The road to Riverwood was fairly uneventful, though she certainly didn’t include lying beneath her lover and the stars uneventful. Vilkas’s mood seemed to improve significantly, whatever darkness had clutched him in its grip fading until she saw hints of the playful side she’d seen when he and Farkas had been rough-housing just outside Jorrvaskr before they left for Ustengrav. He plucked lavender for her, and she wove it into a crown that made him smile when she put it on.
They bathed together in a hot spring just outside of Bleakwind Basin, the two of them splashing naked through the warm water. She laughed and squealed when Vilkas drug her down facing him in his lap, his never ending desire for her immediately rising to the occasion as he lifted a hand to smooth the damp hair from her cheek before drawing her down into his hungry, waiting kiss. He gripped and guided her hips in his strong hands, lifting, lowering, drawing out every moment of bliss as long as he could before letting himself go.
Luthien’s heart was full and content. He drew up beside her as she shook the water from her hair afterward, brought her into his arms and rested his forehead against hers and she knew that the love she and Vilkas shared was what her father would have wanted for her.
The Sleeping Giant Inn was empty, save for that obnoxious bard, who scowled at her and muttered under his breath that she was nothing but trouble when she and Vilkas walked through the door. She ignored him and went straight to the bar, asking to rent the attic room. The man behind the counter looked at her as if she was on the high end of a three day Skooma binge, telling her they didn’t have an attic room, but she was welcome to the room on her left if she had the gold to pay for it.
Vilkas put ten septims down on the bar, but before the man could step out to show them to the room, a woman she thought she recognized stepped up with a broom in her hand. “I knew you’d come.”
“It’s not safe to talk here, but if you come with me, I can explain everything.”
“I’m not going anywhere with you. Where’s the Horn of Jurgen Windcaller?”
“Here, it’s right here, but please.” She held the horn out and Luthien snatched it from her grasp, quickly tucking it into her pack. “I really need to talk to you. It’s urgent.”
“How do I know I can trust you? You’ve already proven yourself a thief.”
“I’m no more a thief than you are, creeping through old crypts to steal artifacts that don’t belong to you.”
“Who the hell are you?”
“If you really want to know, come with me… alone.”
“She doesn’t go anywhere without me.” Vilkas held his arm out to stop Luthien from going any further.
The blonde woman’s face twisted into a scowl, and then she yielded. “Fine, but keep in mind, I’m a lot stronger than I look.”
They followed her through the room on the left, and after Vilkas closed the door, she opened a secret entrance that led into the basement underneath the inn. There was a weapon rack on the wall and an alchemy lab with ingredients scattered across the surface. The woman bent over the table, and leveled her gaze at Luthien, her fierce eyes unblinking.
“I’ve been watching you for months,” she explained, after a long silence Vilkas finally broke by clearing his throat. “Since you brought the Dragonstone to Farengar in Whiterun.”
“That’s where I know you from,” Luthien remembered. “You were there with him, going on about some dragon burial mounds.”
“Yes. I was still in town when the dragon attacked the tower, and I heard the Greybeards call for you. I wanted to get to you before they did, before they could fill your head with a bunch of self-righteous nonsense, but I lost track of you for a while. I knew they would send you for the horn, so I took it and left the note because I wanted you to come here.”
“Well, I’m here now. What do you want from me and why all the secrecy?”
“I’m part of a secret group that has been searching for one like you for a very long time, but I had to be careful. Thalmor spies are everywhere, and I couldn’t take a chance that you were one of them.”
“Do I look like a Thalmor spy to you?”
“You don’t look like the Dragonborn either, but if you are… Look, both of us are at an impasse here. I don’t trust you, and you don’t trust me. If you could just come with me, prove that you’re the Dragonborn… I need to see you absorb a dragon soul.”
Luthien shook her head, not sure what this woman was up to, but she didn’t trust her. “No,” she started. “I’m not a jester who performs at will to satisfy the curiosity of strangers. Now if you’ll excuse me, we’re done here.”
“Wait,” the woman called after her, but she was already on her way back up the stairs. She heard her say, “If you change your mind, find me. I’ll be here. Please. I really think we can help each other.”
