Please read this first.

Welcome! This blog is devoted to considerations of morality in the The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim by Bethesda. Rather than a fansite, review, or walkthrough, it is a serious attempt to examine the game through a moral lens. Please note that the purpose of this blog is to discuss morality within the context of the game, not to determine whether playing the game is immoral in and of itself; the latter type of "discussion" tends toward tedium and inhibits, rather than promotes, a meaningful conversation.

If you have not visited this blog before, it might be helpful to read the posts labeled "Orientation," most of which are the first few entries in the blog archive (see right). These posts include a short introduction to this project, a content-specific author bio, and a few other pieces that explain key concepts relevant to this study. These posts are of particular use to those readers less familiar with Skyrim (or video games in general).


If you have visited this blog before, thanks and welcome back!

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Dark Brotherhood, Part 6 (Side Contracts:Kill Deekus/Ma'randru-jo/Anoriath) (Katnys)

The news of Motierre's scheme, combined with the new reality of living as a vampire, provided quite a full plate for Katnys.  Anxious as she was to get started on the road that would put her face-to-face with the embodiment of the Empire that killed her sister, Katnys had to admit to some relief when she learned that the wedding was still a few days away.  She decided to speak to Nazir to see if there were any side contracts available on which she could sharpen her skills for the momentous tasks ahead.

Nazir, for his part, was delighted to give Katnys three new targets: Deekus, Ma'randru-jo, and Anoriath.  Deekus, who was camping alone on an island north of Dawnstar, was the easiest kill of the three.  Ma'randru-jo proved to be a greater challenge; because his caravan had camped just outside of Whiterun's main gate, Katnys had to crouch in the brush for what seemed like hours before the Khajit moved out of the sight of the guards, the folks at the stable, and, of course, his companions.  Anoriath was by far the most difficult target.  While waiting for the Bosmer to go hunting would have been the ideal strategy, Katnys needed to move things along in time for her appointment in Solitude.  Therefore, she decided to sneak into the Drunken Huntsman and kill him in his sleep.  Complicating her plan was the fact that Elrindir never seemed to move from the counter.  Fortunately, Katnys had learned how to use her Embrace of Shadows in order to get past the watchful proprietor, so killing the slumbering Anoriath was just a matter a closing the bedroom door before firing a point-blank arrow into his back.

After she sneaked back out into the crisp air of the Whiterun night and rejoined Jenassa (whom she has asked to stand watch outside the back door), Katnys readied herself to make the journey to Solitude...but something felt amiss.  She looked into Jenassa's face -- the face she had seen for the first time inside the Drunken Huntsman -- and realized how much they both had changed since the day they met.  Katnys had just murdered three people -- not out of fear or revenge, but as preparation for another murder.  And this last one, Anoriath...what would Elrindir do when he discovered his brother's body?  Elrindir -- in whose establishment Katnys had found not only the gear she depended on, but also the woman whose love and loyalty was vast enough to accept even assassination and vampirism -- would he now mourn his brother the way Katnys mourned her beloved Prym?  Would he seek vengeance?  Would it be justice if he did?  After all, Katnys murdered Anoriath with full malice of forethought; the Legionnaire who killed Prym wasn't even aiming at her.  Prym was collateral damage in a war the Evyrdene sisters had no part in.

And that was the thought that brought her back to Vittoria Vici's wedding: the Empire.  Yes, Katnys had become an assassin, but every drop of blood she spilled served a purpose.  First, each of these people was a target of a contract; in other words, someone wanted them dead badly enough to perform the Black Sacrament.  Katnys had no way of knowing why most of the time, but that was none of her concern anyway.  All that mattered was that the Brotherhood, her adopted family, needed these people dead.  Furthermore, if she had to kill a thousand "innocent" people to settle the score with an Empire so corrupt, incompetent, and arrogant that it could slaughter her sister without even knowing or caring what it had done, then so be it.  And if Elrindir found out that Katnys was responsible to his loss and wanted vengeance of his own, that was his business -- so long as he waited until Motierre's contract was done.  Otherwise...well, Katnys wasn't going to let a grieving fletcher stand between her and her date with Titus Mede II.

