Finally rising from bed just as the sun was clawing at the horizon, Farkas glanced down at Luthien sleeping peacefully in the bed behind him. Despite his heavy mind, he couldn’t help the small tugging of a smile at both corners of his mouth. Even after so many years together just looking at her stoked a fire inside him only she could quench. He didn’t know how he’d gotten so lucky, but Mara had definitely blessed him, giving them a longer life together than either of them ever expected.
Withdrawing his hand before the temptation to touch her overpowered him, he rose from the bed and pulled into his breeches and boots. He threw his shirt over his shoulder as he quietly crept out of the bedroom to leave his wife to sleep. He took the stairs as silently as his large body would allow, and then he drew the shirt over his chest before he reached the bottom. He stoked the fire, adding logs to take the chilly edge off the air before anyone else got out of bed, and then he started pot of porridge before making his way to the children’s bedrooms.
Leaning over the edge of Brandr’s bed, he looked as peaceful as his mother and once again he had a hard time believing his son was capable of the crimes Vilkas convicted him of. There had to be some kind of mistake, but there was only one way to find out.
He shook the boy gently and said, “Bran, wake up.”
He watched him stretch and groan a little, tired eyes squinting and blinking as he rolled his head along the pillow beneath it to look up at his father. “What time is it, Da?”
“Very early. Come on, we’re going hunting.”
“Hunting?” he gasped a disbelieving tone. “I don’t like to go hunting.”
“Well, we’re going anyway,” he informed him. “Get dressed and come break your fast.”
He whined a little as he threw the blankets off his tiny body, pouting up at his father as he backed out of the room to stir the porridge in the kettle. By the time he emerged from the bedroom and sat down at the table, Farkas was just laying two bowls of steaming oats with honey and milk on the table.
“Why do we have to go hunting, Da?”
“I want to spend time together, just you and me,” he explained, reaching over to tousle the child’s hair. “We never do that.”
Disappointment mingled with excitement in his large eyes. He had his mother’s eyes, bright as molten amber with soft flecks of brown and gold that made it hard to ever say no to him, to even look at him and see what Vilkas so obviously saw—darkness. He was just complicated, something Farkas understood far more than anyone else would ever know. Everyone he’d ever loved had been far more complicated than he was.
“Can’t we do something else? Like maybe we could hike the mountain and gather alchemy reagents. Mama said she was going to show me how to make a health regenerating potion…”
“Not this time, Bran,” he shook his head. “There’s something very important we need to take care of together this morning. Go on, eat your porridge.”
He pouted while he ate, Farkas watching him with wary, curious eyes, trying to understand not so much how he’d done what Vilkas said, but why. There were so many other schools of magic he could have shown interest in. Why not Restoration? Voids, he would have gladly encouraged the boy to study Destruction Magic if he thought it would make Bran happy, but Necromancy?
Where had the urge come from? Where had they gone wrong with him? He stifled that thought before it went to far. There was nothing wrong with his son; he didn’t care what anyone said.
After breakfast, Farkas grabbed his hunting bow from the weapons rack inside the door and slung it over his back with a quiver full of arrows. They were only simple iron arrows, but he hoped they were strong enough to get the job done.
They set out, Bran immediately heading left until his father steered him right, up the path and through the silent Merchant Circle, toward the Wind District and Jorrvaskr. Only the guards were up at that hour, two of them patrolling the empty streets in their Stormcloak armor, nodding respectfully as Farkas passed. The cold light of dawn made Whiterun look so peaceful, the remnants of a Stormcloak battle still present in a few buildings that had been destroyed and never rebuilt when Ulfric’s men seized the city and planted Vignar Gray-Mane on the throne in Dragonsreach more than seven years earlier.
“I thought we were going hunting, Da.” Bran’s quiet voice sounded so loud in the silent streets, and when he looked up at his father, confusion narrowed his dark eyes.
Farkas didn’t say anything. He didn’t know what to say, so he just squeezed the boy’s shoulder gently and led him up the stairs toward Dragonsreach. He could feel the child’s muscles tensing underneath his hand, as if he knew exactly where they were going and he wanted to run away before he was forced to face what he’d done.
“Hail Companion,” the guard posted at the top of the stairs nodded toward them, barely even watching as they ducked left and headed around the side of the palace toward the drainage system.
Farkas never let go of his shoulder, even when he noticed how fiercely Bran trembled under his gentle guidance. He never took his wide eyes from the looming tunnel drawing closer with every step, his feet faltering more than once as he realized his secret had been discovered.
