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The Holds of Skyrim

Author: 
Anonymous

The Holds of Skyrim:
A Field Officer's Guide

For Use by Officers of the Imperial Legion

 

Welcome, loyal officer of the Empire. You have been given this guide to help you, and those men under your command, better understand the geography of Skyrim. Since you will be serving in Skyrim for a lengthy period of time, this information should prove invaluable.

Skyrim is organized into nine holds. A hold is a large area of land roughly equivalent to a county in Cyrodiil. Each hold is governed by a Jarl who maintains his court in the hold's capital city.

Four of these holds are fairly small and sparsely populated. As a result, the capitals are little more than towns. The five major cities of Skyrim act as capitals for the larger holds.

Following is a detailed review of each hold.

EASTMARCH
Located in the eastern reaches of Skyrim, Eastmarch shares a common border with Morrowind. Jarl Ulfric Stormcloak rules from the ancient city of Windhelm, and he and his followers should be considered your most serious threat.

Do not tread lightly in Eastmarch, for the Stormcloaks are at their strongest and most organized in these lands. As an Imperial soldier, you will find few friends here.

HAAFINGAR
Solitude, the seat of High King of Skyrim and the capital of Haafingar hold, has always welcomed the Empire with open arms. Much commerce flows along the rivers here, and you will find the folk of this hold to be among the most hospitable in Skyrim.

As you venture forth in your campaigns, be sure to maintain a secure supply line back to Solitude. The Empire maintains ample provisions in Castle Dour, from which General Tullius commands all the legions stationed in Skyrim.

HJAALMARCH
This hold is divided evenly between wind-swept tundra dotted with farms and a huge, stinking salt marsh. There is little of interest here, save perhaps for the hold's capital, Morthal.

Jarl Idgrod Ravencrone has been cooperative enough with the Empire in the past, but will ultimately look out for her own iterests if put in a difficult position.

While the hold offers minimal strategic value to the Empire, it would make an ideal staging ground for a Stormcloak siege of Solitude, and so must be held against the enemy.

THE PALE
The Pale is a barren realm covered by vast fields of ice and snow. Its boundaries stretch from the center of Skyrim all the way to its northern coast. Here, at the capital city of Dawnstar, can be found one of the busiest ports in the province.

With access to the coastal waterways of Skyrim, Dawnstar could prove vital in the war effort. Should the Stormcloaks choose to attack Solitude from the river, this port would make a tempting target due to its close proximity.

THE REACH
Dominating the western border of Skyrim, the Reach is made up almost entirely of steep, craggy mountains. Little grows in this forbidding realm, but the capital city of Markarth is a nigh-impregnable stone fortress that would make an excellent defensive position for either side in the war.

Be aware that this dangerous region of Skyrim is home to the Forsworn, the rebellious natives of the Reach. They know the terrain, can strike without warning, and count the Empire as an enemy. If they attack, you must neither give nor expect any mercy.

THE RIFT
This hold occupies the southeast corner of Skyrim, and much like the Reach in the west, is dominated by tall mountain peaks. The climate in the Reach is milder than in the northern holds, and there is more vegetation to be found here. Farming thrives as a result.

A word of warning about Riften, the hold's capital city. Our agents have reason to suspect that the Thieves' Guild makes it home here, though it is now much diminished from its strength of previous years.

Nevertheless, mind that your men keep an eye on their coin purses should they have reason to spend any length of time in the city.

WHITERUN
This central hold is characterized by wide, grassy plains that are home to numerous farms. Many roads pass through Whiterun, joining the more distant holds together.

The hold's capital city, also called Whiterun, sits high on a rocky promontory amid a large, flat swath of scrubland. Among the wealthiest cities of Skyrim, Whiterun has usually proven friendly to the Emperor's soldiers.

WINTERHOLD
This bleak, snow-blown hold in the northeast corner of Skyrim is utterly inhospitable. Perhaps the mages at the College of Winterhold chose to make their home there because they knew they would be left largely alone.

As with Whiterun, the name Winterhold describes both the hold and its capital city, though the word "city" hardly applies. The hold capital is a meager village built near the mages' college.

Few other noteworthy settlements exist in this frozen waste, and it is unlikely to play any significant part in the war.

 

Watcher of Stones

Author: 
Gelyph Sig

Watcher of Stones

 

by
Gelyph Sig
Thane of Bjorin

 

Long have I waited at the Guardians. I must know: are the stories true? Surely you've heard them. Tales of the stones granting powers to Heroes of old, those special few being able to choose any stone to rewrite his fate. Of course you've heard them, that's why you touch the stones as you pass by. You've heard they bring luck, or a sign from the gods. But you think little of the action. It has no true meaning for you. I see it in your eyes as you pass. You do not believe. But I have always believed. Always felt that I was one of the few whose fate was not sealed at birth by the stars overhead. One of the few who could use these stones, draw on the power of the gods to change my life, change my future. I have always felt it.

I have done much in my years. Fought battles, defended villages, quested and adventured throughout Skyrim. I have bested the Companions of Whiterun in combat, and performed deeds worthy of everlasting praise in song from the Bards College. No task was too small or great if it could bring me honor, glory, proof that I was worthy of the stones' power.
And yet, nothing.

