This series will provide a survey-level overview of the symbolic and stylistic hallmarks that distinguish the major cultures of Tamriel in their arts and crafts. Our focus will be on the portable durable goods of the various races, that is, their clothing, ornamentation, arms, and armor, as these reliably reflect personal cultural expressions. When completed, this series will support the curricula of the introductory ethnographic courses at the Arcane University.
We begin with the High Elves, the reclusive Altmer of the Summerset Isles, because the argument can be made (and often is, by Elves) that civilization in Tamriel was brought here by the Aldmeri of Old Ehlnofey. Insofar as the Elves of Summerset consciously strive to maintain the heritage of their Merethic ancestors, their traditions are certainly closer to those of pre-First Era society than any other.
This is not to say that, in the thousands of years since the arrival of the first Aldmeri, the culture of the High Elves has not deviated and ramified in many ways, because it has. It is simply that, by viewing modern Altmeri culture with the eye of a historian, we can perceive the outlines of its origins.
In this initial effort I have benefited from the advice of the celebrated Morian Zenas, Professor of Transliminal Studies here at Arcane University. Professor Zenas is the only member of our faculty who has visited the Summerset Isles, specifically Artaeum, with a brief stop in transit at Dusk.
I was a bit intimidated when I first visited Professor Zenas in his house in the Cathedral District, but I found him a charming old gentleman, undeserving of his reputation for peevishness. Morian (for so he asked me to address him) bade me stay for dinner, which was served by his laconic Argonian apprentice, Seif-ij Hidja.
As Morian explained, the High Elves strive for a simple elegance in their designs, in which flowing lines reflect graceful forms from the natural world. More-or-less abstract birds, flowers, and sea shells are common motifs, rendered in rich but muted colors. Armor will be tooled or embossed to represent scales or feathers, and even heavy cuirasses and helmets may sport stylized wings or beaks.
Metallic items are often accented with a translucent greenish material called "glass." This is a sort of jade-like obsidian that Elven smiths have learned to work by secretive processes known only to the Altmer. Though rigid enough to take a superb edge when cool, glass can be made malleable enough to assume almost any form, and the High Elves use it extensively on ornamental arms and armor.
After dinner, over snifters of Cyrodilic Brandy, Morian asked me all sorts of questions about my motifs project, and about myself. It was really very flattering. I must find an excuse to talk with him again.
From the High Elves it is natural to next consider the Dark Elves, as they originated in the Summerset Isles before their migration to Morrowind. Their culture can thus be considered an offshoot of the Altmeri, though in many ways that of the Dunmer is a reaction to that of Summerset rather than an extension.
Also, Morian introduced me to a Dark Elven associate of his, Divayth Fyr, who is helping him on his "transliminal sojourn" project. I don't know what that's all about, but Divayth offered to help me with references on Dunmeri culture, and I accepted.
Elegance is as much a goal for the Dark Elves as it is for the High Elves, but beyond that their styles could not be more different. Morrowind is a far harsher environment than fair Summerset, and that rigor is reflected in Dunmeri designs. The Dark Elves also draw on nature for their inspiration, but in place of avian and floral motifs, Dunmeri artifice draws on the curved and spiky forms of the carapaces of the giant insects that inhabit Morrowind. Elegant these are, but also fearsome, a constant reminder that the Dunmer daily fight for their very existence.
Ebony is the favored metal for Dark Elven heavy armor, but even in their lighter armors and shields, steel and steel alloys are often lacquered in dark tones to appear ebony-like. Clothing, armor included, is often accented by flaring extensions at shoulder, crest, or hip, with overlapping geometric designs that may have been borrowed from Dwarven culture, though Divayth bristled at the idea of any Dwemeri influence on the Dunmer.
In truth, I find the dark sorcerer from Vvardenfell exerts a strangely compelling attraction. He doesn't seem old, but he referred to Morian, who is at least sixty, as a "young man." I wonder how old he really is. In fact, I wonder many things about him. He has those crimson eyes that seem to look right through you. It's a little bit thrilling.
