Jastinia arrived at Mixwater Mill past sunset only to have Gilfre wake her just a few hours later to begin her work. Not work on greatsword techniques or combat stances. Work. Real work at a real sawmill as Gilfre gave Jastinia instructions on operating aging mill and her first job: clearing a swath of trees along the White River. Wielding the same battleaxe she forged for Torbjorn Shatter-Shield, her mentor in Windhelm and Gilfre’s longtime friend, Jastinia built strength and confidence as she hacked through the forest. A saber cat ambush put her skills to the test, and despite suffering a painful arm wound, Jastinia prevailed and felled the beast like all the timbers before it.
As the first week ended, Jastinia realized it wasn’t just her arms or legs that were becoming stronger. It was also her bond with Gilfre. They exchanged stories and laughs, jabs and jokes, as the older Imperial pushed her 16 year-old worker to challenge herself and not give up. With Gilfre’s encouragement and stories of Gilfre’s warrior mother, Jastinia was even able to lift one of the Mixwater logs overhead from its pile without any help. She began the new month of Frostfall with the confidence to do anything, whether conquer Serpentstone Isle in the weeks to come, or gather herbs from the forest to treat her infected arm. But first, she set out to explore a mysterious tunnel beneath an ancient bridge that she stumbled upon while foraging…
Welcome to Jastinia of Windhelm’s legendary edition Ultimate Skyrim/Take Notes playthrough. My name is Anna and I'm blogging her playthrough on my WordPress page, Unearthed Arcanna, but posting all the content here too. Got questions about Jastinia? My modlist? Our roleplaying approach? Check out all the “playthrough links” below for more information about the series.
- Ultimate Skyrim, other mods, and MCM setup
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- Self-imposed roleplaying rules
- Jastinia of Windhelm journal index
- Jastinia’s combat clips
Frostfall, 4E 201
I should be dead. Dead at the spectral hands which slaughtered me in the darkness, frozen fingers wielding frozen weapons to slash, crush, extinguish the warm flesh beneath. Dead from the wounds they left me with before they dumped my body. Dead by my stupidity, dead by the hateful ghosts who showed me how weak I’d been all along.
I don’t know why they didn’t kill me. How I ended up washed downriver, miles west of the same bridge I’d ventured beneath in the first place. Why would spirits spare me? Flush my bloody body out of their lair instead of leaving me to rot and rats? Steal my soul, absorb my spirit, or however else the vengeful dead punish the living? Maybe that’s the true torment of this. The true hell. Not the deep cuts on arms and legs, my chest contused and head splitting from mace blows on my ear. Surviving after the loss itself. Memories of my helpless defeat as they stood over me like Torbjorn and ended my life, hacked it from me in a stream of blood and fading consciousness only for me to awake a morning later. Bleeding, cold, dirty. Stripped of arms and armor, valuables and coin.
They took it. All of it. My greatsword, my axe, and every ember of confidence and hope I dared to kindle when I ventured from Mixwater into the unknown. Out, away, and then below. Into the dark where I now knew what awaited. Death. Cold and faded, in human form, but still death incarnate. The living are wise to fear the dead, one of them warned me when I still could’ve turned back. I didn’t listen. I didn’t retreat. And they made me pay for it.
I shouldn’t be here at all. Here as a living being, not a corpse in their catacombs. Here as an idiot girl lost in the wilderness. I wish I’d learned it earlier. I wish it didn’t hurt so much to learn it now. Gilfre warned me about when to avoid danger and when to charge ahead, and shivering here on the riverbank, I now know what I should’ve done at the ancient prison’s entrance. After all five skeletons warned me exactly what waited ahead, a caution I was too proud and naïve to heed. Come back soon, little girl, their voices echo in my head as they echoed through the tunnels. I feel the bite of their weapons again as I try to stop the bleeding on my arms, leg, a slow trickle which must’ve pulsed for hours as I lay here on the shore. Stand if you can. Live with your failure. Dare to return and retrieve what we took.
