A Psijic’s Measure: The Flautist of Coldharbour

I travel often to Coldharbour, for that’s where the Hollow City lies, Meridia’s city, a heart in the midst of a heartless realm. It might seem strange that I would choose to return to the place where I sat beside the Last Ayleid King, until he breathed no more, where I saw Darien fade into golden light, where friends lost limb and life to clanfear, daedra, and dremora.

But I am more like Cadwell than I admit: At times, Coldharbour feels like home. For when we discover our soul, having lost it–or believing we had–when we follow our path to safety, to the restoration of heart and home, when we walk dark roads with those we trust, we find, in the quiet moments, that we long for the place where we knitted our trust with ally and friend. And then, a place like that–a battlefield where the fight was won, despite the cost–becomes a type of home.

And the Hollow City, even more. For there, I have friends who light up when they see me, and for a wandering soul like mine, that is a treasure worthy of traveling to Oblivion and beyond.

My friends fill the Shining Star Inn: Minstrel Idria, who plays for me the stolen lute I returned, found deep in a cave; Bernt, Nehilda, and the patrons of the Everfull Flagon, who never fail to thank me for the release I helped them choose; Hayya, the innkeeper, who always saves a loaf of bread for me, thick, warm, and smelling of sourdough.

Everyone in the Hollow City has lost–someone, something. We have all lost. For a while, maybe that is why I returned, to be among those who have lost their home, lost the ones they loved the most.

A flautist often played at the edge of the terrace, overlooking the cherry trees and the busy walkway below, her melody falling like faded blossoms over the streets and alleys. I paused, often, to listen.

Her song carried me back to Tamriel, to the frozen meadows of The Rift, where she gamboled often as a child in the snow, finding forts in giants’ footprints. With the swirl of a minor arpeggio, the child is caught, pulled into a planemeld portal. She spins through Oblivion–with her twisting scales, the portal pulls, wrenching muscle, fascia, tendon. We have all felt this, everyone of us who has found ourselves here by fate or choice.

We have all lost. If I had stayed at home that day, her flute plays. I lost my brother. My sister. We have all lost.

She played, and I remembered the evening, the last time I saw Twig’s eyes, bright with hunger. “I will get us bread. Stay, sleep.” I tuck the hay around her. “We are safe. Sleep.” If I had stayed. If I had waited until morning to steal or beg a loaf. A hungry night is not the end. But this was–her being stolen from me, the empty loft when I returned. “Take care of your sister,” my father said. “Always,” I answered, not knowing this would be my first lie.

The flautist played, and I heard the doubts of millions. If I had stayed. If I had gone. If only we hadn’t traveled to Redfur. The war, the bandits, the slavers, the daedra, the planemeld portals–all that rips from us those we love. We have all lost, and nothing we can do can change this. Nothing can erase that choice.

The flautist played. She pummels through the planemeld portal while fire burns her cabin, her brother and sister, caught in their beds, the beams collapsing, the snow stained black with ash.

The flautist stopped, her breath catching on a sob.

“I should have stayed,” she said.

“It wasn’t your fault.”

“I should have stayed.”

“To burn with them?”

“To prevent the fire. I’m to blame. The Daggerfalls wouldn’t have come, if I had stayed. I went to play, I was gone. I should have stayed. My life should have ended, with theirs.”

“Your song isn’t done,” I said. “Don’t stop here. It wasn’t your fault.”

“You know what I mean,” she said. I nodded.

In the Hollow City, the light of Jone and Jode sometimes pierces Oblivion’s black skies. The parapet shone silver.

She played hesitantly; her notes wavered. Her tears shone silver on her cheeks.

“It isn’t over,” I whispered, and she played on.

Minor turned to major, a fifth, a fourth, a third–a song. The night filled with color–purple, gold, blue, red.

“It isn’t done,” I said.

She played on.

Meridia’s touch traveled through the tones. We are so small–what can we do? Each a pebble, in a mosaic fixed by larger hands, the pattern oblivious to us, seen only by greater eyes.

A face gazed at mine, through the shifting colors–dark eyes, skin like moonlight. It was a face I would come to know well, but at the time, I only felt the pattern pull around and within.

The flautist played on, and in the swirling tune, two paths joined and sought the third.

“Don’t blame yourself,” said the flautist, lowering her instrument, her eyes clear. “Sometimes, what’s been lost can be found.”

“For you, too?” I asked.

“For me, too. It’s time for me to return home.”

Few leave, of those who’ve settled in Meridia’s city. The bonds of separation hold them there, together, refugees in the one golden center of the dark in-between. But the flautist left. I met her years later–or was it months, or decades, or weeks? Chronology eludes me. I met her later, in the frozen meadows of The Rift, where, in the footsteps of giants, I was also to meet the bearer of that face with the moonlight skin and the dark eyes, the one who would alter the lonely path I tread.

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12 Epiphanies

ii. It has something to do with music.

Kate looked out her window at the wide city, its streets lined with tenements, inside of which, she imagined, stood solitary people, like her, gazing out their windows onto the long avenues.

