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Fiction Song of Deirdre

What’s Next for Deirdre

Deirdre in SovngardeSo there it is, 62 chapters, 350,000 words, or roughly 750 printed pages. (If you haven’t begun The Song of Deirdre yet, you can start here.)

When I began this project two years ago, I had several questions (spoiler warning!):

  • Could I get fictional characters moving about and speaking in a convincing manner?
  • Could I make the world of a video game come to life on the page?
  • Could I make it equally entertaining both for those who had played Skyrim and for those had never played video games at all?
  • Could I write a convincing female character (whatever the hell that means)?
  • Could I avoid making her what Anita Sarkeesian calls a “Ms. Male Character” (essentially a male character with a few superficial feminine markers)?
  • Could I write the whole thing as a first-person memoir and sustain reader interest?
  • Could I wrestle the random quest lines of Skyrim into a coherent plot with enough narrative tension to keep readers clicking “next chapter”?
  • Could I manage four main narrative arcs and a couple of smaller ones?
  • Could I rise above the inherent heterosexism of a straight man writing a lesbian character if I focused hard enough on developing her relationship and did so in what I think of as a feminist and LGBTQ+ -friendly way?
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Fiction Song of Deirdre

The Song of Deirdre – Chap. 49

 

The Great Porch

 

That same afternoon, Lydia and I stood on the Great Porch of Dragonsreach with Balgruuf and Irileth.

“Are you sure you know how to trap a dragon?” Balgruuf asked again.

I wanted to tell him that I hadn’t been sure of anything I had done since that day at Helgen, that instinct and blind luck had carried me through. But I didn’t think that would comfort a jarl who was about to give his palace over to dragon-trapping.

“Lydia and I will have no trouble managing one dragon. You and your soldiers should stay well back. We don’t need to send additional souls to Alduin.”

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Fiction Song of Deirdre

The Song of Deirdre – Chap. 48

 

Peace Council

 

“Ha!” Jarl Balgruuf laughed. “You must be as mad as King Olaf!”

“You believe One-Eye was mad?” It was a strange statement for the jarl to make, considering his throne sat under the skull of Numinex, the dragon Olaf had defeated and imprisoned in Dragonsreach. The palace’s Great Porch had been built just to hold him.

“Trapping a dragon in a palace built of timber? What else could he be? He had the Great Porch built mostly of stone, but still. Too, there was that time he imprisoned a bard just for writing a verse critical of his reign.”

“Yet trapping a dragon here is the only hope I have of learning where Alduin has gone.”

He looked at my companion. “And what say you, Master Arngeir?” He tipped his head slightly as he said it.

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Fiction Song of Deirdre

The Song of Deirdre – Chap. 47

 

Tiid-Ahraan

 

I whooped with elation as we stepped onto the familiar path above the Seven Thousand Steps, with High Hrothgar not far away. The sun was just setting far to the west, turning the rocks and snow about us a deep red. I turned to look back at what we had just climbed. “See, Lydia,” I said. “We made it, and shortened the trip by two days.”

“Shortened my life by two days, don’t you mean?” she said, pausing to catch her breath.

We had just accomplished what none had done before: climbing straight up the western face of the Throat of the World to High Hrothgar. Lydia had called it a mad idea, but after an extra day in Whiterun, I had insisted on making for Paarthurnax’s retreat by the straightest route possible.

It had been two days since we emerged from Blackreach. We had awoken that next morning to find ourselves on a high ridge, not far north of Whiterun, amazed at how far we had come in such a short time.

“Blackreach must create some sort of warp in the fabric of existence,” Brelyna said. “I think we all felt it in there, the way we would seem to walk forever toward a landmark, and then suddenly it was right on top of us.”

I proposed that we split up then, my three friends returning to the college, where J’zargo could have his eyes looked after. Brelyna looked disappointed. “You are right, I suppose. Someone will need to help this invalid back to Winterhold.” She was bathing J’zargo’s eyes with a damp cloth in the light of the sun that had just risen over the Velothi Mountains.

“But what about your horses?” Onmund asked hopefully. “I could fetch them for you from the Winterhold stable, then meet you somewhere along your road.”

“My friend, there’s no need,” I said. “We will purchase new mounts out of our share of the treasure. Or perhaps Jarl Balgruuf will want to aid us when he knows that we have a weapon with which to defeat Alduin.”

His face fell, but he did not disagree.

“Are we friends again?” I asked.

He looked at me and nodded. “Last night, seeing you near death, I realized I would rather have you in this world and my friend than … not.”

Then Lydia and I watched as our three friends disappeared down a path heading north, J’zargo leaning on Brelyna’s shoulder.

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Fiction Song of Deirdre

The Song of Deirdre – Chap. 46

 

Blackreach

 

The Falmer ambush was a close thing. But for a lucky hit on our part or a poorly aimed arrow on the Falmer’s, there might have been none to remember our expedition, and none to save the world from Alduin. But as it was, I rushed into the room at the foot of the stairs, an arrow narrowly missing my head, and shouted “Faas-Ru-Maar!” at half a dozen approaching Falmer. Four ran off, cowering, around a bend in the hallway, while two resisted the shout: a hardy warrior and a powerful crone with her silver hair bound up in knots like horns. But that was enough – I cast my atronach and left it for Lydia and the fire demon to deal with these two.

Back up the stairs, I found that a group of five Falmer had divided my college friends, yet one Falmer warrior lay dead at the top of the steps. I cast a spell of rout into the remaining four, sending three of them running past Brelyna and J’zargo. One of them fell to the Khajiit’s claws as he ran past, then we quickly dealt with the powerful gloomlurker who had resisted my spell.

