25 Last Seed, 4E201
I found 'Oakflesh' to be beyond my capabilities like all my other spells, but resolved to explore the area around Falkreath while working my way towards the bandit group the Jarl urged me to destroy. I was told they had taken up residence in front of an old mine to the north-west, so I guessed it would be easiest to simply walk alongside the mountains until I found the camp.
Following a small path winding towards the mountains brought me almost immediately to a ruined castle garrisoned by bandits nearly a stone's throw away from Falkreath. It does appear that Whiterun is not the only Hold with bandit problems and I suspect I shall find more of the same as I continue to travel.
The Orc patrolling the battlements over the fortress's gate stared at me as I walked by, but made no motion towards alerting his fellows of my presence or shooting at me with his bow. I suppose I do not appear a wealthy mark with my plain, somewhat tattered clothing. Deception is often the greatest defense.
I was not even outside of the sentry's sight when I was suddenly charged by a necromancer and one of his undead thralls. The errant mage was wielding a simple dagger in one hand and lightning magicka in the other: a sound strategy against a fellow mage. Against a surprised Khajiit with a long sword, not very sound at all. He fell after a stab to the gut and his useless thrall dissolved into nothing as his life seeped out of his stomach.
Beyond his pathetic attempt on my life was his campsite, complete with a bloodied altar crowded with the remains of his failed attempts to raise the dead.
I found nothing of value other than the satisfaction of removing such a person from Tamriel.
North of his illicit studies lay a far more disturbing sight: a burned wagon, a dead horse, and two corpses burnt beyond any recognition.
The ground around the wagon was burnt to ash in a neat circle. The wagon's cargo was inside several wooden crates, all of which were blackened but otherwise undamaged. The contents confirmed my suspicion: dragon fire directed at the enemies of the Stormcloaks: the Imperial Legion. Shielded by the sturdy crates, the Legionnaire armor had survived the blast without any damage but I was loathe to carry such conspicuous garb in a region clearly not safe for those wearing it.
After walking along the mountains for about twenty more minutes I came to the realization that I had been walking into a dead end, my time wasted. So I turned around and proceeded along the opposite side of the valley I was trying to leave, guessing that the mountains would still lead me towards the bandits.
While I was walking along I noticed a gang of three Altmers clad entirely in black sneaking towards me, apparently unaware they had been spotted. I quickly changed direction to a outcropping of rock in front of me hoping to gain some height advantage, but my change of pace was evidently too obvious and one of them shouted and all of a sudden I was under attack by spell and sword.
Such was my first encounter with the Thalmor, a group the Stormcloaks and the Legion could happily fight together against if the politics ever allowed such a thing. They were far more powerful than any bandits I have fought and they worked together unerringly. I found myself becoming overwhelmed and nearly surrounded when the fortunate arrival of a pack of wolves distracted two of my assailants. I smashed the remaining Thalmor against a large rock and stabbed her through the back until she stopped screaming, then turned against the other two. One I killed while he was busy fighting off two wolves, the other I had to fight after he killed his single wolf and the two his late friend had been busy with.
Skilled though they were, their strength seemed to have relied heavily on teamwork and one-on-one they were easily kept on the defensive and not one of the three had shields so this was a losing proposition for them.
On each of them was a paper classifying me as an "extremely dangerous" enemy to the Thalmor who is to be killed with "extreme hatred". Whoever wrote the declaration must have enjoyed going to extremes. I am also described as being able to skillfully defend myself despite nearly losing my life to a Sabre Cat just the other day.
I have no idea what prompted this interest in me, nor what I could have possibly done to bring about such a sudden and violent persona. I am certain that I have never harmed any of the Thalmor nor worked against the Aldmeri Dominion, yet I am now marked by them for death. The only thing I can think of is that someone recognized me from long ago and the Dominion is interested in learning the secret to my unnatural longevity, but I cannot picture who this person might be.
After all I had dealt with up until then, I still needed to find the Jarl's group of bandits, kill them, and return to Falkreath in one piece. After an hour of walking through the wet, rainy forest I finally found the camp the Jarl had described: Knifepoint Ridge
The sentry atop the watchtower fell with an arrow in his chest and I killed two other bandits just as silently from atop the tower myself. The camp was built in front of a former mine and the leader of the little group would likely be found there. I was correct, but the man was stunningly standing in a pile of spilled lamp oil and a shot from my bow tipped a lantern on to it, transforming the man into a screaming pillar of flames. And with that Knifepoint Ridge was clear until the next group of bandits came along.
Among the useless contraband the bandits had acquired was an ancient Dwemer war axe. I kept it and will try using it myself in the next few days. I have swung many an axe in my day, though a wood-cutting axe is far different than one crafted for battle. If it does not work out I can always sell it somewhere.
Alert and on edge, I rushed towards the road and back towards Falkreath. Bandits are now the least of my concerns alongside the reminder of a rebellious Dragon flying about and the Thalmor stalking after me. The former is really someone else's problem unless I choose to get involved in Skyrim's civil war, but the latter is an insult. I have done nothing to attract the ire of the Thalmor, yet still they seem to believe I have committed some slight against them which warrants death as if I did not have enough to worry about.
Jarl Siddgeir was less than impressed with my completion of his task, languidly congratulating me and handing me a purse of one hundred Septims, a sum I do not think matched the difficulties I had.
Falkreath and its Jarl has failed to impress upon me any reason for staying longer. I will spend one more day here in an attempt to find some work, but I shall be on my way otherwise.