Eyes on the Enemy: 14. Paarthurnax

eote_14_paarthurnaxA lot had changed in Jorrvaskr, we had been gone so long. At first nothing was particularly unusual, at least not as long as we didn’t leave Farkas’ room. We were woken several times by the usual morning cacophony of Jorrvaskr – cursing and shouting, banging doors and clanking metal, people searching for armour parts, a hangover potion, hot bathwater or breakfast – but we just grinned at each other, turned around and went to sleep again. We had earned it.

But when we finally entered the hall, we found strangers who acted as if they belonged there. One of them was a Nord who wore a strange collection of armour parts, partly iron, partly dwemer and partly leather, bow strapped to his back and axe to his side, sharing a late – or second – breakfast with Athis. The Dunmer shot up and pulled me into a hug.

“Qhouri, Farkas! By Azura, you’ve taken your time to come back.”

I hugged him back tightly, glad to see him. “Sorry, but the Reach was just too nice. And Haafingar. And Hjaalmarch. Not to speak of Whiterun.”

“Smelled the roses, hm?” His eyes sparkled and flitted to Farkas. “When did you come back? You haven’t been in your bunk this morning.”

“Very late. Or early. Didn’t want to disturb you.”

Farkas chuckled and pulled me close against his side, his arm around my shoulder. “Yeah. Always so selfless, our Qhouri.”

Heat shot into my cheeks and I glared at him, but his grin was irresistible. Screw it. This was Jorrvaskr, secrets lasted five minutes at most anyway.

Athis cocked his head, a knowing smirk on his lips. “I see. ‘t was about time.”

Now I had to laugh out loudly, and it was Farkas’ turn to blush. He nodded towards the stranger who had watched the whole scene with puzzled curiosity. “And who may you be?”

Athis introduced us. “Vorstag, from Markarth. Former sword-for-hire and newest Companion recruit.”

A new recruit, that was good news. And Aela had apparently already approved of him or he wouldn’t sit so relaxed at our table and eat our food. He revealed that he had practically fled from Markarth after fulfilling a job for the Jarl and falling into disgrace with the family who owned half of the city in return. It was pretty complicated – “corrupted to the core, it is,” he said grumbling – but he looked strong and weather-worn, his gear spoke of a lot of experience, and he showed no sign of intimidation when Farkas invited him for a friendly test of his arm.

And the other newcomer wasn’t a stranger at all. Olfina had moved to Jorrvaskr, though not as a Companion. She was here because her parents’ house wasn’t safe any more, and so she had moved into an empty bunk in the dormitory and made herself useful by assisting Tilma with the daily chores.

A lot had happened in our absence. I took her out to the training yard where we could speak in private and watch the men spar.

It turned out that Thorald had indeed joined the Stormcloaks and arrived safely in Windhelm, and that his brother had followed him there. And Avulstein had barely left Whiterun when a group of Thalmor entered the city and roughed up the Battle-Borns for revealing location and purpose of Northwatch Keep.

“Jon has barely escaped,” she whispered with eyes still full of terror, “he’s in Solitude now, at the Bard’s College. We have talked, and he said he can’t go on like this, with his family and all, and I wanna join him… in a few weeks, when things have cooled down.”

And then the Thalmor had broken into her home and wreaked havoc in search for Thorald, just like he had predicted. It was pure luck that neither Fralia nor Olfina had been home in that moment, or it would have ended badly.

Only when they had tried to enter Jorrvaskr, demanding the extradition of Eorlund and especially of me, they finally met resistance. Kodlak had told them pretty clearly that they wouldn’t set so much as a foot over the hall’s doorstep, with Aela, Njada and Torvar like a wall behind him. While the Companions still held their ground, Irileth and Hrongar had arrived with a group of guards on Balgruuf’s behalf and made equally clear that the Altmer had no business not only in Jorrvaskr, but in all of Whiterun, forcing them to withdraw with gnashing teeth.