She stormed through the inn and out the door, Vilkas trailing behind her.
“Of all the…” she fumed as he caught up. She didn’t like that she’d been so easily tricked, or the fact that her status as Dragonborn was bringing all kinds of crazies out of the woodwork. “Who does that woman think she is? Asking me to perform for her like some kind of trained cave bear at a circus?”
He let her rant, following beside her and just listening to her vent until they found the road. He reached for her then, drawing her to a halt and spinning her around to face him. “I don’t think her asking you to prove that you’re the Dragonborn is comparable to asking you to perform like a cave bear in the circus.” There was a teasing smile hinting at the corner of his mouth. “But you’re right not to trust her. When you take the horn back to the Greybeards, perhaps they can shed light on who this woman is and what she might actually want with you.”
“Yes,” she nodded. “We have the horn, and I will take it to them, but right now I just want to go home.”
It was only a few hours to Whiterun, but it felt like days, the strain of the road finally catching up with them as they passed through the gates. Vilkas wanted to see his brother, and parted ways with her at the door of Breezehome, promising to come back and fall into bed with her after he’d dropped off his gear.
She was glad the house was empty when she went inside. With Lydia nowhere to be seen, maybe they would get a good night’s rest without disturbance, not that either of them seemed to even know what rest was anymore unless it involved soft caresses or playful tumbling beneath the blankets. Stripping out of her armor, it felt like she’d taken at least half the weight of the world from her shoulders. The other half of that weight seemed like it would never go away, but at least she had someone to share the burden with her.
Crawling into bed, she only meant to wait for him there, but sleep overcame her and though it was never restful, she didn’t wake until early the next morning. Vilkas had let himself into the house and curled up beside her in bed, and she hadn’t even stirred. He was still asleep when she crept from bed and pulled into her clothes. She headed downstairs and make him breakfast and then carried it up to share with him in bed.
He stirred when he heard her come in, lifting his head to watch her and then sitting up to take the tray she’d brought so she could climb back into bed with him.
“What is this?” he asked. “Breakfast in bed?”
“It’s just a little salmon,” she shrugged. “I wanted you to get your nutrients in now because I plan to keep you prisoner all day in this bed.”
He tilted his head, lament shadowing his gaze. “Love, I wish I could, I really do, but something’s come up and I have to go down to Falkreath. I promised Kodlak I would first thing this morning.”
“Then I’ll come with you,” she offered.
Vilkas shook his head, reaching for the bread. “Farkas is coming along, and Kodlak has asked me to send you to Jorrvaskr today. He says there’s something he’s been wanting to talk with you about. He wouldn’t say what, but it sounded important.”
“All right,” she nodded. “How long will you be gone?”
“A day, maybe two, but as soon as I get back, I want to go to the temple in Riften. I laid awake last night for hours watching you sleep and I… I want to make you my wife as soon as possible.” It felt like her heart skipped a beat inside her chest.
“What about the Silver Hand? Aren’t you still worried?”
“Life is too short, Luthien. Will you come with me?”
“Of course I will.”
Even though he’d promised to leave first thing, he couldn’t leave without a proper goodbye that took far longer than it should have, but neither of them cared. It was hard to let go of each other, but she knew she was going to have to let him go sometimes, just as he would her. They had the rest of their lives together, and there would be jobs they wouldn’t always be able to do together; she just had to make sure she never let that keep them apart.
She stood on the front steps with him, gripping the mail shirt beneath his armor, her lower lip trembling as he leaned in to kiss her goodbye. She looked up and saw Farkas coming down the hill from the merchant circle and felt her chest tighten.
“It’s only a day or two,” he reminded her, his knuckle brushing across her cheek before he bent down to kiss her forehead. “I will get the job done quickly and come back to carry you away.”
“It already feels too long and you haven’t even left yet.” She disguised her sadness with a laugh.
