Friday, January 29, 2016

Skyrim Day 016 - Upon A Bed of Stone

1 Heartfire, 4E201

This morning I decided that the next city on my list is Markarth, known for being built over an ancient Dwemer fortification which Markarth was not ashamed to draw its architecture from. Having had quite some experience with Dwemer ruins I was pretty sure I knew what to expect.

As I was leaving Riverwood I came upon a somewhat-hidden shrine to Talos...surrounded by the bodies of his worshipers.
The cause of their death was partially hidden in some nearby bushes. The Thalmor's body had on it a letter evidently from a superior berating his efforts at uncovering this unfortunate group of Talos worshipers. The letter-writer haughtily told the Thalmor, Sanyon, to investigate it himself and stop wasting her time with his worthless reports. She will never know he both succeeded and failed.

While enjoying a peaceful walk along the river I was surprised to discover what appeared to be a now-ancient Oblivion portal gently crumbling on a tiny island in the middle of the river. The sight was surprising and the memories that surfaced were melancholy, even if "good" won in the end...not that it had really mattered, I suppose.
I had just passed Half-Moon Mill when I heard someone in the forest to my left alternately muttering to himself and calling for help. Thinking it a trap I considered walking on, but I could not bring myself to abandon a potentially wounded person to Skyrim's wildlife and approached the voice warily.

It was not a trap, but a wounded hunter sitting in front of a cave. As I approached he asked me if I had any healing draughts to spare and his need for one was obvious, so I gave him one of my weaker ones. He introduced himself as 'Valdr', one of a group of local hunters who had tracked a bear into the cavern he was sitting in front of. Unfortunately the group became the hunted once they entered the cave and the his friends were killed by Spriggans.

He asked if I would accompany him back inside the cave to recover the bodies, but he was in no state to fight off a single Spriggan, let alone the three he estimated. Still feeling somewhat down from my earlier encounter with the ruined Oblivion gate I agreed to take on the task myself in his name, if only to make myself feel a bit better. Valdr was surprised that a stranger would do something like that for him and assured me he would remain outside the cave to await my return.

The remains of the first of the man's friends were not far into the cave. The corpse of the bear they had been hunting lay nearby, but the man had been struck in the back, probably while fleeing.
I was not surprised when the first spriggran jumped out of a tree near the poor man's corpse. A single crossbow bolt was enough to send the creature crashing against the wall, dead. The remaining two Spriggans ambushed me near the second dead hunter, but both proved just as predictable as the first, emerging from the only two large trees in the vicinity. They both fell to my crossbow, one immediately, the other after I unwisely tried using the crossbow as a melee weapon. It worked, sort of, putting the creature off-balance and allowing me to reload, but another attempt at such and I may find myself without a functional weapon.

Valdr was still where I had left him and he presented me his steel "lucky dagger" as a reward. I wonder at how much luck the weapon possesses as all of his friends have died, but he still lives, so that may be something.

Continuing towards Markarth I was of course attacked by bandits, this time a duo consisting of an Orsimer and a Nord. The Orsimer had a lovely garnet hidden upon him, as well as a silver ring with a ruby set into it. I suspect his Nord partner was not aware of them.

Just outside of Markarth I met a Khajiit caravan moving on to their next stop. 'Caravan' might be a bit generous, they were really just four Khajiit with packs on their backs, but the leader was happy to purchase the garnet and ring from me at a good price. I warned them of the dangers I have been encountering along the road, but they were confident that they could deal with whatever they faced.

I knew Markarth depended largely on mining to keep itself solvent and as I entered the outskirts of the city I saw a group of miners gathered together, most of them yelling at a pensive-looking man.
As I drew closer I could hear the miners shouting about the 'Forsworn', otherwise known as the 'Madmen of the Reach'. The trouble I had witnessed was due to a nearby gold mine having been overrun by Forsworn rebels. The miners wanted the mine retaken by the city's guards, but the foreman, Skaggi Scar-Face, could not guarantee a rapid response from the city's forces. Frustrated, everyone was dispersing as I approached Skaggi.

