City elves live alongside humans and other races in cities and other major settlements, within walled-off alienages, as opposed to the nomadic existence of the Dalish. Their lifestyle dates from the destruction of the Dales, and they are frequently treated as second-class citizens throughout Thedas.
City Elf culture Edit
Alienages are the one area of human cities where elven culture is evident (diminished though it may be). The most striking testaments to this are the presence of a Hahren or "elder" and, undoubtedly, the vhenadahl (or, "Tree of the People"). This huge tree serves as a symbol of Arlathan - the first elven homeland, though some alienages have cut theirs down out of necessity. Though the realities of alienage life may seem harsh, the city elves are a downtrodden but spirited folk, and an alienage often serves to keep prejudiced invaders out, as much as to pen the elves in. Indeed, despite their plight Ferelden elves for example tend to be very proud of the relative freedom of their lives compared to city elves in Orlais or other nations. In the alienage in Val Royeaux it is said that the sunlight does not reach the vhenadahl until noon, and the walls are so high it seems the elves there are not worthy even to look upon the rest of their city. Even within a country some alienages may be perceived as more or less restrictive than others. Bribes are often necessary to move between alienages.
Alienages are a hotbed of crime, disease, alcoholism and extreme poverty, with most of their people barely managing to get by on a day-to-day basis. Some elves may manage to scrape together small savings or marriage dowries by opening a store or finding work as laborers. For the majority, however, the possibility of going hungry is simply a fact of life. Disease is also widespread in the elven slums, and virulent plagues often spring up in Alienages.
Within the alienages, elves learn how to avoid drawing attention to themselves and to keep their heads down. Elven merchants learn how far they can push to get fair prices for their goods. On the other hand, "good" city elves also look out for their community and may engage in small acts of defiance and civil disobedience, such as sheltering runners and sometimes working with the local thieves' guild. "Standing tall" against oppression is difficult and often fatal, but provides a sense of personal and communal pride.
City elves and the law Edit
Nevertheless, it is not an idyllic life in the alienage, as it is subject to nightly curfews and walled off from the rest of its respective city to allow the local guard and other authorities to lock it down if necessary. Indeed, prejudice usually dictates that the average passersby will ignore crimes against elves when they do occur, and in fact killing a human in defense of an elf (in Ferelden at least) is against the king's law.
Elves have other debatable legal rights as well, such as in terms of property ownership. Though it can happen, it is uncertain whether, under normal circumstances, elves are allowed to own property within a settlement such as a house of their own, or enforce their residence within it. Indeed, elves (in Ferelden) are considered unable to be legally identified in terms of the divestment of holdings, etc., particularly those existing outside of proscribed areas like the Alienage. In such rare cases as an elf may be willed property, real or otherwise, by another, they will in this case be referred to as the "Bequeathed" rather than by name or other identification.
This distancing, both by city elves and against them, has had the benefit of creating greater social autonomy in the alienages, yet also encouraged greater isolation of the elves as well as reinforcing their substandard status. Furthermore, restrictions on owning a business (though some individuals continue to operate in the shadows), or even a weapon, may be enforced. Those elves that do attempt to make a living on their own, in Orlais for example, must obtain permits to enter the human market districts.
Similarly, elves in the Alienage may not truly oversee their own marriage ceremonies—where rings are exchanged and vows made as in human culture—and must get a permit to marry. Officiating these events—considered in the Alienage a cause for celebration and a literal rite of adulthood—is largely left to a Revered Mother, as it is in the human community, though a Hahren may say a few words. Marriage between Alienages is common, and normally arranged by a Hahren or the intended's parents through a matchmaker sent to other alienages, if alive. This promotes trade and interaction with other elves and to bring a new face and new blood to the city.
Religious integration and syncretism Edit
Following the Exalted March upon the elven Dales, Divine Renata I decreed that a place must be made for elves in human settlements on the condition that they renounce their pantheistic beliefs. Consequently, alienage elves typically share human beliefs in other ways beyond marriage ceremonies, generally worshipping the Maker and Andraste and largely shunning the gods that their Dalish cousins hold faith with. Despite this, it is rare that an elf will be taken into the Chantry as an initiate, and full-fledged elven members of the clergy are exceptionally scarce, if any do exist at all.
