… a dog.
I want to see my dog again.
Arvir was an Irish wolfhound, no more than a pup when my father gave him to me as a present before leaving for the war. I was ten at the time, but still I raised him on my own, taking him with me to learn how to hunt with the older boys. We started practicing with rabbits and little foxes, then as we got older, we learned to hunt deer, wolves, and horkers. His speed was unmatched, and he grew to great size too. Then the older boys and I started hunting people, and it wasn’t safe to bring him anymore. But he always waited in front of the city gate for my return, and I would call his name each time. And each time he would come bounding to me through the wet snow, licking my face, and leaning against my tired legs. For six years I raised him, until I decided to leave Windhelm with Harknir.
What will he do when he sees me now? I can already imagine it. He’ll wag his thin grey tail just like he always does, with his nose flat to the ground, ears perked in anticipation for me to call out his name again after nineteen years.
I wiped a warm tear from my cheek and looked up. A giant figure stood by the mossy stone archway of the entrance, his battle-axe perched on his shoulder. He was silhouetted by the white sunlight glimmering from the caved-in wall, outlining the sharp edges of his body and those horrible curved horns. It really was a demon. I looked to Harknir. He had already drawn his longbow, but his eyes were pointed toward the sky, his lips moving as though he were praying to the nine gods we disavowed long ago. He loosed the arrow from his shaking hands, and it whistled through the air, clanking with a stone pillar somewhere in the distance. He withdrew slightly down the shadowy steps behind us, trembling and breathing unevenly, once again murmuring something to himself, but I couldn’t hear what. The dark demon stepped forward, with the same heavy footsteps I heard trudging through the wet snow mere moments ago, though it felt like years. I reached to my side and picked up my rusting great sword. It seemed heavier than before. Maybe I grew weaker? Maybe I didn’t want to pick it up.
The dark demon gripped his battle-axe firmly in his hands and walked slowly towards us, almost mockingly, as if this were but a game to him. I knew it was.
I want to see my dog again.
The silhouette lifted his arms. He let out a great shout, and the stone walls themselves seemed to crumble in fear.
I want to see my dog again.
I want to see Arvir sitting in front of the city gate, waiting for me to call his name.
I want to call his name again.
I want him to come bounding to me through the wet snow, lick my face, and lean against my tired legs.
I want to go back home.
The demon flew towards me with terrifying speed, and soon we were face to face.
I saw for the first time his piercing eyes, raging like a fire, burning like the sun, and in those briefest of moments, I could have mistaken him for a dragon.