Since the first time he jumped down from the balcony and into our hearts, very few Dark Souls characters have captured the imagination of fans like Ornstein has. If for some reason you’re unaware, Ornstein and his pal Smough guarded the Cathedral and Chamber of the Princess in the first Dark Souls game. And then we killed them of course. It’s the only way to get the Lordvessel and reach the first flame.
Along came Dark Souls 3 with the suggestion that perhaps Ornstein left the cathedral to search for the Nameless King. That’s pretty impressive for a corpse. And poor lil’ Smough was left all alone to defend it. That…doesn’t quite jive with the first game now does it? Well Skare…Ol’ Buddy, Ol’ Pal…remember that Dark Souls is based off an infinite universes concept. So maybe the Dark Souls events aren’t canon for Dark Souls 3. Well sure. Maybe…
What a spectacularly shitty answer that would be though wouldn’t it? It almost sends the message, “don’t bother connecting dots, because…infinite universes.” Sure it’s a valid response, but talk about unsatisfying for us lore nuts.
You make a point Skare (thanks)…but remember Gwyndolin made up a bunch of stuff in Anor Londo so maybe he made these guys up too. Eh, that’s not very satisfying either. How’d he get their souls for one? And if he had their souls, is it a diminished Ornstein who sought the Nameless King? Like he split his soul? That could be. I mean, he got part of his soul as a gift from Gwyn so it seems souls are more transferable than warranties. But that also feels like a cop out doesn’t it?
There’s also the fact that the Dark Souls 3 information points out that whoever it is that sought the Nameless King left his post at a “ruined cathedral” during the “dragonless age.” That would suggest that this occurred AFTER Dark Souls, because there’s several dragons in that age (Gaping, Everlasting, Seath) and at least one of those is preeeeetty famous. And the cathedral is hardly ruined in Dark Souls. It’s actually pretty intact except a window some hooligan took offense to. In DS3 though, the cathedral has sustained a good deal of damage (the whole city has) and how many dragons do you count? So that would still make me wonder how we killed his sorry ass and THEN he left. Wacky stuff…
Wouldn’t it be great if someone had a crazy fan theory that connected all the dots to this lore breaking conundrum?
Weeeeelllllllpppp…don’t mind if I do…
If you’ve seen The Prestige (good movie) you should be reminded to always think of the simplest answer first. Remarkably, the answer there might be the same one here. Don’t be Hugh Jackman, accept what’s right in front of your nose…
Here’s our dilemma, we have two sets of events that seemingly involve the same duo (Ornstein and Smough) that seem impossible, or at least incredibly difficult, to reconcile. In other words, how do two people become involved in what appear to be two sets of incompatible events? Simple. There are two sets of Ornstein and Smough. And I don’t mean two universes. Two sets within the same world is what I mean.
To expand, what I’m suggesting is that in Dark Souls we probably did kill the real deal. I’m further suggesting then, that in Dark Souls 3, the items are describing warriors who took up the mantle for Ornstein and Smough. To make it easy to keep it straight, I’ll call the DS1 guys “Ornstein” and “Smough.” The DS3 guys I’ll call “Notstein” and “Smope.” The gist is pretty easy; despite the Lordvessel having been given out, Anor Londo still needed protecting. It was felt by someone (probably Gwyndolin, which I’ll get to) that this would be most effective if it appeared the two remaining great warriors hadn’t fallen after all. Sort of like Wesley becoming the Dread Pirate Roberts in The Princess Bride. Later the mantle is handed to Inigo. The legend is more important than who is actually in the suit if you will.
That’s my story. Does it sound crazy? Yes. So here’s some evidence:
First off, note the inconsistencies I stated before. We cannot get the Lordvessel in the first game without killing Ornstein and Smough. In Dark Souls 3, it’s heavily implied that someone retrieved the Lordvessel since they talk a bit about different entities succeeding Gwyn. However, complicating that is the fact that SOMEONE left to find NK and left Ornstein’s gear lying about in DS3. So right off the bat, Dark Souls 3 provides evidence that both sets of incompatible events occurred. There’s also evidence that someone who was “attuned” to Smough was present when Aldrich barged in to eat Gwyndolin. What makes me say that you ask? Good question. When do boss armor sets become available in Dark Souls games? After the boss in question’s soul is in our possession, right? You get one shot at naming whose armor become available after killing Aldrich. Hint: Smough’s. Yes that’s a terrible hint. I’m not good with riddles. Anyway, this could be solid evidence that Smough was present and eaten by Aldrich before he hit up Gwyndolin. By taking Aldrich’s essence, we also get Smough’s. What I’m getting at is that Dark Soul 3 provides ample evidence of both sets of events.
