The Reachmen, the Witchmen, the Forsworn - A History of the Peoples of the Reach

You’ve heard the stories. The Forsworn. They steal children in the night. They boil them skin and bone. They are as ferocious to their kinsmen as to their enemies. What led the people of Skyrim to such fanciful tales? We have to go way back to the beginning.



Sometime in the unknown history of the Merethic Era, or possibly even as late as the early First Era, up to year 221, there were a splinter of men – many, including many Reachmen, believe they are mostly descended from Bretons, but their true origin isn’t yet known – who lived in the area to the south and west of the tundras of Skyrim and the east of High Rock, a valley situated well between the two nations, that came to be known as the Reach. In their earliest stories, they were ruled by vampires of the Nighthollow Clan, who coveted the blood of the mixed species – the Reachmen were a hodgepodge of races, including man, mer, and even daedra. These vampires, known to the early Reachmen as Night Lords, ruled below them from the depths of Blackreach. However, as time went on, the influence and power these Night Lords had over the Reachmen slowly began to fade.


The Nighthollow Clan are – or were – among the first vampire clans in all of Nirn, believed to be almost as old as vampirism itself. They inhabited a section of Blackreach that lay hidden beneath the Reach. Between the Merethic Era and into the second century of the First Era, Molag Bal introduced vampirism into Mundus and the clans slowly began to emerge. Among the first were the Night Lords. They discovered an artifact called the Dark Heart in Blackreach and settled near it, feasting on its power despite the risk. As they feasted on the power of the void that the Dark Heart presented them, they became enslaved by its power, and they soon became entirely unable to consume blood, which inevitably led to the freedom of the Reachmen.


As the Reachmen began to flourish, free from the corruption of the Night Lords, they began to study hedge magic, fueling their power with profane rituals to the Daedric Princes – most notably Hircine, the most primal of the Princes, but their reverence included Molag Bal, Namira, Mehrunes Dagon, and Malacath. During the Wild Hunt of 1E 369, the first Hagraven was spawned and then captured by the men of the Reach. When the Dwemer disappeared in 1E 700, some Reachmen took refuge in the ruins of Nchuand-Zel, struggling to survive seasonal hardships. Within a few centuries, it had developed into a full settlement, and they named it “Mar-Karth”, “Above the Karth” in their native Reach language. The chieftain of Mar-Karth was known as the Ard, or “the King of the Fort”.





The Legend of Red Eagle, which is, possibly erroneously, dated around 1E 1030, suggests that, during the time of the Alessian Empire, the Reach was ruled by ten kings, though the various clans were scattered and warred with each other as often as not. It also speaks of how the Reachmen revered and worshipped the “ancient and venerable Hagravens”. When the armies of Empress Hestra arrived to conquer the Reach in 1E 1028, nine of the ten kings either swore fealty to her or were killed. The only one who didn’t was Faolan of the Sundered Hills, who, in order to gain the power needed to resist the Empire and defend his home and his people, carved out his own heart and replaced it with a poisoned briar, becoming the first Briarheart. Though Faolan’s efforts were mostly successful, he failed in completely driving out the Empire. It is said that when the Empress called for reinforcements, Faolan himself was driven out of hiding and went to battle, killing over a thousand soldiers before he was finally defeated. Even unto the Fourth Era, he remains the most famous hero of the Reach. His last known descendent is encountered in ESO - Bjora.



Over a thousand years later, in 1E 2704, after repelling the Akaviri Invasion, Emperor Reman of the Second Dynasty laid conquest to the Reach and sliced it in two. The Western Reach was controlled by High Rock and the Eastern Reach was controlled by Skyrim. As the Second Empire began to grow, not a decade went by where one or both of the two armies had to suppress the men of the Reach.



(an early Nedic tapestry depicting the descent of man and the Celestials; the men of the Reach are believed to be descended from these first men) 


When the Second Empire collapsed and near the beginning of the Interregnum, the men of the Reach had reclaimed their independence and once again taken Markarth as their capital.









In 2E 516, a new faction of Reachmen was formed known as the Tagh Droiloch – High Dark Wizard in their native tongue. These were the first of the Witchmen and were powerful, dark wizards wielding nefarious magic. They took rule of the Reach in secret during the Interregnum and were directly responsible for Durcorach rising to power and becoming the Black Drake, the first Longhouse Emperor, when conquered the Empire of Cyrodiil in 2E 532. He would later marry Veraxia Tharn of the Niben, cementing his claim to the Ruby Throne as legitimate. Durcorach only ruled for a decade, though, as he made a hasty retreat from Wayrest and settled for invading Daggerfall instead, only to be taken by surprise as Emeric of Cumberland led a daring pincer attack, which took the life of the Black Drake himself.










Despite Durcorach’s fall, the Tagh Droiloch endured, continuing their rule of the Reach from the shadows. In fact, some even attest that, despite their alliance, Durcorach had displeased the Tagh Droiloch, and used their secret asp oil war paint to drive the Black Drake into a frenzy which led to his death. They were known to commune with the Daedric Princes, notably Mehrunes Dagon, to give their allies power – this is more or less confirmed in The Elder Scrolls Legends when Durcorach’s soul is encountered in the Deadlands. However, by 2E 536, the Tagh Droiloch had withdrawn entirely from public affairs and seemingly disappeared. Longhouse Emperor Leovic, grandson of Durcorach, crowned between 2E 560 and 564, was known as the “Scion of Tagh Droiloch” despite his advisory Witchmen clan being the Icereach Coven. Leovic was the first to order the creation of a Guide to the Empire – The Emperor’s Guide to Tamriel.


