Being in need of evening entertainment in Japan, I have recently begun playing Skyrim. I never managed to get any of the previous games to work without crashing for more than five minutes at a time, so I begin with the great advantage of being utterly ignorant of everything relating to Skyrim.
As such, I am playing it in the persona of a scholarly lizard researcher from a far-off land who has stumbled into a violent, frozen world he doesn't understand.
The author, relaxing in a local feasting-hall. The people of this land are violent, yet willing to give respect where it is due. The author earned the friendship of the local secretary, or jarl, with a few services performed in the course of his research.
A rude awakening
I awoke to an uncomfortable jolting sensation and an unpleasant mossy taste in my mouth. My thoughts were slow and heavy. After some moments, I realised that I could hear noises, as though from a great distance, and eventually perceived that they must be a dialect of human. It was over three years since I had, with immense relief, completed my compulsory instruction in the language. Moreover, the dialect was strange, and I was slowly beginning to perceive that I was immensely, dangerously cold. No wonder my body and mind were so slow to respond.
A graduate of the Eight Winds Academy does not panic. I calmly mustered what resources I could and began to evaluate my situation. Vague memories flitted back to my heavy skull. In the course of my researches on architectural history, I had reluctantly travelled to human lands to consult certain texts not held in our libraries. Letters of introduction packed, I set out with a few companions, planning to seek out new guides as necessary.
A few days ago, the argonian-speaking merchants I had travelled with from my last port of call insisted on a detour to some provincial town or other, and having little confidence in my navigation or ability to negotiate in this far-flung land, I agreed. I had been ill for some days with a fever, and on first emerging into a rather chilly landscape, I was ushered into a hostelry. There was a certain amount of revelry, and the merchants had plied with me with some honey-based drink which they assured me would be beneficial. It was sweet, soothing to my throat and strangely warming.
Other than that, I have only blurred recollections. There was an affray at a nearby table, and my companions bundled me outside. Was there snow? I remember the smell of horses. Perhaps also a clang of metal, and shouting.
Nothing more came to mind. Satisfied on that head, I started the painful process of trying to reattune my ear to the human speech. Opening my eyes, at this juncture, seemed too much. Gradually I began to make out a few words. There appeared to be some discussion of the weather, and some political matters. I would later realise that this was, in fact, an argument about the local "stormcloak" movement, a violent rebellion against the Empire. Horses were mentioned. The humans seemed somewhat angry. I deduced, then, that I our party had found passage on a convoy of carts, and that our beasts were delayed by poor weather. I was rather pleased with myself for recalling so much of the language, and it was thus a great shame that I was entirely incorrect.
After some time, I managed to force open my eyelids. I wished intently that my current companions had found a blanket to insulate me, but presumed that the ignorant mammals did not understand reptilian biology. Glancing slowly around, I realised that one of the reasons my body seemed to sluggardly and unresponsive was that my hands were tightly bound and attached to the wagon. Perhaps they were concerned I would injure myself in my sleep? A crude remedy, but it had clearly succeeded.
At the time, my fogged brain did not make the necessary leaps to the incredible truth.
Our cart eventually drew up at some fortress or other, of primitive but structurally adequate design. We all disembarked, and at this point I realised that my fellow travellers also had their hands bound. One even had his mouth bound with cloth. It became clear to me that we were prisoners. How embarrassing! Clearly, the fracas in that hostelry had attracted official attention, and I had been rounded up amongst the locals. Presumably my travelling-companions were in another wagon, or else had already been dealt with. Although I was entirely innocent, I judged that my grasp of the tongue would not permit me to explain myself. Human authorities are said to be rough and ready in such affairs. It would be simplest to make whatever apologies were necessary, however much this might pain my reason. Perhaps there would be a small fine. I hoped my purse had escaped the confusion, but could not easily tell.
At this moment, one of the humans beside me suddenly sprang forward and raced away towards the gate. He came to a sudden halt as an arrow embedded itself in his back. The shock was overwhelming. I had never before seen a sentient being cut down in cold blood, only in the midst of battle. The situation was more serious than I had realised. Hesitantly, I surmised that he had preferred death to the shame of admitting whatever conduct he had indulged in. Plagiarism, perhaps? I could well believe that, amongst these rather primitive humans, such a custom might have evolved. The archer, then, was a ceremonial duty, and certainly an unwelcome one to any civilised mind. I wondered idly what crime she had committed to earn such a duty.
I was ushered forward to an official and told to, as I understand it, explain myself. Apparently he did not have the proper paperwork. This seemed very likely - presumably entirely different forms are required for a non-citizen - and I hoped to be allowed inside to warm myself while the documents were arranged. He seemed sympathetic and professional. However, another human, apparently his superior, pushed forward and made some remarks that I did not quite follow, gesturing wildly towards a stone block nearby. This, presumably, was the ritual speaking-stone from which those accused of improper conduct admitted their fault. How interesting. In other circumstances, with a clearer head, I would have begun to mentally compose a paper on the topic. My anthropologically-inclined colleagues would certainly have been interested.
The polite man apologised deeply, and waved me to stand with the others. He said, I believe, that he would send word to Blackmarsh. I hoped it would not take long to arrange my release, as my research funding was of a temporary nature. I attempted to speak, but could not. My face was numb to the point of immobility, and I could only grunt helplessly. I shuffled towards the others. How would I make my apology? This promised to be a most embarrassing incident for all concerned. When they realised the straits their carelessness had left me in, even humans would be mortified. As I considered the recent death of my fellow-traveller, and the proud culture that clearly existed here, I could only hope they too would not feel it necessary to end their lives.
