Elder Scrolls
Elder Scrolls

A Cornered Rat is a quest in which the Dragonborn searches the city of Riften for an old friend of Delphine and the only other known member of the Blades in Skyrim named Esbern.


"The Thalmor are just as puzzled as we are about why dragons are returning. I learned that they are looking for a Blade named Esbern, who Delphine says is an expert on ancient dragon lore. We need to find him before the Thalmor do."


  1. Talk to Brynjolf
  2. Search the Ratway for Esbern's hideout
  3. Find Esbern in the Ratway Warrens
  4. Talk to Esbern


Locating Esbern[]

"Haven't you figured it out yet? What more needs to happen before you all wake up and see what's going on? Alduin has returned just like the prophecy said. The dragon from the dawn of time who devours the souls of the dead."

Esbern is located in The Ratway Warrens behind a barred door with a viewing slot. Access the Ratway Warrens by traveling through several areas, including the Ratway, The Ragged Flagon, and The Ratway Vaults. The Ratway's main entrance is located on the south end and lower level of Riften.

Brynjolf, if not spoken to already, will be located in town during the day and at The Bee and Barb at night. Talking to Brynjolf at the Bee and Barb will trigger conversation leading to the Thieves Guild quest line. If the Dragonborn has already become a member of the Thieves Guild, they can talk to Brynjolf or Vekel the Man inside The Ragged Flagon - Cistern to advance to the next part of the quest.

Alternatively, talking to Keerava, the barmaid of the Bee and Barb, can give the Dragonborn the information without putting the question to Brynjolf, although this will bypass the introduction to the Thieves Guild. Once inside the Ragged Flagon, talk to Vekel about Esbern. He will not give information about Esbern unless the Dragonborn has a high Persuasion, 140 Gold, or beats him in a brawl. Then, he will give Esbern's location and warn of Thalmor looking for him as well.

After meeting with Brynjolf and mentioning Esbern, he will give information that Esbern is in the Ratways, and the quest marker will update accordingly. There have been problems reported with quest advancement if the quest "A Chance Arrangement" has also been picked up. "A Cornered Rat" can progress after completing "A Chance Arrangement" or after being caught. Brynjolf then will ask the Dragonborn if they want to join the Thieves Guild (if this hasn't been done already), and a new quest will start. The slot on Esbern's door will be closed, and conversation with Esbern is not possible if the quest has not advanced properly.

Brynjolf Dialogue[]

Option Dialogue Result
Let me find him first. Dragons are bad for business. (Persuade) Passed: Aye, you've got a point there.

Failed: Passing on a golden opportunity is worse.

Passed: Locate Esbern

Failed: Nothing

Vekel the Man Dialogue[]

Option Dialogue Result
I need to talk to him. I'm a friend. His life is in danger. (Persuade) Passed: Maybe I'm just getting soft in my old age, but I actually believe you.

Failed: That's a touching story. Now get outta my face.

Passed: Locate Esbern

Failed: Nothing

Maybe this will help you memory. (Bribe) Passed: Well... when you put it that way, I think I do know the old guy you're talking about.

Failed: Big talk for someone with a light purse.

Passed: Locate Esbern

Failed: Nothing

Dirge Dialogue[]

Option Dialogue Result
I need to talk to him. I'm a friend. His life is in danger. (Persuade) Passed: A friend, huh? Well... then it's probably okay if I tell you.

Failed: I guess you don't hear too well. I never heard of this "friend" of yours.

Passed: Locate Esbern

Failed: Nothing

Maybe this will help your memory. (Bribe) Passed: You know what? I think I do know the guy you're talking about.

Failed: Maybe it would. If you had it.

Passed: Locate Esbern

Failed: Nothing

I can break some of your bones if that's what it's going to take... (Brawl) Passed: Easy there. I don't want any trouble. Guy ain't worth it.

Brawl: Yeah. That's what it's going to take.

  • Victory: You're tougher than you look. You got me, fair and square.
    • Now where's Esbern: He lives somewhere in the Ratway Warrens. Must be crazy or desperate to live down there. Maybe both.
  • Failed: Nothing
Passed: Locate Esbern

Failed: Brawl


Some events in the Ratway may unfold differently depending on certain events during "Diplomatic Immunity."

If this is the first time inside the Ratway, there will be a few enemies to fight through to get to the headquarters of the Thieves Guild. If already a member of the Thieves Guild, the Dragonborn may enter through the secret entrance in the Riften graveyard.

