Contact and Credits

Hi, all—

I’m taking a break from the Skyrim Diaries, to mention that I’ve posted a Contact page. Honestly, I thought I always had one, but that just shows you what I know. Do send a note if you have an idea, or a quibble, or a simple wish to get in touch.

Also, I think I’ve finally settled into a Skyrim mod list that gives me a varied, clean, and fairly staggering amount of content. I thought I’d post my loadout here. If you want to try it, I think you’ll be pleased. Just run the thing through Loot, follow it’s instructions about the very few patches, and you should be good to go. I’m also supplying this mod list, because it allows me to give credit to the folks who make the content that inspires my narrations. Whatever heights of rhetoric Miramne stands to reach, they are the real authors here.

So. Voila! All mods come from Nexus, in the Skyrim Special Edition section. The only exception is Interesting NPCs, which you can get at 3DNPCS.com. It’s such an amazing mod that it’s really worth the detour.

Disclaimer: I haven’t played through all of these mods, so I have no idea if conflicts lurk in less-obvious corners of the game. All I know is that Loot says the loadout is error-free, and that my game plays without crashing. If you have questions, corrections, or suggestions, please let me know.

MODS:

A Quality World Map—Vivid with Stone Roads  (It’s just a much better map, with lots of view options.)

Alternate Start—Live Another Life  (Start the game with a variety of backgrounds—and bypass Helgen.)

Amazing Follower Tweaks (Have more than one follower. Tell them what to do.)

Andromeda—Unique Standing Stones of Skyrim (Standing Stones grant varied, powerful boons.)

Apocalypse (Spells and more spells, some better balanced than others.)

Armor and Clothing Extension (More for the clotheshorse. This also re-dresses some NPCs.)

Bandolier Bags and Pouches (Craft/find bags that allow you to carry more.)

Beasts of Tamriel (Adds about 100 creatures.)

Better Dogs (They don’t bark. Anymore.)

Beyond Reach (DLC-sized campaign that focuses on High Rock.)

Beyond Skyrim: Bruma (DLC-sized return to Cyrodiil.)

Birds of Skyrim (Tweet.)

Bonemold and Chitin Weapons (Get your Morrowind on.)

Caranthir Tower Reborn (Restore a wizard’s tower, and live in splendor. Must be level 20 to start.)

Cloaks of Skyrim (Disseminates some astonishing number of cloaks throughout the world.)

Crypt of Darkness Dungeon Hall (A dungeon stocked with enemies and resources.)

Cutting Room Floor (This introduces the director’s cut of Skyrim Special Edition. It restores quests, items, and even whole villages.)

Daedric Entity Restoration Project (Adds daedra for you—and your enemies—to summon. Nudity.)

Deadly Spell Impacts (Fire, lighting, and frost spells leave some serious marks on the surroundings.)

Diverse Dragons Collection (More dragons!  Almost 30 unique ones, to be exact.)

Equipable Tomes (Make books that give you a boost to your magic.)

Fun Ro D’oh (A utility that helps with dialogue in mods that aren’t voiced.)

Gildergreen Regrown (See the pretty tree.)

Hallgarth’s Additional (Vanilla) Hair (More hair styles.)

Hammet’s Dungeon Packs (Supplies 31 new dungeons throughout Skyrim, Solstheim and a new land, Vorminheim. That last one sounds wormy.)

Heavy Armory (Get 100 new weapons.)

Helgen Reborn (Follow a detailed questline to restore Helgen.)

Hope’s Abandon (Dungeon. Big and mean. Author suggests level 40+.)

Immersive Armors (Equipment paradise: 55 new armor sets, 396 new shields, and many miscellaneous accouterments.)

Immersive Citizens (Friendly NPCs act much smarter.)

Immersive College of Winterhold (Expands the college and gives you more choices.)

Immersive Sounds Compendium (All the pretty noises!)

Immersive World Encounters (Spreads 70 events throughout the world.)

Imperious (Overhauls the race abilities.)

Interesting NPCs (Adds hundreds and hundreds of interesting people, followers, quests, and super followers.)

Isle of Artaeum (DLC-sized add-on that sends you to Summerset Isle to learn about the Psijic Order.)

Left Hand Rings Modified (Wear rings on your left hand, too.)

Legacy of the Dragonborn (A DLC-sized mod that introduces a museum, starts a new guild, and has you collect amazing things.)

Merged Mihail Undead (Mihail makes some truly fearsome monsters, and this compendium includes all the necro-baddies.)

My Home is Your Home (Allow all your followers to hang out together, in the place where you want them.)