Don’t worry. I won’t. I’m done fighting and done with Mixwater. I can’t do this. I can’t. After all the teachers I should’ve been listening to, instructors who helped me, masters and mistresses who tried to mentor me, it was a pair of uncaring ghosts who delivered the clearest message. Go back, they’d echoed in the tunnels. Get out, they’d boomed as their weapons batted aside my blade. Opened my skin. Go home, go to your death, go where you belong.
I should be dead. And if that’s what it took for me to finally listen, that’s the lesson I will finally learn.
Frostfall, 4E 201
I hate this place. I hate Torbjorn for sending me here, Gilfre for not returning me home the instant she realized I wasn’t ready Myself for being so stupid to pretend I was some kind of warrior, so arrogant to believe I could survive Serpentstone Isle when I’m not even going to survive today. Those ghosts for hurting me so badly I can barely walk without blood squelching through my pants down my leg. That godsdamn storm-witch who is still haunting these godsdamn roads. Why? Why did she attack me a third time? Why the hells is she even on this road at all? Why am I here, why can’t I walk, why can’t I just go curl in my Sailor’s Rest bed and never leave again?
I’m in trouble, real trouble. I can’t make it back to Mixwater like this. Even if I had armor and weapons bigger than a dagger to defend myself on this dangerous road, I truly am not sure I could get there at all. Walking hurts. Breathing hurts. I’m too slow to even hike these hills, let alone run from anything looking for easy prey. I can’t stop the bleeding, even after I’ve wrapped my wounds tight with torn fabric from this baggy worker shirt. Nice of the spirits to leave me with that so I wasn’t naked in body, even if they stripped me bare everywhere else. I’m weak, getting weaker. Not just as a weak piece of shit who can’t fight anything bigger than a mudcrab, even if I’m that too. Drained. Hurt. Losing more blood than I’m pumping, slowly drifting off with every droplet falling from each injury onto the flagstones.
Unless I find help, stop the blood loss, I’m not going to make it. Not to that bridge, and definitely not the 3-4 hours beyond that to Mixwater. I’ll look for moss or flowers, burn my body shut if I can’t even find that. Seek help in that castle above the hill, a fort along a main Eastmarch road that will hopefully be friendly. A place to rest, just for a few hours while I remember why I’m even bothering. While I try to remember why. “Why, Jastinia? Why are you here and what are you doing?”
I don’t know. But if I don’t get help very soon, it won’t matter anyway.
Frostfall, 4E 201
Tired. Tried cauterizing leg but the cut was too big, too deep. Couldn’t. Too painful, too weak, couldn’t fight the discomfort and tears and smell of burnt skin. Just like I couldn’t find help at that castle. The elf-mage on the ramparts drew his dagger as I approached; he’d have finished the ghosts’s job if I took another step.
Scoured for flowers or moss to pack these fatal slashes, hoped for a traveler with a bandage or magick, a kind heart, but nothing. No one. I’m alone. Like I’ve been alone my whole life but now truly, really alone. Something’s hurt inside, chest and ribs. Something shifting when I move, opened up deep in my leg and throbbing, blood leaking out even through my balled-up shirt as I press it down with all the failing strength I still have.
Stupid. What a stupid way to die, befitting the stupid girl who walked to her death unprepared. Die, mortal. Mortal fool child, die already, die in the darkness or here in the sun. By our pale blades touch or the marks they left behind.
I’m scared. I don’t want to die here. I don’t want it to end like this and I’m scared.
If you find this before I… if you find this, please help me. Please, I don’t want to die here. I don’t want to die at all.
But if you don’t, return journal to Scouts Many-Marshes. Windhelm docks. Tell him I’m sorry. Tell him I’m so sorry for letting him and everyone else down. Tell them I love them and tell them thank you, for everything and for
Ghosts. Rain above and ghosts below. Nightmares inside. Warm in bed or cold back in the prison as they close in and stab, slash. Smash and cut and eat. Chomp and tear with icy blades or icy teeth, surrounding me. Taunting mocking laughing as the fever devours me before the wraith does, burning at my burning wounds.
someone coming. to take me back to take me home to take the book? take it away from me with sword, no, nonono. Gilfre? Tova? Shahvee or mom or is it someone else? a woman. whispering.