Let’s lay some more groundwork. We know from the Artorias of the Abyss DLC that Sif was given Artorias‘ gear. However, WE get to kill Artorias and take his soul, Sif doesn’t get that (yes I know it can be handed to Ciaran, but since Sif is the same regardless of our choice my point stands). After a couple hundred years of carrying his sword, Sif’s Soul is so attuned to Artorias’ that we can forge his gear from her soul (yes I think Sif is a she-wolf). This is some evidence that a powerful being’s inherent nature is somewhat fluid and transferable outside the criteria of “I just stole your soul.” Note that what we find in Dark Souls 3 is GEAR associated with Ornstein and Smough. We don’t ever actually see them in DS3, nor do we collect their soul directly.
Let’s keep going. In Dark Souls, the Four Knights of Gwyn all have a few items each to describe them. I won’t go into everyone’s items, but Ornstein’s items are remarkable in that he’s the only knight where tentative language is used to describe his feats.
Here’s one example about Artorias from the Wolf Ring: “Artorias had an unbendable will of steel, and was unmatched with a greatsword.” The wording is definitive, with no wiggle room for questioning. It’s worded that he was for certain a stubborn dude, and unrivaled with a greatsword.
Here’s the background info on Ornstein from his gear:
–Leo Ring: “His lugged spear is said to have sliced a boulder in two.”
–Ornstein’s Armor: “Ornstein is believed to be the captain of the Four Knights.”
–As dn1nd pointed out, his spear calls him “a dragonslayer” which is also interesting by implying he may not be unique (Dragon Slayer Armour agrees)
Note the bold wording. We’re not as sure about Ornstein’s status as we are the other knights. Someone SAID his spear split a boulder. Someone BELIEVES he’s the captain. Unlike Artorias’ gear, there’s room for doubt.
Next up is the Anor Londo architecture in the first game. When you first enter the city, the statues that greet you are that of Ornstein and Smough. Not too surprising on the surface. They do guard the area after all. Dig deeper with me though. What city immortalizes their executioner so prominently? More importantly, what city immortalizes the executioner with the same level of prestige as the supposed Captain of the Famous Four Knights? Especially considering his item descriptions indicate he was definitively NOT on par with the knights in esteem. Power wise sure, but he’s characterized as reprehensible, not idolized. Furthermore, where are the statues of Artorias, Ciaran and Gough? To me, it’s always appeared that the city was decorated after the Gods mostly abandoned the city. You know, just like the elevators to guard the Chamber of the Princess are made specifically for Ornstein and Smough. It’s almost like that part of the city was retrofitted after they were the last two warriors standing. To bring Gwyndolin into the mix, if you follow what I just put down, he’s the only remaining God. He is responsible for the Gwynevere charade which just so happens to be what O&S are guarding. It would make sense he’s pulling the strings of the whole city.
So to put this all together, we have a city that seems to have been renovated to inflate the legend of O&S. We have item descriptions for Ornstein only that hint at someone embellishing his legacy as well. And then we kill them. Solaire likes to help.
Fast forward to DS3. Looking at Notstein’s items:
–Dragonslayer Spear: “Cross spear associated with Ornstein the Dragonslayer. A weapon of the gods imbued with the strength of lightning.”
–Dragonslayer helm: “Golden lion helm associated with Dragonslayer Ornstein, from the age of gods, and imbued with the strength of lightning.
In the dragonless age, this knight, who long guarded the ruined cathedral, left the land in search of the nameless king.”
–Leo Ring: “Ring associated with Dragonslayer Ornstein, one of the Four Knights of Gwyn, the First Lord.
Ornstein was the first knight of the sun’s eldest born, and his cross spear is said to have pierced scales made of stone.”
And Smope’s items:
–Smough’s Hammer: “Twisted great Hammer associated with Smough, the last knight to remain at his post, guarding the ruined cathedral.