If the Dragonborn did not kill a man named Gissur during "Diplomatic Immunity," it is possible to be attacked by him outside the entrance to the Ragged Flagon. Inside, after the attack, Gissur may be identified by Guild members and killed. The Dragonborn can take Gissur's Note from his body. The note may also be found in the Ratway without the body. If Gissur was killed at the Thalmor Embassy, he will not appear during this quest. Alternatively, the Dragonborn may encounter a female Khajiit assassin named Shavari. Shavari's Note can be looted from her corpse.

From the Ragged Flagon, head through the Ratway Tunnels to get to the Ratway Warrens. It may be necessary to fight several Thalmor while navigating through the tunnels before locating the entrance.

Once in the Warrens, locate a locked door with a viewing slot at the top of a set of steps and activate the door to engage Esbern in conversation. The Dragonborn will then be able to tell Esbern about Delphine and warn him of the Thalmor searching for him. After being convinced, there is an unusually long delay as he gathers his thoughts and unlocks what seems like an absurd number of door locks and bars.

Once inside, the conversation will continue as he gathers his belongings. He will be able to provide some additional background information about the Blades, and the Dragonborn will bring him up to date on current events. Once the conversation with Esbern has ended, this quest will be completed and "Alduin's Wall" will begin.


A Cornered Rat – MQ202
ID Journal Entry
10 The Thalmor are just as puzzled as we are about why dragons are returning. I learned that they are looking for a Blade named Esbern, who Delphine says is an expert on ancient dragon lore. We need to find him before the Thalmor do.
  • Objective 10: Talk to Brynjolf
  • Objective 20: Search the Ratway for Esbern's hideout
50 The Thalmor are just as puzzled as we are about why dragons are returning. I learned that they are looking for a Blade named Esbern, who is supposed to be an expert on ancient dragon lore. I've learned that he's hiding out in the Ratway Warrens in Riften.
  • Objective 30: Find Esbern in the Ratway Warrens
150 The Thalmor are just as puzzled as we are about why dragons are returning. I learned that they are looking for a Blade named Esbern, who is supposed to be an expert on ancient dragon lore. I found Esbern hiding in the Ratway in Riften, and convinced him to let me in to explain myself.
  • Objective 40: Talk to Esbern
180 The Thalmor are just as puzzled as we are about why dragons are returning. I learned that they are looking for a Blade named Esbern, who is supposed to be an expert on ancient dragon lore. I found Esbern hiding in the Ratway in Riften, and convinced him to let me in to explain myself.
  • Quest complete


  • Any current followers the Dragonborn has will not return to their original location when Esbern starts following the Dragonborn, making him a second follower.
  • Gissur may be seated at a table in the Ragged Flagon when the Dragonborn learns Esbern's whereabouts from Vekel the Man. After the Dragonborn ends the conversation with Vekel, Gissur will get up from the table and leave the Ragged Flagon. Vekel will suddenly say "That one, right there, walking out the door! He was one of them asking about that old man you were looking for." Gissur will not enter into conversation if the Dragonborn attempts to talk with him. If Gissur is attacked, no crime will have been committed and Thieves Guild members will assist in attacking him.
  • If A Chance Arrangement has been started, Brynjolf cannot be talked to. The quest can still be continued by going directly to Esbern's location.
  • It is possible to proceed directly to Esbern without talking to Delphine first if the Dragonborn tells him that they are the Dragonborn.
  • Once Esbern has been located, a group of Thalmor appear at the entrance of the Ragged Flagon. Leaving the Ragged Flagon from the front door will trigger the Thalmor to talk about the Dragonborn's actions. If the Dragonborn immediately returns to the Ragged Flagon, the Thalmor group will enter, ask about the Dragonborn's location, and leave.
  • If the Dragonborn is Guild Master of the Thieves Guild, no check has to be passed to get information from either Dirge or Vekel.confirmation needed


This section contains bugs related to A Cornered Rat. Before adding a bug to this list, consider the following:

  1. Please reload an old save to confirm if the bug is still happening.
  2. If the bug is still occurring, please post the bug report with the appropriate system template  360  /  XB1  ,  PS3  /  PS4  ,  PC  /  MAC  ,  NX  /  PS5  ,  XS  , depending on which platform(s) the bug has been encountered on.
  3. Be descriptive when listing the bug and fixes, but avoid having conversations in the description and/or using first-person anecdotes: such discussions belong on the appropriate forum board.
Click to show
  • The conversations with Esbern may fail to continue or complete, with Esbern freezing.
  • Esbern will search his treasure, desk, and lab area of his room - if his conversation cannot be heard there is no way to know that he's actually talking while he does this - it may seem like he is frozen. The same is true after bringing him back to Delphine; he will be talking to her but the conversation cannot be heard.

