Lydia had not come home the night before, the empty bed in her room suggesting that she and her lover had found a quiet and more private place to work through the troubles they were having. Luthien scrawled a quick note to let her know they would be back in a couple of weeks, but she was worried about her housecarl. Even more, she felt a little guilty that she’d never asked Lydia about the more personal aspects of her life.
When they’d traveled together early on, a great deal of their conversation revolved around Luthien, her troubles, her hopes and dreams, her curiosities about the people of Whiterun, many of whom Lydia had known most of her life. She knew that Lydia had once had the worst kind of crush on Vilkas, but nothing had ever come of that, that her first kiss had come from Jarl Balgruuf’s brother Hrongar and that she’d once been in love with a man who broke her spirit so badly she’d sworn herself into Balgruuf’s service, but beyond those simple tidbits she knew almost nothing personal about the woman sworn to carry her burdens and guard her with her life.
“Everyone knows about Athis and Lydia,” Vilkas claimed the next morning in a rather haughty tone as the three of them traveled northwest together. “It’s been going on for years.”
“I didn’t know,” Farkas confessed. “I always thought she and Torvar…”
“You didn’t know because you were always preoccupied with your own…” Vilkas’s voice trailed off when the jab of his brother’s large elbow caught him in the side of his armor. “Training in the practice yard.”
Luthien rolled her eyes at both of them. She and Farkas had spent enough time together as friends before they’d become romantically involved for her to know just what she was getting involved with. She knew exactly what kind of man her husband had been before he met her, about all the girls he’d chased after before she’d come to Whiterun. Her mate was definitely not a virgin the night he claimed her maidenhead, but not another woman even caught his eye once he’d set his sights on her. That was more than enough to quell the rising of any jealous thoughts and she turned a smile in his direction. He winked at her, his own grin lighting his face up in such a way that she wished they were making this journey alone so they could slip off into the woods for a quick bit of fun.
“What about Jon and Olfina,” she changed the subject. “I bet you didn’t know about them.”
“Oflina Gray-Mane?” Vilkas was clearly shocked. “And Jon Battle-Born? Well there’s an unlikely match if I’ve ever heard one. Perhaps you got your wires crossed on that one.”
“Nope,” she smirked. “I saw them with my own two eyes, and then Jon confirmed it when I confronted him and asked for help.”
“I was wondering how you managed to get your hands on those Imperial documents leading us right to Thorald,” he mused, stroking his fingers through the dark shadow of stubble grazing his chin before grinning. “You’re a clever girl, Luthien.”
“The thing I don’t understand is why everyone has to hide it? I mean, Jon and Olfina, I can sort of see. Their families are in such a bad way it could really create a lot more unnecessary tension, but Skjor and Aela? Lydia and Athis? Why not just come right out with it?”
“There are rules about such things,” Vilkas explained. “Centuries ago members of the Inner-Circle were forbidden to procreate, so it became an unwritten rule that two members of the Companions should never become romantically involved.”
“Then why were Farkas and I allowed to get married?”
“No one actually gave you permission,” Vilkas pointed out. “The two of you ran off together of your own free will, and once you returned from Riften there was very little that could be done about it. Besides, no one rules a Companion. We make our own way in this world. Even if we had known what the two of you were up to there would have been very little we could have done to stop you from making such a monumental mistake.”
Monumental mistake… She didn’t like the way he’d said those two words and though things were definitely not going to be easy for her and Farkas considering everything they faced, she would never view their nuptials as a mistake. Farkas had saved her from the darkness inside herself, had shown her that even the beast within could know love and peace with a mate and pack to share her life with.
Instead of dwelling on his harsh words, she continued fishing for answers.
“So why can’t Athis marry Lydia?”
“Other than the fact that she obviously hasn’t accepted his proposal?”
“He’s not in the Inner-Circle, so that shouldn’t be a problem.”
“No, but the day Lydia became a housecarl in Jarl Balgruuf’s employ she took an oath of service that binds her to her duty above all else. She is sworn to your household until one of you dies, or until you grant her leave, which is almost entirely unheard of. There is no greater dishonor for one in her position than to be dismissed from her thane’s service.”
“So there’s no way she and Athis could ever be together?” Luthien’s heart sunk so low, she swore she could feel it in her uneasy belly. “Unless I die or dishonor her.”
