Elder Scrolls Lore Report: The Night of Tears and the Fall of the Snow Prince

Furrion made a request prior to the last report for me to write one about the Night of Tears and the sacking the Saarthal which inevitably leads to the fall of the Falmer.


Now, as I am sure we are all aware, the Night of Tears is mentioned a few times within the College of Winterhold official questline in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – specifically, the second and third quests; Under Saarthal and Hitting the Books.




Saarthal holds a prominent place in Skyrim history, even if most do not remember it by name. It is of course the site of one of the first major Nord settlements, one of the first cities of men in Skyrim, and the earliest known capital of their civilization. It was also the site of terrible bloodshed, when the elves attempted to drive the Nords out of Skyrim, to succeed only in incurring their wrath in the form of Ysgramor and his fabled Five Hundred Companions, who swept the elves from Skyrim and firmly established it as the home of the Nords.


All this is known, but little else. What happened on that Night of Tears, when Saarthal was razed to the ground? What provoked the elves to such a deliberate, vicious attack, and what prompted such a severe response from the Nords?


Vingalmo's Treatise on the Altmer Antecedent suggests that the elves of the Merethic Era, along with their counterparts the early Dwemer, possessed a degree of sophistication unparalleled in Tamriel. They displayed power beyond what could be expected of the time. While a distinct explanation is not given for this, I believe that this work, compared with the early writings of Heseph Chirirnis, suggest that something greater was at work on that night in Saarthal.


The true motives behind the Night of Tears have been obscured to us by the passage of time, but I believe this was not a simple war of territory, or of control of Skyrim. I believe that what happened was a significant event based around something very particular.


The Nords found something when they built their city, buried deep in the ground. They attempted to keep it buried, but the elves learned of it and coveted it for themselves. Thus they assaulted Saarthal, their goal not to drive the Nords out but to secure this power for themselves. I believe Ysgramor knew something of what the elves would find under Saarthal, and rallied together his people to keep the elves from gaining it. When Nords once again controlled Skyrim, this power was buried deep below the earth and sealed away.


Time has kept this knowledge from us, but it is my hope that Time will also reveal the truth of these words. Every effort will be made to relocate Saarthal, and find that which has been lost to us.


Saarthal, not only one of the first, not only one of the grandest, was also the first capital settlement of Skyrim. It was also where their most gifted scholars and mages resided – though, it is worth noting, even the greatest of the early Nord mages paled in comparison to the Elves – and it eventually became the site of one of the most bloody massacres in Nordic history, when the Falmer attempted to drive the Nords out of Skyrim by sacking Saarthal. And, of course, everyone knows that Ysgramor fled back to Atmora, gathered the fabled Five Hundred Companions, and returned to Skyrim to smash the Falmer and force them to flee.


But why? The overriding question is what provoked the Falmer?


Even more interesting is that, prior to the Night of Tears, the skirmishes between the early Nords and the Falmer were certainly vicious, but they did not escalate to all-out destruction. So what was it about Saarthal? What happened to cause the Falmer to suddenly decide it was time to get rid of the Nords, one and for all?


The Nords found something when they built Saarthal. They knew not what it was, only that the power it possessed was far greater than they could comprehend, so they buried it deep underground in an attempt to keep it hidden from all who might abuse it. Unfortunately, the Falmer sensed its presence and desired it for themselves. See, the Falmer did not care about the Nords anymore. They wanted this unearthed artifact and were more than willing to destroy everything to get to it. Ysgramor knew of the object and knew its potential for great devastation, so he gathered his Companions and did his best to keep the Falmer from getting their hands on it, and, for the most part, he succeeded. It is believed the Falmer did manage to get to it when they razed Saarthal, but it is known for fact that when Ysgramor took back Saarthal, it was once again buried and, at some point, Jyrik Gauldrson was cursed to watch over it for eternity.




So, what was the artifact that the elves coveted so deeply? Simple. It was The Eye of Magnus.


