I have never, not once, in two years of playing Skyrim, played with followers. All of my Dovahkiins have explored, fought, adventured, lived or died absolutely solo. Talking to any of the NPCs offering to follow just never made me want to have that annoyance. It’s hard enough watching for traps for myself, and what if they get in my way? And having to make sure they’re still behind me and not stuck on the other side of a mountain or cliff? Ugh. No thanks. Me, myself, and I are plenty.
Until yesterday. Until this mod.
My new Dunmer was passing through Riverwood with a chip on her shoulder. Thanks to the Alternate Start mod, I imagine she was attacked on the road by racist Nords/Imperials and left for dead, and had to struggle her way back to safety and society. With coin in her pocket and food in her belly for the first time in weeks, finally recovering from Witbane AND Rattles AND Rockjoint thanks to dirty water and fending off beasts by hand for days, and tentatively accepting the kindness of the family of the soldier she’d saved on an accidental discovery of a ruined Helgen– she met an eager young Nord named Hjoromir. He talked a lot and smiled a lot; and she passed him by, annoyed at his energy and sunny attitude. She had things to sell and a life to carve out again after it had been beaten out of her.
But then she kept running into him. He was still chipper, still smiling, and she had to give it to him that he was hard-working. Eventually she asked after more than his name. She heard when he talked about his family, but she listened when he so offhandedly mentioned his disapproval of the racist traditions of his father.
Slowly the young man becomes endearing, and she keeps an eye out for him as she settles into the town, slowly building up the supplies she knows she needs to move on. His dreams of adventure strike a chord with her; as though her heart were a lute left out in the winter, and the strings froze stiff and tuneless as stone. But then Hjoromir comes like a child heedless to the chill of the snow, and plucks the taut, frozen strings until finally they thrum; shaking off the ice that had held them mute, and the lute remembers what it was made for.
When the Valeriuses ask her to return their stolen ornament, the Dunmer shoulders her pack and steps onto the road. And there is Hjoromir, smiling and greeting her as he walks, no doubt to Alvor’s smithy to work. She surprises herself when she asks him to come along with her. And more when she turns right back around to buy the boy some proper armor. The septims that were so hard-won and now so jealously hoarded, are spent easily for the young man and his dreams. “I can invest in this boy,” she thinks, as she pushes a steel battleaxe into his hands. And a mace. And a cuirass, and boots, and bracers, and a fur cloak for good measure because the mountain slope will be cold, even for a Nord. She does not think how everything she wears was salvaged from corpses; none of it new, none of it paid for, and none of it truly hers. She does not think about “why” because there’s Hjoromir again, as they walk, talking about dreams and she can hear him smiling without looking. He is full of thanks, thanks for her, and she tells herself she’s investing in one less racist bigot, one more good soul, and maybe that’s all it is.
But when bandits are at their feet and she checks for any green around his gills, all she finds is a smile– and he acts out a story from his mind of the dragon Numinex and a damsel in distress. She has to jump back when he swings the battleaxe with a flourish, retelling a showdown that never happened with more animation than any bard she’s heard. She feels something against her cheek, and realizes she is smiling, too.