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Posted originally on the Archive of Our Own at http://archiveofourown.org/works/851700.

Rating:
Mature
Archive Warning:
Graphic Depictions Of Violence, Rape/Non-Con, Underage
Category:
F/M
Fandom:
Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Elder Scrolls
Relationship:
Female Dovahkiin | Dragonborn/Farkas, Dovahkiin |
Dragonborn/Farkas
Character:
Female Dovahkiin | Dragonborn, Athis, Farkas (Elder Scrolls), Vilkas,
Ria (Elder Scrolls), Skjor, Aela the Huntress, Kodlak Whitemane,
Farengar Secret-Fire, Idgrod Ravencrone, Greybeards, Delphine
(Elder Scrolls), Torvar
Additional Tags:
Companions, main quest, Werewolves, Dragons, Friendship, Enmity,
Power Play, Trust, Hubris, Abuse, Developing Relationship
Series:
Part 1 of Eyes on the Horizon
Stats:
Published: 2013-06-21 Completed: 2013-12-09 Chapters: 22/22
Words: 128140
Eyes on the Prey
by Springinkerl
Summary
No one is born a hero, and the ways of the gods are dark and recondite. When the fate of
the world is tied to the fate of a single woman, she will need help to fulfil her destiny and a
reason to fight for. But to form bonds can be dangerous, and when they break and life
doesn't seem to be worth living any more, she may wish to let the world end once and for
all.
Notes
This is a rewrite/republish of something I did last year as an experiment on Tumblr. Short
drabbles and scenes about the adventures of my Dovahkiin somehow turned into a story
with a life of its own, sometimes barely resembling the original events from the game any
more. It was long before, and after some fleshing out, filling gaps and polishing it's
become even longer.
Will contain the main quest, lots of Companions (though not many Companion quests),
some daedra, many sidequests, fluff, angst, politics and humour.
Despite the archive warnings, it will not be as dark as it may seem at the beginning. Tags
will be added as necessary, rating will go up at some point.
Disclaimer: Skyrim is Bethesda's.
Prologue
The Child
There was nothing special about them. A family like thousands of others, her Dad a hunter in
service of the Jarl of Falkreath, her Ma gathering and selling alchemy ingredients and tilling the
patch of land they owned. She had a twin sister and a little brother, only a newborn, spending his
time tied into a scarf to the back of their mother. The shock of black hair stood spiky into all
directions, brown eyes poking out of his shelter. When she bent over too fast, he chortled with
glee.
They were poor, but she wasn't aware of it. Sometimes they were hungry, but never for long.
Perhaps their parents starved for them, but if they did, they never let their children know. They
had food, they had it warm when they froze and shelter from the dangers of the wilderness. And
so much more.
They had each other. Their parents gave them everything they could, but most of all they gave
them the freedom to learn and to experience the world, solace when they got hurt and sustenance
for their curious minds. It wasn't a formal education, but they were taught the land and how to live
from it, hunting and the essential skills to survive in this harsh land with endless winters and short,
cool summers. And their parents told them the stories they had already heard from their own,
history and legends alike, and they learned from them too.
They learned that they belonged to no one but to themselves, that they could never be forced into
a life they didn't want, that they were free and strong and independent. Their parents taught them
the pride and confidence to be able to take care of themselves, and their sisterhood taught them the
ability to trust and to rely on someone else.
Her sister was her image, her match, her counterpart and mirror. Only with her did she feel whole.
Inseparable, two bodies and two minds that complemented each other. Together, they knew, they
could conquer the world.
They were so normal, and they were so happy. Like thousands of others, but this happiness was
hers alone, even if she wasn't aware of it. It was everything she had, safety and joy, the
contentment of a full belly and the love of her family. The knowledge where she belonged and
with whom she belonged. This safety carved itself into her being, never to be forgotten.
The way it ended was nothing special either, in this land harsh land devastated by war, where
people didn't care any more if what they took was theirs and if others had to die for them to
survive. It ended in her tenth summer, and it ended in a rush of blood, in the triumphant yells of
the outlaws that ambushed the cottage in the small glade, in the screams of her mother and her
sister. It ended in a tangle of limbs, dead flesh clawed into each other - her mother with an arrow
through her throat, the tiny face of the newborn still contorted in glee when she fell over, the back
of his skull crushed by a mace, black hair glistening with red. She didn't see her father die but she
heard his dying scream, breaking off suddenly with a choked gurgle.
Her sister saved her, by her side like she had always been, sheltering her even in death. They tried
to flee, together and hand in hand, but she fell when her sister slumped against her, hit by an
arrow. She fell and felt something break, felt the weight of a body on hers, heard the screams of
agony ringing through her ears. Another arrow pinned the corpse to her living flesh, and the world
went black around her.
When she woke, she was surprised that she still breathed. Their blood pooled in a puddle around
her, her sister's as much as her own. She smelled the sharp stench of copper that decayed into the
foul odour of putrefaction as the hours went by.
The Orphan
Perhaps they saw the smoke of the burning cottage or heard the frantic screeches of the cattle,
perhaps they just passed by chance. But they found her between the devastation, the fire and the
corpses, withered throat not even able to whimper any more, a patrol of Imperial soldiers, and they
took her with them. The surgeon made her drunk, against the thirst as well as against the pain,
gave her a piece of bark to bite on and and removed the arrow from her flesh. He patted her cheek
with a false grin. "'t will hardly leave a scar, pretty," he mumbled. The foul liquid they forced her
to drink made her warm and numb inside.
But when she woke screaming, with the stench of fresh blood and burning flesh in her nose and a
sound that was a lullaby as much as a dying scream filling her ears, they cursed her for disturbing
their mindless routine and the dangers her cries could stir out here in the wilds. Only one of them
shared his water skin with her, his hands stroking soothingly over her hair. When they decided to
leave her behind, an injured child only a burden, he was the only one who rose an objection.
"We can't leave her behind now," he said, "and we go to Riften anyway." She didn't know what it
meant and was too tired to feel thankfulness. But they were soldiers, and allowing her to stay with
them didn't mean they'd consider her needs. They forced her to walk behind their lines until she
stumbled with fatigue and pain, she drank from the creeks they crossed and scraped the burnt
remains of their meals out of their iron pans, but in the nights she was allowed to curl together at
the fire, and sometimes one of them remembered to throw a blanket over her.
But it was rare that one of them addressed her, and when they did they didn't know what to say.
She didn't either. She was alone and withdrew back into herself, because she had nowhere else to
go. It was the loneliness of a child whose childhood had ended all too sudden, and she forgot to
cry, forgot the words that would describe her fate when nobody spoke to her, nobody asked what
had happened and what she had lost.
She didn't look back when the doors of the Riften orphanage closed behind her, and she still
didnt speak when the man came and took her with him, only weeks later. He came from the other
side of the mountains, exotic and wealthy, and the scrutiny with which he inspected her, a
scrawny child in a threadbare smock, pierced into her core and let the small scar in her abdomen
tingle with fear and disgust.
But no child of ten had control over its fate, he took her with him over the mountains from Riften
to Cheydinhal, and she became the lowest maid in the house of a noble.
At first, she only had to work, and it provided her with a strange kind of comfort. She was no
child any more, but she had always had to work if she wanted to eat, and it was nothing new to
her. She fulfilled her duties the best she could, quiet and calm. Only when she felt his eyes on her
she recoiled, but she learned to obey his orders that were given solely to force her into compliance,
and she learned to call him master.
When she had proven her servitude, she had to learn. The education she got was widespread and
thorough, reading and writing, the history of the empire, data, numbers and facts. She learned
about religion and philosophy and about the cultures of all the different people her master called
guests and friends. She learned not only to set, but to use a dozen different kinds of cutlery, to
dance and to converse about everything and nothing. And she learned not to be afraid of strangers,
to be kind, attentive and obliging no matter what happened.
She learned to be good company.
Sometimes the cook gave her a look full of pity when she cleansed her hands and left the kitchen
to attend her lessons. But she liked these lessons with all the other girls, she liked to learn about all
the things she'd never see and never do herself. She never asked why she was taught.
The Whore
It was a glorious night, hundreds of candles spreading their golden light from crystalline
chandeliers and silver holders on the tables that were laden with food and drink, luxurious
tableware filled, emptied, filled again and abandoned. Bards were playing on stages and in every
corner, people feasting, drinking and singing. The huge ballroom of the estate was filled to the
brim, couples swaying in elegant circles to the music, changing partners, laughing, separating and
coming together again. Other rooms were filled with the concentrated silence of card players who
shoved huge piles of gold back and forth, dimly lit niches were occupied by people clinging to
each other, often more than just a couple. It was a feast like many others she had served in the last
three years, clad in uniform, eyes lowered, invisible like a shadow, platters of delicacies and
goblets filled with exquisite wine or rare liquors more important than the hands that brought them.
But she felt eyes on her, and she felt selfconscious, and when her master ordered her to take one
of his guests to his room, a fat old man in a stained brocade jacket with a greasy moustache and a
false smile, fear and disgust let a shiver run down her spine.
She had heard the other girls talk. She didnt understand all of it, but enough to know that she was
no child any more. It didnt matter that she still felt like a child and that she didnt know anything.
When the man ripped the silver buttons from her livery, pushed her onto the mattress and weltered
over her with a grunt that sounded to her as if he was in pain, hot flesh burying her, wobbly and
soft everywhere but in one place against her thigh, a voice nearly forgotten wailed through her
dazed mind, the instructions of her father.
"If its a woman, go for her throat. If its a man, go for his groin. Slash and pierce if you have a
weapon, squeeze if you dont."
She was lithe and agile, and perhaps he mistook her writhing for excitement. But she squeezed
with everything she had, and his scream released her.
She was locked away, unchained and unharmed, fed and warm but never alone, and they didnt
let her sleep any more. She was cut off from the cycles of day and night, learned to hate the light
that burnt her eyes out and the music they tortured her with, the people talking to her, keeping her
awake, with their deafening breathing, their presence and their touches that weren't intended to
hurt. They hurt regardless, disgusting and intrusive. After one week she couldnt distinguish them
any more, she cried and they laughed at her, and when someone wiped the sweat from her brows
and her neck and fingertips wandered down her spine in a caress like a butterfly, she screamed
and pleaded for help, her mind dazed, unable to withdraw from their attentions.
Her mother answered her plea to be saved from the songs, the smiles and the touches, for safety
and darkness and sleep. She had always been there, she had always kept her safe, and now she
appeared, a lullaby bubbling out of the hole in her throat. Her arms were stretched out wide, ready
to take her in, ready to give her the shelter she needed so desperately. She had always taken care
of her, and she had always kept her safe.
She fled into these arms, dead eyes looking at her with a smile full of love, the crushed head of the
newborn resting on her shoulder. It was the only smile that was real, and she longed for it, longed
for these arms to close around her, for these bloodsmeared hands to stroke her back and erase the
memory of touches that were so different, that burnt on her skin.
But her mother had left her already once, and now she left her again, forced away by another song
and another embrace, the lullaby fading before she could find shelter in her dreams. She screamed
and fought and pleaded to her to stay, but even her mother left her alone.
She realised that the only shelter she'd find was the one in herself. Everybody who could keep her
safe was gone. But there was no escape, not even into the refuge of her own mind as they used
subtle pain and tantalising caresses on her body that made every nerve ending ache. In the end, her
gaze lost its fear and wilfulness, turned into mindless humility instead.
When her master came and showed her what to do, what was expected of her, she finally obeyed
again. Sleep was her reward, and her hair was white when she awoke.
From now on she obeyed, and she only spoke when she had to. Many more feasts, many more
men, sometimes more than one, sometimes men and women and always her master. She stopped
to wear the servant's uniform and was clad in dresses that were too expensive for the bit of fabric
they were made of, fine silk exposing her body, her hair braided into intricate styles and adorned
with glittering jewellery. She was only another jewel, an exceptional attraction with her white hair,
white skin and deep blue eyes, presented like an expensive wine, ready to be consumed. It was
always her master who consigned her and handed her over to his guests like a gift.
It never stopped to hurt and it didn't get easier, but she obeyed and she served, always, no matter
what they did, no matter what they made her do. There was no escape, and her mind was numb
and empty.
She became older, no child any more and the traces of the life she lived already visible in her face.
There were other girls like her, forlornness in their faces and glimpses of hope when they started
to wear the livery again, with lowered heads, jewellery and make-up gone. Or their bodies started
to swell with unwanted progeny, forced upon them, and they vanished from the household,
without a trace, never to be spoken of again, leaving behind only a subtle promise.
But she never dared to hope, and she stayed. Her master still fancied her, she was the jewel in the
crown of his decadence, spared for those occasions when her experience, her servitude and the air
of detachment that always wafted around her were required.
She was hollow and numb, a bottomless vessel for their desires and demands. Obedience and
inurement buried what her parents had taught her: that she was free, that she was strong, and that
she belonged to noone.
The Soldier
When he catched her watching the guards and the horses in the courtyard, her fists clenched as if
she held a weapon and her body twitching in an imitation of the spar below her balcony, he
fulfilled her wish. He always fulfilled her wishes... or what he thought her wishes were, and she
never gave him reason not to. She was his, after all.
At first it was not much more than a game, exercises he allowed her to keep her in shape. It wasnt
trust when he told the captain of his guard to hand her a light cuirass and a simple iron mace and
to instruct her, and he watched her amused when she faced the straw puppet, teeth clenched and
running with sweat, knowing that behind the heavy doors the lavender fragranced bath waited for
her and the oils and salves that kept her skin smooth, ready for the hands of a stranger. He knew
she wouldnt fight him, and that he had found only another way to make use of her. She was too
used to obey, never spoke, never argued, lived to serve.
He never let her go out and fight real threats, brigands and wildlife, but she learned through her
training, motions and reflexes her muscles had never completely forgotten coming back, and she
welcomed the strain and the aches of the exertion. She trained all on her own, despised by those
she tried to mimic. Only during the rare opportunities when nobody watched over her and a
challenge full of disdain and contempt was spoken, spat into her face, she had a living opponent.
She never refused the spar because she never learned more than on these occasions, and the open
revulsion of the guards, of the men and women that looked like her in their homogenous gear
didn't reach her. Neither the disgust they didn't hide when she wore her armour "his puppet,"
they hissed behind her back, "his whore," - nor the scorn when they watched her with hungry
eyes, whirling over the dance floor in the arms of a stranger while they had to guard the doors in
uncomfortable uniforms.
When she went through the movements against her own shadow or against the lifeless dummy,
she was alone with herself, emptied her mind into a soothing loneliness, uncaring for watchful
eyes, and gradually she deepened the knowledge left from the lessons of her father, became
stronger than she should be and as skilled as this kind of training could make her. Sometimes he
praised her skill, like he praised a new poem or a good wine, and she knew she was allowed to
protect herself because she was his and because nobody else was there who would do it for her.
It was an evening in spring like so many others, the sun tinting the sky in shades of pink and
purple, Secunda rising over the horizon. She knew she had to get in and ready for dinner, she was
expected to entertain his guests, but she was reluctant to move. Just a few minutes for herself. She
leant against the outer wall that had been the border of her world as long as she could remember.
The young man was new to the troops, a kinsman of hers from Bruma. His pat on her back made
her startle, but he didn't realise it. She wasn't allowed to speak with him unattended she knew it,
and he should have known it too.
But he was jovial and friendly, chatting away about the wealth of their master and the prosperity
of his business, his kindness and generosity. And he asked her how it was to live as the masters
fancy, not to have to live in the barracks, to have his favour and to be allowed to attend the
glittering, luxurious nightlife in the estate.
He didn't expect her to answer, too entangled in his own torrent of words and enthusiasm, but his
curious, innocent envy broke with sudden force through her shell. He flinched from her when
lifeless blue eyes suddenly flared with anger and something of which he only realised much later
that it was sadness.
He dared to ask, he dared to be envious, and a yearning welled up in her like a flash that felt
strangely familiar. A longing for the lessons she once learned, a longing for remembrance. The
faint memory of a different closeness that wasn't stained by demands, of lessons that were aimed
to make her stronger for herself instead to make her a better servant. Once she had been safe, and
once she knew where she belonged.
The Fugitive
She knocked him out, discarded her armour and fled. Purposeless, aimless but northwards,
where once there had been a home, driven by a relentless force that pulled her forwards. When
she couldnt cross the border to her homeland, she trecked westwards through the mountains,
lived off the land in search for another way. She wanted to go home where no home was left, but
she needed a destination, something to start. And she knew nothing but the endless pine forests
around the little village.
In the end, she was stopped again during another fruitless attempt to pass the border, was caught
in a fight that was not hers, her mace crushing the skull of a man who approached her with a
drawn blade and the lewd grin of a predator. He was the first man she ever killed, but it didn't help
her, soldiers clad in blue and red ensuring that no one left the battle ground. When the fighting
was done she was made a prisoner again, and when she didnt speak and didnt tell the officer her
name, she was sent to the block with all the others. For a moment she envied the thief who tried to
flee and died fast with an arrow in his back.
It didnt matter any more. She knew the little village where she was brought, and it gave her a
strange sense of relief not because she had reached her homeland, but because she had left
Cyrodiil behind, and with it her past. One of the men said that in the hour of death, a Nord's last
thoughts should be of home, and this was the only moment that a sting of regret shot through her.
She didn't have a home, but in this moment of clarity she remembered what she once had, so
many years ago. She remembered the warmth of a fire that was more than just the heat of burning
wood, she remembered the love in the eyes of her mother, the closeness of her sister when they
cuddled under one blanket at night, whispering and giggling of dreams they had and things they'd
do, the pride of her father when he presented her with her first bow and dagger. Finally she
remembered what had been only a faded memory, the feeling to belong somewhere, and this
memory was a last gift she caged in her heart. With this memory she became a person instead of a
nameless prisoner, someone with a past even if she didn't have a future, someone unique. It was
something she could take with her.
The moment her temple touched the stone, slippery and warm from the blood of those who had
died before her, the scent of fear and death in her nose, she felt a calmness not even the rising axe
of the headsman could disturb. She hadn't listened to the solemn words of the priestess before and
she didnt pray now.
She didnt put her soul into the hands of a deity. Her soul was hers alone. She would never serve
again, never obey, never submit.
Free
The shadow looming on top of the tower behind the headsman was of the blackest black I had
ever seen. It moved, and its roar echoed through the air, but beneath the flaps of its wings and the
writhing of its neck it was only impenetrable darkness. The creature was a mass of scales and
spikes that didnt only not reflect the light of the sun, it seemed to swallow it, and it reeked of
molten iron and rotten flesh. And it brought destruction and death. The headsman was the first
who fell to its roaring blast of fire.
Someone jerked me up, pulling at my bound wrists and drewing me with him, one of my fellow
prisoners, fear written into his face. I didnt know what he was afraid of we would die anyway,
did it really matter to what? There was chaos around us, dead bodies and flames, people with
burning hair and flailing limbs, buildings ablaze, screams and yells and dying whimpers, and
above all that the heavy flapping of wings, the darkness of the creature, this stench I would never
forget and the earsplitting shrieks and roars that released devastation over the village. Its screams
nearly sounded like words, sinister and dark, a screeching sound that ached in my bones. The
soldier in his blue armour pulled me with him into the shelter of walls where he cut the ropes that
bound me and handed me the dagger he had used. More people were there, more soldiers, a
bearded man in an expensive cloak who gave commands. I had seen him before, he sat on the
same carriage as I, and he had been gagged.
Dragon, I heard the incredulous whisper over and over again, is that really a dragon?
Dragons were only a legend.
Legends dont burn down villages, the bearded man said sternly, but helpless fury seeped from
his voice when he peeked out of the sheltering tower.
We escaped through underground tunnels, my saviour and I, fought and killed the soldiers of the
Legion who were still on duty and eager to stop us, stupid, mindless discipline in light of the
devastation above, and his face twisted in disgust when I dispatched one of the corpses of its
armour, took bow, quiver and sword with me. But I was trained in survival and would take what I
needed, and his loyalties meant nothing to me.
He tried to tell me what the Stormcloaks were and that his leader, the man we had seen in the
tower, was the future High King of Skyrim. And he asked who I was, where I came from and
why I was caught so close to the border. Didnt everybody know that it was shut down due to the
civil war in Skyrim?
I knew of a war in the province, had heard people talking about it, the complacent, comfortable
talk of men pleased over the rising prices for iron, steel, weapons and armour and concerned about
the rising insecurity on the merchant routes. But it didnt concern me, not more than the dragon,
and I let him talk. I just wanted to go home.
He left me alone when I didnt answer his questions. We fought side by side with the discipline of
soldiers, gathered and shared supplies when we found them, saved each others lives, and I felt his
gaze on me. It was a look of respect. He didnt care if I was man or woman, and I felt
selfconscious under his scrutiny. It was a long escape through the darkness under the destroyed
village and the keep, through prisons and torture chambers, through collapsed tunnels and an
underground stream, a spider nest and a bear den, and despite my exhaustion the dangers and
fights provided a strange comfort. It was new to me, to be able to do something to keep myself
alive, and when the bear towered above me, his claws scratching over the iron plate I wore, I felt a
glimpse of freedom. No thought was spent on what would come later.
Daylight greeted us when the cave finally opened to a mountainsite, seemingly friendly and
peaceful. A treacherous peace it was though, the looming shadow of the black creature still
circling above us, slowly vanishing into the east. The man followed its flight with anxious eyes.
Riverwood, he said, pointing down into the valley where in the distance a few columns of
smoke rose into the sky, it flies to Riverwood. He turned to me once more. Come to
Windhelm, he said, we could use someone like you.
A mirthless laughter formed in my throat. Nobody would use me again. Never again.
He ran down the mountainpath without looking back and I let him go, discarded the stolen armour
and turned away from the path and into the woods. I knew the name he had told me Riverwood
and I knew in which direction I had to turn. I had reached my homeland, and that was all that
mattered.
I realised that I was free when I crouched in the brushwood at the edge of a glade in a dense pine
forest, the lights of a small cottage blinking homey through the encroaching darkness of the
evening. A fenced garden, neat rows of leeks, cabbages, potatoes and onions, sunflowers in the
corners, a cow and a horse shuffling in a shed. A girl and a boy, obviously siblings, stood at the
well and turned the crank, thin arms strained under the weight of the full bucket. Their laughter
sounded brightly through the evening air, and they hurried up when their mother called them, the
opening door releasing a broad stream of light into the yard.
Nothing was left of the fire, the violence and the death that had ruled here so many years ago and
ended my childhood, but to be here in this place, to see the lights and the happiness in the
childrens faces called up the memories. These people had built their own home on the ruins of
mine, and now it was theirs, there was nothing for me to come back to. I didnt know what I had
expected what exactly I had longed for since that moment on the block, but I knew that there
would be nothing to come back to. I didnt belong here, I didnt even have the right to be here,
hiding like a thief in the night.
It was so peaceful, and they were so normal. Just like we had been, and I didnt have the right to
intrude.
The strange longing that had carried me here was already fading when I left the glade, and I
buried it ultimately when I found the graves of my family on the graveyard of Falkreath, one stone
for my father, one for my sister, the names of my mother and of the newborn brother engraved
together on a third. I buried my longing, and I buried the memories. Someone had obviously taken
care of their funeral. Perhaps someone remembered the girl that had been missing back then, the
corpse they didnt find. But it had taken too long to come back and say farewell, they were gone
for too long and I had been gone for too long. I was alone and homeless, belonging nowhere and
to noone, but also free and safe.
I made myself a home in the depths of the forest, in a hollow that wasnt quite a cave not far from
a lively little creek, enough of a shelter for me and the few things I owned. I didnt need much, but
it was a place to come back to. It wasnt hard to survive and to learn the wilderness again I was
the child of a hunter after all, and my father had taught me the ropes of surviving when I could
barely walk. I knew this forest since I had been a child, unchanged and familiar over all the years,
and the memories of this life came back, sometimes haunting me, more often guaranteeing my
survival. Now I remembered how to make traps and where to place them best, how to read the
tracks and trails and how to sneak on my game. I hunted for my life, for meat and furs, found
berries, roots and a nest of wild honey, made myself a sturdier bow and fur armour to replace the
prisoners rags. I didnt freeze and seldom starved, and I didnt need much.
It wasnt hard to survive, but at first, it was hard to be alone. I just wasnt used to it. I had never
been truely alone before in my life, there had always been some kind of company my family,
my master, the other girls, servants and the other guards. There had always been someone near, a
breathing, talking body, not really close but still there. My mind was glad to be alone, to have
escaped, that there was nobody who disturbed my chosen life, nobody who told me what to do.
This was what I wanted. But habits of a lifetime died hard, and I hated myself when I woke up
and felt unconsciously for the warmth of another body beside mine, when I listened for voices and
waited for the stroking hand to wake me, only to feel relief flare up that nobody was there as soon
as I became aware.
Nightmares that promised a treacherous escape plagued me, dreams in which I had everything I
was used to, warmth and food, shelter and luxury for the sole price of abandoning myself. I
dreamt of feasts and of the gifts I had received, from my master and from others, and when I woke
freezing and starving and the question emerged why I had left all this behind, I hated myself for it.
It was late at night when I came back to my camp after a long hunt, dirty, sweaty and tired, a fawn
slung over my shoulder, when I found the man kneeling on my furs and rummaging through my
sparse belongings. I froze at the edge of the glade, let the animal slip silently to the ground and
pulled the bow from my back. I could smell his stench of old sweat and stale ale over the distance,
scrubby blonde hair hanging unkempt into his neck, and the sight coiled in my stomach into a
lump of dread and anger. I drew my bow and pointed an arrow at him before I stepped out into the
open.
Stop that, or youre dead, I pressed out between gritted teeth, my voice hoarse. It sounded
strange even to me, I hadnt heard myself speak for so long.
Slowly the man turned around, staying on his knees, bloodshot eyes taking in my appearance. The
way his gaze wandered over my body caused a wave of nausea. A lewd grin appeared on his
face, and his hand moved to the hilt of the sword at his hip.
My, such a pretty, he drawled, and living here all on her own. Poor thing.
Slowly he rose and stalked towards me, drawing his weapon, a predatory glimpse in his eyes, as if
he expected me to submit to his mere presence. He didnt question his superiority even for a
second, although my grip on my weapon didnt falter.
Fury flared up, a red haze lying over my eyes, and the arrow flew and buried itself into his chest.
He recoiled with a scream of pain and disbelief, fell to his back with flailing arms. When I stood
before him, blood bubbled out of his mouth, the arrow had pierced his lung, but still his hand tried
to clench around my ankle.
Bitch, he muttered with hatefilled eyes. I stepped on his wrist and broke it with an audible
crunch.
Told you youre dead, I said, watching calmly as he writhed in pain. The dagger I wore was
only made from iron, a worn, blunt thing, but it was sharp enough to pierce between his ribs. I
discarded the corpse of its weapon and dragged it away, far into the woods.
He wasnt the first man I had killed, I had fought and bested the soldiers during my flight from
Helgen before, but he was the first that counted. I didnt think if it was murder, if it was necessary,
if I could have fought him, defeated him and let him live. He had threatened me, and he died for it.
The nightmares stopped, no more nights that left me yelling and gasping, covered in cold sweat.
No more nightmares of others who came too close, no more nightmares of being used. When I
stopped to dream, I was safe with myself and my solitude became my true shelter. I had proven
that I could rely solely on my own strength and skills, and I forgot how it was to have company. I
forgot how to speak. In the end, I didnt even talk to myself any more.
I was only a silent hunter, taking the lives of my prey for my own. Sometimes I saw others from
afar, roaming through the forest, hunting like me and living their solitary, free lives. But they
always moved on, I avoided them whenever possible, and they left me alone. Sometimes I also
looked at windows in the distance when I went too far and reached the edge of the forest, brightly
lit and strangely inviting. But they were always too far away, and their invitation wasnt meant for
me.
I didnt know how many weeks and months I spent like this, living with my thoughts and my eyes
on the prey, clad in its furs, the tips of my arrows made from its bones. I had everything I needed,
but the days became shorter and the nights colder. I knew survival would become harder, and I
had to prepare for the coming winter.
When I found the hunter bleeding out from a bear bite, the beast lying dead beside him, I fought
with myself. He was injured too severely to survive without help, blood pooling under him and his
skin ashen, and when I watched him from afar, I knew it would be easiest just to let him die. He
wouldnt live through the night, and then not only the bear pelt would be mine, but also his gear
fine leather armour, at least those parts that werent shredded from the beasts paws, a bedroll that
looked soft and clean and so much warmer than my raw furs, arrows with steelen tips and two of
the most beautiful daggers I had ever seen tied to his belt.
He was a Dunmer, bow and quiver lying beside him, white warpaint on dark skin emphasizing his
strong features, red hair tied into a high tail. He still looked fierce and strong, despite the wounds,
the sickly pale tone of his skin and the obvious pain that highlighted the alien angles of his face.
The decision to let him die or to help was taken out of my hands when the skeever crawled out of
the brush, sniffing at him, the mer too weak to chase it away. Skeever, the reeking vermin of the
woods, feeding on carrion and stealing the game of others, strong only in groups and against prey
unable to help itself. I hated them with a passion, and when there was one, there would be more of
them soon. I would not bear them to come close to another hunter.
My arrow let the beast fly backwards, and I kicked the corpse further away from the mer. Its
brethren would take care of it. Weary crimson eyes full of astonishment and pain looked up to me
when I approached the motionless figure. I helped him first, let the healing draught drop carefully
into his mouth, cleaned and bandaged his wounds, gave him to drink. When I started to skin the
bear, he had recovered enough to watch me curiously, a silent smile in his face.
Do you have a name, my nameless saviour? he asked finally, his voice rough from pain and
exhaustion.
I gave him a look over my shoulder, my gaze again caught by his weapons, bloody hands buried
in the carcass of the beast. His daggers were so much better than the blunt, worn iron thing I used,
finely smithed steel with an intricate shine. He followed my look, reached for his belt and offered
me one of the blades, hilt first. Youll never finish with that butterknife of yours, he said with a
weak grin.
Qhourian, I said hesitantly, reaching for the dagger. My names Qhourian. My voice was
hoarse and rough and unfamiliar even for me, I hadnt used it for so long.
Strange name for a Nord. But he didnt ask any further, let me work in silence, and when I had
finished and the pelt lay neatly folded beside me, he slept.
I should have just gone and left him. I had done what I could to help him, I only wanted the fur
and I could have even taken the dagger and his arrows with me. It wasnt my concern any more if
he survived the night. But I stayed, I didnt know why, and watched over his sleep and his restless
dreams, and when he woke from the pain I gave him more of my precious potions.
Next morning, he was gone. I fell asleep sometimes during the night, I wasnt used to keep watch
over someone else. But he only took a few herbs and fresh bandages from my pack, and he left a
note behind pinned to the rough bark of the pine tree I leant against with that weapon I wanted
so badly.
Thanks for your help. If you ever come to Whiterun, seek me out ask for me in Jorrvaskr, the
hall of the Companions. Stay safe. Athis.
I nearly laughed out loud when I read it, crumpled it together and threw it away. He was either
mad, ravenous from pain and infections, or he made fun of me. Jorrvaskr! A Companion! Every
Nord knew the history of Ysgramor, the legendary founder of our culture, the first human on
Tamriel ever, conquering the land for my kind in a war against the elves. Every Nord knew the
Companions, his successors, this nearly mythical group of warriors. A bond thousands of years
old, men and women bound by blood, honour and history who until today represented the true
Nordic way to live, to fight and to die.
Never would they let a mer join their ranks. Never would they let a nameless fugitive come near
them.
I didnt care what became of the stranger, perhaps Id find his frozen corpse or his blank bones
some day somewhere in my hunting grounds. But I had gained a warm pelt that would serve me
well during the months of winter and a new dagger from the encounter. The few potions he had
cost me were a small price for these treasures.
Perhaps I had become too confident in my own skills, perhaps hunger and exhaustion had
weakened my reflexes, perhaps I was just too desperate to free the rabbit from my trap, trying to
untangle the slippery, wet leather strips that had strangled it without destroying the snare. But in
the end, it was only carelessness.
The wolf was alone, and I simply didnt hear him coming. A loner, perhaps an old beast expelled
from his pack, struggling for survival on his own. A woman, hunched down in the middle of the
forest, oblivious to her surroundings, was far too easy prey even for old muscles and dull fangs.
But I was lucky. Lucky that the impact of the enormous body let me topple over, and his fangs
snapped shut in the air instead of around my neck. Lucky that the heavy weight that crushed into
my back let me fall so convenient that I only broke the wrist of my left hand, . And lucky that I
reacted instinctively when the pain shot into my brain, throwing back my head and hitting his
sensitive nose, irritating him long enough to crawl away from him, just a few steps, turn around
and face him.
I was even able to draw my weapon and stab him before he was over me again, the sharp steel of
the blade piercing the fur without resistance. But I had no leverage and no time to target my attack,
and it slid off a rib, but it provided enough distraction to cause his fangs to close around my
shoulder instead my throat.
The pain from the bite made me scream, his canines easily sharp enough to pierce through the furs
of my simple armour. The beast stood above me, silent triumph in his golden eyes.
I didnt know where I took the strength from, but I let the dagger fall away and clenched my fist
around his throat in a desperate effort to keep his muzzle away from mine. He jerked and snapped
in my grip, drivel flying and his claws tearing through fabric and skin, and I knew that in the end,
he would kill me. The pain from the bites and the broken wrist already numbed my thoughts while
the uninjured arm that tried to keep the beast away already trembled from the effort, his monstrous
head coming closer and closer.
It was strange how a few short moments could stretch into eternity. Strange how it was possible to
make decisions in a split second when its life that hangs in the balance. Strange how the lines of
thought that led to such a decision seemed so incredibly inevitable and logical afterwards.
With the last bit of power my tortured muscles could muster I gave him a violent shove, hard
enough to lift the huge body far enough to squeeze my broken arm between him and me. I offered
it to him and he took the bait, and I nearly blacked out when his jaws close around the forearm,
the hand dangling useless in the grip of his teeth. But I had gained a precious moment, and now
the broken bone was my least concern. I used the second I had to remove my other hand from his
throat, grab the dagger that lay discarded beside me and jab it to the hilt into his eye.
He died with his teeth in my flesh, his weight crunching my ribs, and finally everything became
black.
Jorrvaskr
Drifting in and out of the void. When my mind came closer to the surface, there was pain and heat
and cold, flames that ate me alive from the inside, my head close to burst asunder. There were
voices and hands on my skin and people that made me thrash in fear against their grip. I wanted to
scream but I couldnt, no sound breaching the aching fog clouding my senses.
Sometimes, there was water dropping down my parched throat, a voice gentle like a lullaby and
soothing coolness on my forehead.
But the terror was back immediately when the fog finally lifted, leaving only a throbbing pain
behind and I and remembered who I was. I was warm and clean, and I lay in a bed.
In a bed.
On a real mattress, soft and yielding under my body, clad in a cotton shirt and covered by a soft
woolen blanket. More parts of me than not were wrapped in clean bandages. On both sides of the
bed stood a paravent, leather hides stringed into a simple square rack, the floor was covered in
thick carpets and furs, the furniture rich, sturdy and valuable, at least the bit I could see. On the
walls hang plaques with weapons and shields, items of a style and material I had never seen before
but obviously incredibly precious. Only above my bed hang the taxidermied head of a sabrecat, its
fangs pointing directly at my throat.
I was alone, and all these impressions had time to sink slowly into my dazed brain. My wrist hurt,
and I remembered that I had broken it. But I didnt know why I could barely move my right
shoulder, what all these bandages wrapped around my limbs, abdomen and chest were for and
why every single muscle ached as I tried to sit up.
When the panic struck me like the fist of a giant, it clenched my chest, clouded my eyes with a red
haze and shook me with a wave of nausea. This was far too rich, far too comfortable and
luxurious. I was wrong, I didnt belong here.
I threw back the blanket and swang my feet to the ground, trying to stand up. But my knees gave
way under my weight, and blinding pain shot through my wrist as I tried to catch myself on the
brittle rack that held the visual cover, stumbling and falling when it broke under my weight. My
own whimper sounded hollow in my ears. The splinters ripped my palm open, but now I could
see that the room was long and narrow, rows of beds lined up along the wall, separated with
nightstands and some with similar paravents like the one I had destroyed, some with chests or
trunks at their footends. And at the end of the aisle a door stood open, whatever lay behind it too
dimly lit to see where it led.
An exit. I had to get out.
I was too weak to stand up, but I crawled forwards on all fours, leaving red dots on the carpet,
sobbing and tasting copper when I bit my lip in an effort to stay quiet. I tried to stand up again,
clenched bloody hands into the doorframe, desperate and panicked when all I saw was another
corridor, only lit by a few torches and lamps. And doors, so many doors. It was I was trapped,
and a scream formed in my head as I fell again and cowered against the wall, a palm pressed to
my mouth to prevent the wretching.
It was a beast that stormed around the corner, the first man I saw here, fast, blustering steps
carrying him into the room I had tried to leave. He ducked his head when he entered, his shoulders
barely fitting through the doorframe, but he stopped dead when he saw me, curled into a ball,
bleeding and sobbing. Leather pants, a simple blue linen tunic, black, ruffled, shoulderlong hair
and frighteningly bright eyes that stared down at me, full of shock and bewilderment. The scream
of terror that had built up finally erupted from my throat when he bowed down and picked me up
without further ado. I fought against him, my nails scratching him through the fabric of his tunic,
fear releasing strength I didnt know I had.
But he reacted fast and with not more than a grunt, the arm that was slung around my shoulders
pressed me against his chest, locking my arms and my head in his grip, and he didnt care that I bit
the palm he had plastered over my mouth as he carried me back to the bed and just let me drop
onto the mattress. His hands pressed into my shoulders, his weight holding me down and barring
my thrashing until I became stiff and rigid in his grip.
He gnawed at his lip and removed his hands slowly from my body as if he expected me to flail out
at him, stood bent over me and stared with his enervating gaze, so bright and intense. He just
stared without saying a word, and I could do nothing but return it. A stranger. Thrown onto the
mattress. An iron grip I was powerless against. I clenched my fists into the sheets beneath me, the
flaring fear coiling into an aching knot of dread into my stomach. But I was too stunned to move,
too frozen in my fears, a maelstrom of panic swallowing every thought while I waited for the
things to come. For what had to happen.
He frowned in confusion. And then he released me and took a few heavy steps towards the door.
Athis! he roared, move your lazy arse down here!
I watched incredulously as he hunched down, giving me a thoughtful look over his shoulder while
he picked up the remains of the ruined paravent. Dont forget to breathe, girl, he said calmly.
Athis? Girl?
A calm rumble and a quirk of his lips. And then he was gone. I obeyed and exhaled a deep breath
to soothe myself.
I heard a door clap, fast steps approaching and a short conversation outside of the room. The men
didnt bother to speak quietly.
Whats the matter, Farkas?
Shes awake. And
Finally. t was about time. What?
I think I scared her. The deep voice sounded somehow sheepish.
Icebrain. The mer who entered the room shook his head and rolled his eyes. And it was indeed
the Dunmer I knew. The madman who had tried to make me believe that he was a Companion.
The one I had saved. My openmouthed gaping made him chuckle.
Did he? he asked, crimson eyes sparkling, but his grin vanished when he took me in, face
bloostained and swollen with tears, my harried expression.
Azura, what happened?
Athis? I pressed out.
He pulled a chair to the side of the bed, filled a goblet with water from a pitcher and handed it to
me. My hands trembled when I took it. I was incredibly thirsty, my head hurt and my eyes burnt.
And I had no idea what was going on. But the attack of sheer terror made way for something
else his appearance, this first vaguely familiar face I encountered here let my stomach flutter
with relief. And embarrassment. Even before I realised what it meant that he was here.
That was only Farkas. He isnt half as dangerous as he looks like, he said casually while he
grasped my bloody wrist, but he gave me a confused frown when I yanked my hand out of his
grip and clenched my arms around my own chest.
Youre bleeding, he said with an arched eyebrow. But then he bent forwards, propping his
elbows on his knees. Whats the matter, Qhourian? Is something wrong?
Is something wrong? Is anything right?
I swallowed heavily, but I pulled myself together and tried to sit up without staining the linens and
blanket further with my blood. My head swam, and I didnt know which question to ask first. All I
knew that I didnt want to answer any questions.
Is this?
His grin was back. Jorrvaskr, yes. Surprised?
I could only nod, dumbfounded. Jorrvaskr. The hall of the Companions. The mer was no lunatic.
And that brute he was probably a Companion too. At least he looked like a Companion. Or
how I imagined that a Companion would look like.
You look as if this was the Imperial Palace.
Jorrvaskr, the Imperial Palace, the backside of Masser to me, it was all the same. All equally
improbable.
But if I could believe him I was in Jorrvaskr. And obviously alive.
How did I get here? I choked out.
He gave me a thoughtful gaze. I tell you if you let me treat that wound. You dont need any more
infections.
His scrutiny was enervating, but somehow I knew that what looked like a frown on his strange
face with those sharp angles wasnt meant as one. I had met enough elves to know that they all
always looked slightly aloof. Altmer fair and aloof, Bosmer savage and aloof and Dunmer surly
and aloof. They were just too alien, especially the Dunmer with their dark complexions, exotic
features and unreadable eyes.
He raised an expectant eyebrow, and I stretched out my wrist hesitantly as he dipped a cloth into
the pitcher. He took it in a gentle grip and started to clean the nasty scratch with experienced
motions, smeared a healing salve into the gash and wound a fresh bandage around it. I was glad to
have escaped his direct examination.
Serendipity, Id say. You were even luckier than I was when you found me. His lips curled into
a smirk, but it wasnt malicious. Strange, this mer. But he already spoke on.
I can only tell you the version that we were told. You know how it is with such improbable
stories. No, I didnt. Some hunters found you, and a dead wolf. They had tracked him down
and he was already dead for some time, but you still breathed, and its a miracle that nothing had
made a snack of you in the meantime. They brought you to Riverwood. Sigrid, the wife of the
smith there, took care of you at first, but shes no healer and you were injured too severely and still
unconscious and feverish, and so she put you on the carriage for Whiterun. He looked up and
smiled at my incredulous expression. Carriages cost money, that much I knew.
Someone paid for me?
Well, yes. Theyre good people out there. Look out for each other. And when a stranger is
dropped on their doorstep who cant help himself He shrugged. As if it was only natural.
Anyway, he continued, you were brought to the temple, and Danica My clueless look
made him halt. Shes the priestess here. Our local healer. Its a temple of Kynareth. Well, yes, she
took care of you. That broken wrist and broken ribs were the smallest problem well, the wrist
was, it was crunched and should have been treated much earlier. But more serious were the flesh
wounds, the infections and the sepsis that had spread through your body in the meantime. She had
a hard time to get that under control. At least you also got a hit to the head and refused to wake up
anyway. But she was also the first who recognised the dagger you wore.
The dagger your dagger!
His grin flared up as if he was proud of himself. Aye. Its Skyforge steel, Qhourian. Only
Companions wear these weapons. And when a strange woman in raw furs appears more dead
than alive in Whiterun and wears a Skyforge dagger, of course they inform us. But the temple is
full with injured soldiers and there wasnt much she could do for you anyway after you got over
the worst, and so I let you bring here. Tilma has some healing skills too.
To Jorrvaskr.
Aye.
Youre really a Companion.
Aye. You didnt believe me?
It was too much. But before I could think of an answer, someone else poked his head through the
door. Another man, another Companion. He was obviously a Nord, broad and burly though not as
massive as the first man I had seen, clad head to toe in fine steel armour that was intricately
chiseled, the edges adorned with wolf fur. An ornated wolf head decorated the chest piece, and
the hilt of the sword that was sheathed in the simple leather scabbard at his hip looked remarkably
like the one of my dagger.
A Skyforge weapon. Made in Ysgramors forge, a fire older than mankind, by the best blacksmith
in the province. My father had always said that a true warrior was one with his weapon and that a
weapon was nothing without the hand wielding and the head guiding it. Ysgramors own axe had
become part of his legend. And I had come by such a legendary blade and didnt even know it. I
had skinned rabbits and wittled arrowheads with it.
The man was balding, he had only one eye and a nasty scar leading from the empty socket down
his cheek, but with his gear and dark warpaint that ran in stripes over his cheekbones he looked
every inch the true warrior my father had spoken of. When he realised that I was awake and
staring at him, its gaze was piercing.
Youre finally awake.
I felt the familiar clenching in my chest. Another stranger. I could just nod, and he scowled at my
lack of answer before he turned to Athis. Have you seen Vilkas? he asked curtly.
Athis shook his head. No. Only this morning, training with his brother.
The man vanished without a further word, and Athis turned back to me. His examining scrutiny
made me cringe. The relief must have been readable on my face when he pushed back his chair
and stood up, because he gave me a slight frown. And a look full of pity.
No need to be scared, Qhourian. You will heal and youre safe here.
From wolves? Or men? I blurted out. Stress and exhaustion made it hard to think.
His reaction was weird. He laughed, loud and boyish.
You ask strange questions, he snickered. But from both, if you ask me. Ill send Tilma to look
after your wounds and with something to eat, you must be starving. We can talk more later, and
you will meet the others.
Left alone, I fell back into my pillow, my eyes tearing from the throbbing pain in my head. It felt
irreal, all of it, I wasnt sure if all of this was really happening, but I recognised with some
astonishment that the initial panic was gone.
I had been injured because of my own carelessness. By all logic, I should have been dead by now.
But somehow, I wasnt. For some reason people had saved and taken care of me, without being
asked for it and without payment.
Without compensation.
It was something so new that I had difficulties to grasp it, much less to trust in it. I always had to
pay for everything I had with my body, my dignity, my self-respect.
But for the moment I was injured, unable to leave and dependent on them. I didnt know why the
Companions had taken me in, a nameless stranger Athis had paid for the help I had given him,
and he owed me nothing.
Shame for being here, useless and at their mercy and helplessness because there was nothing I
could do about it welled up in me as the exhaustion became overwhelming. All I could do was to
get back on my feet as fast as possible, not to be a burden to them for longer than necessary.
A bowl with a lukewarm broth stood on the nightstand beside me when I woke up, and a girl leant
relaxed against the headboard of the bed opposite of mine. A girl with weird paintings on her face,
a stripe along her chin and some reddish ornaments around her eyes that trailed up to her temples.
Perhaps she thought it made her look fierce, but the roundness of her cheeks, the braids dangling
around her face and the dimples that appeared with her smile when she saw me stir made her look
like a dressed up child. On the other hand, her sleeveless leather jerkin revealed the muscular
shoulders and arms of someone used to wield heavy weights, and she hopped off the mattress,
bouncing twice before she landed on her feet, with the smooth movements of a warrior.
Hi, Im Ria, she said unceremoniously, dropping down on the edge of my bed. How are you
doing?
She resonated with energy and curiosity. I watched her warily. Qhourian, I said lowly, taking
the offered hand. But I avoided her eyes, and she followed my gaze and handed me the bowl with
the broth. I took it greedily, and she watched me drinking it down with a friendly grin.
I know, Athis told us. You must be famished. Youve been more or less out for nearly 3 days. Or
even longer, we dont know how long it took before you came to the temple. You dont either, do
you?
More or less? I asked confused. I didnt remember anything since now that I thought about it,
the eyes of the wolf were the last I knew, coming closer and closer, the hunger in them.
I shuddered.
Are you cold? The young woman bounced away and grabbed the blanket from the bed she had
sat on. Some kind of disappointment stood in her face when I shook my head, and she dropped it
at my footend. Yes, on and off. Sometimes you were a bit less unconscious. Enough to feed you
some potions and water, or youd be much worse now.
I didnt remember anything. I always thought people were either unconscious or not.
You helped me with that?
Why yes, of course! I sleep here too, you know? And Njada usually. Sometimes she sleeps in
the other room. When Torvar is away and only Athis stays in the boys room, then she stays there
too. She grinned a bit sheepishly.
Of course. This was a dormitory, after all. Of course people slept here, although all the beds were
tidied up quite neatly. And I had no idea who Njada and Torvar were.
I stopped her current of words. What time of day is it?
Late afternoon. Oh. She threw her hands in the air. You havent been out yet, have you? Gods,
Id go crazy to be trapped down here. You know that we are underground, do you? Her way to
end every sentence with a question without to wait for an answer was exhausting or
annoying or endearing. I wasnt sure.
I shook my head. I know nothing about Jorrvaskr. Barely how I came here.
Yep, it was your luck that you still had that dagger with you, wasnt it? Although Danica did the
main work, youre nearly as good as new. Some scars will remain, but you dont mind scars, do
you?
I dont know, I said slightly amused, I didnt have many scars before. But I suppose I dont.
Aye, scars arent that bad. Look here. Suddenly she knelt beside me, pushing my thighs away.
It hurt, but I clenched my teeth. She yanked up her jerkin and presented me her bare stomach. A
long line of glossy skin trailed from her ribcage past her navel and vanished under the waistband
of her pants.
Cavebear, she said proudly, but I killed it. Have you ever killed a bear?
No. I smiled. She was really a bit like a child. I couldnt fathom her swinging a weapon and
killing something. Or someone. I could also not fathom anyone doing her any harm. It would
destroy this openness and naivity once and for all.
Okay, she jumped up, pulling down the edge of her clothes, I gotta go. Just wanted to look
after you. Well have a feast tonight, so dont worry if it becomes a bit louder. Aela and Njada
have been away on some important jobs, and now theyre back, and it was Torvars birthday two
days ago and he will get shitfaced plastered tonight, and then Farkas will have to carry him to his
bed again or he will just sleep upstairs at the fire well, you know how that goes, dont you?
No, I didnt. But it sounded like fun. The last I wanted was to spoil it for them.
Dont bother about me, Ria. And have fun. The girl already bounced towards the door, but she
turned once more, chewing on her lower lip.
It will be really loud, she said sheepishly. I dont think youll be able to sleep. Id say you
come up and drink with us, but I suppose ? She pointed at my wrapped up limbs and didnt
finish the sentence.
I gave her a small grin. No. I can barely stand on my own feet. She was too cute, and I believed
her that she would have dragged me into their party if my condition had allowed it. I knew though
and the others knew it probably too that I had no place in there.
Yeah. Buggers. Her face lit up. I could get you something to read. Some books. From Kodlak
or Vilkas.
Wow. They had something like scholars here? Of course they had. This was no mindless group of
bloodthirsty killers. I nodded. That would be nice. Thank you, Ria.
But it wasnt Ria who came back a few minutes later, it was a man the same man who had
hurled me back to the bed after my fruitless attempt to escape, only that he was now clad in the
same kind of armour that Skjor had worn, he had shaved and his hair was neatly oiled and tucked
behind his ears. But he still had to stoop when he entered to room. How had Athis called him?
Farkas?
I blushed when he stood before me, arms crossed over his chest, his face frowned into an
indifferent scowl. His pale gaze had all the warmth and gentleness of a glacier. I had made a fool
of myself before no wonder he regarded me with so much open suspicion.
Im Vilkas, he said with a snide, Master-of-Arms of the Companions. And Id appreciate if you
didnt distract our whelps from their duties. Its bad enough that Athis neglects his jobs to help you
recover, but we really dont need any further curtailings. Ria missed half of her training because of
your needless chatter.
My confused expression only deepened his scowl.
Ria had missed her training because she had waited for me to wake up? We hadnt talked that
long. How was I supposed to know what her duties were? And why was he so irate? And he
wasnt Farkas? His brother? His twin?
Yes, his twin, that was obvious now that I had a closer look, although some differences became
apparent. Although the similarities were striking, same height and the same facial features with
strong brows over these eerie pale eyes, broad cheekbones and a strong chin, this Vilkas was less
bulky than his brother. By no means slender or scrawny, only a bit leaner and with much less
muscle mass. But he moved and held himself with the easy grace of a predator, ready to attack at
any given moment, and at the moment he leveled a glower full of deep anguish at me.
And the threat in his tone was obvious. People had been nice so far at least those I had spoken
with, but I should have known that a stranger in these halls wasnt appreciated by everyone. He
just showed me my place a guest, a burden, interfering with their duty. And he made more than
clear that being a Companion meant discipline and commitment, that he would tolerate neither
laxness from his whelps what a strange label nor disturbances from a nuisance like me.
No need to jump down my throat like that, though. I had no intention to disturb their daily routine,
quite the contrary. More than ever I felt like an impurity in these halls, and my determination to
leave as soon as possible only grew.
My apologies, Vilkas, I said calmly, it wont happen again.
Some of the anguish was replaced by irritation. He stared at me for a moment as if he had to figure
out my intentions, but there was nothing to figure out I meant it exactly as I said, and I endured
his examination without flinching. But I was relieved when he nodded curtly, turned on his heels
and left the room without a further word.
I didnt want to read anyway.
Tilma, the woman Athis and Ria had mentioned already, turned out to be an elderly woman who
claimed to have cared for the warriors of Jorrvaskr as long as she could remember and it
sounded as if she meant since Ysgramors times. But she brought me a light meal and unwrapped
endless smudgy bandages, and for the first time I had opportunity to have a closer look at the nasty
wounds the claws and teeth of the wolf had left. Yes, there would be scars, lots of them.
The Companions were really loud when they were feasting. There was laughter and music and
songs, the clapping of hands and clanking of mugs, a brawl with lots of shouting, dancing and
heated, drunken arguments. But it didnt matter to me. A gentle warmth spread through my
stomach after the meal of cooked potatoes, grilled leeks and tender chicken breast, and my head
felt as if it was stuffed with tundra cotton when a light fever returned. The noise swept over me in
gentle waves, and I slept deep and dreamless.
Healing
"Come on, join us. You gotta meet the others." Athis stood at the footend of my bed, arms crossed
over his chest, and gave me an inviting grin. "I know you've been to the bath today, and on your
own two feet."
Yes, I had, but only with Tilma's help. The peak of bliss would have been to soak myself in one
of the huge bathtubs, but with all the open wounds scattered over my body that was unfortunately
impossible. But it had still been wonderful to wash away all that sweat and gore with hot water
and some lavender-scented soap.
It had been two days since I woke utterly confused in the bowels of Jorrvaskr, and on the one
hand, I was overwhelmed by the helpfulness and friendliness of the Companions. The care I got
was the best I could have wished for, Tilma fed me meals that were fit for the court of a Jarl,
brought potions to dim the pain and treated my wounds with horribly smelling concoctions and
salves. Even the priestess Danica, a friendly, professional woman, had visited once to control the
stitches and infections, but when she saw that I made progress, she was gone again as fast as she
had appeared, obviously in a hurry.
But on the other hand, all this helpfulness and friendliness was frightening. I didn't want to answer
Ria's innocent but curious questions about the fight that had brought me into this mess and even
less those about where I came from and what I had done out there that the wolf had catched me all
alone. I had no answers for her... but she was only friendly, and every time I tried to dodge her
curiosity, I was afraid to disappoint her - or worse, rouse her suspiciousness. The wary, unfriendly
look of the woman who swept out of the quarters the morning after their party without so much as
a greeting was already bad enough. Ria's explanation that Njada was like that to every stranger
and that I shouldn't bother about her didn't help at all.
And I remembered vividly Vilkas' snarky remark about me being a disturbance for his whelps. I
didn't want to be a nuisance or interfere with their daily business. Yes, I was grateful to live. But
although Jorrvaskr was huge and impressive, at least the parts I had seen so far, it was also
incredibly crowded. Far too crowded, and it was nearly impossible to stay out of each other's way.
Nearly a dozen people lived here permanently, and additional guests, associates, clients and
friends often stayed for a night or longer. It was a beehive with people coming and going all the
time... and after only two days I already missed the solitude I had fought so hard to get used to,
and I dreaded the time I would have to spend here. I wasn't used to make conversation, to be
friendly and to express my gratitude, and I had the feeling I had to express my gratitude all the
time. They didn't owe me anything, after all.
And now Athis wanted to drag me into their company for the evening meal.
Biting my lip, I tried desperately to find an excuse.
"I don't feel so well. I'm not hungry," I muttered finally, blushing under his examination.
He tilted his head, the corners of his mouth twitching. "So you wanna bury yourself down here for
the next weeks?"
"Weeks?" I squealed.
He laughed lowly. "Yes, weeks. I won't let you leave as long you're not completely up to the
mark."
I groaned, pulling the blanket up to my chin. "Why do you do that, Athis? I could have just as
well stayed at the temple."
He sat down at the edge of my bed, watching me intently. "You really have to ask? You saved my
life although it would have been much more profitable for you just to let me die. Don't think I'm
not aware of that."
"But it only cost me a few potions. And I still got that pelt and your dagger."
"You count a life against a lousy pelt and a piece of steel?" I had upset him, and his irked
expression made me cringe.
"But I have nothing to pay this back! You spend all this stuff on me, and Vilkas is angry for a
reason..."
He narrowed his eyes. "Vilkas? What did he say?"
"Nothing. Just that you don't need any more disturbances... and that I kept Ria from her training.
And that you neglect your jobs."
Anger flared up in his eyes, but he pulled himself together. "I tell you something, Qhourian.
About how the Companions work. You worry far too much." He gave me a small smile. "Vilkas
is part of the Circle. That's... some of our members who act as advisors to the Harbinger. They
keep track of our contracts, decide which ones to take and which not, deal with the clients, take
care that the payments run in... stuff like that. They're also the best in what they do. Vilkas is
Master-of-Arms for a reason, no one in all of Skyrim who handles a greatsword or claymore like
he." He took a deep breath. "But all this doesn't mean that he can order me around, or Ria or
anybody else. Not even you. And if I decide not to dig for some forsaken family heirloom in a
rotten cave in the Reach while you're struggling with death here, that's solely my decision and not
his business."
He must have seen the doubt in my face. Vilkas didn't make the impression as if anything going
on in Jorrvaskr wasn't his business.
"But I wasn't struggling with death any more. And I don't want you..."
But he interrupted me. "Stop arguing, Qhourian. You wanna get on your feet again as fast as
possible, don't you?"
I nodded. On my feet and out of here.
"Okay. You will heal much faster if you stop fretting. It was my decision to take you in, Kodlak
gave his approval, and neither Vilkas nor you will do anything against it. It's not that we don't
have enough free beds." He stood up and gave me an encouraging grin. "And now join me. You
don't want to force Tilma to serve you down here when you're perfectly capable to come upstairs,
do you?"
Well, I was far from being perfectly capable, cold sweat standing on my forehead and my legs
trembling after the short climb up the stairs, but everything was forgotten when I entered the main
hall for the first time. I didn't know what I had expected but certainly not this. I had no idea that
a room could feel majestic, awe-inspiring and cozy at the same time.
Jorrvaskr was a single-floor building with a gigantic main room, huge in every dimension. The
main area was big like a ballroom, only that it was dominated by a large firepit that spent warmth
and light, on one long and both short sides lined by rows of tables that were now laden with food.
The scent of stew, roasted meat and fresh bread watered my mouth.
This main floor was surrounded by a gallery that lay a few feet higher and on which we stood
now, passing past broad double doors on both sides of the room and several smaller exits to what I
assumed were kitchen and storage rooms. The stone floor in the centre was covered by long
carpets in red and gold, the evening sun streamed in rays through latticed windows, candles burnt
in large chandeliers and added to the overall homey atmosphere.
But the most distinctive characteristic beside its sheer size was the vaulted roof spanning high over
the whole length and width of the room, the wood blackened over the centuries and held by
enormous wooden columns that were adorned with intricate carvings, colourful banners and
plaques with an impressive selection of valuable, choice weapons.
