Elder Scrolls Lore Series: Ch.4 – The Dark Brotherhood of Skyrim, Oblivion, Morrowind

Watch at your own risk, because it’s time to explore the most secretive “guild” to ever plague Tamriel. The Dark Brotherhood has a history that is as checkered as the assassins who call themselves members of the Family. Instead of drowning you in rumor this installment of the Lore Series will stay grounded with what the Dark Brotherhood teaches in their own organization. Yes, I left out all implications of the Brotherhood originating in the Morag Tong, and that’s because the guild themselves doesn’t acknowledge it. Yes,  I talk about Sithis and leave out Anu. Why? Because I think Anu is boring and I’d rather spend the time talking more about Sithis. My series- miiine 😉

– Script –

“Have you not heard of the Dark Brotherhood? Of the remorseless guild of paid assassins and homicidal cutthroats? Join us and you’ll find the Dark Brotherhood all that and so much more. We are more than anything a union of like minded individuals.”

– Lucien Lachance, Speaker

To understand the history of this ancient order, dear brother you have to understand how this cult of assassins came about.  The Dark Brotherhood has been mixing murder with business for centuries, bringing a swift death to even the mightiest of Emperors. The story of their origins, however, starts much earlier.  In fact, to understand their story you have to go back to before the beginning. Back to a time before Men and Elves bloodied Tamriel with their wars.  Before Daedra ignited chaos. Before Aedra assisted in the creation of our planet. For before there was time and space… there was The Void.

Simply put, “The Void” is a cosmic realm of utter nothingness. This- is the domain of Sithis. In Dark Brotherhood lore, Sithis and the Void were present before all things.

Sithis

“Who is Sithis, you ask? Some call him the Dread Father. It was his terrible love that gave birth to the Dark Brotherhood, so very long ago.”

– Teinaava, Shadowscale 3E

Know this, Sithis is neither Aedra nor Daedra. According to ancient writings, Sithis predates the creation of both groups. Because of this, the Dark Brotherhood worships Sithis as “The One True God”; the one who existed before all others. It was in fact his chaotic nature that caused the reaction that led to the birth of the Daedra and Aedra- who later created Mundus, and in turn Tamriel. Sithis was the spark that ignited creation.

The Dark Brotherhood often depicts Sithis as a skeleton, due to his association with death. However, some say he is as formless as the void he represents. Sithis is considered the embodiment of everything evil, but at the same time, he is described as being nothing at all: a void. Sithis is appeased through death and other acts of suffering and strife. He brought about our existence after all, and what is existence if not a conduit for suffering? Living each day for survival.

The Dark Brotherhood may call him Father, but Sithis is a Father not many would keep. Even so, Sithis is revered in the Brotherhood, and accredited for bringing the cult of assassins into existence through his prophet, The Night Mother.

The Night Mother

“The Night Mother is the Dark Brotherhood’s Unholy Matron. She guides our actions, just as the Dread Father Sithis once guided hers.”

– Teinaava, Shadowscale 3E

Dark Brother Chain of Command Charted

According to Dark Brotherhood legend, Sithis visited a Dark Elf woman in her bedchamber, and begat her five children. Two years passed as the children grew older. Until one night, The Dark Elf woman heard the voice of Sithis.  Sithis wished to be reunited with his children, but he needed her help. That night she murdered her children, and sent their souls straight to the Void. Straight to their father.

When they learned about what the Dark Elf woman had done, the people of the village rallied against the woman. For such an act was considered incomprehensible. In one night of vengeance, they descended upon the woman, killing her, and burning down the house in which the atrocity took place. And that was the end of the story. Or so everyone thought.

A little more than thirty years later, a man heard a strange, comforting voice inside his head, just as the Dark Elf woman claimed to hear the voice of Sithis inside hers. The voice identified herself as the Night Mother, and named the man “Listener” – the first of many.

“The Night Mother speaks to only one member of the Dark Brotherhood — the Listener of the Black Hand. And when Our Lady speaks, death follows.”

Vicente Valtieri, Dark Brotherhood 3E

All across the Empire, every day, people pray to the Night Mother, and through the power of Sithis, the Night Mother hears their prayers for murder.  Eager to send souls to Sithis, the Night Mother speaks to her chosen one, the Listener.

The Black Hand

“The Black Hand is the ruling body of the Dark Brotherhood. It is made up of one Listener and Four Speakers. Four fingers and a thumb, if you will.”

– Lucien Lachance, Speaker

Elder Scrolls Black Hand Art

The position of Listener is the highest rank a Dark Brotherhood assassin could hope to achieve. The Listener is the only member of the Brotherhood who can hear the voice of the Night Mother, who speaks for Sithis, so being chosen as Listener is a sacred honor. Aside from communing with the Night Mother, the Listener also leads the Black Hand. The Black Hand is the ruling body of the Dark Brotherhood. It is made up of one Listener and Four Speakers. Four fingers and a thumb, if you will.

