Part 60 - Return to Skyrim

He left the women discussing hairstyles. Brelyna wanted something that was easy to maintain, and Vicuņa was advocating something more formal and upswept. Brelyna was a slight figure, and needed some extra height. They both agreed that her ears shouldn't be covered, as they were so much a Dunmer hallmark, and hers were exquisite.

His feet steered him into town, to chat with Glover Mallory. Clark had delivered a letter to his daughter, Sapphire, and he wanted to know if she'd got in touch with her father.

"Yes, she did," the smith told him. "and I got another letter from my brother, Delvin, too. First time he's written in a long time. They both told me how much the Thieves Guild has changed since I've been here. I gather that apprentice of yours is the cause of that."

"Was Maven Black-Briar in the picture when you left the mainland?" Clark asked.

"She'd turned up in Riften, and bought the meadery, but wasn't involved with the Guild. I didn't like her, but that was just because she charged too much for her mead. It was good, but not that good."

"I'd suggest that Maven's had more effect than Gilda. She's just put things back the way they should have been."

"I'd disagree," Glover objected. "Mercer Frey was taking things in the wrong direction even before he had Maven's help. He's one reason I'm here, and the other is that I learned to mend Bonemold, which gave me the opportunity."

"So when's Sapphire coming to visit? Or will you be going over there?"

"Hard to say. We're both pretty busy these days. The Thieves Guild is humming again, and now the mine's re-opened, I have a lot of repair work to keep me active."

Just in case, Clark asked Glover about Daedric smithing. "Beyond me," he answered, much as Clark had expected. "But I do know that it's not very different from smithing Ebony. There's a difference in incorporating the Deadra Hearts, when you make it in the first place, but the tempering process is almost identical."

Both Brelyna and Vicuņa returned to Skyrim with Clark. Neloth wanted Vicuņa to fetch a briar heart for him, preferably after witnessing its installation by a hagraven. He'd cast a memory spell on her that would show him everything she learned about the process, and he hoped to repeat it with heartstones.

His first attempt at that was, of course, Ildari Sarothril, and that hadn't exactly been a success. It wasn't clear if Ildari had been the cause of all the Ash Spawn, or whether the heartstone deposits did that, and she'd just harnessed them to her purposes. Vicuņa was inclined to believe the latter, as Ildari hadn't been that powerful a mage.

"So you'll be heading back to the Markarth area, then. The Forsworn are all in the Reach."

"I'd certainly like to check in at the brothel there. Rhiada's been running the place in my absence, and being a mother at the same time. She probably needs a rest by now."

Brelyna had official duties as Archmage, and she needed to return to the College. She intended to go to Riften first, and pick up Mjoll to accompany her. Clark proposed that they all go there, and see if Iona would join him to help out Vicuņa in her briarheart hunt. He'd also like to see how her smithing was progressing. He knew she was training it with a view to making her own ebony armour, and she might be getting close to making Daedric, too.

"If she has made a suit of ebony, she'll be a great addition to the party. That stuff almost makes you invulnerable, especially if it's fully improved." Brelyna enthused. "I wonder if she'd make some for Mjoll, too."

Iona had indeed made a suit of ebony, and the boots and gauntlets to go with it. "Then I ran out of ingots, and couldn't improve it. You don't have any, do you?"

Clark hadn't brought any back from Raven Rock mine. With Gloombound producing well, it wasn't the most profitable goods to carry. He'd taken a case or two of Sadri's Sujamma for the New Gnisis Corner Club, and hadn't had much capacity for more in his pack.

"We'll get some more from Gloombound later. It's a pretty decent set already, without the extra work. Did you make a helmet?"

"No, I can't see properly out of the full helm. I know I'd get a lot more defence by having a full matching set, but if it hampers my vision, I'd lose out on offense. I do have a matching shield, though."

Babies are cute, but a bit smelly at times, so Iona and Vicuņa gave Rhiada's back and they all headed out of Markarth again. "Where's the nearest place to find a briarheart?" Clark wondered.

"The hagravens seem to prefer the higher elevations, according to Neloth. He thinks it's a bird thing, even if they can't fly. So I'm thinking that Dead Crone Rock, at the top of Hag Rock Redoubt, is our best bet. Unless those names were intended to be misleading, of course." Vicuņa suggested

"Unlikely," Clark thought. "But the 'dead' part could mean the hagravens aren't there any more."

"We'll see when we get there," Iona decided for them. "It will all be a good test of my new armour anyway."

Clark was glad to note that she'd not been tempted to replace Chillrend with an ebony sword, just for looks.

The trail to Hag Rock seemed to be a playground for bears. There was one around each bend, and since Iona was eager to test her armour, they let her do most of the work.

"You're not finding the ebony a bit heavy?" Clark inquired. "It looks like it should be."

"I am getting a good workout, but that's no problem. Using it makes me stronger, and I'll be used to the extra weight before I know it."

Clark checked Chillrend, to make sure it was fully charged. They were almost at Hag Rock, so he used Azura's Star to be certain.

"Vicuņa, if we see any archers, hit them with lightning before they can do us any damage. If we make the others come to us, my ward and Iona's armour and shield should be our advantage. Between us, we'll have most attacks countered. Your shock spells will work for mages, too, and drain their magicka."

"Iona, stay with me and keep Vicuņa safe behind us. You won't want to get in her line of fire by running ahead anyway."

"We'll go up the nearest tower and across the bridge. The long way round would give us more cover, but it also lets them drop rocks on us."

Progress was slow, but steady. They stuck to their plan, at least until the giant frostbite spider appeared out of a hut near the top. That wasn't in the plan at all, but the general formation of Clark and Iona blocking for the spell-caster suited just as well.

There were no enemies left between them and Dead Crone itself. They'd killed one briarheart already, and taken his eponymous item for Neloth, but they were still hoping to find a hagraven making another.

"What do you expect to find in the tower?" Iona asked. "More spiders?"

"I doubt there's room for another of those, but who knows what else we'll find. Be prepared for the unexpected."

There were only Forsworn in the base of the tower, plus a few traps to avoid and neutralise. If there was a hagraven in residence, she'd be at the top. It looked to Clark like the door ahead of them would open at the top of the tower, so he advised them all to sneak the rest of the way.

The door led to a long flight of steps, and Clark could just see another briarheart seated at a table on a landing half-way up. "If Iona can put an arrow in him, at the same time as you hit him with some lightning, we may get past without a fight," he suggested. The two prepared, and he tapped their shoulders simultaneously to signal the attack.

It worked, but of course the sound of the spell alerted the hagraven, who appeared at the top of the stairs to hurl a fireball at them. Clark raised his ward before she could do it again, and stepped forward. Iona stuck with her bow, firing over his head.

Vicuņa's Dunmer resistance to fire allowed her to push past Clark and start to shut down the hagraven with more shock spells. As she abandoned the fireballs, and started to use her claws, Iona drew Chillrend and took over.

They stepped over the hagraven's corpse, pausing only to gather the feathers. On the altar beyond was a dead Forsworn, with his heart already removed. A briar heart was waiting next to him, due to be installed in the ritual they'd interrupted. And on the other side was another Stone of Barenziah.