Voices of the Dragonborn Era, Part III

Aww, Gigi, Will You Ever Go to Sleep?

“Noodle-noodle-noodle-noodle-noodle!” declared Baby Gigi. As far as Cari could tell, that meant “I don’t want to go to sleep and you can’t make me!” Gigi stood up in her crib, steadied herself on the rail, and gave her older cousin a challenging look.

Cari stood facing Gigi in the nursery, trying to figure out how to avoid arguing with an infant. Downstairs, Gigi’s Mama, Cari’s beloved Aunt Teri, was relaxing with an evening cup of tea. Cari wanted her to stay down there – by no means did she want her auntie to come up and take over the task she’d volunteered for. Cari had already changed Gigi’s nappy and wrestled her into her nightdress. The rest should have been easy, but Cari found out quickly that nothing about infants was simple. Not that she would let it deter her. Aunt Teri, Papa’s younger sister, had been part of Cari’s life since the day she was born, and her presence became even more important after Cari lost her mother. Cari was over the moons when Gigi was born, and at almost fourteen years old, she was determined to help her auntie as much as her auntie had helped her and her Papa.

“So, Frokken Fussypants, you don’t want to go to sleep, eh?” Cari raised an eyebrow at Gigi, who grinned back at her.

“Bibubibubibubibu!” Gigi insisted.

“Oh, you want your Bibu, then?” Cari quickly located Gigi’s toy mammoth and placed it in her crib.

“Bubububububububu!” Gigi corrected.

“You want me to read to you?” Cari found a copy of Starling, Starling and held it up so Gigi could see it.

“Bubububububububu!” Not Starling, Starling, apparently. Cari held up the only other book she had close by: a big, thick volume called Voices of the Dragonborn Era, which Cari toted everywhere. “Bubububububububu!” exclaimed Gigi happily.

Why would she want me to read that to her? Cari wondered, but she decided there was no point in gainsaying a baby. Cari lifted Gigi out of her crib and sat down in an easy chair, balancing her cousin on one knee while steadying the book on the other. Carefully, she turned the pages until she found the section she wanted and began reading aloud.

The brooding, ancient Citadel — site of the even more ancient Dragonsreach?

Whiterun and Dragonsreach

The immense, brooding structure known simply as the Citadel sits atop a steep mound in central Vitbäck. Visitors come from all over the country to walk the Citadel’s grounds and ramparts, but the Citadel as it stands today does not figure at all in the Dragonborn Era. The Citadel was built some two hundred years later, an extensive modification of a structure which itself replaced the Jarl’s Palace, Dragonsreach. While Dragonsreach is mentioned in many contemporary accounts of the Era, its actual appearance is lost to history! Archaeologists can give us an outline of the palace’s layout, but an accurate contemporary representation has never been found. In any case, it was said to be a magnificent building. The Imperial historian Nunnius, writing around the time of the Dragonborn Era, records it thusly:

Dragonsreach, as has been said, was the palace of Whiterun’s esteemed Jarl, and second only to the Blue Palace in Solitude in its beauty and grandeur. The finest timber in Skyrim was used in its construction, and it is said that all who beheld Dragonsreach were awestruck, and believed that those living within, from the mighty Jarl even unto the lowly cook, were blessed by the Divines. The name of the palace comes from the giant dragon skull decorating the great hall, and it is averred that the very Dragonborn captured another dragon there, and prevailed upon the beast to obey the Dragonborn’s commands. For reasons unknown, the wrath of the Divines fell upon Dragonsreach not a score of years thereafter, and the palace was burned with fire so great that not one pole or beam was left. Now are Dragonsreach and the surrounds greatly incinerated.

In other words, Dragonsreach burned down, possibly from a lightning strike, and the fire took a number of other buildings out with it. Still, faint traces in the ruins can give us some clues about life at Dragonsreach and its immediate environs in that era. As might be expected, the Dragonsreach dungeon contains numerous macabre mementos of its history, including scratches in the stone wall from a certain Karl, claiming to be “remanded unjustly.” Beneath the faint writing are dozens of tally marks, apparently marking each day of incarceration.

What Karl did to wind up in the dungeon and how long he really stayed there are unknown, of course. Equally cryptic are the words carved into a floor stone in what archaeologists believe to have been an inn, not far from Dragonsreach. This stone, found in excavations behind the building now containing Old Man’s Tavern, contains the words “Thus is Saadia vindicated.” While Saadia was a common name in Hammerfell during the Dragonborn Era (and still is), this particular Saadia remains a mystery.

Not so the Battle-Borns – with many descendants still living in southern Skyrim, the Battle-Born clan’s impact on Skyrim, particularly in the Dragonborn Era, cannot be exaggerated. Consider Lars Battle-Born, son of Alfhild, grandson of patriarch Olfrid. A young lad at the start of the Dragonborn era, he was described as modest and unassuming, “meek, kind, but lacking in courage and martial spirit,” as Nunnius put it. As a youth, his reluctance to take up sword and shield was not viewed kindly by his own family, or even by rival families.

