At the time of its first (known) recording, Daggerfall was merely a small village with a little over two hundred inhabitants. Legend would hold that the settlement was first established by Nords who came to the region following Skyrim’s successful push into High Rock, a rugged band of settlers braving the frontier under the lead of a mighty chieftain who allegedly threw his dagger up into the air upon reaching the shore of what would later be known as the kingdom of Daggerfall, establishing the village where the weapon landed and giving it its name. Embellishments to this legend added later would have us believe that the chieftain was the exiled son of the king of the Nords, disowned for helping Elves escape during the conquest of the province. Such tales are not to be believed completely, of course, but they are a fine display of Daggerfall’s tendency to try finding a compromise between its Mannish and Elven roots.
The first historical figure we know from reliable sources to have resided in Daggerfall was Raven Direnni, a famous enchantress. She is said to have visited the hamlet during her childhood and always held it dear, accounting for her interest in the settlement later – apparently, the enchantress convinced her kin to fortify Daggerfall, arguing that it was in an important strategic position, and contributed greatly from personal funds to the construction of castle Daggerfall, which stands to this day. Raven Direnni would go on to become the first resident of the castle, personally overseeing the settlement for a while, during which time it grew considerably. Eventually, she picked out a reliable family from the locals and taught them spellcraft herself so that the new mage lords of Daggerfall could oversee the town in her absence.
While Elven rulers are rarely remembered kindly in High Rock, the enchantress that made Daggerfall’s rise possible is held in high regard even today. For a while there was a vocal movement that wished to proclaim Raven Direnni a saint and make her the city’s patron, although the arguments presented – that she played an instrumental part in the battle of Glenumbra Moors, which was a severe setback for the Alessians who perverted the teachings of the Imperial Cult – were feeble indeed and this movement never got anywhere with what was clearly a poorly dressed up attempt to put an official spin on the veneration of Daggerfall’s Elven patron that is quite widespread all the same. There are still some superstitions tied to Raven Direnni (for example that her ghost can be seen in castle Daggerfall whenever an event of great significance to the kingdom approaches, allegedly last seen before the Aldmeri Dominion extended the offer for a treaty of protection) and the cherished memory of the enchantress is probably the reason why Daggerfall was so willing to throw their lot in with the Dominion.
Raven Direnni’s chosen family would go on to rule Daggerfall for longer than the Direnni did, assuming full control of the town and its surrounding lands after the fall of their masters. The mage lords of Daggerfall were apparently some of the first to begin handing out land to their followers for the promise of loyalty – at the very least, the fact that chevaliers have been an integral part of the military for a longer time than anywhere else in High Rock is very rarely questioned. The rise of knighthood in Daggerfall is, in fact, something well worth tracking, as the practice of handing out small holds of land in return for military service contributed greatly to Daggerfall’s rise. The first record of land bestowed upon a man in return for him defending the mage lord of Daggerfall reaches us from as early as 1E 539, around forty years after the fall of the Direnni, which indicates that the rulers of the kingdom understood very soon the need for a more powerful force than just conscripts from the populace (who were not very reliable, with battles more often than not hinging on the individual skills of the mage lords).
While the first landowners of Daggerfall were not knights as we know them today and were not required to ride to war with a horse, they were given land with enough slaves to work it in their absence. Direct practice of slavery fell out of favour fairly soon, however, as it was feared that the slaves – the majority of which were war prisoners taken during the endless conflicts between petty mage lords of the land – would throw in with any conqueror who came close to the land they were forced to work. Many slaves were freed, but kept tied to their previous master’s land, while many of the people who lived in that land eventually found themselves unable to compete with the emerging nobility for agricultural output, in the end forcing them to take loans from the nobles in worse times to survive and forcing them into the nobles’ service when they were unable to return those loans. Some nobles would eventually get ahead of others, but for most of its early history, Daggerfall was a fairly small realm and the proto-nobility were all no more powerful than the chevaliers of the present-day kingdom.
