Here are some musings and interpretations about The Western Reach, as depicted in ESO. I draw primarily on the two Pocket Guides, https://en.uesp.net/wiki/Lore:Pocket_Guide_to_the_Empire,_1st_Edition
, and the excellent info from the Improved Emperor's Guide (Northern Bangkorai) https://en.uesp.net/wiki/Lore:The_Improved_Emperor%27s_Guide_to_Tamriel
. but also on dialogue and events within the game. Please note that this post will contain speculation based on really old content, and thus might be considered spoilery!
What is the Western Reach?
While the Hinterlands of High Rock proper are described as bucolic, with gentle, rolling green hills and valleys, the Western Reach, at the furthest region of the province, sequestered away by the looming Wrothgarian Mountains, is described as temperate, but rugged; remote and wild, at the very Realm's End
In the south, the shallow, stony, unnavigable
source-waters of the Bjulsae River cascade down the rocky slopes of the Dragontails, Wrothgarians and Druadachs, and through valleys forested with the twisted, gnarley bows of the ancient Viridian Woods.
The Jehanna Road winds through these ancient woods, and up a high valley pass to the Merchant's Gate, which gives egress to the dramatic cliffs and sheer valley walls of the north. The Wrothgarian Mountains are said to define the western expanse of The Western Reach; depending on how you interpret the words of Forge Mother Alga, then, the slice of land between Western Skyrim and Wrothgar (below) can be considered the northern arm of the Western Reach (therefore forming one contiguous strip of land running north-south from Mournoth towards the Sea of Ghosts).
The lands now known as the Western Reach were settled early on, along with the rest of High Rock, variously by the earliest of the Atmorans or Nedes; or Aldmeri or Altmeri clans such as the illustrious Direnni. What is agreed upon, is that when the two peoples encountered each other, the Direnni dominated, then formed a ruling caste over the early mannish folk.
This region started to take on a political identity distinct from the rest of High Rock as early as the establishment of the First Empire, when expansionist Nords conquered it from the Elves, defining a new Nordic hold stretching from the Druadachs to the Bjulsae. Although we know nothing of the character of the lines of ancient Jarls who ruled this hold, we can imagine a fascinating glimpse of Nordic High Rock. From where was the Western Reach Hold ruled? Are there still Nordic barrows to be found deep below the earth? Nords were still building the ancient Nordic style tombs at least as late as 1E120 (for instance, the Gauldr and Olaf One-Eye tombs), so its still possible.
A new phase of history was laid down when the Direnni later reconquered the land with a vengeance, and they weren't mucking around this time: it is said that they fashioned the Western Reach into an impregnable bastion against the Nords, and so effective were their defences that this land is notable for being the longest enduring mainland stronghold of the Direnni clan.
In the early First Era, during the days when the Direnni Hegemony ruled High Rock, a series of watch towers was built along the border with the Reach and Skyrim. Today most of them are nothing more than crumbling ruins.
It is after the Alessian crusades that the Mannish begin to define the story of High Rock. While the generalised situation was of generations of interbreeding between Elves and Nedes giving rise to the Bretons, the routes to self-actualisation were drastically different. In the west, with their greater fecundity and faster lifecycle (relative to the Elves), the Bretons needed only wait. Exhausted by the militaristic exertions of the previous centuries, the Direnni power waned, and the Bretons simply shuffled sideways into the ruling spaces vacated by their former overlords. In the Western Reach, however, freedom was not gained with patience, but wrought in blood.
The whole span of The Reach persisted in this aggressive, but free state, despite the ambitions of a chain of would-be conquerors. This unruled, unpacified problem came to the attention of Emperor Reman, who some time after 1E 2704 split The Reach in half along the Druadachs, -defining the Western Reach in the political terms it is understood by today-, in order to defeat the possibility of centralisation, and possibly to facilitate piecemeal colonisation.
The People of the Western Reach
- It is said that the only true cities in High Rock are those situated along the Iliac Bay. The trade these cosmopolitan waters bring have provided wealth and prosperity, and its easy to imagine these circumstances have produced the so called high, aristocratic and sophisticated culture of its people. Conversely, those of the Western Reach, removed from such gentrifying circumstances may be a degree less refined:
Striding through the robustly unsubtle but impressive Evermore Palace... These buffoons, and servants of their ilk, had welcomed me to their city with a deference I certainly wasn't shown after leaving Sentinel. When presenting my letters of introduction and Writ of Transit to King Eamond, I found him friendly but soft of voice and timid of countenance - not at all the ruler of the wildlands I was expecting.
