Sights of the Southern Jungles; Rivalen's Guide to Niben Bay, Leyawiin and the Blackwood
Welcome back oh brave Tamrielic Travelers!
In this volume, we continue our journeys, leaving the urban sprawl of the great Imperial City and heading south, along the River Niben, deep into the tropical heart of Nibenay, to the Blackwood and to the great city of Leyawiin. You are fortunate, my friends, for Leyawiin is from where I hail, and as a native, I can tell you much.
The best way to reach the city of Leyawiin from the Imperial City is by taking a boat or barge down the River Niben. This is the best way to both take in the sights, as you can stop on either bank to see what you will and also make good time. The fishing is good too.
Nibenay as a whole is divided into four constituent counties or duchies: Bruma, Cheydinhal, Bravil and Leyawiin, each centered on a city of the same name. Additionally, the Imperial City is Nibenese in culture and character, but is considered to be set apart from Colovia and Nibenay. Most name the city and the lands directly around it the ‘Heartlands’, or the ‘Thronelands’. During the second era and other times of conflict and division, these Nibenese cities were either independent kingdoms or forged into the Kingdom of Nibenay. There are two principal areas of Southern Nibenay. The first of these are the Niben Bay, a large inland lake, which unfortunately gravitates on the city of Bravil, and is also affected by the winding ways of the Panther River. South of Niben Bay, the River Niben narrows somewhat and the terrain thickens and descends into the verdant jungles of the Blackwood. This area is thickly wooded with rainforest and travel here is much more dependant on the river, than on the Green and Yellow Roads, which run on either side of the River Niben. Find your river legs, for to traverse Nibenay is to know the river.
Languages spoken in Nibenay are extremely diverse. On any day, in the trade cities of southern Nibenay, you can expect to hear any language, but most commonly Nibenese, Imperialized Jel, Ta’agra, Dunmeri, Altmeri, Colovian and of course, the Imperial Koine or Common.
The character of Nibenay is chiefly notable for its commercial nature, as it is the economic workhouse of the Empire, and also for its ecumenism and cosmopolitanism, as anyone and everyone can and does come to Nibenay to make themselves a Septim or ten. Whilst the nobility, almost entirely comprised of great families of Merchant Mages, which my own family, House Mothril is a constituent element of, can sometimes be a little grasping and sometimes proud and overbearing, as a whole, the Nibenese are a cosmopolitan people happy to make newcomers feel part of the community. They are an open and welcoming people; open to all creeds, all cultures and all coins. Though the Divines comprise the most notable and powerful religious group, there are innumerable cults which call the Nibenese realm home, so those who keep a wise head and do not go out of their way to cause religious division should be fine.
TO NIBEN BAY
As we leave the gentle waters of Lake Rumare and proceed onto the upper Niben we pass by many historical and religiously important sites. The Western Bank of the Niben is where we end up gravitating toward, and Sure-Sail, our Argonian pilot, anchors us by the western shore for the night. Sure-Sail and his family are Argonian boat-folk from the Waterfront. Sure-Sail spent most of the first day and that evening babbling about his family and his people’s love of the river and the boat-trade. This is not an uncommon sentiment or occurrence among the Argonians of Nibenay, who love to brag about their mastery of the river and how much the “smooth skins” (pidgin-Jel for non-Saxhleel) need their skills to navigate the river. The Saxhleel call the Niben ‘Mother Niben’, and feel, probably justifiably, that they know the river best.
When you begin the journey down to Niben bay, you should make sure to beware of the Daedric Shrine to Hircine which is hidden deep in the Great Forest, to the north of Bravil, and not far northeast of a local inn, known as the Inn of Ill Omen. The Shrine is allegedly the base camp for sweeping, wide ranging hunts, known as Bloodmoons, beneath the dark and forbidding boughs of the Great Forest. Beware.
Another famed site is The Inn of Ill Omen, an infamous place, possessed of a macabre charm, and is said to be protected by Sithis himself. Allegedly, as the Third Era came to a close, the inn was the start of the ‘Great Treachery of Cheydinhal’, a shadowy conspiracy that brought the Dark Brotherhood onto the road to its current bleak condition. The Inn of Ill Omen is, according to rumor, a site of pilgrimage for members of the Dark Brotherhood and the Morag Tong. According to local legend, the ‘Dread Father’, as those in the shadows know Sithis, is beseeched for forgiveness by siblings of the Brotherhood, and praised and thanked by Tong members, for bringing low their heretical enemies.
