“How do you know you can trust this elf?” Ulfric asked.
“Not every elf is your enemy, Ulfric.” Delphine didn’t look at him when she said that, but kept her focus on Luthien. “You won’t be able to walk into the Embassy dressed like… well, like you’re about ready to start a war. You need to dress the part, look like you belong there. As long as you keep your mouth shut, you should be able to pull it off.”
“I’m not stupid, Delphine.” Luthien rolled her eyes. “So once I get inside, what am I looking for?”
“Anything you can find about the return of the dragons. Try to get into Elenewen’s rooms.”
Ulfric had sat in the background listening the entire time, but he never said a word except his comment about Delphine’s elven contact. She could tell it was killing him, but learning how to follow after spending his whole life leading wasn’t going to happen for him overnight.
A heavy silence plagued him once they were on the road traveling north. He’d yielded to her request to head to Whiterun for the night, where they could buy another horse and she could seek out Farkas to try and make things right. He hadn’t protested when she’d told him that was what she wanted to do, only said he knew how important it was to her to make amends, but she wondered as she studied his proud profile from over his shoulder if that was what weighed on his mind.
It was more likely Ulfric was more worried about her meeting Elenwen face to face. Truth be told, she was a little worried herself. In the time they’d been together, she’d spent many a night running her fingertips over the deep scars that horror had left all over his beautiful body. Occasionally, he would wake her in the night thrashing the sheets, whimpering in protest until she shook him awake and he shot from those bad dreams with a gulping gasp of terror before calming as she drew him back into her arms with whispered promises that he was safe there with her. He would curl into her like an overgrown child then, head rested on her breast, still trembling as he clung to her, and she swore his cheeks were damp with tears.
She had never spoken of it, not wanting to shame him and never feeling brave enough to ask what terrors he’d endured as a prisoner of war. Perhaps it was time she found her courage so she at least knew what to expect, but not on the road.
It was midday before they reached the stables of Whiterun, paying to board their horse and promising an even larger bag of coin if the horsemaster could provide them with another strong beast by morning. The last time she’d been home to Whiterun had been just after realizing she was carrying Ulfric’s son, and when she walked through the gates, it felt strange and almost unfamiliar to her after having spent so much time away.
Windhelm was her home now, the Palace of the Kings. She supposed that hadn’t really sunk in for her until she realized she actually missed it. She’d spent so many days standing in the tower, overlooking the White River from the distant windows when they weren’t frozen over with a thick coating of ice or the view completely obscured by fat, blustery flakes of never ending snow, wind keening and railing against the stone. She’d once felt that same longing for Whiterun when she was away, experienced a sense of relief upon glancing up the hill and catching a glimpse of Jorrvaskr waiting for her to come home, but that comfort had died with Vilkas.
“I don’t know how long I will be gone,” she told him, smoothing the fabric of her dress over her hips. It always felt strange slipping into simpler clothes after walking around in her armor, even after long months of nothing but gowns, the last few weeks had quickly reaccustomed her to the heavy feel of it protecting her body.
“I will be here,” he said, looking around the old house with as much enthusiasm as he could manage.
After she bent to kiss him goodbye, she made her way through the merchant circle and up the stairs into the Wind District, where Jorrvaskr sat basked in the light of late afternoon sun. Drawing in a deep breath, she started up those steps, not even knowing if he would be there.
“Harbinger,” Aela rose from her seat at the table to greet her. “It has been a long time, sister, or do I call you Majesty now that you’re High Queen?” There was a spark of jest in her bright green eyes.
“Indeed, it has been long.” Luthien embraced her, stepping back to smile at her. “How are things here?”
“Plenty of work to be done, and a couple new whelps are floating around here somewhere. A young boy from Hammerfell came looking for honor two months past, and so far he’s been proving himself worthy, and another woman from Winterhold, but I’m not sure she’s going to last. She’s far too reliant on magic, and it makes Vignar nervous.”
“And Farkas?” She tilted her head as she drew back, hoping the apprehension in her voice wasn’t obvious. “Is he floating around here somewhere too?”
“Old Ice-Brain’s out back in the practice yard. He said he needed to train some more, but he hasn’t exactly been doing much training.”
Luthien furrowed her brow. “What do you mean?”
“I don’t know. He just sort of sits there in the yard. I went out yesterday to find him sitting there with his back to the wall, and it was raining none the less. I asked him if he wasn’t smart enough to come in from the rain, and he just looked at me for a few minutes and said he felt dirty and it was good to sit in the rain sometimes.”
“Hm…” She twisted her lips to the side, chewing as she thought. “I’ll talk to him.”
“You and Vilkas were the only ones who ever could. Gods know I could never make much sense of him.”
She made her way through the doors on the opposite side of the hall and into the training yard, where Torvar was sharpening his axe and arguing with Athis, who insisted one-handed blades made him quicker and deadlier. Some things never changed, she shook her head as she stalked toward them, catching sight of Farkas sitting cross-legged on the stone under the Skyeforge.
“My favorite drinking buddy,” Torvar lifted his head to her in greeting. “Long time no see. I hear you’re some kind of queen now. Good for you, kid. Good for you.” He reached for his mead, lifting it to his lips, bearded mouth disappearing behind his tankard.
“I always thought the Harbinger would have been taller,” Athis muttered to himself as she passed through them and made her way toward Farkas.