I have found many of these accursed stones in my travels, and none have responded to my touch. With each new feat I would return to the Guardians, wondering if the gods finally deemed me worthy. But now those days are gone. I am an old man, with no fight left in me. And so here I sit, watching the faces of those who pass by on their daily errands, their mundane travels from one city or town to another. Most of you do not even give the stones a passing glance. You have never heard their call, you will never feel drawn to them. Some days, I envy you that.

Long will I wait at the Guardians, for I must know. Are the stories true?
 

The Dunmer of Skyrim

Author: 
Athal Sarys

Dunmer.

That is our name. Yet you deny us even this courtesy. You, the white-skinned, jaundice-haired apes of this godsforsaken frozen wilderness. To you Nords, we are the gray ones, the ashen-skinned, the "dark elves" of Morrowind who have as much place in your land as an infection in an open wound.

Oh yes, we have read your great cultural work, "Nords of Skyrim," in which you extol the many virtues of your people and province, and invite any visitors to come experience your homeland for themselves. Well come we did, Nords, and the reception was less than was promised - but exactly what we expected.

So I, Atal Sarys, Dunmer and immigrant to Skyrim, have decided to answer your beloved book with a work of my own. And let all who read it know that Nords are not the only race to reside in this cold and inhospitable realm. For we dark elves have come, and little by little, shall claim Skyrim as our own.

But where, you may ask, have we taken up residence? Why none other than the ancient city of Windhelm, once the capital of the First Empire. Yes, Nords, in the shadow of your own Palace of the Kings, where the Nord hero Ysgramor once held court, we now thrive. Oh yes. Your beloved Five Hundred Companions may have driven our ancestors from Skyrim, but that was then. This is now.

Indeed, one might be surprised as to just how well we've settled into Windhelm. The district once known as the Snow Quarter is thus named no more. Now, they call it the Gray Quarter, for such is the reality of the Dunmer occupation. The district is now populated entirely by my kind, a victory not lost on its residents.

Oh, but the peaceful occupation goes even further. Thirsty? You'll find no Nord mead hall in the Gray Quarter. But the spirits flow well enough in the New Gnisis Cornerclub. Seeking a respected family? You'll find no Gray-Manes within these walls. But perhaps you'd like to pay a visit to the home of Belyn Hlaalu, descendant of one of the most noble houses in all of Morrowind. Ah, but no. You Nords don't come to the Gray Quarter, do you? You fear our streets as you fear our skin.

So now, "children of Skyrim," you have the truth of it. You may call this province home, but you can no sooner claim to own it than a cow can claim to own its master's field. You are just another breed of domestic animal, grazing stupidly while higher beings plot your slaughter.

Olaf and the Dragon

Author: 
Adonato Leonetti

One of the more colorful legends in Nord folklore is the tale of Olaf One-Eye and Numinex.

Long ago in the First Age, a fearsome dragon named Numinex ravaged the whole of Skyrim. The dreadful drake wiped out entire villages, burned cities and killed countless Nords. It seemed that no power in Tamriel could stop the monster.

This was a troubled time in Skyrim's history, for a bitter war of succession raged between the holds. The Jarls might have been able to conquesr the beast if they had worked together, but trust was in desperately short supply.

A skillful warrior named Olaf came forward and promised to defeat the beast. In some accounts, he is the Jarl of Whiterun. In other versions of the legend, Olaf promises the people of Whiterun that he will capture the monster if they will name him Jarl.

At any rate, Olaf ventures forth with a handful of his most trusted warriors and seeks the beast out, eventually finding Numinex in his lair atop Mount Athor. Needless to say, it's an epic battle.

First, Olaf comes at the dragon with his axe and his shield. Some variants of the legend say that Olaf and the beast battled with blade and claw for days, but were too evenly matched for either to gain an advantage.

Most accounts hold that Olaf, perhaps frustrated that his weapons are completely ineffectual against the dragon, finally casts them aside. Giving voice to the rage that has been building within him, Olaf unleashes a terrible shout.

Here again, the stories diverge. Many accounts hold that Olaf did not realize he possessed the power of Dragon-speech, while others suggest that he had long possessed this gift, but wished to test himself against the dragon in martial combat first.

Virtually all variations of the legend, however, agree on what happened next.

Using the awesome powers of the Dragon language, Numinex and Olaf engage in an epic shouting duel atop Mount Athor. So forceful are their words, they are said to shatter the stone and split the sky.

Finally, Numinex collapses from a combination of injury and sheer exhaustion. Somehow - and this detail is conspicuously absent in virtually every account - Olaf manages to convey the dragon all the way back to the capital city of Whiterun.

The people of Whiterun are suitably impressed with Olaf's hostage. They build a huge stone holding cell at the rear of the palace, which they rename "Dragonsreach". This enormous cell serves as Numinex's prison until his death.

Olaf himself eventually becomes the High King of Skyrim, putting an end to the war of succession. Presumably, his great deed made him the only leader upon whom all the people could agree, and so the land once again has peace.

As a visitor to Skyrim, I find this tale both fascinating and highly entertaining. It is one the most celebrated legends of the Nords, and one can easily understand why. It's a story of surpassing heroism, in which a resourceful and worthy Nord does battle with a truly terrifying adversary and emerges victorious by yelling him into submission. The only way in which this could have been even more of a Nordic tale would be if Olaf beat Numinex in a drinking contest.

The legend is not without its doubters, however. The bard Svaknir, who lived during Olaf's reign, wrote and performed an alliterative verse that challenged Olaf's version of events. Enraged, the High King threw the rebellious bard in prison and destroyed all written copies of the verse.

