From old unearthed records in a failing museum, this ancient hitherto unknown epic poem was recently unearthed and translated. Written in a rare script, it contains mentions of a mythology that as yet remains a mystery. The name "Xhad" is mentioned several times, apparently a deity. The translation provided is an approximation and is unclear in parts, due to gaps in our understanding of the language used.


A lengthy and moving ode, writ this day
By grace of spinning planets and angry gods
Cursed now into sinking merely to legend
Destined by fates, rising high above the land
Else they return, dancing once again

"For at times all of us must listen.
Great mysteries strewn throughout the world beckon."
Hardly had then the thought approached me when
I leaped that night into the unknown.

Jewels and gold I scorned
Kindling fires to burn my earlier life
Leaving only ashes and dust, I departed,
Making ways to weave my own fate

Near, far, here and there, I wandered
Over hills through fading dusk
Pressed on to leave my worlds behind
Quest still unknown to me

Readily did I bring myself to wander - perhaps too much
Still I ambled, again lost and found
Till that day the man found me there
Underneath the new rising sun he stood
Visible in the light, shining bright.

Without a doubt, deadly he was, like
Xhad he stood, silent and staring
Young but appearance fierce as the lion, he filled me with a
Zeal that I but could not help but feel.

Approaching him, his calm face settling on mine, but
A feeling that I'm now alone touches down upon me.
Bravely I approached, never speaking a word,
But then stopped still at a sight that filled me with horror.

Certainly it was but a cursed illusion!
Certainly this was still just a dream!
Death himself, if the legends held true,
Dark wings, the same purplish hue his steed.

Entire worlds that I'll see reduced to ash
Embittered lives would rest in peace
Finally able to gently sleep
Finding solace now in the deeps

Gleaming then in your eyes, I drew my sword
Glancing at your palm, I placed it in the hand
Held out there until I was decided
Heaving, body rebelling, I approached the dark rider.

I would now leave this world, galloping away,
In the dark amongst the shadows
Jesters laughing in the dark
Jokes ringing in flames burning dark.

Killed not by arrows would I be
Karma now was streaming past
Luck now that through the draw of chance
Lost now to the dark rider, my companion into flame.

Moving now through air of frozen fire
My dry mouth parched in blazing cold
Not here were mouths meant to drink
No, for here, screaming throes of wars long since lost.

Once I was through, the sounds were ceased
Over the fire, the silent waters underneath
Perhaps now the night is through
Perhaps now could I wander more
Quest now found, do I believe,
Queer sights that not a soul would take heed.

Rest easy now, care not my friends!
Return I did, for I am plainly here.
Still, I know, what I had then found.
Someday soon, and is it now?
That I'd make fair when the time was right
Time that now I feel is here.

Until the day take I my sword
Until I am no more, this fate
Vainly then I'll heed the call
Veiled and shrouded for your sake.
Will I know what I search now for?
What you see is plain in sight.
"X" to the right of my turmoil and fate.

Xhad he appeared, Chaos though he was.
Yet now he reigned throughout the land,
Yon he was when one looked, Death's figure with
Zest sweeping through. I beheld the despair, and
Zealously then I was beheld to intervene.

And then, with not a trace of warning, I saw him.
Beautiful he was there, in the windswept valleys of death.
Boldened by anger, I approached.
And there we fought! The god and I,
Claiming god he but could not else be.

Calamitously, victory was not mine to be.
And then by myself, wounded and deserted,
But I stood alone. Alas, driven back, he
Delivered strokes numbered three. I lay upon the ground forlorn,
Drawn blood running combined with his.
All was over. We faced our foe that day
But lost. He took the field that day.

"Cursed," declared I, "the one who did this."
Enraged, I continued, "Chair will no longer give him comfort, and he will
no more
Enjoy honor of glory. Scorned, shamed, and cast aside shall he be, with no place to rest!"
And this still was not enough. I beseeched my neighbor, the Dragonborn, to approach, and I said to him,
"Behold! Friend of mine, I now beholden you to this task.
Charged you are, as surely as if the godking Xhad were to charge you himself!
Dragonborn shall have victory against this scum, this beast of a man."
Fallen eyes then shone with the light of a thousand candles.