No -- the Emperor would know Prym's name.  It would be last word he'd hear.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Sidebar: Jonathan Haidt — The Psychology Behind Morality

I'd like to take a break from chronicling Katnys's moral descent in order to bring to your attention a podcast that a colleague recommended to me recently.  In it, Jonathan Haidt discusses some of the psychology that informs certain moral stances, which is a key concept in my consideration of moral issues within Skyrim.  While the whole podcast is worth a listen, the following except from the transcript is particularly relevant:

Ms. Tippett: Mm-hmm. You use some really, um, helpful metaphors and analogies. You talk about the moral matrix. Um, give us that. That...
Dr. Haidt: Okay, first, so yeah, that comes straight out of the movie The Matrix.
Ms. Tippett: Right.
Dr. Haidt: The matrix is a consensual hallucination. And that’s kind of cool. And you know, the internet, and all that stuff. But, um, it was just the perfect metaphor for the moral world that we live in. It defines what’s true and what’s not true. Um, it is a closed epistemic world. What I mean by that is, it has within it everything it needs to prove itself. And it has within it defenses against any possible argument that could be thrown at it. Um, it’s impossible to see the defects in your own moral matrix, so again...
Ms. Tippett: So it becomes impossible to think beyond.
Dr. Haidt: Exactly.
Ms. Tippett: Mm-hmm.
Dr. Haidt: Exactly. And that’s why foreign travel is so good, getting disoriented is so good, reading literature can be so good. Uh, so, there are ways of it getting out of your moral matrix. But it’s hard, especially in the context of any — any sort of intergroup conflict. Then it — we’re just locked into it, and our goal is defend the matrix, defeat theirs.
Ms. Tippett: Mm-hmm. You know, I think a question that gets raised in this country, and I imagine that it might be on people’s minds in this room right now is, um, that the people who most would benefit from those relationships...
Dr. Haidt: Mm-hmm.
Ms. Tippett: ...or from stepping outside or seeing beyond their matrix, are precisely the ones who are not going to go on the trips to the West Bank, right?
Dr. Haidt: Right. Yeah.
Ms. Tippett: Or whatever the other examples would be. Now, I think that we in this culture — we tend to actually focus on the extreme poles, and think that they are the ones who have to be convinced. And we always center the debates around them, and maybe that’s what we do wrong. Do we need those — do we need those extremists, or do we...
Dr. Haidt: No, we don’t.
Ms. Tippett: ...start without them and that’s fine?
Dr. Haidt: Yeah. So, first, uh, let me be clear, that while each side, uh, can’t see the flaws in its own matrix, there is a symmetry here, and left and right are similar in some ways. But one of the clearest differences between left and right, psychologically, is that the left is generally universalist, almost to a fault. And the right is parochial. Um, often to a fault. And what I mean by parochial isn’t just narrow-minded, and dumb. What I mean is, um, the — so we have a survey at where we ask like how much do you care about, or think about, or value people in your community? People in your country? People in the world at large? And, you know, okay, so, uh, conservatives value people in their nation and their community much more than people in the world at large.
Ms. Tippett: Mm-hmm.
Dr. Haidt: Well, then you might say, okay, well, that’s parochial. But what do liberals do? Liberals on our survey actually say they value people in the world at large more than people in their own country or than people in their community. So liberals are so universalist they often don’t really pay much attention to their own groups, as my mother said about my grandfather, who was a labor organizer. He loved humanity so much that he didn’t really have much time to care for his family.

The entire podcast can be found here:

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Dark Brotherhood, Part 5 (The Silence Has Been Broken) (Katnys)

By the time Katnys returned to the Sanctuary, Astrid had decided on a course of action.  While she still didn't trust Cicero, she could not deny that the Night Mother had indeed spoken to Katnys, and it would therefore be foolish to ignore the message. With Astrid's blessing, Katnys was now to travel to Volunruud in order to meet with Motierre and see why the Night Mother might be interested in him.

Before she could go, however, she needed to report her contract completions to Nazir. The news of Lurbuk's death brought the usual sarcasm with the gold, but when Katnys confirmed that she had killed Hern as well, Nazir dropped his sardonic veneer to offer his sincere respect for facing down a vampire.  He then suggested that she check for signs of vampirism herself, making reference to the Brotherhood's own resident vampire, Babette.

That's when it dawned on her: the ambush at Half-Moon Mill, the strange draining attack, that nagging thirst on the way home...Katnys had contracted Sanguinare Vampiris! She knew enough to understand that if she didn't act quickly, she would become a full-blown vampire before the week was out.  Katnys found the Cure Disease potion she had picked up somewhere along the way, opened the vial...and stopped.

