The Song of Deirdre – Chap. 62

Epilogue

It was a bright afternoon when we arrived in Dragon Bridge. The morning’s journey to my home town had been a pleasant one, the sun shining down through the pines, bright red snow flowers popping their heads up through the receding banks of white, the songs of warblers and thrushes newly returned from the south enlivening the air. Now the sun warmed our backs as we sat on a dais placed near one end of the town’s famed bridge. Behind us, the mighty Karth River roared, its banks filled with snowmelt from the high peaks of the Reach. I told myself I should be glad on this lovely spring day.

Yet the day’s somber purpose drove all thoughts of gaiety from my mind. I could not help looking down at the town’s woodlot, where Horgeir usually spent his days splitting wood. Now a single short log was placed on blocks at knee height, a double-bladed axe leaning against it, and a large basket of woven rushes placed on one side, ready to receive the axe’s grim produce. Nearby stood the headsman, his features hidden by a black hood. A dozen hold guards were placed throughout the town, and two archers perched on roofs nearby, observing the scene.

Lydia, seated next to me, squeezed my hand. “Are you not happy, my love?” she asked. “This is the day you’ve long awaited, the day your parents’ killers will receive justice.”

Yet somehow I could not be happy. Even after the peaceful taking of Whiterun and Solitude, even after a spring of peace, I was sick to death of death.

Now Bolgeir Bearclaw, Jarl Elisif’s housecarl, rose from his seat. “It is time! Bring down the prisoners!”

It took a few moments for the three men to be marched down from the quarters recently vacated by the Penitus Oculatus. Then the crowd parted, and there they were – Osmer’s father, Oslaf, and two others I recognized from that night long ago. Behind them came their families, crying and pleading. Osmer himself walked among them, out of his guard’s uniform. I saw he was now a man grown, with the same red hair and a thicker beard. His eyes sought mine as he took a spot at the front of the crowd, but I could not read his expression. Despite myself, I began to tremble.

“Be at ease, my love,” Lydia said. “Or do I have to blindfold you again?”

I looked over to see her smiling. The jest was feeble, yet welcome. I took a deep breath and looked up at the clear blue sky. I would be as impassive as that blank, blue canvas. “No, my love,” I said, squeezing her hand in return. “I will be fine. I must see this through.”

Now Bolgeir began announcing the dignitaries gathered for the trial. “Falk Firebeard, Steward to Jarl Elisif.” The crowd applauded politely. “Jarl Elisif of Solitude.” Louder applause now. The people of Haafingar loved their jarl, all the more after her husband’s death – or murder as they would have it. “Lydia of Whiterun.” This time there was only a scattering of applause, probably from the town’s few Stormcloak supporters. “Hail, the Hero of Whiterun!” one fellow cried out, but his voice faded as none joined him.

Now Bolgeir had come to me. “Deirdre, High Queen of Skyrim!” The announcement met with silence from the crowd.

*~*~*

Few reading this will be unaware of my tenure, for a time, as queen of Skyrim. For those who do not know their Tamriel history, this is how it fell out:

A week after the liberation of Solitude, Skyrim’s jarls gathered in Whiterun for the jarl moot. Usually the moot was merely ceremonial, confirming the hereditary Jarl of Solitude as high king. The city had been the seat of power for time out of mind, easily defended on its great arch of rock over the bay, while also located at a central point for shipping and communication with the rest of Tamriel. The city’s close ties with the Empire had helped ensure that Solitude’s jarl was always deemed the most powerful.

But things were different now. Elisif had a good chance of being elected, yet none of the jarls from the Stormcloak territories was likely to support her. Much depended on which way Balgruuf would go, or whether he would choose to put his own name in. It promised to be an interesting and contentious moot.

I would not have attended, save that I wanted to see how the rebuilding of my adopted city was proceeding – and I wanted to ensure that Ulfric’s name was not put forward as high king. For, while I felt he had been sincere in his conversion, I meant to keep my vow that Ulfric would never be king as long as I lived. Once I had the moot’s assurances that Ulfric would not be a contender, I felt free to leave the moot to the jarls, instead helping Arcadia sort through a delivery of alchemy ingredients.

