I might never have gone to the Alik'r Desert
had I not met Weltan in a little tavern in Sentinel. Weltan
is a Redguard poet whose verse I had read, but only in translation.
He chooses to write in the old language of the Redguards,
not in Tamrielic. I once asked him why.
"The Tamrielic word for the divinely
rich child of rot, silky, pressed sour milk is ... cheese,"
said Weltan, a huge smile spreading like a tide over his lampblack
face. "The Old Redguard word for it is mluo. Tell me,
if you were a poet fluent in both languages, which word would
I am a child of the cities, and I would tell
him tales of the noise and corruption, wild nights and energy,
culture and decadence. He listened with awed appreciation
of the city of my birth: white-marbled Imperial City where
all the citizenry are convinced of their importance because
of the proximity of the Emperor and the lustration of the
streets. They say that a beggar on the boulevards of the Imperial
City is a man living in a palace. Over spiced ale, I regaled
Weltan with descriptions of the swarming marketplace of Riverhold;
of dark, brooding Mournhold; of the mold-encrusted villas
of Lilmoth; the wonderful, dangerous alleys of Helstrom; the
stately avenues of grand old Solitude. For all this, he marvelled,
inquired, and commented.
"I feel as if I know your home, the Alik'r
Desert, from your poems even though I've never been there."
I told him.
"Oh, but you don't. No poem can express
the Alik'r. It may prepare you for a visit far better than
the best guide book can. But if you want to know Tamriel and
be a true citizen of the planet, you must go and feel the
It took me a little over a year to break off
engagements, save money (my greatest challenge), and leave
the urban life for the Alik'r Desert. I brought several books
of Weltan's poems as my travel guide.
"A sacred flame rises above the fire,
The ghosts of great men and women without names, Cities long
dead rise and fall in the flame, The Dioscori Song of Revelation,
Bursting walls and deathless rock, Fiery sand that heals and
These first six lines from my friend's "On
the Immortality of Dust" prepared me for my first image
of the Alik'r Desert, though they hardly do it justice. My
poor pen cannot duplicate the severity, grandeur, ephemera
and permanence of the Alik'r.
All the principalities and boundaries the
nations have placed on the land dissolve under the moving
sand in the desert. I could never tell if I was in Antiphyllos
or Bergama, and few of the inhabitants could tell me. For
them, and so it came to me, we were simply in the Alik'r.
No. We are part of the Alik'r. That is closer to the philosophy
of the desert people.
I saw the sacred flame of which Weltan wrote
on my first morning in the desert: a vast, red mist that seemed
to come from the deep mystery of Tamriel. Long before the
noon sun, the mist had disappeared. Then I saw the cities
of Weltan. The ruins of the Alik'r rise from the sand by one
blast of the unbounded wind and are covered by the next. Nothing
in the desert lasts, but nothing dies forever.
At daylight, I hid myself in tents, and thought
about the central character of the Redguards that would cause
them to adopt this savage, eternal land. They are warriors
by nature. As a group, there are none better. Nothing for
them has worth unless they have struggled for it. No one fought
them for the desert, but the Alik'r is a great foe. The battle
goes on. It is a war without rancor, a holy war in the sense
the phrase should always imply.
By night, I could contemplate the land itself
in its relative serenity. But the serenity was superficial.
The stones themselves burned with a heat and a light that
comes not from the sun, nor the moons Jone and Jode. The power
of the stones comes from the beat of the heart of Tamriel
Two years I spent in the Alik'r.
As write this, I am back in Sentinel. We are
at war with the kingdom of Daggerfall for the possession of
a grass-covered rock that belongs to the water of the Iliac
Bay. All my fellow poets, writers, and artists are despondent
for the greed and pride that brought these people into battle.
It is a low point, a tragedy. In the words of Old Redguard,
an ajcea, a spiral down.
Yet, I cannot be sorrowful. In the years I
spent in the glories of the Alik'r, I have seen the eternal
stones that live on while men go dead. I have found my inner
eye in the tractless, formless, changeless and changeable
land. Inspiration and hope, like the stones of the desert,
are eternal though men be not.
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