Far then would my words travel. The Dragonborn!
As like a statue in stature. There were many of the giants,
But naught as tall as the Dragonborn. He would accept any
Challenge. Many tried. All did fail.

Dragonborn marveled. Why would the great hero appoint a lowly man like him, for a great hero it was,
Ever a hero, revere well deserved?
Gladly, then, vowed the man, would he hunt down this beast, this false
God who bled. Ships he stocked, and the Dragonborn set sail!

Alas, it then would come to pass, a thousand years crept by
But without a tremble of the Dragonborn's footsteps.
Calamity had struck, in fate wound tight,
Dragonborn had found despair instead. By Xhad!

Evermore I waited, now and again, but never again did I hear the
Footsteps of men long awaited.
He was gone - gone like a breath of wind,
His face now but a memory.

"An ode," did I declare, "shall I compose for thee!
But who now still will take heed of such things?
Could there be here no young scholars? No wise sage?
Do I write now for none to hear? What
Ear would listen? You see. Egad!
For who will learn of these mighty deeds?"

Good Xhad, then I was in despair.
Inside myself, I am desolate; the pain
I feel now always there. For none shall know, and none shall grieve.
At the tragedy there of the Dragonborn. But the ode!

Dream you will, at the edge of sleep;
Roaming wild the long plains of the sheep.
And we come last to the end, bitter in parting,
Gods laughing at I, who send you, short life darting.
Once all that was trembled before ye;
Now, alas, none in living memory would recognize thee.

Bested by none, the world would know;
Of the inner center, peace like snow.
Rage knew no place within you;
None has yet but glanced the beauty ringing true.

Dawn breaks and, alas, you do not see;
Raging fires, burning it to dust, blowing free.
And thus it was, and thus it will be;
Great men do not return, woe be to me.
Once you were meant to rule;
Now fit only to lord the dead, bone and jewel.

But thus must be the world, yon days;
One must say they wane, as if in a daze.
Raw emotions have moved me to tears;
Now you or me, it matters not, all drowning in our fears.

Drawing now slightly back, your face;
Rain falls lightly, to fade away in disgrace,
Alas! The Dragonborn, my son, you have fallen now;
Gone, in no proper manner, to never again pull the plow.
Once filling vast space, now none;
Never again, you and I, to speak... my son.

Black world surrounding now, I mourn;
Old and shriveled, my face as if my heart is torn.
Rats crawling, mice dancing, critters flowing;
Noise such as all the world was in pain crowing.

Dear one, I could not help but remark;
Ruin I shall see, while you see naught but dark.
All must die, and some soon yet others late;
Great Xhad, mercy here I beg of you, give not others his fate!
Once is enough, I do declare;
Never again shall now be then, if at all fair.

Bleeding red, you must know;
Once I would ask, but today my heart lays low.
Readily the world of might found you, it is true;
Never could of you would I speak foul, though this day I rue.

"Dread of me you've overcome," said Death;
Rays of light found beaming as you drew your final breath.
And though now the day is over, gone;
Great things I question - am I a pawn?
Old ancient names written, power showing,
Now time stretches long, lengthening and slowing.

Born of dragons, who reared you,
One of friends am I, cold but true.
Roiling waters run, I fading show thee;
Never the Dragonborn now to see.

And thus ends what ode I can write,
Bold words that do not, cannot, give justice to the warrior
Cold words that I pen in a vain attempt
Day and night, do I wish, for a bard's finger,
Entire worlds now hidden for lack of a proper pen-warrior.
Forgotten now, except in pale legend,
Gods' speed to this twisted document,
Hideous piece of lengthy rambles.
I bless this song by all the gods.

Hint 2019-12-22 - helpfulness level 1

There are instructions, but they're terse and not immediately obvious.