We were knee deep in boxes, pouches, and phials in her cellar – the only part of her shop yet to be restored to something like its normal function – when a messenger burst in. “Deirdre Morningsong,” he said, addressing me formally. “The moot requests your presence. Your name has been put forward.”

“What? But why? Who did this?”

“I know no more, but was told to bring you in all haste.”

The climb up the steps to the remains of the palace seemed even longer than usual as I pondered what this could mean. The work to rebuild Dragonsreach proceeded all around me, with great blocks of stone being hauled up by an ingenious wheel and rope system. I reached the landing and walked through the recently finished doorway, though as yet there was no door. The walls of the palace were but little more than the height of my head, with work only now beginning on the great vaulting buttresses that would support what promised to be a soaring roof.

I found the moot beyond, gathered in chairs arranged in a circle in what had been Balgruuf’s war-chamber. The nine jarls were seated there, with their retainers standing beside them. Lydia was there as well, in her capacity as head of the Whiterun Guard, and Ralof, as commander of the forces that would soon be taking orders from Skyrim’s new ruler. They both beamed at me as I entered the room.

“What has happened?” I asked, looking from one face to another for someone to relieve my confusion. Ulfric was looking at me, his face impassive. Then he turned to Elisif. “This was your idea, you’d best explain to the lass,” he said.

Elisif rose. “The moot has deadlocked. None of us received more than four votes.”

“Deadlocked? But how, with nine jarls voting?”

“The closest ballot was between Balgruuf and myself. Yet someone” – and here she winked at me – “refused to vote, leaving the count four votes to four.”

This made no sense. Five holds were now loyal to the Stormcloaks. Surely they could have chosen one other than Ulfric and put him or her on the throne. I looked over at Ulfric, but he just gave me a wan smile. Perhaps he could no longer control the jarls who had once been loyal to him. Or had he, too, voted to ensure a stalemate?

“Seeing that we could not choose from among our ranks,” Elisif went on, “I put your name forward. I realize it is highly unusual. Most, if not all, of Skyrim’s rulers have come from the ranks of the jarls. Yet these are unusual times. Who better to lead Skyrim than the one who gained its independence, and without bloodshed?”

“Some blood was shed,” I reminded her, “and by my own hand.”

“Still … We wait only to learn whether you will accept the throne before we vote.”

“Queen of Skyrim!” I said, looking around the room. “This was nothing I ever sought.”

Idgrod Ravencrone, jarl of Hjaalmarch hold, snorted at that. “You put up a good show of it, I’ll give you that, but I’m not taken in by your little act.”

Then I had to wonder if she was right. I remembered Paarthurnax saying to me, “You feel it within you, the will to power.” I had continued to deny it even as my power grew and I recognized how dangerous it could be. I had finally tamed that part of myself that sought power, the dragon part – or so I hoped. Now power was being thrust upon me.

I almost laughed then. Working with Arcadia just moments before, I had indulged in the fantasy of a quiet life in Whiterun, Lydia fulfilling her duties as captain of the guard and Balgruuf’s housecarl while we shared a newly rebuilt Breezehome. Perhaps I could purchase a share in Arcadia’s shop, taking it over when she retired from the trade. I could imagine long summer afternoons of collecting ingredients in the forests and on the plains around the city, perhaps hiring someone to watch the shop for me. It seemed idyllic. But now that hope was gone. I was foolish even to have dreamt it.

Ralof spoke up. “The people love you, lass. You saved us all from Alduin, and at least half the people honor you for saving Riften from the Imperials and driving the Thalmor from Whiterun. The rest will come to love you as they learn of your kindness, fairness, and courage.”

Jarl Idgrod stood up. “Speak for yourself, Stormcloak. I will never love the one who drove our only protectors from our shores. But at the same time I am glad that this one” – she glared over in Ulfric’s direction – “will never be king.” She turned to me. “So now it’s on you, lass. You’ve put us on the wrong side of the Thalmor and the Empire, and now it’s up to you to fix it. You cannot shirk that duty.”

“I … do not know what to say. I know nothing of ruling a realm. I … I must speak with my wife first.”

