The Silk Weavers Guild

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The Silk Weavers Guild

Postby Infragris » 29 May 2014, 00:26

Concept notes for the Silk Weavers Guild, the economical/religious organization that makes those cloaks we like. This is some further fleshing out of Nibenese culture, with a focus on the strange intersection between religion and commerce that seems to typify them. I was planning to write something coherent about them, but figured a set of notes and ideas would actually be a lot handier.
other texts on the subject:


The Guild of Silk Weavers and Moth Cultivators is one of the oldest trade organizations of Cyrodiil, said to be chartered by Alessia herself. The breeding of the silkmoth is the oldest Imperial craft, the first they mastered themselves (instead of copying it from the Elven or Nords). It is also considered the oldest faith of the Imperials: the moths were first honored in the times of the Ayleid hegemony. The Weaver's Guild is at the heart of the venerable Moth Society, one of the Niben's totem cults.

The Guild is, of course, a commercial entity, but one with a very strong sense of tradition and responsibility towards the people. The Guild is a substantial force in Nibenese affairs, the more because, as a trade guild, they can avoid the many political limitations Imperial religions usually face. The Guild is very popular with the common people, unlike most other Imperial religions and orders, who primarily look towards the Empire and the elites.

The Silkhouses
The Weavers Guild has official silkhouses in the Imperial City, Cheydinhal, Mir Corrup, and Bravil. These are large, monastery-like compounds, consisting of the weaving and cultivation halls, offices, courtyards, alchemical gardens, vaults, and even crypts. Besides their silkhouses, the Guild is also responsible for licensing and policing a large and profitable industry of manufactures and sweatshops, producing much of the common cloth and clothing for the Empire. The silk-shops are also controlled by the Guild: silk trading is a massive business in Nibenay and some cities have entire streets of shops dedicated to the purpose. Stretches of valuable silk have become popular as a kind of alternate currency or bond system, due to their intricacy and the difficulty of imitating them. As such, these silk-streets have become a kind of semi-official stock exchanges.

Activities in a silkhouse are divided between the Cultivation and the Weaving. The cultivators gather the silk and care for the moths, which requires attention, patience, a honed mind, and respect for both the moth and the souls of the dead, the other world. The weaving requires imagination, skill, a sense of color and material, perseverance, a striving for perfection in the here and now, the physical world.

Cultivation and Weaving
Nibenese silkmoths are strictly carnivorous, and, in the wild, rely on carrion to thrive and reproduce. A mature silkmoth, when in season, will seek out a decomposing cadaver and lay thousands of eggs in the remains. It then covers both eggs and cadaver in a web of silk, "drawn" from the corpse by digesting its rotting mass (the silkmoth can produce silk in both its larval and mature state, since this silk is as much a spiritual as physical manifestation). Soon, the eggs hatch, and the larvae feed themselves on the decomposed mass. After this, the larvae will cocoon themselves, later to hatch as silkmoths.

The cultivation in the silkhouse happens in low crates, usually stacked up, overflowing with a "cultivation base" of offal and animal remains, on which the moths are encouraged to breed. The effect is something like a big box full of rotting meat, covered in reddish-brown cobwebs. The cultivation halls are filled with a constant, noxious miasma due to the rotting process and the many alchemical braziers wafting smoke and vapor into the air. Moth caretakers are very susceptible to all sorts of trade-specific diseases, the most well-known being the Magnaner's Canker.

Both the cocoons and the silk wrapped around the carcasses are carefully harvested by the caretakers, and both are then subjected to purification. Silk threads are recovered through various methods, depending on the sacredness of the moth family. The cocoons of common moths are usually just boiled until the cocoons dissolve, at the cost of the immature larvae. More important moths families may not be killed, as this would doom the soul they are carrying. The caretakers have to expend massive efforts in order to coax the moths out of their cocoons without breaking the thread. This is accomplished with alchemical vapors, the correct positioning of magical stones, incantations, earnest and urgent whispering to the cocoon, and, when the situation calls for it, the distasteful practice of letting the cocoon dissolve by placing it in your mouth.

The moths, bred on a diet of meat and blood, usually produce a reddish-brown color of silk, which has to be bleached in alchemical baths (except for Ancestor silk, since the red here is the blood of the ancestor. All ancestor silk has a blood-red base color). Silk can then be colored. Many silk-dyes are extremely expensive, and the color cabinets are often the most well-guarded parts of the silkhouse, usually in the same place as the treasury, the masterpieces, and what little patches of mithril the silkhouse has a claim on. Many dyes are of exotic origin: many bright pinks and yellows come from Morrowind, where they are produced from crushed insect shells and glands. Another important color is Emperor Red, made of giant sea-snails of the southern Niben, which can only be traded by members of the Imperial court or by the elusive Red-Handed Men.

With the silk purified and woven into yarn, the actual weaving can begin. The Niben's intricate, gargantuan looms are something of a wonder in itself, and require a lifetime of study to handle. Here, enormous stretches of cloth are produced and sent on to clothing shops and secondary manufactures across Cyrodiil. Some forms of production, such as ancestor cloth, tapestries, official commissions and exquisite clothing like savor-cloaks are only produced in-house. Silk is but one of the materials required for this work, as modern Imperial cloth is often a mixture of silk, wool, cotton, metal wire, and magical incantations.

