The Elder Strolls, Part 6: A Wolf Pack of One
I don't care for Riften. Well, that statement isn't really fair. I hate Riften. I hate Riften, and I wish it would burn to the ground, and I wish everyone who lives here would also burn the the ground, and I wish a bunch of giants would come and push dirt and rocks over the ashes, and I wish that whenever anyone asked about the giant dirty rock pile that smells like burnt dead bodies that sits where Riften used to be, the giants would shrug as if they didn't know.
That's my wish for Riften.
Things start going wrong before I even get inside the city. When I reach the gate, late in the evening, the guards tell me the door is locked and I have to use the north entrance. Fine, whatever. I slog around the outside of the city, running into a necromancer who attacks me, and then three bandits who attack the necromancer and then attack me. After everyone is dead and their bodies have been stripped of armor and weapons, I finally reach the north gate, where another guard tries to extort a toll out of me just to unlock the door. I complain, presumably loudly enough that he worries about getting in trouble, and he lets me in.
I'm two steps inside the gate when a huge guy gruffly warns me not to cause any trouble. Another fellow glances at me and decides I've come by my wealth (wealth?) dishonestly and that I should help him with some criminal enterprise. A woman at the inn glares at me and tells me to get out of her face before I've even crossed the room to try to hit on her. Just how inhospitable this town is can be demonstrated by the pile of hay I find in Beggar's Row, the dank chamber under the city where I hope to spend the night rent-free.
Yeah. The hay pile is owned. OWNED. A stinky matted bunch of hay in a filthy cellar frequented by penniless panhandlers is too exclusive for me.
After paying to spend the night at the inn, I visit the Temple of Mara and talk to the priest about getting hitched. I buy the (fairly expensive) Amulet of Mara from him, which, when worn, will let the other NPCs in Skyrim know that I'm on the hunt for a spouse and they might as well get used to my optimistic leering. The priest also gives me the bad news I already knew: to get someone to like me enough to want to marry me, I'll have to perform some sort of task for them. Marriage, in Skyrim, begins with deeds.
Deeds. Why did it have to be deeds? I don't do deeds. Deeds, generally, lead to adventure, excitement, riches, power, intrigue... I'm not interested in any of that crap. I just want to chop wood, craft boots, and catch butterflies. Still, I'm holding out hope that there may be some NPC with a safe, simple deed I can accomplish to win their heart (and their home).
The tough part is, I'll have to complete the deed before I even know if it's a deed that will convince someone to marry me. No one will come out and say, "Hey, ugly, I'll marry you if you bring me the enchanted toilet seat I lost in Batshit Cave." I'll have to brave the bats and retrieve the seat before I even know if the NPC is interested in marriage at all.
So, I spend the next two days wandering around, talking to NPCs, seeing what kind of deeds they need deeded, and trying to determine if the deeds are doable and if they might lead to marriage. Sure, I know there are wiki pages that can give me all this information in advance, but I'm trying to be pure. It quickly starts sinking in that this is going to be next to impossible.
There's the burly blacksmith who needs fire salts for his forge, and tells me the best way to acquire them is by killing scary magical fire monsters. Pass. An elf at the meadery wants me to smuggle a illicit barrel of hooch to a buyer out of town. Smuggling? I'm not Han Solo. A barmaid is unhappy with her boss and wants me to collect evidence of her employer's promiscuity. A Redguard is in dutch with the local gangsters. A guy on a local farm wants me to retrieve some items of his that were stolen by the Thieves Guild. The list goes on and on. I finally meet a quiet, pleasant Nord woman who doesn't want me to do anything at all, but that's only because she's dead.
Desperate, I even stop by the orphanage on the off-chance that someone will simply adopt me. Looking at these poor kids with no parents and realizing they that have even worse lives than I do cheers me up a little, but not much.
I eventually find a decent prospect: an Argonian woman working at the Riften Fishery complains that she's addicted to skooma, Skyrim's drug of choice, and asks me to bring her a healing potion to cure her. An ugly talking lizard with a crippling drug habit? It's every young man's dream. Still, as quests go, it's a simple one, especially since I happen to have a healing potion on me. I hand it to her, and she thanks me... then gives me a ring. A ring! Oh, I do! I do! A thousand times I do!
Wait. No. She's not proposing to me, she's just giving me an expensive ring as a reward for handing her a potion. Well, jeez, you stupid junkie lizard, you could have just walked to the general store in town, pawned the ring, and bought the potion yourself. Is this what adventurers have to deal with on a daily basis? Idiots who can't complete even the most simple of tasks without assistance? What a terrible job that must be: admin to every NPC in Skyrim.
