“Wait a minute,” Farkas tilted his head, locks of brown hair falling across his cheek as he tried to make sense of what they were asking him to do. “You want me to take your newborn son to the Throat of the World and just leave him there?”
Luthien swallowed, her tired eyes twitching with stress, but before she could speak, Ulfric intervened. “No one is to know who he is or where you’ve come from. We have worked very hard to keep this secret safe, and the Greybeards are they only ones who can make sure it stays safe.”
“You are the only one I trust to do this, Farkas,” Luthien spoke up. “Will you help us, please?”
She watched him lean back, his lips parting as if he were going to speak, and then closing again as he lifted his arms to cross them over his broad chest. He shook the hair back over his shoulders and just looked between the two of them as if they’d lost their minds. “Why are you doing this again?”
“The Aldmeri Dominion is not going to suffer Ulfric’s defiance. The way we crushed Imperial forces in Skyrim is an insult, and without their puppet government to push us to our knees, it’s only a matter of time before they are on our shores looking for a way to make him submit. The Emperor has already sent several missives, and in so many words, he has threatened to send in more troops if Ulfric doesn’t step down and surrender Skyrim to the Empire.”
“Which I will never do,” Ulfric added almost arrogantly. “I will die before I turn Skyrim over to the elves, but I will not let them kill my son. He is innocent.”
“And now that the moot has named Ulfric High King, Hundr is his only living heir,” Luthien said, though the word heir left a bad taste in her mouth when she spoke it.
“Luthien and the Greybeards believe he may also be Dragonborn, which makes him doubly valuable to the Thalmor.”
“He must be kept safe at all costs.”
Farkas seemed to be weighing that in his mind, his brow furrowed as he thought through it. “I know I’m not exactly the smartest man, but don’t you think you should have thought of that before you brought him into the world?”
“Farkas…” Luthien started to rise, but her body was still weak from long hours of child labor and she felt the blood rush to her head. Sitting back down on the edge of the bed, Ulfric moved to her, his hand out to steady her, but she pushed it away. She’d known Farkas wouldn’t understand; she barely understood it herself. “I know I’ve asked a lot of you in the years we’ve known each other—”
He interrupted before she could finish that sentence. “You have never asked me for anything, Lu, and I know you wouldn’t even ask now if you didn’t really need my help, so I will do this thing for you, and only for you. But you…” He turned his sharp eyes toward his king, head shaking, lips pinched into a tight scowl. “High King, or not, you have a lot of gods damned nerve asking me for anything.”
Ulfric’s brow furrowed, but not in confusion. There was guilt in his eyes; Luthien saw it there just before he shifted them away from her and crossed his arms. “Don’t you think I know this already? I will be in your debt.”
“One day, I’ll ask you to pay that debt, Ulfric Stormcloak.” Farkas shook his head. “For now, I’ll take the baby to the Throat of the World, but after that I’m done doing favors for you. You can take your thanage and your kingdom and shove them both up your ass for all I care.”
Luthien ignored the pulse of blood that stirred in her as she rose, looking between the two of them with confusion. “Farkas? What is this? What’s going on?”
“What do you mean, you won’t be coming back? Will someone please tell me what in the name of the Nine Divines is going on here?”
Neither of them answered her, but just stood there staring each other down and she swore Farkas was actually challenging Ulfric with unspoken rage, nostrils flaring wide every time he exhaled. “I’ll take my leave now. Is there anything else I should know, any special instructions you need to pass along before I go?”
“Just get the boy safely to High Hrothgar,” Ulfric said. “You will be fairly compensated. I promise you.”
“Keep your coin.” Farkas looked to her again as he drew in another breath, holding it there for what felt like an eternity before exhaling. “I will take care of your son,” he promised, and then he turned to go.
“Farkas, wait,” she started after him, but Ulfric grabbed her by the arm, fingers curling deep into her muscle to hold her in place.
“Let him go, woman.”
Farkas paused in the doorway, fists clenching so tight at his sides she heard his knuckles crack. Turning back over his shoulder to glare at Ulfric, who loosened his grip on her, as if in that moment he actually feared the man staring back at him, all Farkas said was, “Ask him about our conversation in Solitude.” And then he was gone.
“What was he talking about?” She spun on her heel, lifting her eyes to Ulfric, but he refused to meet her gaze. “What happened in Solitude?”
“No,” she shook her head at him. “That was not nothing of consequence. What did you say to him in Solitude, Ulfric? I have never seen him speak to anyone like that unless he was preparing to put a sword through their gut. What did you do to him?”
“We had a conversation, that’s all.” He lowered his hands to her shoulders, swiftly changing the subject. “You’re pale, heart of my heart. Come lie down and take some rest.”
“I don’t want to lie down and rest.” She shrugged away from him again. “I want to know what you said to him.”
“Luthien, it was so long ago, I don’t even remember what I said to him. We were all drinking that night and I barely even recall speaking with him. What does it matter? It’s over now.”
“You remember things the Stone-Fist said to you twenty-five years ago,” she said, “as clearly as if he just mumbled them into his mead ten minutes ago. I want to know what you said to Farkas, Ulfric, and I want to know now.”
“Don’t you want to say goodbye to your son?” He moved past her, toward the door, refusing to answer her. “I will bring him to you so you can tell him you love him one last time.”
She sat down on the bed when he was gone, confused and angry for reasons she didn’t even understand. Whatever Ulfric had said that night, it had kept Farkas away from Windhelm for six months, and in those six months she had cried herself to sleep more nights than she could count on both hands, worrying herself sick that something terrible had happened to him. The only thing that kept her hope alive was those brief notes.
She’d known something was wrong, but she’d been so wrapped up in everything going on around her that she told herself he was finally letting himself grieve over the loss of his brother. That maybe all the blood he’d shed for Vilkas had gone to his head and he just needed some time.
When Ulfric returned with the baby and his nurse, he was already wrapped so tight in warm furs that nothing but his sleeping face was visible. He lowered his son into her arms and hovered near her, watching her memorize every line and curve of his face even though she knew in her heart that one day she wouldn’t know his face at all, and he would never know hers.
Lowering her lips to his cheek, she whispered in his ear before she kissed him one last time. “I love you. I am always with you. Huzrah meyz thu’um zeim ven, Dovah Kulaan.” Listen for my voice on the wind, Dragon Prince.
Ulfric nodded to the woman in the doorway, and she approached the bed, fearfully looking to the queen as she held out her arms to take her son away. Luthien did not allow herself to cry, even though the tears were already spilling inside her. She kissed his forehead and then his lips and turned him over to the only woman who would ever give him comfort when he was frightened, sing him songs and tell him stories when he was lingering awake in his bed on long, cold nights.
“Keep him warm,” she said.
“Of course, milady.”
Luthien watched as the young woman drew him against her chest and made for the door on Ulfric’s silent command, and then he followed, closing her in her tower with her sorrows and regrets. As soon as he was gone, she let loose her pain, heart wrenching sobs of agony and despair echoing through the Palace of the Kings long after the silent man with the scraggly, knotted beard and his charges stepped outside into the wind and ice, bracing themselves for the long, cold journey to the Throat of the World.