When they had tried to kill Heimskr on their way out with a sudden barrage of lightning, Hrongar had run one of them through, taken the others prisoner, force-instilled them some magicka-draining potions that Arcadia donated happily and escorted them with his personal guard to the border of the Reach. Or so he said. He was back far too fast to have made the whole journey, and his men didn’t answer any questions.

Olfina’s report was excited and breathless. Of course she was happy that her brothers were safe and she could stay in Jorrvaskr and that the Thalmor had gotten what they deserved, but she also worried about her mother and where this enmity would lead, and her anxiety was contagious. This whole affair had spread out far too wide, and it had happened exactly what we wanted to avoid – that the Companions as a whole became involved. But better we than anyone else, we were able defend ourselves after all, and it was good to know that the Jarl held his hand over his citizens – Kodlak’s arguments when I expressed my worries to him were persuasive and reassuring. But he agreed that it was probably for the best if I kept out of the way for some time and left for High Hrothgar as soon as possible.

But first, Farkas and I had an invitation that we couldn’t reject. When we brought our armours to Eorlund for the necessary repairs, we got a grumpy scolding for the state they were in, but he stashed them into a crate without a second look. And then the smith grabbed me and pulled me against his impressive chest, the other arm coming around Farkas’ shoulder.

“Thank you, both of you.” His voice was strained. “Thanks for getting him out there. And for razing that place.”

Farkas shook his head, clearly uncomfortable, but I hugged the man tightly. “I’m glad we could help, Eorlund. Something like that… it has no right to exist.”

Eorlund huffed an angry sound and released me. “Come to us for dinner, will you? Fralia wants to see you too. And I gotta show you something.”

And now we sat on the large table, had a luxurious meal with fresh leeks and tomatoes – the gods knew where Fralia got them this time of year – and a delicious warm apple pie on top, and tried to recount our journey and Thorald’s rescue without getting into too much detail. There were things parents didn’t have to know, especially as Fralia alternated between joy and grief, tears and breathless excitement. I was glad that Olfina and Vignar were there too.

Only when we all sat with wine, ale or mead at the fire, Olfina gave her father a meaningful look and vanished into a room in the back. A smirk formed on Eorlund’s face as he followed her, and even Fralia showed a content smile.

What they dragged into the main room left me speechless. Two simple wooden poles, decorated with the most beautiful sets of armour I had ever seen. Dragon armour.

“Yours,” Eorlund simply said, taking his place again.

One was made of the bones of the beasts, shimmering in the warm light. We knew that Eorlund had experimented with dragon bones before, had used them to reinforce smaller armour parts like bracers and pauldrons. But despite its amazing properties, the material light and extremely resilient at the same time, he had not been able to form it like he could form metal, making it essentially useless for real protection. Until now.

The dragon plates fit perfectly to the form of a large human male, firmly attached to layers of chainmail and sturdy leather, forming breastplate and back protection, pauldrons, greaves, boots and gauntlets. He had even added a huge shield and helmet covering head and face. It had no additional decoration, except some claws at the pauldrons, broadening the shoulders and giving the wearer an even more impressive appearance. The material shone like alabaster.

The other set was much lighter and less bulky, made from the smoothest leather I had ever touched, likewise reinforced with a thin layer of chainmail and covered with dragon scales of various sizes that were joint with thin steelen bands. The cuirass shaped a formfitting shell to protect chest and back, giving the necessary freedom of movement but still reaching down far down over the upper thighs, and was complemented with greaves, boots and gauntlets. The pauldrons had the same decoration as their heavy counterparts, the rough claws contrasting the shining scales that still reflected the light in a way that reminded of a living dragon. More claws were attached to my new shield, an adornment that would make it a weapon nearly as dangerous as my sword.

They were incredible. Beautiful. Unique. And they were ours.

Farkas just stood reverently in front of the pole and touched the smooth, polished surface of his breastplate. “That’s just… wow.”

“Try them on. I wanna see if they fit.” The pride in Eorlund’s voice was unmistakable.

