Jon Battle-Born and Olfina Gray-Mane? It couldn’t possibly be what it looked like, and yet she’d distinctly heard him say, “Let’s run away together,” in that dreamy, romantic voice of his. Everyone in town knew Jon was all poetry, love songs and barrels of mead. If he were trapped in the throes of some forbidden love affair, it was no small wonder he drank as much as he did.
She’d seen the frantic, loving hands that grabbed at her before she walked away. She caught sight of Olfina sneaking along the back row of homes as she walked and witnessed her coming out just beside the Temple of Kynareth, glancing around almost frantically to make sure no one else had seen her before rushing toward the stairs that led to Jorrvaskr and the Skyeforge.
Luthien wondered who else knew about their little affair. Someone had to know. Whiterun was a small town, an impossible place to keep secrets. There wasn’t a person within the walls that didn’t know there was something unusual going on up at Jorrvaskr, and she couldn’t count the number of comments the guards had made about them keeping the dogs up there quiet at night—citizens complaining about all that howling. When she’d asked Farkas if the Companions were werewolves the first time he’d shifted in front of her to stave off the Silver Hand, he’d laughed and told her, “It’s a well-known secret to everyone.”
“Well met, kinsman,” she heard Jon’s voice on the road behind her, and ducking back to sit on the bench beside the temple she watched him walk through the Wind District and down the stairs to the merchant circle. He paused only briefly to look longingly in the direction Olfina had gone, and then picked up his feet to hike down the stairs.
She waited a few minutes and then rose from the bench, meandering slowly through the Wind District and down the stairs to find Jon leaning casually against the same pole he always favored outside Belethor’s store. She didn’t know what she was going to say to him, and she felt completely wicked for even thinking about doing what she was preparing to do, especially when he grinned good-naturedly at her as she approached.
“You know what’s wrong with Skyrim these days?” he asked, answering before she could even respond. “Everyone’s obsessed with death.
“Tell me about it,” she mumbled, crossing her arms and standing across from him for a moment. “How have you been, Jon?”
“I’m doing all right, I suppose. I hear you haven’t had much in the way of work lately.”
“No,” she felt her shoulders slump at the reminder. Maybe if she had a legitimate job to do, she wouldn’t be about to meddle in the lives of people she genuinely liked and respected. “I think it might be time to head to High Hrothgar to meet with the Greybeards.”
“High Hrothgar,” he repeated, stroking through the meticulously sculpted beard beneath his chin. “I’ve never been there myself, but to hear it spoken of, it’s a peaceful and beautiful place. The world could use more peace and beauty, if you ask me.”
“I agree,” she nodded, glancing toward the empty alley space between Arcadia’s Cauldron and Belethor’s General Goods. She didn’t want to embarrass or humiliate him, and she really didn’t want to make any trouble, but if she could just get him to talk to her, she might be able to find out if the Battle-Borns really were withholding information about Thorald Gray-Mane’s whereabouts. “Hey Jon, do you think maybe we could talk for a minute,” she gestured toward the alley with her head, glancing past the guard before adding, “in private?”
She watched the muscles in his face twitch with unease as he pushed off the pole and lowered his arms at his sides. “I suppose so.” Following her away from prying eyes and ears, he narrowed his gaze at her and asked, “What can I do for you?”
Luthien sunk her teeth into the skin of her lower lip, digging deep down inside her for the courage to take the next step. She hadn’t even said anything yet, and already she felt like a terrible person. “I saw you and Olfina today,” she finally confessed, watching all the color drain from his face upon hearing those words. “And believe me, I don’t want to cause any trouble for you two. I think it’s a wonderful thing that despite everything, the two of you can look beyond your families’ problems and still see love in one another.”
An uneasy laugh rumbled through his tight throat and sweat beaded across his brow. He reached up with a quick swipe and smeared through it. “Thank you,” he said, as if he didn’t know what else to say.
“I just wonder how Olfina might feel if she knew your family was keeping valuable information about her brothers from the Gray-Manes.”
If she’d thought he whitened before, every last shade washed from his face, his hazel eyes immediately watering with panic. “Idolaf made inquiries after the brothers disappeared. There may be bad blood between our families, and maybe you think his arrogance makes him apathetic to their suffering, but he tried to find out what happened to Thorald and he told Lady Gray-Mane to let it go because even if he isn’t dead, he’s as good as.” His gruff whisper was laced with regret and anguish that made her feel so awful she thought she might throw up. “Thorald and I were thick as thieves when we were boys. How do I tell Olfina that her brother’s somewhere being tortured?”
“I don’t know…”
“And what am I supposed to do? Go after Thorald myself? I’m not a hero. I’m a poet, Luthien. A bard. Not a warrior like my brother-in-law, and Idolaf is too gods damned stubborn to turn the other cheek. He’d never betray the Empire, not even for a man he once loved like his own brother.”