Narrative Loot Complete (Adds cultural treasures to the loot tables—paintings, crockery, books, figurines, etc.)

New Beginnings—Live Another Life Expansion (More background options for Live Another Life.)

OBIS Special Edition (Bandit overhaul. They are varied, organized, and mean.)

Ordinator (Complete perk overhaul. Lots of new options.)

Path of Champion (Seven dungeons connect throughout the world. Level 10 start recommended.)

Populated Cites, Towns, Villages (Adds more people to the places people should be.)

Populated Lands Roads Paths Legendary (Adds more people traveling to the places they should be.)

Practical Female Armors (I’ve written whole articles about how female fantasy armor is silly. This mod is a godsend.)

Qaxe Winterhold Rebuild (Embark on a quest to restore Winterhold.)

QUASIPIC Unified Patch Compendium (Patches a number of mods to create synergy.)

Realistic Conversations (Give NPCs a little more logic and variety, in terms of what they say—and how often.)

Realistic Lighting Overhaul (Shadows, reflections, darkness. Better.)

Rich Skyrim Merchants (More money, honey. Maybe he really did sell his sister.)

Royal Armory (Important NPCs have important-looking equipment.)

Rugnarok (I downloaded it just because I loved the name, but the rug overhauls are fantastic.)

Ruined Temple of Phynaster (Rescue a ruined shrine, and fight bosses.)

Rustic Clothing (Clothing texture overhaul.)

Shields of Skyrim (Lots of new shields.)

Skyrim Better Roads (Retextures the roads.)

Skyrim Immersive Creatures (Adds dozens of new creatures.)

Skyrim Reputation (Adds a morality/reputation component to player actions. People treat you accordingly.)

Skyrim Skill Uncapper (Get all the perks.)

Skyrim Skill Uncapper Ordinator (Get all the Ordinator perks.)

Skyrim Underground (There’s stuff going on down there. Dungeony stuff.)

SkyUI (Overhaul your interface, and never look back.)

Sneak Tools (Fire rope arrows. Slit throats. Knock people unconscious.)

Speech Tree (Introduces a yield system, so you can talk your way out of battle. Place this mod manually, after Ordinator.)

Splendor—Dragon Variants (Get 784 possible dragon skins.)

Static Mesh Improvement (This makes everything look so much better.)

Summermyst—Enchantments of Skyrim (Grants 120 additional enchantments.)

The Elder Scrolls Tomebound (Grants more magical options, such as new spells, staves, and vampire options.)

The Great Forest of Whiterun Hold (Adds an explorable and dangeorous wilderness to Whiterun Hold.)

The Paarthurnax Dilemma (Helps you out of a cold-blooded demand that the Blades make in the main quest.)

The Rabbit Hole (Brave a fifty-level dungeon.)

The Rings of Old (Adds some rings from Elder Scrolls lore.)

The Treacherous Hollows (Mid-sized dungeon recommended for characters level 35 and up.)

The Unfinished Business (Play through eight small dungeons, to follow a story.)

Thunderchild (Find nearly 30 more shouts.)

Unique Uniques (Epic Skyrim equipment looks much better than it did.)

Unofficial Skyrim Special Edition Patch (A must.)

Unread Books Glow (Makes a library easy pickings.)

Vigilant (DLC-sized adventure based on the Viglants of Stendarr.)

Vivid Weathers (Rain, wind, lightning, lighting, and snow.)

Weapons Armor Clothing and Clutter Fixes (Bug fixer.)

WICO-Windsont Immersive Character Overhaul (Everybody looks better. Nudity.)

Wildcat (Combat overhaul. Everything is much harder, but most is also configurable.)

Wintersun (Religion mod. Worship a god, live by their tenets, and get blessings.)

Skyrim Diaries, Day 7: Board to Death

Day 7:

Today brought the harshest lesson. I knew something like this would come. If you read enough books, you realize that when you draw the gods’ attention, you also invite pain. A man in Whiterun prevailed upon me to find an heirloom sword. His family threatened to fly apart without it, as it stood apparently for some midlife crisis involving clan identity versus the need to work for a living. He asked my help with no small amount of shame. He gestured toward the foothills. I couldn’t get much more out of him. So I ambled that way, hoping to find the tracks of the sword thief.

They were easy enough to spot—although they seemed smaller than I expected. I ducked into what looked like an old mineshaft, and promptly awakened eight spiders that clambered from a hole in the floor. They trundled after me in their hairy-legged herd.  I used a static-cloud to end them. The smell of electrified spider is unpleasant, but I took no guilt from dispatching the creatures. If they bite the old or the vulnerable, the poison can make a victim convulse so much that her back breaks. I had noticed, however, that my spell worked better than I thought it would.  And it turns out that this happened, because the spiders were wet.

Peering into the floor hole, I spotted water at the bottom of a long drop, along with some bobbing cabbage and discarded shoes. Odd that, considering that spiders aren’t so dainty with their refuse. I stood in the mineshaft until my eyes adjusted—and there, in a section of the wall that looked cleaner than the rest, I found a button. Well, why not? I pushed it, and the stone slid away to reveal a tunnel–and a vampire.

It startled. I pushed the button again and again, but that just made the door close and open. I backed up. I fumbled in my robe. The creature lunged forward, made something go click, and then caught ablaze from fire jets that shot from the floor. The vampire fell over—dead, or deader, or at least most-certainly seared. I don’t know. I’d fled the cave.

Now I blinked in the sunlight. The thing must have been young to trigger its roost’s own trap—maybe even a newly-graduated thrall. I’d tell the Whiterun guard. I’d tell the temple of Arkay. I would not tell the man who hired me, because I could not imagine that vampires would have ventured into town to seize his great clanfather’s sword.

Clearly, I’d found the wrong stronghold. But now, something felt wronger still. The path where I’d stood was different from before. Its borders had mountain flowers instead of tundra cotton. I turned around.  An Argonian smiled a little hiss from the bushes. She had drawn me an arrow.

I held my elbows. She had gold flecks in her eyes. “You can keep all the arrows you’d like, good lizard.” I spoke too high and too fast. “I’m just looking for a sword.”

The arrow she’d shot lodged in my shoulder. I’d dropped to one knee. She had dropped her bow, and now she approached with an ax. “Bretons are so snobby,” she said.

I raised my hand. She raised her ax. She lifted it farther—and danced in my spell’s cloud of volts. I hadn’t meant to cast it. The spell would envelope her for seconds. I couldn’t disperse the electricity once I’d let it go. The Argonian cried, and went rigid, and dropped.

I had my hands in my hair. Her cape smoked. I muttered a healing spell. The arrow dropped from shoulder. I turned until I found Dragon’s Reach, and then I walked, off the path, through bramble and brook, tempting the wolves and the trolls and anything else that thought to kill me, until I sat in the cool and the candlelight of Whiterun’s Hall of the Dead.

***

The priest folded his hands. I’d told him everything. He wore the amulet that I’d fetched for him this morning, after he’d misplaced it in the undercroft—and now he pointed to mine.

He said, “You follow Arkay, don’t you? I’ve seen you praying.”

“I do, but—“

“But this is your friend’s amulet of Stendarr.”

“I’m a smorgasbord of divinity, apparently.”

“But tell me. Why do you wear an amulet that helps you to block?”

I couldn’t tell him why. In truth, it felt a bit like a hair shirt. “Well, I confess it isn’t the most utilitarian thing—“

“But what if it were? What if this is Stendarr’s advice for you while you move along your smorgasbord?”

A dog wandered into the hall, sniffed a pew, and wandered out.

“You say that Mara told you to speak for the world,” said the priest, “to win as much as you can while dealing minimal death. Why, as a performer you must know that the best way to avoid the odd rotten vegetable is to hide behind a wall.”

I laughed, and it echoed. “I’m a speaker first and a spell caster second.”

“And a sneaker third, I’ll wager—or at least you’re bound to be.” I hadn’t thought of that. “After all, they can’t fight you if they can’t see you, and when push comes to shove, you might have to manage by,” he sort of jostled his hands, “sapping the backs of some heads.”

“I’d rather talk sense to the fronts of them.”

“Of course you would! It’s a matter of mission for you, if not also a matter of pride.” He twinkled, and I squirmed. “You can’t stomp around in armor. That was Pettrik’s mistake. But you can use a shield.”

“With no armor? While I talk, cast, and sneak?”

“It will take some practice, I’m sure.”

“I’ll look ridiculous.”

“Oh, I think you’ll look singular.” He stood and massaged his knee. “Miriamne—if I may call you that.” He straightened his leg, and grimaced. “I’m old. And I’ve seen all kinds of mistakes. And I know, by now, that one person’s error tends to invite those from others.”

“That’s what I found with group work at the college—“

“Yes, but cliche as it is, the biggest mistake is not to try.” I thought of Pettrik and how hard he had tried. “Some bad people will do bad things in your direction. But your job, I believe, is to do them good where you’re able, and to be good—to yourself!—where you fail.”