It looked ages old, much older than the stone quarters in the lower level, and it oozed history. Or
perhaps it was just my imagination, but as I span on my heels and looked around, Athis watched
my reverence with a gentle chuckle. On the wall beside the staircase hang a plaque on the wall
above our heads that catched my eyes because it somehow didn't fit into all the splendour. It
displayed several fragments of charred metal, but even my untrained eye could see that the
craftsmanship was incredible despite its destroyed state. I trailed one of the shards with the tip of
my finger, turning to Athis.
"What is this?"
But before he could answer, a dark, angry voice came from a corner. "Don't touch it. That's
Wuuthrad. It is"
Vilkas. I turned, making out the man nearly hidden behind a pillar. "I know what Wuuthrad is," I
interrupted him sharply, "Ysgramor's axe."
Again there was irritation in his expression, besides astonishment and anger. He looked as if I had
tried to melt the shards into a pitchfork. Athis took wordlessly my elbow and led me down to the
tables that were laden with food. It didn't seem as if they had formal dinner during which they all
came together, but that everybody took what and consumed it wherever he wanted. To my relief,
the hall was nearly empty, only an old man sat on a side table and another brought him his meal,
and the man I knew as Skjor sat at the fire. The mer nodded to him in greeting, filling two plates
with potatoes, grilled leek and some kind of roast and beckoned me to follow him.
"Let's eat outside, I've heard that sunlight can do wonders to a sour mood. I'll give you a tour
later." He spoke louder than necessary, and I answered his boyish grin with a chuckle. Somehow,
I felt safe in his company.
During the following days I did what he had told me and tried not to fret too much. Of course my
naive imagination of Jorrvaskr and the Companions had been more lyrical than correct. The
legendary heirs of Ysgramor were people like... well, perhaps not like everybody else, I could sit
for hours and watch them come and go, impressive in their gleaming armours and shining
weapons when they went away and equally impressive when they came back, encrusted with
blood and gore, sometimes limping, sometimes bleeding but always victorious.
But they were still people with quirks and mannerisms. I learned that Aela the Huntress preferred
to spend her free time out in the woods instead of inside the hall and that she was the one
providing most of the enormous amounts of meat the warriors consumed. I learned that Torvar
was a burly Nord with no restraints when it came to indulging himself into his mead, but who was
nevertheless able to be miraculously sober when he went out on a job. Njada regarded me with
barely veiled repulsion I didn't understand at first, until I saw her come out of the men's sleeping
quarters one morning, shooting me a triumphant gaze. I knew Torvar had been out that night, and
I understood. I gave her and Athis who appeared after her an amused smile. That evening, she
challenged him to a brawl and beat him to pulp. And I learned that the only occasion that Vilkas
lost his frosty, clinical demeanor was when his brother thawed him up. Farkas was a lighthearted,
friendly hulk, helpful and companionable, while his brother either whipped the whelps through his
unrelenting training or stayed to himself, usually brooding over a tankard of mead and a book.
Strange, these twins.
The only one I didn't get to know was their Harbinger, Kodlak. Athis said he was ill and stayed
mostly in his quarters. Only once, when I woke from a nap, I caught an old man standing in the
doorway of the living quarters, staring at me. He was an impressive figure, broad and bulky, with
a mane of neatly braided hair and a full grey beard under lively eyes that seemed to pierce through
my sleepy haze. He didn't look ill. But when he saw that I was awake, he turned on his heels and
was gone without a word.
But in the end, they all were just people although different from all the other people I had ever
known.
What distinguished them from others were the strong ties that obviously bound them together.
They behaved like a family I witnessed tensions and fights, but beneath the quarrels I felt a deep
trust, a kind of unspoken understanding. In an hour of need, they'd stand together no matter what,
and they called themselves shield-siblings for a reason.
I felt these ties, but I didn't belong to them, and after some time most of them left me alone, the
prodding and curious questions about my past stopped. I tried to stay out of their way, their flings,
quarrels and bonds didn't concern me. No one ever came too close, no one ever made any
demands. And strangely, their reserve made me feel safe.
But I made progress, only the bitewound on my arm where the wolf's fangs had mauled it into a
gory mess of raw flesh simply didn't want to heal. But as soon as I could I tried to make myself
useful by helping Tilma. How she got the whole business up and running nearly all on her own
was a miracle to me, although everybody else seemed to take it for granted. She sent me on
errands into the city, to the market and to the various traders, and I welcomed these small tasks as
they allowed me to stroll through the streets all on my own, get to know the city and escape the
crowded tightness of Jorrvaskr.
The injuries and the long-lasting fever had left me frighteningly weak, and I knew I'd have to
regain my strength before I could think of leaving. And the days flew by at an alarmingly fast rate.
Training with the Companions was not an option, not only didn't I have any gear, watching them
during their exercises in Jorrvaskr's backyard I knew that I was no match to them. And so I started
my own practicing, made long marches around the huge cliff Whiterun was built upon while
gathering flowers and roots for Tilma she could sell to the local apothecary. The consumption of
potions and salves by the Companions was enormous, and it was the least I could do to cover
these expenses.
The marches became runs, the same loop every day, and it felt good when I needed less and less
time for the round along the outer walls and the steep cliff beneath the palace of the Jarl, past a
watchtower and through the fields of the farmers directly outside of the city. Additionally I used a
dead tree on my way as a training dummy, went into the familiar motions, attacks and parades and
worked myself out until every single muscle hurt. The only thing I missed was a bow to practice
my archery.
But my extended absences didn't go unnoticed, and once a gruff voice stopped me as I opened the
front doors.
"Where are you going, girl?"
Farkas stood behind me, looking intimidating in his steel training armour, dark warpaint smeared
around his eyes, but his rumbling question sounded only curious.
"Out," I said hesitating. To run around the city sounded simply ridiculous, I had to admit. "Gather
some stuff for Arcadia."
"Like this?"
"What do you mean?"
He gave me a once-over. "You're not even armed."
"Of course I am!" My hand went to the hilt of the dagger that was strapped to my belt.
A short grin flared up in his face. "No, you're not." He turned on his heels and descended down
the stairs to the living quarters, beckoning me to follow him and leading me into a side corridor
where he opened a nondescript door. "Choose," he said curtly.
It was a storeroom fit to equip an entire army, with racks and chests, tables and shelves full of
weapons and armour, from tiny daggers to enormous battleaxes I'd barely be able to lift, from
throwing darts to curved bows as long as I, from leather gear to heavy armour pieces made from
iron, steel or kinds of metal I couldn't name. Farkas took in my wide eyes with a chuckle. "What?"
he said, "these are just leftovers for emergencies, loot and discarded stuff. We all have our
personal gear."
I looked around in awe, but it wasn't hard to choose. I took a steel mace, an elegant willow
longbow and a quiver with iron arrows, feeling martial when when I had strapped it all on. I knew
it was only on loan, but it felt good nevertheless.
"Now we only gotta find you some armour," Farkas said, examining me. "Leather, I suppose?" I
could only nod. "You're taller than the other girls," he muttered while opening chests and
rummaging through shelves, putting a cuirass, some leather pants and a pair of gloves aside. He
handed me the items. "Here, try them on. I'll be right back."
The familiar weight of well-fitting leather on my shoulders brought back the memories of my time
in Cheydinhal with sudden vehemence, constricting my throat. Only when I heard Farkas clearing
his throat, I shook myself out of my thoughts. He watched me pensively, having changed into
leather pants and jacket himself, his longsword strapped to his hip.
"Suits you," he said gruffly, "now let's get going."
"You're gonna...?"
"Join you, yes. It's the least I can do. That arm of yours is still useless." He was right,
unfortunately, the cuff of the gauntlet barely fit over the bandages. But my time alone was
precious to me.
"I can take care of myself," I said tersely.
He frowned. "No, you can't. There are sabrecats out there. And wolves. And there's a giant camp
not far."
He was right, of course, but we both knew that all this was no danger as long as I didn't leave the
vicinity of Whiterun. I just wanted to work myself out and pick some flowers, for Kyne's sake!
But he shooed me out of the room and out of Jorrvaskr, and I knew that it would need more than
my meager excuses to keep him from carrying out an idea that had once settled in his head. When
we had passed the marketplace, he fell into the same light jog as I.
"Are you in a hurry?" he asked with a grin.
"No," I answered between clenched teeth.
But it took until we had left the walls of the city behind that I felt his hand on my shoulder. He
surprised me, and I yanked out of his grip, causing a confused look. "What exactly are we doing
here, Qhourian? I thought you wanted to pick flowers?" He pointed at a tuft of tundra cotton right
at his feet.
I groaned. "Told you you don't have to accompany me. I'm just..."
Sudden understanding flew over his face. "You're training, aren't you? Running around the city to
build up your stamina?"
I felt the blood rush into my cheeks. "Yes," I said defiantly. "I have to start somewhere, after all."
A laughter broke out of him. "You're really crazy, woman," he guffawed, "you live in Jorrvaskr
and make up your own exercises? Have you ever thought of joining us? What do you need that
for, anyway? It's not that you're weak."
My face burnt with embarrassment. Of course I was weak, compared to them. And he had no idea
how I lived, that I had to prepare myself. None of them knew how I lived, I realised suddenly.
I studied the fluffy cotton balls at my feet intently. They reminded how far into fall we already
were and how much time I had already spent here. "Just leave me be, Farkas. Please," I said
lowly. He just meant well, but I didn't know why. We were all alone, I didn't know about his
intentions, and it was scary.
But only incomprehension stood in his face. He tried to lay his hand on my shoulder, but I
flinched away. His bright gaze on me was disconcerting. "What do you need this kind of training
for, Qhourian?" he asked quietly. "I know I scared you on your first day, but I thought that was
just... a misunderstanding. But now you're scared again. Why? And why didn't you ask us?"
These were exactly the questions I didn't want to answer, that I had successfully avoided for so
long. I hoped he wouldn't see the despair in my face as I turned an ran away.
But he followed me, easily keeping up, and the sound of his steps behind me chased me along
until I felt the familiar stitches in the side from overexertion. But I clenched my teeth and followed
my usual path until my legs went numb, stopping only when I had reached the stables again,
drenched in sweat, my palms propped on my knees and panting heavily. The stable master gave
me a curious glance, and to know that he watched us made me relax slightly.
Farkas catched up, barely out of breath.
"See?" My grin was cheerless. "That's why I didn't ask."
He eyed me pensively. "That wasn't bad," he said calmly, "I'm cheating, after all."
"Cheating?"
He chuckled. "Aye. First, I'm used to move along in steel. And second..." he fumbled a simple
copper chain out of his neckline, "this is enchanted to restore stamina. Very useful." His sheepish
grin made me laugh, but he became serious again. "I'm sorry, Qhourian. I shouldn't have pressed
you. But... whatever you need it for, I'm sure I could show you a thing or two. Okay?"
I would never have a chance like this again, to get tips from a Companion. I didn't know why he
made this offer... but he seemed genuine. Farkas always seemed genuine.
"Why would you do this?" I asked warily.
He shrugged. "I like to teach others. And... what you're doing here is simply silly." His frankness
made me blush again, but he had already drawn his sword. "Come on, show me what you can."
"Here? Now?"
He bared his teeth in a devious grin. "Yep."
I didn't land a blow on him, of course not. But the mace was a weapon I was familiar with, and
when I lunged for him and he dodged my clumsy attack easily, I was at least able to twist out of
his blade's way fast enough to prevent that his counterattack disarmed me with his first strike.
Astonishment was written into his face after we exchanged a few moves against each other.
"You're used to that weapon. I thought you're just an archer?" His curiosity was obvious, but he
didn't dig further when he saw my tightlipped expression. "It's something we can work with, at
least. But you're rusty." His grin flashed up. "I'll get you fit, believe me."
I had no idea what I had gotten myself into. He chased me on long runs not only around the city,
but to the outer watchtowers and other landmarks. He made me sprint the same short distances
over and over again, let me hop on and off boulders dozens of times in a row, made me climb on
trees and cross the White River balancing on slippery stones over and over again until I was wet
and frozen to the bones. And then he made me stand motionless on one foot, shivering and with
closed eyes, until I thought my leg would splinter like a dry twig under my own weight. And he
forced me through spars that took hours, practiced attack sequences and defense strategies with me
until they were carved into muscles and memory.
And when I lay flat on my back and thought every further move would simply rip my muscles
apart, he made me start all over again.
His drill was merciless, but it was also effective. He seemed to sense my impatience and urgency,
and although I often cursed him violently, I was also thankful for the time he spent with me.
Especially once, when we came back to the city and were greeted by an earshattering roar and
two familiar figures dancing around a giant in the middle of a field of cabbages right across the
stables, some frightened peasants watching the scene from a safe distance.
Aela and Ria were hard pressed by the furious behemoth, and Farkas drew his sword at once and
charged into the fight with a bellowed curse. I had no chance but to join in as well, unstrapping
my bow and joining Aela in trying to get a free shot while the others distracted him in close
combat. Adrenaline shot through my veins as I watched the warriors move around their foe. The
giant wasn't especially fast, but he swang his treelike club with inhuman strength and entirely
unpredictable, forcing Ria and Farkas to stay mostly out of his range and only dart in for swift
strikes to his legs and sides. But especially Farkas was incredibly fast, unhindered by his usual
heavy armour, and he wielded his blade like lightning strikes. In the end, he managed to cut the
sinews in the back of his knee, and when the oversized man dropped down and threw back his
head, roaring in pain, Aela yelled from the top of her lungs.
"His throat, now!"
Our arrows flew, finding their target, and when the Giant slumped forwards, Ria jumped on his
back and pierced the tip of her greatsword through spine and neck, leaning on it with all her
weight until he had stopped twitching.
We gathered around the gigantic corpse, my head hazy with excitement. Aela gave me an
appraising look.
"Excellent work, sister," she said with a small smile, and my incredulous gaping made her
chuckle. Ria laughed loudly and full of relief, and Farkas gave me a grin and a nod.
"Yeah. Good job everybody," he said gruffly before he knelt down and started to cut the toes
from the giant's feet.
The toes. From a giant.
He gathered them in a small leather pouch that was soon dripping with blood. And it smelled
horribly.
"What in Oblivion are you doing?" I gagged and had to turn away from the gruesome sight.
He looked up to me, gore smeared over his face, tousled tresses falling into his eyes. He tucked
them away with an impatient motion, leaving fresh streaks of dirt. "For Arcadia. We're out here to
gather alchemy materials, aren't we? Giant horn is precious, it will fetch us a good price." His grin
was boyish.
But despite the excitement of the fight and the short feeling of cameraderie we had shared, the
experience had also made me realise that my time in Jorrvaskr had to come to an end. I was healed
and perhaps even stronger than before the accident, I had learned a lot and stalled already far too
long. There was no reason to stay any longer. When I steeled myself and joined Athis at a table in
the courtyard, I realised that I would miss him. I would miss them all, somehow... well, perhaps
except Vilkas and Njada.
The mer nursed a bottle of ale and was watching a spar between Vilkas and Aela and Farkas
shredding a training dummy apart, but he gave me a lazy smile when I took place across from him.
"You alright?"
"Aye," I muttered nervously. "I'll leave tomorrow, Athis. And I wanted to thank you, for
everything. All of you, but... well." I didn't know what to say.
He stared at me, an awkward silence growing between us, and I already contemplated to leave the
same moment and spend the night at the inn. Just that I didn't have the coin for a room. But then
the mer leant forward, crossing his arms on the table.
"Why now, so suddenly? Is someone waiting for you?"
He knew that wasn't the case. More than once people had asked me if I wanted to send word
about my whereabouts somewhere, and every time I had refused. I bit my lip.
"No. But it's about time. High time."
He narrowed his eyes. "And where will you go?"
"Home." It was true, in a way. I took a deep breath. "Please, Athis I don't wanna argue. Just"
He propped his chin into his palm. "Impossible. You can't leave like that," he said matter-of-factly.
"And why not, for Kyne's sake?" I had really hoped this would be easier.
He grinned at me. "Because you haven't been drunk yet. You can't live in Jorrvaskr for weeks and
not get shitfaced at least once. Impossible." He poked an affirmative index into my chest. "And
next weekend is the perfect opportunity. Harvest festival, you know? All of Whiterun will be one
big party."
I was speechless. "You want me to stay to see me drunk?"
"No, not simply drunk. Plastered. Wasted. Boozed up that the mead runs out of your ears and you
can't walk straight any more. Torvar will be delighted, he's always looking for new drinking
buddies."
"You're insane, Athis."
"Yep." He turned away and yelled across the training yard. "Farkas, leave the poor thing alone
and come here for a moment, please."
The warrior finished the sequence of his attacks and turned, shining with sweat but a happy grin
plastered over his face. When Athis waved at him, he placed his sword in a rack and came over.
The mer crossed his arms over his chest, leant back against the table and looked very complacent,
but from the other end of the yard, I saw Vilkas watch us with a leery scowl.
"Farkas, as a member of the Circle and as her mentor, would you please tell her that the Harvest
festival will be fun?"
He looked confused from Athis to me. "Of course it will." He chuckled. "Last year, Skjor made
the Jarl's brother jump from the top of the stairs down into the pool at the bottom. He nearly broke
his neck."
Yeah, that sounded like lots of fun. But Athis wasn't finished. "And now you tell her that it would
be a shame if she missed it."
"Of course it would." His eyes grew suddenly wide. "Wait, what?"
"She wants to leave tomorrow."
Farkas propped himself heavily on his palms, shaking his head. "But... why?"
I didn't want to argue and sighed wearily. "Please, guys... you know I have to go. I can't stay here
forever."
"But why are you in such a hurry suddenly?" Athis' grin was devious, and it made me angry. I
pushed back my chair and stood up.
"I said I don't want to argue."
But a firm grip to my shoulder held me back, and I didn't have the heart to jerk out of Farkas' grip
when I met his gaze. "Please, Qhourian. You can't just vanish like that after so much time, without
a proper farewell. Stay at least for the festival, it will be fun. Promised."
That was exactly what I feared most, a proper farewell. But I also felt that it would be cowardish
to vanish like a thief in the night. Although it didn't really matter, I didn't want to be remembered
as a coward. And it was only two more days. Slowly, I nodded.
But I swore to myself to stay away from the mead.
Questions and Answers
I knew beforehand that it was a bad idea. Parties weren't fun. Far too many people, people who
became unpredictable under the influence of alcohol, who talked far too much and in the worst
case became confiding and intrusive. Events like this tended to create an odd sense of closeness
even between utter strangers that was nothing but an illusion. An illusion that usually led to
regrets.
I knew how this went, and I didn't want to take part in it.
Of course it had gotten around that the Harvest festival would be my last evening in Whiterun, and
things suddenly became awkward. I had a last training session with Farkas, but we were tense and
uptight with each other like never before, no teasing and joking or roaring laughter from him when
I cursed his methods with my last bit of breath. And he didn't roughhouse me half as eagerly as I
was used to.
On the day of the festival, I kept myself busy and as much as possible out of Jorrvaskr, helping
Tilma with the preparations. Fetching fresh vegetables, fruits and bread from the market, I realised
that the whole city was indeed in a turmoil. Many of the citizens of the nearby villages had come
to attend the large feast at the expense of the Jarl, the inns and streets were full of bards, jugglers
and acrobats entertaining the crowd and hoping for their generosity, laughter and music
everywhere. Everybody wore his finest attire, the houses were adorned with wreaths and garlands
and the air sated with the scent of flowers, cooked food, roasting meat and fresh hay. Even the
guards had lost some of their stern discipline, they showed an unusual friendly patience with the
army of children rioting through the streets, had friendly greetings and claps on the back for the
people they knew.
It was to be a glorious day. And slowly but surely, a foreboding knot of dread formed in my
stomach.
The Companions planned to have a feast of their own in Jorrvaskr before they'd later join the
crowd in the city, in the inn or on the marketplace where a makeshift stage was standing at the
ready for various performances. I made the decision to attend the feast but excuse myself from the
later activities. I wanted to get up early, after all and if it was really as bad as I expected, the
Companions wouldn't get to rest at all that night.
I was nervous when Tilma shooed me out of the kitchen, ordering me friendly to join the crowd
and have a great evening when the Companions gathered in the main room, all of them in fine
casual clothings. At least I wasn't the only stranger, the hall was full with friends and associates
from Whiterun and beyond. Even the brother of the Jarl was present, one of the few who wore his
usual armour. It seemed he hadn't taken offence at the incident of last year, as he greeted Skjor
with an amicable punch.
I stood a bit apart, waiting for the others to take their seats, but when Torvar blundered up the
stairs, already with a bottle in hand, he pulled me with him and put me between him and Athis,
pressing a tankard that was filled to the brim into my hand. He took in my slightly helpless
expression with a wide grin.
"Don't argue," he said, slapping my back and clinking his bottle against my tankard. Athis joined
in. It wasn't that I had a choice.
All choices and all oaths to myself were vain when the Companions had already decided how the
evening was to proceed.
The meal was regal, Tilma had outdone herself with the delicacies she served. And still it was
pleasantly different from all the formal dinners I had ever attended it was still rustic, the warriors
none to fuss more over manners than to make sure that everybody had fun and got filled up. And
they had fun, the drinks flowing freely, the usual mead and lighter ale as much as exquisite wine
and liquors.
It didn't take long and the well arranged table dissolved, people stood up, cleared the dirty dishes
and put a few of the tables out of the way to gain room when instruments were brought out and
the music began. There was no bard, but it wasn't necessary. Two people who had sat besides
Skjor during the meal and who Athis introduced to me as his sister and brother-in-law had brought
a lute and a few drums, and Ria fetched her flute and joined in.
At first people were hesitating to move, only pulling their seats into a half-circle and tapping their
feet to the rhythm or clapping their hands, some still with their platters on their knees. And the
music was also different from everything I was used to. At the balls I had attended we had
orchestras, professional musicians who had played and practiced together for years, with a
repertoire elaborate and sophisticated enough for every king's court and made to accompany the
formal dances I had learned either those that passed the women from man to man in burlesque
gallantry or those that moulded two bodies together in movements as artistic as suggestive.
I had hated them both. I had hated to have to dance with strangers.
But what we got presented now was so different that I could only watch and listen in awe and
amusement. It was much more improvised and impromptu, the trio played tavern and battle songs,
ballads and other popular tunes everybody knew and was able to sing along. Everybody but me, it
seemed. Ria had an enchanting voice, bright and clear, that rose easily over the noise, and finally
Kodlak broke the ice when he stood up and asked Tilma with a small bow to grant her a dance.
The elderly woman was all beaming smiles when she laid her palm into his and followed him to
the dance floor.
This feast was the first opportunity I witnessed the Harbinger to come out of his quarters and take
part in the activities in Jorrvaskr. I still hadn't spoken a single word with him, but during the meal
as he sat at the head of the table, framed by Vilkas and the Jarl's brother, our eyes had met, and he
had given me a gentle smile. It was... as if he wanted to assure me of his approval that I was here,
and it made me feel safe.
And now he led the dance, and it was as if the others had only waited for this signal to join in, the
floor soon filled with pairs. This was no formal dance, the couples moved as they saw fit, more or
less elegant or clumsy, barely touching or in tight embraces. Usually they tried not to get in each
other's way, but sometimes the whole choreography broke up and the crowd formed a circle or a
line, grasping the shoulders of whoever was next to them, stomping, jumping and throwing their
legs in unison.
Soon nearly everybody was either dancing or standing at the edge of the dancefloor, clapping and
waiting for a partner. Only Vignar, the oldest Companion, sat in his armchair near the fire,
chatting with a woman standing out because she was the only one wearing an elaborate formal
gown, and Vilkas hadn't left his place at the table either, nursing a bottle of mead. His gaze was
smouldering, full of tension and barely tamed aggression, but for once I was able to ignore it. The
others did as well, after all.
I had calmed down, the nervous tension gone, I realised with some astonishment. The mead had
certainly helped with that, my tankard was never empty and I wasn't used to that much alcohol,
making my head slightly dizzy. But for the moment, I could forget that this was my last evening in
these halls, that I would probably never see all these people again. For the moment, they weren't
just people any more. It wasn't that we were close, not like they were among themselves. But I
had formed some kind of relationship with them that wasn't determined by power and abuse, and
this experience was precious. It was something I would take with me.
I was relaxed and content to watch the crowd and listen to the music, and when Torvar came and
asked me to dance, I shook my head with a smile and pointed him to Aela who had just been
released by Skjor. He didn't take offense, and neither did Farkas when he tried the same.
I was glad to have stayed for this evening, it would be a longlasting memory. But I wouldn't
dance. Too much closeness, too many memories of strangers pressing their bodies flush against
mine I didn't want to wake. As long as I only watched, taking in the boisterous cheerfulness
around me, I could indulge myself in it as if it was my own.
The voice of Skjor's sister pulled me out of my reverie, announcing another piece of music from
their apparently inexhaustible repertoire.
"A song ages old that has gained new actuality recently. The dragons are back, we live at the edge
of times and perhaps we will live to see the Dragonborn come. And if we do, we will know how
to greet him!"
"Or her!" Torvar heckled, earning a laughter, but then the music set in and it became quiet.
Our hero, our hero, claims a warrior's heart.
I tell you, I tell you, the Dragonborn comes.
With a Voice wielding power of the ancient Nord art.
Believe, believe, the Dragonborn comes.
It's an end to the evil, of all Skyrim's foes.
Beware, beware, the Dragonborn comes.
For the darkness has passed, and the legend yet grows.
You'll know, you'll know the Dragonborn's come.
It was a beautiful tune, the women's duet only accompanied by soft arpeggios of the lute, the
melody slow and solemn. People stopped to dance as if for once, the words were more important
than the music, but they smiled as they listened, sudden quiet quivering through the crowd as long
as it lasted.
I had witnessed the return of the dragons and the devastation they could bring over the land. The
threat was real, much more than just a legend of old, and still this song was full of confidence, it
spoke of hope and strength and that a hero would come who had the power to overcome the
darkness.
It was about a mythical figure, but although I heard it for the first time, I made it my own. My very
own darkness was waiting for me, I was no hero and no song would ever sing of it. But perhaps I
would find the strength to overcome it as well.
This evening would give me strength, the memory of Jorrvaskr and the Companions would give
me strength. For the moment we were having a good time, and I was resolved to enjoy it as long
as it lasted.
But it crumpled faster than I expected. My head was hazy in the warm, stifling air in the hall, all
the voices and the music buzzing through my head like a swarm of bees. As I stood up, I felt
Athis' questioning look on me, and I gave him a smile and wiped my forehead as if I was
sweating, leaving through the back door to the abandoned training yard. A gust of cold night air
hit me with startling strength. There was frost in the air, and the first leaves of the trees standing
around the porch and near the stairs to the Skyforge whirled dry and dead over the pavement.
Helgen had been in spring, although I didn't know the exact date, and now my first winter in
Skyrim was already rapidly approaching. Suddenly I was sober again, the calm relaxation
replaced by anticipation and a sense of foreboding. I had been lazy and stalled, confiding in the
comfort of living under a roof and having regular meals, had blocked out the fact that it had to
end.
Now with the shock of the cold on my skin the awareness came back with sudden force. Taking a
few deep breaths, I returned to the hall and crossed the hall towards the living quarters. I could
pack my things just as well right now.
But I was stopped before I had even reached the stairs. The grip around my upper arm was
unrelenting, so hard that it would cause bruises as I was hurled around and tossed into a shadowed
niche in the back of the hall. Vilkas clutched my wrists in an iron grip and pressed his forearm
against my collarbones, pressing me against the wall.
His voice wasn't more than a threatening hiss. "That's it, bitch," he whispered into my ear, his
breath unbearably hot on my neck, "now you tell me who you are, what you are and why you're
still here. I want answers."
The onslaught of black panic that washed over my senses made it impossible to breathe, to think,
to move. I froze, became rigid and stiff.
He was so close, far too close, his teeth bared in a feral snarl as his head bowed down to me. I
could smell the mead on his breath and his bodywarmth seep through my clothes as he trapped me
with his weight. His right leg forced my feet apart, placing him between them. In this position he
could knock me over with a single motion, and at the same time it was like a travesty of intimacy.
Observers would perhaps mistake us for a couple caught in passion.
When I didn't answer at once, his grip on my wrists became even firmer. Not much more and he
would break them. "I want answers, and I will get them. I want to know what you hide from us."
A shiver of helplessness ran through me. Perhaps this was how it had to end, perhaps I should
have anticipated it. I knew he could feel the blank fear that paralysed my limbs, the darkness that
took over my thoughts, read it from my face and smell it in the cold sweat forming on my temples.
He relished in it, in this power he had over me and came even closer, pressed in further, his pale
gaze cruel and smug.
"Speak," he growled.
And this was too much. The last men who had thought they could threaten me just because they
were stronger and larger than me had died the soldiers in Helgen just like the man trying to
pillaging my camp.
I had sworn to myself never to be forced again, never again to submit to the alleged power of
someone else. I straightened myself against his body.
"Why should I, Vilkas?" I spat into his face, "you're gonna force me?"
I didn't want it to end like this. Everything would have been better, but Vilkas had obviously
severe hubris issues. His breath in my face let me gag, but I was no child any more. What he did
was wrong, and I only had to convince myself that his power over me was just an illusion.
"If I have to." He looked as if he wanted to strangle me, and that he lost his temper like this gave
me back a bit of my self-control. But before I could do or say anything else, a calm voice came
from behind.
"Vilkas? What's going on here?"
Slowly he released the pressure of his body, only held my shoulders in a grip that was still equally
impossible to escape. He spoke over his shoulder, teeth bared in a false grin.
"We're just talking... sister."
Aela watched the scene quizzically and laid a hand on his shoulder. "Doesn't look like that.
You're drunk. Leave her be."
He yanked away from her touch and spun around, a deep crease between his brows. "I'm not
drunk!" he growled menacingly, "in fact, I'm the only one keeping a clear head in this house of
fools." His voice dropped to a sinister hiss. "Aren't you curious about her, Aela? For weeks she's
lived here now, and we know nothing. Not where she comes from, not what she's doing, not
where she'll be going. Nothing."
The scene slowly attracted attention, more people gathering around us, most of them Companions.
They were just people, curiosity and discomfort in their faces. Nothing personal. The music still
played, but it was only a noise in the background, muffled by the maelstrom in my head.
Aela watched us pensively, took in how Vilkas' palm still pressed me against the wall.
"Let her go, Vilkas," she said calmly. He removed his hand hesitantly, but he still stood before me
like a wall, looking defiantly into the round.
"I want answers. And I will get them. I want to know what she has to hide."
Aela searched my eyes, sternness in her expression. "He's right, Qhourian. We know nothing
about you."
"Isn't a bit too late for that?" I snarled in her direction.
"It's never too late."
But it was Athis who made a step forwards although Njada tried to hold him back with a scowl.
He stood before Vilkas, straight and slender, strong brows furrowed in scorn.
"What does it matter, Vilkas? She saved my life when it would have been much easier for her just
to let me bleed out. She's a fighter. You know I wanted her to stay, I'm not the only one, and still
she will leave tomorrow."
Nobody had ever asked me. I didn't want to stay. I didn't know where I belonged, but it was
certainly not Jorrvaskr. These people could easily afford to be generous, with their wealth,
reputation and power. It didn't mean that this was my place to stay. I knew this... and Vilkas knew
it as well.
His scowl was full of contempt. "So now we take in every bitch that comes crawling from under a
rock just because she can skin a bear? A bear she didn't even kill herself? She's even more useless
than Ria! We have no idea who this woman is," he spat as if I wasn't there, "no one here has!" His
furious gaze turned to me. "You will answer these questions. Now."
Athis became stiff, clenching his fists. He was adorable, but what I felt most was curiosity how
this would turn out. The waves would calm as soon as I was gone, they knew each other far too
good and for far too long to fight over someone like me. Not seriously.
But the mer was angry, his voice only a hiss. "Where did you come from, Vilkas? What exclusive
lineage do you have to show off that you deserve to be a Companion? Tell me, Vilkas... under
which rock did you live, you and your brother, before you came here?"
Vilkas blanched, visible even under the warpaint. I could hear him grind his teeth. "We were only
toddlers," he pressed out, "and Jergen was a softhearted fool."
"And still he took you in," Athis said dangerously calm, "and when he was gone, Kodlak and
many others took care of you. No one ever asked what you are and where you came from. No one
ever denied you your place here."
I had to end this and made a step forwards, laying a hand on Athis shoulder. Vilkas' furious gaze
tried to impale me when I met it. "This isn't the same, Athis," I said calmly. "I'll answer your
questions. You've got a right to know who resides in your hall."
"It's not his hall," Athis scowled, "you don't..." The look I gave him made him close his mouth.
No one else intervened. It was as if they had only waited for this scene to happen.
I steeled myself. Suddenly I was freezing, but it was better to end this episode like this than to lie
to them. A few hours more or less, a last night under this roof... it didn't matter any more.
"I come from Falkreath originally. At least I was born there, 26 years ago. My family was nothing
special, I had a sister and a brother. And concerning the question what I am..." I gave him a small,
mirthless grin. "Well, some people would call me a courtesan, but I won't lie in these halls. I'm a
whore, I've been a whore for the last twelve years. And I only know which end of a piece of steel
is supposed to hurt because my master was generous and let me play as long as I did a good job.
At least it helped me to escape the block in Helgen."
I looked from face to face, head high and shoulders squared, taking in their stunned expressions as
I turned on my heels. There were shock, contempt and disgust, traces of pity and curiosity, all the
reactions I had expected. Athis' jaw was slack with bewilderment.
At least now they finally all agreed with me that I didn't belong here.
I retreated into the dormitory, no one following me. I would keep the clothes I wore, they were old
and threadbare anyway, but I placed the armour I had used and the weapons I had trained with on
the bed I had slept in. The blanket was folded neatly on the foot end, and I eyed it wistfully. But
nothing of this was mine, everything I owned was stuffed into the crude satchel I slung over my
shoulder. It was light, and still it was uncomfortable after I had tried out the knapsacks the
Companions used with their intricate straps and bindings.
When I passed by the group of warriors that still stood like frozen, I handed the Skyforge dagger I
had used for so long to Athis, hilt first. "Thank you for this, Athis," I said with a light smile, "but I
don't want to risk any further misunderstandings." He took it reluctantly, but he took it without a
further word.
Once more I looked into the round. I had no quarrel with them. "Thank you all. You saved my life
and took me in for longer than necessary, and for that I'm grateful."
There was no reaction but a satisfied smirk from Vilkas. Only Farkas watched me with pity and
confusion in his face, as if he couldn't believe what had happened. I gave him a glance.
"Fun, eh? Just like you promised."
To see him cringe gave me an odd sense of satisfaction.
I crossed the room stiffly, ignoring the stares that followed me. The moment I opened the heavy
doors that led outside, the Harbinger's deep voice sounded full and demanding through the room.
"What's going on here?"
I closed the doors behind me. Vilkas would find an explanation. He was good at explaining
things.
I felt numb as I made my way down the stairs, numb and frozen from the inside, but I forced
myself not to look back. And as I went through the streets of the city, brightly lit and full of
laughter and music and people enjoying themselves tremendously, anger crawled into my innards.
Anger with myself.
When had I become so naive and gullible? I had fooled myself into a false comfort of which I
always knew that it was only on loan, that it wasn't mine. How could I believe I could leave it
behind? I'd never leave Cheydinhal behind. This was what I was, what I had always been, useless
as everything else. I remembered my training with Farkas. For him, it must have been an
entertaining distraction from the real work he did as I fidgeted against him with my borrowed
mace and thought he was serious in his efforts to teach me. Borrowed gear, borrowed food,
borrowed warmth. Borrowed companionship. Sooner or later, I'd always have to give it back
and pay for it.
As I leant against the dead trunk of the Gildergreen tree and looked down to the crowded market
place, a mirthless grin spread over my face. I could just find someone to buy me a drink. Or
perhaps someone to take me in for the night. It would be easy, wouldn't it? Find someone who
paid for me, and I would pay him back the best I could.
Revulsion with myself shook me and made me heave. I wasn't drunk enough to act on my ideas.
Instead I pushed off the street and shoved myself through the crowd, earning unsympathetic
glances for my rude behaviour, and just left. The guards let me out of the gate with a weird look
no one left the festivity so early in the night, quite the contrary, there were still people arriving, late
travellers eager to join in.
But I wanted to get out, and I made my way down to the main road with a feeling of which I
wasn't sure if it was despair or determination. I would survive this night, somehow. And the next
and everything that came after it.
I spent the night in an empty box at the stables, the restless snorting of the horses keeping me
awake. But they also spent some warmth, and I was gone again with the first tendrils of light
before anyone had seen me. And when I stood at the crossroads that would determine my further
way, studying the signs pointing in direction of Riften and Markarth, Windhelm, Riverwood and
Ivarstead with a strangely clear head, I suddenly knew where I had to go.
The most important now was to find some equipment, at least a bow and a dagger, and I knew
where to find some. I couldn't afford to buy anything essential, the few meager coins I owned
barely enough for a single meal at an inn, and I wouldn't steal. But Skyrim was at war, and people
died all the time - people with armour and weapons. The tunnels beneath Helgen were full of
corpses I had left behind myself, and they weren't accessible from the city itself any more after the
collapse of the vaults under the dragon's attack. After I had taken what I could use myself or sell, I
would return to Whiterun and gather alchemy ingredients for Arcadia until I could afford the most
basic supplies. The least I needed was a warm cloak and woolen clothes to get through the coming
months. And I wanted a bedroll, warm and cozy, with a fur-lined hood like the ones I had seen in
Jorrvaskr.
Everything was still quiet at the stables as I turned away, not even the carriage driver was up yet
and waiting for passengers. Something between melancholy and new vigour filled me as I stepped
on the cobblestone road, passed the meadery and turned right on the mountain path towards
Riverwood. I couldn't change what had happened, but in the end, it could at least serve as a lesson
learned.
The frost of the night made way for a mild, windless day, so warm that the march along the steep
path parallel to the White River made me sweat, especially as I fell into a run when I heard the
howling of a wolf pack in the distance. No more wolves their pelts were precious, but I had had
enough of them for the rest of my life.
But I had to admit, whatever Farkas had aimed at, the endless runs over the plains had done their
purpose. I was barely out of breath when I reached the vicinity of Riverwood, the earshattering
noise of a sawmill even drowning out the foaming waters.
I didn't enter the village though, although one day I wanted to come back here and thank the smith
and his wife for their selfless care. But not like this, not like a beggar with nothing but the clothes I
wore, and so I didn't cross the river until I had left the small settlement behind, stayed in the
shadows of the mountains that loomed over it, crowned by the crumpled, but still menacing ruins
of a watchtower and a Nordic tomb.
The path up to the entrance to the maze beneath Helgen was winded, curving in serpentines
through the sparse forest. With no means to defend myself I didn't dare to leave it and cut through
the wilderness though, and when the sun slowly dipped towards the horizon, I had to accept that I
wouldn't reach my goal that day. But I found a place to stay for the night with a pair of fishers, a
man and a woman living at the edge of the river. Their camp and its surroundings smelled horribly
due to lines over lines of drying fish strung up on racks around their fire, but I couldn't be picky.
They were quiet people, didn't tell me their names and didn't ask for mine, but they offered me to
stay with a friendly smile and traded a piece of bread for some of the berries and tiny, sour wild
apples I had found by the wayside. When I curled myself together as close to the fire as possible,
the woman handed me a threadbare blanket.
I slept deep and dreamless that night, as if I had never gotten used to a roof over my head and the
comfort of a mattress.
Decisions
I woke to the quiet mumbling of people, hushed voices, words I couldn't understand. Slowly my
thoughts emerged from the sleepy daze. I was freezing and stiff from lying on the cold, hard
ground.
When I opened my eyes, the fisherman hunched beside me, shaking my shoulder gently. He
looked concerned.
"People are looking for you. Warriors. They don't tell us what they want."
I startled up, wide awake in an instant. The only warriors I knew were the ones from Jorrvaskr.
What did they want? Make me pay belatedly for the time I had spent there?
And why did this small, weather-worn man care at all?
I gave him a weak smile. "Thank you. I will deal with them."
"My fire is yours. Tell me if you need help," he said sternly. He didn't even know my name, we
had exchanged less than a dozen sentences the evening before. And still, the law of hospitality
was obviously sacred enough to him to offer his assistance against trained warriors and put his
own life at risk. I treasured him for his sincerity.
"What's your name, friend?" I asked quietly. He smiled. Exchanging names meant to become an
individual to someone else.
"Lars. My wife is Frigge."
"I'm Qhourian. Thank you again, Lars. They won't do no harm." At least I hoped so.
I rose and saw his wife standing on the small path leading down to the river, arguing with two
people. People I knew. I groaned inwardly. When Athis saw me standing at the fire, he shoved
her to the side and came down with long, determined strides. No smile was in his face, not even
the slightest quirk of his lips.
He stopped right in front of me and punched me into the shoulder. "Are you insane or just stupid
to run off like that?" he bellowed, clasping my upper arms in a bruising grip, hard enough to leave
a mark as he yelled at me. "We thought you'd stay at the inn until everyone's sober again and we
could talk, but no, you had to dash off like mad and vanish without a trace, and now Kodlak's
worried sick!"
I didn't know why he had come, but I hadn't expected this. Who did he think who he was? He
dared to rebuke me? I yanked out of his grip and gave him a heavy shove to get him away from
me, fuming with anger.
"Who do you think you are, Athis? Talk? About what? You know that I don't have any money
and that I couldn't pay for a room. But you probably thought that women like me don't have to
pay. That I'd rather fuck some drunken dork than to freeze." I shoved him again, my palms against
his chest, and he stumbled backwards. "I'm so sorry that Kodlak worried. But you know what?
He'll get over it. And perhaps you've both learned not to take in every bitch that comes crawling to
your holy hall!"
His arms fell to his side and his face crunched in frustration, but he didn't fight back. I had been
right. He didn't want to fight, just make me pay for the disgrace I had brought to the Companions
by humiliating me even more. Lars and Frigge stood like frozen, watching us dumbfounded as I
snatched my satchel from the ground. I felt like crying, clenched my teeth violently when I turned
to the fisherman.
"I'm sorry I disturbed you," I said lowly.
He gave me a small smile. "You didn't."
But an amused chuckle came from where Aela leant against a boulder, a chuckle that evolved into
a laughter when I shot her a glare. "Told you you'd need me for more than just to find her,
brother," she smirked at Athis who gave her a helpless look. A very smug told you so-smirk. "Call
upon her conscience, what an incredibly stupid idea. Men!"
She shook her head and pushed herself off, patting the mer on the back as she came over. "Stay
out of the way. Go hunting, or have a look if that mine near Riverwood we cleared out two weeks
ago is still clean. Make yourself useful, Ill meet you tonight." She turned to me and eyed me
curiously. "Where are you heading? Don't even try to argue, I'll join you."
I didn't deign her with an answer, just went away, along the path that led upwards into the
mountains. It couldn't be that far now. But I heard her steps behind me, accentuating the chaos that
whirled through my head. I was helpless and furious, her steps, her entire presence grating on my
nerves. I didn't know what she wanted, I didn't know why she had sent Athis away, I didn't know
why she accompanied me now. All I knew that it was impossible to get rid of her.
When I fell into a run, she kept easily pace despite the heavy pack on her shoulders. I tried to
outrun Aela the Huntress. Laughable.
But she ran past me before I could say anything when I finally stopped in the middle of the street,
ready to confront her. "Only half a mile further," she said over her shoulder. And now it was me
who followed her.
In a sharp curve, on a small rocky ledge directly at the precipice stood three ancient stones where
Aela waited for me. The monoliths were clearly man-made, larger than I and nearly identical with
their intricate engravings and heavy bands of steel lining the holes in their tips. They stood in a
half-circle, and all that distinguished them were the icons engraved into on their front sections, one
showing a running man with a dagger, the one in the centre a robed figure with a staff and the last
one a heavy armoured warrior wielding axe and shield.
Aela leant relaxed against the right stone. "The Guardian Stones," she said, "you know about
them?"
I just shook my head. It was clear that they were some kind of monument, but I had never heard of
them before. And I had given up to try to understand her. At the moment, it seemed as if she had
led me here, as if my own decision to go to Helgen was entirely irrelevant.
She pushed herself off and stood beside me, pointing at the stones from left to right. "The Thief,
The Mage and The Warrior. Three of more than a dozen Standing Stones that are scattered over
Skyrim, but these are the most important. They're said to bless those who have the strength and the
will to choose the path of their life. Sometimes people bring their children here to determine their
future. But it doesn't work that way... you have to choose on your own."
Her steel-nailed heels crunched on the rock as she spun around. "You can make your choice too,
Qhourian."
Very pathetic. I gave her a lopsided, cheerless grin. "My choices have been made for me long
ago."
"I knew you'd say that. Unfortunately we don't have a Whore Stone to get you blessed for your
further life. One of these will have to do."
When I had knocked out the guard in Cheydinhal and fled, I had thought that was the turning
point of my life. I thought it again after I left the tunnels of Helgen, but it had been just a sequence
of coincidences that let me survive the dragon. And the Companions they were just another
accident. Again I had to start over because I had been careless in so many regards, and again there
was nothing to choose. Helpless fury took over.
She didn't see it coming when my fist landed on her jaw with a satisfying thump, a startled yelp
my reward. I grabbed her collar and shoved her back against the Thief Stone.
"I dont know what you want, Aela, but I can only guess that it has something to do with duty and
pity and that damned honour of yours. You know what? Stick it where the sun never shines, I
dont need it!"
It was probably not the smartest idea to attack a fully geared Companion with nothing but my bare
hands, but I didnt care. She didnt either though, staying motionless in my grip, a malicious smirk
forming on her face.
"True, Qhourian. Youre so full of self-pity, you really dont need mine. And I wouldnt waste it
on you anyway."
I wanted to beat this condescending, complacent grin from her face, blinding rage breaking free in
a furious scream. I didn't target my punch, just wanted to hit and hurt her just like she hurt me so
effortlessly. But she catched my fist before it could strike her again, grabbing my wrist in an iron-
hard grip, and with a movement fast like lightning she pushed me away and spun me around,
locking my hands behind my back and bending me over, my arms stretched upwards in an angle
that I thought it would tear my shoulder joints apart.
She bowed down beside me, her face only inches from mine. Despite her violent treatment, her
voice was nearly gentle. "Kodlak sent us to find you. No, he ordered us to find you. And you will
listen why I want you to come back and speak with him."
"Why would he?" I hissed, writhing in her grip. "I've never spoken only a single word with him!"
"I don't know. But you know you shouldnt have left like this."
I barked out a scornful laughter. "Aye, I should have left much earlier. But better late than never,
right? You'll never see me again."
"And that would be a pity. You've shown potential."
"For what, Companion?" I seethed, "to offer some stress relief after a hard day of being
honourable?"
She changed her position, one of her hands holding my wrists behind my back, and now the other
clenched around my neck, forcing me to my knees. When I knelt before her, she released me and
hunched down in front of me. Her voice was full of disgust. "Why do you do that? Debase
yourself like that?"
I stared defiantly into her face. "I can't change what I am. I won't lie about it."
Her expression was sinister. "What exactly are you, Qhourian?"
"You should ask your shield-brothers," I snorted, "Vilkas has certainly a very concise idea of
what I am."
"Stop that. Leave them out of it. Vilkas is a fool, he didn't listen."
"Of course he did," I flared up, "I'm not stupid! I saw his reaction... and yours."
"No, he didn't. We were shocked, yes, all of us, but he only heard whore and escaped criminal.
You told us more, though. Much more." She took a deep breath. "You're only 26 although you
look much older. Your family is dead. You were only 14 when you became a prostitute. And
somehow you broke out and ended up in Helgen. A bunch of Stormcloak rebels was to be
executed there when the dragon attacked. You're no soldier, you had probably no business on that
block and the Imperials simply didn't care. And it was destroyed four months ago. You've been
alone for all this time."
A small chortle escaped her. "You know, Qhourian... we Companions don't have many rules, but
one is never to go out on a job alone. We always work with a shield-sibling. Survival is far too
much of a gamble without someone shielding your back."
I averted my eyes. I had been careless, and I had no idea that she was so attentive. "Athis was
alone when I found him."
"Yes, and he paid for it. Will you be reasonable now and have breakfast with me?"
Gods, this was preposterous! Breakfast! I was hungry like a wolf, the growling of my stomach
betraying me. She gave me a playful shove before she settled against the Thief Stone and pulled
some bread, cheese and a few apples from her pack, throwing one of them over to me.
I still didnt know what she wanted, but it was impossible to escape Aela the Huntress. I sat down,
leaning against the Warrior Stone across from her.
"This is pointless, Aela, even if you were right. But you and I know that it won't change
anything."
"And I didn't think that you're such a coward."
My hands balled into fists. "I'm what?"
"A coward." Her eyes were hard as granite. "You didn't have a choice, am I right? You were
forced into this life. Whatever happened to your family... you were only a child, and you never
had a chance to decide anything for yourself. And if it was what you wanted, you'd still be there."
Her voice got a persuasive undertone. "But somehow you ended up in Jorrvaskr... call it luck,
fate, destiny, whatever. With a Skyforge dagger at your hip. And whatever it is that Kodlak wants
to talk about with you, it is probably some kind of offer."
"I don't want an offer from you, Aela," I said coldly, "I don't need your pity."
"See? Cowardly. For the first time you could perhaps make a choice of your own... but you
dismiss it before you even know what it is. Instead you spit your I'm a whore into everyone's face
and think that will take the decision out of your hands."
I clenched my teeth. She was right, in a way. But it didn't change anything. I couldn't leave
Cheydinhal behind. It didn't even matter if I had been forced, if it was my decision to stay or to
flee. It didn't matter how I had become what I was, it stuck to me like a layer of gore. No one
would ever look behind it.
"What should I have done, Aela? Lie to you? Vilkas asked, and he got an answer. It's not that I
could have defied him."
She propped her chin in her palm, her calm gaze not leaving my face. A small smile quirked her
lips. "No. You couldn't have lied, but you don't have to justify yourself."
"Vilkas must have missed that memo."
"He can't tell you what to do... and you underestimate him. You underestimate us all. All I want of
you is to speak with Kodlak. Listen to what he has to say, even if it's an offer. And then you can
decide and not just run away."
I gave her a mirthless grin. "The next you'll say is that I owe that to you."
"Well, you do. But no, the next will be for you to get dressed."
She fumbled a large package out of her knapsack and threw it into my lap. It was the armour and
weapons I had used, even the quiver with the iron arrows was strapped to the top and there was
a sheathe with a dagger. Not Skyforge, but fine, sharp steel.
"This isn't mine!"
She threw her hands in the air. "Gods, could you please stop to argue! The armour doesn't fit
anyone else and no one but you uses a mace. So just take it and shut up, okay?"
Suddenly I understood why Farkas said, albeit jokingly, that she was scary. She wore the title The
Huntress for nearly thirty years already... she wouldn't start now to let her prey escape, and she
managed to look scary even while she was chewing lazily on a piece of bread.
For a moment we both chewed on our loaves of bread in a silence that was nearly companionable.
She endured my scrutiny without emotion, finishing her last bites and finally rose in a fluid
motion. "Come on, if we take the shortcut over the mountain we can be home tonight."
Home? I swallowed heavily as I stood up and started to put on the cuirass. Her lips twisted
impatiently when I turned slowly to her, only half of the buckles fastened.
"Why did you send Athis away, Aela?"
She stayed silent for a moment, regarding me pensively. As she made a step towards me, putting
her hand on my shoulder, her expression had suddenly a gentleness that seemed strange on her.
"Because he's a fool. And the last you need now is a man telling you what to do, even if it's just a
mer who'd never do you any harm."
Her hand came up, her thump wiping away the tears that streamed over my face. She patted the
back of my head when I muffled the sobs that shook my body against her shoulder.
"Nobody will force you to do anything you don't want. No need to be afraid."
"I'm not afraid!"
She chuckled, holding me at arm's length. "That's good to hear. But if you don't start moving
soon, I'll bring Farkas to take you to Whiterun. He's worse than Athis, believe me!"
Well, that was a real threat. The thought to be carried through the city and into Jorrvaskr slung
over the shoulder of that brute made me giggle under my tears. I knew he wasnt onlytotally
capable of doing so, hed also not hesitate for a single second and have fun with it. And despite all
our training, I'd never be able to outrun him. He cheated, after all.


"Harbinger." I bowed my head respectfully at the old man who sat at a table in the antechamber of
his quarters, a journal, ink and quill in front of him.
He gestured us to come in with a smile, putting the booklet away. "Thank you, Aela. I knew I
could count on you. Please, tell Tilma I need dinner for two today, will you?" She retreated with a
friendly nod.
"Have a seat, Qhourian."
When I sat in front of him, he eyed me apprehensively. "We should have done this earlier. Get to
know each other."
He was the Harbinger of the Companions. He had better things to do than to get to know a stray
that one of his warriors had taken in. More important things.
"It's an honour, Harbinger," I muttered, "but I don't understand..."
"Why I sent the best tracker in all of Skyrim to find you? Well, it wasn't my idea, Athis would
have gone anyway. I just gave them... a little push."
"But why?" I blurted out, "why all this fuss about me?"
He leant back in his chair, his hands laying relaxed on the armrests. He had nothing frightening
about him, and still he emitted a serenity of age, wisdom and experience that was awe-inspiring.
But his smile was gentle, and his eyes were kind and honest. The way he looked at me... I wasn't
sure why, but I felt that I could trust him.
"Many reasons, and I will tell you about them later. But first, I want you to tell me how you came
here. And why you ran away."
He wanted me to tell him my life. I met him for the first time ever, and he had no qualms to make
such a demand. He met my incredulous gaze with a gentle chuckle.
"I want to get to know you, girl. Nothing you say now will leave Jorrvaskr. Nothing you already
revealed will leave Jorrvaskr. Promised."
As if Vilkas and Njada wouldn't use every opportunity to point out how right they had been. As if
a drunk like Torvar could keep a secret. As if someone as sweet and innocent as Ria would know
when to keep her mouth shut.
But he leant forwards, his eyes piercing into my wary expression. "I promise. Get it off your
chest."
And I did. I told him everything, his calm gaze spurring me on, and once I had started it seemed I
couldn't stop again. I told him of my family and their death, the orphanage and how I came to
Cheydinhal, my education there and my work. And how I fled, about Helgen and what happened
afterwards. It took ages, and he never interrupted me, not a single comment, not a single question.
Only once, when Tilma brought our dinner, beaming when she saw me, he interrupted the torrent
of words that flowed out of me briefly. My food was long cold when I had finished, and I felt
empty and numb.
And in a strange way incredibly relieved.
It was long quiet between us, Kodlak pouring us some wine and handing the goblet to me. My
throat was raw and dry, and I took it thankfully. He circled his own goblet between his fingers and
stared into the ruby liquid.
Finally he looked up and catched my gaze. "And why did you run away?"
I nearly choked on my wine. "I didn't run away! I had to go anyway" My voice trailed off. Of
course I had run away, he knew it just as well as I.
His voice was gentle. "I think this is a misunderstanding, Qhourian. See you've worked hard
during the last weeks. You let Farkas bully you through a treatment that was much worse than
what he grants the other whelps. You've been helping wherever you could. Many of our members
have taken a liking to you. We thought well, we were of the impression you wanted to stay.
That you want to apply for membership."
I was speechless for a moment. "You thought what?"
"That you prepare to join us."
I shook my head unbelievingly. "But Kodlak I'm no warrior. I'm just of course I didn't want
to join!"
"Well, Aela says you're a fabulous archer and Farkas that you're not so bad with the mace. You
just told me how you fought for your life more than once. Why do you think you're no warrior?"
I groaned, burying my face in my palms. This had taken a direction that was as insane as
awkward, and I wished the ground would open up and swallow me.
I glanced up to him. "I hit a giant from twenty feet away. I don't think that's sufficient to join the
Companions."
"No, but it's a start. And you can do much more than that. You're not so bad at keeping yourself
alive either."
"Yes, and that's what I prepared for, and I'm truly thankful for Farkas' help." I wanted to end this
uncomfortable conversation, shifted my satchel into my lap and twisted the strap nervously. "This
was indeed a misunderstanding. I'm sorry I should have been clearer in declaring my intentions.
I'm sorry I wasted your time."
"Stop being sorry. Did you like to be here?" he asked curtly and with a new authority in his voice.
"Y... yes, of course," I stammered. Apart from Vilkas. I didn't say it out loud.
"And what would you like better, stay out there and freeze to death or stay here and make yourself
useful?"
I pressed my lips into a stubborn line. "I will make it through the winter. There's still time enough.
And..."
"You love to argue, don't you?" A small grin quirked his lips, but the seriousness didn't leave his
expression. "How about you try it out? A scholar, a friend of us, has located another fragment of
Wuuthrad. Somehow it ended up in an old Nordic tomb, and someone has to go and get it."
My eyes shot wide. "You want me to retrieve a fragment of Wuuthrad?"
He chuckled. "No, I want Farkas to retrieve it. But he wants you to back him up as a shield-sister.
It was his idea."
I was stunned, my mouth opening and closing again several times, my brain unable to form
coherent words.
Kodlak leant forwards, crossing his arms on top of the table. "I wont lie to you, Qhourian. You
need to learn a lot. You can take care of yourself mostly. But people are not made to live like
beasts in the wilderness, and you have a lot of talents that would be a shame to be wasted." A
small grin flickered over his face, gone again as soon as it emerged as if he had made a joke that
was only for himself. "But you have to learn to act in a team. You have to learn some trust - in
yourself first and foremost, and then in your fellows. You will make mistakes, but youll have a
chance to learn from them too. If you try it."
He fell silent. We just sat there, deep in thought. I had to admit, I felt comfortable at the side of this
old man. And I had to admit that I would miss Jorrvaskr. The light-hearted chatter, the shared
meals, the feasts flowing with mead and ale and stories every time somebody came back from a
job. The safety I had felt here, for the first time... ever. These people cared for each other. But how
could I belong to this group? I came here as an outsider, a burden with nothing to give back.
But perhaps this offer was my opportunity to give something back, at least a tiny bit.
I bit my lip. "Will I be obliged to stay afterwards?"
"Gods, no! No one here will force you to do anything. See it as a trial - you try out how it is to
work with a shield-brother, and we get to know you better. Farkas is easy to travel with, he's
reliable and doesn't talk much. And he's a beast in battle, though not exactly what I'd call subtle...
no silent killing from afar with him around. But you will go along together just fine."
I made up my mind. This was a chance I'd only get once, I wanted to make myself useful, and... I
had spent a lot of time already with the man, and not once had he come closer than I was
comfortable with. Somehow I felt that I could trust him.
I gave Kodlak a hesitant smile. "Okay."
He snorted out a laughter. "Just like that? No further argument?"
He made me grin. "No. When will we leave?"
"You settle that with Farkas directly. He will brief you."
I recognised a dismissal when I heard one. The old man looked tired and worn as he slumped
against the back of his chair. But his grip around my wrist was firm and strong, and his smile
appeared strangely satisfied.


I was ready to leave long before sunrise - easy after a sleepless night, but I was far too flustered to
get some rest, despite the ale I had with Farkas and Aela the evening before. It had been a huge
relief to discover that Vilkas had left Jorrvaskr for a couple of days, and his brother had just given
me a good-natured pat on the back when I asked when he wanted to leave. "With dawn," was his
short answer, "this once I'll pack for you. Just get up in time."
