9 - Sunderstone Gorge

So we took a very round about route to go back to Markarth. I needed to deliver the book "Last Scabbard of Akrash" to Ghorza, for her apprentice to read, but it wasn't an urgent job, and we could visit a few caves and ruins on the way.

When we passed Fort Sunguard the first time, I'd seen a road leading off directly away from it, and wondered where it lead. Now would be a good time to find out. It meant that we started out heading in exactly the opposite direction, but I hoped the road would lead around the mountains behind our Tower, and maybe we'd find another way to reach it.

After ducking a wayward arrow fired by a hunter, and watching him chase off after the deer we'd just passed, we continued a bit further south and found a trail leading to a cave. It really didn't matter what was in it, I was just looking for a chance for some combat, and some more of my housecarl's voice.

A woman dressed in a black robe saw us approaching, but before I could hail her, she fired a cloud of frost in our direction. It wasn't just the Forsworn that attacked on sight in these parts.

My companion raised a ward, the first time I'd seen her do that. It appeared to block the effect of the magic from the black-robed figure, so she turned her attentions to me. As I charged, I noted that she was being hit with sparks from behind me, and she was unable to continue her frost attack. The pitiful iron dagger she pulled out was no match for my mace, and she fell at my first blow.

When I removed her robe, I caught a disgusted look from my housecarl, but this garment was enchanted, and I wanted to learn its secrets. The wearer's secrets were nothing to write home about.

We entered the cave, and I was hopeful that we'd find more of these magic-users inside. I wanted to find some more equipment with enchantments useful to a mage, as I still had a gold amulet waiting for something to make it special.

The passage was trapped in various places, and guarded by both the mages and their skeletal thralls. I noticed a preference for fire spells, which a Dremora resists quite well, so progress was relatively easy, if a bit slow. We were frequently stopping to wait for burning oil to burn off, where it had spread across the floor and ignited.

I spent much of that time opening chests and collecting the potions and alchemical ingredients the mages had in them , and on the numerous shelves around their quarters. I found a bit of coin, too, and some soul gems, which I might need for enchanting later.

The iron door lead into what I assumed was the main room of this place. It was certainly larger than the other rooms we'd been through. Two more of the mages, perhaps the senior members of this group, were waiting on a balcony at the top of some stairs opposite. The spells they used were more powerful then we'd encountered so far, but again fire-based, so less effective against us than most. As we approached, a flame atronach appeared, but whether it was summoned by the mages, or otherwise, wasn't clear.

The flame atronach didn't last long, but as we approached the mages, and they could at last see what they were dealing with, they changed their tactics. Instead of the firebolts, I was hit with something that knocked me back, and weakened me. Not fire; not frost; not shock. I wasn't sure what it was, but they were using it against both of us. My housecarl was down on one knee already.

As I regained my balance, and charged at the nearest mage, I saw the other cast again, and my companion disappeared in a small burst of sparks. My anger at that was enough to ensure that neither got the chance to cast anything more.

I stood staring at the spot where she'd disappeared, half-expecting her to return, but I saw now that the spell was intended to send Daedra back to Oblivion. It had affected me, but wasn't powerful enough to undo the summoning of Dagon himself. My housecarl had only been summoned by me, and I wasn't much of a conjurer.

I was vaguely aware of a chanting sound from behind me. Another of the walls of Dragon-writing was in the corner of the room, just like the one in Bleak Fall Barrow. Like that time, a word was glowing, and trying to put itself into my mind. "Yol", it said. Somehow I knew that it meant Fire, but not how to shout it. Did I need to battle another dragon before that would happen? It wasn't until Murmulnir died, that I properly understood "Fus".

I turned back, and she still hadn't re-appeared. Could I summon her again? Or would the spell give me someone different? I didn't want someone different.

I decided that casting it at the spot she left from was the best way to get the result I wanted. If Dagon was watching me, at least I'd be giving him some indication that I was paying attention. And it couldn't hurt my chances.

To my relief, the same woman re-appeared. I think she was wearing the same robe, although this one did look a little shorter. Maybe I was imagining that, or maybe I was just more aware of her now. She was instantly on guard, as she'd left while the battle was still in progress, but soon noticed that all was quiet, and relaxed again. Did I see a brief smile?

She stopped at the remains of the conjurer or necromancer that had banished her. I'm not sure if she was pleased or not. The look of revulsion she gave it may have been caused by the way I'd attacked the man with renewed rage. A jagged mace doesn't leave a pretty corpse, and I may have hit this one a bit more than was necessary.

We found a back way out of the room, and collected more potions and ingredients on the way. I also picked up some spell scrolls, gems, and a couple of weapons to sell. And just as we dropped down to the passage where we'd entered, I found some veins of silver. I still had my pickaxe with me, so that added to our haul.

A silver ring with a nice stone would look good on her hand. Maybe a red stone to match her eyes? No, it couldn't glow like they do.

We resumed following the trail outside, and when it forked, chose the path to the West. I wanted to head back towards Markarth, and was hoping to find a back way to the Tower in the process. Instead, we found a stockade with an Orc standing on guard outside.

Was this one of the Strongholds that the Orc at Left-hand Mine had mentioned? If it was, I was supposed to be welcome here.

Apparently, it wasn't, as the Orc was charging at us, with his war-hammer raised. That looked like a better weapon than I had, or at least it was one I'd like to have. I had the better armour, and my mage companion backing me up, so I soon had the opportunity to take it from his corpse.

With that on my back, I pushed open the gates of the stockade, and looked inside. There were a couple of crude wooden shelters, and a guard-tower, down here, but it looked like most of the settlement, if that's what it was, would be at the top of the wooden stairs that led up the rocks at the back. As we started to climb up, a couple more Orcs appeared at the top. The longer reach of my new hammer helped dispatch those, and we were soon looking at a forge and smelter on the plateau. A door led into what I assumed would be a mine, as there was a smelter just outside.

It would be an Orichalcum mine, judging by the ores and ingots outside. Or possibly iron, as some of the weapons laying on the table by the forge were made of that. I saw an armorer's workbench, but no grindstone. A pity, as I'd have liked to try and improve this war-hammer. There was almost enough material lying around to make another, but it would be no better than this one.

Maybe there would be a grindstone in the mine. I'd want to go in and take some more Orichalcum back to the Tower, anyway, as I wasn't sure where else to find it.

There wasn't a grindstone in the mine, just an irate Orc bandit chief who didn't like visitors. His armour was much better than the furs and hides that his men had been wearing, and it took a significant effort to best him. But we did, and took the key to his treasure chest. There wasn't much in that, except for a strange spherical gem, and a few coins. The gem glowed slightly, and made me suspicious. I decided it was probably a trap, and left it. The book on Smithing that I found on a table further down was a much better reward. I decided to take that one to Ghorza, too.

The mine yielded quite a lot of Orichalcum, as I'd expected. I had to smelt it here, as there was too much for me to carry if I didn't. I really needed to go back to the tower and use the grindstone there, and leave the excess ingots in a chest.

I'd taken a good look at the chief's armour. It was Orcish, as you'd have expected, and quite decent stuff. Fairly light, as heavy armour goes, and comparable in quality to what I was wearing. If I hadn't been almost overloaded, I might have taken it to sell. I never really considered wearing it, as I didn't want to look like I was an Orc.

I climbed up on the rocks, and looked around. I could just about see the pillars of the stonework at Bard's Leap from here, but there seemed to be no way to get through. It was all too steep. Maybe you could come down where you couldn't go up, and reach this mine from Bard's Leap, but we'd have to go the long way around to get home.