Citizens of the Empire

Created in 2015-16, these mini watercolors (each is about 2×3 inches) and short writings were meant to create some additional diversity in culture and appearance for the playable races of the Elder Scrolls.

Known to foreigners as Craglorn or Westmarch, the grassy plains between the Corten Mountains and Elinhir are called the Helkori by the Redguards. Named for the korei, or kingly advisors of Frandir Hunding, it is an ancient word for an ancient people. Though the Helkori has been claimed by a dozen empires, its rural peoples have remained largely undisturbed, pledging allegiance to none but their Ra Gada forebears.

(Illustration: This young ranchhand is properly named Gindwi do Undeing hel Mansai, but he asked me to call him Jim.)

Gods are an undeniable truth in Tamriel, yet religion is not. There are a few (just how many is impossible to count) who believe in gods but reject the trappings of organized belief. Priests, houses of worship, holidays, prohibitions and proclamations, and even holy books are believed to be obfuscation standing between man and divine. To them a god is a personal thing, something to call to for comfort, rather than some public persona to whom all should flock at once.

(Illustration: Zathura, a personal friend of mine, did not reveal his peculiar ideology until many years into our friendship)

Though all cultures celebrate the harvest, the festivals of the peasant folk of Menevia stand out in their splendor. The festivities last for a whole week, with each day devoted to the copious consumption of a different food group. Wearing animal masks and flower garlands, the children make straw dolls of the Bad Man Sheor, which the adults burn in effigy at sundown. Marriageable youths jump over the bonfires in stunning displays of acrobatics. At the end of it all the wreaths and garlands are thrown in the nearest creek with wishes for a mild winter. The next day Wayrest’s bay is clogged with flowers.

(Illustration: This young woman refused to reveal her name.)

The Kvatchi pride themselves on two things: their condottieri mercenary companies, on loan to states from Solitude to Archon, and the freedom of religion they allow to every cult, be they pacifist Iusians or revolutionary Dagonites. From their lofty clifftop citadel, the saying goes, every god may survey their earthly kingdom.

(Illustration: Selvia Perperam, a captain in the Company of St. Perif of Nornalhorst, and an initiate in the Cult of Emperor Zero.)

Some Orcs are born in isolated strongholds and follow the Code of Malacath, or else adopt it later in life. A few are fortunate to be born within the walls of an Orsinium, steeped in tradition and scholarship of ancient, noble Orsimer ways. Others are born or settle in foreign lands, taking on the customs of their adopted homeland as their own. Others still spend their lives wandering hamlet to hamlet, offering themselves up as smiths or sellswords, as household help or as a rarely seen exotic sideshow. I met many of these lost souls on my travels, their culture theirs alone, resembling everywhere they’ve lived for a span, yet too distinct from each to ever truly belong. But what I see as a tragedy they see as a blessing, believing themselves to be especially favored by Malacath, the most outcast of all his outcasts.

(Illustration: Dush Gro-Bur, my guide and guard on the journey through the Colovian West.)

Named after Baan Dar, the trickster god of the Khajiit, the Baandari are tribes of traveling merchants found throughout Tamriel. Though openly scorned and typecast as thieves, swindlers, and vagabonds, few citizens of the Empire can truthfully claim to have avoided giving them their business. When necessity calls, or when a rare item is too good to pass up, the Baandari are happy to overlook the prejudice against them and provide “Town-Biders” with the goods they desire.

(Illustration: A Baandari tradeswoman in the native dress of Elsweyr’s northern grasslands)

Despite their long history, the Kothringi left few written records, virtually guaranteeing their status as one of Tamriel’s enduring poetic mysteries. One shockingly popular theory is that the silver-skinned Kothringi were an early attempt by the Hist to create a life form that could more seamlessly infiltrate human civilization. The theory further posits that the catastrophic Knahaten Flu of the mid second era was the Hist’s way of removing their imperfect creations.

(Illustration: A rendition of a Kothringi diplomat, based on a late 1st era burial in the Imperial City.)

The brotherhood between the Summersets and Valenwood stretches back into the long years before recorded history. In fact, it is the marriage between Camoran Eplear and Elsonwe, the High Priestess of Auri-el and de facto ruler of Alinor, that marked the beginning of what we now know as the first era. Since then, the Camorans have remained a people apart from other Bosmer both in looks and in culture. Often mistaken for Altmer by their human neighbors, no one knows if their impressive stature is due to careful breeding or some darker, more sinister magical art.

(Illustration: The young prince Haymon Camoran, third in line for the petal throne.)

