Wood Elves of the Aldmeri Dominion
Note: Flaccus Terentius' notes appear in bracketed italics. Inserts appear in separate boxes. Captions for unreleased images are denoted by †.
Unlike their Altmeri and Dunmeri brethren, the Bosmer have an attitude that is almost affable in particular respects. Certain Imperial diplomats have likened this breezy amiableness to the mellow intoxication a greenmote addict might first experience. But hasten not to categorize those as you would an Argonian skooma fiend; these tree-folk are vicious, adept at banditry, and worthy of your concern and attention, if not your respect.
The Bosmeri race is governed -- if only can describe this loose hegemony as such -- by the aristocratic Camoran Dynasty. There seems little rigidity or exertion of jurisdiction among the disorganized tribes of the Bosmer. Only slightly more stringent are the clan lines, which are matrilineal in nature. Ruled by the Treethane, or head tribesman, these serve little purpose other than providing protection during times of war. The real power is wielded by the priests of the forest deity Y'ffre, known as Spinners, who enforce the Green Pact, a bizarre rule of conduct forcing the Bosmer to feed carnivorously and never use living vegetation of any kind, for any means.
These are no woodland nymphs. Wood Elves go to war not to conquer lands or covet precious resources; they do it for sport. Unless a threat to Valenwood presents itself, Bosmer consider the slaying of others to be simply unnecessary, and wagers are even made prior to raids regarding the theft of prized possessions without a drop of blood spilled. But when called upon, they excel at the bow. Youngsters are trained to a formidable degree to snipe using both range and speed to their advantage. When you walk the woods near Arenthia, hold your purse or satchel close, and report Bosmeri brigands to your local town watch.
I was bundled onto the first ship out of Firsthold like a common cutpurse, and it was only by good fortune that the Night Heron was sailing to Malabal Tor. My companions were surly merchants, and my writ of passage might as well have been written in the ancient tongues of the dragons for all the good it did me. A fellow absconder named Borongothlor shared my destination: Velyn Harbor, an Altmeri port on the Strident Coast of Valenwood.
We arrived without fanfare. Some puffed-up dockside administrator was reading over my deportation order when Borongothlor yelled to the deckhands, "By Hircine's pelt! Maormer squadron!" This was no ruse; the port was surprised by Sea Elves, some lithely leaping aboard the ship and many swarming the harbor. Bows were notched with haste, and fierce fighting commenced.
The blank-eyed raiders fought under the sign of the sea serpent with their colorless skin and snake conjurations, overwhelming the ship's crew in mere moments. My paperwork fell from the administrator's hands as he clutched his face and toppled from the jetty, an arrow protruding from his eye. High Elf harbor guards crouched behind firm barricades as the air filled with arrows. During a brief lull, I saw shapes flit from the forest.
The Wood Elves appeared, helping their Altmeri brethren repel the raiders and send them back to their boats. Mer of the sea and woods make an interesting contrast; the Maormer resemble the High Elves in the relative sophistication of their equipment, and the discipline of their medium-armored marines is impressive. But facing the cheerful ferocity and superior marksmanship of Bosmeri bowmen, the Sea Elves lost heart and withdrew.
During the preceding assault, I had prudently jumped down and hid under a tarp in a bumboat. Peeking out to take in the conflict, I shrank back as I watched a ferocious fight along the quayside. A Maormeri commander was waylaid from his progress by a Bosmeri Treethane's bone-handled blade meeting his finely polished sword.
The Sea Elf parried strongly, forcing the Treethane back on her haunches. Laughing, she bounded around his heavier armor, shouting "Y'ffre's bones!" and thrusting a sharp horn stiletto up through the Maormer's arm. She spun with brutal dexterity, slashing her main blade deep into the commander's neck and out the other side.
The head flew past mine as the commander's corpse sagged, then fell into the deep mooring water below the Night Heron. I was surprised at a second splash; the Wood Elf lost her balance and followed the corpse into the reddening harbor, where she floundered with none of her previous grace. Instinctively, I offered a hand and pulled her out, saving her life. I was more surprised at my act of valor than she was.
