This story was originally published in February of 2013.
I love my Skyrim wife, Mjoll the Lioness. She carries my spare gear with no complaint, she never runs out of arrows, and she doesn't mind accompanying me when I murder a bunch of farmers because I can't find a common axe. However, I've just informed her I don't want her following me any longer. I've been playing the Dragonborn expansion pack for Skyrim, and I want to try out (and write a column about) the new followers it offers.
Mjoll seems a bit crestfallen, but tells me she'll be in Riften should I need her again. As she walks away, however, a thought occurs to me. If we were currently in Skyrim, she could just walk to Riften, but we're not: we're on the island of Solstheim, a completely different continent where the new Dragonborn content takes place. How, exactly, is Mjoll going to get back to Riften? My original column idea is instantly forgotten as Braul the Easily Distracted Orc decides to investigate this incredibly important mystery.
The only way I can travel between Skyrim and Solstheim is by paying a ship captain to ferry me between the cities of Raven Rock (in Solstheim) and Windhelm. Is Mjoll capable of doing that? If she's not, how will she get off the continent? Also, what happens in general when you brush off a follower? Do they really remain persistent in the world for their entire journey back to their home city, or does the game just pluck them up and drop them off once they've walked out of sight? I decide I'll find out by simply not letting Mjoll walk out of sight. I'll follow her stealthily (or as stealthily as a giant orc clad in Daedric armor can) and see how she gets to Riften first-hand.
Technically, we're not even on the island of Solstheim at the moment. We're on another island off the coast of the island of Solstheim. I swam over to to this little island a minute ago because I wanted to see if anything lived on it. (Nothing does. Anymore.) Now, as I watch, Mjoll strides into the water, headed for Solstheim. I follow, swimming at a careful distance.
First observation: she is an incredibly slow swimmer. Second observation: she is doing her incredibly slow swimming along the very bottom of the channel, which is making her even slower. Like all gifted detectives, I start drowning almost immediately. After coming up for air and healing myself, I dive back down and realize I've completely lost her. A minute after deciding I won't let her out of my sight, I've let her out of my sight. Did the game already wink her out of existence already and plop her back in Riften, or is she still paddling around somewhere?
I swim across the channel and stand around on the main island for a bit to see if Mjoll will actually emerge from the water at some point. A few minutes later, to my surprise, I spot her to the east of me, still swimming. She eventually climbs onto land and begins walking in the direction of Raven Rock, far to the southeast. I take up a position about twenty yards behind her, and grimly prepare to spend the next couple days staring at her back.
As the sun slowly wheels across the sky, Mjoll slowly stalks across Solstheim, passing through a town, over a bridge, through a mountain pass, across a couple corpses, and along the steps of an ancient temple strewn with dragon skeletons, not showing much interest in any of it. It's dusk and we've crossed half the island before any danger presents itself.
If firing my loyal wife, making her walk home from a foreign country, and spying on her all day doesn't make me sound like a terrible husband, this probably will: I decide not to help her fight off the various threats that begin to appear. As anyone who has spent time in Skyrim knows, simply walking near an NPC will cause them to stop in their tracks and talk to you. If the NPC is walking somewhere, they will sometimes even walk off in a different direction than they were headed before they stopped to chat. I'm trying to avoid even casual interaction with Mjoll, because I don't want to muck up whatever travel plans she has. See, I'm doing this for science, and not because I'm a horrible uncaring jerk.
So, when she's attacked by some ash hoppers (giant crickets found in Solstheim), I watch her kill them. When a Burnt Spriggan sets her on fire, I watch as she hacks it into charred lumber. Further down the road, an angry wood elf conjures up a ghost wolf and some sort of elemental guardian, and I watch as she has considerable trouble dispatching the latter. An hour later, she comes across an Ice Wizard and a Fire Wizard, who are going toe-to-toe in an attempt to answer the eternal question: which is mightier, ice or fire? Mjoll answers the question for them, and Mjoll's answer is Mjoll .
It's the middle of the night when Mjoll finally reaches Raven Rock. She strolls to the docks and climbs aboard the ship I use when I need to travel between Skyrim and Solstheim. She doesn't speak to the captain, she simply walks across the deck, appears to reach out and touch a barrel... and then fades from sight.
Okay! I guess that's how NPCs handle cross-continental travel: magic barrel-poking. Question answered. Though... now I'm kind of curious if I can catch up to her in Skyrim. I pay the captain to take me to Windhelm, but when I arrive I don't see Mjoll anywhere. Maybe now the game has transported her to Riften? If not, where would she have gone? South, I guess. I jump into the icy river to see if she's paddling sluggishly around near the bottom, but I can't see much, so I run up the bank on the opposite side. There's a female NPC walking around near the bridge that's south of Riften, but it's not my wife.