In spite of this, as well as a general sense among Dalish elves that city elves are "poor cousins" that have forgotten their heritage and beliefs, there is evidence that some city elves remember the Elven pantheon and worship them in their own way. Furthermore, there is some evidence of religious syncretism within some city elf communities, revering both Creator gods and the Maker. Furthermore, city elves practice what few unique cultural rituals they remember--as slaves in the Tevinter Imperium do--to differentiate themselves from human culture.
Interaction with other cultures Edit
The Dalish are known to refer to their city cousins as "flat ears", some of them believing the city elves are no more than "pets" for humans in need of cultural education. This gives the Dalish a sometime reputation of being haughty and condescending, as self-proclaimed "true elves." To many Dalish, city elves are human in spirit if not body. As noted above, however, many city elves remember more of their past and beliefs than they are credited with.
In return, their urban kin view the Dalish as an enigmatic myth: in the same light humans do, as bandits or heathens, or else as noble wood elves or even living legends. Few know enough of the Dalish to be certain of the truth of their nomadic kin, and though some see the Dalish as a chance to learn how to be a "true elf," others resent this notion and take pride in the work they do in human settlements, such as serving nobles.
Regardless, many city elves see the clans as a last resort or safety valve should the alienage no longer become a safe place to live, either through personal misadventure or the oppression of the cities. The expectation is that the clans will accept their city brethren, and though some clans do others see them as "strays," only truly desirable if they have magical talent. Often rumors pile on top of rumors, and those who flee to the Dalish are said to return later wealthy and privy to ancient knowledge and lore. The truth is likely much less idyllic, however, even if they reach a friendly clan.
Alienage interaction with other cultures is not limited to Dalish clans, however. Given their proximity, humans tend to mix frequently with city elves. Often this relationship is one of violence on both sides, as well as abuse along racial lines, and many humans—particularly nobles—may take advantage of the comparative inequality and powerlessness of city elves to rape or abduct them, or even kill them, simply because they can. If guards are instated to an alienage, it is for the sake of controlling the elves, not protecting them. Not all interactions with humans are negative, however. Some city elves may find affection and love with humans. This results in what may be known as an "Elf-blooded" human (or in a slightly pejorative manner, a "half elf"), as the product of humans and elves are human in appearance and may normally be discouraged to protect the integrity of the People. The crisis of such individuals is whether to live life as a human outside of the Alienage, or embrace the elven side of their heritage and remain. This can be a difficult choice, however, as elf-blooded humans may endure prejudice from both sides of their heritage. When tensions grow too hot between humans and elves, the residents of the alienage may call for mien'harel, or rebellion (or else a violent call for justice, depending on the interpretation). Such attempts, however, are often futile and only result in damage to the Alienage until things settle down. Furthermore, when elven bandits are captured and executed, their ears are normally hacked off. Likewise, though some villages will trade with Dalish elves, others will kill traveling city elves on sight out of fear of them being Dalish raiders.
City elves normally interact rarely with surface dwarves, and often assume they remain as merchants in the marketplace of their respective cities. City elves normally have little interaction with Qunari as well, but may be more likely than members of other races to convert to the Qun if they do. The possibility of elven sleeper agents is seen as a particular threat to the Tevinter Imperium, and increasingly beyond.