“That’s very priestly, father.”

He gave a little smile. I’d spoken with more heat than I meant.

He said, “Mara told you to find help from others, did she not?” He walked toward the chancel. “If you’re going to speak for this world, dear, then it’s best that you also let it speak to you.”

Skyrim Diaries, Day 6: Of Wizards and Wineskins

Day 6: 

I slept in that cotton field until mid afternoon. When I awoke, Dragon’s Reach seemed even taller,  amid its train of shadows. From where I’d lain, I crossed to a nearby stream; I was groggy and parched. And as I bent to drink, a woman cleared her throat behind me. She wore some kind of drapery that she’d fashioned into robes. A Khajiit stood behind her, slightly puffed.

“Foolish Breton,” she said. By her accent she too was Breton. “You there! You foul-lucked weasel!”

“Beg pardon?” I said.

“I am a vicious, sorcerous mage,” she said, “and I demand you give me a tribute!” The Khajiit elbowed  her. “Two! Two tributes!”

“I see,” I said. “Judging by your robes, did you last extort a bedchamber?”

She blinked. “Silence!” She drew herself up. “I shall smite you with steamy lightning and prickly heat!”

“I suspect you’re speaking in your second tongue,” I said. “Voulez-vous parler en notre langue originelle?”

If she could cast spells truly, then at that point, I think she would have sent them out her nostrils.

“What would you like?” I rummaged my pack.

She gaped.

“I have a hunk of goat cheese,” I said, “and some bread.”

“Do you have enough for two?” said the Khajiit—and she withered him a look.

“I have two apples extra,” I said, “and,” I gestured toward the stream, “a rather empty wineskin.”

I offered them my pack. “Take what I’ve offered. But if you steal more, I’ll know it.” I wouldn’t know. I wouldn’t have the slightest.

The bed-curtain mage held the sack by the neck, as if she’d just strangled it.

“All Bretons have magical aptitude,” I said to her.  “And some of us have even honed it well enough to hide it.” She let the sack hang. “Get your food, now.”

“Open the bag,” said the Khajiit. He had thoroughly unfluffed.

I met his eyes. Then I turned from them, crisply, as if this movement in itself were a stance. I knelt to the stream, with my back to them. I started to fill the skin. I watched for their reflections to appear beside me.

After the skin inflated, I made that same deliberate turn, back to where they’d stood. The food was gone, and so were they. The rest of my provisions, from what I could tell, remained intact.

I held the wineskin against the back of my neck, to cool off. I had sweated through my underclothes, and some part of me ached in a knot. I would sleep at an inn tonight, behind a locked door. I needed the peace, the rest, the room not to perform for the sake of my life—or for that matter, anyone else’s. Pettrick’s amulet knocked against my chest, as I walked, and that knot relaxed to bile. I had done it, though—cast yet another spell with words. Gods, I’d even fed managed to feed someone. I walked a little lighter now, and the water sloshed.

A ways to the north, a tundra cat screamed, and the sound of her brought a chill to my sweat. This work I had chosen, or at least chosen not to shirk: It wouldn’t always be as easy as chiding hungry peasants. I knew that. It would soon as later face me against the very ones who starved them.

*Many of these narratives have been started and inspired by the glorious mod, Interesting NPCs. You can find it at 3dnpc.com.

Skyrim Diaries, Day 5: Nine Gods in a Box

Day 5:

Guilt is formidable, in how it can move a person.  It can move her across the province, apparently, and at the expense 20 septims and three days of mud. I took Pettrik’s journal to Stendarr’s Beacon. I hadn’t been there yet, and anyway, who doesn’t like the muck of Riften? I suppose the vigilants most certainly don’t. Only one came out of their tower, while I was there, and that was to roast a skeever. The rest scraped along the parapet of their tower, chuffing the rust off their armor, nattering on about mercy as they leaned on their cudgels. Pettrik has left me little respect for them. But when I prayed to Stendarr for his soul, the vigilants did join me—all of them, even the one who still smelled of skeever. And I gathered that, as prayer tends to do, their petitions for a brother led to petitions for the themselves. I mean this in the best way, really. Pettrik couldn’t have been the only vigilant to struggle with the difference between hating evil and loving good.

Well, they gave me his amulet to keep, anyway. That was decent of them. I’ll wear it for a while, as both a reminder and a partial absolution. I’m also writing in Pettrik’s book, of course. I couldn’t think of a better way to join our tales. And besides all that, the tome is fine leather—imported netch, I think—and it’s also nearly blank. Pettrik, it seems, had just begun.

