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The "Madmen" of the Reach

Arrianus Arius

The "Madmen" of the Reach:
A Cultural Treatise on the Forsworn

Arrianus Arius
Imperial Scholar

Since the legendary victory of Tiber Septim over the "barbarian natives" in the Battle of Old Hroldan, Imperial and Nord scholarship has cast the people of the Reach as little more than savages, prone to irrational fits of violence, worshipping old, heretical gods, and fetishizing beasts and nature spirits that any civilized person would best well avoid. In truth, these accounts are little more than "victor's essays," a perspective narrowed by the Empire's constant strife with the ancient, proud people that lived in this land far before Tiber Septim walked the soil of Tamriel. In light of this, I hope to create a more complete, accurate, and fair assessment of a group that has long suffered under the role of "enemy," "troublemakers," and "them."

Let us begin with the Forsworn, the so-called "madmen" of the Reach. The Imperial Legion classifies them as little more than brigands, noting their constant raids and ambushes within the Hold. But none of their military reports asks the question of "why?" If they were merely a group of bandits, surely they would be focused on acquiring gold and minimizing deaths among their own. But the opposite is true in Forsworn attacks. Large sums of coin are often left behind, and their fighters easily throw away their lives rather than risk capture by Imperial soldiers.

It is this incongruity that led me to Markarth, the capital city of the Reach, in search of answers. There, I met one of the native peoples, an old woman who preferred to not be named in my writings. She told me of her family's long history. How she believes they originally came from High Rock, home of the Bretons (which would explain the similar faces and stature of the two peoples). How the Nords came and took their lands, their gods, and their culture from them. When asked about the Forsworn, the old woman would say that they are the "real" men and women of the Reach: those that refused to give in to the Nords. Those that still practiced the ancient traditions that the rest of their people had abandoned in exchange for peace.

In time, I was able to create trust with many more natives in my search that corroborated the old woman's story. By chance, one of them arranged a meeting between myself and what I thought was an elder member of his village. I was shocked to find that I was led to a camp, filled with the animal skulls, severed heads, and still beating hearts that I had read about from the military reports back in the Imperial City. There, I met Cortoran, a Forsworn, who seemed amused at the prospect of me writing down his story. Which I quote in full below:

"You want to know who the Forsworn are? We are the people who must pillage our own land. Burn our own ground. We are the scourge of the Nords. The axe that falls in the dark. The scream before the gods claim your soul. We are the true sons and daughters of the Reach. The spirits and hags have lived here from the beginning, and they are on our side. Go back. Go back and tell your Empire that we will have our own kingdom again. And on that day, we will be the ones burying your dead in a land that is no longer yours."

Thonar's Journal

Thonar Silverblood

Madanach is becoming unruly. You'd think that 20 years in prison would calm a beast like him down a bit. Maybe I should have let the Jarl execute him after the uprising after all.

Still, he's been invaluable in getting rid of several "problems" over the years. Maybe I'm overreacting. No one knows about our little arrangement. Not even the Forsworn. I wonder how they would react knowing their "King in Rags" was one of my most important assets?

This little shadow rebellion of his better not start to include me, though. If I find out he's even thinking about double-crossing me, I'll make sure he dies inside Cidhna Mine, like the animal he is.

Red Eagle's Right


Red Eagle's Rite

Having bathed the blade in human blood, present it at Rebel's Cairn together with your sacrifice and intone:

Lord Red Eagle, ancient one, first and foremost among Reachmen, heed the call of your people! Still we fight for freedom! Still our blades are dark with blood! Turn your gaze upon us, and grant us your blessing anew!

I renew the ancient covenant: When at last our lands are free, we shall return, your sword of victory in hand. Then arise, O great one, from your honored tomb! Reclaim thy stolen throne! Rule over us, High Lord of the Reach, forevermore!

Legend of Red Eagle

Clarisse Vien; Tredayn Dren, ed.

The Legend of Red Eagle


Tredayn Dren
Archivist of Winterhold

This tale was transcribed from the memory of Clarisse Vien, student of Winterhold. Elements of the legend suggest a date c.1E 1030, though as with any oral tradition, much of it is likely a later anachronism. Curiously, stories of a similar king and his legendary blade appear in other ancient myths of the Reach.