Restore HP while attacking, a carryover from Smough’s past as an executioner.”
–Smough’s Set: “Grotesque armor associated with Smough, the last knight to stand in defense of the ruined cathedral.”
Note a few key words. All of the gear is clearly “associated,” but what an interesting choice of wording. There’s nothing in these descriptions to positively denote ownership. Additionally, items that describe O&S’s past clearly indicate that it’s in the past. It doesn’t inherently mean “deceased” I know, but they’re careful to delineate “item associated with ___, this person used to be ___.” Not “Ornstein’s ring, whose spear pierced scales made of stone.” Also, his legend has been tempered a bit in DS3. There’s also an inconsistency here regarding Smough. He’s called a “knight” in DS3, which we know was never actually achieved in DS. Not that history doesn’t change over time, but it’s another piece of the wacky information puzzle with these two. Finally, when you find Ornstein’s armor in Archdragon Peak, note the description says “this knight” went in search of the Nameless King. Not “Ornstein did.” It could be nothing, but to me the wording only confirms “the dude who was wearing this set” sought the Nameless King.
To tie the story full circle, look at events after we find them.
We find Aldrich mid Gwyndolin snack in the area O&S used to patrol. Or at least that’s what it looks like based off of Aldrich’s path and location. After killing Aldrich, Smough’s armor is able to be purchased, suggesting someone attuned with Smough was eaten by Aldrich. Interestingly, Ornstein’s armor does not become available at this point. Which suggests someone in tune with Ornstein was NOT present. This does lend weight to the DS3 item descriptions of Smough/Smope hanging back while Ornstein/Notstein went to find the Nameless King.
What it also suggests is that Gwyndolin came out of his normal hiding place and sought protection behind Smope. But where’s Notstein? Trying to find Nameless King, right? That raises more questions, luckily there are surprisingly clean puzzle pieces to answer these as well. But first, remember from above that there’s some evidence to think Gwyndolin orchestrated some embellishment of the O&S legend in the first game and is the master of illusions. If he desired to have protectors emulate the legendary duo, it’s certainly possible he retrieved some of their legendary gear or the like to bestow it upon the next generation (Notstein and Smope).
This raises two important questions. Why would Notstein seek the Nameless King in the first place; and, how would Notstein know where to find him?
To answer the first question; Gwyndolin may have sent him. Either as a warning (“Aldrich is eating Gods, look out”) or to seek help. Gwyndolin fled his normal area and evidence supports him hiding behind Smope. He could have suspected how much of a threat Aldrich really was. To me however, the more likely scenario is to seek help. I imagine he handed Notstein a note to deliver that said “Hey big bro, dad is gone so no worrying about him disapproving of your life choices. Some cleric is trying to eat me. Come home. Please bring milk.”
And how does Notstein know where to look? Gwyndolin again. Here’s a fun description from the miracle Sunlight Blade from the first game:
“Miracle wielded by Lord Gwyn’s firstborn. Boost right weapon with rays of Sun.
The power of sunlight, manifested as lightning, is very effective against dragons. When the eldest son was stripped of his deific status, he left this on his father’s coffin, perhaps as a final farewell.”
That coffin it was left on just happens to be right behind Gwyndolin in that game. It’s not a stretch to think that the two brothers (now both outcasts in their own way) had a quick palaver before Nameless King set off.
And for the final piece of the puzzle, item descriptions in Dark Souls 3 indicate a high likelihood that Ornstein and Nameless King were tight back in the day. It’s probably that whoever sought the Nameless King made it to him. The only way to get inside the area we find Ornstein’s gear is to face the Nameless King. Whoever bore Ornstein’s gear doesn’t appear to have survived. Now there’s certainly some possible animosity after whatever happened in Anor Londo. Ornstein did choose to stay behind rather than follow Nameless King after all. But it’s noteworthy that this person is dead, and dead in Dark Souls typically means “killed.” Why? Maybe the Nameless King didn’t recognize Notstein. Maybe all he saw was some dude wearing his old buddy’s shit and wigged out.
Is this the “real” story? Hell if I know. But it’s a fun thought. And way more entertaining than “Well, uh, there must be different universes or sumfin’ I reckon.”
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