“Hey, remember when the two of you couldn’t stand to be in the same room with each other? Now we can barely pry you apart.” The deep sound of Farkas’s voice breaking up their moment was enough to remind her the brothers would be together, looking out for each other. “I think your exact words as we were heading into Dustman’s Cairn were, I do not love your brother, Farkas. You’re a pretty bad liar.”
“You be quiet,” she chuckled, jumping down the step and walking toward him. She put her arms around his chest and brought him close. “Take care of each other out there, okay,” she pleaded as she stepped back to look him in the eye. “Bring him back to me.”
Farkas nodded. “Will do.”
“All right,” she stepped back. “Go, both of you, before I get emotional.”
Vilkas gripped her wrist and drew her near again. “I’ll see you soon,” he promised, stealing into her kiss one last time.
She didn’t know how long she stood by Breezehome, staring at the empty gate her lover had passed through, but it had started to rain and the cold drops on her face brought her back to herself. After locking up the house, she made her way up the hillside to Jorrvaskr to seek out Kodlak. She found him in the sitting room outside his chambers, where he was scribbling almost feverishly in and old journal. He didn’t notice her standing there until she cleared his throat, startling him from the private thoughts he penned.
“Vilkas said you wanted to see me, Harbinger.”
“I did,” he nodded. “I mean, I do. Please, won’t you sit down?”
She sat down and took a sweet roll when he offered one to her, nibbling on the sugared cream melted across the top.
“Vilkas and Farkas set out then?”
“They left a little while ago.”
“And you? Did you find what the Greybeards asked you to locate for them?”
“Yes, but we didn’t return it to High Hrothgar yet. Soon,” she said. “I would like to take Vilkas back to the monastery with me. I found a little bit of peace there, and I think… I think he might appreciate it.”
Kodlak nodded understanding and rested his hand atop the leather cover of his journal. “He has worked so hard to resist, and he’s done well, but the beastblood torments him. Do you know how the Companions came to be cursed with the beastblood, Luthien?”
“Skjor said it was a gift.”
“Skjor was proud of that gift, and his spirit will roam in Hircine’s Hunting Grounds for all eternity. Perhaps he will be happy there, but that is not my wish. My warrior’s heart longs for Sovngarde, but hundreds of years ago, the Companions made a pact with the Glenmoril witches. They promised strength and power unlike anything they could have ever dreamed, but it was a cruel trick and the price we’ve paid for generations has been to give up our place in Sovngarde.”
“The witches tricked the Companions?”
“For some, Hircine’s Hunting Grounds are a worthy resting place, but that is not the place for me…”
“What do you mean?”
“I have been doing some research, and I think I may have a way to reverse the curse, but I’m an old man, Luthien. My mind is not what it once was and my axe feels cold in my hand.”
She had never thought there might be a way to reverse the curse, but the mere possibility immediately made her think of Vilkas. Kodlak was right. Of everyone, Vilkas seemed to suffer the curse more deeply, his emotions tangling with the beast’s spirit until he burned hot as fire through and through. One day, she feared that fire would destroy him, but if she could stop that from happening…
“Will you help me?” Kodlak’s voice sounded meager, almost helpless as he reached out to her then.
“Of course, Harbinger. What do you need me to do?”
“The magic that wrought the curse is the only cure, and that magic is in the heads of the Glenmoril witches.”
“We will go there, as soon as Vilkas and Farkas return, and exterminate the entire coven.”
Kodlak’s hand came down on hers, his gnarled fingers curling over her hand. He was trembling, and she wondered how much of that was his age and how much of it was fear. “I would like you to go now,” he said. “I fear I am not much longer for this world, and I don’t want to take any chances.”
Luthien’s brow wrinkled. Vilkas had said he feared Kodlak didn’t have much longer to live, and now Kodlak himself had confirmed that fear. She hadn’t spent much time with Kodlak, not near as much as she would have liked, but there was no denying he was like a father figure to them all. It hadn’t even been a full year since she lost her own father, and she couldn’t begin to imagine enduring the pain of losing this kind man who’d taken her in, given her a home and a future.
“I understand, Harbinger. I will go right away.”
“Thank you, child.” His whole face lit up, the shine in his eyes touching her heart. “You are making an old man very happy.”