His initial yearning for revenge was quelled by the day’s long work. The Silver Hand who managed to escape had taken the shards of Wuuthrad, which Kodlak had been collecting in earnest for as long as Vilkas could remember. The old man had hoped to one day reforge Ysgramor’s blade and hang it in Jorrvaskr: a reminder to all who called that mighty hall home of their true origins and the honor it was to be called a Companion.
Morning yawned gradually and slowly into afternoon, just as it did ever other day, and it was nightfall before the brothers Gray-Mane, Vignar and Eorlund, accompanied by John Battle-Born and Eorlund’s only daughter, Olfina, followed Andurs to the Hall of the Dead, carrying Kodlak’s body so the priest could prepare the old man for the pyre.
The priestess of Kynareth had come and offered healing to the wounded, and while Athis was bed-ridden, the rest of the Companions were none the worse for wear, and set to the task of restoring as much order to their hall as they could.
Aela was adamant about them retrieving the stolen fragments, and Vilkas assured her the job would be done, but she would not be the one to do it. It would be Luthien. A task, that try as he might to rationalize against in his own head, he knew would bring her much desired peace. After all, one of the stolen fragments had been brought back by her–the very task that had named her an honored Companion.
The city of Whiterun was in a daze, the shops and merchants closed, and a rare visit from Jarl Balgruuf, who had heard the news and come to pay his respects. His descent from the Cloud District had stunned even Vignar, who never had a decent thing to say about the jarl, and for a time the two rivals set aside their differences and honored Kodlak with memories and stories of the distant and glorious past.
Only the Bannered Mare had kept its doors open, so that all who grieved one of the city’s oldest residents could honor him with rowdy toasts and boastful remembrances of Kodlak Whitemane’s finest hours. From beneath the awning behind Jorrvaskr, as the brother’s dragged the bodies of dead Silver Hand out of their mead hall, they could hear them raise their flagons with a mighty cheer, “To Kodlak!”
That had been the final straw for Vilkas, and despite there being so much left to do, he’d delegated the remainder of the work to Aela, excused himself and headed down the stairs to be alone with his thoughts. Well, not entirely alone. Farkas followed him, starting immediately with his defense of Luthien, who still had yet to return from whatever errand Kodlak had sent her on, the moment they were alone.
“Vilkas, you can’t do this to her.” Farkas followed him down the stairs, through the hallway and lingered outside Vilkas’s bedroom door while he stripped the bloodstained armor from his body. “She’s shed enough Silver Hand blood for one lifetime. She still has nightmares…”
Vilkas didn’t know anymore how much of the blood that stained his armor had come from the enemies he’d slaughtered the night before while protecting Sinding, which felt as distant to him now as if it had happened in a dream, or how much of that blood was Kodlak’s.
He was tired of blood, but his torrid love affair with spilling it was far from over. There would be plenty more on his hands before all was said and done.
“She’s just starting to heal, to get better…”
“There is no healing from a plague of violence, Farkas. One wound begets another and another until no one’s sure who drew the first blade. But I’m going to end it, and she will help me do it.”
“If you pin her up against the Silver Hand again…”
“What? She’ll rampage?” He sneered over his shoulder. “Embrace the beast, as you have both become so fond of doing anyway, and slaughter them one and all until none remain to tell the tale?”
“She’ll lose herself.”
“She is already lost, Farkas.”
“No,” his brother shook his head, the tangled, greasy locks of his dark brown hair rustling against his shoulders. “I brought her back from the madness. I showed her how to find balance, to feel peace. If you make her…”
“It’s too late for balance, brother,” he snapped. “She and Aela already tipped the scales. Kodlak will never rest so long as those shards in Silver Hands.”
“Then take her with you. Take Aela and go after the Silver Hand. Make them pay for what they did to Kodlak, get back the shards, but leave Lu out of it. Losing Kodlak is going to be hard enough for her to stomach.”
“To stomach? Is that what we are meant to do? Stomach the death of our Harbinger? Our Harbinger is dead, Farkas, because of her!”
Farkas’s eyes bulged and he shook his head again in denial. For a moment Vilkas’s inner-beast could feel his brother’s wolf rising just beneath his skin, the strangled cords of his temper clenching and tightening and threatening to burst. “Not because of her,” he growled. “Because of the Silver Hand. This rivalry with them started long before she came to Jorrvaskr, and I won’t let you hold her accountable for the things they’ve done.”
When Farkas lifted his head, Vilkas saw something inside him he had never noticed before: conviction.
His twin had never been serious about much. Sure, he did his duty, he got the job done, but with about as much amusement as Torvar had for mead. Everything had always been a joke to Farkas, a game. He was a follower, a simple mind that rarely, if ever, thought for himself, and try as he might, Vilkas couldn’t remember a single decision Farkas had ever made for himself that hadn’t been influenced by someone else’s point of view. Then Luthien had come into the picture and Farkas had started thinking for himself in the most astonishing ways.