How I would love to lay hands on a copy of that verse! I admit, I am immensely curious to know what assertions Svaknir made about how Olaf really defeated Numinex.

There are a few ancient bard texts that provide one possible answer. These tomes suggest that Numinex was particularly foul-tempered because he was extremely old. In these accounts, the dragon spends his final years terrorizing the country side before flying off to the top of Mount Athor to die in peace.

When Olaf finds Numinex, the dragon is too weak to defend himself. Olaf and his men capture the beast without effort, but decide to take advantage of the situation by fabricating a heroic tale. It is worth noting that all of Olaf's warriors who were said to witness the shout duel went on to become wealthy leaders during Olaf's reign as High King.

However, it is equally likely that Svaknir had some grudge against Olaf, and his scandalous verse was an attempt to damage the High King's reputation. Alas, we will never know.

I leave you now, good reader, with this gentle reminder: A good historian must remain impartial, and consider all points of view. Time has a way of distorting our record of events, so the closer you can get to the original sources, the better!

Annals of the Dragonguard

Author: 
Brother Annulus, ed.

Annals of the Dragonguard
2800-2819

 

Scribe's Note: I have faithfully copied the following from the Annals of the Dragonguard of Sky Haven Temple for the years 2800-2819 (4329-4338 in the Old Calendar), Brother Annulus, 2E 568.

 

2801: Emperor Kastav again ordered the Dragonguard to sieze hostages from Markarth and Hroldan to ensure that the jarls meet their conscription quotas. Our Master's official protest was denied, as usual. This will make relations with the local populace more difficult, although the "hostages" are in fact housed and trained with the other acolytes.

2804: Upon the outbreak of the Winterhold Rebellion, our Master refused orders to send the Dragonguard out to help supress the rebellion. The Emperor ordered our supplies cut off, but we have made arrangements with the local Reachmen and are effectively self-sufficient. The Grandmaster supports our Master's action on the grounds that it violates the Oath of Allegiance.

2805: The Temple is besieged. The fool Kalien was sent to Winterhold and sacked the city. There was a reason he was denied entry into the Dragonguard. But the local people do not count the difference between Akaviri. All our years of building up trust with people of Skyrim are now for naught.

2806: We learned of the accession of Reman II (of blessed name) when the siege of the Temple was lifted. We provided the honor guard for the Emperor's first visit to Skyrim, a great boost to the Temple's prestige.

2809: We received reports of a dragon in the east. Scouts were sent immediately, and signs of it were discovered, but it fled at our approach. The survivors have grown wary indeed.

2812: We finally received permission from the Emperor to begin construction of Alduin's Wall. Craftsmen from Temples across the Empire have arrived and begun the great work, overseen by our own Master, as is only fitting, as she is unmatched in her dragonlore.

2813: Work on Alduin's Wall progresses. The Master dismissed several craftsmen (from a western Temple that I do not need to name, they are so well-known for stiff-necked pride), which has delayed the work, but there must be no compromise. Alduin's Wall is our gift to those that come after us.

2815: The Grandmaster visited the Temple in the summer to view the progress of the Wall. He has received complaints about the expense (there is no doubt where these originate), but he was so impressed by the Wall even in its half-finished state that he gave our Master a Writ of Requisition under the Emperor's seal. There will be no more delays!

Further reports of dragons in the east which could not be verified.

2818: An auspicious year. Alduin's Wall was finished, a dragon was located and slain, and Emperor Reman II visited to officially dedicate the Wall. The Blood Seal was consecrated in the presence of all the Dragonguard of Skyrim, a great honor of which few Temples can boast.
 

An Explorer's Guide to Skyrim

Author: 
Marcius Carvain

An Explorer's Guide
to Skyrim

by
Marcius Carvain,
Viscount Bruma

 

Far too often, noble visitors from Cyrodiil see little more of Skyrim than the view from their carriage. To be sure, this coarse, uncivilized province is far from hospitable, but it is also a place of fierce, wild beauty, with grand vistas and inspiring natural wonders awaiting those with the will to seek them out and the refinement to truly appreciate them. If you are of a mind to see Skyrim for yourself, I recommend beginning your adventure as I did, by seeking out Stones of Fate.

No doubt you are taken aback by the name, as I once was. The provincials and village folk have all manner of dark tales about these ancient monuments. Stories of necromantic rituals and fell spirits, of great and terrible powers conferred on any who dare to touch them.

The stories are, as Jarl Igrof once told me, "A load of mammoth dung." A bit uncouth, but you get the point.

To be sure, keep your guards with you at all times - brigands and wild animals are never to be taken lightly. But the stones themselves are nothing to fear. Quite the contrary, their proximity to cities and roads makes them ideal destinations for the novice explorer, and many boast spectacular views that make the journey well worth the effort.

To whet your appetite, here are four such locations:

Most travelers enter Skyrim by way of Helgen, "Gateway to the North." If you find yourself in this backwater hovel, consider taking an afternoon's ride to the north, keeping to the road as it winds down the cliffs at the eastern end of Lake Ilinalta. Just off the path, on a small bluff, lie the three Guardian Stones, the greatest concentration of standing stones in all Skyrim. The view of the lake here at sunset is simply sublime.

Visitors from Cheydinhal will pass through Riften, city of intrigue and larceny since Tiber Septim's day. If you seek adventure in the Rift, leave the city by the southern gate and cast your gaze upon the bluff that rises to the south. Atop it sits the Shadow Stone, a fitting symbol for the city of thieves.