The Chantry and the Circle of Magi Edit
- “The Chantry has failed the elves. If we made them more welcome, they would not have to run.” ―Sebastian Vael
As as a largely Andrastian community, the Alienage has dealings with Chantry culture as well; however, in a more superficial manner than humans would. Elves receive the word of the Maker, but few Revered Mothers dare to enter the Alienage without a complement of templars to protect them. Furthermore, when mages are discovered among the elves of the Alienage, they are usually sent to the Chantry's Circle of Magi. Rather than being a curse, to many—though not all—elves it may be seen as a better life, one with greater possibilities than in the cities. Indeed, elven mages are often of the Loyalist Fraternity within the Circle for this very reason. Perhaps ironically, however, magical healing from a Circle mage, for example, is nonetheless considered too good for elves. Furthermore, even within the Circle there is lingering discrimination against elves, and true equality is often unattainable for elven mages amongst their human brethren. Elves are not barred from becoming templars, but this is rare. Notably, however, elves appear to have some limited function within the Seekers of Truth as Lord Seeker Lambert employs an elven page in Dragon Age: Asunder.
City elves and the slave trade Edit
Though slavery is technically illegal in all countries except the Tevinter Imperium, it still occurs in places like Orlais under the guise of servitude. Elves in the city are frequently lured to predatory nations, particularly Tevinter, by the promise of profitable work or a warm bed, and drawn thereby into the slave trade. Also, the Antivan Crows have no compunctions about buying an elven slave to train as an assassin, and elves are therefore useful as commodities. Nevertheless, former slaves consider it a great improvement to be freed and living in the Alienage.
Notable city elves Edit
- Brand, an elven pirate working for Isabela during the events of Those Who Speak and Until We Sleep.
- Cyrion Tabris
- Elan Ve'mal
- Potter, from Dragon Age: The Stolen Throne
- The Warden, if playing the City Elf Origin or elven Magi Origin
- Willem Trialmont, the Admirable Topsider who joined the Legion of the Dead
- Shayda, an elven costermonger in the Denerim Alienage
- Wenna di Ladia, an elven archer and descendant of the Emerald Knights who fought during the Third Blight. She became a rallying cry for alienage revolts and rebellion, and is a hero to this day among city elves
- Alidda of Halamshiral, arrested and tried by Divine Clemence I for the deaths of numerous chevaliers in retaliation for their "graduation" ceremony against city elves. She escaped and died by her own hand rather than be captured.
- Skinner, a member of the Bull's Chargers. She was recruited after killing human nobles preying upon alienage elves.
- Lysas, a rebel mage
- Common foods among city elves include "salt chews," a fishy-smelling item found in shops in the alienage.
- According to David Gaider, the alienages were originally inspired by medieval Jewish ghettos, and as Thedas is a fictionalized version of Europe, that inspiration eventually encompassed other historical aspects that were added to alienage culture.
- Though many elves are too proud to do so, it is not unknown for desperation to force city elves to eat rats (or the "rabbits of the city," as they are called ) or cats to survive.
- If playing as a City Elf Warden during Dragon Age: Origins, the first Bann of Alienage may be elected.
- Though the Alienage may be considered in general culturally bankrupt by Dalish elves, city elves do remember some things of their past. This is evidenced by the existence of items like Fang, the Ream-Rot Knife and The Book of Shartan, as well as carryover ideas from Arlathan such as Hahrens and the vhenadahl.
- According to David Gaider, city elves tend not to move around much. If one is encountered in a city, it is probably where they were born.
- While the lives of city elves can be extremely difficult, the quality of life in an alienage can vary greatly from country to country. City elves in Ferelden, for example, enjoy uncommon freedoms despite often doing the meanest work available, and are proud of being "poor and free" rather than living as well-treated "slaves" as they would in Orlais.
- Halamshiral is mostly populated by elves and therefore has no alienage. Humans that form the privileged minority live separately in the High Quarter instead.
- In the Denerim Alienage, elves are not permitted to carry weapons. However, in Halamshiral, they are allowed to carry blades provided they are no longer than the palm of the hand. Elves within the thieves' guild, however, openly wear blades at their hips.
- In Orlais, an informal final test of a Chevalier's training involves roaming the streets, intoxicated, and testing one's blade by killing elves.
- Much like Casteless dwarves being forced by dire circumstances to join the Carta, city elves in Orlais may join the thieves' guild to survive, either willingly or unwillingly.
- Guards generally overlook crimes against elves