In this chapter of the Elder Scrolls Lore Series we leave the Daedra and Aedra behind to explore what the mortals call “Guilds”. In the world of Tamriel guilds have a lot of influence and carry a lot of weight, even in politics. To understand Tamriel you must understand the organizations that effect it.
– Script –
We learned previously that the denizens of Tamriel are an ambitious and diverse people. However, our lives are not of our own making. Every breath we breathe and every step we take is a living testament to the Divine Aedra, who sacrificed much so that we might exist.
What do we do with their sacrifice? We plot a course for our future. Whether that entails living life for gold, flesh, or the greater good; us mortals quickly learned that if you want to achieve something in life you have to seek strength in numbers. If one has a goal, that goal is best reached on the shoulders of like-minded individuals, i.e. Guilds.
Guilds are professional organizations made up of members who share a specific skill set or vision. Dozens, if not hundreds of Guilds have been established throughout Tamriel’s history, but our focus will be on those guilds that have achieved lasting greatness. Guilds that not only have stood for centuries, but have extended their reach to every corner of Tamriel.
1. Never Steal from another member of the guild
2. Never kill anyone on the job
3. Do not steal from the poor
Whoever said “there is no honor amongst thieves” has never been awarded membership into the inconspicuous Thieves Guild. In truth, the guards and authorities of the land would have you believe that the Thieves Guild is a myth. After all, how can a group of ruffians assemble anything resembling the organization of a Guild. You would be surprised. Like any trade guild, the Thieves Guild is an organization of professionals, and in this case those professionals are burglars, bandits, pickpockets, smugglers, and fences. Although criminal by its very definition, at it’s best, the Thieves Guild is a highly organized group of- like-minded individuals. Those thieves with the disciple to follow the guilds simplistic founding principles reap the rewards of combined collaboration. When a thief is in need of quick coin, she goes to her guild for a contract. Say what you will, but the people of Tamriel are far from honest, because the Thieves Guild is never in need of work. There are valuables to be stolen, ledgers that need forging, pockets that need fishing, and doors that need picking. Indeed, in a world of politics and dirty business, the Thieves Guild keeps it’s coffers filled.
As previously stated the structure of the Guild is clear cut. Members of the Thieves Guild are able to rise through the ranks from lowly Pickpocket to Master Thief. Unlike most other guilds however, eligibility for advancement doesn’t depend on how well you stick out, on the contrary, advancement is rewarded for your ability to go unnoticed. Your reputation for subtlety will grant you higher rank, with higher rank comes risker contracts- and with risker contracts comes even greater reward. Don’t let their grimy exteriors fool you, the more talented Shadowfoots of the Thieves Guild are very very rich men and women.
“To this day, it is said that if you really want to know something, go ask the beggars. They have eyes and ears throughout the cities. They know all the little secrets of the daily lives of it’s citizens.” – Beggar Prince
The third rule of the thieves guild protects the peasants and beggars. It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement that has served the guild quite well. The guild and its guildmaster, the Gray Fox, protect the beggars and the poor from authority. In turn, the beggars become the eyes and ears of the guild. Beggars from all corners of Tamriel gather information and become spies for the Thieves Guild. A priceless artifact doesn’t move from one place to another without the Guild catching wind of it.
Despite the nature of their organization, the Thieves Guild has a good working relationship with the local authorities. The Guild knows the power of coin better than anyone, and their coin goes into the pockets of those government officials smart enough to look the other way.
In this manner things went well for the guild, that was until the 3rd Era when a man named Hieronymus Lex got promoted to Captain of the Watch in the guild’s most lucrative area, The Imperial City. Hieronymus Lex had a personal vendetta against the Thieves Guild and it’s leader the Gray Fox.
Hieronymus Lex attempted to capture members of the Thieves Guild, and his life’s ambition was to uncover the secret of the Gray Fox. After all, by wearing the Grey Cowl of Nocturnal, the man behind the cowl was a myth. Through skill and cunning, not through violence and assassination, the Thieves Guild eventually removed Hieronymus Lex from Captain of the Watch, and were able to operate freely once more.
Now unhindered, the Thieves Guild’s influence grew drastically in the centuries to follow. Hard times would come again during the 4th Era, this time in the form of bad luck.
