It was well past midday when they finally mustered up the will to get out of bed, not because they’d grown tired of each other, but because they knew they had to. The world wasn’t going to stop turning simply because they wished it would, but with Vilkas beside her, she didn’t fear facing the others at Jorrvaskr, or the lingering grief of Skjor’s death locked within the hall.
And it was there. She felt it as soon as they made their way up the steps. Skjor’s troubled spirit seemed to linger on the wind, and for a moment she felt that vengeful fire burning in her gut again.
She was surprised to see Lydia there when they walked through the doors, she and Farkas tipping back cups of mead and sharing battle stories and glories.
Farkas saw them first, his face brightening when he glanced up. “Well, look who finally decided to get out of bed. Lazy day, brother?”
“Back to bed, I would guess. That’s where I’d go, if I were you.”
Lydia snorted, hiding her laugh in her cup.
“As much as that would please me, there is work to be done, though you couldn’t tell judging from the two of you, sitting around passing a bottle back and forth like a couple of retired adventurers sharing stories of arrows you took to the knee.”
“We live the good life,” Farkas grinned, nudging Lydia with his elbow. “So, where are we headed?”
“We aren’t headed anywhere, little brother. Luthien and I are going to Ustengrav,” he said. “You’re staying here to look after things and run jobs for Kodlak while I’m gone.”
“Ustengrav?” Farkas’s face scrunched. “What the hell is in Ustengrav besides old crypts and nasty draugr?”
“An artifact the Greybeards asked me to retrieve,” Luthien explained. “We shouldn’t be gone long. Three days, maybe four.”
“I’ll come with you, my thane.” Lydia rose from her chair. “Those old crypts can be dangerous. I am your sword and your shield, you know that.”
“As you wish, my thane,” she nodded solemnly.
“Hey,” Farkas called out as they headed downstairs so Vilkas could grab his arms and armor. “Don’t get my brother killed out there.”
“I will guard him with my life,” she promised.
Inside Vilkas’s room, she lingered against the closed door, watching him rifle through his packs for the right equipment. They’d never gone out into the field together before, and though she had no idea what to expect, if the way he moved in the practice yard was any indication of his actual skill, she was sure he’d be a fierce companion to have along. A warrior didn’t get three years into his twenties without wit and skill keeping him alive, and Vilkas was definitely a clever man.
“Do you have enough potions with you?” he glanced back over his shoulder at her.
“We’ll stop at Arcadia’s Cauldron on the way out of town and pick up a few more. You can never have too many.”
“I wish…” she started, then stopped, not wanting to sound foolish in front of him for fear it would start the cycle all over again and make him turn away.
“What do you wish, love?” he turned around, his helmet held slack at his side. “Tell me and I’ll make it come true.”
“Nothing,” she shook her head. “It’s silly.”
“Wishes are never silly,” he said. “Especially not yours. Tell me what you wish,” he took a step toward her and brushed his knuckles down her cheek before ducking her chin up so she had no choice but to look at him. “What can I give you? The moons? The stars?”
“I wish it could always be like this. You and me,” she said. “That every time you looked at me, I saw that fire in your eyes.”
“It always will be like this, as long as we both live.” His soft lips murmured against hers. “I will make sure of it.” His kisses grew more urgent, the helmet in his hand dropping onto the bed beside them just before he lifted both hands to rest on the back of her head, fingers tangling into her hair.
But before that kiss could lead them back into the melted depths of each other’s arms, someone rapped on the door outside and he reluctantly drew back.
“Vilkas, I’d like to speak with Luthien.”
“Of course, Harbinger.” He opened the door to allow Kodlak into the room. “We were just packing to leave for Ustengrav. Come in, please.”
“I’d like to speak with Luthien in private, if you don’t mind, Vilkas.”
