Whiterun… it hadn’t exactly been at the top of her list of places to go, at least not initially. Luthien could still feel the wavering heat of that dragon’s breath, still see Ulfric Stormcloak standing bound and gagged just over her shoulder as the executioner prepared to drop his blade down on her neck with no care for her crimes. Damned Imperials.
If she closed her eyes for even a moment, she could almost feel the earth trembling beneath her feet as buildings fell and men too. She could hear General Tullius barking orders like a dog, and for a moment she thought for sure the dragon’s fire breath burned the grate of that voice from the world once and for all.
She hadn’t heard yet if Ulfric escaped alive, or that bastard General Tullius for that matter. For all she knew, the war could have been over, and traveling all the way to Windhelm a huge waste of time.
Ralof had cut her binds and helped her escape Helgen with her head. He had invited her to his sister’s home where they offered her a warm bed for the night, a share in their supper and all the supplies she could carry. The people of Skyrim hadn’t exactly been hospitable in the face of civil war, which made that kind of generosity a debt that needed paid in kind.
She owed Ralof her life, and his sister Gerdur as well, so when Gerdur asked her to carry news of the dragon to Jarl Balgruuf in Whiterun, how could she say no?
“If you do head to north to Windhelm and gods willing, Ulfric is still alive, tell him I will vouch for you if you arrive before I do,” Ralof said, reaching over to clap her hard on the shoulder. “Tell him I owe you my life and that the Stormcloaks would do well to have a warrior like you in their ranks.”
“Thank you, Ralof, for everything.” Luthien lifted her hand to rest atop his. They had already been through so much together, she felt as if she’d known him her entire life. “As a true Nord, it is my duty to stand against the Imperials. I will make my way to Windhelm after I meet with the jarl of Whiterun.”
“Gods speed, my friend.”
Things might have turned out differently if Ralof had gone North with her. She’d seen the way he looked at her just before she left. There’d been admiration and a hint of playful mischief in the last glance they shared. Two people didn’t live through that kind of hell together without it awakening their passions, especially when the world always seemed to be just one step away from crumbling underneath their feet. Mara obviously had other plans for her, or so it would seem. Ralof had leaned in and hugged her the same way he’d hugged his sister when they arrived in Riverwood.
Gerdur directed her to the Riverwood Trader as she was leaving, so she could pick up a few supplies for the road, but first she stopped off at the Sleeping Giant Inn to ask the barkeep if he’d heard any rumors worth repeating. She didn’t know how she got roped into the middle of some bizarre love triangle, but in the end she found herself with a sturdy young Bosmer named Faendal at her side, and a request from Lucan Valerius for her to retrieve some stolen golden claw from Bleak Falls Barrow. There was promise of a reward, and as she glanced down at the tattered Stormcloak armor she’d taken from one of Ralof’s brothers in arms, she knew she needed the gold.
Fortunately for her, Faendal was looking for adventure, and offered to accompany her to Whiterun, but it wasn’t until mid-evening the two of them finally set out north.
She was grateful for the company, though not in much of a mood for conversation. She listened while Faendal chattered on behind her about Camilla Valerius until the sound of his voice brought the wolves in looking for a fight. After fending off the attack, he kept quiet, even when they came across a group of Imperial guards escorting a ragged Stormcloak soldier between them.
Luthien’s sword hand twitched with vengeance when she saw them, a part of her wanting desperately to free the man they most likely escorted to his death. She told herself Ulfric would have done it without a second thought, but there were three of them and she didn’t have weapons to spare if she did actually manage to free the Stormcloak. Besides, she had no idea where Faendal stood on the whole war. The last thing she needed was her follower turning on her before they were but a few miles outside of Riverwood.
She ignored the Imperials as they taunted her when she passed, threatening to take her into custody if she didn’t move along and mind her own business.
Talos, how she hated them. They were so smug, as if they had any business in Skyrim, telling the Nords how to live their lives, which gods they could worship. She’d watched them take down her own father in cold blood after falsely accusing him of harboring Ulfric Stormcloak. Her father had never even met Ulfric, though if he had, things might have been different there too. While he lay there dying on the floor, the guards dragged her mother outside to make an example of her in front of all the other villagers, and that was when Luthien attacked.
They would have killed her too, if it hadn’t been for Ulfric Stormcloak. His capture had saved her life, the Imperial guards quickly forgetting about killing her as they dragged Ulfric out and quickly gagged him to keep the power of his Thu’um quiet. He hadn’t even looked at her, his proud, defiant stare focused on the Imperials who’d captured him. Perhaps he would never know that he’d saved her life, but it didn’t matter. She would pay him back one day, proving herself loyal to him and his cause for all the Nords in Skyrim.
But she wouldn’t be able to do that if she was already dead.
Drawing her hand off the hilt of her sword, she moved past them and kept her eyes focused on the lights of Whiterun up ahead. She allowed those lights to draw her forward, away from the fire of her own hate, until the muffled din of battle sounded in her ears. Her heart hoped it was more Imperials, but as she picked up speed she caught sight of three warriors battling a giant at the edge of a small farm just outside the city.
