Every Province of Tamriel has its secret histories, but no land in the Empire is as undocumented and unexplored as Black Marsh, and no race is as misunderstood as the Argonians.
Who makes more dangerous assassins? Dark Elves or Argonians?
– Script –
Every Province of Tamriel has its secret histories, but no land in the Empire is as undocumented and unexplored as Black Marsh. Bordering Morrowind to the north and Cyrodiil to the west- Black Marsh, also known as Argonia, is one of the most inhospitable locations in Tamriel. The water soaked landscape gives way to dense swampland which is teeming with flesh-eating insects, poisonous plants, and disease. It has been called the Garbage Heap of Tamriel, to where everything rotten and despoiled eventually flows; but, for those resilient enough to live there, there is a dangerously alluring beauty to be found within it’s borders.
The original natives of Black Marsh, and maybe even Tamriel, are as mysterious as the province itself. That’s because these ancient natives are a species of sentient trees that grow in the heart of Argonia. The Hist. The Argonians will tell you that the Hist are more ancient than all the mortal races. Older than the oppressive Elves, and surely older than the hot-headed races of Men. The Hist have existed since time immemorial, and their connection with the Argonians runs deeper than any root.
Little is known and even less is understood about the reptilian denizens of Black Marsh. Years of defending their borders have made the Argonians experts in guerilla warfare, and their natural abilities make them equally at home in water as on land. They are well-suited for the treacherous swamps of their homeland, and have developed natural immunities to the diseases and poisons that have doomed many would-be explorers into the region. They are, in general, a reserved people, slow to trust and hard to know. Yet, they are fiercely loyal, and will fight to the death for those they have named- friend.
While Argonians appear reptilian in nature at first glance, they also exhibit qualities of fish and amphibians: they are able to breathe underwater through small gills behind their ears, and swim using the same method as that of a tadpole or eel by moving their tail side-to-side to propel through the water.
Argonian appearance ranges from reptilian to almost human; this is caused by the Hist sap they ingest as hatchlings which ceremonially takes place on their Naming Day.
Religion and Government
Speaking of ceremony, the Argonians rever the Hist with an almost religious vigor. When the sap of a Hist is consumed the tree is capable of communicating with the Argonian through visions, but beyond that it also rewards Argonian guerrilla fighters with heightened combat prowess. When defending their homeland the Argonians depend on the Hist, and the Hist depend on them in turn. The relationship between tree and humanoid does not stop there. The Argonians apparently believe that the Hist have given them their souls, and when they die, their souls are returned to the Hist to be reincarnated as a new Argonian. Because of their relationship, it is understable why the Argonians are so protective of the Hist. They not only depend on the Hist in this life, but also the next.
While we are on the topic of life and death, it is important to note that the Hist acknowledge Sithis as their master. Any Argonian that hatches under the sign of the Shadow is offered up to Sithis. He is given the title of Shadowscale, and lives his life in service of the Dark Brotherhood, and to the Royal Court of Argonia. As a matter of fact, the Royal Court of Argonia depends heavily on their Shadowscale assassins- to lawfully enforce justice.
A Brief History
The history of the Argonian people is dark and shrouded in many mysteries. Before the interfering races of Men and Mer, the Argonians were isolationists. Almost nothing is known about their activities until well into the First Era, when Black Marsh had the misfortune of attracting pirates who wished to use the coasts of Argonia as a base to attack rich merchant groups in eastern Cyrodiil. At the time the rulers of the White Gold Tower were the Imperials of the First Empire, former human slaves of the Heartland High Elves. In response to the pirate raids being launched from the coasts, the Imperials invaded Black Marsh to put a stop to the illegal activity- simple enough, but what they weren’t counting on were the highly organized Argonians who undermined their efforts at every turn. Although the Imperials meant the Argonians no harm, the Argonian people regarded all outsiders as hostile invaders. It’s hard to blame to them considering the only humans the Argonians had encountered up to this point, were the pirates who had tried killing them. Clearly the Imperials felt unwelcomed in Black Marsh, and as quickly as they came, they departed.
The Argonian race will not be brought into the Imperial fold until a year after their defeat in the Battle of Argonia, which took place a century later. Even with an Imperial yoke, Black Marsh proved too wild to tame, and the Empire was only able to govern the outskirts of the swampland. It was considered suicide, even for the Empire, to try and penetrate Argonia’s harsh interior. Imperial occupation in parts of Black Marsh went on for centuries… until a mysterious and lethal flu broke out which killed virtually every non-reptilian race in Black Marsh. In the blink of an eye, the Argonians and the Hist had Black Marsh to themselves once again. The true origin of the disease remains a mystery to this day…
After the pandemic the Argonians enjoyed the peace of isolation, but it was short lived. When the Daedric Prince, Molag Bal sought to make Tamriel burn in the Second Era, even the reserved Argonians were forced to lend their swords in the fight for Tamriel’s survival. In an effort to avert the crisis the Argonians reluctantly pledged their blades to the Ebonheart Pact, where they used their natural abilities to serve as scouts and skirmishers.
After the crisis most Argonians were glad to live life alone in their swamps again. Silly Argonians- they should have learned by now that in Tamriel, a life without interference is a pipedream at best. A few short centuries later, at the dawn of the 3rd Era, a man by the name of Tiber Septim came riding in with his Imperial Legions, ushering in his Empire. And if there is anything we know about Empires, it’s that membership is not optional.
Saying Tiber Septim conquered Black Marsh is a bit of an overstatement; he gained control over the borders and major cities along the coast, but Tiber Septim was a wise military strategist. He knew what it would mean to face the Argonians in the heart of their homeland. Even as the Dragonborn, with an army at his back, facing the Argonians would mean certain death, so rather Tiber Septim decided to avoid the inner swamps altogether, and thus he met with little resistance from the Argonians.
I suspect that the Argonians and the Hist knew the humans races pretty well at this point. After all, they had fought alongside the Nords in the Pact. As long as Men controlled the outer rims of Black Marsh, their people were left alone. Besides, the Argonians had a much bigger problem on the horizon. The treacherous Dark Elves.
Having served with the Dark Elves side by side as comrades of the Ebonheart Pact centuries earlier you would think tensions between the two races would be minimal. Unfortunately for the Argonians, the very traits that enabled them to survive so well in the swamps of their homelands also made them ideal slaves for hard labor in regions of Morrowind. After spilling blood together, some Houses of Morrowind still managed to justify the enslavement of entire tribes of Argonians. Though enslaving any civilized race is illegal in the rest of the Empire, the Dark Elves of Morrowind had practiced it for centuries, despite the disgust and frustration of many people throughout Tamriel. In time, the Argonians will seek their revenge on their elven masters. But that dear viewer, is a story for another day…