This is why you needed me, Jastinia, whispering and whistling inside like wind through the opening door, but don’t worry for I will always be there.
she’s coming. she’s coming for me
when you’re ready, I’ll be there
Frostfall, 5th (?), 4E 201
Gilfre’s House. Mixwater Mill.
Gilfre saved me because I couldn’t save myself. Add it to the list of things I can’t do right. Going iron-to-iron against a real threat. Battling two beings who were already dead. Patching my own wounds, crawling back from the grave on my own without someone nursing me to health. Dying. Hah. Just think about that for a moment; I can’t even die properly.
I woke an hour ago to the sound of fire crackling in a hearth, burning the same twigs and sticks we’d stripped from logs just a few days back. I woke to rain. A downpour on a thatched roof and wooden beams, gentle and percussive to rock me back to my feverish nightmares if it weren’t for the other reason I woke: my arm. The same cut that cat gave me what must’ve been a lifetime ago, newly hot and tender to the touch. I peeled back the green moss Gilfre must’ve packed into it. One more on the list of failures and incapabilities: foraging moss in the middle of a forest. Moss I couldn’t find, moss Gilfre must’ve found in minutes before she applied it to the cuts and gashes across my body. Before tending to me for the last few days in her own bed, after she saved me and brought me to her home to recover.
What a waste of her time. Nurturing me back to some semblance of health so I could wake from the hellscape of my dreams to limp across this room. Her room. Warm double-bed with warm furs on the floor. Books on the shelves and food hanging above her table. Gilfre’s home as a girl when her mother and father would’ve built these walls, rested in this very bed until their daughter inherited it all. The successful daughter of successful parents, lending her roof to the wastrel dockwaif she cradled back in a bloody heap.
I gritted my teeth as I poured the mead into the cut. It hurt, but who cares. Everything hurts. No better or worse than any other pain I’ve experienced since falling to the ghosts. Is that it, Gilfre? Is this what you wanted, Torbjorn? Some “training.” Wait until I’m beaten up so badly that nothing even hurts anymore. Teach me a lesson so I understand I should abandon this life, this child’s dream, before I end up like the spectral soldiers in that forgotten pit. Well Gilfre, consider your lessons learned. I just wish the learning hadn’t been so hard. Hurt as much as it did.
I found my journal on a table along with some fresh clothes and the remnants of my travel belongings. Gilfre must’ve taken the book from me the other day. I’m reading the entries I wrote since the waking naked on the river, ravings and increasingly disconnected musings of a dead girl drifting to the land of ghosts.
I still have my journal but everything else is still lost: greatsword, battelaxe, armor. Even Rislav, the few hundred coins Gilfre paid me for my work so far. Added to a ghostly hoard or maybe just washed away in the river after they dumped me there. Like Gilfre dumped all that’s left of what I had, scuffed leatherware piled on this table with my blood-stained journal. Atop a new shirt and pants she must have dug out of her bureau, another unearned gift for an undeserving student.
I’ll get dressed and find Gilfre. Thank her for all she’s done, even if I squandered her gifts. Say goodbye, pack up my quarters, and return to Windhelm. Where I belong and where I should’ve been this entire time. Work alongside the Argonians, who may still welcome me back even if I’m not the Wargirl they imagined. See if Oengul has a place for a Stormcloak dropout at his forge. Anything but this. Anything but more losses and haunts.
I’ve learned my lesson. The same education every Skyrimer tried to share with me ever since I was a little parentless girl until now. Even before that, even before mom sunk into the sewers, before dad wandered off into nonexistence. And now that’s where I’ll return, to sink into wherever will still have me, to wander to some new dream like common Kynesgrove labor or the common Mixwater miller I’ve become. And maybe that’s fine. Maybe that’s what I’m made for and maybe that’s what I need to accept. Maybe that’s the story I should have been writing all along.
Frostfall, 5th, 4E 201
Worker’s Quarters. Mixwater Mill.
“Just where the fuck do you think you’re going.”
