Lore: Saint Alessia, Morihaus, & the White-Gold Tower
Subtitle: How the Empire Got Its Groove On
Today we’re gonna talk about Alessia & Morihaus, the fall of the mer, the rise of men, and the founding of the Empire.
Also: history, metaphysics, the White-Gold Tower, the Ayleids, Pelinal Whitestrake, Minotaurs, the Amulet of Kings, Lorkhan, the dragonfires, and Akatosh. Oh, and blood. There’s a lot about blood. 🙂
All that and more after the cut!
Way back in the early days of sentient races on Nirn, the mer reigned. This period is referred to as the Merethic Era, or Mythic Era. (“Merethic” = relating to mer; “mythic” = predates recorded history.) Specifically, the reigning mer were the Ayleids, who conquered Tamriel and built their majestic structures with the slave labor of the human races. And at the heart of their civilization they erected the White-Gold Tower.
The White-Gold Tower is … a big deal. Essentially, whomsoever controls the White-Gold Tower controls Nirn. Here’s why:
When Lorkhan and the et’Ada created Mundus, the entire structure was designed around a shaft, like a flat disk of a galaxy spinning around a central spear. Or imagine the layers of reality like sheets of paper, with a pencil stabbed through the center, holding them all together. That point, called the ur-tower (also Tower Zero or Ada-Mantia), is the primary axis of creation, although since it existed before physical reality did, it’s more of a magical metaphor than a “real” place.
I’m going to blur the lines between the real and metaphorical a lot in this post, and here we go: the White-Gold Tower is not the ur-tower (because the ur-tower doesn’t physically exist) but it is a symbolic and magical representation of the ur-tower as a physical object – they are essentially the same thing (even though they aren’t). Because it is an “echo” of the ur-tower, the White-Gold Tower is a primary linchpin holding Mundus together.
The Ayleids constructed that metaphor on purpose. They designed the White-Gold Tower as a manifestation of the ur-tower – that’s why it was built in the exact center of Tamriel, and why it’s large enough to be seen from every province – and through controlling that manifestation, they controlled Nirn.
Similarly, the Clockwork City quest has many references to the fact that Sil’s little city is a magical metaphor for Mundus, which means by controlling the Clockwork City, Sotha Sil increases his power and control over the world. The throne in his sanctum is called “The Throne Aligned” because it is a throne on multiple levels of reality simultaneously, and as such, it’s a linchpin holding those realities in place, just like the White-Gold Tower is. The very name “Throne Aligned” indicates Sil was successful with his metaphorical/magical construction. The Daedric Princes want to find and steal the Clockwork City for exactly the same reason everyone wants to conquer the White-Gold Tower: it’s a reality hack, a cheat-code.
In ESO’s Imperial City, you can see Molag Bal has opened the grand-daddy of all dolmens right on the White-Gold Tower. The portal is just above the pinnacle of the structure, and the anchors plunge underground into the sewers and prisons. Of all the dark anchors in Tamriel, the one on the White-Gold Tower is the one that matters most, maybe the only one that matters at all – if Molag Bal claims the tower, he claims all of Nirn. That was true for the Ayleids who built it, and it was true for Alessia.
Alessia was a human (Nedic) slave of the Ayleids. She prayed to the Aedra for help in escaping her captors, but not herself alone – she wished to free all the slaves and bring down the entire Ayleid race. Alessia did not think small.
The Aedra heard her prayers, and sent her a companion to help with her ambitions. The companion, Morihaus, was a demi-god, the son of Kyne, and as an expression of his twin nature as a demi-god, his form was half-man, half-bull. (He also had wings, but if I start into that, this post will be another thousand words long.) Morihaus is sometimes called Morihaus-Breath-of-Kyne, and it is believed he could use thu’um, or The Voice. In previous TES games, some racial abilities for Imperials (such as Voice of the Emperor), and some Nord racial abilities (such as Battle Cry) both derive from power-through-voice. It seems clear that these abilities, indeed, possibly even Talos’ status as Dragonborn, all trace back to Morihaus-Breath-of-Kyne.
The lore/writing team chose a bull-man on purpose. He is a transition link between the natural world of beasts and the thinking world of man. He has strength and power, but also wisdom. As the son of Kyne, Morihaus is a physical representation of the natural world of Nirn.
But bulls in mythological contexts don’t represent feral wilderness, as Kyne herself does; for all their power, they are domesticated animals, meant to be tasked to work. In a real way, human civilization in our world begins the instant a person puts a yoke on oxen to plow a field. Alessia prayed for help – the Aedra could have sent her a magic sword, or a Spinner’s robe… but no. They sent her a talking, thinking beast of labor, one who could both raze her enemies’ fields and also turn the land so she could plant new crops.
And she did.
