They are described as either savage berserkers swarming over the hills of the Reach with war cries on their lips, or unseen anarchists plotting terror in secret and striking from the shadows. But what is actually known of the group of insurgents known as the Forsworn? Who are they? Where have they come from? What do they want? And how have they grown from a scattering of defeated rebels to the highly organized group of radicals they are today?
Millennia ago, in a part of the Reach known then as the Sundered Hills, there was a child born who prophecy said would be a warrior without measure and a great ruler of men. He was named Faolan; meaning Red Eagle, after the redness of the hills of the Reach in autumn, and the bird of prey whose scream could be heard when he was born.
The prophecy came to pass, and Faolan grew to be a great leader who united what were at the time the ten Kings of the Reach. Under the banner of the Red Eagle, Faolan came to be known far and wide for his courage and ferocity in battle.
For a time, all was well, until Empress Hestra of Cyrodil invaded the Reach in the name of the Alessian Empire of Men; and one by one the Kings of the Reach knelt in submission…or were butchered, along with all those who stood with them. When his time came Faolan himself would not yield. The elders of his kingdom, having seen the fate of those who had failed to surrender, weren’t so brave. So great was their fear of the Empress’ military strength that they turned on Faolan, and cast him out, swearing loyalty to Hestra and to the Empire.
Still the Red Eagle would not surrender, and over the years he gathered Reachmen who would fight Hestra and her legions with stealth and cunning. Yet for all the blows he struck against the Empire’s forces, more would emerge to do battle. He fought with all he had, and when he had no more left to give, he cut out his own heart from his chest and offered it to a Hagraven as a sacrifice in return for the power to slay his enemies. As a result, Faolan became a spirit of vengeance and rained hell down on the Empire and her people.
Wielding a great, flaming sword he faced Hestra and her armies… and slew them all…
Over a thousand in a single day…
Ultimately the Red Eagle fell dead from his wounds, but not before giving his mighty sword to the people of the Reach along with a promise. When the Reach was free of all foreign invaders, he would arise and return to lead his people once again…
Time went on, and the Reachman lingered until the Great War of the Fourth Era. In the heat of the conflict between the Empire under Titus Mede and the Aldmeri Dominion, troops from all across the land were summoned to fight. This included most of the garrisons from the Reach, stationed in the nearest city of Markarth. For many centuries the native Bretons of High Rock had intermarried with the Nords of Skyrim and had in time created a unique bloodline and culture with elements based on both Nord and Breton principles yet truly belonging to neither. There had been many disputes throughout the years over the lucrative gold and silver mines in the area known as the Reach, and this hybrid race of Reachmen had grown to hate the Nords. They considered them to be invaders; stealing resources rightfully owned by the “true sons and daughters of the Reach” and were committed to purging the area of all but themselves, even as they had millennia ago, under the banner of the Red Eagle.
With most of the Imperial Guards of Markarth diverted to battle with the forces of the Thalmor, the city of Markarth was taken easily by the fierce and brutal Reachmen who rebelled from within the city walls and were quickly joined by those from the surrounding areas. The Reachmen drove the Nords away and would hold the city for over two years, as the Great War played out and the Empire was unable to divert forces to deal with the uprising of the indigenous people.
Enter Ulfric Stormcloak- Nordic son of Skyrim, and a war hero besides. As newly appointed Jarl of Windhelm, he was asked to assist with the retaking of the city of Markarth by Jarl Igmund. Ulfric and a militia of fighting men, men who would soon be known as the Stormcloaks, sacked the city in a bloody, brutal assault that has come to be known as the infamous Markarth Incident. There was no quarter given, and any who were suspected of assisting in the initial rebellion were viciously slaughtered. There are some who say there were attempts at peace on the part of the Reachmen that were ignored by both Ulfric and Igmund both in favor of wholesale killing, but that is mostly hearsay, and generally accepted as unverified. The leader of the Reachmen, Madanach, was captured, but not executed in the belief he was worth more as a living hostage than as a dead martyr.
The surviving Reachmen were driven into the hills to be joined by other Bretons who had witnessed the massacre or lost loved ones. These Bretons bitterly decided to join the hillmen to take arms against the murderous invaders as their hero, Faolan the Red Eagle, had before them.
Once they had been banished from Markarth, the Forsworn took up residence in the hills again; at any location considered both hospitable and defendable.
The Forsworn are fiercely resolved to drive all occupiers from what they feel are their ancestral lands, and have become experts at guerilla warfare and surprise terrorist attacks designed to instill fear into the hearts of the Nords and non-Bretons. The Forsworn are sustained by a sort of religious fervor, and worship several Daedric entities known to them as Et’ada, or “Old Gods”, who scholars actually believe to be Azura and Hircine the Hunter. Higher level Forsworn have been rumored to sanctify themselves by offering their actual hearts to their revered hagravens in return for becoming a unstoppable destructive force as had first been done by Faolan. These arcane rituals are designed to turn ordinary Forsworn into the personification of vengeance or Briarhearts. The fearsome, partly undead creatures are either melee fighters or magic users, always male and always deadly.
In combat, the Forsworn are known for having an unmatched skill for dual wielding weapons such as short swords or war axes. Their archers are particularly deadly, as Forsworn bows are considered to be among the most powerful bows in the world for their size.
Organized into a collection of independent cells, the Forsworn are believed to have infiltrated the ranks of city dwellers by blending into society in dress and conduct, as opposed to their usual appearance of fur clad barbarians wielding weapons made of bone and animal skin, for the purpose of causing chaos and disarray from within. There are thought to be sleeper cells entrenched in every level of Markarth society awaiting orders or just an opportunity to strike. Because of the actions of the rebel Forsworn, there are many bounty hunters who make their living solely by tracking down Forsworn leaders and operatives, and bringing them to justice. The Silver-blood family has taken particular pains to root out the Forsworn and their operatives, since their allegiance lies firmly with Jarl Ulfric Stormcloak. It is believed by some that the Forsworn have retaliated by placing covert agents within Silver-blood businesses and domestic staff, waiting for an opportunity to decimate the Silver-blood clan from within.
The Forsworn continue to be a real and very present threat in the city of Markarth and its surrounding areas. The fact that they have seamlessly integrated themselves into the fabric of Markarth city life is a sinister indication that at some point another Markarth Incident could occur. While relatively small in number, their desire to see all non-Bretons driven from the Reach is fanatical and when combined with the powerful magicks and weapons they have at their disposal, enemies such as the Forsworn are a frighteningly potent danger. With increasingly bolder and deadlier attacks, they long for the day when all those not of the Reach are dead or exiled, so that Faolan, the fabled Red Eagle may once again return to lead his people to prosperity and greatness. Meanwhile, they strive to live in harmony with the land their ancestors have occupied for centuries untold. They hunt as their forefathers did, in the spirit of one of their primary deities, Hircine, whose feral nature resonates with the untamed essence of the Forsworn. The legend of the Daedric Prince Hircine is the story of the hunt, and of the savage beast that lies within the darkest depths of the souls of all men.
But that- is a story for another day…