To an outsider, from Skyrim, say, or Hammerfell, these people are still distinctly Breton, perhaps: the royal bloodlines are tied tightly to those of the Iliac Bay (Queen Arzhela is the cousin of High King Emeric, for instance), and the distinction of an "Old Blood" population (more on this below) implies a more recent expansion (or intrusion) of "newer" Bretons from the Iliac. Yet the folk of the Western Reach are still a people of the Wilderlands. Parts of the Western Reach are so remote from their Iliac cousins as to be closer (at least, geographically, if not economically) to the cities of Skyrim. It is interesting to imagine how this manifests in the character of such people. While still distinctly Breton- with a natural gravitation towards social stratification, no farmer is also a warrior (such as in Skyrim)- one can imagine gritty knights with none of the ostentatious wealth of their western cousins, but hardened and wizened by many bloody battles against Nords, Orcs and Reachmen.
Whilst far more sparsely inhabited than the populous cities to the west, the the Bretons have established several population centres within the Western Reach. In the south, on the westernmost fringes of the Reach lies Evermore. Built from granite carved out of nearby Markarth, this might city serves as a bulwark against Orcs, Nords, Reachmen, and the Wild Raiders of Northern Hammerfell.
To the North, although we cannot explore it yet, we can surmise the existence of the city of Jehanna, due to the presence of not only the Jehanna Docks (in nearby Wrothgar), but a road that likewise bears its name running northwards, all the way from Evermore.
It is interesting to speculate about the nature of such a place, so uniquely isolated from the rest of High Rock. In fact, it would seem that the surrender of the entire region of Wrothgar to the Orcs by Emeric would have dramatically exacerbated this isolation. If such a line of imagination is followed through, we might imagine Emeric, described as wily amongst a race known for their intrigues and internecine strife, may have gained significant political power by not only making new friends, but stranding enemies. The nature of such an emnity can only be imagined: perhaps the rulers of Jehanna sided with Ranser during the Rebellion 20 years ago- being of The North, they might have felt a kinship with their cousins in Northpoint. Or perhaps the treasonous acts that have motivated Emeric are completely different.
Conversely, the city's position on the Sea of Ghosts maintains it some degree of connectivity, and, much as with other Breton cities to the south, it may thrive due to a bustling sea trade, providing rare commodities from Haafingar and the northern seas to markets in the south. Does its position on the High Bluffs above the frosty northern waters give it a dramatic aspect? Can we see a trace of its Nordic heritage in its architecture, or its people? Has it tall timeworn Direnni spires, or is it built from the elegant stonework salvaged from the ruins of ancient Snow Elf chanceries?
And finally, who rules it? As the capital of a Kingdom, we can presume it has a King or Queen. But, it is interesting to note that when the Western Reach was first cleaved from its twin to the east, it was placed under the jurisdiction of *Imperial* High Rock, a situation likely difficult to maintain. In the future, the Western Reach will be administered by Imperial Governors drawn from amongst the doughty Colovians. At least as late as the Longhouse Emperors, Markarth was ruled in such a way: Only with the overthrow of that controversial dynasty did Caddach trade governorship for despotism. Is it possible that along with a symbolic Breton ruler, Jehanna has a governor? If so, what does the current framework of power look like? With the fall of Imperial control over much of Tamriel, would such a governor still have any sort of power, or what role would she or he play in Jehanna? What relationship would they have with the natives they were established to rule? I like to imagine a sort of "historical real King Arthur" situation where the governor becomes a Bretonised figurehead around which others have rallied during dark times. Jehanna, the last city in The Reach still remains a mystery, but I dearly hope one day we get to visit it.The Old Blood
- In the Murcien's Hamlet objective quest, The Charge of Evermore, we are introduced to the notion that some minority of those who live in the Hamlet are descended from the native Reachfolk. Like Ainathach from Skyrim, they appear to be settled and more-or-less integrated into traditional Breton society. During the events of the quest, it becomes clear that Reachmen raiders will deliberately spare those with heritage, even while they cut down their non-blooded cousins.
The basis for this mercy is not explored- the villagers are settled, and live a sedentary village life, but we can surmise that those of the Reach have a sense that blood belongs, and outsiders don't. Likewise, it isn't made clear how widespread this Old Blood is throughout Mournoth: one can imagine that other places, such as Northglen and Kerbol's Hollow (which is so remote it is practically in The Reach) have a significant population of second or third-generation settled Reachfolk. Perhaps even in the population centres, such as Evermore and Jehanna, beneath the pomp and stone there is an Old-Blood minority- people who are, for all intents and purposes, thoroughly civilised Bretons, but still spit odd curses when they bump their toes or remember old gran's stories of root and stone.
Besides the quaint villages we can explore in Mournoth, others are known to exist: From older games, we see such enigmatic places as Raven Spring and Dunlain. Cloud Spring from Arena is referenced on a Crown Store pet (see below), and Azra's Crossing from Shadowkey may very well exist at this time, given the presence of the eponymous mage's book in a quest during Blackwood (as well as the presence of the related Star Teeth, mentioned during Crypt of Hearts). Could these villages and hamlets, populated by the people of the Country- The Old Blood- be found nestled in the hidden valleys or highland hill-top pastures of a future Western Reach zone?The Reachfolk
- Finally, we come to the people that possibly most define the Western Reach. While later content has allowed us to explore the perspectives of the natives of these lands, opportunities for doing so earlier on were limited. The idea that we might find a Reachfolk relatable was considered laughable:
Thus, the base-game faction important to the Western Reach, the Dark Witnesses, were almost entirely villainous in nature. Still, if you are inclined enough, it was possible to at least find sympathy in their cause to possess their own lands while you mowed through legions of them on your way to Uela the Hagraven at the heart of their great stronghold at Jackdaw Cove. Having done so, you might even allow yourself a brief moment of wistfulness as they are driven, once and for all, out of their own homeland. But probably not, because they are evil. Probably.
