“This man is dangerous,” Vilkas said, leveling a very stern gaze across the table at Torvar.
He was definitely a man who could hold his own in a fight, and he brought honor to the Companions more often than not, but without Athis working beside him to keep him on task Torvar’s attention span was scattered at best. Unfortunately, Athis still hadn’t returned from the animal extermination job Aela sent him off to take care of two days earlier, which meant Torvar was on his own and Vilkas was stuck rescuing some poor girl who’d been kidnapped by bandits.
“At this point, the authorities don’t care what happens to him, and neither do I, but take caution. If you get yourself killed I’m going to be very put out. I’ve got a heavy workload here, and finding ourselves short one Companion because he couldn’t keep his head out of the mead barrel long enough to do his job won’t make that workload any lighter.”
“Gee, thanks, buddy.” Torvar’s bloodshot blue eyes circled toward the rafters before he snatched the details from Vilkas’s grasp and took a step back from the table. “It’s good to know you think of my wellbeing from time to time.”
The front doors to the mead hall opened slowly, and she stepped onto the landing above the stairs, surveying the table until she found him. Reaching up to tuck the loose red locks of her hair behind her ear, Luthien took the stairs until she arrived at the edge of the table beside Torvar.
“My favorite drinkin’ buddy!” The man brightened when he saw her, all traces of hangover and laziness disappearing as he lowered his arm over her shoulders and tugged her affectionately close. “Might head down to the meadery later to see what they’re brewing up. Wanna tag along?”
Vilkas cleared his throat and pinned Torvar with a sharp stare that did less than he hoped to dampen the man’s spirits.
“All right, all right. I’m on it, boss. I’m totally focused. Watch out, dangerous criminal, here I come.”
“If you’re not back by nightfall, I’m not coming to look for you, Torvar,” Vilkas warned.
“Oh, I’ll be back by nightfall. Don’t you worry about me.” He shuffled almost lazily out the back doors, leaving the two of them uncomfortably alone.
They hadn’t spoken much since the three of them returned from rescuing Thorald Gray-Mane from Northwatch Keep. She and Farkas had made the trip to High Hrothgar to meet with the Greybeards alone. He wanted to come with them, but the dry spell that left the Companions out of work was gone when they returned and someone had to hold the fort down. Not to mention he’d been relatively harsh with her on the road when she’d tried to offer him comfort, to remind him that he was more than just a mere man. He was afraid being so close to her again would only serve to push him over the edge.
“Good morning,” she said softly, lifting her arms to cross them over her chest. “Is Kodlak awake yet?”
“Tilma just took his breakfast downstairs.”
“He sent word last night that he wanted to talk to me first thing this morning.” Tilting her head, the dark auburn locks of her long hair slid down her shoulder to rest against her arm. Such beautiful hair; it always looked so soft and clean and he often found himself transfixed by the way the light played against the golden highlights. He wanted to touch it, to feel it rolling through his fingertips as he buried his face in its softness and breathed her in. “Any idea what he might want?”
“If I were the Harbinger, I might have called you here to scold you and that oaf you call your husband for hunting in the hills above the city last night.”
Her amber eyes widened first with embarrassment and then narrowed in scorn. Head shaking as she took a step back, she swallowed hard before she spoke. “And that is probably why you’ll never be the Harbinger. No one rules anyone else in the Companions. It was one of the first things Skjor said to me the night I came to Jorrvaskr, and Kodlak confirmed it when I met with him.”
“That must have been the only thing you heard that night,” he muttered bitterly. “All talk of honor and duty was lost on you, I assume. Have the two of you no shame? No restraint or willpower?”
“Not everyone can be as vigilant as you,” she said, and then rather stiffly added, “brother.”
He cleared his throat of phlegm and stared down at the task list on the table in front of him. He was sure she didn’t mean to remind him that was all he would ever be to her, a brother, but for a fleeting moment that dig felt vindictive and cruel. Before he could lash out defensively the doors swung wide and his brother swaggered through them like some mammoth beast with no awareness of his own size and strength.
“Hey! I thought you were gonna wait for me,” Farkas scolded her, marching down the stairs and grabbing for her hand to spin her around to not just face him, but nestle her lanky body against his. He drew a blue mountain flower from behind his back and touched it to the tip of her nose in a painfully romantic gesture that made her giggle. “I picked this for you from beside Heimskr’s house. Don’t tell anyone.”
They were disgustingly in love. That had become painfully obvious over the last few months, which made it even harder for him to be angry with his brother. Farkas’s affections with girls had always been fleeting in the past, a quick dance to satisfy his carnal male urgings, but Luthien had obviously tamed some part of his wandering heart.
He supposed he should be happy for them, but no matter how he tried he found no joy in their bliss. Only resentment.
“I was just about to ask your brother if he had any work for us.” She pecked his cheek and withdrew from his arms. “Maybe you could take care of that while I head down to talk with Kodlak?”
“Okay,” he grinned. “But hurry back. I’ll miss you.”
Hurry back… I’ll miss you? Were they trying to make him vomit?
The twins watched her walk across the mead hall and disappear down the stairs, but Farkas didn’t rejoin him in the waking world until he heard the doors close behind her. He grabbed the chair at the corner of the table and tugged it out, flopping into it so hard Vilkas was surprised it didn’t crumble under his heavy weight.
