Porthos was perhaps the strangest Dragonborn Talos could have chosen. Oh, he was a fierce fighter. He was a well-trained Redguard, one of the finest warriors of Hammerfell who had left on a "personal quest" in Skyrim and ended up staying.
He was vague on the details.
His strength did not make him strange, just highly respected. He carried an air of mystery that went beyond the natural aura the Nords ascribed to the Redguards. It likely had to do with his eyes.
Porthos had been born in Hammerfell to equally natural citizens of Hammerfell. Yet he bore a name more suited to a Breton, not to mention the fact he had a Nord's eyes. When asked, he would always, without fail, chuckle and respond something along the lines of, "My parents were going to name me something traditional, and then they saw my eyes. So they named me for a hero in a book. I've often been told I should have been called Shabah, on account of my eyes. To me though, they are a sign that Talos chose me, to put just enough Nords in my ancestors." -and once, over a mead, "I asked my mother once, why they named me for a hero when I was not one. She replied, 'Porthos! You are sixteen! No one is a hero at sixteen outside of the stories. If you are so worried, do your drills again.'"
As it happens with heroes, Porthos had been involved in many momentous moments. He defeated Alduin, as was his destiny. He had fought for a united Skyrim so that she could stand strong against the Aldemeri Dominion, and was deeply involved in the Battle for Windhelm, the night Ulfric Stormcloak vanished from Imperial clutches to vanish into legend. Though he was a "shoddy excuse for a mage" -his words- he had helped the College of Winterhold through the Magnus Crisis. Rumor had it the Dark Brotherhood was more efficient and honorable after his appearance. Riften's seedy tavern of The Ragged Flagon had never seen better days after he started frequenting the place.
For all the darkly clothed figures darting in and out of his homes at all hours seemingly at their leisure, Porthos never suffered from a poor reputation. He was deeply loved by the public, who for most parts considered him an open book. He was an endlessly busy man. How could he keep secrets, fluttering from one hold to the next?
The most curious part of him, he kept out of the public view, however.
They knew he was crafty. He talked Belethor into better prices more times than the merchant would like to admit. The hall of trophies and massive armory he built attested to his prowess in battle. His temper flared like any man's and left scorch marks from his breath on city walls. No one seemed to mind.
No one bothered him, really, which is why few knew that when he crawled home -no matter which house- he was always cheerfully greeted by two of his children.
It was a secret he would kill to protect, this kind heart softened further by gifts of flowers and sweets and high-pitched promises to look after the strange animal that followed them home. It was a secret he taught them to protect as well, hiding them in plain sight behind the shield and sword of housecarls and the skirts of bards. He pressed daggers into their palms as often as sweetrolls, teaching them to use misdirection and underestimation to seize victory, to save lives. He teaches them to talk their way out of the fights they start but to always make good on their threats. He teaches them shadows as much as sword (though when a daughter sets fire to previously flame-proofed curtains he waits until her left hook is comparable to his before sending her to the College).
But when it is a warm summer night in the Rift or the stars dance in color above Solitude, he throws both of his nearby children on his back and climbs to the roof. He teaches them to love the sky, to love the sense of freedom from being solitary but not alone. He teaches them to stand on their own feet, to love their humanity before their culture so they can stand on foreign soil and come to love it. On those eight rooftops across Skyrim he always points to the southwest on clear nights and teaches them constellations he only sees in his head. One of his sons grows up to see those stars for himself.
They grow up and he grows old. His children scatter like seeds.
A daughter wanders off one day, her mouth singing the persuasion a mathematical merchant boy needs. Another vanishes in the night, leaving just a black handprint behind. (A few weeks later, a very old woman tells Porthos there is a second Listener, the thumb of a new hand in High Rock.)
He offers a Dwemer expedition to his children in the Pale but his son there oversleeps and misses it, exhausted after rehearsing his audition for the Bard's College. He almost loses the daughter to a Falmer arrow, and then loses her to the academic research she throws herself into when they return to the house, laden with Dwemer acquisitions.