Vampirism was bad, of course.  Katnys had encountered vampires before; she witnessed a vampire attack in Whiterun, and even though she didn't help the town guards and citizens put the monsters down, that one Dawnguard soldier took her aside and invited her to join his band of vampire hunters. At the time, she was too focused on avenging her sister and the whole "Dragonborn" business to get involved.  Now that she was infected, she was involved whether she liked it or not.

As she held the Cure Disease potion to her lips, she thought about those vampires; they were powerful, they could enthrall people, drain health from afar, even become invisible. But most of all, they didn't grow old and die.  Nazir mentioned Babette; look at what she had accomplished through this "disease."  What if Katnys needed more power, more time to exact her vengeance on the Empire? Wouldn't becoming a vampire actually help?  What did she have to lose?  She would talk it over with Jenassa on the way to Volunruud; Katnys had grown to really love and trust Jenassa during their travels together and her opinion meant more than anyone else's.

Once outside the Sanctuary, Katnys told her companion everything.  Jenassa, for her part, had little to say, but the little she did say decided the issue for Katnys: "We're one of the same kind, you and I. I'm glad to have met you. I am a lethal instrument, yours to command. Blade and shadow, silence and death - these are my arts. I'll make great art for you.  I am the shadow at your back.  Let's get going."  Jenassa would be beside her, no matter what.

Glowing from Jenassa's expression of acceptance and loyalty, Katnys led the way to Volunruud.  Once inside the tomb, she found a tattered journal next to what was, presumably, the author's skeleton.  Katnys opened the journal, fearing that she had failed to reach Motierre in time, only to discover that the journal belonged to some foolish explorer named Heddic; she pocketed the journal (there would be time to follow up on that later) and followed a noise to her left that sounded increasingly like muffled conversation.  In front of a large closed door lay the bodies of several vanquished draugr.  If Motierre was behind that door, he was someone to be reckoned with.

As it turned out, Motierre was indeed in the chamber beyond, but it was most likely his hulking bodyguard, Rexus, who had dispatched the draugr.  Katnys startled and raised her bow upon first laying eyes on Rexus in his Imperial armor -- was this some sort of Imperial trap?  Motierre, however, rushed forward to put her at ease.  He was obviously still shaken from performing the Black Sacrament, and was eager to get down to business.  Katnys, however, was not prepared for the target he was to offer: the Emperor!

It was all Katnys could do to keep the cold, silent demeanor she had begun to adopt as an assassin.  In an instant, in that stinking Nord crypt, listening to veiled insults of a Breton fop and his Imperial pet -- everything suddenly made sense.  How did Motierre put it?  The stars had aligned.  The dragon attack at Helgen, the Aretino boy, the Brotherhood contracts that tugged at her conscience, the Night Mother's revelation: it had all led to this.  With this contract, Katnys would finally avenge her sister.  The Emperor himself would pay for Prym's blood!

Quickly remembering herself, Katnys took some items from Rexus (she hadn't really been paying attention -- Motierre said something about an amulet, a letter, and killing some other people) and made straight for the Sanctuary.  Astrid was, of course, taken aback by the news, but then gave Katnys a quick history lesson and embraced the challenge Motierre had put before the Brotherhood:

She said the magic word.
The next step for Katnys was to get the amulet appraised.  For that, she'd have to make her way to Riften and connect with another shadowy group: the Thieves Guild.  Finding the Guild wasn't too hard -- it was a bit of an open secret -- but before she and Jenassa could enter the Ragged Flagon and speak with the fence, Delvin Mallory, they did have to kill a few thugs in the Ratway.  While the skirmishes in the Ratway were of little consequence in and of themselves, Katnys noticed that a few things had changed for her.  First, she could smell blood much more strongly, and it was now an appetizing aroma.  Second, she realized that, if she concentrated, she could see in the dark much better than before.  She even dared to try to make a thrall, and succeeded...even if it only lasted a few minutes.  But, there were more important matter to attend to.

