Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Skyrim Day 048 - Up the Mountain, Down the Mountain

3 Frostfall, 4E201

With my dour housecarl in tow I left the inn of Ivarstead and ventured into 'Shroud Hearth' barrow, a tomb not only "close" to Ivarstead but actually inside the town itself. It was typical of the tombs built during the first Era with the exception of the rumor that a ghost haunted it. Draugr are one thing, ghosts are another.

The innkeeper said that once you got close to the barrow a voice would echo from the depths warning you to stay away. Echoing this warning was 'Wyndelius', a Dunmer mage who had descended into the tomb a year ago and was never seen again. Whatever the reason for his disappearance I felt confident that Lydia and I could handle anything the ancient Nords had thought of.

They had not thought of what we found. As soon as we descended underground a voice wavered through the corridors warning us to turn back. Now, I have not been in many Nordic barrows or tombs, but the all of the ones I have explored lacked a vocal warning at the entrance. Intrigued, I crept on, disarmed several traps for my bumbling housecarl, and found a blue blob slumbering next to a lit fireplace.
The blob wound up being Wyndelius, driven mad after an obsessive need to locate a Dragon's Claw key in order to gain access to the rest of the barrow, where, as usual, untold treasures awaited him. But he started paranoid, certain that others would follow him to the barrow and unlock the secret before him. His solution was inspired, if a bit overworked: he mixed a potion to wrap his body in an illusion to make him appear as a ghost and used it to scare off other would-be adventurers.

But he kept drinking the mixture and searching fruitlessly for the Claw, eventually driving himself mad to the point where he actually believed he was a vengeful Draugr spirit from the First Era. This would be why he immediately attacked Lydia as she, not for the first time that day, demonstrated a complete lack of understanding of the words 'stealth', 'cautious', and 'quiet'. She killed him in seconds without a word to him or me. The deranged writings of his journal revealed the strange trajectory his life had taken and I took it as proof to the townspeople that the barrow's "haunting" was no more.

Rather than deliver the journal back to the innkeeper I decided Lydia and I would first ascend the supposedly seven-thousand steps from Ivarstead to the monastery of the Greybeards at the top of the mountain. Just before the village's bridge was a man busily collecting wax-paper packages into a cloth sack and as we went to pass him by he stopped us and asked if we were going to the monastery. We were and he offered to pay us to deliver his sack of goods to the Greybeards. The man, Klimmek, admitted that the steps were getting to be too much for his aged knees Having no reason to deny his request, I cheerfully agreed to carry his goods up the mountain, then immediately handed the sack to Lydia.

There may or may not be seven-thousand steps, but the journey upwards was more symbolic than I anticipated. Along the path were nine stone markers, each inscribed with a bit of knowledge about dragons, the Dragon War, and the abilities of the Dragonborn. I wrote each one down:

Marker I
Before the birth of Men, the Dragons ruled all Mundus
Their word was the Voice, and they spoke only for True Needs
For the Voice could blot out the sky and flood the land

Marker II
Men were born and spread over the face of Mundus
The Dragons presided over the crawling masses
Men were weak then, and had no Voice

Marker III
The fledgling spirits of Men were strong in Old Times
Unafraid to war with Dragons and their Voices
But the Dragons only shouted them down and broke their hearts

Marker IV
Kyne called on Paarthurnax, who pitied Man
Together they taught Men to use the Voice
Then Dragon War raged, Dragon against Tongue

Marker V
Man prevailed, shouting Alduin out of the world
Proving for all that their Voice too was strong
Although their sacrifices were many-fold

Marker VI
With roaring Tongues, the Sky-Children conquer
Founding the First Empire with Sword and Voice
Whilst the Dragons withdrew from this World

Marker VII
The Tongues at Red Mountain went away humbled
Jurgen Windcaller began His Seven Year Meditation
To understand how Strong Voices could fail

Marker VIII
Jurgen Windcaller chose silence and returned
The 17 disputants could not shout Him down
Jurgen the Calm built His home on the Throat of the World

Marker IX
For years all silent, the Greybeards spoke one name
Tiber Septim, stripling then, was summoned to Hrothgar
They blessed and named him Dovahkiin

It sounds straightforward: Dragons ruled the known universe by themselves, then "men" came into being and were subjugated by the Dragons. As is always the case, Men declared war, this time on the Dragons and were overwhelmed. Kyne, said to be the widow of the Nordic depiction of Lorkhan, then collaborated with a friendly or neutral Dragon so that the Dragons' "shouts" could be learned and used by the Men.

The fifth marker says that the Men, after a long struggle, defeated a dragon named 'Alduin' and drove him "out of the world", whatever that means. Now apparently masters of Mundus, the Men conquered the rest of...where ever they had started and founded the First Empire.

But here is where I realized that the markers were not describing a Tamriel-spanning event, but one that likely only spanned what is today the province of Skyrim. The "First Empire" described on the marker could not have been the first Imperial empire, for the creation of that also began the tradition of the Amulet of Kings and the Dragonfires, implying that the ruler of the first Imperial empire descended from the Dragonborn.

If my assumption is correct, then the markers described the migration of the Nordic people into Skyrim, where they fought the Dragons and learned how to use the Dragons' shouts. With that power they won the war and claimed Skyrim for their own. The First Empire of the Nords did not last nearly as long.

I do not know of Jurgen Windcaller, but it sounds as if the Nordic First Empire invaded Morrowind, only to be defeated at Red Mountain, a site of much conflict throughout the ages, apparently. Jurgen meditated for seven years (or weeks, or days...), fought seventeen other Nords, and then constructed the monastery where the Greybeards now reside.
There they remained apart from the world until they named Tiber Septim the first 'Dovahkiin', starting the Septim Dynasty and with it, the Third Era. The stone markers end at that event, but the monastery was just beyond it anyway. Having counted the steps and lost my place twice, I can say there are definitely not seven thousand steps, but somewhere around six hundred and fifty or so. I met two Nords undergoing their own pilgrimages up the path, but it was much shorter than I thought it would be and I just cannot see why it is held in such reverence by everyone else.