He's offered to take me with him to visit a Bosmeri tavern down on the waterfront. I may do it.
Next we complete our study of the Elves with the Bosmer of Valenwood. Though less influential in the world at large than their cousins the High Elves and the Dark Elves, the Wood Elves outnumber all other Mer in Tamriel, being relatively fecund (for Elves) and more, shall we say, amorously-inclined.
It's a commonplace to point out that the Wood Elves favor natural motifs, but as I learned, there's more to it than that. Their reverence for Y'ffre and the story of the Earth Bones is reflected in the stylized fashion in which these natural motifs are represented. The Bosmer believe that all nature was in chaos before Y'ffre gave all plants, animals, and people their names, which defined the permanent form each species would take. Thus each species is depicted by a particular, idealized motif which represents the ur-form it was given by Y'ffre.
This is reflected in the designs that appear everywhere on Wood Elven arts, crafts, and clothing. These designs are drawn from a large repertoire, as there is a design for each species of plant and animal in the Bosmer's world, but the use and depiction of these designs is culturally prescribed, and there is very little room for variation. Unorthodox usage of these stylized pictograms is considered improper, just plain "wrong."
This may seem paradoxical in a race whose members otherwise seem so carefree and easygoing, but it is so, as I had an opportunity to see for myself. There are quite a few Wood Elves in the Imperial City, enough that there is a small Bosmeri neighborhood down on the waterfront, served by a tavern called the Tipsy Torchbug. Divayth Fyr, the fascinating Dark Elf wizard assisting Morian Zenas in his experiments, had offered to take me there, and I agreed.
When I arrived at Morian's house on the date of our jaunt to the docks the old professor himself answered the door, and I was surprised when he asked me to step into his study for a moment. Also surprising was the way Morian was turned out: in a new silk robe sporting star-sign symbols, hair trimmed and combed, and smelling faintly of lavender. Quite a transformation from the disreputable, singed and stained robes I'd seen him in previously.
It turned out he wanted to caution me about going down to the waterfront with Divayth Fyr. I'm afraid I laughed, at which he reddened, and I then told him I was a grown woman who could take care of herself. He was somewhat abashed and muttered some excuses, from which I gathered that he was more concerned about my spending time with Divayth than going to the docks. I didn't want his feelings hurt, so I complimented his new robe, at which he beamed, and then I went to the parlor to meet Divayth.
I shouldn't ramble on, but we had a wonderful evening. The Tipsy Torchbug was a lively place, and Divayth introduced me to Lady Biniele, the proprietor, who insisted that we share our table. The entertainment was Biniele's Bosmeri Burlesque, which was hilarious, and though I couldn't drink any of the Wood Elves' revolting beverages, I did consent to share a pipeful of bugsmoke with Divayth, which made me feel strangely exhilarated.
It also led to my seeing a prime example of Bosmeri disdain for "improper design" when a Leyawiin sailor, who'd seen me sharing Divayth's pipe, offered to sell me a carved-bone pipe of "genuine Valenwood make." Lady Biniele told me it was a counterfeit and not to waste my money. The sailor protested, but the diminutive Wood Elf woman told him any fool could see the tail was wrong on the Imga carved on the bowl, and he should shove off. Which he did.
Divayth and I shoved off shortly thereafter, and on our way back up to the city gates he pointed to the stars in the brilliant night sky and told me the ancient Chimeri names for the constellations. I must confess, I remember nothing but the warm tones of his resonant voice—and the warm touch of his hand on my arm.
Not unlike the Bosmer, the Nords rely heavily on stylized, often interlocking natural motifs in their architecture, crafts, and clothing. However, where the Wood Elves' designs are mainly floral the Nords emphasize animals, in particular the eight "totem" animals of the old Atmoran religion: wolf, hawk, whale, snake, moth, fox, and so forth. They also allow for much more variation of design, to the point where some of the animal motifs are so abstract they are difficult to recognize. Indeed, areas of trim are often filled with interlocking geometric designs that evoke nothing natural at all.