I turned to him. “Eorlund… they’re awesome. But it’s too much. I mean…”

He shook his head. “Don’t argue. You saved my son from torture and death. And… both of you will need the best protection you can get. I’m happy to do my bit to make your life a bit safer.”

They fit perfectly – hardly surprising, Eorlund had made Farkas’ armours for decades and a whole set for me once before. I was eager to try out how it felt to fight in it, and we spent the whole next day getting used to our new gear, sparring against our siblings. After a few hours, it felt as if I had never worn anything else.

And then we had to say farewell again, far too soon, and we were on our way to the Throat of the World. Now that I climbed the 7000 steps for the fourth time they had lost their dread, were just a tedious and exhausting obstacle. Only that I had no idea what awaited me at the top made me itchy and sulky, and with every single step it became worse.

For the first time, I didn’t even know if I’d be granted access to the halls of High Hrothgar at all. Perhaps the Greybeards would simply refuse to talk to me. Perhaps they’d shout me down the mountain before I even set a foot inside. Perhaps Arngeir would again try to tell me what to do… and what not to do.

Then I would shout him down the mountain. The thought lifted my mood considerately.

When we stood in front of the huge doors, I hesitated, but Farkas shoved me forwards. “No chickening out now, Qhouri. Just remember to get behind me when they start to shout. There’s much more of me they’ll have to splatter first than there’s of you.”

I snorted out an unhappy laughter and pushed the wings open. At least they weren’t locked. Farkas didn’t linger in the shadows like he used to do it when I faced the Greybeards before, but stayed close to me, didn’t leave my personal space, like an extension of my own will.

All four of them stood in the dark entrance hall, a grey wall of silence. They always knew when I came.

Arngeir’s voice was grave, but he didn’t intimidate me any more. “Have you returned to the path of wisdom, Dovahkiin?”

I pondered my words carefully. No flattery this time, no diplomacy. Both had failed spectacularly already once.

“There’s no single path of wisdom, Master Arngeir. Yours is only one of many, and it’s one I’m not willing to go. I’m not willing to let Alduin destroy the world.”

Last time we had met, I was infuriated, yelling at him, throwing around insults. I wouldn’t lose my temper again. Arngeir’s gaze wandered over my face, to the point behind my shoulder where Farkas stood, motionless and silent, then back to me. His expression was blank.

“You’ve wandered many paths, Dragonborn, perhaps too many. Tell me, why should I help you to save a world that’s meant to be reborn?”

I sighed inwardly. We had discussed this before. His stance was as stubborn as annoying.

But a dark, determined voice came from behind me before I could answer. “Because it’s worth it. Because it’s beautiful and full of life.”

Arngeir’s head jerked up, a short expression of amazement flying over his face. Now or never.

“It’s not your decision alone, Arngeir,” I said.

His lips twisted, visible even in the dim, flickering light of the torches. Did he reflect my words, or did I just grate his nerves?

“I can’t help you,” he finally answered. This wasn’t the strict I don’t want to help you any more. A trace of anxiousness shone through his words.

“Then I ask for permission to speak with Paarthurnax.”

It was worth it. A faint rumble went through the building and let my knees shake as the other Greybeards suppressed a gasp of surprise. But Arngeir’s face contorted into a grimace of bewilderment and defeat, and I didn’t have to turn around to know that Farkas’ lips curled into a satisfied smirk. The silence around us lasted and built up, an oppressive silence that made it impossible to disturb it, not even by a breath. But I could stand it as I locked eyes with the Greybeard, a small smile on my face. I could bear it as long as it took.

In the end, it was broken by another voice, neither mine nor Arngeir’s. No, not a voice… a mere whisper that made me sway like a stalk of grass in the wind and hit my stomach with the force of a fist. Farkas grabbed my shoulder to steady himself. Master Einarth had taken a step forwards and stood before Arngeir, his expression resolute and determined.

“Arngeir. Rok los Dovahkiin, Strundu’ul. Rok fen tinvaak Paarthurnax.”

