In Which the Dragonborn Foils a Conspiracy in Markarth

I decided to go ahead and do the Forsworn Conspiracy plot, as well as its immediate followup, No One Escapes Cidhna Mine.

Plus, I wanted to give Markarth a bit of a fighting chance and see whether it presented me any reasons to like it. Spoiler alert: mostly, not so much.

Highlights

  • Rearranged the inventory in Whiterun some before heading out, and made a point of safely stowing Auriel’s Bow in my chest since apparently there’s a bug with it in the mine escape quest
  • Killed a few Forsworn who jumped me when I came out of fast travel near Kolskeggr Mine
  • Explored Markarth a bit just to check the place out; found the general goods shop, the forge, and the alchemy shop
  • Spotted the Vigilant investigating the abandoned house again, and blew him off, since I still legit do not know a damn thing about that house
  • Met up with Eltrys at the Shrine of Talos in Markarth to find out what his deal was, and agreed to help him
  • Bribed my way into Weylin’s room in the Warrens
  • Fought a thug who challenged me on my way out of the Warrens, and after I kicked his ass, got him to admit he had been sent by Nepos the Nose
  • Also bribed my way in Margret’s room at the Silver-Blood Inn
  • Got warned off of the search by one of the Stormcloak guards in the city
  • Went to see Thonar Silver-Blood at the treasury house, and bribed Rhiada to get past her to see him; got him to admit he had in fact been attempting to control the Forsworn; Thonar’s wife was suddenly attacked by their cleaning staff, who turned out to be Forsworn agents
  • I, however, got arrested by the guards after killing them; I quickly surrendered and paid my bounty so I could proceed with the quest
  • Went to confront Nepos at his house and he cheerfully started monologuing at me all about how he’s a Forsworn, up until the part where his entire household started attacking me
  • I was outnumbered and really kinda didn’t want to fight any of them, so I tried to flee
  • They chased me to the Shrine of Talos, but none of them could really damage me much since I was still clad head to foot in the dragonscale armor
  • However, discovered Eltrys had been killed and the guards told me now they’d have to frame me for murder
  • Got thrown into Cidhna Mine, and getting out again took less time than I expected it to
  • And now that I have backstory on the Forsworn, boy howdy was it easy to sympathize with them, and boy howdy is Ulfric Stormcloak a raging hypocrite
  • Helped the Forsworn escape, and they rampaged their way out of the city; Madanach gave me an armor set of Forsworn… well, I’d call it armor, except it really, really isn’t
  • The Forsworn also took the hit for the town murders, to clear my name
  • Went to Understone Keep to check in with the Jarl, and get him to make me thane of the Reach
  • Bought Vlindrel Hall and all its various decorations, and got housecarl Argis the Bulwark
  • Returned to Whiterun to be greeted by Lucia, who asked to play a game; it was however stupid o’clock in the morning so I told her to go back to bed
  • Dropped by Heljarchen to do some building to close out for the night

Going to Markarth

I decided to head over to Markarth for this session, for a couple of reasons:

  1. Despite my initial impressions of the place not really being positive, I wanted to give the place a fighting chance and see if it gave me any reasons like to it
  2. I still wasn’t thane of the Reach, and I thought I might as well take care of that
  3. The Forsworn Conspiracy quest was still pending on my quest list, and I wanted to see if the quest was actually interesting and get it sorted before proceeding to take on Solstheim

So to get started, I first made a point of clearing out my inventory of all except necessary things. I’d read on the wiki that if I had Auriel’s Bow with me on this quest, there’d be a bit of a bug involving getting it back after temporarily losing all my equipment. And I didn’t want to deal with that. After getting everything sorted, I was ready to fast travel over to Markarth.

My fast travel milestone for getting there was Kolskeggr Mine. Not surprisingly, I got jumped by three Forsworn as soon as I came out of fast travel. This went badly for them.

Also, side note: my archery is good enough at this point that if I shoot somebody with an arrow, I can send them flying several feet. Awesome. I sent two of those three Forsworn tumbling down the riverbank into the water.

Onward, then, into Markarth.

Exploring Markarth

I’ll say this much at least for the place: one of the things that had been nagging at me about the worldbuilding in Skyrim is how this culture has Dwemer ruins all over the damn place, and yet, very few people seem actually inclined to make use of them, or try to utilize the Dwemer tech remnants in any meaningful way.

Markarth is an entire city of people trying to do that. They’ve built a city on top of a Dwemer ruin, so you have all these shops and things with the Dwemer-style doors, and all these buildings with Dwemer-style interiors. As a player, I found it legit weird in a delightful and slightly creepy sort of way to be walking into these buildings and see actual living people in them. I think Alarrah probably felt the same way, and periodically must have kept expecting to be attacked by Dwemer automata!