Maybe this was an entire city of solitaries, isolated in that way peculiar to the 21st Century.

If so, was it a city, then, without Christmas?

It appeared to be. The leaves were late-falling this year–climate change, no doubt–and they speckled the square with orange and red.

The loft-house on the bay, a converted cannery, usually decked with wreaths, lights, and a two-story tree before its tall windows, squatted nude on the corner without trace of festivity.

Kate watched the cars trail across the bridge and imagined families heading someplace more cheerful, someplace where Christmas resided, the mountains, maybe, though they had yet to receive winter snowfall.

She thought of her mom in Hawaii, her boyfriend in Antarctica, studying receding ice. All who remained, here in the city, were pretending or forlorn.

Down in the courtyard square, a musician played a violin, without an audience.

Kate wondered how the music sounded, with no one but the musician to hear. She could listen, at least, and then the tones traveling through the air would have something to receive them, something to quiver in return.

The violinist gave herself over to the carols she played, improvising complex variations and interweaving a dozen tunes into a single fabric of sound. She seemed not to care if she played for herself or for an audience, for it was clear she played for the music.

Kate didn’t feel alone, at that moment. She felt… she wasn’t sure what she felt. Something opened inside of her, and she felt her five-year grief for her father, her missing-her-boyfriend, her annoyance at her mom, and she felt… what was it? Happiness. Excitement. A little joy, even. She felt all of this, and all of it was carried on the interwoven carols, played by a solitary woman on a single violin.

“That was incredible,” she told the violinist when, at last, she set down her instrument and smiled quietly towards Kate.

“Do you have tears in your eyes?” the woman asked.

“I–yes,” said Kate. “I don’t know why. I’m just…. It’s so much.”

“Oh, was it the music, then?” the violinist asked. “It has that effect sometimes. I’m not sorry, though maybe I should be, but I’m not, for it’s what it’s for, after all.”

“How do you do it?” asked Kate, who had never been moved that profoundly by music before, and who still, even in that moment, felt bare in her vulnerability before the woman whose engagement had stirred her so.

“Through turning towards,” she said.

“Turning towards? Towards what?”

“Whatever is there,” replied the woman. “It hurts worse when you turn away, you see. But when you turn towards, everything softens. And that’s where music is made.”

She began to play again, and Kate looked up at the great sky, spotted with clouds that had blown in while they had talked, clouds that threatened rain on a wind that brought whispers of frost from the north. Even if it were late, winter would come, was on its way right then. And Kate turned towards it. The wind, the clouds, the spotted sun, the speckled leaves, the haunting notes of a lullaby for a child who grew into a man who knew only to turn towards, towards it all, the solitude, the companionship, the betrayal and forsakenness, and a man who had met this all with the open heart of being human. Kate closed her eyes to the music, and she wasn’t alone anymore.

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Puppy Love 7


A houseful of puppies offers a strong lure! I visited often, to play music for the pups, to watch their training, to take part in this busy furry family.


Otter taught both pups the tricks of Pounce and Retreat. Caleb proved to be an apt pupil.


When I could, I played the violin for them. The music always drew Bartholomew from wherever he’d been roaming. Usually, he would sing along, sometimes joined by Otter, while Mochi listened appreciatively.


One might think that Bach never intended his partitas for solo violin to be accompanied by howls and meowls, but I know differently! The Great Composer has often said that his music was written for all.


My heart was most warmed by seeing the love that both Mochi and Bartholomew had for their pups.


We were so lucky in Mochi! Of course, she was beautiful. But she was also smart, loyal, and devoted.


Crackers, with his little loop of a tail, was growing into a sweet, smart pup.


Mochi was proud of both pups. I had the feeling that she thought of Caleb as her mini-me, while Crackers favored Bartholomew.


Crackers seemed to be a Bartholomew-in-training, choosing most often to be with his sire and doing whatever it was his sire was doing.


As for Lucus, I couldn’t be prouder. He kept everyone happy and well cared-for.


Sometimes, when I listened carefully, tuned into the correct frequency, I could hear what the pups were saying.

“Pounce, Crackie!” Caleb joked. “Pounce me!”


Crackers feigned disinterest.

“Whatcha matter? Got business? Pounce!”


“I’ll pounce you!” shouted Crackers, swinging back for the surprise attack.


When Lucus walked in on their games, they turned to serenade him.

“Lucas! Lukie! We love yoooo—owl! Oooowl! Yooooou!”


Lucas never forgot us who’ve crossed over. He, Bartholomew, and Otter often visited our tombstones.

We heard him speak to us.

“We’ve got a full house?” he said. “Very nearly? It’s hard work. Am I doing OK? But I’m doing my best?”

“Of course you are!” Tanvi and I always said back. “You’re doing great! We’re so proud!” But I’m not sure he heard us.


When Babe and Nibbler came in the midnight moon to visit, Lucas shared love with them.


Tanvi always tells me that it is love that keeps us real. Without love, we would fade away. But love, it binds our spirits whole, so that even when the material of form fades, our substance of love remains.


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