Even Arngeir shook on hearing these words, and as he finally lowered his gaze, fought for control and lost, his twisted, uptight expression relaxed slightly and showed a hint of relief. He turned and left the hall, his long robe swaying behind him. We followed quietly.

The atmosphere eased noticeably when we settled without a word at the fire in the living quarters. They were prepared for two. Arngeir even managed to show us a tense smile.

“You’ve indeed travelled many paths, Dovahkiin,” he said. “And you’re right, as is Master Einarth. It is not my decision if you receive the help you want. Although I’m not convinced that you’re ready for what you seek. Tell me, where did you learn about Paarthurnax?”

I answered his smile lightly. “You don’t want to know, Arngeir. Why haven’t I met him before?”

“He lives in seclusion on top of the mountain, speaks only to us and even that only seldom. But he’s the only one who may be able to help you with Dragonrend.”

“Dragonrend?”

He sighed and pinched the back of his nose, obviously hesitating to speak further. He took a deep breath. “The Shout you’re looking for. The one that defeated – no, banished – Alduin. Its words of power are unknown to us, they’re lost in time, but we do not regret this loss. Dragonrend holds no place within the Way of the Voice.”

“I need this Shout. Please show me the way to the top.”

“Only those whose Voice is strong can find the path. But we will teach you the Words that will open the way to him.”

When we stood in the courtyard in front of the iron gate that barred the way upwards, behind it a wall of whirling, impenetrable mist and snow, I touched his shoulder.

“Thank you, Master Arngeir.”

His stance lost a bit of its rigidity. “Breathe and focus, Dovahkiin.”

Only those whose voice is strong may find the path to the top.

LOK VAH KOOR. Clear Skies.

It hurt. Every Shout hurt. I knew it, I was used to it. It was only natural. I was only a human after all, releasing powers my frail mortal body wasn’t meant to handle. I was used to the burning pain in my throat, to the feeling of soreness and exhaustion after each use.

To clear the skies above the path to the Throat of the World was worse. Not only did I have to shout over and over again to keep the steep, narrow, frozen path free from the icy, swirling mist that continuously threatened to suffocate us – this Shout was directed against the elements themselves, against something no mortal should be able to control.

But it wasn’t just the shouting. The mist itself was so cold and so dense that it was impossible to breathe when it surrounded us, the small stretch of the path directly in front of us just a small, temporary, treacherous island of safety. I could hold it at bay with my efforts, but it always lingered only a short distance away, crawling closer again as soon as I gasped for breath, and when it came too close it drew every last bit of warmth and energy from our bodies.

And it were the icewraiths, the only creatures that could live inside the blinding white. They attacked viciously and in swarms, visible only when finally a bit of light hit them from above.

Farkas had to fight them alone, my body soon too sore and too weak to wield a weapon. Additionally, he took first my pack, then my weapons, then he dragged me along the short distances I managed to clear. He did it with desperate determination, lending me as much of his strength as he could.

But he couldn’t shout for me. It felt as if liquid fire flowed beneath my skin, making it blister away from my flesh, and the pain leaked into my bones, every Word like a blow to my core. And to the same extent that my Shouts became weaker, the breaks between them became shorter.

It was far too late to turn back when I realised that we wouldn’t make it, that I had overestimated myself and that Arngeir had been right with his doubts. It felt already as if we had spent a lifetime on this cursed mountain, fighting with everything we had against the incorporeal threat of the mist and the very real attacks of the wraiths. More than once I leant against my companion, only held upright by his grip around my waist, panting for breaths that seared through my tortured throat like molten iron, and we didn’t proceed a single step before the fog returned. We had both long lost every sense for time or distances, and we had no idea how far we still had to go.

I didn’t know what kept me going. The will to survive, probably. The will to reach the end of this cursed path and go on. The will not to die such a wretched death, lost and forgotten somewhere on a frozen mountainside. The hope that it could always be over, that our goal could linger behind every next turn. And most of all the will to save us both, the knowledge that Farkas was dependent on me and that I couldn’t leave him alone here, no matter what happened. As long as I could feel the tears freeze on the burning skin of my face I would try to go on, even if the Words that kept us alive only came as a whisper.