Hint 2019-12-25 - helpfulness level 2

There is a single word hidden before the ballad that serves as instructions.

Hint 2019-12-29 - helpfulness level 3

The ballad doesn't exist. Use the single word hidden before it starts to find something. ABCEDFGH is a hint, but in the wrong place. Start at the beginning.

Hint 2020-01-04 - helpfulness level 4

Being familiar with mythology and history will give you an edge.

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    $\begingroup$ I can’t tell whether this is an actual puzzle or if the OP mistakenly thought we were hosting a poetry writing contest (but seriously, this looks amazing! Will have to take a closer look at this later) $\endgroup$ – HTM Dec 17 '19 at 22:05
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ It isn't edited by anyone else yet, so I think this is an actual puzzle. $\endgroup$ – Hakdo Dec 18 '19 at 1:25
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Does it strike anyone that the first line starts with 'A' and the last line starts with 'I'? $\endgroup$ – Toby Mak Dec 18 '19 at 11:16
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    $\begingroup$ To solvers: rot13(Va gur cebybthr, gur svefg yrggref bs gur svefg sbhe jbeqf fcryy bhg "SBHE". V pbhyqa'g svther bhg jung gb qb jvgu gung, gubhtu.) $\endgroup$ – JS1 Dec 29 '19 at 19:44
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    $\begingroup$ @JS1: That's a good discovery! I think you have to rot13(gnxr gur sbhegu jbeq bs rnpu yvar). $\endgroup$ – M Oehm Dec 30 '19 at 12:53

Building upon M Oehms excellent observations.

The poem in the poem seems to mostly refer to the sun.

"Moving, spinning, sinking, rising, Dancing all throughout the night. I burn and weave and fading leave To bring again the rising light."

The sun appears to move across the sky, rising and sinking as the day goes on. Leave in the evening, and rise again in the morning.

"Deadly, silent, fierce but calm. I'm never still but still the same. I'll rest gently in your palm, Until I leave amongst the flames."

Since the sun is a large ball of burning plasma, it is definitely fierce and dangerous, still compared to other stars it is quite calm. It moves across the galaxy, but to us it appears as it is in the same place

"Arrows streaming through the air, Parched mouths screaming through the night. I do not care for what is fair. I take no heed for what is right."

This refers to the tenth labor of Heracles. Heracles was so annoyed by the heat in the Libyan desert that he tried to shoot Helios down with an arrow.

[OP note: The arrows were intended to reference Apollo, Greek God of archery as well as the sun.]

"Chaos reigned when I was not there. I fought, but not myself alone. Three combined. We took the chair. Glory was mine as victory shone."

Not sure about this one, unless they refer to Zeus, Poseidon and Hades overthrowing the titans and making order in the world. I do not think Helios was involved though.

[OP note: This was a reference to the Egyptian snake of Chaos, Apophis, who is fought by Ra, the God of the sun. Ra is split into three parts: Ra, Khnum, and Khepri.

"My statue tall all would revere. The ships would tremble in despair. Now long gone but I still here. Now you learn I am always there."

the Colossus of Rhodes was a huge statue of Helios, the Greek god of the sun. It was situated by the harbor of the city Rhodos, but was destroyed in an earthquake. Still, the sun is shining as usual.

"At long last I was in the center place But, alas, it was, not meant to be. They moved me back to my proper space And now my dancing all could see."

The heliocentric worldview placed the sun in the middle of cosmos. Further on science showed that the sun was just one star in a galaxy of hundreds of million others.

"And here I now must ask of you: You've found the question written long. Who am I now? What do I do Hidden in this lengthy song?"

