She hadn’t expected Ulfric to come to her after that, but he did, arriving in the doorway and lingering there with his arms crossed as he watched her rifle through the chest at the end of their bed. She rose with Wuuthrad, the cold metal and leather of the handle warming in her grip like an old lover quickening to her touch. The Axe of Eastmarch was a fine battle axe, and had seen her through the end of the war for Skyrim’s freedom, but Wuuthrad held a special place in her heart and it only seemed fitting she would carry Ysgramor’s blade into battles that promised to restore some semblance of peace to the people of Tamriel.
“My heart.” Ulfric stepped into the room, distracting her from her reverie as he approached her and folded his fingers around hers over Wuuthrad’s hilt. “I have done so many things for which I know you’ll never forgive me, and perhaps your brother was right in Solitude when he said I did not deserve you.”
She squinted up at him, mouth tight in question.
“It was not with a brother’s love he spoke those words to me, and that was why I told him to stay away from you, because perhaps in my heart I knew he was right. He is a far better man than I am, and I feared one day you would see that if he lingered near you, and you would betray me with one who could love better than I.”
“You… you sent Farkas away from me?” She felt her chest tighten, her heart thumping inside her with sorrow and betrayal. All those nights she’d spent worrying, fretting that he was alone out there, or maybe even dead. Was there no end to Ulfric’s selfishness?
“And I would do it again if I thought it would keep your fragile heart safe in my hands.” He was still holding her hands beneath his, fingers tightening with emotion. “I know I am not an easy man to love, Luthien, but even in my darkest hour you stood beside me, fought beside me, quieted the thunder of war in my heart and showed me the beauty of stillness and silence in a world that will never be still or silent, no matter how hard we fight to bring it peace. I will not lose you now, even if I’ve never deserved the love you gave me so freely.”
She didn’t care how weak she looked to him in that moment, she lost it and let her emotions rule her. She was tired and so broken, she wasn’t sure she would ever be whole again. She’d lost her son and her best friend and the man she had allowed herself to love so freely had been the one to take both of them from her.
Farkas was right; Ulfric did not deserve her.
Unclenching her hand from beneath his, she railed against him then, her open palm pummeling into his chest as she let the rage roll through her. Ulfric let her go, standing there taking every blow without raising his hand to stop her as she screamed and hammered into him every ounce of grief and frustration she’d tucked away inside her over the long months of isolation and regret.
“I loved you!” she cried as the force of her tirade backed him into the wall near the door. “I trusted you, and I believed in you and I was foolish enough to think you loved me too. I gave you everything, Ulfric. Everything! And you only took, never giving anything in return.”
His hand lifted then to grab her wrist before she could strike him again, fingers curling around, tightening to hold her at bay. His other hand came up to rest on her cheek, wide palm spanning, fingers reaching into her hair to draw her close. Wuuthrad rested between their chests, holding them apart as his face came against hers, cheek nuzzling into her cheek, the rough hair of his beard bristling against her chin.
“I know,” he whispered, his soft mouth searching for hers. “I am… sorry.”
Sorry was not enough; she didn’t know if it would ever be enough, and she drew her lips from the warmth of his kiss that had so often quelled her in the past. Turning her head away, she backed up and shrugged away from his reaching touch.
“I am leaving tomorrow to kill the dragon at Northwind Summit, and when I finish there, I will go to Kynesgrove and face Alduin.” She drew Wuuthrad and her hand from his grasp. “I am going alone.”
“Alduin is in Kynesgrove?” he balked. “You aren’t ready to stand against him yet, and certainly not alone.”
“Then I go to my death,” she turned her back on him. “And I go alone.”
“Luthien,” he began. “Heart of my heart, don’t be a fool and throw yourself at Death’s feet to punish me. Please.”
“I throw myself at Death’s feet because it is my calling, Ulfric, and that calling has never had anything to do with you. It was you I let distract me from it, a distraction I cannot afford to play to anymore.”
He took a step toward her, hand reaching out to try and bring her to reason. She had calmed herself enough on the outside that he would never know how much she trembled within as she lifted Wuuthrad between them again, like a threshold. He glanced down at the weapon, then lifted his stare to hers, the hard steel of his eyes softening with sorrow and something she’d never seen in them—defeat. “This is madness, woman.”
“Maybe so.” Turning her back on him then, she pulled open her bag and scanned its contents to take a quick inventory. It had been too long since she’d slung that bag over her shoulder and strapped Wuuthrad to her back with a purpose. There were hardly enough potions inside to get her beyond the gates of Windhelm. The last time she’d carried it had been into the battle for Solitude, and even then it had been light after she’d used the majority of her magicka reserves to heal Farkas.
As she lifted it from the bed, the glass bottles inside clanked together, liquid sloshing around when she eased it over her shoulder and reached for Wuuthrad. He didn’t move from the doorway as she spun around to walk through it, but instead stood there as if to block her from going.
“I can’t let you do this.”
“Ulfric,” she swallowed. “I love you. After everything, I don’t know even why, but I do, and right now you have to let me go.”
He closed his eyes, turning his head to the right as if he couldn’t bear to watch her leave. She lingered only a moment, taking him in and then she walked toward the door. He reached out when she passed, gently grabbing her arm, but not drawing her back.
“Talos be with you,” and then he let her go.