The southeast road from Haafingar to Whiterun was long and cold, the furious wind and chill driving the travelers quickly across the land. Of the three, Farkas seemed to be the only one unscathed by the battle at Northwatch Keep. He laughed and joked while they walked, trying earnestly to entertain and cheer his fellow Companions with songs and stories, but only Luthien showed him the attention and confirmation he craved that she would be all right given just a little time.
Luthien couldn’t stop thinking about the war, the distinct yet blurry line that divided the two sides and the number of families that had been torn apart in the name of Skyrim’s independence. She wanted to blame Ulfric Stormcloak for throwing that yearning for freedom in the Empire’s face, but it wasn’t that easy. Just as it was no easier to blame the Empire for trying to hold onto the resources they drew from her land, the land itself providing them easy access to High Rock and the independent island of Solstheim, direct passage to Atmora if Titus Mede II and the Aldmeri Dominion’s ambitions ever drove them further north into that wild tundra.
Even if the Stormcloaks did manage to wrench Skyrim from Imperial hands and place Ulfric on the throne of the High King, then what? What ambitions lay in waiting within the Bear of Eastmarch’s heart? What plans did he have for Skyrim, save for staving off Imperial and Aldmeri Dominion intent to reclaim her for their own?
Gods, it was maddening. And with the return of the dragons she couldn’t imagine a world in which there would ever be peace. Someone would always want more than they had—a throne, power, more land, more gold, control—and the dragons… no one knew what they wanted, but judging from the amount of destruction they’d leveled across the lands in the last ten months Luthien felt she could fairly guess that they wanted the same things everyone else wanted: power.
It all felt so hopeless, shadowing over her own seemingly insignificant problems as if they were no more than a simple snag in the grand scheme of things. Her problems required nothing more than acceptance and a hefty swallowing of pride.
Those thoughts drove her gaze to Vilkas, who’d been even more stoic and silent than usual since they’d departed from Northwatch Keep. She’d joined him by the fire while Farkas slept, knowing that no matter how long she lay there herself beside him sleep would never claim her, and for a long time the two of them sat in silence. She watched him, tried to imagine the process of his thoughts, to understand the ever present shadow of self-loathing he bore.
“Vilkas,” she began, not even knowing what she planned to say to him, only that the overwhelming need within her to offer him comfort could not be denied. “I know you’ve carried this burden a lot longer than I, but…”
“Then you should not speak of things you can barely begin to understand.” He didn’t raise his eyes to hers, but jabbed the stick he was using deeper into the fire, as if stabbing some monster that lay within the flames.
“I may not understand them as deeply as you do, but I still understand them. The constant need, the calling of the blood inside my veins and when the moons are at their zenith it takes every shred of humanity left inside me to resist the beast.”
“And yet you don’t resist it.” He finally lifted his head to look at her, his cold blue eyes narrow with accusation and scrutiny she could feel niggling into her very soul. “Do you think the two of you have secrets from what’s left of the Circle? That the rest of us don’t feel it every time you give in to the hunt, to the need to mate like animals beneath the moons? Your resistance to the call is laughable, at best.”
Those words shamed her, a guilty warmth rushing into her cheeks until she couldn’t feel the cold wind nibbling at her skin at all.
“No,” he shook his head. “There is nothing you could say to me, no comfort you could offer, no understanding for the hardships I choose to bear.”
“That’s just it though, Vilkas,” she swallowed her shame and leveled her gaze across the fire. “You choose to bear those hardships. You choose to hold your beast inside…”
“I choose to be a man!” he shouted, pushing up from where he sat so quickly the movement startled her and she shrank away from the dominant shadow of his rage.
It took more courage inside her than she thought she could muster to quietly point out, “But you are not just a man. You are more than that.”
She watched his mouth open wordlessly, upper lip trembling with righteousness he couldn’t put into words. She’d never seen so much fury, so much passion in a man and for a brief moment she saw things in Vilkas she’d never seen in him before. Stifling fear that made him feel smaller than a defenseless child, shattered hope that only further stoked the fire of his dread and shame, so much shame he couldn’t stand to look at her for more than a second without shifting his glassy eyes away.
“Goodnight, Luthien.” Without another word, he turned his back on her and disappeared inside his tent.
She knew he wasn’t sleeping, but he didn’t make a sound, didn’t move until Farkas emerged just before sunrise and asked if she’d been sitting out there all night by herself.
For the remainder of their journey he avoided her in situations that might put them alone, but in front of his brother he treated her with respect enough that Farkas would never suspect that argument they’d had. One good thing had come from that argument, at least for her anyway. She realized she could not resist the beastblood anymore, could not allow herself to feel guilty for what she was, could no longer deny the blood that coursed through her veins. She and Farkas would run together, hunt together, mate together beneath the moons as long as the gods wished it for them. She would nurture the beast, accept it, be what she was as long as it lived within her, and if she died without ever purging it from her body then so be it.