Lydia came over to me and we went apart from the moot. She took both my hands. “You must accept this, my love. It is a great honor, and you deserve it.”

“But your duty is here in Whiterun. And Skyrim has been ruled from Solitude for centuries. Surely I must take my seat there.”

“We will sort that out as it comes. Skyrim needs you. The Aldmeri Dominion surely will not forget about us. There is rebellion in the Reach. Hammerfell may look to redress old wrongs if we appear weak. Even the Empire may seek to regain what it has lost. Who else will lead Skyrim in the face of such threats? Elisif?”

I looked over at the jarl of Solitude. She had done well for her people in a time of crisis, but I doubted Skyrim would unite behind her, and she certainly wasn’t ready to command armies. “What of Balgruuf?”

“No, he is a changed man since the Thalmor tortured him. And he could not earn the votes. You are the only choice.”

“But what of us, Lydia?”

“I would be honored to be the queen’s consort, even if I have to renounce my duty as captain of the Whiterun Guard.”

I could argue no further. We returned to the moot. “I will accept this honor, if I am chosen, though I do not seek it. But first I must ask permission of the jarl whom I still serve. Jarl Balgruuf, what say you?”

He looked at me, the skin around his one good eye crinkling. “It seems only yesterday you came before me, a frightened lass in a ragged tunic. Much has befallen us since then. You have grown great, and Whiterun owes you much. If the moot will not choose me, then I can think of none better to lead Skyrim. I release you from my service.”

And so the vote was held. It went eight to one. Everyone knew Igmund, jarl of Markarth, was the lone dissenter. He could never forgive me for helping Madanach and the Forsworn escape Cidhna Mine, and he must have suspected what my plans for his hold would be, were I to become queen.

And with that it was done. The crown and scepter were brought forward, Lydia placed the crown on my head and Elisif handed me the scepter, and I was queen.

*~*~*

The first attempt on my life came just two weeks into my reign. I had taken up residence in Castle Dour, leaving Lydia behind in Whiterun for the time being. I had no other choice if I was to manage this realm. All of the province’s records were in Solitude, as well as its treasury and the many functionaries who managed Skyrim’s affairs. Chief among these was Falk Firebeard, now steward to Jarl Elisif, but in former times the steward to High King Torygg. If any could advise me on the running of the realm, it was he. I had been glad to find him cooperative, yet his main duty was to Jarl Elisif.

I was just thinking I needed both a steward and a housecarl of my own as I walked down the steep road toward Solitude’s docks,  accompanied by two guards. I was on my way to discuss increased shipments with the merchants of the East Empire Company. As we passed beneath cliffs looming above the road, three assassins jumped out at us. I was able to calm them before anyone died, and it didn’t take long to learn that they were from the Dark Brotherhood, sent by Elenwen herself. I guessed that future attempts would not be so clumsy.

That decided it. I needed a housecarl and perhaps even my own hirth for protection. Even more, I needed a steward to give me counsel as we set the realm to rights. For what I had told the moot was true – I knew nothing of overseeing a realm. At times the task seemed overwhelming. There were trade routes to be renewed, negotiations with the jarls to distribute what food there was to the holds most affected by the war, the distribution of troops to be overseen, repairs to the many crumbling forts to be undertaken.

The Forsworn Rebellion was particularly troublesome. “Look to the Reach, laddie,” Galmar had said to Ralof before departing Solitude, and so far his warning had proved apt. Markarth’s silver mines were Skyrim’s chief source of wealth, but the flow of the precious metal had nearly dried up with the Forsworn attacking every shipment and harassing the miners. I had an idea for solving that impasse, but not without consulting someone whose judgment I trusted.

For one fleeting moment I thought of Esbern and Delphine. The Blades had always served as protectors of the Dragonborn. Delphine was a skilled fighter and could lead my hirth, while few were as wise as Esbern, save for his obsession with the dragons. But there was the sticking point. I could not have them as my protectors and advisors while the issue of Paarthurnax was between us. And their newly flourishing dragonguard was yet one more problem I must face. No dragon save Odahviing had been sighted over Skyrim since my return from Sovngarde. Paarthurnax must have succeeded in his negotiations with the dov, yet it would all go for naught if Delphine and Esbern managed to track down a dragon and kill it. No, I would have to look elsewhere for protection and counsel.

