She was greeted by all manner of folk on her way down the stairs. The housekeeper, Tilma the Haggard, who claimed she’d been caring for the heroes of Jorrvaskr for as long as she could remember. The young girl who’d been with Farkas and Aela stood bouncing on her heels at the bottom of the stairs, eager to chat, and the stone-fisted fighter from upstairs was making her way toward the bunk house, brushing past Luthien with a chip on her shoulder so broad it nearly wiped out everyone she walked by.
“Excuse me,” a slightly inebriated man bumped into her as she scanned the hallway. “You here for the mead?”
“Nothing,” he shook his head and laughed. “I’m Torvar.”
“I’m looking for the person in charge.”
“Who’s in charge?”
“In charge? No one’s in charge here. Well, I’m in charge of me, and you’re in charge of you, but I guess if you’re looking for Kodlak, he’s down there.”
She followed the unsteady point of his finger toward an open sitting room at the end of the hallway. Nodding, she headed in that direction without looking back. She paused just outside the doorway, a part of her not even sure why she was meeting with this Kodlak to join the Companions. She had things to do, places to be, a war to join.
But her thoughts kept returning to her father in all of this. All those stories he’d told her as a girl about the honor and glory of the famous Companions, and there she was standing in their great hall. She kept asking herself what her father would do if he were in her shoes, and she knew the answer: make a new life for himself, make a new home and family among others who shared the same values. And there was no doubt the Companions shared her father’s values, the values she herself had been raised with: duty, honor, glory…
“…I haven’t, no, but it’s always there inside me, begging to run free again. I don’t know how much longer I can hold it at bay, Harbinger. It feels like the beast eats away at me from within, and the more I deny it, the more of me it swallows until nothing will be left but its dark heart.”
She stepped into the doorframe, glancing up at the young man speaking and quickly taken aback by how much he looked like Farkas. He had the same flash of war paint around the same set of stunning eyes, but there was something so much sadder about him than what she had seen in Farkas’s gaze. His features were sharper, his body smaller, though she could tell even as he was sitting that when he rose up to stand, he would rival his brother in height and underneath his armor every inch of him was lean muscle. His brown hair was just a few inches shorter than his brother’s, falling midway down his neck and curling slightly at the ends. She watched as he raised his hand into that hair, smoothing it away from his forehead as he leaned his head back against the wall behind him.
“You’re doing well, Vilkas. I know it isn’t easy, but in time…”
Vilkas sighed. “It’s already been weeks, Harbinger, and it hasn’t gotten any easier. It messes with my mind, makes it hard for me to focus on anything but the need to hunt.”
“I know, my boy, but you know as well as I do it is the right thing to do. The honorable thing.”
She cleared her throat to let them know she was there and Vilkas quickly looked up at her, a flash of animosity burning in his gaze, but her gaze was quickly drawn to the old man, who looked for a moment as if he’d seen a ghost when he saw her standing there.
“You—You’ve come,” he whispered, lifting his hand to wave her into the room. “I mean come in. Come in, child.”
“I suppose I should guard my tongue in front of this stranger,” Vilkas hissed, his brooding stare boring into her. She could feel it, much the way she’d felt the fire of Farkas’s gaze following her as she walked through Whiterun earlier, only there was nothing welcoming or flirtatious about the eyes that watched her.
“Come now, Vilkas. We were all strangers here in Jorrvaskr once, coming to find our place in the world. Do not make our guest feel unwelcome. Tell me, girl, why have you come?”
“I want to join the Companions.”
Vilkas sneered laughter, leaning back in his chair and crossing his arms just beneath the intricately carved wolf that decorated the breastplate of his armor. “You want to join the Companions? There is no room for outsiders among. Go back to where you came from and leave us alone.”
“Vilkas,” Kodlak scolded in a smooth, almost fatherly tone. “When last I walked through the bunkhouse, I saw plenty of empty beds. Beds that would be better filled with warm, able bodies looking to take up their swords and bring honor to the Companions.”
“Bah,” he grumbled. “She looks like she could barely even lift a sword, much less wield one.”
Kodlak chuckled and eyed her. “Tell me, girl. How are you with a blade? Do you think you could best Vilkas here in a fight?”
For a moment she wanted to tell him exactly what she thought about giving Vilkas what he needed: a strong punch in his self-righteous jaw, but then she thought better of it. Vilkas looked like he’d been training for years and put his skill to the test as often as the opportunity presented itself. He’d probably demolish her in a fight.
“I won’t lie,” she began. “I still have much to learn.” She also kept to herself the part about how she’d hoped to learn what she needed to know taking up arms with the Stormcloaks. “But I am a fast learner and a good student if you are willing and have the means to teach me.”
“Good answer,” he turned back to Vilkas. “She is humble, a trait that is all too often forgotten around here. Vilkas, why don’t you take our new recruit up to the practice yard and see how she handles herself. If she shows promise, welcome her to our ranks.”
“Harbinger, I’m not so sure that’s a good…”
“Vilkas,” Kodlak said softly, implying more with his tone than mere words could ever say.
“All right,” he sighed, giving in, though it was clear he didn’t like having to do it. “Come with me,” he instructed, rising from his chair.
She followed close behind him, glancing back over her shoulder at Kodlak once more. There was something strange in the old man’s eyes. Was it dread? Relief? Hope? She couldn’t tell, but before she could ponder on it any longer, she followed Vilkas through the doors that led back up into the mead hall, listening to the sound of his heavy shield clang against his armor as he walked.
He led her through the hall and out the doors into the training yard, and several of the bodies who’d been drinking around the table got up to follow them outside, including Farkas.