But in the morning he only gave me an astonished raised eyebrow when he emerged from the
living quarters, yawning heartily, rolling his shoulders and stretching the sleepiness from his limbs.
He didn't even take breakfast, just stuffed an apple and a sweetroll into a pouch, handed me my
pack and left through the front door without looking back. Seemed he wasn't exactly a morning
person. Aela was the only other person present... in fact, she didn't look as if she had slept at all
yet, more as if she came directly from a hunt, her hair tousled and stains of blood on her hands.
"Safe travels," she said with an encouraging smile as I set about following Farkas.
My pack was heavy, but it was also full of things I was eager to carry around because they were
so incredibly useful, and once I had adjusted the straps it wasn't quite so uncomfortable any more.
The knapsack itself was filled with rations that would last us over the following days if we didn't
find any easy prey, dried meat, dark bread, hard cheese and nutritious but crumbly biscuits made
of cereals, nuts, dried berries and honey, alongside with some emergency potions, bandages,
salves and a small, incredibly sharp knife. There were some extra arrowheads, a map, a whetstone,
a spare bowstring, a flintstone, a few candles and a spare woollen tunic. A bedroll wrapped into
thin oiled leather was strapped to the top, together with a cloak made from wolf fur, the edges
lined with the wonderfully soft pelt of a sabrecat. When my fingers brushed reverently through it,
Farkas gave me curt nod. "It will freeze tonight, and those tombs are bloody chilly as well. You're
useless when you're cold."
I felt incredibly well equipped.
The tomb, Dustman's Cairn, was located two days west of Whiterun two days on foot. Not that I
minded walking, but when I asked Farkas why we didn't take horses, he gave me an uneasy look.
"Waste of money," he grumbled, "those tombs are big, you can easily spend a day or more in
there. And when you get out again, the beasts are either gone or dead." Seeing his expression I
had the distinct feeling that he simply didn't like riding. He frowned when he saw that I couldn't
suppress a smirk.
Kodlak had been right Farkas was easy to travel with, and the journey of the first day was
pleasantly uneventful. A few times we had to defend ourselves against wild animals, but what
would have tested me to my limits if I had been on my own was merely an inconvenience as a
duo. It was a whole new experience.
Another whole new experience was to watch Farkas in combat and to fight together with him,
especially when some foolish bandits made the last fault of their miserable lives and tried to
ambush us. Somehow he noticed them much earlier than I, four ragged figures hiding behind a
group of rocks. I would have never been able to take on them all on my own, and an ambush
would have been my certain demise. Farkas had no such concerns, though he touched my
shoulder briefly to get my attention and told me to stay in the back, a feral grin curling his lips.
And then he ran off with rattling armour, unsheathing his sword and shouting expletives, a berserk
that came over them like a force of nature.
Not exactly subtle. And he wore such a happy grin plastered over his face that I couldn't help but
join him in the fight with the same enthusiasm, peppering our enemies with arrows.
I felt some pity for those poor brigands in their rags and hides when the last one tasted the tip of
his blade right in his stomach. They either had no idea what they had gotten themselves into, or
they were very desperate.
When it was over he took a deep breath, turned to me and grinned through the blood and the dirt
on his face, his dripping sword still in one hand, something glittering in the other.
"Look what I found! Something pretty for the lady who stays noble in the back while the man
does the work!"
Seeing his impish smile, I couldnt help but laugh. Wordless I went over to the heavily armoured
bandit chief and pulled my arrow from his throat. "Farkas, youre an excellent distraction for my
way to work, and I think this guy was entirely aware that it wasnt you who killed him. So,
sharing the loot is only just. Whats it you have there exactly?"
It was an amulet of Mara, the goddess of love and compassion. The poor guy who wore it was
obviously on a courting mission, but whoever he had in mind was probably better off without the
former owner. I stuffed it into my pack, perhaps Id be able to sell it for something useful. And we
both had to laugh when we imagined how one of these miserable thugs would try to find a wife to
share his way of life.
It felt good to share a laugh over some silliness. After he was fully awake, Farkas became an
entertaining companion, he had a way to let me forget my troubles, all the questions I would have
liked him to answer and instead to concentrate on whatever lay directly before us. And he made
me laugh, or at least smile with his witty awareness of everything going on around him, his
comments always spot on, sometimes snarky, but never offending. But he was obviously happiest
when he could get into action without having to think too much, no matter if it was against a
couple of sabrecats suddenly charging at us from a hollow in the ground or just a small pack of
skeever that he impaled on his blade one by one. And although I often felt his gaze on me,
sometimes even during combat, he never told me what to do and never came too close.
As if he trusted that I knew what I was doing, that I would have his back just like he had mine.
Traveling with him felt good.
The Trap
It was a good day, this first part of our trip, carefree and easygoing. I was used to have my senses
on my surroundings and trained enough to keep pace with Farkas' long strides. When the sun
touched the horizon and we stopped at the foot of a hill, in a small hollow where we'd be sheltered
from the winds, we had already made more than half of the distance to the Cairn.
After we threw off our packs, the first I did was to climb the hill, not caring for Farkas'
incomprehensive expression. I wasn't used to such a sunset, it was so different from the dense
forests around Falkreath. They were familiar, I had known them for all my life, their dusky
tightness made me feel safe. But in the forest, the senses of smell and hearing were at least as
important as my eyesight everything could hide behind a wall of trees or in the dense thicket of
the bushes.
This was so different, and although I had often been outside of Whiterun, to be out here in the
wilderness far from every civilisation was something entirely different again. The plains were
wide, endless vastness one could get lost in, the horizon so far away. To have a horizon all around
me was something entirely new altogether. And the light and the colours were different, no green-
tinged twilight, only gleaming, blinding brightness. The sun stood as a flaring orange ball, sending
tendrils of golden light over the sky and the land and miraculously shrouding it in long shadows at
the same time, while on its opposite side the pale crescent of Masser emerged.
It was beautiful. But Farkas was oblivious to my awe, already unstrapping the tentpoles from his
pack and starting to erect it, and I knew I should help him. I watched him, the naturalness with
which he set up our camp, he had done this clearly hundreds of time before.
But for the first time, it was our camp.
Suddenly the excitement of the day was gone, the constant alertness together with the feeling that
we could rely on each other that had built over the small fights we had fought together this day. I
realised that I didn't know this man. We had spent time together, yes. We had laughed together, he
had taught and trained me. Despite his intimidating appearance, he seemed kind, sometimes even
gentle. But I didn't know him, and now I had to spend the night with him.
Anxiousness flowed suddenly through my veins and coiled in my stomach. Not quite fear yet
more a tinge of cautious suspicion. Unconsciously I clenched my hand around the grip of my
mace. He sat on his haunches, rummaging through his pack.
But he felt my stare, his hands stilled, and slowly he lifted his gaze to my face. Emotionless,
stoic... unusual for him. He wasn't oblivious at all, sensed the change in the atmosphere and
became tense himself.
"You okay?" he asked gruffly.
I snatched my bow, turning away briskly. I had to get away from him, if only for a little while. To
clear my thoughts.
"I go hunting," I said curtly.
"But it will be dark soon."
The look I gave him silenced him.
Swiftly a rabbit fell to my arrow, only a snack, but it would give our meal a bit more substance. A
Swiftly a rabbit fell to my arrow, only a snack, but it would give our meal a bit more substance. A
second one vanished into its burrow before I could let the arrow fly. I didn't mind. I just wanted to
be for myself, try to bring some order into the chaos of my mind, and instead to roam further I
settled myself against a boulder and tried to find my inner calm by watching the sunset. The fiery
ball dipped slowly beneath the horizon, the sky above me becoming first dark blue and then black,
sparkling with stars.
So much had happened during the last days. Freedom had meant for me not to be able to do what
I wanted, but to be free of the demands of others. This was the freedom I had strived for when I
fled from Cheydinhal, what I had cherished during the months alone. And now, suddenly new
choices and possibilities had been presented to me where I had expected them last. They came
with new responsibilities and new demands, but they were also a chance. Perhaps the biggest
chance I'd ever get.
So many questions burned in my mind. Why did they care, why did Kodlak make this offer, why
did Farkas take me with him and not one of his shield-siblings, why all this fuss? But if I wanted
answers, honest answers, I'd have to give something of myself. I'd have to give some trust. I hadn't
been afraid during the night with the fisherman and his wife. There was no reason to be afraid
now.
A movement in the corner of my eye catched my attention, and a gasp broke free when I realised
what I saw. A silhouette over the mountains to the north, their peaks already covered in snow. A
black shadow, clearly visible against the not entirely darkened sky, huge wings gliding on the
wind, a body coiling through the air like a snake. I'd recognise it everywhere, the distinct
movement pattern of a flying dragon.
He was too far away to see if he was hunting or to hear these screeching shouts that ached in my
bones, but the memories filled the gaps easily. I knew there were more of them than just the black
one that had destroyed Helgen, there had been sightings and attacks, the stories spreading like
wildfire through the province. I rose hastily and hurried back to our camp where Farkas stood at
the fire, staring into the same direction.
He pointed at the mountains when he heard my steps. "You see that?" There was excitement and
eagerness in his voice.
"Yes," I said curtly, ignoring the menacing sight and starting to skin the rabbit. He turned slowly,
examining my expression before he sat down across from me. I kept myself busy, throwing pieces
of meat into the simmering stew, avoiding his gaze.
"Would you tell me? About the dragon?" His voice was low.
I startled. "The dragon from Helgen?"
"Yes."
I tried. I told him of this impenetrable blackness that surrounded the beast like a shadow, of the
stench of rotten flesh and molten iron, that he was as long as Jorrvaskr from snout to the tip of his
spiked tail and at least equally wide when he spread his wings. I told him of the fire the monster
had released, the dragonfire that melted stone and reduced people to heaps of ash in mere seconds,
how whole buildings collapsed under the impact of his weight.
I tried, but I was a bad narrator. He was only fascinated, nothing of the terror I had witnessed
spread over to him.
"You think it's possible to kill them?"
I snorted out a bitter laughter. "There were soldiers, Farkas, a whole lot of them. Archers, people
with magic. And in the end, everybody was either dead or had fled, and the city lay in ruins."
He shovelled two portions of stew into wooden bowls and handed one to me, and for a moment,
we ate quietly. Until he held the spoon with the hot mouthful he had just blown on motionless in
front of his face, staring into the distance. "We would have done better," he said pensively.
"You'd like to try it?" I asked incredulously. Gods, I had put ideas into his head. Bad ideas.
"Of course," he answered with a boyish grin. "Vilkas always says he has killed one of every
species in Skyrim. He'd die for the opportunity to kill a dragon."
I cringed under his words, and he watched me with a trace of astonishment before his face fell into
a frown. Slowly he shoved the spoon into his mouth, chewing and swallowing even slower.
But my appetite was spoiled with the mention of his brother, and I put the bowl to the side. How
could these men be brothers? And twins, at that?
Farkas didn't talk much, but when he opened his mouth, he did it without thinking. I knew he
didn't mean any harm with his remark, it wasn't his fault that I was so bristle. Vilkas didn't talk
much either, but when he opened his mouth, he did it never without thinking. He knew how to
use words like that enormous Skyforge blade he had always strapped to his back, always cold and
calculating, dealing as much damage as possible.
Farkas shifted awkwardly, first chewing on a bite of bread, then on the inside of his cheek. "He
isn't always such an ass, you know?" he blurted out.
I stared at him surprised, not having expected him to bring it up at all. But perhaps we had to get
this over with. Perhaps I'd get some answers from him. I steeled myself.
"No, of course not. Only to me," I said coldly.
"He was just curious! But he shouldn't have pressed you... not like that."
"That wasn't simple curiosity, and you know it. He could have just asked, you know." A shiver
ran down my spine when I remembered how he had pressed me against the wall. The weight of
his body, his breath, this closeness.
Helplessness stood in Farkas' face. "But you never told anyone anything, not even Athis, and we
hoped you'd open up a bit... during the festival. We were all curious..."
The stammered sentence hit as if he had slapped me. He averted his gaze when I stared him down.
"Are you saying you planned to make me drunk to make me talk?"
"No!" He buried his forehead in his palms. "Gods, I knew I'd mess this up." He lifted his gaze to
me. "He just wanted... Vilkas doesn't trust people easily, especially when he doesn't know
anything about them. In a way... he just wanted to protect us."
From me? That kind of paranoia was laughable. And not funny at all.
"It was just a few hours more and I would've been gone anyway."
"Qhouri, please..."
"Don't call me that!" I said sharply, making him flinch back. "Your brother has been an ass since
the first time I met him. Perhaps I deserved it, I don't know how you Companions tick, but what
did he gain by that apart from ruining the evening for me? It was just a few lousy hours!"
"But we didn't want to let you go!"
"And why not? Why in Oblivion do you care?" I yelled at him.
And he yelled back. "Because you were alone! You were alone and starved and your equipment
was pathetic when you found Athis and alone and nearly dead when the hunters found you. You
had no contact to anyone during the weeks you were in Jorrvaskr. You only worked like a maniac
all the time..."
"Yes," I sneered, "because some people have to work if they want to survive, especially if they
want to live alone. Believe me, Farkas... your training was a walk in the park compared to..." I
didn't finish the sentence. Everything had been a walk in the park compared to the years before.
"Yeah, that's what I thought too," he muttered.
"What?"
He straightened himself with sudden determination, and he didn't avoid my gaze any more. "I
didn't want to speak about this with you. I don't have the right... you don't have to justify yourself.
But we really thought you'd join us. We thought you'd fit in... some of us, at least. Athis of course,
and after I worked with you I thought so too. And Ria. But afterwards..." A small grin curled his
lips. "Well, after Aela made us understand what exactly you had told us... you know what she
said?"
I shook my head.
He chuckled. "She said How can someone with such a fucked up life be so incredibly stubborn?"
"I'm not stubborn!"
A low laughter came from him, deep and rumbling. "Oh yes, you are. You proved it already
during our sessions. I really tried to push you over your limits... but you just wouldn't give up.
You didn't even complain."
I couldn't help but give him a grin. "Oh yes, I did. You just didn't take me seriously."
"That wasn't complaining, that was just... letting off steam. We had fun, out there." He leant
forwards, propped himself with his elbows on his knees. "I tell you what I thought, Qhouri." He
emphasised the nickname, and this time I didn't complain. "I thought that you're incredibly
stubborn and strong and nice for someone with such a fucked up life. And that you'd fit right in
exactly because of that. And before you ask: I took you along on this job to test this theory.
Okay?"
It took me a few minutes for this to settle in. If I had learned anything so far about him, it was that
he meant what he said. And... what would he gain by lying to me? The way he had yelled at me
and made fun of me in the same breath... there was no pity in him, no deceit. He meant what he
said.
He thought that I was strong enough for them. And nice. Whatever that meant exactly.
Slowly, a grin spread over my face as I eyed him curiously. "What will Vilkas say when he gets to
know that we're after this piece of Wuuthrad together?"
He returned my grin. "He will be furious."
"And... you take the chance?"
He watched me pensively. "You said you had siblings too. Have you never fought?"
"Of course we have."
"Thought so, because that's what siblings do. Vilkas will be mad at me, and then he'll get over it.
He always does. That's what siblings do too, you know?"
I had the feeling that he didn't just speak about his brother.
He gave me a small smile. "Get some sleep, Qhouri. I'll keep watch and wake you when I get
tired."
Somehow, the thought to let him watch over my sleep wasn't so alarming any more.
It was still dark when I woke all on my own, only a faint gloom on the eastern horizon
announcing the new day and the golden glow of the coals playing around the silhouette of Farkas'
broad frame. He peeked over his shoulder and met my gaze before I even moved.
"You didn't wake me," I said accusingly, rubbing the sleep out of my eyes. I felt perfectly rested.
He gave me a short smile. "You needed it more than I."
"Don't make that a habit," I frowned at him, "I can take watches just like you."
He grinned. "Okay. Next time you stay up for the night."
Next time. It made me smile how he said that.
Dustman's Cairn was a pit in a hill, the narrow elevation hollowed out and the walls of the hole
stabilised by masonry. If the purpose of the construction was not to make the entrance to the tomb
too obvious in the flat landscape, it was effectively counteracted by the huge standing stones
erected at its edge, forming a prominent landmark visible from far away.
We knew at once that something wasnt right. The remains of a small campfire littered the
trampled snow outside of the entrance.
"Seems it was a good idea I didnt wait for my brother to come here," Farkas said thoughtfully.
"Lets be cautious, were probably not alone."
Of course we'd be cautious, and of course we weren't alone, but the beings we encountered were
clearly not the same who had camped outside. Farkas scratched his head as he mused over the
significance of the devastation in the first room we entered. Someone had been digging in front of
a large sarcophagus, and the offerings to the dead usually stored on shelves or in urns were
carelessly thrown to the ground.
Whoever went through the vast, dusty halls before us had disturbed the dead rather recklessly. We
stumbled over broken coffins and cracked urns all over the place, and their former owners werent
amused at all. Farkas had warned me of the draugr, undead ancient Nord warriors, kept in their
unholy state of unlife by a power nobody knew where it came from. When we encountered the
first one of them roaming restlessly through the dark corridors, decayed, withered muscles
dragging the body clumsily along but an eerie blueish glow in the sockets of his eyes betraying his
determination to stand against any kind of intruder, I questioned the burial habits of my people for
the first time. The ancient, rusty but huge sword the living corpse swung in my direction when he
spotted us just shook my beliefs even further. The Nords of ancient times should have thought of
cremation.
But with the two of us we were able to handle the onslaught, Farkas rushing with furious yells and
such obvious enthusiasm into every fight that I had no opportunity to develop something like fear.
The draugr were strong but slow, and I took either care of archers he couldn't reach fast enough or
darted around him and attacked the living corpses from behind. It didn't take long for us to fall into
a kind of routine, despite the excitement and tension every doorway and every twist in the tomb's
long, winded corridors caused.
We progressed steadily deeper and deeper into the tomb. Like Farkas had predicted, the air
became chilly and moist, and I was glad for the cloak I unstrapped now from my pack and slung it
around my shoulders. Until we met a dead end in a large, circular chamber that looked nearly
cosy, brightly lit by torches and braziers, furnished by stone benches and tables that were
remarkably intact and clean, and no coffins or burial niches with crumpling skeletons or mummies
anywhere to be seen. The most remarkable item in the room was the enchanting table standing in a
corner, but it was covered by such a thick layer of dust that it obviously hadn't been used for ages.
Farkas furrowed his brows warily, especially when we had to realise that the massive iron grate
blocking the only exit had no obvious means to open it. The whole room reeked of trap.
But we were exhausted, and as we knew nothing lived - or unlived - behind us any more, a little
rest seemed to be well deserved. After a sparse meal with some bread, cheese and dried meat, we
began to explore more thoroughly. The room had some small alcoves crammed full of urns,
shelves and grave goods we hadnt inspected yet.
And then I demonstrated my incredible stupidity. It wasn't inexperience or imprudence and not
only curiosity, it was simple foolishness. Finding a switch in one of the niches, I had nothing
better to do than to use it. Without giving an alert beforehand, without thinking about what could
happen.
What happened was that the closed gate opened, the bars vanishing with a rattle into the floor.
And in front of me, iron bars thundered down and trapped me in the tight space between shelves
and urns, and the cursed switch suddenly refused to move a single inch. I yelped, angry at myself,
and Farkas stopped to inspect another corner and turned to me. A broad grin spread over his face.
"Now look what you've gotten yourself into."
"Get me out of here. Please!"
"Don't panic. I'll find..."
But he didn't finish the sentence and tensed suddenly, ready to attack, a gesture beckoning me to
keep quiet. A deep crease formed between his brows as he turned his head to the newly opened
gate, his nostrils flaring. A low, deep growl came from his throat.
And then they were there, half a dozen people flooded the room and surrounded the warrior,
cornered him with his back against the grate I cowered behind. A heavily armoured Nord with a
huge silvery axe on his back seemed to be the spokesman, his intentions clear when he unsheathed
his weapon with a murderous glare.
"You die now, dog!"
A woman standing in the back with her bow drawn interfered, an excited lilt to her voice. "Which
one is that? Krev will want to know."
"Doesnt matter. He wears that armour, he will die."
These weren't ordinary bandits, and this was indeed a trap. They knew him... perhaps not his
name, but that he was a Companion. The distinctive armour with the intricate wolf design had
given him away, and they had come solely to kill him. Six against one... Farkas was strong, and
he was a trained warrior, but this was too much, even I could see that. Cold sweat of panic ran
down my spine.
Slowly the circle around him closed in, weapons were drawn, pure hate in the faces of our
attackers.
"This will make an excellent story," one of the women growled.
But Farkas just stood there, slightly bent over, and he took no action to defend himself, didn't even
unsheathe his sword, and his shield lay discarded on a table nearby. I wanted to slap myself for the
foolishness that had brought him into this mess, but the fact that neither he nor his foes
acknowledged my presence at all made me hug the wall behind me and stay quiet, watching the
events unfold before my frightened eyes.
"None of you will live to tell it." His voice had dropped, more a daunting growl than human
speech. I waited for him to spring into action, to let out his typical attack roar, but instead to draw
his weapon, his hands only nestled nervously at the straps of his armour. He held himself as if he
was in pain, bent over, and I could see his back heave under heavy breathing.
His weird behaviour scared me even more.
What in Oblivion was going on? Was he already hit, by an arrow or a poisoned dart? But the
approach of his opponents slowed down, as if they hesitated to come closer, and I saw eyes grow
wide... with disbelief and fear.
It was hard to believe what happened then. A man in steel armour and with a finely crafted sword
one second and in the next moment he doubled over, spasming erratically, he grew and changed
until he towered over his foes, his armour falling away and the low growl from his throat
becoming a roar that had no resemblance with his usual voice any more. A whirling blur of fur,
claws and fangs mauled our assailants into shreds nobody would recognise as human any more.
I didn't know how long it took, in my mind the rampage only lasted seconds. I held my breath and
watched, wide-eyed and petrified.
It was over in mere moments, and nothing lived any more but the enormous beast... and I. Yet. He
it? Farkas? let out a deafening howl which echoed deep into the tunnels as if it wanted to
announce its presence, then it turned to me. Gleaming eyes locked into mine, golden with specks
of reddish, like copper, flaring with fury and bloodthirst and hunger and still, as he watched me
intently, cowering against the back wall of the little room, the bars still between us, there was more
than just feral savagery. This monstrous gaze had no similarity with Farkas' light blue eyes, and
still there was a glimpse of silver... a glimpse of reason.
They weren't human, but they weren't only beastly either. The last time I had looked into the eyes
of a wolf, I had seen nothing but the urge to kill me. This... he was different, and somehow I
wasnt particularly afraid. Stunned, yes. Crazed, shocked and disbelieving. But not as panicked as
I should have been when a werewolf two feet larger and at least thrice my weight set his eyes on
me.
What I had just witnessed was so incredible, so beyond any sense and experience, I was too
stunned to be afraid. And somehow, although the monster with its stained black fur, menacing
fangs and claws still dripping with blood and gore had nothing human in appearance, I simply
knew it was still the gentle brute who had fought by my side, that he was somewhere in there and
that he wouldnt turn against me.
But finally the wolf werewolf turned away and vanished through the newly opened door. For
an endless moment I feared to be left alone and trapped, but then the bars raised, and Farkas
entered the room again the Farkas I was used to, shirt and pants torn at the seams and hanging
around him in rags.
With a sigh of fatigue he sat down on one of the stone benches, burying his forehead in his palms,
and seeing me come out of my hiding place, an unstable smile touched his lips.
"Sorry, Qhouri. I didnt want to scare you."
I held a careful distance to him, but I managed to answer his smile weakly. "Im not scared. Not
much. I should be but Im not. Everything went so fast" A slightly hysterical giggle broke
from my throat. "I was much more afraid before you... changed. When I thought they'd kill you."
His eyes sought mine.
"Not sure if I have the right to tell you this, but you deserve an explanation."
He fell silent for a moment, then pulled himself together. "You know what youve just seen?"
"Youre a werewolf?" It felt strange to put it in words.
"Yes. Some of us are, we can be like wild beasts. Fearsome."
Fearsome, yes. The sudden realisation hit me like the fist of a draugr. I had lived in a den of
beasts. For weeks. Beasts who could have mauled me to pieces but had tended to me as if I
belonged there, who had helped me to regain my health and to become strong again. A pack of
wolves.
As a child, my father had told us stories about wolves raising human children like their own
whelps, making them part of their pack. They became wolves in everything but appearance, living
like them, communicating like them, unable to get back into the society of men if they were found.
They either died, or they returned to what they considered their true families, as if they'd find the
safety and closeness they were used to nowhere else.
Werewolves however were seen as monsters roaming through the wilderness, humans who had
lost their humanity entirely, brutish, mindless beasts killing everything in their way. I had just
witnessed the exact opposite. This beast hadn't been mindless and it hadn't lost its humanity. Not
entirely, at least.
Many titbits of information I had picked up during the last weeks now suddenly fell in place.
Kodlaks remark about the beast in Farkas; Vilkas talking about the blood haunting him in a
conversation I accidentally overheard I had thought he spoke about the blood of his foes he had
spilled; Aelas palpable exhaustion some mornings. The strange bond I felt between them. Perhaps
even Vilkas' unjustified protectiveness and fierce aggressiveness.
"Your brother...," I mumbled, "he's one of you, isn't he? And Aela?"
He nodded, pale eyes fixed on my face. "You're a keen observer."
I swallowed. "And... Athis?" I didn't want to believe that the Dunmer could transform like the
brawny Nord beside me, that his laughing face would turn into such a monstrosity.
Farkas laughed out loud, deep and rumbling. "No, Athis not. Athis is just... Athis." He gave me a
stern look. "Only the Circle has the gift... or..." he bit his lip as if he had to stop himself from
saying more. The Circle, the people Athis had introduced to me as advisers, as those who took
care of the administrative duties coming with the Companion's business. Seemed there was more
to it, unless being a lycanthrope was an essential prerequisite to deal with defaulting clients.
Besides Aela and the twins, Skjor belonged to them and Kodlak, of course. The Alpha of the
pack.
I sighed with relief, but then I swallowed. A question burned in my mind, but I didn't dare to ask
it. A frown formed on his face as he watched me.
"What's the matter, Qhouri? You said you're not afraid..."
"Can you... control it? Only use it when necessary?"
He regarded me pensively. "Yes. All of us can, we're not the monsters from children tales. We go
hunting... well, most of us do, this urge is there, but we can control it. I would never go out with
someone like you if I couldn't."
His honesty eased the feeble feeling in my stomach, but it came back when he pointed at the
bloody mess he had left. The gruesome sight constricted my throat. "They were Silver Hands.
They... don't like werewolves, and they've sworn to eliminate us long ago."
"How did they know we'd be here? Or you?"
He stood up and started to don his armour again. Some of the straps were torn and buckles bent,
but fortunately it was still usable. He spoke over his shoulder.
"No idea. This was obviously a trap, but they got what they deserved." He shrugged, and I didn't
flinch when he laid a gauntleted hand on my shoulder.
"I'm not glad that I had to show this to you. It's not that I don't trust you... but I hope you don't feel
uncomfortable with me now. I hope you believe me that I will never hurt you."
I believed him. He had done what he had to in order to protect us both.
I gave him a feeble smile. "Lets get going, theres a broken blade waiting for us. I promise not to
touch any switches."
Fire
The gods of excitement werent finished with me yet. Not by a long shot.
We moved on, and the fighting became more frequent and more fierce as wave after wave of an
unholy alliance between the Silver Hand and the furious draugr came over us. Sometimes we
witnessed them fighting each other, waiting in the shadows until we would only have to face the
survivors. But hiding in the shadows wasn't easy with Farkas around, and as soon as they detected
us, both parties turned reliably on us. The werewolf was their common fiend.
And the werewolf showed now mercy either. Farkas pressed on, relentless and urgent. This wasn't
just an adventure or a test for me any more... it had become a mission, to retrieve the fragment and
even more to eradicate the Silver Hand warriors that had and still threatened him him and his
siblings. And they were warriors like us, well trained and well equipped, their silver weapons the
biggest danger. Once he got slashed by a blade, a sloppy strike that didn't leave more than a
scratch, and still I heard him cry out in pain as if he was burned. It was frightening, and I did
everything to get us both out of here as fast as possible.
Not that I had a choice. After the trap and his turning, I recognised an edge to him that was new,
the playful enthusiasm he had shown so far turning into a cold resolve that took him over
completely, his mind on nothing but the next foe, the next blood he'd spill. We still worked in a
team, in a fluid pattern of movement and attack, with me taking the lead, hinting at traps and
taking out single enemies with my silent arrows whenever possible. Only if my target wasnt dead
at once or its death alerted more of them, he stormed past me with a roar while I stayed in the
shadows and took them out from afar.
I still had the feeling that he had my back, he had been deadly before, dispatching whatever came
against us with the efficiency and skill that only came with decades of experience. The difference
was hard to make out, subtle and more in his mood than in his behaviour, until I once watched
him as he jabbed his sword through the chest of a Silver Hand fighter with so much force that the
tip pierced through the back armour, widening the wound with a twist of his wrist until a gush of
blood coated his gauntlet although his opponent was long dead. Naked bloodlust and hunger
stood in his face as he let the corpse fall from his blade, his eyes already darting around for the
next foe to impale. When he catched me staring, he bared his teeth in a feral grin.
I realised that the wolf was still there, not entirely buried by his humanity. Perhaps it had always
been there, and I just wasn't able to see it. But now it was more than obvious, the change in him
undeniable he didn't even try to hide it. My resolve to get out of this cursed tomb as fast as
possible only grew.
On and on we went, without break or rest, through the endless tunnels and chambers of the tomb.
And it was literally endless, divided into several tracts, the dull monotonous corridors only
sometimes interrupted by raw caves or animal dens. A giant frostbite spider had made its lair deep
in the tunnels, and Farkas stood for a long time motionless in front of an enormous net that
blocked the entrance, pale and heavily breathing, until he squared his shoulders in determination
and tore it apart with a single strike.
The beast was towering above both of us, far too many eyes and far too many legs that skittered
across the floor with a sound that made my skin crawl. Farkas lunged for it with a yell that
sounded nearly desperate, trying to behead it with his first strike, but the spider was frighteningly
fast and manoeuvrable, turning to him before he could bring his sword down, mandibles dripping
with poison snapping shut. He recoiled and darted away as my arrow hit one of the huge eyes, but
it was only one of many and barely seemed to have any effect. My mace had though when I
rushed in and hammered with everything I had against the chitinous joint between head and body.
A blade to pierce it would have been better, but it seemed I had hit something important, and it
gave Farkas opportunity to thrust his sword into the soft hairy underside when it reared up.
A flush of blueish, translucent slime gushed out of the wound and coated his arm. He jerked back
with a terrified cry, doubling over, retching and coughing while the spider collapsed behind him.
Seemed he didn't like spiders. When I laid a hand on his shoulder to get his attention, he grabbed
my wrist and pulled me with him, disgust and nausea in his expression and only stopping when
we had left the last cobwebs behind. He gave me a thankful but feeble smile when I handed him
my waterskin.
"Hideous..." he muttered, leaning against a wall, his face sickly pale under all the blood and gore.
"You wanna take a rest?"
He shook his head frantically. "No. Gotta finish this. Can't be far now."
I was tired and exhausted and would have liked another short break, but I could press on as long
as he. After all, I had slept the night before and he had not and I wanted to get out of these
cursed tunnels just as much as him.
It wasn't far any more, and the Silver Hand didn't get beyond the spider lair. But when we finally
reached an enormous circular hall, coffins and sarcophagi lined up on the walls, in niches and on
the three levels that led up to the back of the room, the true madness began.
Open coffins were bad enough, but dozens of undisturbed ones were worse, because we knew
theyd still contain something. On the far end we could see a massive black altar littered with
gravegoods, the wall behind it covered in signs none of us could read. This had to be the heart of
the whole complex, and we could only hope that the fragment of Wuuthrad we had come for was
indeed here.
Standing in the doorway, I caught Farkas' inquiring, impatient glance. We both knew we couldnt
just stroll through this hall, take the fragment and leave. It couldnt be that easy. Shrugging, I
entered the room and and moved along the wall, all my senses alert to make out every motion,
every sound that would announce the rising of the dead. Farkas' armour behind me clanked in a
way even the deafest undead had to hear him.
But it stayed quiet. Too quiet. My skin prickled, I felt the hair on my arms and in my neck stand
on end, and a distant beat seemed to evolve directly in my head, making it hard to concentrate on
my surroundings. Something was horribly wrong, and I had no clue what. Nothing hinted at
anything unusual going on, the eerie silence racking my nerves. Shivering I stopped and looked
back to my companion, but his questioning look and the gesture urging me on didnt help at all -
he was alert, but not half as nervous as I. I had no choice but to continue.
I tried to focus on the altar, but my eyes seemed to arbitrarily fixate the wall behind it. Even worse,
my field of view began to narrow the closer we got... I recognised it, tried to fight against the
effect but could do nothing about it, until suddenly everything but these strange signs, these
incomprehensible scratch marks was wiped from my awareness. The sound in my head became
louder and louder, and it became a word - only one syllable, hammered into my brain with
unearthly force. I had stopped sneaking long ago, and when finally a single line of signs burst into
blinding blue light, I rushed towards the wall and dropped in front of it. The signs, the light and
the sounds in my head all became one overwhelming impact of knowledge - it was the pure power
of Fire which gushed into my consciousness, burning itself into my mind and erasing everything
else.
When I came round, I felt only exhaustion. Like an afterglow of the strange experience, something
that burned up the last remains of my energy, something that filled my body and my mind to the
brim. As if I had never before known what fire was, but now I did and had no idea what to do
with this knowledge. More than anything else, it was confusing.
Something patted my cheek. No, not something. Someone, the metal of Farkas' gauntlet cool on
my face. When I finally managed to open my eyes, I found myself lying on the ground, my head
in his lap, and the way he looked down on me would have been funny if I hadnt been so dizzy.
Whatever had just happened, it was scary. Somehow I had lost control without any obvious
reason, over my senses and my own actions. Something had taken this control, and it was
terrifying.
And Farkas looked down on me as if I had lost my mind.
"What in Oblivion was that? Are you insane to run off like that?"
He hadnt experienced what I had, obviously. All he had seen was his sneaky shield-sister
suddenly jumping like mad over coffins, just to drop dead in front of a wall. No wonder he was
puzzled. And worried. And angry.
I turned my head, studied the weird signs on the wall looming above me. There was nothing
mysterious about them, no light, no sound. I didn't understand them any more than before apart
from this single line I recognised at once, although nothing distinguished it from the rest.
My head throbbed in protest when I sat up and knelt before the wall, tracing the mysterious signs
that had burned themselves into my brain.
"This," I turned to Farkas, "means Fire. And don't ask how I know. I have no idea."
He watched me, disbelief in his eyes. And impatience. "What has happened?"
I sighed, leaning my forehead against the wall. When I closed my eyes, the flashing was back.
"You haven't seen the light, have you? Or heard those sounds... this word?"
Somehow I was certain that it was indeed a word. YOL.
He shook his head full of doubt, slung both our packs over his shoulder and offered me a hand to
help me up. He didn't believe me, and I couldn't blame him. "We need to get out of here. Fast.
How are you, can you walk?"
He was right, and the fact that we were still trapped in this dead silent tomb renewed my strength.
I didnt understand what had happened, but it would have to wait - now I wanted nothing more
than to leave this dreadful place. He looked relieved when I nodded and let him pull me to my
feet, my vision blurring again slightly when I stood on wobbly knees, but when he handed me my
bow and pointed at a small wooden stair which seemed to lead out, I squared my shoulders and
marched towards it, eager not to show any weakness again.
Passing by the altar, Farkas grabbed the fragment and stuffed it into his pack. And of course it
couldn't be that easy.
Every single coffin broke open at once, releasing an army of Draugr. Very angry Draugr. Heavily
armoured Draugr with huge weapons, Draugr with bows and Draugr with the glittering of magic
between their decayed hands.
Farkas recovered from this surprise much faster than me, the gods bless his experience.
Immediately he backed away and pulled me with him, back to the altar. With the phalanx of
moving corpses approaching, I could see the hate in their undead eyes, glowing blue with the
vicious power that held them in their undead state. Hate and envy. And I knew it were our
living spirits they wanted, even more than the trinket we had stolen.
Farkas yelled in my ear. "Get up and take out the mages first, I will keep the others from reaching
you!" Our approved method of me firing from the shadows obviously wouldnt work here. I
jumped on the huge platform and was immediately hit by a lightning strike, and this was the last
bit of energy I needed to overcome my fearful daze with anger. My first arrow hit the mage
directly in one of his gleaming eyes.
What now followed was worse than every other fight before, it was bloody and gory, scary and
painful, and more than once I was convinced we'd never make it out alive. And still, the way we
worked together, fought for our lives knowing that we'd either survive both or none, it was an
incredible, new, beautiful experience. Never before had we both been in such a glaring mortal
danger together, never before had we been so dependent on each other. And to feel that it worked,
that we became attuned and aligned to each other, that we saved each other's lives in split second
decisions it was overwhelming, and it made me feel alive.
For the first time I truly understood what it meant to have a shield-brother.
Our back was sheltered by the semi-circle of the wall, but I couldnt dodge anything thrown at me,
and the stings of arrows and impacts of magic were painful. Soon I bled from many small wounds,
but my arrows found target after target. Below me, Farkas somehow managed to keep the
onslaught under control. His armour became dented, I heard him gasp for breath and saw him slip
on the heaps of gore around him, but his sword plied along methodically from corpse to corpse to
keep them all busy and focused on himself. Slowly, very slowly we decimated our enemies, but
when the last one finally fell, we were both shocked by the sudden silence.
Finally, the tomb was full of death again.
I fell to my knees, but Farkas was worse off. He leaned motionless against the altar, his broad
frame seemed to be smaller than before, as if he wasnt able to carry his heavy armour any more.
Relief took over when I let myself drop down to him; his breath still came in heavy gasps, but a
crooked, tired grin crinkled the layers of blood and dirt on his face.
"Well fought, whelp."
I sagged against the altar beside him. "We're alive." My voice was strangely weak and my head
swam, but I pushed myself off and grabbed my pack. "Let's get going."
He gave me a once over, a muscle in his jaw switching. I asked myself if he felt as weak as I did,
and if he didn't where he took the strength from. If it was only the enchanted necklace. "Yeah.
You... we need rest."
We left the Cairn through the same door we had entered it, and I dropped my pack and myself
against the wall of the pit, looking pleadingly up to him. "Can we stay here? It's safe enough."
We both looked horrible, our wounds not life-threatening but plenty and manifold. The light of
both moons standing on the clear sky above us revealed that it wasn't long until dawn, and we
both needed nothing more than to tend to our injuries, get something proper to eat and a few hours
of sleep.
Farkas gave me a haunted gaze, but he nodded and when he offered to take the first watch, I didn't
argue. Never before did I feel so exhausted, the effort to crawl into my bedroll nearly too much.
And again the sun had already risen when he woke me, pacing restlessly along the rim of the
tomb's entrance while I got ready to leave. He looked horrible, tense and exhausted to the bones at
the same time. His behaviour made me nervous. I missed his usual composure.
"Wanna prove that werewolves don't need to sleep?"
I tried to sound rather flippant than angry, but the grin he flashed me wasn't more than a reflex. He
didn't deign me with an answer, started to march towards Whiterun as soon as I had climbed the
stairs.
I called after him. "Have you at least eaten something?"
He stopped and turned abruptly, shoulders tight, jaws clenched, hands balled into fists. A golden
ring lay around his pupils, flaring with I didn't know what it was. He didn't look angry. Just
frenzied and desperate and incredibly tired.
"Farkas?" I whispered.
It seemed to take a moment until he recognised me, but finally his shoulders sagged, and he
relaxed slightly. Now his smile was weak, but genuine. "Can't sleep," he muttered, "not after the
change."
Oh. He made a step backwards when I made a step towards him, lowered his head. "Will you be
okay?"
He nodded. "Yes. Just let's go home."
We wouldn't make it back to Whiterun that day, but I didn't press any further, and he set a fast
pace. After a few miles, when the sun had fully risen, he seemed to ease a bit, and when I stopped
at a small creek and told him firmly that he reeked and I wouldn't make another step before he had
washed and eaten, he complied with a forced laughter, although he still appeared harried and
stressed.
Farkas had suggested an abandoned shack he knew as our campsite for the night, and I was glad
that we had a goal and he wouldn't try to march through until Whiterun, especially when thick
clouds piled up above our heads and started to release a light but steady rain. He was taciturn and
tightly controlled, nothing of the lightness in our dealings I had cherished so much during the first
days, but there was nothing I could have done. Perhaps his behaviour was only normal I had to
trust that he knew how to deal with this.
And I had much to think of anyway. The strange signs that had so utterly overwhelmed me still
burned in my mind, I still meant to hear that booming choir, still felt my senses flooded with this
new understanding that felt so alien. If I thought very hard about it, the experience became so
surreal that I could nearly blame my exhaustion, the endless fights and perhaps the foul, decayed
air down in the depths of the Cairn. Nearly.
When he suddenly stopped moving, it took me a few seconds to notice.
"Qhourian!" I heard his whisper behind me.
Looking back, I saw him frozen in place, eyes wide open, a distraught expression on his face.
"Farkas, whats the matter?"
"Dont you smell that?" But I smelled nothing beside the wet earth and the oil and steel and sweat
of the man beside me.
"Its burning flesh. Burning human flesh. Necromancers!" The last word came as a growl.
The Farkas I knew the friendly man, the skilled warrior - was gone, lost behind instincts that
took him over. He didnt look at me. He didnt explain anything. He just moved, icy eyes focused
on a goal I couldnt see.
"This is my prey! Stay back!"
His expression let me obey, but I followed him, carrying both of our packs. Soon I smelled it as
well smoke, and something else. Something dreadful. I vanished into the cover of a few trees
when my shield-brother approached our destination for the night. The abandoned shack wasnt
abandoned at all.
He came over them like a storm of fury and hate.
They were three, clad only in dirty black robes, and the raging figure appearing between them
with a beastly roar killed one of them with his first strike. But the others werent half as shocked as
I would have expected, they backed away in different directions, and I saw the lightning and fire
forming in their hands. Farkas was hit, but the impact only seemed to increase his furious rage.
He was fast, but he didnt pay any attention to his surroundings. I watched him in horror - the raw
bloodthirst and the unbridled rage on his face had not much human any more, and it made me
shiver. This Farkas was much, much worse than the real beast he had revealed in the cairn now
he was beyond control and therefore much more frightening. I knew, even if I dared to approach
him, nothing could stop him now.
But he didnt fight like he would have with a clear mind, like he had done it at my side in the
tomb. He was careless and made mistakes. Darting after one of the mages, he left the other one
alone who immediately took the opportunity to cast. But the spell forming between his palms
wasn't released on the frenzied warrior. Instead the corpse of Farkas first victim floated and rose,
covered in tendrils of blue light, and methodically threw lightning bolt after lightning bolt. Terror
and fear froze me in my hiding place. Farkas plate armour didnt protect him the slightest against
magic, and now it seemed he wasnt even able to kill them.
He had reached his next enemy now and ended his life with a fierce blow. Turning, he saw what
had happened, that there still were two remaining attackers, and he obviously didnt care,
answering the new challenge only with a furious roar. But the spells hurled at him slowed him
down, and I could see the flicker of pain beneath the rage in his eyes. Before he could reach the
next foe, the double impact of spells forced him to his knees while the mage still alive backed
away further.
Pure willpower made him get up again and chase his fiend, but it escaped his attention that the
door of the shack had opened. I knew at once that the Dunmer stepping out on the porch was an
even bigger danger than the others, his robe ornated and clean, the cruel smirk on his face full of
curiosity and satisfaction. He was the greatest danger of them all, and his appearance let me finally
draw my bow. Farkas wouldnt survive this encounter if I didn't intervene.
The mer, nearly hidden on the porch of the shack, started to form a spell, a pale blue glow forming
between his cupped hands. At first I thought he would revive another thrall, but this one was
different. He released the magic with a casual flick of his wrists, his face indifferent as a whirling
line shimmered in the air between Farkas and him.
The moment it hit him, Farkas dropped back to his knees with a terrified, terrifying scream, his
arms raised like in a prayer, his eyes suddenly fixed on this new foe. This spell wasn't only an
attack there was a connection between them, something incredibly cruel and evil was going on,
and he was overwhelmed and defeated in the blink of an eye. Never had I seen such an expression
of torment and hopelessness, of purest dread. I released my arrow the moment he finally toppled
over and rolled motionless to the side. It found its target in the Dunmers throat and ended his
incantation once and for all.
A second arrow killed the remaining mage who took his undead creature with him into the void.
The sudden silence was ear-battering.
I knelt beside the motionless body of my shield-brother. He breathed, but only barely, his face
deadly pale, but the worst were his still open eyes, staring into nothingness in a tortured expression
of fear. Shaking his body didnt trigger any reaction.
My helpless despair broke free in a dry sob, but I knew the decisions I had to make now would
determine our fate. His fate. No way I could move him away, especially not in his heavy armour,
as much as I wanted to get away from this place. We would have to stay here, between the
corpses and the remains of the Necromancers horrible experiments, rotting flesh and human
bones.
The camp was set up soon. Raising the small tent and lighting a fire took only a few minutes I
didnt care about anybody noticing us, if anything I hoped someone would find us and help, and
we needed the warmth. When I dragged the corpses of the necromancers behind the shack,
something fell out of the pocket of the Dunmer a cylindrical stone, pitch black, with sharp edges
and a feeling of lubricious warmth. To touch it sent a shiver down my spine, never had I seen
something like this, something that emitted such a pure evil. Though every fibre of my self
screamed to get rid of it, I stuffed it deep into my pack.
Farkas was still caught in deep unconsciousness. His eyes were closed now, but he had started to
shiver a shiver which was caused by something different than just cold and rain.
To dispose him of his armour and drag his lifeless body into the tent and under some furs should
have left me exhausted, but I didnt feel it. His trembling had become violent, his whole body
shaking beneath the covers, cold sweat flowing from his face and his eyeballs rolling rabidly
under his closed lids. His condition was frightening. I had found no fresh wounds, but something
had hurt him much deeper.
Kneeling beside him I had to realise there was nothing I could do, just sit by his side and watch his
body and mind struggle against the unnamed horror inside. The sudden feeling of absolute
uselessness was overwhelming. How could our mission go so horribly wrong? We had obtained
the fragment, had overcome much more difficulties than we had anticipated, but before I came
back to Jorrvaskr without Farkas, Id better not return at all. Nothing could be as valuable to the
Companions as his life.
The damp, cold skin beneath my fingers when I washed the smear and sweat from his pale face
and his violent trembling revealed that the heat of the fire did nothing to him, that he didn't warm
up, that he'd perhaps freeze to death.
There was nothing I could do. Nothing... but to try to keep him warm myself. To share my own
bodyheat with him. I tried to repress the idea, tried to make myself believe that this possibility
didn't even exist. But the huge, shivering frame of the man lying in the small tent made it
impossible to lie to myself. Fear struggled with compassion, self-pity with my responsibility for his
life. His survival lay in my hands, he was dependent on me. He had revealed his darkest secret to
save my life. We had saved each more than once, had fought an army of undead and come out
alive. And now it was my turn to save him, to give him my warmth, and to allow a closeness I
never wanted to endure again.
Farkas moaned, a sound from his tortured unconscious mind which finally blew away my doubts.
After all, I needed to rest as well, no way Id be able to stand watch the whole night through. If
somebody found us I couldnt help it. I got rid of my armour and squeezed myself into his
bedroll as close to his shivering body as possible, used my own as an additional cover and rested
my head on his chest. To listen to his rattling breath and how it gradually became steadier and
quieter, to feel how the shivers subsided calmed me down as well, but it took hours until I finally
dozed off. The night was pitch black, only the quenching fire shot some sparks into the cold air.
I awoke in the dim light of the rising morning, a heavy arm slung around my waist. Terrified I
tried to recoil, to get away from this body of a stranger but it was too tight under all these furs and
his grip too strong. Only slowly the memory came back, the events of the day before and how I
had spent the night, the helplessness and fear and the decision I had made, and I forced myself
consciously to relax and my own heavy breathing to ease.
Opening my eyes, I found them locked in the gaze of a beast, intense gold, nearly glowing in the
dim light, searching, distraught, full of incomprehension. And beneath it, a glimpse of silver, a
glimpse of reason. I became stiff beside him, but I didn't struggle. His grip tightened briefly, then I
felt him relax.
"Thank you, sister." The whisper was barely audible, and he closed his eyes. His breath had
eased. He slept.
It was pure luck that the merchants found us, a Khajiit trading caravan travelling from Markarth to
Whiterun. The shack I was confined to wasn't far from the main street, and if I had known the
landmarks and terrain better I would have realised that fact and actively searched for help instead
to spend days in this horrible place, with Farkas never truly waking again, unable to leave and
unable to aid him. The Khajiit only wanted to spend a night in the shelter of the hut they thought
abandoned as well, but they took us with them, the unconscious warrior resting on a carriage
between piles of furs and crates with whatever they held in stock.
Farkas recovery took far too long... in fact, he didn't recover at all. Beside a few scorchmarks he
didnt have any injuries I could have tended to, he shifted however between uneasy sleep and
deep unconsciousness, often mourning and fighting against something unseen. The few potions I
could give him showed no effect at all, and I barely managed to make him drink some broth
during the brief periods he was halfway awake. I waited for a sign, a word, any hint of recognition
or conscious thought, but he seemed to have withdrawn into some part of himself where nothing
was able to reach him where he wouldnt allow anything, anybody to follow him.
It took a load like a mountain off my mind when Vilkas and Skjor showed up at the Whiterun
stables to fetch their companion. The courier I had sent ahead of the slow carriage had done his
job, and they carried him away without a second look.
I didn't mind. Tired and weary, my head full of whirling thoughts and my heart full of guilt I
trudged through the streets of Whiterun, following the men slowly. Only a few days ago I wanted
to leave this place behind once and for all, but to return to the Hall like this wasn't a good feeling
either. During this mission, I had ultimately proven that I wasnt worthy to become one of them,
had demonstrated more than once that having me as shield-sister was more dangerous than going
alone. My unreliability and stupidity had brought Farkas into mortal danger several times, and
when it should have been my turn to save him, I had been too late. I felt much like just turning and
vanishing back into the wilds. But there was still the fragment of Wuuthrad in my pack - to deliver
it to the people who were entitled to it was the least I had to do.
Athis warm greeting on the stairs leading down to the fire catched me off guard; he had been
waiting for me, no member of the Circle in sight. Their absence filled me with a strange relief.
"Good to see you back," he said friendly, grasping my wrist.
"Is it?" I dropped heavily onto a chair and opened my pack, avoiding his gaze.
"Yes. We worried." Njada had come over as well, standing behind Athis as he sat down beside
me. Her remark started me up until I realised that it was Njada and what she probably meant.
Of course they had worried, for the mission, for their shield-brother, for the fragment. We had
been gone for ten days on a job that should have been taken five or six at most, and Farkas had
come back more dead than alive. I rubbed my forehead with the back of my hand, then handed the
fragment to the mer, wrapped carefully in a piece of leather. It was a relief to get rid of it. And
now I only wanted to sleep and leave this disaster behind.
"Here," I said quietly, "at least we got this."
He unwrapped the bundle curiously, and his face lit up when he revealed the charred shard.
"Another one," he said reverently. It was only a broken piece of a blade, but it was also a symbol
for the bond that had formed the Companions for thousands of years and the honour to be a part of
them.
But Athis handed it to Njada and turned to me. "Are you hungry? Kodlak wants to see you... but
if you want you can eat first."
I shook my head. "I want to get this over with."
"They're waiting for you in his quarters." They, that was probably the Circle. All of them,
including Vilkas. I groaned inwardly, but I stood up and made my way to the stairs, feeling Athis'
sympathetic gaze in my back.
The whole circle was gathered when I entered Kodlaks rooms. The Harbingers welcoming smile
dispelled some my fears, but Vilkas pacing in the small chamber was unsettling. Not unexpected
was his smouldering, hateful look. "What happened to my brother?" His question came with a
growl, I hadnt even taken the seat Skjor was offering.
"Vilkas, please sit down. Im sure Qhourian will tell us everything she knows, if you let her."
Kodlak turned to me. "Qhouri, Farkas condition is alarming. Danica has looked after him, but he
has nothing she could have helped with. We need to know what happened, perhaps we can find a
clue together."
Yes, that was why I was here, to give account of the events.
It was cathartic to tell these people everything. I didnt care how theyd judge me; I just wanted to
get this burden off my mind, and I wanted do whatever possible to help Farkas become himself
again. I told them about the bandit assault, about the Silver Hand, their trap and how he had to
reveal their secret, about my strange experience in the crypt, the final battle against the army of
draugr and his insane assault on the necromancers on our way back. Nobody interrupted me, they
listened with awe and astonishment. Only Vilkas growled quietly when I came to the werewolf
part.
"It must have been the necromancers," Kodlak said thoughtfully, "it seems he was okay before."
"No, he wasn't!" I interrupted him brusquely. "I told you how he has changed, that he didn't sleep.
He hasn't been his old self since he had to change!"
Kodlak's gaze flitted over the faces of the others until Aela gave him finally a subtle nod. Vilkas'
Kodlak's gaze flitted over the faces of the others until Aela gave him finally a subtle nod. Vilkas'
wary scowl only deepened when the Harbinger took a deep breath.
He watched me from calm eyes. "I hate to ask you this, Qhouri, but... when he changed in the
cairn... do you know if he fed?"
I furrowed my brows in confusion. "Fed?" When I realised what he meant, my stomach revolted
and I had to suppress a gag. "You mean, if he ate the corpses?"
Kodlak nodded. I pressed my palm against my mouth and shook my head. The bloodbath had
been bad enough, but to think of him feeding on them... Divines, that was an even more horrible
image.
I saw relief in the faces surrounding me. Relief and concern.
Skjor was the first to speak. "It wasn't complete," he mumbled, "and then he lost control."
Seeing my clueless look, Kodlak gave me a weak smile. "You know it anyway. Now we can just
as well tell you the rest." He rubbed his temples nervously. "You know what we are, and you're a
hunter yourself. Have you ever seen a wolf or any predator kill just because they could?"
What a strange question. "No. They kill because they're hungry. Or to defend themselves."
"Exactly. And it's the same with us." He shook his head sadly. "Farkas changed to defend himself
and you but for us, the change is not complete as long as we haven't fed. Not to feed keeps the
wolf in control. The problem is, we don't feed on people. Never. We kill them if we have to, but
we don't feed on them. That distinguishes us from those that are feral, the wild ones. Among other
things." He looked incredibly weary. "His change wasn't complete. That's why he went berserk
against the mages."
I listened in awe to his explanation. That was why Farkas was so different on our way back, so
tense and absent. He struggled with his wolf. "A situation like that is the worst possible, he had to
change but nothing to feed on. He should have hunted after you left the cairn, but I assume he
didn't want to leave you alone after your strange experience. Or upset you further."
"But this doesn't help us!" Vilkas shouted out, despair in his voice. "Yes, he went berserk on the
necros, but it doesn't explain why he's like that!" He pointed to the door.
Everybody fell silent, helplessness in their faces, when it struck me. "Theres something else I
need to show you!" I darted out of the room and fetched my pack from the bunk I had dropped it
on.
When I presented them the strange black stone on the palm of my hand, still pulsating with its
unnatural warmth, Vilkas eyes widened in horror. "Thats a soulstone! A black soulstone!"
Everybody winced away from me at his words, and the bewildered look on Kodlaks face made
me flush with shame. What had I done? Why didnt I get rid of this awful thing at once? Was
Farkas condition my fault, because I had kept it?
Seeing my confusion, Kodlak took the stone slowly from my hand and wrapped it into a piece of
cloth. "We need Farengar, immediately. Hes the only one in Whiterun who can help with this.
Who can perhaps understand what happened."
The Black Rock
You really need a very good reason to make me come here in the middle of the night! The face
of the hooded figure Skjor led into the room was hidden, but his voice revealed more curiosity
than anger.
We have indeed, Farengar, Kodlak sighed, thank you for coming so fast.
He unfolded the cloth lying on the table between us, and the man gasped in surprise.
By the Divines! How did you get that?
The Jarls courtmage removed his hood, revealing a lean face, cleanly shaven except the
impressive sideburns, and intense, dark blue eyes. Slowly, he took the stone from its wrap, and his
eyes widened with astonishment.
Its its been used!
His words hung in the room like a poisoned fume.
The gods help us. Help him! Vilkas whisper expressed abysmal despair.
Farengar looked more than confused.
Would somebody please tell me what happened?
Kodlak appeared as if he had aged for decades during the last few minutes.
You need to see for yourself, he said and pointed to the door.
The almost palpable fear on the faces of the Companions infected me as well, but my confusion
was even stronger than that. I understood that something terrible had happened, but what? Skjor
recognised my bewilderment before I could ask.
Qhourian, youre not much into magic, are you? I just shook my head. Magic was something I
never had the opportunity to get involved with besides some basic potion recipes though I
wasnt sure if alchemy counted as magic at all.
Okay. The thing youve brought us is a soulstone. Theyre used together with a soultrap spell to
catch the soul of a creature when it dies, and then they can be used to enchant stuff. He hesitated.
Vilkas, please explain it to her. You know much more about it.
Vilkas anger seemed to have subsided, his face only showed a weary thoughtfulness.
The soul is weird. Every living thing has one, and contrary to common belief its not something
completely spiritual. Its a form of energy, its what makes a lump of flesh alive. Without a soul,
theres no life not even unlife. The draugr you killed in that tomb, even they have still a soul.
Perhaps theyre undead because theyre still ensouled. In the end, nobody knows exactly those
that do are dead, and we cant ask them any more.
He gave a small, pensive smile that didnt reach his eyes. I listened to his explanation with awe.
This energy can be captured when a body dies. Its a mystical art, but mages do it all the time.
Farengar should show you the stones he uses, and what he can do with them. If you ever find
some on your travels he will pay you a good price for them, because every stone can only be used
once, and its destroyed when its power is released.
He rubbed his palms over his face and into his neck, tired and nervous. I had so many questions,
but I didnt interrupt him.
Usually enchanters only use the souls of animals, they dont have an afterlife anyway. The souls
of people men, mer and beastmen are special, perhaps because were conscious of ourselves.
But they can be trapped just as well. Its considered necromantic and an abomination, but its
possible. With black soulstones.
He lifted the cloth with the stone from Kodlaks desk and placed it on his palm, the smooth
surfaces shimmering in a deep purple in the dim light. His voice was frighteningly flat and
emotionless. And after everything we know, this one has been used on my brother.
His words hang in the room, calm and ultimate, and they sunk in only slowly. That mage had
defeated Farkas by stealing his soul. I had carried it around in this thing. He had lost his soul, but
he was still alive.
Divines, what kind of existence was this?
I wasnt the only one who followed this line of thought. It was Aela who broke the stunned
silence.
But it cant be. A soultrap spell only works the moment a body dies, but Farkas isnt dead! How
is it possible that his soul is in there?
