A Psijic’s Measure: Haven

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When desperation gives way to surrender, a door opens for grace.

I have been saved countless times, and on some golden occasions, I have saved others.

I met a woman who had become a blood fiend. She rued the lives she’d drained, in her blind raptures, and so, in a sober moment, she swallowed cold poison and died, before she could harm another.

I came upon a village where all had been turned to stone, save one: the mage. His spell hardened flesh, calcified pulse between the heartbeats. Fear drives one to strange measures. But it was his spell, too, which had first rendered savage the wolves and bears. Grief raises unsuspected monsters.

Some say rescue follows brave acts. But I know, the bravest act is to turn within, to face the knife of grief, to feel the snap of fear. In the alchemy of mind and flesh, transforming panic to breath to calm to peace: that is where true magic resides.

The mage in the stone village lost a son in battle. If he could harness the energy within this earth, surely he could raise his son! But when we turn from pain, monsters escape the cracks.

We had to kill many beasts before we could close the rifts. When all was done, and the villagers’ hearts began to pound again, they shouted for justice.

“Kill the mage!” they yelled.

“I deserve to die,” he said, and through his eyes, his son’s glance shone back. He wept. The sun shot rays of gold.

“No one will die,” I replied. “He turned you to stone to save you from the beasts. The savage ones are gone now. You’re safe, as you are. No one need pay more.”

The mage looked in my eyes. “A psijic’s measure,” he said. “Kindness. Mercy. Courage.”

The hardest courage is that which opens the path for kindness, for that’s the courage of setting down armor and walking through fire, ice, arrows, and spears, right into the battleground of pain and fear: unarmed, protected with only the openness of the heart. Mercy requires the greatest bravery.

But that’s the path that Meridia lays down.

After our parents were killed by maormer, my sister, Twig, and I stowed away on a Khajiit trading ship, leaving Grahtwood for Auridon. Our parents had moved to Haven, emigrating from Elden Root when I was just a baby, years before Twig was born. They abandoned the Green Pact when they became merchants. It was the sweet taste of pumpkin, my mom always said, that drove them to break the vow.

There were times, an orphaned teen beneath Alik’r’s taut skies, when I believed my wanderings to be Y’ffre’s curse, repayment for our parents’ betrayal. But I don’t believe that any longer.

If one lives long enough, one finds curses turn into blessings.

I sit now, an old mystic, in the wild meadow by my cottage outside of Haven’s walls. I hear the gull call. The evening wind carries memories of battle cries and mourners’ sobs, mothers’ songs and reapers’ chants, a Khajiit’s prayer and an Argonian’s meditation. When I am especially still, I catch the scent of cherry blossoms from Artaeum.

We ended up on Vulkhel Guard, my sister and I, after the ship landed to unload. I found an empty barn near the docks, and we slept in the hay. Only two days later, she was gone. I returned from scavenging food, and the barn was empty, and the old Khajiit on the dock told me Argonians carried her off to their ship.

Thus began my peregrine life: What started as a search became a pilgrimage.

What if you woke one morning to find that every choice you had made and would make, all that had happened, and all that would happen, including getting lost and getting found and finding others and losing them, the deaths of those you love and even your own death, what if it all had significance and meaning? What if, after all, everything really was all right?


Author’s notes: I’ve been immersed in Elder Scrolls Online. What began as WTF, what even IS this game, and how come there’s so much killing! has become an enchantment with rich lore, landscapes, stories, and worlds and a delight in the ethical considerations of the game. Right now, this game is filling a niche for me. The in-game quests can happen so quickly, even when I play solo and read everything, so I often don’t have time to process and internalize the story. That’s what A Psijic’s Measure is for: It’s a chance for me to engage fully with the stories, characters, and worlds of Elder Scrolls Online.

As such, it’s fanfic: The world-building, many of the characters, and many of the plots come directly from the game. There will be loads of spoilers in every chapter–gamers beware! If you play the game, I hope you enjoy an internalized, reflective look at a sojourner’s life in Tamriel. If you don’t play, I hope you enjoy this story of a wood elf who wanders far from home.

