She went to see Vignar Grey-Mane in Jorrvaskr first. Vilkas had once told her he was the oldest living member of the companions, even older than Kodlak had been at the time of his death, and Vignar had seen the coming and going of more Harbingers than the old man could actually remember. He tended to overlook things in Jorrvaskr when she was away, helping Aela make sure jobs got done. He’d never been unkind to her, but she often felt as if he was looking down his nose at her. She’d overheard him saying more than once that he thought she was too young to be Harbinger, but he’d never said as much to her face.
As she sat down to explain to him why she’d come back to Whiterun, Vignar actually listened to everything she had to say without interrupting her. He was an avid supporter of Ulfric’s cause, and if it came down to a Stormcloak raid on the city, he would stand beside them.
“I just don’t want to see any of the Companions get hurt in the melee if it does come to battle,” she said.
“The Companions are warriors, girl, or have you forgotten that since you became their Harbinger. If battle comes knocking on our doors, we’ll answer with our swords drawn. That is how it has always been.”
“Fair enough,” she nodded. “I just wanted to make sure everyone was aware of the possibility of war. The Companions are my family.”
Vignar assured her that the Companions would be fine, no matter what Ulfric needed to do in Whiterun. “Ulfric is a smart man, like his father before him, and it’s a damn shame the same thing can’t be said for Balgruuf. Those two have been going at it like a sabre cat and a bear in an arena since they were boys, so I it won’t surprise me a damn bit if Balgruuf makes the wrong choice just to try and one up Ulfric. But you put your trust in Ulfric, girl. He knows what he’s doing.”
Strange, how opinions so vastly varied when it came to the Companions thoughts on the Civil War. Kodlak had agreed with Vilkas, that there was no real honor in Ulfric’s quest, but that the Empire was no better in the end. Skjor had only told her to weigh both sides with her heart, and really listen before choosing one. The others were all indifferent.
She left him, passing through the quiet mead hall on her way out the doors and taking pause for a moment to look around. She hadn’t spent nearly enough time there in the last two years, had stayed away almost entirely after Vilkas had died, for fear it wouldn’t feel like home anymore without him there.
But it did. It’s warm, bright walls decorated with the shields of a thousand warriors, Vilkas’s among them, made her feel comfortable and safe as the day she’d first come to that place looking for a home. They had taken her in, given her comfort, made her a part of their family and shared everything they had with her.
Lydia was disappointed to learn they were leaving again so soon, but even more distraught that Luthien told her she couldn’t come with them. She had no allegiance to the Stormcloaks, and no need to join in Ulfric’s war. Luthien was afraid her housecarl would get killed in the fray, fighting for things that didn’t matter to her one way or another. Some thanes believed that’s what a housecarl was for, but not Luthien. Lydia was her friend, as well as her servant, more friend than servant most days. Despite her silent, protesting eyes, she gave her a job to do on her behalf, one that would keep her away from Whiterun for at least a month. She only hoped a month was long enough.
“If this is what you wish, my thane, I will do it, even if I would rather take up my sword and fight beside you.”
“There will be other battles for you to fight at my side, Lydia. I swear it.”
She saw them to the door and hung on the front steps watching them make their way back up to Dragonsreach to receive Jarl Balgruuf’s answer. It had been a long time since Luthien had felt such tightness in her guts, as if their entire world hinged on that one reply. She felt like Ulfric was counting on her, that if she returned his war axe to him, he would hold her accountable for not swaying Balgruuf to his point of view. For all she knew, that could be exactly how he responded. She really didn’t know what kind of man Ulfric was, beyond what she’d read in books, seen with her own two eyes.
His lover’s touch seemed to paint him in a much softer light, but the man he was in the bedroom and the man who sat upon the throne Ysgramor himself had once sat were not one in the same. Ulfric was dedicated to his cause, and he firmly believed every one of his own words the way a servant of the gods believed in the scriptures they dedicated their life to studying. If she came back to him with his axe in her hands, would he lash out at her for failing him?
