On the night Hundr Stormcloak was born, dragons raged above the Palace of the Kings as his mother fought against the torment and agony of childbirth. To hear the guards tell the story in later years, there were half a dozen of the silver beasts, battling each other in the skies with ice and fire, their shouts echoing off the mountains behind the city like thunder. But Hundr’s father, King Ulfric, said there were only two dragons that night, one bronze and one black. Their bodies spiraled through the skies, great wings flapping, writhing and entangled in a battle so intense flaming meteors rained down across Eastmarch and set the crumbling slums of the Grey Quarter on fire, the mountains echoed with their raging cries.
As Hundr was torn from his mother’s womb, silent and purple, eyes opening for the first time as the midwife wiped him clean and cut the cord that bound him to the woman who brought him into the world, the cold air touched his skin and he unleashed a warrior’s cry.
King Ulfric later confided to his steward, Jorleif, that even above the din of fire and chaos and dragon battle in the sky, he heard his firstborn son draw breath and follow with a deafening wail that brought the fighting dragons to the ground just outside the walls of Windhelm. They craned their long necks toward the sound, reptilian eyes blazing like fire, gaping maws stretched wide as they shouted together, “Dovahkiin.”
Luthien had heard it too, the walls of the Palace of the Kings shuddering in answer to their combined voices as the healer moved her hands over the High Queen’s body and the midwife wrapped her son in warm blankets. When she lowered him at last into his mother’s arms, Luthien drew her him against her chest, blinking away the tears that had formed in her eyes when she’d heard his first cries. She was exhausted, every last ounce of her strength drained by the long hours of hard labor that wracked such torment on her body she didn’t know if she would ever recover, but the child in her arms felt light as a feather as she drew him to her breast and lowered her adoring gaze over his face.
“Is there anything you need, milady?”
“Send for my husband.” She didn’t even lift her gaze from the bundle in her arms. She knew his wide eyes were not strong enough yet to focus, but she felt as if he were staring straight into her soul, begging her to hold him close and keep him with her until he was old enough to do the same for her.
“Yes, milady.” The midwife disappeared and the healer followed, promising to return in an hour’s time to make sure both mother and child were in good health.
Alone with her son, it was almost hard to believe he was the same bundle of energy she’d felt rolling and tumbling inside her, feet pressing out against her skin as he stretched and kicked. Ulfric would lower his cheek against her belly when the baby had grown restless inside her, speaking to his strong, warrior son who would one day hold Skyrim, maybe all of Tamriel, in the palm of his hand. Funny, she thought, her knuckle trailing down over his smooth cheek. He was small enough that when Ulfric came, he would be able to hold the boy in his broad palm with nothing more than his fingers cradling his head.
She heard footsteps on the stairs and looked up as the door opened, but it was not Ulfric who stood in the shadow of the hall. It was Farkas, dirty and haggard from the road, the full beard braided at his chin making him look almost savage as he stalked toward her, still sinking the hilt of his war axe into his belt as he moved.
“If ever I get lost, I need only follow the shout and fire of dragons to find my way home to you.” It had been so long since she’d seen him, though he was never far from her thoughts, but the sound of his voice overwhelmed her already fragile emotions and she started to cry, holding her hand out to him, fingers reaching to draw him near. “It seems your son was given a true, royal welcome, my queen.” He bowed to her, the long strands and tangled braids of his brown hair falling into his face as he knelt.
“Please,” she shook her head. “Don’t bow to me, Farkas. Never bow to me.”
“But the moot met months ago, and you’re the High Queen now.” He started to rise, but didn’t meet her eyes.
She hadn’t seen him since he’d left Solitude to search for Lydia. Many a lonely night, whenever Ulfric was away from Windhelm seeing to the restructuring of cities that had been sacked during the war against the Empire and not there to see her tears, Luthien had grieved for Farkas as though he was dead. As if he’d felt her tears from a thousand miles away, a courier would arrive two days later with a promise that he was still out there, still alive, coming home soon. But he hadn’t come back to her after the war as he’d promised, or taken Ulfric up on his offer to become Thane of Eastmarch.
“I don’t care who I am,” she said, shaking her fingers in hopes that he would take them and come kneel at her side to see the wonder she’d brought into the world. “You will never bow to me.”
“He’s beautiful.” He lingered at the edge of the bed, leaning over to shadow the infant in her arms. “What will you call him?”