Morihaus appeared to Alessia as literally the answer to her prayers, and with him at her back, the “slave-queen” began organizing slaves and leading the rebellion. To win the war they had to take the White-Gold Tower from the Ayleids, and that was where the final battle raged. One source describing Morihaus’ attack says when he lowered his head and charged the tower he hit it so hard the entire structure shook to its foundation.
You’ve seen the White-Gold Tower, yeah? It isn’t small. That was a helluva charge. Morihaus was… mighty.
In addition to being a war-ally to Alessia, Morihaus was also her lover. The children birthed from their union were Tamriel’s first Minotaurs – mortals sleeping with divine beings tend to beget monsters, and Morihaus was warned by a different lover, Pelinal Whitestrake, to stay out of Alessia’s bed for just that reason, but he loved her too much. The Morihaus set that drops in the Gold Coast is named for him, and the Minotaurs wandering around those ruins are his descendants – and those of Saint Alessia.
Together with Morihaus and an army of freed slaves, Alessia took White-Gold Tower. You probably know this next part – after the rebellion was over, Akatosh appeared to Alessia and made a pact with her sealed by the Amulet of Kings.
I covered the origin of the amulet more thoroughly in this post, but to sum up: Lorkhan was the instigator of the creation of Mundus, but shortly before completion, the Aedra killed and dismembered Lorkhan for betraying them. His heart-blood was so intensely magical it congealed into a red gem called the Chim-el Adabal. That gem was fashioned into the Red Diamond amulet, also called the Amulet of Kings.
The Aedra made Mundus out of themselves, out of their own power, depleting themselves in the process, and also inescapably binding themselves to Mundus. Mundus is the Aedra; the Aedra are Mundus. There’s an ongoing theme in the Elder Scrolls of how much of yourself you can trade away while still retaining your sense of self. How much of you can you sacrifice on the way to a goal and still be you when you cross the finish line? Sotha Sil admits that he is a prisoner of his own constructions; the same is true for the Aedra. Not only prisoners, but substantially changed from what they were – no longer et’Ada, just as he is no longer a mere Chimer general.
One of the ways to become a god in the Elder Scrolls universe is a) acquire a ton of power, and b) “mantle” an existing god. To “mantle” a god is to behave like them, doing the things they do, acting like they act, until there is no difference between you and them. The trick to doing this successfully is to simultaneously be the god, be one with all of Mundus, and yet still have enough sense of self to not just completely disappear. Most who attempt it lose themselves, merge with everything, and fade away as individuals.
(It is possible this is what happened to the Dwemer – perhaps when tapping Lorkhan’s heart they collectively apotheosized but were unprepared for it, therefore their consciousness simply merged with all of creation, effectively erasing them.)
Difficult as mantling is, Talos successfully pulled it off; as any Nord will tell you, he ascended to godhood. The true origins of his power are deliberately obfuscated and under debate, but most agree Talos and Alessia are of the same bloodline. Which means: her blood is his blood, and because of mantling, his blood is Lorkhan’s blood.
Lorkhan was, originally, an et’Ada – a formless, shapeless spirit. The et’Ada learned to give themselves form, but even then they were still mostly abstractions. Molag Bal is Domination; he’s an allegory; his physical form isn’t really “real”. When Nirn was formed, that which was merely an idea (the et’Ada) had a place to become solid, physical – the ur-tower was an idea; the White-Gold tower is tangible. Lorkhan’s blood was originally the idea of blood, which then became actual blood, and stayed blood until it hit the solidity of Nirn when it became literally solid itself. Imagine the blood falling from the sky, becoming more substantial as it descends – less and less a metaphor, more and more a (solid) reality.
There’s a pretty direct line drawn here between literal, physical sacrifice and the ability to subsequently protect that which you’ve fought for. The Aedra, Lorkhan, Talos, Alessia, and the entire Septim bloodline are bound to Mundus… and Mundus is bound to them, protected – nearly literally – by their blood, sweat, and tears. It’s an expression of a trope you’ll recognize from Arthurian myths: the King is the land; the land is the King.
But there’s more to it than just that – Alessia & Lorkhan’s blood are a ward, an active magical protection put in place by Akatosh, and it’s an extremely elegant spell. During quests we’ve all seen the consequences when mages set up wards that don’t hold because of neglect and/or a deterioration/corruption of the ward’s power source. Akatosh, knowing the ward would need to hold for thousands of years under constant attack, linked his spell to a renewable power source, a bloodline – Alessia, her children, her children’s children, and their children, and …
We’re not at the end of the blood metaphor. From the Trials of Saint Alessia:
Akatosh drew from his breast a burning handful of his Heart’s blood, and he gave it into Alessia’s hand, saying, ‘This shall also be a token to you of our joined blood and pledged faith. So long as you and your descendants shall wear the Amulet of Kings, then shall this dragonfire burn — an eternal flame — as a sign to all men and gods of our faithfulness. So long as the dragonfires shall burn, to you, and to all generations, I swear that my Heart’s blood shall hold fast the Gates of Oblivion.
