The Song of Deirdre – Chap. 42

 

Paarthurnax’s Retreat

 

The snow settled, revealing a dragon nearly as large as Alduin, just steps away from us. It was the color of milk mixed with dark honey, and it bore the scars of many battles. One of its forked horns had broken off at the base. It had once sported two tusk-like horns sprouting from its chin like a beard, but one was reduced to a stump.

I was just wondering what opponent had done that to him when Lydia drew her axe, shouting, “You never should have come here, dragon!”

“Yet this is my strunmah, wunduniik,” the dragon replied, “my mountain. Perhaps I should say the same to you. Yet one of you joorre has a strong Thu’um, or you would not have passed through the mists.”

“Wait,” I said. “You’re Paarthurnax?”

“Yes, Paarthurnax is my name, and I have lived here for thousands of years.”

“I should have realized you’d be a dragon,” I said, motioning for Lydia to put her axe away. “The Dragon Wars said it was the dov who taught the ancient Nords to shout.”

“Yes, long ago, Kynareth, whom the Nords name Kyne, urged me to take pity on the joorre, mortals, who were enslaved by the dragon priests.”

“We need your help once again. Alduin has returned. I need to learn the Dragonrend shout.”

“Yes Alduin’s return is known to me. I predicted it long ago, and so I have waited here for long years – as I have waited for you, Dovahkiin.

“You know me?”

“Who else would come here at this time, seeking a weapon to defeat Alduin? As it was prophesied, you have appeared at the same turning of the wheel of time. But drem, patience.”

“Patience! Two seasons have turned since Alduin returned, and many weeks since the Greybeards called me. Many have died in the fire and ice of the dov, and many more have felt their talons and their fangs. I am far from being patient.”

“Yet there are formalities at the first meeting of two of the dov. Hear my Thu’um, feel it in your bones. Match it if you are indeed Dovahkiin.

He turned to the word wall across the summit plateau. “Yol-Toor-Shul!” he shouted, blasting it with his Fire Breath. A glowing rune appeared on the wall once the fire abated.

“Go, learn this Word of Power. Then use it on me if you can.”

I approached the glowing rune and heard the word Yol echoing in my mind. Then Paarthurnax shared his deep understanding of the word, as Borri and Arngeir had done before. Yet this time, I felt I understood the word even more deeply – these were not just words I could shout, but a breath of fire was now part of my being.

“Now, let me taste your Thu’um,” Paarthurnax said.

When I shouted at him, he basked in the ball of flame that enveloped him. “Yes! Sossedov los mal. The Dragonblood runs strong in you. It is long since I have had tinvaak, speech with my own kind.”

“I have little time for tinvaak, I am afraid. I must learn this shout to use on Alduin, then find him somehow, before he destroys the world.”

“Yet, I do not know the Thu’um you seek.”

I stared at him. “But I thought … surely you … the one who taught the Voice to the Ancients…”

“This shout cannot be known to me, or to any of the dov. Your kind, mortals, created it as a weapon against the dragons. Our minds cannot even comprehend it.”

“Then how does it work?”

“It was said to force a dragon to experience the concept of mortality, a truly incomprehensible idea to the immortal dov. Its power would force a dovah out of the sky, making it vulnerable to attack by other means. Do you see now why no dovah could use such a shout?”

I didn’t know what to say, but Lydia could not contain herself. “What!? Your Greybeards have sent my thane hither and yon for the last month and more. They said it was the only way to prepare herself. Yet that wasn’t enough. Now they’ve sent her here, and you can teach her nothing? Really, my thane, let us face Alduin with my axe and the shouts you already know. I grow tired of seeing you treated this way.”

Mey joor! It would be your dinok, your death,” said Paarthurnax. “No axe, no matter how strong the arm that wields it, can touch Alduin. And as powerful as the Dovahkiin is, she is not yet ready to face the World Eater, not without this shout you call Dragonrend.”

“Then what must I do?” I asked, though I thought our plight was hopeless.

Drem. First, let me ask a question of you. Why do you want to learn this Thu’um?”

“Isn’t it obvious? I want to keep Alduin from destroying the world.”

“Yet some would say this world must pass before the next can come into being. Would you keep the next world from being born?”

“Yes, people keep telling me this, even Alduin,” I said.

“You have spoken with my elder brother?”

“Yes, he comes to me in my dreams. And I’ll give you the same answer I gave him. I like this world. The next world will have to take care of itself.”

Pruzah. As good an answer as any.” He regarded me for a moment. “Ro fus,” he said as if thinking aloud. “Yes. Perhaps it is so. It may be that our father, Akatosh, sent you into this world to balance the forces within it, to slow those that would hasten it toward its end. Even we who ride the currents of Time cannot see Time’s end.”

“Enough philosophy!” Lydia snapped. “If you can’t help us, dragon, why are we standing around talking?”

“Hin koriid lost hadrim do strunne. But perhaps I can help you, though I do not know the shout you seek.”

“How?”

“Perhaps none but I now remember how the Ancient Tongues – Gormlaith, Hakon, and Felldir – defeated my brother. It was here, on this very mountain!”

“And that was when they used Dragonrend?”

“Yes, but it was not Dragonrend alone that allowed them to vanquish Alduin. No, for not even with that mighty weapon could he be slain.”

“So, what was it?” Lydia demanded. “How many weapons does it take to kill this bastard?”

“It remains to be seen whether anything can kill Alduin. For he was only cast adrift on the currents of time, flung forward into the future which is your present.”

“But how could they do that?”

“It was the Kel, the Elder Scroll.”

“Oh, an Elder Scroll – is that all?” Lydia asked. “This just gets better and better.”