Nord design varies in other ways from that of the Elves as well, in general relying on simple, heavy yet dynamic forms where Elven work would be slender, elegant, and understated. Nothing the Nords make is understated, ever.
The was clear even from outside the Imperial City's Skyrim Embassy, where Morian, Divayth and I had gone to a reception for King Logrolf. The lintel above the embassy doors was crowned with a great iron hawk's-head, its mouth open as if screaming defiance, while the doors were flanked by bas-reliefs of hawks so stylized they looked as much like axes as they did birds. The door itself was dark oak, banded with iron and studded with iron rivets, as if they expected to have to repel an attack.
The inside of the embassy was less martial in appearance, at least once one got past the armed and armored guards inside the door. I wondered if they really needed to wear full helms sporting ram's-horns in order to check the invitations of party guests, but the look in the Nords' eyes didn't exactly invite questions.
The party, as I said, was a reception for King Logrolf, visiting the Imperial City to pay his respects to the Potentate. Morian was there representing the Arcane University; he'd asked me to accompany him and I'd accepted, eager to see our fierce northern cousins in their own environment. When Divayth learned where we were going he'd attached himself to our party, in spite of Morian's baleful glare, but once we were inside the embassy and he was surrounded by loud, boisterous Nords, the Dark Elf wizard seemed to be regretting his decision to join us.
Not so Morian! After he'd downed a flagon of mead, I was suddenly seeing a new Professor Zenas. Attired in his new robe, he positively bloomed, holding forth on the history of magic to an admiring crowd of diplomats, whom he enthralled with tales of the feats of wizardry of the Nord Arch-Mage Shalidor. He seemed twenty years younger, and I suddenly saw him as he must have been in his prime, when he first came to the Imperial City to help found the Arcane University.
Morian even introduced me to King Logrolf, though how he came to know the monarch of Skyrim I have no idea. When I looked around for Divayth, he was nowhere to be seen. Morian and I stayed late at the embassy, quaffing mead and laughing at the Nords' hearty jokes. When we finally left and he walked me home, I thought I could see a new gleam in Morian's eye.
He may have seen the same gleam in mine.
The Bretons were the last major group of humans on Tamriel to free themselves from their Elven overlords, and in many ways their long vassalage to the Direnni defines their culture. They are fiercely autonomous, each kingdom in High Rock jealous of its individual sovereignty, but Breton society retains a feudal structure that hearkens back to the rank-obsessed Direnni Hegemony. The Bretons are nearly as fractious as their cousins the Nords, but their long tutelage under the Elves makes them open to the magical arts, rather than suspicious of them.
How is this reflected in their arts and crafts? Let's look at Breton armor, for example. The gleaming heavy armor of a Breton knight is as tough and practical as that of a Nord housecarl, but its pleasing form exhibits a subtle sophistication that is reminiscent of Elven elegance. One sees the same influence in Breton weaponry, which is beautiful yet undeniably deadly.
It made me think of the differences between Divayth's Elven urbanity and Morian's breadth of knowledge and all-too-human inconsistencies, even peevishness. Apparently the transliminal experiments have not been going well. When I stopped by the townhouse last night, neither Morian nor Divayth were in—Seif-ij, Morian's apprentice, told me they'd quarreled over the appropriate price to pay a transporting entity to ensure safe return from a jaunt to Oblivion, the remarks became personal, and then my name was apparently brought up. There was shouting, and they both huffed their way out of the laboratory and marched off down Divines Street in opposite directions.
This is terrible. Fighting? Over me? I must confess I was so disturbed I blurted out the whole thing to Lady Opel, who was incredibly kind and solicitous. She asked me if I had feelings for either of the two wizards, and I admitted I did, but they were conflicting and confusing. Opel opened a bottle of two of Bangkorai spiced wine, and we got quite confidential with each other as the evening waned. I'm not sure how I got home, and today my head hurts, but it was worth it, as my heart is no longer so heavy.