Origin unknown, the Eye of Magnus was an ancient artifact of unparalleled power that could only be extracted and controlled by the Staff of Magnus, which once belonged to the Lord of Magic himself. In 4E 201, during the events of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, the unnamed scholar of the College of Winterhold participated in a study of the newly rediscovered Saarthal ruins and rediscovered the Eye of Magnus alongside Alteration Master Tolfdir. The artifact was extracted and moved to the College of Winterhold for examination – also, the College Master Wizard and Arch-Mage believed they could contain its power and keep its secret within the College; a mistake that costs both their lives, in the end. Ancano, an agent of the Thalmor, eventually attempts to draw power from the Eye. During one of his many failures, he causes a massive explosion of arcane energy, causing Magic Anomalies to swarm Winterhold as well as bringing both Savos Aren, the Arch-Mage, and Mirabelle Ervine to their untimely deaths. Luckily, the aforementioned unnamed scholar heads to Labyrinthian, retrieves the Staff of Magnus, and returns to defeat and kill Ancano, preventing him from causing any more damage.




10169917489?profile=RESIZE_400xHowever, Ancano’s meddling had caused the Eye to become unstable and monks of the Psijic Order arrived to take it to their island of Artaeum, where they could contain its power and prevent its misuse – though, the failed machinations of Ancano still cause magical ruptures to appear all across Skyrim, from which Magic Anomalies pour, only closed by the Staff of Magnus wielded by the new Arch-Mage.


Ancient Khajiiti mythology attests that when Magnus fled from Boethiah and Lorkhaj, he was unable to see from one his eyes and fell into the Moonshadow, the realm of Oblivion ruled by Azurah, where she judged him as too full of fear to rule. As punishment, she tore out his other eye. Magnus fled back to Aetherius, completely blinded, and Azurah turned his eye into a stone to reflect the Varliance Gate, or the Aether Prism that only opens at Dawn and closes at Dusk – quite humorously, the Sun. Some sorcerers say that Magnus instead gave Azura his eye as a gift, and she gave it to her children.


In Altmeri lessons, the phrase “The Eye of Magnus is always upon us, in the spells and enchantments that devout Mages conjure” is recited by religious preachers, though it is unknown if they refer to the artifact itself. The Orrery of Elden Root’s central component bears a striking resemblance to the Eye of Magnus. When Ada’Soom Dir-Kamal landed in the White River not far from Winterhold, he claimed to be searching for someone or something called the “Ordained Receptacle”.


Jyrik Gauldurson came to be the unwilling guard of the Eye of Magnus beneath Saarthal when he and his brothers coveted their father’s power. Lord Gauldur, one of the greatest Arch-Mages of the First Era, derived most of his power from an exceptional amulet. Jyrik, his eldest son, discovered the amulet was the source of his father’s strength, and he and his two brothers conspired to steal it and split it among themselves. They succeeded and killed their father – leading to Geirmund becoming Arch-Mage – and High King Harald sent a troop of mages led by Geirmund to pursue Jyrik – himself an accomplished wizard already.


They pursued Jyrik to Saarthal, where, after slaying ten or more mages, was finally defeated and sealed away, ever watching over an artifact of immense power. Due to the destruction caused by the Gauldur Sons, Harald ordered the name Gauldur stricken from all record, and though whispers of the tale still exist, even four thousand years later, bards still fear to utter the story of Gauldur and his wicked sons.


What is interesting is that Jyrim was interred in the same chamber where the Eye was and yet it doesn’t really seem like Geirmund or anyone else was terribly interested in the Eye, despite knowing about the Night of Tears at the time, since it had been, at most, a couple of hundred years prior to the Gauldur incident.


As for how the Nords defeated the Falmer and kept them from truly acquiring the Eye of Magnus, we have Azhidal to thank for that, but I think, perhaps, that is a story for another time. Instead, let’s cycle back to the Falmer.



