I know what you must be thinking, Morthal’s a dirty, swamp-infested burg with little to see other than brackish water, mist, and sullen-faced citizens. You, my friend, would be sorely mistaken. I, Quaestus Scientio, know that there is more to Morthal (dismissively named the ‘Midden of Skyrim’ by more ignorant travel writers like that hack, Selena Aurelia) than meets the eye, a secret history even some of its residents have forgotten.
Selena has made her name besmirching the reputations of the various towns and cities of Tamriel with her confusingly popular book: ‘A Complete and Faithful Guide to Tamriel’s Towns and Cities.’ I have read this book, and a more biased and air-headed work you shall not find. Why, she neglects to even mention famous sites like Labyrinthian (the impressive architectural wonder in the North of Skyrim known to the Ancient Nords as Bromjunaar and known as the centre for the Dragon Cult) and yet favours the tiny settlement of Golden Mound, a ramshackle town made famous by its proximity to the legendary Sancre Tor. Selene is a Remanite through and through, and so spends the majority of her work praising anything that Reman even so much as breathed upon. Naturally, she favours the site of Sancre Tor above all other structures and devotes a very lengthy chapter of her book to discussing the Reman legend (which from her writing it is clear she believes without question) and she swallows the propaganda with gusto.
Selena would have you think that anything other than Cyrodiilic towns and cities should be ignored. I aim to prove that the provinces each have their own unique flair. In fact, if not for a certain Redguard sailor named Harim Ra’am No Lo’igra, I would not have known to investigate Skyrim and its wonders. Back in the Heartland we’re taught that the Northern province is a chilled and desolate wasteland, populated by brutes and barbarians, hell, we can’t even get on with the Nords and Imperials of Bruma so why would an Imperial ever travel to Skyrim? The answer? Adventure.
Now when you first approach Morthal you see just a swamp with stilted huts and mist clings to every inch of the landscape whilst imposing mountains loom above. Once you get past the landscape, you’ll find that the denizens of the town are a cryptic and reserved bunch that don’t interact with strangers often. I stayed at the local inn and spoke to some of the patrons who told me that fell sounds came from the swamps and that there was a barrow deep in the marshes where necromancers were rumoured to gather to practice their black arts under the night’s caliginous cloak. The locals told me that the mountains were also a place few of them dared to tread for fear of mysterious beasts which had been known to rip apart anything that strayed into their lairs. An old man I questioned told me a tale of Morihaus, the consort to Empress Alessia and the son of Kynareth, and how his progeny had once ruled the Empire until they were driven off into the wilds by the Alessian Order. I could not understand how his tale had any relevance to Morthal until he explained that the town was named in Morihaus’ honour. I plied the old man with some mead and he went on to explain that the mountains around Morthal were inhabited by Morihaus’ children.
Driven out of Cyrodiil, some of the Minotaurs fled across the Jerral mountains and into Skyrim, seeking refuge in the more temperate south of the province. Yet, when the Alessian pogroms made their way to Skyrim, the settled minotaurs had been forced to flee further north and some passed through Morthal (then known by another name) and helped to quarry stones and lift heavy blocks. In return, the locals allowed the minotaurs to live in the town and construct their own dwellings. These dwellings were made of gargantuan blocks of stone taken from the quarry and dwarfed the locals’ homes. For a time there was peace as the residents and the minotaurs helped each other in daily life. Those who did not quarry stone would lend their hands to all manner of tasks, including fetching materials for the blacksmith’s forge. Why, it was even said that one of the minotaurs had become apprenticed to the blacksmith and was learning the trade himself. Grateful for the minotaurs’ aid and company, the townsfolk had decided to rename the town in honour of the minotaurs’ sire, Morihaus Breath of Kyne. But peace is seldom long-lasting, and one day the locals found the Alessians outside their town, demanding that the minotaurs be surrendered to them.
When the locals refused to give over their allies the Alessian’s battlemages set to work with spellfire and set the marsh aflame, swallowing homes in a great conflagration. Seeing their friends being put to flight, the minotaurs left their dwellings and made ready for war, charging at the Alessian horde and turning into pulp those unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of their strength. With the warriors dead, the mages in a panic sent bolts of energy into the assembled throng, forcing the minotaurs to flee with their women and children far into the mountains, and that is where they stayed. Not long after, the locals banded together and a few old-timers who had been tongues drove back the Alessians with their voices, roaring challenges and turning the marsh’s creatures against their enemies. Some say that Kyne herself came down and smote the Alessians, but all can agree that the tongues won the day, causing the damaged remnant of the horde to flee south for their lives.
After the Alessians fled the field, the locals began to rebuild but no man or woman was brave enough to climb into the mountains to let the minotaurs know that they could return. In fact, the town was said to have taken a vote and almost all agreed that the minotaurs would be safer living away from men. But one young girl (a tongue-in-training named Ilisja) felt sorry for the minotaurs and decided to go in search of them. She left her home and her family amidst tears and cries for her to see sense, and proceeded far into the mountains, her only companion a small, white fox whom she’d befriended one cold winter. And that is all the old man told me for the story does not say if she found them or not.