Whiterun is the heart of Skyrim, its towering palace rivaling even the great castles of Cyrodiil. But should you tire of the Jarl's hospitality, another adventure awaits a few hours to the east of the city, along the road that rises above White River Gorge. The Ritual Stone can be found atop the lone hill that rises on the north side of the road, set into an ancient monument. Take time to soak in the incredible view of Whiterun, the tundra, and the gorge from this unique spot.

More seasoned explorers may wish to visit Markarth, the ancient city of stone far to the west. The recent Forsworn Rebellion has made travel in the Reach perilous, but for those determined to seek adventure no matter the cost, another stone can be found to the east of the city, perched on the mountain above Kolskeggr Mine. Though the climb is difficult, reaching the summit is a milestone any explorer could be proud of.

There are other Stones of Fate to be found in Skyrim - I myself have seen several more, perched on the most remote mountain peaks, or wreathed in fog amid the northern marshes. But the true joy of exploration is in the discovery, and so I leave the rest to you. May the Eight guide your steps.

A Gentleman's Guide to Whiterun

Author: 
Mikael the Bard

 

Welcome, good sir, to this indispensible guide. Within these pages, I, your humble author and guide, will describe to you the great city of Whiterun, the Jewel of the North.

Whiterun offers numerous diversions for the man in search of adventure, fortune and companionship, whether for a night or for a lifetime. The city is graced with not one, but two worthy taverns and there are maids and wenches aplenty.

The city is located rather centrally in Skyrim, and this is well, for it is not far from anywhere. Perched high upon a rocky hill, Whiterun dominates the grassy plains that surround it. High wooden walls protect its denizens from the wolves, mammoths, bandits and other dangers lurking beyond.

When you first enter through the city's main gate, you will find yourself in the Plains District. This is so named because it is the lowest of the city's three neighborhoods.

Ah, but here can be found the Bannered Mare, which I count among the finest taverns in all Skyrim. The scenery within is quite compelling, if you have an eye for the fairer sex.

A stout lass named Hulda tends the bar. Don't let that stony Nord exterior fool you, for she is possessed of that same fiery passion that all Nord women try so hard to conceal. Saadia, the barmaid, is an exotic Redguard beauty. She is quite mysterious, and your humble author is determined to learn her secrets.

Outside the Bannered Mare is a modest marketplace, and here is where I found true love. Though I would never deter a fellow hunting hound from the chase - for indeed, why should I author these tomes, if not to provide guidance in this very matter? - I must ask that you do me this one kindness.

Her name is Carlotta Valentia, and she is a magnificent beauty who makes a modest living selling bread and produce in the daylight hours. By the gods, I will make that feisty beauty mine someday!

And of course, there are other services to be found in the Plains district. Belethor's General Goods offers various and sundry wears for the adventurous traveler, and Arcadia's Cauldron offers what tonics and herbs one would expect from an apothecary's shop.

Arcadia herself is an amiable sort. I often visit her to make conversation, as she is a fellow Imperial far from home. She is, however, a bit old for my taste. A gentleman of advanced years might find in her a worthy companion.

Should you need your blade sharpened or your armor hammered, Warmaiden's offers smithing services very near the main gate. The smith is a pretty Nord named Adrianne Avenicci, but she is married to a great hulking brute named Ulfberth War-Bear.

Adrianne is quite fair, but I should not want to find myself being introduced to the keen edge of that husband's war-axe. If married ladies are your preferred sport, then have at, but don't say that you weren't warned!

Near to the smith is the Drunken Huntsman. Here, some of the wealthier gentlemen gather to share both drink and rumors of the wide world. If you prefer a more distinguished class of company while you sip fine wine, you'll be well at home here.

Of the Wind district I have little to say. Most of the buildings in this second tier of the city are residences, though there is also a Temple of Kynareth and Jorrvaskr, the mead hall of the Companions.

There are some intriguing prospects to be found in the mead hall should you favor a strong and fearless warrior-woman. You will find little game at the temple, however. The priestess, Danica Pure-Spring, is interested almost exclusively in spiritual matters.

At last we come to the Cloud District, exclusive domain of the Jarl's castle. I have had some merry adventures within the stone walls of Dragonsreach, let me tell you. The serving girls are most easily impressed by a well-spoken Imperial. After all, the nights in Skyrim do grow quite cold, if you take my meaning.

And I will not deny that I have visited the town's jail once or twice, which can be found in the lower levels of the palace.

As for the Jarl and his court, take pains to avoid them. I find that they lack any sense of humor or appreciation for the Imperial culture. Besides which, they are all wealthy men and so must be viewed as your most serious competition. These Nords are simple folk, after all, and too easily swayed by the sight of fine clothes and a purse full of septims.

Now I will conclude this work by wishing you great success in your pursuits of women and wine. Spare a moment in your revels to think of me, your humble author, and the risks I have taken to bring you this most thorough report on all thing of interest to the discerning gentleman in the grand city of Whiterun.

Ah, but I will not lie and say that it was all a hardship. After all, who could want to sleep alone in such a cold and hard land as this? Not I!

The Bear of Markarth

Author: 
Arrianus Arius

The Bear of Markarth
The Crimes of Ulfric Stormcloak

by
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.
 

