Returning to the moment and pushing his dark thoughts aside, he just wanted to get home and gather all three of them into his arms as he pushed the awful things his brother said out of his mind. There was nothing wrong with his son. He was a good boy, and even if he wasn’t… No… he was. Vilkas was the one who was wrong. He was just jealous because he didn’t have a family of his own. That had to be it.
Farkas didn’t stop to make camp that night, and neither did his brother. He followed on the road, still keeping his distance, but came rushing in to assist when a saber cat descended from the dark hills, teeth bared and claws out, ready to strike. They battled the beast together, and when Farkas knelt over the body to skin it for the pelt, Vilkas stood at his back with his arms crossed, quietly watching.
“I can show you where he’s hid it when we get home.”
“I told you not to talk to me.”
“Fine, then I will show Luthien as soon as we are home. She needs to know what he’s been doing with all that information she’s been feeding him.”
“You leave her out of this!” He snarled, pushing up from the ground, the bloody knife gripped in his hand. “She doesn’t need to hear you say such awful things about her baby.”
“I know it hurts for you to hear it, but Brandr…”
“Bran is a smart boy!”
“Too smart, Farkas, and that curious mind of his is going to get him into trouble if something isn’t done. I don’t say these things because I don’t love him. He is my nephew, and strange as he is, I would do anything for him. I’m trying to protect him, can’t you see that?”
“You’re just being hateful. You’re jealous, that’s all it is. Bitter and alone without a family to call your own.”
Vilkas ignored that, but Farkas could tell it had gotten under his skin. “It was only a hawk this time, but what will it be tomorrow? A wolf from outside the walls, something even more dangerous than that? And what if he harms one of the other children just to test this awful power he’s…”
Farkas hit him, and immediately regretted it, Vilkas staggering backward with the force of that blow, but instantly righting himself and staring across the space between the two of them almost smiling as he lifted a hand to wipe the blood from his already swelling lip. They hadn’t had a good brawl in a long time, but it wasn’t about that, and though normally Farkas would have followed that rage all the way through until the two of them were rolling around on the ground like two whelps in desperate need of a time-out in separate corners, he turned his back on his brother and started walking again.
“You can walk away from it if you like, but it isn’t going to go away,” Vilkas called after him.
Vilkas kept his distance after that, and Farkas didn’t look back to make sure he was still there, but he could hear him following. He tried not to think about it anymore, didn’t want to believe that his own son was capable of such darkness.
It was well-past Midnight when they reached the gates of Whiterun, his brother finally sprinting to catch up with him. He’d had enough time to cool down, and when Vilkas stepped through the gates at his shoulder, Farkas glanced down at him apologetically.
“I shouldn’t have hit you. I’m sorry.”
“You had every right,” Vilkas said. “If it was my son, I wouldn’t want to believe it either.”
“I still think you’re wrong.”
“Then let me show you, brother.”
Farkas hesitated, glancing up the incline toward the quiet house just past Warmaiden’s. The soft glow of the hearth lit up the windows, and he knew Luthien, no matter how worn and tired she was, would be waiting for him in the chair by the fire, her mending laid across her lap. He didn’t want to keep her, but he knew if he didn’t follow Vilkas, he would never let it go.
“Fine, show me.”
Vilkas led him up the street, through the Merchant Circle and into the Wind District. Instead of turning right and heading toward Jorrvaskr, they went straight, up the long, winding stairs toward Dragonsreach. The guards on duty only nodded and quietly greeted, “Hail, Companions,” as they walked by, cutting left across the bridge and working their way back behind the palace. He grabbed a torch from one of the wall sconces near and carried it into the dark alcove as he ducked down, Farkas following in silence into the drainage system that ran under the city.
They didn’t have to go far before they came upon two wooden crates, one stacked upside down on top of the other. The wet splash of their footsteps stirred whatever was in those crates, and for a moment, Vilkas turned to hand the torch back for his brother to hold.
“He doesn’t know I saw him, or that I even know this is here, but I watched him do it.” Hunching down, he lifted the top crate away, and Farkas leaned in to look over his shoulder.
He hadn’t realized until that moment how tight his gut was, clenched like a fist inside him, and when he saw the bird nestled into the corner of the crate that fist felt like it grabbed hold of everything inside him and twisted. The hawk tilted its head unnaturally toward the light, white eyes unblinking, the gaping wound across its breast black with dried blood and its body glowing with an unnatural blue hue.
“It was dead when he brought it to this place. And now it lives again.”
“Maybe it wasn’t dead, only wounded,” but even Farkas, who wasn’t exactly the smartest man, knew better.
“Trust me, brother, it was dead.”
Swallowing hard against the rising bile in the back of his throat, he shook his head and started to turn away. “I’ve seen enough.”
“Something has to do be done, Farkas.”
“I’ll take care of it.”
“Tanning his hide isn’t the answer…”
“I said I will take care of it,” he clenched his teeth tight and started walking out of the tunnel.
“Do you want me to get rid of… this?”