When I arrived at Morian's townhouse this morning all was sunshine and rainbows—Divayth and the professor were chatting over mugs of chal like best friends, comparing Ralliballah's Eleven Ritual Forms to the Book of Most Arcane Covenants. I reminded Divayth that he'd promised to escort me to the Yokudan Chapel in the Market District, at which Morian's brow clouded over slightly, but then he smiled and said that was fine, as he wanted to test some new hyperagonal media in his laboratory.
(And maybe it was the light, but to me both men looked … younger, somehow. I must keep in mind that they're both highly capable wizards, which I suppose might include knowledge of illusion magic. Or perhaps I flatter myself.)
I met a number of knowledgeable Redguards at the chapel, all exhibiting that dignity and polite reserve I associate with the better-educated members of that people. The Most-Revered Zirumir, a Priest of Tu'whacca (I hope I spelled that right), was particularly helpful.
As Zirumir pointed out, both the Redguards' ancient home of Yokuda and their current province of Hammerfell are (or were, in the case of Yokuda) deserts. To stay cool, and for protection from the elements, Redguard clothing tends to be light, long and flowing, and these flowing curves are carried into their artisanal designs. Their robes and armor are often accented by flared curves at joints and on headgear. Even their swords tend to be curved.
In contrast their architecture appears rather heavy, though on close inspection this is mainly for the purpose of insulation from the desert's extremes of temperature. Zirumir showed me the chapel's clever system of louvered ventilation ducts in the clerestory, designed to catch the slightest breeze and funnel it down into the nave.
After Zirumir was called away to tend to one of his congregation, Divayth and I strolled into the apse to view the eight shrines to the Yokudan Divines. Divayth was explaining that whereas the Forebears of Hammerfell often worship the Cyrodilic Divines brought to them by the Reman Empire, these were the traditional gods worshiped by the more conservative Crown Redguards. Suddenly, behind the beehive shrine to Morwha, he turned to me with those blazing eyes, took my hands between his, and told me he thought me the most brilliant and desirable woman in the Imperial City. My breath caught in my throat, and my heart was hammering. But when he moved as if to embrace me I was suddenly frightened—I backed away, shaking my head, then fled out into the nave. I fear I quite startled a young family of Redguards placing candles on Morwha's altar.
Now what? I'm afraid I must have insulted Divayth terribly. How can I make it up to him? And dare I mention it to Morian? Julianos' little teapot, what a dilemma!
When I went to the professor's townhouse this morning, my first priority was to apologize to Divayth, but Seif-ij told me he was out—he'd gone somewhere from the portal chamber, using an incantation and leaving nothing behind but a burnt smell. Onward, I told myself: work will take your mind off it. So I went looking for Morian.
I found the old dear at breakfast, just finishing his sweet roll and chal. When I entered the kitchen, he nearly knocked over his mug in his haste to stand up and bow! I told him I wanted to make some notes on the Khajiit and asked him if he knew any of the Cat-Folk, as I did not. He said he knew exactly the person I needed and would be delighted to help me, since "that irascible Telvanni" had taken the day off.
I had often passed the seasonal camp of the Baandari Pedlars outside the Market Gate but had never gone in—residual caution from my father's warnings keeping me out, I suppose, as well as the pungent scent. Besides, I've always been a dog person. But Morian plunged right in without hesitation and led me to a pavilion adorned with colorful prayer-flags. I followed Morian into the tent, where he introduced me to Madame Shizahi-jo, whom he said was a Khajiiti sorceress devoted to Azurah and Magrus. Though sitting in lotus position, she bowed politely—the Cat-Folk are lissome—gestured to a pair of seat cushions, and asked how "this one" could be of service.
We had a long and lovely chat. There are superficial similarities between the motifs and designs of the Khajiit and the Redguards, perhaps because they both inhabit hot, arid environments, but where the Redguards favor long, flowing curves, the Cat-Folk are devoted to circular and crescentiform moon-shapes. The shapes of Masser and Secunda in all their phases appear everywhere on Khajiiti clothing and ornaments. The falcate sliver of the crescent moon also brings to mind the Khajiiti claws that spring from pads in their hands and feet, a subtle but ever-present threat to softer folk.
