These pages are extracts from the diary of Adrian Caro, a nomadic Imperial who recently crossed the border into the harsh but beautiful province of Skyrim.
We walked hurriedly back to Candlehearth Hall, I had told Timothy to wait just
inside the front door the previous night and it was there that I hoped to again
find him. “Slow down!” Faendal said, I was walking faster than I thought, almost
breaking into a run in fact. “I’m sure he’ll still be there, he’s probably
begging scraps from the patrons right now.”
“Yeah,” I replied. “You’re probably right.”
Upon entering Candlehearth Hall however, Timothy was nowhere to be seen. “Oh
there you are,” Elda Early-Dawn said. “This isn’t a kennel you know, you can’t
just leave your mutt here for ME to look after!”
“Where is he?!” I urged.
“Outside, tied up.”
Just outside the door was a length of chewed rope, blowing in the wind. “He’s
not there,” I told her, trying my level best to keep my voice calm.
“Well,” she replied. “It’s not my problem, is it?” She prattled on but her
voice became distant all of a sudden, an indistinct murmuring under the
incredible noise that rose in my head. A haze fell over me, for a moment nothing
else existed but my rising anger and its object. My fists were clenched at my
sides and began to tremor uncontrollably. I said, in a soft voice that quivered
erratically. “You let him out.”
In return, silence.
“You let him out?!”
The murmuring returned, this time though it stuttered as though excuses and
justifications were being made. The time for excuses was past however, I would
have none of it.
“YOU LET HIM OUT?!!”
The next moments I can’t entirely recall, images of Elda recoiling in terror
and a stool breaking against the bar amongst the few that come to mind, ending
with me being restrained by a perplexed Faendal. “I…I’m sorry,” my head was
banging, as it oft did after an outburst. Faendal made our apologies and led me
out of the inn, the cool afternoon air completed the work of calming me down.
“What was THAT?” Faendal asked, gesturing furiously back at the inn. When I
didn’t answer he added. “You know what, never mind. You can tell me after we’ve
found the dog.”
We searched all over Windhelm, traipsing through the city streets for hours in
silence. Judging from his expression, Faendal’s mood transformed gradually from
anger to sympathy, whilst mine stayed mired firmly in guilt. Guilt for my outburst,
which had not happened in so long before then and guilt for leaving Timothy
behind in the first place. I’d only had him a day or so and already I had lost
him, perhaps I shouldn’t have named him so, perhaps that would have lessened
the impact of my neglect.
It was dark by the time we gave up the search, I leant on the bridge out of
Windhelm, gazing out at the vast wilderness. “He’s probably fine,” Faendal said.
“He survived without us before, he’ll do it again.” I didn’t reply, though I
knew it to be true. I was still thinking about what happened at the inn earlier.
“Come on, let’s go back.”
“Does it happen often?” Faendal asked as he set two tankards of mead down on
the table. We had returned to Candlehearth Hall, apologised profusely to a
rather dazed Elda Early-Dawn and somehow managed to avoid being thrown bodily
from the inn by her angry patrons. “Not for quite a long time,” I answered,
before taking a long draught of mead. “Have you any idea of how it began?”
I sighed, I knew this was coming and so, in the warm comfort of the inn, began
to tell him the same story I’ll tell you now, one that I’ve not told anyone for
It began in the streets of Cheydinhal, about twenty four years ago. A travelling
market had come to town, a Khajiit caravan selling exotic spices and the like.
Back then they were allowed inside the city gates, it was not long after the
conclusion of the Great War and the signing of the hated White Gold Concordat
so we Imperials were feeling accepting of pretty much everyone but the Thalmor.
The Khajiit merchants took full advantage of this acceptance and came in droves,
bringing all sorts along with them; jugglers, bards, even freakshows. It was
here I met Sael, a Redguard orphan travelling with the caravan and, for the next
ten years or so, my dearest friend.
I caught him stealing from the general store, old Fagus never missed a trick
usually so he must have been well practiced. Being the son of the Captain of
the Watch I felt obligated to stop him, but he was a charismatic fellow and,
after regaling me with exciting tales of far-flung lands, I found myself instead
becoming enamoured with him. He was a scruffy lad, tall with wiry, muscular arms
and a real smooth-talker. Quite the opposite of me, in fact. We wrought havoc
at times but the townsfolk loved him, my family even took him in when the travelling
market he was tailing finally left town.
