Picture a solar eclipse. The dark circle that would normally be the moon is now the universe. The wispy light around the edge of the circle is the realm of Aetherius, also known as the place where we draw magicka from. Our little chunk of the dark circle is the realm of Nirn, kinda like the planet Earth. Tamriel is a continent on Nirn. Skyrim is a province of Tamriel.
Skyrim has nine holds: Haafingar, Hjaalmarch, the Pale, Winterhold, the Reach, Whiterun, Eastmarch, Falkreath, and the Rift. Each of the nine holds is governed by a jarl, whose seat of power is in the capital city of their hold.
In Haafingar, Jarl Elisif the Fair lives in Solitude. Solitude was the only city that didn’t fall when King Olaf One-Eye laid siege to the entire province. It is also the seat of the Imperial presence in Skyrim (I’ll make another post about why the Empire is in Skyrim later). The Thalmor Embassy is just up the hill from Solitude and the city of Dragon Bridge is near the border between the Reach and Haafingar. The weather of Haafingar is actually pretty nice. Everything’s green except in the mountains where everything’s covered in snow, and Haafingar has the longest coastline of all nine holds.
In Hjaalmarch, Jarl Igrod Ravencrone lives in Highmoon Hall in Morthal. Morthal is a smaller town and doesn’t have a protective wall surrounding it from anything that crawls out of the marsh nearby. The jarl is said to have visions, something that has both her husband and her housecarl worried. People in Morthal are suspicious of the mage, Falion, but don’t do anything to him, thankfully. If need be, he can help cure you of vampirism, which is pretty nifty. The weather of Hjaalmarch is a combination of snow and fog most days, but if you happen to be there on a sunny day, the marsh waters glitter like piles of gemstones.
In the Pale, Jarl Skald the Elder lives in the White Hall in Dawnstar. Dawnstar is a small town on the northern coastline of Skyrim with an old Dark Brotherhood sanctuary that spooks literally all of the residents. The jarl isn’t the nicest person is Skyrim, but he can be given a pass due to the lack of defensive walls around his city. Wolves, giants, and other creatures can just wander into the city, so I would be angry too. It’s almost always snowing in the Pale and the days when it’s now snowing, the sun is blinding and you almost hope snow will begin to fall just to make it easier to see.
In Winterhold the hold, Jarl Korir lives in his longhouse in Winterhold the town. During the Great Collapse, the northern sea, known as the Sea of Ghosts, supposedly rose up and washed most of the city away. With only four buildings remaining, Winterhold is easily the smallest hold capital in the province. To further mar the reputation of the town, the mages’ College of Winterhold stands just off shore on a tall pillar connected to the mainland by a few narrow bridges. The college was untouched by the Great Collapse and serves and the largest target for Winterhold’s anger towards mages. It’s literally always snowing in Winterhold. The only time it hasn’t been snowing in Winterhold for me was when I did the Clear Skies shout and stopped the snow myself, and even then, it came back after a few minutes. If you install the “Frostfall” mod on steam, do not go swimming in Winterhold.
In the Reach, Jarl Igmund lives in Understone Keep in Markarth. Said to be built by the Dwarves, Markarth appears as if built into the hillside with waterfalls everywhere and the Crag in splitting the city in two. The Crag consists of the Temple of Dibella on top of a shrine to Talos on top of the warrens, where the miners and the homeless sleep. Unlike Morthal, Dawnstar, and Winterhold, Markarth has tall stone walls. Connected to Understone Keep is the dwarven ruin of Nchuand-Zel—you’re welcome to go through it but there’s tons of falmer and, if you flip a switch at a dead end, tons of dwarven automatons. Still, Markarth is a beautiful city in the southwest of Skyrim, so the weather is always agreeable. Sometimes it rains, but most days are sunny and clear.
In Whiterun the hold, Jarl Balgruf the Greater lives in Dragonsreach in Whiterun the city. Whiterun is centrally located in Skyrim and is usually the first big city you go to. The city has three districts—the plains district, the wind district, and the cloud district. The plains district stretches from the front gate to The Bannered Mare, including everything off the main street like Ysolda’s house and the Guard’s barracks. The wind district is the middle part of Whiterun, including Jorrvaskr, the Gildergreen, and the houses past the Temple of Kynareth. The cloud district consists of Dragonsreach only. Whiterun hold is never snowy unless you go up into the hills, but it can be rainy, sunny, cloudy, foggy, and everything in between.
In Eastmarch, Jarl Ulfric Stormcloak lives in the Palace of the Kings in Windhelm. Windhelm is the seat of the Stormcloak rebellion and anyone who isn’t a Nord is discriminated against. Dark Elves are forced into the Gray Quarter, living in squalor. Argonians are forced to live out on the docks and I don’t think I’ve actually ever seen a Khajiit in Windhelm. Niranye is a High Elf and she lives just south of the Gray Quarter. It’s always snowy in Windhelm and everything is made of stone, making the emotion of the city cold and distant. As you head south in the hold, though, things warm up. The hot springs in the middle of the hold are teeming with animals, some friendly and some not, and it’s always clear out, even when it’s raining.
In Falkreath the hold, Jarl Siddgeir lives in his long house in Falkreath the city. Renowned for its expansive graveyard, locals of Falkreath have taken to naming their businesses death related puns such as “Dead Man’s Drink” and “Grave Concoctions.” Rain or shine, citizens go about their day with ease despite the lack of protective walls. The woods around the town are teeming with deer…and other animals…and Lake Ilinalta to the north is absolutely stunning on a sunny day. The weather in Falkreath is mild, never too bright or to rainy, but wit occasional thunderstorms, but its understandable how everything is green.
In the Rift, Jarl Layla Law-Giver lives in Mistveil Keep in Riften. Riften used to be a bustling trade city whose fishing industry was legendary. Now, the canal through the city is disgustingly stagnant and the sewers are infested with thieves—thieves you can join, if you want. There are tons of people you can help and do favors for, though, so if you like making a difference, Riften is the place to go. The entire hold is in perpetual autumn, with orangeish-yellowish-red trees and afternoon light that makes the world look like it’s been dipped in honey. The forests are full of bears and wolves, especially just north of Riften. If you take the light dirt path off the main road, the next fork will have three to four bears attacking some deer. Just a warning.