“Not unless you and Farkas come up with the coin to build a mead hall and welcome him into your household, but I can already tell you that elf is a stubborn one. He’d probably never accept such a generous invitation, even if you could afford to do such a thing.”
Her shoulders slumped just a little. “That’s so unfair.”
“Traditions are very rarely fair,” Vilkas pointed out. “Life isn’t fair, but that is the way things are.”
She’d spent her whole childhood listening to her father preach on the importance of Nord tradition, of family, honor and duty. A Nord was her own woman, free to pursue adventure and only until she became a wife, and then she devoted herself to her husband and family, their farm or business and the children they brought into the world together.
Had her father lived, she would probably have been married off to the nice young Nord blacksmith two villages away from home and looking forward to a semi-comfortable and mostly-secure future as a wife and mother. She would have spent her days tending to chores and children, making sure her husband never wanted for anything. From time to time she would work the forge, sharing in her husband’s trade, but there would have been very little in the way of adventure beyond walking to the village well to draw water for cooking and bathing.
Glancing left, she was so grateful she had chosen Farkas to spend the rest of her life with. That no one had stood in their way or tried to tear them apart. He would never expect more from her than what she was able to give him, never dare to suggest that as a woman her place as a warrior was any less important than his. Their marriage was an equal partnership between two warriors with a lust for adventure… and forbidden moonlit hunts, and one day, if they were ever blessed with children, he would share equally in their raising. But that was a big if. Children would only become a possibility if Kodlak found a cure for their beastblood, and Farkas hadn’t even answered her when she’d asked him if he’d take it.
She found herself reaching between them for his hand, curling her fingers around his and offering a gentle squeeze. She turned to look at him again and he winked and grinned a mischievous, unspoken promise to escape with her in the dead of night to remind her exactly why she’d married him.
Vilkas nattered on while they walked, but she’d stopped listening after he’d gotten philosophical on the nature of tradition. She swore to Talos, that man loved the sound of his own voice more than anyone else she’d ever met. Farkas had told her when they first started spending time together that his brother was a better talker than he was, but she couldn’t deny she much preferred her husband’s quiet simplicity to his brother’s never ending stream of pomposity.
She found her thoughts revolving between the task that lay ahead of them and the cruel nature of responsibility and duty, and then she wondered if Thorald Gray-Mane had ever been in love. Was there a young woman somewhere in Whiterun crying her eyes out at night because she’d overheard rumors that only man she’d ever loved was dead.
“What about Thorald?” she cut him off in mid-ramble, the man so startled that anyone would dare interrupt his very important dialogue that he actually tripped over a stone sticking out of the road and stumbled a bit before he righted himself.
“What about Thorald?” He repeated, altering the inflection of his question to suggest he had no idea what she was asking.
“Did he have anyone?”
“He had his family, of course,” Vilkas said.
“But he wasn’t romantically involved with anyone? Betrothed or married?”
“Not that I know of. Thorald was a warrior. He never wasted his time on foolish romantic pursuits…”
There was something so much deeper in those words, Luthien could hear it. Love and romance were a waste of time in Vilkas’s mind, a distraction from his training and skill he didn’t wish to play to. Or maybe he was just afraid to share himself with anyone else; the burden of the beast he carried with him everywhere he went was a hardship no one else should ever have to bear.
And yet Farkas lived to share that part of himself with her. He may not know how to put into words the love and appreciation he felt in having another wolf to share his life with, but he didn’t have to. It revealed itself in every gesture no matter whether they were in beastform or human.
She looked between the two of them and silently wondered how two people who shared an essence could be so very different.
“Ysolda,” Farkas interjected. “Thorald always had a thing for Ysolda, and if this stupid war hadn’t broken out when it did, they’d probably have gotten married.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Vilkas argued.
“Maybe, but it’s true. When he joined the Stormcloaks she was so brokenhearted she followed one of those Khajiit caravans around for months.”
“I don’t know where you hear your stories, brother, but that’s one for the ages. Ysolda and Thorald. Ha!”
“Believe what you want,” Farkas shrugged. “I know what I know.”
Luthien changed the subject then, the thought of that loneliness breaking her heart inside her chest. She need only hear the tender speech the priest of Mara had given them the day she and Farkas arrived at the Temple to arrange their wedding. Life was short and the living was hard in Skyrim, but another soul to share those burdens with could make even the shortest of lives complete.
She may still have been young and green, and maybe she was even just a little naïve, but she could not deny that her life was the better with Farkas than it had ever been without him.