2 - Bleak Falls Barrow

Even before I reached the barrow itself, I'd slain a wolf on the path, and three bandits in a tower a little further up. That archer should have learned to make her first shot count. Instead, it just alerted me to their presence when it hit the rocks by my head. They only had furs, and crude iron, nothing much worth taking, apart from the arrows and lockpicks that are always useful, especially as they weigh so little. There was a bit of gold in a chest there, but not enough to make me rush back to town and spend it.

I saw the bandits at the ruin before they saw me, so the archers didn't get a chance to shoot and miss. The third bandit, the one with the iron warhammer, took a second hit to dispatch, and I considered taking his weapon. But I'd damaged the shaft, and it wasn't significantly more damaging than my steel mace. I liked having one hand free for spells, too. I'd found a spell tome in Helgen that had taught me Sparks, or rather, reminded me of a spell I'd forgotten, and a style of fighting I hadn't used for nearly as long.

Now if it had been at least a steel warhammer, things might have been different. That's a proper strong man's weapon. It gets respect when an opponent just sees it on your back. A Daedric one would be even better, but when did I last see one of those?

The bandits inside didn't have one, that was certain. It appeared that one of them had been killed by skeevers, as his body still lay among theirs near the door. The two that were alive (briefly) had only fur armour, and iron weapons.

None of these, of course, had the claw I was looking for. That bandit must be further in, and I assumed he'd be the leader of the group, and better-equipped.

Apart from one bandit, who set off a dart trap and died for his stupidity, I saw nothing but skeevers on my way further in. But then I heard someone calling for help around the next corner. This pathetic weakling couldn't be the one I was looking for, the one who'd taken the claw, but he was at least alerting me to whatever danger was threatening him. That turned out to be a giant spider, and the caller was trapped in a silken shroud behind it.

When I cut him down, he ran off before I could demand his assistance in finding the claw. He was round the corner before I could pull out my bow, or he'd have paid for his ingratitude there and then.

He paid only a few moments later, as he ran into a number of draugr, and a spiked gate, on which I found him impaled. The draugr were useful practice, but carried little of use. Their weapons were old, and brittle, and that was about all they had.

I searched the cowardly bandit, expecting to find just as little, and was surprised that he had the claw. Not only that, but his journal suggested it had a purpose other than mere decoration, and that it was connected to something valuable deeper in the tomb.

It wasn't the Clannfear Claw I'd suspected, but a cast metal item with a set of symbols in the palm. The wrist end was bent up in a curious fashion that made it look like a handle to turn something. Perhaps it would make sense later.

I encountered more of the draugr in the passages of this labyrinth. The tomb seemed to have been built as a winding tunnel into the mountain. Presumably it followed weakness in the rock, because otherwise the twists and turns made little sense. Sometimes it had walls covered in dressed stone, and at other points it was bare rock. Perhaps they'd joined up some caves to make it into a tomb?

Eventually, however, I found myself in a long hallway, with a large metal door at the end. There were three rings bearing symbols that looked like the ones I'd noted on the claw. I took it out for another look.

Yes, the symbols were the same. There was clearly a right way up, as they were pictograms of animals and birds. The order of the symbols on the door was different, however.

I discovered that the rings moved, and revealed other symbols. Turning each one in turn got me the same arrangement as I saw on the claw. And in the centre was a disc with small holes that looked like the claw would fit itno them.

Now it made sense why the claw had a handle. I fitted the claw into to the disc, and used the handle to turn it. The door started to slide down, and I removed the claw.

Beyond the door was a large cave with a stream running through it. On the other side of the stream was a platform, and beyond that, a wall covered in strange lettering, an inscription in a language I didn't know. One of the groups of symbols, presumably a word of this language, glowed as I approached.

There was magic at work here. The glowing of the word had obviously been triggered by my approach, and I wondered what else was to come. I could hear chanting, although there was nobody else there, and it didn't seem to come from anywhere in particular. Maybe it was being produced inside my head by the same magic. And I could hear the word, even though I couldn't understand its meaning. This stone wall was trying to tell me something, and I didn't know what it was.

Perhaps it was just trying to tell me to look behind me. I heard a breaking sound and turned to see the stone lid coming off a coffin on the platform. A horned helmet popped up, and an armored draugr climbed out of the coffin. He held a large two-handed sword, and intended to use it on me.

At last, a worthy opponent! And one with a trick I wasn't expecting. He shouted at me, and magic pushed me back. So my first blow missed him, and he tried to take the initiative with a swing of his own.

But I'd recovered by then, and blocked it easily. His weapon was slower than mine, and I pressed that advantage to make up for my relative lack of armour. He staggered, and I knew I had him. With a roar of triumph, I shattered his dry bones with my mace.

There was a chest beside the coffin he'd emerged from, and it contained a decent amount of gold and other items. No weapons I'd use, but his own greatsword had an enchantment of frost on it, and I knew there was a way to learn that enchantment. I took that with me also. His helmet and armour appeared to have become fused to his remains, and couldn't be removed. The only other thing he carried was a stone tablet, with markings on it that appeared to be in the same language as the wall. I took it out of curiosity, as it didn't appear to be valuable.

There were stairs next to the wall that appeared to lead nowhere, but a handle at the top revealed a door in the wall when it was turned. It lead out to a small cave, with another chest, and an exit to the side of the mountain. I looked out over the same river that flowed through Riverwood, but quite a bit further upstream.

That meant I'd have to go back thorugh the town, so I decided to return the claw, or key, or whatever it was, to the shopkeeper. I'd probably get more for it from him, than any merchant in Whiterun. Then I'd go there, and try to find out if the stone tablet meant anything, or this foreign word I had stuck in my head. And I'd like to sell some of the things I found and buy some armour, and maybe a better weapon.

The shopkeeper was happy to get the claw back, but seemed completely uninterested in what it really was. It was just important to his family to have it back, a peculiarly mortal consideration, if you ask me.

His sister was also grateful, but didn't offer to reward me in the way I'd have liked, so I left the shop and headed for the city. I considered checking the smith, to see if he had anything worth trading for, but all I could see near his forge were iron, and steel. Nothing better than I already had.

So I kept most of the items I'd found for trading in Whiterun. Ralof had mentioned that there were better smiths there than anywhere in Skyrim.