When the sunlight finally seared my eyes and Farkas hurled me into the clearing on top of the mountain, the mist snapped shut behind us like the fangs of a predator. But we lived.

I couldn’t move, and I was absolutely certain I’d never be able to speak a single word again. The cold of the snow beneath me cooled my burning skin. I buried my face in it, relished in the feeling, never wanted to breathe again. When Farkas lifted me up like a puppet and cradled me into his lap, I struggled against him, but he held me firm and wrapped my trembling frame into some furs. Strangely the touch didn’t hurt, was as soothing to the pain as the snow had been.

“Shhh,” he mumbled, “rest now. Everything else can wait.”

I closed my eyes, feeling an arm around my shoulders and fingers stroking my throat.

And then he yelled across the opening, drowning out even the howling of the wind. “And you stay where you are and leave her alone, Dragon!”

I felt that I should sleep, I was shivering with tiredness, but it wasn’t possible. In fact, I was wide awake, every muscle still trembling from exertion and cold, but my senses seemed to be sharper than usual. The sun on my skin, the icy breeze coming from the hollow path downwards, the winds howling around the mountaintop – every single sense seemed to celebrate on its own that it was still alive and working. I felt Farkas carry me away, lay me down in a shelter, and I knew without opening my eyes that he crouched before me, sword drawn and alert.

I had to concentrate on my breath, suck it in with conscious effort, but after some time the searing pain receded to a numb ache thrumming through my bones and my head. When Farkas heard me stir, he turned around and helped me to sit up, a healing potion already at hand.

“You think you can drink that?”

Just the thought to force anything but my rattled breaths through a throat that felt like an open wound covered in sticky acid made me shiver. I shook my head and pushed him away before I touched my own neck, but when I closed my eyes it was remarkably easy to tap into the pool of power inside of me. It was easier to heal myself than others, much less difficult to listen to the signals of my own body, to separate a single pain from everything else and to focus on the injury that caused it. I directed the power of the healing spell down my throat and into my lungs, just like Danica had taught me. The immediate relief let me slump back, and I propped myself on my elbows.

“Now,” I whispered and felt the flask on my lips, the bitter liquid dripping slowly into my mouth. Warmth spreading through my body and covered all aches in a soothing coat. And I was able to speak again, barely, my voice sounding raspy and hoarse.

“Let’s not let him wait any longer. I heard how you yelled at him.” I chuckled as I pulled myself to my knees.

Farkas grinned sheepishly. “Yeah. He looked so… curious. At least he didn’t shout back.”

It was a magnificent sight, the gigantic dragon lingering on top of a curved wordwall, his long neck pointing in our direction. His scales shone in the bright, harsh light up here in manifold shades of grey, dark like the stone at the underside of his neck, nearly as bright as the snow on his back. And he was the first dragon I encountered that looked old, his wings tattered, small rags at the edges fluttering in the wind. He was as large as Alduin, but where Alduin was a threatening personification of destruction, Paarthurnax was… different. I couldn’t name it. Eternal. Preserving. Somehow, the exact opposite. And yes, he really looked curious. Or at least not threatening. Not that I was an expert in dragon expressions, I knew quite well that he could simply blast us apart in a firestorm every next second.

But he didn’t shout, he spoke. And in common language, at least mostly. A good sign.

“Drem Yol Lok. Greetings, wunduniik. I am Paarthurnax.”

I hadn’t heard many dragons speak, but even his voice reminded me of Alduin’s appearance in Kynesgrove. A sound like a huge bell strumming over the mountain and the land, only barely veiling the power of his own Thu’um, only that it lacked the dripping malice in the Worldeater’s call. A voice that could be felt, not only heard.

When we approached the wall, he bent his impressive snout on the long neck down, his fangs greeting us on eyelevel.

