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This is the order sworn to protect the Emperor and his heirs. They really suck at their job.
In Morrowind, the Blades act as Imperial intelligence rather than being bodyguards.
As the Empire's eyes and ears, it is their duty to make sure the imperial wheel runs smoothly.
The Nerevarine, the incarnation of the fabled dunmer hero Nerevar, was part of the blades for an unspecified amount of time during is stay in Vvardenfell.
Following the demise of the Septim bloodline at the during the Oblivion Crisis the power and influence of The Blades has diminished significantly. While they remained as advisers and protectors to the new thrown they were eventually hunted to near extinction by the Thalmor during the Great War. Those few who managed to survive the bloodshed were forced into hiding. Among their number were Delphine and Esbern. As events at the centre of Skyrim's main storyline develop they aid the Dovahkiin in the fight against Alduin - restoring some of the power The Blades once wielded and returning them to their origin as dragon hunters.
In the period prior to the events that take place in Skyrim, and during the Great War, it is implied that The Blades has returned to an earlier role as the Empire's eyes and ears. Delphine reveals herself and many of her companions were operating within Thalmor territory when the Great War broke out.
Upon discovering the role Paarthurnax played as Alduin's lieutenant during the first dragon war The Blades seek the Dovahkiin's aid in killing him.