The Beast of Galen

Author: Phrastus of Elinhir
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"Khimera, Khimera, Khimera! How many heads do you have today?"

—Traditional Breton Yard-Game

It was on a trip to Wayrest a few years ago when I first observed a group of children playing the khimera game. It's one of a number of lineup-style distractions common in cultures across Tamriel. I stood in the doorway to a tavern, awaiting a meal and good companionship, as the tykes made up two rows opposite one another. The children called out, in unison, as the game commenced, and I chuckled. "Khimera" was obviously a version of the Galen word, "chimera." The child at the front called out which head they were. The griffon or snake head or what have you went racing toward their opposite number, who did the same. They swapped places, allowing the next child in line a chance to say what head they represent and do the same, until all the children had a go.

"The snake head goes sssssssss!"

—Traditional Breton Yard-Game

It was a much more somber mood that surrounded me as I entered into an Eldertide encampment in the deep forests of Galen. A light rain fell as my escort led me past several stone huts and carved pillars. Low chanting emanated from beyond curtained doorways, and eyes at every turn held me in quiet contempt. I was quite sure if not for my connections in academia and the generous outlay of gold I'd made to my guide, the camp would have been a hostile—even dangerous—place. Ahead of us, I saw a set of standing stones outlined against the cloudy sky. Beneath the dolmen lay an enormous cavern entrance. From within I heard a low, rumbling sound, as if uttered from some huge creature. Deep and powerful enough to give me pause.

"The lion head goes Roaaaaaarrrr!"

—Traditional Breton Yard-Game

The children outside the Cloudy Dregs were still at it as I sat down to my meal with an esteemed colleague from the University of Gwylim. At large in the world, she was more than happy to speak to the role of the chimera in Bretonic and druidic legend. The word itself is fascinating, as you can tell at a glance. Most scholars new to the study of the diverse cultures of Tamriel might assume that the word is a semantic appropriation of the cultural name "Chimer," a term we use today to refer to the heritage group that preceded the Dunmer. In truth, our modern day use of that word to refer to the pre-Dark Elves is an appropriation of a much older Altmeri term that means "change." Which is, of course, the other common way to describe the Chimer culture-group, "the Changed."

The word meaning "a beast of change" or "a changed beast" arose from the time of the Direnni Hegemony, a supposition born out by modern study of some pre-Alessian texts. It's usage in that context is open to a great deal of interpretation. After all, the beasts of Galen which bear the name were still centuries from creation when the word was written by a young Direnni scribe in a letter to his tutor early in the First Era.

It took considerable plying with libations before my dinner companion allowed, perhaps, that the word itself may have even originally referred to Bretons themselves. After all, to a high-minded Direnni scholar of that era, what better descriptor for a half-man/half-mer than "chimera?"

"The griffon head goes scraaaaaaaaaaaaaw!"

—Traditional Breton Yard-Game

Down into the stone womb beneath the sacred site we walked, and the walls began to grow warm around me. The volcanic nature of the Systres making itself known, no doubt, and allowing for a climate down in this grotto more comfortable for the massive, hulking beast which rose up before me. It turned, three sets of eyes fixed on me. The three heads and their sinewy necks stretched and swayed as it rose to its feet. I felt fear like a cold needle at the nape of my neck. Then, quite suddenly, it tottered. And with the inevitability of an oak coming to rest, it settled back to the warm earth with a groan.

The chimeras have all but disappeared from the land. Only a handful still remain to guard the ancient stones set down in the days of the last Druid King. Even the secrets to creating them are all but forgotten. My guide believed only a handful of old vinebeards could still work the spells and guide Y'ffre's hand. The beast that laid before me dragged its snake-head upright to gaze with age-dulled eyes at its caretaker. The druid, stern and implacable as the storms his circle summoned, moved to stand its side and placed a comforting hand on its snout. It may have been my imagination, but I believe I saw tears glistening beneath his hood.

"Khimera, Khimera, Khimera! Hold the gates and guard the stones! All of us are going home!"

—Traditional Breton Yard-Game

The children had ended their game by the time my colleague and I stumbled from the tavern door. We made our pleasant goodbyes and I began the walk back to my lodging for the night. As I did, I contemplated the role of the chimera in the grand tale of Bretondom. The long diaspora of the druids, and the mark they left on the broader culture. If the chimera represents change, for good or ill, then do druids not also in some way do the same? And now, in our modern world, what role will they play?

Will they adapt and survive? Or one day will we be writing tales of the druids of Galen as we do the chimera? Precious elements of a great culture that could one day be no more?

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