Once inside the Ragged Flagon, Mallory confirmed that the amulet belonged to a member of the Emperor's Elder Council, and gave Katnys the letter of credit Astrid had mentioned. Upon her return, Katnys delivered the letter, and in exchange, Astrid revealed that to her that Katnys would carry out the first assassination herself: Vittoria Vici, manager of the East Empire Company's holdings in Solitude, was to be killed at her own wedding.  Slaughtering an Empire lackey in front of a crowd of Imperial dandies-- what a lovely opening act!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Dark Brotherhood, Part 4 (The Silence Has Been Broken/Kill Lurbuk/Kill Hern) (Katnys)

Having just earned The Brotherhood's trust and respect, Katnys was not about to allow an interloper to threaten her new-found family.  Therefore, Astrid's paranoia regarding Cicero's secretive meetings in front of the Night Mother became Katnys's fear as well, and she immediately agreed to eavesdrop on the jester and his accomplice while hiding in the Night Mother's coffin.

Concealing herself in the coffin with the desiccated corpse of the Night Mother was unpleasant, to be sure, but Katnys had had to do unpleasant things before in order to protect her family; this was no different.  Sure enough, Cicero entered the room and began gibbering to someone, but it soon became clear that he was muttering to the Night Mother herself.  In and of itself, this was harmless nuttery, but he then began to suggest that some in the Brotherhood were "coming around" to his point of view.  Could this be the treachery Astrid suspected?

Katnys would have little time to ponder the question.  Gradually illuminated by some dim, unwholesome light, the Night Mother spoke directly to Katnys:

More like iron womb, amirite?  Also, enjoy your nightmares.

Katnys was not a particularly devout Dunmer, but it's hard to ignore a talking corpse. The unearthly conversation with the bride of Sithis served to confirm something Katnys had already begun to suspect: she was destined to restore this family.  She did not yet fully understand what being the Listener meant or why she needed to meet with Amaund Motierre, but in some strange, deep way, her communion with the Night Mother felt more real, more vital than any of the Greybeards' lofty ramblings.

Once she shared her epiphany with Cicero and Astrid, Katnys deferred to Astrid's judgement; after all, Katnys may be the new Listener, but Astrid was still the head of the family -- and the head of the family needed time to think about this Amaund Motierre business.  In the meantime, Astrid ordered Katnys to get new contracts from Nazir.  Honestly, Katnys was relieved; Astrid wasn't the only one who needed time to process.

As it turned out, however, both of the contracts brought new complications.  The first, an Orc bard named Lurbuk, presented a even greater moral challenge than Nilsine Shatter-Shield. The contract on Lurbuk came with no story other than the fact that he was the worst bard in Skyrim -- surely not a capital offense.  Even if she imagined that there might be more to his background, Nazir pointed out that multiple people had put out contracts on Lurbuk, presumably for his musical incompetence.  Killing the Orc would be a pure act of cold-blooded murder -- no vengeance, no dark justice, no putting someone out of his misery, no preemptive end to a conflict that might spill out into the community...just murder.

Whatever her misgivings, the reality of the situation was this: Katnys was now the Listener of the Dark Brotherhood, and Astrid had ordered her to fulfill Nazir's contracts.  How could she say no to the Black Sacrament?  She was in far too deep, and this family was far too important to her for Katnys to turn back now.  Besides, who was the Orc to her or her people?  No one.  Not her concern.  Regardless of the reason, her family wanted him dead.  Thus ended poor Lurbuk, with a single, well-placed arrow in the back.

The second contract was on Hern the miller who, unbeknownst to the general population, was a vampire, along his wife Hert.  After the moral conundrum Katnys faced with Lurbuk, killing a murderous vampire almost felt like a vacation.  Katnys and Jenassa approached Half-Moon Mill very stealthily, and kept their distance while waiting for an opportunity.  They decided to wait until nightfall; even though the target might be stronger at night, breaking into the house would place them in a confined space where Katnys's bow would not be of much use.  Soon after the sun went down, Hern emerged from the house as Hert was about to go back inside...and that's when everything went south.

Apparently, the happy couple had been tipped off about the hit; before Katnys could get a bead on Hern, she heard a commotion behind her, followed by Jenassa's battle cry.  Before she could turn around, Katnys felt something -- a force of a kind she hadn't felt before -- hit her.  She wheeled around to see another vampire and his two thralls descending on her and Jenassa.  Even though she hadn't been wounded yet, Katnys's whole body suddenly ached, but there was no time to wonder what was happening; both Hern and Hert were now converging on what had obviously been a trap.  While Jenassa kept the ambush party at bay, Katnys ducked to the side and Shouted at Hern and Hert to buy herself some time.  With their attack disrupted, she quickly fired an arrow into Hert, killing her instantly.  Hern, unfazed by is wife's death, rushed at Katnys.  Before he could land a blow, she smashed his face with her bow and, while he staggered, lodged a shaft into his heart, putting him down for good. Katnys then turned her attention back to Jenassa, who had been holding her own: the thralls were down, and she had almost finished the third vampire.  Katnys waited for Jenassa to stagger her opponent before dispatching him with her bow.