In some cases bugs can be avoided altogether by using console command setstage mq203 1, which forces Esbern to skip all dialogue, open the door, and follow the Dragonborn to Riverwood.

Esbern's door[]

  • In the first conversation, Esbern is voiceless and after the conversation he fails to open the door. It may take several minutes before the door opens as scripted.
  •  PC   To open the door leave the Ratway and return.
  •  PC   If waiting doesn't work try using the TCL command to walk through the door. Shut down the TCL, talk to him, then when he starts using the chest, kill him. Then talk to him again and tell him to lead the way.
    •  PC   Instead of using TCL, you can disable and re-enable the door.
    •  PC   This can be sometimes fixed by backing up and then deleting "Skyrim.ini" and "SkyrimPrefs.ini" from "C:\Users\[USERNAME]\Documents\My Games\Skyrim." All preferences are now default. If everything works it is recommended to set up preferences again rather than overwrite new files with backup.
    •  PC   If the door does not open, face it then type setstage MQ202 160, force Esbern out of the door and close it. He will then open the door to get back in, he then will continue on with the quest though he may speak too fast to understand.

Esbern's voice[]

  • Go to:
C:\User\user\Documents\My Games
‒ Open Skyrim.ini and add at the end of the code:
sResourceArchiveList2=Skyrim - Voices.bsa, Skyrim - VoicesExtra.bsa
‒ Save and close.
  • It is possible to correct speech issues with Esbern by installing a 3rd party speech mod.
  • There is another fix to this problem: using a game manager (like the Fallout Mod Manager). Extract the "voices extra" file in the "data" folder of the game's program files into the same folder (doing so places a folder named "sound" in it) and it will be fixed completely.
  •  360   Esbern may keep saying "come in" constantly.

Esbern frozen or stuck[]

Each time he seems to be frozen, try one of several reported fixes:

  • Make sure everything has been killed in the Ratway beforehand; otherwise, Esbern instantly summons a Frost Atronach in combat which will get him stuck occasionally.
  • If he gets stuck just start a dialogue with him, keep doing it if it continues.
  • If Paralyze is cast on him he will not turn hostile, and upon regaining his muscle control, he will skip to his next task speeding everything up.
  • If he ever gets stuck, kill him. If killing doesn't work try failing to pickpocket/place an item.
  • Try to push him by using sprint or Unrelenting Force, to make him walk again if he stops.
  •  PC   It is possible to first make Esbern follow by opening the console, clicking on Esbern, typing disable, then typing enable. He will then proceed to his next "task." This may have to be done multiple times before he will follow properly.

Quest issues[]

  •  PC   Sometimes this quest will fail to start at all and never even show up in the quest log after completing "Diplomatic Immunity," in which case it will skip ahead to the next quest, "Alduin's Wall." In the console, type setstage mq203 5.
  • After speaking to Delphine about Esbern, she will direct the Dragonborn to Brynjolf, but there will be no mission start and it will not be possible to ask the bartender in the Ragged Flagon or the Bee and Barb about Esbern. This may be a result of having "Darkness Returns" active at the time.
  • Esbern may say "go away" anytime his door is activated if the quest hasn't been advanced enough or it is not currently active.
  •  PS3   If the Dragonborn goes straight to the Ragged Flagon after escaping the embassy, then the quest "Diplomatic Immunity" may end without Delphine telling them to mention "the 30th of Frostfall." If this occurs, Esbern will refuse to acknowledge the Dragonborn and the quest will become stuck.


  • If a follower gets into a fight with him, switch the scene and come back, Esbern will appear as normal again.
  • Sometimes Esbern may conjure/summon a friendly Storm Atronach. If the Atronach gets caught in one of the Dragonborn's Shouts or is accidentally hit by the Dragonborn, it will turn hostile and attack friendlies.
  •  PC   Very rarely during this quest, when exiting the Ratway, the player will get stuck half below the passage outside. The visuals are as if the player is no-clipping, as you can see the bottom of the city, and you cannot walk out; you are stuck. The easiest way to stop this is to load to a previous save and try again.