It was a happy problem in one way. Now I had no choice but to call Lydia to Solitude to serve once more as my housecarl. And who better? I could not feel more safe than with her sleeping beside me, axe at the ready. For the time being I would have to rely on Falk’s counsel, though I did not have his undivided attention.

The weeks went by and the bitterness of the winter and its dark events gradually faded as the snows grew less and the sun climbed higher on its daily arc across the sky. Trade was once again brisk, even with Cyrodiil. Nothing short of war could keep the merchants from earning their gold. With the increased trade, Skyrim’s larders began to fill. We even garnered aid from an unlikely source: Hammerfell. Relations between the two provinces had been strained ever since Skyrim annexed a portion of Hammerfell’s territories in ages long past. Yet the Redguards were happy that another Imperial province had gained its independence, and saw the wisdom of the two working together. As well, Hammerfell’s ruling houses had not forgotten the aid I had given in capturing Saadia, the Thalmor spy. Soon, wagons filled with exotic foods and other supplies began making the trek over the pass between Elinhir and Falkreath.

The training of Skyrim’s army and strengthening of its defenses also proceeded apace. Ralof had moved the army’s headquarters from Solitude to Whiterun, garrisoning the mass of his army in tents outside the city while Dragonsreach was rebuilt with enlarged barracks. He claimed that Solitude, while easily defended, was too remote from the rest of Skyrim to oversee the realm’s defenses. Supplying a large force in Whiterun would be more difficult, but communications would be easier.

And so, as the first green shoots forced their way up through the melting snow, I turned my attention to troubles long past. It was not without trepidation that I, the High Queen of Skyrim, took the long walk from Castle Dour to the Blue Palace to plead with Jarl Elisif for justice for my parents.

When I finished telling my story, I could see that this was news to Elisif and her steward and housecarl. “You must forgive me, as well as my court,” Elisif said, wiping away a tear. “This happened before my husband became high king. His father, King Istlod, must have been too distracted with ruling all Skyrim to concern himself with these tragedies in his own hold. But my parents raised me to believe that Nords are a just and fair people. Whether or not that has always been true, I would make it so now, in this hold at least. Bolgeir, go to Dragon Bridge, investigate these events, and bring these killers to justice.”

It took only two weeks for the truth to come out, and now here we were on the day of the trial.

The silence that followed my introduction was broken by someone shouting from the back of the crowd, “What kind of justice is this? The plaintiff can’t sit in judgment of the accused!” Shouts of agreement rang out all around.

Jarl Elisif rose and lifted her hand for quiet. “It is the jarl’s duty to dispense justice in the hold. Due to the severity and sensitivity of these crimes, my steward and housecarl will join me in this duty…”

“You mean due to your youth and inexperience!” someone shouted out.

“As I was saying,” Elisif went on, “the high queen is here merely as an observer.”

“We know you’re all on her side!” someone else called. “There’ll be no justice in Dragon Bridge this day!”

Finally I stood before the crowd. I raised my hands for quiet, but the grumbling and cat-calling continued. “Peace!” I called out. It wasn’t a shout, but my voice carried far, and I finally had the crowd’s attention.

“People of Dragon Bridge, we must have peace within our borders if we are to meet the forces that threaten us from without. We must stand together or together we will fall under a worse tyranny than the Empire ever dreamt of.”

“And whose fault is that? We were happy to have the Empire’s protection!”

“What’s done is done,” I replied. “But I promise you, under my rule all will be treated equally and fairly, whether Nord, Breton, Redguard, Altmer, Dunmer, Bosmer, Orsimer, Khajiit, or Argonian. All will be protected under the law, and all law-breakers punished equally. Let this trial be your proof.”

A few people clapped, then more, but only on one side. Then I realized that the crowd was divided between Nords and a smaller number of Bretons and Redguards, huddled to one side of the street. Their applause died away and all was quiet.

“Bring forth the witnesses!” Bolgeir called out.