At the base of the Beacon, the skeever roaster offered me a cutlet for the road, but I find the smell of that flesh sickening. I declined with what I felt was a curl of the lip, but hope I passed it off as a smile. I couldn’t see the man’s face for his helmet, so I guess I’ll never know. Maybe vigilants eat skeever with their helmets on. Maybe it takes care of the smell.

On the path back to town, I confronted a curious thing—a red wolf that was not red at all, but a sort of blunt periwinkle. And then as it got closer, I saw that the creature had no definite features, as if it were made of clay. Well, it took me aback, and it wasn’t until it lunged that I realized it was also crazed. I ducked enough that it flew wide of my shoulder. And as I tried to push it away, it just collapsed under my hand. It lay, half-rendered, in the oak leaves. I’m still not sure that it had ever been alive. It was a botched summons, maybe. And this made me look back at the Beacon. I did not want to be around for the botched summoner.

I ambled a little faster, and came upon a Khajiit who stood in the middle of a roofless, burned-out shack. I stopped. I palmed my dagger. Maybe a botched summoner also makes botched fireballs. But his fur wasn’t singed, and as he sat on a heap of fur hats, he belched. He asked if I’d like to tour his museum. I have a weakness for museums. I always have; they’re ever better than books. So I stepped over a crated orgy of Dibella statues, and let him lead me about his… scavengery. I suppose that’s what it was.  He’d collected paintings, forks, half-empty bottles. He had matted fur. Apparently, mud doesn’t go well with even the soberest Khajiits, much less the meady ones.

I asked him if he lived in this shack. He said he loved the open sky.

I left him be. He called after me. He warned against the attack rabbits of the region. I waved. Then I returned to him with my overcloak. Maybe he could use it as a canopy, or a blanket to keep warm. I told him about the Beacon just north, how they have a hospice. “Oh yes,” he said. “When I find enough Dibella statues, I will creep under cover of darkness, and place them all over their yard.”

I wondered if Pettrik would like that. I rather hoped he would. “They hate summoners,” I said. “Have you seen one around?”

“Ah. The blue creatures,” he said. “They had a novice at the Beacon. He tried to summon animals so he could practice how to banish them.”

“Gods,” I said. “The vigilants do that?”

“They sent him away.” He sniffed the rain. “A prison carriage came for him.”  He pulled what looked like a clump of fur from his pockets “I think the rabbits near Riften attack, because they are angry at this boy.”

I glanced at the underbrush. I took a step from the cat. What he held was a handful of rabbits feet.

I hied myself to Riften. At the gates, I saw two of the guard pull a Dunmer from a crowd, and shake him until he dropped the dagger in his hands. I hailed a coach. I had enough coin to get as far west as Whiterun. And if I didn’t, I think I would have scraped out pig sties to get it. There’s something foul in Riften. As a member of the Bard’s College, you may think this an odd opinion, as I do enjoy my share of wandering wastrels. But in Riften–the entire hold–something rots.

A priestess of Mara climbed into my wagon, and sat across from me with her steward. She hunched as if to pray—and grabbed my wrist.

“Miriaimne,” she said.  My mouth went dry.  Another set of pupils settled in her eyes, so that she had four of them. “The rot didn’t start here. And Riften isn’t the place of its finish.” I couldn’t shake her grasp—and I knew enough not to try. “It’s a colony of blights that reaches everywhere—Skyrim, Morrowind, Cyrodiil, High Rock.”

“I’m sure your churches will be busy.”

“You must devote yourself to driving it back.”

“Not I.” Now I did try to pull back. “Nay. I’m an academic who just likes to talk.”

“You must gather those to help you.” She squeezed harder. “And in turn you must help them. And you will utter words that the world needs to hear—that speak truth as a means of dispelling insanity, that speak love to those who can hear it, and that give rest to those who can’t.”

“No,” I half stood, “I just buried a zealot of your sort.“

“Stendarr gave you Pettrik to show you that you must use both heart and wits.”

“I think Stendarr killed Pettrik.”

Her pupils looked me over, in four different directions. “Pettrik also showed that the gods will preserve you, if you also die for their cause.”

The coach lurched, but the priestess steadied me with her grip.

I said, “You’re asking me to save the world?”

“We ask you to speak in defense of the world. With the help of others. And so that others still can save their own worlds by doing well in their lives.”

“I’m not a martyr.”

The pupils overlapped so that I saw just two that had the intensity of four. “We know who you are and aren’t.”  Her grasp warmed and loosened. “We have decided to call you an Orator.”

