The people outside the barracks had yet to return to their daily activities, most of them lingering near the doors as if in hopes that one of them might slip inside to dole out the justice they all so vehemently believed the man was due. They eyed the two Companions warily, a few of them muttering under their breath that outsiders had no business interfering in their affairs, but Vilkas ignored them. There was a fine line between honor and blood-price, and while he certainly believed the family of that little girl deserved recompense for their loss, it was for the jarl to decide what that price should be, not the townspeople.
They shoved their way through the crowd until they were free of it, ambling toward the Dead Man’s Drink to spend the gold the guard had given them for their efforts. It was only a few hours trek back to Whiterun, but considering the mood of the town it would be best if they filled their stomachs and headed back to Jorrvaskr before the sun went down.
“Do you really think that guy was you know… a werewolf?” Ria kept her voice down as they climbed the stairs into the tavern, but she could feel the prodding curiosity of her brown eyes searching him for answers.
There’d been no mistaking the musky smell of another wolf, the raising of his own inner-beast’s hackles as the guards wrenched the prisoner through the crowd. The alpha within had stiffened Vilkas’s spine in challenge and the inferior beast had cowered under his scrutiny, almost whimpering before he fell against the guards for protection.
Just like everyone else when it came to the Companions’ dark secret, Ria assumed there was something going on in the Inner Circle that made them special, but if she suspected their unique circumstances delved into the unnatural, she’d never asked any of them to confirm those suspicions. She didn’t ask him then how he knew either, but took his word for it and followed him toward an empty table near the hearth.
They ordered bowls of stew and tankards of mead, and for a time they sat in silence listening to the angry voices of the people shuffling one by one into the inn. They nudged past the Companions, several of them purposely bumping into them and snarling almost as viciously as animals themselves as mead sloshed out of Vilkas’s tankard and onto the table.
He would never understand them, but only perhaps because it had been so long since he’d been one of them himself. His detachment from his own fellow humans and the beastblood in his veins made him feel superior to them for so long, but now the notion of that superiority made him feel ashamed. He was no better than any of them, no better than the man who’d killed that little girl.
He may have been and animal, but at least he had manners. Wiping the mess with a cloth napkin from the table, he tried hard not to sneer up at the man who’d made him spill it and them motioned for the barmaid to bring him another drink.
“This place is always so gloomy,” Ria noted, raising her tankard to her lips and sipping slowly. “The town seems prosperous enough, and I understand the people are in an uproar over what happened to that little girl, but it’s like this every time we come here. I know living in Skyrim is hard, but these people seem to take it all so personally.”
A priest of Arkay sitting at the table behind them must have overheard because he leaned back and looked over at her. “Have you seen our cemetery, young woman?”
“Only in passing, but it is a rather large cemetery.”
“The amount of death that hangs over this city is far more than most men see in a single lifetime. Fathers burying sons and daughters who’ve died in battles no one understands, and the number of folks who’ve died because of dragon attacks here in Falkreath is astronomical. Too many children without parents roam our streets, but even more devastating is the number of parents who must keep burying their children. What happened to that little girl is an outrage, and the jarl’s justice will barely placate their cries of outrage.”
“I say there’s dark magic at work here in Falkreath,” a dirty Nord farmer intruded on their conversation. “Or perhaps Arkay’s influence is strong and he likes to keep us suspended in this darkness.”
“Mathies, your grief has clouded your judgments. There is no dark magic at work, and though you seek to blame the gods for your losses…”
“I blame beasts,” Mathies raised his voice, quieting the angry murmur in the tavern. “And where are the Vigilants of Stendarr when you actually need them? Two months past they lingered around Falkreath like a pack of hungry dogs sniffing out any signs of Daedra worship they could grasp at. Just when we need them around, they disappear.”
“The beast probably ate them too,” someone near the door mumbled.
“All I know is my daughter is dead. My little girl. She hadn’t even seen her tenth winter. If you ask me, the Vigilants brought that beast to Falkreath with them.”
Vilkas looked up from his stew and glanced between them all. They shouldn’t get involved in the matter, and yet the mention of Stendarr’s Vigilants sent shivers rippling up his spine. They were worse than the Silver Hand, if that was even possible. He’d been taught to avoid them, and Kodlak warned him many a time that even though they resisted the call of the blood they were still monsters in the eyes of Stendarr’s justice.
“What could drive a man to do something like this?” Mathies ground his teeth together tight in an effort to ward off his own emotions before they overpowered him. “He ripped her apart like a sabre cat tears a deer.”
“The jarl will see that justice is metered out, Mathies. Never you fear,” the priest’s comfort did little to assuage him.
“The jarl doesn’t care about anything beyond the war. He sits up there in his mead hall getting fatter and richer while the rest of us suffer. We barely found enough of my daughter to bury. There is no justice for such a crime, and not even his death will placate me. I just want to know why… How could he do something so cruel?”
“Would you like me to find out for you?” Vilkas spoke up. “I’ve already helped the guards secure the prisoner. Perhaps I could speak to the man on your behalf.”
Ria reached over and touched his arm. “What are you doing?”
He ignored her as the grieving man swallowed and turned his head toward the outsiders. “Only if you plan to kill him when you’re done asking him for answers.”
“You are overwhelmed by grief,” Vilkas said. “But perhaps there is something much darker at work. I will speak to this prisoner and see what I can learn. Maybe he will have words that will bring peace of mind to your family.”
“I doubt it,” the man gulped his drink and slammed the mug down on the tabletop. “But you’re free to speak with that monster if you wish. And if you have the opportunity to kill him, I will pay you a year’s wages for the task.”
“I’m no mercenary,” Vilkas told him. “And I do not kill without reason or honor, but I will talk to the man if the guards allow it and perhaps I can appeal to the jarl for swift justice on your behalf.”
“I would tell you to save your breath, but I thank you, Companion. Please, come to me if you learn anything from the monster that might put the hearts of my wife and myself at ease.”
Vilkas doubted anything the murderer had to say might placate the man, but he would do the asking nevertheless. He pushed the bench back from the table to stand and nodded for Ria to stay put when she started to rise. “You stay here,” he told her. “Finish your mead and stew. I will be back shortly and then we’ll make for home.”
“If you’re sure you don’t want me to come with you.”
The crowd in the tavern barely moved to let him pass, some of them nudging into him on purpose and others still murmuring curses for his crime of helping the guards see the prisoner to safety. The last man he walked by looked him dead in the eyes and said, “Those who sympathize with monsters are no better than the monsters they try to protect.”
He knew the man was right, and yet the word monster had such a different implication in his mind. He was a monster, so was his brother and yet Farkas was one of the gentlest creatures to walk the face of Nirn. The ragged were they’d drug into their prison almost reminded him of Farkas—gentle, submissive and riddled with grief for the atrocities he’d committed. He’d smelled fear on the man, and so much sorrow. Had it been a hunting accident gone wrong? The kind of future his brother and Luthien faced if they didn’t learn to control their urges.
Vilkas didn’t know, but he would find out soon enough, and maybe what he learned would be the fuel he needed to show Farkas and Luthien that Kodlak was right. The path they were on would only lead to sorrow and destruction.