It’s almost 5am when I bed down in Tundra Tower. Come 10, I’m awake again, and finish the last of my bread for breakfast washing it down with alto wine. Ymelda’s dietary habits are becoming worryingly like those of someone else I could name.
With my pockets full of ingredients, I’ll be able to buy food as soon as I can find all but the smallest village, and if I get desperate I think I could live off the mushrooms I’ve gathered for another day. But I do need to find somewhere, so with a nod to the guards who saved my life/ruined my fun last night, I follow the road once more. In fact I walk parallel to it, as I start by poking around the ruins next to the tower, but whatever.
A little later this town comes into view. I’d seen some of its outline earlier, but taken it for a Dwemer (Dwarf) ruin or Daedric shrine or something with that weirdly shaped tower on top. clearly, this is the town the guards were referring to last night. Kind of makes sense – they have a watchtower on the approach to the south of the province, so a quick signal fire will mean the town can be ready if an army approaches. Maybe the Nords aren’t as clueless as I’d thought. This cheery thought dissipates when I reach the town’s walls, though.
“Hey Ulfbjörk, we keep getting attacked. Let’s build a wall around the town.”
“Excellent idea, Oggvorb! It just so happens that I have sketched a design already. Observe…”
“The invaders will approach, but alas! Their path is blocked by a heavy gate and walls.”
“Well, what happens when they just walk around it instead? And then walk, say… up this slight incline here?”
“Why would they do that? The entrance is here.”
“Where did you say you were brought up?”
“Falkreath. Son of Haig, brother of Maginot. Why?”
Whatever you say about their architects, it’s a damn shame, because their stonemasons must be amazing. This is a close-up of the rear of their entrance. Look at those edges! You could carve a chicken on that.
This is the horse of Bjorlam, a whatever-you-call-a-taxi-driver-in-skyrim. I met him on the way in, and he gave me a few pointers about the town, such as its name (“Whiterun”, which is also the name of the place where the Redguards first sent the Empire running. YEAH! HAM-MER-FELL! HAM-MER-FELL! Except they came back and conquered us anyway. Also I’m making this all up). Most notably, there’s a family feud going on between the Gray-Manes and the Battle-Borns, presumably over which of them has the stupidest surname. It’s a close one.
He offers safe passage to several other towns across Skyrim for a fee of 20-50 gold. I’ve no idea what or where any of them are and their names, like every name here, are instantly forgettable. But 20 gold isn’t much, so this is worth knowing.
Once I’ve breached the city’s outer walls with only slightly more trouble than an invading army would have, I’m accosted by this guard, who tells me that the city is closed because of the rumours of dragons.
I can’t say this loudly enough: what? What kind of idiot ordered that? Are you worried the dragons will try to sneak in on foot? Perhaps they’ll ride in on tiny horses?
And how will the city operate if traders aren’t allowed in? How will everyone eat? Your farms can’t all be inside, even if you’re self-sufficient. Good grief, you people really have no idea what you’re doing, do you?
Oy. Since I’m one of very few people who can say they’ve actually SEEN a dragon, or at least convincingly hallucinated one, I bluff this guard with a line about coming to warn the Jarl about them, which seems to satisfy him. I’m not going to, of course – sod that. Someone remind me to come back with some “dragon-proof” rocks for sale. I’d never need to pick a wildflower again.
Once I’m inside, I’m immediately accosted by one Idolaf Battle-Born, who demands to know whose side I’m on in the undoubtedly stupid local feud. I play dumb, and try very hard not to imply that his name is three letters too long to be accurate. He gets bored of trying to insult me for not caring enough about whoever stole his dummy or whatever, and stomps off, so I take the opportunity to enter the building behind him; a pub named the Drunken Huntsman.
Turns out it’s a sort of booze-themed hunting shop, so not quite what I was looking for. I’ve got to say, I love the style, though, both inside and out. Very cozy, and an impressive size and surely the best location in town. They must make an absolute killing to be able to afford this place. Does that mean I should take up hunting, or that it’ll be an overly competitive market? Hmm.
I chat with the owner, Elrindir, who co-owns the place with his brother Anoriath. Nice fella. Seems a bit too wealthy to be an honest man, but he’s decent enough. I could definitely use a bow. Even a cheap ranged weapon is not to be sniffed at – it can bring in some money by hunting tricky game, and if I practice my sneaking too, I could start taking on some really tough animals, or even collect a few bounties.
First though, I need to find someone who’ll buy the pile of leaves I accumulated on the way here. Elrinder points me towards an inn and market up the road, saying there might be work around. A town this size is bound to have an alchemist too, so I head right over. Sure enough, there’s an alchemist’s shop. She has no staff, so I announce myself.
She greets me in turn.
Oh very funny, lady. This must be that famous Imperial speechcraft at work.
“Hey look, there’s a Redguard. Witness: I shall call her pale!”
“Oh Arcadia, you are such a card!”
“Indeed I am! Ha ha! Come, I hear talk of giants in the north. I believe I might approach one, and refer to him as ‘shorty’.”
“I pronounce this to be the jape of the season!”
Just shut up and buy my plants, lady. Pallor isn’t even a symptom of ataxia, you putz.
I carefully sell off a portion of my finds until I’ve made 50 gold, which I hand straight back to Arcadia for use of her alchemy kit for the rest of the day. I have a lot of, and perhaps more importantly, a fairly wide variety of ingredients today, so this ought to be a great investment.
So, alchemy then. I won’t bore you with details, but alchemy has changed quite drastically with each new game in this series. Skyrim’s system is based around experimentation. Every ingredient (as far as I know) has four effects, which are initially unknown. To discover what they are, you must mix ingredients together. Once you find two that match, their common effect will be revealed, and you’ll have a potion that causes that effect.
Obviously I haven’t tested it in the long term, but this approach is very intuitive and appeals to me greatly – it fits the nature of the work, and is basically what a real alchemist/witch doctor would be doing anyway, minus the accidental poisonings and bullshit about ‘water memory’. You can also read or hear tips from others, such as the one Zaria gave me the other day.
So, I spend several hours testing out some of my ingredients, and learn a lot about all the common ones I’ve found so far, and a little about the less common ones. It also leaves me with a stack of potions (and a couple of poisons), which I gleefully take over to Arcadia and sell for a grand total of 411 gold. This trip has officially been a great success.
Night has fallen and the marketplace emptied by the time my business is done, so I head next door to the Bannered Mare inn, which has a frustratingly un-level fire.
I buy some roasted venison, a heap of veg, and a bottle of ale to wash it down. Sat at the bar, I strike up a conversation with the guy next to me, Jon Battle-Born, who thankfully thinks his family feud is stupid and is more interested in chatting about booze and calling the bard (who is clearly within earshot) a ponce. I like him.
The rest of the punters are a bit dull, but not unpleasant. One woman offers to kick my head in for cash, which I decline. A nervous young man named Sigurd repeatedly introduces himself (I repeatedly pretend I didn’t hear him. It gets funnier every time), and a huge Nord in full metal armour agrees with me that Whiterun’s security is utterly disastrous.
It’s been a tiring few days, and with a belly full of dead animals I decide to turn in. Tomorrow I’ll do some shopping, and since I can afford it, spend a day exploring Whiterun, and finding some poor people so I can have them dance for loose change. Truly, I have made it.