Once the dust settled, Katnys took stock of the situation.  The contract had gone wrong -- really wrong -- but they managed to finish the job anyway.  It was time to return to the Sanctuary, both to report back to Nazir, but also to see if Astrid had come to any conclusions about Amaud Motierre.  Katnys felt uneasy, but she couldn't exactly figure out why.  She had been named Listener, she had been taken into the confidence of both Astrid and the Night Mother herself, and she had upheld the Brotherhood under difficult circumstances.  So what was this new, unsettling sensation coursing through her veins?

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Dark Brotherhood, Part 3 (Mourning Never Comes) (Katnys)

Unfortunately, Katnys was not going to get time to reflect on the new direction her life had taken.  Almost as soon as Katnys had returned from completing the first three contracts, Astrid presented her with two new developments.

First, the Keeper from the Dark Brotherhood sanctuary in Cheydinhal, an odd, harlequinesque little man named Cicero, had arrived with a coffin carrying the vaunted Night Mother of Brotherhood lore.  As she listened to Astrid's impatience with the "jester," she was relieved that her leader was not a real devotee of the Night Mother.  Religious zealots made Katnys nervous; tradition should be honored, of course, but this Cicero character seemed as though he might become a disruptive and divisive force in Katnys's newly-adopted family.  She much preferred Astrid's no-nonsense approach -- especially as she explained the second development.

Apparently, Katnys had proven her worth to the Brotherhood to the degree that Astrid now offered her her first major contract.  An apothecary's assistant in Markarth had performed the Black sacrament in hopes of eliminating a former lover, and Astrid wanted Katnys to handle it.  Eager to please the Brotherhood, Katnys collected Jenassa and set off for The Reach.

Markarth turned out to be more dangerous than she anticipated; within minutes of entering the city, she witnessed a murder in the marketplace in broad daylight -- perhaps pulling off this assassination might be a little easier in this environment.  Regardless, Katnys had a job to do, and she was not about to let Astrid down, so she had to ignore the apparent chaos of the city and find Muiri. 

Her meeting with the client added some depth to her understanding of the Brotherhood, but also presented her with a new dilemma.  While readying herself to kill Narfi, she had thought quite a bit about the Black Sacrament, and had begun to believe that those who undertook this ritual only did so when they were at their wits' end, like the Aretino boy.  Muiri's heartbreaking story confirmed this belief, and helped Katnys make peace with her new role as an assassin.  After all, wasn't she in the same position as these clients?  She had no legal access to justice for her sister, so she was forced to seek vengeance in alternate, more brutal ways.  Katnys's and Muiri's stories, while different in the details, shared the same tragic rage.

But then, Muiri added an new rider to her contract -- one that challenged Katnys's already shifting moral code.  After requesting the death of the scoundrel Alain Dufont (an easy kill to justify), Muiri then asked Katnys to kill Nilsine Shatter-Shield as well, as an act of vengeance against the Shatter-Shield family for kicking her out:

Killing a man who used Muiri's naivete and the Shatter-Shields' grief for his personal gain was one thing, but killing a young woman who was only looking out for her family -- a family who had already lost one daughter to a serial killer -- was another matter entirely.

The conflict for Katnys boiled down to choosing between families: her own, and one who had been wronged.  The Shatter-Shields, while nothing to Katnys personally, were experiencing the same kind of impotent grief she knew too well herself.  How could she be the cause of further pain for them?  Still, Astrid had said how important it was to the Brotherhood for her to satisfy this client:

Given the choice between letting down her new family and murdering a young Nord to whom she had no ties, Katnys reluctantly chose the former.  While she felt sympathy for the Shatter-Shields, her loyalty to the Brotherhood outweighed all other considerations.  Therefore, after gleefully slaughtering Alain Dufont and his men, Katnys traveled to Windhelm and waited until nightfall.  Asking Jenassa to wait outside the Shatter-Shield house, Katnys sneaked inside and dispatched Nilsine while she slept; there was no reason to be cruel.