He wearily greeted me, noting that it was unusual to see a Khajiit traveling alone. I let the comment pass and asked him about the occupied mine. He had no more information than the complaints he had just received: Forsworn swarmed into the mine, killed most of the miners, and sent the few survivors fleeing back to the city.

The mine was a gold mine and its liberation would no doubt come with a hefty reward. I had never fought the Forsworn before, so that was a concern, but nevertheless I agreed to make an attempt against the rebels. Skaggi was grateful that someone would help him, but did not think I would survive the attempt. This did not do much for my confidence.

Kolskeggr Mine lay to the northeast of Markarth along the road which eventually led back to Solitude. My first encounter with the Forsworn came in the form of a painted man wearing furs, an antlered helmet, and wielding weapons made solely of wood and stone. It was not a fair fight.
More Forsworn patrolled the interior of the mine, but their haphazard clothing left them defenseless against my crossbow and soon the entire mine was filled with their dead and dying. Before leaving I borrowed a pickax and helped myself to some of the gold ore along the cavern walls. With no treasure coming from the Forsworn I felt I was due a little something.

My reward from the miners was a considerable sum: 750 Septims. Including that with the gold I mined made this little adventure worth almost two thousand Septims, all of which will likely go towards training if I ever visit Winterhold College.

By then night had fallen, but the city's gate was still open. Coincidentally I arrived just in time to witness an attempt on a woman's life. As soon as I had entered the city a man in front of me drew a dagger and started towards a woman whose back was turned to him. A quick flick of my wrist sent my Elven dagger into his own back and he turned on me with a scream just as a nearby guard cut him down for good.
I was able to retrieve my dagger before a horde of guards rushed to the scene, but they were only interested in shooing everyone away from the corpse. The woman whose life I saved thanked me and told me to visit her in the local inn when I had the time and a man who had witnessed the entire episode handed me a letter which he noticed I had dropped. The implication was obvious and I headed to the inn for some privacy.

Privacy was the only thing the 'Silver-Blood Inn' could provide. In keeping true to the Dwemer origin of the city, the beds were solid slabs of stone with furs laid on top of them. Hardly close to my idea of comfort.
The letter that I had "dropped" only said to be at the Shrine of Talos at midnight. That there even was such a shrine surprised me and the short notice surprised me further: it was already halfway to midnight when I entered the inn, leaving me just enough time to write all this down.

I will be leaving for this Shrine in a few moments, provided I can even find it. If not, my mysterious letter-writer will simply have to wait another day.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Skyrim Day 015 - My Old Friend, Once Again

31 Last Seed, 4E201

I am now free of Barbas and his master, for good! Leaving Rorikstead early in the morning, I eagerly continued my journey to Haemar's Shame where Barbas told me he would be waiting.

The walk from Rorikstead to Falkreath was surprisingly without event and I reached Falkreath by late morning. Lod was busy at his shop and I took a moment of his time to greatly understate my past few days by telling him the dog he had been seeking wound up being far more trouble than he was worth. Lod was not disappointed that I had "failed" to bring him his hound and considered the matter closed with my return, handing me twenty-five Septims. Something seemed a bit off, but I accepted the money and asked about his wares.

It was then that I made a joyful reunion with a very old friend: the crossbow!

My sudden excitement surprised the both of us, but after ruefully admitting that I was back to the life I was trying to leave it seems so right that I should be wielding one of my weapons from Vvardenfell. Now all I have to do is sharpen a branch and I will have a spear again too. Lod warily explained that crossbows were being reintroduced into the Legion as they were much simpler to make and able to be wielded by just about anyone. The single crossbow in his shop was for a Legion officer, but I had to have it at any cost! "Any" cost turned out to be the outrageous sum of three hundred and sixty Septims and of course the man had no bolts for the weapon. He did provide me with a copy of instructions meant for the Legion on how best to craft some, so I resolved to have myself some bolts before the day ended. With our business of dog and crossbow concluded I wished him well and departed Falkreath.