The Inn of Ill Omen’s most infamous incident in recent years occurred on the ‘Night of Void’s Laughter’, shortly after the great riots of Bravil in 188, which apparently saw much suffering for the Dark Brotherhood. According to Nibenese gossip, the Black Hand called an emergency meeting in the Inn. When they finished their palaver, they exited the inn to find themselves face to face with the masters of the Tong. Then, beneath a rainy, moonless sky, Tong and Brotherhood danced with blades beneath the trees of the Great Forest. Corpses littered the inn’s grounds and were strung upon the eaves of the inn, the next morning. While the publican of the Inn of Ill Omen, Uvena Ules, is willing to trade these grisly tales with a shrug, locals will not speak of this subject.
Within Niben Bay are two main sites. The first, and more significant, is the Isle of the Big Head. The root of the name of this island is quite simple to see. On the island, little more than a rocky outcropping in Niben Bay, are three enormous monolithic stone heads, arranged next to one another. From this island, quite regularly, at no particularly specified interval, comes loud, unnerving, maniacal laugher, which echoes across the bay. Though it seems a jolly, manic location, there are chilling and demented undertones to the laughter as well. Keep your wits about you here and avoid too much Skooma.
The other site is Bravil. It is a silly place. It was the idea of the early Septims, perhaps Tiber Septim or his direct successors, to channel most of the vice and corruption from the Imperial City into Bravil, which sits adjacent to Elsweyr, and give it more or less free reign there. Although this served to reduce the levels of crime in the Imperial City, it very soon took its toll on Bravil, which had previously been a pleasant city, turning it into a slum-ridden, skooma fuelled stinkhole. Though home to a chapel of Mara, few criminals take the time to make devotions, and the beautiful temple is visited by only the most determined of pilgrims, many of whom prefer Riften (curiously, another renowned Skooma town). It is a city of vice, o’er-run by gangs and ruled by the Skooma trade. Its hereditary counts, the Orums, even have roots in the Skooma trade. Don’t go there, unless you want Skooma. Then just get out quickly. The only reason you might have to stay for extended periods in Bravil is if you want a lot of Skooma. Then, you would be advised to stay in your room and off the streets.
As we move south from the smelly locales of Bravil, we begin sailing along a stretch of land with a controversial past. This is the Trans-Niben, a stretch of land claimed and conquered, during the second era, by the Khajit of the newly formed Elsweyr Confederacy, who settled on it quite extensively. When Tiber Septim began his unifications, the lands of Trans-Niben were among the first conquered during his campaigns in the south, but it was not until he had unified Tamriel that the Trans-Niben was ceded by agreement with the Mane, into Cyrodiil. Accounts vary whether it was Tiber, one of his early successors, such as Uriel I, the great Law-Maker, Morihatha I who reorganized the Imperial Province, or even Uriel VII, who made the arrangement. Suffice to say, the arrangement was made and the land along the western bank of the Niben and Niben Bay, south of Bravil, passed back into the jurisdiction of County Leyawiin.
The Khajit of Elsweyr by and large accepted this change, but not before a band of terrorists disavowed by both the Khajit and Imperials arose to cause chaos and stoke the embers of the Niben Skooma trade into wildfire. These were the Renjira Krin, who ostensibly devoted themselves to opposing the cession of the Trans Niben, the Caro and Mothril Families of Leyawiin, the Counts of Bravil and the Royal Septim, Mede and Ocato Families of Cyrodiil for their alleged ‘unrighteous tyranny’. In the Fourth Era, the Renjira Krin were pacified by both the brutality of the Emperor Antigonus Mede and also the conciliation of Emperor Attrebus Mede. The Krin finally met their vicious swansong however, when they decided to adopt the new goal of opposing the Thalmor, a pursuit in which they grossly overestimated their capacity for success.
INTO THE BLACKWOOD
First impressions count.
