The “Legend” of Dragonslayer Ornstein

The “Legend” of Dragonslayer Ornstein

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.


Maybe I should get this hand looked at…

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.


Crotch chains are back in style apparently

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 hima 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.


Yep…crotch chains

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.


Hey! I’m some dude wearing this set!

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.”


Who calls the shots? I call the shots!

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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9 comments on “The “Legend” of Dragonslayer Ornstein”

  1. Avatar Fallenangel700 says:

    This makes a lot of sense. It also explains (sort of) the Dragonslayer in DS2. (if we’re considering that canon)

  2. Avatar skarekrow13 says:

    Yeah, I have an even crazier guess involving Heide’s and that Notstein. But the premise is the same regarding characters. There’s been a series of heroes/warriors that have taken to the mantle

  3. Avatar Rakuyo says:

    You conclude that Aldrich ate Smough, and therefore releases his armor upon death.

    I think the connection is simply that they’re both depraved maneaters, and both linked to Anor Londo.

    A lot of possibilities exist, and it could even be that Aldrich is an evolved form of the surviving Smough.

  4. Avatar skarekrow13 says:

    I actually wondered if Aldrich was a Smough variant, but I can’t find any support other than eating people. In fact, they actually have contradictory paths. Aldrich with the church and Smough still being tied to Anor Londo as a ”Knight.” I’m not saying it’s impossible, but that’d be a lot to reconcile.

    Primarily there’d be a matter of conflicting timelines if that’s the case. DS3 gives a decent view of Aldrich’s events which culminate in Anor Londo, but are a pretty well established path starting elsewhere. Smough on the other hand, according to DS3 anyway, never left Anor Londo.

    So then, there is a good deal of evidence to think they’re separate. And to put the pieces together again, Aldrich’s​ path ended in Anor Londo in the area we’re used to seeing Smough in. DS3 lore says he stayed there the whole time. Yet we never see him there.

    In other words, he’s supposed to be there but there’s no trace. In the place you’d expect him (according to the items anyway) is an entity that is on a warpath to eat Gods. One in which he’s started to become successful as he clearly has Gwyndolin.

    TL;DR: If we take items even a little on faith, Smough not being present is contrary to what’s stated, which is a path that’s established to be quite different than Aldrich’s. While there could be an intended parallel to explain the presence of Smough’s armor after beating Aldrich, that doesn’t adequately explain the elephant in the room. DS3 says Smough never left the Cathedral. So, the simplest solution I feel is what I presented. He remained faithful to his post, and we know for a fact his post came under assault from one of the more powerful entities around.

  5. Avatar Rakuyo says:

    I don’t claim being able to prove any connection between Aldrich and Smough, beyond the thematical resemblances.

    I just like the idea of Smough actually being a black gel, manipulating a golden armor.

  6. Avatar skarekrow13 says:

    I totally get that. I did actually start looking at the possibility of them being the same, but couldn’t find anything more than cannibalism. But it was the first place my mind went

  7. thflame says:

    Isn’t Aldritch from Anor Londo(or at least Irithyll)? Why does Aldritch have the Small Doll?

    I like the idea that Smough is Aldritch. Both ate men, and both are from Anor Londo (I’m going to assume that Irithyll is just the modern name for the city of Anor Londo).

    My overarching theory on all of this:

    The Ornstien and Smough from DS1 are Illusions created by Gwyndolin to "protect" the lord vessel. In actuality, Gwyndolin would want a chosen undead to come take the Lord Vessel, to succeed his father, but I doubt that he would want his actual knights to die. (Also, I doubt he would be willing to die either, so the optional boss is just another illusion of himself.)

    Furthermore, Ornstein and Smough (and Qwyndolin) are of the "god" race. These guys are insanely powerful. We are talking about a guy who killed arch dragons that FROM won’t even let us fight in the game. (See the dragon on Arch Dragon Peak for size) I highly doubt a chosen undead could have easily defeated 2 full fledged "gods" at the same time when the final boss is a mere husk of a "god".

    I think Gwyndolin took a shard of Ornstien’s and Smough’s Soul, and used them as fuel for illusory "gate keepers" to the Lord Vessel to act as a test of strength for the Chosen Undead.

    The Ornstein in Dark Souls 2 is just another shard of the original Ornstein. DS2 Ornstein is guarding the Way of the Blue, which is effectively the Darkmoon Blades. Maybe when this faction of the DMBs went to Drangleic, Gwyndolin took another shard of Ornstein’s Soul to make a guardian. (It is rumored that Gwynevere went to Drangleic, so perhaps the goal was to give her a bodyguard.)

    Fast forward to DS3. The fire fades and the world needs a new lord of cinder. Gwyndolin sends Ornstein to find the Nameless King, leaving Smough to protect Gwyndolin. Ornstein takes too long, so Gwyndolin decides to send Smough to become a lord of cinder. Smough(Aldritch) is regarded as a saint for this selfless act and Qwyndolin erects a Cathedral to serve as his tomb. (This explains why you can buy Smough’s armor after defeating Aldritch)

    Later, Pontiff Sullivan climbs out of the Painted world and conquers Anor Londo (perhaps renaming the city to Irithyll) with Aldritch’s help. Aldritch/Smough is upset about the whole "being burned alive thing" (Ludleth has some dialog describing the pain of linking the fire). Aldritch eats Gwyndolin, and Sullivan declares himself Pontiff.

    Back to Ornstein.

    Ornstein makes it to Archdragon Peak. There he mysteriously vanishes. His gear is not on a corpse, it is just sitting there. Also of note, you can’t obtain it until after you defeat the Nameless King.

    *This is where it gets weird, but you can ignore this if you like as it has no real bearing on the above theory, aside from not explaining the lack of a body for Ornstein in DS3.*

    The Ornstein sent to retrieve the Nameless King is actually a shard of a greater being. He is being sent to retrieve the source of his soul, the Nameless King himself.

    Ornstein is known as the captain of Gwyn’s knights. The Nameless King was Gwyns first born son and a "War God". It wasn’t uncommon for first born sons to become military leaders. Both were dragons slayers of great renown. Both use sword-spear-like weapons, though Ornstein’s (the shard’s) is less extravagant than the original. It would also be weird to have a guy like Ornstein be the captain of the knights, when someone like Nameless King was obviously more powerful and qualified for the position.

    I think that when the Nameless King was exiled, he gave a shard of his soul to Gwyndolin so that Gwyndolin could use it to create a guardian if he ever needed it. Gwyndolin used that shard to create 3 Ornsteins.

    1) A guardian of the Lord Vessel.

    2) A guardian for his sister Qwynevere (though, perhaps the Nameless King just gave her a shard too, and that shard is the Ornstein in DS2)

    3) A personal guardian that was sent to retrieve the Nameless King.

  8. Avatar ElCazador says:

    Didn’t know Smough was a maneater.

  9. Avatar skarekrow13 says:

    Well, to be fair, only the bones are stated's+Hammer

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