But bravery can express itself off the battlefield. Growing up during the Civil War, Lars Battle-Born was greatly disturbed not only by the violence, but by the enmity among families that had theretofore been friendly. When political turmoil in the Aldmeri Dominion allowed the Empire to renounce the White-Gold Concordat, most Stormcloaks were ready to rejoin the Empire, and General Tullius, the Imperial commander, was ready to parley. It seemed that peace was truly achievable. However, with years of scores to settle, a significant portion of Empire loyalists, known as the Retributionists, were not ready to forgive and forget. In their view, Stormcloak military and political leaders deserved punishment: banishment, divestiture, or even worse. Lars Battle-Born, though still in his teenage years, accompanied his grandfather Olfrid to Solitude for a conference of the Loyalist clans to settle the issue once and for all. Nunnius writes:

All the leading houses of Skyrim were gathered together that day, desiring to find accord. Great consternation flowed throughout: Some houses desired amity, but others demanded vengeance upon the Stormcloak Jarls and generals. The clamor of those seeking retribution rose above the rest, vexing those who sought peace. Among the host sat Lars Battle-Born, youngest of House Battle-Born, a callow youth, and, it has been said, not known for valor. That day, after hearing arguments from one side or another, he cried out unto the host, “Enough! Have we not endured years of war? Have we, Nords all, not endured years of misery and destruction? Have we not now the chance to restore harmony unto our nation, as in olden times? Could any of those assembled here face Mighty Talos, whom we may again pray to openly, and say, ‘I cried aloud for yet more hatred and destruction?’ Who here may wish it inscribed on his gravestone, ‘I cried for retribution?’ Would it not be better to have written, ‘I rebuilt my land?’ I, a humble youth of no renown, can speak only for myself, but I say, let us not seek vengeance! Let us rebuild our land! Let us rebuild our honor! Let us rebuild Skyrim as friends!” A great rumble of voices ran through the host, saying, “Who is this youth? Is this not the youngest Battle-Born? On what authority does he speak?” Then the host asked unto his grandfather, Olfrid Battle-Born, patriarch of that mighty house, “What say you? What are your words on this matter?” Olfrid Battle-Born answered the host, saying, “My grandson has the right of it. My words are his.” From that moment, those seeking retribution were sorely shamed, and begged to join House Battle-Born in rebuilding the nation.

If Nunnius’ account is accurate, the Retributionist movement dissolved that day, paving the way for the Great Reconciliation. There is reason to believe that Nunnius got it right – fragments of a letter Lars Battle-Born wrote to the woman he eventually married state, “I did speak at Castle Dour, and surely above my station, but I am not sorry for it. I spake from my heart and conscience, and was filled with gratitude that my honored grandfather spake on my behalf.” What is left of this letter is stored at the University of Solitude.

Battle-Born Farm ruins

While the Battle-born mansion in Whiterun is believed to have been consumed in the fire that destroyed Dragonsreach, most of the family, plus the clan’s records and treasures, had already shifted to Battle-Born Farm, outside the city walls. The ruins of the manor house still exist, along with the water mill built centuries later. Around the fireplace mantel, details of the Battle-Born family history are carved into the brickwork. Though faint, some of the words are still readable:

Alfild – wed Idolaf of Roriksted, son of Horsa and Klara

Jon – wed Henrietta of Bruma, daughter of Olaf and Edith

Lars – wed Braith of Whiterun, daughter of Amren and Saffir

Battle-Born Mill

The land surrounding Battle-Born Farm is still held by the family, but is leased to Vitbäck as parkland for next to nothing, on the condition that the park close one day per year for the Battle-Born descendants’ family reunion.

Cari was intrigued. The Battle-Born family still exists? That Lars! What a brave young fellow! Cari wondered if she was capable of that kind of courage. There was no way to tell, of course, so it didn’t pay to think too hard about it. Besides, baby Gigi had fallen asleep on Cari’s lap. Very, very carefully she picked up her cousin and laid her in her crib. Gigi didn’t stir as Cari switched off the light and left the room. Cari concluded that what Gigi really wanted was to hear somebody talking to her; she was soothed by the sound of Cari’s voice, if not the words. Will she wind up being a history buff like me? Cari wondered. Time would tell.

About the Illustrations

I wanted to get a picture of Cari and Baby Gigi squaring off in the first paragraph of this story, but sadly, my drawing skills aren’t what they should be. Doing Skyrim screenshots was out of the question as well — I don’t think anyone’s developed a mod that would allow me to make an infant character! So I went to Pexels and found a nice picture of a crib taken by Karolina Grabowska, complete with Gigi’s toy mammoth! As I’ve mentioned before, Pexels is a great site for all kinds of stock photos. Be sure to check them out!

The remaining photos are from my personal collection, as follows:

  • The Citadel is really Clifford’s Tower in York, North Yorkshire, U.K. The first castle on this site was built late in the 11th century, while the tower we see today dates from the 13th century. An interesting article from English Heritage can be found here.
  • The Battle-Born Farm photos are of the real-life Chapman’s Mill, an historic site on the border of Prince William and Fauquier Counties in Virginia, U.S. You can read more about it by clicking here.