Farkas ducked out of the bear den, lowering the bloodied Axe of Whiterun into his belt-sheath and cracking his neck as she stretched his head left. He could hear his brother’s footsteps at his back, but didn’t turn over his shoulder to look at him. They’d come into the world together, and one day they would probably wander off on some last adventure in order to exit the world together too, but right then he just wanted to get as far away from his twin as possible.
It took a lot to make him mad, even more than that to make him mad at Vilkas. For as long as he could remember, his brother had been his entire life. His best friend, his shield-brother, his hunting partner, his most trusted confidante, his hero. Vilkas had killed at least one of every animal in Skyrim, and after Farkas and Luthien got married, he’d made frequent trips to Morrowind and Hammerfell to hunt the beasts there too. He was a fierce and unyielding warrior, and Farkas had nothing but respect for his brother, but Vilkas had crossed a line in that bear den; speaking words Farkas wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to forgive.
“So what? Now you’re going to sulk like a child and ignore me?” Vilkas edged up beside him as he was lowering his broadsword over his back. “It’s a cold truth, brother, one I’m sure you would much rather ignore, but someone was going to speak it eventually. Better me, than someone who doesn’t know you like I do.”
“Just shut up,” he warned. “Before I bludgeon your face with my fist.”
Vilkas actually laughed, a sarcastic chuckle that only further stoked his brother’s ire. “If you really think you can still take me…”
Farkas whirled around on his brother, shoulders back, every muscle in his body tight, rage building up inside him. “I never thought you would stoop so low,” he growled. “Just… just leave me alone. I’ll travel home alone.”
“If that is what you wish. Maybe time alone will force you to use your brain for once.”
Always with the digs about his lack of intelligence. Normally, those little digs didn’t bother him, especially when they came from Vilkas; Farkas knew he wasn’t a smart man. He tended to think with his fists and his blade, and more importantly, with his heart, but right then even his heart was dominated by an almost uncontrollable urge to crush his brother’s swollen head like a walnut.
Vilkas thought he knew everything, and for a long time Farkas had thought so too.
He started walking, Vilkas giving him space, but still following at a tempered pace that put a little distance between them. He’d never let him walk all the way back to Whiterun by himself; a smart warrior didn’t travel without a shield-brother or sister to watch his back. It was the way of things, had always been the way, but Farkas didn’t look back, he just kept walking and trying not to think about the things his brother said.
There’s something very wrong with your son. He isn’t… normal.
He’s just a boy, Farkas had defended. He’s only six.
He hasn’t been right since the night he came into the world, nearly taking his own mother out of it when he made his entrance. He is a darkness, simply waiting to emerge. I can see it every time I look at him.
You’re wrong, Farkas said, a trickle of dread rippling down the length of his spine.
Bran was a good boy. Quiet and often withdrawn, but Luthien excused his silence as timidity. He was so shy he preferred to play alone, rather than rushing outside the way his sister often did before the sun was even in the sky. Vilkas had been much the same when they were small, shy, withdrawn and too smart for his own good; he’d preferred reading tactical strategy books and then putting the techniques to practice in the yard on his own twin. He couldn’t count the number of scars they’d both earned while Vilkas was learning.
And damn it if Farkas wasn’t proud of the fact that his own boy was sharp as a blade. He supposed he hadn’t really thought about it much before they were born, but he’d never imagined his own children would be so bright. Freya had come into the world ready to take it by storm, and Brandr, who was only six, was already reading and writing better than his own father, but the books he often curled up with in the alchemy lab behind the kitchens weren’t exactly the kinds of light reading a boy his age should have enjoyed.
Skill books from his mother’s shelves, magical skill books even Luthien had found difficult to comprehend. Conjuration and Illusion-related magic theory texts for advanced mages, and he had read them all again and again, asking his mother questions at dinner she didn’t always know how to answer and that often made everyone else at the table uncomfortable.
Could dead bodies really be reanimated and enslaved? Animals, as well as people? What would happen to them? Would they go on rotting the way dead things did, even resurrected, or did the resurrection stop the process and preserve the body?