It wasn’t the first thing she said to me after I shuffled out of her house and limped to the mill. That would be “give me a hand with this trunk.” I thought it was a joke until I saw her actually waiting for me to take an end. I could barely lift my arms over my chest to squirm into this shirt without opening up both packed injuries. Now she wants me to get right back to work, up and at ’em, soldier, like nothing even happened? Unbelievable. Or rather, exactly what I should’ve believed she would say.
Just as a courtesy, just because I was too exhausted to get into an argument, I did what I could. Scrabbled at the bark and tried to lift, tried to raise the wood, but Gilfre ended up doing most of it after I almost dropped the timber on both of us. Then I just sat there, gritting my teeth while the searing pain passed left my leg from trying to squat down on that lift. “Normally I can’t get you to shut up,” Gilfre said as she ran the lever on another trunk. “What happened, lady? That bonehead of yours get all messed up with the rest of you?”
Fine. She wants me to talk? I’ll talk. I’ll tell you exactly what I’m thinking if that’s what you really want to hear it. “Did you know what was under that bridge?”
“Can’t say I’m dumb enough to go exploring under bridges, but I’m guessing you know exactly what’s under there.” Couldn’t even look my in the eyes as she said it to see them going red. Hot and red as I thought of all that was hot and red spilling out of me in the depths. Couldn’t even turn around to see me clench my fists and breathe deep. Inhale and hold it, nails digging into my palms as teeth clenched with my jaw.
“I could’ve died down there.”
“Then I guess it’s good I went looking for you after you got lost.” Uh-uh. Don’t you dare. “Don’t recall suggesting you go fight whatever it is you decided to fight.” I wasn’t buying the goatshit she was selling and I was done, done, with her games.
“Why are you doing this?” That was the real question. The question from the beginning all the way up until the ghost blades were dissecting my shaking body.
Piss off. “Your games and tricks. Chopping trees and lifting logs, screwing around with me like I’m some kind of sideshow, like I’m-“
“Get over yourself, lady.” Get over that I almost died? That I’m even less ready than I thought I was and finally reading those signs? “You got beat and that don’t make you special. So get over it, get it together, and get back to work. Unless you’re gonna run away from that too.”
That’s about when I walked off and when she asked me just where the fuck I thought I was going.
I didn’t even stop. Stopped listening, maybe, but not stopped walking. If she couldn’t look at me then why should I bother with her. Why even try to get a response as she spat at me about wasting her time and mine, dragging my half-dead ass back after I was the damn fool playing hero. Wasting her energy and wasting myself, throwing away whatever potential she thought I had when I clearly don’t even have the potential to cut a twig. Harrying and harassing all the way back to the worker’s house where I shut the door and shut out the noise.
Where the fuck do I think I’m going, Gilfre? How about home. Away. Away from this fantasy, away from wasting any more of your time, and away from an early death. Home and away and back where I belong.
It was only after I started packing that I saw the letter on my pillow. Folded paper with a broken red seal, a cracked shield pressed into unsealed wax. I only read it to get the punchline to the joke they’d been playing on me since day one. Uncover Torbjorn’s and Gilfre’s master plan to get me killed or scared me away from this life. To learn the truth.
Heartfire 18, 201
I’d make small talk about my disappointing daughters or your failing mill but then you’d know I’m getting as old as I’m looking. Instead, I’m sending you this letter and the warrior bearing it. She’s a natural, just like your mother. Give her anything with a handle on one end and an edge on the other – she’ll cut down whatever you put in front of her. But she is young and untested, preparing for the Serpentstone Challenge but unready for war. Just like I was unready before I came to Mixwater.
So I write to call another favor of your family: give her a job like your mother once gave me. Teach her as your mother taught us both. Help her as I cannot so she can be the woman you will realize she is. And don’t even think about holding back. She can take it.
P.S. Oengul complained about inferior wood while fletching new arrows yesterday. Quit your slacking!
I read it once again. Twice after that. Through bleary eyes as a tear trickled and I wiped away the rest. I didn’t realize Gilfre walked in behind me. That she was standing close with a hand on my shoulder.
“You want to walk away?” Her voice was low, just louder than my sniffling nose. “Go. Get your shit, get off my property, and don’t you dare let me see you here come morning.” She untucked her gloves from her belt and pulled them back on, turning to leave. One last glance, one last shot over her shoulder as she opened the door and walked back to finish the day’s work. “But if you want to be the woman that Torbjorn and I know you are, cry it out, rest it off, and meet me tomorrow at sunrise.”
