There was a cottage just below the stairs, guarded by three Falmer, which they took out with their bows before making their way toward it and slipping inside. It had long been abandoned, a thick layer of dust coating everything in sight, but as Farkas locked and barred the doors, Luthien walked toward the alchemy table that lined the wall and picked up an old, tattered journal to see if it offered any clues about who’d once lived there.
“You think it’ll be safe if we rest here?” Farkas asked.
She didn’t answer right away, hadn’t even really processed what he’d ask her until he cleared his throat behind her. “The man who lived here spent years down here, undisturbed by the Falmer who live out there, but he hasn’t been back to this place in a long, long time.”
“So it’s safe then?”
Outside there was only silence; no wind, no scuffling feet. “It should be, as long as we keep the door barred.”
“Good,” he started to unload his gear and slip out of his armor to get more comfortable. Drawing off his helmet, he shook his hair loose as he dropped it onto the table and then plunked himself down into the chair. “I’m exhausted.”
“Me too,” she admitted, lowering her hood and stretching the muscles in her neck until they cracked. “There’s so much stuff in here. Enough to make plenty of potions to get us out of here.” She’d noticed the last time she dug into her bag that they were actually running low. So much fighting in the last twenty-four hours, or however long it had been since they’d entered the icy cavern entrance into Alftand, they’d drained nearly her entire stock of poisons, magicka and health regenerating potions.
“I’m hungry,” was all he said, slouching. He reached for his pack and sorted it through it for something to eat, drawing out strips of dried horker meat and cheese to nibble on.
She hadn’t thought about food herself for what felt like hours, but as soon as its scent wafted over to meet her, her stomach began to ache and rumble with hunger. Lowering the apothecary satchel back to the counter, she joined him at the table and foraged through the bag for an apple and a bottle of mead to wash it down.
“I’ve never seen anyplace like that out there,” Farkas told her. “It’s like… a whole other world.”
She agreed with a nod, her own mind twisting and turning around the size of that place and what mysteries lurked within. There wasn’t time to explore them in depth, at least not in the way her curious mind would have liked, but maybe one day they could come back and delve deeper into Blackreach than anyone other than the Falmer had in an age or more.
“I’m afraid we’ll get lost in here,” she admitted, teeth piercing through the crisp skin of her apple. “It seems so huge and overwhelming.”
“At least we’ll get lost together,” he shrugged.
“While Alduin eats the world above…”
“On second thought, maybe we shouldn’t get lost then.”
“Maybe we shouldn’t,” she agreed. “But without a map of this place, that doesn’t seem very likely.”
“Nothing ever discourages you, does it?”
“Sure, stuff bugs me all the time.”
“You never let it stand in your way, though.” And it was true. As long as she’d known him, nothing ever seemed to get him down. When troubles cropped up in his path, he hacked his way through them and moved on. “It’s one of the things I’ve always loved about you.”
That made him lower his eyes almost sheepishly, and for a time he focused on eating and she just watched him. There was no one else in the world she would rather have at the End of Days with her than Farkas. Maybe it was wrong to think that, but she didn’t care. He was a good warrior and an even better friend; the best friend she’d ever had. Who better to stand by her side when she went to meet her death?
She’d loved Vilkas with a ferocity that burned inside her like a forge, but they hadn’t been friends. He’d been her alpha, her lover, her husband, and they had shared things together she would never share with another soul as long as she lived, but even after they were married, his brother had been her companion and had remained her closest friend.
And Ulfric… He’d filled a void in her life when she thought she would never feel full again. He reignited her passion and fire, given her purpose and a son. He’d more than proven himself to her and she loved him with all her heart. He was her king, her lover, her husband, but Farkas was a friend to her in ways Ulfric would never be.
What he’d said in their tent made sense: they just fit.
She understood now why Ulfric sent him away, but why had he let her bring him back, knowing what he knew, what she had spent so many years denying in her own heart? Closing her eyes, she knew the answer already. Ulfric loved her, and when you really loved someone you made sacrifices for them.
“Do you really think we’ll die, Lu?” Farkas pulled her back into the moment. “Facing Alduin, I mean.”
“I don’t know,” she admitted, lifting her gaze across the table to meet with his. “Maybe.”
“I’m not afraid,” he assured her.
“Me neither.” She wasn’t afraid of death, only that she would die before her job was done, but if she did go to her death there was no one else in the world she’d rather die with.
“We lived a good life,” he said, and then with a little uncertainty added, “didn’t we?”
“The best life, Farkas.”
Nodding, the corners of his mouth drew into a grin. “I think so too. You should go get some rest,” he gestured toward the bed on the opposite side of the room. “I’ll take watch.”
“I think we can both rest easy here.” Maybe it was foolish, but she did feel safe in that little cottage beneath the world. “Gods know we can use the sleep. We don’t know what we face out there when we wake. You go on ahead. I’m going to make a few potions.”