Farengar, entering the room just this moment, heard her words and nodded gravely. I must
confess, Ive never seen or heard about a case like this. But everything we know indicates that
Farkas soul is hurt severely, and our only hope lies in this thing, he pointed at the black stone
that still lay in Vilkas hand before he turned to me. Qhourian, youre new here, arent you? It
was probably pure luck that you found it at all, but that you brought it back here was brave and
considerate most people wouldve probably just thrown it away. I will do what I can, but I will
need your help. Youre the only one who witnessed the process we want to reverse.
The freezing wind made me shiver, it matched the icy cold that coiled in my ribcage and made it
hard to breathe. Head whirling with confusion, eyes burning from exhaustion, that was how Athis
found me. Silently he sat down beside me on the stairs leading to the training yard, his slender
body radiating a subtle warmth.
You have brought me into this mess.
He had washed away the white warpaint, only his bright red eyes were visible in the darkness.
Aye, thats true. But dont believe that I regret it.
But Farkas
What happened to him is not your fault, he interrupted me sharply. We dont know what
happened. Nobody knows.
But I could have helped him. I could have killed the mage much earlier. I should
Could have, should have bullshit, Qhouri. He was in a frenzy. Went berserk. You dont get in
the way of a raging werewolf. You would be dead by now, and the outcome for him wouldve
been the same. Just that he would have frozen and starved to death with his soul trapped.
I turned my head to him, searched his gaze.
How is it to live with them? So close?
You mean the Circle?
I nodded.
Are you mad at me because I didnt tell you?
No. I shouldnt know at all. Of course theyre not open with it. Towards strangers. I just
wanna know how it is. How you deal with it.
He propped his chin into his palm. Theres nothing to deal with. Once you know them theyre
good people. All of them. And if you ask how it is A chortle escaped him, his red eyes
gleaming in the pale light. Its safe. Believe it or not, but theres no safer place than Jorrvaskr. At
least as long as you belong to the pack.
But you just said that Farkas would have killed me.
I dont know, honestly. Perhaps he would, perhaps he wouldnt. We dont know how much
control he still had. Kodlak would have probably been able to stop him.
Because hes his Alpha.
Yes.
I buried my forehead in my palms, sighing deeply. Chased by half-rotten undead, rescued by a
werewolf, a flashing and singing wall, and then the man I was responsible for stuck somewhere
between life and death, with his soul trapped in a stone. Its all your fault, Athis.
He chuckled. You are angry.
Perhaps I was. Angry and confused and far too tired to deal with it. It was just too much. At least
not at him. Although I should be, perhaps. And I should be angry because he made fun of me. It
was just too much effort. No, Im not.
Yes, you are. Everybody would be. But better angry than afraid, Id say. He poked his bony
elbow into my ribs. See its not so bad. Farkas still lives thanks to your care, Farengar is a
clever lad and will find a cure for him, those werewolves dont mean you no harm, and
concerning that speaking wall Im sure we will find an answer to that riddle as well.
His lighthearted confidence eased the riot of conflicting emotions. I needed someone like him
someone who could put things into perspective and tell me what to do. I was tired of being pushed
around by events I had no control of.
Come inside, Qhouri, I freeze to death here. I dont have your hot Nordic blood, he smiled. The
mead hall was nearly empty by now, only Tilma clearing around and Vilkas sitting in a corner
nursing a tankard of mead, a couple of empty bottles standing beside him. His scowl was empty
and bland as he reacted to the clapping of the door with a glazed look.
Athis fetched a piece of parchment and a quill. Here, write it down.
Write what down?
The signs in your head. The ones from the wall.
It was so easy.
The mer looked curiously over my shoulder. Oh, thats dragon speech, he said dryly. You can
find it all over Skyrim, often in burial sites or really secluded places. See, all of these signs look as
if someone with talons had scratched them into stone. First riddle solved! His boyish grin and
enthusiasm carried me along, though I couldnt believe that he had recognised it so easily. Until
now, I didnt even know that dragons had a language of their own at all.
The next question is why you are able to read it. Or understand, or whatever. You said you know
the meaning of that word? Because, the common knowledge of this language has been lost for
thousands of years. It vanished with the last dragons, and only very few people know it today.
Yes. It means Fire. But its the only word I know the meaning of, there was a whole wall full of
them. And I have absolutely no idea why I even know this one. There was no one who could
have told me.
There must be a coincidence with the events at Helgen and the sightings of dragons. Dragons!
Id love to fight one, you know?
Youre insane. Farkas had the same stupid idea, I mumbled.
But to see Athis treat the whole matter like a research project made me smile. I just feared to
become an object of his studies there was nothing I wanted less than be a part of this strange
coincidence.
I was tense, overtired and frustrated when Tilma woke me at a truly ungodly hour. I had dreamt
without remembering what, but I seldom did. Only that this morning I had the nagging feeling that
it was important, that something relevant escaped me as I made my way to Dragonsreach, the
palace of the Jarl. I had never been here on the highest point of Whiterun before, and the view
over the awakening city in the smooth light of the morning sun was admittedly beautiful and
peaceful.
No guards watched over the entrance, but as soon as I entered, a Dunmer in leather armour
approached me.
The Jarl doesnt see anybody now. If you have to ask a favour, come back later.
Her brusqueness made me nervous, but I wouldnt draw back.
And you are?
Irileth, Jarl Balgruufs housecarl. Nobody approaches him without my consent.
But I dont want to speak to the Jarl. Farengar is awaiting me.
Oh! Are you the one Athis told me about? Come in, come in, Farengar announced your coming.
But please, dont keep him busy for too long, his research on the dragon rising is more than
urgent, as Im sure youll understand.
She led me into Farengars rooms which looked exactly like I had imagined typical mages
quarters. Colourful potions on the shelves, complicated arcane instruments and lots and lots of
books and papers littered the huge desk and the floor. Farengar himself looked as if he hadnt slept
for days, tired and frustrated.
Ah, Qhourian, good to see you. He cleared some parchments from a chair and bid me to sit
down. Im at my wits end at the moment, and I need some input from someone else to get going
again. Ive read every text about necromancy and soul trapping I have available, even some
obscure stuff about a Daedra called Azura, but nothing seems to come even close to Farkas case.
Please, I need to know everything about what has happened. Tell me every little thing you
remember, and let me decide if its important or not.
I didnt want to recap the events again, but I tried my best. I told the mage how Farkas had entirely
lost control in his bloodthirst, how he attacked the mages and how they defended themselves.
About the reanimated thrall and the Dunmer with his strange spell whom I had killed in the last
possible moment. Farengar just listened and made some notes, but didnt interrupt me.
And then? What happened then?
My questioning view caused an impatient gesture. Well, he was unconscious, you found him,
and then? Was he like now right from the beginning? Or was there a development in his
condition?
No. He was unconscious, but he also seemed to fight against something, like in a nightmare,
just worse. He didnt sleep, but he wasnt awake either, he shivered horribly, and and I didnt
know what to do, so I made camp and tried to keep him warm at the fire, but that wasnt enough. I
was afraid hed freeze to death, or hurt himself, so in the end I warmed him myself. I blushed at
the memory how I had found myself trapped in his unconscious embrace next morning. Oh, and
in the morning, he thanked me. I think it was the last time he was really awake! And then he slept.
I mean, really slept, peaceful and quiet, until the struggling came back.
Farengars face became more and more thoughtful with my words. That could be important
hm, yes he woke and seemed better conscious and it happened when you were near him
perhaps it happened because you were there! Human souls need others to mend if theyre hurt,
every healer knows this. Even physical injuries heal much better if somebody who cares for the
patient applies the treatment. Perhaps I should leave all this necromancy stuff alone and read about
restoration
He seemed deep in thoughts, but his eyes had lit up. His changed mood cheered me up as well,
though I had no idea how I could have helped him.
With new energy he stood up and stretched his body. Qhourian, such detailed reports like yours
are immensely helpful. Ive a few new ideas but I also have a problem. I really want to help
Farkas, the Companions are such an important part of Whiterun, and I know the boys since they
were little pups. And apart from that, Ive never encountered such an interesting case! He smiled
as if to assure me that it was more than scientific interest that drove him.
But you know Im the Jarls court mage, which means he has the first access to my work. And he
wants me to do some research on the dragons which are rumoured to have returned.
No, thats not a rumour. Ive seen one of them myself.
You have seen one? Where? When?
Ive been at Helgen. I couldnt escape it, that event wormed itself back in my life over and over
again. Everything would have been different if the dragon and the Imperials but all ifs and
buts wouldnt change anything now.
Youve been at Helgen? Not many survived that. A shadow fell on his face. Im glad you
made it out alive. And perhaps its your destiny to deal with these matters even further. See I
need someone to go into Bleak Falls Barrow and fetch a Dragonstone for me. And when I say
fetch, I really mean delve into a dangerous ruin in search of an ancient stone tablet that may or
may not actually be there.
He looked expectantly at me, his smirk making clear enough who he meant when he said he was
looking for someone. Bleak Falls Barrow, that was the Nordic tomb near Riverwood. And it
meant probably more draugr. But if I could buy Farengar some time to search for a cure for Farkas
with this trip, I would of course do it.
What is this Dragonstone?
He gave me a crooked grin. Im not sure. Its said to contain a map of dragon burial sites. Sounds
crazy, I know, the part with the burial sites as much as that there could be a map of them. But its
the only clue I have at the moment, and my sources are usually reliable.
I didnt even want to think about what kind of sources this could be, but I gave him my word to
get the job done as soon as possible. I had nothing better to do anyway, and no way Id leave
Whiterun for good as long as I didnt know what would become of Farkas.
Athis declared me insane if I thought Id go through that tomb alone when I told him where
Farengar had sent me and refused to discuss the matter further. Instead he met me at the stairs with
his own pack on his shoulders.
Someone in Riverwood has a skeever infestation in their storage cellar. We can just as well take
care of that and then go into the Barrow together.
This is no Companions job, Athis.
He gave me a mischievous grin. You wish. If you hadnt pilfered it, it would be. The Jarl pays
good, no way I let you rake in the reward all for yourself.
And no way Id ever win an argument with the mer. Gladly I accepted his company and the
sidetrip, after all this would finally be the opportunity to thank the blacksmith and his wife for
taking care of me after the incident with the wolves.
The journey was supposed to take us only half a day, and we enjoyed the beautiful weather and
the colours of autumn shining in the already low sun.
But somewhere between the Honningbrew meadery at the outskirts of Whiterun and the bridge
that led over the White River into the village our lazy stroll was rudely interrupted by a pack of
wolves; we had heard their howling for some time, but their ambush out of the brushwood came
still unexpected. Observing their attack, how they fought viciously together finally brought to the
surface what had gnawed at my subconsciousness since the morning.
Athis, I need to go back to Whiterun. Ive an idea about Farkas perhaps its utter nonsense, but
I need to talk to Kodlak about it. Could you take care of the skeever alone and meet me at the
crossroads leading to the barrows tonight?
Athis looked more than curious, but didnt ask any questions. He knew Id tell him more as soon
as I could.
I rushed back into Jorrvaskr and towards the stairs to the living quarters full of excitement. And
again I was stopped by a brutal grip to my upper arms.
What are you doing here? Vilkas sneered, arent you supposed to do some work for that
wizard?
I froze instantly, went limp in his unrelenting grip. I hated myself for the irrational fear his
proximity induced, but I was also powerless against him. Completely helpless.
I need to talk to Kodlak, I whispered, not looking into his face. I knew he glared down on me
full of aversion. I have an idea about Farkas! I wanted to yank out of his grip, but it only
became stronger, his fingers clenching into my flesh. Again he pressed me against the wall, his
voice a threatening growl.
Dont you dare to come near him, bitch, he hissed into my face, it was madness to take you
along in the first place, and of course you failed when you should have had his back. You wont
get another chance to harm him, no one needs your ideas, and his family will take care of him. Did
I make myself clear?
The hatred and anger in his voice hit me like a rock. He shoved me away from the stairs and
blocked the way, legs apart and his arms crossed over his chest. I knew he would turn violent if I
tried to enter the living quarters, but as shocked as I were, I knew I had to talk to someone of the
Circle. If not Kodlak, then somebody else. It was just an idea, for Kynes sake!
In the end, I found Skjor in the training ground, working with Ria. Seeing my expression, he told
her to practice a certain move, lowered his weapon at once and came over. Qhourian? You look
as if you met a ghost!
No, not a ghost, but I wouldnt complain about Vilkas. I wouldnt give him that satisfaction, and I
just wanted to get this out of my head.
Skjor do you have a moment, please?
Of course. Whats the matter?
Please, what you think of this could it be possible that the beastblood keeps Farkas alive? I
mean I know nothing about this stuff. But hes part wolf, isnt he? And the wolf was in control
when it happened. Farengar said he has never seen a case like his before, but he also doesnt
know what you are. Perhaps the wolf part in him couldnt be trapped by that black soulstone?
Perhaps its utter nonsense, but
If I had hoped for some kind of approval from the warrior, I was disappointed. Skjor listened
intently, but with every word the frown on his face only grew.
He shook his head. No. It cant be. Were still human, and Farkas wasnt even transformed. The
spell worked on him, after all. The stone you brought was used to trap a human soul.
But arent you both?
He stared at me, then his gaze shifted away, towards the mountains in the distance. Join your
spirit with the beastworld, we say, he mumbled absentmindedly. It was quiet for a long moment.
Perhaps youre right. Squaring his shoulders, he pulled himself together and turned his
attention back to me. His one-eyed gaze seemed as if it wanted to pierce my soul now. I wonder,
Qhourian others would be scared, even terrified if they knew what we are. If they had
witnessed what you have seen. But you arent, I can tell. Instead youre reasonable and think
about it and try to help. Why?
A few days ago I would have been terrified as well, but then I had witnessed something
incredible. I gave him a pensive smile. I have seen him, Skjor. He wasnt mindless he
recognised me. He protected me. And even afterwards I mean, I knew something was wrong. I
saw that he fought with something, and he told me it was because of the change. But I never
thought he was dangerous. Not once. Only when I woke up in his arms. But that was just a
reflex. And it was because of the man, not the wolf.
A grin flickered over his face. Yes, Farkas is quite the puppy. But dont fool yourself. We are
dangerous. He stood up with new determination. I will speak with Kodlak about this, and we
will speak with Farengar. Youre right, he should know perhaps weve missed the forest for the
trees. And you return to your job, I want you to be back as soon as possible.
He nearly ran into Vilkas who left the building just the moment he opened the door, and the glare
the man shot me didnt go unnoticed. The two of them locked eyes until Vilkas retreated from his
stare. Skjor finally spoke.
You come with me to our Harbinger, there are decisions to make.
If looks could kill I would have dropped dead from Vilkas murderous gaze right on the stairs.
The cool wind and the swift jog back to Riverwood cleared my head. I was glad that Skjor had
taken me seriously, but the confrontation with Vilkas gnawed on my nerves. Slowly frustration
and confusion turned into anger. I was angry at myself because he was able to overpower me like
that. And of course I was angry at him. It wasnt my fault that Farkas went against a full camp of
mages alone. He even forbid me to follow him. He was the experienced warrior, not me, and he
should have known better. And I had done everything in my power to help him afterwards. There
was nothing I had to blame myself for. And now I had to concentrate on the task at hand.
You dont look very happy, Qhouri. Already afraid of the undead?
Athis leant relaxed against the railing of the bridge, a slice of bread in one hand, a bottle of ale
standing beside him, his face turned appreciatively into the evening sun.
Lets go. No, Im not afraid. In fact, Im in the mood to split some skulls. And not necessarily
undead skulls, but they will do for now.
There wont be only undead. Ive stocked up on potions in Riverwood, and the trader has a
trinket stolen from his shop. He believes the thieves have their base in the Barrow, so if we can get
it back, there will be another reward in it.
Athis knew better than to ask further about the reasons for my foul mood and let me let off steam
on the thugs camping in front of the entrance. Inside were even more of them, but these bandits
were no challenge in comparison to the skilled Silver Hand warriors we had encountered in
Dustmans Cairn. They were clad in cheap, mismatched pieces of armour, wielded rusty maces
and notchy swords and, worst for them, they didnt expect us.
Athis would have made an amazing assassin if he were a bit less nice. Or honourable. Sneaking
into a large room, we overheard a conversation about a guy named Arvel running ahead with the
claw. Athis grinned. He wont get far, he whispered. It was awesome to watch him sneak
absolutely soundless through the shadows until he could have pickpocketed one of the guys. He
slit his throat instead, and killed the other with a swift strike of his dagger. Both were dead before
they knew what happened, the mer turning with a triumphant, boyish grin to me. He had
obviously a lot of fun, and I was glad that he had joined me for this trip.
Our enemies were not only unskilled fighters, they were also not the smartest. One of them died
an agonising death from poisoned darts by turning a lever which was so obviously trapped even I
recognized it at once, and with the corresponding pillar puzzle so simple it took us mere seconds
to solve it.
Deeper into the tomb, the bandits were followed by spiders. Huge spiders. In fact, the largest
spider I had ever encountered, larger than the one in Dustmans Cairn, and even Athis didnt
manage to approach her unseen far too many eyes. But we dispatched it as well, just to find a
desperate Dunmer pleading for help trapped in a huge, sticky mess of silk.
You arent accidentally called Arvel the Swift, are you?
Athis smirked maliciously at his compatriot, he could look really evil if he wanted. The Dunmer
seemed to tremble with fear, but Athis cut his tirade short.
We free you, and you give us the claw. Deal? The mer nodded frantically.
I knew something was wrong with him, he was far too nervous and agitated to trust this display of
terror. And of course, as soon as I cut the strings of the web, he turned and darted away deeper
into the tunnels.
I wanted to follow him, but Athis grabbed my arm. He seemed to count until we heard a rumble,
a roar and a terrified shriek which was suddenly cut off.
Only 20 seconds. Lets be cautious, whatever got him isnt far. And its probably not bandits any
more.
It were draugr, the same kind of draugr I already knew, clumsy but strong, and we found Arvels
corpse nearly cleaved in half by an ancient greatsword. We took the claw, and his journal told us
how to use it it wasnt only a trinket, but rather the key to the heart of the barrow. I wondered if
the trader he had stolen it from knew this and what treasures Arvel and his fellows had hoped to
find there.
Athis and my style went perfectly together, we slipped through the corridors with barely a sound,
and while I preferred to use the bow from a distance, he obviously liked his pair of daggers much
more. It was even easier than with Farkas, because he was able to detect and avoid the many traps
on our way instead just to stumble into them, and as he didnt raise every undead in the barrow at
once like Farkas did it with his furious roars, we usually only had to deal with one or two at a
time, were even able to dispatch some of them before they had left the narrow alcoves where they
had waited the last few thousand years for us to appear.
The tomb wasnt quite as vast as Dustmans Cairn, and beside the draugr there were at least a few
skeever for variety and an underground stream that got us wet feet, but in the end we reached the
end. The claw opened a portal, the enormous stone disc vanishing into the ground with a
disconcerting grinding noise.
I knew at once that we had reached the end because it contained another of the strange word
walls, and the effect was exactly the same as in the Cairn a single syllable chiming in my head, a
certain line of signs and finally the blue light pouring into my brain. Just its meaning was different
this time, I learned the dragon word for force, and I still had no idea what to do with this
knowledge.
As soon as he saw the wall, Athis knew without another word that he couldnt rely on me while I
stumbled towards it. He watched my back, and of course the huge coffin in front of it broke open
when I approached and released another draugr these undead were so predictable. This one was
clad in shimmering armour and attacked with deadly magic, and the small throwing dagger Athis
threw at him for distraction just bounced off. Fortunately I was back on my feet much faster this
time, and we could go after this last foe together.
But in the end, he was just a draugr. A powerful wizard draugr, but still undead and without the
brain to deal with two swift, skilled enemies at once. In his coffin, we finally found a stone disk,
one side covered with the same kind of signs like those on the wall, the other with some scratch
marks that could eventually depict the outlines of Skyrim with very much imagination and only
if one knew that it was supposed to be a map. I was glad I wouldnt have to decipher it, but if this
wasnt the Dragonstone Farengar was looking for, he would have to get it himself.
It was only a light snowfall that coated the blank rocks all around us in white when we left the
Barrow, but the sharp wind made it into pricks of sharp pain on every bit of unprotected skin, and
Athis started immediately to shiver violently. The exit was just a hole in the mountain side, even
higher than the entrance, and the descend was tedious, dangerous and slow in the near darkness.
To return Riverwood, drop into the warmth of the inn and order hot drinks to thaw our frozen
bones was exactly the gratification we thought we had earned ourselves. It was already well past
midnight, and of course we could have returned to Whiterun at once; but we were both tired after
that endless crawl through the darkness, we wanted to deliver the claw personally, and I still
wanted to speak with Sigrid.
Petty excuses! Athis just claimed dryly when we had finally found a place near the fire for
ourselves, our packs and our tankards. What is it that keeps you from returning to Jorrvaskr?
What happened while I cleaned that vermin-infested cellar? This elf had clearly seen too much in
his life to be fooled by someone like me. His face was earnest, but his eyes looked kind.
I clenched my hands around my mug. I I clashed with Vilkas. He holds me responsible for his
brother. And he has clearly expressed that he doesnt want to see me in the hall again. Athis
didnt show any reaction. He knew I wasnt finished.
And anyway, the later I return the more time Farengar spends on Farkas cure instead to deal
with stupid dragons! And I told Skjor that they should tell him about the lycanthropy, perhaps
that helps! Because Farkas still lives, but his soul is also in the damned stone, so it must be his
beast thats keeping him alive! Thats why I had to get back
The words just tumbled out of me. Athis leaned over and grabbed my hands over the table. His
fingers were still cold, but his eyes sparkled. Was this guy ever serious?
Okay just let me get this straight. You found the solution for Farkas problem but let his mad
twin throw you out of the hall. And instead of splitting his skull, you take your frustration out on
some poor guys having a picnic in an ancient ruin. I really, really hope Skjor understood what you
told him and did your job: speak with Kodlak and slap some sense into this moron.
I couldnt help it, but he managed to elicit a weak smile from me.
Athis, my problem isnt Farkas. No, thats wrong, of course it is, but its nothing I can help with.
Farengar and the Circle and his brother are much more important with that. But Vilkas is right
when he says that all this wouldnt have happened if one of you had been with him. A real shield-
sibling.
Athis just stared at me for a moment, then he stood up and went over to the counter. When he
came back, he dropped a small key on the table. Here, the key to your room. Ive taken only one,
I will sleep on the floor. In front of the door. Not taking the risk that you vanish in the middle of
the night just because youre too scared to deal with this.
Im not scared! I just know my limits!
No, you dont. He took a long gulp from his ale.
It seems now its you who has to get some things straight. You have just now proven that youre
a fabulous shield-sister, and believe me, Ive probably fought with more people than youve ever
known. This was your first job ever, it was unexpectedly difficult and dangerous and you had to
deal with a shield-brother running havoc, and you still brought him back alive. And that precious
broken blade. You must have done at least something right.
Not right enough, I muttered, and Athis exploded.
By Azura, would you please stop fretting? Why do you believe every single word our highly-
valued Master-of-Arms says and not one I try to hammer into your stubborn head? Or Aela, or
Kodlak? Dont you think Farkas had a reason to take you with him?
Yes, he had. He wanted to test a theory. And now we see how this test turned out.
Athis leant forwards, suddenly serious. Vilkas is an ass, Qhouri. He is a good Companion and a
good man, an excellent warrior and a good friend, he is mad with fear for his brother and jealous
because it was you who brought back this fragment, but he is also an ass. He can smell that youre
scared of him, and he exploits it. Dont let him do that.
I bit my lip. He was right, I felt helpless in face of Vilkas, it had been the same in every single
confrontation so far. And I felt helpless now when I lifted my gaze to his stern face.
I just want this to be over, Athis. I just want Farkas to be healed.
I know. But what do you want for yourself?
My freedom. Go my own way. Escape the demands of others. But what had I thought to be a
chance had only turned into a nightmare.
I shrugged, avoiding his eyes. I dont know. Live my life, I suppose.
You should think about it then. He emptied his mug in one long swig and stretched himself.
Lets go to bed, Qhouri. Well take it from here tomorrow, okay?
Unfortunately our room had two beds, standing on opposite sides of the room. I would have liked
to fight with him for the place on the floor.
Mending
The bright sunlight next morning woke my spirits, and Athis was downright cheerful. When he
renewed his warpaint, he even managed to smear some white stripes over my cheeks. I felt silly,
but he said it makes me look fierce.
After visiting the overjoyed trader and the blacksmith and his family, we finally turned our steps
towards Whiterun and with every step the shadows looming there became darker. I dreaded the
moment I had to set foot into Jorrvaskr again and meet Vilkas hate-filled eyes, but I also knew
that Athis was right I shouldnt let him harass me. On the other hand, although I knew I could
rely on his support, I didnt want to bring him into this situation, to be chafed in a quarrel that
wasnt his.
And so my first way back in Whiterun went to Dragonsreach to deliver the Dragonstone, hoping
for a short reprieve, Athis joining me for a chat with Irileth. I knew that the small Dunmer
community in Whiterun was knit together quite close, but the way the Jarls housecarl greeted him
proved that he had in fact excellent connections to the palace.
As soon as I entered Farengars quarters, the question if and how to confront Vilkas and the others
had taken care of itself; the whole Circle had gathered around the mages desk, engaged in a
heated discussion which abruptly stopped when I entered the room.
I felt my cheek blush from the sudden attention. Clearly I had disturbed them with something
important, and Vilkas eyes narrowed into the icy gaze I already knew. You!
Im sorry, I muttered, Im just bringing the Dragonstone. I placed the heavy disc on
Farengars desk and was already half through the door again when I heard Kodlaks voice.
Qhourian, wait. Weve been waiting for your return. He wore a troubled frown when I turned to
him, fatigue and stress written into the sharp lines of his face.
But it was Vilkas again who took a hesitating step towards me. A stroke of fear mingled with the
older anger, but his clenched teeth showed clearly that the situation was as unpleasant for him as it
was for me. I just hoped he wouldnt attack me here, in front of the others.
We have to talk. It was only a low growl.
We have to talk? There was nothing I had to do, especially not with him. Divines, I was sick to
death of his attitude. What did he want? Couldnt he just leave me alone? His face showed his
resentment and how much it cost him to keep his composure. When he grabbed my elbow to lead
me into a side room, I broke away violently.
Do not touch me! I snarled, clenching my hands into whiteknuckled fists and pressing them to
my side. I wanted to wipe this biting arrogance from his face but I wouldnt let him exploit me.
And I wouldnt give him the satisfaction to lose control.
You made yourself clear enough. You have found your culprit, and we have nothing to discuss.
My eyes shifted to Kodlak. Please inform me what happens with Farkas.
I rushed, nearly ran for the exit, wanting nothing more than to get away. The cold callousness of
this man made me seethe. He didnt really care for his brother. He didnt really care for anybody,
it seemed. He just cared for himself, his injured pride and his reputation, but I wouldnt allow that
he hurt me again. Nobody would hurt me again.
Lots of mead and a room. Hulda, keeper and owner of the Bannered Mare, looked curiously
when I made my curt order, but she didnt ask. Good innkeepers knew when to talk, when to
listen and when it was best to ignore. At least I had earned the funds to pay for bed and meals
liquid meals in the meantime, the Riverwood trader had been generous with his reward.
The mead helped not to fret and to ponder, at least not about the future. Instead I brooded over the
past, what had gone wrong, where had I made mistakes. It wasnt all my fault, but nothing would
have happened if I had simply left Jorrvaskr as soon as I was able to. But I didnt, and it set a
series of events in motion in which bad luck, unfortunate coincidences and my own stupidity led
to the horror Farkas had to go through now.
And there was nothing I could do. Nothing but to keep away from all of it as far as possible and
drink myself into Oblivion. The Companions had wanted to see me shitfaced drunk, too bad they
missed this chance.
When the inn slowly filled, I had found a quiet place on a table apart from the crowd, and Hulda
supplied me with a full mug every time mine neared the bottom. Nothing mattered but the sweet
strong mead burning in my stomach and dazing my brain. Soon the room was bustling with talk
and laughter and song, and I just let the noise swash over me.
My head already felt comfortably hazy when Mikael, the bard, took the chair beside me.
I deserve a break. Thanks for keeping a free place for me, Milady.
His pretty, cleanly shaven face showed his usual trademark smile he probably considered
charming. Blonde locks fell into his eyes not because they were tangled or unkempt, but because
they were cut exactly that way. I just stared at him blankly and turned back to my tankard, but that
didnt put him off. He relaxed on his seat, legs stretched out, nipping on a goblet of wine and
humming a soft melody, but I could feel his focused gaze on me. I had known men like him. Men
who didnt take a No for an answer and no answer at all as approval, men who considered
themselves as the Divines gift to the women they laid their eyes upon. They were disgusting,
Mikael was disgusting in his boyish, forceful intrusiveness, but tonight tonight, it didnt matter. I
barely noticed when he approached, his index tracing my wrist and his breath hot when he
whispered in my ear.
I havent seen you dance. Dont you enjoy the music? I could play something special.
Something special for a beautiful lady.
No answer was as good as approval. I didnt react when he came even closer and when he put his
arm around my shoulders, pulling me close, his thumb caressing chin and neck down to the edge
of my armour. His breath and his touch were sickening, but I had endured worse. The mead was
still sweet, after all. It didnt matter when his whisper became moist. Why so sad, my pretty? Let
me play for you
It didnt matter when he turned my face to his lips, his eyes sparkling with the excitement of
conquest. I watched myself with an astonishment that didnt make it any more into coherent
thoughts. It didnt matter, hed do anyway what he wanted, and I was just too tired to do anything
against it.
But it also didnt matter when he was suddenly gone.
Take your dirty hands off her, filthy rat!
Blood gushed out of his nose when Skjors heavy fist made contact with his jaw, the bard
crumbling like a pile of rubble. His pathetic whimper was by far the best performance he had
given that evening, and I burst into hysterical laughter.
Thank you, Skjor I slurred, tugging at the edge of his armour and trying to pull him down on
Mikaels chair, I dont even like blondes. My saviour. Drink with me. I held my tankard up to
his chest, the sticky liquid sloshing over my wrist. He didnt budge, and I pouted at him. You
dont grant me the smallest bit of fun. Too dangerous to have fun. I tried to growl the words, but
somehow they changed miraculously into another fit of giggles. He didnt look dangerous. I
thought he looked funny with his one eye and these silly stripes over his face.
I took Mikaels abandoned goblet and emptied it in one gulp. The mead was better, wine was only
for milkdrinkers. The Companion looked down on me, his one eye flaring with wrath. It didnt
matter. He wasnt dangerous.
Hulda, which ones her room? he shouted through the room. The inn keeper just pointed at the
door. I felt myself hurled over his shoulder and then dropped onto a mattress. Hanging upside
down, with the blood shooting into my brain came the nausea.
Stop the foolery, Qhourian. Sleep that off, I see you tomorrow.
The door was slammed shut with a kick.
With the light came the pain, a herd of mammoths dancing in circles through my head, a giant
shepherd drumming the rhythm. With his club. On my skull. The dry taste of a rotting skeever in
my mouth was downright pleasurable against that.
With the pain came the memories, and with the memories the humiliation.
Farengar. Athis. Vilkas. Skjor! Gods, he had said he would see me today. Why did I remember
that? But I remembered everything. That obnoxious bard, and the crunching sound of his breaking
nose.
Divines.
He came in as I tried to drown the mammoths in a gallon of a horrible concoction Hulda sold me
as hangover tea. It didnt taste much better than rotten skeever, but mammoths can swim. And
giants can too. He didnt look funny any more as he dropped down on the chair opposite of me.
Only angry, tired and sad.
I didnt dare to answer his glare, blood rushing into my cheeks under his scrutiny. At least he
came straight to the point.
Tonight we will try to cure him, he finally started to speak. Farengar thinks that youve been
right. He thinks his soul was torn apart, and he will try to mend it. It wont be easy, it will be
dangerous and no one knows if it will work. But Farengar also said it would help if you were
there.
Slowly I lifted my gaze to his face. And what do you think, Skjor?
His eyes were hard like granite. I think he deserves that we do everything in our power to help
him. Hes our shield-brother.
He included me into this sentence, reminding me of my duty, and he was right. Everything else
was irrelevant. I nodded slowly. I will be there.
I left the city and ran over the plains of Whiterun, away from the hall, from the Companions, away
from my fortune and my fears, my responsibility and my failure. I ran the familiar loop I had run
with Farkas so often, until my legs became numb pistons, until I felt nothing any more but the
blood hammer in my head. I yelled at the sun until there were no cries and no tears left, and I wore
myself out.
In the end, I finally understood that it was too late to run away. That I was in too far, and that my
future hang on the outcome of this night.
I returned when the twin moons rose on the still light sky. Aela waited for me in front of Jorrvaskr,
her facing flashing when I came up the stairs.
What am I to do?
I dont know. Farengar will explain you everything.
We entered a hidden door which led to a cavern under the Skyforge, the air hot and humid. The
large narrow hall contained nothing but some empty pedestals, a large basin and a few torches
spreading a flickering light. The motionless body of Farkas lay on a blanket in the middle of the
room, clad only in a light tunic. His face was deadly pale and shimmering with sweat, his
breathing shallow and strained.
The Circle had gathered again, and Farengar. The tension was nearly corporeal, I saw fear and
unease and anxiety in the faces surrounding me. And hope.
The mage drew me aside, Kodlak joined us.
Qhourian, it was your idea that led to the decision to try this. Its an experiment Id prefer to
delay until I know exactly what the outcome will be, but Farkas becomes weaker. We have to
act. He pointed at the black stone lying on one of the pedestals.
You still dont know exactly what happened to him? And what will happen now?
No. I suspect his soul was split in halves somehow, but I have no idea how something like that
could occur at all. Perhaps you killed the mage before the spell was complete, perhaps Farkas was
able to fight it, hold a part of him back. Perhaps his wolf saved him. He gave me a weak smile.
Perhaps he will be able to tell us afterwards.
And what will you do? My voice was weak and anxious.
We will try to reunite the parts. Make him whole again. There are ways to release the energy of a
soul from a soulstone and to transfer it into something else. Something, mind you, not someone.
As far as I know, to return a soul or a piece of it into a living being has never been tried
before, but I think I know how to make it work. In the end, this soul belongs into this body. Their
separation is unnatural. I hope it has the wish to return.
Kodlak chimed in.
The beastblood is the key, Qhouri. It keeps Farkas alive, but it also must be weakened for
Farengars spell to have a chance of success. Farkas is still fighting, has probably been fighting all
the time, somewhere deep inside of him. But if we wait too long, the wolf will take him over
completely. I darent imagine what kind of existence that would be.
He looked intently at me. You know when the beast is weakest?
No, of course not. I shook my head.
In the moment we return to our human form. Its a battle of man against wolf, every single time,
but its a battle Farkas cant win in his current state. Thats why were all here.
He took a deep breath, worry flitting over his face. And over Farengars. We will form the pack,
and we will use the power of our bond to challenge the beast in him. It will not be able to resist
our call Farkas will not be able to resist. We are his pack, his family, he will change and join us.
And then we will fight it until it surrenders, because he cant do it on his own.
My eyes widened. This was insane. The Companions fighting each other, in werewolf form? To
save one of them? But the two Nords looked as confident as possible, even Farengar. Who was I
to doubt?
What am I to do?
Honestly, Im not sure. But youve been with Farkas when it happened. Your face is perhaps his
last conscious memory if he still has something like memories at all. Its not much more than a
guess, but it could help him to come back when youre around, when he can sense that youre
near. I suppose, when the moment comes, you will know what to do.
It was breathtaking. Frightening, but breathtaking. I had at least once witnessed the incredible
process of the transformation of a human being into a beast, but Farengar was entirely unprepared
and we observed something probably nobody had ever seen before and lived to tell about it.
The four Companions gathered around Farkas, and as if by a hidden command, it began. Muscles,
bones and fur grew, faces became fangs, blue and grey and green Nordic eyes transformed into
inhuman yellow irises. I was astonished that I was still able to distinguish them the auburn
shimmering pelt of Aela, Skjor was one-eyed even in wolf-form, and the dark grey Alpha, his
mane bristled and thick, a black stripe running along his spine and ending in the tip of his tail.
Only Vilkas looked like his brother, pitch black, vibrating with nervous energy.
When the change was complete, I saw twitching ears and glowing eyes, the hunger of the hunt
threatening to take them over. But they were still Companions, and the grey Alpha who was
Kodlak in another life lowered himself on all fours, the others joining him.
A fourfold howl, earshattering, daunting and still harmonious echoed through the cavern. The
pack was formed. Farengar beside me watched without blinking, mesmerised and fascinated. He
didnt look afraid it seemed Kodlak had prepared him well.
The circle became closer, the room filled with bestial odours. And then the body between the
beasts started to twitch and lash out, and the wolves relished in his reactions to their presence. He
still fought the power of his beast, but they invited, they forced it to join them. When his eyes
abruptly opened, they had lost their silver-blue humanity, golden pupils glowing in the near
darkness. Another howl erupted, the Aela-wolf snapped after her brother, her fangs only a hairs
breadth from his face. The human answered the howl, roaring from the depths of his throat, and
then the wolf finally took control. Farkas changed.
His weakness vanished when bones cracked and expanded, muscles swelled, joints popped and
new senses took control of his brain. He was hungry. He wanted to hunt with his pack, wanted to
kill and feed and relish in the ecstasy of the moment. Turning for the exit, he found his way
blocked. The Skjor-wolf snapped at him, his deadly teeth glittering in the torchlight. The others
surrounded him closely, circled around him, their stance aggressive. They were the pack, and they
were hunting but him, not with him.
The sheer power and the elegance of their movements reminded me of a dance. Farkas tried to
break out, but always one of his pack-mates was in his way, over and over again he was cornered
between their flews. Was it a game? What did they want? He was the largest of them all, pitch
black the fur, but he wasnt Alpha. His Alpha had turned against him. They snapped at his tail and
feet and muzzle, always short of wounding him.
Everything was wrong. His pack had abandoned him, but he didnt smell any bloodlust in them,
just determination. There were others in the cave familiar, not prey, but also not pack. He wasnt
prey either. With a bark he jumped and broke free, made for the corner and the exit in long strides.
Pain shot through him when he sensed the fangs of his brother in his neck, piercing fur and
muscles, the force of the impact crushing him down. And there they were again, cutting his path,
forcing him with his back to the wall, feral wrath in their glowing eyes. The smell of his own
blood made him frantic. He spinned, looking for a way out of the trap, and his vision blurred, not
setting apart prey from pack any more. He wanted to shed blood, the blood of the others, wanted
to tear them apart and hurt them like they hurt him, and his attack came with frenzied rage, his
fangs buried in muscular thighs. The howl was met by his own, he bit deeper, but then his Alpha
still his Alpha stood before him, greyhaired, striking and strong, with bristled neck and bared
fangs. His threatening growl was superior. The strength of the pack compelled his surrender.
Was this what they wanted? Not destroy, not kill but vanquish? Did they want him to submit? The
black wolf finally gave in with a whelp-like whimper, the strength of his Alpha forcing him down.
He cowered and turned to his back, felt fangs around his muzzle and on his throat, but not hurting
this time, just keeping him down. There was his pack-sister, looking down on him with grey eyes.
Something was different. They were different. No. Something was missing. He was different, he
was missing something.
The pressure around his throat became fiercer when he was struck. The shivering blue line pierced
the beast in the core of its existence and he remembered.
He remembered the pain, the fear and the hopelessness, the feeling of being lost, of a loss,
irreplaceable and indispensable. Something was taken from him, had left him severed and split
apart. Something that made him whole. He was beast, but he was also something else, like his
mates. He needed it back if he wanted to be allowed to join his pack again.
He remembered the loneliness. He had never been so alone.
And he remembered this face that had never left him. Nothing had followed him into the void, and
still it had been there, unafraid, not leaving him alone. Not prey, not pack, with eyes not the
colour, but the nature of a wolf. It had helped him before, it would help him again. He could smell
that face. It was near.
Time seemed to have slowed. The werewolves formed a stack of limbs, claws, fangs and fur,
Vilkas and Skjor had locked their jaws into their brother, the auburn figure of Aela towering
above them. Her eyes searched my face. Were werewolves able to smile?
Every step took ages. I didnt belong to them, and a single strike of their claws could tear me
apart. But they were calling me, and I knelt down beside them. Farkas was still captive in the
merciless grip of his brothers, twitching against their strength, trying to move his head, his restless
gaze searching. When our eyes met, it stopped. I knew this gaze, it was the same he had shown
after the fight against the Silver Hand and after that first night, when we had warmed each other
against the terror. The eyes of a beast, of a monster, of a nightmare, nothing but feral instincts
and beneath it, a glimpse of silver. A glimpse of reason.
Suddenly all doubts were gone, all that was left were certainty and faith. His fur felt strange under
my fingers when I touched the side of his monstrous face rough, bristly, sticky with drivel and
blood.
Come back to us, Farkas. Come back, brother.
He didnt show any reaction, lay motionless as I stroked along his long jaw I didnt know if I
had expected one. I felt more than saw Skjor release him and rise to his feet, and still he didnt
move. The silence in the cavern was absolute, everyone seemed to hold their breath, men and
wolves alike. Until it was broken by a growled moan, Vilkas rising to his feet and locking eyes
with his brother before he started to change back. I could see how it hurt, how it strained his self-
control, but he didnt leave his twins gaze for a single moment. And I was the first to sense
beneath my palm that Farkas followed him.
When we left the cavern, Farkas in our midst, still silent and withdrawn, all of the Companions
awaited us in the training yard. It was their reaction, their open joy and relief and Farkas first
weary smile that finally let a tension evaporate from my mind I wasnt even aware that it had
controlled me during the last days. When Aela slung an arm around my shoulder, her eyes
shimmering moist, I grasped her wrist and gave her a beaming smile. Jorrvaskr, that wasnt the
place any more where fate had simply dropped me. It wasnt the place where others wanted me to
be. During these last hours it had become the place where I wanted to stay.
The next days were a haze of emotions, and not only for me. Relief quivered like smoke through
Jorrvaskr. It spawned smiles on every face, old hostilities and aversions were set aside. I wanted to
drown in these feelings.
Vilkas and I avoided each other during this time, and still something had changed. He appeared
more relaxed, relieved of course, and the twins were practically glued together, keeping mostly to
themselves. To watch the brothers sit in a corner and speak quietly, to see how he treated his
brother so differently from everybody else, not just me, how they obviously relied on each other, it
made me let go of my anger.
He didnt like me, and I didnt like him, nothing would change that. But he had been mad with
fear for his brother, and to see them together now woke the memories of something I once had
myself. Too long ago to miss it, I had been only a child, but it made me understand him.
And still it was a surprise when Vilkas approached me. If anything I would have thought that hed
catch me somewhere we could speak in private and perhaps for once without this display of
power he liked so much. But instead he joined Aela and me one morning while we were skinning
a deer she had brought from her hunt. I recognised absentmindedly and with some astonishment
that it had been killed by an arrow. I shouldnt be surprised that she used a weapon to bring her
prey down, but it only showed how much at ease I was with her nature.
Vilkas dropped unceremoniously on the bench beside her, grabbed a piece of meat and started to
slice it into thin stripes that would be salted and dried at the fire later, his motions fast and adept as
if he did this every day. I had never seen him doing something so profane before.
What are you gonna do now, Qhourian? he asked casually and straight to the point. Aela
suppressed a grin when she recognised how he catched me completely on the wrong foot.
Yeah, Id like to know that as well.
My gaze wandered from face to face, unsure if they made fun of me or if they were genuinely
interested. And Vilkas! Why Vilkas? He was the last I expected to ask this question, and it made
me suspicious.
Especially as I didnt have an answer. On the one hand, I wanted to stay. But if I applied for
membership, it would be a decision that would change everything, that would determine my
further life completely. I would have to give up the freedom I had fought so hard for and commit
myself to this life and this cause completely. I was entirely my decision, but I wasnt sure if I was
ready to make this commitment.
I avoided their curious looks and shrugged.
What are your alternatives, Qhouri? Aela asked.
I can always go back and
Dont be silly. You know thats not an option, Vilkas interrupted me harshly.
Of course it is! I flared up, and when it becomes too hard I can always go to Falkreath!
And do what?
Make myself useful. Somehow, I mumbled. This turned into a cross-examination, and I didnt
like it at all.
The only way to make yourself useful in Falkreath is as a corpse, Vilkas said dryly. His hands
stilled, his eyes pierced into mine. Aela snorted out a laughter. There is another alternative. I want
you to stay here. I want you to become a Companion.
His gaze didnt leave my face, taking in my bewilderment with a wry smirk. There it was again,
the arrogance I hated so much, his unfaltering certainty that he could tell me what to do. That he
didnt even need physical violence to get his way. That everybody would not only anticipate, but
fulfil his wishes without question.
But I wasnt afraid of him any more, and the fury boiled over. And you think I care for what you
want, Sir Master-of-Arms? You really think you can tell me what you want and Ill just comply?
And when you tell me to jump off Jorrvaskr, you probably expect the same obedience? I jumped
up, pressing my bloody palms onto the table. I was seething. Thank you for making my decision
so much easier!
Qhouri, Aela said soothingly, but I interrupted her. No! I bent forward until my face was
only inches from Vilkas. He had taken my outbreak totally unfazed. You think you can order
me around, Vilkas? Surprise, you cant!
But hes right, Qhouri, Aelas calm voice came from behind me, it would be crazy to go out
there now, all alone.
I spun around. Hardly crazier than to stay here, I sneered. Skyrim is big, you know? So many
possibilities
Vilkas let out an unimpressed snort. He leant back, his arms crossed over his chest, and an entirely
unamused grin spread over his face. Unamused, devious and complacent. Our eyes locked, his
icy gaze against my fury, and slowly it dawned on me. He was content, utterly pleased with my
reaction. This was exactly what he wanted, what he had hoped to provoke, and now he trusted
that my stubbornness wouldnt let me back out again.
That bastard!
I wanted to scream my rage out over the plains and breathed heavily, trying to calm myself. I
looked through him, and I wouldnt let him force me to do anything I didnt want. He was right in
only one point: that I had to make a decision. And I would. Right now.
When I felt Aelas hand on my shoulder, I tore away from his unfaltering gaze and turned slowly,
forcing my expression into a friendly grin. What do you think, Aela? You think I could make
myself useful if I stayed here?
Of course you could. You know my opinion on this.
Okay. I stood up, rammed my dagger into the tabletop and rushed through the doors, the main
hall and down the stairs, ignoring the steps that came after me. They wouldnt stop me.
But of course I had to stop when Vilkas grabbed my shoulder and spun me around. At least he
removed his hand as soon as I faced him.
Where are you going?
Kodlak, I pressed out between clenched teeth, dont try to stop me.
Suddenly his features relaxed, and a small smile quirked his lips. A real, nearly gentle smile. I
wont, he said lowly, unless youre going to tell him goodbye.
You wish! I hissed, no, Im gonna His smile deepened, and the meaning of his words
dropped in. What?
He shook his head, and the smile flashed into a grin. Youre far too easy to rile up. He took a
deep breath. I meant what I said, Qhourian. That I want you to stay. And Im sorry.
What?
Youre gonna apply for membership?
Yes. I straightened my shoulders.
Good. Id like to talk to you. In private and in earnest. If you dont mind. Either now or
whenever you find the time. He paused for a moment, taking in my incredulous, flabbergasted
expression. Please.
I was dumbfounded. This wasnt the Vilkas I knew. The bastard. I held his eyes wearily. You
dont want to change my mind? Or hold me back with brute force?
No. Of course not. For the first time, his expression showed a trace of uneasiness, and it piqued
my curiosity.
Okay.
It was the first time that I entered one of the private rooms of one of the Circle-members. Vilkas
was small and crammed full, beside a bed, a wardrobe, an armour-stand and a weapon-rack there
was a large shelf stuffed with books, a desk cluttered with parchments and even more books and a
small alchemy table. He offered me the only chair and sat down on his bed himself.
He clenched his hands in his lap and seemed nervous, something that intrigued me only more.
I should have trusted my brothers judgement, he said finally. Sometimes hes more brawn than
brain, but he seldom errs when it comes to people.
And that means what? I asked wearily.
That he likes you for a reason. He took a deep breath. Im not entirely sure yet what exactly his
reasons are, but you have probably recognised already that its nearly impossible no, that its
entirely impossible to keep secrets in Jorrvaskr.
Yeah, obviously, I snorted.
I didnt trust you because you so obviously kept so much from us. You were here for so long
already of course we asked ourselves if you wanted to stay. We didnt know where you came
from, only that you had been alone before and no one could fathom that you wanted to return to
that life. But you were so reticent, and well, you know in the meantime that we have our secrets
too. We cant risk to let someone join and see afterwards if he or she fits in, we have to be sure
beforehand. And you made it hard to be sure.
It wasnt your business, Vilkas. It still isnt. I never planned to stay. I never gave any indication
that I wanted to stay.
I know, he said lowly, I misjudged you. But now youve made a decision.
Its about time, I said with a weak grin.
What happened with Farkas, it wasnt your business either. You werent supposed to see all this,
to experience all this but you did. And you seemed a convenient culprit. But you werent, and I
knew it, and I owe you an explanation.
You owe me nothing.
He gave me a small smile, and somehow the atmosphere relaxed. Perhaps not. But I want you to
know. He made a gesture not to interrupt him. See Farkas would have been fine, even after
the fucked up change in the cairn. Weve been in similar situations before, and usually he can deal
with something like that. He would have been fine until you returned to Whiterun if it hadnt been
for the necros.
He stared into the distance. We were only four when our parents were killed by necromancers. A
Companion found and rescued us. I dont remember it but Farkas does, and thats why he lost
control. Now his eyes turned back to me, bright, clear and determined. Ive seen him like this on
other occasions, and it would have been worse if I had been with him. But you dealt with him in
the only way possible, you saved him, and we owe you his life and more than that. Its nothing
I can make up for, but you shall know that Im aware of it. And that Im sorry.
I know you were afraid for him.
He clenched his teeth. Yes. But thats no reason to
I interrupted him. I know how you felt, Vilkas. How you feel when it comes to your brother.
I wasnt sure if it was smart to be so blunt with him. But he had taken this step, and it hadnt come
easy to him. I could afford to give him something back.
What do you mean? A trace of suspiciousness was back in his eyes.
I gave him a weak grin. Or perhaps I dont, because I was only ten when I lost my sister. But I
know how it feels to have a twin.
Youre a twin too?
I was.
I endured his piercing gaze without faltering, until he broke the contact with a grunt. That is
nearly ironic.
I grinned. Yes, it is.
It became quiet between us. It was ironic that perhaps he was the one of all the Companions I
knew most about in the meantime. But he knew even more about me, and I was also aware that
his openness now was more than just remorse and contrition it was also a challenge. He was
manipulative, and a tiny voice in the back of my head whispered the subtext of this whole
conversation into my ear. Deal with it, it said. Youve no idea what youve gotten yourself into.
And Theres more to come. You know nothing so far.
I didnt trust him. I didnt believe him that he told me all this without calculating, even if he
seemed genuine now. Vilkas didnt do anything without ulterior motives, and it wasnt that we
had become best friends forever all of a sudden. But he didnt trust me either, not completely, and
with that we were on par. At least we had something like a basis now.
Dragonborn
I have an announcement to make!
The mead hall was filled for dinner, but the Harbingers deep voice drowned out the chatter easily.
At least a dozen faces turned curiously to the man standing on top of the stairs, the noise instantly
dying away.
The last days have been hard for all of us. The fragment of Wuuthrad Farkas and Qhourian
brought back was paid dearly for. We nearly lost our brother, and Qhouri wouldnt be here any
more as well if not for the persuasive skills of some of our members. But its overcome. Farkas
is cured, a cure which is unique in history and which was achieved through the help of many
people and not only Companions. And Qhourian has expressed her wish to become a formal
member.
More than enough reasons to not only celebrate her official introduction. I want a feast in these
halls Whiterun will remember for a long time!
A wave of applause surged up and warmed my heart although I already knew that Kodlak had
planned something. But even more important was the warm smile Farkas returned when I sought
his face.
I hadnt spoken with him since the night in the Underforge no, actually since the day after
Dustmans Cairn. His presence in Jorrvaskr was comforting, but he still kept for himself, spending
long hours alone, with Vilkas or Kodlak. He joined us for the meals, also had started his training
again, but didnt engage in the everyday chitchat and hadnt been out on jobs again yet.
Everybody was aware that it would take some time for him to come to terms with everything that
had happened. But at least he was with us again.
Of course the initiation of a new member wasnt something trivial, but it wasnt that unusual
either, Ria had joined only a few months before me. But the fuss my shield-siblings made about
the ceremony boosted my nervousness into Oblivion. When Athis polished my mace for the third
time, Torvar offered another mug of mead for your nerves, youll need it, girl!, Ria presented
me another design of warpaint which will look perfect on you! and Aela spread the contents of
her wardrobe on my bed, all of it far too small for me because you cant go in those rags!, I
exploded.
All of you, stop it! Athis, you promised nothing would change with this, but now I feel like Im
gonna be ritually slaughtered! I will stay as I am, wear my usual armour, and lets just get over
with it!
The whole dorm burst with laughter. They only meant well after all, but it took some more effort
to convince them that I really preferred to go in an outfit I felt comfortable in, and that I didnt
need any fancy colours and jewellery. The only trinket I accepted was an amulet of Kynareth. She
had always been by far my favourite member of the Nine Divines, though I preferred to think of
her as Kyne, the Mother of Men, goddess of battle and hunt. To wear her token tonight seemed
appropriate.
The fun part was over at sunset when Aela led me through Jorrvaskrs back door into the former
training yard. The training dummies, straw targets and weapon racks had been removed, instead it
was decorated with flowers, lights and torches, the tables laden with delicacies, and in one corner
a complete boar roasted above an open fire. All of the Companions and Eorlund had gathered, the
members of the Circle forming the centre of the crowd. When Aela had taken her place beside
Skjor, Kodlak stepped forward.
We have gathered tonight to welcome Qhourian in our midst. She has proven the skill required
for a life in these halls, and she has proven that her heart burns with the fire of a true warrior. She
has shown that she can be the shield and the blade in an honourable battle.
Who will witness her worth?
Vilkas stepped up. I knew this was a formalised ritual, and that three of them would have to speak
for me Vilkas had promised to be one of them, Athis probably another, but I didnt know whod
be the third. And I didnt know what exactly they would say.
I witness the worth of this woman. She has the heart of a warrior, and she has the soul of a
Companion. She sets her own needs aside for the needs of her siblings. She bears pain and
injustice to ease the suffering of others. She is worthy.
As suspected, Athis was the next. His typical warm smile usually only showed up when he was
about to tease me, but didnt want to be taken seriously. He was dead serious now.
I witness the worth of this woman. She fights with the agility of a cat and the strength of a bear.
She was by my side against terrible foes, showing neither fear nor weakness. She was the shield in
my back, as I was hers. She is worthy.
When he stepped back, it became silent. It was Aela who finally spoke.
I witness the worth of this woman. I witness not only the power of her arm, but also the strength
of her mind. She doesnt falter in the face of resistance, follows the path of honour and pride even
against opposition. She is worthy.
It was done. Kodlak already advanced to speak the final words when another dark voice chimed
in.
I witness the worth of this woman.
It took me a second to realise that it was Farkas. He hadnt moved, but when our eyes met, he held
my gaze with burning intensity. Even Kodlaks face showed surprise. This wasnt planned.
She stayed with me against superior forces. She stayed with me when I sent her away, in the
darkest darkness and through her own fears. She stayed with me when nobody else was left, and
she stayed with me through my hardest fight. She is worthy.
Fortunately Kodlak recovered much faster than me and I wasnt required to say anything. When
he spoke the final phrase, a phrase which had been used for ages every time a new Companion
was introduced, I spoke the words silently with him.
We stand witness to the courage of the soul who stands before us. We will stand at her back, that
the world may never overtake us. Our blades stand ready to meet the blood of her foes, and we
will sing the song of triumph as our Hall revels in her stories.
The Harbinger closed the short distance between us and squeezed me in a bearlike embrace before
he presented me the insignia of my membership a beautiful Skyforge mace. The first weapon of
my life that was truly mine, and for the first time I had the feeling that I had earned it. Welcome,
Qhourian. I think I speak for all of us when I say that this is a good moment for the Companions
of Jorrvaskr. I was only able to nod, my throat constricted with tears and joy.
I had absolutely no idea what it really meant when Kodlak wanted a feast Whiterun wouldnt
forget.
This was different from every feast I had attended before, all these improvised parties after a
mission well done, a farewell or simply some guests visiting Jorrvaskr, even different from the
Harvest Festival. This was an official celebration. Many of the citizens of Whiterun were invited,
Farengar of course, Danica from the temple, Irileth, Eorlund and some of his Grey-Mane relatives
and many more. Hulda from the Bannered Mare and Carlotta Valentia had helped out with the
food, and Torvar had used his excellent connections to the Honningbrew meadery to fill the cellar
to the brim with ale, wine and mead. We even had a bard this time Sven from Riverwood had
come, as nobody wanted to see or hear that pesky Mikael, and he couldnt sing anyway with his
broken nose.
Everything was well prepared, and when the guests arrived, we sat already comfortably in a large
round around the fire. Everybody, even Skjor and Vilkas who were rarely seen in anything but
their heavy wolf armours, had changed into more comfortable tunics and shirts, the daggers tied to
their belts only suitable to slice the meat on their platters. The guards were informed that a bigger
part of Whiteruns citizens would gather here tonight, and they would keep an eye on the
surroundings.
There were some awkward moments after the initiation rite when all the Companions came forth
for a hug and congratulations, but they were over fast. Everybody was a bit stirred, and my
blinking away the tears and clumsy attempts to find words of thanks, especially for Vilkas, Athis
and Aela, were just laughed away. Farkas was the last to approach me outside. He gave me a
faint, nearly shy smile, laying his hands on my shoulders. Im glad that this wolf brought you
here, Qhouri. And that these other wolves made you stay. And then he pulled me close, his arms
around my back. I didnt flinch back, felt his warmth and took in his scent. It was familiar and it
was just a moment of peace and tranquillity. We didnt have to talk not now, not yet.
It was a glittering, joyous, glorious night. Although I didnt accept by far every tankard that was
offered, I felt the alcohol rush to my head far too soon, but it didnt matter. For once all sorrows
and doubts dropped away I wholeheartedly enjoyed the moment, surrounded by friends. Sven
sang and played his heart out and was soon joined by others, especially Rias flute rose again over
the noise. I couldnt remember when I had split my sides laughing the last time, but when Athis
and Njadas dance first led to an argument about who stepped on whose toes first, then a wrestle
with both of them trying to crunch the others feet and finally resulted in them vanishing outside,
glued together with lips and busy hands, I nearly burst. They had a strange love-and-hate
relationship, those two, and I just hoped the hotblooded Nordic woman would keep my favourite,
always freezing Dunmer warm.
I had nearly forgotten that I was supposed to be the protagonist of the evening when Farengar sat
down beside me. He was relaxed like I had never seen him before, though our meetings so far had
of course taken place under much more dire circumstances.
Qhourian, every new Companion is a gain for Whiterun, and that you have decided to stay
makes not only me glad. In my capacity as a friend of Jorrvaskr, participant in the recent events
and official representative of Jarl Balgruuf, I want to present you with this.
