Luthien tried not to think about that dream when she woke, but it lingered in the back of her mind as she dressed and made her way up to the mead hall. Farkas was awake too, sitting at the corner of the table chowing down on a heaping bowl of steaming venison stew and buttered bread.
“You’re awake,” he said through a mouthful of food, a playful smile drawing at the corners of his mouth. “It’s about time too. Skjor’s been itching to get this party started for hours, but Vilkas said they should leave you to sleep.”
“Was I really asleep for that long?”
“It’s after six,” he nodded.
“I could have slept straight through until morning, I think.”
“Me too, but I like parties. We should go and join them out back. There’s plenty of mead and more food than we’ll ever eat in one sitting. Well, maybe. I’m pretty hungry. I’d probably eat a horse if one showed up in front me right about now.”
Everyone was already gathered, even Kodlak, who was rarely found outside his room. He rose when he saw her come out, lifting his arms in praise and greeting. “There she is,” he announced, the power of his voice directing all eyes on her. “Come, Luthien. Into the circle of judgment, where we review your deeds and determine whether or not you are worthy of being named among the Companions.”
She walked out into the yard to join him, seeing a gleam of pride in the old man’s eyes as he lowered a hand on her shoulder. “You have proven yourself honorable, lifted your sword and raised your shield to protect your shield-sibling, Farkas, on more than one occasion. You’ve brought honor to the Companions, and I am proud to call you sister in arms.”
“Hear, hear.” Aela held up her mug of ale, Skjor following suit.
“If any among you have found fault with the deeds of this woman, speak now, or never against her again.”
The yard was silent, only the metal ringing from the Skyforge above echoing in reply. She glanced around at all their faces, her gaze last falling on Vilkas, who much to her surprise seemed to actually be smiling.
“Welcome, shield sister,” Kodlak said. “From this day forth, your deeds will be counted among the Companions. May you bring honor to yourself and to us all.” As they all lifted their drinks to her, Kodlak leaned over and said in a softer voice, “I don’t feel we have had much time together since you came here, Luthien. Perhaps when you next have a free moment to spare, you can come down and sit with me. There is much I feel we could learn from one another.”
At the time she felt Kodlak’s words were strange, but before she could say anything other than, “Of course, Harbinger,” Farkas drew up to her and handed her an overflowing mug of mead.
“Drink, sister! Drink until you can’t drink anymore.”
Kodlak patted her shoulder, chuckling into his beard as he began to walk away. “Enjoy this night. Tonight, we all drink to you.”
She took the mug from Farkas, precious drops of mead sloshing out over her hands. “I think this cup is a little full.”
“Then you should empty it,” he grinned.
“If I didn’t know any better, I’d think you were trying to get me drunk so you could take me down to Riften.”
“Would if I could,” he shook his head, the sweet smile never leaving his lips. “Would if I could, but I know your heart doesn’t lie with mine, and I’m okay with that.
Here we go again, she thought, her eyes at the ready to arch skyward if he started going on about her being interested in Vilkas again.
“No matter what happens, you’ve been a good friend to me, and that mean something. Good friends are sometimes hard to come by.”
“Girl,” Skjor called out to her. “I’ve got a drink for you too!”
“Now that you’re one of us, we’re gonna heap all the responsibility on you. Just you wait. I hope you find your bed tonight,” Farkas said. “And you don’t wake up feeling too hungover in the morning.”
“Doesn’t look like that’s on my agenda tonight,” she laughed, walking toward Skjor. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught Vilkas’s gaze, but quickly looked away for fear those bizarre images she’d dreamed would come back to haunt her and he would know.
“To my shield-sister,” Skjor passed her another cup. “Drink!”
She tipped the cup back, swallowing in thirsty gulps that immediately sent the mead Farkas had given her swimming to her head. When she brought the cup back down, Skjor leaned in and lowered an arm over her shoulder. “I’ve got another job for you tonight, if you think you’re up to it.”
“I’m never one to turn down work, though if you all keep shoving drinks at me, I probably won’t be able to walk.”
“This job is… different,” he grinned, his good eye flaring with something dark and ominous that sent warning flares off in her mind. “Meet me tonight by the underforge if you’re interested, but don’t tell anyone, especially not Farkas. That boy’s famous for spreading word like fire, and we need to keep this just between us, got it?”
She leaned back to look at him, wondering what he had up his sleeve, but there was no sign to read in his expression. “All right,” she nodded. “I’ll meet you tonight.”
“Good,” he withdrew his arm from her and grabbed the bottle on the table beside them, filling her cup again. “Deep cups tonight, everyone. To our shield-sister!” he bellowed.
Cheers rang around the yard, everyone but Vilkas lifting their cups to drink in her name as they approached her.
After a while, she started holding a full cup and only sipping when someone came up to drink with her, for fear of the dizziness that promised to come if she kept drinking. She munched on bread and sweet rolls, hoping their starch would absorb some of the alcohol in her belly and keep her semi-sober enough to meet with Skjor when the time was right.