Walking from Flakreath to the cavern of Haemar's Shame proved a bit more exciting.
Two Dark Brotherhood assassins, the first a Dunmer, the second a Khajiit, attacked me while I was walking down the road. Each seemed to have no knowledge of the other and neither was skilled in their craft. At least the Dunmer was kind enough to bring an Orsimer sword with him, the Khajiit frugally brought cheap iron.

Barbas was waiting for me by Clavicus Vile's shrine and immediately remarked on my tardiness, a blow I deigned to reply in kind. Instead I presented the Daedric Prince with his cumbersome weapon and he offered to let me keep it...if I killed Barbas with it, a scornfully disloyal act. Unwilling to play a game I was sure to lose I reminded Clavicus of our bargain and insisted that he take Barbas back in exchange for the Rueful Axe.
Despite his apparent desire to be away from the dog, Clavicus seemed to be just as happy reunited, saying that with the two of them together his full power would be restored. He dismissed me with an offhand offering of his 'boon': the Masque of Clavicus Vile, another Daedric artifact I neither want nor have much use for. Curious, I tried to wear the Masque only to confirm my suspicion that the attempt would nearly slice my ears off. Much like Dawnbreaker I am now stuck carrying this thing around until I can find a better place to leave it.

The closest town to the shrine is Riverwood, so I went back down the road, passed the dead bodies of the two assassins, and walked once again through Helgen. Hadvar was happy to see me and examined my crossbow, but was unconvinced of its superiority over the bow. His uncle helped me craft bolts for the weapon and I now have sixty steel-headed bolts in a quiver hanging off of my hip, a far more comfortable arrangement than a quiver full of rattling arrows.

I have taken a room in the 'Sleeping Giant Inn' and am not sure where I shall go tomorrow. I do wish to visit the College in Winterhold eventually, so I may begin to travel there. Otherwise I might visit Markarth, a city I have never yet seen or return to Solitude to complete some of my agreed-upon tasks.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Skyrim Day 014 - Thwarting Potema

30 Last Seed, 4E201

I thought today would be a relatively simple day: go to the cave near Dragons Bridge, scare away some bandits, and proceed to Clavicus Vile. Of course, I was completely wrong again.

I left Solitude early in the morning and was surprised to find that a Khajiit caravan had set up shop just outside the walls.
The leader, an old male who called himself Ma'Dran, had quite an interesting collection of things for sale. A lot of it was just sundries and household items, but he had a selection for "active individuals", as he put it, that included lockpicks, poisons, elixers, and a few weapons. He specifically suggested a poison he said would induce a rage in anyone who came in contact with it, enough to turn that person's friends into enemies. That sounded useful, but it cost me five hundred Septims. Never purchase from a Khajiit.

Once I found Wolfskull Cave it was immediately apparent that I was not going to be dealing with mere bandits.
Two skeletons, each armed with two-handed swords, approached me as I left the road. I may have judged 'Dawnbreaker' a bit too hastily, for my experimental strikes against my undead foes resulted in a massive explosion and their instant destruction. A bit more useful than I anticipated, certainly.

Inside were a few more undead and a Frost Atronach, none of which could stand against 'Dawnbreaker'. But when I entered the main chamber of the cave, the sight before me had me quickly discarding the weapon and its noticeable glow.
Something was occurring at the top of the tower where the tendrils of purple light were collecting, but I could not tell what. The droning of several people was audible over the sound of the wind rushing about the chamber and I heard one voice clearly declare that someone named 'Potema' was being summoned.

But I had other concerns. Undead were shambling about below where I had entered and this summoning was likely the reason the villagers have been having their troubles. Undead, as a rule, make generally poor guards and despite the necromancers having summoned a dozen of them into the chamber I was able to pick them off one-by-one from a distance, each one being unable to alert anyone else in any way.

