16 Heartfire, 4E201
Having fought within the barrow unlocked by one dragon claw, I woke this morning with the intention of finally securing the poor merchant's "golden" dragon claw heirloom. After all, it has only been a month or so since I have been asked of it and I am sure Lucan is a patient man.
There was really no reason not to do this. I have already found what Birna's dragon claw unlocked: the resting place of a powerful warrior who still had some fight in him. My thinking was that if Lucan's "golden" (really doubt it is actual gold!) claw also led to a powerful spirit then one could discount dragons and Stormcloaks as being involved at all, as was my original suspicion. Besides, the walk back to Azura's shrine from Falkreath placed me as passing through Riverwood anyway.
Before leaving Falkreath I spent some time with Lod, the Smith who sent me on that stupid journey with Clavicus Vile's dog. Fortunately Lod had no more tasks for me and for a handful of Septims I paid for the brief use of his forge. An hour later I had a decent enough leather breastplate and bracers which I complemented with a pair of enchanted leather boots I had found in the Barrow. The outfit is more restrictive than my robes, but I consider the additional protection to be well worth it.
I came upon two wooden watchtowers built alongside the road which bandits were using to extort travelers, but I was able to simply run right past them, arrows clattering against the cobblestones as I fled. There was no time to handle them in any other way, for I am very tired of catching only a few hours of poor sleep at a time.
Lucan thought the claw was taken to 'Bleak Falls' barrow, a massive Nordic ruin that I believe once served as the only resting place for the Nords in Skyrim before barrows started to become more local to the settlements. I passed a ruined stone tower on my way through Riverwood to 'Bleak Falls' and was able to completely sneak by the bandits and arrive at the barrow without raising an alarm.
The size of the exterior prevented the bandits from effectively patrolling the area and I surprised myself by also sneaking by them and letting myself in with no one the wiser.
The bandits' concern for their comrades was evident in the chewed dead body surrounded by skeevers. No more than twenty feet away from the corpse were two bandits causally chatting about another of their number who had ventured deeper into the barrow while in possession of "the claw". They were dismissive of the man and the claw, hoping that his duplicity would be the end of him. With that they both turned their attention to the pot cooking over the fire. Once again, I passed unnoticed and crept down the stairs behind them. My goal was to find this ambitious thief and the claw, not clear the barrow of bandits.
An unseen man started to shout at me as I descended into the barrow, naming several of the bandits and apologizing for stealing the claw. He revealed that he was in trouble and pleaded with me, whom he thought was one of the bandits, to rescue him. I found the man, a Dunmer, hung in an archway in a spider's web. A very large spider's web.
It was likely the bandit's first encounter with a giant spider, but not mine. Even with the short reach of my dagger I was able to keep the creature at bay and wear it down with strikes to its mouth and eyes.
Once the spider was disposed of I approached the unfortunate thief who introduced himself as 'Arvel the Swift' despite still being stuck in the web. I told him he would go free in exchange for the claw he stole, but he cleverly pointed out that I could not get the claw until he was cut down. I knew he would run away as soon as his feet touched the ground, but a barrow is not a place to be running about.
As I suspected, he ran off while laughing at my stupidity. I let him run ahead and predictably heard his scream amid the screeching of metal a few minutes later. The fool had stepped on a trapped stone, triggering a fence of spikes which tore into his body and flung him into the wall.
Arvel the Swift's noisy demise was enough to wake the resting Draugr nearby and I soon found myself under assault from all sides...which was a perfect opportunity to use the last of J'zargo's scrolls. It took a bit of searching but I was able to recover the golden claw. I could have left the barrow then and returned it to Lucan, but I wanted to see what the claw unlocked.
The claw unlocked a door almost exactly the same as the other: a large stone door with three discs surrounding a plate perforated with three small holes.
The underside of the claw showed the correct pattern to be Bear, Insect, then Owl and the door slid open with a terrible grinding, some settling having occurred over the centuries. I prepared myself for a tough fight and walked into the final chamber of 'Bleak Falls' barrow.
It was far more ornate than the previous barrow. There was a coffin facing a large stylized effigy of a dragon's head around which ancient runes had been carved. There seemed to be no Draugr about, so I stopped to look at the dragon carving first. As I gazed at the unreadable runes a set of them seemed to glow, then suddenly I suffered a tremendous pain in my head. I fell to my knees, but the pain was only for a moment. As it faded, I realized I could read the formerly glowing runes, 'Fus'. That was it. I do not even know what 'Fus' means. The rest of the runes were still undecipherable to me.
The grinding of the coffin's stone lid alerted me to the barrow's guardian, a Draugr wielding an ancient two-handed sword and wearing some equally ancient armor.
I expected that this Draugr would have the ability to 'shout' the weapon right out of my hands, but this one did not. Rather than yelling at me he simply relied on good equipment used very skillfully, plus a body that could take far more punishment than mine, even with Dagoth Ur's little gift.
Draugr make for great soldiers: they are tough, somewhat skilled, and show no hesitation or fatigue during battle. Unfortunately for them, they also show no ability to think. Had I been matched with a living opponent equipped and skilled similarly I would have been hard-pressed. But the Draugr had only one trick: rush at me while taking tremendous swings of his blade. Any one of his strikes would have lopped my head off, but that required one connecting with my body first.
My dagger was eventually enough to sever the magicka animating the poor man's remains, but it was a battle against Chance the whole way through. It occurred to me that I really could have used the ghostly blade I left at the College and the large chest next to the Draugr's coffin helpfully gifted me a glass long blade to match my dagger. I will not be able to sneak up to foes while wielding it, but for times when stealth is not an option I do believe I shall be glad to have it.
Also in the chest was a stone tablet engraved with the same dragon's head that the runes were carved around and I took that with me as well, I figure if it was guarded so well then it must be valuable to someone, somewhere.
As always it was night when I exited my latest adventuring site, but this time I had the luxury of being a short walk away from an Inn...or so I thought. I was right in thinking the walk back to Riverwood would be short, but when I arrived at the Inn I was told the innkeeper had gone out on important business and would not be returning for several days. Legally the man left to take care of the inn could not rent me a room, so he gruffly suggested I just lay my head on one of the rough-hewn tables in the common area.
It seemed I had no choice, but I visited Lucan and his sister and their general store before returning to the comfort of a table. Lucan was amazed to see the claw again and happily gave me four pouches of coins, eight-hundred Septims in all. I promised to visit him again in the morning for purchases and returned to the Sleeping Giant Inn to claim my part of a table.
The joke that I have slept in worse places is getting very old now, but I must say I cannot remember the last time I was forced to sleep sitting at a table. This is a new one and of course, very uncomfortable.