Long ago, a child was born in the Sundered Hills. They named him Faolan, which means 'Red Eagle' in the tongue of the Reach, for the screeching bird-call that greeted his birth, and the crimson blooms on the autumn hills.

Thus began his legend: Reach-child, born under auspicious skies, his very name the color of blood.

Ten kings ruled the Reach in those days, and though men were free, the people were scattered and warred amongst themselves. The augurs foresaw the boy's destiny: a warrior without peer, first and foremost Lord of the Reach, chosen to unite all under his name.

Faolan grew in years and strength, and it seemed the prophecy would be fulfilled. The banner of the Red Eagle was raised along the cliffs of the Reach, and his people prospered.

Then came Hestra, Empress of the South, riding to war. One by one, the kings stood before her. One by one, they fell aside, bending knee in Imperial bargains or slaughtered on the battlefield.

Her legions came at last to the Sundered Hills, and envoys were sent to bargain for their surrender. Faolan refused to yield the freedom of his people, but the elders were afraid, cast him out, and accepted the Imperial yoke.

Thus was stolen by the foreign invaders: his land, his people, his very name. In the years that followed, Red Eagle became known as the untamed spirit of the Reach, unbowed, unbroken, stained by the blood of his foes.

He gathered loyal Reachmen to himself, those who clung to the old ways, who yearned for freedom, and forged a new nation. Together, they fell upon the occupiers and the traitors by night, disappearing into the cliffs and caves each morn, evading capture. It was not enough. For every Imperial patrol and garrison they wiped out, yet more seemed to march from the green south to replace them.

One night, under a cloud-choked sky, the men of the Red Eagle warmed themselves over damp fires of smoldering moss. A huddled, shambling figure came to them, cloaked in rags, face cowled. Though his men mocked and cast stones at the stranger, Faolan sensed something, and beckoned. The cowl was thrown back in the dim light, and she revealed herself to be one the ancient and venerable Hagravens. She offered power, for a price, and a pact was made.

Thus was brokered to the witch: his heart, his will, his humanity. From that day forth, his was a spirit of vengeance, pitiless and beyond remorse. The rebels grew in strength and numbers, and none could stand against them. Faolan's eyes burned coldly in those days, black opals reflecting a mind not entirely his own. Two years passed, and the foreigners were all but driven from the Reach.

Such peace could not last, however, and a great host fell upon them, a swift army of invaders unlike any before. For a fortnight, Hestra's generals laid siege to Red Eagle's stronghold, till he himself came forth for battle, alone and robed in nothing but his righteous fury. A thousand foreigners fell before his flaming sword, and the enemy was routed. Yet, when night fell, so too did he. The warriors who came to him said Faolan's eyes were clear again on that final night.

He was taken to the place prepared for him, a tomb hidden deep within the rock. With his remaining strength he presented his sword to his people, and swore an oath: Fight on, and when at last the Reach is free, his blade should be returned, that he might rise and lead them again.

Thus was given for his people: his life, his dream, his sword. But when every debt is repaid in blood, these he shall reclaim once more.

The Bear of Markarth

Arrianus Arius

The Bear of Markarth
The Crimes of Ulfric Stormcloak

Arrianus Arius
Imperial Scholar


Ulfric Stormcloak is considered a hero by many for his part in quelling the Forsworn Uprising. It is said that when the Empire abandoned Skyrim, and the natives of the Reach rebelled (undoubtedly due to the Nords poor treatment of them), Ulfric Stormcloak and his militia was there to retake "their" land from the Forsworn. In all the bravado and epic yarns the skalds compose of his exploits, you would think Ulfric to be a giant of a man, equal to that of Tiber Septim in his cunning, leadership, and decisive actions.

But the truth is far more revealing. Yes, from 4E 174-176, the Forsworn did in fact rule over the Reach as an independent kingdom from Skyrim. Yes, this was accomplished while the Empire was beset by Aldmeri Dominion forces and could not send the Legion to re-establish order. And yes, Ulfric Stormcloak did quell the rebellion without Imperial assistance. That much is true, but what the bards often fail to tell in their stories is that the Forsworn Kingdom was quite peaceful for those 2 years they were in power.