Swallowing the nervous tension in her throat, she nodded understanding. “I know you’re not a warrior, Jon, but you can still help him,” she assured him. “I can go after him if you just tell me where he is, and once he’s safe, Olfina never has to know you knew a thing.”
“I don’t know,” he hemmed, wringing his hands in front of him. “We were warned to leave it alone. If Idolaf finds out…”
“Is his wrath going to be any more severe than Olfina’s if she finds out you hid the truth about her brother’s location? That your hesitation to reveal that truth may have gotten him killed? I’ve seen the blade she carries, and frankly I’d be more worried about angering her than that blowhard brother of yours.”
“You’re right,” he leaked frustrated air through clenched teeth and lifted his hands to muss the hair atop his head. “You’re right, you’re right. Okay,” he nodded. “There’s a missive in my father’s study from General Tullius detailing the exact location the Thalmor took him.”
It was Luthien’s turn to blanch. She hadn’t been expecting that and for a brief moment she really did feel like she was in over her head. Farkas was right; she shouldn’t have gotten involved. And then she glanced over her shoulder into the marketplace and caught a glimpse of sad old Fralia sitting quiet behind her kiosk, her needlepoint resting untouched on her lap, her unblinking eyes staring straight ahead. It was as if the very life and soul had been sucked out of her body and she was just an empty, walking shell going through the motions of a life not worth living.
“Aye,” he drew her back with that one word. “I’ll go and fetch the missive and meet you near the statue of Talos in ten minutes so you can read it for yourself.”
Nodding slowly, she turned back to look at Fralia again. No one had gotten involved when the Imperial Legion marched into her village and accused her father of harboring Ulfric Stormcloak. No one lifted a finger to help when they executed him or dragged her through the street after she attacked in a fit of outraged grief. If it were up to the people of Whiterun, no one would help Fralia either. Luthien could never be one of them. She couldn’t turn her back on someone in need simply because the woman’s heartache was too political and complicated for the Companions to involve themselves in—even if it meant going up against the Thalmor alone.
She waited a few minutes for Jon to walk down around Breezehome before heading back up into the Wind District and sitting down on the bench beside Talos. Heimskr was taking a fortunate break from preaching, his body almost perfectly prostrate before the statue in silent prayer. She watched the wind flutter through the hood of his robes before turning her gaze toward Jorrvaskr. Silvery white puffs of cloud rolled behind the mead hall, so brilliant against the cerulean sky that for a moment she felt completely at peace with what she was about to do.
Despite the fair distance between the practice yard and the statue, she could hear the distinct ring of swordplay. Athis and Torvar, she thought. Farkas taking out his frustrations on a few unsuspecting straw dummies, perhaps. She wondered if he had gone against her wishes and told his brother what she was up to. As much as she hoped he hadn’t, she couldn’t possibly guess. He and Vilkas shared everything… well, more like he shared everything with Vilkas. It was hard to tell how much of himself silent, brooding Vilkas actually shared with his twin.
“Here.” Jon’s voice startled her from contemplation, the letter trembling in his hand as he thrust it toward her. “You didn’t get this from me, you have to swear it, Luthien, please.”
“Thank you, Jon. You have my word.”
“And Olfina?” he asked. “You won’t say anything to her about this?”
“You have my word on that as well. You’re a good man, Jon, and you are doing the right thing.”
With a curt nod, he walked away from her without another word and she unfolded the missive to read its contents.
It has come to my attention that inquiries have been made as to the whereabouts of one Thorald Gray-Mane.
It is my duty to inform you that Thalmor agents have taken possession of the prisoner and have escorted him to Northwatch keep.
I don’t think I need to elaborate. It is in everyone’s best interest if the matter is dropped entirely. I trust there will be no further inquiries in this matter.
Northwatch Keep. That was in Haafingar, west of the Thalmor Embassy if she was recalling correctly. There was no way in Oblivion she could in good conscience allow Avulstein Gray-Mane to head out there alone to rescue his brother, to face the Thalmor by himself. Judging from what she’d learned of the man just a couple of hours ago, that would be exactly what he’d want to do.
Lifting her gaze back toward Jorrvaskr, she knew what she had to do.
He was her husband, her mate, and they’d sworn before Mara and her priest to stand beside one another in this life and the next no matter what they had to face.
She needed a shield-brother if she was going to rescue Thorald Gray-Mane. He wouldn’t like it. He might not even agree to it, but that was a chance she had to take because there was absolutely no way she could face the Thalmor alone.
*Note: One tidbit in this chapter has been edited to reflect that Idolaf is not Jon’s blood brother, but that he is married to Jon’s sister, as per the family tree dynamic proposed on UESP.