The necromancers themselves were a bit more difficult. Two of them were not part of the summoning ritual and had to be approached quietly from behind as I made my way towards the tower, but once I started to ascend the stairs I had no hope of concealing my approach. Indeed, I was only halfway up before I heard a woman's voice sharply announce that there was an intruder among them.

I do not know if she was the first one down the stairs, but whomever she was received an arrow in the chest for her trouble and I stepped out of the way of her tumbling body as her comrades surged towards me. My second victim received but a scratch, but this was from my dagger I had poisoned with Ma'Dran's potion of angering. In an instant he turned his back to me and flung spells against the necromancers piling on the stairs, slaying two before they had any time to react. 

The suddenness even took me by surprise and I was content to run back down the stairs as the magicka battle raged atop the tower. Eventually the combat died down and I crept back up to find that my captive ally was dead and only an older woman was left alive, her left arm completely encased in ice and useless. She hissed that Potema would return with or without their help, but I had no interest in her ramblings. Her end was quick and summoning over.
Rather than return to Solitude and probably spend the rest of the day there I left Wolfskull Cave, walked through Dragons Bridge, and resumed my long journey to Clavicus Vile. On the way I passed the bandit outpost on the bridge which Barbas nearly cleared by himself and the site of the ambush with the cart and dead body, both still on the road along with the bandits'.

A Thalmor patrol surprised me as they rounded a bend, but none of them recognized me as a potential bounty and simply told me to stand aside as they marched by.
The day's journey ended not very far from Solitude: the Frostfruit Inn in Rorikstead. I arrived before the sun had set, but there is little hospitality between Rorikstead and my destination, so I prudently retired to the my room. spending the remainder of the evening with my alchemy ingredients. I hope tomorrow to return the Rueful Axe to its rightful owner and be done with this business.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Skyrim Day 013 - Rekindling Meridia's fire

29 Last Seed, 4E201

Free of Barbas at last! I have yet to return the Axe, but he had only agreed to accompany me to the Axe, not until I returned it. Therefore, he and I parted ways this morning, I staying in Solitude to explore for awhile and he to Clavicus Vile's shrine to await my return. He assured me I need not hurry back, so I shall certainly enjoy wandering by myself once again.

Having cleared the grotto yesterday with Barbas, my first task of the day was to see the local Steward about the bounty he had posted upon the pirates. While walking to Solitude's 'Blue Palace' I stopped along the battlements to admire the view of Skyrim. It reminded me that despite my considerable age I have not widely traveled and no doubt have a long path yet ahead of me.
Access to the Blue Palace was surprisingly open given Skyrim's troubles and the widowed Queen of Skyrim, Elisif the Fair, was holding court as I arrived. She was discussing a matter of supplies for the city and was bathed in a shining ray of light from a nearby window which I assume made sitting on the throne quite uncomfortable.
My business was not with the potential Queen, but her Steward who was standing nearby. For the combined efforts of dog and Khajiit I was paid one hundred Septims and given the opportunity to lay claim to another order of business.

Just before my arrival a resident of Dragons Bridge had come to the Blue Palace to request that Solitude send guards to a nearby cave the locals named 'Wolfskull'. According to the requester, people have been disappearing from the town and unexplained lights have been seen near the cavern's entrance. Solitude's steward, Falk Firebeard, assured the nervous man that Solitude would post extra guards to Dragons Reach, but admitted to me that Solitude's guards were already stretched thin and no help could be spared for the town. Having said that, he requested that I go to the cave instead and investigate the man's claims. Falk's directions place 'Wolfskull' somewhat north of Meridia's statue, so it is not far. The disturbance is likely just bandits, so I agreed to take the job, much to his relief.

While on my way out of the city I was stopped by a haggard beggar who I assumed wanted some coin. But he waved away my Septims and asked if I had seen his "master" recently. The man was obviously insane, handing me a pelvic bone from some skeleton and telling me that this master of his was in the 'Pelagius Wing' of the Blue Palace and that the bone was required for me to gain entrance. His entire story is utter nonsense, but I told him I would look into the matter lest he fly into a rage and attack me.

