She discovered rather quickly that the best way to steer clear of Vilkas was to take jobs from Skjor, Aela and Farkas and make herself as scarce as possible. The less she saw of him, the less his scowl bothered her, but what did bother her was the fact that everything she did, she seemed to do in hopes of garnering the approval that would finally make her “grow” on him, like Aela had said.
At night, she and Farkas drank in the hall, or down at the inn with Torvar and her new housecarl, Lydia, and by day she ran job after job when she wasn’t training in the yard. She watched her purse grow fat and heavy with coin, but her longing to run off to Windhelm seemed to wane the heavier her purse got. The vengeance was still there, and sometimes when she spied the Imperial-loving Battleborns down by the merchant’s circle, it made her stomach churn, but she wasn’t sure if it was the right thing to do.
Returning late one night from a job Skjor had sent her on, she found him sitting by the fire in the main hall alone. He barely noticed her when she came in, but looked up as she approached and nodded approval when she told him the job was done and without any bloodshed.
“You’re doing well, New Blood. You’ve brought honor to the Companions and yourself. If you keep this up, we will gladly call you sister sooner, rather than later.”
“Thank you, Skjor.”
“Sit down, have a drink with me,” he said, gesturing to the seat across the table from him. Luthien sat and took the flagon of ale he passed to her, thirstily washing the dust of the road from her throat. “So, what’s your story? You haven’t gone to join the Stormcloaks yet. Did you change your mind?”
“For now,” she nodded. “I’ve got enough on my plate here to keep my mind off the things that won me to Ulfric’s cause, for the time being anyway.” Her father was never far from her mind, and her longing for vengeance still burned inside her, but most days it felt like someone had turned the flame down enough for her to bear it without as much pain.
“There are better ways for a good warrior to die than fighting for a cause they don’t fully understand, or even believe in,” Skjor said. “Not that I don’t think you are a strong Nord woman at heart who truly believes Skyrim belongs to the Nords. Ulfric’s cause is noble, but his motives, maybe not so much. Which is not to say the Imperials are much better, and the Thalmor… don’t even get me started on them… Still, it’s always a good idea to weigh out both sides before you choose one.” He swallowed what was left in his cup and brought it down hard onto the table, reaching for a bottle to refill it again before topping hers off.
“Farkas says you were a Blade once, that you and Kodlak led 40,000 warriors against the Aldmeri during the Great War.”
“40,000 now, is it? That number gets higher every time I hear it,” he laughed. “Nevertheless, that’s how I lost my eye,” he explained. “Not that I’d take a single day of that back. It was a glorious fight, one I was proud to be a part of, but I’ll tell ya, I do miss that eye.” She watched his good eye scan her face for a moment, as if waiting for her to react, and then he bellowed laughter. As he came down off the high of his own amusement, he nestled back into the chair and released a long, loud sigh. “I guess what I’m trying to say here, girl, is that you need to understand who you are before you rush in to fight someone else’s war. Right now, you’re bringing honor to yourself, to the Companions, and making a name with your deeds. That’s a good thing, but if you do decided to go to war on day, make sure you do it for yourself, to defend your values, your honor, your family… Not because some blowhard with a lust for power tells you his cause is the one that’s right. You get what I’m saying?”
“I think so,” she nodded, not sure why he’d felt the need to wax philosophical with her, but glad he seemed to be warming to her.
“Good. Now, I feel the call of the moons, and like the warmth of true Nord mead and the come hither eyes of a beautiful woman, I can never refuse its calling, so if you’ll excuse me, I think I’m headed out to enjoy the feel of its light on my face. Keep up the good work, New Blood.”
After handing over her payment, she crept quietly down the stairs, fully intent on falling into the first open bed she could find, but as she walked through the hall she heard raised voices.
“It isn’t right. It’s a curse, and no one should be forced to bear it, Aela.”
“No one is forcing anything on anyone, Vilkas. It’s a choice, just like it was for you once. She’s proven herself to me and Skjor, and we think she’s ready for one final test. It is the way of things. The way the Companions have done things for generations now.”
“I don’t know, Aela. Maybe Vilkas is right,” she recognized Farkas’s voice. “Maybe we should just leave her out of it.”
“And if Vilkas said it was a great idea, you’d probably go along with that too. When are you going to learn to think for yourself, Farkas and stop listening to everything your brother tells you is right? You told me she held her own that day in the barrow, and she’s come back from countless jobs for me unscathed more times than I can count on both hands in the last few weeks. She could be an even more valuable asset to us with the blood. A true shield-sister and worthy member of the inner-circle.”
They were talking about her, about inviting her to some inner-circle, and wouldn’t it figure that Vilkas didn’t want her to be a part of it. Gods, why did he hate her so much? She’d barely even crossed paths with him in the last few weeks, and yet he still hated her. Could she do nothing to make him see she was worthy?