He pulled a huge crystal from a pouch and placed it on the table, glowing red and orange like the
core of the sun itself. The whole round went silent. My eyes widened, never had I seen something
so beautiful and precious. Touching it, I felt a subtle warmth.
Its its awesome!
Yes, it is, but dont get too attached to it, the mage smirked. This is a soulgem, filled with the
soul of a mammoth. Its powerful, and I will enchant whatever you want with it and show you
how it works. How it is supposed to work.
I didnt have to think about it twice. Could you make me an amulet? With protection against
magic?
A necklace? Of course but thats an unusual choice. Have you thought about some extra
damage for your new weapon? Or an improvement of your armour?
I touched the gem reverently. No, thank you, Farengar, Im sure you can do incredible things
with this and all these ideas are great. But if you have to destroy it, Id like a bit of protection.
I knew I had too much when finally the last guests had left and I staggered down the stairs, arm in
arm with Ria and Torvar, giggling like a little girl, my head swimming with excitement and joy
and mead. Especially mead. Far too much mead.
When we had reached the hallway with much stumbling and laughing, Torvar planted himself in
front of me, suddenly appearing nearly sober again, and poked an affirmative index into my chest.
Mission accomplished!
I wanted to return the gesture, but instead I clenched my fist into the fabric of his tunic. Suddenly
the room started to spin around me.
What do you mean? I slurred.
His grin was smug. Shitfaced plastered. Yeah.
I squared my shoulders, but a tenacious hiccup quashed my efforts to stand steadily. Im not! I
can still stand. And walk. I yanked my hand away from his shirt. All on my own. To prove it I
made a staggering step backwards, just to stumble into Ria who pressed her palm against her
mouth to stifle her laughter. She held me upright with a firm grip around my waist.
This, dear sister, is just a matter of practice. Youll get there, you show potential. Sooner or later
Farkas will have to carry you to bed, I promise.
No, he wouldnt, not if I had a saying in that. I gave him a derisive snort and turned as graceful as
possible. The spinning got faster and more blurry, and I had to lay down. Fast, but all on my own.
Not that it helped.
But it didnt become entirely obvious how much too much it had been until next morning. The
racket upstairs woke me woke us brutally, far too fast and in the middle of the night. Which
was, to tell the truth, only short of noon. The heavy thumps on the front door and subsequent
frantic yelling in the main room was heard easily in the living quarters, and not even my pillow
could lock the noise out. I woke with the inevitable pelt of a rotten skeever between my teeth, my
head clamped in a vice of thrumming pain. Torvar of all people, Torvar! ran from bed to bed
and tried to throw us out.
Get up, you drunken lot, Whiteruns under attack! By a dragon!
There must have been something in this devilish mead that caused severe hallucinations. Or
nightmares. And even if Whiterun was indeed under attack of a dragon, wasnt that exactly what
the Jarl paid his guards for?
Get something to drink, Torvar, you were much funnier yesterday, Ria muttered into her
blanket.
But instead to stop, the turmoil came down the stairs and settled itself comfortably in our living
quarters as every single one of us finally tumbled up and tried to prepare for battle. Lots of cursing
ensued, inter- and exchanged armour pieces, misplaced weapons and hastily chugged down
tankards with Tilmas hangover cure. But the prospect to fight a real dragon had apparently a
more sobering effect on my siblings than a bath in a glacier lake. Of course I had to join them, as
insane as they were in their enthusiasm after all, we all knew the guards were spread thin, with
the enforced patrols on the roads and in the smaller villages. And I knew first hand that the
dragons werent just a rumour.
Irileth awaited us at the gates with a group of her guards, mostly young men and women with
shiny weapons and frightened eyes. But the joint forces of Jorrvaskr marching through the streets
of Whiterun were a sight seldom seen, and her face lit up, despite the rather pitiful state most of us
were in.
Dragons were supposed to be intelligent creatures, but that they scheduled their attacks directly
after the largest party for years, this was something no scholar had recorded before. But they were
also as large as intelligent, a fact that strangely gave me some hope. All of us carried a bow, but
most of us simply wouldnt be able to hit anything smaller than the Jarls palace.
Thanks for coming, Companions, I knew Whiterun could count on you, Irileth said tersely as
she led us out into the plains west of the city. At the moment hes just at the western watchtower
where one of my patrols tries to distract him. Not sure how successful they are, but we mustnt let
him come near the walls!
Its a dragon, Irileth. Dragons can fly. Walls mean nothing to them. But, although most of the
buildings in Whiterun were at least partly built from stone, Jorrvaskr as well as Dragonsreach were
wooden constructions. Easily flammable, they would burn like tinder. Yes, she had a point,
besides the sheer madness to fight such a creature at all.
Strangely, as soon as the fresh air and the fast run had woken us completely, excitement took over.
When I saw what was left of the watchtower, it mixed with anger: a smouldering ruin, with the
dragon sitting on top, writhing in the sun, his fearsome head on the long neck swinging from side
to side.
It wasnt the same that had destroyed Helgen, this ones scales shimmered in a lighter greyish-
beige, and he was smaller than the black one. But I had the distinct feeling that he gauged us
curiously as we approached carefully, and that he liked what he saw. For the first time I cursed my
choice of armour I wanted full plate, something with lots of thorns and spikes, just to look as
indigestible as possible.
Irileth stopped in bow range, and for some time, nothing happened. How to fight a dragon? How
to start such a fight? The creature sat motionless on his overlook and grinned at us. Until one of
the guards let his first arrow fly. Brave, stupid boy.
We learned fast.
First lesson: Dragons are unpredictable. Their movements through the three dimensions they have
at their disposal are so fast that its entirely impossible to predict where they will be the next
moment, let alone chase them.
Second lesson: Cover is crucial. They dont care to land to attack, but they can grab things and
people with their vicious claws directly from flight, a single flap of their wings taking them out
of range again. And their fire breath is longranged and deadly.
Third lesson: If its possible to target them for more than a second, its in fact quite easy to hit
them. Especially their wings. Theyre really huge.
Soon, but not after earning some painful blisters, I found a boulder the size of a carriage and with
it my modus operandi. When the dragon circled above our heads, I jumped on top of it and tried to
pierce him with as many arrows as possible. I didnt target carefully, every strike was a victory.
When he came too close, I ducked behind my trusty rock and hoped not to be roasted alive.
It worked reasonably well, but I didnt see any progress he had to be spiked like a pincushion
with all of us firing at him in a similar manner, but it didnt look as if he even felt it. And not
everybody was as lucky as I Aela was hit badly by the roaring flames, a guard was carried
away, screaming and flailing when the claws of the monster pressed into his flesh, and another
one who had the foolish or heroic idea to try his luck in close combat and made his way to the
top of the watchtower ruin was hurled to the ground by the spiky tip of his tail. He dropped limp
at the bottom of the stairs.
Fortunately two of the healers from the temple had joined us to the battlefield. They were at least
as heroic as the warriors, jumping in and dragging those not able to walk on their own any more
out of immediate danger.
I certainly wasnt the only one who thought the dragon had simply become tired of our little game
when he landed on the ruins again.
All of us froze in place when he started to laugh, the rumble more felt than heard and going
directly to my stomach. A laughing dragon was much more fearsome than a dragon spitting fire,
but a speaking dragon was even worse. His voice rang like a huge bell.
Brit grah. I had forgotten what fine sport you mortals can provide! But you are brave. Balaan
hokoron. Your defeat will bring me honour!
Oh yes, we were at least as brave as desperate. When I heard him suck in the air for his next
breath, I released my arrow, and I wasnt the only one. But mine hit the beast right into the eye.
His loss it was as huge as every other part of him!
The roar that followed made the earth itself shiver, but when the dragon rose again, he had lost
some of his elegance. His wings were already pierced at several points, and hot blood dripped
from some wounds in his less protected throat and underside. And now from his jaws, out of his
blinded eye socket.
The end of the battle was short and ferocious. He didnt rise as high any more, and a dragon
shadowing the sun only a few feet above my head was something Id never forget, especially
when his claws snapped shut directly in front of my face. But his weakness was our opportunity to
wound him more severely, as we aimed specifically for the soft skin of his underbelly and his
open throat.
I wasnt prepared when he finally fell, nobody was. His roar became a screech, but he didnt
simply collapse. His wings folded onto his back as he glided over the ground until the impact
caused a wake of devastation, people jumping and bodies flying out of his path, the crash whirling
up a cloud of dust and rocks above the giant body. He came to a stop directly in front of me, his
one eye flaring with pain and wrath, piercing right through me.
Dovahkiin! No!
His shout ached in my bones, and I cowered, awaiting my inevitable annihilation in a jet of fire. It
never came. The dragon was dead.
Stop looking at me as if I were Malacaths bastard!
It had been only one lousy day ago that I had finally found a tiny little bit of stability in my life.
And now? I was a nervous wreck. Again.
Dragonborn. By the Gods! Dragonborn!
My soul was perfectly fine. It worked flawlessly, whatever it was that mortal souls did every day.
And I had enough of misplaced souls for the rest of my life. Especially when it came to the one of
an oversized lizard.
I didnt want it!
What did that mean, anyway?
It seemed I could shout at dragons, and they apparently could hear me. Of course they could, they
were not deaf! It also seemed I could shout in dragon speech. Yes, obviously, but only because I
had been crazy enough to crawl through some long forgotten tombs where they left their writing
exercises. I hoped they broke their claws on those walls. Anyway, I didnt consider a vocabulary
of two words knowledge, and many other people could do that as well. That crazy rebel up
there in Windhelm for example, and he was much better than me. After all, he had killed the High
King with his voice. Or these monks up on the highest point of Skyrim I was supposed to visit
now. They had thousands of years to practice!
I had absolutely no idea what happened after that dragon finally did not kill me. I blamed the
mead, the excitement and a pinch of fear for the swirls of light and the dizziness. And the lack of
breakfast. When people started to stare, I just shouted at them to leave me alone. And then that
soldier blamed me that he hit his head on the crumpling wall of the watchtower! Me! Oh, he did so
very respectfully, but please guy, you fought a dragon! You should be happy to live and not
whine over a bit of a headache!
Then there were those voices, this sinister roaring directly from the sky. Like a last greeting of the
beast itself, long after only its skeleton was left. If only I had heard them, I really wouldnt have
cared. But everybody did, unfortunately. When I proposed that Irileth should rather sooner than
later check Honningbrews secret mead recipe for any hallucinogens, she wasnt amused at all.
And the skeleton. Yes this was something that was still there, the enormous twisted and
bleached bones lying at the watchtowers base frighteningly tangible. It was something no one
could ignore. No one could ignore that only a few bones were left of the mighty creature.
The rest of it was in me. They had seen it, I had felt it. And it scared me to death.
Vilkas, Skjor, is there anything for me to do? Please? I go crazy with all these rumours and
whispers and people pointing at me. How about getting Yffres toothpick from Valenwood? Or I
could look for Artaeum? Please? Think about the honour that would bring to the Companions!
Anything? Preferably a job which keeps me away for some years?
Oh, but youre exempted from Companion duties for the time being, Qhouri. No way we will
waste your precious time with our meagre tasks now!
The men just grinned at my despair. They didnt take me seriously, and it didnt seem they
grasped the gravity of the situation. If I had to stay in Whiterun any longer, I would wreak havoc,
from the stables up to Dragonsreach. With my voice. And I would start with Jorrvaskr.
In the end, I made my way up to the palace. No, it wasnt training for 7000 steps! Farengar had
sent a courier with an invitation and a beautiful necklace, silver with some jadegreen stones and
the question if this would suit me to be enchanted according to my wishes.
All joking and excitement aside, everybody in Jorrvaskr seemed to be as helpless and insecure
about this dragon business as myself. No one could help, not even Kodlak or Vilkas. Especially
not Vilkas he had always shown a healthy suspicion against everything magic, and Farkas
recent experiences had only heightened his profound unease against everything only slightly
mystic. A shield-sister suddenly speaking with dragons and devouring their souls was definitely
far over the top.
I knew I had to do something. At least I could try to understand what was happening. The dragon
in Helgen yes, he was the miracle that had granted my survival, but I had pushed it aside. Never
had I dreamt that it would affect me personally. Like everybody else, I believed that he had
somehow appeared to rescue Ulfric Stormcloak, the rebellion leader, and that the appearance of
more and more dragons was something like an aftershock. Whatever it was, it was either
something strangely occult or a weird political incidence, and both were the last things I wanted to
deal with while struggling for my life and trying for the first time to build up a future for myself.
The only person in Whiterun who could help with my sudden urge for knowledge was Farengar.
After all I had retrieved the dragonstone for him, he was a scholar who had been studying dragons
for some time now, and he owed me something. Or so I hoped.
On my way up to and through the palace I was shocked by the faces around me. These guards
had fought by my side at the watchtower, but instead of a friendly greeting or a triumphant cheer
for their sister in arms, all I met was the same glimpse of fright and awe I had seen in them before
the fight. Just that it was fear of me now, of something they didnt understand. Horrible. This had
to end.
The court mage was rummaging through piles of notes and books when I entered his quarters,
some stacks already neatly built up on his desk.
Here, he gestured towards them, you can start reading right away, while I deal with your
enchantment. He just smirked at my surprise. Oh, and I feel honoured to aid the Dragonborn in
any way possible, of course!
Leave me alone with that, I muttered. He had indeed gathered lots of information about dragons,
their history, their language and their disappearance after the Dragon War. Not so much about
their reappearance, though. But at least I learned what it meant to be a Dragonborn historically.
Not what it meant for me, personally, if it meant anything at all. I had never been overly religious.
I knew about the Nine, somehow I even believed in them, some of them were more important than
in others. I believed that it were nine and not eight and that no one, not even the Thalmor, could
simply decide that a god was suddenly not divine any more. I believed that Nordic warriors spent
an eternity in Sovngarde.
To have the soul of a dragon, gifted by Akatosh himself that was an idea so unbelievably
ridiculous I could just either go crazy or laugh about it. Or both.
The craziest thing was that it made sense. My reaction to the word walls, the dragons reaction to
me, his recognition with his last breath and the events after his death when I stopped blaming the
mead, it made an awfully frightening sense. This realisation hit me like lightning.
Farengar didnt disturb me although I left a mess on and around his desk. Only when I looked up
again hours later, with burning eyes and empty head, he pulled a chair to my side.
Okay, Qhouri. Anything else you want to know?
Yes. Why me?
Oh, thats something you have to ask someone else. Akatosh, for example. At least he didnt
show this ridiculous awe I met everywhere.
Honestly, I think a visit to the Greybeards is not the worst idea. Theyre probably the only ones
who can help you any further, unless of course you want to find another dragon to teach you
directly. Theyre the masters of the Thuum, theyve researched the Way of the Voice for
thousands of years. But if you decide to make the trip, make it soon. The way up to High
Hrothgar will be nearly impassable after the first real onset of winter.
It felt awful when I explained my intent to Kodlak after breakfast next morning. I didnt want to
leave, and especially not for something like this.
I will go to High Hrothgar and speak with those dragon guys. Is there anything useful I can do
for the Companions on my way?
Kodlak just looked at me respectfully, not surprised. As if he had known that Id come to my
senses.
Good. One second, please. He left the room, only to come back with Farkas in tow.
You will not go alone, Qhouri. You know we never go on any job alone, and it doesnt matter if
we have a contract for it or not. Farkas will accompany you.
Farkas? I wanted to object. He was still recovering. He still needed time for himself. Vilkas would
die with fear again. And after all, this wasnt their business, it had nothing to do with the
Companions. But his confident, calm smile just let me sigh with relief, and I realised that not the
dragons and their souls were my biggest fear, but that I would have to leave Jorrvaskr again and
face this challenge all on my own.
Ive thought about it, Qhouri, and I wont let you go through this alone. After all, Ive some
experience with weird soul stuff. Perhaps he wasnt as reconvalescent any more as I had thought.
Oh, and while were at it, we could get rid of those thugs in the Valtheim Towers, the Jarl has a
bounty on them. If you dont mind, of course.
Of course I didnt mind. I wanted to be useful, be a Companion and live my life just like all the
others. Instead, I was suddenly a freak.
There was no use in further delay and we left right away. Athis wore his usual smirk when I
embraced him closely. Im jealous, you know that? If these Greybeards werent something so
incredibly Nordic, I wouldve volunteered to join you. Promise to take me with you next time,
thats so much more exciting than bandits and bears! I would miss his lightheartedness.
The Valtheim towers provided a cosy quarter for the night after we had cleared them of their
former inhabitants. Of course the resident bandits outnumbered us, but they were also spread out
quite far some of them patrolling the street, some of them in both of the ruined towers on each
side of the river, some lingering on the long stone-bridge connecting them. I had left the main road
some distance before their camp and approached it from the mountains while Farkas strolled
seemingly innocently along the road. Of course he was stopped soon, and while he was still
discussing the handing over of the contents of his pack with three of the thugs, I was already able
to take out two of them on the bridge. They never knew where the arrows that killed them came
from, and even if they werent dead with the first shot, the long fall down into the seething river
certainly did the rest.
In the meantime, Farkas had decided that he was too attached to his belongings to give them away
just like that. The inevitable fight developing around him wasnt as ferocious as I had feared
though, his opponents obviously too astonished that this easy victim wasnt only crazy enough to
challenge all of them at once, but also proved to be a rather skilled warrior. Nevertheless, I had to
be careful not to hit him when I let my arrows rain down on them, but I was unreachable and well
protected, so at least I could aim carefully. As soon as the remaining bandits realised that there was
more than one enemy attacking them, they tried to escape into their hideout, but it was too late. I
hit the last of them in the back an honourless death for an honourless villain.
The last three members of the gang made the fatal error to retreat into the second tower. We
cornered them in the uppermost floor, and with the both of us staying in the doorway to the stairs
and Farkas broad shoulders alone filling the opening nearly entirely, only one of them at a time
could reach us at all. They didnt have a chance while we didnt even break a sweat.
This was nearly too easy, Farkas said with an appreciative smile, I must confess, your stealth
skills are more useful than I thought at first.
I chuckled. Theyre even more useful with a distracting meatshield.
He growled in faux anger. Meatshield? Meatshield? Ill show you meatshield, whelp! Sprinting
past me, he chased me playfully back over the bridge and down the first tower. Outside, I was
able to turn and dart past him before he could grab me. He probably didnt try really hard.
Meatshield, youre far too slow to get me!
His roaring laughter stopped me at the entrance to the tower, and he nearly knocked me over
when he ran into the chamber. To see him so exuberant brought back the memory of his terrifying
state only a few days ago, and that his recovery was so much more important than anything Id
have to deal with.
He trapped me with his gauntlets resting on the wall left and right of my shoulders, his grin
irresistible. Got you!
I ducked away under his forearms and ran. Really? Dream on, hulk!
He didnt follow me. Get us some firewood, whelp. Im hungry!
Farkas made use of the various supplies the bandits had left behind, especially a freshly slain goat,
and proved his excellent cooking skills again. After the meal we sat by the fire in a relaxed,
comfortable silence, deep in our thoughts. I had volunteered for the first watch, not giving him the
chance to let me sleep through the night again, and when he finally retreated into his bedroll, it
was relieving to see that his rest was peaceful and undisturbed.
Grey
I didnt count them all, and I lost track anyway after a few hundred and the first onslaught of a
pack of wolves, but it were really 7000 steps. At least.
Farkas had fun with me mumbling numbers, nudging me, yelling false alarms or telling dirty jokes
just to break my concentration. But to count the steps seemed to be the only way to deal with
burning calves and the lack of breath as we circled the peak above us on the steep, narrow, icy
path over and over again. It didnt seem to come any nearer for hours, and I was glad that we had
allowed ourselves an extensive rest in Ivarstead and not taken the bait of the inn keeper to visit the
allegedly haunted local barrow.
The snowfall became denser the nearer we came to the top, until we could barely see the next few
steps. But I pressed onward, no way I would spend a night on this path with nothing but frost
trolls as company. When High Hrothgar finally became visible I was frozen to the bones, but we
already stood nearly in front of its entrance if the huge, wooden double doors were any
indication, the building they belonged to was really impressive.
An impression which proved to be true as soon as we entered. The huge hall wasnt any warmer
than the outside, but at least we were out of the snow and the storm. Blank black stone walls,
impressive stairs and a circle of old men in grey robes, silently staring at me I didnt feel very
welcome. In fact, suddenly I felt very small, and only Farkas reassuring presence behind me
made me step forward.
Are you the one we called?
I just nodded. The mans face was unreadable under the grey hood. No welcome, no smile, no
acknowledgement, no good to see you, Dragonborn, have a drink. After 7000 steps! I wasnt so
certain any more that this journey was worth the effort.
Prove it. He pointed to a symbol, shimmering in the polished surface of the black stone floor.
If they didnt want to be polite, I could do without as well. They had summoned me, I had taken
on an entirely unwanted journey to follow their call, and Id rather return to Whiterun sooner than
later. I let the force build up in my throat until it hummed through my whole body, but when it
erupted, I somehow failed to target the symbol exactly. One of the robed figures flew backwards
against the stairs. After all, I was weary from the walk and not very practised. Farkas behind me
couldnt suppress an amused snort, but somehow this audacity seemed to break the ice. The man
didnt smile openly, but at least he didnt shout back.
Welcome to High Hrothgar, Dragonborn. Finally. I am Master Arngeir. It seems youre tired
we sometimes forget how exhausting the journey up here is. We dont get many visitors. Why
wasnt I surprised?
I didnt know if anyone beside these four men lived in the complex, but the chamber Arngeir led
us to was warmed by a crackling fire, and a meal waited for us for both of us, as if they had
expected that I wouldnt come alone. We were left alone for the rest of the evening, and I was
glad to have Farkas by my side, although he obviously felt at least as uncomfortable as me.
Why do these sages with their ancient wisdom always have to live in such inhospitable places?
he muttered while popping an ale and filling our tankards. No fun, no women, no music, and
these, he raised the bottle, are probably only for guests. He became earnest.
I dont like this place, Qhouri. Its too quiet. Like a tomb, but Im not allowed to draw my blade
although I can feel that something powerful lurks in the dark. Promise to be careful when you deal
with these guys, okay?
I was here to learn, no to fight. And if there was danger ahead, probably not even Farkas could
protect me.
The Greybeards didnt carry their name by chance. Everything in High Hrothgar was grey the
building itself, the surroundings, the weather, its residents robes, hair and skin, and even the voice
of Arngeir sounded as if it was muffled by dense, grey fog. And it wasnt just grey it was the
absolute absence of colours that was so deeply disturbing. Down in the valley we had enjoyed the
deep, luminous colours of fall, but up here endless winter ruled, where nothing ever grew and
everything seemed as lifeless as the dark stone around us.
Nothing that could distract from the knowledge held and taught in this temple of ancient wisdom.
Breakfast was sparse, and after it we gathered again in the huge main hall. Farkas joined me, but
lingered in the shadows, just watching I didnt know if out of curiosity of because he thought
Id need his protection. Again, it was Arngeir who addressed me.
Dragonborn. Its an honour to welcome you in High Hrothgar, where we have sought to guide
those of the Dragon Blood who came before you. We will do our best to teach you how to use
your gift in fulfilment of your destiny.
My destiny? What is my destiny? Does it have something to do with the return of the dragons?
He nodded. That was what I had feared most. Probably, yes. Even we dont know for sure, but
the appearance of a Dragonborn at this time is certainly more than a coincidence. But we can only
show you the path you will have to uncover the destination for yourself.
My destiny. The last months no, actually all my life I had been pushed around by forces I could
not control, from the bandits who ransacked the farm of my parents and destroyed my family up to
the dragon attacking Whiterun. I had always been used, and it was high time I started to shape my
own life. My own destiny. The first step had been to join the Companions. Now there was
something new again, something that had descended upon me like an avalanche. But I wouldnt
allow that this so-called destiny would push me around. I would learn to control the powers I had,
and I didnt care for the moment if they were a gift or a curse. I also didnt want to ask that
pointless Why me? question any more I wouldnt get an answer anyway. If the gods had such
a queer sense of humour to make someone like me a Dragonborn, Id make sure to deliver them a
good game.
The training was hard. Arngeir was the only one who talked to me, but all of the Greybeards
shared their powers and their knowledge. The problem wasnt so much to learn new words, that
was obviously my inborn ability, but to channel the new understanding into reality. I needed the
power of the dragons to do so, and there was so much possible with those Words of Power, I had
no idea. While I could attack with pure force, fire and ice, I could also move with incredible
speed, soothe animals, weaken my enemies or protect myself. Or at least, some day I would
hopefully be able to for now, I only practised the most basic words until the power of the
Thuum made my body tremble with exhaustion and my lungs and throat burned from the
focused, powerful breaths. My teachers were relentless, but they also showed a great deal of
patience.
The hours I spent in the company of the silent elders were rewarded with a tranquillity I had never
known before. Concentrated on my exercises, their gestures and light touches got a clarity which
exceeded every spoken word. The training and the permanent physical exhaustion coming with it,
long conversations with Arngeir and hours of silent meditations which left me stiff and chilled to
the bone but cleared my head from the overwhelming amount of knowledge the days passed like
a dream.
And with every passing day my willingness to face this new life, this new challenge grew as well.
Not only did I finally experience that I had the power to do so; it wasnt pure luck any more when
I did something and survived. With every hour I spent with Arngeir and learned about the history
of the dragons and Dragonborns before me, I also learned to accept the fact that it was my very
own duty. If I refused to deal with the newly rising danger, nobody would.
But despite all the submersion and contemplation every day had to end, and every evening when I
retreated to our shared chamber I had to deal with Farkas growing restlessness. He didnt
complain, never even said a word, but I saw in him that our stay here strained his nerves to the
edge. I knew the Greybeards let him stroll freely through High Hrothgar, but what could a man
like him find here to keep him occupied? Sometimes I thought of him like of a little boy who
needed to be kept busy, but that was unjust. This was simply not his world, and he didnt share the
experiences I made.
But it was more than just boredom, and I realised it nearly too late. The deep, undisturbed silence
that I had learned to appreciate so much, this silence frightened him to death. He wasnt used to be
all on his own, and he feared the whole atmosphere of this place which left him nothing to do than
to deal with himself. He wasnt ready for it. He had come as my guardian, as my support, but
what had become a refuge to me was more like a prison to him. When he felt he wasnt needed
at least for the moment he backed out.
At first he made long hikes along the mountainside, hunted deer and goats, even patrolled the path
to keep the few pilgrims safe who wandered the way and meditated over the inscriptions. But it
wasnt enough, and one evening I found a short scribbled note on my pillow.
Off to Ivarstead, I need some company. Will be back in a few days. Farkas
The small sentiment of hurt that he didnt bother to tell me about his plans personally dissipated
soon. He was right, and I was glad he didnt press me to leave just because he felt uncomfortable.
It took four days until I started to worry. After six days, the serenity of High Hrothgar left me
entirely. I was unconcentrated, my throat so constricted I didnt manage a single Shout to the
standards I had worked so hard for. With a frustrated shrug I left the back yard where I had trained
with Master Borri, my thoughts with Farkas instead on the Word I practised. I knew something
was wrong. He was gone for exactly one week when I woke with the image of golden eyes in my
mind. Arngeir just nodded when he saw me enter the main hall, armed and armoured, wrapped in
my cloak and ready to leave.
I will come back, I promise.
High Hrothgar would never be my home. It could be a safe haven for a limited time, but my home
was Jorrvaskr, the Companions my family. When Farkas needed help, even when I only assumed
that he needed my help, everything else had to stay behind.
It didnt take long to find him, the bright red patch shining from afar in the blinding white snow.
The sabrecats had attacked him from behind, damned sneaky critters, but nevertheless their huge
corpses lay some distance below him, shred to pieces I knew only one kind of creature could
cause. Farkas lay in the snow, unconscious, his armour nearly destroyed, bleeding from many
wounds but alive. Arngeir didnt ask when I rushed back into the hall, he just helped. And he also
didnt mind to turn High Hrothgar into a hospital for the time being, brought potions and a
substantial chicken broth.
I was asleep in a chair when Farkas finally opened his eyes again, but the light pressure of his
fingers let me startle. A feeble smile had replaced the clenched teeth caused by the pain every
breath and every move obviously caused him.
Another life I owe you, sister. Next time its my turn again, okay?
I was so relieved to see him awake that I could only give him a beaming smile.
His expression turned into his typical grin. Ive brought you something. Something pretty! He
chuckled. Have you already looked through my pack? I had, but only for any leftover potions.
Theres a small package, wrapped in a cloth. Its for you.
It was a claw similar to the one Athis and I had found in Bleak Falls Barrow, just that its talons
were of a bright blue instead of gold. He obviously didnt expect it when I punched him in the
chest, not caring for his injuries. His breath became a pained gasp.
Youve been in the damned tomb! I yelled at him, are you crazy? Did Kodlak teach you
nothing? You foolish, stubborn icebrain, you could be dead!
His hand reached for my cheek, wiping away the tears of anger and relief, but he also seemed a bit
confused about my outbreak.
Hey nothing happened, at least not in the barrow! I just did the people down there a small
favour. And it was only one guy, not even a real ghost I didnt get in very far anyway, couldnt
open one of those silly puzzle doors. Wilhelm gave me the claw as a reward. And it is pretty, isnt
it?
Yes, it is, but if my guess is right its also the key to that silly door that fortunately stopped you.
And perhaps theres another word wall behind it like in Bleak Falls Barrow. We will have to
check that out when youre on your feet again, and together!
I wasnt finished with him. Never, never again dare to scare me like that, do you hear me? Do
you have any idea how terrifying it is to dream of you and wake up with the knowledge that
something horrible has happened?
His eyes darkened with distress and he leant back, withdrawing his hand and his whole self from
the contact.
Yes. Yes, I know how that feels, Qhouri, he muttered lowly. Believe me. I dont know much,
but this Ive spent so long with nothing but your eyes keeping me linked to this world, its just
fair that you see mine now from time to time.
The silence between us grew into infinity. But these were things that had to be expressed, even if
it got to his core. He had to rip this scar open to let it heal properly. When I laid my hand on his,
lying limply on the blanket, he turned his wrist and clenched my fingers.
His voice was weak and small.
I was lost and I didnt even know it. There was only emptiness, darkness and hunger. Nothing
else not even the feeling that something was wrong. I could have stayed there forever, in that
void, if it hadnt been for the dreams.
Dreams? You still dreamt?
Yes. Did you know that when the wolf is in control when nothing is left to keep him in check,
he dreams as well? I know them, we all know them, these dreams of the hunt and the kill and the
frenzy. Theyre dangerous, but then it was different. In these dreams I knew that I was lost. That
I had lost something, and that I couldnt return. And I only knew it because your face was still
there.
He stared at me from wide open eyes full of hurt, as if he relived it. This revelation was horrible,
and I turned my head away, avoiding his gaze. But his index touched my chin and lifted my face
to his.
Im sorry, I whispered, if I had known
He shook his head. Dont be. I never felt so alone. It was all that was left but I didnt want to
lose it. I fought for it, it was like an anchor. But when the pack overwhelmed me and Farengar
put that spell on me it didnt feel like returning. It was like being pushed into another abyss.
Suddenly I knew what was wrong, but knowing alone wasnt enough, and the beast was so much
stronger than me. Yes, there were Vilkas and Kodlak and the others. They showed me where to
go. But without your smell and your eyes, without you being there I would have never believed.
He leant back against the pillow, his voice that was usually so resounding only a barely audible
whisper.
I owe you so much more than just my life, Qhouri. Nothing is certain any more, nothing can be
taken for granted, but this is something I still trust. You will have to send me to Oblivion to get rid
of me. Though I would probably go if you told me.
This huge gruff man looked at me with the eyes of a child, full of faith and trust.
I bit my lip. I wont send you anywhere, Farkas. But I dont know what will happen. Whats
waiting for me. Ill have to deal with those dragons
It was frightening to say it out loud. Of course I would need help with this. But whatever Id
have to do, it wasnt the Companions business, and I didnt want him to feel obliged.
But there was no hesitation in him, no doubt, only certainty and determination Whatever it is
let me have your back, sister. Its the least I can do. He saw through me, that I shied away from
his offer, from the commitment that came with it. His hand reached out, touching my wrist lightly,
and a small smile flickered over his face. Were a good team.
You think so? Or do you just wanna slay more dragons? I gave him a weak grin.
Both. I wont press you, Qhouri. But I want you to know that Ill be there when you need me.
I lifted my head, looked up into his face. His eyes were bright, clear and calm. He had made a
decision, for himself and perhaps for me as well, and somehow I felt safe. Somehow I knew that
this promise would hold.
Whats that grin for? Youre not laughing about me again, are you?
Of course not, brother. Never! I couldnt withhold a giggle. The spikes that had been crashing
out of the ground in front of the trapped chest had nearly pierced his kneecaps although I had
pointed out the thin wire that tied the trigger to the lid.
We were back in normality, and we were both glad about it. People could only endure so much
emotional strain without going crazy or worse becoming awkward with each other. Nothing
was awkward between us, fortunately, and the temporary parting from High Hrothgar had been
on good terms as well. I knew I could come back whenever I felt the necessity, and I also left with
an assignment a trial which gave me the good feeling that Id perhaps be able to repay what
the Greybeards had done for me: to retrieve the horn of Jurgen Windcaller, their founder, from his
grave.
And now the crawl through the dark passages of Shroud Hearth Barrow and hacking through
half-rotten undead felt so incredible routine in comparison to the things we both had been through,
it was outright relaxing. Obviously too relaxing and boring for my shield-brother, I was nearly
convinced he triggered all the traps on purpose just to amuse me. Although I could have killed him
when he released the mechanism of the rotating doors when I was just between the first and the
second. It had taken me ages to stop them all three with the opening just large enough for us to
squeeze through. His hysterical giggle from behind the massive stone wall didnt make it any
better as didnt mine when it took him even longer to find the correct position of the levers
again.
Only when we reached the final room, the laughter suddenly died in my throat. Thirteen coffins,
of course all of them opening at once, and behind them the word wall we had come for, tugging at
my conscience. I gestured to Farkas to stay back and quiet, and for once he obeyed with the
result that the heavy gate closed between him and me. With me inside and him out. I had a
problem.
Fortunately the inhabitants of the anterior coffins were mere skeletons, easy to kill but also
inconveniently noisy when they collapsed into piles of bones. The draugr hadnt localised me yet,
hiding in the shadows behind an enormous column, but with several skulls suddenly rolling
around they became curious and moved towards the gate. Where Farkas suddenly appeared, just
to kick up a riot that must have been audible up in Ivarstead. He clenched to the bars and yelled
abuses at the draugr Id preferred not to have added to my vocabulary, but it was hilarious to see
them pile up before the gate, sticking their bony limbs through it and Farkas raging just out of their
reach, hacking at their swords, axes and arms when he got the opportunity.
I had crawled behind one of the now empty coffins for cover and took them out from behind.
Another lesson learned: draugr focused on a single enemy werent easily distracted as long as this
enemy was still alive and kicking. Not even by bodies going limp beside, behind and in front of
them. They were really dumb. I only had to confront one of them personally, their master, the
strongest of them all. The way he got rid of of his unreachable enemy left me speechless for a
second a barked FUS crashed Farkas against the wall behind him. When the bright blue
glowing eyes turned to me, I shouted back. And the gate opened.
Farkas was already on his feet again when I rushed over. That was awesome! he grinned,
rubbing the back of his head.
Yes, it was, but you know I pointed at the quiver on his back, instead of only yelling
vulgarities, you could have just used your bow and not let me do all the work, meatshield. Leave
the shouting to me, okay?
His puppy eyes were irresistible. Oh, but this was so much more fun! he sulked. Its so rare I
can use all these funny words I learned in the Bannered Mare! Aela always slaps me when I try
them out.
I had nearly forgotten about the wall. When I approached it, it was different than the first times.
Much more controlled, much more conscious. I felt the word drown into my brain, but it didnt
overwhelm me any more. It was KAAN, the dragon word for Kyne.
The hall was bustling with life, I had a mug of hot ale in one hand, the other busy with the fresh
venison roast on my platter, around me nothing but familiar and friendly faces we were home
again, and we were happy to enjoy the safety of Jorrvaskr and to relax for this one evening,
although everybody was aware that we were only passing through.
If I really thought that the Companions didnt want to get involved in the Dragonborn business, I
couldnt have been more wrong. Yes, they got paid when they did a job, but their true interests
were much different from those of ordinary mercenaries. They fought for honour and glory, and as
Farkas had expressed it: I fight for those who cant fight for themselves. They were warriors
first and foremost, they lived for battle, the fiercer the better, and what could be more glorious than
a battle against dragons, the oldest fiend of mankind?
They acted as if the Dovahkiin of legends could righteously only be a Companion as well. They
wanted to take part in this epic battle, every single one of them. No way I could have talked them
out of it, and anyway I didnt want to. The Greybeards had taught me what it meant to be
Dragonborn and what the rising of the Dov meant for Skyrim. But I still didnt know what exactly
I would have to do. I couldnt slay every single dragon on my own. To have a whole bunch of
people around me speculating and spinning plans for the heroic deeds they would perform with
me felt nothing less than comfortable.
So, what are your next steps? Aela looked curiously from Farkas to me.
Apart from killing as many dragons as possible, gather their souls for Qhouri and their scales and
bones for Eorlund? Farkas leant so relaxed in his chair as if he slew dragons every day before
breakfast. Just for fun.
Dont brag, brother, I chuckled. Lets see what happens when we meet the first one just the
two of us, without an army in the back. You have just proven that youve neglected your archery
skills rather recklessly.
Oh! his eyes sparkled, I wanna try if what works with the draugr also works with dragons!
They do understand us, dont they? They dont speak only their own language?
My irritated sigh was only met with laughter. The idea of Farkas yelling expletives at a dragon
was as ridiculous as improbable. Especially as the beast would probably answer him with a shout
of fire.
We have to go to Ustengrav and retrieve the Horn of Jurgen Windcaller, the founder of the
Greybeards. Not sure what they need it for all of a sudden, but they will have their reasons.
Skjor spread out a huge map of Skyrim in the middle of the table, searching for the location in the
jumble of marks, symbols and remarks.
Ustengrav, hm? Thats here, in the northern swamps, between Morthal and Solitude. Youre
gonna take the carriage to Morthal and go from there?
No, not Morthal. Solitude, that way we can avoid the swamps nearly entirely. Farkas smile had
drained away for an uneasy growl, his lips pursed to a firm line. I was surprised, we hadnt mad
any plans yet.
But Morthal is much nearer, Solitude would be a huge detour! Whats the matter, are you afraid
of swamp wisps?
No, Im not! he flared up, every humour vanished from his voice. Vilkas, who had been mostly
quiet so far, chimed in. Morthal is only a hamlet, Qhourian. Just an inn, the telling glance he
sent to his brother didnt escape me, a mill and a crazy Jarl whose job is so stressless that she has
time to have visions and drive her people crazy. You wont get any supplies there, nor any advice
how to get to the barrow safest and quickest. Id say, travel to Solitude and make your way from
there.
He had a point, I was sure however that something was seriously wrong here. But now I didnt
want to stress the relaxed atmosphere any further. This was our well deserved break, and I was
dead set to enjoy it. We would need our strength on our further way, wherever it would lead us.
Solitude could have been a beautiful city if it hadnt been for all the soldiers. They were
everywhere, gathering in the inn, the shops and the streets, evoking an atmosphere of fear and
distrust. This was the headquarter of the Imperial legion in Skyrim and one of the epicentres of the
civil war against the Stormcloaks, and the hatred I saw in so many words and eyes of the citizens
against their fellow Nords left a foul taste in my mouth even the fresh breeze from the sea couldnt
dispel. Even the famous bards college was affected by it, seeing that their yearly festival had been
cancelled because of the murder of High King Torygg. It was heartbreaking, and we were happy
to leave that miserable place after buying a map, some food and as many potions as we could
carry.
I hadnt argued the question of our travel route any further if Farkas didnt want to go to
Morthal, we would avoid it. Concerning the why he was my shield-brother, but he also had the
right to keep his secrets. If he wanted to tell me, he would.
When we approached the barrow, we found a camp again. Camps at the entrances to these
places were bad, that much I had learned already, and we werent sure if the corpses of the
outlaws laying around were a good or a bad omen. At least it werent Silver Hands. But it could
also mean that the werewolf hunters were waiting inside. Farkas shrugged and pushed the door
open.
But it werent Silver Hands. He froze the moment I had closed the doors and he had made the first
steps into the darkness, turning his head and sniffing, drawing his sword with narrowed brows.
Necros, he whispered under his breath.
Now I heard it as well, the distinct sounds of magic users fighting, the sizzling of lightning,
shouting and screaming, the air sated with the iron tang of magic.
Farkas tensed as I gave him a concerned look, laying a hand on his shoulder. Not that I could have
held him back if he ran off in a frenzy.
But he bared his teeth in a feral grin. Ill be fine. Dont worry.
I gestured him to stay back and let me sneak ahead to find out who was fighting whom, but we
got our answer without moving on an outlaw like those we had found outside came dashing
around the corner of the corridor, screaming, with frenzied panic in his eyes and stumbling steps,
and behind him a wolf. It looked like a wolf, somehow, or it would have if it hadnt been
ethereal. A gigantic beast consisting only of something that looked like mist, incorporeal and
irreal.
But the bandit stopped dead when he saw us standing at the exit he had made for, weapons
drawn. And in the same moment the creature proved that it wasnt incorporeal at all, its weight
hurling the man to the ground when it crushed into his back and crunched his neck with a
sickening sound.
The wolf stood above the corpse with bared flews, watching us, ready for the next victim. While I
still tried to swallow the lump in my throat and nocked an arrow, Farkas already charged,
disturbingly silent and efficient. He held his sword high and brought it down onto the beasts
neck. When the thing crumpled into a small heap of glowing dust, he turned to me, disgust in his
face.
Let them kill each other, he whispered, well take on the rest.
The rest, that were only two mages in the familiar dirty black robes, bent over the corpse of a
heavily armed man. One of them died with an arrow in his back, the other with Farkas sword in
his guts. After this first encounter, there werent any more of them deeper in the tomb both
groups had probably only looked for a secure refuge and come into each others way.
The rest of barrow was just more of what we were used to, lots of draugr and even more traps. It
was beautiful though, in its own way not quite as dark and tight as some of the other tombs I had
visited, but the halls and caves much larger and the corridors much better lit. We crossed several
large caverns that even contained some upperworld vegetation, crippled trees and bushes where
bright rays of daylight beaming in from above.
It was in one of those cave halls we had to cross over a small stonen ledge when Farkas found out
about one of my biggest weaknesses. The dripping of water in the huge room and the way our
steps echoed around us made me nervous from the start, and I eyed the narrow bridge with
suspicion. It left us entirely uncovered, but that wasnt the worst. Panic hit me only after a few
steps when I felt the pebbles beneath my feet drop down into the depth but didnt hear them reach
the bottom. I dropped to my knees, eyes tightly shut, cold sweat pouring down my spine.
Vertigo. It had never been that bad before.
Farkas stopped behind me, unable to pass on the small ledge, and I thought I felt the stone shiver
under his weight. He realised at once what was happening and knelt beside me. His hands on my
shoulders restored my ability to breathe, but I didnt dare to open my eyes.
Calm down, Qhouri, he said quietly, his touch never leaving me, I need to get on your other
side, I will climb over you. Dont be afraid, Im here, but dont move. His movements were slow,
as if he didnt want to scare me any further. Panic coiled in my stomach and paralysed my limbs,
my head swam even behind closed lids. I knew, when I opened them I would look directly into
the chasm.
Farkas nestled at my belt, then I felt something slung around my waist and secured safely a rope.
I didnt even know he had one in his pack. The gods bless his foresight and experience.
Ive tied us together. Now you cant fall any more. The confidence in his voice was much more
important than his words. You have to move now, Qhouri. Im here, Ill guide you. You cant
fall. You dont have to open your eyes, just follow me. I felt him close, I could clench the cool
metal of his gauntlet when he made the first step, a reassuring presence I didnt want to lose. It
took an eternity, but step after step we made it until the light breeze from below suddenly stopped
and the sound of our steps became different, more solid. My knees turned to jelly when I finally
touched the wall, but Farkas grip was firm. He led me further into a small room where I dropped
against a broken table.
When I was able to see clearly again, I felt only embarrassment. Farkas sat hunched against a wall
across from me, carefully observing my state and smiling when he saw my cheeks flush.
How did you make it up to High Hrothgar with that condition? That path was at least as
narrow as this one, and it was much higher. I didnt know. I knew I suffered vertigo from time to
time, but it had never been so extreme. Perhaps it was the knowledge that this time there was
nothing but nothingness beneath my feet instead of a solid mountain.
Thank you, Farkas, that would have been a miserable death without you. Wont happen again!
Dont make promises you cant keep, sister. Next time, we will be prepared. I knew that rope
would come in handy some day!
The rest of the tomb was routine. Lots of traps most of which I could trigger from afar before
Farkas had the chance to step into them, and another word wall. They were either indeed scattered
all over Tamriel, or we had been extremely lucky in our dungeon choices. The draugr population
seemed strangely sparse though, many coffins broken but abandoned with their residents nowhere
to be found.
The centre of the barrow was impressive, with four gigantic stonen dragonheads emerging from a
huge pool when we approached, but it was also empty. No enemies, and most of all, no horn.
Instead, I found a note on the pedestal where it should have been.
Dragonborn I need to speak to you. Urgently.
Rent the attic room at the Sleeping Giant Inn in Riverwood, and Ill meet you.
- A friend
This was a joke, wasnt it? Whats this gonna be, a scavenger hunt?
More than frustrated after this wasted effort and more than angry about the nameless thief we
crawled out of the barrow. And of course it had to be in the middle of the night when we left. I
hated to camp near these old tombs, but with a night as pitch black and foggy as this, we didnt
have much choice. Even though we tried to find a place a bit higher and dryer than the entrance to
the barrow, the cold dampness of the swamp and the humid air soaked through marrow and bone.
We both needed a fire to keep us warm, even if we didnt know what lurked in the marshes. But
we would keep watch anyway.
The dragon came upon us shortly before dawn, when the night was darkest. Farkas, sitting at the
lowly smouldering fire only had a few moments to alert me and get prepared himself before the
beast already clawed at him, letting out the typical roar. I didnt see anything. There were no
moons or stars the dragon could have blacked out, and the fog had become even denser. We had
to deal with a deadly enemy which could come from every direction including above, and which
we couldnt see. Quickly Farkas drenched the fire completely to not give the dragon an additional
advantage, but I supposed his senses were much sharper than ours, or at least than mine he
certainly didnt need that lead to find us. On the other hand, our only clue was the heavy flapping
of his wings, which we only heard when he was already far too close. Our only chance would be
to force him to land as soon as possible.
Stay behind me as long as hes above us, I yelled. I will try to shout him down, dont wanna
hit you!
I needed to concentrate, but it was hard while crouching in the mud, listening for the muffled
sound of the wings. Twice I missed him directly above our heads, but he missed us as well. It
wasnt the same kind of dragon we had encountered at Whiterun this one spit ice instead of fire.
At least we didnt have to deal with smoke to obscure our view even more. The last cover was lost
when he carried away our little tent, I heard the claws rip through the sturdy leather and shivered
at the thought of them catching one of us.
With the third try, I got him. The force that hit him wasnt as powerful as it could have been, but at
least it stopped his endless circling. He started to hover above us, and finally we could use our
bows and try to hurt him, though we had to be fast to avoid his relentless ice jets. Soon the mud
surrounding our makeshift camp was deeply frozen, making every movement even more slippery
and dangerous. We desperately needed a lucky shot to force him to land, and I finally got it my
arrow pierced through the thin skin of the wings right into the joint of that body part that was
probably the draconian equivalent to a shoulder. His shriek was earshattering, but still drowned
out by Farkas roar of triumph.
Once bound to earth, the dragon wasnt half as fast any more. His fangs, frost shouts and the long,
spiked tail were still dangerous weapons, but now it was much easier to avoid them, as long as we
kept our distance. The downside was that as long as we kept our distance we simply couldnt hurt
him seriously enough, with his vulnerable belly unreachable and his throat constantly twitching
from left to right. I already felt myself stagger from exhaustion, and Farkas wasnt better off if
this took much longer, our dance around the dragon would soon have a single winner, and he
wouldnt be human.
Not sure if it was an act of heroic megalomania or just a temporary attack of madness, but
suddenly Farkas threw away his bow, drew his sword and charged in, yelling from the top of his
lungs.
Hey! HEY, you filthy lizard! Wanna play seriously, you pathetic heap of scales? Or do you
choke on your own breath? Gods, what did Akatosh think when he made a crap-eating ugly
worm like you?
I groaned loudly, not really believing what I just heard. This man was insane, I had always known
it.
Farkas stayed under the long swinging neck, following his movements and holding his blade up
above his own impressive height. As soon as the dragon would lower his throat, he would impale
himself on the steelen tip. He would also crush his attacker, but that thought I better blocked out.
The situation was ridiculous, especially as the fight was suddenly deadlocked, but I had to act
soon, a single false step on Farkas side and he would be dead. When the creature stood still for a
short moment and tried to snap at the man below it, I ran and jumped, used one of his bended legs
as a ladder and landed on his back. The scaly spikes along his spine provided a reasonably good
hold, but as my only weapon was my trusted Skyforge mace which would never be able to pierce
his scales and hurt anything vital, I would have to crush his skull to bring him down. Easier said
than done with the long, muscular neck twitching from side to side, the whole body bucking and
trying to cast me off while I hammered away with every bit of force I could muster.
The shriek he let out when skull and spine finally shattered at the joint to his neck had nothing of
an intelligent being any more it was pure pain, bestial and ferocious. But with his last breath, he
also reared up his whole body until he towered above Farkas, and with a final frantic jerk he
managed to cast me off. Everything went black.
Morthal
Chapter Notes
Not much action in this chapter. At least not the "hit something with a pointy piece of
steel" kind. Sorry!
Even when I opened my eyes everything stayed black, and I couldnt breathe. It took a moment of
blinding panic to realise that I lay flat and face down in the icy mud. To turn around was a foolish
idea though, the pressure on shoulder and ribs sending a jolt of pain seething like fire through my
body some parts of me were apparently seriously hurt, again. From the corner of my eyes I saw
the corpse of the dragon, his neck strangely twisted, his jaws wide open. But the mist around us
had lightened up a bit, and it seemed that we lived to see another morning.
A loud, impatient curse coming from the other side of the beast startled me. Farkas sat there,
leaning against a rock and holding his ankle, his face contorted with pain. It changed into a
contorted grin when he saw me move.
Told you it would work! The unmistakable pride in his voice made me realise what had
happened. We had killed a dragon, just the two of us. It was really possible. Incredible, but
possible.
But I had forgotten what would happen when I struggled to my feet with a pained groan and
approached the corpse, and for the first time I experienced it on top of my senses and sober. It lit
up and simply evaporated, matter turning into rays of pure energy, leaving only the skeleton
behind. I became a vessel, strangely eager to be filled by this mysterious force that was a living
spirit and a personality and most of all power so ancient and alien that it was completely beyond
my grasp. And still it was mine, I was entitled to it and claimed it as my own, and I could feel how
it settled in, not frightening in itself, but so incredibly strange.
To take the soul of a dragon was much less exhausting than to learn a new Word from one of the
walls. The whole process didnt change me, didnt make me someone else, but it added something
to my own human self. Something I would have to get used to, and it would take some time to
absorb it entirely.
Together with the tent, the dragon had carried away one of our packs the one with the majority
of our potions. Impossible to go and search for it. When I dropped down beside Farkas, we
inspected our injuries more thoroughly my shoulder hurt terribly, and I had probably broken a
rib or two, but at least I could walk. My shield-brother though had either broken or severely
sprained his ankle, we didnt dare to remove his boot and have a closer look, and blood dropped
from a deep cut in his left thigh. He winced in pain when he tried to stand up. In our condition, we
didnt have much choice.
Morthal?
He sighed deeply. Yes, Morthal.
We were a miserable couple when we finally reached the small village. It had taken us the whole
day with lots of breaks, Farkas only able to walk with the help of a crude stick, me carrying our
remaining supplies, wincing every time when the burden strained my injured shoulder. But when I
turned towards the inn, Farkas held me back.
Wait perhaps we should visit the Jarl first and tell her about the dragon attack. I suppose she
wants to know, after all it happened not so far away.
I shot him a suspicious glance. He couldnt stand straight any more, we needed nothing more than
a rest, some healing potions and a meal, but he wanted to fulfil his duties as a citizen first? I
dropped myself and my pack on the railing of the narrow stone-bridge leading into the village. A
passing guard eyed us curiously, and I saw a bunch of children lingering in the distance. Now I
really wanted to know what it was that agitated him so much.
Farkas, Im aware that you just argued a dragon to death, but this wont work with me, so dont
even try. Whats so frightening about this inn that you dont even dare to enter it?
His expression became harried as he sat down beside me. The keeper.
What does that mean, youre afraid of the innkeeper?
Well, not exactly afraid. But I dont want to meet her. And when she realises that youre here
with me, she wont help you either! Im sorry
And why not? Wed pay for her services, for Kynes sake!
She doesnt like me. He looked so contrite, his look pleading not to ask further that I didnt
insist. But I decided that I didnt like this woman at all. Farkas was clearly one of the nicest,
friendliest and most amenable men I had ever met. We didnt even want to beg for help, only buy
a meal and perhaps some potions and rent a room. I couldnt believe that whatever had happened
between them could be so serious to deny him such an ordinary deal.
But all this mess didnt change the fact that we needed supplies and a place to recover, at least for
a couple of days. Morthal was too small to be connected to the regular carriage routes, so we
couldnt just go somewhere else. Perhaps the idea to visit the Jarl and hope for her gratitude
wasnt that bad at all.
You dare to come here? After all youve done? Give me one reason not to kill you right here and
now!
No, it was a bad idea. Perhaps we should have just crawled back to Solitude. Apparently not only
the host of the inn, but also the Jarls court mage wanted to murder him on the spot, and I wasnt
sure if I found this reaction to his presence alarming, annoying or amusing.
The Redguard standing beside the throne of the Jarl didnt look that intimidating per se, with his
slender build and his dirty robe. But the bright sparks in his palms and the deadly glances he shot
at Farkas proved a wrath he was barely able to control.
The elderly woman on the wooden throne looked more curious than concerned, though.
Calm down, Falion. Whats going on here?
That bastard, he has
But Farkas cut in curtly, straightening his stance with a groan.
Jarl Idgrod, its an honour to meet you. Im Farkas, member of the Companions in Whiterun, and
this is my shield-sister Qhourian. We hereby report that a dragon threatened your town. We killed
it only a few miles north of here.
The Jarl showed admirable composure.
A dragon, hm? Yes, weve seen a dragon nearby recently, it even catched some goats. No people
so far, fortunately. You say its dead? Killed by just the two of you? Certainly there are some
remains to prove your claim?
Of course there are. As I said, you will find his skeleton only a few miles north of here, near the
barrow of Ustengrav.
The Redguard looked as if he wanted to explode.
My Jarl, a skeleton? Why are there only some bones left when they killed it only a few hours
ago? Let me deal with this bastard, hes not worth your attention!
Falion, please. I dont know whats going on between you and our guest, but if theres a dragon
skeleton lying around somewhere in my hold, it certainly hasnt been there yesterday, or I would
know about it. Dont be silly.
She turned to us.
Farkas, please explain. Why is there only a skeleton? Dont think Im not grateful, but I think I
should know about such strange things happening in my hold.
He looked very weary suddenly, and he avoided my eyes when he pointed at me.
Because shes the Dragonborn. She absorbed his soul. Its hard to believe if youve not seen it
for yourself, but theres not much left after it.
Farkas faltered, his face ashen from the pain and the long standing. The Jarl finally reacted.
Please, sit down. Im sorry I didnt recognise the severity of your injuries earlier.
Aslfur! she shouted into one of the back rooms, please prepare one of the guest quarters, and
we also need a meal for these two, and fast!
She turned to the mage. And you get some potions from Lami or bring your own. No, I dont
want to hear a word! These warriors have done us a great service, all of us, and they deserve our
gratitude. Theyre injured, they need healing, and we will provide what help we can. She
frowned. Or do you want me to go myself?
The man stormed out of the hall, his eyes shooting poisoned daggers, and with a sigh of relief we
seated ourselves at the large table in the middle of the hall. Jarl Idgrod took place across from us.
Okay. Do you mind staying as my guests? Farkas just shook his head. He looked relieved.
She pinched the bridge of her nose, staring intently at us. I had the feeling that she was satisfied
that we had appeared in her hall and curious.
This morning, I had the feeling that something was gonna happen today, she said thoughtfully.
And now a dragon killed, a Companion and the Dragonborn visiting my court, and my court
mage starting a riot because of you. What is going on here?
Never before had I seen my shield-brother so uncomfortable and embarrassed, especially as my
eyes were at least as inquisitive as those of the Jarl.
Its its nothing personal. At least not between Falion and me. He hesitated.
Idgrod stared at him for an endless moment, then her eyes grew wide. No! Its you? she gasped,
her bewildered face changing all of a sudden into a broad, not unfriendly smirk. It seemed she
knew more than me, or that she had at least an educated guess. She leant back and crossed her
arms over her chest, a smug grin on her lips.
Farkas, do you accidentally have a twin?
Yes, I have. A brother. He looked definitely caught. And resigned. What in Oblivion was
wrong with Vilkas?
Her cordial laughter sounded through the hall. My confusion still grew, although I didnt think that
was even possible. Would they please stop this little game? Farkas, would you please finally tell
me
Idgrod chimed in. Let him, if he hasnt told you till today, he certainly doesnt want to now. Not
sure why, but how long do you travel with this guy already, Qhourian?
A few months. And hes the best companion and shield-brother I ever had! I added stubbornly.
It was more weeks than months and I didnt have much comparison but she didnt have to
know that.
Oh, pretty sure he is. He must have some qualities. Her smirk grew even wider while Farkas
seemed to shrink under her glance. Somehow I liked this woman, especially when she leant over
to me, ignoring him for the moment.
Qhourian, this mans past holds a secret. Not a very dark secret in fact, its quite pretty -, and
not a very well hidden secret, but a secret nevertheless. But now that youre here it will probably
be revealed anyway, so lets see if my guess is right.
Farkas just hid his face in his palms.
You know, Falion the hot-headed mage has a sister, Jonna, shes the keeper of our Moorside Inn.
Her brother is very protective of her, but it seems that once he hasnt been attentive enough. I
believe your Farkas here is the father of Jonnas little girls.
This was as the meaning of Idgrods assumption dropped in, my confusion suddenly resolved
into terrible comprehension. Everything became very clear, all his weird behaviour, his refusal to
come here, his anxiety, these awkward excuses.
Why did they all stare at me now? The Jarl only showed an amused smile, but Farkas looked as if
he expected me to shout him to shreds right away.
Which was exactly what I wanted to do, disappointment and aversion clenching my chest. I turned
stiffly to him, lips pressed into a thin line.
Is that true? You have children here? Daughters? And thats why you didnt want to come here?
He groaned, but he nodded in confirmation. Cold sweat formed on my temples.
Im sorry, Qhouri. I should have told you.
I clenched my teeth. You should have told me? I growled, are you serious? You have kids and
deny them, you prefer to hunt dragons instead to be here and care for them, and all you have to
say is that you should have told me? You bastard!
He stared at me from wide open, aghast eyes. Its not like that he mumbled, but I interrupted
him.