Many were willing to testify, Nords all. Those who had merely watched the crime were promised immunity from prosecution in exchange for their testimony. They all agreed on what had happened. Oslaf had held the torch while his two friends splashed oil on the timbers and thatch of our house. Then Oslaf had set the fire. When the house was well ablaze, the three culprits and several others had returned to searching for me, while much of the crowd stayed to watch the fire.

As each witness repeated the same terrible tale, I closed my eyes and breathed deeply, trying in vain not to see those awful images in my mind’s eye. Lydia kept her hand on my shoulder.

When it was over, even the culprits confessed to the crime. “You have to understand,” Oslaf said, looking directly at me, “we didn’t know it was a shout you used. If you’d a told us, we might’ve understood. But as it was, we thought it was some Breton witchcraft.”

It was all I could do not to stand up and scream at him that I had been a mere lass, that even I hadn’t known what power was in me. Yet I managed to remain silent.

He turned back to Elisif. “Let the other two go. I was the one who threw the torch. Let your justice fall on my head.”

“Wait!” came a voice from the crowd, and Osmer stepped forward. “If I had only been braver on that day,” he said, “I never would have cried out, I never would have blamed Deirdre. And if I hadn’t pressed myself on her, she never would have shouted at me to begin with. Please have mercy on my father. He was only afraid for me.”

“We will consider your words as we deliberate,” said Bolgeir. “But remember, someone must pay for the crimes that took place that day.”

With that, Elisif withdrew with her court to one side to consider the case. It did not take long. In a few moments Elisif returned to stand before the accused and the crowd. “The facts of the case are plain. Cold-blooded murder was committed here that day, and those who committed it are confessed of their crimes. As fuel is just as necessary to start a fire as a torch, we find all three guilty, and subject to the same punishment – death. As they have had three years of undeserved life and liberty, the sentence will be carried out this minute.”

A gasp went up from the Nords in the crowd, while the Bretons and Redguards looked on, obviously pleased, but too timid to applaud or cheer. The town guards laid hands on the prisoners and began marching them over toward the executioner’s block. The day I had long awaited had finally arrived. My parents would receive their justice and I would have my revenge. I finally had what I sought when I returned to Skyrim.

I looked over at the headsman, who was testing the edge of his blade. I wondered if he was smiling beneath his headsman’s hood.

Then I stood up and stepped to the edge of the dais. “Stop!” I shouted. The crowd went silent and the guards relaxed their grip on the prisoners as all eyes turned to me.

“Long have I awaited this day, when justice would be served on the murderers of my parents – whether by a worthy jarl or my own hand, I cared not. Nor did I care whether it fell just on these three, or on every Nord in this village, for I watched as you all cheered while our house burned, knowing my parents were inside. I found you all equally guilty of that crime.” Another gasp went through the crowd.

“In your ignorance and your fear, you took my parents from me and you might have slain me as well, though I was just a child. You feared my Voice because you did not understand it – nor did I understand it. And it was that very Voice that saved all of you from Alduin and his dragons. It was that same Voice that defeated Ulfric and kept him from persecuting those among you who were loyal to the Empire. But I do not ask your thanks. For perhaps you were right to fear me. Even now some part of me urges that I take my revenge – and all gathered here know it is within my power!”

“Deirdre, no!” both Elisif and Lydia shouted, leaping up on either side of me. The crowd began to edge backward and some at the back turned and fled.

“But do not be afraid!” I said, raising my hands for calm. “I have quelled that part of me. I have learned that death solves little, and mercy is greater than hatred. For I too am stained with the blood of those I feared, having slain them needlessly. And so, I commute the sentences reached here today, from death to life in prison. And further, I say to the convicted, if you will help to teach your fellow Nords the error of your ways, help them not to fear and hate the other races of Tamriel but to treat them with kindness and respect, you may shorten your sentences and one day return to your families. For I must believe that all but the worst crimes may be redeemed by right actions.” And how could I not, as I hoped for redemption for the wrongs I had committed?

A ripple went through the crowd, different this time. “Long live High Queen Deirdre!” came a shout, and soon it was taken up, the entire crowd clapping and cheering. Even the Bretons joined in, sensing that perhaps better days were ahead.

