Farkas parted ways with Luthien at the front door of Breezehome and headed back up through the Merchant’s Circle toward the Wind District. He spied Freya and her friends playing stones on the slate walkway in front of Arcadia’s Cauldron and felt a moment’s relief that they were no longer playing the kissing game. Ulrich Battle-Born was nowhere to be seen, though his father was leaning casually against the pole in front of Belethor’s General Goods. He’d talk to him later, he scowled. Tell him to keep his son away from Freya, or else.
Glancing over at her, the bright auburn waves of her braided hair shone with brilliant strands of gold as the sunlight hit her and for a moment she looked so much like her mother it wrenched his heart inside him. She was growing too fast. Soon there would be nothing they could say to hold her with them, nothing he could do to keep her close. Gods, it felt like just yesterday that she would climb into bed between him and Lu in the middle of the night and ask him to sing her back to sleep.
She’d been so little then, his baby girl…
Lifting her attention from the game they played, she caught him staring at her and smiled for him.
Thoughts of building that tower above the house and locking her away until she was a woman grown flashed through his mind again, only to be followed by a twinge of guilt. Was it such a bad thing as a father to want to hang onto every shred of his children’s innocence he could grasp? He would move heaven and Nirn to keep them all just the way they were forever.
Which reminded him of the task he was on and sent him marching up the stairs to Jorrvaskr.
Vilkas was probably out back training, not that he felt much like talking to his brother while the man had a blade in his hand. He went around the mead hall first, but the practice yard was empty, so he ducked in through the backdoors and found everyone but Vilkas sitting around the table breaking bread.
“Hey Farkas,” Ria smiled up at him from the corner of the table. “I killed a saber cat today. Did you kill anything?”
“Nah, just a bird,” he said, scanning the hall. “Have you seen Vilkas?”
“He went out hunting before sunup this morning,” Aela replied. “Said he probably wouldn’t be back until sundown.”
Of course he did.
“He go by himself?”
“He always goes by himself,” the Huntress reminded him. “He says it’s the only way he can think clearly.”
“Right,” Farkas nodded. “Well, if you see him before I do, tell him I’m looking for him.”
“Will do,” she agreed.
He knew exactly where his brother was, the woods just northwest of Dragonsreach. Finding him wouldn’t be easy if he didn’t want to be found, but Farkas had once hunted with the best of them. If anyone could find Vilkas it was him.
Once more he passed through the gates of Whiterun and headed north away from the city, up the craggy slope into the woods. Stone crumbled beneath his stiff leather boots, trickling down the mountainside as he hiked, alerting every animal in the woods to his presence. Hunting was Vilkas’s private time, his escape from the mundane responsibilities that came with being the Harbinger’s right hand.
He almost smiled to himself when he realized how mad it was going to make his brother if his coming disrupted his hunt. Everything made Vilkas mad. He had serious anger issues.
It took more than an hour for him to reach the outcropping, and when he scanned the frigid, rocky landscape he caught sight of his brother walking toward him at a swagger, slinging his bow over his shoulder in a deft maneuver.
“Ho there, brother,” he called out. “What are you doing all the way up here?”
“I need to talk to you.”
“If I wanted to talk, I would sit around Jorrvaskr all day with the rest of the complainers. Can’t a man find any peace?”
“I don’t think you’ll ever find peace,” Farkas said, a cold edge to his tone that surprised even him. “It’s why you spend so much of your time making the rest of us miserable.”
Vilkas approached, his mouth half-open in sneering disbelief, his eyes as cold as a Sun’s Dawn morning in The Pale. “That’s an awfully deep thought for you, Farkas. Surely someone else put it into your head.”
“No one puts anything into my head.”
“That’s always been evident,” he snorted sarcastic laughter and crossed his arms over his armored chest. “What do you want with me?”
“I need a favor.”
“A favor?” Vilkas nodded, pursing his lips together. “A favor that couldn’t wait until I came home in a few hours. This must have something to do with your son.”
“Lu and I are sending word to the Archmage at the College of Winterhold. If we can convince her to come and meet with Bran, I want you to take Freya away for a few days.”
