6 - Soljund's Sinkhole

When I woke the next day, she was gone from her position, but a delicious aroma from the floor below told me where. I'd constructed the cooking fire when I made the lights, as that end of the room would have been dark without it. I suppose I might have used the spit, too, eventually, but I was more used to cooking game out where I hunted it. She'd looked in the barrels and found enough to make some vegetable soup. She set a bowl of it in front of me, and went back to stirring the pot.

When I left to go looking for the remaining materials, she followed, keeping her distance behind me, where she could watch my back for danger. Or avoid talking to me, which she seemed to be good at. I was headed for the mining village we had seen from the tower, or rather, smoke from its smelter. Hopefully they had moonstone. I had no idea where the quicksilver would come from, but although the Reach was known for silver, I knew they had at least one gold mine, too. Soul gems were a mystery to me, and filling them even more of one.

I spotted the wolf on the road ahead, and drew my mace. I didn't get the chance to use it, however, as she ran up and flamed the creature to death before it reached me. I did get the next one, as it jumped off a rock at me before she could see it.

"She's a housecarl, so she's protecting you," I thought to myself. "This is not a competition." I did note that she'd used destruction spells rather than summoning a weapon. That meant that she wouldn't be getting in my way in a fight.

It took both of us to kill the bear that we met after we passed Old Hroldan. It had killed a merchant and her miner lover at a little camp just above the settlement, so it deserved its death. We found a small cache of items in a hollow tree near them. Perhaps it was theirs, but more likely, someone else had left it there. I'm sure they would have used the sword to defend themselves.

In Soljund's Sinkhole, they had no moonstone. The mine was closed, because they'd broken through into an old tomb, and the mine was full of draugr. If I wanted to go in there, I was welcome to do so, but they wouldn't until the Legion got here and cleared the place. Perth would buy any extra moonstore ore I dug up, he informed me, but it was clear that he wasn't expecting that to happen.

We would go in, I decided. The chances of the Imperial Legion coming down here from Markarth, while there was a war on, were next to none, and I wasn't inclined to wait for my moonstone. Besides, what better than fighting draugr to prove my worth to my lovely companion?

"Is someone there?"

So she did speak, when she needed to. I could hear the creaking of a draugr coming from the tunnel to our left and led the way into it. I attacked the nearest, and was pleased to note that she was attacking the one on the ledge above us, out of my reach, but not beyond her flames.

One more, a little farther in, and all fell silent again. There were two veins of moonstone ore here, and some chunks that had already been dug up before the draugr had forced them out. There was probably enough for my purposes without mining any more, but Perth had offered to buy it from me. If a Grand Soul Gem was as expensive as it sounded, I might need all the gold I could raise. So I spent a few minutes with a pickaxe, while my housecarl silently watched.

We took the other tunnel, expecting to find more draugr, or moonstone, in that direction, but all we found was a deep pit. It was likely that this was where the floor had collapsed into the tomb, and released the draugr. I didn't see a way to climb up, but it wasn't too far to drop down.

She probably thought I was being reckless, jumping down the hole with no visible way to return, but if the draugr had done it, I was certain that I could. There must be another path somewhere that they'd used. Whatever she thought, she didn't follow immediately, and I had to deal with the first three of them alone. Not that it was hard for me, but she wasn't there to witness it.

By the time I reached the next turning in the tunnel, however, she was behind me again. I hadn't heard her jump down, but she must have done so.

We came to a gate, with a lever on a pedestal in front of it. This looked like a trap to me, and I could see the holes in the walls where darts would fire out if the lever was pulled at the wrong time. I knew that there was usually something else I'd need to operate before the lever would be safe, so I started to search the area. I found another lever on the wall, looked around for dart holes, and since there were none, I pulled it. I looked towards the gate, and saw that she'd found another lever on the opposite side. When she pulled that one, the gate opened without using the central one at all.

Beyond it was a spiral staircase leading up. That was a good sign, as it meant we'd be regaining the elevation we lost when we dropped down the hole. If we were back at the same level, there was a good chance that we'd find a route back into the mine. The same one the draugr had used.

There was nothing of interest up the first side-tunnel we tried. I doubled back and had difficulty passing her in the narrow tunnel. Squeezing past was quite enjoyable, but it really shouldn't have been needed.

The next one lead to a large chamber, and as I stepped into it, a statue at the far side glowed red and spat a fireball at me. I dodged back, thankful that she wasn't following close enough to block my way again. A draugr wearing a helmet appeared from the far side and rushed towards me. He stopped at the entrance to the tunnel I'd moved back into, as if he wasn't able to leave the chamber. He swung his greatsword, but I was beyond his reach.

"NO, don't push me!" I roared as she tried to run at the draugr. I took out my bow and showed her how this situation should be handled. Maybe it wasn't the Dremora way to stand back, but it was by far the best strategy for an enemy that can't reach you.

He was steadily being whittled down by my arrows, and I was anticipating an imminent end to this confrontation, when the other statue glowed green, and healed him. Not all the way back to full health, but enough for me to realise that I'd run out of arrows before he fell.

So I put the bow away again, and held my mace while I considered the options. That gave her room to pass me and rush out into the room. She wouldn't stand a chance against him alone, so I was forced to get his attention. I at least had some armor, and she just had that tantalising robe.

Well, maybe a little more, as I noticed a glow around her that could be a shield spell of some nature. Since we hadn't spoken, I had no idea what she could cast, beyond the flames she'd already used.

He turned towards her, and the first statue glowed again. The fireball, which it directed at me, hit the draugr instead, as he was in between me and the statue. I resolved to keep him there, if I could, but I also wanted his attention back. My mace got that very quickly, and I had to act swiftly to block his response.

Meanwhile, it appeared that her flames were having an extra effect on him, perhaps because they were combining with those from the fireball. Whatever the reason, it gave me hope again.

I'd just started to worry about being hit by a fireball if he fell at the wrong time, when he did. The red and green glows of the statues went out with the blue glow of his eyes, and I breathed again.

I made that sound as if I was preparing for more work, not expressing relief. There were more moonstone veins in the room, and I went to work on those. Then I checked the chest and the items scattered on the table, or was it an altar? I found a large soul gem, but only a Greater one, not the Grand I needed. And it was empty, too. Still, they had value, and were light enough to carry. A few enchanted weapons, which I was collecting in anticipation of being able to learn their magics. A few ingredients to use in alchemy, once I had a lab. A decent enough haul.

I'd picked up a couple of ingots of refined moonstone along with the ore, so I sold all the ore to Perth when we left the mine. He gave me the money he'd have used to pay the troops for clearing the mine, too. Perhaps I'd be able to buy that gem, after all.