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Fight Three, "The Snow Whale and the Dirtbird"

Author: 
Michael Kirkbride

These were the days of Reddotter, who surpassed her father in shield-biting...

[And it came to pass that] a strange thing happened: Alduin the World-Eater, who sleeps between the [kalpas], had a disturbing dream, and he roused slightly, but not enough to bring ruin, and, heavy-lidded, he went back to the [age-wait]. But he yawned just slightly beforeso, which he had never done. And thus was born the Dirt Patch Which Does Not Gather Snow.

Now this place cannot be found on any map of Skyrim, and not because we Nords are shoddy in our cartography (we crossed the Cape of Tears, after all, and marked the passages, which even the Devils in the east use still)…for you see, it is a thing that should not be, a small world-destruction that is more hiccup than intent, and so the Dirt Patch moves about, which caused all manner of trouble (and everyone knows that story) until Fjork Beard-to-Toes of Throat Mountain used a [voice spell] to contain its jumping around mainly to the west.

(Which still sometimes causes trouble for the farmers of the Reachmen, ha ha ha.)

Anyway, after many years, and like all things, some animal life decided that they liked to live best of all in a particular place at the expense of all other places, and some chose the Dirt Patch, and these were birds. (Who can tell why birds do anything?) We do not know where they came from, but came they did, and always, always they managed to find the Dirt Patch and make their homes in it, burrowing down deep in its soft earth, where they made their nests…. (This is not normal bird behavior, I know, but who can tell why birds do anything?) [Only] to get up and out and fly again when the Dirt Patch vanished to go find it once more. (This is why when you see a dirtbird flying north you turn south.)

Now one day one of the Dumbest Things Ever happened: the Dirt Patch ended up in the sky! Right over a mountain range! (No one can remember exactly where, but it happened.) And the dirtbirds made for it anyway, and began to dig their nests down into the hovering earth, only to fall out with consternation before flying up and around the Dirt Patch [to try again]. Pretty soon they found that they just could not build their nests (and one would think that something that makes no sense, like a big stretch of dirt in the sky, would even be recognized as nonsensical by animals that really make no sense, like birds, but there you have it) and they began a’chirping away all as one in a terrible and irritating lament.

So of course they attracted the snow whales.

Snow whales have been in Skyrim since [the return of Man], living at the tops of the highest mountains, singing in magic tones, jumping from peak to cloud and back again, spreading their joy-snow in horn-like triumph from blowholes. We used to hunt them, our best climbers braving the rocks and ice-sheets, carrying rope and hooked spears. They had much meat, these whales, and blubber, and fluids that made paint and rosewater for our women. The earliest hunters had no luck; spouts of joy-snow [from the whales above] would drift down from the clouds and turn the men goofy. They would laugh like happy babes, some getting so tickled that they’d roll back down the mountainside in big flumphs—which only begat more guffaws-- or begin to pat each other on the back or hug in the masculine style to reaffirm their affections and camaraderie; in essence, the joy-snow got in their heads and they just forgot what they were doing. Eventually, Huggert the Wrinkled Unto Unreadable, one of our Clever Men, made sure that the hunters remembered to occasionally hit one another out of the blue, or make lewd jokes of their respective wives or mothers or sons that had not yet shown promise, and steal and hide the shoes of their fellows, and to line the rims of their shields with wasabi so that, when they bit them, that they might ignore all happiness in fits of burning nose and choked throat. All of these measures availed them not, for the potency of the joy of the snow whales remained [unhindered by any attempt at anger], and its powder would inevitably reduce our hunters again to snickering children, who, when they saw themselves so war-laden in this state, made them chortle and jest all the more.

Lesson learned. We left the snow whales alone.

The dirtbirds, though, in their present bothersome sorrow, all trilling and chak chak chak, brought a herd of snow whales up and out of the mountain peaks, looking to see what the fuss was about. They were as surprised as anyone to find a plain of earth suspended in the sky, and soil–breasted birds flitting amok in hysterical despair all around it.

"Holy crap," one said, "I have never seen something this dumb." And thus the snow whales crooned to each another in their way, and some, driven to pity, spat great gales of joy at the dirtbirds to remove their dirge. But just as the Dirt Patch had been misenchanted to gather no snow, so were the fowl that had inherited it similarly immune. The feathered raucous went unabated.