“So that’s Luthien’s answer.” Again, he shook his head, disappointment evident in his facial expression. “Send the boy to live with a bunch of crackpot mages so they can teach him how to reanimate more than just dead birds? Clearly she’s thinking with your brain.”
“Do you ever stop and listen to yourself before you say words, Vilkas?” He knew his brother was going to be angry. He’d braced himself for it all the way from Whiterun. “You weren’t always this mean. What the Void happened that made you so cruel?”
“Me? Cruel?” He threw up his arms in a wide gesture that Farkas thought bordered the edge of confrontational madness and he was laughing again. “Even if I could tell you why I am so cruel, as you call me, you would never understand, brother. It goes well beyond you.”
“I am not stupid, Vilkas!”
“No?” he tilted his head with amusement. “I’ve spent the last fifteen years of my life using your inability to think beyond your next mug of mead as an excuse not to strangle you every time we’re in the same room. Believing in your stupidity is the only thing that keeps me from killing you, Farkas, so now is not the time to posture your brilliance in front of me.”
“Y—you want to kill me?” Farkas took a step back from his brother, his mind spinning with the words he’d just spoken. “What did I ever do to you?”
“Where do I begin?” There was a certain madness in his eyes that cut right through Farkas. “All our lives it was all about you. Isn’t Farkas such a sweet little boy? Isn’t Farkas so handsome and strong? Farkas gets all the girls…Everyone loves Farkas.”
“What are you even talking about?”
Ignoring his simple question, Vilkas was on a roll and he wasn’t about to stop now. “And then she came to Jorrvaskr. The most beautiful girl I’d ever seen and I swear I loved her from the moment I saw her, but she terrified me. So much grace, so much power… I couldn’t even be in the same room with her for fear of saying something stupid, but you… You say nothing but stupid things and she falls all over you just like the rest of them. And worst of all, I tried to protect her from the curse. I did everything in my power to keep her from it, and you throw it around in front of her like it’s no big deal, then run off to rescue her when it all falls apart so she has no choice but to throw herself into your arms and call you her hero.”
It was like a heavy blow to the gut, almost as hard to stomach as the things he’d said to him about his son the night before, and Farkas took a staggering step back, shaking his head as he moved. “You never told me…”
“You never gave me a chance, Farkas.”
He felt like his head was spinning, that if he took even the tiniest step forward or back he’d crash to the ground and shatter into a million pieces. Maybe he wasn’t the smartest man in the world, but it all suddenly made sense in ways it never had before.
His bitterness and cruelty had always been focused on Luthien. It was his arguments with her that often sent him away from Whiterun. He’d lovingly taken to Freya from the moment she was born and had suffered almost as much as Farkas the night Brandr came screaming into the world, nearly taking his mother out of it.
All that time he’d been living the life his brother so desperately craved with the woman he would have died for the chance to live it all out with. He felt like he’d betrayed him. Like some part of him should have known. He loved Luthien, loved her in a way he could never quite find the words to explain and he couldn’t imagine a life without her. Even if his brother had told him, he could never have walked away from her. She was his, her soul just as much a part of him as his own twin.
“I loved her, Farkas.” There was stiffness in his voice, cruelty and resentment and pain that ran so deep not even a dagger to the heart could cut it out. “I loved her so much it broke me and just like the rest of them she loved you.”
He didn’t know what to say.
“I should go,” Vilkas said almost softly. “Away from this place for a while.”
“So what? You just lay all that on me and run away like some kind of coward?”
“Maybe I am a coward,” his brother sighed. “Only half a man. Clearly it was you who got our heart the day that we were born, and I can’t live with all the emptiness inside me anymore.”
Vilkas walked away from him without looking back, disappearing down the mountainside until Farkas was left standing on top of the world with his guilt. He’d never known, and for a brief, jealous moment he wondered if Luthien had. If there’d ever been anything between them that might have encouraged his brother, led him to believe that if given the chance to do it all again she might have chosen differently.
The mere thought was enough to destroy him, and torn between the two people he loved most in the world, Farkas sat down and let his emotions overrun him.