“The flames of a hero can reforge the shattered.”
In this quote, Eorlund is talking about the Skyforge and how the souls of heroes of old fuel it. He says, “You know, since Kodlak's funeral the Skyforge feels more... awake. It's always been said that the souls of the heroes of old are what give Skyforge steel its strength. But I think the forge knows the greatness of Kodlak's soul.”
“Eyes on the prey, not the horizon” has always been known to be the Companions’ motto within the fanbase, the equivalent to “Hail Sithis” to the Dark Brotherhood. However, I like to think that “The flames of a hero can reforge the shattered” is far better suited. It is much more applicable to the Companions we see in the Fourth Era. In fact, I think the whole Companions storyline in Skyrim should have been built around this line. Here is how I would have written the storyline (TL,DR at the bottom):
The Choice that Wasn't
The Companions by the time of Skyrim are not what they once were. The Circle, a group within the Companions, are all secretly werewolves, and they have been for some time. Some of the members of the Circle think lycanthropy is a gift, some a curse. Now, for a questline that has the underlying theme of ‘you are in charge of your own destiny’ and all that, it’s pretty odd and annoying that you literally get no choice in whether or not you want to receive lycanthropy. There is a debate on whether or not lycanthropy truly is a gift and the path to glory and strength within the Circle, and yet you can’t advance the Companions questline until you get lycanthropy. Skjor and Aela really push it onto you.
I understand that it was probably done this way to make you feel like the Silver-Hand was truly your enemy. You are a werewolf, and they are werewolf hunters. Boom. Enemies. I think it didn’t have to be done this way. The Silver-Hand kills Skjor. He was like a father to Farkas, he was close to Aela as the two who embraced lycanthropy, and Kodlak wanted him to take on the role of Harbinger when he passed (see: Skjor’s wiki page, Conversations section). The Silver-Hand also treat werewolves horribly anyway, for example ‘The Skinner’. Becoming a werewolf should have been a choice. In fact, Skjor straight up tells you “That is your choice. We will not force you. But to join the Circle, your blood must be as ours. Meet us here when you're ready.” and yet there is only one dialogue option, and it’s the one that won’t let you get any more Well Rested bonuses and has you smelling like a wet dog.
The Lycanthropy Debate
It’s no secret that werewolves are dangerous. We see this first hand when our character transforms for the first time in the Underforge and are let loose (Skjor and Aela really let this happen??) on the innocent citizens of Whiterun. Aela tells you afterwards that you were out of control, almost as bad as Farkas when he first turned. To both Skjor and Aela, lycanthropy is a gift, a power that aids them in the battlefield. They find glory in the hunt. To Farkas and Vilkas, it slows them. They cannot think straight sometimes. Kodlak is cut off from Sovngarde. And yet there are no dialogue options to further explore these thoughts. After you become a werewolf, you cannot speak about it to anyone in the Circle except for that one exchange you have with Aela before going to find Skjor after your first transformation. Even if it had only been Aela and Skjor who knew you contracted lycanthropy, surely you should be able to discuss this with the other members. Besides, even before you join the Circle, you were already made aware of their secret because Farkas transformed in Dustman’s Cairn. Not being able to voice your own character’s opinions and feelings on being a werewolf is such a missed opportunity when it comes to roleplaying. You may be able to ask the Circle members their own stance on lycanthropy, yet your own character who also has the disease does not question themself.
Who Rules the Companions?
From the very get-go, you are told that within the Companions, no one rules anyone. Eorlund tells you “Don’t just always do what you’re told”, “You’ll want to live your own life” etc. Torvar says “In charge of what? I'm in charge of me, and you're in charge of you." The Harbinger is only a guy to go to for advice or wisdom.