These warrior landowners laid down a solid foundation for Daggerfall’s military, enabling it to conquer several neighbouring lands and eventually grow to around a fourth of its current size. Already influential to call himself king, the mage lord of Daggerfall at the time, Thagore, decided his trust in his military aristocracy was great enough for him to challenge another powerful realm in the region, Glenpoint. The pretext for that was simple and the same as the cause of most wars in High Rock at the time – the kings of both lands claimed right by blood to a minor realm that both countries bordered. Following a brief campaign with several smaller skirmishes, the two armies met in the north-west of modern day Daggerfall. King Thagore’s landowners would go on to win him the day, routing the army of Glenpoint, with its king dying in the battle. Following this triumph, Daggerfall would go on to claim not only the realm over which the conflict arose, but also several surrounding countries that swore loyalty to king Thagore.
Elevated into the position of the superpower of western High Rock, Daggerfall would go on to dominate for over three centuries, expanding at a quite rapid pace to reach a size unheard of for a native Bretic realm. The kingdom at that time encompassed not only contemporary Daggerfall, but also half of Shalgora, parts of southern and eastern Glenpoint (although the kings of Daggerfall were never able to deliver a final blow to their rival, even if it lost much of its power and its rulers would eventually lose the title of king after a series of conflicts inside the realm), all of Tulune and much of Glenumbra Moors. The word of the king carried weight far beyond its borders, however, with Daggerfall intruding in the affairs of petty rulers as far east as the west-most parts of the Wrothgarian Mountains.
This period of unrivalled thriving was when the true nobility of Daggerfall formed, as well as when its chevaliers more or less took on their current shape. With the rise in wealth that came with the conquest of new lands, horse breeding became more probable to the ordinary noble, eventually a horse becoming a crucial symbol of nobility and the only ‘proper’ way for a noble to fight. This increase in wealth and land also created inequalities between the nobles, with some becoming wealthier and more influential; eventually, for the first time in Daggerfall’s history, some become powerful enough that collectively, they could challenge the king’s authority to some extent. This is also the first time when signs of the ‘grand game of Daggerfall’, a defining feature of the kingdom’s nobles in the present day, are first seen, although the methods are much more direct than in modern Daggerfall – there are several recordings of assassinations or deaths in duels, as well as larger-scale thefts from nobles and serfs and servants being lured from the service of one master to another’s.
Eventually, Daggerfall’s prosperity and unchallenged domination would come to an end with the 32-year-long siege of Orsinium. Though victorious, Daggerfall had to pay a great price in both goods and men for this venture and unknowingly set the stage for the emergence of its greatest future rival – Wayrest. For a while, the kingdom seemed only to benefit, spreading its influence further east than ever and aiding in the establishing of an independent city-state of Wayrest (which Daggerfall’s merchants hoped to have in their pockets and thus control the majority of the trade in the eastern Iliac), however with the crowning of the first king of Wayrest relationships between the two started deteriorating quickly. Inspired by Wayrest’s success, local nobles – people that Daggerfall helped come to prominence – took up the sword against the king, eventually leading to the loss of Glenumbra and much of Tulune.
While these losses were a blow to Daggerfall’s power, they could have perhaps been reversed were there a strong king. However, it appears that the monarch was suffering from an illness that took a great toll on not only his physical but also mental well-being, making him ill-fit to rule the kingdom and allowing the rivalries between the nobles that had been building up over the past several hundreds of years to break out in earnest. Chevaliers were diverted from the battlefields by their masters and noble turned on noble, hoping to seize their rivals’ holdings or exact revenge for some wrong from the past, making it all the easier for the outer parts of the kingdom to break free without fear of retribution from the king. This sorry state of affairs continued until the rise of king Githweyr, who swayed many chevaliers to his side and used personal funds to hire mercenaries, finally making the nobles fall in line through a show of force, fighting but one battle where he defeated the combined forces of several nobles of north-western Daggerfall. Sadly, he was soon afterwards assassinated, but the rivalries between the realm’s nobles would never again spill out into open conflict of such magnitude.