“You heard the lady,” he turned that sappy grin toward Vilkas. “Give us some work, brother.”
“There’s a muscle job in need of doing over in Dragonbridge. Why don’t you two handle that?”
“Sounds good,” he nodded.
“And I know I’ve said this before, but I’m starting to think neither of you can hear me. Your biggest job should be exercising self-control. The two of you really need to lay off the hunting, Farkas. If someone were to catch you…”
“No one’s going to catch us,” he waved him off. “We’re always really careful, and besides it helps her. Keeps her calm and lets her rest a little easier.”
Vilkas hadn’t enjoyed a restful sleep in years; a part of him felt like no one else with their unique condition should rest easy either. “Mating like two beasts in the wilds is hardly what I would call careful.”
“True,” he shrugged. “Most of the time I can barely even think outside the moment when we’re mating, but…”
“No buts, Farkas. You promised the Harbinger that you would control your urges…”
“That was then,” he pointed out. “This is now. And besides, I never promised anything. I said I would try, but things have changed, Vilkas. Being with her… I don’t know what it is, but every part of me aches for her. Man, wolf… As soon as the sun starts to set and the moons begin to rise all I can think of is running with her. Hunting with her.”
Mating with her…
Vilkas wanted that too. Gods curse him for even thinking it while sitting in the same space as the man who had her, but the part of him inside that wanted her was stronger than he was. Pushing it away, the beast within pushed back, snarling defensive warning and raking its claws through his soul.
“Is this really what you want, Farkas?” He steered the subject away from their mating rituals, though the thought still lingered spitefully in the back of his mind. “To spend the rest of your days more beast than man? To find yourself in Hircine’s realm for all eternity when you die, confined to the Hunt and nothing more? You’re a strong, noble warrior, brother. Doesn’t Sovngarde call to you even just a little?”
Once again, Farkas shrugged. “Sometimes, I guess. But I don’t want to be anywhere she’s not. Even when I’m dead.”
Vilkas was grateful when Tilma came up the stairs and began to dote on Farkas like a mother hen. She filled a mug of mead for him and brought him breakfast even though he said he already ate. And while he polished off second breakfast, Vilkas left him to pack his things and head out on the rescue job that needed done. Talking sense into his brother was useless. Farkas had been born senseless, and Vilkas had spent his whole life trying to make up for his brother’s inability to make the right decisions.
The doors to Kodlak’s study were open just enough that he could see her when he approached the hallway leading into his room. He could hear their quiet conversation, but couldn’t make out what they were saying. He stood with his arms crossed just watching, trying to attune his excellent hearing, but it was no use.
He didn’t realize how long he’d been standing there until he heard Luthien say, “You have my word. It shall be done, Harbinger.”
She pushed her chair away from the table and Kodlak rose as well. He lowered a heavy hand upon her shoulder and for a moment the man just stared at her with great sadness and unfailing pride. “The spirit of Ysgramor goes with you to restore honor to his legacy.”
He slipped quietly down the hallway as she came through the doors and disappeared into his room before she could see him. The greatest part of him wanted to know what task the Harbinger had set her to, but even if he asked Kodlak would never tell him. If he wanted Vilkas to know, he would have assigned the task to him.
Closing the door behind him, he lowered his shield from the table and began sorting through his pack to see what supplies and potions he needed to replenish before leaving. When a knock sounded at the door, he sighed, half-expecting it was Luthien or Farkas, but then Ria opened it a crack and peered around to smile at him.
“Are you leaving again?”
He had expected things between them to get strange after they’d slept together, but oddly enough nothing had changed at all. If anything, the dissolving of sexual tension had strengthened their friendship, and traveling together had become somewhat comfortable. Ria didn’t bother him or try to make him talk about his apparent issues, but gave him space and distance, allowing him to brood if he felt so inclined. He liked that about her.
“Aye,” he nodded. “A rescue job up at Bronzewater Cave. Would you care to come along? I could use a shield-sister.”
“Okay,” she agreed.
“We leave in twenty minutes,” he told her. “Go get your things and meet me in front of Jorrvaskr.”
When he ascended the stairs into the mead hall again, Luthien and Farkas were sitting at the table talking quietly. His brother’s brow was furrowed deep in thought, the soft hand lingering on his arm trying to smooth away whatever apprehension her words inspired. It was odd to see their roles reversed for the first time since Farkas had brought Luthien back to Whiterun after the violent rampage she and Aela had gone on to avenge Skjor. The curse had been difficult for her to bear, and all too often it seemed to fall to Farkas to bring her comfort from her own inner-demons.
She quieted when she looked up and saw him, patting Farkas’s arm and saying, “We’ll talk more at home, okay?”
“All right,” he nodded, turning over his shoulder to look at Vilkas. The distress in his face didn’t disappear, even when he lightheartedly asked, “Where are you off to?”
“Heading north on a rescue mission. Some poor girl from Falkreath was kidnapped by bandits and there’s no time to waste.”
“Safe travels, brother.”
“And you.” He nodded toward both of them and then made for the front doors. Stepping out into the sun, he scanned the Wind District, his gaze resting on Ria, who’d taken a seat on the stairs to wait for him. “Are you ready to go?” he asked.
“You bet,” she grinned.
“All right then,” he jaunted down the stairs. “Let’s go.”