The supply chest was nestled between the staircases leading to the main entrance and Lydia dumped the sack inside with barely concealed relief, acidly remarking that she had, in fact, sworn to carry my burdens. It is a wonder that one of us did not push the other off the mountain.

Inside, the Greybeards were waiting.
All of them were men, old, bearded, and clothed in featureless grey robes. One introduced himself as 'Arngeir' and asked me for a "taste of my Voice", which was a particularly odd way of asking me to use the Thu'um forcefully placed upon me. I found that I could draw the power forth voluntarily if I focused, making it much less disorientating to use. The sound of the word 'Fus' caused Arngeir to stagger and the dust on the floor to be blown against the wall, satisfying their request for evidence.

Then he actually asked me why I had come! I bit off the first reply that came to mind, realizing that the question was a test of sorts. So I simply answered that I had come seeking knowledge as to what it means to be 'Dragonborn', as many people in Whiterun were calling me that after the death of the Dragon.

Arngeir assured me that the Greybeards were here to teach and guide the Dragonborn, as they always have been, and one of the other Greybeards taught me another word: 'Ro', the second of three words which together would create a blast of air that could level a building. The word I already knew, 'Fus', was the first of the three and by itself is not particularly potent. With 'Ro', I can now send both words hurtling out of my mouth and into my foes with greater strength.

Or I could just sneak up on them and stab them in the back as I have been doing.

Lydia and I were led outside to the rear courtyard and there I was taught the word 'Wuld', or Whirlwhind. One of the silent Greybeards demonstrated its use: upon speaking the word he shot forward almost faster than I could see, appearing thirty yards away in a second. I was impressed, but then I was told to try it. I stood where the Greybeard had been, focused inward, and "felt" the power within me. I spoke the word 'Wuld' and a giant invisible hand slammed into my back and threw me forwards, propelling me clear through the gate and past the waiting Greybeards. I lost my footing on the packed snow as I landed, ending up in an undignified, crumpled heap. Arngeir tactfully suggested I practice more on my own, Lydia predictably said nothing at all.

And of course the Greybeards had a task for me: retrieve the Horn of Jurgen Windcaller from a tomb called 'Ustengrav', north of Morthal. I mentioned that the return of the Dragons and my becoming Dragonborn was no coincidence and Arngeir agreed, stating that my destiny was bound with that of the Dragons, for better or worse. Before I left he warned me about being tempted to arrogance with my new power, predicting that such a path would only lead to my downfall. With that he bid me farewell, for now.
An archway on the opposite side of the courtyard seemed to lead to something, but a swirling maelstrom of snow and ice made it difficult to see. When I tried passing through the arch I found the wind working directly against me, preventing me from taking a step beyond it. Interesting, but a futile effort right now.

The walk back down the mountain gave me time enough to think upon many things, most of them the simple issue of timing. The first Dragon was sighted as it attack the Imperial garrison at Helgen, saving Ulfric Stormcloak from execution. After that, nothing, save for the remnants of battles that could either be with Dragon or a fire-flinging bandit-mage.

Then Farengar sends me to Bleak Falls where I expect Stormcloaks and Dragons, but just get Draugr, a wall of words, and a stone tablet for my efforts. I glanced at it once and I think the tablet had something akin to a map carved in it and I regret now not looking closer. A week passes and I visit Farengar to see what he has learned from it. As we begin to talk a Dragon attacks an isolated, unimportant watchtower, which is thwarted with great loss of life. I return to Whiterun and am attacked by cultists wearing dragon-face masks, yelling about the inevitable dominion of a "Dragon Priest" named Miraak. So much has happened, all of it seemingly connected, in such a short length of time. None of this is coincidence, but what am I to make of it? The Stormcloaks in alliance with these Dragon cultists? A new, third party in Skyrim's civil war? I do not know.

I returned to Klimmek and was paid a thousand Septims for the delivery, two-hundred of which I gave to Lydia. The innkeeper was pleased to hear that the local barrow was not, in fact, haunted and rewarded me with what poor Wyndelius had been seeking: a brass Dragon's claw set with sapphires carved into talons. The underside was marked with an dragonfly, an owl, and a wolf, the combination that would unlock the depths of the barrow.

The barrow was close enough to make a second expedition possible today, so we entered the slightly less haunted barrow and proceeded to the dial-locked stone slab.
There was far more to the barrow than I think the locals knew about. Behind the door was a further expanse of tomb at least six times larger than what lay before it, complete with Draugr and skeletons enough to keep Lydia entertained.
We flung aside the undead and made our way to the "end" of the tomb where a powerful, though outmatched, Draugr awaited us with a host of skeleton guards at its side. The skeletons fell to single swipes of axe and sword, the Draugr warlord falling quickly after that. Our reward was ancient, decrepit arms and armor, but in a chamber beyond I found another wall of words, this one teaching me 'Kaan', which may be an alternate spelling of 'Kyne', the Nordic version of Kynareth.

I found our shortcut out of the tomb to be darkly amusing: a secret door built into a nearby wall was activated via a pull-chain, which opened directly into the room where Wyndelius had been going insane, the "treasure" he was seeking only a wall away from him the whole time.
We returned to the Inn, rented rooms for the night, and will be moving on tomorrow morning. Where to, I am not sure, though returning to Whiterun to rid myself of my sour companion is an appealing idea.

1 comment:

  1. Unfortunately there will be a slight delay to the blog as I tear down my office and install carpet. I expect to have a new post up in two weeks or so.