At first, Vilkas thought it was Luthien clouding his brother’s judgment, influencing him to her will, and perhaps in some way it was her doing, but it was not as Vilkas first imagined, and he knew it. That girl had brought out the best in his brother, and most of the time he begrudged him for it.
Farkas really would do anything for Luthien, anything to protect and keep her from harm. Shouldn’t that make Vilkas respect him just a little bit more? Wasn’t that what Vilkas wanted, after all? To keep Luthien safe? To protect her from the darkness that had been overpowering her since Skjor had thrust that accursed blood on her and made her one with all of them?
His nostrils flared outward as a he drew in a heavy breath through his nose. “Farkas, I know you think by subjecting her to this battle, I am being cruel, but if she doesn’t end what she started, it will haunt her for the rest of her days. Is that what you want for her? For your children when the time comes to bring them into this world?”
“What about Aela?”
“This doesn’t affect Aela in the same way, Farkas. Aela thinks her actions were justified, that she did what she needed to in order to avenge Skjor. Luthien may have been avenging her shield-brother when she and Aela started this business, but she didn’t have the same bond with Skjor. She needs to see this through, to stop the cycle of vengeance like Kodlak said.”
“Somehow I don’t think that was what Kodlak meant by stopping the cycle of vengeance, Vilkas.”
Perhaps not, Vilkas thought, but he wasn’t about to let it end with Silver Hand having the last word, and he certainly wasn’t going to allow them to hold the shards of Wuuthrad like some won trophy from a petty skirmish. If he had his way, the Silver Hand would speak no more when he was finished with them, and Luthien could live free, knowing she’d avenged the Harbinger, a man who’d been almost fatherly to her after the loss of her own family, her foolishness had gotten killed. That was Vilkas’s idea of stopping the cycle of vengeance. Putting an end to the Silver Hand once and for all.
“My mind is made up,” he declared. “As soon as she’s returned from whatever errand Kodlak sent her on, she will accompany me to north to their den, and we will finish them and take back the shards.”
“You’re not the Harbinger, you know,” his brother pointed out. “You can’t just force this on her.”
Neither of them had heard her coming down the stairs, or walk up behind them, and when she spoke the tremble of her voice made Vilkas shudder.
“Whatever it is he plans to force on me, I deserve it.”
The brothers turned simultaneously toward the unexpected sound of that voice, and Vilkas felt his heart clench when he saw the tears trickle down her face. He hardened his heart immediately, and took a step toward her, shoving his brother out of the way.
“Where have you been?”
“Kodlak sent me to attend to a personal matter for him.” She refused to look him in the eye. “I rode all day and all night without sleep to get back here as fast as I could, but I’m too late. When…”
“What errand? What was so important that you weren’t here with your brothers and sisters. They could have used your shield to protect all that we hold dear, but you weren’t here. How can you call yourself a Companion.”
“Vilkas!” Farkas shoved back hard, edging up to Luthien and lowering a comforting arm across her shoulder. “You weren’t here either!” he bellowed over his shoulder. “And besides, it doesn’t matter where she was, or where you were, for that matter. We’re all here now, and we can lay Kodlak to rest.”
“We will lay Kodlak to rest only when the Silver Hand is dealt with and the shards have been taken back.”
“When do we leave?” Her tone was cold, solid and unwavering with conviction. Not an ounce of the emotions he saw so plainly on her face just moments before. And when Vilkas looked up at her all his misplaced anger started to roll inside him like the sludge at the bottom of a mead barrel.
“Vilkas, she’s only just—”
She turned to her husband, a hand lifting gently into the scruff on his cheek and lingering there for a moment as she stared up into his eyes. That heartfelt gaze was breathtaking, churning things inside Vilkas that made his already shattered heart ache with longing. What he wouldn’t give for such comfort, such a look from those brilliant, amber eyes.
“My love, I have to do this. For Kodlak,” and then as an afterthought, she added, “for myself.”
Shaking her head, those lingering fingers tucked a lock of hair behind his ear before dropping to cover his lips before he could finish his thought. “It will free us all, Farkas.”
“It didn’t free you before,” he said stiffly, taking a step back to really look at her. There was confusion in his gaze, and grief, unshed tears threatening to fall again, and such longing for comfort from her that for a fleeting moment Vilkas felt guilty for denying his brother the one thing that would ease his troubled heart.
“But it did, Farkas. More than I ever realized. Had I never… You and I wouldn’t… You would never have saved me, Farkas.” The hard lines in his face seemed to momentarily soften with understanding. “I started this madness, and now I have to finish it. I have to do this. For Kodlak. And when I return, we will grant the Harbinger’s last wish.”
“What do you mean? What wish?”
“There isn’t time to explain it. Right now, we have to go. We have to strike fast, before the Silver Hand even realize they’ve woken the sleeping giant. Vilkas,” she lowered her hand and turned to look at him, “I take it you have some semblance of an idea on where we can find the heart of the Silver Hand?”
“Aye,” he nodded. “Driftshade Refuge.”
“When do we leave?”
“Within the hour.”