The Raven Rock Exile: A Late Breakfast
We made landfall at Raven Rock an hour after dawn. It was foggy and cold and I was completely broke.
Two-hundred and fifty Septims for a boat ride. And they say I’m the outlaw.
But a death-sentence in three holds will get your boots traveling, whether you’re in the mood for a journey or not. I figured Solstheim was far enough away from Skyrim that the bounty hunters and Dark Brotherhood assassins would leave me alone, but close enough for me to return to my homeland once things calmed down a little bit.
I’d left things in a bad way. Done some real unforgivable shit. But most people have shorter memories than they’d like to admit. I’d turn a few months on this frigid island, maybe a year, and then I’d go home. That was the plan, anyway.
A prick Dunmer noble greeted our boat and basically told me to avoid stirring shit up. Ha. The Dunmer had the air of a second-in-command who abused his power whenever possible.
Raven’s Rock was in pitiful condition. Ash everywhere. And I got the sense the sun never really got much work done in these parts. Although the Dunmer guards were all wearing a yellow-gold armor that made me feel a little inadequate in my furs. I’d heard Solstheim was cold—too cold for my good leathers—and stopping a sword doesn’t do you much good if you freeze to death after the fight.
I wandered up to the main square. There were a few merchant stalls and a blacksmith’s forge going. A big guy that looked a lot like old Delvin Mallory was working the forge. I got the sense I could beat him in a brawl, but he’d make me regret starting the fight. I made my way to the meat vendor. I was starving.
“How much for some food?” I asked. “And ale.”
The Dunmer motioned to some weird kind of bug meat I’d never seen before and a fat ceramic jug. “Twenty Septims.”
Ouch. I needed some fast coin, and it was a little early in my visit to go digging through purses without permission.
There was a commotion a little further into town that saved me from admitting I didn’t have the coin for breakfast. Everyone in the market went over to see what was going on. I milled around the back of the circle that formed up—there was a tall Dunmer with a busted head on his knees who seemed to be at the center of things.
“Fucking Reavers ambushed my camp,” the wounded Dunmer said, dabbing a hand to his temple and moaning when he saw how much blood was on it. “Bastards.”
People grumbled and cursed. I guess Reavers stood in for bandits in these parts.
“Sirus, Portus,” the Dunmer called, pointing at two of the guards in the queer yellow armor. “Go up and deal with ‘em, eh? I got a month’s worth of minerals up there.”
“Our jobs to keep Raven Rock safe,” one guard said. “Not tame the wilds of Solstheim. You knew the risks when you walked beyond the bulwark.”
“Oh, a swell fucking job you two are doing, then.”
The guards shrugged at each other and returned to their posts. I got the sense they treated their shifts as opportunities to nurse their hangovers before binge-drinking in the nearest tavern or barrack. I’d squeeze some money out of their pockets soon enough.
The rest of the crowd dispersed as well, and the Dunmer was left alone to mourn his head wound.
“I’ll do it for half,” I said, coming up to him.
“I’ll get your camp back for half your minerals.”
“Who the fuck are you, outlander?”
“Do you want my help or not?”
“Half a month’s work is a big cut to promise some outlander covered in animal skins.”
“It’s that or buy a new pickaxe and start fresh.” I motioned to the guards, who were joking amongst themselves. “The local garrison doesn’t seem too concerned with your plight.”
He narrowed his red eyes at me. “What’s your name?”
“Ren,” I said. “What’s yours?”
“Gorstal.” He chewed at the inside of his cheek. “You have a deal.”
“Where’s your camp?”
“Two miles, north by north-east.” He pointed. I loosened my sword in its scabbard.
I trotted off at a good clip. The ground was covered in ankle-deep snow and the woods were eery quiet. This was a strange place—I missed the pine forests of Falkreath with their mossy rocks and misty rains and wild deer. Me and my crew had some good times there. The Pines are full of caves that make for good, warm hideouts. I got the sense I wasn’t going to be truly warm again until I left this island.
Gorstal’s camp wasn’t hard to find. I snuck up from the south, keeping a big stump between myself and the fire, and got a read on things. There was an Orc working a grindstone and two Dunmer drinking by the fire. A tall bastard wearing some queer, black armor with acid-burned markings was rummaging through a big chest of raw stone. He was a Nord, like me.
