Elder Scrolls

Racial Motifs 3: The Wood Elves

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Being notes by Doctor Alfidia Lupus for a series of pamphlets on the major cultural styles of Tamriel
(Dr. Lupus was Imperial Ethnographer for Potentate Savirien-Chorak from 2E 418 to 431)

Next we complete our study of the Elves with the Bosmer of Valenwood. Though less influential in the world at large than their cousins the High Elves and the Dark Elves, the Wood Elves outnumber all other Mer in Tamriel, being relatively fecund (for Elves) and more, shall we say, amorously-inclined.

It's a commonplace to point out that the Wood Elves favor natural motifs, but as I learned, there's more to it than that. Their reverence for Y'ffre and the story of the Earth Bones is reflected in the stylized fashion in which these natural motifs are represented. The Bosmer believe that all nature was in chaos before Y'ffre gave all plants, animals, and people their names, which defined the permanent form each species would take. Thus each species is depicted by a particular, idealized motif which represents the ur-form it was given by Y'ffre.

This is reflected in the designs that appear everywhere on Wood Elven arts, crafts, and clothing. These designs are drawn from a large repertoire, as there is a design for each species of plant and animal in the Bosmer's world, but the use and depiction of these designs is culturally prescribes, and there is very little room for variation. Unorthodox usage of these stylized pictograms is considered improper, just plain "wrong."

This may seem paradoxical in a race whose members otherwise seem so carefree and easygoing, but it is so, as I had an opportunity to see for myself. There are quite a few Wood Elves in the Imperial City, enough that there is a small Bosmeri neighborhood down on the waterfront, served by a tavern called the Tipsy Torchbug. Divayth Fyr, the fascinating Dark Elf wizard assisting Morian Zenas in his experiments, had offered to take me there, and I agreed.

When I arrived at Morian's house on the date of our jaunt to the docks the old professor himself answered the door, and I was surprised when he asked me to step into my study for a moment. Also surprising was the way Morian was turned out: in a new silk robe sporting star-sign symbols, hair trimmed and combed, and smelling faintly of lavender. Quite a transformation from the disreputable, singed and stained robes I'd seen him in previously.

It turned out he wanted to caution me about going down to the waterfront with Divayth Fyr. I'm afraid I laughed, at which he reddened, and I then told him I was a grown woman who could take care of herself. He was somewhat abashed and muttered some excuses, from which I gathered that he was more concerned about my spending time with Divayth than going to the docks. I didn't want his feelings hurt, so I complimented his new robe, at which he beamed, and then I went to the parlor to meet Divayth.

I shouldn't ramble on, but we had a wonderful evening. The Tipsy Torchbug was a lively place, and Divayth introduced me to Lady Biniele, the proprietor, who insisted that we share our table. The entertainment was Biniele's Bosmeri Burlesque, which was hilarious, and though I couldn't drink any of the Wood Elves' revolting beverages, I did consent to share a pipeful of bugsmoke with Divayth, which made me feel strangely exhilarated.

It also led to my seeing a prime example of Bosmeri disdain for "improper design" when a Leyawiin sailor, who'd seen me sharing Divayth's pipe, offered to sell me a carved-bone pipe of "genuine Valenwood make." Lady Biniele told me it was a counterfeit and not to waste my money. The sailor protested, but the diminutive Wood Elf woman told him any fool could see the tail was wrong on the Imga carved on the bowl, and he should shove off. Which he did.

Divayth and I shoved off shortly thereafter, and on our way back up to the city gates he pointed to the stars in the brilliant night sky and told me the ancient Chimeri names for the constellations. I must confess, I remember nothing but the warm tones of his resonant voice—and the warm touch of his hand on my arm.


Racial Motifs
Racial Motifs 2: The Dark Elves Racial Motifs 3: The Wood Elves Racial Motifs 4: The Nords

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