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Story A Day for May, Day 10

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Each Other’s Angels

I’m always surprised when someone remembers me. Why would Solomon’s granddaughter remember me? I was no one important, and we were together five, maybe six times. No more.

I had daydreamed about playing fairy godmother to her! I thought: If I get the position at the university, I will be able to take Solomon’s granddaughter on hikes! We could ride the train into the city to watch a play, and afterwards, we’d eat sundaes. She made me light up–so funny, so earnest. Shy, until she saw you were listening with interest–and then, she spoke with sparks!

But I didn’t get the job, even with Solomon’s recommendation. Or possibly, because of his recommendation. He fell so quickly, so fast. But he had been an angel to me.

I was offered the position at the university in the city. Of course I accepted. It was hard for a woman philosopher to find a position, even with the secondary emphasis in gender theory and linguistics. It took thirty-five years and dozens of significant publications before I could pick and choose where I wanted to teach, and that’s what led me back here, a few years after Solomon had passed on.

Sometimes, former students will find me in the library. “Oh!” they say, “I became a teacher because of you!” “I became an anthropologist–librarian–mathematician–journalist–researcher, or yes, even philosopher–because of you.”

And I can scarcely remember their names. Had they spoken in class? Had they ever attended office hours?

“You were so important to me.”

I never knew. Did Solomon know how important he had been to me? Surely, I must have told him.

I remember the first time I met him. I’d just arrived in town the day before. I wandered into the lobby of the Humanities Hall. “We are so glad you’re here,” he said, confusing me. How did he know me from the other entering first-year grad students? Weren’t there dozens of us? Was he glad we were all here? He told me later that my application letter, my transcripts, and the recommendations from my undergrad professors singled me out–plus, my GREs were top-rate, especially in logic. “I could tell you would make it. Those types of students–the types like you–are few and far between.”

He was my mentor, and I was his assistant. But I don’t think I really did much for him besides copy articles I’d hunted down in the stacks and listen. I did a lot of listening. But that was for me, not for him.

When I taught in the city, I often walked through the alleys. One of my research focuses for a few years was the constructed realities of those who live outside of the main consensus reality. And it was in the alleys that I found some of my best subjects.

For about four months, I spoke most mornings with Oskar, a leather-skinned man in a crusty Greek fisherman’s cap, a wool jacket on cold days or a striped polo shirt on warm ones. His corner was behind the pet shop, and sometimes, the store clerk brought out a cat or puppy to sit with him.

Holding a calico kitten in his lap, Oskar told me once, “We are each other’s angels. How does God work? He has no form. He has only this.” He gestured around him to the backs of the buildings on either side of the alley, grimy from exhaust and dirt, to the slice of the bay we could see at the alley’s end, to a dandelion, growing from a crack in the cement. He held out his two hands.

“How does Spirit work, when Spirit has no form? It must enter form. And then, we can do God’s bidding. We become his angels.” Oskar nodded as he rubbed the kitten’s ears.

Who are my angels now? There is a singer in a Korean pop band whom I love–he lights up when he sings. He records videos for his fans with his i-Phone and posts them to YouTube. He is so candid, so fresh, so unrehearsed. In the comments, teen girls write, “I stopped self-harming because of you.” “I used to spend all day in bed. But when you say, ‘Let’s all be happy,’ I get up. I try. And now, I am happy, too.” “Thank you for helping me love again.” We might think this isn’t real–he is an idol, and they are idolizing him.

But I have been observing my own responses–yes, even me, an old lady. His black eyes are soft–he lights up. There is no other way to say it. And what stirs in us? What stirs in him? It is love.

The work of angels is to teach us love.

My students say, “Because of you, I finished school.”

Kate Elder tells me, “You were so important to me.”

I fall in love with a woman on a street corner, whom I will never see again, most likely, and in that instant, she saves me.