(a fun doodle by Michael Kirkbride of some of Ysgramor's feats)


Heard you the tale of the Snow Prince? Perhaps the greatest warrior in Falmer history, he was a snow elf of extraordinary elegance and nigh-unmatched fighting prowess. During the Battle of the Moesring, he earned the respect of his people, killing many Nords – including but not limited to, Ulfgi Anvil-Hand, Strom the White, Freida Oaken-Wand, Heimdall the Frenzied, and Jofrior, mother of Finna – with his prolific skill in ice magic and his spear, but when he was finally struck down during this final confrontation – by a twelve year old, no less; Finna, who threw her mother’s sword after the Snow Prince had struck her mother down – it marked the beginning of the end for the Falmer.




Despite the rage and that none but the Falmer would have protested against it, the Nords, out of respect and admiration for the Snow Prince, did not burn his body as they did his kin. Instead, he was buried in a freshly dug barrow, which would become known as Jolgeirr Barrow, alongside his armor and spear. Nord tradition dictated he be encased in Stahlrim, but, instead, he was buried with vast and valuable treasures and assigned guards to protect his remains. (Jolgeirr Barrow is in Solstheim, southwest of the Altar of Thrond, both of which can be found in The Elder Scrolls III: Bloodmoon the second expansion for The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind.)




News of the fall of the Snow Prince reached even the scattered Falmer clans in Skyrim, but because the Nords had destroyed so much Falmeri literature, what duties the Snow Prince held – even the Falmer government system itself – is almost entirely unknown. The Snow Prince had ordered the creation of a stone throne designed with simple lines, which led some scholars to believe it was a reflection of his own personality. Around 2E 582, it was excavated by the Aniquarian Circle. Sometime before the tomb in Jolgeirr Barrow was abandoned, the guardians became aware that a group of robbers were going to try to pilfer the tomb and steal the treasures within – notably, the Snow Prince’s armor and spear – but Heinlen the Heavy and his men were able to drive the robbers off, though not before they managed to steal the helmet. Heinlen discovered where Angria and her looters were returning to and tried to send word to his second, Winter-Fist, but ended up at the bottom of Lake Fjalding, possibly killed by the thieves. In 3E 427, Angria’s corpse can still be seen frozen within the Frykte ice cave, her skeleton hanging from the ceiling. A few months later, Jolgeirr Barrow was rediscovered and looted. Fall of the Snow Prince, the only known documentation of the Battle of Moesring, was found within and came to the possession of Athellor, a scholar of the thought-to-be-extinct Snow Elves. He would republish it and by 3E 433, it had become popular material within Cyrodiil, and by 4E 201, it had made its way into Skyrim.




After the retaliation brought about by the Night of Tears, Ysgramor and his Five Hundred Companions swept across Skyrim, shattering the organized resistance of the Falmer, before making their way to Solstheim. The Battle of Moesring was their final stand, ended with the Fall of the Snow Prince. This marked the beginning of the end for the Falmer people. However, despite being broken, battered, and spread thin across the land, they were deeply entrenched within Skyrim and managed to survive through the early centuries of the First Era. The massive yet somehow hidden Chantry of Auri-El, a great architectural achievement even by modern standards, was actually constructed during the First Era as a way to reunite their broken people. And it would remain virtually untouched by all but beasts and the Falmer until 4E 201 during the events of The Elder Scrolls V: Dawnguard.




The Falmer would continue to survive in hiding and isolation well into the reign of High King Harald – who ruled Skyrim from 1E 143 to 1E 221 – when they were finally believed to have been driven from Skyrim entirely. However, the Falmer still lived in hiding in the newly established Nordic kingdoms. Their survival, however, was not to last.


The only other race of mer within Skyrim held an uneasy alliance with the Falmer. After the Nords smashed the Falmer and established their dominance in Skyrim, and after the fall of the Snow Prince, the Snow Elves turned to their estranged cousins for help, deep underground. Despite many Snow Elf legends lauding the honor and glory of the Dwemer, they quickly discovered they were not treated as equals. The Dwarves offered the Snow Elves safe haven, in return for being forced into servitude. The only thing they were allowed to eat was a toxic fungus that rendered their entire race blind over the centuries. As the darkness consumed what was left of the Falmer, servitude turned into slavery.