Shizahi-jo made us some tea—sticky sweet, like all Khajiiti food and drink—then asked to see the leaves in the bottom of my cup. She stirred them with her pinky-claw, and said now she saw the object of my concern: I'd let my fear cloud my longing and darken my heart. I blurted something about how Divayth had tried to kiss me, and Morian dropped his cup, splattering poor Shizahi.
I thought he was going to explode in rage, but instead this sad look came over him, and then he began pouring out his heart about his feelings for me. It was so sweet of him. I was really quite moved. The Khajiiti mage made a discreet exit, and we stayed on her cushions, talking, for what seemed like hours.
I saw Divayth last night, briefly, at the Torchbug. I told him I truly cared for him, but that Morian had won my heart. He clouded over like a storm in the Jeralls, but then took a deep breath and managed a dignified exit. Oh, I do hope he'll be all right.
Though I confess, I'm more worried about Morian. His experiments with Divayth are reaching their climax, when Morian will open a gate and personally make a visit to Oblivion. He says he's going to try for Azura's realm of Moonshadow, as he says that ought to be relatively safe. Safe! I'm as anxious as a scrib on a griddle. I dearly want to see Morian before he goes, but he says he must concentrate on mastering the ritual and can't be interrupted.
He did send a note by Seif-ij saying I should take his place representing the University at the Potentate's state dinner for the new envoy from Orsinium. He must really be busy to skip that event, as I know he was keen to go. Well, all the better for my Racial Motifs project, I suppose—work, work, work will take my mind off my worries!
The new province of Orsinium doesn't have an embassy yet, so for the dinner the Potentate's snake-staff set up a row of pavilions on the grounds of the White-Gold Tower. To honor Envoy Thuggikh they were all decorated with authentic Orcish paraphernalia imported from Wrothgar, so I got out my journal and took notes during the interminable speeches.
Strange to think that a folk as brutish as the Orcs seem to be could design and create objects of such sophistication! Of course they're known across Tamriel as fine armorers, but I'd always assumed that was due to their great strength rather than skill. A glance at their arms and armor was enough to show me how wrong my assumption had been. Though never ornate or over-embellished, their metalwork, though even simpler and more utilitarian than the Nords', displays a deep understanding of the laws of proportion, symmetry, and harmonic congruity. An Orcish sword may be a weapon of violence, but to contemplate the dynamic sweep of its blade, visually balanced by its heavy but shapely hilt, obviously molded to flow into the hand of its wielder—why, it's almost restful and reassuring.
Afterwards at the reception I was happy to see somebody I recognized in Lady Opel the Arch-Magister. She greeted me warmly and, over some West Weald wine and Eidar cheese, asked me how things were going with me and my pair of wizards. I told her I thought I'd made a terrible muddle of things, but she assured me everything would work out in the end. She said she's known Morian for ever so long, and he's really quite sensible beneath his fussy old-man ways. She was glad he'd found someone as clever as I to keep him from completely vanishing into his laboratory.
But as far as I'm concerned, that's exactly what he's done. I think I'll go talk to Seif-ij again—maybe he can help me get through to Morian before he leaves.
This morning my maid Dariella came to me all a-twitter with the news that there was a lizard-woman at the door, asking for me and insisting it was urgent. There aren't many Argonians in the City, and it occurred to me this might be a relative of Seif-ij, sent with some dreadful news about Morian, so I donned my University robe and hurried down.
There was indeed a young lizard-woman waiting in the street, clad in a fetching spidersilk jumper adorned with intricate spiral designs. She said her name was Lifts-Her-Tail (which I thought must be a joke, but who can tell, given these reptilians' impassive features), and she'd been sent to bring me to her master, Desh-Wulm the Perspicuous. She said she didn't know what it was about, but it was a matter of some urgency, and she was to lead me to her master immediately. I nodded, nervously, and followed.