Farkas didn’t even look up at her when she approached, the stringy locks of his dark hair hanging down in his bearded face like a curtain. He picked up a pebble and dropped it over and again, switching from palm to palm. “Didn’t think you’d come.”
“But I did.” She dropped down onto the stone in front of him, crossing her legs under the long fabric of her dress and leaning forward until her forehead rested against his. They had sat that way together after Vilkas had died, the two of them in the practice yard, so many tears between them.
“I did what you asked me to do.” He sounded so melancholy, his voice laden with such sorrow and regret it broke her heart all over again. “He is safe with the Greybeards.”
“Thank you,” she whispered, closing her eyes and trying to find the right words to say. He was disappointed in her. He would never say as much, but he didn’t have to. She could feel it, and she wasn’t sure there was anything she could say or do to make it right. “Farkas… I’m so sorry for asking you to do that and for the things Ulfric said to you… He had no right. I’m sorry I didn’t know. I guess maybe I should have, but every day you were gone, I was so afraid I’d lost the only family I had left and I didn’t even know why.”
“You had to do what you thought was right. You didn’t do anything you need to apologize to me for,” he sighed.
“Except marry Ulfric,” she said, trying to make him laugh.
She saw the corner of his mouth twitch a little when she opened her eyes. “Well, yeah, there is that.”
“If I had known it bothered you that much…”
“You would have married him anyway,” he said, drawing back from her, the hair falling into his face again.
“Probably.” She had to look away then because she didn’t want to see the hurt in his eyes. “I know you don’t think he’s good enough for me, and I don’t know, Farkas, maybe you’re right, but I love him.”
“Of course you do.” He pulled in a long breath that expanded his broad chest, holding it there before releasing it with a groan. “And as much as I don’t like it, there’s nothing I can do about it. You know? I won’t lie, Lu. It broke my heart when I realized you were in love with my brother, but at least I knew he would take good care of you and give you the life you deserved. Ulfric… not so much. I tried to be happy for you, I really did, but that guy’s a real piece of work.”
“He is doing his best,” she said, still not looking at him.
“Is he?” He didn’t sound convinced. “I just… All I’ve ever wanted was for you to be happy, and since we marched into Windhelm that day and pledged our allegiance to his bloody cause, I haven’t seen you happy at all. You’ve been miserable, and just when I thought I was going to come back and finally see you smiling, your face all lit up with the joy of motherhood, you asked me to do that and I just… I don’t know. It all just seems so wrong.”
“I’m sorry I put you through all that.”
“It’s not just you, Lu. It’s everything. Ever since that day at Fort Hraggstad, when I almost died, I’ve been so messed up, you know?” He was rolling that pebble in his fingers again, tossing it back and forth from one hand to the other. “I try to sleep at night and whenever I close my eyes I can still hear him calling out to me. Brother, I am lost. I’m lost and so afraid. Please, can you show me the way…”
“Farkas,” she said softly, reaching out to close her fingers around his. “Vilkas is in Sovngarde. He died a warrior’s death, with his blade in his hand and right now he is celebrating in the Hall of Heroes with Kodlak and Ysgramor.”
Swallowing before he lifted his bloodshot gaze to her, he asked, “What if you’re wrong?”
“I’m not,” she assured him, raising her hand to smooth away the hair that had fallen into his face. Tucking it behind his ear, she smiled for him, but the light didn’t come into his eyes the way it used to when she did. “I promise you.”
“Okay.” Nodding, he leaned his back into the stone wall behind him, tossing the pebble he’d been playing with to his left. It clinked off the wall and bounced across the stone before skittering to silence near the porch. “I believe you.”
Farkas was the only person Luthien had ever known that didn’t make her uncomfortable when they were silent together. When he was excited, he never seemed to stop talking, but when he was finished, that was all there was to it. With Vilkas, she’d always been left wondering what was on his mind, and Ulfric was much the same. Silence meant something deep and dark was bothering them, but with Farkas it had always just meant he didn’t have anything left to talk about, and it was okay if they just sat quietly. For the first time since she’d met him, his silence unsettled her, and she felt like there was nothing she could say or do to comfort him.
She didn’t know how long they lingered in that silence together, but when she finally started to stand and stretch the tingling needles from her legs and hips, the sun was going down.
“Ulfric probably thinks I got lost,” she told him, holding out her hands to help him up.
“He’s been traveling with me, helping fight back the dragons while we search for a way to face Alduin.”
“Huh,” he shrugged. “I didn’t even think that old man knew how to hold a blade anymore, to tell you the truth. He any good?”
“He’s a strong warrior,” she grinned. “His Thu’um has come in handy a few times, but it’s not the same as having my shield-brother at my back. Don’t ever tell him I said that.”
“Don’t worry.” He leaned and flexed the muscles in his back to loosen them. “I don’t see myself saying much of anything to him anytime in the near or distant future, unless it’s with my fists. Which probably isn’t a good idea.”
“No, probably not,” she agreed. “But he knows I’m not letting anything come between you and me. I was so mad when I found out what he did, I mean, I was already angry about everything, but that just pushed me over the brink. I left Windhelm and went off to fight the dragons by myself. He came after me, but I didn’t want him there at first.”
“Not knowing he’d done that to you. I didn’t know if I could ever forgive him, but… he’s my husband.”
“You’re my family, Farkas, and he will never come between us. Nothing will ever come between us.”
“All right, then. I’ll walk you home,” he decided with a shrug. “So when are you leaving again?”