“And you are… Dovahkiin. So. You have made your way here, to me. No easy task for a joor… mortal. Even for one of Dovah sos. Dragonblood.”

Well… considering that he was thousands of years old and that it was the highest honour even to be recognised by him, he was… not exactly frightening. But how does one address such a being correctly, even if it seems friendly?

Farkas’ hand squeezing my shoulder gave me the necessary push.

“Greetings, Paarthurnax.” I bowed slightly. Now I learned that Dragons had indeed something like a facial expression. An expression they could change. And his clearly showed amusement, although the slight baring of his fangs directly in front of my face was… a bit distracting.

“Tell me, Dovahkiin. Why do you come here, volaan? Why do you intrude on my meditation?”

Straight to the point, obviously. “I’m searching for a Shout, and this search has finally led me to you, Paarthurnax. The Shout that defeated Alduin at the end of the Dragon War. Dragonrend.”

The snakelike rising of his neck was probably the dragon equivalent to a raised eyebrow.

“Do you, now? Dragonrend, of all Words. I should have known you would not come all this way for tinvaak with an old dovah. Not just for idle conversation. You seek your weapon against my brother.”

“Yes. I won’t allow that he destroys this world.”

“Ah. You won’t allow it?” A chortle broke free from his throat, and his neck swang slowly from left to right.

“Drem. Patience. This will take some time. There are formalities which must be observed, at the first meeting of two of the dov. By long tradition, the elder speaks first.”

Formalities. What formalities could there be between a dragon and a mortal? He was ancient, and the wisdom and experience of his incredibly long life was nearly touchable, quivering like an aura around him. I was just a human. Certainly he couldn’t regard me as an equal? For me, it was enough of a formality that he didn’t eat me. Or roast me. Or whatever else he was able to do.

Suddenly the white dragon spread his wings and leapt into the air with a single push of his muscular thighs. After a few tight circles above our heads he landed behind us, and when he spoke again, his rumbling voice contained a challenge.

“Hear my Thu’um! Feel it in your bones. Match it, if you’re Dovahkiin!”

“TOOR… SHUL!”

When the burst of fire streamed above my head and smouldered the wall, the sudden heat and even more the sensation of this ancient power that nearly engulfed me let my neck hair stand on end. But it was over as soon as it began, and before I could think of a reply, the wall started to glow, releasing a single word as if the dragon’s Thu’um had awoken it.

SHUL.

I dropped to my knees, the familiar feeling of an entirely alien knowledge gushing into my mind. The raging heat of the sun. Paarthurnax regarded my reaction with something that resembled a pleased smile.

“A gift, Dovahkiin. Understand Fire as the dov do. And now, show me what you can do. Greet me not as mortal, but as dovah!”

What had started in Dustman’s Cairn was complete now – three Words, one Shout, releasing the raw power of the Dovah, the Dragonfire that was feared and cursed all over Skyrim. I knew I could match him.

“YOL TOOR SHUL!”

I felt the stonemelting heat I released, felt it coursing through my veins, breaking free in an inferno. My body arched back when the fiery jet erupted, and I barely felt the renewed pain in my tortured throat.

“Aaah… yes! Sossedov los mus. The dragonblood runs strong in you. It is long since I had the pleasure of speech with one of my own kind.”

With these words Paarthurnax lowered his gigantic body to the ground, folded his wings on his back and looked generally quite content.

“Now we can talk.” His spiked tail tapped the rocky ground impatiently, causing small chips of stone and ice to dash away. “Sit down, Dovahkiin. We can’t talk with you standing there.”

With an insecure look I sat down in front of him, crosslegged and with the still warm wall in my back, feeling tiny with the might of his physical appearance so close. But his gaze also rested on Farkas, the Companion standing motionless and silent behind me since the start of this encounter.

“You too. You wear the bones of my brethren, and I suppose you earned them. You dared to yell at me. And you aren’t a servant. Sit down.”

