What We Leave Behind, the Conclusion

All the Love You Can Muster

“No, Simon!” Lucia cried. “Don’t!” She grabbed Simon’s raised arm with both hands, bringing it down. “Why, Simon?”

Simon looked down at Miki’s brooch in his right hand, then back at Lucia. He felt confused and ashamed; their meeting wasn’t supposed to go like this! “Lucia,” he said, “I am yours, wholly and only. I thought that, somehow, well, this brooch might come between us.”

“Simon, how could a picture of Miki come between us?”

“Do you know why I’ve kept this brooch all these years?” Simon asked. After all this time, gazing at the brooch could still fill him with melancholy. Whatever resolve he had just moments before had vanished. It would be impossible to cast the brooch away now.

“I do know,” said Lucia, “at least a little. Priestess Balu and Lady Astrid explained parts of the story over the years.” Lady Astrid was Lucia’s mistress, who ran the Honorhall Orphanage and was currently busy opening another children’s home in Whiterun. Lucia stepped closer to Simon, and looked up at his face. “Tell me,” she said. “Did you love Miki?”

Love? That was a difficult question. Simon had loved his parents. He’d loved his little sister. All of them gone, though he missed them every day. But Miki? He’d known her for all of five days.

“Does everything have to have a purpose?”

Miki could certainly astonish. Before he set off from Falkreath to deliver messages to Whiterun and points in-between, Simon had been warned of a demon ravaging the countryside, someone who could burn down buildings with only her hands. He couldn’t believe the skinny elf he encountered east of Falkreath was a danger to anyone until the bundle of twigs she was holding burst into flame! It was a very minor magic power, she admitted, though it simplified building campfires.

More impressive was her feat two nights later, when, cornered by wolves, Miki managed to conjure a glowing, massive projection of herself, which sent the wolves howling in terror. That trick, she said, took a lot out of her, though Simon was certainly happy she managed it. Then she showed Simon her firefly trick, just for fun. “Does everything have to have a purpose?” she giggled.

And Miki could readily confound and exasperate. On the road to Riverwood, Simon relayed the details of his life, the loss of his parents, the plight of orphans in the land, the end of the war, and the friends he’d made or lost since he set out on his own. To his surprise, instead of sympathizing with Simon over his rotten luck, Miki spoke of how Lady Mara, the goddess of love, had extended her blessings to him in little ways: through friends made and kindnesses received. Simon wasn’t ready to believe her, but he had to admit she made him look at things differently.

During their journey together, difficult as it was, Miki spoke of love often. Love was a command of Lady Mara, she explained. Her devotion to her master and her determination to complete her mission were reflections of Mara’s command, and of her blessings. Since Miki had walked all the way from northern Cyrodiil to Falkreath on her own, Simon could hardly question her dedication.

But he really couldn’t understand why. As far as Simon could tell, Miki didn’t have the slightest doubt about what she was saying, and somehow her certainty grated on him. At the end of their third day together, he wondered aloud how could he believe in, much less follow, Lady Mara’s commands in a world where his sister could take sick in die in the middle of winter, where his parents could be murdered by bandits, and where one of his best friends starved or froze and nobody would tell him the truth about it? He instantly realized he should have kept his mouth shut, and his words sent Miki into a tearful rage. She ran off into a gathering dusk, and he only found her because she’d surrounded herself once again with her fireflies.

“It’s not a matter of what we can get, Jot,” Miki said softly in the dark. “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.” Simon gathered her in his harms as she sobbed. “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 you can muster.” Simon said he would try to do better. She believed him.

They soldiered on for two more days, exhaustion and hunger at their heels. Simon made Miki eat the last of their food herself, as her journey, lack of rest, hunger, and her modest magic had clearly taken their toll. It was then that Miki gave Simon her brooch, though he said he would return it to her in Riften, after they celebrated with a huge feast. After that, who knew? One thing Simon knew for sure, though: he didn’t want to be alone like he had been, ever again. He’d carry her to Riften, if that’s what it took.

Miki could love. Riften, their final destination, was only a couple of hours distant when the giant frostbite spider, a revolting creature that spat its venom, attacked. Simon was able to push Miki out of the way of the spider’s volley, but wound up taking most of it in the chest. As he writhed on the ground, an enraged Miki grabbed Simon’s hunting knife and attacked the spider herself! Using the blade and some fiery magic, she managed to dispatch the monster, and staggered back to minister to Simon.

Simon was in a bad way, feeling as if he were freezing and burning to death at the same time. He was vaguely aware of Miki helping him out of his ruined vest and tunic, of Miki sidling up next to him. He tried to protest, not wanting Miki to spend any more magic trying to help him, but he couldn’t get the words out. He remembered her hushing him, “I love you and you’re going to be well.” He tried fruitlessly to respond. “All the love we can muster,” she said. She kissed him gently, and his agony gradually dissipated.

Those were the last words Simon ever heard Miki speak. He awoke the next morning feeling largely healed, but Miki lay next to him, unmoving. She had died during the night.

Shedding the shackles

“Simon?” Lucia’s voice brought him back to the present. “Are you there?”

“Yes,” Simon said. “Did I love Miki? Perhaps. If she had, I mean, if I had…” Simon stopped. “Yes! Yes, Lucia, I did love her. I do. I’m supposed to be yours alone, but it’s like she’s still with me somehow.”

“You did love her,” Lucia said. “And you still do. You act as if that’s a horrible thing. It isn’t, believe me.”