Different Kinds of Silk
Silk is ranked by in the quality of the product, and the quality of materials used in production. Some things, like the coarseness and color of the product, are simple to perceive. Others are of a more insubstantial nature, like the attributes of the soul, on which the special properties of ancestor cloth are based.

Kert-silk: the lowest and most common quality of silk. This silk does not require actual animal carcasses, but is bred on a mixture of bonemeal, offal, and organic waste. The moths, likewise, are not of the pure breeding stock - the Voha, Niithe and Eau families are barely superior to the common butterfly. No precaution is made to spare these moths in the purifying process. This silk is more coarse than others, less color-fast, and does not maintain the soul. It is the most popular and widely produced kind of silk, and some houses, like the Bravil silkhouse, produce it to the exclusion of all else. Almost all common clothing is made of Kert-silk. Sometimes also called sailor-silk, as it is used to strengthen sails and ropes.

Kur-silk: a respectable middle-class silk, not as common as Kert, but lacking the special qualities of the superior silks. It is grown on animal carcasses, supplied by local abattoirs and slaughterhouses, and the moth family at work is the Taath. This family is said to work faster and produce better silk when it hears music, as such, it is also called Choir-silk, as silkhouses have specially trained performers for this task.

Mori-silk: a subset of Kur-silk, grown only on bull cadavers. Mori-silk is used in the production of Imperial banners, flags, and the regalia of the Emperor. Permission to wear bull-silk may be granted by the Emperor, and many Nibenese aristocrats and merchant families have gained this hereditary privilege.

Glyph-silk: the silk of the glyphmoth, raised exclusively on a diet of old paper and books. The silk of the glyphmoth is used to make paper for powerful magical scrolls and books, and has many special properties for those who know how to use it. Very popular among mystics, the Mages Guild, and the Imperial administration. It is a specialty of the Cheydinhall and Mir Corrup schools.

Ancestor Silk: silk of the Riil family, the true Ancestor Moth, cultivated on human remains. Silkhouses have special crypts for this purpose. Moth-burial is the oldest of the Nibenese burial-forms: the deceased gives up his corporeal shape to the moths, that they may grow in it, and in return the moths transpose his soul to the silk. The silk is then added to his ancestral weave, his Ancestor Silk, strengthening his bloodline and safeguarding his soul. The bones are returned to the family, to dispose of as they see fit. Moth burial is no longer very popular in the Niben.
Extra: Lady N's concept art of a piece of Ancestor Silk.

Magnaner's Canker
Besides the more common afflictions that the daily handling of rotting meat and constant damp air cause, caretakers are also likely to acquire Magnaner's Canker, a disease that is difficult to treat by normal (magical) means. If a caretaker has an open wound and lacks adequate protection, chances are a moth will lay its eggs in the wounds, leaving the larvae to fester and eat the living flesh when they hatch. Despite its gruesome nature, Magnanaer's Canker is seen as a sign of holy favor, and some caretakers will deliberately provoke it by rolling their wounded hands in the mush (and usually get gangrene instead). Some Nibenese tattoos try to imitate the distinctive scars of the disease. The disease also plays a part in inter-silkhouse rivalries, as it is a useful way of covertly smuggling an exclusive breed out of a competitor's halls. The disease has strong religious connotations, and some holy men of the Moth Society go as far as to nurture the disease and let the larvae devour them whole.

Consorted Silk
A very traditional form of ancestor silk, rarely made today. It is dependent on a special, rarely invoked clause in some of the old Nibenese marriage rituals, which states that, if one of the partners dies, the other will join in the weave, meaning they will lie down next to the corpse of their spouse, and let themselves be consumed by the silk. A very romantic concept, somewhat marred by the large number of people who got cold feet when it became time to let the moths eat them alive. The Weaver's Guild considers the contract a holy promise, and some people were forced against their will to join their spouses in the weave. The Elder Council has put a temporary stop to the matter, but has not found the time to make a definite verdict. Meanwhile, silkhouses have taken to contacting the Dark Brotherhood to kill and deliver oath-breakers.

A recent fashion fad, requiring a cloak to be made of silk grown from a specific beasts' remains, trimmed with the fur of this same animal, decorated with its teeth and bones, and, if possible, enchanted with its captured soul. A lot of work, and extremely expensive, but very popular among the totem-societies. There is no evidence that these kinds of cloaks hold special magical capacities. The making of Bull-cloaks by this method is a controversial practice.

Ancestor Cloth for Foreigners
An important part of Imperial culture is the assimilation of foreigners: all races are welcome to join the "Imperial Weave", as long as they accept and submit to the customs and culture of the Empire. It comes as no surprise that enterprising social climbers have shown an interest in ancestor silk as a symbol of status. The problem, of course, is that these cloaks require a long line of ancestors who previously donated their souls to its production. The silkhouses have recently devised an intriguing alternative: it involves ritually killing the client for a couple of seconds (using the Niben's sanctioned necromancy), tapping off a substantial amount of blood, adding in some hair, bone matter (usually a tooth), and letting everything incubate in large ebony casks along with several alchemical agents, charms, and magical scrolls. This mixture will attract the effigy or echo of one's ancestors. Once it has ripened, the mixture is spread out on a catafalque in the silkhouse crypt, and the ancestor moths are left to do their thing. From the result, a brand new ancestor cloak is woven - not exactly the real thing, but the properties are identical. You even get the tooth back.

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