This is the truth, and it is a truth that has continued, in its own way, to vex historians and scholars of Cyrodiil to this day. When the legendary Topal arrived in the bay that would later bear his name, and began to traverse the river, finding, along the way, the numerous river-tribes that would come to be called ‘Nibeneans’ in later times, he first stopped in the region we now know as the Blackwood. For better or worse, perhaps due to oversight or loss of records, this area at the mouth of the Niben is the larger part of what remains from Topal’s descriptions in his journals. Later scholars overused the earliest descriptions of Cyrodiil he gave, neglecting the later entries, which admittedly, are less plentiful than the earlier chapters.
This reliance on Topal’s early chapters, led to the infamous controversy of Cyrodiil being described as a jungle.
Because a verdant jungle is exactly what the Blackwood is. And that is likely what your first impression of the land will be. Graced by only two roads, the Green and Yellow Roads, Blackwood is as verdant as Valenwood, and after the Great Forest, is the principal remaining woodland in Cyrodiil. Unlike the more temperate Great Forest, the Blackwood is tropical, humid and monsoonal in nature. Blackwood’s beauty is unsurpassed and rarely equaled in Cyrodiil and its charm is unique within the Imperial Province. Rain, which is a constant element of Blackwood life, and mist are the most common elements of Blackwood’s weather. Leyawiin boasts a very large and bright lighthouse, as to ensure that the Niben mist does not let ships go astray.
But be wary, oh traveler, for though Blackwood is both beautiful and bounteous in the gifts of Kynareth, it is treacherous and dangerous also. Terrible swamp creatures dwell in its depths, some unique, many common to the depths of Black Marsh; Blackwood is a place where folk have come from across Cyrodiil to test themselves since time immemorial. As we sailed further south, Sure-Sail kept as keen an eye on the riverbank and the water as he did on the condition of our vessel.
Giant snakes, Ogres, Jungle Goblins and fleshflies are not unusual sights in the Blackwood. Swamp trolls, which regularly reach at least two meters in height, sometimes three, are vicious predators, monstrously strong, but also blessedly stupid. Fire is the true tonic to the Swamp Troll. Naga-folk, which are kin to typical Saxhleel, but frighteningly serpentine and bestial, even to the many Argonians of the region, sometimes lurk in the jungles and waylay travelers. ‘Ware traveler, for the Naga-folk are expert ambushers and have none of the good humor of their Saxhleel cousins. The Wamasu is a quite large, and quite uncommon creature, rather drake-like in nature, but a vicious carnivore, with lightning based abilities. Sightings of the beasts are blessedly uncommon, however. Werecrocodiles are a hidden threat that stalk the waters of the swamp by night, instilling dread within all.
But most terrifying of all is the Swamp Leviathan, a legendary serpent that is covered in spines that ascends from the depths of the Topal Bay to hunt. If there are even rumors of a swamp leviathan in the area, travelers should ensure they make themselves scarce. News of a Swamp Leviathan is usually well spread on Leyawiin’s streets, and the Counts have been known to close the gates and forbid outgoing traffic, in light of Swamp Leviathan sightings. While all these beasts are terrible to behold, in the Blackwood, they have a certain significance in the lives of the region’s natives. One and all are aware of the power and danger of the swamp creatures; historically, it is not unusual for young people, especially those of tribal backgrounds, to seek a beast and bring it back as a test of strength and tribal worthiness, or among more Imperialized citizens, to bring back a pelt or corpse as an element of the trials of Imperial Knighthood. Generally, this involves killing a smaller, standard troll or Ogre, or perhaps, slaying a tribe of Jungle Goblins and avoiding the more serious beasts.
However, when I was to return home and take up my place as a Knight of Leyawiin, I was the first since the early Third Era to bring back a Wamassu. It is still a memory I recall with fondness.
THE TALE OF LEYAN AND JORMUNGANDR
The legendary founder of Leyawiin, Leyan Mothril, an Altmeri or Ayleid (the stories vary) knight in service to the Alessians, was charged by the Alessians to find the perfect spot for a port on Topal Bay, which could also command the entrance to the River Niben. Not only was there trouble from Black Marsh and Khajit soldiers fighting over the land, but the Nibenean, Argonian, Kothringi and Khajit settlers that lived at the mouth of the River were being harassed by a Swamp Leviathan of monumental size, which no blade could harm.
