It's a little weird to admit that, as a grown man, I have a genuine emotional attachment to a fake dog in a video game. And yet I do. I love my new dog, Jasper. I love him . He has bright, cheerful eyes and a big panting smile. He happily follows me everywhere I stroll. When I stop, he sits or lies down. He pitches in during combat, and helps me hunt large game like deer and elk (animals too large for me to kill with one shot from my bow), bounding after and finishing off the wounded beasts that would have otherwise escaped.
My warm feelings for Jasper help me overlook his main flaw, which is his incessant, endless barking. They also explain the sudden bolt of terror and sadness I feel when, while crossing a river, Jasper gets trapped in the current and sucked over a waterfall.
We left Riften a few days ago after I decided to take my marriage search to a new, hopefully more pleasant location: Skyrim's central city of Whiterun. Before we left Riften, I checked with the blacksmith again and found he'd somehow filled his inventory with a bunch of steel ingots, so I whanged myself out a new suit of armor, and improved it to "exquisite" levels. It doesn't look particularity exquisite on Nordrick's ugly, awkward frame, but it's an improvement.
When I consulted my map to plan our trip, I noticed a wee little obstacle between Riften and Whiterun: the tallest, most intimidating mountain in Skyrim. My options were to travel around it to the south, where it looked like there may be a partial mountain pass, or skirt it to the north, which would take me most of the way back to Windhelm. I opted for the latter. It's familiar ground, and NPCs like Nordrick are known for retreading their steps. I knew what to expect from the terrain and where to find places to spend my nights. Most of all, I was worried that if I passed through mountainous terrain to the south, Jasper might have difficulty following me over cliffs and rocks, and I didn't want to lose him.
I'll spare you the intricate details of the first part of the trip, since there really weren't many. There were some wolf attacks, one angry sabre cat (which I've mistakenly been spelling "sabercat" this whole time), a couple bandits and some skeevers, but otherwise I just picked flowers, caught butterflies and fish, and walked along the river with Jasper as he barked non-stop from dawn until dusk.
Now, though, I've stupidly crossed the river a little too close to a waterfall, and poor Jasper can't quite make it across. He tries: he paddles with his big feet, his shiny eyes fixed on me, in a display I would find comical if I weren't so scared he was about to die. I run into the river -- I don't know why, really, since I can't help him or grab him -- and we both fight the current, but a moment later he disappears over the falls. Then, I'm sucked over as well, plummeting down to whatever lies below. Pounding water. Roaring noise. Jagged rocks. The abyss.
Actually, we're both fine. No worries. In fact, we both run back up to the waterfall and go over it a couple more times. It's fun!
As we continue along, I realize I'm running low on arrows, and decide that we might as well stop in Windhelm, my old strolling grounds, since it's not too far out of the way. Plus, I can poll the locals to see if any of them might be interested in marrying me, since I wasn't able to last time I was there. We even stop in for a night at my old bloody riverside shack along the way. The sabre cat hasn't returned, but the disgusting bones have. Again. I kick them back into the river for old time's sake.
The next morning I return to the familiar bleak, snowy streets of Windhelm, and after conducting my usual potion and crafting-related business, I drift around the city for a day, talking to the locals about the endless series of tasks they are unable to complete for themselves. And then, after giving a gold coin to a beggar named Angrenor: a bombshell. A bombshell of love . The beggar notices I'm wearing an Amulet of Mara.
For the uninitiated, the dialogue option "Interested in me?" really means "Interested in marrying me?" This is it. If I want to, I can totally marry this guy. His deed was simple: just give him a coin. I always donate to beggars because it gives me a nice Speech buff I can use on the vendors. Angrenor says he is indeed interested in me, and then tentatively asks if I'm interested in him . Am I interested in marrying a stinky, sleeveless beggar? Are you kidding ? I'm so interested I feel like my head is going to explode.
And yet, I don't want to say yes. I can't rush into this decision, not me, Nordrick , who once spent five minutes having an internal debate as to whether or not I should borrow a spare pickaxe. I also don't want to say no, because I can't remember if you can still marry someone after you've turned them down. So, I say nothing. I just tab out of the conversation and walk a few feet away. I need to think this over. I need to find out everything I can about this filthy homeless man I just met before I can decide if he is my true soulmate. I need to engage in a ritual as old as love itself. I need to stalk him.
Since Skyrim hasn't invented Facebook yet, I have to do my stalking the old fashioned way: on foot. So, for the rest of the day and well into the night I follow this guy around to see what he does. I need to make sure he's a good person who will treat Nordrick like the delicate flower he is. I also need to find out if he's really homeless, because where am I going to live if he is? Will we share a disgusting sleeping bag somewhere on the street? Will I get my own pile of filthy hay, or will we have to sleep in shifts? Granted, this isn't a BioWare game, so there won't be a cutscene of us vaguely humping in some public alleyway, but I'd still like there to be some modicum of privacy in our marriage. If we get married.
After hours of following Angrenor around, I've only learned that he spends all of his time walking between the inn and an alleyway near the Elf slums. He doesn't talk to anyone or do anything. He doesn't even appear to ever sleep or eat. It eventually occurs to me that a good way to find out more about him is by, you know, actually talking to him. So, I walk over to him while he's stopped in the street. Hi! Remember me? The guy who wordlessly walked away in the middle of a marriage proposal and has been following you around for fourteen hours at a distance of ten feet in the company of a constantly barking dog? Can we talk?
He doesn't really have much to say, except that he once fought six Imperials while trying to rescue his Stormcloak buddies during an ambush. He also says he's not too proud to admit he needs help, hence the begging. That's about all I get out of him. Having delved into his life a bit, it's time for another well-worn ritual of relationship decisions: the pros and cons list. I start with the pros, the positive aspects, for getting married to this sleeveless hobo:
1) He actually wants to marry me, unlike every other jerk in the world
2) He seems nice
That's a good start. I think for a few minutes, then write:
3) It would be funny
Well, wouldn't it? Sad sack Nordrick marrying a stinky homeless guy? That's comedy gold, as gold as the coin Angrenor fell in love with. But do I really want to spend my life with him just because it's funny? Finally, I write:
4) Probably no other Skyrim player has married him
Could be true. Everyone else playing Skyrim is running around covered with enchanted armor and awash in treasure and perfectly willing to perform dangerous quests for NPCs far more attractive and well-off than this sad, aimless frump of a man. I might be his first and only love in all possible versions of this world. Now, there's a reason to marry him: pity.
Okay, time for the cons, which is, as it turns out, a much shorter list:
1) He loves my gold, not me
2) He has no home I can live in
I admit it's weird to criticize him for only loving me because I gave him a gold piece when I myself only want to marry someone so I can live in their house for free, but there it is. The hypocrisy can't be denied. There's also this concern: if he loves me because I gave him a Septim, what happens if someone else gives him money? Will he leave me? Will he dish out that sweet hobo honey for anyone who thumbs a coin in his direction? Can I trust him to be true to my coin purse?
This is all too much to decide tonight while standing here staring at my potential future husband as he shuffles endlessly back and forth in the street. In the shadow of this monumental life choice, even the normally boisterous Jasper has grown quiet and contemplative. No, just kidding, his incessant, moronic barking continues unabated as it has over the past five days. I lead his noisy butt back to the inn and rent my room.
I'll sleep on it. Choosing whether to marry a homeless man isn't a decision you can make in a single night. It might also take a couple hours in the morning.