This article is about the usage of the magical effect. For the philosophy upheld by the Greybeards, see Way of the Voice.
The thu'um, also called the Storm Voice or simply the Voice, is a form of magic inherent in most Nords and some others which uses the words of the language of the Dragons to form "Shouts", the equivalent of spells, of immense power. The word actually means "shout" in the Dragon language. It is said that the Dragon Language makes no distinction between debate and shouting, and so their words have always been magical, and powerful, for those who take the time to learn and understand their meaning. The Nords believe that Kyne, the embodiment of the wind who is viewed as the Nordic aspect of Kynareth, breathed onto the land at the Throat of the World to form them. As such, the Nords believe that their voice and breath is their very essence, and that channeling this life essence is how the thu'um operates. Those who can wield this power are called Tongues by the Nords. Most if not all Nords have some talent for the thu'um, but it takes particular talent and many, many years of study and training to become a Tongue. The thu'um can be used for a wide variety of purposes, anything from sharpening blades to quickly traveling across the land, even controlling animals or killing enemies. Some stories suggest that the ancient Tongues even had the power to "sing Shor's ghost into the world". The most powerful Tongues must be careful when they speak and are often gagged for safety, as their voice can cause great destruction.
The first Tongues were taught the Thu'um late in the Merethic Era by the legendary Paarthurnax. These early Nords rebelled against the Dragons, who were worshiped as gods in ancient history, and began using their new-found Shouting abilities to slay them. The three chiefs of the Tongues devised the shout Dragonrend to render Alduin temporarily mortal, but were unable to kill him and were forced to employ the use of an Elder Scroll to banish him. Most contemporary Nords believe the Thu'um was taught directly to mortals by the daughters of Kyne, in contrast to this lesser known story.
Before and during the Skyrim Conquests around 1E 240, great Nordic war chiefs were also Tongues (Derek the Tall, Jorg Helmbolg, Hoag Merkiller). They needed no typical siege weapons when attacking a city, instead using the Voice to break down the city gate and allow their armies to storm in. However, the use of the thu'um as a tool of conquest was abandoned by the Nords with the advent of the Way of the Voice, a philosophical movement which believed that the Voice should only be used in times of "True Need" (which, obviously, does not include wars for conquest). Since then, the most powerful Tongues have typically become Greybeards, a group of monks who live at High Hrothgar, a settlement near the summit of the Throat of the World, where they silently study, meditate, and train until if and when a time of True Need arrives. They speak only in the rarest of occasions, such as to announce the destiny of the great Tiber Septim, who united Tamriel into the Third Empire and later became Talos, the Ninth Divine. In 4E 201, the Greybeards spoke again to call the Dovahkiin to High Hrothgar for instruction on how to use the thu'um.
A Dragonborn (or Dovahkiin in the Dragon tongue) possesses the ability not only to absorb the souls of slain dragons, but to thereby absorb knowledge of their language, thus learning in a short time what it would take other Tongues a lifetime of intense training and study to achieve.
- Varieties of Faith in the Empire — Brother Mikhael Karkuxor
- Pocket Guide to the Empire, 1st Edition: Skyrim — Imperial Geographical Society, 2E 864
- The Five Songs of King Wulfharth
- Paarthurnax's dialogue in Skyrim.
- The Dragon War — Torhal Bjorik
- Events of Skyrim.
- Children of the Sky
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