Skyrim’s chapter of the Thieves Guild was arguably one of the most influential in the Nine Provinces. As a matter of fact, the Guild operates freely in Skyrim, and are left alone because of the pull they have in government. Not to mention, it’s rumored the Thieves Guild of Riften has a solid working relationship with the notorious Dark Brotherhood.
Despite their vast connections, as it turns out, the guild’s success in Skyrim was all thanks to their strong ties with the Night Mistress Herself. Thanks to Nocturnal’s blessing, the Thieves Guild of Riften benefited from the leadership of her famed Nightinggales. Their ties with the Daedric Prince ensured that the Thieves Guild of Riften was something special. It’s thieves were one with the shadows and experienced an uncanny amount of luck.
Hard times befall the Guild when Nocturnal’s artifact, the Skeleton Key, is stolen by a Nightingale who was sworn to protect it. As Nocturnal’s Blessing faded away, so did the guild treasury. The Thieves Guild quickly became, but a shadow of it’s former glory. That was- until the Nightingales corrected the wrong by slaying the renegade Nightinggale and returning the Skeleton Key to it’s rightful place in Nocturnal’s Realm of Oblivion, Ebonmere.
By restoring their favor with the Daedric forces that be, the Nightingales brought about a Golden Age for the Thieves Guild.
It’s a funny thing, no matter which part of history we look at, Nocturnal’s hand seems to be at work in the lives of those who make their living in the shadows, and thanks to her alliance with the Thieves Guild- the citizen of Tamriel lock their doors at night.
“The Fighters Guild is a brotherhood of warriors. We provide a service to Tamriel, lending steel and shield to those who need our help. Whether that means ridding a town of an invading menace or protecting a helpless mage, we’ll take the contract.”
-Vilena Donton, Guild Master 3E 433
The Fighters Guild is an organization chartered by the Emperor himself to regulate the hiring and training of mercenaries throughout the Empire’s territories. The guild was founded back in 2E 321, and since then it has been in the business of slaying trolls, eliminating bandit hideouts, safe delivery of goods, and escorting. When you’re in need of muscle and have the septimus to boot, the Fighters Guild gets the job done.
The Fighters Guild does not stand on ceremony, and rising through their ranks depends on whether you fulfil or default on a contract. The former will see you up the ladder to the esteemed rank of Champion. The latter will not only ensure you don’t get paid, but it will lose you rank. Default on too many contracts and you risk expulsion from the guild. After all, like any Guild, the Fighters Guild’s continued survival depends solely on it’s reputation for successfully fulfilling contracts.
The Guild has been known to suffer from corruption problems in the higher ranks, particularly in Morrowind. The Guild there performs private contracts, but sometimes deals with disreputable groups. Despite these flaws, the Morrowind Guild near the end of the Third Era succeeded in providing some of the only concrete evidence of the existence of the Thieves Guild.
In Cyrodiil the Fighters Guild thrived for centuries, that was until the time of the Oblivion Crisis when they were faced with strong competition from another mercenary guild known as the Blackwood Company. At this period in history, the mercenaries of the Blackwood Company were rumored to be the best Fighters in all the land. Their warriors, who fought with unfathomable strength, were comprised of mostly Khajiit and Argonians. Quickly losing their reputation the Fighters Guild found itself in need of contracts. A position you never want your guild to be in. So, the guild members took it upon themselves to launch investigations, trying to get the upper hand on their competitor.
By infiltrating the Blackwood Company with one of their own the Fighters Guild found something truly unexpected. The mercenaries in the Company were outstanding fighters, but it had little to do with their skill. In the basement of their headquarters the Blackwood Company was growing a Hist tree imported from Argonia. Sap from a Hist has powerful effects on the ones who drink it, including superhuman strength; however, for anyone who wasn’t an Argonian, Hist sap caused hallucinations often throwing the user into a bloodrage. While under the influence of the sap members of the Blackwood Company couldn’t tell friend from foe, and many innocent lives had been lost to this effect.
After the discovery, the Fighter Guild put a quick end to the injustice by destroying the Hist, effectively destroying the Blackwood Company in the process. Now the only business in town, the Guild’s influence grew, and to this day the Fighters Guild is a thriving organization of well-paid mercenaries.
“The idea of a collection of Mages, Sorcerers, and assorted Mystics pooling their resources and talents for the purpose of research and public charity was a revolutionary concept in the early years of the Second Era.”