An event that occurred on my twelfth birthday epitomised my friendship with
Sael and foreshadowed darker events that were to come. For my twelfth birthday I
recieved a shiny new bow of yew. It was the first proper weapon my father ever
gave me, a slender thing, polished to a sheen and with the greatest range of
any bow I had ever used. I still remember Sael’s face when I opened it, embittered
and twisted with envy. We argued one day shortly after when I wouldn’t let him
use it and he snapped it in two in a jealous rage. His outburst was sudden and,
as soon as it was over, he began to cry and beg for my forgiveness. I shook with
anger, I wanted to strike him, to hurt him as he had hurt me….but I found I
“Right, that’s your lot now, clear out!” The bell rang throughout the Bloated
Float, it’s ringer, the innkeep Rugdumph, performed the nightly ritual referred
to by his patrons as ‘chucking-out time’. They shuffled out reluctantly,
a murmuring mass of dull browns and greys, to a man wondering, as they oft found
themselves doing at this hour, where to find their next sip of ale. When the
disapproving mass finally exited, Rugdumph locked the door tight, closed the
curtains, before turning to me and asking. “What’ll it be?”
It had been five long, eventful years and myself and Sael were a pair of seventeen
year olds living amidst the squalor and colour of the Imperial City’s Waterfront.
A pair of young, orphaned men, we survived from day to day, doing odd jobs, none
of them official and a few of them of somewhat loose legality.
“Another tankard of your finest home-brew please Rug,” I replied jovially, before
consulting the rather fetching looking young Breton girl on my lap and adding.
“And a drop of wine for the lady, if you please.” Rugdumph chuckled wryly to himself.
“What do you see in this layabout Elisa?!” A remark to which I took great exception.
Elisa simply looked at me and replied. “A rough and tainted beauty.”
“Quite the little romantic you have there!” Came an amused cry from the corner
of the room. “The passion and poetry of her Aldmeri blood seems a blinding
kaleidoscope of vibrancy when set alongside the dull, obdurate hues of a child
of empire such as yourself.” Sael had grown into a careless young man, with the
dulcet tones of a bard and the dark, exotic good looks that led him to find
himself more often than not in the bed of some impressionable young woman.
“Your flowery words may cause the knees of many a foolish and vacant young girl
to tremble in infatuation Redguard,” I answered, with a knowing smile
upon my face. “But we Imperials have a more noble way with words, with markedly
less flippancy and infinitely greater effect.” He laughed at that and strummed
a chord on his lute. “What do you think Ruggers? Are they a match weaved by the
graceful hands of Mara herself?” The Orc grunted in disapproval and said, quite
finally. “All I know is that words mean very little, when they are compared
to action and, if you don’t leave this poor girl-child alone, I’ll throw you
out of this inn myself!”
Laughter erupted from the few patrons left in the inn, partially at Rugdumph’s
rebuke and partially at Sael’s petulant reaction in the face of such a brutish
but effective put-down. “Sing us a song, Sael!” Cried Old Harry from the comfort
of his usual seat in the opposite corner. “I’ll sing you a song old man, but only
at the request of our most esteemed company.” The ‘esteemed company’ to which
Sael referred was none other than Regulus Vinicius, the captain of the city watch
and a regular after-hours patron of the Bloated Float, with a name so difficult
for some of the foreign patrons to wrap their tongues around that he was oft
simply referred to as Reg. “One of your Redguard numbers if you please, Sael.”
“My sir commands and I obey,” replied Sael, bowing so low his nose almost touched
the floor, much to our amusement at the time.
Sael began to sing, acapella at first, in the strange and curious tongue of his
forebears, Yoku. His voice was his one true gift in life and it still gives me
shivers when I think of it now, rich and enchanting as it was. The alien words
he sang only lent it more mystique, the gentle strumming of his lute served as
a touching accompaniment to the lament. It was when he sang, and only when he
sang, that his usual chaotic character was shed and the soul of an artist and
romantic shone through.
By the end of the song the inn was silent when, quite suddenly but not unexpectedly,
Sael broke into a rather bawdy, upbeat tavern favourite, The Orsimer’s Wife.
Within minutes the atmosphere was transformed, the drinks flowed, the noise
rose, it was simply another night at the Bloated Float, full of laughter and
song. Except this particular night concluded somewhat differently.
“Look what I managed to procure!” A rather drunk Sael exclaimed, pulling
from his pocket a small tattered purse and upending it on the table for all to
see. The purse was full of crystals; tiny, translucent crystals. I and everyone
else in the room knew immediately what they were.
“Yeah! I’ve never tried it before but Deadeye Dick showed me how to do it,
you just smoke it in this pipe.” Sael said, producing a skooma pipe from his
bag. I must confess to being quite shocked at the time and I remember seeing
Reg cross the room, fully expecting him to clap Sael in irons. To my amazement
he did not, on the contrary he began to advise Sael on the optimum way to smoke
it. Sael took a long drag from the pipe, blowing a vast plume of smoke into the
air as he lay back on his chair. His whole body sagged as he returned the pipe
to his lips once again, his eyes flickered and he stared vacantly up at the
ceiling. “Don’t hog it!” Reg said, wresting the pipe from Sael’s unresisting
Soon everyone had joined in, forming a rough circular formation in the middle
of the inn, as the pipe was passed from patron to patron. The bawdy atmosphere
of the lock-in was transformed, the lively ale-fuelled banter replaced with
a smoky silence, interspersed with giggling and the odd mindless ramble. Even
Rugdumph took a drag or two, regaling the inn with a anecdote about the time
he first sampled the stuff and almost strangled a patron for “looking at him
funny.” Despite the apparent enjoyment of my fellows I was hesitant to try it,
I had heard bad things in the past about Skooma, mostly cautionary tales from
my mother and outright forbiddances from my father but, as soon as that pipe
touched against the crimson lips of Elisa I felt, in my youthful head, that I
had no choice in the matter.
