Note: For previous installments of “A Hand to Hold,” please click on the following links:
What Can You Do? What Can You Give?
I ran in a wide circle around our campsite. Miki was nowhere to be found. Where could she have gone? I couldn’t imagine her turning back to Whiterun, not when we’d come this far. But in the gathering dark, I didn’t think she would press ahead on her own, either.
Would she? I was angry with myself; how could I let her run off on her own like that? Then it dawned on me: Miki would do what she wanted. She certainly didn’t need my permission.
I ran back across the Darkwater Crossing bridge toward the main path. Even if Miki had tried to move on toward Riften, she couldn’t have gone far, but with the sun going down, she might not be easy to find. As it was, I spent what felt like forever (but probably wasn’t more than a few moments) heading east in a cold, scared sweat before I spotted a soft glow up ahead. As I drew closer, I recognized Miki, surrounded once again by her fireflies. I was almost close enough to touch her when she finally noticed.
“It’s worth it, believe me,” she said softly. The fireflies barely lit up her face in the dark, but I could tell she’s been crying. “How can I make you see?”
“Maybe I don’t know what to look for.” I tried to put my arm around Miki, but was afraid she’d pull away from me. To my surprise, she turned toward me and rested her head against my shoulder. I recalled the last person who acted that way: my little sister, a long time ago. And as I pulled Miki close to me, I started to realize, maybe just a little, what she was trying to say.
“It’s not a matter of what we can get, Jot,” she said softly. “Lady Mara wants us to love each other. It’s a matter of what we can do, what we can give, what kindness we can show.” She released a quiet sob, but in my arms, I felt her relax slightly. “You and I both know bad things happen, but we still have to try to love one another, to be kind. The love’s the important thing, Jot. All the love we can muster.”
“I guess I can try,” I said.
“Of course you can,” said Miki, smiling weakly, “I’ve seen you do it.” I hugged her, then, quietly, we headed back to our camp. The fireflies dispersed to wherever fireflies go.
The Knife and the Brooch
The next day we headed northeast. As we walked, the landscape started changing once again, more trees, more foliage. Once we passed Northwind Mountain, we would turn south. One more long day, I thought, and maybe most of another, and we should be close to Riften. That was a comfort, since we only had two rolls and a couple apples left to eat. I hoped we could find or trap something along the way. We kept a decent pace, though, until about midday, when the sky became cloudier. I kept my eyes open for a place to set up the tent if bad weather set in, and it was the middle of the afternoon when the wind picked up and I felt rain drops. We located a small rocky outcropping near the path and after we pitched the tent on the downwind side, we crawled inside to wait out the weather.
With the front flap of the tent open to let in a little light, I took out my whetstone and set to work sharpening my hunting knife. Miki watched with interest. “Where did you get that?” she asked.
“Oh, I’ve had this since I was little. I managed to take it with me when, well, you know.”
“What is it for?” she asked.
“All kinds of things,” I answered. “Cutting branches, skinning animals, that sort of thing.”
“Have you ever used it to defend yourself?”
“Once or twice, maybe, to fend off wolves.”
I knew what she was wondering about. “No,” I said, “I’ve never used this knife on another person.” The main way to deal with bandits, I explained, was to know where their hideouts were and avoid them. The closest I came to an actual fight was the previous winter, when two older boys cornered me, demanding whatever I was carrying. I pulled my knife on them, but they wound up pushing me face first into a snow drift and went through my bag, making off with my food and what little gold I had. One of them yelled, “Take his knife! Take his knife!” But the other told him to leave it. “He’ll be needing that, and it’s only fair,” he said. They were long gone before I was able to stand up.
“So no hard feelings,” I told Miki. She raised her eyebrow but said nothing. “Is that one of those kindnesses you were talking about?” I asked.
“No, those were thieves,” she said.
“Anyway,” I said, “I guess this knife is about the only thing I’ve kept the whole time I’ve been out here. My clothes, my bag, my boots: all those I’ve made or bought over the last three years. But the knife? That’s original.”
We were quiet for a while, watching the rain. Then I asked, “How about you, Miki? Do you have anything like that?”
“You mean, like a keepsake?” I nodded. “Well,” she said, reaching into a pocket, “I have this.” In her hand was a piece of jewelry, the kind they call a brooch. It was oval-shaped, maybe half the size of my hand, made of some kind of tile and surrounded by a metal frame. What struck me was picture of the young girl etched on the face. I looked at Miki, then at the brooch – an amazing likeness!