I opened my journal after her door latched. After I’d wiped off the streaks on my cheeks, under my red, puffy eyes. Sat on the bed and then lay on it, thinking of the warrior ghosts who stood over me as they tried to kill me and warned me to run, leave, never come back. I planned to write an acceptance of their warning. Another confessional about running away and hiding. But after all I’ve written, all I’ve experienced, I’m not going to bother.
I know what I’m going to do. I’ve given up on myself once, maybe twice a week since I turned 16. Every week before that, and every week since I started this journey. I know I’ll likely give up on myself again in the future, even after today’s lessons. But after reading Torbjorn’s letter and hearing Gilfre’s words, feeling her hand clamp on my shoulder, I also know exactly where I’ll be tomorrow morning. Where, when, and who. Lady. Wargirl. Warrior and soldier and Stormcloak. The woman they think I am and the woman I’ll prove them to be. I’ll cry, I’ll sleep, and then I’ll be up before dawn so I’m ready for whatever Gilfre has planned.
Frostfall, 6th, 4E 201
Central White River. Eastmarch.
Who needs a metal greatsword when you have a large twig? A carved chunk of wood, probably from one of the same trees I’d felled a week ago. Or judging by its worn handle, weathered knots and stained shaft, a tree Gilfre’s parents felled before either of us were alive. Is that the new plan? Smack the wraith to pieces with a stick? Or just poke it from afar until it gets annoyed and wanders off. From greatsword to battleaxe to child’s play-toy. It’s a good thing I prayed this morning. Gave thanks for even being alive, for the second (third? tenth?) chance at a path someone seems to think I might be able to achieve. Because after Gilfre told us the “real work” is about to get started, I feel like I’m going to need all the divine protection Kynareth can spare.
On my first Mixwater morning, I got three warning signs about what our upcoming “work” was going to be. Now at the beginning of my third week, the warning signs got brighter for a new kind of work.
“No trees and dummies?” I’d asked as we walked along the cliffs to the downed trunk spanning the White River.
“You’ll probably wish you had one by the end of today.” YIkes. Warning sign number one.
Number two: she brought her own big stick. “Battlestaff, lady. But if you want a little stick instead, I’m not stopping you.” She was warming up, rotating her shoulders and twisting at her waist. Squatting and lifting her legs to get ready for a training session Torbjorn had already familiarized me with in Windhelm’s sewers.
“Can I at least get some armor?” Before you beat me up like your friend did back in town? I still had my bracers, boots and helmet, but that didn’t mean I was excited to eat a battlestaff blow to the stomack.
She flexed her hands around the staff, spun it high and delivered a few practice strikes to a tree stump. “Right. Because it helped you so much a few days ago.” She wasn’t wrong anymore than I was wrong for taking a deep breath to fight back another tear. But it still hurt.
The lack of protection could’ve been the final warning sign, but it wasn’t. The real stomach drop was when Gilfre strode out onto the treebridge and waited for me in the middle.
I didn’t follow her immediately and she stopped me before I took that first step. “How’d you get so cut up anyway?” I dunno, maybe something about two evil spirits flanking me and slicing me apart. Fighting in the dark on their terrain, fighting while hurt, fighting against experienced enemies who –
Gilfre held up her hand. “Stretch out, get ready, stop talking. We got work to do.” I remember the last time I journaled before a similar sparring session with a similar teacher. So if I’m on track for the same experience today as with Torbjorn in the sewers, at least I’ll have some last words written after Gilfre’s battlestaff finishes the job those ghosts started. Think she’ll let me go back to the sawmill work instead of whatever we’ve got planned today?
Frostfall, 6th, 4E 201
Worker’s Quarters. Eastmarch.
