The Elder Strolls, Part 10: The Pale Horse
After weeks of contentedly walking everywhere at a snail's pace, I suddenly feel an overwhelming urge to rush. With my wedding over, I'm eager to leave Riften behind and start my new life in Whiterun. I can't wait to move into my new home, to find a place to store my various collected possessions, and to get back to a quiet life of smithing and hunting. Oh, and also to find my wife, I guess, who wandered away halfway through our wedding ceremony and hasn't been seen since. (You can watch the entire ceremony here on YouTube.)
So, I'm in a hurry, for a change. It feels like a cheat to hire the wagon outside the city, so I decide instead to buy a horse from the Riften stables, and moments later I'm galloping along the trail, with Jasper following. It's strange to be traveling this fast, mostly because I'm zooming past all these flowers and herbs and thistles. I should be picking them. I'm... compelled to pick them. It's almost making me tense, passing them all by like this. But, like I said, for once I'm in a hurry.
Besides the speedy travel, the horse I bought provides another useful service: it desperately wants to kill anything that threatens me. After dismounting to face some wolves, both Jasper and the horse sprint off ahead of me, kicking and biting the wolves to death before I can even contribute to the effort. A little later, a few bandits ambush us, and once again I'm late to the party, having to trail my ferociously loyal pets into battle.
The blood lust I inspire in my four-legged companions can also be a bit of a nuisance. After galloping too close to a fort, I notice Jasper has stopped following us. I ride back, and see him staring up at the fortress walls, where a bandit is perched, trying to loose arrows at us. I climb off my horse, and it joins Jasper, both of them staring longingly up at the figure but unable to reach him, like a couple of cats who have batted a toy mouse under the fridge.
I manage to kill the bandit with a few arrows, but still, my pets can sense other evil-doers inside the fort and won't leave with me. Sighing, I scramble up some rocks, jump inside the crumbling fortress walls, and kill off the remaining bandits myself. Okay? Everyone happy that I've brutally slaughtered the bad men? Can we leave now?
A little later, I help my two violent animals kill a novice fire mage who made the fatal mistake of being angry at me from a distance. Searching her body, I find she has a staff that lets me summon a familiar. Cool! Now I can conjure up a ghost wolf who will smite my enemies as well. If I could just train one of them to pick flowers, I could retire.
We cover an astounding amount of ground in just a few hours of riding, and it's mid-afternoon when we come across a familiar sight: the bandit fort Jasper and I encountered on our first trip to Whiterun. It consists of two towers on either side of the river, with a stone bridge connecting them. Last time we passed it, a female bandit demanded payment for safe passage, which I paid before being drawn into a fight. As I gallop past, I notice the place has been repopulated, and the replacement female bandit waiting by the trail doesn't ask me to pay a toll. Instead, she just runs up to my horse and attacks.
I climb down off my horse, and I can already tell this bandit is an upgrade over the original. She's spinning and hacking at me, weapons in both hands, landing several blows before I can even get my shield up. Before I know it, my health is flagging. With Jasper's help, I manage to kill her, then chug my entire inventory of health potions, and try to get back onto my horse and flee before the rest of the bandits hidden in the fort engage us.
It's too late, though. My horse has sprinted down to the river bank, for some reason: maybe a mudcrab is clacking around ominously down there. Jasper is gone as well, dashing into the tower to attack the hostile bandits inside, just as he did the last time we were here. Great, here we go again. I follow him inside, and find him halfway across the bridge, going snout-to-sword with two bandits.
I join him, hacking away at the bandit as arrows from the other side of the river clatter down, around, and into us. One bandit drops, the second steps forward to take his place, and I draw back my axe for a power attack. And then...
I see what's about to happen, but too late to stop it from happening. Jasper, ever loyal, gets between us. Already sporting an arrow in his side, he leaps at the bandit just as I swing my axe. I connect, tragically, with both of them, and Jasper, the dog who never stops making noise, falls silent and collapses to the stones. He's dead, just like that. My poor dog. His terrible epitaph, "Search Stray Dog", hovers into view, as the game now sees him as just another object to be rifled through and reminds me that I never even looked up the console code to rename him. Sorry, Jasper. You deserved better.
Well, great. This is all going great! At least I can avenge my dog by tearing this bandit jerk a new axe-hole. I step forward to start hacking when suddenly, surprisingly, my horse appears next to me. He's somehow made it into the fort, climbed the stairs, and rushed out onto the bridge to do battle. Great! Except he's so eager to kick the bandit to death that he shoves past me, and his giant fat ass knocks me right off the bridge! Also great!
I fall. Is this it? Am I about to die? I know the bridge extends out over the land quite a bit before it even reaches the river. A second later, though, I splash safely into the water below, missing the rocks by a few feet. Stupid horse! Stupid bandits! Stupid everything! This fight is going terribly. I swim to shore, rush back into the tower, climb to the second story, and head toward the doorway that leads out onto the bridge, determined to hack every last one of these bandits to death. As I reach the doorway, I'm met by my horse coming through in the other direction.
Or, I should say, I'm met by the airborne corpse of my horse, which comes sailing through the doorway and into the tower, crumpling against the far wall. I see why a moment later: a heavily armored bandit chief runs into the tower, wielding a giant two handed war hammer that absolutely looks capable of sending a horse flying through the air.
The chief bashes me once, then hauls back his giant hammer to have another try. I attempt to raise my shield, but I must be staggered from the first blow because it just won't seem to come up. I press the key for my Battle Cry power but it's far, far too late. Again, I can see what's about to happen. I just can't do anything to prevent it.
The bandit chief finishes his swing and the head of his hammer drives into my chest. Clong. I sail across the chamber, along the floor, and into the next world.
And so, just like that, Nordrick's strolling days come to a bloody, brutal end. Crushed in a heap next to his dead horse, still dressed in his ceremonial wedding armor, hand-crafted for a marriage he'll never get to enjoy. Goodbye, Jasper. Your moronic barking was irritating, but you were a good boy. Goodbye, horse. I'm sorry I never had time to name you or project a personality onto you. And goodbye, my wife, my lovely Ysolda. If I had one wish it would be that you were here with me now, dying horribly beside me, because I'm still kind of annoyed that you walked out in the middle of our wedding.
Goodbye, Nordrick. In keeping with the rules I laid out in Part 1, there's no reloading from an earlier saved game. You lived like an NPC, and so you must die like one: permanently. Still, your life, though brief, can't be seen as a failure. You survived the dangerous world of Skyrim for 52 days. You killed 37 people, 122 animals, and 3 bunnies. You crafted 92 pieces of armor, mixed 281 potions, and picked just shy of 1,000 flowers. With the exception of a couple minor tasks, you avoided quests, and with the exception of being pounded to death by the giant hammer of a heavily armored bandit chieftain, you avoided adventure.
On a personal note, may I just add this statement: DAMMIT. I can't believe that happened! I was so close to getting Nordrick everything he ever wanted, and I was genuinely looking forward to continuing to play Skyrim with him for a good long while. And now, in the blink of an eye, it's all gone.
That's death in Skyrim, though. It comes suddenly, it comes shockingly, and it comes, often, at the hands of some dickweed with a giant hammer. Thanks for reading.