“Isn’t it beautiful?” Miki said. “My Lord had one made for each of his children, and he said that I should have one as well. A jeweler near Iceni manor made them, and I suppose they cost a lot.” There was a pin on the back, so she could fasten it to her dress or keep her cape closed. “But I’m afraid to lose it,” Miki said, “so I pinned it inside my pocket to keep it safe.”
“It’s very nice,” I said. “Lord Iceni really cared about you, didn’t he?” I handed the brooch back to her.
“I said so, didn’t I?” Miki returned the brooch to her pocket. “Before all this trouble started, he told me he would see to it that I would never have to return to the life I’d left, even if that meant sending me abroad or paying my dowry!”
Miki really had left a lot behind, I thought, which made me feel even worse about snapping at her the night before. When I told her that, Miki decided it was time to console me. “You couldn’t have known,” she said. “And I had no right to accuse you of not understanding. Lady Mara has worked through you, too, in the kindness you’ve shown others. And to me.” She took me by the hand. “And I want you to know I’m thankful for it,” she said. Her hand felt warm. I guess I blushed, though there was no way to tell in the dark tent. By then, the rain had stopped, but it was too late to continue on. We split a single roll and a single apple, and settled into a fitful sleep.
The Final Steps
While I was fairly used to walking day after day, Miki’s long journey had taken its toll. Not having a fire last night made it difficult to rest, and the lack of food hadn’t helped her, either. The next morning, I made her eat the last of our food herself, insisting that we would be able to find more as we traveled. And while it turned out to be a beautiful, sunny morning, Miki needed more rest stops than before. It wasn’t just being hungry, I realized. Her magic must be tiring her out more than I thought.
By late morning, she was ready to admit it. We were resting against the trunk of a wide, shady tree. “I thought I would be alright,” she gasped, “but it’s true. Using my magic, especially the really big acts, costs me a lot. If I’m able to rest and eat enough it’s not a problem, but it’s been many days since I’ve been able to do either.”
“It’s not much further now,” I said. “We should be there by sunset, or not much later than that, anyway.” I didn’t doubt Miki had the will to continue. I just hoped she had the energy.
“Jot,” Miki said. “I know you’ll do everything you can to get us to Riften. But if I can’t go on, promise me two things.”
“We’ll make it, Miki.”
“Promise me, Jot!”
“I’ll promise, Miki. Just tell me.”
“First,” Miki said, “make sure the letter my Lord entrusted to me gets to the Priestess of Mara in Riften.”
“Of course, Miki. But you said two things. What’s the other?”
“That you don’t forget me.” She pressed something into the palm of my hand. “Here,” she said. “Keep it safe for me.”
I tried to hand her brooch back to her, but she waved me away. “I’ll give it back to you in Riften,” I said. “After we’ve had a huge feast!”
We struggled on into midday. Most of the way, Miki leaned on me. We were definitely on the road to Riften, but by early afternoon, I was practically carrying her. I didn’t care. At that point, I was determined we’d make it to Riften together no matter what. I was never so happy to see buildings ahead of us, part of what turned out to be a mining village called Shor’s Stone. I was overjoyed when the miners not only sold us bread and cheese, but allowed us to rest on their land while we ate. I told Miki not to eat too quickly, but it was plain the meal picked her spirits up.
Miki needed less help after that. We made good progress through the rest of the afternoon, and I thought we would reach Riften shortly after sunset. It really was a beautiful day. Around us, it became clear that summer would soon be over: trees were losing their leaves, and those that remained were fiery golds, reds, and oranges. We were following a southeastern path, which would take us past Fort Greenwall to our west. When we reached the fort, we would practically be at Riften.
We were just southeast of Fort Greenwall when it happened. To our right was a small hillock, which edged along the path we were following. To our left was a short expanse of open ground, with some rocky crags beyond. I was ahead, with Miki a few paces back. Once again, I heard it before I saw it – a kind of hissing, spitting sound and then some kind of a splattering just behind me, like a dropped wash rag. Looking to my left, I spotted it. The frostbite spider was about fifty paces away, on the left side of the road. I don’t really remember how big it was, but at the time, it looked the size of a horse! When the spider let loose again, I had just enough time to see Miki turn to look, and for me to push her out of the way of its latest volley.
I didn’t have time to get out of the way myself. The damned thing caught me square in the chest. I went down at Miki’s feet, and I heard her scream “No! NOOOO!” I managed to get back on my knees when Miki grabbed my knife and charged the monster herself! I could only watch as the spider tried to keep Miki in front of its fangs, but it wasn’t quick enough. I could see Miki stabbing at the spider’s side, and then I saw flames leaping around the beast’s legs and head.