Acceptance is key. Embrace the beast. Give in to the hunt. Thrive and feed the untamed spirit.
As the three Companions came over the western hillside, Dragonsreach rose in the distance, a beacon of warmth and welcome that stirred more emotion in Luthien than she ever imagined she would ever feel for another city. She’d never again thought she’d know the comfort of a place she could call home.
Whiterun had brought so many wonderful things into her life. A new family, new friends, her mate, and turning her gaze left over her shoulder she smiled when she realized Farkas had also stopped to reflect with the same admiration and longing for home.
“It’s good to be home.” He drew in a deep breath, holding it in his lungs before exhaling with an appreciative sigh.
“It’s only good to be home when you actually walk through the gates,” Vilkas said without stopping.
“Hey Vilkas, I’ll race ya,” Farkas challenged his brother.
Vilkas stopped and rolled his eyes over at his brother. “As if you could ever beat me.” He darted off with a good three second head start, Farkas rushing after him bellowing something about cheating as the two of them raced toward home. Luthien laughed at the sight of them, but took her time.
She arrived almost five minutes after them to find Farkas hunched over and catching his breath inside the gates while he waited for her and Vilkas swaggering up the pathway toward the merchant circle.
“There’s a nip in the air,” Sergio Pelagia said, filing in the gate behind her. “It won’t be good for my crops.”
“If we can help you bring any of them in before the frost just say the word,” Luthien told him.
“Thank you. I just might take you up on that.”
“Hail, Companion.” Toki nodded at her, the barest flicker of a smile flashing beneath his helmet.
Farkas joined her on the walk toward Breezehome, leaning shoulder to shoulder with her as they moved, making their gait awkward but comfortable. He took out his keys to unlock the front door, but Luthien stopped on the doorstep.
“I’m going to go find Fralia and tell her her boys are okay. I’ll be right back.”
He grabbed her hand and tugged her into a kiss, murmuring, “I’ll get dinner started.”
“I love it when you make dinner.”
“I just love being home,” he ducked her chin as he stepped back and slid into the house, glancing back over his shoulder at her before she closed the door.
Heading toward the merchant circle, she could tell as she approached Fralia Gray-Mane’s stall was empty and her heart sank just a little. She really wasn’t looking forward to having to explain to the woman that her boys weren’t coming back, that she might not see either of them again until Ulfric Stormcloak’s war was over, and even then, only if the true sons and daughters of Skyrim won.
“Well met, kinsman,” Jon greeted her from the post outside Belethor’s General Goods. “It’s good to have you back in the city.”
“It’s good to be home, Jon.” She nodded toward him and smiled and then cut left, taking the stairs into the Wind District two at a time.
Heimskr was ranting and raving in front of the great statue of Talos, but instead of avoiding him as she was prone to do she stopped in front of the altar and thanked her god with silent prayer for seeing her and her shield-brothers safely through battle and all the way home. She lowered ten gold Septims into the collection plate and then walked away, toward the temple of Kynareth before cutting left and walking toward House Gray-Mane.
She knocked on the closed door, waiting for an answer but it took several minutes before Fralia opened the door and peered outside. “You… you’re back,” she seemed surprised, suspicious as she looked out into the empty street behind her and then returned her fretful gaze to Luthien’s face. “Where are my sons? Where’s Thorald?”
“Fralia, may I come in, please?”
“Of course.” Ushering her into the quiet house, she turned in the sitting room and reached for Luthien’s hands. “Please,” she squeezed her fingers almost desperately. “Please tell me you have news of my boys.”
“Thorald is safe.”
“Is he?” Her voice hitched in her throat, nearly cracking with the tears she’d cried so often of late they must have felt natural for her. “You’ve saved him? Where is he? I must see him at once.”
“Lady, I’m afraid he’s not here,” Luthien lamented, the other woman’s sorrow almost more than she could bear. “He didn’t think it would be safe to return. Not with the war, not with so many enemies so close at hand.”
“What?” she balked. “After all this I can’t even see him? How… How do I know you’re telling me the truth and not just what I want to hear?”
“Lady, Thorald asked me to give you message. So you would know he was safe. He said to tell you to suffer the winter’s cold wind…”
But before Luthien could finish his message, Fralia squeezed her fingers and said, “…for it bears aloft next summer’s seeds.” She squeezed harder, her face brightening with a smile for the first time since Luthien had come to Whiterun. “That’s my boy. So it’s true then. He’s safe. And Avulstein too?”