The ground trembled beneath the giant’s feet as he stomped the earth and lifted his club, swinging it in a wide circle that just missed the tallest of the three warriors who danced around him such grace it befuddled his dull senses. He spun this way and that, a sure-footed female warrior with hair like fire ducking under his swing to jam her sword up under the giant’s ribs.
Luthien yanked her sword from the scabbard and charged in, catching the giant off guard with a backward slice of her blade that distracted him just enough for the brawny warrior to launch a battle axe into the behemoth’s face. Splintering bone and the wet thunk of steel sinking into flesh, and then the giant staggered backward. Luthien ducked out of his way as he stumbled over his own clumsy feet and fell to the ground with a crash like thunder rumbling the earth.
“Nice work, stranger.” The red haired woman stalked toward her, lifting a torch to inspect her. In the flickering light of the fire, Luthien saw war paint in three fierce scratches down her long face and a flicker of admiration in her iridescent green eyes. “I think we could have managed without you, but we appreciate your initiative. Who are you?”
“I’m just a traveler,” she said, diverting her gaze to the timid woman and ox-like warrior lingering near the giant. “Who are you?”
“We are the Companions. Perhaps you’ve heard of us.” She didn’t mistake the woman’s pride for arrogance. It went deeper than that.
“The Companions,” she shook her head, feigning ignorance. Of course she’d heard of the Companions. Every child in Skyrim had heard stories of the Companions around the fire at night. Luthien’s own father had once lamented that he’d ignored the warrior’s call to take up hammer and anvil, and not a day had gone by that he hadn’t lamented the glory he might have known among the Companions. “Never heard of them.”
“Well, that’s a first,” the woman’s eyes shot over her shoulder. “You aren’t bad with a blade. If you’re headed to Whiterun, perhaps you will come to Jorrvaskr and talk to our leader.” She turned away and headed toward her shield-brother and sister. “Farkas, Ria, meads on me tonight.”
Luthien watched them head toward Whiterun, her feet starting forward almost without her mind willing them to move. She didn’t want to appear eager, so she stepped up beside the massive warrior and said. “How did you become a Companion?”
His voice was deep, slow and soothing when he spoke, and he had no trouble making eye contact. His eyes were almost mesmerizing, a deep blue that seemed to glow, or maybe it was just the moonlight. “Our father raised me and my brother Vilkas among the Companions. It’s all I’ve ever known. Are you thinking about joining? You should, you know. I watched the way you moved. We could use more warriors like you among us.”
“I may,” she nodded. “I am delivering a message to the jarl. A dragon attacked Helgen and Riverwood fears they may be next.”
When he started to laugh, Luthien felt tension tighten in her stomach. “A dragon? Everyone knows there are no dragons.”
“Tell that to the men I watched burn under its fire yesterday morning,” she said, a curt grin drawing at the corners of her mouth. She pushed past him, her hard shoulder connecting low on his solid bicep, but he still felt it. Rolling aside to allow her through, she could feel his eyes on her as she headed toward the Wind District and the jarl’s keep.
“Hey,” he called out, a hint of animosity in his tone. “Are you going to Jorrvaskr to see Kodlak?”
Shrugging, she didn’t turn back to look at him. “If I do, you’ll know.”
“All right then. I guess I’ll see you there if you do.” His voice softened, the gruff edges almost innocent, and she could hear the heavy steel of his boots tromping the ground as he ran to catch up with his shield-sisters. “Did you see her ass, Aela? My gods, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a woman look so good in cheap armor. And I think she likes me too.”
“Keep it in your pants, Farkas. She barely noticed you. A woman like that has more on her agenda than finding a big strong man to look after her needs,” Luthien heard the other woman say, their voices trailing right as she turned left and headed up the stairs to Dragon’s Reach.
She had noticed him; that was for sure. His eyes had been so intense and playful, and when he’d smiled she felt the unrequited want she’d ignored when parting ways with Ralof flare up inside her again. Times were uncertain, and she had no intention of dying without ever having felt man’s touch…
She glanced over her right shoulder, pausing for a moment on the landing, her gaze drawn to Jorrvaskr and the three warriors who approached its doors. Farkas stopped to allow the two ladies in front of him to pass through first, his hand rested on the doorframe as the din and howl of praise and chiding echoed through those doors.
It had to be the right man, even in such strange and dangerous times. She couldn’t just lay with anyone to sate her desires, but Farkas… he had potential, even if he didn’t believe in dragons. She wondered how he looked in plainclothes, if he moved just as gracefully off the battlefield as he did on. She wondered where he stood on the war.
“No lollygagging,” a Whiterun guard brushed past her, startling her from her contemplation.
“Of course not, sir,” she smiled and headed up the final stairs to Dragon’s Reach, the great keep of Jarl Balgruuf.
Chapter Two coming soon…