Another prisoner was pushed forward and berated. I did not catch the words. This was partly due to shock, and partly to the wind, but largely because at that moment a keening noise in the air attracted my attention. How interesting. Apparently dragons could be found even this far into the frozen wastes.
I was looking into the sky, hoping to ascertain which species it might be, when an unpleasant organic sound drew my attention back to the ground. One of the humans lay unmoving across a stone block, and blood was spilling into the snow. Another stood beside him with a large axe. It took me some moments to digest the horrible truth. These humans - these animals - had slaughtered one of their own as he stood helpless. More horrible still, it became clear that their intention was to dispose of us all in the same way, even I, a guest in their midst and clearly a peaceful innocent. Did not the purple feathers on my head proclaim me a man of the quills? Did not my long, curved talons indicate that here was a quiet and harmless soul, unused to physical labour or the hardship of outdoor life?
A calm rage overcame me. The sheer magnitude of this outrage was too much. Chilled to the very bone, my senses turned toward the ever-growing keening in the sky. The humans clearly had no idea what it was, which intrigued me even at this fatal moment. Did they not see the flitting shape that curved overhead? Their vision was too poor. There was a vague sense of apprehension amongst them. Then a faint satisfaction began to overtake the anger, as I realised that the dragon was circling us, and sensed its purpose. It had seen me, and it was preparing its descent. A smile crossed my lips as I realised what was about to happen. As a rough human forced me toward the stone block, I could not quell the malicious pleasure that was spreading slowly through my frozen veins. Just as the murderer raised his crude axe, the wrath descended.
The humans fled as my rescuer settled its mighty bulk atop one of their towards and unleashed a torrent of flame. There were screams. Hands still bound, I raised myself from the ground and nodded gratefully toward the dragon and enjoyed the wash of heat from the fires that were beginning to rise. Still, I too would be in danger, and would do well to remove myself from the grasp of this very uncivilised legal system, so I strode towards a door. Some of the soldiers were uselessly firing arrows at the dragon, and paid no heed. To my pleasure, I encountered the helpful administrator, who had kept a level head. Pausing to aid a screaming child, he led me through the burning castle to an armoury, where I was able to warm myself a little and find some thick clothing to ward off the chill of the snow. He untied my hands and pressed a weapon into them, speaking calmly and reassuringly, though I caught few of his actual words. Clearly, this fellow did not harbour any suspicions of me. I was impressed with his judgement.
The route outside led through a cellar where humans were fighting. My guide proved himself adept with a blade, and protected an elderly man from several warriors. Once peace descended, I realised that the cages around me did not contain chickens or pets, but the corpses of humans. Moreover, some of the objects around had distinctly unsavoury appearances, and were stained with blood. Straining my ears to catch the conversation, I heard the old man say that these attackers had been unhappy with his treatment of their comrades. The dead men in the cages and the attackers wore the same clothing style. With revulsion, I realised the truth. This man had been carrying out experiments upon the prisoners. Such conduct is unheard of. Have they no ethics committees in this wilderness? Or was this some rogue necromancer, lurking in the secrecy of this forgotten room and only now discovered? It would certainly explain how he had fended off his attackers until we arrived.
I was shocked to hear my guide instruct this fiend to follow us. Was he a man of lesser morals than I had thought? Was this another vile quirk of this brutal and irrational society? Or, more charitably, was he simply too focused on leading our escape to have grasped the situation? To my relief, the old man spurned the offer, with a few scathing words amongst which I caught only the term "dragon". Either he did not believe the administrator, or he thought his powers sufficient for his own protection. My guide shrugged and headed off down a tunnel, leaving me alone with the old man. I stared at him for a few moments, disgust clear in my eyes, and he sneered back.
Dear Reader, I have always been a man of peace, serving only the same three years in the army that every citizen must. Morality is of great importance to me. I realised, at this moment, that even though I be lost in a strange land, I must remain true to my self. Reaching into my soul, I conjured forth the sacred flame and unleashed it with a heavy heart. The man screamed, sending out tendrils of vile magic that seared my flesh, but I stood firm in my purpose. When all was over, none would know that he had not been a victim of the dragon's fire. His evil was at an end.
This tragic deed fulfilled, I hastened to follow my guide into the outer world. The warmth of the chambers, and indeed of my spell, had dispelled a little of the chill and I was able to move more freely. Passing through a cave, we encounted another band of escapees, and they immediately attacked us. Apparently the hatred between these two groups was so great, they could not put it aside even at such a moment. My guide's blade, and (I reluctantly admit) my own, brought us safely through. We emerged from a tunnel into a world of snow, rocks and jutting conifers.
Having been thoroughly awoken by all that had occurred, my trained mind immediately drank in the scene, search for clues. I had no notion of where we might stand, but my attention was drawn to the natural riches around us. Disregarding my companion's words, I strolled around the area for a few minutes. Here a fascinating herb; there a strange fungus existing even in this cold climate. Having no notebook nor quill, I gathered samples and carefully packed them into the pockets of my outfit, hoping they would survive intact until I could properly document them.
At length, I looked up to realise that the human had begun to walk towards a cluster of buildings just visible on the horizon. I realised that, despite the promptings of my brain, this was not the time for scholarship. In fact, I had seized upon it as a mere pretext, to drive away the thought of my recent violence. Reluctantly abandoning my botanical examinations for another time, I hurried after him. His name, I would later learn, was Had Var.