Unlike other lesser organizations like the Morag Tong, the Dark Brotherhood’s assassins seem to be everywhere at once, and this is attributed to the Speakers of the Black Hand. Each Speaker operates her own Dark Brotherhood sanctuary. Sanctuaries are the Dark Brotherhood safe houses scattered throughout Tamriel. Here members of the guild find rest in between manhunts. While in a sanctuary members of the Dark Brotherhood train in the arts of stealth and assassination, often exchanging fighting techniques.  Since the sanctuary is run by a Speaker, who is in direct communication with the Listener, this is also the place where members pick up assassination contracts. Once a citizen of Tamriel has been marked by the Dark Brotherhood, there is nowhere left to hide. The Dark Brotherhood will send as many assassins as it takes until the contract is carried out, and the soul of their victim is sent screaming to the Void.

And thusly, we arrive at the life blood of the Dark Brotherhood- the murders and cutthroats.  Despite the fact that the Dark Brotherhood operates more like a cult than an actual guild- it’s lower ranking members must still follow a very strict set of rules. Rules handed down by the Night Mother herself to keep her children safe- the Five Tenets.

The Five Tenets

“As a member of the Dark Brotherhood, you must abide by the Five Tenets. They are the laws that guide and protect us. The Five Tenets are as follows…”

Dark Brotherhood Five Tenets

“Tenet 1: Never dishonor the Night Mother. To do so is to invoke the Wrath of Sithis.”

“Tenet 2: Never betray the Dark Brotherhood or its secrets. To do so is to invoke the Wrath of Sithis.”

“Tenet 3: Never disobey or refuse to carry out an order from a Dark Brotherhood superior. To do so is to invoke the Wrath of Sithis.”

“Tenet 4: Never steal the possessions of a Dark Brother or Dark Sister. To do so is to invoke the Wrath of Sithis.”

“Tenet 5: Never kill a Dark Brother or Dark Sister. To do so is to invoke the Wrath of Sithis.”

– Lucien Lachance, Speaker

Do to it’s core business the Dark Brotherhood tends to attract people of a very… eccentric nature, so by having a clearly defined list of rules that were strictly and brutally enforced served the guild quite well, and by the fall of the Second Empire, the Dark Brotherhood’s power was so great- they were ready to slay an Emperor.

A Brief History

They had already been operating in the shadows for centuries, and now the Dark Brotherhood was ready to show Tamriel just far their Black Hand could reach. They did this by ripping out the heart of Tamriel itself. In the 3rd Era, year 41, Tiber Septim’s heir, Pelagius 1, was assassinated while praying to Akatosh in the Temple of the One.  The Dark Brotherhood left their calling card, and that day the whole of Tamriel learned to fear what they believed to be the most powerful guild to ever plague Mundus.  Anyone can kill, but to kill an Emperor, who is anointed by Akatosh himself- that is the work of gods and demons.

After the assassination of Pelagius 1, the Dark Brotherhood’s influence grew drastically, especially in the regions of High Rock and Hammerfell where they had a safehouse in almost every town and city.

By commanding fear, the Void would swell with souls as the Dark Brotherhood carried out countless assassinations for almost 400 years. Trouble would emerge from the inside of this shadowy organization when a vampire member named Greywyn claimed to hear the voice of Sithis. Greywyn began a crusade against the Dark Brotherhood, purging it of all non-vampire members. You see, vampires have always made up a sizable portion of the Dark Brotherhood. There dark gifts of agility make them particularly suitable for stalking prey. Greywyn saw himself as the purest of life-takers, so he started an organization out of the Dark Brotherhood and coined it the Crimson Scars. His attempt at reformation failed when a member of the Crimson Scars betrayed him to the Black Hand, who swiftly retaliated and murdered the Crimson Scars The ultimate fate of Greywyn and his supposed sanctuary remains unknown to this day.

Skyrim Black Sacrament

After recovering from the Crimson Scars the Dark Brotherhood believed they were ready to take on the only people dangerous enough to call rivals, the Morag Tong.  By attempting to gain a foothold in Vvardenfell the Brotherhood were encroaching on territory long serviced by the Morag Tong, an assassins guild even older than the Brotherhood.  Their aggressive expansion was repelled fiercely by the Tong, effectively pushing the Dark Brotherhood back out of Vvardenfell. The Dark Brotherhood didn’t go quietly however, before their retreat they promptly assassinated the leader of the Morag Tong. Although the rest of Tamriel was theirs for the taking, Vvardenfell belonged to the Morag Tong.

The Dark Brotherhood will go on to encounter many more threats.  At the closing of the third Era they will near extinction when they are infiltrated by an assassin of assassins, who managed to murder even the members of the Black Hand. The Dark Brotherhood recovered, but only to be thrown into chaos again when the Great War ravaged their sanctuaries. However, they are never pulled out from the root, and like a weed the Dark Brotherhood always manages a comeback. Dear brother, only Sithis really knows what is in store for his cult of misfits, but this one suspects that evil always finds a way.

Tamriel prays and the Void answers. Sithis indirectly brought the denizens of Tamriel into existence, does he not have the right to take us out again? Even if that means death at the hands of a Dark Brotherhood assassin? Most civilized cultures actively disregard Sithis and his Dark Brotherhood… most cultures… not all…


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