True, some crimes were committed against former Nord landowners (often those accused of being the harshest towards their native workers), but on the whole the Forsworn ruled their lands fairly, and were making overtures to be recognized by the Empire as a legitimate kingdom.

In the wake of the aftermath of the Great War, you can imagine the backlog on stately matters the Empire had. Before a peace treaty could be resolved with the Forsworn, a militia led by Ulfric Stormcloak sieged the gates of their capital, Markarth. What happened during that battle was war, but what happened after the battle was over is nothing short of war crimes.

Every official who worked for the Forsworn was put to the sword, even after they had surrendered. Native women were tortured to give up names of Forsworn fighters who had fled the city or were in the hills of the Reach. Anyone who lived in the city, Forsworn and Nord alike, were executed if they had not fought with Ulfric and his men when they breached the gates. "You are with us, or you are against Skyrim" was the message on Ulfric's lips as he ordered the deaths of shopkeepers, farmers, the elderly, and any child old enough to lift a sword that had failed in the call to fight with him.

So when a "grateful" Empire accepted Ulfric's victory and sent soldiers to re-establish the rule of law in the Reach, it was no surprise that he would demand to be allowed to worship Talos freely before the Legion could enter. With chaos running through the streets of Markarth and the reports of deaths rising every day, the Empire had no choice but to grant Ulfric and his men their worship.

We allowed them to worship Talos, in full violation of the White-Gold Concordat with the Aldmeri Dominion (which recognizes the elven belief that Talos, as a human, cannot be one of the Divines). In jeopardizing the treaty that so many sacrificed for during the Great War, the Empire was wrong. But what choice did they have, I ask you? Against the Bear of Markarth, Ulfric Stormcloak, "no" is not an answer.

High Rock

Imperial Geographical Society



High Rock encompasses Greater Bretony, the Dellese Isles, the Bjoulsae River tribes, and, by tradition, the Western Reach. Its various peoples are called Bretons for the sake of convenience only, as the endless multitude of city-states, principalities, baronies, duchies, and kingdoms that make up High Rock has, until recently, resisted all attempts at centralization into a single culture or government. The Nords of the First Empire never conquered the whole of High Rock; the Cyrodiils ruled it, but failed to stamp out its virulent sectarianism, which sprang up again with renewed fury during the Interregnum. It is only now, under the guidance of the Third Empire, that High Rock is finally tasting the fruits of peace and unity, although a few Bretons still chafe under Tiber Septim's firm hand. Aside from Imperial rule, Bretons are connected only in their language, geographic location, and the ancient rift that separated them from their Nordic progenitors, the Night of Tears.

Khosey, in his 'Tamrilean Tractates (sic),' transcribes a firsthand account of the "discovery" of the Bretons by a Nordic hunting party. The Bretons, in ten generations of Elven intermingling and slavery, had become scarcely recognizable as humans. Indeed, the hunting party attacked them thinking they were some new strain of Aldmeri, halting their slaughter only when one of the oldest began to wail for his life, a shrieking plea that was spoken in broken Nordic. When word of this reached Windhelm, the Nords reasoned that the "Manmeri" beyond the Reach were, in fact, descended from human slaves taken during the Elven destruction of Saarthal. King Vrage made the first priority of his Empire the liberation of his long-tormented kinsmen in High Rock. His initial onslaught took him as far as the Bjoulsae, but beyond that the First Empire never established a lasting presence; the crafty Elves were too strong in their magic, and many of the Bretons aided the Elves against their would-be liberators. Ironically enough, it took the tyranny of the Alessian Order to finally free High Rock from Elven dominion. Although the Alessians were crushed at the Battle of Glenumbria Moors, this costly victory so weakened Aldmeri power that the Elves could no longer challenge the emerging nobility of Greater Bretony, who seized power throughout most of High Rock within two decades of the Alessian defeat.

