Ysgramor’s Tomb was far to the north, beyond Winterhold and the Sea of Ghosts. The four of them traveled nearly four days to reach it, battling snow bears and ice trolls. She kept a close eye on Vilkas, who’d been silent since they left, occasionally meeting gazes with Farkas, who was also keeping a close watch on his brother’s health.
He shouldn’t have come with them, and he knew it, but it would have dishonored Kodlak’s spirit if he’d stayed behind. If there was one thing Vilkas couldn’t stomach, it was dishonor. He suffered in silence, carrying his grief and his wounds all the way to the great tomb.
As they made their way inside, Luthien felt her breath catch in her throat as she approached the mighty, empty handed statue of Ysgramor that met them at the gates of the tomb. As Farkas and Aela inspected the statue, Vilkas drew her aside and narrowed his eyes over her.
“You’ll need to be careful in there, Love. This is the final resting place of Ysgramor himself, and the spirits of his most trusted Companions guard the way and they will test you like you’ve never been tested before. They need to make sure you are worthy to be named among the Companions. I won’t be there to protect you.”
“What do you mean? You’re not going in?”
Shaking his head, shame filled his eyes just before he lowered them and reached for her hands. “My heart burns with the fire of grief and my mind… it’s so full I can barely think. I’m liable to get you all killed in there.”
She would never admit it to him, but she was glad he was staying behind. Not that she didn’t want him fighting at her back, but he needed to rest and maybe some time before Ysgramor would give him peace and respite from his grief.
“I will make you proud,” she promised.
Leaning his forehead against hers, she saw the corners of his mouth twitch upward into a smile. “I know you will, my love.”
He kissed her then, and it was so powerful, it felt as if he had imparted what strength he had left inside him to see her through to the other side. “Watch over my brother.”
She nodded and stepped back, allowing her fingers to slip out of his.
It was Wuuthrad that opened the gates. She placed the blade in Ysgramor’s hands, and the great stone walls trembled open with a heavy groan that shook the tomb and brought rocks and dust tumbling down into the air around them. Aela charged in first, Farkas right behind her, and as Luthien followed, she glanced back over her shoulder at Vilkas one last time before she slipped into the tomb.
She’d expected draugr when Vilkas told her the warriors of old watched over Ysgramor at rest. Draugr, she could have handled, but when she saw the first ghost slip from its tomb and line its arrow straight at her, she nearly panicked. She didn’t expect its arrow to actually stick when she lifted her shield on instinct to deflect it, but it did, and then she saw Farkas out of the corner of her eye, lifting lifting a dwarven blade down through the ethereal essence of a warrior come to challenge him.
They battled their way through the chamber and opened the doors to the entrance hall, where three more warriors of old met them, bows drawn, blades at the ready for a fight. Aela’s battle-cry echoed through the hall, and Farkas roared as he sprung to life, attacking the warrior closest to him. Luthien shot six arrows into the final one before it fell, and then the three of them moved on, passing through a doorway covered in cobwebs. Luthien slashed them away with her blade, but when she glanced over her shoulder she saw Farkas shaking his head.
“I can’t,” he admitted, shame drawing his mouth into a frown.
“Maybe someone should stay back with Vilkas,” she spoke up. “Make sure he’s all right.”
She saw a gleam in her shield-brother’s eye, and he nodded, grateful for the out. “I’ll stay with Vilkas.”
“Be careful heading back.”
“Be careful going forward.”
And then it was just her and Aela, battering their way through hordes of forgotten warriors, who Vilkas said only wished to honor them, but Luthien thought it seemed more like they wanted to kill them. They forged on, bringing rest to the dead and honor to themselves until at last they stood outside the burial chamber.
Luthien snuck down the steps, bow drawn and ready to loose an arrow into the ethereal warrior standing beside an altar. The warrior didn’t move, except to turn his head over his shoulder to smile at her.
“There are others here with you?”
“You may not see them, child, but they are here. There is so much I wish that I could say to you, but once more I fear we haven’t the time for one another. I cannot linger here long.”
“Vilkas said the cure may still be possible.”
“Have you brought the witches heads?”
Luthien nodded, unslinging the bag from her shoulder and holding it up. “I have.”
“Cast one of them into the fire, and I will fight beside you to destroy my beast spirit.”
