The Elder Strolls, Part 5: Spring Break
I've settled into a comfy routine during my past week in Skyrim. I spend time by my new riverside shack, hunting, fishing, gathering alchemy ingredients, and chopping wood at a nearby mill. Every other day I make the walk to Windhelm to mix potions and craft armor to sell to vendors. I even run (well, walk) into a giant who is doing some strolling of his own near my house, and to my delight he doesn't try to kill me or ask me to do something for him. In my mind, he's the perfect NPC: completely indifferent to my existence. I've named him Andre.
This morning, however, on my way back from spending the night in Windhelm, something is nagging at me. I've spent my morning walk trying to figure out what do to next, but I'm drawing a blank. Where do I go from here? What's on my to-do list? And then, as my shack comes into view, I suddenly realize why I'm having so much trouble planning my next move: I may not actually have a next move.
I mean, isn't this the dream realized? Isn't this mission accomplished? I'm living as an NPC. I've got several ways to make money. While my crafting business is still operating at a loss, alchemy is paying off and it's only a matter of time until I grind my smithing and speech skills high enough to start turning a profit at the forge. I've got a home to live in rent-free and a quiet yet enjoyable routine. For all intents and purposes, I've done what I set out to do. Isn't this, well... the end?
As I step inside my blood-stained hovel, however, I notice something is wrong. It's the books. When I first arrived here, they were stacked in a pile on the table, but I'd moved them to the bookcase where they belong. Today, they're back on the table in that same neat stack. Next to them lies a dagger, which I'm pretty sure I moved to the nightstand. What's going on here? Who undid all my painstaking interior decorating?
More alarmingly, sitting in the center of the room, on the floor, is a bloody skull and ribcage. These belonged to the previous owner, who had been partially devoured by a sabercat, and I had kicked them into the river and watched them float downstream. Now, though, they're back, reset to their original positions. It seems I have a roommate, a dead roommate, and no matter how many times I kick his disgusting remains into the river, he will return. An even more dreadful thought: if the dead victim of the sabercat keeps returning, isn't there a chance the sabercat itself will return as well?
As I halfheartedly kick the bones back into the river, I realize the truth of the matter: as much as I've tried to make this filthy busted shack a home, it simply isn't, and never will be. It's a borrowed hut belonging to the bones of a dead man. As low as I've set my expectations for Nordrick's life, this simply won't do. I want and need a real home. The question now is: how to acquire one?
I can't buy a real house: as far as I know, all the buyable homes are tied to dangerous quests and tasks. The only other way to acquire a house is to marry an NPC who already owns a home, and move in with them. Nordrick needs to get hitched for the most romantic of reasons: to own property.
Of course, I can't just walk up to nearest man, woman, or indifferent giant and simply propose. Getting married in Skyrim is a three-step process. First, you have to travel to the town of Riften, which lies to the far southeast of Skyrim. Second, you have to visit the Temple of Mara and buy an amulet which, when worn, will signal to the other NPCs that you're interested in bumping uglies on an exclusive basis. Third... well, the third step is incredibly problematic for an NPC like Nordrick, so I'm not even going to think about it at the moment. It's all moot unless I can reach Riften anyway, and Riften is a hell of a long stroll from here. I won't be able to sneak around the edge of the map like I did on my trip to Windhlem: I've got to march straight through the interior of Skyrim.
To Riften, then! I set out in the early morning and leave the bloody shack behind, perhaps for good. Examining my map, it looks like I can follow the river pretty much all the way there. That's good news: if I run into trouble, I can always swim to safety.
It's around noon when I come across a small camp with tents and bedrolls, sitting on the rocks amidst some bubbling hot springs. I don't see anyone around, which is odd, because I can clearly hear someone talking to me. "Yes?" the voice says. Then, "Do you need something?" Finally, I look straight down and see that I've nearly stepped on a half-naked female hunter who is lying in the hot springs at my feet. Oh. Hi there. I didn't notice you lying there being pretty much nude.