Today was apparently the day for people to walk up to me and tell me what they needed me to do. As I proceeded to attempt to leave Solitude I was stopped once again, this time by an Altmer who disdainfully told me my clothes were suitable for a farmer. This was true, I intentionally chose the clothes in order to appear poor and someone to be overlooked. But she insisted I could do better by visiting the 'Radiant Raiment', a clothing store run by herself, Taarie, and her sister Endarie. Having heard her advertisement I tried to excuse myself, but she told me to wait, stared for a few moments, then asked if I was willing to do her a small favor in exchange for some coin.

I already had a madman's master to find, the beacon and an axe of two Daedric Princes to return, a cavern to investigate, and not forgotten, a blacksmith in Falkreath that was wondering what happened to the dog he asked me to find. What was one more job?

Fortunately Taarie's job really was a simple one: she asked that I wear an article of clothing from her store and parade it in front of Elisif who has an eye for such things. I felt a little silly, but I agreed and received a heavily quilted gown in return. If Elisif was surprised to see me back in the Blue Palace so quickly she did not show it and allowed me to show off the gown. I made sure to mention that it had come from her local 'Radiant Raiment' and she assured me her personal orders would be arriving shortly.

This was worth a surprising four hundred Septims plus the gown itself...which I did not want to keep. I sneaked into Taarie's shop while she was looking away and sold her gown back to her sister, choosing instead to purchase a complete outfit from Hammerfell. The loose fitting clothing does not provide much protection from the cold, but the hood and high boots will keep snow from collecting on my ears and feet.

Having clad myself a foreign mercenary I was able to make it out of the city without being stopped by anyone else and made my way towards Mount Kilkreath where the shrine of Meridia awaited its beacon.
The column blue light emitting from the statue's hands made it very easy to find. As I approached Meridia's voice began again in my head, bemoaning the state of her shrine and the shifting hearts of her former followers. I placed the beacon on its pedestal at the foot of the statue and it rose up along the column of light until it was between the statue's hands.

Suddenly, the entire world seemed to go white and when my vision returned I found, to my great dismay, that I was floating hundreds of feet above land while being confronted by Meridia's manifestation in the form of a glowing ball of light. I cannot recall what it was she said or asked me to do other than to clear her shrine of evil for I was much too preoccupied with panicking and wishing I was back on the ground.

After what felt like an eternity there was another flash of white light and I was gratefully back on the ground in front of the shrine's entrance.
The problem was immediately apparent once I stepped inside. An oily-looking black haze clung along the floor, ceiling, and walls and the bodies of Imperial Legionnaires cluttered the entire shrine. Many of the bodies had been desecrated: eyes, nose, and lips removed, arms broken, legs missing, a gruesome display of depravity that repeated itself throughout the complex.

Opposing me were spirits that looked to be composed of the same oily haze that was oozing everywhere. Because of this the spirits were difficult to spot unless one was looking right at me with its brightly glowing red eyes. This was not helpful, as by that time it was usually charging at me with a weapon of the Imperial Legion clutched in its bony claws.
My task however was not the elimination of these corrupted things, but the guidance of Meridia's light deeper into the shrine. The beacon I had returned emitted a beam of light which the Daedric Prince sent into the shrine which I needed to guide along by turning similar beacons around to catch the light and reflect it further on.

This light briefly sent me outside to a stone bridge spanning a gap in the hillside, but the bridge was being patrolled by an Imperial soldier wearing incredibly old armor the likes of which I can only recall seeing in historical documents and tapestries. His Altmer sword and shield marked him as a high-ranking officer, possibly the commander of the dead soldiers, but he was closer to the corrupted spirits in form than he was to former self. As such he moved slowly and awkwardly and could not use his sword or shield as effectively as he likely did in life. My usual strategy of dancing away from a stronger opponent's blows worked well and the malevolent force powering his corpse evaporated after I circled around him and plunged my Orsimer dagger into his back. On a whim I took his Altmer equipment with me.