“Not at all,” he nodded. “I will wait for you in the mead hall,” Vilkas said, grabbing his helmet again and slinging his pack over his shoulder before heading out the door. He glanced back at her before turning into the hallway, offering a slow smile and a wink that made her knees feel weak, and her heart feel strong.
It must have been written all over her face, not that she felt she had anything to hide, but when Kodlak spoke again, it made her feel ashamed. “It isn’t easy to find such powerful love in a world like ours,” Kodlak looked up at her. “You are both very lucky, but that isn’t what I wanted to talk to you about.”
“If it’s about Skjor…”
“It is about Skjor.” He held his hand up to quiet her. “You and Aela made quite a mess of things, but under the circumstances…” Pausing, he shook his head, the long braid of his hair falling down against the war paint symbol that decorated his right cheek. “The grief in your hearts must be overwhelming. We all grieve for Skjor, but the way you two went about that business… I fear it will bring a hailstorm down upon us all.”
“I’m sorry, Harbinger. There is guilt in my heart, but I cannot apologize for the things we did… I did. If you’d seen…” Lowering her gaze to the floor, she felt her eyes burning again with unshed tears. “There aren’t enough words in the world to describe the horrors we saw there. The things they did to Skjor were wrong.”
“And that made the things you and Aela did right?” She was surprised then when he lifted a hand to her shoulder and offered her silent comfort. “You were right to avenge your shield-brother, but you are still so new to the beastblood, and sometimes allowing vengeance to overwhelm those with our curse… Well, let’s just say it only makes the vengeance burn stronger until it is all we can feel in our hearts.”
She was afraid to look into his eyes, a part of her knowing that seeing his disappointment in her would make her cry, make her look weak in front of the Harbinger.
“I feel we have not had much time to sit together and talk, you and I. There is so much I want to share with you, but alas, it doesn’t seem today is the day to trouble a young adventurer with an old man’s thoughts. You and Vilkas are traveling, I hear? To Ustengrav, or is it Riften you run off to?” There was a gleam in his eyes, the lines in his face softening. For a moment he reminded her of her father and she felt a great affection for him.
“We are heading up to Ustengrav,” she nodded. “I am going to retrieve the Horn of Jurgen Windcaller for the Greybeards and Vilkas offered to come with me.”
“Ah,” he nodded. “The Greybeards. So they think you are the Dragonborn, then?”
“It is possible,” she said.
“Well, that matter is far more important than anything I might have to say. Perhaps when you return, you can find time to come and sit with me awhile. There is much for us to talk about, you and me.”
“Of course, I will, Harbinger.”
“Good,” he nodded, withdrawing his hand from her shoulder. “May the Gods watch over your battles, shield-sister.”
Vilkas was waiting for her in the practice yard. Well, he wasn’t exactly waiting. It seemed he’d grown bored and restless, tackling his brother until the two of them rolled across the stone like children, Farkas in a headlock, the two of them laughing, wrestling like two pups trying to dominate one another. She’d never seen him playful, Farkas, yes, but never Vilkas, and this whole new side to him only confirmed that there was so much about him she still didn’t know.
She only hoped the gods granted them both long lives, so there was enough time to learn everything there was to know, and plenty leftover to enjoy one another.
It was Vilkas who came up from their playful skirmish, triumphant as he brushed the dust and grass from his clothes while walking toward her.
“And they say he’s the one with the strength of Ysgramor.”
“Ah, I let you win, so you wouldn’t feel small and humiliated in front of the ladies,” Farkas growled, jaunting to catch up with his brother. “You sure you don’t want me to come along with you two on this one? I don’t know much about Ustengrav, but it sounds pretty dangerous. Probably plenty of draugr just itching for my blade.”
“Kodlak needs you here, brother. Especially with Skjor gone and Aela in such a distant place right now.”
“Be careful out there,” he said. “Both of you.”
Luthien stepped back and watched the brothers embrace, Vilkas clapping his brother heartily on the shoulder before they headed away from Jorrvaskr.