In the end, we managed to capture four of the weaker Falmer, while we were forced to slay six. The last, the crone, turned and ran when she saw the four of us coming to Lydia’s aid, retreating into a circular room and pulling a lever in its center. The floor rose beneath her feet, a great shaft of Dwemer metal lifting the platform up to levels of the ruin somewhere above.

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Fiction Song of Deirdre

The Song of Deirdre – Chap. 45

 

Alftand

 

Alftand was a wonder, an amazement, a miracle. Impossibly vast, filled with a beauty and craftsmanship we in this Fourth Era can only dream about, still alive with the mechanical creatures the Dwarves left behind. And everywhere, the clanking, spinning, and hissing of their machines, whose purposes remain a mystery. The Dwemer, known as a hard-headed, scientific people, would have scoffed at such descriptions, yet we cannot help but look upon them as gods, or next-to-gods, for they created new life – or something like life.

We had no trouble getting into the ruin, thanks to those who had come before. We found the Alftand Expedition camp abandoned at the edge of a yawning glacial crevasse. A small Dwemer tower stood nearby, inaccessible, like many similar structures that had tantalized and frustrated adventurers in Skyrim for centuries. Other turrets and towers poked out of the crevasse at odd angles, having been swallowed by the glacier long ago, revealed more recently by the splitting of the ice. A wooden catwalk, built by the recent explorers, led precipitously down the ice face into a vertical fissure within the crevasse. It was an easy thing for us to walk down it, and then into the ice itself, following the fissure that the expedition had widened, thus gaining access to the halls and chambers of Alftand.

It was in the first of these, a stone corridor into which the ice had partly intruded, that we found Septimus Signus.

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Fiction Song of Deirdre

The Song of Deirdre – Chap. 44

 

The Mind of Septimus Signus

 

I was in the Arcanaeum the next morning before anyone else was awake. There was no sign of Urag. I whiled away the time waiting for him by reading The Ransom of Zarek, a breathless tale of a kidnapping and daring escape, told in an archaic and stilted dialect of Tamrielic. I still wasn’t sure why I should care about Zarek when Urag came shambling in, rubbing his eyes.

“Eager to get at it, I see. I can’t promise you much.” He went to a cabinet, unlocked it, and removed two tomes. “Here you are. I wish I could say happy reading, but I don’t want to get your hopes up.”

I took the two books to a reading table. One was titled Effects of the Elder Scrolls, written by a Justinius Poluhnias in the Second Era. I put it aside, thinking it couldn’t help me find an Elder Scroll so many centuries later. I turned to the second, Ruminations on the Elder Scrolls, by Septimus Signus himself. I hoped one of the ruminations would be about the current location of an Elder Scroll. My hopes dimmed when I saw the subtitle: “A philosophical view on the role of the Elder Scrolls.”

And inside, I found only madness. It began, “Imagine living beneath the waves with a strong-sighted blessing of most excellent fabric.” It continued from there, making less and less sense as it went, and nowhere did it mention a particular location on Nirn.

I was just considering banging my head against the pages when Lydia, Brelyna, and J’zargo entered, taking seats around the table.

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Fiction Song of Deirdre

The Song of Deirdre – Chap. 43

 

The Arcanaeum

 

The bridge between Winterhold and the college was nearly impassable, the snows had drifted so deeply over it. Clearly, no one had attended to the regular duty of clearing it with flame spells. I wondered what else had been allowed to lapse at the college in my absence. It didn’t seem like Tolfdir to be so careless.

Still, judging by the footprints leading away from the college, someone had made their way down to the village, and recently. We followed the tracks in reverse, though Lydia found the going difficult, weighed down by her heavy armor, sinking in up to her knees in places. The worst bit came where the walls of the bridge had fallen away in the great cataclysm, the snow forming a corniced arête. Even I, accustomed as I was to scrambling about at great heights, had to steady my nerves for a moment before starting out. For Lydia, coming behind, it was worse. She had never liked heights and now she used the haft of her axe for support as she made her way across, looking down once or twice to the Sea of Ghosts far below.

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Fiction Song of Deirdre

The Song of Deirdre – Chap. 42

 

Paarthurnax’s Retreat

 

The snow settled, revealing a dragon nearly as large as Alduin, just steps away from us. It was the color of milk mixed with dark honey, and it bore the scars of many battles. One of its forked horns had broken off at the base. It had once sported two tusk-like horns sprouting from its chin like a beard, but one was reduced to a stump.

I was just wondering what opponent had done that to him when Lydia drew her axe, shouting, “You never should have come here, dragon!”

“Yet this is my strunmah, wunduniik,” the dragon replied, “my mountain. Perhaps I should say the same to you. Yet one of you joorre has a strong Thu’um, or you would not have passed through the mists.”

“Wait,” I said. “You’re Paarthurnax?”

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Fiction Song of Deirdre

The Song of Deirdre – Chap. 41

 

Aetherius

 

The doors of High Hrothgar swung back, and Master Arngeir stood there, squinting into a swirl of snow that swept in behind us. He hardly recognized us, swathed as we were in bearskin cloaks and leggings made from snow-hare pelts. We had bought them in Ivarstead with the last of Delphine’s gold after hearing reports of raw weather on the Seven Thousand Steps. Yet he stood aside and allowed us entrance. “Come in, come in, you must be half frozen.”

The door closed behind us and I threw off the cloak.

“Dovahkiin! It is you! You have returned!” For Arngeir, this was an outpouring of emotion.

There were so many things I wanted to say then, I couldn’t think where to begin. I wanted to ask about the shout the Tongues had used against Alduin, but even more, I wanted to know why he hadn’t mentioned such a shout on my first visit. Why had he sent me hither and yon, retrieving items of little value and learning shouts I could never use against Alduin?