Balgruuf the Greater relaxed in his throne, almost slouching as she and Farkas made their way up the stairs. Irileth scowled at her when she passed by and Proventus squinted, as if narrowing his eyes might actually give him some insight into her choice to side with the Stormcloaks. None of them knew anything about her, even though she’d lived in that city more than three years and worked hard to keep Balgruuf’s peace for him by holding the dragons at bay.
“I have come for your answer,” she said, hoping her voice didn’t waver when she spoke. It did not.
The jarl sat up straight then, reaching down beside his chair and lifting Ulfric’s axe across the arms of his throne to rest it there. “Return this to the man who sent you and tell him he has my answer.”
Luthien blinked slowly, nodding concession as she reached to curl her fingers around the outstretched weapon Balgruuf held to her. “I will deliver your answer to my king. The true High King of Skyrim.”
She started to walk away, but Balgruuf called after her. “Your king?” He scoffed a little. “What kind of a king would put his own lust for power ahead of the welfare of his people?”
“Come on, Farkas,” she grabbed the sleeve of his armor and drew him down the stairs with her. “We have our answer.”
“Perhaps when you get back to Windhelm, you will ask this king of yours that very question,” Balgruuf shouted as they reached the last stair, his voice breaking a little from nerves, perhaps, or fear. “What about his people?”
No amount of jesting or singing on the road was enough to lift Luthien from her dark thoughts and foul mood, and even worse was that Farkas didn’t seem to understand why she was so upset. So what if Balgruuf hadn’t sided with Ulfric, it meant more blood for their blades, and would likely push them into battle far sooner than either of them had expected.
“The blood of people you have known all your life, Farkas. You were a guardsman once,” she reminded him. “You and Vilkas both stood with the men of the Whiterun watch many a night, and now if Ulfric marches us into Whiterun you will stand and fight against people you have known since you were just a boy. This is why I didn’t want to join the Stormcloaks in the first place. Don’t you get it? Do you really think Vilkas would want us to march on our own city, raising our swords against men we once called friend?”
He grew thoughtful for a moment, lines of confusion furrowing his high brow as a lock of hair fell in to rest over his eye. “If it had been you who’d died that night, he would march wherever Ulfric told him to go without question. His sword arm would never rest and his heart would know no comfort until long after every Imperial in Skyrim was dead.”
“Do you really believe that?” She didn’t, and yet everyone around her kept telling her that was what he would have done if their roles had been reversed. “That if it had been you or me who’d died instead of Vilkas, he would be here now, in this same position, running errands for a king whose mind is so clouded by his own lust for power he can’t even see he’s tearing the very land, the people he claims to love so much to pieces.”
“Yes,” Farkas nodded. “I really do believe that. I know it in my heart, and you should too, Lu. You remember how he was when the Silver Hand killed Kodlak…”
“This isn’t the Silver Hand, Farkas. It’s the Empire, and maybe you’ve forgotten how hard it was to deal with the action we took against the Silver Hand, but he suffered for it more deeply than you could even begin to imagine. Vilkas was tired of letting the fire of his heart lead him into battle with no purpose.”
“Is that what you really think?” he stopped and reached out to spin her around to face him. “You think we’re doing this without reason? Is the death of the man you loved with every part of you not reason enough to go to war?”
“It is the only reason I go to war.” She drew her arm from the firm press of his fingers into her flesh. “Because my heart is empty without him, and I know he would never forgive me if I let you run off into this to fight alone, but you’re fooling yourself if you believe for a single second Vilkas would have wanted us to choose a side in this ridiculous, purposeless war to avenge him. You knew your brother better than anyone else, Farkas. You shared a soul with him. Listen to your heart, and I mean really listen and you will hear him.”
Every part of him was shaking, with anger and sorrow, and at first when she reached out to take his hand, she thought he was going to pull away. “It is too late to take it all back now. We have to live with our choices, but it’s time we accept them for what they are and stop using Vilkas as an excuse to shed blood. Because no matter how many Imperial soldiers we kill in this war… be it two or two thousand, their blood will never make the hurting stop.”
“I have listened to my heart. It’s the only sound I can hear.” He surprised her then, tugging his hand from hers as he said, “And I think you’re wrong,” before turning his back on her and walking ahead without her.