It is interesting to note that Jackdaw Cove, straddling the eastern slopes above Halcyon Lake lies close to where Hag Rock Redoubt would be (which is inhabited by the equally-aggressive, and equally hag-loving Thornroot clan), and even closer to the city of Markarth. It is natural to start to wonder what the political situation would have been between these tribes. The Witnesses were following in the footsteps of the Black Drakes, the scion of which now rules as a Despot over Markarth, is there a connection? And what of the remnants of the Clan? We don't see them during the events of Markarth. Were they absorbed into one clan or another, and now part of Skyrim's Reach? Or were they broken and easy pickings for other tribes?
During Orsinium MQ, the situation improves a bit- there are, in fact, a small number of genuine opportunities to explore the perspective of the Winterborn Clan... as you mow legions of them down on your way to slay Urfon Iceheart for the Orcs and drive them out of Wrothgar. It is arguable, though, that they present a more challenging narrative because if you pay attention its evident that there is no right or wrong side here, but you are facilitating their destruction regardless. Although his screen-time is so brief, Iceheart has been amongst my favourite characters. His lines are insightful, and he's just a generally enigmatic character. I'd love to have learned more about him.
Cold possesses this place. It strikes to the heart, a freezing chill not just of the world, but of the soul.
Another interesting point is that the territory possessed by the Winterborn represents the largest territory attributed to a Reach Clan - they must have been very powerful. It is also interesting to think about what "driving them back to the Reach" means, and to wonder if, in a future Jehanna chapter, we might see what has become of them.
Is there room to speculate that the tribes of the Western Reach are more aggressive than those on the other side of the The Reach? Interestingly, the fate of the Reachfolk in Skyrim's Reach seems somewhat more secure. Svargrim was able to defend against raids, but was too preoccupied to do much else. Meanwhile, Caddach, as a leader, seems to stabilise the Reachfolk's control of their lands. Remarkably, by the end of the chapter, he is in a position to parley with both extant kingdoms of Skyrim, an extraordinary situation given the deep, enduring enmity between Reachmen and Nord.
On the other side of the Druadachs, its clear things aren't so rosy. By the end of both Mournoth's questline and the first act of Orsinium's, the clans are being driven out, by the Bretons and the Orcs, respectively. There is no such parley with the Kingdoms to the West. Why would Caddach represent the Reach to the East, but not that to the West?
The Reachmen found no towns or cities, but small camps can be found throughout the Western Reach. They can sometimes be found in caves (such as at Coldperch Cavern on the western slopes of the Wrothgarians). Their strongest redoubts are (or were) at Jackdaw Cove in Mournoth, and Frostbreak Fortress in Wrothgar.
So that just about wraps up our tour of The Western Reach- at least until one day, where we hopefully finally get to explore the gap between Wrothgar and Western Skyrim. Hopefully on that day, we will get to explore the fabled city of Jehanna, and perhaps discover the nature of the people of the Western Reach, including stories about everyday Bretons living in a remote world, about the peasants and the Old Blood in the towns and rural villages of Dunlain, Azra's Crossing and Raven Spring. And about the nature of the relationship between Western Reachfolk and whatever power structure may lead them.
If ever we do get a development revisit of base game zones, I'd love to see Mournoth, for instance, be retouched to look at least a little more like The Reach we can see in the DLC zone from 2020. The first shot I posted above, I had to search for for quite some time to get something that would be able to capture the feel of something Reachy. Meanwhile, in any content developed after Launch, its hard to turn in any random direction and not be faced with some photogenic vista.
And the Viridian Wood- such a defining element of The Western Reach- could look fantastic rendered with the same aesthetic as we see in places like Glemyos' Glade (complete with prancing Fauns) in High Isle. Evermore, as the less than fancy, but doughty Shield of Bangkorai crafted from assets that actually look like Markarth granite would give it so much unique character. Direnni fortresses, such as Viridian Watch might look more like the Direnni Timeworn architecture we see in Summerset. And given that Halcyon lake feeds a stony, narrow and un-navigable mountain stream (which makes sense given the region), it would be great to lose the inexpliccable sunken galley in the middle of the lake! The landscapes of Wrothgar and base game Rivenspire, feel like *ancient* landscapes to me, with their neolithic stone structures, and passage graves, and define, for me, a distinct side of High Rock that I could also help to define the Western Reach in a more evocative way.