His "eldest" son, who grew up to put a knife in the Butcher of Windhelm, gets on a boat and sails to an ash covered island to extend guild influence, but then his letters get strange and nigh incomprehensible. At fifty four, Porthos dusts off his best armor and crafts a new sword. For the sake of one child, he leads three more of his onto the island to face the First Dragonborn and a Daedric Lord. His children think they've won, and they busily go about diving into every dungeon they can find, bringing him books and masks he'll put behind glass once he gets home. But Porthos grows heavy with each book whispering to him, and he bids farewell to two children as his Thief son stays and the daughter who wanted a sword instead of a dagger talks a Dunmer mercenary into following her for free, and then into marriage.
He grows old, and they grow up. They now know why they can never claim him, why there are a dozen and two siblings they never played with. An Arch-Mage's sister is power unlocked. A Guildmaster's brother is ransom. The Dragonborn's children are targets he refused to paint.
So the older daughter in Falkreath who talked her way into the Jarl's bed and then onto his throne talks fondly of only the carriage driver and bard. Her sister that she endlessly teased rebuilds a burnt sanctuary, weaving stories into its walls of the housecarl near who is not to be touched. When the "little one" earns her place in Skyrim's Hand, she calls the Listener by his title alone.
When the "youngest" son usurps the Treasury House from the Silver-blood family, his brother must step in, calling in every Guild favor he has to leave the family too poor to buy the mercenaries needed to be rid of the "pest." Neither brother will explain to the clever investigators why Dark Brotherhood refused every contract to take the two down.
Porthos watches a daughter ride off with caravans and never hears from her again. One son goes into a Dwemer city alone and never comes back out. His daughter in Windhelm swears she's close to finding the trail of "probably dead" Would-Be-King Ulfric, while another rises through Imperial ranks.
Another son packs up and joins vampire hunters. When Porthos wakes up to find the Elder Scroll missing, he almost burns the house to the ground. But his son returns it, and gives him two more, and a daughter-in-law who slept through the Oblivion Crisis. "She's human now, dad. It's fine." This son spirits away the Falmer researcher one day, and she returns with renewed vigor, sure she can return souls to the twisted creatures of the deep.
He grows old, and they grow out.
His grandchildren handle knives and toys with equal skill. They are what keep him from claiming more children lost in the shadows of cities as his own. Besides, he is old. His housecarls are old or replaced and thus untrusted. Who would father the children he cannot claim?
When his first grandchild disappears into Cyrodill, a woman even older than Porthos whispers to him that there is a new Hand growing in the south. And then, when that is told, she whispers "goodbye."
She never speaks to him again and he stops Listening.
But he does not stop. Old men, even old foreigners, are inherently trusted, and he is still the Dragonborn. He slips poisons in and slips gold out of pockets until the day a grandson, who knows him only as his blades tutor, knocks the sword of Alduin's Bones from the old man's grip. The grandson is sent to go adventuring, for there are some skills that can only be improved in battle, and the Dragonborn dies.
His grandchildren grow up, and Porthos grows old. Falmer start to see and Dwemer mysteries are unraveled. The College expands along with guild and brotherhood, while fewer and fewer bandits are successful.
When he is grey, and sitting outside Proudspire Manor - the rest of his homes given away to his legal progeny - his last son sits beside him -quill in his hand as ever- as they watch the city of Solitude pass by.
"I stay alive for you, you know. So that you would have something. I wonder if I did you a disfavor instead."
His son does not respond, only continues to scratch at paper with his quill.
"Samuel, why are you still here?"
His son does not answer, only continues to write whatever it is he writes when his father isn't telling stories.
"Samuel." This time brown eyes look up to meet cold blue. "The rest of my children are gone. They have made their own lives in this cold world, but you made your life out of mine. Why are you still here, when soon there will be nothing for you?"