I re-entered the shrine via the door he had been guarding and proceeded through several more rooms, each with their undead, oily guardians. Meridia's light guided me deeper into the shrine and to the final chamber where the necromancer Malkoran was occupied with his foul work alongside six spectral guardians.
None of them noticed me until I fired an arrow into the necromancer's back. His magical shield rendered my shot non-lethal, but it still had enough force to lodge into his back. With a roar of pain he whirled around and fire a massive ball of ice at me through the door, but I ducked out of the way and re-emerged into the doorway to duel with his six bodyguards. The undead Imperial Captain's sword served me well here for each strike against the spirits set them afire and quickly extinguished their lifeforce. As they were forced to engage me one-on-one in the doorway the battle was far easier than it could have been. My duel with Malkoran was a more difficult matter.

He was content to leave me to his guardians while they were still engaged, but resumed his attack at the defeat of the final spirit. He relied on a spell which sent a giant ball of ice hurtling through the air which froze everything it touched, including the floor. Stepping on these patches of ice sent shocks of cold into my feet and up my legs, making it difficult to move quickly for several seconds. I made sure to make that mistake only once.

I could only hope to defeat him by leaving the safety of the doorway and entering the chamber in order to engage him in melee to prevent him from using his spells. After he launched another ball of ice through the doorway I leaped through it over the trail of ice the spell had left and charged at him, shield up and sword at the ready.

He was caught off-guard and I smashed the shield into his face and delivered against him a terrific slash. The enchantment within the sword ignited his robes and after a quick stab to his middle the man's body burst into flames as well.

Yet that was not the end of it. His body was still on fire as he collapsed, but an unearthly shrieking filled the chamber and his own foul spirit rose from the smoldering corpse looking very much like a larger version of the spirits I had already put to rest.

But his spirit was just as susceptible to the sword's enchanted fire as the others and it evaporated with a frustrated scream without having a chance to do anything at all. Meridia's satisfied voice erupted inside my head, telling me that the shrine was now clear and that I was worthy to claim her sword 'Dawnbreaker' which the necromancer had been trying to find a way to claim for himself. With the her blessing the sword slid easily from its pedestal at the center of the room.
There was a flash of light and once again I was unfortunately very high above Skyrim, talking to a glowing ball of light.
I kept my eyes closed and pretended I was still on the ground as Meridia droned on about the responsibilities that came with wielding 'Dawnbreaker' and how everyone would revere her as I struck down the enemies of undeath and corruption. After I was reunited with the ground I examined 'Dawnbreaker' more carefully and have come to the conclusion that I can never use it. The blade is exceptional and the weapon well-blanced, but the hilt has a small gem that constantly glows and would not serve me well while trying to stay hidden. I will carry it with me until I have a place to keep it, but I shall stick to my combination of bow and dagger for now. I left the equipment I borrowed from the former Imperial commander at the foot of Meridia's statue, having no use for it and it being too cumbersome to take with me.

It is early in the morning now and I still have a long list of things I need to accomplish. I thought I would be returning to my life of cutting lumber and doing odd jobs around Skyrim, but it appears I have sunk back to my old life once again.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Skyrim Day 012 - Solitude and the Coast of Skyrim

28 Last Seed, 4E201

I cannot wait to be rid of Barbas. He cost me six extra Septims for the room in Dragons Bridge and today almost my life. Eager to be done with Clavicus Vile's task, we left Dragons Bridge before the sun had risen and with Barbas in the lead made our way towards Rimerock Burrow and the Rueful Axe.

The weather quickly grew to be quite disagreeable, cold, and snowy as we grew closer to the northern coast, but this might have been the reason I was not attacked by another roadside assassin this morning. Instead Barbas decided to attack some sort of snow spirit in the shape of what might have been an eel.
It is easy to be fearless when you are the companion of a Daedric Prince, but I did not appreciate having to fight such a creature without good reason. The flying eel-thing concentrated solely on Barbas and did not respond to my hacking away at its ghostly form with an Orsimer dagger, making me think I was having no effect. However, it eventually exploded into a cloud of snow and ice, though whether it was due to my dagger or Barbas's teeth, I cannot be sure. It's "corpse", a pile of snow, had within it two icicles which Barbas helpfully informed me was the thing's teeth and suggested that I keep them to sell or experiment with.