In sum: the Oblivion ward is maintained by the dragonfires (Akatosh’s blood) that need to be re-lit by a new Emperor (of Alessia’s blood), using the Amulet of Kings (Lorkhan’s blood).
And note, too, that in the case of both Lorkhan and Akatosh, the blood is very specifically their heart’s-blood, the most intimate connection to not only their bodies, but their metaphorical hearts as well. In this sense it is love that protects Mundus from Destruction (Mehunes Dagon), Domination (Molag Bal), Disease (Peryite), and all the other Daedric Princes.
As Varen Aquilarius learned, close is not good enough; the blood is the key, which Manimarco certainly knew. When Varen held the Ruby Throne the dragonfires remained unlit, proof the ward was not being maintained, but that was acceptable – regents can run things for a while; the dragonfires go out every time an Emperor dies and are re-lit by the next one. But when Varen attempted to light the dragonfires himself, he ripped a hole Akatosh’s ward.
Varen never made the proper sacrifice of self; he isn’t tied to reality, nor it to him. He could make political decisions, but he couldn’t magically protect Mundus.
But back to Alessia. When Alessia’s rebellion won the White-Gold Tower, the Merethic Era came to an end and the First Era began, which is the beginning of recorded history for the current races of Tamriel and the beginning of human ascendancy on Tamriel’s political stage. Alessia and Morihaus changed the course of world history, permanently. She is the mother of the Empire, which is why she is venerated by the Imperials as a Saint. From her lifetime on, Tamriel’s history is broken into Eras based on human rule, not Merethic.
The First Era: includes both the Alessian Empire and the Reman Dynasty, and for you Skyrim buffs, this is the time of the Ysgramor Dynasty as well.
The Second Era: referred to as the Common Era and includes a 400-year period called the Interregnum, during which no Emperor holds the throne. (Elder Scrolls Online takes place in this time period.)
The Third Era: picks up when the Septim Empire takes control. (Arena, Daggerfall, Morrowind, Battlespire, and Oblivion all take place in this Era.)
The Fourth Era: begins at the end of the Septim Dynasty (i.e. the end of Oblivion, and no, of course I’m not still crying over Martin, I just have something in my eyes, leave me alone). This Era includes the Great War (Skyrim takes place here).
I’ll wrap up with this thought: Post-Oblivion, the Septims are gone and in Skyrim the Empire is teetering on the edge. But all those Minotaurs wandering around the Gold Coast and Falkreath Hold have Alessia’s blood in their veins, same as the Septims did. If one happened to rise above his bestial nature, perhaps with divine help… do you suppose we could have a Minotaur Emperor again one day?
Wait, did I say “again”? Yeah; we have a precedent: the second Emperor of the First Era was Belharza the Man-Bull, son of Alessia and Morihaus, who succeeded his mother’s throne upon her death. Some scholars speculate he was killed by xenophobes (remember that Morihaus is usually depicted as human in Imperial art), and that afterwards, Minotaurs were killed in large numbers and driven into the wilds, lost their culture, and became the simple monsters we now know. But they still can be found around ancient Imperial sites, guarding those places out of an instinctual drive to defend the Empire founded by their progenitors.
Morihaus loved Alessia too much to leave her. Thousands of years later, their blood still serves to protect the Empire they built, in multiple ways. Of all the sources of magickal power in Mundus, the strongest are love and blood.
UESP wiki entry: The Towers – a compilation of lore on all of the various towers that reflect/echo the ur-tower, including the White-Gold Tower, the “red tower” (Red Mountain), the Crystal Tower (in Summerset), the “snow tower” (Heart of the World, in Skyrim), and several others. I know I’m a huge ole’ geek, but this is a fascinating lore page. And yeah, there are multiple towers – if you can figure out how to make your tower into the tower, your prize is control of reality. Good luck!
The Song of Pelinal, vols. 1-8 – The story of Pelinal, also called Whitestrake, who was an ally/friend of Morihaus and Alessia. (She’s referred to as Perrif, Parvania, and Al-Esh in these texts, b/c everyone who’s anyone has a stack of names.) Pelinal’s fun; no one knows what he is, exactly, but Michael Kirkbride (see below) confirmed he’s some kind of time-traveling robot/cyborg from the future. No, really. I love this game.
The Adabal-a – believed to be pages from an auto-biographical memoir of Morihaus. One of the few surviving documents from the First Era.
The Trials of St. Alessia – describes Akatosh’s pact with Alessia. (excerpted above)
The Amulet of Kings – describes the nature of the Amulet and its connection to Alessia and the dragonfires.
Ask Michael Kirkbride Anything – Kirkbride was a lore developer on TES, and this Reddit post has a long list of questions fans asked him about the series, along with his answers, many of which are awesome, and some relate to Morihaus & Pelinal.