Apparently you were Helios, Greek god of the sun, now you are just the sun.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Most of this answer is correct. :) The third and fourth lines still haven't been answered. $\endgroup$ – Mithical Jan 4 '20 at 20:09
  • $\begingroup$ I updated my answer for the third line for something more mythological. $\endgroup$ – Bjorn Eriksson Jan 4 '20 at 20:35
  • $\begingroup$ So it's not exactly rot13(Uryvbf). The third and fourth lines still rot13(unir n zber qverpg zlgubybtvpny pbaarpgvba gb gur fha). But I will confirm that you do indeed have the general answer correct :) $\endgroup$ – Mithical Jan 7 '20 at 11:40
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    $\begingroup$ The third line may refer to rot13(Puvarfr zlgubybtl, naq gur yrtraq bs gur Tenaq Nepure Lv. Nppbeqvat gb gur yrtraq, gurer jrer gra fhaf, nyy puvyqera bs gur fha tbq. Gurl gbbx gheaf geniryvat guebhtu gur fxl, jnezvat gur ynaq. Bapr, gubhtu, orpnhfr gurl jrer oberq naq ynml, gurl qrpvqr gb nyy geniry gbtrgure, fb gung gurl pbhyq trarengr jnezgu gb ynfg sbe qnlf. Ohg gur ynaq jnf cnepurq, naq gur crbcyr fhssrerq naq qvrq bs guvefg. Gurl pevrq bhg gb gur fha tbq, jub tnir zntvp neebjf gb Tenaq Nepure Lv. Gur nepure fubg qbja avar bs gur fhaf gb erfgber crnpr gb gur cynarg.) $\endgroup$ – Lanny Strack Apr 17 '20 at 10:28

(Partial answer.)

In a comment to the question, JS1 has explained the clue to the first step:

The first letters of the first four words of the italicized inroduction give four. According to the hints, that's an instruction. There are many ways to use this information, but the most promising one seems to be to take the fourth word of each line.

Applying that instruction to the ballad yields:

Moving, spinning, sinking, rising,
Dancing all throughout the night.
I burn and weave and fading leave
To bring again the rising light.

Deadly, silent, fierce but calm.
I'm never still but still the same.
I'll rest gently in your palm,
Until I leave amongst the flames.

Arrows streaming through the air,
Parched mouths screaming through the night.
I do not care for what is fair.
I take no heed for what is right.

Chaos reigned when I was not there.
I fought, but not myself alone.
Three combined. We took the chair.
Glory was mine as victory shone.

My statue tall all would revere.
The ships would tremble in despair.
Now long gone but I still here.
Now you learn I am always there.

At long last I was in the center place
But, alas, it was, not meant to be.
They moved me back to my proper space
And now my dancing all could see.

And here I now must ask of you:
You've found the question written long.
Who am I now? What do I do
Hidden in this lengthy song?

That's ...

... another poem, a riddle in verse. I think that the answer to this riddle is the overall answer, but I don't know what it is.


Wrap-up: The Making Of The Ballad of the Dragonborn

This is not a solution to the puzzle, but provides notes from its poser. This type of answer has been approved by the community.

Caution: This post contains spoilers for every step of the puzzle.


At heart, I'm a writer. I love writing; fiction, blog posts, poetry - heck, even help center articles. And after seeing some of GPR's poem puzzles, I really wanted to try writing a stego-poem at some point. And although it took me several years to get around to it, this was the result.

I also took inspiration for the acrostic idea from traditional Jewish piyutim. It seemed like a fun challenge to not only encode a message into the poem I was writing, but to also include an acrostic at the same time. I wanted to challenge myself.

I had originally planned on including an acrostic with the last letter of every line and not just the first, but I quickly dropped that idea; that was just a bit past my abilities and the amount of time I was willing to dedicate to this.

Creative and logical steps

Riddle me the sun!

The first thing I did to start working on this puzzle, after I had decided to create a stego-riddle with an acrostic, was to decide on a final answer. I thought about it a bit, and decided that "the sun" would be a nice topic to write a riddle about. It's a subject that lends itself to creative interpretation - such as "dancing", and can be approached from several different standpoints (mythology, history, science).

Once I had an answer, I had to decide how I wanted to clue it, and what the riddle would be like.
Because I wanted to challenge myself with this, I decided that I wanted the riddle to be in verse. I wanted it to rhyme, and if I could get the meter to be somewhat standard, even better.