While the kingdom eventually recovered after the Nobles’ War (as it later came to be known), it would never go on to become the unrivalled power it used to be. The fact the Thrassian Plague swept over it and cost Daggerfall more than half its population did not help matters much and though the ruling line survived, it didn’t manage to capitalise much on the deaths of several surrounding realms’ rulers. By the time it regained a similar level of stability that was present in the kingdom before the siege of Orsinium and all that came of it, many of the surrounding lands had grown enough to be unsightly prospects for expansion, not least because they had built on the social order left behind by Daggerfall and could now boast their own military nobility. The time when Daggerfall could walk all over its neighbours was well and truly over, though it took several lost conflicts on a local scale for the nobles and the king to grasp that. In spite of this, however, one could not safely ignore Daggerfall, and it remained a power to be reckoned with, making up for some lost ground with time and always contesting and hampering Wayrest’s growth at every turn, in some cases more successfully than in others.
Today, Daggerfall is still a land defined by its nobles. Though the estates-general of the kingdom claim to represent the whole society, it is dominated by the upper orders of the nobility and the king. As of the reign of king Gothryd, the citizenry lost all semblance of independence from their monarch, officially being his clients, under his protection and therefore always casting their vote in the manner most beneficial to the king. Most of the peasantry is entirely unrepresented, as the serfs are not considered an estate unto themselves and the amount of freemen in Daggerfall is miniscule – most of the population in the rural areas are tied to the land and their masters, as it has been since the First Era. Every noble, even the poorest of the chevaliers, can act as they will with their people, although in the cases of chevaliers only so long as they do their duty relatively well. Theoretically, the serfs can submit a complain about the behaviour of their ruler to the king or, if they are ruled by a lesser noble, their lord’s patron, however in virtually all cases such complaints go ignored, if the serfs even manage to submit them in the first place as most are not even aware of such a possibility.
Not all nobles are equal, too. Chevaliers, the military nobility responsible for much of Daggerfall’s military might, are little more than greater pawns in the grand game of their patrons – the number of knights a noble can bring to bear is a good indication of his power and influence. Their allegiances are far from unswerving, an important aspect of the grand game being trying to lure your rivals’ chevaliers over to your service, with the king being a sort of a neutral option for those knights who switched sides one time too many, with the monarch always being more than happy to bolster his personal strength, if only for a time. In general, the more powerful a noble is, the more his peers can remember about him – knights’ questionable loyalty can be forgotten after just a decade, while vendettas between the great families of Daggerfall sometimes reach back to the First Era, that is if anyone even knows what it started over. In most cases, the nobles simply default to some or other wronging during the time of the Nobles’ War if pressed.
Compared to the grand game, the struggles of nobles in other lands will seem trivial and one-dimensional. There are as many angles of attack as the nobility of Daggerfall can think of – they are not beyond attacking family history, personal education, clients (be they chevaliers, mages or artists), lovers or wives, choice in clothes, preference in art, the quality and quantity of estates and whatever else. Even cutlery supplied during a feast may be used against a noble. However, there is an unwritten rule that a pleasant exterior must be maintained at all times – even the worst enemies must smile pleasantly when they shake hands and the grand game is never to come to blows between nobles or their chevaliers – a noble who openly marches to his enemy’s estate and burns it down is an unimaginable stain on his family name, though a noble who secretly hires a group of lowlifes to ravage the same estate and makes his involvement impossible to track is tolerable, if rather crude. This has been strictly kept to since the time of the Nobles’ War.
It is easy to see how the Mages’ Guild of Daggerfall could easily become entangled in the grand game, given the importance placed behind a basic understanding of how the arcane functions in a traditional noble’s education. Indeed, the Guild of the kingdom seems hardly interested in magical research for the sake of furthering the horizons of spellcasting – new discoveries are only valuable if they were made by a mage who has a noble patron, which happens to be the vast majority of mages in Daggerfall. Members of the Guild are often expelled and potential recruits refused for no other reason than the fact their patrons are rivals of the man behind the head wizard of the Guild in the kingdom. Several attempts have been made by Imperial authority to return the Mages’ Guild to its original purpose, however the effects of these efforts were short-lived and with the withdrawal of the Empire from High Rock, the Guild will most likely remain mired in nobles’ politics for the foreseeable future, testament to the long reach of the ‘grand game of Daggerfall’.