At first it felt strange, not having Wuuthrad strapped across her back. She had taken Ysgramor’s blade with her into every fight and battle for more than three years. The Axe of Eastmarch was lighter, but the curve of its blade backed by a sharp spike that Ulfric told her would take care of any enemies who might beg for mercy.
She stepped out of the war tent donning her captain’s uniform for the first time, the bear helm tucked under her arm. She was fired up, having just come from breaking her fast with the general, who’d briefed her on the fort while they ate and then turned command of the mission over to her.
“Ulfric wants you to lead,” Galmar told her. “And I couldn’t agree with him more. You’ve more than proven yourself to me, girl. To all of us.”
“I won’t let you down,” she’d promised, a part of her hoping she could actually live up to their expectations.
Galmar brought his hand up to rest on her shoulder, rough fingers squeezing the muscle as he leveled his strong gaze over her. “Don’t go getting all sentimental on me, girl.” And then she saw the corners of his mouth twitch with a grin as he lifted his hand away. “Get out there and inspire our men.”
Farkas approached with the others as she rallied the men around her, his eyes gleaming with pride, approval and an unquenchable thirst for vengeance. She had expected his bloodlust to wane once they’d seen actual battle, for guilt to sink into and take hold on him, but then she realized that though they may have shared a womb, come into the world with identical features, Farkas had never carried the burden of his twin’s heavy conscience. Maybe that was a good thing.
They were meeting their brothers and sisters in blood outside Hraggstad to take over the fort, and after that, Ulfric would join them all in Solitude for the final battle against the Empire.
“It has been a long and weary road, and many of us have lost brothers, sisters, fathers, sons and daughters along the way, but we our spirit does not waver and neither does theirs. They watch over us from Sovngarde, lifting their swords and their battle cries for Skyrim.”
“For Skyrim!” the men cried out.
“We will take back our land and our home and send the Empire screaming back to Cyrodiil.”
She caught sight of Galmar peering out from his tent, a gleam in his eye as he lifted his fist into the air with the men, a great bellow of support that rang through the hills.
As they fell into line to begin the march to Fort Hraggstad, Farkas stepped up beside her, nudging his shoulder into hers as they walked.
“Who does a guy gotta sleep with around here to get one of those uniforms?”
“Definitely not,” he shuddered at the thought. “Doesn’t Ulfric have a sister or something, not that I imagine she’d be very easy on the eyes either, but when the lights are out it doesn’t really matter what she looks like.”
“Farkas,” she elbowed him in the stomach. “Ulfric was an only child, but I’ll tell you what,” she started, “if we both get through this alive, you can have mine.”
“What do you mean if?” He nudged her again. “We’ve made it this far. This damn war’s almost over. I have no intentions of dying now.”
“Me either,” she said.
“Then that helmet is as good as mine,” he grinned.
She could feel the nervous rumble that always preceded battle entangling with the nausea in her stomach as they marched. She was learning to control the nausea, battling it with hard crusts of bread and water in the mornings before it could overpower her, but there was no cure for the trembling nerves of a battle-ready soldier—especially a warrior who carried the son of a king in her belly.
She had taken precautions on the road from Windhelm, intently studying a spell book she’d purchased from Wuunferth the Unliving before leaving the Palace of the Kings. She’d been practicing the Dragonhide spell over and over, in hopes that it would keep protect her and her unborn child as they stormed the fort. It took a lot out of her, but she’d stocked up on extra potions, both magicka and healing, to guarantee she didn’t come up short if when she came under enemy fire.
Fort Hraggstad overlooked the Sea of Ghosts, perched atop a treacherous mountain slick with ice and snow. The Stormcloaks marched side by side through the raggedly strewn trees in hopes of keeping their cover until they came upon the troops Galmar had sent ahead to prepare for the battle. Ralof was there, hunched down and drawing out a battle strategy with a stick in the clean snow.
“I want our best archers overlooking the western wall, raining arrows down from above,” he said. “My men and I will charge in the main entrance and take the southeastern wall, while the captain and her men challenge the northeast wall. There’s a gap just under the tower there that will allow you to drive in and take out the guard.”
“This is it, soldiers,” Luthien stood tall as they gathered around her. “Once the fort is ours, many of us will storm Solitude with our king. Let’s make Ulfric proud.”
They split into three divisions, and Luthien led her troops through the gap beneath the turret. Drawing in a deep breath, she drew from the well of magic inside her until the Dragonhide spell whirled around her like a protective cloak. And then she charged, pulling the Axe of Eastmarch from her back and storming into battle with a furious cry that sent several Imperial soldiers staggering back with its power.
Arrows deflected off her armor, bouncing to the stone beneath her feet as she swept through the oncoming sea of Imperial soldiers coming at them like a wave of red and gold that clashed against the blue Stormcloaks shore rushing to meet them. Steel hammered steel, armor breaking under its heavy weight as cries of protest rang through the fort and blood slicked stone when bodies fell. She couldn’t afford to look down at those who fell beneath her feet, and trampled over them on her way to meet with the second wave.