So now, I knew that I would be writing a riddle about the sun, in verse, which I would then stegonagraphically hide in a poem. (I hadn't yet planned out how I was going to hide the riddle.)

I was in a bit of a "creative license" mood when I started writing the rhyming riddle, which led to the first paragraphs being a bit more... loose... in their interpretation.
And as anybody who's played Contact with me knows, I'm big on mythology. How could I write a poem about the sun and not include some mythological references?

I incuded references to Apollo (Greek / Roman), via "arrows"; I figured that would probably be the best-known mythological reference.
I also included references to Egyptian mythology, with nods to Apophis ("Chaos"), and the three parts of Ra.

I figured a reference to one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World - the statue of Helios - also wouldn't hurt. It turned out that this was one of the most difficult lines to make rhyme; I spent several hours reworking just the last words of this stanza.

And the last of the "riddle" lines was about the heliocentric view of the universe, and that being discovered to be incorrect.

While this was completely unintentional, in the end this resulted in the lines being in largely chronological order. I started with the human view of the sun ("Moving, spinning, sinking, rising"), moved on to ancient Greek and Egyption mythology ("Arrows streaming through the air", "Chaos reigned when I was not there"), then the Helios statue (which was slightly later), and then the heliocentric and non-heliocentric views of the universe (which was centuries later).

I did absolutely no research while writing this riddle; I wrote it entirely based off of prior knowledge. (And yes, I did learn a lot of mythology from Rick Riordan; what of it?)

Throughout this entire riddle, I tried to sneak in as many words related to fire and light as possible; my favorite was the line "Glory was mine as victory shone"; it was a reference to Ra's triumph over Apophis, and also the sun (Ra) shining.

All in all, it took around two weeks of on-and-off work for me to write this riddle, make sure it rhymed, and have it in a state where it was ready to encode in the larger poem.

The Dragonborn!

I had no real plan for where I wanted the "outside" poem to go. I had no plan in the slightest apart from the acrostic and stego requirements. I just started writing, and let it take me where it wanted to go.

In practical terms of how I wrote the "outside" poem to include the hidden riddle, I took every word of the puzzle and put it on a different line. At this stage, it looked something like this:


I then wrote out the beginning of my acrostic:

A moving
B spinning
C sinking
D rising
E dancing
F all
G throughout
H the
I night

...and started writing, with no real plan, just seeing where it took me.

I then ran into a brick wall... also known as the letter "X".

Words that begin with X are notoriously difficult to find, and even harder to make sense of in the context of what I had written so far. (What do xylophones have to do with epic quests?) And so, to solve that problem, I thought about it for a day and settled on a solution: Just make up a word! I decided that creating a fictional deity would be the easiest route; I could then also include "By Xhad!" and "Good Xhad!" etc., just to spice things up a bit. (I did end up forgetting how I spelled it and included it with a "Z" instead of "X" by the time I had gotten through the whole thing, but luckily not in any crucial places.)

It took me I think about four days just to write the first line of acrostics (A-Z, a single line per letter). (That meant total, I was about two and a half weeks into this venture.)

I then spontaneously decided that I wouldn't just do a single line per letter for the next round; I'd make it double. I knew I was in absolutely no danger of running out of words in my original riddle; I had plenty of space to work with.

And so I did. I wrote out the double acrostic, wracking my brain for words, writing strange visions and lines that made no sense even to me while I was writing them. (Anyone would think I was on drugs while writing those scenes with Death and the flames.)

I don't remember how long it took me to write the double acrostic; certainly a while. (At least a week, possibly more; it's a bit of a blur by now.)

But then I got an even crazier acrostic idea. I'd take a letter (A). Write a line (A). Take the next letter (B). Write two lines (now at ABB). Take the first letter (ABBA). Take the third letter (C, so now we're at ABBAC). And again (ABBACC). Then take the first letter (ABBACCA). Then take the second letter (ABBACCAB). I was going through each letter, using it twice, and then inserting all the previous letters except for the last one. ABBACCABDDABCEEABCDFF... etc.