This rebellion was not a coordinated effort, however, and while most of High Rock was freed from Elven tyranny by 1E500, parts of the province remained under Elven rule for much longer. The Western Reach, paradoxically, was one of the last bastions of the Aldmeri in High Rock, the legacy of which is still apparent today (see below). Bretons have fought on both sides of most of the great conflicts of Tamrielic history, including Glenumbria Moors; the memories of these victories and defeats continues to taint relations between the many factions of this divided people. The burghers of Anticlere, for instance, still noisily commemorate the Battle of Duncreigh Bridge, the "famous victory" of their Duke over the neighboring hamlet of Sensford in 1E 1427 (a battle which apparently achieved nothing, as each village continues to boast its own ruling family of antique lineage), by marching each year down Sensford's main street, a progress that results in numerous injuries on both sides even when it does not provoke a brief war between the "knightly orders" of the two villages.

Today, the social structure of the Bretons has divided itself into a poor middle class and destitute peasantry, a magical elite separate from their squalor, and an often incoherent jumble of nobility and ruling families above them all. It is beyond the small ambition of this pamphlet to address the latter in any better terms, for even the natives have difficulty distinguishing their leaders from one another. Indeed, it is an old joke among the Bretons: "find a new hill, become a king," and many have taken it to heart. Youths of all professions and trades in High Rock spend their free time in knightly pursuits, real and imagined, performing good deeds and the like for all and sundry, in oft-vain efforts to achieve, one day, a noble status. This "quest-obsession," more than anything, has served as High Rock's sense of national identity, a peculiar form of altruism and mutual reliance that binds its people together.

The geography of High Rock is as varied as its people. The forested peaks of the Wrothgarian Mountains, occupied only by herders and the occasional dismal hamlet, divide the Western Reach from more heavily settled west of High Rock. The only true cities lie along the Iliac Bay, where several small kingdoms prospered from the trade that flowed through the Bay to the Bjoulsae River. Inland, the land rises to the windswept plateau of North Kambria, with many small towns tucked into the folds and valleys that wind their way down to the northern coast. This bucolic landscape is marred by the grim fortifications that perch atop every hill and crag, a reminder of the constant warfare that has been the scourge of the province. In the past, each petty lord, secure in his castle, enriched himself with tribute from all who traversed his domain, a circumstance clearly incompatible with the free flow of commerce. Now Tiber Septim has begun a program of demolition of these myriad fortresses, a wise policy that should facilitate prosperity while removing a potential refuge for subversives.

Although the Bretons are divided into numerous mutually antagonistic factions, to the outsider a singular uniformity in dress, architecture, and customs prevails throughout the land. Bretons are not an imaginative people, a legacy of the Elves, perhaps, and traditional ways are not lightly abandoned. Their villages are pleasant collections of half-timbered structures of one or two stories, with the rustic inn, a shop or two, and perhaps a lordly manor completing the picture. The traveler need not visit more than a handful of Breton communities before satisfying himself that he has captured the flavor of the whole. The people, too, despite their cherished particularism, are remarkably similar in name, accent, and dress throughout the province. It may be that this unacknowledged homogeneity bodes well for the future harmony of High Rock.

Most Bretons share an affinity for magic wrought, no doubt, by their lamentable intermingling with the Elves. This talent manifests itself in High Rock's pocket cultures in various ways. In the richer, more urban centers of the Iliac Bay, it has been systematically organized along the hierarchical lines of the Mages Guild. Children are tested for their magical potential at an early age, and those who pass enter apprenticeship programs funded by the Guild itself, or through independent sponsorship. In more remote regions, such as Glenpoint and the Wrothgarian Mountains, witches and medicine men, barely distinguishable from Orcish shamans, hold sway over the superstitious peasants with feats of untutored, but often impressive, magical ability.


Places of Note:


One of the oldest and largest cities of High Rock, Daggerfall has long considered itself the capital of High Rock, by virtue of its antiquity, prominence, and prosperity. All three of these qualifications may seem fanciful to the outsider, in comparison to Cyrodiil, Windhelm, or even Sentinel across the Iliac Bay. But Daggerfall was one of the largest kingdoms in High Rock before its accession to the Empire, and retains the right to maintain its royal court according to Cyrodilic tradition. Although few buildings of any age survive, Bretons being unsentimental about their history, Daggerfall is of considerable antiquity, founded originally by the Nords as a coastal foothold during the heyday of the First Empire. The city's fortunes have waxed and waned over the years; during the Alessian period it was of considerable importance, but it suffered greatly in the Thrassian Plague and is only now beginning to recover. The rise of Wayrest has lessened Daggerfall's importance as a trading port, although it should benefit from the opening of trade with the interior of the province.