One of the snow whales, a young bull that had only recently grown his mottles, jumped from summit to cloud and back again, twirling so that both of his eyes might see this unholy mess of things. And he snorted, and he remarked, "What we see here, my kin, is no doubt the insalubrious work of the Dagon."

Now one of the dirtbirds, a young maiden, heard this declaration and took pause from her horrible wailing and flew to the great eye of the bull and said, "What now is this about the Lord of Tumult and Foul Tempers, who is known far and wide as the mucker-upper of all things in this world, and whose treachery runs even unto the sons and daughters of the Tava?" (Tava is a heathen god. Of birds, no less.) But the bull whale splashed into the ice-covered precipice of the nearest mountain, ignoring her. However, since ice is harder than snow, the wide fan of his tail stuck out for a second longer than normal, and, unanswered, the dirtbird dived down and grabbed it with her beak. And this is how she followed the snow whale into [the oblivion].

The Clever Men say the realms of [the oblivion] are many, though some [limit] this number to sixteen. And there is not one that can count the endless avenues that run from one realm to another, for they change, and often, for they are as capricious in their natures as the demons that run through or rule them. Nevertheless, there is a strand to Coldharbour, which is the province of Molag Bal, and most icy beasts have touched or traveled it once, if only in nightmare, and it is perhaps by this and the will of the Gods that the snow whale navigated himself through the void that lay beyond the real world, the dirtbird behind him clamping her beak down hard and her shutting her eyes tight to the visions of evil around her.

[Thus it was that] the young bull made his way to the frozen court of the King of Rape, crushing up through the very fountain of Bal's courtyard, shattering the lewd ice sculptures that crowned it in the coldest of lusts. And before the soldiers could [muster a defense against] the snow whale, a brassy sound regaled through the court and covered it all in a fog of joy, which set them all to laughing, and it was hideous to hear. And by this sound did Molag Bal deign to rise from his throne and enter the courtyard, to confront the audacity of the bull of the northern clouds. "And just what the **** do you want?" he asked.

The bull eyed the Prince, and gave a bow as the older cows taught him, and started to say, "Mighty Lion of Evening, Vulgar and Low, Keeper of Coldharbour since the fall of Lyg, Destroyer of the Hearts of Men, I have come to--" but he was interrupted by the chirping and relentless admonishment of his stowaway, who had left his tail and flown directly into the Prince’s face. The dirtbird maiden’s angry diatribe is [too heinous and nasty] to even repeat here, but more or less she said, “"ne of your **** kin evidently **** our **** Dirt Patch, which is the only **** place where my people can build their **** nests and since it’s floating in the **** sky that’s **** impossible now, see, and so we cannot lay our **** eggs this season because of such an unnatural **** calamity and so we’ve been forced to wail and **** wail, you ****!"

To which the snow whale assented was the truth, adding only, "Which is, of course, annoying as hell to the rest of us up there."

The King of Rape took pause. It had been eons since anyone had spoken to him this way, and it had never, ever been a bird of all things. Bal thought for a second, and finally frowned, shrugging. "Well, first of all, what the **** is a Dirt Patch?"

And by turns the snow whale and the dirtbird told the story, and its details, and in his magnificence did Molag Bal know that this was indeed the dream-work of Mehrunes Dagon, his brother of razors, the only Prince who dared trouble the sleep of the dragon-eater, Alduin. But while loyalty between the rulers of [the oblivion] is tenuous, Bal saw no profit in upsetting the ways of his brother, and told his visitors so, adding a threat of terrible censure on them if they did not turn back immediately and without further insult. The dirtbird remained unsatisfied and (remember that birds make no sense) began to peck furiously at the Prince’s head, rebuking him and all his kind and the mischief they wrought.

Perhaps the snow whale misinterpreted this foolishness for bravery, or perhaps he admired that the dirtbird had come unbidden into the realms of the damned, or maybe it was an admixture of the two with a smidgen of the fondness that all flying things share for one another, but the bull knew that, at this point, he loved the foul-mouthed, unclean, imprudent dirtbird with all of his considerable heart. Before the King of Rape could swat her dead, he trumpeted the courtyard again with joy powder, hoping to send Molag Bal into a handicap of bliss so that they both might escape.