With the battle over, I rambled on about my tale of woe to my gracious new friend. As my paperwork was lost with the customs officer in Velyn Bay, the High Elf watch seemed thankful when Serenarth offered me safe passage to Elden Root.
Serenarth introduced me to a pair of imposing guardians (I refrained from asking where they were when they were needed), a tracker, a cook, porters, her dogs, and various hangers-on in her ragtag gang. This caravan travels to Elden Root with "assets for the Aldmeri Delegation," but no more information was imparted (or needed). Any cheer I mustered was stifled, as I expected a road but was greeted by dense thickets and swamp water. I felt a sense of reflective melancholy as my boots soaked through; the paintings of Black Marsh could be pasted here with my idiot superiors none the wiser.
Valenwood is dark, soggy, and filled with awful creatures. Not the Bosmer of Serenarth's lot, although they seemed so jaunty I contemplated strangling one. No, I witnessed huge hoarvor ticks scuttling out from a leafy deen to meet a deflated end on a Wood Elf's spear tip before they could suck my blood. Grim spriggans -- plant creatures with inexplicable breasts -- reared at us from what Serenarth told us were their sacred glades.
[The southern, or Rufous, Mudcrab. Does anyone like these things?]†
Splendid, more singsong rubbish about "Y'ffre's bones" and a damp camp. I'm beginning to suspect Mannimarco has bought my fate and toys with me here, in the mangroves with the Tree-Sap folk. The food they cooked had all the savor and flavor of an Orc raider's boot; squirrel preserves won't be brought back to Bravil as a taste sensation. And the slouchbear surprise? The "surprise" was that my gullet opened wide enough to digest such tough and highly salted meat.
Our encounters with the local wildlife didn't fill me with joy either: One of the pack dogs ventured too close to a shrub, which came alive, its tendrils dragging the animal into a black maw. The Green Pact was suspended temporarily to cut the dog free. But at least this strangler plant wasn't able to give chase. At every swamp or stream we forded, we were met by mudcrabs. The incessant clacking of pincers and cracking of shells further irritates me. Oh, for a spell of swift transport to Elden Root.
Scouts attempting to navigate the overgrown and infested forests of Valenwood must learn that sharp knives and undergrowth-cutting instruments are frowned upon by the backward cousins of the Altmer; any pruning of Bosmeri territories is likely to result in hostilities. But the Wood Elf isn't the only concern for the Imperial tracker or gallivant. There are dangerous denizens of the low forests to concern yourself with. These three are the most foul: the hoarvor, strangler, and spriggan.
Usually hiding among the dense foliage in the lowest and dampest recesses of the forest floor is the hoarvor. This giant tick would dwarf a large dog and inserts its filthy mandibles into sleeping mammals, guzzling the blood from a helpless form before scuttling away. Even Valenwood's plant life has a taste for flesh. Be on your guard for the strangler, a vine that waits for its warm prey to brush by. It attracts its victim with the promise of a sweet, sickly nectar called stranglesap. This paralyzes the small animal, which the plant then devours slowly and unpleasantly. Picking wild toadstools in the woods? Then be watchful for the spriggan, guardian spirits and protectors that whip up forceful blasts of magic and inflict terrible injuries with hardened, limblike branches. Their affinity with the more base beings of the forest allows them to set wild animals on intruders like trained guard dogs.
[The beguiling Nereid, a shy water spirit]†
The Valenwood creatures continued to cause bother, but it wasn't until we reached a jungle waterfall that my guides slowed me to a quiet creep. The water was cascading down on a wondrous bathing nymph, glistening and laughing in the humid air. I was later informed this was a nereid, unrelated to the spirits of High Rock. As I attempted a closer investigation, a sinewy arm barred my path. One of the Treethane's heavily armed bodyguards urged me to make my sketches from afar.