Wayrest has always seen itself as the rival of Daggerfall, but continues to suffer from an inferiority complex that is evident in the ostentatious display of its ruling house. Daggerfall was already a well-established kingdom when Wayrest was merely a collection of rude huts at the mouth of the Bjoulsae River. But Wayrest prospered mightily after the Fall of Orsinium when the commerce from the whole of Tamriel began to flow past its gates, and today it boasts the largest and richest population in High Rock. The merchants of Wayrest have welcomed the arrival of the Empire, particularly the Navy's Northwest Fleet, which has made suppression of the notorious pirates of the Iliac Bay its top priority.


Isle of Balfiera

This island in the Iliac Bay has been used for centuries as a neutral meeting place for diplomatic negotiations and treaty signings by the kingdoms of High Rock. It is also famous for the enigmatic structure known as Direnni Tower, a circular tower soaring hundreds of feet into the sky. The traditional ruler of the island is known as the Castellan of Balfiera, perhaps reflecting his original role as commander of Direnni (or Balfiera) Tower, which was used as a fortress, prison, and palace by the infamous Direnni Hegemony. Even more curiously, the hereditary Castellans are High Elves, the only known Elven ruling family remaining in human lands. The Castellans continue to reside in the Tower, although its true provenance and purpose remains a mystery. A recent archaelogical study, using the latest techniques of divination and sorcery, has pushed the Tower's construction date back to around ME2500, making it by far the oldest known structure in Tamriel. Although it has been much modified and added on to over the years, its core is a smooth cylinder of shining metal; the Tower is believed to extend at least as far beneath the surface as is now visible above, although its deepest bowels have never been systematically explored.

The Western Reach

The Western Reach is actually the easternmost section of the Breton lands; its name derives from its location on Skyrim's western border. During the First Empire, it was incorporated as one of the Holds of Skyrim, and many Nords settled in its rolling hills and pleasant valleys. But they paid a terrible price during the Dissolution of Skyrim's Empire; the Aldmeri retook the Western Reach with a vengeance, slaughtering the Nord colonists to a man; precious little Nord blood flows in the veins of today's Reachmen. As a hedge against future incursions from Skyrim, the Aldmeri fashioned the Western Reach into an impregnable bastion. Thus, the Western Reach remained under Elven rule the longest of any part of High Rock, and the legacy of this dark sojourn can still be seen today.

The Reachmen are a mongrel breed, even for Bretons. Descended originally from one of the earliest Atmoran tribes to settle Tamriel, their lineage now partakes of nearly every race imaginable. The uprising that finally "freed" the Western Reach ended in the extermination of the Aldmeri overlords, but Elven blood still flows strong in the Reachmen, and they share the secretive, haughty demeanor of that race. In later years, they traded and exchanged customs with the Orcish villages that shared their mountains, and eventually learned much of the beastfolk's magic. Reach-magic is still widely studied, although it is banned by the Mages Guild (who fear it as dangerous and wild hedge-wizardry), and the Reachmen are often referred to as the "Witchmen of High Rock."

Banditry and lawlessness continue to plague the region, and it remains under the direct rule of Provisional Governor Titus Alorius1. Travelers are advised to avoid this region until the present disturbances are quelled-- a state of affairs, however, that is likely soon to be rectified. The benefits of membership in the Empire are so patent, and the resistance of the rebellious Reachmen so futile, that it is to be expected that the Western Reach will soon join the rest of High Rock in the new era of peace and prosperity wrought by the tireless efforts of Tiber Septim and his loyal companions. We can only hope that this comes to pass without further useless effusion of blood.


Annotations by YR:

1. "Colovian officers have traditionally been appointed as provincial governors to the human regions of the Empire, as these often need the most forthright of the Emperor's men ~"