That was not the only fight Barbas picked: two huge wolves also met their end at Barbas's jaws and when Barbas ran ahead of me around a corner I thought he had also killed a bandit, but the man had been obviously dead for some time. On his body was a note saying that he was close to finding the "Hunting Bow of Chills", which the man suspected was in a place called 'Greenspring Hollow'. Where this is I neither know nor care.

Miraculously the air became warmer and the snow lessened further on and we came upon a ruin of some kind alongside the road. Once again, Barbas charged forward on his own, barking and snarling. He disappeared into the rubble and soon after I heard a shout, followed by several others. On his own, Barbas decided to attack another group of bandits.
This time I was taken notice of and fought a duel with an archer while Barbas massacred the bandits for no other reason than to amuse himself. I killed the archer, he about five other men.

Continuing along the road my worst fears almost became realized: I was being followed not by one Barbas, but two!
Fortunate for my sanity, the second dog was merely a dog that looked very similar to the hound that Barbas has chosen to appear as. The dog looked healthy and lacking Barbas's ability to "talk", could not tell me why it was wandering the frozen road. The dog must have had its reasons, for it simply continued down the road, paying us no more attention than a glance.

Finally Barbas and I reached 'Rimerock Burrow', a small cave dug into the side of a hill almost directly underneath a ruined tower. The cave was only one "room" and guarded by a Flame Atronach whose demise somehow failed to alert the Conjurer who was in possession of the Axe. So intent was he on his enchanting table that he neither heard his Atronach's doomed battle nor my (somewhat) stealthy approach. An Orsimer dagger into his back and the Axe was mine.
On our way back from the Burrow we passed another group of Legionnaires escorting a prisoner and I heard them talking among themselves about seeing boats drawn up on the shore to the northeast. The boats sounded like they might lead me to the bandits the innkeeper at the 'Four Shields Tavern' in Dragons Bridge had mentioned and the day was still young, so Barbas and I took a detour along the barren shore of Skyrim.
The small boats outside of the sea cave disguised the naval tragedy within: a large sailing ship crushed by a cave-in.
With no way to get their fleet to see the pirates (I suppose) lashed  their remaining ships together and turned them into floating houses of a sort, each with several levels and bridges to the small amount of land made available by the cavern.
I managed to shoot down two of the land-locked pirates before Barbas alerted everyone else to our arrival, but the geography of the cave worked against its residents, for they were forced to run from their ships, across a small plateau, down a narrow path, and finally the distance between them and I. This trip allowed me to shoot another two of them as they came charging and yelling at us and Barbas distracted another, giving me the opportunity to face the pirates' Captain on my own. A dagger against a two-handed greatsword is nowhere near an equal match, especially when the person with the dagger gets inside your swing and you are standing at the edge of a high drop. All it took was a timed rush into the Captain as he began to swing his sword and down he tumbled into the water below. He was a much easier target while he was trying to swim to one of his boats. Unfortunately I had to later go into the water myself to retrieve his body, but such is life.

A quick walk around the grotto revealed not much treasure so I could only hope that the people Barbas and I killed were the targets of the bounty letter I had been given.

By the time we reached the gates of Solitude the moon was already high but the guard gave us no trouble with entering the city.
An execution was in progress as we entered the city, but I had no desire to watch another man lose his head, so I paid it no attention and went immediately to the local inn. Being a major city, Solitude's inn boasted a much nicer room than the ones I have been staying at.

The Rueful Axe is in my possession, but I have to now walk all the way back to Clavicus Vile's shrine and I also have another Daedric Prince, Meridia, patiently awaiting my attention. I complete one task and I have three more, it seems.