The Last Dragonborn
And in the Third century of the Fourth Era, in the lands separated from the homeland of Man by a sea of sighing spirits, I stood upon the Last Tower SNOW THROAT and turned my sight skyward, to where the summit was and was-not, and imagined I could see as Paarthurnax did once when he abided here, not with cloudy mortal-bound eyes, but with a gaze that had brushed the sleeve of the dream.
They came to me there upon my perch, singly or in their groups. I beheld among them friends, comrades, lovers; then the gates of my heart were flung wide open, and I Shouted my joy into the clear open skies –
And they spoke to me, and I to them.
But when they left – krosis. A sadness descended upon me, and I thought in my heart: How shall I live on in peace, and without sorrow? No, not without a wound in the spirit shall I leave Nirn.
Long are the days of pain and struggle I have spent within the prison of Mundus. Long have been the nights of solitude. Who but the Thalmor, kalpic unmakers that they are, can cast off their pain and solitude without regret?
Too many souls have I scattered into the Cairn, and too many are the children I made to walk the streets in want and neglect, and I cannot withdraw from them without a burden and an ache.
When I wear the Mul and Qah of a Diiv, a wyrm’s strength and armor, it is not a garment, but a skin. And to stay in this skin is to feel the heart made raw with hunger and thirst, the essence of dragon-being, the illimitable will to dominate and rule with the same tyranny wielded by Time. But alongside this heart beats another, in tandem with the rhythm of the Heart of this world, the Heart of the Missing God who wants both everything and nothing, the Heart of mankind, the Drum of the Doom of the world – by which I mean its fate and destiny, which is to exist. PADHOME LKHAN AE AI, after all, notwithstanding that I am Dov as well.
I want to take all this with me when I go. But how could I? How can a voice carry with it the tongue and lips that gave it birth? What shall I say to the ash farmer on Solstheim who leaves his plough in mid-furrow, or to the Colovian vintner who stops the wheels of his winepress? What shall I say to the forge-wife of a stronghold who stops her hammer mid-swing, or to the Cyrodiilic seamstress who stops weaving her warps and wefts from one selvedge to the next?
And so I have not gone. Here I stay, and in the deep of night I let the light of Aetherius fall on my face, and into my eyes, and I dream of the Great Forever.
The Dovahkiin on Honor
The Legate said, “Speak to us of Honor.” For her heart was heavy with guilt and doubt and she mourned still for the countrymen and the old friend who had died by her hand.
And I said, “Our souls are often battlefields, on which we wage war against our own innermost desires.
“In the snowy fields, on the icy seas, atop rocky cliffs, I have seen you raise your arm against your own people and betray the wish of your own heart. Each time you took a life, it was as though you had taken your own. Every wound you gave was one you gave yourself. Every death-blow you dealt was to your own mortal body.
“Yes, I have seen you in your tent and your castle, astride your horse and on the prow of your ship, and I saw you wear your honor as a yoke and a cuff.
“And my heart bleeds within me, sister, for your honor which should raise your spirit high has become a harness to you.
“You can only be honorable when you cease to think of honor as a goal and a fulfillment. The pain you feel is a breaking of a shell, and even as the shell of an egg must break, that new life may stand in the sun, so must you know this pain. And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of life, your pain would not seem as great as your joy.
“Think no longer upon honor and how best to gain or attain it. Accept the seasons of your life, even as we accept the seasons that pass over our fields. Look with gratitude upon the spring of your delight, and watch with serenity the winter of your grief.
“Seek not the depths of honor with measuring pole or sounding line. Weigh it not with scales. The Hall of Shor is not entered with an accounting ledger in hand.
“Just as you chose your path, others choose theirs. Your hand that took their lives was guided by their hands, just as their hands were guided by yours.
“Say not, I have found the path of honor, but rather say, I have found an honorable path. Say not, my path is that of honor, but rather say, I have found honor while walking this path.