Nodding, Luthien reassured her. “Avulstein is safe too. They thought it best to fall back in with the Stormcloaks.”
“For now it’s enough to know they’re both alive. I can find peace in that.” Leading Luthien by the hands toward a small chest near the hearth she said, “Thank you dear friend. You were the only one who offered to help me and I will never forget what you’ve done for my family, for my sons. You’ve given me back my Thorald.”
“I’m only glad that I could help.”
Letting go of her hands, Fralia bent over the chest and unlocked it. Opening the lid, she drew out a beautiful sword and holding it toward Luthien. Skyforge steel; it was longer than the shortsword she’d been using and she could feel the fire enchantment warming through the hilt when she took it in her hand to admire it.
“I’d had Eorlund forge this for Thorald, to gift to him upon his return. I suppose he can’t have it now. Why don’t you take it, dear?”
“Oh, Fralia, I don’t know… You should save this for Thorald. He will come home to you one day…”
“Eorlund can forge another for the day when this war ends and our boys can come home again. Please, I want you to have it.”
“Thank you,” she blinked against her own tears. “I will carry it into battle with honor.”
Fralia’s hand rested on her shoulder, offering a gentle squeeze as she said, “I’ll bet your parents are very proud.” Luthien didn’t know what else to say, so she just nodded another thank you and started toward the door as the woman called out, “You take good care of yourself now, dear.”
The sun was just setting over the city gates on the walk to Breezehome. She didn’t know if or when Fralia Gray-Mane would ever see her boys again, if Ulfric Stormcloak’s war would ever end, but she hoped it would be soon. The thought of all those families torn apart by war was heartbreaking, but she also knew such battles would never end.
Braith met with her on the stairs as she was walking down them, pleasantly smiling up at her and saying, “Hi there.”
“Hi Braith, I hope you’re doing well.”
“I don’t bother Lars no more. Just like you asked.”
“That’s good to hear. Has he kissed you yet?”
“Nah, but I can wait.”
Chuckling softly, she made her way home, pushing through the doors to find Farkas at the cooking pot doing just what he’d promised before she left. The familiar smells of home washed over her the minute she walked inside, and she looked toward the table to see Lydia enjoying a tankard of mead.
“Welcome home, my thane.”
“Thank you, Lydia.”
“I trust your journey went well.”
“As well as can be expected, yes.”
She had nearly forgotten about the falling out she’d had with Athis the night before the Companions left for Northwatch Keep, but now looking at the woman she wondered if they had patched things up, if they’d come to a temporary solution until a more permanent one could be found. She’d have to ask her when Farkas wasn’t around, to find out if there was any way she could help make her housecarl’s life easier.
“Everything all taken care of?” Farkas asked, glancing down at the sword in her hand and raising his eyebrows respectively.
“Everything’s all taken care of.”
“Good,” he nodded once, removing the pot from the fire. “You’re just in time for dinner.”
“You should have invited Vilkas,” she noted, peeling out of her armor and lowering it to the table by the door.
“Eh,” he shrugged it off and carried the pot to the table. “Vilkas could probably use a break from us for a day or so.”
“Yeah, maybe, but you should invite him tomorrow. It’s nice to have all our family together at the dinner table.” She wouldn’t let Vilkas so easily slip away from the bond of family, even if he thought isolating himself from the truth was for the best. She would make him a part of everything, make him feel like he belonged.
He smiled down at her before taking his seat at the head of the table.
It was good to be home from another job, to be safe from harm for the moment, to know the comfort and privacy of her marriage bed was just a few feet away, but Luthien knew there was still a long road that lay ahead of her and Farkas. Soon Kodlak would call upon them to aid in his search for a cure for the beastblood and eventually she’d have no choice but to answer the summons of the Greybeards.
Perhaps that was where she and Farkas should go next, she thought, glancing across the table and watching as he lifted a seasoned salmon steak onto Lydia’s plate.
“I think maybe we should go to High Hrothgar soon,” she spoke up. “Maybe in a day or so, once we’re sure the Companions have nothing that needs taken care of, that the Jarl doesn’t have any important business for me to tend to.”
Grinning at the notion of further adventure, he nodded agreement. “I’ll talk to Vilkas about that tomorrow too. See if he wants to tag along.”
“You think he’d want to go?”
“Definitely. He’s wanted to go there ever since we were kids.”
“All right then,” she said, leaning back on the bench. “Lydia, could you pass the leeks?”
“Of course, my thane.”
She didn’t know what awaited her at High Hrothgar, what strange portents the Greybeards would have to share, but so long as she had her shield-brothers beside her Luthien was fairly certain she could get through anything the gods had planned for her.