The Argonian lass led me out the Temple gate and down to the Docks, far out on the end of which we found a curious old house I'd never before noticed, with a dark sign by the door that read "The Xanmeer"—a word unfamiliar to me. We went inside to find a large house entirely occupied by Argonians, a dozen or so who seemingly lived there using all the rooms in common. Everywhere I looked I saw Argonian hangings, sculptures, and fetishes, all made from natural materials such as shells, bone, and feathers, glowing with bright spiral and geometric designs. If these objects were representative of what the Argonians used in their home regions, then snakeskin, tortoise shell, jagged teeth, turquoise and jade, all of which we would consider exotic materials, must be commonplace in Black Marsh,.
Lifts-Her-Tail led me up a ramp that had apparently replaced the house's staircase. On the upper level she introduced me to a humid room that, to me at least, smelled of decay and mold. Coughing, I entered, discovering a room almost entirely full of potted jungle plants—some of them seemingly long-dead and rotting. I stepped on something that squished beneath my sandal and stepped involuntarily back, but the lizard-lass gently took my hand, drew me past a wall of ferns and into the center of the room.
There, incongruously, I discovered a large porcelain Nibenese bathtub, like the one in my own vanity chamber, though this one was filled almost to the rim with a noisome, greenish mud. And lying in this mud, nose barely above the surface, was the oldest Argonian I'd ever seen.
In fact, the withered and wizened lizard-man looked so much like a mummy I was startled when it opened its mouth and spoke. In a voice like creaking leather, the reptilian slowly said, "I am Desh-Wulm. You are Al-Phid, Brightest Star of the City. You are welcome in my uxith—my nest."
He seemed to be looking someplace over my shoulder, and I saw that the old lizard's eyes were clouded over with an opalescent film—he was blind. This infirmity was somehow reassuring, enabling me to regain my self-possession and fall gratefully into the routines of etiquette. I bowed—though he couldn't see it—and said, "I am honored to be received into your home, venerable Desh-Wulm. How can one such as I be of service to an Elder of Wisdom?"
"You can beware!" he croaked, scaled hands emerging from the mud and levering him up on the rim of the bathtub. "Your dryskin mages—the weft unravels about them," he said, more calmly, making an unfamiliar spiral gesture above the tub. "It is wrong. The Aurbic skeins should not be disjoined with intent of malice."
I had been around wizards long enough to guess at what he meant. "Morian?" I gasped. "And Divayth? They're in danger? What can I do?"
Desh-Wulm clacked his jaws twice, and then said, "You are capable. You must stop them. You will prevail. If not," three sharp spines rose up from his brow, "there will be ill dreams and serration for all who swim the river. Kaoc!" The old Argonian suddenly began thrashing about in the tub, spilling muck over the sides. "Theilul!"
Lifts-Her-Tail deftly picked up a jug that seemed to be made from a single insect's carapace, uncorked it, and poured some brown liquor down the old lizard-man's throat. "Go!" she hissed, pointing toward the door. "Do as he says! Now!"
I turned, ran out of the room, down the ramp, out the door, and back to the Imperial City.
The Imperial City. I used to love it here. When I was young my native town of Skingrad seemed hopelessly provincial to me, and I looked forward all year long to going along with mother on her annual trip to the Heartland. For me, the capital was the epitome of learning, of culture, of everything I held dear.
I walk the avenues now, from district to district. And I look. Skingrad seemed provincial, yes, but it was Colovian: direct, forthright, with clean lines and a certain spare, ascetic look to it. And its people are much the same way.
Like its people. And the people it attracts.
I was too late.
Morian is gone. With the help of Divayth, cursed Divayth, he fulfilled his dream and traveled to Oblivion. According to Seif-ij, he went to Moonshadow as planned, but he didn't stay there. He went on, to Ashpit, to Coldharbour, to Quagmire. To Apocrypha.
And there, in Apocrypha, he stayed.