“For honor walks all paths. Honor walks not upon a line, nor does it grow like a reed.
“It unfolds itself, like a bloom with infinite petals, and is itself a boundless immeasurable sea. You have known this.”
Then the Legate went down the mountain, leaving her guilt behind like a gift.
The Dovahkiin on Love
The bunkhouse maid said, “Speak to us of Love.” For she had confused resentment in her heart, and she hated the aunt who had saved her in her youth; but secretly, she loved her.
And I raised a hand to her cheek, and there fell a stillness upon her.
And I said, “When Love beckons you to follow her, obey, though her ways can be hard and steep. When Mara’s arms open to enfold you, yield to her. But the swords hidden in Dibella’s flowered hands can wound you.
“When Dibella speaks to you, believe in her, though her voice may shatter your dreams as the north wind lays waste the garden. Even as she embraces you, she can pierce you. Even as she is for your growth, so is she for your pruning. Even as she ascends to your greatest heights and caresses your quivering tender branches, she descends into your uttermost depths and strokes your clinging roots.
“When Mara speaks to you, believe in her, because she possesses not, nor would she be possessed – for she is sufficient unto herself. She gives naught to herself and takes naught but from herself. And think not to direct Mara’s course – if she finds us worthy, she directs ours.
“In Dibella we may know love’s pleasures, and in Mara we may know love’s peace. But in Dibella we may know the pain of too much joy, and in Mara we may be wounded by the pain of too much tenderness.
“If you fear and feel shame, then it is better for you to cover your nakedness and leave your home, and laugh, but not with all of your laughter, and weep, but not with all of your tears. Spend your nights with wicked honey-lipped young men, and stopple your mouth with jewels forever.
“But if you know that you love and desire, then be a singing brook that runs, not a stagnant pool of silence. Be wounded by Dibella giving you understanding of love. Let Mara take your hand off your own aching heart-wound.
“Bleed willingly and joyfully, so that your blood can warm your bed and hearth, so that you can wake at dawn and give thanks for another day of loving, so that you can rest at noon from your daily chores and meditate on love’s comfort, so that you can embrace your love in the evening with gratitude, and sleep with your love at night with Dibella’s praise on your lips and Mara’s praise in your heart.”
Then the maid went down the mountain and returned to her aunt to forgive and be forgiven.
The Dovahkiin on Wealth
The gem-thief said, “Speak to us of Wealth.” For in her heart, the world owed her an eternal debt, and the void in her heart was a doorway to Oblivion.
And I looked at her and shed tears, and said, “My sister-in-shadow, would that I could shower you in jewels without flaw, and cover your body with a flood of gold, if that could fill your house to completion and bring you joy!
“Tell me, sister, even as you have homecomings in the sepulcher of twilight, what of the wanderer in you, ever distant and alone?
“Your house is your larger body.
“It sleeps in the sun and creeps in the stillness of the night, and it is not dreamless, for does not your house dream? And, dreaming, does it not rise and depart for hills and farms, forests and meadows? Would that you could have rubies for blood in your veins. But that is not to be.
“What is it in your house? What do you guard with fastened doors?
“Have you peace, the quiet strength that gives you repose?
“Have you remembrances, the glimmering arches that span your mind?
“Have you hope, the shimmering path that leads you out of the darkness?
“Tell me, is it these you have? Or do you have only sapphires, the lust for sapphires that comes as a stealthy thief who enters the house as a guest under false pretenses, and then becomes the host, and then the master? And then it becomes a tamer, who with hooks and scourges makes puppets of your larger desires.
“Though the glove is silken and its fingers are nimble, the hand that wears it is hard as diamond. It strokes you to sleep, and then tears at the dignity of your flesh. It makes a mockery of your good senses, and flings them in the cistern like offal in water. Truly, the lust for sapphires murders your soul, and stands laughing at the funeral.
“But you, child of love – you, restless in rest – you shall not be trapped nor tamed.
