In order to understand the Western Reach as it is now, a look at its past is necessary – much like the rest of High Rock, this land was shaped by endless conflicts, ambitions of men and its position along the frontier of two peoples utterly different. Though the ethnical and cultural borders have long since moved, this position left a clear mark on the Reach, clearly setting it apart from the other lands of the Bretons. Indeed, one cannot even certainly say that this is a Bretic area, for though many of Iliac descent live here and the Reachmen are close kin to them, whether they are just a distinct subculture of the Bretons is a point much debated by scholars. So different they are, the natives of the Western Reach might well be a separate race.
For the earliest part of its history, the Western Reach was not much different from the rest of High Rock. It was a land of semi-nomadic Nedic tribes that came into contact with far more advanced Elven cultures; the merging of these two different people through various means was so thorough that by the time the first Nords made their way to what would in the far future be the Imperial province of High Rock, it was difficult to tell them apart. Being straight on the border, this land would be the first to fall to the Empire of Skyrim during the Nords’ invasion. This is where the Western Reach starts to drift away from the general series of events undergone by lands further west – instead of being treated as a conquest, it was made a hold of Skyrim and given the name that would far outlast this position. Nords moved into the temperate land of rolling hills en masse, Mannish culture almost entirely replacing Elven customs picked up over long years of living side by side by the time of the Direnni reconquest.
These Nordic families would come to regret their ancestors’ flocking to this seemingly appealing land. The hatred and cruelty that always marks wars between Man and Mer spiralled out of control in the Western Reach; families upon families, entire villages and towns of Nords slaughtered. This brutality would not soon be forgotten, provoking a combined effort by the Alessians and the Nords to recapture this ex-hold. The war, however, was unsuccessful, with the Direnni retaining control of the Reach and beginning to turn it into a fortified hedge to prevent future conquests by Skyrim. Just as Nords before them, Elves settled here in great volumes, bringing with them their goblin warriors; strongholds were erected all over the land, casting an uneasy shadow over the villages of men of mixed blood. Unlike in the west, local mage-lords would never come to rise and this part of High Rock would remain under the direct control of its overlords for longer than anywhere else, save for the Isle of Balfiera itself.
When it finally came, the fall of the Direnni was as brutal as their return. Elves of pure blood were executed upon surrender; those who fought on would often be torn to pieces, sometimes by the same goblins that they had introduced to the Western Reach, secrets of their handling incautiously revealed to some of their subjects. Strongholds used to control the land were destroyed or left to decay, but though the locals reviled the Elves, they could not shake free of the blood that flowed through their veins. The people of the Reach were more Elven than anywhere else in High Rock, in appearance and demeanour both. No longer shackled by the Direnni but scarred by its violent past, the Western Reach descended into an age of obscurity and darkness.
Reachmen society did not share much in common with the western Bretons. Many of them secretive, suspicious and haughty by nature, they banded around individuals who could best appear mysterious, frightening and powerful – shamans, witches, goblin handlers. Such were the people who led their kin through displays of magic, dark rituals and promises of protection from outsiders. Villages rarely traded with one another, although sometimes goods were exchanged; more often than not, when something was required that the Reachmen could not make themselves, they tried to take it from those who had it through violence. Those living in the rolling hills often suffered from raids by their kin from the mountains, all the while trying to take from one another.
Only rarely did these people open up to outsiders even to a small extent, and even then never to Bretons or Nords who attempted outright conquest or came to ‘civilize’ them. The Orcs that survived the fall of Orsinium and fled east from the Wrothgarians into the mountains of the Western Reach were feared and hated, but not universally. Knowledge was sometimes traded between their tribes and the Reachmen; at other times, they even managed to coexist peacefully, fickle though this peace was as various faults, true or otherwise, threatened to escalate into bloody conflicts at any time. Later, nomadic Bjoulsae tribes would venture further north from the river, exchanging goods or fighting for them with the Reachmen.
Thus did the people of the Western Reach live for almost two eras, content to eke out a living herding cattle or farming small plots of land with primitive tools. Some turned west, most hiring themselves out as thugs, soldiers or scouts. Few sought to travel elsewhere, however, their hatred for the Elves that reached back to the early parts of the First Era eventually becoming hatred for all outsiders. Neither were the Iliac Bretons interested in the Reachmen – their crafts were mostly crude and they produced little of note, if the Wrothgarian Mountains that separated the two were not enough to deter would-be merchants or conquerors. Nords of Solitude sometimes quarrelled with the eastern-most mongrel-men, as they were known, however, absorbed as the hold of Haafinheim was in matters in Skyrim, generally they were dismissed as savages that counselled with Orcs and were far more trouble than they were worth.