We never know when we are someone’s angel. It’s not our doing. It is love, moving through us. It is Spirit. The best we can do is to be ourselves–honestly, openly, generously, bravely. Then, when Spirit needs to work through our form, we are available. It is not our doing–we are only the containers, the medium. We are each other’s angels.


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Prompt for May 10: “Write a story in under 1000 words focusing on creating one brilliant image in your reader’s mind,” from StoryADay.org 
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Story A Day for May, Day 9

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Tea Party

The older woman and her Australian shepherd sat beneath a birch at the dog park. While her own dog, Speckles, raced through the meadow, Kate approached the woman. Kate had entered the park after her, and Kate recognized something in her gait–the way she held her elbow out, the tilt of her head, her long legs and slim build. Funny, the things that stay with a person from childhood.

It was harder to find the Celeste she’d known nearly fifty years ago in the woman’s face, but the light in her eyes was the same.

“I think I know you,” Kate said. “Celeste, right?”

“Yes, I’m Dr. Templeton,” the woman answered. “Were you a student? A philosophy major?”

“No, no,” replied Kate. “But you knew my grandfather, and you spent time with me, long ago.”

It had been during the spring of fifth grade, the season for the school’s annual Mother-Daughter Tea. In second grade, the first year that Kate came to live with her grandfather, she had been permitted to skip the formal event; Grandfather sensed that it was too soon after her mother’s passing to subject her to such a tradition.

The next year, and the year after that, he escorted her. He looked so dapper, with a felt hat, a tie, and red suspenders, that she endured the torture of a dress, with a scratchy slip underneath, tights, and shiny shoes.

In fifth grade, the tea landed during a time of her grandfather’s closed door. Kate schemed: When all the girls filed out to form the line to greet the arriving mothers, she would duck aside–she’d bring her play clothes in a bag–and she’d race to the meadows. She and Baron would spend the day at the beach. No one would miss her. That was a fact.

But the week before the event, her grandfather opened his door.

“Suppose it must be close to time for that tea party,” he said.

She tasted dread, and her feet grew heavy.

“Of course I can’t take you.”

She hopped, just a bit.

“But I know someone who can.”

He said it in the way that meant, this is how it will be: no resistance, no questions.

“What do you want to wear?” he asked. “Do you need money for the salon?”

She said she’d wear her black slacks, a white shirt, and a tie.

“I suppose you’ll want to be borrowing one of mine then,” he said. He opened the door to his room, and she followed. It felt warm and dark with the shutters drawn against the spring sun, and it smelled oddly delicious–like books and black ink. His bed was half-covered with open notebooks and sheets of paper, save for a little nest of his pillow and covers in the corner. He led her to the closet, where inside the door hung all his ties. She fingered them. Wool. Polyester. Cotton. At last she settled on a black silk tie, with embroidered butterflies on it–pink, purple, yellow.

“This one.”

“Your mother gave me that,” he said, sliding it off its hook and gently placing it around her neck, where the silk felt cool and liquid. “She always had impeccable taste. Like you.”

Kate looked away.

“Can I show you something?” her grandfather asked. He took a notebook from his bed and read to her a poem about a willow and the moon.

“It’s sad,” said Kate.

“I’ve been working out, very unsuccessfully, what suffering is about. What do we gain? What purpose does it serve?”

“When I hear that poem, I feel soft here,” Kate said, bringing both hands to her chest. “When I’m sad, it makes me soft. It makes it easier to love other people, don’t you think? Even those who are mean to us? When I hear that poem, I can love everyone, like the moon does.”

Her grandfather kissed her on the top of her head, then motioned her out the door, which he closed after her.

The next week, the night before the tea, a tall young woman arrived when it was getting dark out. She wore her chestnut hair in a loose bun, and tortoiseshell glasses low on her nose. Grandfather’s door remained closed.

“I am Celeste Templeton!” she said. “I’m one of your grandfather’s doctoral students. I am here because he has asked me to be your escort tomorrow, and I want to make certain that is acceptable to you.”

