What We Leave Behind, Part I

School Field Trip

“Ooh, look at this,” said Cari

“Ooh, look at this,” said Cari, pointing to another exhibit.  Max turned away from the display of ancient armor and obediently followed Cari to a low table display case.  He was puzzled by the contents:  a set of tools here, a slipper there, metal fittings one might use on a fancy box.  The tools and fittings were corroded with age, and the slipper barely recognizable.  None of this struck him as terribly significant.  A famous institution like the Cultural Museum of the Rift, Max thought, should be filled wall-to-wall with items of obvious importance.  He expected to see ancient battle axes, shields, and siege engines, and certainly those displays abounded.  What enchanted Cari seemed merely ordinary. 

Looking more closely, Max learned that the tools belonged to a shoemaker many centuries ago, and were unearthed at a site near the Riften Central Train Station.  The owner was believed to have been a certain Simon Sorenson, who, based on fragmentary evidence, was thought to have married a young woman named Lucia more than one thousand years ago.  It then occurred to Max what had captured Cari’s attention.  “So, this Simon Sorenson, is he supposed to be that fellow from those Jot and Miki stories?”

“Some people really want to believe he is,” replied Cari, “but nobody actually knows.  It’s fun to think about, though.”

Max supposed it was, if you liked those stories as much as Cari did (Max liked them as well, though he would never admit it).  “But what am I supposed to be seeing here?” he asked, pointing at the display.  “What am I supposed to be thinking about?”

“Thinking?  You?”  Cari grinned.  “Well, anything you like, I guess,” said Cari.  “It’s not really supposed to make you think anything, outside of ‘here are some tools from long ago.’  Maybe you could think about who used them, and why.  Just think about it for a minute.  If it doesn’t hurt too much, I mean.”

Max brushed aside Cari’s smart remark.  “So, just think?”

“Just think,” said Cari.  “But not for too long.  Our coaches will be along soon.”  Cari, Max, and their classmates would soon be traveling by motor coach to a hostel north of Riften, returning home to Solitude the following morning.

Though Cari could be (and often was) an irritating know-it-all, Max had learned that she could see things others might miss, so it was usually a good idea to pay attention.  So Max pondered.  Shoemaker’s tools.  Slipper.  Box-fittings.  So what, Max thought.  Cari could gawp at things like this all day.  She’d say things like, “Oh, maybe this Simon made a pair of slippers with these tools, and then put them in a box as a gift or something.”  But Cari didn’t say that, Max noted.  He’d come up with it on his own.  What else is there to think about? wondered Max, as he wandered into the unfamiliar territory of reverie.

When Old Was New

Simon removed Miki’s brooch from the wall where it had been for years, and gingerly dusted the porcelain with a clean rag.  Then he placed it in the pocket of his best coat. 

He felt like he was saying farewell all over again. 

Why did he not feel joy?  He should, he thought.  Tonight, on the Festival of Old Life, he would formally ask Lucia Dovahkiin, Daughter of the Dragonborn, for her hand in marriage, and present her with a valuable gift to express his resolution more concretely.  It was traditional for betrothals to be finalized at the Festival of Old Life, the last day of the year.  The next day, the New Life Festival, would mark the first year of the couple’s new life together, regardless of when the wedding ceremony was actually scheduled. 

His calling as a shoemaker did not allow him to buy an expensive gift like jewelry, and practical Lucia would have been disappointed if he even tried to.   Instead, he made her a pair of slippers, as fancy as he could manage, with blue velvet uppers decorated with tiny glass beads, and soft quilted soles, perfect for wearing around the rooms they would take together.  He’d spent weeks working on them, and was sure Lucia would love them. 

However, it was equally customary during the Old Life festival for people to cast away symbols of life they meant to leave behind, so they could face New Life unburdened by the past.  It took a long time for Simon to decide what he could part with.  Miki’s brooch:  It was about half the size of Simon’s hand, with Miki’s likeness etched in porcelain and colorfully painted.  Miki’s peaceful, loving countenance looked back at him, just as it had, day and night, during his time in Honorhall Orphanage and his years of apprenticeship with Gunnar and Ingrid.  The pain of Miki’s absence had decreased over time, as everyone told him it would, but Simon still felt her presence, even after more than six years.  The brooch would be very difficult to part with, but Simon had made up his mind.  He had no right to expect Lucia to share in the burden he had borne alone for years. 

Miki was an elf.  An In-Between Elf, she called herself, from the Summerset Isles.  There, among the Thalmor ruling class, In-Betweens were the lowest of the low, the servants with the worst jobs, subject to disdain and random cruelty.  She never knew her family, and knew nothing but misery until she found herself working for Thalmor Lord Iceni, a widower who needed someone to look after his younger children.  Lord Iceni was an outspoken, devoted follower of Lady Mara’s message of love for all, and he treated Miki like one of his own children.  The brooch had been his gift to her.  However, his devotion made him a dangerous dissident in Thalmor circles, so after sending his older children abroad, he, his remaining children, and Miki fled Iceni manor for Cyrodiil.  They were still in Cyrodiil when Lord Iceni sent Miki on to Skyrim on foot, carrying an important message to the Temple of Mara in Riften. 

Miki had made it as far as Falkreath when a much younger Simon, then working as a courier, agreed to accompany her on the remainder of her journey.  Looking back, Simon couldn’t really understand why he’d agreed to such an undertaking.  He was certainly under no obligation to go with Miki, and he was abandoning a job which at least kept a poor orphan boy from starving.  But agree he did, and the next five days were burned in his memory forever. 