“Skjor wants to test her,” Aela said. “He was down at the inn earlier talking to Ulfberth and the War-Bear says she slayed another dragon on her way back from a job Farkas sent her to in Rorikstead. A dragonslayer… Vilkas. If that doesn’t make her a valuable asset to the Companions, to the inner-circle, I don’t know what else will. Skjor says…”
“Tell me, Aela, if Skjor wanted you to head to Dragonbridge tomorrow and throw yourself off into the rocks below, would you think that was a good idea too? When are you going to learn to think for yourself and not let your woman’s feelings for the old warrior cloud your judgment?”
“I’ll put an arrow through you if you ever say that again.”
“She is a good warrior, Vilkas,” she heard Farkas say in an attempt to cool the tension in the room.
“Then if she’s already a good warrior as you say, why would she need the blood?”
“Vilkas is right, Aela.”
“Vilkas is wrong.” Aela’s tone held mockery and scorn. “It is a gift, and it seems that thanks to Kodlak, you’ve both forgotten that…”
Their voices grew louder, but Luthien walked away. She could still hear them when she found an empty bed and crawled into it, Vilkas shouting, Farkas mumbling, Aela railing back at them both for denying their true nature. She didn’t know what any of it meant, but it sounded like something she should care about. As soon as she grew still, however, the fatigue in her muscles overwhelmed her, the heaviness inside her head soon dropped down over the rest of her like a dark blanket until the world was no more and she slept.
She didn’t know how long it was that the cocoon held her tight in its embrace. A few minutes, hours, maybe. She woke with a start, as if something sharp had poked her in the shoulder, and when she jumped upward she found Vilkas standing at the edge of her bed with his arms crossed.
“Good, you’re awake.”
Had he just jabbed her with his sword to wake her up? Reaching up to rub the sleep from her eyes, she ran a hand into her hair, fingers catching on her braid as she glanced around the room. Torvar was still sleeping two bunks down, but he seemed to be the only one.
“Okay,” she nodded, hoping to jar the sleep from her brain with the movement. “What do you need me to do?”
“It would seem the justice system in the Rift has just about as many holes as their fishing nets,” he began. “A dangerous criminal has escaped from their custody, and I need you to hunt him down. At this point, they don’t give a damn if he lives or dies, and neither do I. They just want him taken care of, if you understand my meaning.”
“I can do that,” she said.
“Good.” He turned away and started for the door, stopping to glance back over his shoulder at her. For a moment their eyes met, and she thought she saw something softer inside them, but then he spoke again, a hard edge in his tone that obliterated any thoughts of him actually being kind to her. “Hurry up. I don’t want you to waste any time. Is that understood?”
“Oh, and Whelp,” he called after her as he was walking away. “Be careful. This man is dangerous, and there’s no telling what he’ll do to try and escape.”
That much was true. The orc was massive, and his skills were much more honed than hers, but his size against her quickness tired him out, and in the end, she’d managed to take care of the business she’d come to carry out.
She was glad that she’d actually taken some time to wander around Riften while she was there. The town was filthy and it stunk of fish and stagnant water, but at least Vilkas wasn’t there scowling at her. He probably would have been happy if she’d just stayed there, taken up residence in the Ratway with the brigands and thieves, who, judging from the desperate plea from one of their leaders, would have gladly taken her in among them. And he was attractive too, with a sweet brogue as he called her lass and tried to tempt her with the promise of more coin than she could ever dream filling her pockets.
She said no thanks, and that seemed to put him off, as she sidled up to the bar and ordered a mug of Black-Briar mead. An animated priest in the center of the Inn caught her attention, reminding her of the priest in Whiterun, Heimskr, who could often be found shouting out in desperation for the love and praise of almighty Talos. Maramal wasn’t as animated as Heimskr, but he sure didn’t seem to think much of the sins and corruption of Riften.
When she approached and offered him tithes to the Temple of Mara, he thanked her and asked if she was married.
Marriage, as if she was ever going to have time to even look for a man, much less marry one, with the Companions running her from one corner of Skyrim to the other like a horse. He laughed, and explained to her things she already understood, but hadn’t ever really thought much about. Life in their world was short, especially for an adventurer like her, but a marriage partner could bring comfort to a weary soul and warmth on long, cold nights. In the end, he convinced her to buy an amulet of Mara, a sigil that would let the world know she was unmarried, and she put it on as she was leaving the Inn. At least she’d have it, when the time was right, and who knew, maybe some handsome farmer’s son in one of the dirt poor towns she visited would notice it after she took down the dragon burning his farmstead to ash and offer to take her away from the humdrum affairs of her everyday life.
She told herself that all the work she was doing for them was probably a good thing. Maybe if she did a good job, Vilkas would finally lighten up on her, but when she returned to tell him she’d taken care of the criminal, he didn’t even compliment her on a job well done, not like Skjor had done. Instead, he handed her a cut of the payment and immediately sent her off on another job. This time she was locating some lost family heirloom and retrieving it from a den of supposed vampires.
There was no supposed about it in the end. She’d been glad she’d actually taken the time to grab Lydia from Dragonsreach before she left. She’d never come face to face with vampires before, and she’d been grateful for the backup.