But the Circle are technically ruled by Hircine. Aela worships the Daedric Lord of the Hunt. This is her own choice, but for Kodlak, he is trapped. He doesn’t want to go to the Hunting Grounds, he wants to go to Sovngarde. What if you didn’t want to live by “Eyes on the prey, not the horizon”? A line that Kodlak says in his journal that I like to parallel this saying with is “I see great Tsun on the misty horizon, beckoning me.” Kodlak wants to be cured. The Circle we see in Skyrim are all werewolves and they are being steered away from what it once meant to be a Companion. From Great Harbingers: “By ensuring that the notions of honour can have an unbroken string of tradition, he [Kymil Long-Nose] steadied the course of the Companions and restored our destinies to that of Ysgramor’s, pressing ever onward to Sovngarde.” This string is broken by Terrfyg when he makes the deal with the Glenmoril Witches, but Kodlak wants to restore it. “The flames of a hero can reforge the shattered.”
Making Your Own Glory
The ‘hero’ mentioned in the quote doesn’t necessarily only apply to Kodlak.
It is revealed in his journal that Kodlak saw your character in his dreams as the one who will help guide the Companions/Circle back on the correct path, kind of like a Chosen One prophecy. I personally do not like this aspect of the story. It takes away from the meaning ‘live your own life’, ‘nobody rules anybody’ etc. This ‘prophecy’ aspect takes away any meaning from you and the Circle choosing to come together, despite any differing opinions on lycanthropy, to cure Kodlak after his death. If you are destined for something, does that not mean you have no choice? Destiny is the path on which the destined person is born. There are may be crossroads and forks, but they all lead to the same destination. Your choices are not necessarily your own, or truly choices.
Avenging the Fallen
I think the Companions questline would be more impactful if it were the player character working to fulfill a dead man’s (Kodlak’s) final wish, to set him free. Yes, this does happen, but it’s at the very end of the questline. The third act of the Companions questline always felt the strongest because there was actually some semblance of plot and emotion. The rest is just killing Silver-Hand and regaining the pieces of Wuuthrad with hardly any emotional weight to it. Why should I care about putting the battleaxe of an ancient Atmoran back together? If the Companions decided to retrieve the pieces of Wuuthrad only after Kodlak’s death as it is the key to Ysgramor’s tomb where they can cure Kodlak, I think the questline would have been more emotionally investing. The Companions questline would feel like there was actually some kind of tangible end goal.
When you boil it down, the Companions questline is a story about taking charge of yourself, finding your own glory and guiding a faction back to its roots. From Great Harbingers: “While others like mages and thieves need the blessings of their hierarchy to know how to dress, we Companions are capable of leading our own destinies to glory.”
In conclusion, here is how I would rewrite the Companions storyline:
Your character can choose whether or not they become a werewolf. Since it plays no significance in the questline, contracting lycanthropy should have been optional. If it was done to antagonise the Silver-Hand, it was unnecessary. Skjor’s death already does this. Having them be more than common bandits that prefer cats over dogs, and further emphasizing their antagonistic methods of torture, or even harming innocent people in their paranoia, would also add to this.
When presented with the option to become a werewolf, there should be dialogue options to explore how your own character feels. Do they regret their decision? Why did they make that decision? This kind of interaction acts as the prelude to Kodlak’s death, pushing your character to become a part of the response to his final wish rather than just sort of tagging along.
Kodlak had never seen your character in his dreams as the one to bring hope (though admittedly, I do enjoy the metaphor of your character being the bringer, or harbinger, of change). To him, you were another member of the Companions with great potential (or something else depending on whether you choose overly-confident dialogue options). One day, while you were out on a contract, you return to find that Kodlak had been killed in an ambush outside of Whiterun. The Companions learn he had been trying to cure himself of lycanthropy. Setting aside their own personal opinions, your character and the Circle come together to complete Kodlak’s mission. You begin the hunt for the pieces of Wuuthrad and you kill Glenmoril Witches and Silver-Hand along the way.
Finally, the Circle reach Ysgramor’s tomb and cure Kodlak. Farkas, Vilkas and perhaps your own character elect to cure themselves as well. After a bunch of contracts and some kind of meeting, you are nominated Harbinger. The End.
It’s been a very long time since I did a post like this. In every single one, I end up apologizing for the rambly nature of my writing, and this one is no exception!
If you have any ideas or suggestions to add on to this ‘rewriting’ of the Companions questline, feel free to leave a comment.