I raised my hands for quiet once more. “But wait, there is more! Today I announce plans for a new school here in Dragon Bridge. I name it the Onmund the Bold School for the Arcane Arts, in honor of my friend, a Nord mage and a fallen hero of the Retreat from Whiterun.” The crowd was quieter now, with much whispering and muttering. “And now I will introduce the school’s first headmaster.” I gestured down to the edge of the crowd and a hooded figure in College of Winterhold robes came up to stand beside me on the dais. He drew back his hood and waved to the crowd, whose muttering only grew louder.

“I give you Tolfdir, recently of the College of Winterhold. As you can see, he is a Nord like yourselves. Under his leadership, this school will dispel the fear and suspicion with which the magical arts are currently treated. Tolfdir, please show the citizens what magic can do.”

The old wizard sent a ball of magelight out over the crowd’s heads. Many cringed as the ball of light came toward them, then oohed and aahed as it hovered above them.

“Imagine the streets of Dragon Bridge lit at night by magical light,” I said. “Imagine no longer having to fear wild predators on the roads and in the far-flung fields, because magic has kept them away. These are just some of the benefits the arcane arts can bring. But most important, when any of your children show magical powers, you will no longer have to respond with fear, ostracism, and hatred, as you did to me on that day long ago. You can send them to a school where they will learn to control their powers for the good of all. Thus will you learn not to fear magic but view it as a natural element to be harnessed, just as you harness the power of wind and water.”

The Nords in the crowd didn’t quite know what to make of this, but applauded politely out of respect to Tolfdir, one of their own kind. The Bretons applauded and cheered with greater enthusiasm.

With that, the trial was over and the prisoners were led back to their cells, their families following behind while the people scattered back to their homes and labors. I approached Elisif and her counselors. “I hope I didn’t overstep my bounds, Jarl Elisif.”

“No, no, my queen,” she said. “It is a ruler’s prerogative to grant pardons.”

“It was well done,” said Falk Firebeard. “You’ve gained many an admirer in Dragon Bridge today.”

Lydia gave me a hug. “I know that was hard for you, my love, but it’s over now.”

“The truth is, I feel lighter than I have in years,” I said. “I never realized what a burden all that hatred and anger could be. I feel as if I’m the one who has been set free.”

“I’m glad, my queen,” Lydia said, pushing back a lock of my hair that had escaped from under my crown.

“And also,” I said, “I certainly could use a mug of mead.”

There was laughter all around, and we headed toward the Four Shields Tavern.

But before we could arrive there, Osmer appeared before us and we halted.

“Deirdre, I mean your Grace…,” he said, bending his head and barely looking at me.

“Kneel before your queen, lad,” said Falk Firebeard, and Osmer dropped like a stone to one knee.

I was still getting used to all this kneeling. In the beginning, I would have none of it, but Falk said I must preserve the dignity of my station, despite my personal feelings.

“That will do, Osmer,” I said. “Now rise, and say what you have to say.”

Back on his feet, he still looked mostly at the ground as he spoke. “I just wanted to say thank you for sparing my father. I know you won’t regret your clemency.”

“You’re welcome,” I replied.

“And, I also wanted to say…” He looked from Lydia to me. “I am glad for all you’ve achieved, and I hope you will be happy in your life.”

“Thank you again,” I said. Still he stood there, looking at the ground. “And? Was there anything else?”

Now he looked me in the eye, though it was an effort. “Just that … On that day … I got carried away, I didn’t know what I was doing. When I realized later, how that must have felt to you, I felt only shame. But you have to believe me, I would never have hurt you.” He cast his eyes back at the ground once more.

So now we came to it. I thought of all the things that could have changed the outcome of that terrible day.

“Osmer, you have always been big and strong, since we were children,” I said. “You had never felt the helplessness I felt in that moment, even if you didn’t mean to make me feel that way. But since then I have learned something of the ways of lust, and I can see how one might get carried away by it. And I am sorry for the way I reacted. I lashed out at you in my helplessness. Then you must have felt as helpless as I, and you lashed out at me by naming me a witch. That was the hardest thing for me to forgive.”

