Tribes of Blackwood: Riverbacks

Author (in-game): Emmanubeth Hurrent

If I disabuse you of any notion, let it be this: not all Argonians look or behave the same! People beyond the borders of Black Marsh often assume that Argonian physiology is locked, with only subtle variations existing between tribes. While it is true that most Argonians seem to share a basic morphological pattern, variations both great and small still exist. The Sarpa, Nagas, Hapsleet, and Paatru are just a few examples. From what I can ascertain, these differences correspond with the habitats surrounding each tribe’s Hist. Most naheesh elders contend that the Hist provides, “the right skins at the right time.” If that is true, the Riverback tribe’s Hist did an excellent job.

My guide, Names-the-Orchids, took me deep into the swamp to meet a little-known tribe called the Naka-Desh, or Riverbacks. Few Imperials venture far enough into Black Marsh to meet the People of the River, and the Naka-Desh see little benefit in traveling beyond the boundaries of their Hist’s roots. For that reason, most perceive them as a secretive and mysterious tribe. This misconception is made all the more amusing by the Riverbacks’ boundless hospitality.

We approached the Riverbacks’ territory via ferry boats. Our expedition encountered tribal sentries almost immediately. They floated to the surface of the water like turtles or crocodiles. I was struck by the wideness of their faces, the largeness of their eyes, and the broad webs adorning their forearms and throats. The Hist clearly provided the “right skin” for the locale. Riverback territory is more water than land—a drowned marsh navigable by small rafts, canoes, and little else.

Names-the-Orchids greeted them with a series of low croaks. They cheerfully repeated the sound before lifting themselves onto our boat. Neither of the sentries seemed familiar with Cyrodilic, so our guide had to interpret. She told us that the Riverbacks demanded tribute in the form of a riddle before they would grant passage. I detected no threat behind the demand. It seemed like more of an invitation than an order. I’ve no talent for wordplay, but I shared a children’s riddle about doorknobs that practically every Imperial knows. As soon as Names-the-Orchids translated it, the two sentries clapped their hands. One of them pressed his forehead to mine, croaked twice, then both vanished into the water as suddenly as they appeared.

We spent four days among the Riverbacks—all but one of them on rafts fishing. Riverback fishing resembles traditional fishing in name only. Rather than hook and line, the Naka-Desh use large river fish called osheeja gars. Each osheeja is secured by a strange harness and bridle. When the Argonians find an abundant fishing spot, they release the predatory gars and let them snatch up the fish. As soon as an osheeja bites a fish, the Argonians pull their pets to the side of the boat and claim the fish for themselves. I asked Names-the-Orchids how it works. Apparently, the bridle prevents the gar from swallowing. She assured me that the osheejas are well-cared for, though. Until they grow too old, of course, whereupon they too are eaten.

Our time with the Riverbacks was not without frustration. Of all the Argonians I have met, the Naka-Desh were by far the least curious. Other than riddles, they had no appetite for anything we brought. They refused our food, took no particular interest in our tales, and did not even ask for our names. This disinterest combined with their boundless hospitality made most of the expedition uncomfortable. Names-the-Orchids chided us for thinking kindness demands reciprocity. As always, even these small disappointments teach us valuable lessons.

Scroll to Top