By the time this quest was opened, I had visited the Greybeards and learned how to use the Thu'um (Dreagon Shout), I had demonstrated to Delphine (the barmaid at the Sleeping Giant Inn in Riverwood who, as it turned out, was a member of the Blades, the now-defunct band of elite warriors that had been decimated by the Aldmeri Dominion) that I was indeed Dragonborn, and I had begun to unravel the mystery surrounding the return of the dragons. To that end, Delphine suggested that I should infiltrate the Thalmor Embassy near Solitude in order to find some secret documents that might shed some light on the crisis.
The plan was for me to use a forged invitation to attend one of the Thalmor Ambassador's parties, then slip away to find the documents in question. I met with Malborn, Delphine's Bosmer "inside man," who promised to smuggle my gear inside (I would be searched before entering the party) and to allow me to sneak out of the party and into the Embassy offices. All went according to plan; I met Ambassador Elenwen, conversed with a few guests...
|Confirmation that the Thalmor are trying to influence Skyrim's internal politics.|
|Confirmation that the Thalmor are just biding their time.|
Once inside the Embassy's offices, I wanted to rely on stealth to avoid contact with the Thalmor guards. While I had no moral compunctions about killing them (especially after the things I learned while engaging in "small talk" with the party guests), I thought it best to avoid causing an incident. Unfortunately, I didn't get far before I found myself in pitched battle with several Thalmor soldiers. Nevertheless, I made my way to Elenwen's private residence, found some of the documents, then proceeded downstairs into an interrogation chamber to find the remaining document. Once in the interrogation chamber, I killed the Thalmor Interrogator and his guard, then freed the prisoner they were torturing. When I found the remaining dossier, two more guards entered, Malborn in tow; apparently, his cover had been blown and he was under arrest.
Malborn risked his life for this mission; while I was aware that not all Bosmer supported the Aldmeri Dominion, I had no idea that some were actually willing to undermine it. Even if Malborn was no longer essential to the mission, I owed it to him to take out the guards and lead him to safety. Afterwards, Malborn, the prisoner (Etienne Rarnis, a thief with possible connections to the Blades), and I escaped through an underground passage, where I once again had to save Malborn, this time from a troll lying in wait.
The moral dimension of this quest is twofold. First, I have drawn some very clear lines about who deserves death and who deserves redemption. I already hated the smug fascist racism of the Thalmor, but the dossiers I recovered proved that my suspicions were right: although the Thalmor were as perplexed by the dragons as we were, they considered Ulfric Stormcloak an "asset" to be exploited for their own ends, encouraging the Nords to spill their own blood in preparation for a renewed offensive against a weakened Empire. Secondly, while I could have left Malborn and Etienne behind, and it probably would have been easier for me to do so, I felt obligated to save both of them. Malborn in particular weighed heavily on me because as a Bosmer (and therefore a claimant to the Aldmeri Dominion) he was throwing everything away in order to save the Empire. Furthermore, the memory of my fatal conflict with Faendal made me especially sensitive to my treatment of his brethren.
Later, after completing a few more quests, I decided to return to the Embassy to loot the bodies of the Thalmor I was too encumbered to loot the first time. I had to kill a few more Thalmor outside the Embassy (the checkpoint I passed through as a "party guest"), but once I got inside, I found the place deserted. I snooped around and found Elenwen all by herself; I suppose she never bothered to replace the soldiers I killed. I considered klling her right then and there, but thought she might be important later.