“I know it,” he said, “and I’ve regretted those words every day since.”

“So let us count it as a youthful misunderstanding. Neither of us has anything to be ashamed of. It was the adults who should have shown us more understanding on that day.”

He went to one knee again. “I thank you, my queen. And you have my loyalty forever. I will do all that I can to help my father right this wrong.”

With that, he went to see his father into his prison cell, and we continued to the tavern. It had been long since Faida the inn-keeper had welcomed a jarl and her court, let alone a queen. Tables were vacated and pushed together for us, and the cellar’s finest casks were tapped. We were halfway through our drinks when a singer from the Bard’s College broke into “The Age of Liberation,” a new version of “The Age of Aggression,” the fighting song that had once been sung in these holds loyal to the Empire. It went:

We drink to our youth
to the days come and gone,
for the age of oppression
is over and done.
We drove out the Thalmor
from this land that we own,
with your voice and our steel
we did take back our home.
All hail to Deirdre,
you are the High Queen!
In your great honor
we drink and we sing.
We’re the children of Skyrim
and we fight all our lives,
and when Sovngarde beckons
every one of us dies.
But this land is ours
and we’ve seen it wiped clean
of the scourge that had sullied
our hopes and our dreams.
Now for the Empire,
no rest till we’ve won,
with a Dragonborn queen,
and all Tamriel one.
To the wrongs of our past
Deirdre opened our eyes,
with respect for all people,
we must lead better lives.
We drink to the future,
to the days yet to come,
for the age of oppression
is over and done.

When the bard was through someone shouted out, “To Queen Deirdre!” and everyone in the inn drained their cups. For once, I was glad to receive this praise, and drank along with them.

*~*~*

On the road back to Solitude later that evening, Lydia and I fell behind the others as we rode under a starry sky.

“Is everything well, my queen?” Lydia asked.

“How many times do I have to tell you, you needn’t treat me with such formality. Call me ‘my love’ or ‘my Deirdre’.”

“But my love, you will always be queen of my heart. I will call you ‘my queen’ whether you are high queen of Skyrim or no.” I could not argue with that. “But tell me, what is making you sad? Only this afternoon you seemed so happy. You got what you have long wanted.”

“No, nothing is wrong,” I lied. “I was just looking at the stars.”

She rode over next to me and caressed my cheek, finding it wet. “It must be difficult to see the stars through eyes filled with tears.”

“Oh, Lydia,” I cried, “I am a fool! I am no wiser than Huldi, a seven-year-old! I tricked myself into believing that gaining justice for my parents would somehow bring them back to life. And now it’s done, and I realize that nothing will bring them back. I am truly alone in this world.”

Then I realized what I had said. I reached across and put a hand on her shoulder. “Oh, my love, I didn’t mean that. Not alone, never alone with you at my side, and in my heart. But motherless, fatherless. I will never again have parents to love me as only a parent can, to guide me when I am uncertain, to reassure me when I doubt myself. It’s a special kind of aloneness, one from which I will never recover.”

“I knew what you meant, my love,” she said, placing her hand over mine. She wore no gloves and her hand was warm. “I too have lost a parent.”

We were silent for a time.

“I wish I could have known them,” Lydia said.

“Nothing would have made me happier,” I replied. “I know they would have loved you.” She smiled then, and seemed content, and I resolved to be content as well.

I looked up again at the countless thousands upon thousands of stars in the sky, each a glimpse of Aetherius beyond the plane of Oblivion. I couldn’t help wondering which of those twinkling lights was my mother and which my father. I hoped they were at peace.

We rode on in silence then, the stars so thick overhead they looked like a streak of fresh-fallen snow.

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Comments

  1. I am on chapter 9 or something right now. So far, very compelling!

  2. larryhogue says:

    Thanks, Derek! Let me ask you, are you familiar with Skyrim, the game? So far I only have feedback from one reader who’s not a Skyrim player (as far as I know).

  3. I am not familiar with Skyrim at all, only have heard of it. I did read the Dragonlance books when younger and read them to my daughter. I also played basic and AD&D when younger.

  4. larryhogue says:

    Great! Looking forward to hearing your comments.

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