“Make the journey you have yearned to make. Dally no longer. Sail the sea north to the hearth that awaits you on Solstheim. Your wealth awaits there, and you need steal none of it.
“Go, my sister-in-shadow. Go to your father. Glover Mallory is waiting for you.”
Then the gem went down the mountain, and the tears on her cheeks were glistening blue.
The Dovahkiin on Law
The Law-Giver said, “Speak to us of Law.” For she thought therein lay the answers to her woes.
And I told her, “You delight in laying down laws, but your people delight in breaking them. You are a child building a fort of snow, and constantly they come to destroy your work.
“But while you build your snow forts, Kyne sends more snow down upon you. And when the forts are destroyed, Kyne’s frozen tears fall upon your face. Truly, the skies grieve with the powerful.
“What of those to whom life is not a gentle snow and laws from on high are not protective walls and towers? What of those to whom life is a rock, and the law a chisel that carves their lives into your own likeness? The givers of laws wield chisels upon the rocks of people’s lives.
“What of the cripple who hates dancers?
“What of the beast in the field who loves his yoke and deems the elk and deer of the forests stray and vagrant things?
“What of the old Yokudan serpent who cannot shake its skin, and calls all others naked and shameless?
“What shall I say of these, except that they too stand in the sun, but with their backs to the sunlight? They see only their shadows, and their shadows are their laws. And what, then, is the sun to them but a caster of shadows? Then, to acknowledge the laws, what else is it but to stoop down and trace their own shadows on the ground?
“Turn around, honest Jarl. Mend the rift between you and your people. Walk while facing the sun. What laws shall be broken if you break yokes, but not upon anyone’s prison door? What laws shall they fear if they dance but stumble against no one’s iron chains?
“If a woman is happy and well-fed, and finds fair pay for work, what need shall she have to cut purses and break locks? If any man can eat and drink as he needs, what need have you for the charitable fisherman of generous heart, or the brute-handed snow-shod taker of thieves?
“Oftentimes I have heard people speak of one who commits a wrong as though he were not one of them, but a stranger unto them and an intruder upon their world.
“But I say that as a single leaf cannot turn yellow without the knowledge of the whole tree, so a wrong-doer cannot do wrong without the hidden will of all.”
Then the good-hearted ruler went down the mountain, troubled of spirit and slow of stride.
The Dovahkiin on Education
The Teacher said, “Speak to us of Education.” For the pupil had become the teacher, and the teacher the pupil, and he was pleased with this alteration.
And I said, “No teacher can reveal anything to a student, except that which already lies half-asleep in the dawning of knowledge.
“When you walk in the shadows cast by the pillars of the College, among your students, you do not give of your knowledge. You give of your faith and your love.
“If you would indeed be wise, do not bid others to enter the college of mysteries with you. Instead, lead them to the thresholds of their own minds.
“You may speak to others of changing nature and bending physical truths, altering weights and escaping the grasp of the earth, but you cannot give them your understanding.
“Likewise, a singer may sing to you the rhythms and melodies that she knows and loves, but she cannot give you the ear with which to catch the songs; neither can she give you the voice with which to echo them.
“The vision of one person does not lend wings to the vision of another.
“Each of us stands alone in knowledge and understanding.
“There are students who will seek talkative teachers through fear of being alone. The silence thereof reveals their naked ignorance to their own eyes and they would escape.
“But even teachers who talk too much may, without knowledge or forethought, reveal truths which they themselves do not understand.
“Far better, though, are those who have truths in them that they do not tell with words.
“In the bosoms of such, the augurs of knowledge dwell in contented silence, not with black grasping tendrils never sated, not even with eternity.
“When you stand before your pupils, and speak to their eager open minds, let the spirit within you move your lips and direct your tongue.
“Let the voice within your voice speak to the ear of their ear.
“Then the truths of your heart will be kept in their souls, distilled in their alembics, as wine is remembered long after the color is forgotten and the vessel is no more.”