“I failed her, Lucia.” He felt tears welling up. “She gave everything she had to save me, until she had nothing left. She trusted me, and I failed her. Every time I look at this brooch, I remember her trust, her sweetness, and how I didn’t protect her.”

“Simon,” Lucia said. “All these years since then, living in the orphanage, working as a shoemaker with Gunnar and Ingrid, you’ve been punishing yourself? Did you ever think that, had you not appeared in Miki’s life, she wouldn’t have made it as far as she had? Without you, her message may not have been delivered at all!”

Lucia had a point, Simon thought. And in his head, he knew she was probably right, but knowing something in his head was the easy part. Knowing it in his heart was something else. “But,” Simon started.

“But nothing, Simon Sorenson,” Lucia said. “You did the best you could, and more than most would have managed. Nobody can ask for more than that. And your best friend didn’t freeze or starve, did she?” Lucia smiled. When people told him years before that Lucia had gone to live in the Dragonborn’s household, Simon thought they were lying. “Tell me, Simon, what would Miki want for you right now?”

What would she want? Simon realized later that the answer appeared in his heart before his head. “She’d want me to be happy.”

“I think you knew that all along,” said Lucia, “or we wouldn’t be standing here now.”

Simon still held Miki’s brooch in his hand. Somehow, it seemed very warm, but very light. “But it’s still Old Life,” said Simon. “What should I cast away?” He pondered for a moment, and put the brooch back in his pocket. Leaning over the rail, he called out, “This I cast away, that I may step unshackled into New Life’s Day. Guilt, regret, begone from me and mine! Miki Full-of-Love, I know that’s what you would have wanted!”

Simon turned back to Lucia and smiled, feeling lighter and younger than he had in many months. “I’m going to keep the brooch,” he said, “but just to honor her memory.”

“I wouldn’t want it any other way,” Lucia said. “I honor Miki’s memory as well. After a fashion, she did bring us together, didn’t she?”

“I suppose she did, at that,” Simon said. “Thank you for stopping me.”

Lucia shook her head. “Please, let us speak of something else.”

“We still have one matter before us, don’t we?” said Simon, producing the box with the fancy ribbon. Lucia nodded. He knelt down on one knee. “Lucia Dovakiin,” Simon recited, holding up the box, “this I present to you, that thou wouldst know my devotion.”

Lucia took the box and held it in both hands, and responded with formal language of her own. “Simon Sorenson, I see thy devotion plainly before me, and I am filled with gratitude. Wouldst thou speak further unto me?”

“I would,” said Simon. “Lucia Dovakiin, wouldst thou be mine, wholly and only, now and forever? Wouldst thou accompany me through life as I would accompany thee? Wouldst thou be willing to state this plainly before Lady Mara, and before the people?”

“I would,” said Lucia. “As thou hast asked, I would. I will be your wife.”

Simon stood, and bowed slightly to Lucia. “Thou hast my gratitude, and my life.” The recitation of formal words was over. “I can’t begin to describe how happy you’ve made me,” he said. Gesturing to the box in Lucia’s hands, he said, “go ahead and open it.”

Lucia opened the box and gasped. “So lovely!” she exclaimed. “These are absolutely beautiful!” She turned to face him, and he put his arms around her, all thoughts of protocol forgotten. They sat down on a bench near the railing, watching the growing crowd of revelers. Presently, Gunnar and Ingrid arrived with a bottle of Surilie Brothers Wine and four glasses. “Been saving this one,” said Gunnar. “I can’t think of a better time to open it!”

Gunnar and Ingrid toasted Simon and Lucia. Simon and Lucia toasted Gunnar and Ingrid. The men toasted the women. The women toasted the men. By the time the bottle was empty, everyone in the market place was singing, and Simon felt like they were all singing just for them. And maybe they were. Somehow, word spread through the crowd that the shoemaker’s apprentice and the young woman from the orphanage had become engaged, and Simon and Lucia found themselves accepting congratulations from people they didn’t even know! By the time they retired for the evening, the crowd was launching paper lanterns into the air and watching them sail into the night, though to this day, some folks insist they saw fireflies surrounding the happy couple.

Max Returns

“Max? Are you there?” Max was jolted back to reality by a tug on his shirtsleeve. “The coaches are waiting outside,” said Cari. “It’s time to go.”

“Oh, yes. Sure.” Max walked beside Cari to the museum’s Grand Atrium. The motor coaches would be just outside, Thorne School for Boys on the left, and Holy Kynareth Girl’s Prep on the right. “Cari,” said Max, “do you think fireflies come out this time of year?”

“Fireflies?” said Cari, puzzled. “What are you talking about?”

“Just wondering,” said Max. “It’s not important.”

“The random things you bring up sometimes,” said Cari, leaving the sentence dangling.

I’ve just said something stupid, thought Max. Again. She must think I’m the biggest idiot. But as they left the Grad Atrium, didn’t Max’s right hand brush Cari’s left? And didn’t he feel, just for an instant, Cari gently grabbing one of his fingers? He was sure of it, but when he turned to look, Cari was scampering aboard her motor coach.

Max managed to find a window seat on his school’s motor coach. Looking out, he spotted Cari on hers, talking to somebody he couldn’t see. I wonder what I’ll give up for Old Life this year, thought Max. That wasn’t a decision he had to make right away, but he knew there were some things he’d always keep, as long as he had the power not to let go.


“Cari,” said Max, “do you think fireflies come out this time of year?”

Return to Part I

About the Illustrations

Most of 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:

If it looks like I missed something, please let me know so I can credit the modders properly!

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