With the Green Pact stringently adhered to, many Wood Elves choose arms and armor imported from lands without ludicrous covenants. With only coal or peat to feed a forge, metal implements are hard to come by. What remains are minerals and animal matter harvester from the creatures of the forest before the mold or insects get them. Alchemy is employed to stiffen specific insect resins that are sculpted in a similar manner to the ways the Altmer use glass. Bones for axe handles, shells for shields,and leather all offer crafting and decorative options.
[They also boil hides in various solutions to shape and stiffen them.]
[Treethane Serenarth's wiry bodyguard, in armor of leather and bone.]†
Y'ffre is the god of the forest and spirit of the present. If a Wood Elf begins speaking of the Storyteller, steer the conversation away unless you have hours to spend. A vital part of the pantheon, Y'ffre's Ehlnofey, or "Earthbones," were created from his corporeal form to establish safety and the laws of nature. These laws took the shape of stories, and there is great debate (and occasional uprising) between tribes competing to interpret Y'ffre's ways and knowledge of the times of chaos, before Y'ffre arrived on the mortal plane.
Auri-El is the Elven aspect of Akatosh. Although Wood Elves believe themselves descended from the soul of Anu the Everything and occasionally offer venerations (mainly at the beginning of each year) which take the form of charitable work ignored from previous months, they have little affection for him. Arkay appears in an untarnished form and is invoked when solving transgressions of the Green Pact. Mara appears as the goddess of love and fertility, as in other cultures. Stendarr is known for his compassion and judicial qualities, but also as an Apologist of Man.
It is Z'en, the god of toil, that is invoked when a Treethane wishes to dispense justice or nullify a vendetta. Xarxes offers the Bosmeri mage opportunities to learn the magical arts that are not naturally occurring and influences each Wood Elf's being. Finally, Baan Dar is an aspect of the Khajiiti trickster idol. Despite being linked to acts of kindness and cleverness, every Wood Elf usually seeks his guidance, as he is also the god of archery.
Sunshine at last! I basked awhile as we stepped out of the dark jungle, our clothes steaming and our backs warming in the blessed heat. The city of Elden Root rose up from the woods to greet us. Wildflower meadows swayed in gentle breeze. Lush greenery and wandering paths (some with oddly strewn bones, dropped from the trees above), along with a perfect union of Bosmeri and Altmeri architecture, proved this to be a magnificent settlement, its people in proud ascendancy.
I felt almost energetic, too, filled with a mystical happiness for the first time since my arrival in this province. I spent the afternoon capturing the serene nature of this place and its immense and inhabited graht-oak, which towered over the Mer-made structures below its shrouding canopy.
[The Wood Elves claim to revere the trees, but then coerce them into forming homes and bridges.]†
[my song has been sung.]
[Falarel, he whispers, whispers...]
[So much sorrow]
At night, this is a very different place (at least to my eyes). Dark shapes dart away from the corner of my eye. Other appear all too real and frequently. The ghost of Falarel the jester creeps from the shadows to whisper jokes bereft of humor: "Master Terentius, it looks like you've taken 'root' here!"
I cannot rid myself of this shade.
My one escape has been the drink. Intoxication among the Bosmer is not only tolerated, but also encouraged. I began a heavy session with the various Wood Elf liquors. I found rotmeth rancid, Sun's Dusk Ale too gamey, and by the time I discovered jagga was actually fermented pig's milk, I was too far gone to care.
An entire province of timber, but no tree must be harmed: One would suspect the Treaty of Frond and Leaf would incapacitate a Wood Elven architect to the point of ruin, but working within these nonsensical rules has strengthened the quality of workmanship of the Bosmer and their settlements. Although hide stretched and tied over frames of bone may appear temporary, they are usually cocooned within sacred tree hollows and range dramatically in size. Wander the rivers and coast, where traders can provide quality imported lumber without breaking the Green Pact, and you will find more traditional wooden abodes.
