The Elder Scrolls

Origin of the Dragonfires

"… and would render this land alive again, not through pain but through a return to the dragon-fires of covenant" – Remanada

Glorantha kindled our Dragonfires. Ken Rolston, lead designer of TESIV and former Chaosium writer, once described this amazing setting as his "personal North Star" for writing fantasy games narratives – "a sacred, but unattainable goal". The gloranthan factor in his and especially MK's work has been noted many times. It is mostly about how TES3 & friends dealt with the laws of myth & perspective, and quite a few elements, both prominent and obscure, can be traced back to Glorantha – from Tiber's rise to the Apefolk, from Hrol's quest to the Blood Dome Templars. Tamriel learned from the best, and the Dragonfires here are another example: their honored ancestor is the Flame of Sartar at Boldhome (from the Sartar: Kingdom of Heroes HQ campaign). To sum it up, albeit criminally simplified:

King Sartar was the legendary founder of his eponymous kingdom. He managed to unite the orlanthi tribes, built cities and trade routes and temples, married the Feathered Horse Queen and became King of Dragon Pass. In 1520, he orchestrated a ritual leading to his apotheosis. Sartar "immolated himself in a bolt of lightning and rose into the sky", leaving behind a fifteen foot tall orange flame in a huge bronze brazier that could be seen from every place in Boldhome. So he finally became an immortal.
Since then, the Kingdom of Sartar was ruled by members of his bloodline, kings and cult leaders who kept the flame alive. It "symbolized the strength of the kingdom and continuity of its dynasty". Sartarite Kings found legitimation by being able to reignite the Sacred Flame, and this was a crucial part of their crowning ceremony. Under their rule, and guided by the magical Flame, Sartar thrived and prospered.
But when the Lunar Empire conquered Sartar in the Disaster Year of 1602, they quenched the Flame with their superior magic: "The fire of the land was effectively dead". In the following years, there were been attempts to throw out the Lunars, to find the last heirs of the royal lineage abroad and to rekindle the Flame of Sartar. They found the scholar Temertaine, but while being the heir of the Sartar Dynasty, he proved incapable of relighting the Flame beyond a flicker. Kallyr, in her rebellion, tried this as well. The campaign premise for hero-questing now might be that it is time to find another possible descendant of Sartar; someone worthy to reignite his Flame.

It's not difficult to see the similarities between Glorantha and Tamriel here: the importance of the Sacred Flame in a ritual of coronation, the idea that rekindling it legitimizes the rule of a dynasty; its presence as a conjunction between the realms of gods and men; finally its disappearance as a sign of crisis, followed by dramatical attempts to find or invent a suited heir of this tradition.

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So the first inspiration for Tamriel's Dragonfires was Glorantha (even if somewhat tamed; Akatosh's divine revelation rather than Sartar's barbaric self-immolation), but TESIV adjusted it for its own setting. The second inspiration for the Dragonfires in TESIV was biblical: the Flame as a symbol of Alessia's Covenant, like Noah's Covenant, just with an Eternal Flame as token instead of a rainbow (in Tamriel's mythology, this Covenant is the result of Alessia's spirited echo/"renegotiation" of Adamantia). Possibly therefore, the texts we have (e.g. the liturgical Trials of St. Alessia) often speak in less than mythical, but rather religious, even dogmatic tone about the Dragonfires, which are now bestowed upon the Empire & its ruler by their supreme god Akatosh. The other element TESIV added to its own Dragonfires then of course was its "firewall" function against otherworldly demons, which tied it closer to Oblivion's MQ topic.

But I think lore speculation might go "ad fontes" here and explore all the nuances and possibilities of the sacred Flame as if this were a Gloranthan scenario. Which calls for a less priestly & ordained, but more heroic & creative dealing with the stuff that our flickering myth is made of in between the heavens and the imperial earth.

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