"Ho ho ho," Molag Bal roared, smiling, though none of it with joy. His aspect became so fierce that even the dirtbird maiden stopped pecking at his head, and she flew behind the bulk of the snow whale in sudden fright. The Prince of Coldharbour spoke: "You silly little snow whale, do you not know that there can be no joy for me? That long ago I gave up such things to the betterment of my rage? And while I recognize love between creatures that are unalike, I have built a bulwark against its joy and--"

"Wait wait wait," the dirtbird interrupted. "What’s all this about love between creatures unalike?" And if a snow whale could blush, [that is surely what] the bull did now. Even Molag Bal was taken aback, for he was sure in his heart that any maiden that would follow a man into hell did so only by token of love. For her part, the dirtbird left her hiding place and flew back into the demon prince’s face.

"Huh?" he said, blinking. "You two aren’t an item?"

"I’m a DIRTBIRD, genius," she answered, "And he’s a **** SNOW WHALE, get it? This isn’t above love, it’s about not being able to lay eggs in a floating stretch of earth, and it’s about your brother being a complete **** who needs to make things right. Or else."

To which the King of Rape merely raised an opulent eyebrow.

The snow whale cleared his throat [in earnest]. "Or else..." he started, unsure of himself. "... or else I will gather all of my kin," and at this he found his courage, "All of them, down to the last newborn cow, from all the mountaintops of Skyrim, and the clouds above it, and from every opening of snow there is in that land, and we will leave it. Forever."

Which was a confusing thing to Molag Bal, a Prince of Misrule, whose hatred was as bellows in his belly, and who had long since kept his delight of any form of joy under lock and key. And even the dirtbird turned from him to look on the bull, and she, too, simply did not get it.

Bal spoke, "And what would that matter to me?"

Now the soldiers of the Prince of Coldharbour had shaken off their fits of laughter, and took up their pikes again, and remembered their stations and their vileness, and they surrounded the fountain that the bull used as his threshold. And the snow whale’s blowhole was empty, leaving him defenseless to their approach, and maybe one could read this in his eyes, for Molag Bal began to smile wickedly, and the dirtbird gulped with fear.

"It matters to you," the bull said, "Mighty Lion of Evening, Vulgar and Low, Keeper of Coldharbour since the fall of Lyg, Destroyer of the Hearts of Men... it matters to you because my kin bring joy to the upper world, who have not yet given up such a thing for the betterment of their rage, and who welcome love and happiness and good cheer… as much as they fear the coming of ruin, or the color of betrayal, or the visitations of demons. These last are the tools of [the oblivion], and your lifeblood, and it is only through joy that the devices of your dubious employ are the more sweeter to you, yet which are nothing if visited upon those who know nothing but despair in the first place. It matters to you, Lord Bal, for how can you destroy the hearts of men when those hearts are already empty?"

And, with that, the snow whale sank back into the fountain from whence he came, but he left the wide fin of his tail up out of it for a second longer than normal. And the dirtbird took it within her beak.

When they returned to Skyrim, bursting out of the zenith snow, the snow whale and the dirtbird were met with only silence. Their kin were gone, both kinds, and with them, the noise of crooning and the cacophony of bird-lament. But the maiden felt the tug of the Dirt Patch in her senses, and she sensed that it was southward, and low, and she knew that things had been more or less put back right. She let go of the bull’s tail and flew up to his eye. "It has worked," she said, "Bal has talked sense into his brother, the Dagon. I can feel it in my breast."

"I suppose so," the bull said, "And I can hear my herd jumping this way through mountaintop and blue." And perhaps when she knew that the snow whale would soon be gone, having rejoined his kin, and perhaps because he had shown her a courage that was unalike as hers but as powerful, or maybe it was an admixture of the two with a smidgen of the fondness that all flying things share for one another, but the dirbird knew that, at this point, she loved the noble, unwieldy, ridiculous snow whale with all of her tiny heart.

"Where I live the snow cannot gather," she said in the lowest of voices. To which the bull nodded, and said, "And there is, of course, the difference in size." And, at that they smiled, and flew away from one another, and were welcomed back by their kin in songs of praise.

(And this is why when you see a dirtbird heading north that you stop... and look up at the sky before turning south. Sometimes, if you are lucky, you can see him, the bull of the northern clouds, looking for her, the maiden beloved of Tava, a heathen god that we begrudgingly admit is all right from time to time.)