Its not like that? I yelled, you dare to? Its always like that, you fuck around and we can deal
with the outcome! And I wondered why she doesnt like you, when it was you who abandoned
her! Honourable Companion my ass, as long as you can stick your dick into someone you dont
care a shit!
I jumped up and paced through the hall although every single muscle protested, not looking at
him. I couldnt bear to look into this face that I had thought I knew in the meantime, that was so
open and always revealed what he felt, that I knew full of rage, sorrow and joy. I wanted to shout
him to shreds, scream my wrath into the sky and burst into tears all at once. Gods, I was so stupid.
I had started to trust this man. Somehow I had felt respected by him, had started to believe that he
was honest. That there could be something else between men and women than just abuse,
indifference and neglection. I had hoped so much to have found something different.
Gods, I was so incredibly stupid.
But thats not true! His shout, furious and desperate, let me stop dead. I glared daggers at him.
What is not true, Farkas? That you fucked her, that you left her alone afterwards or that these
girls dont have a father? I didnt care the slightest that Idgrod still sat at the table, leant back,
watching quietly. It was her hall, after all.
His face was crimson as he drove anxiously with his hands through his hair, then propped his
forehead into his palms, his gaze directed to the table.
That I dont care, he said lowly. Its not true that I dont care. Only resignation and sadness
were in his voice.
And why in Oblivion I shouted at him, but Idgrods calm voice interrupted my outbreak. She
lifted a hand to get my attention.
Qhourian let him explain. Yelling changes nothing.
I turned sharply to her. With all due respect, Jarl Idgrod, but I dont need his explanations. Hes
either an ass or a coward or both. Probably both. They all are, I said bitterly.
A gentle smile curled her lips. Are they now?
I stared at her defiantly, my hands balled into fists. Of course they were.
Qhouri please. His voice held a plea, his gaze still lowered to the ground. He was an image of
contrition and helplessness. Of course he was, now that he suddenly had to justify himself. And a
bastard, an ass, a coward.
Dont call me that, I said tiredly. Why was I so upset? Was this really a surprise? He was
exactly that kind of guy I knew women would fall for, handsome and kind. On the outside. As
long as he had his fun.
And for me, he was only an excellent warrior, someone I could evidentially kill dragons with.
Everything else it didnt concern me, after all. This Jonna was a grown woman, and whatever
had happened between them, it wasnt my business. It had just confirmed what I knew anyway.
Let me explain. Please.
I dont want your pathetic explanations! I flared up again, but now he rose his eyes to my face,
dark with distress. And guilt. And determination.
Please. Its not so easy.
I better leave you two alone for a moment. Idgrod rose with a small smile and retreated through
a door in the back of the hall. Right before she closed the door behind her, she turned once more
to me. No shouting in my hall! she said with a grin.
I leant against a wooden pillar, rubbing my temples, avoiding his gaze. I dont want your
explanations. Its not my business anyway.
But its not like that. Its not always so easy. Please just listen, he said imploringly. Its not
always so easy. As if I was nave with my silly expectations of mutual respect and support,
especially when children were involved. As if my judgement was biased anyway because I knew
nothing else.
But I knew nothing else.
Speak, I said lowly.
He nestled nervously at a strap of his armour. I havent used her. Yes, we slept together, but it
has just happened. You can blame a lot on me, but not that I used her. Id never do that. He took
a deep breath, I felt his gaze on me although I studied the planks at my feet.
I was travelling alone, and I was cold and tired and glad to come here, and there were no other
guests and Jonna was so nice and lonely too, and we drank too much, and then it happened. We
didnt want it, we both didnt want it, it was just some comfort and warmth for the night. But
she became pregnant, and she wanted to marry and wanted me to settle down here with her, but I
couldnt! Shes been wonderful, and perhaps I even loved her that night, but I couldnt leave my
life and my family and Jorrvaskr just because
Gods, it sounds so wrong, just because! The girls are a miracle and a gift, and of course theyre
precious enough to do anything for them, but theyre better off with their mother here! Falion
hates me, and perhaps hes right, but he acts as if Im running around and impregnating everything
with a pulse and a skirt. Jonna knows thats not true, and she knows that I care and I try to support
her, but I just cant live the way she and Falion want me to. I told her Id marry her if she didnt
force me to leave Whiterun, but she said that this is her home and that Jorrvaskr is no place for
children, and now she doesnt want to see me at all unless I stay and I havent seen them for at
least half a year now, and to come back here under these circumstances, and with you
The words just tumbled out of him, a heartbreaking story of hurt feelings, irrational expectations
and dashed hopes. Or of cowardice, wounded vanities and unjust prejudices. The situation was
deadlocked, with everybody so set in their own ways perhaps there simply was no solution.
And it wasnt my business, after all. He would have to live with it, not I.
Qhouri?
Gods, I couldnt bear this helplessness in his face. As if he expected me to fix this mess. I sighed.
Its your problem, Farkas. All I see is something completely messed up and that you take the
easiest route and ignore it. Because you can, and she cant. You had some comfort and warmth for
a night, and she has to deal with the result. Thats a fact.
But I do care! I want to care for them, I wanna spend time here or take them to Jorrvaskr when
theyre a bit older, if only she let me! Gods, theyre four already and barely know their father
We were interrupted by heavy steps. The mage came back and dropped two tiny flagons in front
of Farkas.
Drink that and leave. And take your new whore with you.
I froze. There was a moment of deadly silence.
He wasnt just angry. He was furious. Despite his hurt leg Farkas shot up, grabbed the mage by
the collar and lifted him like child. The way he ground his teeth I knew he struggled to keep
control, and that he would have loved to break his neck.
She is no whore! he roared, shes not, and your sister isnt either, even if you like to
think that in your pitiful blockheaded little brain! You will never again dare to approach the
Dragonborn other than with respect, or you will pay with your life. Is that clear? Falions body,
limp with fear, flew against the wall.
When Farkas wanted to go after him, his teeth bared in a feral snarl, I stood before him. My
expression let him stop dead.
Youre a coward, Farkas, I snapped, I can defend myself. I dont need you to protect my
honour. What does that mean, you want to care? Who cares if its not so easy? If you really
wanted, youd just do it!
He stared at me as if he had never seen me before, and I could watch how he forced himself to
relax. The fury subsided, and only stern resolve was left as he squared his shoulders, his gaze
flitting to the mage cowering against the wall, then back to me.
And then he nodded, grabbed one of the potions, gulped it down in one go and limped towards
the door.
I called after him. Where are you going?
He didnt turn, only shot me a look over his shoulder. Bright, calm and determined. Moorside.
Just like that. He was finished justifying himself and being yelled at and acted instead, not even
noticing my amazement, only catching reflexively the second potion I threw him. They were
pathetic anyway and he could barely walk. Thank you, he said absentmindedly, already half
through the door.
The moment the doors clapped shut, the mage scrambled to his feet and rushed after him.
I held him back. You, Sir, will stay here with me.
He just smirked arrogantly and made for the exit. I will not leave my sister alone with this
monster. Try to stop me!
Obstinate, that man. I shrugged, some people only learned through painful personal experience. A
whispered Fus in his direction did the trick, and the disbelief in his face when he crashed
against the wall again was reward enough.
You will stay here, either voluntarily or by force. Your choice. I looked at him calmly. I wasnt
even sure why I made this effort all this wasnt my business, after all.
It wasnt his neither, though, and it seemed as if he had already spent far too much time messing
up this whole affair. And Farkas was no monster. Perhaps a coward, perhaps an irresponsible
bastard, but no monster.
Not in that sense, at least. A cheerless grin curled my lips. Sit down. He did so, hesitant and
with a murderous glare. I want to hear your version of the story.
Story? What story? That bastard used her for his own pleasure and left her alone with the result.
Honourable Companion, what a sick joke. That piece of shit nothing better than every other
man.
I stared at him, rendered speechless. That were my words, nearly exactly. But coming from him,
in this whiny, accusatory voice of his, their bias and bigotry pounced on me, locked their jaws into
my throat and slapped me left and right into the face.
It wasnt always so easy. And who was I to judge?
What is your problem? If I understood correctly, you didnt want to see him here at all?
Of course not! He defiled her with the children, he should marry her like every honest man
would do it!
Defiled her with the children? As mad as I had been at Farkas, this man made me really angry. I
narrowed my eyes, glaring at him.
Youre a hypocrite, Falion. Your sister hasnt been raped. She slept with him on her own
consent. That at least I believed him, Farkas wouldnt abuse a woman. The mages head looked
as if it wanted to explode, gasping like a fish on dry land. Seemed it was time someone talked
straight to him. Things like this happen, and all that matters is what people make of it. Children
never defile anyone. But as as I see it, you never gave them the chance to deal something out.
And Farkas was a coward because he didnt try harder, but I didnt say it out loud.
Of course he wont marry her when he can have the Dragonborn! Stubborn defiance stood in
his face.
I was stunned for a moment, then I had to laugh. A reaction he certainly didnt expect.
Gods, youre really a pitiful creature. You see a man and a woman travelling together, and your
spoiled mind makes up everything else. Surprise, Falion: Farkas wont marry me either. I know
him only for a few months, and each of us uses his own bedroll.
Luckily one of the maids of the household chose this moment to bring me a bowl with deliciously
steaming stew and a filled tankard. My stomach growled approvingly, the last real meal had been
in Solitude. Theres more where that comes from, the girl smiled when she saw me lunging for
it.
Ignoring the mage for the moment, I nevertheless felt his gaze on me while I wolfed into the food.
What? I barked, killing dragons is hard work!
If you let me go, I could get some more potions. For your shoulder he muttered.
Yeah, something with deathbell and canis root. No thanks, you stay.
When I had finished eating we sat across each other in awkward silence. I didnt want to talk to
him any more. Instead I thought about Farkas and what was going on in the inn.
He had been terrified to come here, I realised that now, much worse than just simple
embarrassment. And the way I knew him he wasnt afraid for himself. He was afraid to hurt
others, to make everything even worse.
Vilkas knew about this, his reaction in Whiterun had revealed it, but he was probably the only
one. And the girls were four already. Four years to make each other miserable, to shatter every
bit of trust and understanding that could have been used to make things work. It wasnt only his
fault it never was only one persons fault, even I had to admit that. It was never so easy. Things
like this could just happen. And Farkas even if I knew him only as a warrior, I knew that
loyalty meant everything to him, to his family and friends, to those he cared for. He would go to
Oblivion and back for them. And the same reasons that made women fall for him, his gentleness,
sensitivity and humour, would have made him a good father as well.
If he was allowed to. It didnt seem as if he was, though. The silence in the hall stretched into
eternity.
Seldom had I been so glad to see Farkas face as in the moment when he poked his head through
the door.
Qhouri? Would you join me, please? Id like to introduce you to someone. The tension in his
voice was unmistakable, his jaw tight, the forced smile not reaching his eyes.
I stood up with a groan, shoulder and ribs protesting against the movement after I had rested so
long, but I was too glad to leave that brooding wizard behind.
When Farkas held the door open for me, I couldnt withhold my curiosity. He answered my
questioning look with a sigh and a helpless shrug of his shoulders.
Its difficult. At first, she just wanted to throw me out. Cant blame her. If I were just a bit
better in explaining myself! I told her that Im sorry that I havent been here for so long. That I
want to make things better, that I want to be a father for the girls. That I wanna try everything to
find a way to make this work for all of us. Was that a hint of pride in his voice?
I gave him a weak smile. Perhaps I was wrong. Perhaps youre no coward.
He drove anxiously with his hands through his hair. You should have told me earlier. Im not
sure if it isnt already too late to fix this mess I really want to see them grow up. But Jonna
shes not convinced. I told her of our travels. I tried to explain to her that this is how I have to
live. What I have to do. Im not the man to settle down. I mean, what should I do here all day?
And now she wants to meet you.
This had nothing to do with me, I kept telling myself, but I was nervous when we entered the inn.
So, youre the woman whos keeping the father of my children away from his family.
This wasnt a good start, definitely. The dark alto sounded well, at least it didnt sound outright
hostile. But very, very aloof.
The woman leaving her place behind the counter was small, not even reaching Farkas shoulders,
but she radiated self-assurance and strength. She was in her early thirties, with years of hard work
and sorrow leaving the first marks in her dark skinned face, the bun in her neck giving her an even
sterner appearance. My smile wasnt returned.
Its an honour to meet you, Jonna. I didnt know what else to say. The atmosphere was
definitely below freezing.
The woman didnt return my greeting. She didnt even offer us a place, and her scrutiny was
piercing.
I dont care if youre a Companion or the Dragonborn. I just wanted to see the woman Farkas
spends his time with instead to stay here where he belongs. Who hogs him away from his duty.
Holy Talos, not again. I only didnt turn on the spot and left because Farkas let out such a piteous
groan. But I wouldnt argue with this woman.
Would you jump down my throat the same if I was a man, Jonna? I asked calmly. No, you
wouldnt. Your jealousy is ridiculous, I have nothing to do with this mess you two managed to get
in. You know what I dont care about? I dont care what you think of me.
Just to make a few things very clear: First, I didnt even know that you exist until a few hours
ago, and I know Farkas only for a few months. You can blame a lot on me, but certainly not what
you two fucked up five years ago. Yes, pun intended. Second, hes my shield-brother, not my
lover. He may or may not marry whoever he wants, I dont care as long as he helps me to fight the
dragons. And third, stop pretending you can force him to stay with your silly demands. He wont,
period, and you knew it when you first met him. You want a husband you can tie to your apron?
Find yourself someone else. You want a father for your kids? Give him a chance. But leave me
out of it, its only between the two of you.
I smashed the door shut behind me. The cold air outside helped to calm me down, and beneath my
fury I felt the exhaustion. Hopefully the Jarls offer of a quarter for this night still stood.
I broke my fast alone, Farkas nowhere to be seen and Idgrod already busy. I didnt know if it was
a good or a bad sign that Farkas had not spent the night in the Jarls hall, but not even a dragon
would have made me enter the inn and disturb whatever was happening there. I just hoped
everybody in there was still alive.
But the potions I had found in the guest quarters and the luxury of a full night of comfortable,
undisturbed sleep left me longing for activity. Idgrod took pity on me when I strolled aimlessly
through her hall for the third time.
Qhourian, you look as if youre bored. Whats the matter with your companion?
Id rather not know, I snickered.
She gave me a lighthearted grin. Ive sent Falion on an errand today to keep him out of the way.
But if youre that restless, how about a little job? A few of my men are setting out right now for a
bandit raid to a camp in the Kjenstag ruins far too many of them and far too near to Morthal for
my liking. Im sure my guards would appreciate any help, especially when it comes from the
Dragonborn.
I was ready to go in mere minutes and joined the small group, welcomed by curious but friendly
eyes. The captain of the guard was an old warhorse, a warrior charred and scarred by decades of
fight and war, and I gladly settled under his command. It felt good to be just a part of a larger
group for once, not to carry the responsibility.
But it proved to be not just the little job Idgrod had promised. The bandits outnumbered us
nearly twofold, and they had excellent cover in the ruins of the old tomb. There was no subtlety in
our attack, we needed to kill as many of them as fast as possible to ease the numbers out. At least I
was able to get off some well placed shots from afar before the groups clashed together and every
planned attack drowned in the subsequent chaos. Idgrods men were well trained and geared,
much better than our enemies, but they defended their miserable lives with a brutality and tenacity
we hadnt expected. Soon I was in the middle of the chaos I saw people fall around me, grabbed
a shield from a dead brigand when mine was split into pieces by the mighty hit of a waraxe, tried
desperately to keep track of all the small fights around me to avoid being surprised by an attack
from behind. I wasnt used to this kind of fight, and I couldnt even resort to my Shouts if I had
used them, I would have hit half of my own comrades as well.
The fight took already far too long when I was locked in a frantic duel with a man in heavy steel
armour, wielding a wickedly glinting warhammer with a range exceeding mine by far. Only for a
second didnt I pay enough attention and slipped in a muddy puddle, felt my feet move away in
directions I definitely didnt want them to, the man towering above me. He bared his teeth in a
cruel grin, brutal and certain of his victory, certain that my dented shield wouldnt be able to halt
the mighty hit aimed at my skull. It never came.
You never a huge shield parried the hammer, go on a familiar blade flicked fast like
lightning behind it, a job my opponent fell limply to my feet, one of his arms nearly
completely severed, alone! Farkas reached out to help me up, his eyes radiating relief.
But I am not alone! I was perplexed. And so glad to see him.
True, but it doesnt look as if they had your back.
Somehow, Farkas sudden appearance changed the odds in our favour. He was right together
we were nearly invulnerable, and soon the guards gathered around us in a concentrated effort on
the remaining bandits. When it was over, it was hard to believe we had only a single life to
bemoan. Several of the guards were injured though, some of them seriously, but it could have
been much worse.
What are you doing here, anyway? I thought you were busy?
He grinned broadly. How about a bit of appreciation, sister? Ive been looking for you, and when
Idgrod told me where youve gone, what did you think Id do? Wait for you with an ale at the fire
while youve all the fun out here? I knew youd need me. Dont get used to that pretentious
smirk, brother. But I had to admit, he wasnt entirely wrong.
On our slow way back to Morthal the captain approached us. That was interesting, to see you
both fight.
Why? You guys are quite capable as well.
Yes, but we fight differently. My boys are used to get their orders and do what theyre told,
everyone on his own. You two you dont need orders. It seems that both of you always know
instinctively what the other will do the next second. Impressive. And fearsome, from the wrong
perspective.
Its just a matter of experience, Farkas answered. Weve been through many fights together,
you get used to each other. Its how we Companions do things. We never go out alone, but were
seldom more than two of us. Were used to be outnumbered, and its crucial to rely on your shield-
sibling. It takes a lot of practice, and a lot of trust, but it becomes second nature after some time.
Perhaps I should try this out as well. Form pairs of my men and let them work together. To have
a backup when chaos ensues, like today, so they have someone to fall back upon. His face
showed appreciation and respect.
Farkas smiled. I will visit Morthal more regularly in the future. If you want to, I could visit your
training from time to time.
That would be an honour, Companion.
The sun was already setting when we finally reached Morthal, and I was astonished to see Falion
take care of the wounded soldiers. He could be useful, after all. Farkas turned to the inn, but he
grabbed my elbow when I wanted to return to Highmoon Hall.
Dont you want to join us? At least for a drink?
I gave him an incredulous look. Are you crazy? I thought I made myself clear that I dont want to
get involved into this mess.
He grinned sheepishly. Yeah, you did, and quite impressively. But The grin turned into a
beaming, joyous smile. Its not quite such a mess any more, Qhouri. Ive been with the girls
yesterday, and weve played cards and had fun, and then we have talked, Jonna and I. Really
talked, about what went wrong and what we want and what we can do to make it better. Both of
us.
But thats good, isnt it? I mean have you sorted things out? Found a solution?
A hint of sadness flitted over his face and replaced the happiness. I cant give her what she
wants. But I want to be there for her, and for the kids, and I want them to know that I care and that
they can rely on me, even if Im not here all the time. And I can just hope thats enough. He
blushed slightly. You were right with what you said, even Jonna had to admit it. You opened her
eyes, and mine too, in a way. I can see now how she didnt like it at all that I talked so much about
you, about our travels and dragons and stuff I should have just told her that youre not that
we dont Now his ears glowed in a bright red.
I regarded him pensively. It doesnt matter what people think, Farkas. And now you go and share
some time with your family, but Id rather stay at Highmoon.
Okay. He seemed relieved. Ill see you tomorrow then. How about breakfast together? Or do
you have another bandit raid scheduled?
No, Ill leave for Riverwood tomorrow. Breakfast would be nice, but you can stay here for a few
more days, and we meet up in Whiterun later.
Brothers
Every stranger entering the Moorside Inn next morning would have just seen an utterly ordinary
family having the first meal of the day together. Parents chatting about everyday problems like
parents do it everywhere and have done it forever, the children wriggling about in their chairs,
eager to finish and get out into the autumn sun. It looked so normal, and Farkas looked so rooted,
so content as he sat there amidst his family, in his simple clothes, unarmed and unpainted I
wasnt sure what to make of it.
But his face lit up when I entered, my pack already slung over my shoulder and geared to leave.
Qhouri, there you are! Come on, sit down, his hand pointed at the chair beside him. I felt
uncomfortable. Jonnas whole posture wasnt unwelcoming, but it also made very clear that this
was her territory, and that I was only tolerated. That unlike Farkas, I didnt belong here.
The girls broke the ice. Why do you wear armour for breakfast? Have you really slain a
dragon? Are you a soldier? Do they spit fire? Have you found treasures in your travels?
Their innocent curiosity was as cute as overwhelming. Farkas stopped them with a laugh, urging
them to let me eat and giving me opportunity to look at them more closely for the first time. Oh
yes. No one but he or his brother were in question for this fatherhood.
Farkas daughters were simply enchanting. Their dark skin, though several shades lighter than the
one of their mother, and the long black curls flowing around their faces clearly showed their
Redguard heritage. But they were big for their age, at least as far as I could estimate, with a lean
but sturdy build, and their eyes these silver-blue eyes shining out of their dark faces were
absolutely unique. Farkas-eyes, in a big wide saucer version. Adorable. He would have to watch
over them quite closely in a few years, when theyd have grown up to rather exotic beauties.
I didnt want to linger too long, the way back south would take several days at best, and I wanted
to get as far as possible on the first. But it was just too comfortable to sit in this small round,
with the kids keeping us busy, asking questions about our travels, Jonna and Farkas trying
together to keep their bursting vitality in check. I wasnt sure if there was a true peace agreement
behind this exhibition of harmony or if it was just a truce, but I could see that Farkas was more
relaxed than I had seen him for a long time. The warmth, the solidity of the situation spread over
and into my own restlessness. After all, this was what we fought for. It was good to be reminded.
Farkas, dont you have to pack?
Jonnas words surprised me. What do you have to pack? Didnt you want to
But he just stood up, laid a hand on my shoulder and left with a smile. See you later, ladies!
And you two, out with you, Agni and Virkmund are already waiting. And leave the mill workers
alone, thats no playground!
Now I felt awkward, alone with the woman. She stared at me as if she wanted to explore and
judge the core of my being. The silence between us seemed endless.
He never even considered not to leave with you today, you know? she said finally, refilling our
tankards with tea. Just as he didnt even consider not to go after you yesterday when the Jarl told
him that you were out fighting bandits. Thats probably just how it is no, please dont say
anything. I cant help it, and you cant help it either. I need to get some things off my chest, and I
either say them now or never.
I swallowed my answer, but I knew my thoughts were easily readable. Relief that Farkas would
come with me. Remorse that hed come with me.
Im not happy with all of this. Before you two appeared, I just got used to the situation. Its not
easy to grow children as a woman alone, in a small village like this. People talk. And in my job,
you become fair game for some men, its become even worse with all the soldiers passing
through recently. But thats how it is, and I deal with it.
But I still had my dreams. I always wanted nothing more than a real family, a loving husband
and a bunch of children to care for. Falion and I, we grew up without parents. Hes always taken
care of me, since I was a little girl, and he hasnt stopped till today. Thats why he is so
stubborn, when it comes to me. He always thought he has to protect me. But I never abandoned
this dream, and until now, it was tied to Farkas. I couldnt help it, hes the father of the two most
precious gifts of my life. I loved him for it, for them, I still do, and I wanted nothing more than to
live and raise them together with him. But every time he visited us, its always been clear that he
would leave again. And then I hated him for it. Not only because he doesnt want to settle down
here with us, but because he doesnt love me. Not like that. There was a time when I wanted to
make him just as miserable as I felt. I knew I couldnt force him to choose me, but at least I
wanted to force him to choose between his life and his daughters.
These days Ive learned that this will never happen. I dont have the right to force him, and I
have to think of the girls they deserve to know their father, its not that they have to be ashamed
of him. But mainly because Ive seen you both together, and heard how he talks about you. Yes, I
know, youre not whatever, and I believe you. But everybody can see how close you are. Oh,
Im still mad at you, because whatever you say, you share so much more with him than I ever did
or ever will. But you also opened my eyes about this. That even if you were killed by a dragon
today, it would change nothing for me. Theres no good to clench to silly dreams which will never
come true.
She took a deep breath.
What I wanted to say, actually: Whenever Farkas comes to visit us, youre welcome here too.
And I wanted to ask you to look after him, please. Youre on a dangerous road. Please watch
over him.
The usual cheerfulness was missing from him when we finally left Morthal, his face set and
unreadable. I remembered the last moments. I stood apart, not wanting to disturb as Farkas was
occupied with his daughters. Take care of each other, will you? he whispered into their ears
when he finally set them down, their thin arms slung around his neck. He hugged Jonna closely,
their foreheads leaning against each other and whispering something, but then he followed me out
of the town and didnt look back.
I felt a weight lifting from me when the last building vanished behind us. I envied him. He had an
ability to make himself at home wherever he came, to root himself in places, to be content with the
moment that escaped me entirely. It felt awful to know that I had ripped him away from one of
these places again, but I was relieved that we finally left.
Relieved, but not relaxed. Not as relaxed as I had been with him before all this, and he wasnt
either.
Somewhere during the last days we had lost the lightness in our dealings, the easygoing
companionship. For the first time we had fought and yelled at each other, but that wasnt the
problem the problem were the implications of this argument. Jonnas speech had disturbed me
deeply, because although she spoke mainly about herself, it entailed so much about my shield-
brother and about me. She didnt know me, we had met only for a few minutes, and still she
had come to the conclusion that we were closer than they had ever been. I asked myself what he
had told her that she got this impression. If he compared her with me.
She had compared herself with me, and it scared me. I didnt want to be close. Not like this not
like the mother of his children. And I didnt want to think of him as a man, as a lover or a father.
Men were dangerous. Brothers were not.
Qhouri? His quiet voice ripped me out of my thoughts while we trotted eastwards along the
street.
Hm?
Are you still mad at me?
Gods such a simple, innocent question, and I didnt even have an answer to that. I raked my
fingers through my hair. No, I said curtly.
The silence built between us, he went a few steps behind me, and my shoulders tensed under his
stare.
When I felt his hand on my shoulder, I yanked violently out of his grip, my gaze directed to the
ground.
What is it? he asked softly.
Stop that staring! it broke out of me, she has no reason to be jealous!
A small smile curled his lips. Of course she has. We spend time together, slay dragons, see places
no one has seen for ages, experience incredible things, have lots of fun of course shed like to
take your place. Except the dragons, perhaps.
But were not
He became serious. Shes not jealous of you, Qhouri shed feel the same towards Aela or Ria
if they had been here with me.
I pressed my lips into a thin line. But not towards Vilkas or Skjor.
His face closed down. Thats true. And its stupid. His jaw was tight. Im sorry, Qhouri. I
didnt want you to get involved in this I really didnt. I know I made mistakes and Im sorry
you have to deal with this now. That people think we sleep together and Falion called you a
whore.
I took a step away from him. Thats not the problem, Farkas. For the longest time, people knew
that I fucked every man who was important enough to my master. That they assume now that I
sleep with you thats something I can live with.
I turned on my heels and resumed my march along the road. He didnt understand. Of course he
didnt. It was his carefree, lighthearted attitude that made it so easy to like him, even to trust him
how could he understand me? How could he understand that he was the problem, not what people
thought about me?
We walked quietly for some minutes, but then I heard fast steps behind me, and suddenly he stood
before me like a wall, stopping my walk. His hands came up to my shoulders, his grip firm and
determination in his face, the same expression he had worn when he had gone to confront Jonna.
I wanna get this out of the way, once and for all. Listen to me. He clenched his teeth. Its over,
Qhouri. No one will ever again touch you without your consent. You wont be forced and you
wont be abused, never again. And you dont have to live with it when someone calls you a
whore. Because you arent. Youre a Companion, and you deserve the same respect as everybody
else.
I stood stiffly in his grip, caught in his unrelenting stare. And then a breath broke from my ribcage
I wasnt aware that I had held it, the tension releasing all of a sudden.
Im sorry, I whispered, I didnt mean to
I know what you meant, he interrupted me. Youre scared and angry and you think that Ill
treat you like I treated her careless and selfish. I know its my own fault. I do not know how to
make up for it I can just ask you to believe me that even an icebrain like me is able to learn, and
that I respect you. As a warrior, as a shield-sister, how you cope with this Dragonborn stuff and
with everything youve left behind. And I will have your back as long as you need me. A single
muscle twitched in his jaw, but his pale gaze burnt into mine. Trust me, sister. Please.
I bit my lip. I didnt know if it were only his beast senses, but he looked through me and
understood, perhaps better than I did myself. The feeling that I had to guard myself against him
was driven by fears that were not real and again I had underestimated him. Never had I felt
disrespected by him. Not once.
What did she mean when she said were close?
He cocked his head. Im not sure. That we look after each other. That were a good team. His
smile was soft, and he tugged a braid behind my ear. And we are. Youre just not used to
someone looking after you.
He turned and gave me a light push before he removed his hand from my shoulder. Lets get
going. Its far too late already, we gotta get through that Labyrinth.
We resumed our march, side by side now and in companionable, comfortable, truly relaxed
silence. Now we had really left Morthal behind, at least for the moment. Shooting him a sidewards
glance, I had to smile when I remembered how we had met for the first time and how I had
panicked. We had gone a long way in these few weeks since then.
Sometimes I thought I knew him quite well in the meantime, but then something happened, and
his reaction left me flummoxed. He was a simple man with so many facets. His fierceness in
battle, the beast always lurking directly under the surface, feeding him his instincts, but the man
nevertheless always in contact with his sibling, attentive and protective, never losing control. His
keen loyalty to his pack, family and friends without expecting anything in return. His open,
honest, sometimes blunt attitude that let him voice things that would have been impossible to talk
about otherwise. His humour, always flaring up when least expected, revealing his sense of
absurdity and silliness. And his navety, sometimes, when it came to the more complicated
human interactions. Like now, with his family. And when it led to helplessness and confusion, he
fought through it like he fought through every obstacle, unafraid to be hurt.
But he caught me staring and pouted. Youre making fun of me. Again.
It made me laugh. No. Just thought how scared I was when we first met. Everything hurt, and I
didnt know where I was and then you turned around the corner
Its my job to be scary, he grumbled, but then he gave me a feeble smile. I could smell your
fear. I dont like when people are scared without reason.
I gave him a lighthearted grin. Im not scared any more. I paused for a moment. And better like
that than otherwise. I wouldve never set a foot into Jorrvaskr if I had met Athis or you just
accidentally.
He gave me an odd look. Accidentally? In the Mare, for example? What do you think would
have happened?
I chuckled. Nothing, of course. I wouldve gaped at you from afar and you wouldnt even have
noticed.
He grinned cheekily. No, I dont think so. Imagine a totally ordinary girl having an afterwork
drink and a totally ordinary group of Companions storming the Mare to blast themselves off
Nirn. His grin became mischievous, his eyes sparkling with roguish laughter. Perhaps we would
have met at the counter, and I would have jostled into you and sloshed your drink over your dress.
And of course I would have bought you a new one or three, and we would have talked and drunk
together and perhaps danced to one of those ballads these bards always play to get things going.
We would have had fun, and then you would have somehow landed in my lap, and we would
have drunk some more, and you would have whispered naughty things into my poor dizzy little
brain.
I blushed at the suggestiveness in his voice, but his grin was so impish that I played along. Is that
what totally ordinary girls having an afterwork drink do with a group of totally ordinary
Companions?
Aye. I must know, after all, he said, nodding with utter conviction.
And then?
He bit his lip to remain earnest. Then? Oh. Then I would have gifted you to Vilkas.
My jaw fell to the ground with a dull thud. You would have done what?
Yeah. He gave me an exaggerated once-over, but his wolfish gaze was completely ruined by
the snicker he couldnt suppress. No. Definitely not my type, far too tall and not cute enough.
But Vilkas likes women he can work himself out with, and you wouldve been too drunk to
recognise the difference anyway.
He took in my dumbfounded expression with a roaring laughter, patting my back roughly. Silly
questions get silly answers, Qhouri.
There was nothing more relaxing than to share a laugh with him. And to punch his shoulder hard
enough to make him stagger.
The first sight of the field of ruins called the Labyrinthian was as breathtaking as dreadful, a
foreboding sense of doom already setting in as when we approached. The circular valley was
embedded high into the mountains, rocky slopes rising steeply on all sides and accessible only via
a narrow path we had climbed in the dimming light. And it was called Labyrinthian for a reason.
Below us extended a maze of dark, grey arcs, buildings, stairs and ramps, partly intact, partly
crumpled to mere heaps of stone, so large that the other side wasnt visible through the low clouds
and the snow.
I didnt want to go down there.
Idgrod had advised us to track through the ruins during the light of day it was chaotic and
dangerous, populated by trolls, beasts and perhaps even worse, but it was still the fastest way to
cross the mountains cutting Hjaalmarch from Whiterun Hold. And the weather changed for the
worse the higher we got.
Cant we stay here for the night?
No, no chance. We need at least some shelter. This, Farkas pointed to the clouds, will become
a blizzard soon. Were not prepared for that. There will be plenty of cover down there, in the
worst case we can sit it out in one of those domes.
Gods. I didnt want to spend the night in a city of the dead.
He was right and reasonable of course, but an irrational fear made me shiver. I knew this wasnt
even the real labyrinth the place had its name from; that was located underground, below our feet,
and we didnt plan to enter it. I had seen enough of these Nordic tombs to know what could lurk
inside, had visited and explored and cleansed them. They had never evoked that unexplained
terror I felt facing these silent stones.
Farkas felt nothing of it, though. Come on, lets proceed as long as theres enough light left to see
where we go. He knew of my horrible sense of direction, essentially non-existent as soon as I
had to go without sun, moons and stars to help with orientation. I knew how to help myself,
turning always left when in doubt and trusting that every cave had an entrance and an exit, but that
wouldnt help in this stonen chaos.
Of course we got lost, and fast. The whirling snow around us made every orientation impossible,
and all the arches and walls looming above us like petrified giants looked so absolutely the same
we lost track of where to go and where wed already been in mere minutes. When even Farkas
had to admit that he had no idea where exactly we were, much less where to turn next, I hurried
for the opening of one of those circular domes that usually served as an entrance to the
underground. We would have to ride out the storm and the night here, on the broken, shattered
ground of an ancient tomb.
There was nothing to prepare for the camp, we didnt even have the means to make a fire. I
dropped down on my bedroll, hunched up against the wall, knees to my chest, and tried to calm
down and to prepare for the coming hours. It was probably just the wind pelting through vents and
openings evoking these hollow howls, but for my tingling senses the sound carried something
clearly evil with it. I felt the freezing cold slowly crawl into my bones like a living being, gnawing
at my flesh, leaving me numb and deaf and ready.
I didnt know when it started, if it started at all or if it had been there all the time. The ground
below me, unsolid, caverned and populated with unnamed beings began to tremble, gently, nearly
impalpable, as if something slowly broke free from the depths, crushed the earth like the shell of
an egg. It was a soothing motion, cradling my body and my mind. As if something made itself
known and came to fetch me, lure me down there, with a subtle promise of warmth and stability
and rest. My own shivers became one with the movement that could be a breath or the slowly
drumming beat of a heart measuring time in millennia, not years or hours. I could feel it as well as
I could hear it, the whisper that roared through my dazed brain.
Dov Ah Kiin!
A Shout that echoed through the ruins or just a whisper in my mind, I didnt care. Dragonborn.
Soul of a dragon. Blood of a dragon. Child of a dragon.
I was nothing, and all of this.
There was more, more words and more meanings, and I wanted this knowledge more than I had
ever wanted anything before, a desire and yearning that poured through my veins. I wanted to
understand them. I wanted to understand him, he who called out to me, wanted it more than my
freedom, my power, my humanity. I would give it all up for this power and this knowledge, freely
and gladly.
But he was gentle as he called to me, tender like the brother that he was. A true brother, master of
the Voice, forgotten, discarded and lonely, deprived of his soul, trapped down in the bowels of the
earth. He gave to me what he had to give like a gift, words and wisdom from the beginning of
time, freely and fondly. And he took from me only what I could do without.
Soul of a dragon, soul of a human. Immortality is knowledge, mortality is life. He called to me, my
eternal brother, the stones around us his bones, the freezing wind his breath, my breath the soul he
wanted for himself. Soul to be shared, soul to be given, ready to be devoured. Not knowledge, but
life. Knowledge for life.
The cold engulfed me like a flame, my heart beating the peaceful rhythm of the nameless, the
frozen earth becoming my refuge. The earth itself thrummed my name, like a whisper, like a
screech, like a Shout.
Dov Ah Kiin!
QHOURIAN!
It was my name too, and my shelter shattered. There was white, nothing but endless, blinding
white. The cold became viscid, sticking to my bare skin, and I struggled, fought to feel or to see or
to smell, anything but this horrible, ceaseless, eternal void. I screamed and heard nothing, cried for
deliverance, but there was no one to spend it. I had lost my senses, and nothing was left.
The sudden pain came in a single strike, and when a part of me hurt it didnt matter which one,
finally there was something. Embracing the pain, whimpering for more, and more of it came. Pain,
in my back, on my arms, on my cheeks, blows that shattered the ice with their gentle force and
thawed my flesh. Merciful strikes, turning into strokes like needles, piercing my skin and making
blood flow again. And finally darkness, peaceful, faithful darkness. No more eternal white, my
senses were back.
He had carried me, away from the treacherous, broken ground of the tomb, through the snow and
the lightning, as high as possible. How did he know?
How did you know? My voice was hoarse like the cracked glass under my skin. But I heard
myself speak.
Eyes like the sky, so lost, so tender.
I had to hurt you. His voice, indistinguishable from the thunder rolling around us.
He shivered violently, a different tremble, alive, aware and ashamed, but he didnt let go. Didnt
let me go. Hands hard and strong like steel held their relentless grip on my mind.
You stay now. Or Ill do it again. Heavy puckered brows, black lines against pale skin,
snowflakes on the lashes. Another brothers breath, warm and soothing and persuasive. He
breathed for me through the darkness, persistent and stubborn, and he was my shelter until the
light was back.
I was a mess, senses not working like they should. Vision blurred and oversensitive, hearing
without understanding, voices I didnt understand but at least I knew something was wrong. I
was held tight, pressed against a familiar black chest, claws in my skin, fangs glittering above me.
The plains drifting past in a flurry, green and brown and blue. No more white, and finally I could
sleep in safety.
And then I was warm and safe again, sounds and scents around me familiar.
Not sure if Im still jealous. Fire and ice are okay, claws and teeth are okay, but this? This is
scary.
Scary, yes. He had no idea. Eyes the colour of freshly shed blood, darkened with concern. He lay
beside me in that bed with the familiar wolfish smell, head propped into his palm, his legs
entangled with mine. Another brother, not tender, but protective. I didnt remember anything but
the endless nothing.
I dont want to lose my mind, Athis. Speaking hurt. My throat felt as if I had coughed glowing
coals. Perhaps I had.
Oh, Im sure it wont go far. Too much madness going on here, if I were a mind gone crazy Id
feel quite comfortable here. But if I find it, Ill bring it back.
I turned to the side, and he moved over, released me. Always cold fingers on my cheeks, tugging
some lose streaks behind my ear, scratches on his bare arms. He followed my gaze.
Good to see you back, sister. Stay a bit longer for now, wont you?
How often did you save my sanity yet?
As often as necessary. Its fun. His eyes sparkled.
Doesnt look like that.
Oh, its nothing. We took turns in guarding you, Aela and I. Just had to keep you from hurting
yourself and youre in good shape, you know. It was a bit like brawling, but Njada is worse.
How long have I been out?
Two days since Farkas brought you here. Before that dont know.
Where is he?
Just came back from Riverwood. Said he needed to fetch something.
You are crazy. All of you.
Farkas steps were faint, fatigue nesting deep in the lines of his face as he entered my room his
room -, the horn in his hands. It was beautiful, although it didnt fit to any animal I knew, carved
with ashdyed glyphs and runes. Ancient, dead signs. So much trouble for such a tiny thing.
She didnt want to believe that Im the Dragonborn. His chuckle was gentle.
As if you hadnt enough souls to carry around. Who is she?
Delphine, the keeper of the Sleeping Giant. I know her for dont know, ages already, and her
face was priceless when I wanted to rent the attic room. Which doesnt exist, by the way. It still
took a bit of persuasion. She didnt tell me what exactly shes doing there and why she stole the
horn, but shes certainly no common inn-keeper. And of course she still wants to see you. His
grin was lighthearted.
This Delphine, I remembered her from my trip with Athis to Bleak Falls Barrow, an elderly,
unremarkable Breton woman. She made it alone through Ustengrav? I asked sceptically. Must
be something very different from a common innkeeper, if you ask me.
Yeah. Seems like everybody has his secrets nowadays. I think the note I stole from your pack
was convincing, in the end. If youre not the Dragonborn, the real one wont find it either, so she
gave me the horn, and at least now we dont come with empty hands when we go back to the
Greybeards.
High Hrothgar, yes. I needed to go there, and as soon as possible. She would have to wait, as well
as all the other riddles awaiting me.
Whatever had happened in these cursed ruins, it was too big for me and my fragile human wits.
Nothing in the world was worth my sanity, and this hole in my mind, this absolute lack of
remembrance to say it drove me crazy would be inappropriate, probably. Whatever had
happened, there had to be a reason for it, why there, why then. A trigger. Perhaps I could protect
myself if I knew what caused it. I knew next time, if there was a next time and if I was equally
unprepared, perhaps I wouldnt come back. Perhaps nobody would be able to bring me back, not
even Farkas. The Greybeards had to help me, had to teach me, there was nobody else but them. I
needed to understand. But I knew how much he hated that place.
You will come with me?
He gave me a small smile. Id like to, yes. I wanna know too what happened with you. It was
scary, you know?
Not only for you. A shiver shook me. I remember nothing. Only that there was something
or someone calling out to me. And that you carried me back. I paused for a moment. Im not
sure if I wanna know what it was. Just if I can protect myself.
I darent even imagine how it must scare you. But holing up and doing nothing wont help,
Qhouri. Were Companions, and I am your shield-brother, and we will overcome this. This fear
and these mysteries and every single bloody dragon daring to threaten us.
He was so full of confidence, it was easy to believe that he was nave, that he underestimated the
challenges and dangers I would have to face. But he wasnt, he had fought a dragon with me and
somehow known what to do in the Labyrinthian. If he was nave, I was too.
I gave him a weak grin. Every single bloody ugly heap of scales?
He laughed and yawned at the same time. Aye. And Ill even climb these horrible 7000 steps to
this awfully boring cloister with you again. You sure you dont wanna send me to Oblivion
instead? That would probably be more fun.
I straightened myself with a groan and swang my feet to the ground. No. But Ill leave you to
your rest now, you look as if you need it.
But he pushed my shoulder gently back against the pillow. Stay here, Vilkas is out on a job and I
can take his room. You think you can travel tomorrow? Athis and Torvar have a contract in the
Rift, we could accompany them till Ivarstead. I nodded, thankful that I didnt have to get up. It
felt good to be pampered for a bit. Although I wasnt injured, every muscle ached as if it had been
struck by lightning, and I was incredibly tired.
He stood up and turned to leave, but I held him back, swallowing nervously. There was
something I had to get off my chest first. Farkas Im sorry. For yelling at you, in Morthal. I
was unjust and rash. Sorry.
He blushed, his hand already on the knob of the door. Its okay, he mumbled. You were right,
after all. In a way.
No, I wasnt. I was prejudiced.
Now he turned to me, his face serious. Im glad you were there with me, Qhouri. This whole
matter it has killed me for years, and nothing wouldve changed if you hadnt been there now.
And a small grin quirked his lips, better you than Aela. She wouldve killed me.
You will have to tell them if you wanna bring the girls here.
Yeah. Only Vilkas and Kodlak know so far. But its about time.
Youre no coward, brother.
If you say so. He cracked a feeble smile. Sleep well, sister.
You bastard! Thats cold!
Dont tell, really? The Dunmer with the fiery red eyes managed to present a look of utter
innocence.
The two men, honourable, widely acknowledged and often dreaded warriors, armed to the teeth
and adorned with their usual warpaint, rolled through the first real snow of the year like little
children. Like very boisterous little children. Torvar shook himself like a whelp after an
involuntary bath, the snowball Athis had shoved below the hood of his cloak slowly melting into
his armour.
I wish there had been snow in Morrowind when I was a kid, the mer chuckled, your loss I
have to make up for it now. t will just sober you up! The bearded man growled and darted after
the smaller Dunmer, but Athis was far too agile to let himself catch. Told you, all that steel just
weighs you down!
The game became fierce soon, like everything these guys did. Snowballs flew from every
direction, we shoved each other face first into the white splendour and chased over the
undisturbed white landscape, our laughter resounding widely over the plains until Athis hit one
of the patrolling guards on the road right in the back. The man stumbled and turned with an
impatient curse, but facing the grinning, panting warriors around him he obviously didnt know
how to react. I squared my shoulders, suppressed my heavy breathing and a snicker and stepped
forward.
Sir, I must apologise for these louts. The indignant cough behind me made it even harder to
remain serious. But you know how they are hard to keep busy with meaningful work,
especially as you and your comrades keep the area so admirable clean of everything they could
take their spirits out on. Ill see that they blow off steam on something else. I presented him my
sweetest smile, which was instantly ruined by Athis giggle.
Are you sure they dont have a more general problem with discipline and respect? The guard
replied, his smirk visible even under his helmet.
Yes, Sir, unfortunately youre right. I know its hopeless. Thats why theyve become only
Companions instead to join the honourable troops watching over our lovely hold!
The guard snickered. Okay, I will leave it at this, citizens. For now! Be on your way.
I didnt even have time to reply when I felt myself tossed over a broad shoulder. Farkas held me
only with an arm slung around the backs of my knees, and it didnt bother him the slightest that I
pummelled his armoured back until my knuckles hurt.
I think we will show this lady first hand how the Companions deal with matters of discipline and
respect, Sir. We have our methods too. His voice trembled with choked laughter.
The guard laughed out loud and waved a jovial goodbye. Oh, Im sure you have. See you in the
Mare, guys!
I struggled the best I could, less in hope to break free but to make it for Farkas as unpleasant as
possible to carry me further. He was definitely not impressed.
Hey! I just saved your backs, you brutes! He would have let you rot in jail till tonight, at
least! Now I cursed that we werent more in a hurry. My own fault that the Valtheim Towers just
waited for us, cleared and ready to provide the shelter for the night.
Okay guys, any ideas? What are we gonna do with this dear sister of ours now? By the way,
Qhouri, youre quite heavy for a lady!
Yes I know, thats because I always have to carry around all this stuff to save your precious
behind when youre in the mood to call a dragon names. If you want a damsel, try Athis!
The way she looks its the worst punishment when you just take her around like that. Like a flour
sack. Hows the perspective from there, Qhouri? Torvar bowed down to me, and I managed to
punch him in the face. He deserved the black eye hed get. Sister, I had no idea youre so fierce!
What do I have to do to make you let it out more often? His grin was smug. And why does
Farkas look as if he knew? That was Torvar always more bark than bite.
Dont carry it too far, Torvar. You dont wanna make me angry. You have no idea what happens
when women like me get angry and start to shout!
I felt more than heard Farkas laughter rumble beneath me, and I couldnt help but to join in. It
was silly, and it felt good to be silly for once. But he knew when a joke was over and finally set
me down, holding on for a moment longer than necessary.
Stop carrying me around!
An amused smile crinkled the corners of his eyes. Whelps who dont show their elders the
respect they deserve have to bear that theyre treated like whelps.
I frowned at him. Youre messing with a dragon, puppy.
But Id never dare to. Dragonling. And with a swift motion he shovelled a handful of snow into
my face, blinding me for a moment. Athis had laid the snowball into his outstretched palm just in
time, and the mer doubled over from laughter when I squealed in shock, the icy water dripping
under my armour and drenching my tunic.
Farkas jogged along the road, looking back over his shoulder with a mischievous grin. Get
going, whelps, or no bedside story tonight!
He would regret that. And no stamina-restoring necklace would save him.
I shoved Athis roughly away, he stumbled into Torvar and both landed on their behinds.
WULD!
The Shout let my fly forwards with the speed of an arrow, the impact on Farkas armoured back
forcing the breath from my lungs, not very elegant but efficient. He toppled over with a startled
yelp and slid prone into a snowdrift, and with me kneeling on his back he wasnt able to get up
again. Not with his head buried in snow, coughing and cursing.
I leant forwards. Dont mess with dragons, brother, I whispered into his ear.
Futile
Chapter Notes
See the end of the chapter for notes
Its all a question of preparation, Torvar announced dryly as he pulled an insane amount of
mead bottles from his pack. I wanna see them empty tomorrow, or youll have to carry them
yourself.
We had arrived at the Valtheim Towers before sunset, and Farkas stew, Torvars supplies and the
fire in the closed room soon dispatched the cold from my bones. Usually drinking with the
Companions was something hard to keep under control, always loud, always boisterous, full of
shenanigans and without thought about the odd looks of others or the next morning. This evening
didnt end in half-conscious intoxication. Instead I felt myself relax, shake off the tension that
lingered in my bones since I had woken in Jorrvaskr and give in to my exhaustion. And here, in
this nearly cosy ruin and with these three men around me, I felt sheltered and safe.
Torvar recounted a job in an Orc stronghold where he had to spend a night outside, freezing and
sober, just to realise next day that he was hired to beat up the chieftains wife when I dozed off. I
still giggled about his flowery description of the fight and the thrashing the woman had given him
while her husband sat in the audience and spurred him on when the peaceful atmosphere took its
toll, my eyes slipping shut over and over again, no matter how hard I tried to keep them open, my
head sagging against Athis shoulder. Next I knew was that I lay curled together at the fire, a fur
beneath and another one draped over me, the coals glowing dimly in the darkness. Torvar snored
on one side, Athis lay flat on his back and breathed soundlessly on the other.
Farkas was nowhere to be seen, but I was wide awake, rose silently and made my way to the top
of the tower where I found him, his elbows propped on the railing, the light breeze playing in his
hair. He turned his head and gave me a smile when he heard me coming up the creaking stairs.
Hey, he said lowly.
Hey. I stepped beside him. He had chosen his place in such a way that he had the length of the
road leading to and away from the towers in sight. But it was quiet, nothing moved. Only behind
and high above us on the steep mountain flank rolled a pebble down the slope, probably just a
goat. And in the distance, on the opposite side of the river up in the hills, an enormous fire was
sending sparks and smoke towards the sky a giant camp, no danger as long as we left them
alone.
It was quiet and peaceful, around us and between us.
But eventually his low voice broke the silence. Have you regained your memory? About what
happened?
I turned my head, studied him from the side. I didnt know why he brought it up now. No.
His fingers started to play nervously with a piece of mortar he had cracked out of the wall. I
wanna tell you before I have to tell the Greybeards.
A shiver ran down my spine. You brought me away from that place. And then you carried me
home. Was there anything else?
Yes. He stared down to the river, became quiet for endless seconds. I hit you. I had to I
thought I have to hit you. Now he turned his head, distress in his face. You dont remember?
thought I have to hit you. Now he turned his head, distress in his face. You dont remember?
My breath hitched. No.
He spoke on quickly, nearly breathlessly. You were so stiff, and you didnt react any more, to
nothing I did. I yelled at you that every frost troll around must have heard me, only you didnt. I
just knew I had to take you away, but I couldnt leave the ruins in that storm. To take you higher
was the only idea I had, but it wasnt enough.
Not enough? Although I could barely see his face, I heard the tension in his voice, the muscles
in his neck strained.
No. It was as if you were dreaming. Somewhere else, and you couldnt wake. He swallowed.
Ive seen someone like this once before. Vilkas when he was small, when we were new in
Jorrvaskr he couldnt sleep, and when he slept, he had nightmares. Horrible nightmares. Ive
been with him all the time then, and usually all was good when he woke up. No, not good, but
better. But once, he didnt wake up. He didnt react to anything I did, just like you, and I didnt
know what to do, and then Jergen came and hit him. Slapped him till there was life in his eyes
again and he could cry and was back. It was terrifying. I did the same with you, hit and pinched
you to cause you pain. Perhaps I should have done something else, I saw you wanted to cry but
couldnt, that you wanted to breathe but couldnt, and I was so scared his voice trailed off, and
it became silent again.
And I had wondered how I got those bruises on my upper arms, dark blotches that only hurt when
I poked them directly. I had thought they came from his claws pressing in while he rushed back to
Whiterun, or from Athis holding on too tight when I fought him in my unconsciousness. I hadnt
asked, they werent severe and the idea that one of them would hurt me just because he could
never even emerged in my mind.
But it made him feel bad, obviously.
I nudged my elbow into his side. Hey.
He turned his head to me. It was astonishing how the moonlight caught in his eyes, made them
gleam in their frame of dark warpaint. Thank you, brother. Youve done what was necessary.
And thanks for your memories.
A small, relieved smile curled his lips, and his shoulders relaxed. We stood side by side, listening
into the night. For me, the silence was only filled with the rushing of the waters below us, an
everlasting background noise, only occasionally drowned out by a gust of wind in the trees or the
squawk of a sleeping bird. I wondered how much sharper his senses were, what he could hear,
smell and see that I couldnt. When his head jerked towards the east, nostrils flared, I knew there
was something.
He met my curious gaze with a smile. Wolves, he whispered. Listen. Their song. I
concentrated, closed my eyes to focus on my hearing, but it remained quiet. And then it was
suddenly there, faint, far away but unmistakable, the howl of the alpha followed by the choir of
the pack, merging together and echoing through the hills, warning and reminding the land of their
power.
It didnt work, not any more. Since the night in the Underforge, their voices had lost their terror on
me.
Farkas leant against the parapet, listening, longing on his face. The sound came nearer, and
perhaps he not only heard, but understood them. I laid my hand on his wrist. Go, I said. Ill
keep watch.
He turned his attention to me, a question in his eyes. He held my gaze for a moment, his index
coming up and stroking along my chin, careful and rough, but then he nodded and was gone. The
huge figure that emerged from the shadows at the foot of the tower only a minute later lifted its
monstrous visage up to me and let out a yelp before it leaped into the darkness. It made me smile.

You dont have really an idea what these dragons actually are, do you?
We sat in the warm quarters of High Hrothgar we had occupied before, the only room which held
the piercing cold ruling everywhere else in these walls at bay. A fire spread its warmth, the light of
the flames mingling with the ones of dozens of candles.
This was a time for questions and answers, not for practice or meditation, and I couldnt learn
when my brain was frozen. Master Arngeir looked expectantly from me to Farkas and back. My
shield-brother was explicitly invited to join in my lessons this time. Not only was he the missing
link to my lost memory concerning the events in the Labyrinthian, if he was to join me any further
on this way and he was dead set on doing so it couldnt hurt if he knew the same things about
our enemies that I knew.
Theyre oversized lizards, and we can kill them. Farkas voice was a low, confident rumble, and
it made me chuckle. For him, this was the essence of our quest. Even Arngeir showed the touch of
a smile for this answer.
Well, yes and no, the Greybeard said. Yes, its possible to kill their bodies. A well placed
arrow or a sharp sword can do that. Unfortunately, they are in many regards like us theres much
more to them than just muscles and scales. Arngeir turned to me, his face now grave. You know
what makes you so special, Dragonborn?
I can take their souls and make their power my own. And with this power, I have to fight them.
I was slightly confused. We had spoken about all this already, more than once.
Yes, but thats not all. The dragons you encounter now theyre not new. Theyre ancient, from
the beginnings of time, and they have already been killed once, thousands of years ago during the
Dragon Wars. But now theyre back, somethings bringing them back to life. We dont know
how, but theyre the same dragons our ancestors fought.
This sounded a lot like one of the ancient myths Athis knew so wonderfully to recount. Dragons
had been extinct, nobody had seen a single one of them for thousands of years. They were a
legend, used to scare children. Certainly the ones we encountered now couldnt be the beasts from
the old songs?
Arngeir regarded my obvious disbelief with a stern look.
And only if you kill them and take their souls, they will stay dead.
He gave me a few moments to let the meaning of his words sink in, and it became eerily silent in
the small room. I was the only one who could truly defeat them. The vague idea that had lingered
in the back of my mind since Farkas and I had left Jorrvaskr for Ustengrav, to make the
Companions and everyone willing to take part in this fight into an army of dragonslayers, it went
up in smoke.
My helplessness must have been written into my face. But thats impossible! How am I to end
this all on my own?
My shield-brother thought the same, obviously. And with attacks like the one in the Labyrinthian
on top of that. Thats madness. There must be something to protect her. His voice sounded
urgent.
Reminded of the main reason why we were here, Arngeir looked concerned. Dovahkiin I
dont know what happened to you in the Labyrinthian, but I know that its more than just a large
tomb. Its an age-old place full of magic. Arch-mage Shalidor lived and worked there in the first
era, and the mages from the college always had an unhealthy interest in it. Nobody knows what
it contains. Perhaps a dragon has been trapped there. Perhaps a dragon has been raised there.
Perhaps one of the old dragon priests feels his power renewed. We dont know, like so much we
dont know. But the fact that it called you, that it recognised you Im afraid this means that
powers not under our control have noticed the arrival of the Dragonborn.
He fell silent. The numb fear I had felt after I woke up in Jorrvaskr returned. I wasnt prepared to
fight something like this, something that attacked only my mind. I couldnt fight powers I didnt
see or understand.
Im not sure if its possible to shield yourself against such attacks. You have to be careful, listen
to your senses. And you too, Farkas, he addressed the man. Its good that youre by her side.
You have to be her eyes and ears, when necessary. Farkas nodded sternly.
The only advice I can give is to prepare yourself. Gather knowledge, more than I can provide
you. You have to know your enemy if you want to overcome him. Learn from your own
experiences, and learn from others. I know its not much, but its all I can give you at the moment.
The more you know, the better you know yourself and your foe, the more likely you will
succeed.
If I had hoped to find answers here in High Hrothgar, I had been wrong. The Greybeards were the
masters of the Voice of the Way of the Voice, a way of peace and reclusion. They didnt know
much more than me about the things going on in the world not who or what caused the rising of
the dragons, not what to do against it. I just knew, slaying the beasts and crawling through long
forgotten tombs wouldnt be enough. I had to prepare myself while searching for answers, and I
had to look for the knowledge I needed elsewhere.
A light smile played on Arngeirs face. Youre not as helpless as you seem to think, Dovahkiin.
Youve learned a lot already, perhaps more than you know. Come on, lets have a little test. A test
of your confidence, which will also be proof of our confidence in you.
When I followed him into the main hall, the other Greybeards had already gathered. Arngeir
assigned me the place in their midst and told Farkas to leave the room friendly, for his own
safety, as he said. Before I could prepare myself, the Tongues started to speak, all of them at once.
The whole building quaked under the force of their joint voices, the sound penetrated through me
like a blizzard, drowned me in a noise that hit like a physical force, hurled me around and forced
me to my knees. Nothing in this cacophony resembled human voices any more, it was pure power
a power I had never felt before and hopefully never would feel again. But beneath the power
there were words and a meaning, and although they were spoken in dragon tongue, somehow I
understood them.
Long has the Storm Crown languished with no worthy brow to sit upon. By our breath we
bestow it now to you in the name of Kyne, in the name of Shor, and in the name of Atmora of old.
You are Ysmir now, the Dragon of the North. Harken to it.