Celeste suggested a trial run, so, with Kate’s help, she made a pot of Darjeeling, a platter of cinnamon toast, and a bowl of peeled and segmented tangerines. They practiced holding out their pinkies and laughing discreetly behind their napkins, even when they told the most outrageous jokes. And then, just to get it out of their systems, they pretended to be cowboys at a bar so they could drink tea out of jars and throw their crumbs to the floor and laugh until the tea came out of their noses.

“I like being a cowboy better than a lady,” said Kate.

“Me, too,” said Celeste.

The next day, when Kate, in her black slacks, white shirt, and black silk tie embroidered with butterflies, stood in the line to greet the arriving mothers, she found that Celeste had dressed to match, wearing the same dapper style her grandfather always had, even down to the felt hat and the suspenders. They sat at a small round table near the window with a faculty wife and her daughter, who was in the gifted program with Kate, and who might, on occasion, be called a friend. They talked about books, about cellos, about hawks, about where to find the best pollywogs, about which trees in Ratchet’s Forest were most climbable, and about the purpose of suffering. And all three of them thought that Kate’s answer, that it makes it easier for us to love others, even those who have been mean to us, was a good one.

“I remember you,” said Celeste Templeton in the dog park. “We had a most delightful tea together, didn’t we?”

“That we did!” laughed Kate. “Do you remember what we wore? I was such a Tomboy!”

“And I was such a Butch!” laughed Celeste. “Still am, when the mood strikes. I was sorry to hear about your grandfather, though it was so long ago, now.”

“Not so very long,” said Kate, thinking that the decade of grief had only just ended. “You were very important to me,” Kate said softly. “You gave me something–showed me something. Thank you.”

Celeste gestured across the street from the park, to a small gray house surrounded by flowers. “I live there,” she said. “Maybe some afternoon, you’d like to come visit. I would imagine you have all sorts of questions about your grandfather, and with you, I would be happy to share.”


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Prompt for May 9: “Establish, within the first couple of sentences, your character’s desire. Put them in a situation that conflicts with that desire. Tell us how it works out,” from StoryADay.org 

Author’s note: I like the technique of thinking about the prompt before I go to sleep and waking up with a story. Even if it doesn’t fit the prompt, it points in a direction I enjoy going and might not have thought of without the prompt. Guess that’s why it’s called a “prompt” and not a “dictate.” Also–as I’m sure you can tell–this is turning into a novel (or at least a collection of inter-connected short stories, what John Keeble calls “sprung fiction”), rather than isolated short fiction.
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Captain’s Christmas: Chapter Five

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During the afternoons, when the sun warmed the meadows and beaches, Sarah could believe that this was the best winter of her life. When she raced with Senator Jones, she forgot that her mother wasn’t there, that her Gran was very ill, and that she’d been stuck out here with a great uncle she hardly knew.

When it was just her, the big dog, and an island to explore, she felt all the happiness a young girl could feel.

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And if looking out across the sea to the far horizon brought less happy thoughts, Senator Jones stood ready to lead her back to the joy of the chase.

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Coming home after one long afternoon of exploration, she found Jacob on the phone in the conservatory.

“It’s the body’s way of shutting down,” he was saying. “It won’t be long now.”

His grave tone stopped her.

“I will tell her that,” he said. “Sasha, you take care of you, too. Can’t be easy.”

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Sarah’s throat grew tight.

At supper, she didn’t talk. Jacob didn’t seem to mind. Or maybe he didn’t notice. He enjoyed quiet.

She went straight to bed as soon as the dishes were washed.

“Is all right with the world, Captain?” Jacob asked when he came in to turn off the light.

“What were you saying to my mom on the phone?” she asked.

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“Your mom asked me to tell you Merry Christmas,” Jacob said. “And to say that she loves you.”

“When will she come?” Sarah asked. “Will Gran come, too?”

“She won’t be too long now,” Jacob said. “But it will be after Christmas. Gran won’t be coming.”