Lifting his gaze to her, it felt like it had been a thousand years since she’d looked into his eyes, and as he searched her face, a sorrow she’d thought she’d buried deep inside her surfaced and she remembered why they’d gone to war in the first place. He stood before her then with the weight of the world on his shoulders, the same weight his twin brother had once carried on his, and in that moment it was would have been impossible to tell the two of them apart if Vilkas were standing beside him.
“Hundr,” she said.
“A strong, warrior’s name,” he nodded approval. “Your king must be proud.”
“Ulfric hasn’t seen him yet,” she told him. “You are the first.”
He looked away again, guilty. “I am honored, but I shouldn’t linger. I think your king would be insulted if he came and I was here.”
“Of course he wouldn’t. You are family. Stay, Farkas. Please. It’s been so long. I want to hear of your travels.”
“No. Not tonight. You look tired. You should rest.” He refused with a quick shake of his head. “I just wanted to come and make sure you were okay. I saw the dragons when I was coming up the western road and I… I feared the worst.”
“You’re not leaving Windhelm again, are you?”
“No, not yet.”
“Promise me? There are so many things… I have so much to tell you.”
He couldn’t possibly know how much it had hurt her that he’d stayed away, how hard it had been to live without knowing where he was, what he was doing, if he was alone somewhere, hurt, afraid… dead. Sometimes she’d felt as if he’d been there, he would have stopped the darkness from dropping over her life like a smothering cloak.
The smile he offered her was so sad, she realized that maybe he did know how she’d felt. Maybe he had felt that way too, but knew he could never be as near to her as he wanted, so it was better to just stay away. She’d felt it the last time they’d spoken, when he’d lifted his hand, just barely touching her face as he moved the hair from her cheek and said goodbye. Everything they’d been through had been too much to bear alone, but instead of turning to him for strength and comfort, she’d once more fallen into the arms of another man.
“Farkas,” she quietly called when he was reaching for the door. “Did you find Lydia?”
He turned back over his shoulder, the sorrow in his eyes the only answer she needed. “Get some sleep. I’ll come talk with you soon, I promise.”
Farkas was only gone a few moments before she heard the echoing boom of Ulfric’s voice in the halls below. He was calling out orders to whoever was with him, sending someone to tend to the fires in the Gray Quarter. She heard him say, as his voice grew nearer, that as much as he’d love to let the filth burn in their slums, he couldn’t chance the flames spreading to the palace or the homes in Valunstrad.
He burst through the doors like a man with a mission, the heavy slam behind him startling the babe in Luthien’s arms and making him cry. She hushed and soothed him as his father made his way to the bed, kneeling to look him over before holding out his hands to take him. Despite his heavy hand, he was gentle with his newborn son, drawing him up to inspect him, pride glistening in his hard steel eyes as the child squirmed and wailed in his arms.
“Blood of my blood. His cries are strong,” he noted. “Like a warrior.”
“That is all that matters,” he conceded. “And you?”
“I will heal, but my heart is breaking.”
Ulfric nodded, lowering the babe back into her arms. “Of course you will heal. You are a strong, Nord woman with ice in her veins and fire in her heart.” He hovered over her as she brought her son back to her chest, cradling him close. Ulfric brushed the hair from her brow, his soft lips lowering to her forehead before he stood upright again. “But you know what must be done if we want to keep him safe.”
Her throat ached with unshed tears. She hated crying in front of Ulfric, no matter how emotionally broken she felt inside, or how twisted and fragile her hormones made her. Tears were a sign of weakness, and his queen was not a weak woman; that was why he’d married her, but what they must do to keep their child safe was destroying her inside and she didn’t care if she looked weak in front of him anymore.
“I want to be his mother, Ulfric.”
“You will always be his mother, heart of my heart. He is a son of kings, and one day everything we fight for will be his.” Warmth slipped down her cheeks, wet and soft and cold before it reached her chin. Ulfric gripped her face in both hands, drawing her gaze to his, her tears dripping over his fingers. “I’ve already sent word to Master Arngeir that he is coming. Hold him in your arms tonight, show him your love so he always feels it in his heart.”
“But I don’t want to let him go,” she whispered. “I carried him around inside me. I felt him grow and stir, and now that I’ve held him in my arms…”
Ulfric brushed her tears away with this thumbs, and she swore she actually felt him trembling. “We have no choice, Luthien.”
It hadn’t been easy, but they had kept her pregnancy a secret and that secret did not leave the Palace of the Kings. For long months she’d stayed abed in the tower with none but a healer and midwife to look after her needs. Occasionally Galmar came to sit with her and talk about the armies they were building, and Wuunferth, the court wizard, visited with her from time to time to discuss the arcane, but aside from those scant few visitors, her only true companion in those long months had been her husband—and even then, only when he was actually in the city.