I wasn’t sure if this was an act of humiliation, a weird form of honouring or an attempt to intimidate the man, although the idea that a dragon needed anything but his mere presence to intimidate a human was amusing. But Farkas obeyed and settled beside me without a word.

Finally I dared to speak again. “You know what I came for, Paarthurnax. Can you teach me the Dragonrend Shout?”

Paarthurnax turned his attention to me. His eyes were weird. I was able to read his reptilian features, and his voice was dark and expressive. But his eyes were completely unreadable, showing the same bland coppery glow I had seen in so many other dragon eyes. They never changed, but now his voice revealed sympathy.

“Krosis. Sorrowfully, but no. No Dov can teach you these Words.”

No mortal knew the words, and no dragon either. The cold fist of disappointment already wanted to crush all the hopes that were tied to this visit, but I fought the feeling down. It couldn’t be all in vain. No fate could be so cruel. And I had the feeling that the old dragon had more to say.

“Why not?”

“Because it’s the only Shout ever made by joorre… mortals. It’s your creation, created as a weapon against the Dov. Our hadrimme, our minds cannot even… comprehend its concept. It’s too alien for an immortal.”

“But it’s still dragon speech, isn’t it? What does it actually do?”

“I cannot tell you in detail. I never heard it used. Kogaan. It is said to force a dragon to experience the concept of mortality. A truly vonmindoraan… incomprehensible idea to us. Incomprehensible and frightening. A powerful weapon.”

The concept of mortality. Impossible to comprehend what it would mean to a dragon, even for me who was more than familiar with it. As incomprehensible as the concept of immortality was to me.

“Paarthurnax, I need this shout. Is there any way to learn it?”

He took his time with an answer, chuckled at my obvious impatience. “All in good time, Dovahkiin. Quite literally.” He was immortal, after all. If there was anything he had in abundance, it was time. If I wanted his help, I’d have to adjust to his pace.

“First a question for you, after I’ve answered yours. Why do you want to learn this Thu’um?”

I looked puzzled. He knew it already, didn’t he? “Because it’s the only one that can stop Alduin.”

The old dragon lifted his head. “Yes, Alduin… zeymah. The elder brother, gifted, grasping and troublesome as it is so often the case with firstborn. But why? Why must you stop Alduin?”

I had no idea where this would lead. “Because the prophecy says that only the Dragonborn can stop him.”

“Yes, that’s true. But qostiid – the prophecy – tells what may be, not what will and not what should be. Qostiid sahlo aak. Just because you can do something, does not always mean you should do it. Is there no better reason than just destiny?”

It became quiet for some time. Of course there were more reasons. Better reasons. But what influence did this prophecy from ancient times really have on my life? Was I really able to make decisions of my own, or was I just a plaything of fate?

Farkas sat with crossed legs beside me and his hand covered mine, his silent presence reassuring. I thought of the bustling life in Jorrvaskr, the warmth of a fire in an inn after a day out in the cold, the friendly, helpful people I had encountered all over Skyrim. The Companions of course, first and foremost. And so many others, from Wilhelm who was waiting for us down in Ivarstead to the Jarl of Morthal and the members of Riften’s Thieves Guild. I thought of the blooming plains of Whiterun hold, of the peace and tranquillity of the forests around Falkreath and the breathtaking beauty of the aurora above the Sea of Ghosts. And of the man beside me, the laughter in his eyes, his ferocity, courage and passion.

There was only one answer that really counted.

“Alduin will end this world if I don’t stop him, and I don’t want it to end. I like this world. It’s too beautiful, too full of life.”

Paarthurnax rested his head on the ground, in a gesture of either utter exhaustion or complete relaxation, I couldn’t tell. But his head was so huge, the massive jaws with the threatening fangs only inches from my knees, that his unreadable eyes regarded me nearly at a level with my own.

“But what if this world has to end to give birth to another? Do you want to be responsible that another world cannot come to life?”