The Fall of Saarthal

Author: 
Heseph Chirirnis

The Fall of Saarthal

 

by
Heseph Chirirnis, Mages Guild Scholar
Assigned to Imperial Archaeologist Sentius Floronius

 

Let it be known that the esteemed archaeologist has chosen to focus his boundless talents on the cooking and baking habits of early First Era Nords. While this work will no doubt bring great glory and benefit to the Empire, it is clear that my limited expertise is of no use to this effort.

I have instead been using my considerable free time to investigate a particular avenue of study, namely that of the Fall of Saarthal. Every child of the Empire knows what happened here; that the first city of Man on Tamriel was sacked by the elves, jealous and fearful of the threat men posed to them. Relations have obviously improved considerably since then, but to be able to see the results of the destruction first-hand, it is quite striking to note the degree of effort that went into the venture.

The first task before me was differentiating between areas of original architecture and those that were rebuilt after Ysgramor retook the city with his five hundred companions. Initially relying heavily on the expertise of archaeologist Floronius, my ability to discern the difference for myself improved over time. Indeed, I was surprised to find that many areas of the city, far more than I would have believed, retained much of the original stonework. Work was clearly done to remedy the effects of the city being burned after the elves' assault, but I suspect they underestimated the durability of Nordic craftsmanship.

Or rather, that is what I initially thought. Perhaps it was a mistaken sense of pride in the accomplishments of these early men, or perhaps it was just my inexperience that led me to this conclusion. Something was amiss, though. Repeated attempts to consult the exceedingly perceptive archaeologist were unfruitful, often digressing into lectures on the bathing habits of Saarthal residents, or the average number of potted plants in homes. I was again forced to rely on my limited powers of observation and deduction.

And so I have no conclusive results to report at this time. I can say with certainty that the initial attack on Saarthal seems to have been very focused, and does not appear to correlate to any locations that have been established as points of defense or importance. While the eminent scholar Sentius has yet to examine my findings, or indeed show any interest in them, my inclination is to suggest that not only did the elves know the apparent layout of the city, but that their assault was based on a specific directive and perhaps a singular goal.

My humble investigations shall continue as time permits.

Songs of the Return

Author: 
Anonymous

Our great lord Ysgramor, the harbinger of us all, did then sent forth his two beloved sons (with him the only other survivors of the brutalities of Saarthal) to seek out the bravest warriors of the land and mount the great return.

Yngol and Ylgar, they were called, and they were known among Atmora as fine warriors with bright eyes and dawning futures. Yngol, the elder, was the brave strategist, bringing his learnings to bear on the battlefield that his enemies would be defeated before they even know the battle had begun. Ylgar, the younger, was possessed of an unwavering spirit that drove his singular prowess to overwhelming feats in war. Together, the mind and the arm, they were capable of sowing a destruction most thorough and glorious to any foe who stood before them. 

Before they parted ways to gather their crews, the two clasped arms and necks in the old fashion and laughed at the heavens for their stories to come. 

Young Ylgar then took to the massive shipyards of Jyljyrfyk at the southern point and commissioned two ships for himself and his brother. He would command the Darmuzu, and his brother the Harakk, thus carrying the names of the two favored stars of their heavens. The shipmakers spirits had been suitably filled by Ysgramor's tales of the savage elves, and they set about to birth ships that befit their noble homeland. 

Arrangements having been made, Ylgar set forth to the academies of honored soldiers, seeking out his most trusted friends and advisors to join him on the venture of the Return. By now the stories of the new land to the south were spreading before him, and the emergence of his presence was enough to cause the finest warriors to lay down their present undertakings and follow him. 

So was he able to call to his side the great Shield-Sisters, Froa and Grosta (who thought and spoke as one), and they brought with their the wise war-teacher Adrimk, who first taught them to dance among the blades. She, in turn, mustered all the students at her command, whose names were not yet made, but some of whom would one day be know: Hermseskr (Who Threw his Shields), Urlach (Who Breathed Fire), Ramth the Greater, Merkyllian Ramth, and the Far-Sighted Uche, who would see the first of many dawns. 

On the Day of Final Passage, when the many-oarded fleets would last see the distant green summers of Atmora, the brothers were near in their father's wake as the freshly joined Five Hundred would eagerly press onwards towards Tamriel. Ylgar could see his well-minded brother smiling from afar across the waves, and they shouted war-cries to each other, longing for the soon-day when their assembled crews would draw the treacherous elf blood itno the ground which they would now claim for their own rights. 

But Kyne's ministrations are not to be taken lightly, and though her blessings gave wind to drive those brave sailors to their destiny, so too did her mmighty tears fall, to drive them apart. When the Storm of Separation first arose, young Ylgar had no fear, for his crew was strong and able, and their ship drove true through the forest of swells as though pulled by the rope of fate. 

When the skies cleared, and Ylgar glimpsed again, with new eyes, the land of his past and future home, he knew his brothers vessel was not within his horizon. The Darumzu, arriving late, drew forth onto the sands and Ylgar rushed to his father to seek word of his brother. The Grear Ysgramor, harbinger of us all, wept for his lost son, and sought comfort in the arms of his only remaining joy. The crew of the Harakk became the first deaths among the Five Hundred, and Ylfar was so enraged with love for his brother that his crew would soon be counted as the first among the many noble and honored names in the Companions. 