Ancient torture chambers found in all Dwemer ruins within Skyrim revealed the Dwemer used barbaric and horrific techniques to keep their kin in line. Though it was the fungus that rendered the Snow Elves blind, it is still unknown what caused them to become twisted and misshapen into the Falmer we know today – called the Betrayed by the only Snow Elf still living, Knight-Paladin Gelebor, who was protected by Auri-El. The Falmer got an ironic twist of fate, of course, for the Nords fear their broken and misshapen forms.




Not all of the Falmer were enslaved by the Dwemer, though. As their brothers and sisters fled underground, a few made their way into refuge within the Chantry of Auri-El – and others in different isolated shrines. There were over a hundred isolated within the Chantry and, cut off as they were, by the time news reached them of the Dwemer’s offering, it was too late to help their brethren. The surviving Snow Elves looked upon their misshapen kin with pity, a sentiment not shared by the Falmer, who would attack their untainted cousins with the same ferocity they showed anyone else.



(Falmer ruins beneath Fort Greenwall)

Over the years, the Snow Elves fell into legend, and even from legend into myth. Tales tell of an ancient Snow Elf wizard named Serenarth, who was shot by an arrow from Ysgramor’s bow – Long-Launcher – during the Night of Tears. With his last breath, he conjured a powerful Frost Atronach and swapped its spirit with his own. It is said the Atronach he now inhabits still patiently waits, encased in ice within a glacier not far from where his mortal corpse lies.




Others still found refuge with sympathetic families and, over the centuries, interbred with the other mer people and are now possibly present within today’s society as mixed-breeds, undetectable by all but blood. Either way, by the early third era, some had begun to wonder if the Snow Elves had even existed at all, and it wasn’t until Jolgeirr Barrow and the remains of the Snow Prince were discovered that they knew the legend had been based on truths.



(Angria's corpse) 

The Skaal believe the Rieklings are the closest descendants of the Snow Elves, though everyone else simply believes they are snow goblins. Some scholars attest Wispmothers are the last remnants of the Snow Elves, a theory supported by their behavior, abilities, and appearance. By 4E 201, what had one been superstition was now impossible to disregard as fact: the growing menace of the Falmer made it prudent the Snow Elves had once been a mighty race. It is thought that, over the centuries, the Falmer were beginning to come together, slowly uniting themselves in a planned invasion of the overworld.




Most of the other mer are repulsed at the thought that the Falmer bear any relation to them as a species and are disgusted to think they were ever mer at all, while others wonder if the monstrous Falmer really are the last living reflection of the Snow Elves. Sometime during this period, the Great Statue of Irkngthand, built in secret by the Betrayed, was discovered by the Thieves’ Guild. The last – and only, really – known depiction of a Snow Elf. However, when the Eyes of the Falmer – enormous, extremely valuable gemstones – were removed, the cavern collapsed, burying the priceless treasure.




Magnificence faded into desperation, which faded into monstrous origin, which faded into legend, which faded into superstition, which has finally cycled back to partial truths. Though the events of The Elder Scrolls V: Dawnguard canonically confirm that the Falmer are the last descendants of the Snow Elves, we still know entirely too little about their civilization. The Elder Scrolls Online has shed a little bit of light on them with the Bloodmoon mini-pack, but, at best, it was mostly themed armors from the Morrowind expansion with a few dungeons thrown in.


So, the Night of Tears escalated to the Fall of the Snow Prince which gave turn to the Rise of the Betrayed. Knight-Paladin Gelebor hinted that he believed the Falmer were rebuilding a form of their lost society, coming together with an intelligence he hadn’t seen in them before. Do you think that by the next turning of the Eras the Snow Elves will have returned to Tamriel?

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Fimvul is the current master of the Skyforge Library. Interested in the Elder Scrolls from a young age, he has been diving headfirst into the richer aspects of the lore of the series for over a decade. With years of experience and research under his belt, he hopes to enlighten his readers with the wondrous mystery that surrounds the Elder Scrolls universe.

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