His son sets down his quill. "I do not know about the others, but I am sure most of them have forgotten any father or mother but you. I remember. I remember my mother, sweet and lovely Constance; I remember Grelod the Kind-" he spits her name. "-and I will not let the world forget you. You, young with me and Blaise holding on for dear life, climbing to the top of this very house so you could teach us stars we'd never see."
"He went into Blackreach and you stayed here."
"That's not the point. I want to write you the way I remember and the way you tell your stories. I want my siblings to know me as I won't know them, or at least my name, and the same with Blaise. I'm sure some who took after your more shadowy pursuits have seen me when they spend the night here. I will not let the image of you that is remembered be one of you faded. You will be remembered for your soul, your spirit, your strength, not for the body that finally failed you."
Porthos is silent. Remembering and recalling. "You know my children in Solitude. Alesan and Finna, in the Pale, the Bard and the Falmer Researcher. Hroar and Runa, in the Rift. He went with me to Solthseim then fought vampires and she vanished among the Khajiit caravans. Perhaps you can find her in Elswyr. Sofie, who chased the legend of Ulfric Stormcloak, and Dengeir in Windhelm, the latter of whom opened the Thieves Guild in Solthseim. Lucia and Freya, in Whiterun, who became a wealthy merchant and the Arch-Mage, respectively. In Markarth I raised Dengeir and Vladimar, who-"
Samuel busily wrote away, tagging notes next to each name, including the place where they grew up. "Father, why did-"
"Tell their stories. Tell yours. You do not have to link them to me. In fact, ask them, particularly those that have children of their own. But Blaise, I claim him now. He is safe. Shadah, as well, Sithis hold her." Samuel nodded, and started to scrawl more but Porthos interrupted him. "Go. Now. You have most of my stories. You can get to Markarth and back before I go in any case. It may be enough time for me to remember something I have not yet shared. Go on."
His son jumped to his feet, a youthful movement for one growing old himself, rushing into the house. "Rayya! Please help me pack!"
That night, Pothos settled into bed, and the equally old housecarl, moved for her loyalty, settled in next to him.
"You still have not told him only fifteen of your children were adopted?"
"That daughter is passed. What would be the point of sharing?"
"You should have been named Asrar, my most secretive one. Secrets are not a burden for you, and they gather about you like birds to bread."
He chuckled. "Compete with Samuel when I am gone then. Share every last secret I have not told him."
"Are so certain you will pass first?"
Porthos did not immediately reply. "The Dragonborn died when I was vanquished in battled. I am no longer Listener, and Dengeir stole my Guildmaster leathers long ago. I dote on my children with the wealth from treasures I won decades ago. Every role I have played is finished. The ones that might have remained, husband and father, I could not take on until too late."
Rayya pressed a kiss his cheek. "Then remember how to be just Porthos."
"I have not been him since I was but eighteen. His "could have been" bride did not reply, already fast asleep. So Porthos thought his way through the night, chasing old dreams and fantasies, might-have-beens he no longer worried over. He never told Samuel all his secrets, but he did tell him of teaching traditional songs from Hammerfell at the Bard's College for fun while the writer was away. Rayya whispered the secrets to herself each day until twelve men and women gathered in Solitude's Hall of the Dead after the public funeral for the Dragonborn ended. Then she whispered them to Samuel, who wrote and published every story of the family but his own. The ink was drying on the last word of his own tale when Rayya found him and called for a priest of Arkay.
Porthos grew old, and his children grew old. His grandchildren that he never knew grew old.
That is how every world works, even Skyrim, and no matter how much the Altmer may protest. Heroes father children who must escape giant shadows, only to leave massive ones of their own.
Porthos died known to Skyrim as the Dragonborn, assumed the Guildmaster of the Thieves Guild and Dark Brotherhood's Listener. It was not until much later that Skyrim knew he had raised sixteen children in eight pairs to call him father, and that they each walked the path they chose, raising children to be as upstanding as the man who had raised them.
What else could be a sign of a father's success?