Was Vilkas trying to get her killed, she wondered? It sure seemed that way when she and Lydia made their way back to Jorrvaskr and he met her outside the doors with another incredibly important job that needed done. Rescuing some girl from Markarth who’d been kidnapped by necromancers.
“They were really vampires, by the way,” she said, handing over the dwarven sword he’d sent her to get.
“Give that to me. They’ve asked for the utmost discretion in this matter. I’ll return it.”
“Actual vampires,” she ignored him. “Not supposed vampires. Not a bunch of people who wished they were vampires. The real deal.”
“You seem to have come out of it one piece.” He looked her over. “No worse for wear. You didn’t contract Sanguinare Vampiris, did you?”
“I carry potions with me,” she said. “I think I’m clean.”
“Good, then you’ll be fit to carry out this next job quickly. I shudder to think what could happen if you waste any time.”
“I haven’t slept in days, Vilkas,” she started. “Isn’t there someone else you could send on this job? Ria, maybe? Torvar?”
“When you came here, you told Kodlak you wanted to bring honor to the Companions.” He crossed his arms and glared down the length of his nose at her. “Turning down important jobs is not exactly honorable, especially a job as touchy as this. A girl’s life is at stake, but if you want to pass the buck on to someone else I will just go and do it myself.”
She drew in a deep breath and let the cold air burn in her lungs for a spell before exhaling a sigh. It’d be a rare thing if he did something himself, she thought, but in the end she didn’t say that to him. “Fine, I’ll handle it.”
“That’s more like it, Whelp. Get to it. There’s no time to waste.”
She trudged back down the steps into the Wind District with Lydia at her back, muttering under her breath and mocking his self-importance as she marched down into Belethor’s General Goods to trade in some of the odds and ends she’d picked up on her last two jobs.
“I don’t understand what his problem is.” She ranted as they passed through the Whiterun gates. She drew out her map to inspect it and then glanced up to get her bearings.
“Who’s problem, my thane?”
“Vilkas. I think he’s trying to get me killed. When was the last time we slept, Lydia, and I don’t just mean a quick catnap on the side of the road? Four, five days ago?”
“I don’t remember, my thane.” She followed at a steady pace behind Luthien, always scanning the horizon for danger. “I hope you’ll forgive me for speaking bluntly, but perhaps he is testing you for something greater.”
“You’re always welcome to speak freely with me,” she said. “But in this case, I think you’re wrong, Lydia. Vilkas hasn’t liked me since day one, and he’s always pushing me. Either he’s trying to get me killed, or he wants me to quit.”
“Or maybe he sees great potential in you, my thane, and he is simply pushing you to be the best that you can be.”
“You’re supposed to be my housecarl, Lydia. That means you take my side in all matters.” She snorted a laugh over her shoulder and watched Lydia’s tight lips twitch at the edges. “If I say Vilkas is trying to kill me, you pull out your sword and insist we go and put him in his proper place–a funeral pyre.”
“I am sworn to carry your burdens,” she added a mock hint of begrudging to her tone.
Over the last few weeks, the two of them had spent nearly every waking moment together, and as she got to know her new housecarl, she found herself growing fonder and fonder of the woman. She had a quick wit and a good sense of humor, even if she did seem far too serious at times.
She went on and on about it as they walked, Lydia following close and listening as Luthien unloaded, going off about his smug face, and how good it would probably feel to punch him in the teeth. “I’ve been practicing a lot, you know, and I may not be as good as him, but I bet I could still knock him on his ass before he slaughtered me. And don’t even get me started on the whole Dragonborn thing. I should have gone to High Hrothgar weeks ago to find out what the Greybeards could tell me, but instead I’m running errands for Vilkas like some milk-drinker lackey. He probably thinks that whole thing’s a joke. How could I ever be the Dragonborn? How could I ever be anything but his errand girl?”
“You could have said no to him, my thane, told him that as much as you respect him and wish to please him, you need time for yourself too.”
“I do not want to please him,” she growled. “I want to make him suffer.”
Lydia ignored her last statement. “I understand that you are helping bring honor to the Companions, but there is no dishonor in following your greater path from time to time. If you truly are the Dragonborn, and all the evidence seems to be pointing in that direction, then your destiny lies beyond Jorrvaskr and the things you do to bring peace and honor to Skyrim will bring the Companions more glory than they could possibly imagine.”
“I like you, Lydia,” she paused and cocked her head northwest, hearing the distant warning growl of a cavebear in the mountains. “You see far greater things in me than I could ever see myself. If only Vilkas could see what you see.”
“He will, my thane,” she promised. “In fact, I think he already does.”
Before Luthien could ask her to elaborate, a sabercat barreled down the mountainside and pounced, unleashing a mighty roar meant to send them running for the hills. Luthien drew out her sword and Lydia followed, the two of them charging into that small battle together. By the time the cat was dead, the rush of adrenaline had taken over and she slowly began to forget about why she was so mad at Vilkas. After a while, she didn’t think about him at all and the last shards of anger dwelling in her gut diminished until all she cared about was finishing the job at hand.