Stay Off The Road
The second time I approached Whiterun, I was on official business. Ulfric Stormcloak had tasked me with delivering his ax to the Jarl of Whiterun. By this time, I was a rising star in both the thieves guild and College of Whinterhold. I’d travelled across Skyrim, making friends and enemies. I was thane of two holds, with promising revenue streams from blacksmithing and enchanting.
Jarl Balgruuf the Greater took King Ulfric’s ax, but wouldn’t respond to the matter until I’d taken care of this dragon problem for him.
Perhaps I should back up a bit.
I arrived at Helgen a Nord woman, with no memory of my crime and nobody willing to so much as tell me what I’d done to deserve beheading. As I stood in line to die in Helgen’s town center, a dragon attacked. Consciously or not, that dragon saved my life.
Fleeing from Helgen’s ruin, a fellow member of the condemned told me that, if I could find my way to Riverwood, his friends there could take care of me. He set off at a run down the road to Riverwood, but I knew better than that. I was a fugitive from the Empire, and the roads were exactly where the Empire would be looking for me. So I beat my way into the brush, crossing through streams to throw off my scent.
Apparently, this means I missed the Guardian Stones, which would have increased my experience points for fields within a chosen class. I would find these shortly after my return to Whiterun.
The guards in Riverwood didn’t seem to recognize me. Or maybe they were letting me off easy because I was a Nord. Either way, I wasn’t going to wear out my welcome. The people of Riverwood were mostly hospitable, and they’d asked me to get word to Whiterun about the dragon. So I went north.
From what I knew at that point, Whiterun was at the center of an ongoing political storm over Nord independence. The Empire had been working hard to convince the jarl to join them, and that would mean not only more soldiers, but better informed soldiers. The dragon was apparently heading that way, and the hope was that I would rouse an amalgam of Whiterun and Imperial troops to bring the lizard down.
So the notion was that I would side with the Empire that had almost just killed me in order to kill the creature that had just saved me.
When the Whiterun guards told me entry to the city was restricted to official business only, I turned east. I didn’t know much about who I was, but I knew that I was wanted and undesired. I headed east.
When I returned some time later, I was well respected in the east. I was thane of Windhelm and Riften. I had a name for myself and an official duty to perform in Whiterun. I’d seen the political mess at Solitude, the pitiful remains of Winterhold, and the underhanded strength at Riften. I’d even briefly witnessed the strife at Markarth. I’d read many books about the history and politics of the Nords, and knew that even folks in Solitude understood that Ulfric had acted within traditional rules for contesting the kingship. I’d spoken with Ulfric and come to the conclusion that, although I disagreed with the way he let non-Nords be treated, he had a modesty and passion for others that I thought desirable in a leader. And apart from the Grey Quarter and a serial killer, Windhelm seemed to be one of the better run holds in Skyrim.
Honestly, by that point I’d like to meet the knee-stricken guard who could stop me from entering Whiterun.
I entered Whiterun and immediately made enemies with a man whose clan was backing the Empire — obviously the Empire hadn’t tried to kill him yet — which tipped me off to the residents who supported Ulfric’s claim.
I approached Jarl Balgruuf, a lanky man strewn across a throne. I didn’t like him.
He sat up when I gave him Ulfric’s ax, but he wouldn’t respond. He had to think about it, later. Apparently they’d heard a bit about the dragon. They wouldn’t deal with Ulfric until I’d help them learn more about the beast. Fine. Iona and I will slink through some crypt for you, and I’ll carefully walk her around pressure plates in the floor. This wouldn’t be the first time I’d gone through the motions with carvings of snakes, wolves and whales. Maybe there’d be another dragon claw made from an expensive material. No doubt there would be some tormented ancient Nord to battle and prove my worth. There would likely even be some crazy text scrawled on a wall that would flash and suck me toward it. I’d stumbled into one of these before I’d even made it to Windhelm. No big.
Not that I expect that impressing Jarl McLankyarms with my physical prowess will do much. He and his court don’t much strike me as the working-out type. Maybe I should just leave Whiterun to the dragon, but for the poor souls in Riverwood and Clan Grey-Mane.