Great, she thought. Now they were all going to see what she was made of it, and it wasn’t much to write home about. As Vilkas took his place in front of her, she swallowed hard against the ache of fear in her throat. She’d had to fight off a few Imperials when she and Ralof were escaping Helgen, but she’d been fighting for her life then. Where was she going to find the muster to show this man what she was made of?
“I want you to take out your blade and attack me,” he said, stretching his neck to the left and then the right before easing his shoulders back as he pulled up his shield. “Come at me with everything you have, don’t hold back, or worry that you’ll hurt me.”
She glanced up and saw Farkas standing behind Skjor and Aela, arms crossed over his chest and a gleam of excitement in his eyes. He was smiling, as if a part of him believed she could actually take on his master-at-arms brother and live to tell about it. She closed her eyes and reached for the hilt of her sword, drawing it from the scabbard. The metallic rush of blade against metal echoed through the night, but was soon swallowed by the sound of her own anxious inhale.
She drew up her sword in both hands and stepped her feet shoulder-width apart, rocking forward on the balls of her feet to test her balance as she tried to calm her nerves. She hadn’t felt this same intimidation when she’d charged at the Imperial soldier attacking her father. She’d just rushed in, all blaze and fury and no thoughts about what came next. Now, with Vilkas standing there staring at her expectantly, she couldn’t find the spark she needed to drive toward him brandishing her blade.
“What? Are you afraid to come at me?” Vilkas taunted her, lifting his hand to edge her toward him with a quick flick of his fingers. “Afraid I might hurt you, little girl?”
She clenched her teeth hard, those words igniting a fire that she’d only ever felt one other time in her life. The Imperial guard who’d killed her father had called her a little girl, egging her on the same way Vilkas was doing, asking if she was going to throw herself at him and make it easy for him to kill her.
She flew forward in a fury, her emotions guiding her blows as she hammered away at his shield and belted out the words, “I am not a little girl,” emphasizing each time she connected with her target. Vilkas stepped backward with each blow, pushing his shield into her sword and sending shocks of pain into the bones of her forearm. She would have kept going, hacking away at his wooden practice shield until it splintered into dust and the blade cut into his flesh if he hadn’t shoved hard against her, staggering her backward until she nearly stumbled over her own feet.
“All right,” he barked. “All right, that’s enough. Sheathe your sword.”
Luthien dropped her sword at her side, and for a moment she stood there catching her breath as Vilkas looked her up and down. She heard the sound of groaning arm and whooshing leather as the Companions behind him rose from their seats.
“I said sheathe your sword, whelp,” he leveled his gaze at her, a warning flashing in his bright blue eyes.
She slid her sword back into the scabbard and glanced around the faces behind Vilkas. They all looked away, all of them but Farkas, who seemed gleefully impressed, though by what she couldn’t guess. She’d wanted to kill his brother just then, and even though she doubted she could have actually done it, the burn inside her had been so strong she could barely control it.
“You show some promise with a blade,” Vilkas stepped toward her, obscuring Farkas from her view. “But you still have much to learn.”
“So, that’s it? You send me back out into the world and that’s the end of it?” Maybe it was better that way. Less time messing around trying to follow some thread of her father’s dreams meant more time for her to finish the task Jarl Balgruuf sent her to finish so she could collect her gold and be on her way North. She’d find glory and honor in Ulfric’s ranks and sate the vengeance inside her.
“No.” She watched as the right corner of his carefully drawn mouth twitched with the first inklings of a grin. “I send you on your very first important job as a Companion,” he said. “Here.” Passing his blade across the space between them, he held the handle to her. “Run my sword up to the Skyforge in the morning so Eorlund can sharpen the blade, and tell him I said to give you some new armor as well. That ragged old Stormcloak getup won’t do you much good in a real fight, and it’s likely to rile up the guards if they see you walking around Whiterun with it on.”
Without another word, Vilkas turned his back on her and walked toward the doors leading into Jorrvaskr. He swaggered as we walked, an arrogant sway to his body that made her blood crackle in her veins like fat over a fire. Who did he think he was?
Farkas watched his brother’s back, and after he’d gone inside, they were the only two left standing in the practice yard. Luthien didn’t know what to do, or where to go, so she just stood there holding Vilkas’s sword, still feeling the out-of-control thunder of her own heart inside her chest. He’d said she hadn’t done badly, but did that mean every time she went into battle, she was going to need her opponent to taunt her with her own bad memories? The likelihood of that happening was slim to none.
“You did all right,” Farkas said, walking toward her. He gestured to the steel in her hand, “I guess that means you’ll become a Companion eventually.”
“What? This?” She held up the blade and watched the torchlights of Jorrvaskr flicker across the blue steel blade. “I thought this made me your brother’s lackey.”
She was surprised when he started to chuckle, even more surprised when he lifted a soft hand to her shoulder and squeezed. “Don’t let Vilkas get to you. He’s a good man, I swear it, and there’s no one else in the world I’d rather have at my side in fight.” He glanced toward the closed door his brother had passed through just moments before. “My brother has a lot on his mind lately. He’s been… pretty touchy, I guess. And he’s never taken very quickly to new people, but he’ll get used to you. I’m sure of it.”
She didn’t know how, and she couldn’t ever imagine getting used to him. He was rude and arrogant and his smug grin made her want to bash his own shield back into his face until all his teeth shattered in his mouth.
When she didn’t say anything, he gestured toward the doors. “You look tired. Come on inside,” he started for Jorrvaskr. “I’ll show you where the new bloods sleep.”