Declared Ysmir, the Dragon of the North by Kyne and Shor. Gods, what a title. Again the feeling
I had had in Farengars study right after the dragon in Whiterun overcame me that this was
ridiculous, a sick joke of the Divines. But this was High Hrothgar, and the Greybeards themselves
acknowledged my power and my destiny. No way I could simply ignore it, pretend all of this
didnt happen.
Arngeirs last gift for me was a map a map which showed some of the ancient dragon burial
grounds, as far as the Greybeards knew about them. It was a great treasure, especially if his claim
or assumption that the dragons we saw today were the same our ancestors already fought was
correct. If it was, it would give us the knowledge where to find the beasts, and perhaps we would
even find out who or what raised them.
I felt this was the core of the issue. We could wander through the province and slay dragons
forever, as long as we didnt know what caused their resurrection it wouldnt help in the long run.
I had to find out the cause of their rising, and this map was at least a beginning.
We studied it intently when we were back in Ivarstead, sitting in the inn and comfortably supplied
with mead and food by Wilhelm. He had taken a liking to us since we had cleansed the barrow,
and as Farkas didnt hesitate to tell him why I had been at High Hrothgar during my first extensive
stay with the Greybeards, he was full of friendly, innocent awe. Now he watched us curiously as
we spread the map on his counter.
What do you have there?
Farkas gave him a grin. Were trying to decide which dragon to slay next. The way the
innkeepers jaw dropped made me laugh.
You do what? Isnt it enough that theyre everywhere, now you gotta seek them out?
Aye. This map shows where they roost. Farkas index poked a mark south of Riften. How
about this one? Lost Tongue Overlook. Not too far and so secluded that certainly no one has
stumbled over it before us.
Wilhelm looked as if hed never see us again when we left, but we found our dragon exactly
where the map indicated him to be. No wonder the locations of these sites had been lost, even we
who knew where to look had difficulties to find the way up into the Jerall Mountains, the snow,
icy wind, bears, sabrecats and icewraiths straining my nerves. Not even Farkas inexhaustible
excited rambling about what wed find and where to go next and what wed do once we knew
what caused all this could lighten my mood. Quite the contrary.
Even if the Greybeards hadnt been of any help in regards of substantial information, they had
made more than clear that the rising of the dragons was something much more complicated,
dangerous and perhaps fateful than just the sudden appearance of powerful beasts that killed
people all over the province. There was more to it, and Arngeir had also made clear that it was my
liability to uncover this mystery and put an end to it. Not Farkas, not the Companions, only
mine.
The way he talked about this endeavour as if it was ours, as if I couldnt make a single step
without him set me on edge, and when we finally found the huge creature, bathing in the sun on
top of another word wall, I was ready to shout the beast to shreds. Farkas didnt even grant me
that small pleasure though, charging in before I was even able to let loose a single arrow, much
less a Shout. I watched him for a moment, how he slashed through the membrane of the dragons
wings to keep him grounded, the happy grin that plastered over his face, the challenging look he
shot me. This was what he wanted to do, what he was good at, and at the same time it was so
incredibly futile.
We had learned from the experience at Ustengrav, but the fight was still frantic and hard, leaving
us with several painful bruises. But in the end we slayed him with much less difficulty than the last
one.
And still my disappointment boiled over, because of course we found no hint at all about the cause
of his rising. Nothing. Frustration coursed through me when I sat down on the dragons hipbone,
trying to catch my breath from the fight, the new Word and the soul that had settled in me.
Farkas hunched down in front of me, a hand on my knee. Next time well find something. For
sure!
Yeah, of course, I snapped, well just appear exactly the moment the beast raises from its
grave. Youre nave, Farkas. I shoved his hand roughly away, ignoring the slight look of hurt on
his face, stood up and turned towards the way that would lead us down to Lake Honrich. Come
on, this was pointless. All this is pointless.
But you got a new Shout! And a new soul!
I turned sharply. And you think thats what I want? You think thats a reward for this useless
trip?
He made a helpless gesture. Well find something, Qhouri. I promise. Well search until we
know what causes all this.
I ground my teeth. This is my job, Farkas. We wont do anything. We will return to Whiterun
now, and then I will have to find someone who knows something about it. And if there was no
one who knew more about it than the Greybeards because I was the first Dragonborn for ages and
no one had ever faced something like the rising of ancient dragons before and because the Divines
had an absolutely retarded sense of humour, Id have to do it all on my own. Hunt them and take
their souls for the rest of my days. Tears of helplessness and frustration burnt in my eyes, and I
turned away swiftly.
We made our way to Riften and took the carriage to Whiterun, all in uncomfortable silence. I
knew I had hurt him, but I found the way he had committed himself to this insanity and, even
worse, to me incredibly awkward. It was useless anyway, I knew that slaying dragons alone
wouldnt be enough, and still this was what he thought wed do until it was done. And I felt as if
what had started as an offer and a promise from him had somehow turned into a demand I had to
fulfil, that I had to let him participate in this quest, no matter if I wanted or not. No matter if I was
comfortable with him and somehow, I wasnt.
Not any more, at least not in the same way I had been at the beginning of our travels, when we
still got to know each other, both overwhelmed by the weird soul stuff we had gone through.
When we thought that perhaps we could help each other with these experiences. Our fight in
Morthal had only been the first rift, it had shown me a side of him that was hard to accept.
But we had made peace afterwards, and he had saved my life in the Labyrinthian. Another
mystery I didnt understand, something else he couldnt help me with.
When my train of excuses and accusations had come to the point where I asked myself if he was
useful enough for me, I cringed away from my own thoughts.
Because it was so much easier. Of course he was useful, and in so many more regards than just
with his fighting skills. I simply didnt want him to commit, to dedicate himself, not to this dragon
business and even less to me, and I feared that this was exactly what he was going to do. What he
had already done, perhaps. I didnt want him to come so close, didnt want a confidant, and it
scared me how I had started to think of us instead of me over the last weeks.
And still, as he sat on the opposite bench of the wagon, with a stonen face and avoiding my gaze,
remorse overwhelmed me. He didnt deserve to be treated like that. He wasnt a puppy following
me in mindless devotion he was a warrior, one of the best in all of Skyrim, he knew the land so
much better than I, and his company and advice were invaluable.
And apart from that he was more than just a companion. I wasnt used to call someone a friend,
I had never had a friend before perhaps beside Athis, but the mer was hard to resist with his
friendly, cordial way that was still distant enough to leave me room to breeze. Farkas wasnt
distant, he looked through me and forced me to be honest with myself, impossible to keep him at
arms length, and still he was gentle and sincere. And he had become a friend. Someone I had
learned to trust, someone with whom I had shared the perhaps most important weeks of my life.
Someone who took me as I was, without judgement or resentment, who had made me feel like a
Companion because he gave me the feeling that I belonged there.
That his open attachment and protectiveness suddenly felt more like a prison I couldnt escape
than like a warm cloak I could rest and relax in, that was my problem, not his. I had changed, not
he, and he didnt deserve to be treated like that.
Farkas? His head shot up, but his expression was guarded. Would you please yell at me when I
behave like an ass and not just shrug it off?
He lowered his head. No, he mumbled, but I saw a small grin curl his lips. Not gonna risk that
you shout back.
Im sorry.
Its okay.
No, its not.
Yes, it is. Told you Id have your back as long as you need me. And when you go visit
Delphine you dont need me. You could take Vilkas along, hes much better in dealing with
difficult people.
Pun intended? Gods, how I wished he would just yell at me.
Being back in Jorrvaskr wasnt really relaxing, knowing I couldnt stay. When I spread out the
map of the Greybeards on the large table and explained what it was, my siblings were enthusiastic,
gathering around the parchment and allocating who would have the honour to slay which dragon
with me.
Yes, we would visit all these places sooner or later, but first there were more pressing matters to
attend to. The mysterious innkeeper in Riverwood was the only lead I had now. But Farkas
refused outright to join me when I asked him, standing with his brother at the fire.
I felt bad that his rejection filled me with relief, and it was only soothed by his casual remark that
hed prefer to visit Morthal instead.
And Vilkas expression was priceless.
The twins hadnt seen each other since we had left for Ustengrav, and I left them alone to catch
up. Time for me to get some well deserved rest.
But next morning when I filled my belly with a bowl of porridge, delicious with its rich taste of
cinnamon and honey, the light pack for the short trip to Riverwood already leaning against my
chair, Vilkas dropped down beside me.
Farkas told me about the horn and Delphine, he said curtly, you want me to accompany you?
I just have to speak with her. Dont think I need a bodyguard for that. I took another spoonful
and swallowed. But thanks for the offer.
She not only knew somehow that the Greybeards would send you to Ustengrav, she also made it
through it all on her own. I wouldnt trust her any further than I can throw her.
Shes a Breton, Vilkas. Im sure you could throw her quite far.
A grin flashed up in his face. Not far enough. He paused for a moment. You shouldnt go
alone, Qhourian. That woman is dangerous we know her for years, weve often enough spent
our coin in that inn, and none of us ever noticed anything odd. Her disguise was perfect you
know that we have means to see behind something like that, usually.
I eyed him thoughtfully. Perhaps the idea to have a werewolf sniff out any lies and deceptions
wasnt the worst.
I could take Aela along.
He barked out a short laughter. Aela would just kill her for the first wrong word. And she has a
very concise and narrow opinion about what people are allowed to say to her and what not.
Skjor?
He gave me patient look. Lets go, Qhourian. The sooner we go, the sooner were over with it.
Didnt seem as if I had a choice.
Delphine wasnt thrilled about his company either, though.
Sven greeted us with a friendly nod, playing leisurely on his lute when we entered. But she
narrowed her brows into a frown, leaning only outwardly relaxed onto her broom. A very
unremarkable woman in her shoddy blue dress, the grey-streaked blonde hair neatly braided in her
neck.
Greetings, Vilkas, she sighed. Your brother was here. Recently.
He grinned, but his eyes were hard. Hello Delphine. I know, he fetched something from you.
And now I bring you something in return.
Something? I arched an eyebrow at him, but the womans head jerked to me.
Youre the one who found the note. And youve been in Bleak Falls Barrow. With the mer.
She fetched a crumpled piece of paper from the pocket of her dress that I recognised at once.
I nodded, eyeing her suspiciously. I dont believe that you went through all that trouble and
didnt gather an extensive profile of me by now.
Of course I did. But one can never be careful enough. She leant the broom against the counter,
suddenly all business. Follow me.
We followed her into a guest room that looked like all the others until she opened the back panel
We followed her into a guest room that looked like all the others until she opened the back panel
of a wardrobe and narrow stairs appeared behind it. Vilkas gave me an odd look, cocking an
eyebrow more curiously than concerned as Delphine grabbed a lamp and descended into the
darkness.
The stairs led into a cellar, filled with chests and shelves, alchemy equipment, books and a large
table cluttered with parchments, some new, some yellowed and brittle enough to be ancient. The
study of a scholar. Truly the last thing I expected in an ordinary inn.
Delphine leant with her back against the table after she locked the door behind us, a small grin
showing on her lips. I know, Im pretty good at keeping my harmless innkeeper act.
Then I suggest you tell me whats behind this act and what you want from me.
She lifted a hand. Not so fast. The Greybeards may think that youre Dragonborn, but I didnt go
through all this trouble on a whim. Before I tell you any more, I need to make sure I can trust
you.
I narrowed my eyes. What does that mean, you need to make sure you can trust me? How do I
know that I can trust you?
If you dont trust me, you were a fool to walk in here in the first place. Even with that escort of
yours. Vilkas let out an annoyed grunt.
I gave her a forced smile. Ive been in much more hostile environments lately. I can defend
myself, you know?
An arrogant smirk curled her lips. Not against me. Dont forget I went through Ustengrav
before you.
I wouldnt let her threaten me. Yes, I wondered how you did that and with leaving so many of
the inhabitants alive for us. And I wonder if your skills are truly a match against real
Dragonfire.
Something flickered through her eyes. Concern perhaps fear, but it was gone as soon as it
appeared and her face was emotionless again. Enough of that. Im part of a group thats been
looking for you well, someone like you, for a very long time. If you really are Dragonborn, that
is.
Now Vilkas made a step forward. What group are you talking about? This woman, he pointed
at me, has taken the soul of the dragons at the Watchtower, near Ustengrav and south of Riften.
Only their skeletons remain to prove it. The Greybeards have acknowledged her as Dragonborn.
Whats there to doubt?
There are greater powers at work than you can imagine. The appearance of the dragons marks
the turn of the eras, as it has been foreseen. I cant be careful enough, and I have to make sure that
this isnt a trap of the Thalmor.
Surprised, Vilkas sucked in the air sharply. The Thalmor? I blurted out, perplexed by this
weird idea. Accusation. Whatever it was. I didnt know much about the Aldmeri Dominion,
only that it held the Empire in its grip since the war thirty years ago and that their repressions were
the reason why Ulfric Stormcloak had shouted the High King to death and started his rebellion.
The idea that I was allied with them it was far-fetched, at least.
The woman pushed herself off and went around the table to a shelf in the back of the room. The
way she held herself suddenly, shoulders squared, her steps barely making a sound despite her
common attire, I knew suddenly that she wasnt an innkeeper any more. That she had changed
into her true identity, whatever it was. And that I didnt trust her.
She turned back to us. Yes, the Thalmor. Their spies are everywhere. She regarded me
pensively. Im not your enemy, you already got the horn back. Im actually trying to help you. I
just need you to hear me out.
Vilkas tensed beside me. It is not your place to make demands, Delphine, he spat out, losing his
patience with the woman. I felt the same, the way how she beat around the bush was annoying
and suspicious. You went out of your way to get to her, it seems you need her much more than
she needs you.
She turned to him with equal aggression. The arrogance of the Companions, always meddling
with things they dont understand and without regard for the greater picture. Just like the
Greybeards, and equally predictable.
I clenched my teeth in anger. Im a Companion too, Delphine. Tell me what you want, now.
She balled her hands into whiteknuckled fists, but her face twisted into an forced smile. It doesnt
matter what you are except that you are Dragonborn. And you will have opportunity to prove it
soon enough. All that matters is that youre not a spy of the Thalmor. That is what I have to make
sure first and foremost.
I didnt understand her. I agreed with Vilkas that she was dangerous, but this paranoia she
displayed was as disconcerting as ridiculous.
But Vilkas had obviously enough. His voice was dangerously low, his hand lingering on the hilt
of his dagger. I dont know what youre getting at, Delphine. But are you aware that youre
insulting the Dragonborn and the Companions in the same breath? You dare to threaten her? You
dare to assume shes a thrall of the Thalmor? You know exactly that we dont deal in politics, and
still you dare to doubt not only her power, but also her honour and ours?
She met his flaring gaze with unmoved calm. You have no idea what youre talking about,
Vilkas. You have no idea what it means to have enemies that have hunted you for ages. She
turned her attention to me, her face set in determination. I suspect that the Thalmor have
something to do with the rising of the dragons. And if Im right, then the Gods help us.
I didnt get opportunity to reply. Vilkas propped his palms on the table and leant forwards, baring
his teeth in a threatening snarl. The Thalmor! The bloody elves are a pain in the behind, but to
believe that theyre behind this and to put her in line with them thats insane, and we dont
have to put up with this nonsense. If you need the Dragonborn, you know where to find her. He
turned on his heels and stormed up the stairs.
Great. All I wanted were some answers. And all I got was a paranoid innkeeper using her real or
imagined secrets to build up an annoying aura of mystery, a shield-brother who saw his honour
endangered and both of them going at each others throats. Vilkas was a fool to run off like that,
before she had even answered why she had stolen the horn in the first place. But the way the
woman behaved, she was probably indeed a dead end. The Thalmor! In this he was right, what a
complete and utter nonsense.
I rubbed my palm tiredly over my face and turned to leave as well. But I hadnt even reached the
stairs when I heard her quiet voice behind me.
You stay. Not a question, but an order.
Slowly I turned around. Delphine still stood at the opposite wall, tense, ready to leap like a
cornered predator, a dagger dangling between her fingers. She held it loosely at the tip, and it
would take only a single flick of her wrist to lodge it neatly into my chest.
Fus, I said and left, the dull sound of her head hitting the shelf behind her coaxing a grin on my
face. I could get used to this.
Vilkas waited for me outside, and he rushed down the road towards the bridge that led out of the
village as soon as I left the inn, his fast, blundering stride revealing his anger. At first I rushed after
him, but when he didnt slow down and didnt have a single word to say, I stopped on the bridge
and dropped down on the parapet, burying my forehead in my palms. I wouldnt run after him till
Whiterun. What a complete, utter debacle.
But his steps came back. Whats the matter? he barked.
This was a disaster, Vilkas. I was louder than necessary, but Gods, I was frustrated.
Of course it was. She insulted and threatened you. All of us!
Yes, but thats not the point!
He stared down on me as if I was retarded. Did you listen to her, Qhourian? She claimed the
dragons are a work of the Thalmor and that youre their lackey! What in Oblivion can be the point
in that!
She didnt claim. She simply assumed.
As if that mattered. Whatever obscure group she belongs to, shes obviously completely
oblivious to whats going on here. Youre not Talos or Martin Septim, its not your job to rule or
save an Empire. Your job is the dragon plague, something they never had to deal with. She has no
idea what shes talking about if she seriously thinks the Thalmor have anything to do with it. And
to think that you are allied with them He hit his forehead with his palm.
Now I jumped up and stormed down the bridge. He kept easily pace, which made it easier to yell
at him. You dont get it, do you? I have no idea either! I have no idea what to do now with this
damned dragon plague! And our bloody honour doesnt help with that one bit!
His face twisted in fury, with me now instead with Delphine. How can you say that! Who if not
the Companions are willing to help you? Who dragged you through all this so far? What do you
think why I am here with you?
I exploded. You are here because you cant bear not to be involved, and as soon as something
doesnt go as you want you blow up and stomp out like an angry bull!
So you would have preferred to have yourself and us! drawn into a war against the
Dominion?
I clenched my fists. Gods, Vilkas, dont be so melodramatic. I just need some answers, now that
even the Greybeards sent me away! Yes, she insulted us and perhaps she is insane. But perhaps
she also knows something, anything, and I didnt get this information because you had to force her
onto the defensive!
She wouldnt have been so defensive if she had honest intentions with you.
We dont know what her intentions are! All I know is that Im stuck!
He gnashed his teeth audibly. This woman wants to use you, Qhourian. Perhaps not for a war,
but for some very weird personal plot of hers. She isnt interested in helping you, trust me. And
get used to many more people trying to rope you in for their purposes. Many people will try to
make use of the Dragonborn. You better be careful not to become their toy.
All of a sudden my anger subsided. I was really nave. I thought everybody was as terrified of the
dragons as I. That people could be so ruthless to use this threat and the appearance of a
Dragonborn for their own agenda of course they would, I just hadnt considered it so far.
But I wouldnt be used. Never again.
It was quiet between us for the rest of the way. Vilkas knew exactly that he had given me plenty
of food for thought, and he left me alone.
Chapter End Notes
Updates will slow down a little bit. I have to rewrite the next 20k words completely,
and it's hard to form coherent sentences at 40C.
Like a Butterfly
Like this. Vilkas voice was flat and emotionless as he bent over the alchemy table. Be careful
not to damage it. He held the abdomen of the insect between index and thumb of his left hand,
pressed its head with the tip of a needle against the soft wooden board and fixated it with a swift
stab through the thorax, then pulled his hands away.
Wait until it stops twitching and flapping. He watched calmly how the wingbeat of the dying
butterfly became slower and more erratic. Its important that it can move its wings freely, or it
will hurt itself and lose the scales. He turned to me, his gaze piercing. What were after
theyre scales. Just like the dragons. Did you know that?
I shook my head, watching the careful, controlled motions of his hands with a morbid fascination.
They were gentle, nearly tender, yet still so cruel. Of course I didnt know it.
He took a tweeter and removed the head of the animal with a swift twist, a small drop of a
translucent liquid oozing from the body. Now its dead. We dont want it to suffer, do we? That
sly grin of him as if he meant it. Next he showed me how to remove the wings from the body,
carefully gripping them at the veins, the delicate tool looking far too fragile in his fingers. Using a
tiny bone spatula, he scraped the glittering, colourful dust from their surface that held the
alchemical properties.
He gave me a lopsided smirk, displaying the same cold inquisitiveness he had shown when he
watched the animal die its slow death. I felt like the butterfly in front of me when he handed me
the small tool. Or like a child, begging for approval. Your turn.
I clenched my teeth, not so sure any more if my request to learn at least the basics of processing
ingredients and mixing potions was so smart. Or if it was smart to ask Vilkas. He had only
scowled when I had asked him if the alchemy table in his room was only for decoration or if he
actually knew how to use it.
Of course he knew, the butterfly his first lesson. And after I stored the pinch of dust I had abraded
from the wings into a small phial, we spent hours making the most basic healing potions together,
from wheat and the blue mountain flowers that grew everywhere around Whiterun. He taught me
how to extract the sap and how to control the strength of the potion by adjusting the amount of
water, the heat of the calcinator and the different mixtures. He taught me the basics of the craft
with the same patience and sensitivity he had shown dissecting the butterfly.
This was Vilkas. His erratic attitude drove me crazy. And he fascinated me, because he forced me
to overstep my limits.
After the failed trip to Riverwood I threw myself into a flurry of activity. For the first time I
fulfilled regular contracts for the Companions, travelled back and forth through Skyrim and got to
know my homeland, chased criminals, gathered long-lost family heirlooms from the undead clasp
of draugr or cleared bandit and animal dens.
And finally I had opportunity to get to know my shield-siblings in their natural habitat not that
the mead hall wasnt their natural habitat, but travelling around and fighting for the sake of others,
that was what they did for a living. And to save each others life and tend to each others wounds,
to share watches under the endless vastness of Skyrims sky or to sit out a blizzard in a small cave
together, freezing and bored, all this formed bonds I had never known before. Working, training
and celebrating together let me feel more and more like a real part of this group.
And every time we had the chance, we visited one of marks on the Greybeards map. They never
disappointed insofar as we always found a dragon. We slayed them with growing ease, the
Companions becoming slowly but surely the army of dragonslayers I had dreamt of. And more
often than not I also found a wordwall in the vicinity, just like at Lost Tongue Overlook.
Slaying dragons, taking their souls and expanding my vocabulary became something like routine.
And I never found so much as a hint at what caused their rising.
I took every job I could get, eager to carry my share of the workload resting on the Companions,
the ledgers always full while the war occupied many of the regular forces. I worked myself out,
barely slept any more, because it was the only thing that made me feel useful. Because slaying
dragons, learning new Shouts in the end, it would get me nowhere, and I knew it. And with
every new word and every new soul settling in me, my frustration with myself and the futility of
everything I did grew.
Additionally, when I wasnt travelling criss-cross through the country, I followed the Greybeards
advice and learned everything and at once, and as I didnt know where to start, I took what was
available, soaking in unsorted knowledge like a sponge.
I read through every single book available in Jorrvaskr, history and lore, research papers, bestiaries
and journals, travel guides and maps. I pestered Farengar with questions, spent hours with him in
his cosy little study. To his credit, he was more than patient with me, apparently delighted to have
found someone who shared his interest in the dragon issues and the vast knowledge he had
accumulated. I even spent a couple of evenings with Heimskr to learn everything about Talos he
could tell me. It took some persuasion to lead his thoughts away from the sermon he preached day
in day out to the citizens of Whiterun, but when he realised that my interest was less theological
than historical, he proved to be astonishingly knowledgeable about my predecessor.
But apart from that, strangely it was Vilkas who took me under his wings during these weeks. He
not only took care of my weapon training, he also pressed me forwards, challenged me with his
knowledge, brought up always new questions I didnt have the answers to.
Perhaps it was a bit of remorse because of the disastrous meeting with Delphine, perhaps pity,
perhaps my hunger for knowledge just gave him opportunity to exhibit his superiority, but he
occupied my time whenever I was in Jorrvaskr. He always found new ways to expose how little I
knew and to wake my interest.
But his room had also become my refuge, the only place where I found the quiet to read and
concentrate. He let me use his desk, and the Greybeards map had found a place on the inner side
of his door. We spent many hours together, discussing the various matters I read about which
meant usually that I asked questions and he tried to answer them.
I was grateful for his generosity and excited about his vast knowledge. And still, the time I spent
with him always left me even more restless, more frustrated and unsettled by his personality.
We had become acquainted with each other during those weeks, but that didnt mean that we had
become close. It was impossible to be close to Vilkas, not in the same way I had come close to all
the other Companions in the meantime or to his brother. I got to know my siblings, not only the
raw facts, but their quirks and whims, aversions and preferences. Some were adorable, others hard
to endure Aelas snarky remarks, Rias inexhaustible energy, Torvars foul mood when he was
sober and bored, Skjors often aloof behaviour but we got used to each other, and we grew
together.
Vilkas had his quirks and tempers too, always had an edge to him, a tension like a predator ready
to strike and a carefully hidden scorn. But he controlled himself tightly, seldom showed more than
an irritated scowl or deadpan indifference, although it cost him I spent enough time with him to
notice the dark rings under his eyes and weary lines in his face, sometimes worse, sometimes
better but always there. Occasionally, in rare moments when he thought himself unobserved, his
face dissolved into a tiredness that was more than the result of a night of bad sleep, full of
despair and hopelessness. And sometimes, I saw Farkas gaze linger on his brother, full of
concern. But it never took more than a second and his control was back, his jaw set in his usual
cold, indifferent arrogance.
He was as ruthless to himself as he was cold to others. And it wasnt my place to ask what set him
on edge like that.
Because I never knew what to expect from him. He was patient, caring and cruel at the same time,
challenging me with my shortcomings, pinning my ignorance, often leaving me embarrassed and
humiliated. And then he took the time to talk things through, to teach me, as if it was his personal
ambition that I became a scholar like himself. His sharp, often cynical wit could be hilariously
funny, but it could equally fast slip into merciless humiliation when he found a weakness.
But the peace we had made with each other shortly before my initiation was brittle, and it became
more obvious how fragile it was the more time we spent with each other. For the longest time I
thought it was just him, that it wasnt personal how he treated me, seeing how he whipped the
other whelps through his training. I thought he was just difficult and that it was best to ignore his
moods as best I could. I could learn from him, after all, even if it wasnt a fun way to learn.
But it was personal. And I didnt realise it until it was too late.
I loved the early morning in the training yard, especially in this time of year when the sun rose
late, the only light coming from the flickering torches. When I could be certain to be alone and
take my time, aim every shot carefully until the straw target was riddled with arrows, slowly
feeling my body warm up despite the freezing cold before sunrise. When the sleepy dizziness
finally vanished from eyes, muscles and brain, I started to train in earnest with exercising motions,
attacks, thrusts and parades against the dummies or simply against my own shadow. I felt so alive
in these hours, when I exhausted myself even before the first bite of the day, and I only stopped
when the sweat froze in my damp hair, my muscles ached from the same movements over and
over again and all motions began to flow together like a dance, guided more by instinct than by
conscience or thought.
It hurts to watch you. The dark voice came from the patio, Vilkas leaning against a wooden
pillar, arms crossed over his chest. He didnt wear his armour, not even a cloak, but his
appearance was immaculate, his hair combed back behind his ears and his warpaint fresh. I
frowned at the disturbance, wondered how long he had watched me already, but my chagrin only
caused a jovial smirk. Slowly I lowered mace and shield. He made it a habit to turn up when I
wanted to see him least. When I didnt want to see anyone.
Then dont look, Vilkas. Nobody forces you to be out here at this ungodly hour.
Oh yes, your incompetence does. Im not gonna let a shield-sister kill herself because nobody
bothers to show her how to do it right. Here. Try that. Against me. He tossed me a sword from
the rack with the training weapons. You need something effective. Something that works against
dragons.
Oh, it seemed he actually paid attention when we sat together in the evenings, recounting our
dragon fights, even when he just seemed to brood into his mead. I knew my mace wasnt the ideal
weapon against iron-hard scales and leathery skin, learned it painfully during an encounter when
the beast had bucked me off its neck, Torvar and I only coming out relatively unharmed because
he rammed the tip of his greatsword through the dragons throat before he could close his jaws
around my shield-brother.
I had been mostly useless in that situation, my weapon not even able to slash through the dragons
wings. But it was still the one I felt most comfortable with when I couldnt avoid to get into close
combat. Obviously, for Vilkas comfort was no reason to choose a weapon. Efficiency was,
though.
What followed wasnt a spar, it was a lecture in incapability. He attacked without further warning,
without giving me a second to position myself, and disarmed me with his first strike, a cold,
satisfied grin on his lips. Over and over again the unaccustomed weapon flew from my aching
fingers, my hands, arms, shoulders and every other body part he was able to hit soon bruised from
blows with the flat side of his own huge sword. In contrast he barely seemed to move at all,
wasted no movement as he parried, blocked or simply evaded my meagre attempts to stab him.
He was relentless in his drill, forced my aching limbs into positions I wasnt used to, showed and
practised with me how to use the sharp blade and the tip of the sword to pierce and cut instead just
to smash something with a blunt head.
But this was more than training. Even if he was right, even if I would profit from this treatment in
the end, even if I told myself that I should be thankful that the Master-of-Arms of the Companions
himself took the effort to teach me for him, it was most of all another way to demonstrate his
superiority.
He hurt me deliberately, and I had gone through enough spars to know that he hurt me much more
than necessary, hitting the same spots over and over again. I was a lousy sword fighter, we both
knew it, but I took his barked commands and snarky comments and didnt give him the
satisfaction to complain, clenched my teeth and stayed. But he only became more unrelenting and
merciless the longer I put up with his treatment, playing his game with me, taunting me to give up,
the smug smirk on his face slowly making way for something different something darker and
more cruel. As if he lost his patience. As if he grew tired of this mockery of a lesson.
He wanted to force me into submission.
And he could, because he was the Master-of-Arms and I was only a whelp. My dragon soul
screamed in shame and fury, but it didnt help me one bit when a especially powerful hit that
crashed flat on my shoulder made me cry out, tears springing to my eyes. It felt as if he had broken
my collarbone, my own weapon falling from my suddenly numb fingers with a dull clank, for the
umpteenth time. When I bowed down tiredly to pick it up, my back aching, a forceful blow to the
back of my thighs let me fall to my knees. I hadnt even recognised that Vilkas suddenly stood
behind me.
He pressed the sharp side of his sword into my side as he bent over me, the free forearm coming
around my neck and constricting my throat, his knees pressing painfully into my kidneys. A single
false motion, and the blade would slice through the leather of my armour. Absentmindedly I
noticed that the sun had risen, golden light streaming over the city. We had spent hours out here.
Too slow and too weak, he hissed into my ear, wheres the dragon now, Dragonborn? His
breath was warm even on my hot, sweaty face.
I couldnt shout, I couldnt even breathe. And even if I could, I wouldnt have dared to. But I
could try to ram my elbow into his thigh. He didnt even flinch, only the pressure on my throat
became firmer. Now his voice was a nearly gentle whisper. Youd be nothing without the
Companions, Qhourian. And without us, you will fail. Never forget that.
This wasnt just smug satisfaction about my failure any more. There were disgust, loathing, a
barely tamed fury and hatred. And with sudden clarity I knew that the brittle peace between
Vilkas and me was only a truce, and that it would not hold.
And I knew that he was right.
Only when he finally released me, sheathed his own sword and I dropped into the dust of the
training yard, gasping for breath, drenched in sweat and with trembling muscles, I noticed that we
were watched Farkas leant on a pillar, absently chewing on a loaf of dry bread, his eyes full of
pity and respect.
Dont look like an oaf, brother, Vilkas spoke loud enough to be certain I overheard him as he
crossed the patio, you know, that would have been your job. What did you do all the time you
spent together? His grin was bleak and cheerless.
Farkas ignored him though, waited until his brother had vanished inside the hall and then came
over, hunched down in front of me.
You okay? he asked roughly. I clenched my teeth, forced down the tears that gathered in my
eyes. No, I was not, and I didnt answer his rhetorical question, resting my forehead tiredly on my
knees. Everything hurt, and Vilkas sudden unveiled hostility caused a coil of dread in my
stomach. I was no match for him and I couldnt afford to fight. Not here, not at home. I needed
my strength for other things.
Farkas knew all this. I knew and Vilkas knew certainly as well that he had heard every word.
When I felt his hand on my shoulder, warm and steady, I couldnt resist to lean into the touch. If
he pulled away, Id just topple to the side. But he wouldnt.
Why does he hate me, Farkas? I asked helplessly. I thought
His grip became firmer. He doesnt. Hes just struggling.
With me?
No. Not with you. He paused for a moment. Not mainly, at least.
But hes right, I whispered. Its so useless. Everything I do is so useless.
His voice was deep and soothing. Dont believe him, Qhouri. In this, Vilkas is wrong. Youre
strong you will find something, and then youll know how to go on. Gods, he was so damned
nave. And so damned confident.
How I missed that confidence around me. How I missed the feeling that someone believed in me.
I lifted my eyes to his face, too tired and confused to ponder my words. I miss you, Farkas. He
would understand. He always did.
He looked at me from deep, dark eyes, his fingertips stroking over my cheek and tugging a sweaty
braid behind my ear. I miss you too, sister, he said quietly. I miss our travels. But you dont
need me any more to delve through old tombs. And
I lowered my gaze as he didnt speak on. He was right, I didnt need him any more to slaughter
draugr or dragons. I needed him for other things though, and perhaps they were even more
important than just his sword arm. For the short breaks his company gave me, to relax and recover
every time his brother had found another way to run me down, in this lighthearted, undemanding,
nearly instinctive understanding between us. After we had returned from Riften and gained some
distance, I could admit to myself how much I missed him. He didnt make any demands and he
was the only one I could show my fears and frustrations, because he knew them anyway.
But we had both other obligations. We had barely seen each other during the last weeks, and
not only because I was so busy. He was seldom in Jorrvaskr as well, either out on jobs or
spending his time in Morthal. I knew he had finally told the Circle about his daughters and that
they had taken it surprisingly well. He had told me about that meeting full of relief, and the joy
beamed from his eyes when he talked about the girls, how he slowly settled into his role as their
father, how they got to know each other and they accepted him, how he arranged this life with
Jonna in some kind of companionable routine.
He was happy and I was happy for him. And still I missed him, as selfish as it was.
Farkas! The harsh shout broke the silence between us. Vilkas stood at the door, washed and
changed. I need you. Now.
A touch of anger moved over his face as he rocked back and rose. But he held out a hand to help
me up, and I let him thankfully pull me to my feet. For a moment, he buried my hand between his
palms. My promise holds, sister, he said lowly, giving me a gentle smile. And then he turned
and went over to his brother who watched us with unconcealed scorn.
It was an easy job, not really worthy of the Companions, but Athis and I took it nonetheless, if
only to escape Jorrvaskr. The Jarl of Riften had charged us to catch a criminal who was rumoured
to have escaped towards Whiterun Hold. The man was the owner of a sawmill, a lonely small
settlement at the shores of lake Honrich, and he was sentenced to death for killing one of his
workmen he suspected to spend too much time with his wife.
Of course we went there first for our investigation and found his wife inside the house, a shy,
frightened, intimidated woman. But when we asked our questions about the whereabouts of her
husband, she was much more nervous than necessary, wrangling her hands and clenching her fists
into her apron, cold sweat on her forehead.
Athis gave me a wary look, then his gaze wandered to the small rug the woman stood on. It hid a
trapdoor, the outlines clearly visible under the threadbare fabric. The woman paled when I pushed
her to the side and Athis pulled it open.
The miller cowered in the corner of a damp, dark hole usually used to store wine and vegetables,
his hand clenched around the neck of a broken bottle. He blinked frantically when the light
streaming in through the opening blinded him. How incredibly stupid to hide in his own house.
He was too frightened to resist though when I climbed down the rickety ladder with my weapon
drawn, bound his hands behind his back and shoved him towards the exit. We delivered him to
the guards at the gate of Riften without him muttering so much as a word, glad to be rid of him.
And when we stood in the throne room of Mistveil Keep and Jarl Lailas steward counted our
payment into a purse, the dragon came over the city.
Riften was a reeking, rotten hole, corrupt to the core the guards even tried to make us pay a
travellers tax after we had delivered our prisoner to them -, full of debris, the human kind sneaking
through the shadows, the regular kind piled up in every corner and alley, its stench mingling with
the seedy smell of the oily shimmering canal leading through the centre.
And it was nearly entirely built of wood.
The sight when we left the keep in a hurry after a guard had yelled his warning through the room
was incredible. It was chaos and hectic, yelling and screaming and people running around in
frantic panic beneath the gigantic beast that hovered directly over the market place, the whiff from
the slowly flapping wings blowing dry leaves and rubble through the streets. Only very few
people seemed to keep a clear head, and none of them was in uniform. I saw a man with fiery red
hair and a fine, elegant coat with two children on his hips, yelling at the old hag who tried to shut
the door of the orphanage in front of his nose until he shoved it open violently and brought the
kids inside. And the Argonian keeper of the inn shooed the merchants and customers from the
market place into her establishment. I hoped she had a cellar where they could hide.
A Nordic woman who didnt leave her stall in time, gathering the cheap, unsorted armour and
weapons she sold was hit by the fiery blast of the beast. She fell with flailing arms and a scream
backwards into the canal. We didnt have time to watch if she surfaced again.
Where in Oblivion was the godsdamned housecarl to bring some order into this chaos?
Athis and I looked at each other, nodded at each other and I darted down the stairs to the market
place with him on my heels, already gathering my breath.
No matter how dangerous a flying, firespitting dragon was and how much easier he was to fight
when grounded most of all, we had to prevent now that he landed. Not here, not on these
wooden gangways or on a roof and out of reach, between all these stalls and huts and houses that
would incinerate like tinder with a single hit of his breath. And the few guards that stood around
and fired arrows at him had obviously no idea what they were doing. They even managed to miss
him a couple of times.
FUS!
Now I had at least his attention, the cold, indifferent gaze of the dragon turning immediately to me
as he struggled with a roar to hold his balance. I sent an arrow towards his throat, Athis like my
shadow doing the same, and ran towards the southern gate.
Open! I yelled as the guards didnt lift a finger to let me out, with the beast on my heels.
The gate is closed, one of them said stoically. I couldnt believe it. Perhaps because we didnt
pay the travellers tax. But I didnt have time to argue, the dragon now turning his attention
towards the orphanage.
FUS RO DAH!
It was frail and ramshackle anyway, the wings of the gate splintering in its hinges. I ran outside
and knew from the distinctive sound of a dragon sucking in the air for his next shout that he
followed me. At least I wasnt alone with the beast, Athis, some guards and a few brave men and
women coming after me. A quick glance around revealed that some of them were clad in
matching armour, dark, tight leather that blended in with the shadows. The guards held a careful
distance to them.
But my problem now was the dragon, and after I had to shred to damned gate to pieces, my throat
hurt like fire, I didnt have the breath for another shout and had to rely on my bow. Riddling him
with arrows was no foolproof way to kill a dragon though and usually only served to make him
angry. And we were still far too near the city.
And then, after an especially nasty shot from Athis, the arrow getting stuck in his throat and blood
dropping like crimson tears from the wound, the dragon did what I had so far never seen one of
them do he rose too high for us to reach him and veered off, in a straight line towards the
mountains in the south-east.
At least the city was safe for the moment.
I still catched my breath when a Nord in shining golden armour approached us elven armour, the
same the Thalmor warriors patrolling the land wore. Strange.
You didnt kill it, he said with a scowl, it will come back.
His blatant accusation rendered me speechless for a moment, then I felt my face heat in anger.
Ah, Unmid. How nice to see you. Athis voice was calm. He bent over to me and whispered
into my ear, thats Unmid Snow-Shod, the Jarls housecarl. Ah, there he was at last. He didnt
even carry a bow and deigned Athis only with a curt nod, keeping his gaze on me.
I narrowed my brows in frustration. I would have been easier if the guards had let me out when I
told them to open the gate.
They just followed my orders. And now the gates are destroyed and the dragon is gone. What do
you plan to do about that?
This was preposterous. I do not plan to do anything about it, Sir, I sneered. How about you
adjust your orders to include some common sense? Would you have preferred to have the dragon
land in the middle of your market?
He puffed himself up even more, not at all impressed by the notion. If he had stayed, he would
be dead by now. But you had to chase him away, hence the Jarl orders you hereby to track him
down and kill him. Youre Dragonborn, after all. He probably fled to Forelhost.
I took a step backwards, my hand on the hilt of my mace. But before I could give him an
appropriate answer, Athis thankfully chimed in, stepping in front of me, his teeth bared in a
malicious smirk.
This must be a misunderstanding, Unmid. Or a mistake on your side. You know, you dont order
the Dragonborn around. No one orders the Dragonborn around, not even your Jarl. You can ask
her politely to save your rotten city from this beast that will, and in this youre right, certainly
come back. A proper reward for her service is of course taken for granted. Or you can assign the
job to the Companions, of course for our regular fee. Or you send your own troops. Your choice.
Gods, how I loved this mer. The man, at least a head larger than Athis, was dumbstruck for a
moment, his Adams apple silently bobbing up and down as he tried to find an answer.
Youre both Companions? Youre Dragonborn and Companion? he finally pressed out.
Yes. We just brought back a murderer who fled from your jail. Another indication of the state of
your security.
Anger about my insolence flared up in his face, but then he pulled himself together, his gaze
flitting back to the city and the remains of the gate. He squared his shoulders. I hereby assign the
slaying of the dragon threatening the safety of Riften to the Companions of Whiterun, he said
stiffly. At least he was a man of fast decisions and had the authority to make them.
Athis gave him a beaming smile. Thank you, Sir. It will be done. What is this Forelhost you
mentioned?
Now he was all business. An old Nordic fortress not far south-east. Its ancient, rumours are that
it was one of the last refuges of the Dragon Cult. A group of Stormcloak soldiers went up there
recently, they were searching for some artefact to help the war. Of course we supplied them with
everything we could, but perhaps they also roused the dragon.
It was really not far, and we were immediately on our way. Athis was of astonishingly good mood
when we climbed the steep path towards the fortress, humming a simple tune.
Hey, I nudged him, what is our regular fee for slaying dragons?
He grinned boyishly. No idea, this is the first time were contracted officially. Usually the Circle
decides things like that but I guess well have to improvise this time, do we?
It wouldnt come cheap, that much was clear.
We found the Stormcloak patrol Unmid had mentioned at the entrance to the fortress or rather
the remains of it, a single soldier clad in the distinctive Stormcloak officer gear, reinforced leather
with a blue sash and a rather silly looking bear helmet. He cowered behind the crumbling remains
of a wall, trying to hide from the dragon that loomed on top of a huge stone arch above the gate. A
few bodies lay around, but they were burnt so crisp that it was impossible to discern what they had
been before their demise. But he joined into the fight at once after I staggered the creature with my
Shout, letting loose a barrage of lightning and fire that helped tremendously to bring the beast
down.
Another soul for my collection.
I eyed the man curiously while Athis rummaged through the skeleton for bones and scales. He
was a mer an Altmer, which struck me immediately as strange. And he wore the distinctive,
arrogant scowl that was so characteristic for his kind. Only briefly had I seen his face lit up in
surprise when the soul entered my body.
Good, he nodded stiffly, Im Captain Valmir. After I lost my men, I need you to accompany
me into this ruin and retrieve an artefact for Ulfric Stormcloak. The disgust on his face while
speaking these words was weird. And what was it with all these guys today who thought they
could order me around?
I gave him a sweet smile. Well met, Captain Valmir. Please help me out since when do you
have authority over the Companions of Whiterun? Or over anyone who isnt a Stormcloak? You
must have taken over during the last 24 hours, and I hope youll excuse my ignorance over this
unexpected development.
His face crunched in anger, orange eyes flaring down on me. I dont, he said curtly. I need
someone able to deal with undead and worse. You are, obviously. Your reward will be generous.
I pinched the back of my nose, seemingly deep in thought. You know, Captain I said
friendly, you could just ask. Politely. Not everybody is bribable. And we just earned a generous
enough reward to keep us settled for today. I beckoned towards the remains of the dragon.
You would have never taken him down without me! You owe me
I owe you nothing. Ive slain already more dragons than you have probably ever seen, Sir.
He narrowed his eyes threateningly. I could force you. I have the Jarl of Riften behind me.
She owes me too. But you can try, of course.
Something about this mer was strange. That he was a mer, and an Altmer at that was strange, that
he fought with magic even stranger. Everybody knew about Ulfric Stormcloaks racism and his
hatred against magic, much worse than the usual discomfort of the Nords in general. And now, a
High Elf throwing fireballs posing not only as a simple soldier, but as an officer of the rebels
army, searching for something important and probably powerful in a ruin that was somehow
connected to the Dragon Cult of old?
Something about all this was very strange. I wanted to get behind it, my curiosity woken. The
members of the Dragon Cult were the human rulers over mankind under the dragons reign after
all, and they were said to have been granted terrible powers by their overlords. Long gone, long
forgotten, nearly as long as the dragons themselves. But if this was indeed their last bastion,
perhaps wed find something interesting.
On the other hand, I couldnt afford to help a Stormcloak. The Companions didnt take sides in
this war. We were neutral, and I wouldnt breach this policy.
And something told me that even if this man wasnt honest, he needed us desperately.
After a brief, whispered counsel with Athis, we decided to give it a go and deal with the political
implications when it came to it. If it came to it. Athis was at least as suspicious about the mer as I.
I turned back to the Captain. We will help you, under a couple of conditions.
He barely withheld his anger. And what would those be?
First, we get the supplies that were meant for your men. We havent planned for such a lengthy
expedition. And second, you stay behind and wait here for us. Were used to work in a team, a
third would only be a nuisance.
He complied with gnashing teeth, and while we filled our bundles with the rations he had stored
away, he filled us in with what he knew about the complex. That it was the stronghold where the
Dragon Cult tried to regroup after its strength was broken by the humans rebelling against their
terror. That King Herrald besieged them in the first Era and that most of the bastion was
inaccessible today due to a collapse that must have happened during this siege. And that our job
now was to find a way inside and to retrieve the staff of the Cultists leader, one of the powerful
priests who led his remaining forces here.
We had barely entered the eerily silent ruins when Athis turned towards a small room and dropped
his pack.
Now we can rest, he said with a grin, already chewing on an apple.
You wanna rest? Now? Here?
Qhouri we ran through the Rift, catched a murderer, fought off a dragon, climbed this bloody
mountain and killed it in the end, all in the last fourteen hours. Not to speak of the morons we had
to deal with. And those guys in there, he pointed towards the gate that led deeper into the ruins,
have waited for us since the first Era. Im sure they wont mind a few more hours.
I flashed him a slightly bemused smile, certain that he could have easily started the exploration of
this place at once if he wanted. But a rest was fine, and the strange mer outside could easily wait a
few hours longer for his staff as well.
Forelhost
That Captain Valmir and his barely veiled scam still ran in circles through my mind. If he was
really a Stormcloak, wed have a problem. And wed have a problem too if he was not. I
wondered why he made me so suspicious, why I instinctively didnt believe that he was what he
claimed to be. If it was because he was an Altmer, or because of this haughty arrogance he didnt
even bother to hide.
I wondered if an attitude like that was an inherent Altmerish quality, just like that housecarl in
Riften had developed his very own peculiarly Nordic variety of insufferableness.
Because of course they werent all like him, other mer I knew were different. Loreius, a farmer not
far from Whiterun, was married to an Altmer, and although she was an exotic sight in her tall
slenderness, with this golden skin and bright orange eyes when she came to Whiterun to sell her
produce, she wasnt treated differently from all the other merchants. Mer of all kinds lived in
Whiterun, and they just belonged to the community.
And one of them just threw little crumbs of dry bread at me. They slipped behind the collar of my
armour and tickled.
No way this guy was older than twelve.
What are you brooding about? In the light of a single torch, Athis face only consisted of sharp
angles and deep shadows, accentuated by his white warpaint and the deep red shimmer of his
eyes. It was familiar, and still it was so incredibly alien.
We sat leaning on opposite walls, chewing on a few dry biscuits. I propped my elbow on my knee
and my chin in my palm. May I ask you something, Athis?
Of course. He sounded slightly puzzled.
I wanna know why this guy out there is such an ass and you are not. I mean youre both
mer. I mean my voice trailed off. This wasnt at all what I wanted to know. It was a silly
question.
He seemed slightly puzzled. Should I be more like him, or he more like me? And why?
I shook my head. Forget it. It was I wasnt interested at all in Captain Valmir, I realised. I was
interested in that guy across of me. Why are you a Companion, Athis? I blurted out. I mean
Ysgramor waged war against your kind. Wuuthrad was an elfslayer. And were something
completely Nordic. How do you fit in there?
He gave me a thoughtful, slightly amused look. You humans and your addiction with history.
He chuckled. Do you know how old I am, Qhouri?
I shook my head. Of course I had thought about it, but I had never dared to ask.
Guess.
I could just take a number. Any number. I knew elves could get ancient, but Athis sometimes,
he behaved as if he was barely grown-up, and then he revealed a wisdom that made me feel as if I
had learned and experienced nothing so far. Hundred?
His lips quirked. Wrong, but better than many others. Some people estimate me somewhere in
my 30s. Often younger than Vilkas and Farkas, certainly younger than Kodlak or Vignar.
But you arent.
No, Im not. Im 297 this winter. When I was a lad of 100, the Oblivion crisis was barely over
and my homeland was destroyed by a falling moon. And Im not old, for my kind. There are mer
Dunmer who have lived thousands of years.
He took in my bewilderment with an amused smile. Such a lifespan how was it possible to live
through it? What had he seen and experienced? How many people had he seen die? And how
could it be that he appeared so normal so mortal?
Does it matter, Qhouri?
I gave him a feeble smile. I dont know. I mean I knew you were older than me. Probably
older than all of us. But 297. Wow.
No, it doesnt matter, he said sternly. It only means that Ive seen a lot more than you during
my life. That I remember things you have to read about. And it means that Ive learned to adapt to
the changes in the world. Its what we do. We go with the tide of times, and we see how the world
changes. But in the end, thats what we all have to do, especially in times like this.
But isnt that hard? To see eras end and everything turned upside down? To see people age
and die? Wouldnt it be easier if you were amongst your own kind?
He folded his hands behind his head and stretched out his legs. Yes, perhaps it would be. Id like
to go to Solstheim one day. Or perhaps, one day, I can even return to Vvardenfell. He chuckled
lowly, but his voice sounded wistful and nostalgic when he spoke on. You know nearly thirty
years ago, I thought to join the Companions would be a challenge, after the war and the mess the
Dominion had left behind. I wanted a challenge, I wanted to start over after decades of travelling
and fighting for causes that werent my own. But it wasnt. Askar didnt find it strange at all that a
homeless mer wanted to join. He was a liberal and curious man, and he gave me this chance
without much thinking. Of course I wasnt the first mer to become a Companion.
I know, I threw in, there were even elven Harbingers.
Aye. The Companions have changed over the eras as well, very much so. Their codex is simple
but strong, and it allows them to adapt. Today they may sometimes appear like a bunch of
drunken rubble, but theyre good people who know their place in the world. That Ysgramor
waged war against the elves of Skyrim thats long gone and over. New challenges worth
fighting for are waiting, and the Companions are up for it. Like the return of the dragons, for
example. Perhaps its really a turn of times, the start of another new era.
Thats scary. I shuddered.
He laughed lowly. No, it isnt. Its just change. You Nords have been the first humans on
Tamriel, and youll probably also be the last, because youre bullheaded to a fault. You dont do
things by half. The world should be thankful that the dragons decided to reappear here and not
somewhere else.
Some people say were far too superstitious to be truly civilised. And far too emotional. My
master in Cheydinhal had said that, an Imperial himself, a picture of cultured understatement and
sophistication. On the outside.
Whoever says something like that is a fool. He gave me a gentle smile. Did you know that the
Nerevarine was a Nord as well?
No. Really?
Yes, a guy from Solstheim. Ive only seen him once he had a hard time with our Ashkhan
when he needed the tribes support. We werent very hospitable back then nobody thought hed
survive the trials. But our Wise Woman liked him He chortled.
I wish you were the Dragonborn, Athis, I said with a sigh. Or someone like you. Youve seen
so much I know nothing, and I just stumble through this whole mess and have no idea what Im
doing.
He didnt either, Qhouri. It is rumoured that he came to Vvardenfell as a prisoner of the Empire.
Just like you came back to Skyrim. And still he became Azuras Champion, defeated Dagoth Ur
and destroyed the Heart of Lorkhan. A simple boy from Solstheim.
And he destroyed Vvardenfell in the process.
True, many hold that against him. But he couldnt know what would happen when he severed
the source of the Tribunals power. Perhaps they knew and perhaps it was better that he didnt,
or he might have faltered.
So you think its better to run head first against a wall instead to think beforehand of the
consequences?
Yes. Sometimes walls have to be knocked down, and your Nordic bullheads work just fine for
that kind of job. Let others take care of the rubble.
But it will still hurt.
Youre a Companion. Companions dont ail just because of a bit of a headache, or wed get
nothing ever done. The broad grin that spread over his face belied the harshness of his tone. And
then he leaned forwards, his expression suddenly serious.
I tell you something, Qhouri. I know much less than Id like about all these Nordic mysteries that
are unveiled at the moment but I believe that you will get done whatever is necessary. And that
this job is in good hands. Youre the Dragon of the North, after all.
His words sent a shiver down my spine, and at the same time they filled me with warmth, because
it was so easy to believe him. There was no reverence or awe, just a simple acknowledgement. He
had seen and experienced so much more than we humans I understood that a few mythical
beasts suddenly appearing in a secluded corner of the world couldnt evoke the same terror in him
they caused in us Nords. And somehow, this was very soothing.
Promise me something, Athis?
What?
That youll still be here in three years. And that well have the biggest birthday party Whiterun
has ever seen!
He laughed lowly. When is your birthday, Qhouri?
In winter too. 28
th
of Morning Star.
Then we should celebrate my 300
th
and your 30
th
together, dont you think?
At least now I had something to work for.
If we had taken it literally when Valmir said that the ruins were haunted, I wouldnt have
screamed in terror when the first ghost materialised right in front of me as much as a shimmering
form of translucent, chilling mist could be called materialised. For a single moment it appeared
as if it was confused and disoriented. And then it attacked with a wail, swinging an axe that made
unsettling solid contact with my shield. When my mace crushed in a knee-jerk reaction against its
head, it felt as if it plunged into a pillow and at the same time I felt incorporeal bones break
before the thing crumpled into a heap of glowing dust.
I shuddered, shaking myself to cast off the weird sensation. Athis just shrugged and dropped into a
crouch. Wed have to be careful.
Forelhost was a distinctively Nordic ruin and therefore familiar, but it wasnt a tomb like all the
others I had visited so far. People had lived here in seclusion for more than a hundred years, and
we found everything that belonged to such a settlement living rooms, a large kitchen,
storerooms, workshops, an alchemy laboratory and a forge.
And in one wing the dormitories, long lines of cots, every single one of them occupied. The
skeletons lying on the mouldering mattresses were an eerie sight some of them looking as if
they had just gone to sleep, some twisted into abnormal positions as if they had died under
torturous pain. Some held empty potion bottles between their bony fingers, more of these identical
small phials cluttered on the floor or standing on nightstands.
Athis sniffed on one of the bottles.
Poison? I whispered, although no one was there who could have heard me.
He shrugged. Not sure, too old. But it looks certainly like that.
We found the explanation of the gruesome scene in another room. The booklet lying on top of a
workbench appeared as if it was placed there for any intruder to be found, and I took it carefully,
the yellowed parchment looking as if it would crumple to dust as soon as I touched it. Most of it
wasnt legible any more, but it was obviously the journal of the commander of the forces that had
besieged the bastion in a final foray to destroy the Dragon Cult once and for all. It told the story of
this siege and of the last assault, of the discovery that the inhabitants of Forelhost had committed
mass suicide and how half of his men fell to the poisoned water of the well.
It seemed we were the first who had proceeded so far into the ruins since those events, and we
pressed on further. With everyone but Athis this whole trip would have ended in disaster, seeing
the incredible intricate traps the Cultists had installed. Not only simple pressure plates unleashing
fire beams or swinging blades that sliced everything in their way into handy strips of flesh. We
encountered lightning traps fuelled by soulstones that had to be taken out from afar, pedestals that
released poisoned darts and a floor disk that rose as soon as someone stepped on it, lifting the
victim into a bunch of rusty spikes protruding from the ceiling. I froze for a moment when the
floor beneath my feet started to move and only escaped a very messy death by jumping off it in the
last moment. The dried puddles of blood in the middle of the circle could have warned me, of
course.
Athis lured a powerful draugr mage into this trap, and we bent over with hysterical laughter when
the living corpse got impaled by the spikes at the ceiling, twitching like an insect in a spiders net,
shooting erratic ice spikes until he finally stopped to move.
We also found the well that had killed Skorms men. The poison had faded over the centuries, but
to dive through the icy water and continue the way in wet armour was more than unpleasant. I
didnt know how deep in we were, if it was still a roof or already the solid mountain forming the
ceiling above us, but an icy wind blew threw the corridors that froze us to the bones. We found a
spider lair, a skeever den and a cavern where light streamed in from above. It was a garden, the
poisonous deathbell flowers nearly completely covering the ground.
And in the end we found another dragon claw, iron with light green glass talons, and we knew it
couldnt be far. A last brief rest, we emptied our waterskins of the last drops and readied ourselves
for battle right in front of the circular stone door it would open.
Lets see what this Dragon Cult was up to, Athis said lowly. He looked exhausted, a bloody
scratch over his brow had smeared his warpaint, but his eyes gleamed full of excitement. I nodded
sternly, glad to have him by my side, adjusted the symbols on the door and placed the claw in the
lock.
We found something. A thing. The familiar clang of coffins breaking open, the familiar
shuffling of uneasy undead steps following it. We vanished into the shadows the best we could,
trying to outline the forces wed have to face.
In the background, from an adorned sarcophagus, rose it wasnt neither draugr nor ghost, but
something different. A figure clad in tattered robes, its bare limbs the same withered, sickly pale
appearance as those of all the other undead. But it was strangely incorporeal, power shimmering in
a faint glow around it that didnt only come from the intricate, gleaming staff it wielded. Its face
was covered by a crude mask, the raw, noseless facial features carved into greenish polished stone
or metal, I couldnt make it out from the distance.
As soon as I took out the first of the draugr with a silent arrow through its temple, a hollow wail
echoed through the cavern, and the thing jerked its head, its unearthly, glowing gaze piercing into
mine. It saw me however it accomplished that, through its strange mask and with me cowering
behind solid stone. But a wall of fire suddenly obscured my view completely, streaming around
the pillar. Athis pressed himself against my back.
I turned my head slightly. What is that?
His whisper was anxious. No idea. But we should kill it. An arrow struck the wall behind us,
an ice spike the pillar that gave us shelter. And fast. At least there was no wordwall in this room
that could distract me.
A curt nod and we darted into action, going for the two draugr closest to us. They were better
armoured than the ones we were used to, their horned helmets that let the blue glow of their eyes
out through narrow slits giving them an even more terrifying appearance. I blocked a heavy strike,
the impact denting my shield, but when my mace crushed against his neck, I felt bones break and
the living corpse crumpled into a heap at my feet.
FUS! I yanked around, hearing the barked Shout that didnt hit me and saw Athis fly, flailing
and crushing to his back with a yell. But the lithe mer curled himself into a ball, pushed himself
into a backwards roll and up to his feet again before his foe could close in on him, driving both his
daggers into his abdomen, right beneath his breastplate. That were two.