It came to pass that our great lord Ysgramor, the Harbinger of us all, sat before an encampment fire. The crews of the Jorrvaskr, the Fallowfire, and the Kaal Kaaz bade him eat, and boast, and drink. For the boon members of the Five Hundred Companions were abroad in the land. Stories were told, hearts won and lost, and always the smell of roasting meat hung in the air. The greatest of us all beckoned every warrior to his side, and spoke the tale of Wuuthrad's forging.

Every Mer the Harbinger slew died at Wuuthrad's bite. All through the long campaign, the only weapon that would fit in the Harbinger's hand was the mighty Wuuthrad. As he told it, the most legendary of axes was forged in the darkest of nights.

It was the Night of Tears. Ysgramor sat staring out across the waters. He rode upon the last ship in his fleet, fleeing Tamriel for the shores of Atmora. From that vantage point, he watched as Saarthal—the first city—burned. A swollen sky poured rain upon the flames and upon the sea. And the greatest of us all wept bitter tears.

So great was the grief of the Harbinger that, instead of salty sorrow, Ysgramor wept tears of purest ebony. His eldest, Yngol, collected the tears in a stein and held his father in a warm embrace. He poured mead down the Harbinger's great throat, wrapped furs around the Harbinger's great shoulders, and slung the Harbinger into a great hammock below decks.

Then he set to work. For Yngol, eldest son to the Harbinger of us all, was the greatest smith our people have ever known. There, on the sea, Yngol set to work with his tools. He used lightning to heat the Night's Tears, the ocean's swell to cool them, and always his hammer-blows rang in concert with the rising wind.

When Ysgramor awoke the next morning, Yngol presented him with a mighty axe, hewn from the sorrow that had laid him low just the night before. And the Harbinger of us all embraced his son. He cried out in joy, sadness, and rage. And there on the deck of the last ship from Saarthal, Ysgramor named his axe Wuuthrad, which means "Storm's Tears" in the language of Atmora.

It was then, in telling the tale, that Ysgramor paused. The Harbinger of us all called out to lost Yngol, who had been with the crew of the Harakk in the Storm of Seperation. For his son, his eldest and greatest joy, was with him always. He who had bound the storm's tears, he said, rode with him always in the days of the noble and honored Five Hundred.

When at last the rightful claim of Saarthal had been retaken, driving the murderous elves back to their lofty cities, did great Ysgramor turn and let loose the fearsome war cry that echoed across all the oceans. The Five Hundred who yet stood joined in the ovation for the victory and the lament for their fallen peers. It was said to be heard on the distant and chilling green shores of Atmora, and the ancestors knew their time had come to cross the seas.

As the reverberations echoed out and drowned to silence, all looked to Ysgramor, who bore the blessed Wuuthrad, for his next commandment. With his lungs that bellowed forth the fury of humanity, he bade them to continue their march, that the devious Mer might know the terror they had brought on themselves with their trickery.

"Go forth," he roared. "Into the belly of this new land. Drive the wretched from their palaces of idleness. Oblige them to squalor and toil, that they would see their betrayals as the all-sin against our kind. Give no quarter. Show no kindness. For they would not give nor show you the same." (Our great forebear gave this order as he did not yet understand the prophecy of the Twin Snakes, that he would be fated to die before seeing the true destiny of his line.)

Hearing this, the Circle of Captains gathered each their crews unto themselves. From here, they decreed, we will go forth. Let each ship's band make its own way, seeking their fates to the open sun. A night spent in feasting, the Oath of the Companions was sworn anew, with each of the Five Hundred (so they still named their count, in honor of the shields that were broken at Saarthal) swearing to act as Shield-Brother and Shield-Sister to any of the Atmoran line were their fates to ever again entwine.

As the red hands of dawn stretched from the east, so broke the Five Hundred Companions of Ysgramor, setting about their journeys, sailing now across the land with waves of stone and crests of trees flowing under their footed hulls.

The first to break from the grounded fleet was the crew of the Jorrvaskr, who had been formed of Ysgramor's closest friends. Their captain was known as Jeek of the River, so called by the Harbinger himself from their youths passed in glory. When assembling their glistening hull, he sought out the labors of Menro and Manwe, who now bore the native timbers across this new land of Tamriel. Among their fiercest were Tysnal (Who Was Twice-Named), and Terr, his twin and Shield-Brother whose girth was never spoken of to his face. There were others, too, in their band -- Meksim the Walker, Brunl (Who Fought with his Off-Hand), and Yust the Smiler. These and others were sworn to Jeek, and they pushed forth into the shadows where yet the sun had not reached.

Southwards they went, by beast and by foot. Elves they found, though none remain to tell what those battles entailed. The numbers of the Jorrvaskr never faltered, so shrewd were they in battle, with minds as sharp as their blades.

Once, as the sun beat from its high-home, Jonder the Tiny, the one who ran ahead, came over the hill to tell what was seen. Amidst a vast plain his eyes had met a monument of a bird, whose eyes and beak were opened in flame. When his brothers and sisters crested the hill, they too saw its glory, but they were afraid for no elven settlement could be seen to the horizon.

"But this is not seemly," said Kluwe, who went by Loate when hiding his face. "Is not this wide land fit for harvest? Why have not the elves, vile to their core, seen to exploit and tame it?" They asked of their elven captives (for they had many) what they found unfit about these plains. Yet even the captives who still bore their tongues could say nothing of the valley. They looked with fear at the winged colossus, and from their babblings did the warriors of the Jorrvaskr learn that it was older than even the elves themselves. Of those who wrought it solid from its mother-stone, nothing could be said, but it was known to drive a magic almost as old as Nirn itself, some remnant of the gods' efforts to render a paradise in Mundus before the shattering of Lorkhan.