Farkas and Torvar kept trying to challenge her into a drinking contest, but she refused them, laughing every time one of them spilled mead down the front of their clothes. “Come on, you’re a Companion now. That means you drink among the best warriors in Tamriel.” When the two of them started singing it was like a chorus of croaking frogs and she took that as her cue to exit.
Lingering by the wall alone and warming herself by the coals of the dying fire, that was where Vilkas found her.
She hadn’t been avoiding him all night on purpose, or maybe she had. Every once in a while, she’d look up and see him coming toward her, and quickly immerse herself in some not-so-deep conversation with Ria or Farkas, but it seemed she no longer had anywhere to run, and when she looked up he was standing there, shadows burning orange across his face.
“Well done,” he said softly. “I knew all along you could do what needed to be done.”
“No you didn’t,” she shook her head. “When I first came here, you told Kodlak to send me back to where I came from.”
“I did,” he nodded, a sheepish grin twitching at the corners of his mouth, “didn’t I?”
“Mm-hmm. I believe your exact words were: There is no room for outsiders among. Go back to where you came from and leave us alone, Whelp.”
“I did not call you a whelp… that time.” His laugh was a little uneasy, nervous as if he felt just as strange and uncomfortable in her presence as she’d felt in his from the start.
“Only every day after that.”
“I guess I was pretty hard on you,” he admitted.
There it was again, the tightness inside her that made it hard for her to breathe, the feeling she’d come to associate with confrontation and Vilkas. It was almost like dread, as if she knew that at any given moment he would open his mouth and send her over the edge and flailing into the great void with a single word.
“I saw potential in you, but you were green and soft. You needed to learn that there was more to fighting than the drive of a vengeful heart and the promise of glory that comes with death on a battlefield.”
“A vengeful heart is not so easily comforted,” she said. “And it doesn’t soon forget that which made it ache.”
“Perhaps not,” he agreed, “but there is hope that heart can learn patience, so that it strikes out when the time is right. Trust me, Luthien, I know all about the fires of revenge, how they drive us to act, even when we know we shouldn’t.”
It was the first time he’d ever called her by name, and the way it rolled off his tongue made her shiver inside like she’d never done before upon hearing the sound of her own name on someone else’s lips. She was drunk, she told herself when she thought for a moment that it felt like her name had been made just so he could speak it the way he did.
“One day you will avenge the death of your father,” he said. “And perhaps you will have a shield-brother at your side when you do.”
She blinked, looking down at the full cup in her hands and saw the liquid trembling, or maybe it was her that trembled. Looking up at him again, she watched the torchlight flicker in his eyes. “Did you ever placate the vengeance in your heart, Vilkas?”
“No,” he said, his tone low and layered with such remorse it actually made her heart ache for him just then. “I don’t think those wounds will ever heal.”
She hadn’t wanted to admit it to herself, but she feared he was right about her own wounds too. There was no way in the world she could ever kill every Imperial in Tamriel, and even if she did, it would never bring her father back.
As much as she hated the sound of Farkas’s voice drawing nearer, there was a part of her that felt grateful for his approach. It broke the strange tension that held them in its grasp, and distracted them from going deeper into things that were probably best left unexplored.
“There you are. Both of you. Wow.” Farkas swayed like a wave when he finally planted himself between them and draped an arm across both of them. “Funny I should find you two together, even if it is where you should have been all along. All that bickering was starting to get old.”
“You’re not making any sense, Farkas,” Vilkas scolded. “I think you have had more than your share of mead for one night.”
“I’m making perfect sense. You like her, she likes you, it couldn’t be any clearer, and it’s about time you just admit it to each other.”
“All right. That will be enough of that.” Vilkas gripped his brother’s arm. “I think it’s time for you to go to bed, little brother, before you start saying things we’ll all regret in the morning.”
“I regret nothing,” Farkas declared. “Hey, don’t you ever think it’s kind of funny that I’m the little brother, even though I’m so much bigger than you?”
“Yes, Farkas. I have always thought it was hilarious.”
“Me too,” he snorted a laugh, stumbling over his own feet as Vilkas began to draw him forward.
“Say goodnight, Farkas.”
But instead of saying goodnight, Farkas whirled back around, the last bit of mead spilling from his cup and splashing on the stone in front of her. “He really does like you, Luthien. He’d be stupid not to and my brother has the brain of Ysgramor. I have his strength.”
Vilkas lifted his gaze, eyes caught for a moment on the Amulet of Mara resting over her chest before lifting to meet hers. She thought she saw something there, or maybe Farkas had filled her head with silly thoughts and she just wanted to see something that wasn’t there at all. He nodded his head curtly, and then drew Farkas toward Jorrvaskr, mumbling softly that it was time to go to bed.