After discovering Sky Haven Temple, Delphine tasked me with helping her to rebuild the Blades. I was to recruit three warriors whom I thought would be well-suited to the task of hunting dragons and, perhaps eventually, protecting a Dragonborn Emperor. I chose three followers whom I knew from experience could handle the job: Uthgerd the Unbroken and Lydia (my housecarl at Breezehome) had demonstrated impressive skills in Heavy Armor, One- and Two-Handed Combat, Blocking, and Archery, so they were natural choices; I also selected Brelyna Maryon from the College of Winterhold, whose formidable Conjuration and Destruction talents allowed me to round out a small army of dragon hunters that could bring both melee and ranged attacks into any situation. Having bolstered the ranks of the Blades to Delphine's satisfaction, we went out on a few successful dragon raids without incident. I then returned to the main quest, which took me back to High Hrothgar to finally meet Paarthurnax, the leader of the Greybeards...
[SPECIAL NOTE TO THE READER: While I have clearly indicated in the banner of this blog that spoilers abound, this particular post contains what is arguably the biggest spoiler in the game. Of course, the game has been out for almost two years now, so anyone reading this blog is probably already aware of the plot twist, but one never knows.]
...who is a dragon! The animosity between the Blades and the Greybeards now makes sense. The Blades see dragons merely as a threat to be vanquished, while the Greybeards see them as powerful, near-divine beings, capable of both profound good and cataclysmic evil.
My conversation with Paarthurnax was without a doubt one of the most enlightening in the entire game. I learned not only about the history of the Dragon War, but also about the conflict at the core of dragonkind: the will to power. According to Paarthurnax, it is in the nature of dragons to seek power, regardless of mortal notions of morality. He explains his own centuries of peaceful meditation as a constant struggle against his deepest instincts. For a full appreciation of Paarthurnax's story, I recommend the reader invest some time (about 20 minutes) watching the clip below from another player's YouTube video:
In my next post, I will delve more deeply into the Nietzschean/Hegelian conflict at the core of the Alduin/Dovahkiin battle, but for now, I am limiting myself to the events that occur immediately after this encounter with the "good" dragon.
Aside from teaching me how to use my Shout more effectively, Paarthurnax pointed me in the direction of the Elder Scroll that would enable me to go back in time and learn the Dragonrend Shout that defeated Alduin ages ago. After finding the Scroll, I returned to Paarthurnax, unfurled the Scroll, saw how a trio of my ancestors banished Alduin from their era, and learned the Shout; this action broadcast my location to Alduin, who showed up to kill me before I could have a chance to defeat him. Paarthurnax, despite his nature and his previous allegiance to Alduin, battled the World-Eater in the air while I attempted to use Dragonrend to ground him. Although we did not kill Alduin this time, we managed to drive him into hiding. Paarthurnax recommended that I find and interrogate one of Alduin's minions in order to learn where he fled -- no easy task. My next move was to report to Esbern to ask for some advice.
Esbern was more than happy to offer his insights on capturing a dragon, but then he presented me with a new problem; citing his oath as a Blade, he demanded that I kill Paarthurnax, and refused to provide any more assistance to me until I did so. Delphine seconded his ultimatum, and cut me off from the further services of the Blades. Once again, I would have to choose sides in a conflict when I'd really rather not.
Actually, Esbern and Delphine express slightly different reasons for demanding the dragon's death. Esbern points out that, during the first dragon crisis, Paarthurnax was one of Alduin’s lieutenants during the first dragon crisis, and was personally responsible for a whole host of atrocities against man. The fact he eventually turned on Alduin and helped to defeat him both now and in the past is utterly irrelevant to Esbern; the old dragon must pay for his crimes. Delphine agreed, but added that Paarthurnax’s betrayal of Alduin indicates a dangerous disloyalty which could turn against me at some point; after all, if he was willing to turn on one of his own, how much more likely that he would turn on a mortal ally?
Of the two objections, Delphine’s was the easier to counter. By my figuring, there are only two scenarios in which her fears could come true. Perhaps, at some point in the future, Paarthurnax’s loyalty shifts again, and he decides he was wrong to help me in the first place – or maybe he never really turned on Alduin and was just waiting for his master to return in order to draw the Dovahkiin out. Should that happen, I am confident that I could dispatch him without too much risk. The second and more troubling scenario is that Paarthurnax is actually looking to supplant Alduin, and is using me to do it. What if Paarthurnax helped the original Tongues as a means of getting his superior out of the way? When they succeeded in sending him into the future (but not destroying him), Paarthurnax decided to wait patiently for Alduin’s return, then teach the Dovahkiin how to destroy him, only to turn on the Dragonborn once Alduin was out of the way. The problem with this second scenario is that, in order to believe that he could defeat the man who killed Alduin the World-Eater (a dragon he himself dared not attack directly), Paarthurnax would have to be both desperate and foolish, and I doubt he is either.
Esbern’s argument, on the other hand, gave me real pause. The central question is whether Paarthurnax’s current assistance mitigates his past crimes. In each encounter with an NPC who has done wrong, I have relied on the presence or absence of remorse as my barometer. To be more specific, I look for remorse in the form of action rather than words. Sinding said he regretted killing the little girl, but he was unwilling to face justice, so I killed him. Erandur rejected the Daedric Prince Vermina whom he once served, became a priest of Mara, and risked life and limb to save Dawnstar from its nightmares, so I chose to help him and refused to kill him when Vermina commanded me to do so. Paarthurnax, as far as I can tell, is more like the latter than the former. He betrayed Alduin at great personal risk, then devoted the rest of his long existence to helping the Nords master the Way of the Voice. Furthermore, everyone affected by his previous actions is long dead, so there seems to be little point in retribution. I fully appreciate the magnitude of his crimes, but to kill him at this point seems unjust.
Another point to consider: even though they began as an elite squad of dragon-hunters, the Blades served the Emperor as a personal guard, before the Thalmor eliminated them. I cannot help but be a little put off by the fact that they now refuse to help me unless I follow their commands. I don’t normally pull rank, but to be fair, I am Dovahkiin. If anything, the Blades should trust me and follow my commands, not the other way around. One might argue that the Greybeards would have the similar reaction if I did kill Paarthurnax, but then they never swore an oath to protect me, did they?
Even taking Paarthurnax's crimes into account, I cannot bring myself to kill him. I may come to regret this decision for a number of reasons, but I believe it would be base ingratitude to kill the dragon who risked his own life to save ours.