10884615456?profile=RESIZE_710x(the Deadlands and the Four Damnations, the principles of the Tagh Droiloch) 


In 2E 577, Leovic was overthrown by his former ally, the Duke of Chorrol, and marked the end of the Longhouse Emperors.


10884615862?profile=RESIZE_710x(Kurog gro-Bagrakh, King of New Orsinium) 














Following the Soulburst of 2E 579, several of the Witchmen Covens allied themselves with the Worm Cult and became powerful enough to launch attacks on the Ebonheart Pact, even attacking as far at the Rift and Glenumbra. One of these covens in particular, the Winterborn, laid siege to Wrothgar, fighting the orcs for control of the region after King Kurog gro-Bagrakh re-established Orsinium. During a final battle at Frostpeak Fortress, the last Winterborn Warlord, Urfon Ice-Heart, was slain.







                                                                                                                                                                                                (General Mercedene, an early Winterborn Warlord)







Some two or three centuries later, during the 9th century of the 2nd Era, some men of the Reach allied with the Second Aldmeri Dominion. Though their people had remained largely independent – not counting their frequent clashes with the Nords – the arrival of Tiber Septim towards the end of the 2nd Era changed that. In 852, Cuhlecain, king of the Colovian Estates, and his favorite general – Hjalti Early-Beard – successfully breached the front lines of the Reachmen, who fled into the fortress of Old Hrol’dan. The next day, Hjalti Early-Beard marched on the gates himself, protected by the winds created by a storm that seemed to be following the general. Reports say the walls of the ancient fortress were shouted down by the Nordic art of the Thu’um, after which the combined might of the Colovian military and the Nord berserkers smashed through the city and took it with ease. It didn’t take long for Markarth and the Reach to become occupied by Nords. To keep up appearance, Imperial propaganda marked the Reachmen as rebellious and lawless mongrels. In fact, the 1st Edition of the Pocket Guide to the Emperor was the first official document to label the Reachmen as “the Witchmen of High Rock”.



(a Briarheart Tree at Frostpeak Fortress)


It wouldn’t be until over five hundred years later when the Reachmen, now known as the Witchmen, would manage a successful uprising. In 4E 174, during the Great War, the Empire lost the excess resources to maintain the outer provinces and a group of Witchmen, led by Madanach, stormed the Reach and establishing an independent kingdom in Markarth. According to Arrianus Arius – an Imperial scholar who dubbed Ulfric Stormcloak the “Bear of Markarth” and stated his actions in Markarth were nothing short of war crimes – the kingdom was ran peacefully, for the most part. Only a few of the harshest Nord landowners were executed. It seemed the Reachmen intended to try to coexist with the Nords. Two years went by and their experiment with independence was largely successful, leading Madanach to reach out to the Empire to become an officially recognized independent kingdom.


10884616664?profile=RESIZE_710x(Ruins of Old Hrol'dan) 


With no available Imperial legions, a desperate and deposed former Jarl Hrolfdir enlisted the assistance of a group of militia led by Ulfric Stormcloak to help him retake Markarth. In 4E 176, Ulfric and his men marched into Markarth, put down the Reachmen, and took back the city for the Empire. The surviving Reachmen fled into the valleys of the Reach and became known as the Forsworn.



(early concept art of the Understone Keep)


As the years went by, the Reachmen, once a divided but proud people, devolved into little more than scattered bandit clans. Often employing guerilla tactics, they would raid caravans, harass travelers, and even launch attacks on small settlements in the Reach. In truth, each sect of Forsworn was allied with the others, like a large terrorist cell, led by a Hagraven matron or a Briarheart warrior – sometimes even both. The Forsworn efforts to retake the Reach made it increasingly difficult for the Reachmen not allied with the Forsworn to live peacefully. Native landowners were under duress from both the Nords and the Forsworn, each thinking they were allied with the other. Many Reachmen came to lament that their friends and loved ones were dying fighting for lost causes.



(the Druadach Moutains and the Valleys of the Reach) 


Even unto the arrival of the Last Dragonborn in 4th Era 201, despite Madanach’s defeat, it seems the King in Rags still lives, as the Forsworn presence has not diminished and they still seem to be unified, despite the supposed death of their king. In spite of their vast differences, Madanach actually has something in common with another famous ruler within the Elder Scrolls: Indoril Nerevar. Just as Nerevar was the first to unite the houses of Morrowind, Madanach was the first – and, thus far, only – to unite the scattered camps of the Reachmen.



(Madanach, the King in Rags, in Cidhna Mine)


I, for one, hope to get more about the Reach and the Forsworn in a future title, though I do not think there is enough to put into a standalone. Either way, the history surrounding the men of the Reach is fascinating and extends even further than most of the peoples of 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.


  • This was a great read, Fimvul!

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