As with Windhelm, once I actually saw the place in daylight and explored it properly, I did find at least a few aspects of it I kind of liked. I found the multi-level terraced style of the architecture interesting to navigate through. Nice use of waterfalls as well.

And when I found the forge and saw that the forgemaster was a female Orc, who was giving blazing hell to her inept apprentice, I liked her quite a bit. 😆

It also took me a moment to remember that OH RIGHT I’d agreed to Ulfric Stormcloak taking over Markarth back in Season Unending. So the guards patrolling the city were now specifically Stormcloak guards.

Which, I gotta say, made playing the conspiracy plot out a little weird. The Stormcloak guards get the same scripted lines that the original city guards would have done. So even though these men and women were now guards in Markarth specifically because of actions I took to station them there, they still came after me as part of the conspiracy plot and framed me for murder. And they also specifically gave me shit about being an “outsider”, and no sign of acknowledging me as the Dragonborn.

Presumably, the guards who did this were still Markarth natives rather than imports with Ulfric’s forces! And presumably, not all of the guards of Skyrim can recognize me on sight, despite how many of them in all of the cities specifically call me Dragonborn or Dovahkiin at this point.

So from a narrative perspective, running this plot probably would have made more sense before saving the world from Alduin. Hell, even the bard in the inn had the new song about Alduin in his repertoire, so word of Alduin’s fall had clearly come to Markarth. Still didn’t stop them from framing me for murder!

In general, though, between exploring the city and interacting with various people as part of this plotline, it became very, very obvious that the real power in Markarth was the Silver-Bloods, regardless of the Stormcloaks seizing it. And arguably, that the Silver-Bloods were in league with the Stormcloaks, given that one of them became Jarl as part of the takeover.

It became equally obvious that the Silver-Bloods are a pack of screaming assholes.

Last but not least, I found the Vigilant of Stendarr still wanting to question me about the abandoned house. I blew him off, because at least in character, I still legit do not know a damned thing about that house. And I still legit do not want to do that quest.

The Forsworn Conspiracy

This quest is another one that’s weird to play out in pieces. Skyrim in general shows little awareness of in-game time for any of the quests—you can start a quest and then take your sweet time coming back to it if you want, with no impact whatsoever on how the quest plays out.

Which meant that I had a considerable amount of in-game time between when I saw the original murder in the Markarth market and when Eltrys first approached me… and also between that approach and when I finally showed up to meet him at the Shrine of Talos.

My dude, I hope you didn’t mind waiting down there all this time!

Once I showed up, though, Eltrys filled me in on the general overall situation and asked for my help. Specifically because I was an outsider, and perhaps in a better position to handle this risky investigation—because he now was married and had a child. I agreed to help, and started poking around the city for evidence.

My first stop was at a place called the Warrens, where the city’s poor and destitute live, generally workers for the silver mine. When I walked in, the watchman clearly pegged me as not belonging there. What clued you in, dude? The dragonscale armor or how I’m walking around with three different swords, a big fuckoff bow, and enough arrows to shoot everybody in this entire city?

Nor was he initially willing to let me into the room where Weylin, the guy who’d attacked the woman in the market, had lived. He changed his tune immediately though when I bribed him.

(I had an option for a Persuade check. I didn’t bother. This seemed like the kind of city where I could bribe my way through a lot of problems. And I’m swimming in gold, so it ain’t like it was going to put that huge of a dent in my gold balance!)

Weylin’s room led me to a chest where he had a note from someone signed only as “N.”, giving him instructions to “strike fear into the hearts of the Nords”.

When I came out of the Warrens, I was met by a thug who promptly threatened me for digging around where I didn’t belong. I refused to put up with his bullshit, and went into a brawl with him. This got some attention; I heard several NPCs yelling commentary in the background, though nobody came to break up our fight. Once I kicked this guy’s ass, he grumpily admitted to me that he’d been sent by Nepos the Nose.

Let that be a lesson to you, pal: threatening someone in full dragonscale armor, who can proceed to kick your ass just by punching you and never mind whipping out any of her weapons, is not going to go well for you.

Next stop was the Silver-Blood Inn, where I once more achieved my objective through bribery. Got into Margret’s room and found her journal that revealed that she was an Imperial agent, trying to investigate the Silver-Bloods and see if she could get the mine into Imperial hands.

Coming out of there, I was confronted again—this time by a Stormcloak guard who warned me off any further investigation. Needless to say, I elected to disregard that warning.

Went to go have a chat with Thonar Silver-Blood in the Treasury House next. This also required a bit of bribery, as the woman at the front desk was disinclined to let me have a chat with her boss until I handed her several hundred gold.

Thonar seemed ready to spill his guts at me without much provocation, even up to the point of acknowledging that he was controlling the Forsworn by having Madanach held prisoner. The game seemed inclined to lead me into offering to take care of that problem for him, but I did not take that option; see previous commentary re: the Silver-Bloods being assholes, and I didn’t particularly want to help this guy out.

