Paarthurnax offered them shelter on his strunmah for the night. With the protection of a mighty dragon, they did not need to worry about bandits or wild animals sneaking in to devour them as they slept. For a long time Farkas tried to offer her comfort, promising they would go to the ends of Nirn to find the Elder Scroll if they had to, and she almost told him that which she’d swore she never could for fear of destroying him. He just didn’t understand how little time they had. If Alduin was really feasting on the souls of the dead in Sovngarde, they had no time to waste dragging their feet to every corner of the planet in search of some Elder Scroll so she could learn the Dragonrend Shout. She had already wasted too much time.
Eventually, Farkas grew tired of trying to be encouraging and curled up in his bedroll to sleep. She hated how short she’d been with him, hating even more the forlorn look with which he regarded her as he reminded her, “Tomorrow is another day,” before leaving her alone with her thoughts.
How many tomorrows do we have left? She wondered.
She was so confused and frustrated. They had already come so far, and yet it felt like every step forward brought them three steps back, until they had no idea what to do at all. Surely, they were running out of time.
The wind screamed in her ears, but it wasn’t nearly as loud as the constant barrage of voices in her mind, asking, “What do I do? Where do I go? When will I finally face Alduin? How will it end?”
It didn’t feel like her thoughts would ever wind down and quiet, even after she bundled deep into her bedroll near the warm fire and tried to find sleep. When it finally did come, she dreamed those dark dreams, but they were darker and more twisted than ever before. The Gods lined the field, watching her world crumble as Alduin gulped it down in ravenous bites, swallowing everything she’d ever known and loved without even chewing.
She knew she didn’t sleep long. When she bolted awake, Farkas was still asleep, though muttering and mumbling through his own dark dreams while he jerked and railed against whatever demons haunted his slumber. She leaned over and nudged him awake, and he sat with a quick gasp, calling out his brother’s name.
Lowering his head, she watched his broad back shake with quiet sobs he buried into his shoulder.
“It’s only a dream,” she lied. She hated lying to him, but watching him cry, knowing how much those dreams were destroying him, shattered her heart. Reaching down, she lifted his face, but he drew away so she wouldn’t see his tears. “It’s okay.”
Scooting across the space between them until they were huddled so close together she could feel the low heat radiating from his body into hers, she lowered her arm around him and leaned into him. At first he remained hard, ever muscle in his body flexed with resistance of her comfort, but she held onto him until he began to relax and she could draw her other arm around him. For a long time they sat that way, his head finally resting on her shoulder before his heavy body yielded once more to sleep. She only let go of him long enough to reach back and draw their blankets around them both, and eventually she drifted away too, the two of them sleeping in each other’s arms at the Throat of the World with a dragon guarding over them from on high.
Neither of them dreamed again that night.
Come dawn, Farkas woke her with a sudden movement and when she stirred she realized they had lain down together at some point during the long, cold night. Her head rested on his chest, forearm draped across his waist, his arm around her and hand softly curled around her shoulder to keep her close. They had shared a bed hundreds of times when they’d found safe places to sleep during their travels together. It had always been innocent enough, a necessity in its own right—shield-brother and shield-sister—but they’d never woken holding each other before.
Guilt rushed through her, even though she knew they’d done nothing more than sleep, and she pushed up immediately to begin packing up their camp. They had comforted each other and kept one another warm, nothing more, but it felt like something more—at least in her heart anyway.
She didn’t have much time to think about it, as they made their way down from the Throat of the World to the courtyard behind High Hrothgar. The journey was exhausting and took hours, not bringing them to the monastery until the sun was sinking in behind the western mountains. Her throat was tired from Shouting, and her body tired from running and fighting through the ice wraiths, snow wolves and bears.
As they passed through High Hrothgar, she sought out Master Arngeir to tell him she’d spoken to Paarthurnax. He didn’t seem the least bit interested in the details of their conversation, but at least he agreed with Farkas that the best place to begin looking for arcane knowledge was among the mages at the College of Winterhold.
“Now if that is all, I have things to attend to, Dragonborn, and it would seem you do as well. You and your companion are welcome to rest her tonight.”