Whatever conflict Katnys may have felt evaporated soon after her return to the Sanctuary.  Astrid was very pleased with Katnys's work, which helped to assuage any guilt she may have felt about Nilsine, then informed Katnys of a potential threat to the Brotherhood in the form of the newly-arrived Keeper, Cicero.  Helping Astrid to protect the family put the Shatter-Shields out of her conscience permanently.  Or so she thought.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Dark Brotherhood, Part 2 (The First Contracts) (Katnys)

Joining the Dark Brotherhood marked a significant turning point for Katnys; although she felt a deep sisterhood with Jenassa, she hadn’t experienced a real family since the Empire abandoned the Evyrdenes to the Thalmor’s tender mercies.  The presence of a Dunmer and a Redguard in their ranks didn’t hurt, either.  While her interest in the Brotherhood started with daydreams of assassinating Imperial officials, she quickly realized that this family was going to help her heal one of her deepest wounds.

Therefore, when Nazir offered Katnys her first contracts, she was genuinely conflicted.  Until now, she had not killed anyone in whom she wasn't personally "invested." Slaughtering legionaries and Thalmor was a joy, and killing bandits was an act of self-preservation; even at Pinewatch, her preemptive strike, while brutal, was born out of fear.  Sticking Grelod while she was as helpless as the kids she tormented -- well, that just plain felt good.  And Vasha...if half of what he said was true, then he deserved his end. 

But if Katnys was being honest with herself, she had to admit that there was something...liberating about killing on Astrid's orders.  Ever since her parents died, Katnys had shouldered the burden of taking care of herself and her sister.  She made every decision -- leaving the orphanage, finding the Alik'r, going back to Windhelm.  It was that last decision that led to Prym's death.  She was ready to let someone else make the decisions for a while.  And now that the "someone else" was a Redguard who dressed and behaved just enough like an Alik'r, she could find a way to do anything that he asked.

Still, the first three contracts Nazir gave her were hard to stomach. True, these targets were nothing to her, but killing a random mine boss, a paranoid ex-miller, and a grief-deranged beggar without knowing the reason was going to be tough.  It was clear that she wasn't going to get explanations; she was going to have to trust her new family and do as they asked.

Katnys decided to start with the hardest one: Narfi.  Though she didn't encounter him when she passed through Ivarstead on her way to High Hrothgar, she had heard a few rumors about the simpleton who was searching for his sister, who had either abandoned him, died, or both.  With her gone, he was probably better off dead anyway.  Katnys decided that a quick bowshot from a distance would be the most humane exit for this poor bastard.

After Narfi, Ennodius Papius was not as difficult.  While not as pathetic as Narfi, Papius was just as miserable, endlessly jumping at shadows.  Killing him seemed almost merciful.

Beitild came last, and was the easiest target.  The business between her and her husband seemed like it was going to end in bloodshed anyway.  Killing her probably prevented innocent people from getting caught in the crossfire.

After she returned to the Sanctuary, Katnys collected her reward from the sardonic Redguard, then took some time to think.  Murder was becoming easier to justify with each contract, and she needed to decide if this was a good thing.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Dark Brotherhood, Part 1 (Innocence Lost to Sanctuary) (Katnys)

[Canon violation disclaimer: The Dark Brotherhood questline was one of the primary motivations for my second playthrough.  I therefore needed to balance my eagerness to complete this line with my dedication to authentic role-playing.  In order to achieve this balance, I decided to imagine that when Ulfric gave Balgruuf's axe to Katnys, he told her to hold off on delivering it until he gave the order as a way to maximize the Stormcloaks' readiness in case Whiterun sided with the Empire after all.  This change to the canon allowed Katnys some "breathing room" to complete the Dark Brotherhood quests while maintaining the Civil War as a priority.]

While waiting for Ulfric's order to deliver the axe to Whiterun, Katnys and Jenassa decided to explore Windhelm -- the Gray Quarter in particular.  It was during this "hiatus" that they encountered Grimvar Cruel-Sea and Idesa Sadri discussing the Aretino child, which reminded Katnys to follow up on the rumor she had heard at the Sleeping Giant.  Now that she had some time to kill, she decided to investigate.