However, partway through our conversation, we heard yelling from the front part of the building. I came running out to find that the so-called cleaning staff had abruptly attacked and killed Thonar’s wife. So then they attacked me. I killed the two of them, only to be apprehended by the city guards.

This was not the actual arrest to trigger being thrown into the mines—this just required me to pay a bounty. I’m not sure exactly how that happened, because the impression I got reading about the flow of events on the wiki was that this shouldn’t have counted against me. I may have hit a guard by mistake during the fight?

Anyway, though, I was able to pay off the bounty and be free to go. So I came back to conclude the chat with Thonar. He didn’t buy the “I’m sorry” line I offered him in response to losing his wife, and said that she was the one that deserved my pity.

Moving on from that, I went to go talk to Nepos next. His housekeeper tried to warn me off, but he heard our conversation and told her to let me in anyway. I came in to chat with him, and found him willing to tell me all about how he was actually Forsworn. Which led right into everybody in the house coming at me with drawn weapons.

At which point I went “yipe” and tried to retreat, because while I probably could have killed them all, I kind of didn’t want to. I didn’t really have in-character reason to justify this, this was more of a player thing than a character thing. But by now I was sympathetic enough to the Forsworn that I didn’t want to fight with them unless absolutely necessary. I even tried throwing Calm spells at them a couple of times, and that seemed to briefly work on one of them. Not enough to actually get me out of being attacked by them, though.

None of them did any real damage to me, either. My dragonscale armor gives me a armor rating over 1,000 at this point, so even though I was outnumbered, they didn’t even dent my health bar.

They chased me all the way to the Shrine of Talos, and even came in after me, still trying to attack. Which made the confrontation with the guards who’d killed Eltrys a trifle awkward, because now I was caught between both sides of this entire conspiracy!

At which point I had no option but to let the guards “arrest” me (because they were quite explicit about intending to frame me and get me out of the way, there was no doubt that my arrest was bullshit), and throw me into Cidhna Mine.

No One Escapes Cidhna Mine

The first interesting thing I’d like to note about this part of the plot is that it actually gives a narrative hook back to the Dragonborn’s having been almost executed in Helgen. This was a useful reminder that this was not the first time my character had been imprisoned—and it even comes up when you have conversation with the NPC who gives you his backstory about why he got thrown into the mine.

I feel like this would definitely have been a motivator for Alarrah to get the fuck out of the place. It was bad enough having been arrested and nearly executed before. But now, after many in-game months of building up her power as the Dragonborn, she was even less inclined to put up with this bullshit and she was not going to stand for it an instant longer than she had to.

The second thing I’d like to note is that swear to goddamn god, for a mine that has such a rep for nobody ever escaping from it, Cidhna’s security is ass.

When I showed up at the place and got the initial spiel from an Orc guard and then some backstory from a prisoner, I learned that the guards only showed up once a week to clear out any dead bodies and give the prisoners an allotment of food. Also, that this was the only time any food actually showed up.

Which means by extension that that’s a whole week in which prisoners could do anything they damn well pleased. Including building an escape tunnel, apparently!

And the whole arranging to get out of this place basically required me to go back and forth between a couple of NPCs so that I could get my hands on a shiv to bribe another Orc for access to Madanach.

Talking to that Orc was pretty amusing, too. He asked me what it’d felt like to do my first kill. I took the “exciting” dialogue option—not because I actually felt that way, or because Alarrah felt that way, but more like it seemed like a good “bluster” kind of option to throw the Orc to get on his good side. And because showing vulnerability in this place seemed unwise. This worked, and it actually amused the Orc, who said I was a true killer like him.

Once I did that, then I got a lot more Forsworn backstory from him. And finally, in character, got the explanation for why the Forsworn have been rampaging all over the Reach: because the Nords kicked them out of Markarth, in a campaign twenty years back driven by none other than Ulfric Stormcloak himself.

In other words, Ulfric Stormcloak is a raging hypocrite who’s been all “SKYRIM IS FOR THE NORDS” and bitching about how the Imperials are forbidding them to worship Talos—after doing the same goddamn thing to the Reachmen in Markarth.

Between that and hearing some backstory from another NPC Madanach ordered me to talk to, I was immediately inclined to go ahead and help the Forsworn escape. I was somewhat less inclined to actually kill an NPC on Madanach’s order as a show of loyalty—but it turned out that I didn’t have to. Because as soon as I confronted the guy, he turned hostile, and got himself stabbed by another NPC on hand.

And, it turned out that Madanach didn’t care that I hadn’t killed him myself, as long as the guy was dead. Once I reported back to him, he let me in on the whole escape plot. They had an entire tunnel dug into nearby ruined tunnels, and Madanach and the rest of the NPCs broke out through that tunnel, with me tagging along.