Always the gentleman, he regarded her uncertainly. “You sure you don’t want to sleep first?”
“I’m sure,” she nodded.
He slept quietly at her back, while she ground and mixed ingredients, content with silence and the clink and rush of pestle upon mortar. She didn’t know how late the hour grew. For all she knew it could have been the middle of the afternoon aboveground, but she soon felt exhaustion drop over her like a heavy cloak. Rising from where she’d hunched over the alchemy lab, she stretched her shoulders back and rolled her neck until it cracked.
Making her way to the bed, Farkas was curled up on his side, facing the center and she lay down next to him, nestling her head under her arms. She didn’t push herself to the edge of the bed out of fear, but relaxed beside him knowing that there was no one else in the world she could trust with her honor but him.
For a long time she watched him sleep in the low burn of the gas lantern above the mantle and several times she had to draw her hand back when it reached up almost against her will to try and touch him, or tuck away the stray hair that had fallen against his cheek. She’d watched him sleep hundreds of times, but not like that, not with her mind wandering into places it should never dare to go.
What would it be like? How would it feel to give in and let him love her the way he’d always wanted to? What would it feel like to curl up in his strong arms, rest her head upon his broad chest? What kind of lover would he be? Closing her eyes, she let her mind wander into that forbidden place, fantasy carrying her into pleasant dream.
She was standing at the edge of the Skyforge with a child on her hip just watching. She could feel the heat from the forge, wavering in the air and a cool wind rustled through her hair as she watched him hammer and shape steel. He had his hair drawn back at the nape of his neck, loose, sweaty strands hanging around his soot-smudged face when he lifted his gaze to meet with hers.
Smiling, he lowered the hammer to the anvil and walked toward them. “There’s my girls.” Taking the child into his arms, he swung her high above him before drawing her cheek to his lips as she giggled and cupped his face in her tiny hands with such adoration Luthien could feel herself on the verge of tears. He brought his strong arm down across her shoulders, soft lips resting on her temple for a moment and then the three of them walked down the hillside, through the Wind District and the merchant circle until they were home.
Breezehome had never felt so welcoming and comfortable in the time she’d owned it, like a real home—like the home her mother and father had given her as a child. Lingering just under the steps after she’d finished cleaning up the dinner dishes, she could hear him talking to their child, telling her of a great white dragon who lived at the Throat of the World and taught the Way of the Voice so the people of Skyrim would never forget the sacrifices once made in order to save them from the World Eater.
Making her way up the stairs, she stood for a moment in the shadows outside the door, watching the child’s bright green eyes light up with wonder and amazement—as if she hadn’t heard the story a hundred times in her short life. “I want to go to the strunmah, Da,” she fidgeted beneath the blankets excitedly, “and ride on Paarthurnax’s back. Could we go there tomorrow? Pretty please?”
He laughed and reached out to tuck the dark red curls behind her ear before leaning in to kiss her goodnight. “Maybe one day, my little flower, but if you close your eyes right now and sleep, you will dream about it.”
He rose from where he’d knelt on the floor and closed the door as he followed Luthien into the hallway, around the stairs and into their bedroom. The door was hardly locked at her back before her reached for her and drew her against his broad chest, his soft mouth coming down over hers, fingers disentangling the ties of her dress. It was as if every hour in the day led up to that moment, when they could lie together, hold onto one another in the dark.
Every caress, every kiss, every gentle movement of their bodies together was filled with meaning, and when he laid her down and came in above her, she felt her heart flutter with joy when they joined and he whispered, “I love you.”
“I love you,” she murmured against his lips.
And it was… perfect. Painfully perfect as she felt the loose tethers of that dream falling away when he stretched beside her in the bed. Her eyes stung as she blinked them open, and when she found him already awake beside her, staring at her in much the same way she’d watched him sleep before drifting off herself, she had to roll into her shoulder to hid the dampness in her eyes.
She’d told Ulfric she hadn’t wanted a simpler life, she’d just wanted the life she had to be a good one, to know that she’d done all the right things, that she’d always been exactly where she was supposed to be, doing what the gods had planned for her. For the first time in her life, she wasn’t sure she’d chosen the right path and it terrified her.
“You were right, Lu,” he said, breaking the awkward silence of waking. “No bad dreams.”
Closing her eyes as she lifted her head, she felt her mouth draw into an uneasy smile. “Me either.”
Had he shared her dream, she wondered, opening her eyes and meeting his gaze for a moment. It was impossible to tell, and she could never ask him, for fear of destroying them both with a hard truth she would have to live with for the rest of her days.
“Huh,” was all he said, and then he got out of bed and went to find something to eat.
Even if he had shared it, it was just a dream that would never come to pass. There was no turning back the hands of time, no changing the past. Nevertheless, she couldn’t help but feeling saddened by it, and that heavy sorrow gripped her as she gathered their things together and prepared to head out into Blackreach to find the Elder Scroll.