She vanished. I stumbled to sitting. Something poked me in the leg, and the driver stood outside the wagon, prodding me with the pommel of a pitchfork. “Hey, woman. No lallygagging!”

We were in Whiterun. I sat alone in the cart. I scrambled from it. I gave the driver I don’t know how much money in tip—whatever I grabbed from my pouch. The cotton of Whiterun stretched for miles, and I waded right into it. I sat right down. Then I lay down. Sometimes a woman needs to be around plants. I brushed a snakeskin that I’d nearly settled upon. I thought of Akatosh, of time, of the gods. I thought of dragons, and whether they could shed their skin, whether the gods and (those who served them) could grow large enough to match evil’s worst demons. And then I slept.

*Many of these narratives have been started and inspired by the glorious mod, Interesting NPCs. You can find it at 3dnpc.com. This entry has also seen inspiration from Beyond Reach, which you can find at Nexus.

Skyrim Diaries, Day 4: Another death, another life

Day 4:

(So, as is the way with modded Skyrim, I discovered two things: 1. My Pettrik load-out was untenable. 2. PC mod options are so much better than what’s on Xbox, that I spent the weekend resurrecting my computer enough to run them. Alas, both developments meant dear Pettrik’s demise. The following is the continuation of the Skryim diaries, through the emergence of another character.) 

You were a fool. Pettrik, I’m writing this in your journal:  YOU WERE A FOOL. Poor man. What could you expect from parents who came a letter short of naming you “pet trick?”

I was a fool too, Pettrik. I am sorry. I’m sorry enough that I should be writing this in my own blood. I’m not sure who’s worse off between us. Well, except that you’re dead—so that probably decides it. But I’m the one—this “vision,” you call me—who told you that you could talk your way out of violence. I knew it shouldn’t have said it that way; I knew I should have followed you out of the college, and slapped all that hope out of your hands. You have to train, Pettrik. And for heaven’s sake, you can’t just take on the Cult of Worms. What did you do here? Try to talk to zealots of Mannimarco? All of them at once? The dribbling ones, the ones that moved like rock-joined giants: did you think they would listen? Oh, Arkay, I should have known. That thing you wrote about—the movement in the wall—it was probably some part of your consciousness, some little survival spark, that said, “Pettrick, if you can’t talk sense into wolves, you probably can’t talk to necromantic thralls.”

I should have stopped you. I could have made you listen. I’m better at words than you. But instead, I have contributed to the loss of a good man. And you were good, Pettrick, obviously. And by now I’m also sure you know that Stendarr thought so. Your corpse here, lying where that sabbath was: it remains. It doesn’t shamble along with the ones who killed you. They couldn’t reanimate you. And I’m sure they tried. You would have been quite a trophy, gods know.  Stendarr must have stopped them. Stendarr guarded you. And though I was never anything like these cultists you tried to turn, I am, truly, more aware of Stendarr now, than I was. Take that as a comfort, then. Your death was not all in vain. I’ll carry you with me, as a reminder of Stendarr, of goodness, of the necessity to better weigh my own words. I will. I owe you that. As I became part of your story, Brother Pettrick, you will become part of mine.

With sorrow and recognition,

Miriamne of the Book

Skyrim Diaries, Day 3: Destiny gleams in a field

Day 3

In the end, I decided to quit Solitude. There was only so much mead ferrying I could do, and although alcohol can gate a demon, I saw no such invitation these days. With the presence of the Legion and the guard and the Temple of the Divines, I also decided that all monstrous influence surely must stay far from the Blue Palace—so I turned my thoughts outward, to the countryside, where in the floes and grottos, I could lend Stendarr’s arm if not also his voice.

I’d forgotten that the land has teeth. Not those of a devil or a wight, but simple wolves, which hunted me just northeast of the city’s gates. One stared me down while another two attacked from the flank. Alas, there was no speaking here. I had to kill three of them, before I could escape.

They had driven me farther north, to the edge of the sea. And there, now, on the far side of the shoals, scattered a shipwreck. Corpses still floated amid the ice. So I plunged into the water—and it took my breath away. It was as if cold could steal it from me faster than drowning would—as if this is what felled those poor sailors still so far away. I began to sink. My mace and gauntlets were so heavy that it was all I could do to pull myself onto the nearest floe. I trembled there, from both lack of balance and abundance of shock.  The mud crabs, it seems, had already had at the drowned.