Even for someone so young, Katnys had seen a lot, so the sight of Aventus performing the Black Sacrament did not phase her much.  When she heard the orphan's story, however, her nonchalance became a kind of vengeful pity.  Katnys remembered all too well the abuse she suffered at the Imperial orphanage in Anvil, so she gladly borrowed the mantle of the Dark Brotherhood in order to exact some vicarious justice for her and her late sister.  After seeing Grelod's outrageous behavior for herself, Katnys waited for nightfall (no need to traumatize the kids any more than they already had), snuck back into Honorhall, then woke Grelod up; she wanted the hag to be fully awake when she killed her.  Katnys used her Serpent Stone power to paralyze Grelod before driving an arrow in her gut and leaving her for Constance to clean up.  Being able to tell Aventus that his nightmare was finally over gave Katnys a modicum of peace...for a little while anyway.

Shortly after killing Grelod, Katnys received a note from a courier which, if she hadn't been so caught up in both the Civil War and her own orphanage memories, she should have expected.  In fact, the Dark Brotherhood had been in the back of her mind since Riverwood.  From her parents' stories, she knew the Dark Brotherhood, like the Morag Tong, took their kills very seriously, and didn't look kindly on "poachers." 

The next morning, after she and Jenassa spent another night in Candlehearth Hall, Katnys woke up alone and groggy on the floor of an abandoned shack.  The mysterious figure questioning her -- her "host," apparently -- reminded her a bit of Jenassa in the way she spoke so matter-of-factly about killing.  Finally faced with a genuine member of the Dark Brotherhood, Katnys knew she was at a disadvantage, so she listened to Astrid's offer: kill one of the anonymous captives or else...but which one?

Katnys interview Fultheim first.  He reminded her of the kind of mercenary she sometimes encountered with the Alik'r: fighting other men's battles in order to keep food on the table.  By his own admission, he had done some underhanded and cowardly deeds, but was that worth killing?  Next came Alea, the shrew whom Katnys eventually wanted to put out of earshot, but not to death.  Vasha the Khajiit, however, was a different story.  While she could care less about his criminal activities, one phrase he uttered stopped her cold:

Guess which phrase.
After their parents' death, Katnys and Prym encountered more than their share of "defilers of daughters," both in and out of the orphanage.  Normally, she would have shot him right then and there, but having him tied up and helpless like that, she decided to get up close and personal with her dagger.  She wanted him to feel it.

As good as Katnys felt about executing the Khajiit sexual predator, she felt even better when Astrid invited her to join the Brotherhood.  While she had certainly fantasized about assassinating her way through the Imperial Legion, she had not really expected to join the ancient band of killers, nor had she anticipated the stirrings aroused by Astrid's talk of family.  As soon as she left the shack, she rejoined Jenassa, explained where she had been (though Jenassa seemed relatively unfazed by Katnys's disappearance -- her trust in Katnys was sometimes unsettling), and together they traveled to Falkreath.

When they reached the Sanctuary, Katnys was a little put off by the fact that Jenassa was not permitted to enter.  While she understood that she, not Jenassa, had been invited, she had begun to think of Jenassa more and more as her own family.  Still, Jenassa was willing to wait outside while Katnys got to know the Brotherhood.

The first thing she learned was that the Brotherhood clearly lived up to its name.  The Stormcloaks were men and women bound tight by shared beliefs and a common goal, but the Brotherhood acted like a real family -- laughing, teasing, sharing as her own family had done while they lived among the Redguards.  Even Nazir's initial surliness felt familar and avuncular.  She loved this band of misfits and freaks almost immediately and wanted to please them -- anything to stay within the warm embrace of this Brotherhood. 

So, without hesitation, she accepted her first contract.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Civil War, Part 1 (Katnys)

Reconnecting with the Alik’r in Whiterun really helped Katnys place the whole “Dovahkiin” thing in its proper perspective.  Being Dragonborn was only of value to the degree it could help her take down the Empire that had abandoned Hammerfell, betrayed her parents, and killed her sister; the Greybeards and all of their “Way of the Voice” business could wait.  Right now, she needed to get to Windhelm and join up with the Stormcloaks.

Upon arriving in the capitol of Eastmarch, Katnys and Jenassa were treated to the sight of two Nords (Rolff Stone-Fist and Angrenor Once-Honored) harassing a Dunmer woman (Survaris Atheron).  At first, she was too dumbstruck to intervene; while her parents had often talked of their life in Windhelm, actually seeing one of her own as a.) an established citizen of Skyrim and b.) a victim of racism was a little too much to process all at once. 