Then the Teacher went down the mountain, overflowing with hope for the young.
The Dovahkiin on Beauty
The Orc said, “Speak to us of Beauty.” For her heart was steel and her will was as strong, but she had wandered much and she had questions.
And I put my hands on her strong arms, and squeezed, saying, “The aggrieved and the injured say: Beauty is kind and gentle. It moves about like a girl, half-shy of her own glory.
“The passionate say: Beauty is a thing of might and boldness. It is a tempest that shakes the earth below and the sky above.
“The tired and weary say: Beauty is a thing of soft whisperings. It is a faint light that quivers in the embrace of the shadow.
“The restless say: we have heard Beauty shouting among the mountains. She is in the pounding of hooves, the beating of wings, the roaring of dragons.
“In the deep of night, guards and sentries say: Beauty shall rise with the dawn of the east.
“In the sun-scorched deserts, the Khajiit say: Beauty is the lattice of the moons, giving pattern to our lives.
“In the deep dark marshes, the Argonians say: Beauty is a tall strong tree in the middle of the river, giving the sap of life to all around.
“At noon, toilers and laborers say: we have seen Beauty leaning over the hills, from the windows of sunset.
“In winter, farmers and their families say: Beauty shall come with the spring, leaping over our fields.
“All these things you have heard of beauty, in your wanderings. Yet you ask me now not of Beauty, but of a heart unsatisfied.
“Beauty is not an image you want to see, or a song you want to hear, but something you see though you close your eyes, and something you hear though you shut your ears. Beauty for you is not softness of skin, or pleasing lines and shapes, but strength of will and a steely heart.
“Mighty warrior of the Orsimer: your beauty is your life when it is unveiled.
“But you are your life, and you are beauty.”
Then the Orc went down the mountain, her shoulders strong, her back unbent as ever.
The Dovahkiin on Death
The ancient un-child said, “I would ask you now of Death.” Though in her pride of years she thought she would never need to know for herself, for all that she thought she had cheated Death with the power of blood, in her heart she feared it still.
And I said to her, “Dark Sister, you think you know the secret of Death, because you give it freely to others. But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life?
“The owl’s night-bound eyes are blind to the day, and cannot unveil the mystery of light.
“If you would indeed behold the secret of death, open your heart wide to the light of life.
“The river and the ocean are one; the light and the shadow are one; the Wheel and the Tower are one; the dawn and the dusk are one; Life and Death are one.”
“Knowing this, how come you to have denied yourself one half of the whole? Your knowledge is sundered, and you understand naught of even the half you think you possess.
“I tell you now: in the depths of your secret unutterable terror lies your silent knowledge of the beyond.
“Like a seed dreaming in the snow, your cold unmoving heart dreams of spring.
“Trust the dreams, for in them is the secret to eternity.
“Your fear of death is the trembling of the servant when he stands before his queen, whose hand is to be laid on him in honor. Is the servant not joyful beneath his trembling, that he shall wear the mark of the queen? Yet is he not more mindful of his trembling?
“Your embrace of killing is the shuddering of a skooma-slave when he is about to swallow a draught of his drug. Is the slave not joyful beneath his shuddering, that he shall soon slake his thirst and banish his shivers? Yet is he not more mindful of his shuddering?
“For what is it to die but to stand naked in the Breath of Kyne and melt into the sun? What is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from restless winds? What is it to kill, but to release from a frozen harbor a soul unfettered, back into the sleeve of dreams?
“On the day you yourself drink from the river of silence, on that day you will indeed sing.
“And when the earth has finally claimed your limbs, only then shall you truly dance.”
Then the un-child went down the mountain, unshrouded by woe, and as she did she cast off her hooded cloak, to feel the light of the sun on her pale young face.
These things the Last Dragonborn did Speak, and we heard her. There were many more things that she said, the which, if they should be written every one, we suppose that even Nirn itself could not contain the books thereof.