Jarl Balgruuf was a smug man who refused to take a stand on the war, and though Luthien didn’t like how friendly he seemed to be with the Imperials, she had to respect the amount of thought he put into choosing a side. Standing against the Imperials simply because he was a Nord didn’t seem to be an option for him. He had the welfare of his people to consider, and she respected that too.
He seemed to be in need of a warrior to retrieve some dragon stone the court wizard believed would prove useful to them. The initiative she’d shown in coming to him with word about the dragon attack at Helgen put her at the top of his list.
Her purse was still lighter than she wanted it to be, especially considering she still planned to make the journey to Windhelm, and Balgruuf promised to reward her handsomely if she could manage that one little task for him.
Lucky for Balgruuf, she was already planning to head to Bleak Falls Barrow, but not until she took a night to recuperate from the mayhem that had consumed her life over the last few weeks. She still couldn’t believe her father was dead, and she had no idea what had become of her mother after the Imperials bound her in ropes and carted her away from her home. It was a lot to process, and she hadn’t had much time to really think.
Making her way down the stairs from Dragon’s Reach, she heard the raucous sound of celebration over her left shoulder. Her gaze was immediately drawn once more to the lights of the great hall of Jorrvaskr. Home of the Companions, the stone dragons that perched upon its roof felt cold and too unreal, and for a flicker of a moment, she thought it was no wonder Farkas didn’t believe in dragons. That dragons he’d known all his life were made from stone, docilely raised above the hall where he lived like guardians of old, but she knew firsthand that there was nothing docile about dragons. And rather than guard and keep her safe, they would tear her apart limb from limb and roast her before swallowing her like a sheep in the open fields.
The sounds of their merrymaking called to her. It felt like ages since she’d known true companionship, or the comfort of a real home, and once more her feet carried her without her mind’s compliance, guiding her up the stairs to the front doors of Jorrvaskr.
The hall smelled of fire smoke and roasted meat, mead and ale, oiled metal armor and polished leather, and underneath was a musky odor she didn’t recognize that sent chills racing up the length of her spine. Perhaps it was the scent of blood, she told herself, her attention immediately focusing on a brawl near the end of the table between a seasoned dark elf and a foul-mouthed warrior woman with fists like stone.
She turned over her shoulder to Faendal. “I think it’s time for us to part ways,” she said, her distracted gaze quickly returning to the brawl. They’d dropped their weapons and were pummeling each other with bare fists.
“I’ll head back home to Riverwood,” Faendal said. “Come and find me if you ever need my help again.”
Not bloody likely, she muttered under her breath. He hadn’t exactly been much help, but at least he’d kept her company on the journey. “Yeah, thanks again, Faendal.”
She barely heard the door open and close at her back, she was so focused on the fight at hand. Around the table, warriors sat cheering them on, urging the one named Njada to hammer his face to a pulp.
“Hey, you owe me a bottle of mead,” she heard Farkas’s distinct voice, and glanced in his direction to watch him rise up from his seat beside Aela. “I told you she couldn’t resist me.”
“I don’t think she’s here for you, buddy,” Aela chuckled, reaching up to grab his arm and tug him back into his seat. “Which means you owe me.”
“Who’s in charge around here?”
“In charge?” His laugh was rough and a bit sarcastic. “We don’t really have a leader, at least not in the traditional sense anyway, but I guess if you’re looking to test your mettle, Kodlak would be the one to talk to. He’s the Harbinger.”
“And where would I find this Kodlak?”
“Head down those steps over there and turn right. Go straight back that hallway. You should find him there outside his rooms. He’s not hard to miss. Big man, white beard. Looks a little er… constipated.”
Luthien felt her brow wrinkle, but before she could ask what he meant, Farkas nudged between them, grinning from one ear to the other. “I told Aela you would come. There aren’t too many great warriors who can turn away from the call of the glorious Jorrvaskr.”
“Whoa there, little man,” the bald one elbowed his taller and much broader shield brother in the ribs. “That’s a lot of big words coming from you. Don’t tell me you’ve been reading through your brother’s books.”
“What?” Farkas took a step back, the gears in his mind churning in attempt to make sense of the other man’s jest. “No. Who needs books when you’ve got steel? Right, Skjor?” He tapped the hilt of his sword and then turned his attention back to Luthien. “So you’re going to join the Companions?”
“I don’t know,” she shook her head. “I was going to run a few jobs for Jarl Balgruuf to earn a bit of coin so I can make the trip to Windhelm.”
“Windhelm?” Farkas contorted his face. “What’s in Windhelm?”
“The Stormcloaks, little man,” Skjor muttered, looking around the room to make sure no one heard him. “Look, girl, I don’t take sides in wars anymore, and I don’t fault anyone who chooses a side if they’ve got a damn good reason. I fight for myself and my brothers and sisters now. But if I were you, I’d watch who you talk to in Whiterun about your intentions of joining Ulfric’s revolution. There are more than a fair share of folks around these parts that would gladly put your head on a spike in front of the city if they even suspected you might be choosing the wrong side.”
The seriousness melted from Skjor’s face, the wrinkles growing into laugh lines Luthien was sure he didn’t use near as often as he once had. “Everything confuses you, little man!” And then he clapped Farkas on the back as he turned away, muttering into his flagon of mead.
“You’re not much on war, I take it?” She glanced up the scuffed surface of Farkas’s armor, past the shadow of stubble shading his chin and upper lip. His bright eyes awaited her, drawing her past his simple views for a moment and straight into his soul.
“War is for people who feel like they have to prove something,” he shrugged. “The only thing I have to prove is right here.” He caressed the hilt of his sword again, his calloused fingers working over the smooth metal pommel and for a moment she wondered if he was referring to more than just his skill with a blade.
Not that she knew anything about such things beyond her own unexplored desires, but for a moment she was relatively sure he was flirting with her.
“So, you came to talk to Kodlak then?” He changed the subject.
“I don’t know why I’m here.”
“I was pretty sure when I saw you walk through those doors, you came to talk to me again, but if it’s coin you’re after, you can earn a fair share running jobs for the Companions. If Kodlak thinks you’re worthy, that is.”
Okay, she was sure he was flirting now, and she didn’t know how to respond. Did she flirt back, or play coy, like she had no idea? He was definitely easy on the eyes, that was for sure.
“I do need coin,” she sighed.
“To join your war,” he nodded. “Right. I may not be smart, but I have a pretty good memory.”
“Who says you’re not smart?” she felt herself starting to smile as she chanced another look into those strange, yet beautiful eyes.
“A lot of people say I’m not smart. Those people get my fist.” He hammered his clenched fist into his open palm, and then he laughed, his armor rattling as his broad chest shook beneath it. “But seriously, you should talk to Kodlak if you’re thinking about joining us.”
“I think I will,” she said. “Thanks, Farkas.”
She started away, but he reached for her hand, drawing her back beside him. “Hey,” he began. “I uh… I never got your name.”
For a moment she wondered if using her name would be safe. If Skjor was true, and the Imperials had spies within Whiterun, they might be looking for her. Then again, maybe she wanted them to look for her, to know she wasn’t afraid to walk proud among the other Nords of Skyrim who refused to bend to Imperial oppression.
“Luthien,” she told him.
She chuckled softly. “I think that was a compliment, so thank you.”
This time when she walked away, he didn’t stop her, but called after her. “It was a compliment. I mean, it suits you… like a flower.”
“Do you ever even stop and listen to yourself talk, Farkas?” Luthien heard Aela say.
“No,” he mumbled, and she heard his armor creak and groan as he walked off in the opposite direction. “Wait, what do you mean?”