The welcome wagon
Eventually, she pulled her wits together and beat some respect into Rolff (not that it lasted -- she would later encounter him drunkenly shouting in the Grey Quarter), then made her way to the Palace of the Kings for her audience with Ulfric.

Having lived most of her life outside of Skyrim, Katnys had been unnaware of Ulfric before the events at Helgen, so she approached him with neither awe nor ire.  She cared little for the intricacies of Nord politics, and even less about Talos, so she expected to express her desire to join the rebellion, grab her bow, and start killing Imperials.  But when Ulfric began talking about missing his father's funeral and about the obligation he had to the men in his command -- those who fell and those who still fought for him -- she found herself moved far more than she had anticipated.  Surely, a man who cared so deeply for his brothers-in-arms deserved her respect.  She still had no strong feelings about Talos, but her hated of the Empire only grew as she listened to Ulfric's story.  Therefore, when Galmar asked her why an elf would join the Stormcloaks,  she could proudly exclaim her thirst for Legionnaire blood.

The first task -- killing an ice wraith -- seemed like a pointless Nord test of courage, but she had grown used to that kind of requirement among the Alik'r.  Looking for the Jagged Crown felt silly as well, but once she got a chance to pick off some Imperial soldiers, Katnys finally felt like she was on the right path.  Under Ulfric's leadership, the Stormcloaks would drive the Empire out of Skyrim and, who knows, perhaps out of existence entirely.

It was this last thought -- that Ulfric might be the one to bring down the Empire -- that allowed Katnys to stomach the racism she encountered from certain residents of Windhelm.  Sure, one beggar and the town drunk (whom everyone tolerates because he's Galmar's brother) liked to toss epithets around, but that kind of impotent bigotry did little to dampen her spirits as she explored the Gray Quarter; after all, it was hard to be upset when she was in her parents' adopted hometown, surrounded by more Dunmer than she had even seen in one place.  In fact, even as she and Jenassa sipped Argonian Bloodwine and listened to Ambarys Rendar complain of the Nords' maltreatment of the Dark Elves, she couldn't help but think that some of these Windhelm Dunmer lacked perspective.  Sure, the Gray Quarter was a bit of a dump, and some of the Nords were less than hospitable, but what did Ambarys and his ilk expect?  From her time with the Alik'r, Katnys well understood that mercy and kinship are not the same.  The Alik'r took her and Prim in -- fed them, protected them, shared knowledge with them -- but they were never really part of the clan...and why should they be?  They weren't Redguards, after all.  People prefer their own kin, their own kind, and there's nothing wrong with that.  You can be generous to a stranger, but you only really love your own. 

It is precisely that generosity -- the kind shown by the Alik'r to the Evyrdene girls -- that Katnys saw in the Nords.  After the Red Mountain erupted, the High King of Skyrim gave entire portions of Solstheim to the Dunmer refugees, and the Jarl of Windhelm opened the Snow Quarter to them.  The Nords' magnanimity, however, was that of a powerful ally, not an adopted family.  The Sons and Daughters of Skyrim have helped the refugees of Morrowind, and that is enough.  For a Dunmer like Ambarys to expect the Nords to treat him like one of their own was not only foolish, but borderline ungrateful in Katnys's eyes.  It is natural to favor one's own, even as it is valorous to help an ally.

In fact, this history of Nord generosity throws a harsh light on the duplicity of the Empire.  Even as the Nords were opening their borders during the Red Year, the East Empire Company was pulling up stakes to avoid the ash.  The events of the Great War further demonstrated that the Empire exists solely for the benefit of Cyrodiil -- which would be fine if the Empire consisted only of Cyrodiil.  The Emperor had no problem abandoning Hammerfell to the Dominion, and then slapped Skyrim in the face by agreeing to the Concordat.  While the Nords might call you names and start a fight with you, they will also open their homes and keep their promises.  The Empire, on the other hand, calls you "citizen" while it sells you to your enemy.  Tamriel would be better served by an alliance of strong, independent nations than this shame of an Empire.  The Dominion would never be able to stand up against the cunning of Cyrodiil, the brawn of Skyrim, the skill of Hammerfell, and the sorcery of High Rock acting in concert as equals, rather than as thralls to a dying Empire.

Now that she held Balgruuf's axe, Katnys was poised to speed that process along.