The Jerall Mountains were anything but forgiving. Rarely did a day go by without a raging snowstorm, and a single misstep in such conditions could send a traveler hurtling to her doom. Innumerable skeletons littered the rock face, mouths opened wide as if laughing at their own mortality. What else could one do in the face of death?
Samara asked herself this question as she inched up the mountain path, pulling the ice wolf cloak tighter as she blinked back the biting ice and snow. Her once gentle features had hardened into a stoic mask, and her skin had taken on the ruddy hue of one who spent her life in the elements. Gone were the sunny fields and gentle rains of her homeland, the warm laughter around the still winter's fire. This was her life now; cold, hard, alone.
A narrow cave entrance opened up before her. She stumbled through, pushed onward as much by the wind as her desire to be out of it. The wind's howl became an eerie moan, and the scent of musty decay filled her nostrils, a burial crypt if she had ever smelled one. At one time, she would scarcely venture near such places, but she had since learned to be less choosy in her lodgings. A crypt was as good as an inn as far as she was concerned. Better, actually, for few others dared to follow.
As her eyes adjusted to the gloom, she spied the remains of a burned out fire and a small pile of sticks next to it. She thanked Yah and blessed the previous travelers as she struck the flint and breathed the spark to life. She massaged her fingers over the growing flame, grateful for the pinpricks spreading to their tips. The light threw harsh shadows over the space, revealing the crypts she knew were there as well as the mummified corpses inhabiting them. How they stayed so perfectly preserved in these conditions, she did not know. Perhaps at this elevation, they never thawed. Or perhaps they were not really dead.
Samara unsheathed her dagger and lit the end of a stick as a torch. She stood, cautiously, and made her way to the shadows. Bones of various descriptions littered the floor, along with a few of the barely clothed mummies, burned or stabbed through. Draugrs, she now remembered from her reading, the reanimated corpses of dragon-worshipping Nords. In the darkest shadow, only a few yards from the fire, she found the remains of a large family of travelers; several children, a man and wife, and three elders. The scene was too terrible to describe, but one all too familiar. At least this family had killed a fair number of their attackers before their demise, still tangled in combat with them as they died, perhaps in vengeance of their children or to prevent the same happening to others. Or perhaps it was merely the instinct of all dying beings, to hang onto life even as it slips from the lungs.
Farther back in the shadows, she heard the faintest of footsteps. She swung her torch in their direction, hoping to appear fearless to whatever watched her. From out of the gloom stared two unnaturally blue eyes. The cave seemed to grow colder, and the dagger felt less substantial in her hand. The owner of the eyes let out a low growl, not quite human but not quite beast, and stepped into the light. His leathery skin clung to his bony frame, and looked as if it might tear as he raised his broken blade. Samara sidestepped, feeling cold metal graze her arm, and swung her torch, catching him squarely in the left eye. The draugr howled, clutching at his burning face. Samara slashed his throat, stale blood arcing off the blade, and stabbed his sunken chest, losing her grip on the handle as he fell.
Exhausted, Samara retrieved her dagger from the unbeating heart, and wiped the blade on the draugr's tattered clothes. She checked the shadows beyond, finding only a few burial urns and a caved-in tunnel with a mummified hand reaching from the rubble. She spat on it, not thinking of the soul but of the evil spirit the body once contained.
The other mummies hadn't stirred, but she stabbed each and every one in the chest as a precaution before returning to the murdered family. Their clothing was like hers, mismatched and showing signs of wear. The mother's boots were moderately better than hers, as were the elder woman's gloves. She switched hers out and left them for the next traveler. There weren't many who chose to head this direction, but she had the feeling there would be more. They had few other possessions; steel blades rusting from the draugrs' blood, a few coins, healing herbs, a bit of dried meat, a rotten apple and a Book of Yah.
She tucked the book in her satchel, having lost her own copy to a raging current, and brought the meat back to the fire, taking slow bites as she watched the flames. If she had not lost her bow to the same river, she would have had a more substantial dinner, a leg or two of rabbit or even an entire goat haunch over the fire, but she had learned to make due with very little, far less than she could previously imagine. Her mother would have made a sermon out of that, about how Yah's daily bread was sometimes merely enough to survive. The last bite eaten, she cleaned her dagger again and placed it in the fire until the metal glowed. She gritted her teeth and drew the blade across the wound on her shoulder, cauterizing it with a hiss. Her mother could have gleaned any number of illustrations from this journey had she been alive to take it.
Samara took out the book again and opened it to the record of family births, deaths, and marriages, running her fingers across the delicate script. They were a mix of Nords and Bretons, not running to Skyrim but away. The most recent entries were a litany of killings, similar to how her own Book of Yah had been, written in her hand. What shelter they hoped to find in Cyrodiil, she did not know, though they probably would have asked her a similar question. The Thalmor were nearly as omnipresent as the wind. She took a twig and smeared it with ash from the fire, mixing it to an ink-like consistency on the cave's damp floor.
Remaining members slain by draugr, Jerall Mountains.
Found by Samara Florinian, Last Seed, 4E 201. May Yah rest their souls.