There are many names to call a resident of Cyrodiil. “Imperial” denotes citizenship and standing in the Empire of Man, while “Cyrodil” means simply a citizen of the heartland province. “Nibenese” and “Colovian” are commonly used, yet within those geographic areas are dozens of cities, and to insinuate that a citizen of Kvatch is akin to one of Anvil is to risk the ire of both. Then there are the ancient families and ancestral Nedic tribes, or else the Nordic settlers or Ayleid remnants or Dunmeri diaspora, which one counts as their forefathers. Others still come from far abroad, abandoning the ties to their original homelands, and embracing wholesale the numerous titles of their new, adoptive, motherland.

(Illustration: A keptu woman of Leyawiin, wearing a traditional silk shawl embroidered with her matrilineal bloodline.)

Perhaps tired of moving from one attempt at Orsinium to another, or perhaps admiring the unmatched metalcraft of the Dwemer, some Orsimer have chosen to rebuild and resettle the ancient strongholds of the Dwarves that dot the Dragontail Mountains. Many have adapted centurion parts into armor, and some have even taken to wearing their hair and beard in a Dwemeri fashion, leading superstitious locals to believe that the Dwemer never really disappeared, but were instead turned into Orcs as punishment for questioning the Divines.

(Illustration: This man, who identified himself only as Gro-Shada, was the gate guard at the citadel called Bthukhrad.)

Though one’s mental image upon hearing of a Colovian is likely to be of a broad, straw-haired Cyro-Nord, the region is just as much home to the descendants of the Ra Gada as it is to the children of the Fivehundred. In many places, people claim equal descent from both, making the frequent border skirmishes between Hammerfell, Skyrim, and Cyrodiil an awkward affair. Though the regions is sparsely populated, and its peoples are primarily ranchers and herders, they are never the less a valued resource for whatever group needs their help at the moment.

(Illustration: A Da’Awar woman with traditional cochineal tattoos)

Windchimes are a common sight – and sound – among the yurts of the Ashlanders. The Zainab of Vvardenfell’s Grazelands, who fashion their chimes out of the bones of their domesticated guar, believe the soft twinkle to forecast the day’s fortune. Herdsmen wake before dawn and spent the morning in meditation and ritual, using the chimes to predict the weather, their animal’s temperament, and the day’s luck.

(Illustration: Zabasummat, a guarherd of the Zainab)

Among the hundreds of thousands of Khajiit living outside Elsweyr, there exist communities that, through careful timing of conception and birth, attempt to pass for elves. They are often called “ririnajiit” (compulsive liars) by their brethren, they prefer to call themselves “jovansa” – those who secure their future. Though Imperial campaigns have succeeded in reducing the rates of such selective breeding, the practice remains entrenched in places like Morrowind and Valenwood, where attitudes towards Khajiit are least favorable.

(Illustration: M’hulabi, rebelling against her parents by wearing cat-like facepaint, a practice common among Ohmes wishing to not be mistaken for elves.)

It is easy to demonize those who are different. Though none will deny raids and invasions perpetrated by the Reachmen, the prejudice against them comes mostly from the differences in worship and culture between them and other Tamrielic peoples. They have been pushed from their traditional lands, relocated to poorer ground, only to be evicted from there as well once valuable minerals or metals were discovered. Their children are kidnapped from them and shipped off to Imperial schools where they are forced, in the name of “civilization,” to forget their culture, their language, and even their birthnames. Neither do their troubles end once they dress and talk like the Nords or Bretons, for, in the eyes of the Empire, their blood makes them forever a lesser, more barbarous race.

(Illustration: a Snap-Beak chieftain in ceremonial dress)

The northern of border of Valenwood has seen many changes since the coming of the Empire. Those Bosmer that have adopted more Cyrodiilic customs no longer wish eat their dead, as was ancient Bosmeri custon, yet neither can they let their honored ancestors rot in the dirt or burn away in flames. The Kin-eaters, a middle cast of ritually adopted relatives, has arisen to deal with the phylosophical dilemma.

(Illustration: Meleldil, a kin-eater of Arenthia.)

The men, mer, and Khajiit of Rimmen take great pride in their city’s Akaviri heritage, no matter how little Tsaesci blood they themselves might poses. New, more “authentic” cuisines, clothes, and baubles seem to be uncovered yearly, embraced by the locals , and then summarily discarded as soon as they are adopted by tourists and immigrants. The oldest families, those with true Tsaesci names and pasts straight from history books, can only shake their heads.

(Illustration: Ra’najj, renowned physicker and gentleman scholar.)

And a few that I didn’t end up writing descriptions for: