He dug his boots into the stone and pushed his weight over the rocky crest. He could see Whiterun in the distance, the torch fire at the gates no more than small orange specks that promised to welcome him home if he took just a few steps closer. His gaze lifted past the massive height of Dragonsreach to the mountain pass that cradled the heavily swollen body of Masser within its trees.
Thick red light spilled across the landscape like blood on a battlefield, the only thing missing were the bodies. It was beautiful; the restless beast inside agreed. The beast lived for blood and he had denied it for so long that even the faux portrayal of it sparked agitation in his soul.
Hunt, the beast urged, run under the moons and feel their light upon our face.
Yes, and the cold wind in his fur, the overwhelming barrage of smells gripping him as he raced across the ground in a furious frenzy. To run… to hunt… Yes! Let’s hunt.
But Vilkas did not answer the beast, not even when its silent denial railed furiously against his resolve. He hadn’t answered its pleas for so long he could feel its desperation swelling inside him like a dam about to break against the melting snow and rain of spring.
It needed to be free.
Just a little blood… a rabbit, an elk maybe.
It was as though he could feel it rushing against the confines of his bodily control like some mad monster, threatening to push him over the edge without his consent. He controlled the beast now, not the other way around.
Vilkas had hoped that over time his control would strengthen the hold he had over his wolf spirit, that the beast would shy away inside him to suffer in whispering silence and hide, but denial only seemed to strengthen its determination. It terrified him that sooner or later it would overpower and run him rampant through some innocent town by moonlight, a trail of mangled bodies in his wake as the beast sated the hunger and longing for blood he refused it.
The wind shifted, signaling another reaction in his blood that bordered intrigue and rage the moment he smelled them. Wolves… not just ordinary wolves, but other weres like him. The beast perked up again at the prospect of play, and then he breathed again.
Their familiarity became instantly known to him and deep sorrow replaced his longing for the hunt and playful curiosity.
Farkas and Luthien hunted together in the desolate plains beyond the Battle-Born Farm just east of Whiterun, or rather they were mating. The blood of the hunt was still in the air, mingled with the musk of pheromones and desire and for a moment Vilkas felt a whole new set of urges from the beast inside him.
The privilege of mating and bonding with her—their alpha female—should have been his. He dominated their pack now that Skjor was dead, but she had chosen his brother as her mate, elevating Farkas’s status in the Inner-Circle in ways neither of the lovers understood. Had Skjor lived and tried to claim her, it would have been up to one of the twins to challenge him for the right to her, but Skjor’s death had sent their entire pecking order into a chaotic spiral.
His brother had always been flippant about the rules, choosing to follow his own path more often than falling in line with what was best for the rest of the pack. It had fallen to Vilkas in the past to keep him in line, but now Luthien and Farkas were their own pack, just the two of them. They had drawn a very distinct line between themselves and the Inner-Circle that redefined the very hierarchy the Companions had adhered to since the beginning of time.
Luthien had changed everything, and while he liked to think she had no idea just how much power she held in the palm of her hand, sometimes Vilkas feared she knew exactly how much sway she held over the order of things. Even Kodlak seemed transfixed by her, often muttering that when the time was right she would show them the way to salvation.
Whatever path the Harbinger saw for her was unclear to everyone but Kodlak, and at times Vilkas worried the road she’d lead them down would only bring them all sorrow.
“Sorrow is the road to change, Vilkas,” Kodlak told him when he expressed his concerns.
“But they are hunting, Harbinger. Going against the very path we need to take if we ever wish to find a cure for this curse.”
“Denying what lives inside us is not easy for everyone. Luthien is different. The beast battles the dragon inside and struggles with this curse even more than you or I. If your brother’s urgings for her to give into her beast helps to keep her on an even keel, then so be it. It may very well be the best thing for everyone.”
What he should have said there was anyone. It wasn’t easy for anyone, but Vilkas had held fast to his promise to avoid transformation. He hadn’t given into his beast in over a year, no matter how it fought him to take control. The dragon inside her should have swallowed the wolf whole, making it easy for her to resist.
“They are weak,” he spat.
“They are what they are, my boy.” Kodlak tried to comfort him, but he knew. He was the only one other than Ria who understood what he was going through. The Harbinger recognized the bitter pill of jealousy Vilkas had to swallow every time his brother’s wife was in Jorrvaskr, and he warned him daily against acting on that jealousy for the good of the Circle. “And neither you, nor I can change that. All we can do is hold onto hope that when the time comes Farkas and Luthien do what’s right, what’s best for the Companions.”
A chilling howl sang to the moon, a second joining until their dual chorus tugged at the animal inside him. It snarled and raged against his resolve, threatened to devour his very soul if he didn’t give in and run to join them, but Vilkas let the anger fuel him on the final mile home. His rage became sorrow once again, and kicking at the stones beneath his feet he lowered his head and made for Whiterun.
“Full moon tonight, Companion,” Toki noted as he arrived at the gates leading into the city. “The wolves are out in droves. I’ve heard their howling on the wind.”
Vilkas said nothing, but shrugged his shield up higher on his shoulder and stalked the incline into the quiet Plains District and headed straight up the stairs toward Jorrvaskr. The mead hall was silent, empty save for Njada Stone-Arm finishing a plate of seared slaughterfish. She barely looked up at him when he entered, and for that he was glad. Her bad attitude rubbed him raw at times, and he was already in a foul mood. One snarky quip from her and he was like to tear her throat out and leave her bleeding on the floor.
He passed Tilma on the stairs and she greeted him with a familiar affectionate smile before patting his shoulder and saying, “Welcome home, dear. I woke up this morning and I just knew you’d return today so I changed your bedding. Fresh hay and linens just for you.” She pinched his cheek with adoration.
“Ah, you’re a gods-send, sweet Tilma.” He couldn’t stop the warmth inside him even if he wanted to. She was the closest thing he’d ever had to a mother, and the loving way she tended to them all never failed to make him feel whole even on his most trying and scattered days. Bending slightly, he kissed her cheek and said, “Thank you.”
She touched his face with adoration and said, “You’re welcome.”
As she started up the stairs he pushed through the doors and scanned the hallway. He saw Torvar’s booted feet in one of the beds in the bunkhouse, Ria’s arm dangling over the edge of another. Turning right, he made his way toward his private bedroom and pushed the door open. The sweet smell of fresh hay greeted him, and though he was relatively sure he’d left his room in a state of disarray Tilma had put it all back in perfect order for him while he was gone. Everything in its place, just as it should be.
Unslinging his shield and pack, he lowered them both onto the table in the corner of the room and lifted a tired hand through the loose tendrils of his dark hair. There was a thick satchel of letters from the Courier, jobs for the Companions he would need to dole out come morning, but for the moment he just wanted to let it all go. His responsibilities, his struggles, his bleeding heart.
A sigh escaped him, puffing out and deflating his cheeks as he scanned the room and then dropped onto the edge of the bed to unlace his boots. He tugged them off with a groan and lined them up neatly near the bedside table, and then worked through the leather straps and buckles of his armor. Releasing the heavy weight should have made him feel lighter, but his Skyforge steel wolf armor was like a second skin and without it he felt vulnerable even in his bed. As if some part of him believed its bulk helped him hold the beast within at bay.
Kicking his legs off the floor, he lifted them onto the mattress and laid his head back on the pillow. Rolling onto his side, he blew out the oil lamp on the table and then nestled into his bed to try and find respite from his own mind even though he knew there was none.
Just one night of restful sleep was all he asked, a part of him truly believing that small luxury would refresh him and strengthen his hold over the beast.
But there was no rest for the wicked.
Over the last year and a half he’d come to accept that, though it did little to comfort him. He tossed and turned until the hay nestled against his form, dipping beneath his body until he could feel the wooden frame of the bed pressing into his aching hip and shoulder. He flopped onto his back and stared into the darkness, listened to the wind whispering through the eaves, the low distant howl of two wolves in the night.
Their conjoined chorus spoke of many things: praise and honor for the Lunar Lorkhan, the salvation of a successful hunt, the savage, yet affectionate joining of body and soul as they mated, the eternal unity of a bond that could not even be broken by death.
Flipping onto his other side facing the wall, Vilkas curved the pillow around his head to block out the sound, but his own wolf spirit could still hear them. It yearned inside him for the hunt, for a mate to bond with beneath the moons, but such things were not his for the taking and they never would be. His beast would stay locked up within the cage of his body until he took his last breath.