Four men. Pretty thin odds, usually, but the two Dunmer looked very drunk and they were all distracted. Might as well make an impression on the kind citizens of Raven Rock.
I backed up a ways and unslung my old crossbow. I’d bought the thing from a Khajiit trader who promised the steel wouldn’t rust. Lying cat. It took me almost a full minute to crank the bitch because the spring was all flaky metal turned the color of blood. The crossbow was garbage but I had one good Dwemer bolt leftover from an poorly executed scrap mission into one of those subterranean death traps. I loaded the ancient missile and crept forward.
When I got back to the outskirts of the camp, the Nord was done rummaging and was running a scattered patrol around the grounds. Bad luck. But at least it was easy to decide who was going to get the bolt.
I waited until the Nord wandered within twenty paces of my hiding spot and then I shot him in the chest. I hit the seam between breastplate and pauldron—the tall bastard dumped over backwards and landed ass-first into a little cookfire.
I dropped the crossbow and sprinted forward, drawing my sword as I ran. The Orc working the grindstone was just turning around to see what knocked his boss over when I hacked the top of his skull off. I kept moving towards the fire and the drinking Dunmer.
The first grayskin tried to parry my blade with his ceramic bottle of ale. Didn’t work so well. I broke the bottle and hacked a big piece of his chest and lung out.
The second Dunmer was a little faster to react. He drew one of those dinky shortswords that elves favor and made a decent stab at me. I knocked it aside and sliced his throat open with a counter-riposte.
I fought in the Legion for five years. Hated it. But the Imperials teach you how to use a sword, no denying that.
When I turned around to check on the Nord, all I saw was a bunch of scattered ashes and footprints moving away into the snow.
“Huh. Musta run off.”
No sooner had the words left my lips then the pine trees to my right parted and a furious Nord rushed through them, big two-handed war axe raised over his head.
“Never should have come here!” he roared.
I dodged left and his axe churned up a bunch of snow and dirt when it came down. The Nord wasn’t wearing a helm so I slipped behind him and tried to cut the back of his skull off while he tried to yank his axe out of the earth, but the tall bastard was smarter than that. He abandoned the axe and drew a dagger from his belt, whirled around and parried my blow with enough strength to send a shock up my right forearm. It’s hard to do that with a dagger. Strong bastard.
I skipped back a few paces. The Nord drew a longsword from a sheathe at his hip. How many weapons did this guy walk around with?
“What’re you after, runt?” he asked.
I am about a head taller than the average man. But this Nord was another head taller than me, so I couldn’t argue with the insult. I had shot him from the shadows, after all. He had a right to be pissed.
“Just trying to make my own path,” I said. “Same as you.”
He growled at me. “Your path ends right here.”
“Let’s test that idea.”
I could tell by his stance the Nord wasn’t very comfortable fighting with two blades. So I bulled forward and gave him three fast strikes. He missed his parry on the third and I sheared a big piece of his left ear off, then I bashed his teeth in with the butt of my sword. He was stunned and on his heels. I slipped right and cut the back of his knee out, where the armor was weak. He went over.
I am not one of those outlaws who revels in monologues once the fight is won. I don’t have a personal philosophy and I don’t have a moral code. All I have is a burning need to keep my own blood warm. Once the Nord hit the earth I ran my blade through his throat and watched him bleed to death. He was still gurgling a little when I started unstrapping his heavy armor. It looked expensive.
I came back down the hill to Raven Rock carrying a string of Reaver heads in my left hand, and a sack of weapons and armor slung over my right shoulder. The town Alchemist had gotten Gorstal to sit down by the fountain in the middle of the market and she was rubbing a salve on his temple. I dropped the heads next to him.
“Your camp’s clear, but I changed my mind,” I said to him. “Think I’ll have the entire month’s take. Got a problem with that?”
I had other men’s blood all over my face and hands and chest.
“No,” he said softly.
I headed to the blacksmith, who was wiping his sooty hands off with a dirty cloth and smiling at me.
“Got some armor for sale,” I said to him, swinging the sack down off my back and dropping it next to his forge. “Interested?”
He looked the loot over and then shuffled over to a lockbox he kept out of sight. Worked a combination into it and picked out four sleeves of Septims.
“Aye,” he said.
I took the coin and headed to the meat vendor.
I’d missed breakfast, but I figured I deserved a big lunch.