Adding to my growing list of irritations with this crummy town, I notice some random dickweed is wearing the same stupid hat I am.
Come on, man! That's my signature Nordrick man-about-town lid. You're totally copying me. Then it strikes me that I don't even recall where I got this hat. I flip through my notes, and find the scribbled answer: "DEAD GUY SHACK - DUMB HAT." Oh, right. This hat belonged to the guy who got eaten in the riverside blood shack, the guy whose grisly reappearing remains drove me to this lame city in the first place. I take the hat off and throw it on the ground. This causes a stir as three nearby townspeople notice the hat, then start arguing over who saw it first, then draw weapons and actually start fighting over it. Do you see now why I hate this town?
Okay, I need a break from my depressing marriage hunt and hat-related woes. Luckily, I have another personal goal in mind. I'm a little tired of the grim, patchwork look of my banded iron armor, so I head to the blacksmith's, thinking maybe it's time to craft myself some attractive steel duds. While I'm milling around, checking out the facilities, I notice something. There's no ore smelter. What kind of blacksmith doesn't have his own ore smelter?
Another problem: neither the blacksmith nor the general store have any steel ingots for sale. Riften just keeps getting worse. There's no way to smelt or buy own ingots. I can't find anyone to marry. I caused a brawl by dropping my hat. And, I completed a quest by helping someone, which makes me feel like a common hero. A local guard can't help but rub it in: "I used to be an adventurer like you, until I took an arrow to the knee," he says in passing. Granted, guards say that a lot anyway, but I find it particularly hurtful now.
I grouchily decide to spend the next day out in the wild. Maybe there's a mining community nearby: they often have their own smelters. Maybe I can still make Riften work. I head north, and sure enough, a mine appears on my psychic radar. As I stalk slowly toward it, I spot a Khajiit, dressed in Dark Brotherhood armor, sprinting right at me. What, this assassin shit again? We fight. I immediately start losing. I use my Battle Cry. He stops fighting and starts fleeing. I kill him. I examine his dead body, and sure enough, he bears the same assassination contract as the Argonian assassin did. Look, it was cute the first time, Skyrim, but now you're just repeating yourself.
Speaking of repeats, the near-constant wolf attacks are getting a little tiresome. Why are these wolves so damn hungry and stupid? Shouldn't they know by now to chase foxes and rabbits, and leave the iron-plated, sword-wielding travelers to bigger monsters? I can always use the pelts, but having to stop seemingly every few feet to kill the same three wolves is getting old.
I finally reach the mine, but as I approach, I can already tell something is a little off. Generally, there's a little community, or stronghold, or town built around these mines, but this one is just a door in the rock wall. Weird. Inside, it's weirder. No filthy but friendly NPCs greet me as I enter the cavern. No comforting sounds of workers chipping away at the stone ring through the air. I creep around in a crouch, suspecting foul play, but no monsters or bandits charge out to meet me. It's just an abandoned mine. Worse yet, whoever abandoned it seems to have abandoned it after mining out all the ore. Apart from a bunch of mushrooms, the mine yields nothing of value.
Well, that fits in perfectly with the rest of my crummy week. No ore to smelt and no smelter to smelt it in. No one to marry and no home to be married in. I actually miss my cruddy, bloody, bone-filled shack by the river. I never should have left.
Feeling glum, I leave the mine and start the long, lonely trudge back to Riften. And what do I see a hundred yards down the road? Three wolves. Sigh. I draw my sword, then notice that they're not attacking me but each other. Wolves fighting each other? I've never seen that happen before.
As I get closer, it appears that one wolf is fighting the other two, and the one looks a bit different than the others. A little bigger, perhaps? Wait, that isn't a wolf at all, it's a dog! I hurry over to help him finish off the annoying wolves, and then look around for the dog's owner. No NPCs in sight. This dog is a stray.
What's more, I can interact with him, telling him to wait, to go home (wherever that is), or to follow me. I have a dog. I have a dog now! I name him Jasper. My mood lifted, I start walking back to Riften, turning around every few steps to make sure Jasper is really following me. He's always there, a few steps behind, panting and barking.
Okay, it's not the same as having a husband or a wife, and I still don't have a home. But I have a companion who will sit in the pub all night, happily watching me drink. What more can anyone really ask?