I think I preferred the ghosts to Gilfre. At least they just defeated me only once before leaving me for dead. Not Gilfre. No mercy, no rest. Just endless rounds of staff-on-staff combat so she could pummel all the lessons into me that I had clearly been lacking. “You might be a natural, lady, but you still got a lot to learn,” she said after I’d fallen off the fallen trunk for the tenth time and we’d relocated our sessions to the bluffs on the opposite shore. After she’d given me a black eye and knocked the wind out of me twice, busted a red trail from my nose and lip that trickled onto my shirt. The ground. The same red trail spattered across her weapon. “Quit whining. If you don’t want to bleed, don’t let me hit you.”
Yeah. Definitely preferred the ghosts. Too bad she wouldn’t let me take off the helmet. Then she could just smack me once upside the head and we would’ve had to call it a day. No such luck. At least after all the whacks and wallops she gave me I managed to give her a few right back. Now both of us can wash off our bloody faces and stained clothes in the river together. Oh, what’s that? Don’t like it? Well, shouldn’t have let me hit you either.
As we were both hobbling back to the Mill, Gilfre told me to journal about today’s lessons. Well, technically speaking, she told me “if you’re going to waste hours with that damn book, write something useful for a change,” but I know she meant it in an endearing way. Endearing like the way she rapped the battlestaff on my ankle, forced me to run in place atop the moving water-wheel before I fell and cracked my jaw on the wood. A lot of hurt, a little love, and a few lessons to remember:
- “Stop getting hit.” No shit, but after Gilfre kept hitting me everywhere from shins to fingers to the side of my neck, I started to realize her three-word wisdom was deeper than I’d initially interpreted. It wasn’t just about not getting the crap smacked out of me. It was about moving before the blow even came. Knowing when to sidestep. Dodging instead of blocking. After she’d flattened me twice with a spinning swing through my guard, I realized I hadn’t tried evading any of the ghosts’s attacks. I’d forgotten Scouts’s agility training, my breakthrough with Thief and the tree, the sabercat. Running circles around bears and trying to run them around Torbjorn. I won’t forget them again.
- “Hit them before they hit you.” Another no-shitter, and also another lesson with a hidden wisdom. Gilfre didn’t just want me to strike faster, although hitting someone quicker than they could swing back isn’t bad advice either. This lesson was actually about reach. Distance. Using the length of my weapon to my advantage, keeping the enemy at the end of my weapon where I could hit them and they couldn’t hit me. So, don’t stand toe-to-toe with shieldbearing shades? Noted.
- “Stop flailing around.” Believe it or not, wildly swinging a wooden staff and sprinting around the battlefield makes you tired. Gilfre said I can offset this with better conditioning but I also just need to be more efficient. Deliberate steps, deliberate strikes. Move when you have to, stay controlled otherwise. She asked me if I’d been winded against the ghosts in the first 30 seconds of our fight. I didn’t respond. Partially because she already knew the answer, partially because I was winded at that very moment from maintaining balance on the water wheel.
I’d been too tired to verbalize complaints about today’s training or my bruises, the packed wounds that kept opening up with every exercise, overtaxed muscles that could barely open my own door let alone wield a battlestaff. Gilfre read my mind anyway. “Don’t even think about whining,” she’d said. “If that big, slow dummy Torbjorn could do this, you can too.” I don’t know what got me through the day, but if nothing else, it was the thought of Torbjorn Shatter-Shield lumbering on a water wheel before tripping and falling into the river. Gilfre’s mother would’ve laughed at him just like her daughter laughed at me decades later. “Don’t want to fall off again? Then stop falling.”
If I’m being honest with myself, I’m probably going to keep falling. Tomorrow and the next day, probably many days beyond that. But soon I won’t be falling anymore. Not at Mixwater, not against ghosts in the darkness, and not to ice wraiths or any other foes that await beyond. I’ll be ready. I’ll be the woman Gilfre and Torbjorn believe me to be and I won’t fall again.
All today's commentary was about the video and not the story, so check it out on the blog if you're interested: https://unearthedarcanna.wordpress.com/2021/04/14/jastinia-8-ghosts-10-02-10-06-201/. Thanks to everyone for reading and watching! I hope you enjoyed the entries, and come find me on the usual social media if you have any feedback or want to chat. See you all soon as Jastinia sharpens her skills, gets some unexpected help from Gilfre, and faces the ghosts again for a second round.