Miki killed the spider herself, but it was only after the beast stopped moving that I realized I was in bad shape. I was on my knees, but couldn’t get my feet under me to stand. The base of the hillock we were next to had kind of an overhang. If it rained, you could probably keep dry there. Anyway, that’s where I sat down to figure out how bad things were while Miki staggered back to the hillock. I tried to open my leather vest, but pieces of it broke off in my hands. My chest felt like it was on fire, but the rest of me was freezing. I started shivering; I just couldn’t help it.
Miki reached me and knelt down. “If that was another In-Between Elf trick, you’ve really saved the best for last,” I gasped. I tried to laugh, but only managed a raspy cough.
“Jot! You’re hurt.” She sounded very frightened.
“Just let me rest for a little while,” I said, teeth chattering. “We’re almost there.”
“You need help, Jot!”
“Just make…make…” I couldn’t finish my thought.
I felt Miki sit down next to me, on my left, very close. She managed to pull away the rest of my vest and open up my tunic. Then I felt her wrap my cape around me. “All right, Jot,” I heard her say. “We’ll rest. You stuck by me all this way and I’ll stick by you.” She took my hand, and I started to feel a little warmer. “We’ll just sit here and rest.”
Somehow, I figured out what she was doing, and it worried me. “Miki,” I gasped.
“Shush,” Miki said, “I love you and you’re going to be well.”
“Love,” I tried to say, but I don’t know what I sounded like. “All the –” I coughed again.
“All the love we can muster,” Miki whispered, and when I felt her kiss my cheek, the pain and the cold started melting away from me. I felt like I was being carried like a baby, warm and safe, as I drifted off.
And then I was standing at our farm again in the middle of a bright, sunny day, only it wasn’t our farm. This one was much greener, and on it grew the finest oat crop I’d ever seen. Someone called me. “Jot! Is that you, boy?”
“Papa?” I couldn’t believe it. “Where are you?”
“Up by the house!” It was true, there he was, looking strong and fit as ever! And then I heard another voice: “Jot! Come play with me! Come play with me!”
“Heidi?” I cried, tears in my eyes. “Is that really you?” My sister, just like new. She waved me over to join her and Papa.
But for some reason, I couldn’t move. “All in good time,” a final voice said. My mother, always the sensible one. “Just not yet.” Heidi looked crestfallen, and Mama smiled at her. “But sometime,” she told her. “Sometime soon.” She looked back at me. “We’ll be together again. When the time comes.” I could see my mother, father, and sister saying farewell, but I couldn’t hear them anymore. And gradually, they, and the farm, faded from my sight.
When I awoke, it was morning, though I don’t know how long I’d been asleep. I saw Miki curled up to my left. I felt a lot better than I had the day before. I was sore, of course, but I felt none of the cold. My vest was completely ruined, but if it hadn’t been for the vest, I would have been killed instantly. And as for Miki, I couldn’t begin to describe what I owed her.
I hadn’t had many heroes growing up: my Papa, of course, and maybe Jochem, the fisherman who looked after me for a while. But killing a frostbite spider on her own, and then looking after me like that? I intended to tell Miki she was on that short list of people I admired most.
After what we’d been through, I wanted to let her sleep. She’d certainly earned it. But I thought we should start moving; Riften was close at hand, along with the prospect of proper rest and food. I gave her a nudge. “Miki,” I said. “Wake up. It’s time we got moving.”
“Miki, wake up, huh?”
About the Illustrations
The illustrations in this post are screenshots taken while playing Skyrim, Special Edition (SSE), and edited using Paint.Net. My installation of SSE is pretty heavily modded (as most readers’ installs probably are!). The following mods are relevant to the screenshots:
- The ENB preset that adds mood to the screenshots is PRT – PhotoRealistic Tamriel by L00.
- Weather effects were added via Dolomite Weathers – Natural Lighting Vivid Atmospherics II by Dr Mega and Kojak747.
- Jot and Miki were created using the Young Nord race, which is part of Enhanced Character Edit, by the ECE team.
- Jot’s and Miki’s hairstyles come from ApachiiSkyHair SSE by Apachii.
- Jot’s and Miki’s accessories come from Bandolier – Bags and Pouches Classic by Dragten.
- Miki’s knife comes from The Unclaimed Delivery by SkyrimForDaWin
- Poses, when used, are from Simple Actions by BralorMarr
If it looks like I missed something, please let me know so I can credit the modders properly!