My knowledge of the Elder Scrolls was hazy at best – ancient prophecies, I thought. I remembered they were housed at the White-Gold Tower, but scattered in the Great War.

“How to explain in your tongue? The dov have words for such things that joorre do not. The Scrolls are artifacts outside Time. They do not exist, yet they have always existed. They are fragments of Creation itself.”

“That sounds dangerous,” I said.

“They are. They have often been used for prophecy, but that is only part of their power. When the ancient heroes used this Kel to fling Alduin out of their world, they broke Time itself.” He nodded at a glowing, shimmering column of light beyond the word wall. “There is the Tiid Ahraan, the Time Wound.”

“So they sent him into the future so we could deal with him?” Lydia asked.

“That was not their purpose. Some hoped he would be lost forever. Meyye! I knew better. Time flows ever onward. I knew he must return someday to the Tiid Ahraan. And so I have waited. But when he returned, I was powerless to stop him. I have grown soft while waiting here these ages, while he retained his full power. Too, his wroth was great. I could not stand against him. And so I have waited for you, Dovahkiin.”

“I still don’t see how this helps us,” Lydia said. “Shouts no one can teach, Elder Scrolls that only postpone our doom – what good are they?”

“Yes, Master, how can any of this help us to defeat Alduin?”

“If you brought that Kel here to the Time Wound, you could cast yourself back to the other end of the break. You could learn Dragonrend from those who created it, absorbing it in the power of its first utterance. In the hands of one as powerful as you, perhaps it would be enough to vanquish Alduin for all time.”

“Yet even if I had that power, how will I force Alduin to face me? I cannot fly.”

“Hmmm. Alduin’s pride will be his downfall. When he senses that you have grown nearly as great as he, he will not be able to resist challenging you. That, and the very bones of creation will tremble when you bring that Kel here to the Time Wound. For this is the last pillar of creation. When Alduin senses its tremors, he will come here to complete his task. Then the Battle at the End of Time will begin, and we will see which of you will fulfill your destiny.”

“I knew we were coming near to the end. Now tell me, where is this Elder Scroll?”

Paarthurnax bowed his head. “Krosis. Pardon. I do not know. I have not left this mountain in many ages of man, and I know little of what passes below.”

How foolish could I be, I thought, to believe that the end was drawing near? Always it seemed but two steps away, yet always it receded into the future. “Is there no help you can give me in finding it?”

“No. But the Tongues had it once – perhaps the masters on the slopes below still keep it.”

“Perhaps,” I said, though it didn’t seem likely. Then I thought of the only other person I knew who might possess such lore. “Urag, the lorekeeper at the College of Winterhold,” I said. “Maybe he will know something. Maybe the Arcanaeum even holds one within its vaults!”

“Trust your instincts, Dovahkiin. Your dragonblood will show you the way.”

I bowed to Paarthurnax. “I thank you for your help, Master, but I have one last question.”

“Yes?”

“Why did you turn against your own kind?”

“Hmmm, some say it was merely the jealousy of a younger brother for the firstborn. But no. Kynareth spoke to me, because she is the god of the sky, the domain of the dov. But she carried the message of the other gods – Julianos, god of Wisdom; Stendarr, god of justice and mercy; and Mara, goddess of compassion. While they couldn’t make me see what it meant for these mortals to die, they did make me feel their suffering over the loss of their loved ones. I saw the lovers crying for their sweethearts, the wives for their husbands, the children for their parents, and I understood their anguish. And so I took pity on mankind, though it meant the defeat of many of my brothers, and even Alduin himself.”

“And now you know why I must stop Alduin.”

He tipped his head so that his tusks brushed the snow. “Geh, Dovahkiin, Zu’u mindoraan.”

 

*~*~*

 

When we returned to High Hrothgar that afternoon, we found Arngeir at one of the meditation altars. The last rays of the sun slanted through the stained glass window, bathing him in an unNirnly light. He looked up as we entered.

“Ah, I can see from your expression that Paarthurnax did not have what you seek.”

“No. Somehow I think you knew he could never teach me Dragonrend.”

He shook his head. “It is not for us to predict what our master can or cannot know.”

“He says an Elder Scroll might help me learn Dragonrend. Do you know where we can find one?”

He stood up to face me, his face rigid. “No, we do not concern ourselves with such blasphemies. The gods themselves would rightly fear to tamper with such things.”

“Yet the Ancients used one to cast Alduin adrift in Time. If they had an Elder Scroll, Paarthurnax thought it might have passed to you here at High Hrothgar.”

“No, if Jurgen Windcaller possessed such a thing, he had the wisdom to dispose of it before he founded our order. Or perhaps the scroll was lost at the Battle of Red Mountain, falling into Dwemer or Chimer hands.”

“And you have no idea how we might find it?”

“No, but the mages at your college might. Such blasphemies have always been their stock in trade. But I warn you, if you do lay your hands on this kel, you must use all your caution and all your wisdom, or it will destroy you. Tell me, what are you supposed to do with it once you get it?”

“I’m to bring it here to the Throat of the World, to the Time Wound.”

He seemed to relax then, giving a smile of resignation. “Ah, so you will play your part in the prophecy, though perhaps not the one you expected. Do you not see that carrying this fragment of Creation to the Time Wound could be the very thing that will bring this world to an end?”

“Yet what else can I do? If I do not, then Alduin and his dragons will continue to bring untold suffering to the people of Skyrim.”

He held out his hands. “I do not know. You can only play your role and follow the path set before you. But know this: the choice to begin the Battle at the End of Time is in your hands. Once you make that choice, you must defeat Alduin, or this world will end.”

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