Seif-ij told me, emotion quivering even in his flat reptilian voice, of how once he entered Oblivion Morian seemed to become more reckless, more enraptured, with each portal to a new plane. How he ignored his assistant's pleas to return. How Apocrypha … entranced him.
Seif-ij Hidja was beside himself, holding his head with its drooping spines, clearly at his wit's-end. It was up to me. I ran to Divayth's room, though Seif-ij said he was gone, hoping he'd left some way to get in touch with him, hoping he would respond to my appeals for help. I found only a book, open on his desk, a book titled "Fragmentae Abyssum Hermaeus Morus." It was open to what seemed to be a summoning ritual for the Daedric Prince Hermaeus Mora, specifying that "whatever price is named shall be met."
A ritual to Hermaeus Mora. The Lord of Apocrypha.
I ran to Morian's laboratory. It was looted, ransacked. The only thing of interest was a crumpled note. It read, "When thou enterest into Oblivion, Oblivion entereth into thee."
Morian is gone. Gone to Apocrypha. Where he stays.
And so I walk, from district to district. Wondering. What price had the Lord of Apocrypha named to Divayth Fyr? What price for the entrancement, the captivity of Morian Zenas?
I walk the streets, the avenues and alleys. Wondering.
Wondering when I, too, will be ready to pay the price.
The master—I mean the Professor, Morian Zenas—is gone. So is Lady Alfidia, though I always addressed her as Doctor Lupus. So, for that matter, is the Telvanni, but he, at least, will not be missed—nasty mer, always making caustic comments about "the scaleskin help" whenever the Professor wasn't around.
No, I am glad the Telvanni is gone. But the others … well.
I will stay on here as long as I may, keeping the Professor's town house in order, organizing his notes and his reagents, dusting his beloved books. I still hope for his return. For now, the University has him listed as "On Sabbatical," and sends his stipend to me so I can maintain his residence and arcane workshop.
It was while in the study, straightening the Professor's desk, that I came across a stack of notes in Lady Alfidia's elegant handwriting, unfinished studies of clothing, arms, and armor in several cultural styles. The river flows slowly these days, so I have decided to organize these style notes in a fashion that (I hope) approximates how the lady doctor would have done so herself.
Though notes about the styles of the leading Elven societies of current-day Tamriel have already been compiled, there is more to say, as the mer, who revere their ancestors and ancestry, have a special regard for the history of Aldmeri culture. The Merethic Era, when Elves first conquered and colonized Tamriel, they regard as a golden age to be emulated. As a result the clothing and armor of that period never really goes out of style, and many Elves still affect the styles and manners of the ancient Aldmeri. It is not at all unusual, even on continental Tamriel, to encounter a High Elf or Dark Elf dressed like an ancient Ayleid or Chimer. The Elves call this practice "draping Ehlnofic," but the rest of us just call it "Ancient Elven" and leave it at that.
(I will add here to the absent lady's notes that I myself, though having lived in the Imperial capital for many long years, have never seen a Wood Elf sporting this Ancient Elven style. But the Bosmer, like we Argonians, seem to prefer to live in the Aurbic Now, showing relatively little regard for the ways of former ages.)
Ancient Elven is different from Elven styles favored by modern artisans of Summerset and Morrowind in that it is somewhat more organic, and yet at the same time more abstract. Flowing floral motifs are common, usually tapering to a sharp point or end, as in the sharp-peaked arches so familiar to the inhabitants of Cyrodiil from our ubiquitous Ayleid ruins. Circles, semi-circles, and arcs abound, often containing the organic tapering tendrils, much as the Aedra (whom the Elves claim as ancestors) were constrained by the creation of the Mundus.
(What? What's that? …It is as if I heard my lady whisper in my ear, "How pretentious, Seif-ij!")
Despite the civilizing influence of our noble Second Empire, Tamriel still has its backwaters and hinterlands inhabited by barbarous tribes. Probably the most familiar to us Cyrodilics are the savage clans of the Reachmen, who dwell in the wild mountains between Skyrim and High Rock, and whose raiders have been seen on the outskirts of Bruma within living memory. But there are also the Ashlanders of Morrowind, the fierce Kothringi of Black Marsh, the Ket Keptu of central Hammerfell, and many others.