The chroniclers of that time, who were apparently accompanying the Alessian expedition, state that the beast was the spawn of Hircine; the Nords in the company named it ‘Jormungandr’, which is Nordic for ‘World Serpent’.
But according to the ancient tale, amidst an earth shaking storm on the Topal Coast, Lady Leyan, accompanied by her mercenaries, the Nibeneans, Argonians and Khajit, cornered Jormungandr, slew the great beast and put its Daedric thralls to rout. While hailed a heroine by the commoners, the jealous Alessians could not abide an Altmer ruling a Nibenese settlement. But the timely aid of Nocturnal allowed her to not only stay miraculously beneath the notice of the Alessians, allowing her to establish her family as a power in Leyawiin, the city she founded (but was not named Leyawiin until later) and the Blackwood, but the Lady of Night also gifted Leyan with a magical blade that let her pierce the beast’s hide and move through shadow. Though the Mothril family have always been patrons of the Chapel of Zenithar, there is an extremely ancient Shrine of Nocturnal deep within Blackwood, and it may well be that the Mothrils, who for centuries thereafter, ruled as Counts- later Princes- of Leyawiin, may have once paid tribute to the Lady of Night.
When the dust had settled, the mighty serpent lay dead. The tale is an interesting one, if not rather fanciful and almost certainly apocryphal, but its antiquity and popularity in Nibenay has given my family, the Mothrils, a convenient, if not popular, tale of origin with which to cement their place in the cosmopolitan, but often cutthroat fabric of Nibenay’s nobility.
LEYAWIIN, THE JEWEL OF THE BAY
Leyawiin is the jewel of the Topal Bay and one of the only two ports in Cyrodiil. Since the war with the Dominion has led to a far greater militarization in Anvil, which now plays host to one of the largest naval shipyards in the Empire, and greater walls, Leyawiin is the city with the more commercial flavor and is responsible for handling a greater amount of cargo. It is also one of the principal offices and the primary southern port of the East Empire Company, and is the home of my family, House Mothril of Blackwood. Although Leyawiin is a bustling port, and the hub for sea trade for the Nibenese, it is also the site responsible for the security and integrity of the Niben, and thus, both the fortifications of Leyawiin and who may enter the river are both serious matters. These are issues constantly addressed and readdressed, so as to ensure the best security on the most vital waterway of Cyrodiil. No one in Leyawiin has forgotten the terror of the Aldmeri arrival in the night outside the city, and none are willing to see that happen again, so expect tight security.
Since the Fourth Era began, Leyawiin, diverse and distant from the Imperial City, has been ruled not by a Count or Imperial Duke, but by a ruler known as the Archon, often chosen from the Caro family, but other families, including the Mothrils, have held the title as well. Unlike the other cities of Cyrodiil, Leyawiin was never conquered by force of arms by Titus Mede I, but swore vassalage to him in return for maintaining many of its rights and privileges won during the Stormcrown Interregnum. This autonomy of Leyawiin has persisted, despite the presence of the Legion in the region growing immeasurably since the Great War. Leyawiin is chiefly defended by the Leyawiin guard, a contingent of the Imperial Legion organized along the lines of the other town guards of Cyrodiil and also by the Knights of the White Stallion, a chivalric order devoted to the defense of the Archons and the removal of river bandits.
One thing you will notice about Leyawiin is that, excepting the Imperial City, it is surely the most diverse city in Cyrodiil, perhaps all Tamriel. As well as the ever present populations of Saxhleel and Khajit, both of whom are considered more native than migrant, Dunmer, Altmer and Bosmer, and every other race possible is found in this city. Whilst the city is built over two sides of the mouth of the Niben, the populace does not gather into differing quarters based on race, as occurs in some other cities in Tamriel. Despite the issues that have arisen between Dunmer, Khajit and Saxhleel, all of these populations, and others, are represented on both banks of the Niben.