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“What does it mean when the body shuts down?” Sarah asked.

“It means the person is passing,” said Jacob. “Won’t be long. A day or two.”

“But in two days is Christmas! And nobody can die on Christmas! It’s not what Christmas means!”

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“What does Christmas mean, then?” Jacob asked.

“It means family, Santa, candies, presents. All good things. Nothing bad happens on Christmas!”

“I think we should do some reading,” Jacob said. “Have you read many Christmas stories?”

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“‘Night Before Christmas,’ ‘Grinch,’ ‘Rudolph,’ ‘Frosty.’ Lots and lots.”

“Not what I was thinking,” Jacob said.

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“Christmas means a lot of things, and it means nothing. In nature, it’s just a day–another day after the solstice as the days slowly grow longer. It’s people who have pinned all these meanings onto it. What interests me is not so much what it means to all the various people, but the fact that people feel they need something so much that they have created this day to contain it. What do you suppose it is that they feel they need so much in their lives that they needed to create this holiday for it?”

Sarah didn’t have to think long. “Magic,” she said.

Jacob laughed. “Suppose you’re right.”

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They started with Dickens.

“Everybody knows of Old Scrooge,” said Jacob. “But do you know ‘The Haunted Man’?”

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“Everybody said he looked like a haunted man. The extent of my present claim for everybody is, that they were so far right. He did.

“Who could have seen his hollow cheek; his sunken brilliant eye; his black-attired figure, indefinably grim, although well-knit and well-proportioned; his grizzled hair hanging, like tangled sea-weed, about his face,—as if he had been, through his whole life, a lonely mark for the chafing and beating of the great deep of humanity,—but might have said he looked like a haunted man?”

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The story was spooky and cheerful and harsh and tender, all at once, and people died, or nearly did, and they forgot, and then they remembered, and so much happened and it was all right at the end, and before she went to sleep, Sarah thought back on the final words:

“Lord keep my Memory green.”  That must have something to do with Christmas.

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The next morning, a cold wind blew in rain. There would be no exploring the island that day!

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Jacob said,”I have the book for you! This one, you read yourself.”

It was a very thick book, and she wasn’t sure if it was something she would–or even could–read.

“What’s it called?”

Little Women,” said Jacob.

“Women are boring,” said Sarah, “especially when they’re little.”

“Ah, but not these girls!” said Jacob. “I think you will especially like Jo March.”

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She would try a book with a girl named Jo.

She started reading after breakfast. It was, in part, a Christmas story, but it was also so much more.

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There were plays and adventures, and hardship and loss. A war was going on, and some people had very little. But the girls, even though they had so little, shared whatever they had, and then they found that they had more.

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And someone died in the story, too, a girl named Beth.

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One Christmas, she got well, and that was the miracle. But then, one spring, she died. And what happened to the miracle then?

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“Everybody dies,” said Jacob, when she asked him. “I suppose a fine early spring day can be a good day for that, when one’s time comes.”

“But what if somebody’s time comes at Christmas? The miracle will keep them alive, right?”

“If Christmas is the time when it is their time to leave, then there can be no better time,” said Jacob. “It is, of all the times of the year, full of love and good feelings. To leave then could be a kind of blessing.”

Sarah’s eyes felt heavy from a day of reading.

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She curled up on the couch and sunk into a quiet sleep.

She didn’t feel alone there on the island anymore. She felt very much at home, and very loved. She didn’t think her mom would make it home for Christmas. That was OK. There were all sorts of ways to have Christmas, as the March sisters and Dickens had shown her.

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On Christmas Eve, Jacob said that he would read her the greatest Christmas story of all.

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“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

“And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

“And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

“And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

“‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.'”

“That is Christmas,” said Jacob. “Though it likely didn’t happen in winter. Still, that is what it is about: a birth, good tidings, peace, and good will.”

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“Magic,” said Sarah.

“Magic,” said Jacob, “and our great need for it.”

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