It was late afternoon in the workshop as Simon gave the slippers one last inspection.  “Are they all ready, Jot?” he heard his master ask.  Jot was Simon’s nickname most of his life, though his master Gunnar and his wife Ingrid were the only ones who still used it.

Simon turned to face Gunnar and Ingrid.  “I think so, Uncle,” he said.  “What do you think?”

Gunnar took the slippers and examined them with exaggerated concentration.  “They’ll do, just about,” he said. 

“Oh, quiet, you!” said Ingrid with mock indignation.  “They’re absolutely perfect, and Lucia’s sure to treasure them.  What are you going to put them in?”

“Put them in?”  Simon’s face fell.  He hadn’t thought of that. 

“Of course you need a box to put them in!  Where’s your thinking, boy?”  Gunnar said, as Ingrid produced a dainty wooden box from behind her back.  When Simon opened it, he saw that it contained a small pouch stuffed with sweet-smelling herbs.  Thanking Gunnar and Ingrid, Simon placed the slippers in the box, and Ingrid tied it closed with fancy blue ribbon. 

“You’re all set to go now,” said Ingrid, smiling.  “Now, don’t forget, it’s Old Life tonight.  Do you remember your sentences?”  Ingrid meant the rather stilted, formal language he and Lucia would have to use during their meeting. 

“Yes, Auntie.  I spent all morning memorizing them.”

“Good,” said Ingrid, “and have you got something to cast away?”

“Yes, Auntie,” Simon replied.  “I do.  I do.”

In the gathering dusk, Simon walked slowly through town to the Riften marketplace to meet Lucia, fancy box under his arm, and Miki’s brooch in his pocket.  Here and there workers had set up lanterns in preparations for the night’s festivities.  Approaching the marketplace, Simon saw groups of people already assembling, mostly families with young children, eager to make an early start (and finish) to the festivities.  The less inhibited revelers, Simon knew, would appear later. 

Finding their meeting spot at the western edge of the marketplace by the canal, Simon settled down to wait for Lucia.  He was early; he knew better than to keep a lady waiting.  Leaning against a rail, he watched as workers lit a tall, conical tower of multi-colored lanterns right in the middle of the marketplace.  Their blinking lights reminded him of fireflies, somehow.  Simon suddenly felt the weight of the brooch in his pocket.  As an In-Between Elf, Miki possessed some modest magic, and fireflies had been Miki’s friends.  Somehow, she was able to summon them, and they would appear in spirals around her body, like a living lantern all around her.  In his mind’s eye, he could still see them, gently illuminating Miki’s face in the night while she giggled and Simon gaped in wonder. 

Reproaching himself, Simon tried to come back to the present.  He was Lucia’s after all, and wanted to be more than anything.  But still, in quiet moments, he found himself rewriting the past – if he had listened enough, acted quickly enough, could events have transpired any other way?  He knew it was impossible to say, but thoughts like these, along with the guilt and loneliness, were difficult to quash.  A new life, Simon thought.  A new life without the burden of my old one.  He reached into his pocket, and held the brooch without taking it out.  It’s the right thing to do, for Lucia and for me. 

“It warms my heart to see you tonight.”

Simon spotted Lucia approaching from the direction of Honorhall Orphanage, where she had served for several years, and where he himself had lived prior to his apprenticeship with Gunnar.  She was wearing a dark blue quilted coat, which contrasted elegantly with her dark red hair.  Simon and Lucia joined hands and greeted each other with a gentle bow; it certainly wouldn’t do to embrace in public, no matter how much they wanted to.  “Lucia,” said Simon simply, using the words he memorized, “it warms my heart to see you tonight.”

“It warms my heart as well,” replied Lucia, continuing the script, “to walk with you on this night of Old Life and New Life, together to cast away that which we leave behind, and together to face the future.  Let us first cast away the old, before we discuss the new.”

“Let it be as you say,” said Simon.  “What have you to cast away?”

Lucia relaxed visibly; she could now speak more casually.  “Only this,” she said, removing an inexpensive chain from around her neck.  Attached was a small pendant.  “It’s the Honorhall crest.  See?”  Simon inspected the pendant.  “Lady Astrid gave it to me years ago, but she said since I’ve grown up, it really doesn’t need to be part of me anymore.”  She balled up the chain and pendant in her fist, and with a small flourish, threw them into the canal, where they landed with a faint splash.  “This I cast away,” Lucia recited, “that I may step unshackled into New Life’s Day.” 

Lucia turned to look at Simon.  “And what have you to cast away?”

Simon reached into his pocket and, gathering Miki’s brooch in his hand, he found himself remembering the last day of their journey together.  They were only hours from Riften, but desperately hungry and exhausted.  Miki had the worst of it – her magic, minor though it was, cost her dearly, and without proper food and rest, she was near despair.  It was then that Miki asked Simon for two promises:  “First,” Miki said, “make sure the letter my Lord entrusted to me gets to the Priestess of Mara in Riften.”  The second:  “That you don’t forget me.”  And with that, she pressed the brooch into Simon’s hand. 

Priestess Balu got her letter, and Simon had kept the brooch ever since.  Pulling it from his pocket, he thought:  I won’t forget you, Miki.  Not ever.  But I have to live my life with Lucia now.  I have to devote myself fully to her, and only to her.  Wherever you are, I hope you understand that. 

Simon held out the brooch for Lucia to see.  “That’s the brooch you put up over your workbench all those years ago, isn’t it?”  Simon nodded.  “That’s Miki, right?  The one matter you never wanted to talk about?”

Simon simply said “yes,” as he drew his arm back to toss the brooch into the canal. 

“This I cast away,” said Simon, “that I may step unshackled into New Life’s Day.”

“Simon!  Jot!  NO!”


Go to Conclusion

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