Before they broke out into the city proper, Madanach also got me my equipment back—as well as giving me a full set of Forsworn armor, all the pieces of which tagged themselves in my inventory as “of the Gods”. He told me this was a thing I could remember him by, and also told me I wouldn’t have to worry about my good name, because they’d take the blame for the murders previously committed.

Then they rampaged their way out of the city. I let them go and trailed out after them, wary about what would happen next—but no guards actually confronted me, even after I swiped a couple things off of Thonar Silver-Blood’s corpse.

Likewise, nobody confronted me on my way up to see the Jarl at Understone Keep. I don’t think I’d realized that the Jarl would also be a Silver-Blood after Ulfric took over Markarth—if I had known that beforehand, I would have been less inclined to get on board with this guy as his thane. As it was, I was able to buy Vlindrel Hall from his steward, and I’d already apparently triggered all five necessary “help my people” quests.

So now I’m thane of the Reach. Yay?

I bought all the available decorations for the house as well, then went to go check it out.

Vlindrel Hall

Argis the Bulwark is my latest housecarl, and the brawniest of the bunch, a bigger dude than either Valdimar or Gregor. Also the most intimidating-looking, as he’s got a scar across his face. I suppose this is kind of appropriate and in character for Markarth?

I took the time to explore my new digs, and I actually rather liked them. It was very weird being in a Dwemer-style house with actual furniture in it, after spending so much time exploring Dwemer ruins. I was all “so this is what this kind of architecture looks like when somebody actually lives in it!”

I did not however spend much time in Markarth after that. It’ll be nice to have crash space if I have to come back to this city—because I do not want to stay at Silver-Blood Inn, on general “fuck the Silver-Bloods” grounds. And while the house is nice, it is in fact in Markarth, so I do not expect I’ll be visiting it much more. Yet. We’ll have to see if any other quests bring me back here.

Epilogue: Whiterun and Heljarchen

I spent a little closing time at Breezehome in Whiterun, just because I’d gotten a bit of weird behavior with third person viewpoint no longer letting me rotate the camera so I could see my front and get screencaps. I’d tried to do this in the mine, to see what I looked like in my prisoner gear.

I had to restart the game to get this to work again. Once I did that I was able to get proper screencaps.

Here’s Alarrah in the rough prisoner tunic:

Alarrah in Prisoner Tunic
Alarrah in Prisoner Tunic

And here’s Alarrah in the “armor” Madanach gave me:

Alarrah in Forsworn Gear
Alarrah in Forsworn Gear

Side note about this: I’m sorry, but this is not armor. I mean honestly. Not to denigrate the Forsworn and their belief in their “old ways” or anything, but seriously, guys? The Nords handed you your asses and punted you out of Markarth, and you’re running around trying to fight them while clad in feathers and fur and sticks and bones? While they have steel, and in general much better armor and weaponry?

Have you even considered for a moment maybe upgrading to armor that doesn’t leave the majority of your body exposed?

JUST SAYING.

I’ll still keep it, I just need to find an unused armor mannequin to put it on. And I feel like in character, Alarrah would in fact want the reminder of Madanach and the injustices his people have suffered.

But boy howdy is she also going “this is not armor”.

(EDITING TO ADD: Dara points out correctly that there’s a real big question here of how much technology the Forsworn actually have access to while they conduct their guerilla campaign against the Nords. Some of the Forsworn camps I’ve raided do have forges. But it’s anybody’s guess as to how much access they have to actual materials to make armor and weaponry that could give them a fighting chance against the Nords.

And if they’ve been driven out of the more civilized/settled versions of the Reach, this means they’re limited to whatever resources they can get their hands on via raiding or theft or battle. They might not have access to enough materials to actually arm and armor themselves to the same degree the Nords of Skyrim do.

Also, there’s also clearly a strong component here of deliberately outfitting themselves this way as part of their old traditions. It’s also clear in-game that they have access to magic—and there are magical spells that can augment your armor protection, I’ve used them. I could buy this scanty armor of theirs better if it were obviously enchanted by their mages.

Still though, I maintain they should seriously consider stocking up on however much armor they can swipe off fallen Nord enemies. Make use of that shit, you guys. Even if you can’t replicate it quickly yourselves, it can help you survive long enough to actually take over a serious forge!)

Last but not least I took a run up to Heljarchen, to get in a bit more building, before shutting down for the night.

Next time

I have three dragon priest masks left to find to fill out the original set of eight. And I think I’ll go hunting for those, just because at least a couple of those dungeons do have additional Word Walls I want to hit up for words!

And I’d like to get those cleared out before I get to Solstheim. I have the sneaky suspicion I’ll need a bunch more Shout firepower before I take on Miraak.

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