– The Archmage Salarth
Dedicated to the study of the arcane, the Mages Guild was founded by the Empire to educate Tamriel’s gifted in the proper use of magicka. The Guild is led by an Arch-Mage who in turn is guided by his Council of Mages. Located in the heart of Tamriel itself, the Arcane University acts as the guild’s headquarters and center of learning.
Here, mages from across Tamriel would journey to safely learn how to harness magic. Schools of magic that are especially dangerous, such as conjuration, must be closely supervised by Master-Wizards.
There are seven arcane disciplines approved and taught by the Mages Guild:
– Mysticism is the school of manipulating magical forces and boundaries to bypass the structures and limitations of the physical world. The practice of Mysticism gives the caster access to spells like Telekinesis, Life Detection, and Soul Trapping for the use of soul gems.
– Restoration is the school of mending. Do to it’s generous nature, the school of Restoration is the most widely accepted school of magic the guild offers. The study of Restoration gives the caster the ability to use spells like Cure Disease, Healing, and Wards which absorb the blows of aggressors.
– Alteration is another school that involves manipulation of the physical world and its natural properties. Proficiency in Alteration is highly sought after, and it has everything to do with transmuting iron to silver, and silver to luctutive gold. It’s safe to say that he who masters the school of Alterations never wants for wine.
– Destruction is the school of- well, destroying things. Destruction spells harm living and undead creatures alike, and mages specializing in destruction usually serve in standing armies. Destruction spells usually involve melting the skin off the body of another living creature.
– Conjuration is the school of summoning. Since conjuration mostly involves the summoning of Daedra from the planes of Oblivion, mages practicing Conjuration are treated with great suspicion by most citizens of Tamriel; and this goes double for the Nords, who often treat conjurers with open hostility.
– The school of Illusion emcpasses spells that affects the minds of living things. Through changing the perceptions of their subjects, Master Illusions can hide in plain sight, bolster moral, or even calm the most hostile aggressors. Through the mastery of Illusion beggars become Kings and enemies become friends. As you’d imagine, manipulating the minds of Men and Mer is a highly sought after talent.
– The Alchemy discipline is the processing and refinement of ingredients and materials through arcane processes to elicit and preserve their subtle, hidden magical effects in alchemical potions. Selling potions to the sick and weary of Tamriel funds the Mages Guild and keeps them in good standing with the powers that be.
As written in numerous history books, the founder of the Mages Guild is Vanus Galerion. Before founding the Mage Guild; however, he was an apprentice to the Psijics in the Summerset Isles. Vanus Galerion, and another Altmer by the name of Mannimarco, were among the brightest Apprentices in this mysterious arcane order. However, they were two very different wizards. Mannimarco enjoyed practicing Necromancy, while Galerion despised the practice of stirring the restful dead. Furthermore, Mannimarco exceeded his grasp, by using magic for his personal gain.
During the 2nd Era Mannimarco forged a dark pact with the Tharn famil, resurrecting their fallen Imperial soldiers. Secretly, Mannimarco was conspiring with Molag Bal, the Daedric Prince of Domination, and by resurrecting the fallen soldiers, Mannimarco was supplying Molag Bal with an undead army. When the council of Psijics refused to intervene, Galerion decided to create an arcane guild of his own to face the evil ways of Mannimarco. The Mages Guild was formed.
Although Mannimarco would ultimately fail, he was never truly defeated. Centuries later Mannimarco would return to plague the Mages Guild in the 3rd Era as the King of Worms, and master of Necromancers. Here he would fail again in his endeavor to destroy the Guild.
Mannimarco wouldn’t be the one to bring about the Guild’s destruction. After the devastating effects of the Oblivion Crisis the citizens of Tamriel were desperately looking for someone to blame. Since the followers of Mehrunes Dagon were primarily magic-users, the public blamed mages everywhere for the catastrophe. Sadly, the Mages Guild would never recover from their battered reputation, and was thusly dissolved. Although the practice of magic didn’t cease in other corners of Tamriel, the gates of the Arcane University were closed.
Whether it’s a guild made up of lowly pickpockets or lofty sages; a guild lives and dies by it’s reputation.A organization needs work, whether that be through contracts or exchange of goods to fund itself and expand its influence. A Guild needs to be respected or feared, to survive. Preferably both.