When people came calling to ask after his wife, Ulfric lied and told them the Dragonborn was away searching for knowledge that would bring an end to the dragons. Though that was not entirely false, all of her research had been done at the desk in the quarters she shared with her husband, thumbing through tomes Wuunferth brought to her from Urag gro-Shub, Librarian of the College of Winterhold.
Ulfric had promised her that if Farkas came, he would grant him permission to visit with her and keep her company, but Farkas had never come.
As happy as Ulfric had been about the coming of his son, the threat of Imperial reinforcements and Thalmor invasion had grown more quickly than he expected after the war against the Empire ended. Ulfric knew that if the Aldmeri Dominion attacked, the elves would make sure every last ounce of Stormcloak blood was washed clean from the world. He would fight them until his death if he must, but they would never take his son. After weeks of emotional argument, Ulfric presented her with the only course of action he believed would keep their child safe, and together they had gone to the Greybeards to ask for help.
Master Arngeir had been less than enthusiastic to see them, especially Ulfric, who had once been his pupil. Ulfric had turned his back on the Way of the Voice, using his Thu’um in acts of aggression against the Forsworn in Markarth and King Torygg the day he’d shouted him to the ground and run his sword through the young king’s heart.
“Why should we help you, Ulfric Stormcloak, when clearly you have no respect for our teachings? Your coming here is an insult.”
But in the end, it had been Luthien who convinced him when she told him of the dreams that had haunted her sleep ever since the child had taken root inside her and begun to grow there. Dreams in which he raised his Thu’um with hers against the World Eater, Alduin, who sought to destroy them all.
“Then perhaps he will be Dragonborn, like his mother.” Master Arngeir had lifted a thoughtful hand to the knot in his beard, mouth tight in thought. “Despite his father’s wretched temper and defiant blood in his veins, with proper training and distance from the outside world, we can teach him the Way of the Voice, but there must be conditions.”
“We will do anything you ask of us if you keep our son safe,” Ulfric promised. It was the first time Luthien had ever seen him humbled, almost chastised under the cold glare of Master Arngeir’s bright, blue eyes.
“The boy must come to us as soon as he is born, with none but an escort who will be expected to leave after delivering him to us and a nurse to care for him until he is old enough to dress himself. Once he is here, here is where he will stay until he is of age. Not until that day will he even know who his parents were, and if, for some reason, the Dragonborn must come here during that time, he will not know she is anything more than a traveler come seeking our wisdom and council. Under no circumstances will his father be welcome here at all.”
She’d started to tremble then, her knees shaking so violently she was afraid she would fall to the ground. They would take her son from her, and he would never know her. How was that fair? Ulfric had told her she would be able to see him from time to time, but even he hadn’t known Arngeir’s terms would be so severe.
“Do you find these terms acceptable?”
She felt Ulfric’s hands on her, holding her steady as he conceded with nothing more than a bow of his head. “As you wish, Master.”
Luthien had gripped her husband’s forearms so tight then, he’d shown clear bruises on his flesh that didn’t begin to fade for two weeks after they arrived back in Windhelm. She hadn’t spoken to him in that two weeks, but sat alone in the Temple of Talos, silently cursing the gods and wishing his seed had never rooted in her womb. Why would they send her a son, if she was never meant to hold him?
Those were the first words she said to him when she finally spoke. In those two weeks of silence she’d slept night after night with her back to him, but that night she turned into him and let her weakness show, asking him, “Why? Why would the gods send me a son, if I am not even meant to be his mother?”
He didn’t have an answer. He only kissed her as he drew her chest against his and promised, “We will have more sons, when we know where we stand and the world is safe.” As if having more sons would make the pain of that loss ever go away.
She had dreamed of two sons, two strong bear cubs that she held tight in her arms as she ran from Alduin, the World Eater, but even if Ulfric gave her another son, would that one be taken from her too? “This world will never be safe,” she whispered.
When the babe in her arms sighed, it drew her back to the moment and she lifted her eyes to Ulfric. He was staring down at their son, his own gaze distant and his heart conflicted.
“Will you grant me a boon, my king?” The sound of her voice made the infant stir and stretch, eyes blinking open again.
“You have given me a strong son this day. Anything you ask of me is yours, heart of my heart.”
“I want Farkas take him to the Greybeards. There is no one else in the world I trust more than him.”
She watched the corners of his mouth tighten, his gaze shifting away from her face as he nodded reluctantly. “If that is your wish.”