She was surprised by how quickly he yielded to her request. “This way then.” Leading her through the labyrinthian corridors of High Hrothgar, they came to a quiet room where the nurse was sitting in a chair knitting. She looked up, a slow smile drawing at the corners of her mouth when she saw them, and then she went back to her knitting as Arngeir left her alone.
“I’ll wait out here,” Farkas said quietly.
“No, it’s okay.” She slipped through the door. “You can come in.”
He was sleeping in the cradle, bundled beneath the blankets, which she peeled back with tentative fingers to look at him. Her heart ached as it swelled, arms desperate to hold him, and as she lifted him to her chest she couldn’t believe how heavy he’d grown in so short a time. His face had filled out, cheeks pink and pudgy with good health. He woke with a start as she scooped him up from sleep, immediately fussing at the disturbance.
“Oh my.” She had to swallow hard to battle the rising tears that choked her throat. “You’ve grown so big and strong little one. Your father would be proud.”
“Why don’t you sit down with him, my lady. He’s only just fed, but he likes to rock when he’s fussy.” The nurse rose from her chair, gesturing to the seat before leaving them alone.
Luthien sat slowly, cradling his heavy little body in her arms as she rocked back and forth whispering sweet words to quiet his uncertain cries. The sound of her voice seemed to quell him a little, wide, curious eyes staring up at her as if he still knew her, and soon he laid his head down on her chest and drifted back to sleep. She didn’t know how long she sat there holding him, stroking soft fingertips across the fine red hair atop his head while Farkas lingered by the door just watching her. After a while, he came in to stand over her shoulder, looking down over them both while she told him stories and whispered to him of his father’s love, her own love.
She promised him then she would make the world safe for him to live in. “One day, it will all be yours,” she told him, pressing her soft lips to his brow and then lowering him back into his bed.
Farkas followed her, hanging over her shoulder as she drew the blankets up and tucked them under his chin. “He looks like you.”
She only saw Ulfric when she looked upon his face. Running her smooth knuckle down this pudgy cheek, she whispered, “I will die for him, if I have to.”
“You’re a good mother, Lu,” he said softly, resting his hand on her shoulder.
They did not stay that night in High Hrothgar, even though they were both tired. Luthien just wanted to go home, to see Ulfric again and tell him she had held their baby boy in her arms. She thought leaving her son again would destroy her, but in seeing him, she’d found her purpose once more and his perfect innocence renewed her strength and resolve. She really would die to save him if it came down to it. Maybe that was why Master Arngeir had let her see him.
Hundr was her hope and her reason, and for the first time since she’d felt him flutter in her belly, she understood why the gods had planted him there: to make her strong.
She began to descend the seven-thousand steps that night feeling lighter than she had ascending them. They traveled all through the night and well into the next morning, stopping to rest for a couple of hours with the murky sunlight overhead and then picking up their feet again just before dark.
Her mood seemed to rub off on Farkas as well, and though there had been some tension between them after they woke together at the Throat of the World, it seemed like such a little thing now that they marched forward to face whatever waited in the distance. It almost felt like old times, and she was glad.
The courier was waiting for her in Ivarstead with word from Ulfric; he had arrived safely in Windhelm and anxiously awaited her return.
Holding Hundr in her arms again made her long for her husband. It seemed almost unfair that Farkas had been there with her, and not Ulfric, lingering over her shoulder and remarking how much he was starting to look like her. Especially when she considered how quickly Master Arngeir had agreed to let her visit with the babe. Would he have just as easily consented to allowing Ulfric to see the boy? It was difficult to say, but she was grateful for his generosity, nonetheless.
Every dragon they met on the road to Windhelm, she faced with renewed vigor, driving her blade into its hard scale with such fire even Farkas was taken aback. She had no idea where they were going, what they were going to find when they got there; she only knew she there was no turning back now that she’d started down the road she was on. Paarthurnax had questioned her willingness to answer to the whims of Fate, but she had spent most of her life regarding Fate with more respect than that. Fate was the will of the gods in her mind, and if Talos wished for her to take her place among Shor’s Hall driving Alduin back from the world, from Sovngarde, so be it.