Appropriately for the only seaport of Nibenay, the mercantile heart of Tamriel, thousands of shops are to be found in the streets of Leyawiin. The city is a commercial haven. Since the city is a port, many unique goods can be found, which are unique in all of Cyrodiil, even Tamriel. The heart of Leyawiin is the Grand Bazaar, which is not one cohesive structure like in the Imperial City, but centered on the Guildhall Square, and stretching along the Harbor Esplanade, and along the river, in a chaotic jumble of market stalls. The whole affair is chaotic, unweildy and entirely without planning’ many Khajit say it ‘feels like home’, but it can be confronting to those expecting Imperial City style orderliness. There are almost no areas of Leyawiin where there aren’t stalls and markets happening, which is appropriate, since there are almost always ships coming in with new goods. What makes the Bazaar and indeed Leyawiin in general, unique is that the bazaar is largely constructed as an under-cover market, so where it is impractical to construct walled roofed structures, great swathes of the market-orientated districts of the city are arranged under tarpaulins, which makes Leyawiin, seem to some, like a city of tents and beggars, as many merchants simply sleep on the street, behind their stalls. This is not the case however; Leyawiin is a city of commerce and of trade. But not even the Saxhleel enjoy being drenched all the time, so tarpaulins are a must, so people can continue doing business at all hours. Additionally, the haphazard nature of the bazaar’s layout can make Leyawiin’s streets seem narrow and unclear- it is a good plan to get a guide. Greasing a beggar’s palm should do the trick. Sometimes the streets can be elegant, colonnaded avenues constructed by the Mothrils in ancient times, but turn a corner, and the street you are on could merely be the small walkway between the hundreds of vendor’s stalls that stretch before you. There are no maps to Leyawiin’s streets. The truth is, as most Leyawiin locals will advise, that only Zenithar can steer you in the right direction to your destination- which you will reach after the right purchases.
Even though they aren’t an entirely necessary fixture- Leyawiin is already very humid, and the regularity of rain means many people who wish to wash off simply remove their shirts and stand in the downpour- Leyawiin does have a substantial bathhouse. The bathhouse, which is one of the larger structures within Leyawiin, is a massive columned structure, which sprawls over an area several city blocks in size. While it was originally built by the Mothril Princes, the bathhouse was expanded exponentially during the reign of the Akaviri Potentates, who enjoyed the comforts of the south and especially enjoyed steaming themselves in the great bathhouses of Cyrodiil and in baths they built within the elaborate palaces they built themselves.
Castle Leyawiin, where the Archons hold their court, is a mighty structure, built originally by my family, House Mothril, during the First Era. Although worn by time, it retains its charm. Constructed from black marble, in tribute to old Altmeri Styles with some Khajit influenced elements added as well, the building, though centuries old and covered in moss and vines still stands out, towering over the rest of Leyawiin’s buildings. Dinner parties here have a reputation of being exciting affairs, and once, under the dour countess Alessia Caro, Sanguine (or one of his agents) was held to have appeared in the castle and caused all kinds of raucous behavior. According to rumor, during the full moon, fine Elsweyr Skooma is served to guests who have done service to Leyawiin.
Another great landmark is the Great Chapel of Zenithar. The tower of the chapel looms over the buildings and jungle foliage and people of all walks of life come here to seek counsel with the god of labor and commerce to find out how to succeed in life and business. There are also, invariably, large numbers of hawkers who happen to occupy the chapel at some time or another, so don’t be surprised if your prayers are interrupted by a sales pitch. After all, the more times the peddler pitches, the more chances he or she has of making a sale. It is, however, considered poor form to drop profanities within the chapel, as irritating as peddlers may be, so keep your “Xuuth” and your “N’wah” to yourself, regardless of how you feel.
Finally, the ‘Eye of Zenithar’, also known as the Great Lighthouse of Leyawiin, is the giant beacon which serves as the guide to incoming traffic hoping to trade in Nibenay and as a guide to all who would traverse the mists of Blackwood that Leyawiin is near.
Since the end of the Great War, the chiefest controversy to strike the city of Saint Topal is the growing Thalmor Presence. The people of Leyawiin have played host to large numbers of Altmer, especially since many boatloads of refugees arrived at the mouth of the Niben during the Thalmor takeover. Though the Justiciars who come to the city, who have a manor in the noble district set aside for their use, claim only to be present to foster relations with their 'wayward Altmeri kin' and to reside in Leyawiin for purposes of the White Gold Concordat, the people of the city have been on edge at the newcomer's presence. This feeling is especially strong amongst the Altmeri residents, who fear their city will be the site of a repeated 'Night of Green Fire', the dreaded massacre in the streets of Sentinel. Thankfully, the vigilance of the Leyawiin guard and the Knights of the White Stallion have prevented this.
