Voices of the Dragonborn Era, Part I

Cari was beside herself with excitement. It was finally here, the book she’d been waiting for! Sure, she’d skimmed a library copy a couple of years prior, but there was nothing like having a copy of her own, hers to keep, to dive into. After thanking the SK Intercontinental delivery driver profusely, Cari sat down at the kitchen table and unwrapped her treasure: Voices of the Dragonborn Era, an oral history of events more than ten centuries ago, in high-quality hard cover. Cari was a constant reader, and anything to do with the Dragonborn Era fascinated her, even before her adventure with Näktergal.

She opened the cover, savoring the new book smell and admiring the gilded pages. The book was the result of more than a decade of work by a score of scholars, some of whom she’d heard of, and one, Doctor Swenson, the director of the Blue Palace Museum and Interpretive Center, she actually knew personally. The book was divided into sections corresponding to the ancient Skyrim holds, with additional essays covering topics common to the entire province.

Cari almost didn’t know what to read first! She wanted to devour every chapter at once, but finally settled down and started at the beginning, with the events in Whiterun Hold, where scholars generally agreed the Dragonborn Era really began. After a general overview of Whiterun Hold in centuries past, Cari read the first recollection:

Dorthe Alvorsdottir, Riverwood, letter to her granddaughter

Today, Riverwood is a working-class Vitbäck suburb sitting on the south bank of the White River and bisected by the Falkreath Expressway. Its prominent features are a paper mill and the South Bank Football Grounds, home of the perennially-relegated Riverwood Rovers. In the Dragonborn Era, Riverwood was a sleepy village dominated by a sawmill, but as it sat on a major trade route between Whiterun and the western holds, Riverwood appears in many contemporary accounts of those times.

What follows is a letter from a grandmother to her granddaughter, which certainly must have been copied and recopied over the years. The latest copy, about three hundred years old, is preserved in the Winterhold University archives. While it is impossible to know how the text has changed in the years since it was first written, the letter does provide some insight into the lives of common people in ancient Whiterun Hold.

My Dearest Dagmar,

You once asked me what I remembered about the time of the dragons. It was harder to tell than I thought it would be, and I don’t think I provided a satisfactory answer. To be sure, it was a momentous time, but how much of what I remember has to do with what was happening in the world, and how much had to do with what was happening to a growing girl? As you are now the age I was then, I take up a pen and paper to convey my recollections properly.

First of all, do I remember the dragons? Of course I do! Who wouldn’t? When we heard about Helgen, I was frightened, but I was excited as well. The excitement lasted until I actually saw one with my own eyes. After the dragon burned Helgen, we spotted the beast flying over our little village. It didn’t seem to notice us, but continued flying to the north, as if to strike Whiterun. Some of the townspeople began running up the road leading to Whiterun to get a better view of what was about to happen. Since Papa was with them, I began running too, despite Mama’s protests! Eventually we came to a place called Wolf’s Bend, where we could see all the way down to Whiterun’s Western Watchtower. The dragon was attacking there, and what a frightening sight that was! I expected the beast would make quick work of the watchtower, and Whiterun too, but it met its end right there. They say the Dragonborn, a mighty, magical warrior sent the dragon straight to Oblivion and absorbed its power. While I can’t say for sure that’s what happened, I know I saw the dragon’s body began to glow, then burn. And after that I heard a mighty cry of triumph that echoed across the Whiterun Plain and up the mountainsides!

On that day, we learned about the horror of dragons, but also about hope – we now knew they weren’t invincible.

Now, don’t get the idea that we didn’t still fear the dragons. While Riverwood never actually suffered a dragon attack, dragons were occasionally visible, high up, circling like birds of prey. Every now and then, one would let loose a roar, which one could hear a long way off. It was worse at night, lying in my bed, listening and wondering if we were going to be burned up just like Helgen. Even after the Jarl sent some soldiers to defend the town, that feeling was still there, and it remained for a long time, even after the dragons were gone for good.

You once asked me if I ever met the Dragonborn. I can only say I might have. You see, back in those days, during the war, many people were coming through Riverwood, on their way to Whiterun or Falkreath or somewhere else. Now, you know we have a family story of the Dragonborn visiting our house, and maybe it’s true! Cousin Hadvar brought travelers to our home on more than one occasion. Could one of those people have been the Dragonborn? Who knows?

While many travelers came through Riverwood when I was a girl, I only remember a few distinctly. One was a young boy, a little older than me. He was a messenger. He would pass through from Falkreath on the way to Whiterun, and a few days later would come back the other way. He would always greet me with a wave and a smile, and even if I couldn’t work up the nerve to talk to him, I made sure to be outside when he came through town. I thought he was the handsomest boy I’d ever seen! Although I spent all my days trying to be as great a blacksmith as my father was, I found myself wondering what it would be like to have a life of travel and adventure just like that messenger boy. Or maybe with that messenger boy! Then one day, he passed through on the way to Whiterun with a girl, skinny, dirty, but very pretty. He waved as usual, but I was jealous and couldn’t hide my scowl. That was the last I saw of him. My father couldn’t understand why I was gloomy the next couple of days, but I think my mother knew. Years later, I heard that the boy had settled in far-away Riften, but I can’t really say for sure.

The other travelers I remember best came when I was about sixteen years old. Per Andersson was a farrier, and he brought his family to stay in Riverwood. His wife’s name was Karin, and they had a son about my age named Erik. Having a farrier in town was great for us! Herr Andersson paid us to make basic horseshoes of different sizes, which he would pound into final shape for a particular horse. Since we did most of the work, he could spend more time with customers’ horses, and together we had a thriving business.

Every day, just before sunset, I would carry a load of shoes to the Andersson’s shop, and Erik would take them from me. When I told him I made half of them myself, he didn’t believe me. I was angry with him for that, since I’d spent years at my family’s forge. By then, I’d made any number of things: swords, axes, helmets, and so forth. Knocking out a bunch of horseshoes wasn’t even a challenge! I supposed I could understand, in a way. A young woman at a forge wasn’t unheard of, but it wasn’t something you saw every day, either. Then one day, he had to bring some gold to my father at the shop, and saw me working. He stayed all afternoon, watching me! I spent the next day at his father’s shop, where he taught me a little about fitting horseshoes. We became friends after that, and most of the story since then you already know, since Erik is your grandfather!

Accompanying the text was a photograph of modern-day Riverwood, taken along the thoroughfare where the original village was believed to have been. Cari tried to imagine simple wooden buildings along a muddy street in place of the paper mill, shops, and blocks of flats. It wasn’t easy, especially since Cari had never even been to Vitbäck, much less its suburbs. But after gazing at the illustration for a while, she could almost see, superimposed over a contemporary scene, a blacksmith shop, an inn, maybe? And a hopeful young girl, carrying in her arms a load of horseshoes, and her future.

Cari considered reading more, but she was getting hungry, and with Papa arriving shortly, she got up to prepare supper for both of them. After that, she would head off to help Aunt Teri with Baby Gigi, who, at just a year old, was turning into quite a handful! I can read more later, Cari thought. These stories will still be here.

TO BE CONTINUED…