She drew out the first head she grabbed onto and threw it onto the ceremonial fire, blue flames rising up as Kodlak doubled over as if in pain. He staggered back, fighting whatever wrestled with his spirit, and then a great wolf appeared beside him, snarling and gnashing its teeth at the old man. Luthien drew her blade, stepping up behind it and striking until the beast whirled on her and charged. She battered it, hacking and pummeling until it began to slow and when her final blow struck it down, it yelped in pain and protest and then it disappeared.
“Your wolf spirit is dead, Harbinger.”
“If only I could free them all,” he lamented. “Perhaps one day, we will wage a war from Sovngarde and bring our lost brothers home where they belong.”
“Isn’t there anything I can do now? I have more heads,” she proclaimed. “I killed them all.”
“There is one more thing you can do for me, Luthien. Lead the Companions to glory and honor, for you are the Harbinger now.”
“Me?” she shook her head.
Aela was now standing beside her, her mouth agape with disbelief at what she’d just witnessed and overheard. “Did he just say you were the Harbinger now?”
“Be strong, shield sister. May the gods watch over your battles.”
Kodlak disappeared, leaving Luthien and Aela alone in the empty chamber, the clean pyre drawing her forward with the bag still in her hand. The beast inside her seemed to cringe, as if it knew what she was thinking, and then it railed against her when she reached into the bag and grabbed another witches head to throw into the fire.
It felt like a part of her tore away, and she screamed as the beast wrenched itself free from her soul, leaping at her with its hackles raised, hungry maw slavering with hate. Swallowing her fear, she drew back her sword and with one heavy whack she severed the beast from her soul, staggering backward until she fell onto the floor, armor clattering, the shock ringing through her muscles and bones.
“What… what have you done?” Aela rushed toward her, glancing at the pile of smoldering ash on the floor that had once been Luthien’s wolf spirit.
“I couldn’t live with it inside me, Aela,” she shook her head. “I know it was meant as a gift, and you gave it to me so generously, but… it was a curse for me. It tore me apart inside every day I let it live within me. I’m sorry…”
Aela’s face shadowed with confusion and grief, but she held her hand out to help Luthien to her feet. “If that is your wish, then I respect it, Harbinger. I just hope you won’t insist that everyone follow your lead. I am happy as I am.”
Luthien nodded. “That is your choice, Aela.”
As they were making their way toward the hidden exit, Luthien heard the chanting of a word wall calling to her, but instead of seeking it out, she walked away. She would come back, when she was stronger and her head was clearer. For the moment, she just wanted to walk outside and lift her face to the sky, feel the air upon her skin without the heat of the beast drawing her to the moonlight. She wanted to sleep again, her whole body no longer riddled with the aches or restlessness that had plagued her for too long.
Vilkas rose when he heard the wall open at his back and when he turned, Luthien was standing there, smiling.
“It is done,” she said.
He walked toward her, looking her over as if he hadn’t seen her in a long time, or maybe it was just that he’d noticed there was something different about her. His wolf spirit no longer recognized hers. “Did it work?”
“Yes, Kodlak’s spirit is free.”
“And he named her the new Harbinger as well,” Aela added. “She is to guide us with her wisdom and lead the Companions to glory and honor for the rest of her days.”
“You’re the Harbinger?” Farkas’s shadow appeared on her left.
“I guess,” she started to shrug, but then remembered once more what Vilkas had told her. “No,” she corrected. “I am the Harbinger.”
Aela left them, making her way outside. As soon as she opened the doors, Luthien could smell the air outside and longed to follow its sweet scent.
“Let’s go home,” she said.
Vilkas shook his head, and as if he’d sent Farkas some silent cue to leave them alone, the other man wandered over near the gate. “I’m not ready to go home,” he told her. “I let my anger and my grief keep me from the halls of this place, but now that I know Kodlak is at rest, I want to see it. I want to explore and find the peace I know is somewhere inside me.”
“I’ll stay too,” she started.
Vilkas lifted a finger to her lips to quiet her. “I need time,” he said. “I need to let this anger inside me go, or I fear it’ll eat me alive. I don’t want you to see that, Luthien. I want to be a whole man when I meet you at the altar and take you as my wife.”
“Then you still want to marry me?” Over the last week, she’d begun to fear that when all was said and done, he wouldn’t want to anymore, and though it tore her apart inside, she’d kept it to herself for fear of making him think she was weak.
His brow furrowed, hand lifting to rest against her cheek. “There is no one else in this world I’d rather live the rest of my days out with, fighting side by side until we draw our last breath and the gods carry us home together.”