Journey deeper into the forest if you dare, and you may stumble across the city of Elden Root or Silvenar. [Place or person? Confusing] Both have dwellings on the forest floor (typically built by other races, usually the Altmer), but many homes are both concealed and cradled within the canopy of graht-oak trees. Citified tree-folk favor a life among the branches and have woven them together to form limbed pathways without contravening the law of the land. Trails of thick, living vines anchor dozens of platforms that carry goods and people among the graht-oak. These platforms are hoisted by strong, often foreign, laborers.
Bone, resin, and sinew are employed in Bosmeri bridge design. A secondary market in such scraps allows the tree-dweller to tip their animal waste to the ground below, where it is scavenged and reworked into a variety of items -- certainly better than the refuse-strewn thoroughfares of Skyrim. As the moons rise, additional light is provided by luminous lichen, molds, and fungal growths living at the perpetually shadowed base of the oaks. Higher up, nocturnal flowers feed from the graht-oak, attracting torchbugs, whose hives light the branch platforms without the aid of fire. Adaptation to overcome self-imposed and crippling shortcomings has allowed the Wood Elves to survive, even thrive, despite their rigorous restrictions.
[A living Bosmeri tree-house. The braziers are burning animal fat.]†
I sit here, perplexed and sorry for myself. My stay in Elden Root is extended as I wait (impatiently) for an Imperial courier from Haven. I've known Mactator Caprenius since his service with our family, and his timekeeping was never this tardy. But I pin my hopes on him extricating me from Valenwood and bundling me back into Cyrodiil as my guide nears completion. In the meantime, I sketch obsessively, lose sleep, and put up with Falarel's verbal torture: "My master, all your chickens have been killed. 'Twas murder most fowl!"
[Day or night? I cannot tell.]
[into the dark realm of strife, despair]
[Arkay snatch me from his grasp.]
[candle inside my head has been snuffed out.]
Falarel's jokes are now laced with threats, many violent and threatening specific parts of my person. I am close to despair. I have not slept for many nights; the dark jester sees to that. There shall be no further Imperial snippets. I threw the remaining pages of the Emperor's Guide to Tamriel into a fat-fire. Stendarr grant me mercy, for I cannot tell night from day. During one of Falarel's brief disappearances, I sought out the priest, a Spinner, and pleaded for his help.
[Thorongil the Spinner. We smoked bugs together.]†
[eerie animal faces. Cannot stare back]
[worms wrapped around my bones]
My Spinner friend Thorongil thought it best we see a tree sacred to Y'ffre. "Aren't they all?" I asked, quite seriously, and was met with a chortle. His comedic nature continued when he asked me to carry him to our destination. I dismissed this as a lark until he told me his kind never move unless borne on the backs of others. Fortunately, my delicate vertebrae were saved as his servants maneuvered him to the foot of a towering, thickly branched specimen of oak, planted before the First Era.
There we sat, him talking the day away while I sat listening and sketching Thorongil with his many belongings. He revealed his inner thoughts and his communications with Y'ffre, which he recalls to the Treethanes of his tribe. "I've told you the story of my mind and its changes in perception," he explained, untying a pouch and producing a bone smoking pipe. "Now, we alter our understanding of the physical realm by inhaling dried insects." If it meant missing out on a dead jester for a few hours, I was game. I breathed deeply. The experience was simultaneously repulsive and strangely soothing.
[The Spinner's hide tent in the forest.]†
I woke alone in the Spinner's tent, feeling more relaxed and carefree than I had in weeks. But as my haze cleared and the dusk of long shadows fell over the glades, my spirits started to sag once more. As the torchbugs began flickering in their jars, I felt that familiar pain. I opened my tunic and watched the brand on my chest begin to crawl, as if worms burrowed beneath the scars. One of the Spinner's trophies -- a skull thing hung on a post -- started to clack its jaws at me. The tent seemed to spin and close in. Then blackness.
[Falarel, stop your singing!]
[Coming for my bones]
[My final forest painting, a failed attempt at raising my spirits.]†
Tired. Alone and deep in the woods at night. I must have been sleepwalking for quite some time. Shafts of light from Masser and Secunda filtered down through the canopy above. I was surrounded by gnarled trees and indistinct shapes, quicker at darting than my eyes. There is a fog within me, as if I'm a long way away.