Two nights past, Vilkas had been to dinner, his brow furrowed, upper-lip curled into a disgusted sneer as he stared across the table at his own nephew as if he were a strange creature from some dark and twisted plane of Oblivion.
“Necromancy is very dark magicka, Brandr,” Luthien explained. “Even the most experienced and well-practiced mages tend to avoid it, and there are very few who truly understand it the way it was once understood.”
“But they could do it, Mama? If they really wanted to?”
“Well… yes.” She lowered her fork to her plate, the food almost completely untouched. “I suppose if they really wanted to, they could, but the body and soul of a person is considered rightful property and to reanimate them without permission is considered wrong. Not to mention, the reanimated dead do not come back the same as they were in life. And that is why it’s a dangerous and unrecommended practice. Even powerful mages cannot always control their…”
“Luthien,” Vilkas cleared his throat. “Forgive my interruption of your very astute lesson, but you’re encouragement of this subject matter is completely inappropriate for a boy his age… For anyone, really.”
“Perhaps your uncle is right,” she’d agreed, leaning her back into the chair. “Talk of necromancy is not appropriate for the dinner table.”
“Or anywhere else for that matter,” Vilkas spoke up. “It is outlawed.
“Actually, you’re wrong, Vilkas. Necromancy is frowned upon, but it is not illegal. Though the College at Winterhold no longer teaches that special branch of the School of Conjuration, and has not done so for quite some time, there are still mages there who practice such magic. Master Phinis Gestor, for example, is a well-practiced necromancer…”
“Regardless,” he’d clenched his teeth a little tighter. “It is unnatural,” and Farkas, who knew his twin better than anyone else, could tell Vilkas was on the verge of another argument with his brother’s wife that would put him between the two of them like a torn pawn in some never ending struggle for… what? He still didn’t know.
Luthien and Vilkas had never gotten along, but they’d grown to respect and even find common ground with one another after Kodlak’s death. Vilkas thought his brother’s wife was reckless and cavalier, too young and unseasoned to take on the insurmountable responsibilities that had been laid at her feet time and again over the years as both Dragonborn and Harbinger of the Companions.
Farkas may not have been the smartest man alive, but he’d always thought Vilkas was just a little jealous of how naturally things seemed to happen for Luthien. She’d been a Companion less than a year when she cured their beloved Kodlak of the Beastblood after his death, and with Aela as her witness, Kodlak had named Luthien Harbinger. It was a title Vilkas had been working toward all his life, studying the history until he knew it almost as well as Vignar, familiarizing himself with the deeds of every great Harbinger to come before Kodlak so he would know how to behave when the time came for him to take over and bring further honor to the Companions.
Farkas wouldn’t have cared either way who Kodlak named, a part of him was just glad it wasn’t him. Too many decisions, too much responsibility, and Luthien was good with those kinds of things. He had been so proud of her, happy to follow her guidance, but Vilkas just shook his head and muttered, “I never thought someone like you would be the Harbinger, but Kodlak trusted your judgment and so will I.”
Their voices rising, Vilkas edged across the table like a threat while Luthien leaned back in her chair speaking in a calm voice he wasn’t even listening to.
Asserting himself in that moment was the only way to end an escalating battle of words, so Farkas rose from the table, the abrupt gesture catching everyone’s attention, and said, “We have pie. Who wants pie?”
“I told Braith I would bring her a piece,” Freya spoke up, obviously glad for a break in the tension. “If there’s any left…”
“There is always pie to share with Braith,” Luthien assured her, pushing her untouched food away. “You should have asked her to supper. That poor girl’s mother is…” She bit her tongue to keep from shifting into another uncomfortable subject and pushed her chair away from the table. “You sit down, love and finish your supper. I’ll get everyone pie.”
“I’ll help you, Mama,” Freya said.
“I don’t want any pie,” Bran announced. “May I be excused, Da? I want to go outside and uh… play.”
“He didn’t eat his vegetables,” his sister tattled, sneering across the table at the boy and making him scowl.
“Eat your carrots,” Farkas returned to his seat, watching his wife move away from the table.
Despite the subtle frailty that had set in after the difficult birth that had nearly claimed her life, she was still the most graceful and beautiful woman he’d ever known. And she was a good mother… no matter what Vilkas said about their son.