I was tired of this argument. Did he ever look down from his outlook, did he see the beauty around him? Was he interested at all in what happened down there? I remembered what Kodlak had said, a lifetime ago, to convince me to stay in Jorrvaskr. “The solitude you seek doesn’t do you any good.” It was true not only for mortals, it seemed.

“That other world will have to take care for itself. This is mine, and I want it to stay.”

The Dov seemed satisfied… for the moment.

“Pruzah. As good a reason as any. There are many who feel as you do. And for a mortal… perhaps it’s the best reason of all. After all…Ro fus… perhaps you only balance the forces that work to quicken the end of the world. Nobody knows.”

His tail twitched slightly. “I will tell you what happened at the end of the war. What you make of it… that’s your decision alone, Dovahkiin.”

The longer our conversation lasted, the more relaxed I became. And the story Paarthurnax told us was truly magnificent. The story about the events at the end of the Dragon War, events that influenced our lives until this day.

I learned that this last fight against Alduin had happened exactly where we sat now, at the Throat of the World, and that this was the reason why Paarthurnax had chosen it as his refuge. Because he had waited, for thousands of years, that his older brother reappeared, here where he had been banished.

I learned that Dragonrend wasn’t the ultimate weapon that I had thought it to be. It was just a means to cripple the might of the Worldeater, to make him vulnerable to something else.

And I learned that during that last battle, the only way for the Nord Tongues to defeat him had been the use of an Elder Scroll, and this part was the most mysterious, most incredible part of Paarthurnax’ tale. An artefact from outside of time, from a time before creation when time didn’t even exist, a relic that had always and never existed. Impossible to wrap my mind around it, but apparently it played an important role. Apparently it was possible to find a manifestation of the Elder Scroll in our reality. And that was what the Tongues did in the end – with its help, they cast Alduin forwards into their future and my present, forcing time itself to break up here on the peak.

If I wanted to learn Dragonrend, I could only learn it from its creators. And to learn it from its creators, I’d have to go the same way Alduin had gone, just in opposite direction. I’d have to cast myself back in time, with the help of an Elder Scroll.

I didn’t know how long we sat in our small circle, Paarthurnax talking, explaining history and its consequences in his longwinded way, with me asking questions in between. If we had had a campfire and a few bottles of mead, it could have been a nearly ordinary round of travelling companions, sharing the thrill of a good story. Well, as ordinary as a round of two Nords and a white dragon could be.

But this wasn’t just a tale. As thrilling as it was, it was reality. My reality.

And as much as I waited for the feeling of disbelief, of being overwhelmed, the feeling of impossible – it didn’t come. Not only did I believe every single word Paarthurnax said – after all, another incredibility, the friendly gigantic dragon lying peaceful in front of us was a being that had in fact witnessed the events he spoke about – I also believed it entirely possible to find an Elder Scroll, to go back in time and learn a Word of Power from people who were already dead for thousands of years. If he had told me to go to Sovngarde and find them there, I would have believed it as well. And tried to find a way.

I had simply seen – no, experienced – too many unbelievable things during the last year to not believe it possible.

It was long dark when Paarthurnax finally became quiet, the moons above us appearing so close as if we could touch them. I didn’t know how long we sat there in silence, shielded from the winds by the wordwall and his massive body, but all these new facts and ideas still swirled around in my head when his voice startled me up again.

“Rest now, Dovahkiin. You need your strength for the way back.”

He shifted and stretched his body, forming a wall around us that radiated a subtle warmth. And then we slept, in a shelter at the top of Skyrim, guarded by an ancient dragon. Nothing was impossible in this world.

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3 thoughts on “Eyes on the Enemy: 14. Paarthurnax

      • I don’t like Delphine, but she is right about one thing: the Greybeards want to bend the Dragonborn to their agenda just as much as she does. But with Paarthurnax, I really believe he wants to help the Dragonborn achieve the destiny she chooses. He will challenge her to make sure she really knows what she’s doing, but when she shows enough strength of character, he’s perfectly willing to defer to her and offer whatever assistance he can.

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