Now a shaft of smoke rose from the fire side of the wreck. I stepped along the ice, praying for survivors. I hallooed. Bandits—two of them—straggled from what was evidently a campfire. They gave chase. I scrambled backwards. I teetered for shore. The nearest bandit raised his sword—and fell dead. His companion, unstable on the ice, had shot him in the head. The archer dropped his bow now. He started after me with an ax. I reached the shore, and dashed through a clump of snowberries. The ax bandit had come close enough that I could hear his breathing—his panting even, so bestial—and then I heard his scream. The rest of the wolves—two of them, fell upon him. They ripped out his throat, before I knew to react. And as he bled, Stendarr, I swear he watched me.

The wolves did not. This was somehow worse. They gulped their kill, and I couldn’t even pray. I slunk from the shore, through a scatter of spike grass—and a bandit rushed me into a boulder.  His drew a mace, better used than mine. He had a hair cloak and full plate.

“Stop,” I said.

He spat a laugh.

“Those wolves,” I said, “they are eating your man.”

He drew back, and puffed his chest.

“The was your comrade, yes?” I said. “Someone you fought beside?” The bandit snarled. “Might he deserve better than to give a dog indigestion?”

He smashed me into the rock. “You left him dead, Stendarr.”

“He had tried for my  life.” This, I hoped, was excuse enough for one of us.  “And then, you see, the wolves fell upon him. So.” I straightened under his glare. “Will you also tempt fate by killing a priest?”

He studied me. He grunted through his teeth.

“One good act,” I said, “can save a man from hell.”

He threw me to the ground. He careened after his man.

I sat for a moment, still expecting a blow. As I pushed to my feet, a wolf’s body sailed, limp, into the shallows.

I crept close to the ground, fighting to stay both low and on my feet. My fatigue nearly forced me to a crawl, but I did not want Ser Hair Cloak to catch another sight of me.

After a while, I got far enough that I straightened. I grasped my hands to keep them from shaking, and then, after I calmed, I just clasped them as if I’d caught hold of something. I was alive. I thought of the woman in blue—the bard at the bottom of the stairs—that she’d been a vision, perhaps:  a promise of how I could speak into the face of death, and maybe next time, speak better.

Now a tower rose before me. It was something so cleft from the mountain that it really did seem to appear, as if it too were a vision. I climbed its stairs without thought, as if this too were part of the reverie, as if Stendarr sought to strengthen my faith by granting me curiosity about the ways he’d speak next. The bard; the bandit leader; even the arrow and wolf interventions: they were signs of—what?  Attention? Intention?

Sunset caught the motes along the tower’s stair. The wooden steps, half-rotted, carried me up. I didn’t even decide to climb them. For all I know, they’d reached out to me. Something scrabbled within the stone wall. Something moved along with me, sounding almost large as me, within the stone somehow, or climbing along outside it. I didn’t stop. I knew, in this moment of divine guidance, that it couldn’t touch me.

The top room had purpled in the sunset. A chest sat in the rubble where the roof had caved. It had a brute of a lock; the box wasn’t for me. Leaning against the lid was a tome concerning the Mystery of Talara. I so much as touched it, and divine power infused me. The thing in the wall scrabbled harder.

I looked away from the sound, along the gleaming sleeve of the sea. I started. I squinted, and drew back. There, in a coastal field, a giantess wondered at a mammoth that had somehow, god knows, climbed a tree.  I laughed aloud.  I wished I had paper for drawing. This, here, this was certainly a sign—a pachyderm in a beech tree! And what did it mean? I asked the wall monster. I asked it as if it were a child, a younger brother, a student. It means, dear wall monster, that with the gods, all things flower with possibility. Behold. Even the most immovable can leap at Stendarr’s voice.

With twilight now—or perhaps with my answer—the creature beside me quietened. Beyond the mammoth, torchlight gleamed. Then it grew, and became a circle. I watched. My mace arm grew heavy, then light. At first I thought the torches were a hunting party, or maybe a peasant festival. But then the circle elongated, and grew arms, until it adopted the skull and crossed arms of the cult of Mannimarco. It was a coven meeting in dusk-sabbath formation.

My Lord. Stendarr’s signs had become an actual symbol that led me to this one. “See?” He could have said. He had all but jostled me. “Go forth,” he bid,” and speak my name there.”

If I could just persuade one lost soul from the path of the King of Worms, my service to Stendarr would do more than an entire chapter house of demon-haters and their frozen waste.

