They did not speak again during the entire journey back to Windhelm. She wanted to reach out to him, to try and smooth things over, but in the three years they’d known one another, Farkas had never been angry with her. She didn’t know what to say, or how to make things right again because he truly believed in what they were doing and that was not something she could just give in to to please him. She believed she was right, and so for the first time, they brooded in silence and didn’t even say goodbye as Farkas made his way toward Candlehearth Hall and she headed up the stairs to the Palace of the Kings.
It was late, or rather it was early. It was two o’clock, and just as she’d feared the Jarl of Windhelm was abed. She made her way up the long, winding stairs and stood outside his door for nearly fifteen minutes arguing with herself about whether or not she should knock. She didn’t want to face him, see the look of disappointment in his eye when she handed back his war axe, but more than that, she didn’t want to find herself in his bed again, wrapped in his arms and her own shame.
Drawing in a deep breath, she realized as she exhaled she would have to face him sooner or later, and if she left the palace and came back in the morning and he found out she hadn’t come to him straight away, he would be even more angry. Lifting her hand, she knocked gently on the door, and Ulfric called out for her to come in before she’d even finished knocking.
He was sitting at the table with a book and a flagon of mead, and barely looked up when she entered. It wasn’t until she approached that he finally lifted his eyes from the words on the page. He looked tired, the whites of his eyes red with lack of sleep. She wondered if he ever slept at all.
He closed the book, and she saw branded across its leather spine: THE TALOS MISTAKE. Ulfric saw her read the words and without question began to explain.
“The Thalmor and the Empire fear that if the ascension of Tiber Septim to godhood continues to inspire mankind, more will aspire to such heights, as if this world would be worse off if it were ruled by men with the power to become gods.” He pushed the chair away from the table and rose to stand, his great height towering over her. “They are all fools, who fear the power man is capable of achieving. Talos was truly a god among men, and to tell us we cannot offer praises in his name is sacrilege. Why can a man not become a god?”
“Talos be praised,” she agreed.
“You are Dragonborn, just as he was,” Ulfric pointed out. “The Thalmor would crush you like a bug between their greedy fingers if they could, simply out of fear that with your deeds you might rise up and unite your people to a greater cause than the one they have designed for us.” The back of his finger swept thoughtfully down the bone of her cheek, his sad eyes searching hers. “But I would never let them touch you.”
“I have an answer from Jarl Balgruuf,” she said.
Luthien swallowed the rising bitterness in her throat. “Then I will take my leave and come back to see you in the morning.”
“No,” he shook his head, lowering his full mouth over hers, lips parting to show her which fires he did wish to stoke. “Warm my bed.”
“My king, I…”
“Yes.” He tilted downward to taste her lips again, drawing her body closer to his as he reminded her, “I am your king.”
With steady hands, Ulfric peeled away the layers of her armor until she stood naked and trembling before him. She trembled not out of fear, but anticipation, her mind knowing that what she was about to do was wrong, but her body craved his touch. Something about giving into Ulfric’s pleasures took her away from the awful darkness that seemed to dwell inside her, and she didn’t even understand why. It wasn’t as if he loved her, really even cared if she lived or died. She was just a body to him, a warm place to hide from his own troubles for a little while.
Ulfric drew back to take her in, his eyes glinting with the light of approval before he reached for her hand and led her into his bed once more.
With Vilkas, it had been making love, but she didn’t know what to call the things she did with Ulfric. He drove her to such intense heights, she was sure every servant in the palace knew she’d lain her body down for the High King, but wrapped up in the moment, in the pleasure of his mouth, his body, his strong arms holding her so close she never wanted to let go, she didn’t care what it was or who knew they were doing it.
She was able to let go of her anguish, her doubts and reservations, and give in to Ulfric’s will, her body answering his as they tangled together in the sheets until they were sore and tired, but both too stubborn to let go of each other.
It seemed to go on for hours, that strange game they played together, but even then she never wanted it to end.
Afterward, she didn’t fight with herself or let her guilt overrun her, but instead went willingly into his arms and found her hand reaching for his, fingers curling together atop his chest as she caught her breath and let the warm waves of spent bliss wash over her again and again. It may not have been love, she told herself, but it felt good, and perhaps one day she would even come to feel real affection for this man who brought her screaming to her knees for him. Even if she did often find herself questioning every one of his motives.
“You’ve made your king a very happy man,” Ulfric murmured, drawing her even closer.
“Perhaps since your mood is so good, now would be the time to tell you the news I bring from Whiterun.”
“Balgruuf returned your axe,” she swallowed hard against the apprehension rising in her, but Ulfric did not move. He didn’t stiffen, or push her away, he just laid there and when she lifted her head to look down at him, she saw his eyes were closed.
“So be it,” he muttered, hand reaching up to tangle into her hair and lower her head back to his chest. “Tomorrow, I will send Galmar and reinforcements to our camp outside Whiterun. We will wrench the city from Imperial hands and claim it as our own. I want you on the frontline in this battle.”
“If it please you my lord.”
“There is something about you… I don’t quite know what it is, but I have felt it since you first walked through the doors of this place. I feel that with you on my side, I could win this war.”
“For the people of Skyrim?” Or for yourself?
“For the people of Skyrim,” he agreed. “Report to Galmar in the morning, and he will give you your orders.”
“As you wish.”
“For now, I have a few more private orders I’d like you to carry out.”
“Yes, my king?” She drew up to look down at him, wondering what he could possibly need done at so late an hour.
Ulfric’s fingers crawled through the hair at the nape of her neck, tightening as he drew her down to meet his hungry mouth before rolling her onto her back and positioning himself to conquer and claim her again.