By Varnard Karessen
How does one become interested in studying the disease lycanthropy? I have interviewed a number of my peers, and discovered that to a man, they have all entered the field after a horrifying encounter with a lycanthrope of some variety. I am no exception.
In Skyrim, it is an old tradition to rub canis root on the trees surrounding your house as a ward against werebears. When I was young and stupid (as opposed, I guess, to being old and stupid as I am now), I always had hoped to meet a werebear to see if they were as impressive as legend suggested. I would follow strange tracks in the woods until they disappeared, with no fear or even thought about what I would do after I had found my quarry. By Thorig's beard, I was lucky that my investigations were fruitless.
When I did finally see a lycanthrope, it was not a werebear. It was a werewolf, the "common" lycanthope, which can be found in every part of Tamriel. My father was a priest and during the coldest part of the winter, he allowed the beggars and riffraff of Falcrenth to stay in the relative warmth of the cellar of his temple. We would even supply warm barley stew. My sisters and brothers and I actually enjoyed this bit of philanthropy, for in the cellars during the winter, it seemed there was a constant party. There were always travellers with interesting stories and eccentricities, and the atmosphere in the cellars was always light and friendly. Until that night.
By an established tradition, the beggars who were sick or wanted rest more than food and companionship would go to the cots at the farthest, darkest end of the cellar when they could be assured at least relative quiet. We were enjoying a song, and my sister Gethessa was dancing to the amusement of all. The song ended, but a chorus continued from the darkness at the far end of the cellar. As drunk and incomprehensible as most of the carolers were, it took a minute for us to realize that the sound we were hearing was not singing, but screaming.
No one was too concerned, for some of the older tramps often suffered from vivid nightmares. Nevertheless, one of father's priests went to silence the screamer and the moment he disappeared into the murk, we heard another sound. The snarl of a wolf. Then we heard the priest screaming as the original scream died off.
"Werewolf!" cried the old bard who had been leading the song. The cellar exploded into chaos.
I was pushed out the cellar door into the snow with the first wave of panic, but I could see that some of the more brave (or more drunk) hobos were rushing into the darkness to do battle with the lycanthrope. They were all, of course, almost instantly killed.
My father, upon hearing of his unwelcome visitor, sealed off the cellar after the last survivor of the carnage had left. A seasoned battlemage from the Falcrenth Mages Guild, who owed father a favor, went into the cellar and slew the beast.
"Not too tough," he said as he emerged, carrying the carcass with him. "Winter must have been tough on him too." Despite his bold words, the blood on his face and chest did not only come from his foe.
Werewolves do not revert to their human forms upon death, despite what legends will tell you. I had the opportunity to look at the monster's steaming body out in the snow before it was carried away to be burned. The teeth, clotted with the flesh of the beggars, were horrifying, but the claws shocked me even more. I have since seen live lycanthropes battle golems, atronachs, and other beings not harmed by mundane weapons, and concluded that they act as naturally enchanted weapons.
Because the werewolf is the most ubiquitous of lycanthropes, the term lycanthropy has been used since ancient days to describe the disease that transforms men into half-beast, although lycanthrope only strictly should refer to men who change into werewolves. But that is semantics. There are certainly differences between the seven documented forms of lycanthropy in Tamriel, but more similarities.
In Black Marsh and southern Morrowind, werecrocodiles stalk the swamps. Black Marsh also shares with the Imperial Province and the wetter parts of Elsweyr the vile presence of werelions. Valenwood's werevultures are not found in any other province. The wereboar has found both the climates of High Rock and Hammerfell amenable. As I mentioned before, the werebear is the most common lycanthrope in Skyrim, and is also found in the northern parts of High Rock, the Imperial Province, and Morrowind. The werewolf can be found in every province. The seventh lycanthrope, which I have never seen but my trusted peers have assured me exists, is a wereshark that roams the oceans around Tamriel.
I have spent my life categorizing and observing lycanthropes, but I sometimes feel that I am still a child trapped in a cellar in my attempts to understand them. I know, for example, that lycanthropy can be cured shortly after infection, but after that time, the victim is doomed. No one of my acquaintance has cured themselves after undergoing the first transformation. On the other hand, I have a colleague investigating a coven of witches in the Glenpoint foothills of High Rock who are rumored to have a cure. I remain dubious.
Perhaps it is because they are doomed that makes lycanthropes so aggressive. I have removed the contents of a werewolf's stomach and found more remnants of roots and berries than animal flesh. My conclusion is that they do not need to attack and devour humans to survive. Yet, for some reason they do. Does lycanthropy drive them mad, or do lycanthropes feel the need to spread the disease as a form of procreation? I do not know. I am not certain that any of us who are not lycanthropes ourselves will ever know. And then, of course, it's too late.