There were so many of them and they just kept coming as arrows rained down from the walls above. Luthien couldn’t afford the distraction, so she turned over her shoulder, focused her mind and shouted them with unrelenting force from the tops of the walls. Their bodies fell in slow motion, crumbling like thunder as they hit the ground below and giving her the moment she needed to slam back a magicka potion and strengthen her Dragonhide spell before diving back into battle.
She didn’t know where Farkas was, but she could hear his voice growling somewhere to her left. “Skyrim belongs to the Nords!” he cried, in honor of his lost brother, not there to fight beside him.
“Hyah!” she slammed her axe down into the shoulder of an Imperial Nord that came rushing in to smash her from her reverie, cleaving his arm from his body. He fell screaming, calling out to Talos for mercy and breaking her heart.
How many of the men they fought against still secretly prayed their beloved god, fighting against those who sought to restore Talos to his former glory so that one day they might meet him in Sovngarde and tell him how sorry they were they’d failed him? But there was no time to waste mourning her enemy. More were coming and she spun to face them with fire in her heart so strong it burned as she reaped her axe through their numbers until none were standing but her.
As she looked around, she saw blue among the red, her fallen brothers and sisters, the sound of dying battle ringing in her ears. Ralof’s men were still fighting on the other side of the wall, and she made her way to join them until only Ulfric’s men stood, proudly lording over their victory.
She scanned the faces for Farkas, but he was not among them and thick panic seeped through her as she started to backtrack through the bodies she’d left behind her in search of him. Every blue uniform she saw laying among the dead made her heart hitch into her throat, until she turned them over one by one and felt relief warm through her again.
“Farkas?” she began calling out, carefully darting across the blood-slick stone. “Farkas? Answer me. I swear to Talos, when I find you, I’m going to bash you in the face with my shield if you don’t say something.”
Her eyes began to blur with the sting of tears, hands trembling at her sides. When she blinked, their warmth rushed down her cheeks, washing away dirt and blood. “Come on, Farkas,” she muttered under her breath. “Please, Talos.”
“Luthien,” Ralof called from the top of the wall. When she looked up, he waved for her to join them. “He’s up here.”
She didn’t even think about herself, she just ran, navigating through the dead as if through an obstacle course. She took the stairs two at a time, her heart racing so fast inside her chest she thought it would explode before she reached the top. As she hiked the last stair, she saw a group of soldiers lingering around a fallen body, and relief coursed through her as she saw that body move.
“He took an arrow in the back,” Ralof told her as he approached. “I think it may have pierced the heart.”
“He’s lost a lot of blood.”
Pushing through the soldiers without a care, she dropped to her knees and grabbed his face in her hands. “Farkas? Can you hear me?”
“Lu?” A slow grin drew at the corner of his mouth at the sound of her voice. “Did we do it?”
“The fort is ours.”
“You’re going to be okay,” she told him, gathering all her strength and power and summoning the force of restoration from her soul. “I promise.” Her magicka was still regenerating from the Dragonhide spell, but she had potions and she would swallow every last one in her supply if she had to. She wasn’t going to lose him the say way she’d lost his brother. The energy transferred from her body to his, and he laid back, allowing it to warm through him as he closed his eyes. “Ralof?” she called over her shoulder. “In my bag, there are potions, I need them, now.”
“What kind of potions?”
“In the blue bottles, bring as many as you can find.”
He ran to her, still carrying the bag and handing her the biggest bottle she carried. She guzzled it down quickly, feeling its power surge through her like a hot wave and then drain from her again as she transferred it to her fallen brother. He’d uncorked another and was handing it to her before she even had to ask, and she swallowed that one in heavy gulps, still healing Farkas as she drank.
“That feels good,” Farkas murmured, laying back his head and closing his eyes.
“That means it’s working,” she told him, reaching for another potion from Ralof and downing it so fast she almost choked. With her free hand, she stroked the hair from his face, fingers cupping his cheek as she leaned in and kissed his forehead. “Sleep, brother. You’re going to be okay.”
She’d never sighed such heavy relief in her life, as she rocked back onto her heels and dropped onto her backside, letting the tears overwhelm her. As the men around her bent to lift him and carry him into the fort where he could rest, Luthien sobbed where she sat, her heart aching with memory and grief as the snow began to fall.
She was surprised when Ralof knelt to help her to her feet, and walked with his arm around her into the fort, where she stood over Farkas for hours, holding her healing hands over his chest even when she knew he didn’t need them anymore. He slept, a deep sleep that let him continue to heal, and she watched over him until Galmar arrived.
He walked among the injured soldiers, stopping to ask how they were doing and handing out the last of the healing potions he’d brought with him from the encampment. When he arrived behind Luthien, he said nothing, just dropped a hand on her shoulder and squeezed, watching over Farkas with her until he grew weary and left her to keep her silent vigil alone.