No one would take an active interest in the Western Reach until the arrival of the Third Empire at the dawn years of the Third Era and the appointment of Provisional Governor Titus Alorius. A man renowned for his forthrightness and almost deification of Tiber Septim, he believed himself to be the legate of a near-god and had little patience for people who did not see their place in Tamriel as envisioned by the Empire. A man such as this was thought necessary, for it was soon realized that the Reachmen were far too ‘lawless’ and ‘barbarian’ to comfortably be left to their own devices as had mostly been done in the rest of High Rock. Imperial traders travelling from High Rock to Skyrim were often attacked, Legion supplies disrupted, solitary colonists killed or driven out. These were seen as no mere crimes, but acts of rebellion, and Titus Alorius did not take kindly to rebellion.
“If the people of the Western Reach refuse to abide by the just laws of the Third Empire of Man, then the Western Reach itself must be stricken from all maps and never again touch the lips of any man, mer or beast on Tamriel.” It was with such bold words that the Provisional Governor opened his demand that fifty thousand Colovians – men, women and children – be moved to that troublesome part of High Rock, for a start. Alorius’ plan was simple and straight to the point – if the Western Reach was a problem, then it was to be turned into a new Colovian West – a problem solver. The expenses that such a grand movement of people would’ve incurred meant that the proposal was not considered for long before dismissal, forcing Alorius to petition instead for permission to at least encourage larger-scale movement of people from the west of High Rock. The costs of keeping several Legions in the Reach were likewise grand, so after careful deliberation, the Provisional Governor was given what he wanted.
Despite his initial impossible dreams, Alorius’ plan would outlive him and mark him as one of the most successful governors of the Empire. Initially, small holdings of land were gifted to landless nobility or those of noble blood whose meagre inheritance forced them to seek their fortunes elsewhere. These gifts were mostly concentrated around the two centres of Imperial authority in the Western Reach – the port town of Farrun, the only larger Breto-Nordic settlement in the east that had its origins as a trading colony, a stop between Solitude and Northpoint, and Jehanna, a permanent Legion camp that took its name from the ruins of what used to be the capital of the Western Reach when it was a hold of Skyrim. Following a show of support from the Imperial City by the excellent funding for the construction of the Via Aloria, a highway that connected the troublesome area with High Rock beyond the Wrothgarians and Skyrim to the east, greater measures were taken – land was sold cheaply along the highway and in the vicinity of the afore-mentioned centres of authority, to both nobles and commoners.
This ‘taming’ of the Western Reach was not a straightforward process of Bretons settling down in increasing distances from the settlements of Farrun or Jehanna. Setbacks were not unheard of - people moved back to High Rock due to an inability to support themselves or, somewhat more frequently, being driven out or killed by Reachmen. Punitive expeditions by the Legion would follow, often quite brutal - sackings and burnings of whole villages regardless if their inhabitants were to blame or not. Portions of the land would become depopulated as natives were forced to move away under threat from the Empire or the settlers (who were not entirely defenceless themselves, after all). Colonisation would stop or even reverse as the idea would lose popularity temporarily, either in the west of High Rock where most of the colonists came from or back in the political heart of the Empire that funded it all.
Even at the best of times, the settling effort was far from thorough and ever painfully slow – whole families of people move slowly and rarely wished to live further from secure locations. Stone churches, nobles’ fortified houses or castles, Imperial fortifications all offered a feeling of safety and thus the majority of newcomers clustered around such and similar locations. This remains true to this day (as the ‘taming’ of the Western Reach is not an ended process by far), but was far more important back at the beginning of the Third Era – for the majority of its first one hundred and fifty years as part of the Empire, the Western Reach was a battleground, made all the more complicated by the fact the Reachmen had no standing army to defeat or even any semblance of political union or leadership that could be struck. The afore-mentioned destruction of villages was often the only means to ensure peace.
Though Titus Alorius’ dream of a second Colovian West was never to be, the idea was reconsidered later on a much smaller scale. The Western Reach eventually came to be seen as a symbol – if the Empire could successfully turn this area around, then it would be eternal testament to what it can achieve. Two Colovian military colonies were decided upon, situated on important points of the Via Aloria, eventually turning into cities – today, they are Raven Spring, which stands at the point where the Alorian Highway is met by the road from Dragonstar, and Dunlain Falls, which controls a crossroad, one branch of which goes to Farrun, the other – to Jehanna. Five hundred Colovian families settled in those two spots, each of the colonies having its own count and council to settle local matters.