If Ilisja had found them, perhaps she had chosen to live amongst them rather than return to her village. I was determined to find the settlement, and so I set off the next day with only my wits and a hireling named Skirnir Frozen-beard, aptly named because his long brown beard seemed to have icicles clinging to it. We trekked far into the mountains until the town of Morthal looked nothing more than an indistinct blur in the distance. Twice we were set upon by wolves but Skirnir caved in their skulls with his mace while he absorbed their attacks with his shield. We made camp during the midday and chewed on some hard bread and cheese and washed it down with some mead. After our meal, we set off only to be ambushed by a troll. It charged toward us and Skirnir bashed it with his mace but to no avail. Each blow that landed seemed to have healed the next time it charged, so Skirnir swung his mace at the creature’s leg and broke it, forcing the leg to heal in a broken form and keeping the troll down on the ground. But it wouldn’t be long until the troll snapped its leg back into place. I remembered something about fire being deadly to trolls, so I lit one of the torches from by backpack and gave it to Skirnir, he smashed his mace into the creature’s chest and quickly held the torch against the wound until the troll caught fire completely. When he was finished, the troll had been reduced to a blackened and charred corpse.
After all that slaughter we needed to take a rest to gather our nerves and then pressed onward until we came to a cleft in the rocks that opened into a wide valley-like plateau. Inside the valley we could see hundreds of gigantic stone houses (palatial compared to the hovels down in the village) all covered in brightly coloured swirls of paint. We crept along until we were spotted by a large horned creature wearing ringed mail and brandishing a warhammer in its right hand. As it stepped out of the shadows I could see that it was a minotaur! We had found them at last! I ordered Skirnir to lay down his weapon, fearing that any arms we carried might be taken as a declaration of battle. So there we were, on our knees weaponless whilst a minotaur guard towered over us glowering. I heard a commotion and a young woman appeared from one of the stone houses, she looked to be in her 20s and strode gracefully towards us as her long blonde hair fanned behind her as she marched with a snow-white fox by her side. I knew instantly who this must be but dared not say the name for fear of riling our guard. She approached us and said something in a strange language to the minotaur guard, he grunted and stepped away, walking back down to the stone village.
The woman opened her mouth as if to speak but instead she inhaled and drew in a passing cloud which she exhaled as a long thin chain. She gave orders and more minotaurs appeared and bound us tightly with this cloud-rope. When she was sure that we were no longer a threat, she spoke (this time in Cyrodiilic) and told us that she was Ilisja of the Broken Horn Tribe and these were her people. She questioned us and our intentions, and so I explained that I was merely a traveller who had become interested in a story and had wanted to see if there was any truth to it. She laughed and inhaled, speaking in a strange but powerful tongue, and the chains fell from us and evaporated. I asked how she could be the same Ilisja from 400 or so years ago and she told me that: “Mother Kyne had bid her protect her grandchildren and that neither age nor death would halt her (Ilisja) in her mission.” Ilisja explained that she had always been fond of the minotaurs and when they had fled she had chosen to go with them, and on her ascent up the mountain was when her fox had spoken to her in the name of Shor (the chief of the Nord gods) and commanded that she find the minotaurs and protect them in the name of Mother Kyne, Stormborn goddess of the Nords. This she had done and in return a great hawk had come down from the sky and had blessed her with eternal life and knowledge of the speech of dragons.
Ilisja had begun to teach the minotaurs the dragon language and some of their number were so powerful in the voice that they and their children needed to be gagged at all times lest they shout the mountains apart. Satisfied that the minotaurs would be safe in their mountain dwellings, Ilisja had shouted a spell of concealment which would last as long as the minotaurs stayed in their village, but children are not so easy to control and a few youths would sneak out to explore and occasionally be forced to fend off attacking humans who glimpsed them playing. Not knowing their own strength and the strength of their voices, the children would often end up ripping men apart. It was not their fault she said, the men had attacked what they didn’t understand and so the children defended themselves the only way they knew. Satisfied that we were no threat, Ilisja ordered her guards to escort us to the valley entrance and when we left, she shouted a cloak of fog and energy over the whole place so that no one would ever find the valley again. That is why I will not tell you, dear readers, exactly where the minotaurs dwell, for fear that they might be attacked by ignorant bigots, besides I don’t imagine anyone would be able to find the place if they tried.
Weighed down by this knowledge, I trudged down the mountain pass back to Morthal. As Skirnir and I reached the town we looked at each other and knew that we would never see the minotaur village again no matter how hard we might try and search for it. I deposited a weighty purse of drakes into his hands and bade farewell to my travelling companion, and then I turned my back to Morthal and made for Cyrodiil, a myriad adventures in new lands swimming before my eyes.