I spot another two nearly nude hunters also enjoying the hot springs. Well, when in Rome, right? I strip off my armor and hop into the water with them. I can't sit down with them, though, and crouching just feels a bit... predatory. So, I just sort of stand there awkwardly for a while. The hunters stare at me and offer up conversational tidbits like "Hello" and "Huh?" Then they start making nasty comments about how I'm not wearing anything, which is a bit hypocritical. People in glass houses shouldn't sit around in their skivvies.
My beefcake display clearly unappreciated, I strap up and move on, eventually finding a small mining community at the base of the mountain I'm going to need to climb. I do some mining and pick their crops, but I can't find anyone to sell the crops to, so I just drop the wheat in a neat pile for them. I'm honest that way. I meet an NPC named Annekke Crag-Jumper, who talks to me a bit about her marriage. Maybe that's a good omen for my search for a spouse. (I wonder if her maiden name was Crag, and her husband's last name was Jumper, and she went with the hyphenated option.)
I spend the night in a spare bedroll, and in the morning I get a good look at the mountain that stands between me and Riften. It's going to be a long climb. There's a switchback trail snaking up the side of the mountain, but it takes me away from my escape route, the river, which is now basically a series of waterfalls. Well, as long as I don't run into anything large and angry halfway up the mountain, I'll be fine.
I run into something large and angry halfway up the mountain. Sabercat! We spot each other at the same time. I freeze, he leaps. I manage to get a single arrow into him as he charges, and then unleash my Battle Cry power right into his big, furry face. He runs off in fright, thankfully heading past me, down the mountain, allowing me to continue up without having to worry about meeting him again. Perfect. As long as I don't run into another sabercat today, I'll be fine.
I run into another sabercat roughly two minutes later. Okay! No river to dive into, no magic shriek to send the sabercat away harmlessly. Just my arrows and sword between me and the abyss. It's pucker time. I manage to get two arrows into the beast before it's on me, then switch to my shield and scimitar. I block one swipe, then raise my weapon for what I hope will be a deadly slash.
And wouldn't you know it, it's a damn deadly slash, right through the beast's neck. Fatality! It's dead. That was, um. Easy? Almost disappointingly so. Is it that my smithing has improved my bow and scimitar so much that they're actually dangerous? Or am I just a badass and didn't know it? I did look pretty buff while I was standing around naked earlier.
The next morning, having spent the night in another camp, I've reached the top of the mountain and am heading along the river again. Riften is finally in sight when I spot a female Argonian running directly at me. Before I can even ask her to marry me, she's leaping at my face with a sword in one hand and a dagger in the other. She spins, she whirls, she dances, stabbing and slashing in a balletic display of violence that would be difficult not to admire if she were not carving me into bloody little Nordrick nuggets. I finally get my shield up and saber out and fight back. My swings are slow and spastic compared with hers, and it seems pretty clear I'm outmatched. I still have my ace in the hole, though: I hit her with my Battle Cry, which has recharged since I used it yesterday. As she pauses ever so briefly, gripped in fear and preparing to flee, I cut her down.
What the hell was that all about? I examine her corpse, noticing that she's wearing assassin's armor and that her name is "Assassin." This wasn't some common bandit or thug, this was the Dark Brotherhood. But why was she attacking me? Then I find the note on her body.
Someone wants me dead? Not just wants me dead, but wants me dead so badly they actually they took time out of their day to pray to an shadowy deity and pay for a contract on my life? Why? What the hell did I ever do? And to whom did I do it?
As I walk the remaining steps to Riften, I assemble a mental list of those who might hate me enough to hire an assassin. Someone in Dawnstar, angry I'd lured a giant angry troll into town? The hot springs hunters, offended by my casual nudity? One of the Jarls, because I always sit on their thrones when they're not looking? The blacksmith in Windhelm, because every time I want to use the grindstone or the forge, and he's using it, I'll just stand there repeatedly poking it with my hand until he finally gets the hint and stops using it? Yeah, probably that last one. I can be pretty annoying like that.
Well, no matter. My feelings are a little hurt, but a personalized assassination contract is kind of a cool souvenir. It actually says "Nordrick" on it! I'm really making a name for myself.