When they arrived near the edge of the tunnel, he looked down at him with gentle eyes and said, “You know why we’re here, Bran.”
“Da, I can explain…”
Shaking his head, Farkas withdrew the bow from his back and handed it to the boy. Freya and Brandr had been taught to handle a bow almost before they could walk, and while he wasn’t near as inclined as his sister with weapons, he could handle the task.
“I don’t want you to explain, son,” he said. “Not yet. Right now, I want you to do what needs to be done.”
“Brandr.” The stern edge in his tone caught his son off guard. Luthien and Farkas had always been gentle with both of their children, nurturing and understanding, encouraging of their hopes and dreams, no matter how outlandish or strange. Children need to forge their own path in the world. “You made this mess, and it’s up to you to clean it up. If your mother knew you’d done this, it would kill her.”
He shrank back guiltily, lips trembling as Farkas nudged the bow toward him again. “I don’t want to.”
“You have to.”
“Do you know who found this?” he asked, gesturing toward the crate. The ruffling of feathers inside seemed so loud as the dead bird squawked. “Your Uncle Vilkas saw you do this, and he came to me and told me but I didn’t want to believe that you would ever do anything like this.”
“I had to do it.” There were tears in his eyes when he looked up at his father. When he blinked they spilled down his gaunt cheeks and dripped quickly off his chin. “I had to make it right.”
The blubbering story that followed was difficult to understand, but by the time Bran dropped to his knees and hugged his father’s legs sobbing, he got the gist of it.
He’d found the bird shortly after it hatched, its nest abandoned atop Dragonsreach. Completely alone in the world, it wouldn’t have survived if he hadn’t come upon it. He’d nursed it back to health, feeding it, trying to teach it to fly and he’d almost succeeded too, until Borri War-Bear found him playing with his secret pet one afternoon behind Breezehome. Borri was a bully in the worst kind of way, which made no sense whatsoever because his parents were good people. Just two years older than Bran, he was always causing the boy trouble.
“He stepped on him, Da,” Brandr cried. “On purpose. Right in front of me… after everything…”
Farkas lowered the bow to the ground and knelt to hold his son.
“Oh, Bran… I’m so sorry.” For a long time he just cradled the small boy against his body, soothing him and trying to find a way to tell him it was going to be okay. But it wouldn’t be okay. The world was a cold, cruel place, even for children, but what he’d done was not the answer. “I know this must have hurt you and made you very sad, but you can’t do things like… like this…” He gestured toward the crate. “That thing in there is not the bird you cared for. It’s a horror, and if it ever got out it could really hurt someone.”
“He would never hurt anyone,” he insisted. “He’s gentle… I swear it.”
“Maybe he was once but that bird is gone, my boy. I’m going to have to put him down, put him out of his misery.”
“No, Da, please. I’ll take care of him… Feed him…”
“Bran, he’s dead.” Releasing him, he held him out at arm’s length to look him in the eye. “I’m sorry, but I have to do this.”
“I want to go home.”
Closing his eyes for a moment, Farkas could almost hear his brother’s voice in his head telling him to make the boy watch, to show him what happened when one tinkered with the forces of life and death, but he couldn’t do it. Not now, not knowing why he’d done it.
“Go home, son. I’ll take care of this.”
He didn’t need to be told twice. Farkas watched as the boy raced up the small hill and jetted around the corner like hounds were chasing him. The worst part was he could hear him sobbing as he ran, his sorrow diminishing as he disappeared. Reaching down for his bow, he just stood for a moment staring at the crates and feeling his heart thump inside his chest.
There was an overpowering sense of goodness to the deed Bran had performed, as if he’d simply wanted to make a horrible wrong right again. On the other hand, the immeasurable power it had taken to perform such magic was terrifying. Not even Luthien possessed that kind of magical energy and as a Nord, Farkas’s natural inclination to distrust the arcane arts made him uncomfortable when he realized what his son must be capable of.
That power needed to be honed, guided in the right direction before, as Vilkas so haughtily pointed out, he went too far and someone really got hurt. If Vilkas had any say in it, that power should be quashed and beaten out of the boy, but the Gods had gifted him for a reason. He would have to talk to Luthien, tell her the full story and they would decide together without his brother’s input.
Lifting his bow, he slipped the groove of an arrow onto the string and leveled it at the crates. It stared at him from between the wide slats, undead eyes so curious it terrified him. Drawing back, he actually closed his eyes when he let it fly, wincing a little at the sound of its tip sinking into the bird’s rotten flesh before it sizzled and disintegrated into a pile of smoldering ash.