Skyrim Diaries, Day 2: When Stendarr made use of a bard

Day 2:

At present, I’ve given my best help by currying alcohol. After the execution, I made my way to an inn, for some sleep and refreshment. The proprietor there gave me word of the Stormcloak uprising, of Ulfric’s murder of High King Torygg, and of the passing of rulership to Torygg’s widow, Elisif the Fair. I’d gathered most of this from the murmurs of the execution’s crowd, and by now, the innkeeper didn’t have much to embellish. So he, determined  to impress, told me of some bandits in a nearby grotto. I had already seen worse than bandits that day, so I suppose I responded with more weariness than horror. He glanced at my mace then, and suggested that if the bandits didn’t startle me, that maybe I could do something about them. I imagined their skeletons clambering out of the ground. I don’t know what I feel about killing men. In the meantime, said the barkeep, he’d pay me to deliver some mead to Jarl Elisif’s steward, Falk Firebeard, at the palace. I said I would, in the morning.

Sleep, that night, was like a vault. I suspect that I stuffed a great many memories of the day, deep within that hide-away. I woke late, hungry and happy for the midday sun. I gave late devotions to Stendarr. As I made my way to the Blue Palace, I recalled how I’d come at it just yesterday, from the other direction, while I tried to outrun the clacking footsteps in the fog.  Now a madman muttered past me. Maybe he went the way of all of us.

The palace itself was surprising in how open it was. I passed guards, old dignitaries, and an elven mages, as I walked right up to Falk Firebeard—who then chastised me for interrupting the court. I discovered that the mores here are subtle but significant. Jarl Elisif tried to calm a man who talked about strange lights in a cave. I tried not to hear, as this was something that as a vigilant, I am bound to investigate. But I am so weak, and so without resource that, come to think of it, I don’t know if I’m still a vigilant at all.

I busied myself with my pack. I produced the mead for Firebeard, and he brightened considerably. With the money he paid me, I will rent another room back at the inn. (This, perhaps, is what that barkeep wanted all along.) In the meantime, I’ll sit on this bench by the Bard’s College, and try to plot out a path for myself.

***

Well, that was somewhat unexpected. It started to rain while I still sat on my bench. I entered the Bard’s College, thinking that surely they had a public hall—a library, even—where I could continue my thoughts. Instead the head of the college himself met me at the door, suggested I would be good bard material (the thought!), and directed me to find some lost literature for the good of the city itself. I suspect these people need a steady patron more than they need another starving aspirant. But perhaps if one focuses all of one’s energy on performance, one doesn’t have the ability to conduct original research.

I asked if, as a potential student, I could sit at a table and think a bit by lamplight. He glanced at the mud on my shoes, but bid me welcome. What he should have studied was my mace—and how clean it was. Nary a chip. I’d worn it for show, maybe trained with it some. But the most violent thing I’d ever done with it was break some of the ice on a  watchtower floor, so I could sit on the stone without making a puddle.

Last night’s barkeep had asked me to subdue a bandit. Now the head of the bard college—a man of letters—sent me, doubtless, to subdue something else, all in the name of parchment. As a vigilant, I was prepared, theoretically, to take force to undead and demons. This seemed a healing of sorts—harsh medicine, perhaps, but one that ultimately brought rest. But I pulled up short on using such violence on people.  I know that’s what war is; yesterday, I saw what war is. This whole province is at war. But I also know that we clerics use blunt weapons not because they signify mercy but because they better crack a boneling. And a mace, surely, is a horrible way to kill a man.

These are violent times, and mercy can’t be gentle in the face of the worst of it. With my abilities and my blessings, I cannot betray goodness by remaining innocent. But in order to embody the lord of compassion at all, killing a man must be a last resort. In the hearth room of the college, I bowed my head. Then a woman, a storyteller in blue velvet, started down the stairs from the upper rooms. She was regaling her friends—some minstrels of sorts—of how she’d talked a bandit out of violence on her way from Whiterun.

“You mean you scared him,” said the lutist. “You offered to firebolt his parts.”

“Nay,” she said. “I didn’t raise a hand. I simply asked what he’d do if his mother were there.”

“Sister,” I rose from my table. “Tell me this is true.”

She looked at me from the bottom of the stairs. And perhaps because she’d learned to read an audience, she seemed to recognize something—some need—in my eyes. “Stranger,” she said,  “if you’ve come to this place, you must have an idea of how, in Skyrim especially, there lies great power in words.”

That’s what she said. And it’s what I hope. It’s what I pray, in fact—that my own words could alter hearts where war would only pierce them. Lord, grant me the tools speak something as tangible as this peace, to sheathe swords and quell fire with my own voice. I would work years for such a gift. I could accomplish both war and ministry, all without bloodshed.  Maybe, O Stendarr, thou hast delivered me to this college after all.