As years went by and the effort did not show signs of relenting with any permanency, eventually the Western Reach quieted to some extent. Though life was still dangerous on this frontier and violence was far from unheard of, it was no longer on the scale it used to be – the Reachmen knew an enemy they could not best when they saw it, the Empire’s Legions were too much. Rows of crucified people along the Via Aloria, villages burned to the ground, slaughtered cattle and burned crops – all these images are firmly entrenched in the heart and mind of every Reachman, implanting in them a deep fear and hatred for the Empire. The iron-men of Cyrod became more frightening than Orcs, used as bogeymen to frighten children. Instead of fighting, many of the Reachmen shut themselves off, becoming as reclusive as ever; others moved, learning to live alongside newcomers but retaining their usual secretive nature, never truly merging – or attempting to merge – with those they were now forced to live with.
As the area became less of a sore spot than it used to be, the Empire reacted accordingly. Only one legion was pulled from there first, however eventually the Western Reach was left with a smaller, less expensive garrison of two legions. The powers of the provisional governors were first cut down on, control being ceded gradually to Bretic nobility, before the recalling of a governor altogether – the dukes of Farrun and Jehanna instead became the most powerful men in the Western Reach. Eventually, even the counts of Raven Spring and Dunlain Falls were no more, pretty much the same position being assumed by a duke and a baron respectively, elevated from the ranks of the local nobility.
That is not to say that matters are now the same in the Western Reach as they are west of the Wrothgarians. Still a dangerous place even today, the power of the Bretic nobility here is limited to a much greater degree to the lands in close proximity to their centres of power and authority – be they fortified houses, churches, monasteries or castles. This feeling of safety granted by the stone churches and monasteries in turn means that the Church is more influential here than in the west, sometimes ruling lands directly and having oaths of fealty sworn to it by the local nobility in all but the technicalities. However, this also means that the institution is far more likely to be played for power as well, influentials struggling between themselves to get their relatives into places of power within it. It is widely known that in the Western Reach, to fund the construction of a church is just a byword for fortifying your lands.
The nature of influence means that nobles’ holdings are broken up and spread out here more than anywhere. Large, unbroken swaths of land held by a single family are even rarer than in the rest of High Rock – a noble’s lands are, almost without exception, dozens of small, isolated holdings, administrated by chevaliers, controlled and clustered around a physical embodiment of his or her influence that could force the commoners to pay rent in kind through overawing and force just as much as, if not more, through promises of security. The nature of most influentials’ territories only promotes swearing several oaths of fealty to different parties, making local politics a messy affair at the best of times. This also makes the barons and dukes of the cities even more dependent on their nobles than their western peers – their own lands are spread out in just the same way and surrounded by those of their vassals more often than not (and if not, then by unclaimed land where Reachmen live).
Traditionally, since the recalling of the provisional governors, the grand dukes of Jehanna have been the dominant force in the northern-more parts of the Western Reach, assuming the title after securing (as much as can be in the conditions of this land) the loyalty of the dukes of Cloud Spring. However, the dawn of a new era once again brought about change for the Reach – the grand duke was made to recognize Queen Elysana of Wayrest as his sovereign. This was an union that would not last long, for Wayrest soon invoked the enmity of most nobles of the Western Reach by starting a war against the looming Nordic Confederation, a war that was seen as completely undesirable – the Bretons this far east had not yet forgotten the ravages of the Bend’r Mahk and particularly the decrease in power it brought about for many nobles (if not the death of entire bloodlines).
Elysana’s ambitions would prove to be too great for her patchwork kingdom, however. Her army beaten en route to Solitude, the Nords quickly turned the tables on the Bretons and instead invaded High Rock once more; though they would eventually be stopped on the way to the town of Dunkarn Haven, the vast majority of the Western Reach folded very quickly. In a world of opportunistic double-servitude and insincere oaths, it was of little surprise that the influentials were entirely unwilling to risk another Bend’r Mahk, particularly for an overlord that had so quickly become so unpopular. The native Reachmen, meanwhile, looked on with gloomy indifference as new armies marched into their lands through the Via Aloria – the price of openly resisting an organized and more numerous foe was firmly burned into their collective memory.
So far, it is unclear what the rule of Nords will bring to the Western Reach. For the first time in eras, the name of the region has meaning again as it becomes once more a hold of Skyrim under the now-Nordic Grand Duchy of Jehanna, ruled by Rurik Far-Stride. Slowly, the northmen once more return to its rolling hills in number; with the threat of the Aldmer Dominion rising in the west, it remains to be seen whether history truly does repeat itself. Timeline Lore