I was probably about seven or eight years old when my uncle told me my mother ran track. It was an oddly seminal moment for a child. You see, mom is not swift. She’s a tiny little Japanese woman and that comes with a certain spunk, but I wouldn’t characterize her as a runner. Yet, there was a time in her life that she was actually considered fast. A time before I was born. For any child, the first time you realize space and time exist independent of you is a mind blowing experience. Mom wasn’t just the mom I knew. My teacher wasn’t just the wrinkled old crone all the kids insisted she was. In fact, every adult I ever met had been in my shoes, dreamed my stupid kid dreams, and had lived an entirely separate existence from the one I used to define them.
In video games, characters are often viewed through a similar lens. The myopia of the present. Old women are always old women. Sweet old ladies. Miserable old hags. They always act their age. Old. Rarely do we ever get to find out who they were, and how that shapes who they are.
Ostensibly, Iris is the same. She begins with a monologue about death, how in the twilight of her life, she can see the sky fading to black. Yet just as the nickname Iris the Elder was never meant to imply old age, so does Iris’ appearance belie what she’s really about. The concerns about her mortality are revealed to be her children’s. Iris herself just wants to relax, have a drink, and enjoy a hot bath. In her old age, her courier legs have finally slowed down. Yet at heart, Iris remains the same person she always was. Brave. Kind. Swift.
I sometimes get asked about the Windhelm courier story. When I wrote it, I knew the narrative was good, but it was Lila Paws’ acting that truly brought it to life. She does more than hit every note. She takes you there, to that cold, wintry night, and as she sets the scene you can feel the chill frisk your bones.
To this day, that story is one of my favorites, because it isn’t a traditional warrior story, and yet it fits the theme of TESV so perfectly. It’s a winter story, a Skyrim story, but more importantly, it’s a Nord story. It’s about courage, duty, and sacrifice, from the most unlikeliest of sources.
After all, Iris may be old, and she may be feeble, but those aren’t the traits that define her.