Staying in Leyawiin is a diverse experience. There are many, many varied accommodations to choose from, but there are a few rough guidelines to choose from.
The lowest form of accommodation is the barrel. And by this, I literally mean, a barrel on the street you decide to occupy. Pros: It’s free. Cons: It’s bloody cramped and you may have to fight a beggar for habitation rights. Court cases have been known to arise between barrel claimants, so be aware. But having spent some time living in one, it’s not an entirely bad deal, especially if you chance upon a Rum barrel, although without giving yourself time to stretch, it does get a little cramped. Be sure your barrel does not become the receptacle for stolen goods, which is unfortunately a favorite tactic of some of the local scallywags.
The second level of accommodation is the Skooma Den: these are not entirely reputable establishments, most often by the docks established solely for the purpose of tourists and locals consuming imported Skooma and Moon Sugar, often brought straight across the border from Elsweyr, Black Marsh or shipped in on one of the many Ebony Ships from Morrowind. They’re cheap, but divey and patrons frequently leave these establishments devoid of both memory and a pair of pants.
The third classification of accomodation is the pleasure palace. The outlook of such establishments is self evident. Gambling and prostitution are the order of the day- or night- in these dens, but rooms (with companionship) are available. These establishments can be found in every single district of the city, although some of them are certainly more reputable and classy than others. One of the most infamous and prestigious of pleasure palaces is the ‘The House of the Beautiful’, staffed by Altmer of Leyawiin’s large expatriate community and founded by a disinherited lady of House Mothril who returned to Leyawiin after being evicted by Khajit invaders and nonetheless made herself monumentally wealthy as a courtesan. The establishment is named not only for the beauty of its Altmeri courtesans (remember to use this term), but for the old Altmeri secret society which sought modernization in Alinor during the Septim Era. Many of the ladies or the families of the ladies employed here were driven from Alinor by Thalmor repression for one reason or another, but just as many are Cyrodiilic born. Allegedly, many of them had links to the group. In recent years it has become noted as a place of contention, since Thalmor officials are fond of patronizing the establishment, which has led to contention with the local populace, and at no time was this more evident than in 4E 189, during the ‘Golden Spires Massacre’. Allegedly, a pair of Thalmor Justiciars were murdered within and a large group of Thalmor Guardians arrived to drag the ladies of the house out for punishment. This evinced unchecked fury from the Leyawiin townsfolk, who impaled every one of the guardians on the lampposts of the street outside, resulting in an avenue of the eponymous ‘Golden Spires’.
The fourth classification are the inns, which vary in quality and cost. They range from vast, luxurious establishments such as the Saint Topal Inn, built in hybrid Ayleid-Imperial style, and which abuts the shores of the harbor and overlooks the mouth of the River from the bay. It also has a casino. Do not expect a cheap stay. In the middle are the inns for the middle classes. These are run by peoples of all races in Leyawiin, from Khajiit taverns run by resident clan mothers, to inns and cookeries run by respected Argonian Fishwives. At the opposite end of the spectrum from the luxury establishments are small bazaar flophouses, of which there are innumerable examples. Just pay a coin and ask a city bum for a good recommendation. Additionally, at the Topal Shores, just down the coast, east of Leyawiin, is a vast noble-orientated resort, where many wealthy and powerful of Cyrodiil come to spend coin and time in leisure.
Finally, if you are fortunate, or of high enough birth, you may be privileged enough to be invited to stay in Castle Leyawiin, as guests of the Archon. You might also be asked more forcefully to stay in Castle Leyawiin if you break the law.
So we come to the end of yet another journey and guidebook. Having sailed to the mouth of the Niben, where else does the intrepid traveler have to venture but out into the Topal Bay and thence into the trade lanes of Tamriel? Continue to venture with me, Rivalen Mothril, to see the sights of Tamriel.
submitted by Blackfyre87