If you’ve played through the Elder Scrolls series, particularly The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, you’ve no doubt encountered a bleached-skin underground foe more akin to goblins than to men or mer. The Falmer are a strange race that appears as underground cave dwellers, possessing eyes but no sight. They attack under the cover of darkness and though they often live among Dwemer ruins, they often fashion crude tents and armor out of scavenged materials. Where did these mysterious creatures come from? Why do they live underground, and is their hostility an innate bestial quality, or a culture learned over years of isolation?The Elder Scrolls Online’s Greymoor launches this spring, now seems like a good time to explore who they are.
Falmer literally translates to “snow elf,” and indeed these creatures that stalk the shadows are of elvish descent. The snow elves were once a proud, prolific, and magical race of people who inhabited the ancient lands of Skyrim during the Merethic era. They are widely speculated to be the first race to live in Skyrim, predating both the Dwemer and the Nords. Being descended from the Aldmer, they were similar to their Altmer and Chimer cousins in magical attunement but were much more resistant to cold and frost. Their skin and hair was pale white, and their civilization vast and wealthy.
At some point during this era, visitors from the Atmora continent sailed over and settled in the same regions of Tamriel as the Snow Elves. By all accounts, the two races lived together (or at least co-existed) peacefully for some time. Perhaps the early Atmorans were not perceived as a threat to the mighty elven races. That all changed on a fateful event that came to be known in Nordic lore as the Night of Tears. For reasons that are in dispute, the Snow Elves attacked the Atmoran capital city of Saarthal under the cover of nightfall. Some speculate that cultural, political or religious tensions led to the attack. But with the benefit of Fourth Era hindsight, it’s possible that the snow elves had discovered that the resting place of the powerful relic The Eye of Magnus lay beneath the city.
Whatever the reason for the attack, the result was overwhelmingly brutal. The Snow Elves killed all inhabitants (save three, Ysgramor and his sons, Yngol and Ylgar) and burned Saarthal to the ground. The three humans who escaped the slaughter returned to Atmora, albeit temporarily. While the Night of Tears would seem to be an overwhelming victory for the Snow Elves, it would also mark a turning point for their culture and people.
Ysgramor, Yngol, and Ylgar returned to Atmora and recuperated, but all the while they burned for vengeance against the Elves. With hatred in their hearts, they recruited an army of Atmorans that came to be known as the 500 Companions. With Ysgramor serving as Harbinger, the 500 companions set sail for Tamriel to reclaim their lands from the Snow Elves. However, they didn’t stop with the conquest of the land. The army of the 500 companions spread throughout the region and slaughtered Snow Elves by the thousands wherever they were encountered. Even the Snow Elves, with greater numbers and magical abilities, were no match for these fierce Nord warriors. The Nords would eventually push the remainder of the Snow Elf population to the island of Solstheim, where the Elves would make their final stand against the conquerors from Atmora. It was there, at the battle of Moesring, that the Snow Prince fell, though it is said that he fought with such valor that the Nords elected to respectfully bury him in a freshly dug barrow, complete with royal treasures and a contingency of guards.
The slaying of the Snow Prince marked the end of the organized resistance of the Snow Elves. Their few remnants fled and scattered. The Companions, meanwhile, established Nord cities throughout Skyrim and became a group of protectors for hire, similar to the Fighters Guild. Many of the remaining Snow Elves sought refuge beneath the ground with their Dwemer cousins in the caverns of Blackreach. The Dwemer, ever opportunistic, sought to take advantage of the Snow Elves’ weakened state. They agreed to help shelter the Snow Elves but instead tricked them into ingesting a poisoned fungus that rendered them, and all future generations of Snow Elves, blind. Once blinded, the Snow Elves became servants, and eventually slaves, of the Dwemer. This familial betrayal is known in elvish history as The Betrayal, and the enslaved Snow Elves came to be referred to as The Betrayed.
Whether from the torture at the hands of their masters, the poison, or merely adapting to a new world without sight, The Betrayed’s appearance slowly began to change. Their ears and nostrils became more pronounced, perhaps to compensate for their lack of vision. They walked with a slight bend, maybe due to having to feel their way around in the darkness. Eventually, they became less civilized and more bestial. Finally, after years of abuse at the hands of their masters, they revolted.
The War of the Crag raged in the caverns of Blackreach, pitting the ever-more-savage Falmer against their Dwemer betrayers. While the conflict was long, it was unobserved by anybody above ground, including the descendants of Ysgramor. In fact, the War of the Crag raged under the surface of Skyrim all the way up to the final disappearance of the Dwemer in year 700 of the First Era. The Falmer were awarded the victory by forfeit, and the Dwemer were not around to contest the ruling. Years of torment and war had transformed the Falmer into a barely intelligent, twisted, warlike people with little resemblance to their accomplished ancestors.
The Falmer continued to live underground, where they had become accustomed to self-sufficiency. They also added occasional nighttime surface raids to their repertoire, which led to many a campfire story about the cave goblins that killed livestock or stole away children in the night. In fact, it’s doubtful that the Nords even recognized such myths as being connected to their foes of old.
One thing that we know for sure about the Falmer is that they existed from the Merithic Era all the way into the Fourth Era and the events of The Elder Scrolls V. This means that during the events of The Elder Scrolls Online (Second Era), the Falmer are inhabiting Blackreach. A large portion of the next ESO chapter will take place in Blackreach, so it’s a sure bet that we’ll be seeing a Second Era version of these folks.
What’s more, it’s rumored within Elder Scrolls lore that small pockets of Snow Elves did not accept the offer of the Dwemer and continued to live in isolation without turning into The Betrayed. Is it possible that we might soon run into an original Snow Elf or two in Greymoor?