It is a strange but undeniable fact that these tribes, farflung across the continent though they are, have strikingly similar tastes in apparel. Why this should be is fodder for another ethnographic study more speculative than this one, which is merely descriptive. (Therefore, on to the description.)
This clannish or tribal style, though commonly known as "Barbaric," is really no less sophisticated than that of other cultures. The so-called barbaric tribes simply disdain all ideas of tasteful restraint, preferring the lurid and bizarre. Bright colors are favored, and materials may be lacquered to almost any hue. Typical accouterments include skulls, antlers, feathers, strings of teeth, accents of beaten copper, and weapons ostentatious in size and number.
(I feel the need to interject here that much of this description could also apply to the styles of my native Black Marsh, a region that could scarcely be described as "barbaric"! Pfui. I shall return to this cultural style another day.)
You might look at the gear sported by a fully-equipped Goblin warchief and think, "What a mismatched conglomeration of primitive paraphernalia." But you would be wrong. Each item that warchief is wearing was carefully selected for its proven utility, and represents a decision backed by millennia of tradition. This is a style of arms and armor we ethnographers call the "Primal," and it is as distinctive and recognizable as any other culture set.
Goblins and other folk who have adopted the Primal style are typically superb scavengers and looters. They seem to have a special sense for where to find the sort of cast-off yet serviceable, even exceptional equipment that will fit the Primal esthetic. And they are as proud of their turn-out as any Imperial centurion.
Recent scholarship by Doctor Intricatus of Gwylim University confirms this, and adds some new information that shows that "primal" is, indeed, the optimal label for this style. His study of the fifty-seven Primal ensembles worn by the massacred Knife-Biter Goblin tribe showed that many of the items found on the corpses were hundreds, if not thousands of years old. Some of the greaves and cuirasses appeared to date from the early First Era, and represented ancient forging techniques that have since been lost to history. Did the Goblins loot these from ancient Cyrodilic ruins, as they've been known to do? Or did they actually pass them down, generation by generation, since time immemorial?
Yes, Professor Zenas, that IS how you spell "immemorial." Wait … what? Professor? Is that your voice?
It is entirely appropriate that this last entry in Doctor Lupus' "Racial Motifs" series should be about Daedric arms and armor, as it is my belief that the absent Lady Alfidia has somehow journeyed to the Daedric planes of Oblivion in pursuit of my lost Professor Morian Zenas. And as I can now hear the Professor's voice whispering in my ear almost constantly, it is time to conclude these notes and move on to telling the story of his travels through the doors of Oblivion.
The Daedra, as the Professor has so often remarked, are creatures of chaos, entities of great energy and force but entirely lacking in originality. They can imitate, they can exaggerate, and they can corrupt, but they cannot create anything new. That is a capability inherent only in the Aedra, and in we mortals of Nirn, to whom they gave it as a gift. (In Black Marsh we see such things differently, of course, but these are the beliefs of the Professor and Lady Alfidia.)
Thus the armor and weapons of such Daedra as the Dremora, Xivilai, and Golden Saints—what Doctor Lupus calls the "humanoid" Daedra—consist of familiar Tamriel-style cuisses, breastplates, and pauldrons, swords, spears, and bows. They may to our eyes be ornamented with outlandish spikes and melodramatic flourishes, but look inside a suit of Daedric armor and you'll find the familiar padding and straps that enable it to be worn by anyone of conventional shape. Pick up a Daedric sword, and despite its bizarre shape you will find the grip comfortable, the heft well-balanced. Indeed, it is said that the famous Artifacts of the Daedric Princes, such as the Mace of Molag Bal, were mostly made by mortal artisans who were enticed or forced to create them.
Yes, Professor, I believe that is enough—for now, at least. I have done my duty to the good doctor. I am sitting in your study, and I am listening. Tell me again of Moonshadow.