I run around a bit more, and eventually spot a figure walking across another bridge, off in the distance, headed west. It's her! For some reason, she's taken off her ebony armor and cult mask and is instead clothed in her original duds. Weird. On the other hand, cool! I found her! Now to continue following her for days like a bizarre creep. I also can't help but notice she's not walking in the direction of Riften. She seems to be heading west and soon crosses a river to head north, aiming for Dawnstar. Why would she be going there?
I'm puzzling over this when a dragon rudely lands right in front of me and starts turning me into a popsicle. Come on, stupid dragon, I'm trying to keep a low profile while I stalk my wife. A couple hacks from my enchanted battleaxe and it's dead. Mjoll calmly strolls right through the middle of the disintegrating dragon, and then of course there's the usual pompous noisy business as I devour the dragon's soul, so I think a low profile might be out the window at this point. At least she didn't stop to talk to me.
As I clump after her through the night, periodically watching her get into pitched battles with marauders and murderers, it occurs to me that perhaps I should not be standing around, twiddling my gauntleted thumbs, while she has to repeatedly fight for her life. Maybe I can help, without being too obvious about it, by going out on point and handling anything threatening before it reaches her. Also, if she has to continuously stop to fight every man and monster that comes roaring out of the underbrush, this trip is going to take forever.
I skirt around her and sprint ahead along the route she's taking, looking for danger to de-dangerize. A snowy sabre cat leaps out at me, giving me a good chance to try out the new Bend Will shout I learned in the Dragonborn content, which lets you tame dragons but can also pacify other hostile creatures. When Mjoll finally catches up, all she sees is a random guy dressed exactly like her husband with a peaceful giant tiger monster sitting next to him. Once she's walked by, I kill the cat (the shout's effects don't last terribly long), and sprint ahead again, looking for more threats.
The morning comes, and Mjoll continues her uninterrupted stroll, perhaps curious about at all the fresh corpses now littering the road ahead of her. She walks past several dead sabre cats, a couple dead wolves, two dead frost trolls, a beheaded skooma dealer, and a living giant frost spider oddly indifferent to her presence, almost as if someone had shrieked magical will-bending dragon curses in its face.
There's an even more unusual sight as she reaches the top of a hill: someone dressed like her husband, lying on the ground, completely paralyzed. Seems he maybe got a little bored waiting for her, and maybe decided to pass the time by eating some of his alchemical ingredients to determine their effects, and one ingredient from Solstheim, Netch Jelly, maybe has paralyzation properties, and so he maybe keeled over onto his back like a big dumb statue. Maybe . As she passes his stiff body, he clambers to his feet, looks at her, and then races off into the trees. Whoever he is.
A little further ahead, I spot a wolf and a horse fighting to the death. Naturally, I side with the horse, and I'm surprised to discover that the horse turns out to be my actual, owned horse, who I haven't seen in months. I have no idea what he's doing out here, but it seems like the whole Braul family is back together for this dysfunctional roadtrip. Speaking of dysfunctional, every time I dismount to kill something, my horse starts walking away, so I have to spend twice as much time chasing him down. Eventually, I just let him leave to wherever he's going. I don't have time for horse-following, I'm busy wife-following.
Night is falling again as we approach Solitude, where I've remembered I own a home, which I assume is where Mjoll is actually headed instead of Riften or Dawnstar. It also appears she's going to be doing some swimming again, since she's approaching it from across the bay. She walks into the water and disappears, and I follow, though I almost immediately lose sight of her. Then, from behind me, I hear her angrily shouting "This ends now!" I swim back and pop out of the water, only to find her standing near the shore, aiming a bow at me. Jeez! What the heck did I do, besides creepily follow you around for days and almost let you die several times?
Turns out, she's actually attacking (and verbally threatening) some slaughterfish that swam too close for her liking. I begin bellowing at swinging my axe as well, before realizing the fish are a good twenty feet away and I'm just chopping air. Mjoll quickly kills all three fish at range, walks past me wordlessly, and starts paddling across the bay. I haven't felt that stupid since, well, yesterday, when I paralyzed myself in front of her.
Emerging on the far bank, I realize I'm not even sure how to walk into Solitude, since I generally opt to poke it on my map and materialize inside it. Mjoll knows, though. She climbs through a pass and finds a door built into the rock that I didn't know was there. A circular staircase leads to a tunnel, the tunnel leads to the streets of Solitude, and the streets lead to the back door of our home (I also had no idea we had a back door.)
I walk up to Mjoll in our dining room. "How nice to see you again," she says sweetly, as if it's been days since she's seen me. As if she didn't just see me swinging my axe impotently at fish that were nowhere near me. As if she didn't see me repeatedly chasing my stupid horse all over Skyrim. As if she didn't see me chow down on handful of jelly and keel over like a stroke victim. That's tact.
I know I originally set out to write about the new followers in Dragonborn, but with a wife like Mjoll, why would I ever need another?