After dispatching Miraak, I decided to explore Solsthiem more freely and see what else I could do to help Skyrim’s northern neighbor. It was during one of these quests that I first encountered the Rieklings. I was helping Glover Mallory retrieve his Bonemold formula when I trespassed into a Riekling cave. Because I was Sneaking (I was trespassing, after all), they didn’t notice me, so I was able to loot the formula off Esmond Tyne's body and just observe the little creatures. They did not attack, so without any further intelligence on them, I let them go on with their lives. I did not encounter them again until I stumbled on to Thirsk Hall.
Thirsk was obviously a Nord-style mead hall, but it had been overrun by Rieklings. Even though the Riekling Chief was more articulate than his subjects, I still couldn’t get a clear picture of why they were living there instead of the Nords. Given the Chief’s story and the size of the Rieklings relative to the native Nords, I surmised that the little blue scavengers had stumbled upon an abandoned mead hall and began squatting, which was no crime, as far as I was concerned. I therefore agreed to help the Chief with his requests.
|Pictured: The Riekling State of the Union Address|
The Chief’s fetch quests were simple and amusing at first, but then he asked me to help him fight the “bad nords” that wanted Thirsk for themselves. This favor was a bit much; bringing back a lost boar is one thing, but fighting my fellow Nords? I needed to investigate.
As I approached Bujold’s Retreat, I expected to find a gang of bandits that I could dispatch handily. What I found instead was a sorry band of washed-up warriors who had been kicked out of their ancestral hall but the pesky little Rieklings. After listening to their sob stories, I agreed to help – not out of love for Bujold the Unworthy and her pathetic crew, but out of fury that the Riekling Chief had tricked me so easily. We retook Thirsk Hall with extreme prejudice.
But the story didn’t end there. After we cleaned and spruced up the hall, Bujold asked me to be her second at her ritual leadership audience with Hrothmund, the long-dead founder of Thirsk. I agreed, eager to meet another ancient Nord hero. The trek itself was uneventful, but when we entered into communion with Hrothmund, it became clear that Bujold’s incompetence had cost her his blessing.
|A Nord Excalibur?|
Given Bujold’s track record, I should have seen the next step coming. She wanted me to lie, to say that she had received the blessing after all, or at least to say nothing. I refused; I wasn’t going to spit in the face of a Nord legend on behalf of a lazy coward. Not satisfied with my response, she foolishly attacked me, and I killed her.
When I returned to Thirsk Hall, I was given the option of lying to Bujold’s husband Kuvar, and I have to admit that I was tempted. Aside from marrying this disappointment, he had done nothing wrong, so I wanted to do right by him. I was afraid that telling him that she got lost would not only give him false hope, but might also prompt him to go on a dangerous and pointless search. Instead, I told the hard truth; he accepted it grimly, but warned me to stay far away from him. After what he’d been through, I agreed to honor his request.
With the Thirsk chapter closed, I turned my attention to the Rieklings. Never before had my feeling changed so radically about a faction or race. Prior to Thirsk, I looked at them in what I guess could best be called a patronizing manner. In a world in which every sentient being speaks a common language, I took their inarticulate babbling as an indicator of low intelligence. In a world in which every sentient race has its own distinct culture, I took their scavenging and appropriation as an absence of culture. They were amusing and no more dangerous than bears, horkers, spriggans, or any other creatures that just wanted to be left alone.
After Thrisk, I found that my condescension had soured into contempt. If I was disconcerted by the possibility that I might have been manipulated by powerful, immortal beings in previous quests, I was enraged that I definitely had been played by a bunch of cartoonish gremlins in this one. Later, during other quests on Solsthiem, I found myself indefensibly vicious in fighting any Rieklings I encountered. While my brutality could be rationalized to a degree – it was now clear, after all, that they operated more like bandits and less like scavengers – I have to admit that I executed all subsequent Riekling raids with a little more prejudice than I can honestly justify.
Most of all, I am troubled by the role of language in my approach to the Rieklings. In stark counterpoint to my dealings with the Forsworn, in which Madanach’s eloquence persuaded me to see them less as “wild men” and more as disenfranchised outsiders who had been radicalized by Ulfric Stormcloak’s brutal quelling of their rebellion, my encounters with the Rieklings were heavily influenced by the lack of discernable communication. In my life outside of the game I am an English teacher and a father and a special needs soccer coach, so I know full well that language is only one of many indicators of intelligence and sophistication. And yet, inside the game, I treat the “funny-looking little people who talk weird” first with patronizing humor, then with deadly contempt. I’m not entirely certain I want to know what’s at work here.