“Leave it,” he didn’t look back. “I’ll take care of that too.”
At his back, he heard Vilkas returning the top crate to its place, the unnatural thing inside that makeshift cage letting out an eerie croak that turned his blood cold. Even seeing it, he didn’t want to believe it. He walked home, and Vilkas didn’t follow, which surprised him. He was sure his brother expected him to storm into the house and yank his six-year-old out of bed to answer for his crimes, but that wasn’t Farkas’s way.
Instead, he walked through the front door and found his tired wife’s smile as she lifted herself from the chair to greet him with a kiss before she took his bow and quiver. “It’s good to see you, dear, but you didn’t have to wait up.”
“I always wait up,” she said, walking the bow to the weapon rack to hang it up. “How was your trip? Everything taken care of?”
“Those bears won’t be a problem anymore,” he said, dropping into the chair near the heart to take off his heavy boots. “Children give you any trouble?”
“Freya seems to be under the impression that if she can’t take the trials to become a Companion on her next birthday, she’ll never amount to anything in her life. She had quite a fit before bed, insisting Uncle Vilkas was the only one in the world who understands how important it is to her, and then she said we were horrible parents who wanted her to fail.”
“She’s eleven,” he sighed, sinking back into the chair and stretching his legs, hand lifting to massage the tension pulsing in his head.
And didn’t it always figure it was Uncle Vilkas who somehow managed to create the tension in their household. He’d spoiled Freya rotten from the moment she was born, filling her head with stories and promises to show her the many wonders of the world. He’d taken her with him to Hammerfell when she was barely five years old to give Luthien time to recover from having Bran, starting a seemingly lifelong trend of longing for constant adventure. She’d returned with a curved wooden sword and swore she was going to marry a Redguard warrior when she grew up. It was all she’d talked about for months.
“Wasn’t it last month she thought she would absolutely die if we didn’t let her go to Winterhold so she could study to be a healer?”
“And the month before that, it was High Hrothgar to study with the Greybeards again.”
“Remember when she wanted to go to Riften to see the Face Changer so she could become a Khajiit?”
“She’s always been dramatic,” Luthien said thoughtfully.
“She must get that from Vilkas,” he mused.
“She’s a restless spirit, and I don’t think she’ll be happy until we cut her loose and let her roam, or until she discovers boys and realizes she can’t live without those either.”
“I don’t think I’ll ever be ready for that,” he groaned. “Let’s build a tower on top of the house and lock her in it.”
She laughed softly and brought him a mug of mead. “How is Vilkas?”
“Oh, you know, he’s Vilkas.” He took a long drink, hoping it hit hard enough to relax the tension he couldn’t shake off. It was going to be impossible to sleep. “Was Bran all right today?”
“He was fine,” she shrugged. “Spent most of his day outside playing. He missed you, though. Said when I was tucking him he likes it better when you put him to bed. You tell better stories. He asked me to have you look in on him when you came home. ”
“I’ll do that before I go to bed,” he said. “I’m going to take him out tomorrow morning, spend some father son time with him.”
“He’ll like that.”
Farkas wasn’t so sure that would be the case, but Vilkas was right. Something had to be done. He just didn’t know what. “You should go to bed, love,” he glanced over at her. The dark circles under her eyes spoke of a weariness that never abated, and yet no matter how late he came home, she always waited for him. “I’ll be up as soon as I finish my mead.”
She knelt to kiss him goodnight, then quietly made her way up the stairs. He sat for a long time in front of the hearth, drinking slowly, trying to sort out the tangle of his own thoughts, until finally the cup was empty. He made his way beyond the dining area, into the small rooms they’d added onto the house when Luthien had been carrying Brandr. He stopped first to check on Freya, sprawled across the bed as if it weren’t big enough for her little body. Drawing the blankets up around her, he knelt to kiss her forehead and then backed out of the room to check on her brother.
Bran was curled up on his side, the blankets tucked around him, one arm dangling slack over the edge of the bed. Farkas hunkered down beside the bed and tilted his head to study his son. His large hand lowered to brush the dark auburn wisps of hair from his face, and for a moment he thought he’d woken the boy. Bran shifted and moaned softly, murmuring something unintelligible before curling his legs closer to his body.
He looked so small, so helpless.
He’d always been small, born too early, the Priestess said, and they were incredibly lucky that both mother and child had survived the difficult labor. It was so hard for him to believe the innocent little boy in front of him capable of the dark acts Vilkas accused him of. Even seeing the evidence with his own two eyes wasn’t enough to convince him. He didn’t know how he was going to broach the subject come morning, but he didn’t have a choice. If he was really bringing animals back from the dead…
He didn’t want to think about it anymore, not until he had to, so he bent to kiss his son goodnight and then walked the stairs to bed. He lay for hours tossing and turning beneath the quilt, more restless than he’d ever been in all the years he’d been more wolf than man and several times Luthien rolled into him to try and comfort whatever anxiety plagued him, but not even the gentleness of her arms was enough to push the dark thoughts from his troubled mind.