It was a queer feeling, most abnormal. I remember feeling as light as a feather
and experiencing an uncontrollable urge to laugh until it hurt. In fact by this
point we were all laughing raucously, seemingly infecting one another until the
Bloated Float echoed with the cacophony of mindless laughter and it was a wonder
a guardsman didn’t hear and come to break up the party.
In the early hours of the morning, amid a haze of smoke, we sloped lazily from
the inn, with a heavily intoxicated Sael leaning against us. “I think he’s taken
quite a liking to Skooma,” said Elisa, chuckling and gesturing towards the now
almost completely inert Redguard. “Yes, it seems he has,” I laughed, but a small
undercurrent of concern laced my words and she picked up on it. “Don’t worry,”
she said. “It’s not addictive, well nothing I can’t handle anyway.”
“No! I have a blowout every now and then with a few friends but, the next day,
it’s back to normal.”
“Ah Adrian,” she replied, patting me on the arm. “You still have a lot to learn about
the Imperial City.”
A series of changes to Sael’s condition over the following months gave lie to
Elisa’s words however. Initially he became somewhat withdrawn, no longer the
extroverted character he once was, his regular seat in the Bloated Float was
empty more often than not, as he was oft found wandering the streets instead.
A youthful exuberance was almost wholly replaced with a sullen exhaustion, I
often found him collapsed on a chair in the house, dead to the world. Most
alarming was his appearance, his skin became sallow and pockmarked, stretched
finely over a gaunt figure, once fit and strong. What began as a smoke every
now and then became a regular habit, increasing in regularity until its import
became greater than anything else life had to offer him. The issue came to a
head around six months later when, feeling helpless, I turned to someone more
experienced in such matters for help.
“I just don’t know what to do,” I told Elisa one evening in the pub. “I know
you said its easy to handle but I fear the worst when it comes to Sael, he’s
not been the same person for months now.”
“Are you sure you’re not over-reacting?” She replied. “Everyone in the waterfront
enjoys a smoke, it’s like bread and butter round here!”
“I’m not over-reacting!” I replied with increasing consternation. “There’s
enjoying a smoke and then there’s this, he’s never off the stuff, he just sits
in the house all day with vacant eyes amidst a haze of smoke. Try and get him to
do something and expect a torrent of abuse, he scarcely even eats these days!”
I still remember the look she gave me, scepticism mixed with mild amusement
and it still roils the blood, particularly knowing what I know now.
“Ok I’ll talk to him, where is he?”
“Where do you think?!”
She smiled wryly and, after a gentle kiss on the lips said. “Try not to worry
Her words, I supposed by the warmth of tone and playful smile, were designed
to sooth my frantic nerves. Contrarily they only provoked a surge of anger,
how could she be so flippant at a time like this?! I reckoned, being a city
girl, she had seen far worse but still…
What seemed like an age later, the dregs of my beer having been stirred listlessly
innumerable times, I woke from what seemed like a trance, emerging from a dark
pool of worry into the constrast of the heaving bar room. ‘Where is she?’
I puzzled, I did not recall her saying she would return but assumed she would
anyway. Like a phantom I rose and left, passing through the crowd in utter
ignorance to their concerned remarks and cold to their comforting hands. I
remember very little of the trip home that night but, when I eventually opened
the front door, I was frozen to the bone having glided through the dead city
streets for hours, delaying the return to those vacant eyes.
The house was littered with the usual illicit debris but something different
accompanied it this evening. The perfectly still body of a beautiful young
Elisa was dead.
The dull haze of my mind parted, slowly at first and then ever quicker, to be
replaced with a wall of deepest red. My breathing quickened, my heart threatening
to explode from my chest. A curious sound emerged from the other room, whimpering
followed by the opening of a door. Before I knew it I was outside, being pulled
inexorably toward the object of my rage.
The water of the bay shimmered in the moonlight, complete silence broken only
by the pathetic cries of a broken creature. I looked down, my sword had been
drawn and was quivering in my hand. More whimpering followed, excuses,
pleas, insane rambling. My wild rage piqued and I swung the sword high in the
air….but hesitated and, with one last glance from those once piercing eyes,
he fell with a splash into the shimmering waters.