This first of many, this crew of the Jorrvaskr, heathens and ancestors to us all, feared no stories or gods. Indeed, if there was something the elves feared, they would have it for their own. Thus began the labors, once more, of Menro and Manwe, whose eager hands again laid to the Atmoran wood which had born them all across the sea, and what was their ship became their shelter as this valley became their purview until the end of all their days.

Thus began the building of the Great City, circled by the running of the White River, as brought forth by these beloved of Ysgramor, yet but twenty-two of the glorious Five Hundred Companions.

When that final battle at the barren pass was completed, and the melting snow carried elf-blood back to the sea, the crew of the Kaal Kaaz, the Sadon Reyth, and the most exalted crew of our lord's ship, the Ylgermet, at last parted ways, never to join shields again. They drew apart in that form which is not a loss, but a gain knowing one's heart can be carried in the chests of others. So great was the love that those first of the Five Hundred had for each other, and most especially for the great Ysgramor, harbinger of us all.

They pressed eastwards, seeking the sea, when they came upon the barrow of Yngol, the mighty of Ysgramor's son who had fallen to the whims of Kyne rather than the treachery of the elves.
Our lord had not expected to lay eyes upon it again so soon, and his grief flowed anew at the sight of it, as a reopened wound will bleed as it did when first received.

His eyes turned to the south, where a river met the sea, and decreed that there would he and the crew of the Ylgermet create a great city, in monument to the glories of mankind, and that from his palace he might always look upon the hill of his dead son's resting place, and feel that his line would know peace in this new home that was never known in Atmora.

The elven captives were set to work, bringing forth stone to build in their conqueror's fashion. As many elves died in the building of the city as had the crew of the Ylgermet slain while on way to its site, and Ysgramor drove the wretches ever more, to build higher, to lay a claim to the river so that none might pass into the interior of this land without first showing due respect to its rightful claimant.

Thus was the great bridge constructed, forever striding the river that no elf might sneak through to avenge his devious cousins. As the bridge was build long, so too was the palace built high, spires reaching the sky to show dominion even over the very winds that had brought forth such grief.

In the deep hollows beneath the city, a great tomb was prepared for the day when lord Ysgramor, harbinger of us all, would be called home to glory in Sovngarde. But as we know, he chose instead to be buried on the shore, facing towards Atmora, that though his heart lived and died in this new land, it would forever yearn for the beauties of still-green Atmora, before the freezing took it.

Thus was founding of Windhelm, the city of Kings, though her history is long and her glories did not end with her founder.

[When the time came for] breaking of camp, not all crews took southwards across the rolling lands. Some turned with quick eyes back to their ships, for their hearts were bounded to the waves as sure as they were bounded to each other [as allied Companions].

One such crew was that of the Krilot Lok, sinewy long folk from the [eastern] edge of Atmora. Their ruddy skin matched the dawn and it was often said that morning herself learned [her glorious colors from] the first faces to meet her at the break of day. The great Kyne lifted their souls and their winds, propelling them westwards with the new lands of Tamriel ever beckoning to the south.

In time, these perpetual wanderers came upon sights fearsome and terrible. Entire kingdoms of men beyond their recognition, skin charred like overcooked meat. Elves [even more devious than the northern betrayers] disgraced their horizons, until they learned the sheltered ways between. Great deserts the likes of which were never known in the homeland, peopled by beasts that spoke like men, with the [savagery?] of elves. Many a notable and well-sung Companion met his end at the spears of the legged snakes of the southern marsh.

Among the brave crew of the Krilot Lok were of Roeth and Breff the Elder, the great Shield-Brothers (who often swapped spears), and [their] war-wives, Britte and Greyf (the fair child), Shield-Sisters in their own right who could bring [the face of terror?] across the ice-chilled seas. Together these four stared into the abyss of trees that formed the foul-smelling homeland of the snake-men. And as they were blessed Atmorans who feared no shore of Tamriel, they ventured forth to seek out their glories in the most dangerous of these new lands.

Onward they flew, ravaging the swamplands, beating a trail between themselves and their ship such that they would never lose sight of the shore. In the far-off day when at last Roeth would fall, when Britte screamed her famed war-cry so that all the marshes were emptied, this trail would fill once more with the treacherous snake men. So began the [burning?] march of these great captains of us all.

At last Sinmur was brought to bay. Ysgramor, Harbinger of us all, boldly led the remaining Companions into the final battle. Many a brave Companion had already fallen to the giants. Stalwart Valdur and Sly Hakra, long may their spirits be honored, fell assaulting the wily half-giant. Many others now trod the blessed pathways to Sovngarde. With all his kin slain, only Sinmur still defied the greatest among us.

The axe Wuuthrad, dripping with the gore of a hundred dead giants, gleamed in the darkness of Sinmur's barrow. Ysgramor strode forward, halting his followers with a gesture. With another he dared Sinmur to face him in mortal combat. The giant-kin proved willing, roaring his defiance and leaping to battle. His massive, iron-bound club swung forward to crush. Our Lord Ysgramor stepped aside and the club shattered the stone a pace from his side. Wuuthrad sang a blood song as it chopped into the club, breaking it asunder as if made from straw.