Odd clicking noises and chirruping of insects. The faint rustling of forest animals. These sounds don't unnerve me anymore. Grim and terrible images remain behind my eyes, waiting to scream their way out of my head. I have the strange sense that I've been following somebody. I don't want to think about who that is. So I distracted myself and sat down to paint the midnight jungle.
[The place of my dreams... no, nightmares!]†
[Honoria Lucasta's rosy cheeks.]
[Arkay, I lie prostrate at your mercy]
My painting hand seems less arthritic and almost bewitched. I completed the image of the night jungle and turned the page. I began another picture, rapidly and obsessively scattering blues and grays over the parchment. A different view began to form beneath my pen and brush. How in the name of Akatosh do I know this place?
It was the cold, dead nightmare land from my dreams that I'd been drinking to forget. Cracked, frozen earth with black shapes lurking just below the surface. Was I doomed to wander this forgotten realm? No, I'm still in Valenwood. More jagga and bloodfroth to blot out the half-remembered horrors.
They came back with a jolt. Hulking, reptilian Daedric brutes that had chased me through that landscape. I feel compelled to sketch them too.
[The black rose blooms]
[Black petals fall into place]
Eerie animal-faced people, or people wearing animal heads, creep from the shadows to sit and watch me while I work. They seem to stare intently, muttering short and unclear whispers and nodding to each other. Occasionally, I catch the bird skulls adorning their armor also turning to gaze at me from eyeless sockets. I dare not look upon them. Are they even really there?
[Skulls, skulls, skulls, skulls]
[Turmoil, spilling hate, war comes swiftly.]
The deep void of sleep caught me and I dreamed of my home in Cyrodiil. But this was not the place I left months ago. No, Cyrodiil had become a war-torn, anguished realm. The Bravil castle bailey was under heavy bombardment by the siege machines of an invading army. Councilor Lucasta's chambers were smashed to rubble, and the castle walls breached. Enemy foot soldiers rushed in like a river. Innocents and city watchmen were slain indiscriminately. My house was ablaze. I saw my brother, sword in hand, stumble through smoke and falling timbers, dragging a charred body. He headed back into the inferno. No, brother. Run!
Wake up, you fool.
An evil face carved on black stone leers at me and grimaces in approval.
[We walk to Coldharbour.]
[Cyrodiil, my homeland - in flames]†
The world of my nightmares converges with Tamriel, melding into a great and lamentable darkness. I must still be asleep; such horrors cannot exist on Nirn. Yet here I sit, rooted to the spot, and paint this as if it is real for all to see. I witness a terrible vision of Valenwood in ashes. Wood Elf corpses burn next to the black bark of their leveled homes. Thousand-year-old graht-oaks are steaming, monumental husks. All have suffered.
Figures wearing black cloaks and red helms … are those Worm Cultists patrolling these ashen lands? A robed figure stands and watches, a worm twisting on his staff. Then he strides over the embers of the world.
Wake up! Wake up!
The evil face sneers in wicked glee.
[The Haunting Visage]†
[A fate of the wretched]
[almost out of ink]
[The somnambulist scholar]
I'm aware of my sleepwalking again. I now find myself in the realm of the nightmare I fought to enclose within the walls of my slumber. A Bosmeri village has been defiled and destroyed. It is now festooned with the skin, bones, and other regalia of Daedra worshipers and necromancers. The smell of burning wood and flesh was not present before and forces me to retch in disgust and tie a cloth across my face. To complete my misery, that damnable ghost appears to taunt once more.
"Good news, my master. I've set fire to the forests and burned alive all your enemies in Valenwood."
"But, Falarel," I manage to say, "I have no enemies in Valenwood."
"You do now!"
The flesh beneath my chest mark begins to crawl. I clutch it tightly, fearing it might burst.
"Welcome, Flaccus Terentius," says Falarel, now speaking with Mannimarco's voice.
"Welcome to Gil-Var-Delle."
[King of Worms comes to claim me]