That was way too complicated.

It was so complicated that I gave up after the "I"; I had literally spent weeks at this point on that single pattern, and it was just confusing me too much. I was getting lost.
So I switched to a different acrostic.

I had discovered, throughout this writing, that it wanted to focus on whoever this "Dragonborn" was. I had no idea; I'm not even sure where the name came from (I probably heard it somewhere and just stuck it in. I've now learned it's used in Skyrim). In any case, I switched to an acrostic that spelled out DRAGONBORN.

I did this basically for the rest of the poem, until I didn't have enough words left in my riddle (the original sun riddle) to spell out DRAGONBORN again. I switched back to an alphabet acrostic, and wrote some concluding words.

So then I had it: One rhyming riddle in verse hidden inside a massive pile of acrostic nonsense. Whee!

Then came the proofreading.

Did I get the alphabet right at least?

Proofreading, as anyone who's solved any of my older puzzles can tell you, is not my strong suit. I'm known for not proofreading well, leading to mistakes that will trip people up who solve my puzzles.

To make sure I had gotten everything right this time, though, I did some thorough checking.

First, I copied the "epic poem", and deleted everything except for the first letters, to check the acrostics. I checked, and double checked - especially the ABBACCABDD one - and everything seemed right.

I then checked to make sure that all the fourth words were in the correct position. I went through manually, counted and counted again, and copied out the fourth word of every line. I did discover a couple instances where I had accidentally pushed the correct word to be fifth or third, but I was able to fix these with relative ease.

By this point, I had spent roughly three months altogether on this. I had written the riddle, made sure it rhymed, checked the meter (sort of), encoded it, written the acrostics, checked the acrostics, checked the fourth words, and everything seemed to be perfect.

It was it this point I realized I had made a large oversight.

Oh, D'Arvit

Sure, I had encoded the riddle to be every fourth word of every line. But I had forgotten to indicate that somehow. I hadn't included any sort of instruction for how the riddle was supposed to be found to be solved.


And so, I wound up spelling out the word FOUR in the introduction to the "epic poem"; I hadn't been planning on including an intro, but since I had forgotten to give any other method of instructions on how to find the riddle I had forced my own hand.

Ideally, I should have included this in the nonsense poem itself, perhaps even in the acrostics, but I simply failed to think of it.


And so, finally, it was ready to post. I had checked, and double checked, and triple checked everything; I had included instructions, albeit in a less-than-ideal way; I was ready to post.


I tend to create my puzzles in a plain-text environment; actually, that's what I use to write most things, including this very making-of post! This allows for direct copy-paste of the Markdown into the post.

I did everything manually, including checking the acrostics and counting the words to make sure that every fourth word was the correct one; and again, I did absolutely no research. (I probably should have, just to make sure my mythology etc. was accurate, but I didn't.)


At some point during the writing of the epic poem, a month had passed since I had last used my "Xhad" X word, and I included it in a "By Xhad!" exclamation... except I had forgotten how I had spelled it, and used "Zhad" instead. Oops. (There were a couple other small typos - dangers of working without spellcheck - but nothing major arose.)

I added a few hints as time went by based on where people were up to with solving it; when nobody was even finding the riddle, I added hints for how to find it; when nobody was solving the riddle, I added some hints on solving it.


Protip: Acrostics are hard.

If you're thinking of doing something similar, be prepared to do a lot of work, a lot of it manual; it's harder than you think it is to write in acrostic, and including an acrostic and a hidden word in a specific spot really cramps your writing style. Embrace the wacky, though.

All in all, this was quite possibly the most work I've ever done for a puzzle (and I'm saying that having helped develop real-life escape rooms, and now online ones as well). I don't think I've ever spent months like this on anything else. I thoroughly enjoyed creating it, though, and I'm quite satisfied with how it came out in the end.


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