Sinmur howled his rage and hurled the stub of his once-fearsome weapon at Our Lord Ysgramor's head. He grappled Ysgramor, seeking to squeeze life away. A roar of laughter was the answer the monster received. Ysgramor's forehead and knee delivered two mighty blows. Sinmur screeched and fell to his knees before our lord.

A song of death and delight keened from Wuuthrad as Ysgramor buried it deep in the giant-kin's skull. A splatter of gore and a death rattle came from Sinmur as Ysgramor gave a victory yell. The Companions cheered mightily as Wuuthrad waved overhead. The depredations of the giant and his vile kin were at last ended. And the legend of Ysgramor, Harbinger of us all, grew mightily that day.

With the Circle of Captains' decree that each ship's crew should go forth of its own accord, making its own legend, the crew of the Fallowfire rejoiced. They yearned to bring the fear of Men to new lands of the Mer that had not yet been put to the sword. They took to heart their Lord Ysgramor's words to "Give no quarter. Show no kindness."

A pyre upon the shore was raised for the Fallowfire. The ashes of their beloved vessel fell upon the waters and drifted toward Atmora, cutting all ties with their homeland. Led by Captain Gurilda Sharktooth, the crew of the Fallowfire turned their backs to the sea and strode inland.

South they traveled, seeking lands untrammeled by others of Ysgramor's crews. South and south they went, sowing the blood vengeance demanded by Ysgramor. No Mer escaped their axes once seen, no settlement remained unburnt in their path. Truly the Fallowfires brought their lord's wrath to bear upon the treacherous Elves. As they journeyed, so the terror of them grew among the Mer.

Gurilda led her crew to the foothills of a lofty range of mountains. These they named Ysgramor's Teeth and long they sought a pass through them. When finally a way was found, the crew crossed over and into a new land. "The Rift" they called this region, for it was riven by deep canyons and swift-flowing rivers. In the name of Fallowfire, their lost Companions, and Yngol, they scoured the land, burning Mer villages and putting all they encountered to the axe.

Finally, the Mer offered battle. The cowardly Elves gathered in great numbers high atop a rocky hill, daring Gurilda's Companions to attack. And so they did. Challenges were offered, brave deeds were done, and heroes made. Battle raged through the day and as the sun touched the peaks of the western mountains, the Mer broke and fled. Gurilda lay dying, pierced by a multitude of weapons, but lived until sunset. Her spirit ascended to Sovngarde knowing her crew was victorious.

That day, the dominion of Elves over the Rift was ended. The Companions claimed the land in the name of Ysgramor, Harbinger of us all, and made it free to all Nords. To honor their dead, the Companions labored long, delving into the hillside to craft a tomb. Gurilda was buried there, with all her weapons and armor. There too were placed the remains of Bergitte the Toothless and Kajord Eagle-Eye, laid alongside Gurilda as they had fallen in battle, defending their captain. Others of the honored dead were entombed as well. A mighty cairn of stone was erected around the tomb entrance, to forever mark the grave.

Vikord One-Ear, long Gurilda's first mate but now captain, gazed long upon the hills rising about them and the valleys at their feet. This was a land he could love, where his people could prosper and grow. He decreed the crew's wandering at an end and caused a great hall to be built on the battle site. Thus was Fallowstone Hall created, in homage to the ship that carried them to these shores. From this time, the days of the Companions of the Rift are counted. Never may their glory fade!

These Songs of the Return are eternal and numerous, for these first Five Hundred, those Companions of Ysgramor who cleared the way for mankind’s rightful habitation, burned with a fire not seen since those days long passed. Each ship carried a crew that performed legendary feats that could feed the pride of any nation for a thousand years. And during this time of the broadening, scores of Companions wandered the land, bringing the light of the proper god to the heather land of elves and beasts.

They were but mortal, though, and in time, all would taste the glories of Sovngarde. It was in one of the uncounted years after the retaking of Saarthal that the crew of the Chrion was declaring their fortunes in the eastern lands near the Red Mountain. They were encamped, surrounded by bodies of murderous elves who had attempted to make them believe they held peace in their hearts. The shrewd Rhorlak was the Chrion's captain, though, and would show no quarter to the liars of the southlands, as had been commanded by his lord Ysgramor, harbinger of us all.

It was in this state of carousing that they were approaced by a young and breathless messenger of their sister crew from the Kall Kaaz. The boy (Asgeir, as his name is now sung) had ran unimaginable distance at breakneck speed from the blood-stained fields of the Clouded Sun, to deliver the news to all would would hear. When he reached their camp, he bellowed a great sob before releiving his heart of the news that the mighty Ysgramor had breathed his last.

Asgeir continued his swift run, to inform the other crews as quickly as they could be found (for there were many now crawling the land, rendering our legacy from their deeds), and the camp of the Chrin descended into a mourning of the most forlorn sort. Among these fiercest sat the bravest men and fiercest women who had ever graced the dirt of this land, and they were brought low by such a notion. While we in the day-shine know only of Ysgramor's glory as the gleams of history, these Companions knew his might with their own eyes, and such a loss hands so heavily on the heart that mere words cannot express the altering of their world.

For indeed the stories tell that Rhorlak, the most battle-hardened and unflinching of all captains, did collapse with grief, and never again lifted his mighty axe. And all around Tamriel, as the news spread as dark cloud washes from horizon to horizon, did brilliant lights go out in silent honor of their fallen general and war-leader.

So ended the period of the Return, and the original glories of the Five Hundred Companions of Ysgramor, harbinger to us all.