An archer, a mage and the thing were left. Their master, obviously, not walking, but floating
towards me with flattering rags.
Out here, I yelled the moment it lifted its staff, barely escaping another wall of fire that rushed
towards us, retreating into the hall we had come through and further into a narrow corridor.
Perhaps we could take advantage of the fact that it was faster than its companions, much faster,
coming after us with no sound but a faint hiss. Athis and I ran backwards while shooting arrows
and throwing darts at it, but the robes were reinforced with something that looked suspiciously like
dragon scales, and even when we hit, it didnt seem to do any harm.
When I nearly slipped in a greasy puddle, the mer yanked me upwards with a firm grip. We had
reached a small circular room, a broken stone table lying overturned in the back, the only exit
blocked by swinging blades. If we could lure the thing inside but before I could ponder the idea
any further, Athis pushed me behind the slab.
Fight fire with fire, he pressed out with a grin and ripped a torch from its holder.
The moment our foe appeared in the room and hit the floor with the end of his staff, releasing a
new wave of fire that rolled towards us, Athis threw the torch into the shimmering oil covering the
ground. And I did what I could do best.
YOL!
The chamber became a blazing inferno, a storm of heat and flames surging over and around me
while I cowered behind the shelter of the massive table, my forearms tightly folded over my head.
I kept my eyes pressed shut, felt unbearable heat wave over my face and blister the exposed skin
of my arms, wanted to scream but couldnt, burning air and smoke searing my lungs. A few
mummies lying in a heap in a corner burst with loud bangs into balls of sparks and burning dust.
It took forever, my lungs and head bursting with lack of air. And then the wave was broken and
there was only heat left and smoke and coughing, but I had to breathe and move and do something
when that other body that had pressed itself against mine in the tight space between the stone slab
and the wall was suddenly gone. Tears and fumes blurred my view, but there was a shadow,
darting and running along the wall, obscured by flames and smoke and shimmering air, and then it
was gone.
Somehow, I found the breath to scream. Athis!
A wail echoed through the room, a wailing screech, the power of millennia dissolving into this
sound, all the fury and hate this being had gathered since the ancient times when it had to admit
defeat for the first time. Now it had become a torch standing in a sea of fire, rags and flesh
burning. It had let go of its staff and reached behind it, its clawlike fingers clenched around Athis
throat. He had driven his daggers into its neck and still held fast to them, both figures careening
back and forth in an eerie struggle.
My mace smashed with an underhand strike into its armpit, swang upwards and came down onto
its shoulder. The wail stopped all of a sudden, dissolving into a hiss that went through marrow and
bone, its fingers coming undone from Athis throat and reaching towards my collar. But the glow
of its lifeforce flickered already as the mer shoved his daggers deeper, his face contorted in pain
and deadly intent, and the edge of my shield crushed into the gap between mask and robe.
I felt bones break and the hiss became a horrible, dry gurgle. Finally it dropped between us,
twitching and burning with little flames flaring up anew. The mer fell into my arms, I gripped him
around the chest and dragged him out of the room until the air became breathable again, although
still reeking of smoke and burning ancient flesh. I only stopped when an ice spike hit my shoulder,
yanked up my shield and felt the impact of an arrow.
There were still two draugr left, and of course they wouldnt leave us alone. With the last remains
of human intelligence they had waited for us to escape the inferno we had unleashed, standing in
safe distance and attacking from afar.
Athis groaned in pain when I let his limp body slide to the ground, but he didnt open his eyes,
only his rasping breath proof that he was still alive. Sudden fury boiled over, providing me with
new strength. This would end quickly now.
FUS RO DAH!
They may have been powerful, but they still consisted only of brittle bones, rotten flesh and fragile
sinews. My shout crushed them both into the wall behind them and into each other, the heap of
uncoordinated, flailing limbs nearly comical to watch. Even if another spray of ice that hit my
burnt skin like needles made it hard to breathe and my arms heavy, I shattered them into a clump
that was as dead as it should be.
When I rushed back, Athis had propped himself with his back against the wall, breathing hard,
blistered, bleeding and with dark purple bruises around his neck, but grinning. All in all, he didnt
seem in much worse condition than I, which was a miracle considering his stunt.
I dropped to my knees beside of him. Youre a lunatic, Athis, I sighed, what did you think?
Fumbling a jar with healing salve from a pouch, he smirked at my relieved expression. You dont
live on a volcano for ages without developing some fire resistance, Qhouri, he snickered, his
voice hoarse. Come on, Im fine. But I need some fresh air. We treated our blisters and scratches
with the cooling balm, gulped down a healing and a stamina potion each and finally struggled to
our feet. I gathered the remains of the undead priest beside that staff and the mask, only a few
charred rags and blackened scales were left of him.
I really wanted to know what exactly we had killed here, and I would beat this knowledge out of
Captain Valmir if I had to. This was certainly no simple priest that had outlasted the centuries.
When we left the ruins, we stood on the battlements of the bastion, high above the courtyard. The
sun shone into my face, and despite my aching lungs I breathed in the cold, clear air deeply. We
had spent the whole night and half of the next day in the darkness, and only now I realised how
exhausted I was. Especially after I felt the familiar tugging at my conscience and found the
inevitable wordwall behind a corner. A Shout that would conjure a lightning storm above my
enemies could prove useful, though.
We werent particularly quiet as we made our way around the courtyard to the wall, but Valmir
was obviously too occupied to notice our appearance, arguing with a stranger. When we heard
him explain that he needed someone to go into the ruins and retrieve a staff for the Stormcloaks,
my face fell in bewilderment. Did he believe us dead? Did he want to send reinforcements? Athis
looked as clueless as I, shrugged and finally simply dove over the narrow parapet into the
courtyard.
We didnt have opportunity to ask for an explanation, though. As soon as he heard us approach,
Valmir shot around with a snarl. The other man, a guard from Riften by the look of his armour,
slumped together with a nasty gurgle as a dagger slit his throat while a fireball was already
forming in the Altmers palm.
I groaned inwardly. Not again. Lifting my shield to catch the fiery missile, I pressed the hopefully
last Shout of the day through my aching throat.
WULD!
It was enough to let me crash into him. Before he could release his next spell, my dagger was
lodged neatly into his chest.
I rolled away from the corpse, panting and so tired I could have slept right there. But in the end,
my curiosity was stronger than my exhaustion. At first it didnt seem as if he kept anything
interesting in the many pockets of his armour, a few gold coins, some potions, a spare dagger, a
handkerchief. A satin handkerchief. I stared incredulously at the item. It was immaculate. But then
I felt a neatly folded sheet of paper between my fingers.
You will proceed to the ruins of Forelhost to retrieve the Mask from the Dragon Cult there.
If you are discovered, impersonate an officer. It is unlikely that anyone from Skyrim will be clever
enough to see through the disguise.
Once you have obtained the Mask, bring it to Labyrinthian.
No signature, but I was enough to make me blanch, my head suddenly dizzy.
Disguise. No officer. The Mask. Dragon Cult. Labyrinthian.
There it was, the clue I had so desperately searched for.
Everything fell into place when Athis shook my shoulder and startled me from my daze, concern
in his face. Draped over his arm, he carried what he had found in the tent of the false Stormcloak
the characteristic grey robe of a Thalmor wizard. His eyes grew wide when he took the parchment
from my fingers and read it.
Somehow we made it down the mountain, I let Athis deal with the Jarls housecarl for our reward
and with the carriage driver to take us home. My head was a maelstrom of thoughts and panic,
pacing around in circles and drowning out everything else.
The Thalmor. Labyrinthian. The Thalmor in the Labyrinthian.
Delphine had been right. Something was happening there, and the Thalmor were involved.
Remains of the ancient Dragon Cult, gathered in those ruins where something had acknowledged
me as Dovahkiin.
I didnt want to go back there. I had to go there. I had to get to the bottom of this plot.
I didnt want to. I was scared.
It was late in the night when we arrived in Ivarstead, and Wilhelm didnt ask questions, only took
care that my tankard was never empty until the maelstrom was finally replaced by a drunken
stupor. Athis was there when I whimpered through a nightmare of endless white and nothing, but
apart from that, he left me alone. There was nothing he could have done. We both knew where
this would lead, what Id have to do. And I had to find the strength to do it all on my own.
No shallow encouragement from the mer, no downplaying my obvious fears. He knew about
them, he had seen me after I had come back from that dreadful place for the first time. And he let
me fight through them in my own pace, in my own way. Was just there to lean on.
Only when we sat opposite of each other on the carriage to Whiterun and I turned the mask
pensively in my hands, studying the design and the dragon words engraved inside, he touched my
wrist.
Hey. You can deal with Thalmor.
I looked at him from behind the streaks of hair that had fallen into my face. The Thalmor are not
the problem, Athis. Not even the fact that Kodlak will roast me if I get involved with them, or that
I will have to return to Delphine and apologise.
He leaned forwards, his elbows on his knees. And then he snatched the mask from my fingers,
pressed it against his face and poked the end of the staff we had retrieved into my chest.
Stop fretting. Girl. His voice came out as a daunting, hollow growl, and with his red, tousled,
slightly singed ponytail that rose above the crude green features like a tattered broom, he looked so
ridiculous that I stared at him for a moment and then burst into hysterical laughter.
No way he was older than twelve.
Wrangling
Youre leaving?
I stood in the doorway between the twins rooms, hand raised to knock on Farkas door, when the
one on the opposite side of the corridor opened and he left his brothers chamber, throwing a
remark over his shoulder that theyd meet at the stables in an hour. Concern and urgency
shadowed his face, but a warm, welcoming smile flashed up when he saw me and pushed his own
door open. I leant against the door frame, the room was chaos and he made it only worse when he
rummaged through a chest, throwing potions, clothes and spare armour parts into a heap on his
bed.
Yeah. Gotta go to Morthal. Vampires. Good to see you back.
Suddenly I felt numb. Of course I couldnt just fetch him and expect that hed join me to
Labyrinthian. When I didnt answer, he turned his head, his gaze wandering over my face.
What is it?
Vampires? Are the girls okay?
He clenched his teeth, worry flitting over his face. Yes. I hope so. But another little girl is dead,
and Jonna panics. Idgrod has requested us to come as soon as possible.
You go with Vilkas?
Aye. He turned a whetstone between his fingers, assessing if it was still usable, then flipped it
with an impatient motion onto the pile on his bed.
I gnawed on my lip, questions racing through my head. Should I tell him at all what had happened
in Riften? Of this new lead? That I wanted him to come with me to Labyrinthian? That I needed
him to come with me?
The thought to enter these ruins without his company filled me with dread. But he had other
obligations, and his mind was elsewhere anyway. No way I could deter him to go to Morthal now.
Good luck, I said lowly, come back safe. I turned to leave. And suddenly his head jerked up,
nostrils flaring. I felt his gaze between my shoulder blades and cringed.
Wait. His voice was low. Whats wrong, Qhouri?
I shook my head. Nothing.
I know your scent when youre scared. And youre a lousy liar.
I stared at him with wide open eyes, cursing his senses. But he rose and stood before me, his eyes
boring into mine, his preparations forgotten.
Gods, woman, talk to me! What is it?
I swallowed, sweat pooling on my temples. I have to go back to Labyrinthian.
His eyes shot wide. Divines. Why?
I fumbled Valmirs orders out of my pocket and handed them to him. We killed a dragon, a
dragon priest and a Thalmor in Riften. I have to find out whats going on there. I gave him a
feeble smile. Dont worry. Ill be fine.
I hadnt heard the door behind me clap.
Thalmor? You killed a Thalmor? Are you insane? Vilkas harsh question came from across the
hall.
I groaned. It was he or us. What should I have done, let him roast us?
Farkas eyes were fixed on the parchment. You wanted I should come with you.
But you cant. I took it from his fingers.
What has happened? Vilkas demanded to know.
The Thalmor are searching for remains of the Dragon Cult and take them to Labyrinthian. I have
to know what theyre up to. I couldnt resist. Seems Delphines paranoia wasnt entirely
baseless.
His face darkened into an angry scowl that only deepened with Farkas next question.
Can you wait till Im back?
No. Finally theres something, a clue I cant risk that the Thalmor beat me to it.
Dont you even think about it, brother. With a few steps Vilkas stood like a wall in the
doorway, trapping me between the men.
Farkas raked his hand through his hair. And if theres more than just Thalmor? What if
something happens? That was exactly what I dreaded, this something that had already happened
once. I knew that for him, I was easily readable.
Youre not serious, Vilkas growled. Dont you even think about hunting the figments in her
head instead to protect your daughters.
And you stop telling me what I have to think! Farkas shouted, fury flaring in his face as he
turned his attention to his brother.
The sudden silence after this outbreak was ear shattering. The brothers locked eyes over my head,
a silent struggle of Vilkas cold wrath against Farkas angry confusion. And suddenly I
understood that this wasnt about the decision between Thalmor and vampires. Vilkas tried to
carry his aversion for me over to his brother, made him a pawn in this trial of strength by
questioning Farkas loyalty.
It wasnt about which choice was reasonable. He simply wouldnt allow that his brother did
anything against his will.
Vilkas voice was menacing and calm. You would abandon your daughters for her?
Farkas breath hitched, he took a step back and sank down on the edge of his bed. But he looked
at me as if he searched for guidance. I promised to have your back when you need me, he said
lowly.
I couldnt help him. Yes, you did. But you also promised Jonna that they can rely on you. I
turned to leave, but Vilkas blocked the exit, acting as if I wasnt there at all.
You make way too many promises, brother, he remarked coldly.
Farkas buried his head in his palms. Vilkas please. Its just vampires. Dangerous, but nothing
special. Slowly he lifted his eyes to his brother, dark with distress, but his jaw set in
determination. Go for me. Please. Take Skjor with you and keep them safe for me.
Vilkas made a heavy step into the room before I could object, shoving me to the side like a piece
of furniture, towering over his brother. Of course I will go, theyre my nieces. Its not me whos
breaking a promise here, he snarled. But you? You cant have everything, brother. You cant be
a Companion, a father and her protector. He made a derisive gesture towards me. You
already broke your promise to Kodlak for her. And now this? What will you abandon next, after
your honour and your children?
He took in his brothers horrified expression with a complacent, cruel glare, the silence only
broken by a desperate groan that broke from Farkas throat. I had no idea what he was talking
about but it was obviously much more than just the decision between Thalmor and vampires.
And it made my blood boil that Vilkas bullied him around like a child, that Farkas let him and
that both used me as a pawn now.
At least that was how I felt. They could go to Oblivion, both of them.
Do what you want, I pressed out between clenched teeth, but leave me out of it.
But Vilkas grabbed my arm when I brushed past him, his grip like a vice. Leave you out,
Dragonborn? How so, when you cant do a single step on your own? When all of Jorrvaskr only
circles around what you have to do?
My slap hit him with so much force that his head snapped into his neck, leaving instantly a distinct
hand print on his cheek. He released me from his grasp with a shocked gasp.
You ass! I hissed, trembling with fury, stop acting as if your brother was my thrall! No one will
abandon anything here! A low growl formed deep in his chest, and I recognised the familiar dark
rings around his irises. His hands clenched into white-knuckled fists as he fought to control
himself, the muscles in his neck strained into thick cords.
But I would not back down from a wolf with a temper and stared him down, held his gaze and
full of astonishment I realised that I could read him, that he wasnt quite as deadpan as he probably
thought himself. There were fury and cold calculation, the desire to lash out and to retreat into
himself. And beneath all that flaring temper that he caged in with so much effort, there was a deep,
desperate tiredness and a hint of fear.
Something had hurt him. I didnt know what or when, and I didnt know if he showed this to me
deliberately or if it was just a slip in his composure. But it made me avert my eyes from his stare.
A barely visible smirk curled his lips. Barely visible, but full of triumph.
I turned to Farkas who had watched us with wide eyes. I dont have time to deal with this
bullshit, and you havent either, I said tersely. Move your ass to Morthal, I see you in a few
days.
None of them held me back when I stormed out of the room, out of Jorrvaskr and up the stairs to
Dragonsreach. Before I left, I had to speak with Farengar, show him the mask and ask him about
connections between the Labyrinthian and the Dragon Cult. I remembered having read something
about it and was sure it was in one of his books.
The court mage knew at once what I meant and went to gather the tome from his shelves. He also
offered me the comfortable armchair in front of his desk and a goblet of wine. The quiet in the
mages study soothed my ruffled nerves, and to read about Bromjunaar, the capital of Skyrim
during the era before the Dragon War that only became the Labyrinthian much later focused my
mind on the task before me again. The highest ranking priests of the Cult had lived and ruled from
there, and no one knew what was left of them in the depths of the ruins.
Meanwhile, Farengar tried to decipher the dragon speech that was engraved into the inside of the
mask, but he couldnt make much of it only that it belonged to a priest named Rahgot. And that
it had to be ancient and indeed dated back to the Merethic Era, judged by the crude, raw design.
Well, at least the thing we had killed in Forelhost had a name now.
When I was finished I put the book on his desk and leant back in the chair, hands folded behind
my head, watching Farengar as he worked concentrated on the mask that lay on his enchanting
table.
He had dropped whatever he had been doing when I stormed into his study with my questions and
demands and snatched the mask from my hands with an eager grin. He had been friendly and
helpful from the very beginning, just like the Greybeards and so many others.
And like the Companions. They were always there, with help, advice and their sword arms. Of
course I did my share of work for them as well, but that was only fair. But I would never have
come anywhere near where I was now without them.
Perhaps I was too used to this, to take their support for granted. Perhaps Vilkas was right, perhaps
I asked too much and perhaps I was really far too dependent on them.
And perhaps I panicked far too easily.
Farengar chuckled under his hood. You may lay your feet onto my desk if it helps you relax,
Dragonborn.
I had to grin. Dont call me that, court mage.
He shot me a look over his shoulder. Want another wine? Our cellars are still full with vintage
from Skingrad. Good stuff. It was the last the Jarl got from Cyrodiil before the borders were
locked.
Clever. Thank you, but I already got plastered last night. And I should get going.
Always in a hurry. He shook his head.
Tell that the dragons. And undead. And Thalmor.
Thalmor? he asked alarmed.
I grinned, standing up. Dont worry. The Jarl gets an advance warning before I start a war with
the Dominion.
That would be appreciated, he muttered into my back as I left his room.
As I trailed down the steps from Dragonsreach, I contemplated seriously just to take a room at the
Mare and leave Whiterun with the first light. Or to leave right away. Not to return to Jorrvaskr at
all, to avoid all the discussions and awkwardness and quarrel. But that would mean to admit
defeat, and I wasnt willing to show any weakness to a Vilkas who sat certainly brooding over a
mead in the hall and let everyone take part in his sour mood.
If they could bear him, they could bear me too.
But he wasnt there when I entered Jorrvaskr. Only Aela sat with a stranger at a table in a corner,
and Ria and Athis had gathered with Vignar and Brill by the fire. The old man shared another
episode of his life with the whelps, either about his time in the Legion or one of his many
adventures as a Companion. He did this from time to time, got lost in his own memories, in
recounts of events long gone and over. Never had I seen someone put him off when he was in this
mood, no matter how verbose and tedious his narratives sometimes became. He was the eldest of
us all, and we respected his age as much as his experience.
I pulled a chair into their round and joined them, popping open a bottle of ale. This was exactly
what I needed now, to listen with half an ear to a story that didnt concern me and let my mind
wander.
But when the door to the living quarters clapped and heavy steps came up the stairs, I knew who it
was without having to look. I actually started to distinguish my siblings by means of their scent
and the pattern of their steps, I realised. And this was a wolf, but it was not Vilkas.
I should have just stayed at the Mare.
Farkas took quietly a free chair, stretching his legs towards the fire. But he didnt join us, held a
careful distance, didnt listen to Vignar and didnt get himself a drink. But he had taken his seat in
a way that I always had him in the corner of my eye, and his silent stare made me nervous.
Athis leant to me. When will you leave? he whispered.
At dawn. Wanna join me?
His eyes wandered to Farkas. Whats with him?
Id rather go alone, I frowned. Hes a fool. Nearly as bad as his brother. The hushed
conversation earned us an angry glare from Ria. She seemed genuinely interested in Vignars
rambling.
Athis was quiet for long minutes. When he bowed his head to my ear again, I expected another
lecture about the importance of shield-siblings. But it wasnt. Clear it up, he whispered. Dont
part in anger. Its not worth it.
Vilkas had obviously parted in anger too, and not only with me. I felt a headache approach and
buried my forehead in my palms. Nothing of this would have happened if I had returned from
Riften just a single lousy hour later. Or if I had gone to Dragonsreach first.
Athis elbow nudged me into the side, but he stared stoically into his mug, only his lips curled into
a small grin. I nudged him back, stood up and left the hall towards the training yard. An icy wind
swept over the patio, making me shiver after the warmth of the hall. Slowly I ascended to the
Skyforge, found a place where I could lean against the warm stones of the eagles wing. It was
one of my favourite spots with its beautiful sight over the city on one side and the plains on the
other.
Farkas settled quietly beside me, close enough that I felt his bodywarmth.
You really pulled that off.
Yes. Ill come with you.
No, you wont.
A small smile quirked his lips. Vilkas and Skjor are already halfway in Morthal. Ive nothing
better to do.
Youre a fool.
Perhaps. Im a fool, hes an ass and youre a stubborn bitch. Doesnt change that hes wrong and
that Ill join you.
But you should be in Morthal now. Jonna will give you a hard time when Vilkas tells her why
youre not there. And you know he wont miss the chance to tell her.
But thats not the point. The point is that everybody can deal with a few vampires, but no one
knows what awaits you in Labyrinthian. I dragged you out there once, I can do it again.
No, that wasnt the point either. The point was that we had shattered something tonight that had
been brittle and fragile before, and I wasnt sure if it was possible to mend it again.
And what I needed more than anything, more than his protection and strength and confidence was
peace in Jorrvaskr. It was my refuge, the short times of respite here were what kept me going.
Nothing was worth to destroy this peace.
You will regret this. I dont want you to fight with Vilkas over me, Farkas. And even less do I
wanna fight with him over you. Its ridiculous.
He clenched his teeth. Hell get over it.
I regarded him pensively. He had this look that he always wore when an idea had clawed itself
into his brain.
Its not worth it. That you clash with him like that.
His face darkened into a scowl. Will you stop telling me what is worth it?
I blushed. At least he didnt shout at me. But it will only become worse from here. Your brother
hates me.
Yes, and at the moment he hates me too. Were in this together. But hell get over it.
And in this he was wrong. Of course he knew his twin much better than I, but my gut feeling told
me that it wouldnt get better, that Vilkas wouldnt get over it. No doubt he would reconcile with
his brother. But I had the dark feeling that between us, nothing was left of our truce, and I had no
idea how to patch it up. Farkas was so easy to deal with because he was so open, never afraid to
show what was going on in him. He was easy to trust because he was so trusting himself. Vilkas
trusted no one, was reticent, offish and always on guard, and he was a mystery to me.
Can you tell me what he meant with that promise to Kodlak?
I felt him tense beside me, but he remained quiet.
Im sorry, I said hesitantly. Its not my business.
He turned his head to me. No, its okay. Ill tell you. It is your business in a way. His hands
clenched in his lap as he gathered his thoughts. When I when we were in Dustmans Cairn
it was the first time for months that I changed. And in a way I was glad I had to do it. He
swallowed heavily.
You why?
He sighed deeply. Its a long story. Kodlak he is ill. No one knows how long he has still to
live a few months or a few years, but he is dying. Rotting away. Danica can only slow the
process, but not heal him. Deep sadness lingered in his voice. He knows this, and he wants to
go to Sovngarde. Hes a warrior after all, its where he belongs, into Shors Hall. But he cant, not
with the beastblood. As a werewolf, he belongs to Hircine, and he will go to his Hunting Grounds
when he dies.
It took me a moment to stomach these news. I knew Kodlak was ill, but whenever I met him, he
didnt seem ill. He didnt look like a dying man. But I had learned quickly to trust him, to confide
in his wisdom and understanding, much faster than I thought possible and I understood what he
meant to the Companions, especially to the twins. He was their father figure, the one who had
raised and formed them. To see him like this and to know that he had perhaps only months left
and that not only his life, but his soul was in danger, it had to be terrifying.
When Farkas spoke on, his voice was strained with emotions. He is searching for a cure. Thats
why we see so little of him hes working all the time on his research. And when he became
aware of the problem, he asked us to follow him. To get rid of the blood when possible, and not to
use it any more. To stay free of Hircines influence.
And that was the promise you gave him.
His face twisted in pain. Yes. Skjor and Aela refused, of course. For them, its a blessing, not a
curse. But Vilkas complied at once because of Sovngarde, but mostly because he has always
struggled with the blood. He had always difficulties to reign it in, to tame his wolf. Much worse
than anyone else. For him, it has always been a curse. He wants to get rid of it, and he has only
changed once since that day.
That one night in the Underforge.
He nodded. I went through this with him because I thought they were right, he and Kodlak.
Theyre smart, after all. And Vilkas wants it so much, this cure. Weve joined the Circle
together I couldnt leave him alone with that decision.
I watched him pensively. You had to change in Dustmans Cairn, or they would have killed us.
He understands that, doesnt he? I mean you had to defend yourself.
He gave me an odd look. I could have fled if you hadnt been there. Come back later and take on
them one by one. If I had been alone, I could have made it without the change. But not with you
trapped in there.
My breath hitched. And thats why he says you broke your promise for me.
Aye. But for me, it was more than just self-defence. It was a relief to change. I didnt know
how much I had missed it. And afterwards it was the beastblood that kept me alive, when I was
trapped in that void. My wolf saved me, and when it was over, I knew I couldnt go on like that.
That I cant deny him. I dont know what Ill do when Kodlak finds the cure. But until then, I
cant change what I am. And I wont torture myself, not like Vilkas does it.
Hes so itchy because he doesnt change any more?
He shot me an amused look. You call that itchy? But he became serious again quickly. He
always had a temper, and he was always a broody bastard but it has become worse since then.
Much worse. Not to use the blood doesnt mean its not there. The wolf is still a part of him, you
cant just ignore him and he makes himself known. But Vilkas fights it instead to live with him.
He fights all the time His voice trailed off.
Even if its like torture to himself? I asked incredulously. I mean he sees it, doesnt he? Hes
not stupid, he must know that hes an insufferable, choleric ass. I dont think hes really happy
with himself
He gave a short, unhappy laugh. No, he isnt. But he is stubborn and he believes that he
mustnt give in, that his honour demands that he stays true to his word. He hates to be a pawn of
Hircine and he doesnt want to disappoint Kodlak. Especially not after I have failed him.
He sat slumped together, staring at his feet with jaded eyes. I laid my hand on his shoulder, but
before I could say anything, he lifted his face to me, and it revealed all the pain he felt. All the
intractability of this situation. Sometimes, there was no solution.
What he said today its not about honour or our promise to Kodlak or the girls, he said in a
strained voice. He thinks I abandoned him.
He had revealed so much to me so many mutual recriminations and disappointments, so much
guilt and distrust. I was grateful for his openness, although I wasnt sure if I understood everything
he had told me, all the implications that came with it. To make this decision, to disappoint his
Harbinger as much as his brother, had certainly not been easy for him. To be condemned for it had
to be even worse, and to be condemned by his twin
Honourable werewolves. I remembered my feeling during my first real conversation with Vilkas.
Theres more to come. Youve no idea what you got yourself into. My sense of foreboding had
been right.
I dont believe that, Farkas. You have to make your own decisions, its not that he can do it for
you. But that doesnt mean that you abandon him. And Im sure he knows that youll never let
him down. Hes different when youre together. Calmer.
Unless you get involved, he said with a sad smile.
I couldnt bring myself to meet his gaze. But thats because he cant stand me, not because of
you. And he has reason enough, I reckon. I havent been exactly nice either. Ill just try to stay
out of his way. Not to peeve him further.
He searched my face with eyes that seemed to gleam in the dim light of the glowing coals.
Qhouri, I He bit his lip. Its not your fault. You dont have to do anything. Im just glad you
listened. He inhaled deeply. Im glad I could tell you. Aela and Skjor they dont understand
him. And the other whelps this is something they dont know. Not in detail, at least.
We sat quietly side by side, I leant against his shoulder, his warmth sipping through my tunic.
Slowly I felt him relax. I didnt want him to come so close, I didnt want a confidant, and most of
all didnt I want to get drawn into the twins personal problems. But sometimes, it simply didnt
matter. Sometimes, all that mattered was that he needed someone to listen.
You think youll manage to get up with dawn? I asked finally.
A tentative smile formed on his face, his hand coming up and ruffling through the hair in my neck.
Yeah. Sleep well, sister. Ill be there.
We spent the last night before wed enter Labyrinthian not far from the ruins, in the mountains to
the north-east of it. We had spotted a dragon above a snow-covered peak, flying in tight circles
over a certain spot that made us curious. It wasnt a burial ground we found, though. It was a
word wall, and in front of it a shrine to Akatosh, the massive monolithic altar littered with
offerings. A good, safe place to rest after we had slayed the beast.
In the morning, I prayed for a blessing, for guidance, strength and a grain of luck. It was strangely
fitting. If Akatosh was the father of the dragons, I was his daughter too.
Farkas had filled me in about the few facts he knew about the enormous field of ruins we were
about to explore. He only knew the outer area, although there were several entrances to the
underground parts he could mark on our map. And from our resting place, we had a good
overview of the stone chaos. Now in the light of day, it didnt look half as intimidating as during
that blizzard when we had been here first, and from our lookout we made out some prominent,
impressive structures wed investigate first.
But as soon as we neared the ruins I started to feel it again, this slight tugging at my conscience, a
small disturbance that made the muscles in my neck strain, and it became stronger the closer we
worked ourselves to the centre of area. It felt a bit like the call of the wordwalls I often sensed long
before I came close to them, but this time it was more a careful approach, an attempt to make
contact instead of the brutal intrusion into my mind I had already experienced. And it was much
less frightening than what I remembered, although there was no doubt that my reaction back then
hadnt been just a figment.
Something was here, and it made itself known. And we would find out what it was.
I was better guarded this time, aware of what could happen and tried consciously to block it out,
but more than once Farkas caught me distracted, listening or staring at nothing. But he was alert
enough, nudged me back into attention when my mind slipped away and made me concentrate on
our surroundings, which was hard enough. A thick layer of snow covered the ruins, glistening in
the sunshine and muffling every sound in a way that made it entirely impossible to make out
distances or directions, and the walls everywhere as much as the wheezing of the wind between
the buildings didnt make it any easier.
But the whole complex was nearly entirely barren and unpopulated anyway. Only a few frost
trolls lingered on their lookouts on top of walls or roofs and werent exactly quiet in their threat
behaviour, roaring and beating their chests in a display of strength and territorialism. They were as
easy to make out in time as to dispatch. And every time we climbed a set of steep, slippery stairs,
the bright sunlight enabled us to overlook the field of ruins in its entirety no way to get lost
under these conditions. In the distance, down in the plains at the foot of the mountain, another
typical structure lay embedded into the landscape Dustmans Cairn.
From above we had seen that the layout of the whole site was in fact fairly symmetrical, with huge
buildings at the eastern and western edge and a dominating dome in the centre.
The broad entrance of this dome, marked by monolithic standing stones, opened into a narrow
aisle that led along the outer wall and surrounded the inner chamber that was accessible from the
opposite site. We had spent that fateful night in a dome of similar layout, albeit much smaller, it
provided perfect shelter from the harsh winds and snowstorms.
Farkas wrinkled his nose as soon as we entered the nearly pitch-black interior, sniffing before he
lit up a torch. Careful, he whispered, something in here is already dead. And it doesnt reek
like dead frost troll.
It wasnt. A frozen corpse in a fur-lined, hooded robe lay sprawled on its stomach in front of the
door to the inner chamber, strangely twisted as if he had tried to crawl into safety. Which was
obviously prevented by the orcish dagger stuck in his back. A shortsword was strapped to his hip,
but there were no signs of a fight. This had either been an ambush or an attack from
acquaintances. When we turned the body, the pale, chiselled features of an Altmer looked up to
us, showing nothing but utter surprise.
Another Altmer who perhaps wasnt what he appeared to be. But the contents of his pockets
yielded no result, and we went on, opened the door to the main chamber.
A strange sight awaited us after we had lit the torches in the circular room. It was smaller than it
looked from the outside, and it was devastated. The floor littered with rubble, broken masonry,
shattered urns, rotten furniture. It didnt look like normal decay, not even the one that took place
over millennia it looked as if everything in it was destroyed wilfully. Opposite of the door rose a
round, elevated platform with strange pedestals on top, small statues that had once been human but
were shattered as well, the faceless heads mostly broken off. And in the centre the head of a
dragon, withered but unharmed.
And in front of the pedestals lay a folded sheet of paper and another mask. As if someone had
only recently placed it there, and only for us to find. I had the nagging feeling that the raw features
carved into ancient, polished wood grinned at us.
At least we had found a proof that indeed something was happening here in Labyrinthian, and that
my suspicions hadnt been mere phantasms. But the effortlessness with which we had made this
discovery filled me with unease.
But in the end, it was obviously only a lucky coincidence that spared us a lot of work and blood.
The parchment was the note of a mercenary, the rough handwriting barely legible, and contained a
short explanation what had happened here. I read the account of their journey into the mountains
and how their client, once arrived at this building, had put on the mask and vanished without a
trace, just to reappear again hours later. This strange event repeated itself several times until the
hired thugs lost their patience and stabbed him to death once he appeared again, stole his
equipment and left. All this had happened not too long ago, the corpse of the Altmer was only a
few days old.
I was rapt into my lecture and only vaguely aware that Farkas who had inspected the room and the
remains of the pedestals hunched down beside me. I did not notice that he took the mask, turned it
curiously between his hands and pressed it on his face.
But I noticed that he was suddenly gone.
The shock gripped me to the marrow.
That fool! This was at least as bad as flipping levers of which one didnt know what theyd do. To
play around with magical things he should have really known better!
On the other hand, we had both tried on the Rahgot mask just because it looked so weird, and it
had done nothing beside giving us a small boost of stamina.
But I had no idea where he was now. The Altmer had obviously taken no harm wherever the
thing had brought him, and this titbit of information was the only one that didnt let me panic
completely while I waited for Farkas to reappear. And it was obviously possible to come back
although I didnt know how, perhaps it needed more than just the mask for it.
If he was trapped wherever he was cold sweat ran down my spine when my line of thought
abruptly halted at this point.
And when he suddenly popped back into existence, his sword in one hand, the mask in the other
and a broad grin plastered over his face, I wanted to stab a dagger into his back.
This is awesome, Qhouri, he declared, you gotta see that!
The last I saw before I was sucked into a tunnel of darkness was his laughing face and his paw-
like hand pressing the mask to my face.
Krosis
Chapter Notes
See the end of the chapter for notes
I could have killed Farkas for his assault with the mask if it hadnt felt so good to have arrived
here. Wherever here was.
When the strange feeling of falling without moving subsided, I felt nearly dizzy with the sudden
silence around me. No wind howling through open windows and broken walls, none of the many
noises another human made, no breathing, no clanking of armour, no steps. The silence was
absolute, and it was like a refuge.
And I was alone, truly and more alone than ever before, and it was impossible to be angry with
someone who suddenly seemed to be infinitely far away. This solitude was a gift, the perfect
refuge and shelter from the outside and I gave in to the immediate and deep relaxation that was
fuelled by the unbreakable silence around me, and all the weights on my mind were suddenly
lifted.
It took me a moment to discern what exactly made it so soothing, until I realised that is wasnt
something, but the absence of something.
Besides every single sound but my own breathing, the nagging presence in the back of my mind
was gone, and I knew that no one and nothing would be able to follow me here.
I didnt have to explore the room I was in, it was still the same I had come from and that I had
never left, just that I knelt on a lush carpet now instead of debris and rubble, rich furniture around,
colourful tapestries covering the stone walls, the whole room brightly lit by candles and braziers.
And the shrine was there too, though intact now, the small faceless statues looking at me as if they
expected something.
Fortunately I had my pack still on my shoulders when Farkas sent me here, and I took the Rahgot
mask out. Holding it against one of the polished heads, it seemed to meld with it, fitting perfectly.
They belonged together. There were eight of them waiting for their respective masks.
I had no explanation, not for the changes of the room, not for the knowledge that I was somehow
somewhere else than before and at the same time wasnt, but for once it didnt matter. All that
counted was the peace I felt, and the feeling of safety. The wooden mask was the key to this
refuge, and it was the perfect hiding place and the perfect shelter.
There wasnt much to explore, and I couldnt see much through the narrow slits of the mask on
my face anyway, but I also didnt want to return at once. Only now I realised how tense I had
been, how exhausting it had been to keep the strange voice in my head at bay since we had
entered the ruins, and now I was reluctant to get back. Lying on my back, the mask on my face, I
wondered if it would be possible to hide here for a longer period of time, if it was indeed possible
to use it as a shelter if the emergency to vanish from the face of the world occurred.
But as exciting as this discovery was, it didnt give me any answers at least not those I had
hoped to find, and we had only started our exploration of the ruins. The weird feeling of falling
came back when I tore the mask from my face, the cold and dampness of the ruin all the more
unpleasant after the cosiness of the sanctuary.
And as soon as I was back, the tugging was back as well, more insistent than ever. If I had dared
to listen, to give in to this mind that had settled itself into my conscience, I would have understood
the message.
I didnt dare to, struggled to keep it out, to focus on my surroundings. I was alone, and I had to
keep my senses together.
I realised it only on second thought. I was alone. Farkas was gone without a trace, including his
pack. Nothing was left of my Companion, nothing gave a hint that he had ever been here. The
eerie silence was deceptive and frightening, totally different from the one I had experienced only
moments ago.
At first I was convinced that Id find him outside, that he had become bored and went to examine
the nearer surroundings. He wouldnt have gone far, of that I was certain. Only when I noticed
that the corpse outside was gone as well, only a frozen puddle of blood reminding of it, I realised
that something worse had happened.
There were no traces of a fight, so he hadnt been just attacked by a curious frost troll. Instead I
found marks in the snow, footprints and the traces of two heavy objects that had been dragged
away.
Whoever had taken him, he had been overpowered without opportunity to react and fight back. A
werewolf on guard, with heightened senses and aware of the dangers around him. Whoever it
was, he or they had to be incredibly powerful. And magic was the only way to overwhelm
someone like Farkas without resistance.
Fear lay like a dark cloud over my mind when I envisioned golden-clad Thalmor soldiers dragging
two corpses away. It was my fault. I had lingered too long in the peaceful quiet of the sanctuary,
hadnt been focused, had left him alone. I had dragged him here into these cursed ruins, he was
only here to do me a favour. Vilkas would kill me if he had come to harm.
But perhaps that was what they wanted me to think. Even if they didnt know about the wooden
mask, they certainly knew that Farkas hadnt been alone, our traces in the snow at least as
revealing as theirs.
I didnt feel the cold when I followed their track that meandered through the ruins and led
upwards towards one of the larger buildings rising against the mountains that surrounded the
valley, scurrying from shadow to shadow. Nothing was audible around me but the howling of the
wind, biting through my furs.
When I cowered behind a broken wall, the heavy iron door in front of me firmly shut, I knew that
I could not afford to hesitate, that I had to go inside. Farkas was in there, along with powerful
mages that were probably Thalmor. And whatever we had searched for, it was in there as well.
All of them knew that I was coming. To creep up the stairs and push the door open only so wide
that I could slip inside felt incredibly futile.
And as soon as it shut behind me, leaving me in complete darkness, only silence remained. The
presence in my head was all of a sudden quiet not gone, there was still this pressure in my neck,
but not making itself known any more, as if it was watching me and assessing how Id proceed
further.
I found myself in a long, winding tunnel, fortunately narrow enough that I could touch the walls
left and right of me with the tips of my fingers. I didnt dare to light a torch, and the silence was as
eerie as complete, no sound but my own harsh breathing audible although I knew that plenty of
enemies lurked around. Cold sweat ran down my spine. My shield-brother was trapped in here,
immobilised in the best case, dead in the worst. Something that had already proven that it could
overwhelm my mind was here too, and I had no way to shut it out. And Thalmor on top.
The first faint shimmer of light made me shiver with relief. It came through a doorway that led into
a small room, empty besides a few niches along the wall filled with brittle linen bandages and the
shards of long broken burial urns. The exit was a heavy iron gate that was obviously opened by a
prominently placed lever right in the wall. It was so prominent that I eyed it suspiciously, my
experience with levers far too obviously supposed to open closed gates was rather unpleasant.
But there was no other way, I couldnt find any trace of a trap, and I didnt have a choice.
Nothing happened but the bars of the gate vanishing into the ground, nearly soundless beside a
slight scratching noise.
The next room was a huge, circular cavern, nearly entirely empty besides two lines of pillars
dividing it into three parts. Lit braziers adorned the columns high above my head, shrouding the
edges in shadows and guiding my gaze into the centre. A narrow pit was carved into the ground,
filled with an enormous pile of bones that was frighteningly familiar. Across from the entrance I
had come through led another iron gate further into the mountain.
I crouched behind one of the pillars, hesitating to go on. Something was wrong with this room.
How in Oblivion did a dragon skeleton get down here? And why was there no sign of life, no
guards, nothing to stop me?
And then it was there, the voice in my head, assaulting me with so much force that I toppled over,
nausea knotting in my stomach.
Dovahkiin.
No sound was audible but the pounding of my blood in my ears, but a strange waft went through
the room, making the glowing cowls in the braziers flare up in heat. I straightened with far too
much effort, my palms propped onto my knees, cold sweat pooling on my temples as I searched
my surroundings. Everything was silent, nothing moved. It wasnt so dark that the shadows were
impenetrable, nothing should have been able to hide from me.
What in Kynes name was this?
I nearly missed it at first, the faint scraping of bones on earth and bones against bones. Terror
gripped me when the heap of bones in the middle of the hall started to move, the long column of a
spine rising from the pile and stretching miraculously into the air, long appendages unfolding into
the form of wings. A fleshless skull swang slowly from left to right, the dead, dark caverns of its
eyes coming to rest on me.
Drem Yol Lok.
I cowered motionless, as if I could escape this insane situation simply by pretending not to be here,
by ignoring what I heard and saw so clearly.
A skeleton of a dragon that moved and talked to me. Its words, for lack of a better expression,
were like an attack, taking over my mind and making me feel dizzy and weak, but in the end it
were only words. There was no fire or ice, no fangs or claws threatening to shred me apart.
But on the other hand, it was only a skeleton. It shouldnt be able to do anything at all.
Welcome, Dovahkiin. Finally.
The voice sounded nearly gentle, and still the dragon its remains didnt move. It enabled me to
rise finally from my knees and face him openly. Hiding was futile now, that much I knew.
You have called me? I whispered the words. Perhaps he could hear my thoughts just like I
heard him in my head, but thinking a conversation was just too weird.
I had hoped youd come sooner.
Chaos swirled through my head. I had found the mysterious power that had called me here, nearly
dragging me out of my mind. A dragon. Of course it was a dragon. But it couldnt be a normal
dragon, no, it had to be undead and buried here in the bowels of the earth. Frantically I tried to
recall everything I knew about undead, which wasnt much. There were draugr and revived
skeletons and thralls, all of them falling into the category of to be hit until its really dead. None of
them had ever tried to talk to me. None of them had ever called me.
And where was Farkas? And the mages who had captured him?
Laas, I whispered, the only shout I knew that wouldnt be audible back to Whiterun. And then
I saw it, the distinctive purple aura that swirled around myself, proof that I was a living being, and
several faint silhouettes of similar coloured light behind the dragon and the wall of the cave. And I
saw the blue tendrils that swirled around the enormous bones in the middle of the hall.
He was a thrall, the energy that lent him this semblance of life whirling in erratic patterns
through him. I had seen thralls before, the revived corpses that appeared so frighteningly alive,
always together with Necromancers, the first time during that fateful fight when Farkas lost his
soul. They were vessels for the will of someone else, their existence a mockery of life, entirely
dependent on the mind that kept them in this world.
This dragon was a thrall. It was revived, not resurrected like all the others. And still it was not,
because it had obviously thoughts of its own and spoke with me, in this unearthly, soundless
voice. It wasnt mindless, and whoever had dabbled with this pile of bones perhaps didnt know
how incomplete this enthrallment was. Perhaps it wasnt possible to imprison the mind of a
dragon. Perhaps he didnt know that there was something like a mind at all.
But the dragon hunched in its nest like a fledgling, only the bare, brittle bones of its wings moving
lightly. If there had been a membrane between them, it would have fluttered. As if it wanted to
make itself as inconspicuous as possible.
I asked my questions out loud. What are you?
A shadow, once banned into the darkness, called forth by the cruel light of the Kriisfahliil.
Kriisfahliil?
You call them Altmer. I knew them when they were still Aldmer. The eldest folk.
I leant heavily against the pillar. This was only the first of many answers I needed, so many
questions I wanted to ask where was Farkas, was he alive, why did the Thalmor enthrall a
dragon, why this one, why here, down in this cavern, why did he call me? I settled for the most
pressing.
Could you stop being in my head?
Watching him intently, I had to realise that I could read his body language the way he threw
back his skull, the vertebrae of his long neck twisting like a snake, that was undoubtedly a
heartfelt laughter.
Krosis, I could feel his amusement and an edge of superiority behind it that was humiliating,
no, I cant. And even if he could, he wouldnt do it. Free me from his presence.
The initial fear subsided slowly for something like anger and curiosity. Why have you called
me?
Mindah, sister. Knowledge. I have something you need. And you have something I want.
Explain yourself. Slowly I got used to this weird way to speak, although I wished he refrained
from using dragon language. With every word, I feared the assault of a true Word of Power.
Fos dreh hi laan zok? What is it you seek?
My breath hitched. Who does all this. Who brings the dragons back.
Alduin.
Alduin?
Alduin. The Destroyer. The Master.
Hes a dragon too. A dragon resurrecting his brethren?
Again this faint, haughty amusement. Dovah, geh. And so much more.
Tell me more. But the single name he had revealed filled me already with flaring triumph. I
knew about Alduin, the ancient foe of mankind that had been killed at the end of the Dragon
Wars. I didnt dare to think of the implications of the dragons claim now. Its meaning would
come to me, sooner or later.
Nid. His voice was nearly a purr, a gentle rumble that cast a spell over me, fascinating and
charming. Suddenly I wanted to know how it would sound if I could actually hear him. Suddenly
I knew I had to keep him talking, to make him give me more of this of this gentleness, of this
knowledge.
Why did you call me?
I can see your soul, Dovahkiin. Its beautiful, you know that? So alive. So full of hope.
You can see my soul?
Krosis, sister.
Why do you call me that?
His head swayed slowly. Briinah. Sister. You are, child of Akatosh.
But I take your souls.
Not mine.
It became quiet, and suddenly I realised why I was here. Because I was the only one who could
answer his call. Brethren. Brother and sister. I was here because he needed wanted, demanded
my help.
Hin fozir. You owe me.
I guess I do.
End this, Dovahkiin. Free me. They, his head jerked back behind him, towards the iron gate that
led out of the cavern, and I felt the fury well up in him, ni lost ges. They dont have the right.
The voice became imploring. Theyre haskei. Dangerous. Too powerful.
They had a the power to resurrect a dragon, even if they were not in control of him. They worked
with violence, disguise and deceit, stopped at nothing and left nothing but death behind to gain
power and knowledge they werent entitled to. And they had Farkas.
In a flash, Delphines fanatic, unyielding expression in face of Vilkas contempt came to my mind.
There are greater powers at work than you can imagine.
And it lay in my power to stop them, at least for now, and of course I would do it. Thats what I
had come for, after all among other things. I just couldnt believe that this dragon wanted me to
end his life deliberately, to end the spell that kept him here. It was a miserable travesty of life, but
still conscious life.
Why? Why do you want to die?
I am already dead.
Youre waiting for him to bring you back. I would have to kill you again.
Bitter laughter sounded through my skull, a sensation that tingled in my ears. He wont come for
me.
Why not?
He answered with another question. Have you ever heard of Nahfahlaar?
No. I had never been interested in the long lists of dragon names Farengar had stored away in
his archive. Enemies didnt have names, they werent individuals. Dragons were just oversized
lizards that had to be killed, the power and knowledge of their souls indiscernible.
The Jewel of the Imperial Crown, his scales crimson like crystallised blood, beautiful and strong.
Once he betrayed his master, sought safety with the enemy, fought for a god and built an Empire.
Proud to be vassal and pet, certain that this Empire was mortal and doomed like its Emperors. But
the first, the greatest of them all he wasnt mortal, and he was a worthy master too. The voice
stilled, and the dragon slumped together, his broad jaw lying flat on the ground.
I had to think for a moment what his words meant exactly, but it was clear that he spoke of
himself. You have fought for Tiber Septim?
A barely noticeable nod, merely a twitch of his head. They didnt like my story either.
He meant the Thalmor. Gods, this was incredible. I didnt even dare to think of all the things I
could ask him and learn from him. But of course it wasnt possible.
And how I gestured around me, taking in the hall.
Grutiik grutaan. Betrayer, betrayed and forgotten. I want to be forgotten again.
I leant against my pillar, deep in thought. This had turned out so different than everything I could
have imagined. First the strange mask and the sanctuary, now an undead dragon who asked me to
kill him. The presence in my head was gone for the moment, the skeleton looking like a lifeless
heap of bones again.
The decision was not hard to make, and still I felt queasy when I pushed myself off and went
through the vast, empty space and past him. But he didnt move, and the iron gate opened equally
quiet as the first to an equally dark tunnel.
Just as I was about to enter, the mysterious draught I had felt before made the braziers in the hall
flare up, providing at least a bit of light, though it was obscured by my own shadow. But this
corridor wasnt long anyway, and only after a couple of turns I had reached another doorway. The
corresponding gate was open, but the holes in the floor clearly indicated its existence.
I pressed myself against the wall outside, barely daring to breathe. The room was brightly lit and
cosy with an enormous fire blazing in a masoned fireplace. Two Thalmor wizards in their
characteristic robes sat opposite of each other at a small table in the back, parchments and goblets
between them, speaking lowly in a language I couldnt understand. And Farkas lay curled
together in a corner, his limbs twisted into a position that had to hurt intensely if maintained for
longer, hands and feet bound with leather strips. And he was awake. His eyes were wide open in
an expression of shock and helplessness, darting frantically through the room, his muscles strained
against an unknown force. It couldnt be just these meagre bounds he struggled against, I knew
him good enough to know that simple leather strips werent able to hold him. And somehow I
knew that Thalmor wizards had other means to secure a prisoner than this.
But whatever it was and although he lay only a few feet away from me, I could neither reach him
nor make my presence known, the room too small and bright to move undetected. But at least he
was alive. An uncontrolled twitch of his legs answered the question what held him there one of
the Altmer reacted at once to the faint movement, gave him a cruel grin and spat something that
was probably an insult while bringing his hands together until magic pulsed between his palms in
an eerie green glow. He released the spell on the lying body, and he became still again.
Paralysed. So simple and so effective. Neither strength nor experience or skill would help Farkas
against this treatment, and considering the casual way the mage had formed the spell, they could
keep it up forever.
I didnt know how strong it was and how long it would keep him sedated, but I wasnt willing to
wait any longer anyway. I had already stalled far too long, and seeing the miserable state of my
shield-brother let remorse well up. During my conversation with the dragon, I had nearly forgotten
about him, and he was in this predicament solely because of me anyway.
There also wasnt much of a plan to make. I pulled one of the arrows prepared with frost-spider
poison out of my quiver and nocked it as silent as possible. My only hope was that one of the
Thalmor was dead with the first shot and that Id be able to deal with the other and his magic in
close combat as I couldnt use my Shouts in this small room. They would inevitably hurt Farkas as
well, especially in that helpless state he was in.
Drawing, stepping into the doorway, targeting a slender, golden-skinned throat and letting the
arrow fly was one fluid motion.
It hit, I knew it the moment I let it loose. Or it should have hit, at least. The breath of relief turned
immediately into petrified shock though when it recoiled and fell to the floor as if I had shot
against a solid wall.
The Altmer shot up, and only now I noticed the ward around each of them, shimmering like
heated air. Magic formed in threatening coils, ready to be released. Lightning and fire, I realised
absentmindedly, still standing like frozen in the door.
You took your time, Dragonborn, one of the mer snarled. And then the first bolt hit me, making
my muscles spasm and my body bounce back against the wall of the tunnel.
It was my luck, if I had been on my back I wouldve never gotten up in time again. Trembling
fingers closed around the hilt of my mace, my only thought to get away, out of this tight darkness,
away from Farkas. Gods, if I hurt him further I needed room, to breathe and to fight.
And back in the hall, I had an ally.
I ran through the tunnel, the light in my back fading, the one in front of me becoming brighter.
Nahfahlaar! I yelled as I darted through the opening into the hall, hoping that hed recognise my
despair. Two pairs of steps came after me, far too close, far too fast. Lightning found me again,
even behind a column.
And the dragon played dead. Dread coiled in my stomach as the mages spread out so I was
deprived of every opportunity to engage them in close combat both at once. I couldnt fight one
and let the other use his magic unhindered, Id be dead before I knew it.
But I would be dead anyway. They both used lightning now that miraculously found its target, not
matter what I tried. The grip on my mace became weaker, I doubled over in spasms and had
increasing difficulties to regain my footing when bolt after bolt hit me, seemingly coming from
everywhere, every search for cover or a hiding place futile.
Nahfahlaar, I thought desperately, slumped against the smooth stone of a pillar, my knees
threatening to give out under me, my head dizzy with pain. He had to do something. He had sent
me in there.
And then he was there, back in my head, the silken softness of his voice so welcome and
soothing, something I could cling to and focus on.
Krosis, briinah. His whisper pierced into the core of my mind. Rii Vaaz Zol.
Betrayed, I thought. Im sorry, Farkas. It was my last thought before I burst into agony.
Chapter End Notes
Thanks to www.thuum.org for their awesome work.
Thanks for the patience, dear folk, but this short hiatus was as unplanned as
necessary.
Although, beside severe procrastinating, I had massive difficulties to decide what
exactly to do with this bloody mysterious plotless skeleton dragon Bethesda put down
there. Then I found this obscure little bit of lore about the red dragon fighting for and
with Tiber Septim. Could someone please write a fiction about Nahfahlaar and
Odahviing, brothers and lieutenants, one of Talos, the other of Alduin?
For those who havent memorised every single Dragon Shout: "Rii Vaaz Zol" is the
Soul Rend Shout, the draconic version of the soultrap spell.
Regret
Betrayed.
Another lightning bolt slammed me into the wall and drove the air from my lungs, but I barely felt
it under the feeling of bursting into fragments. Something clenched around my chest, prevented
any breathing, and at the same time I felt how I left my flesh, was shattered and torn apart and
pulled away from myself.
The face of my shield-brother appeared in my mind, how it had opened wide in unbridled terror
and despair the moment the necromancer released his soul trap spell on him. Although I didnt
know the meaning of the dragons Words, I knew this was happening to me now.
Only my senses still worked, body thrashing under a barrage of magic, skin sparkling with a
myriad of needle pins that pierced right into my flesh, the air laden with the metallic tang of the
energies set free by the Altmer wizards, the impact roaring through my ears.
Betrayed.
At first, no resistance was left to counter this violent attack, and still it wasnt the worst. The magic
of the Thalmor violated my body, the Words of the dragon tore my self apart. But my mind still
worked, and the worst was the sudden impact of comprehension what this betrayal meant.
He wanted my soul. Mine, the soul of this weak, trembling heap of flesh that lay curled into a ball,
on the floor of a damp, dark cavern, screaming in agony.
It was the ultimate recognition of this sick joke the Divines had forced upon me. The soul of a
dragon in the body of a girl, acknowledged by one of my own kind in the cruellest way possible.
My humanity was irrelevant, everything that made me a woman ignored and discarded all that
counted was the dragon in me. Ysmir, the Dragon of the North. Gifted by Akatosh.
What a sick joke.
For a moment, I was ready to let myself go, to end it all and to vanish or to gift myself to this
brother who wanted to claim me.
But only for a moment.
And then something soared up, a power so raw that it scraped my insides, incredibly strange and
alien. It rose, flared through my tormented body and clawed itself into my mind. I was not dead
yet. As long as I lived, I was whole. As long as I still felt the pain, the traitor would not own me.
As long as I lived, I had my own power. It was there, in me, so incredibly strange and strong and
still mine, so much more than the ability to shout Words and use ancient magic, and I only had to
use it. No one would dominate me. No resistance against this other me was left when it broke out,
when I let it free and flow through me, let it seize my body and my mind. The power that he
wanted and that was mine alone, the strength of my own soul, even if it was caught in a weak
mortal body.
Every muscle screamed when they fought against the onslaught and I rose to my knees, driven by
the force that curled behind my closed lids. I felt as if I had to explode, as if the urge to release
something would kill myself before the Altmer finished their deed.
I clenched my hands clenched around a smooth piece of wood that had been strapped to my pack
and rose, hand over hand, until I knelt, the stick a crutch holding me upright as much as something
substantial to focus on. It helped to force back the staccato of attacks, to overcome muscles
trembling and convulsing with ripples of magic as much as exertion, to empty my mind until the
flaring pain became dull, a blanket of agony I could move and breathe beneath, push against it
until there was room again for something else.
I had exactly one chance. As long as I lived, I was whole. And if I died, I wanted to die with my
own soul.
The traitor, the dragon cowered motionless in his nest, the Elves besides him, magic sparkling in
their palms, the three of them watching me die so he could live. But I would hold my promise. I
had one chance to kill the mind that held him here in this world and send him back into oblivion.
I let my will flow, and every bit of strength I had left went into the Word that tore through a throat
raw from screaming and through my hands into this crude piece of wood that held me upright. It
was like a repetition of the scene in Forelhost, my dragonfire and Rahgots staff drowning the
room in a flood wave of fire. The staff slipped away under my grip and I fell forward and to the
side again, lay curled together on the ground while the inferno devoured the cavern and
everything in it.
As the heat sizzled on my skin, my mind cringed under the agonised, soundless shriek that echoed
through my skull. No smoothness any more, no promises, no knowledge.
I felt the darkness of unconsciousness creep into my mind, my vision tunnelling, but I turned my
head and watched. One of the Altmer was a burning heap of flesh at the feet of the dragon, curled
together, twitching uncontrolled. The other ran around erratically, bumping into walls and pillars
as his burning robe turned him into a living torch, mouth open in a scream of terror, fear and pain.
And still he held the connection to his thrall, the voice of the dragon assaulting my mind again.
The skeleton reared up in the middle of a sea of flames, neck twitching.
Briinah! Hi los dovah. Vahzah dovah!
And a shadow erupted from the opening in the back, from the inner caves, his movements
strangely clumsy, nearly tripping over his own feet. He stopped for a moment, taking in the
situation, the burning Elves, the twitching dragon skeleton. And he was foolish, so foolishly
heroic, ran through the fire as if he searched for something, ran past the dragon towards me and
was tossed through the room by the erratic hit of a wildly flailing tail.
Laughter broke out of me while I watched him. Another weak heap of flesh, irrelevant in this fight
for dominance.
But he picked himself up and backed off against the wall, away from the dragon and out of the
fire. Only when the remaining elf stumbled towards him, perhaps with purpose, perhaps
accidentally, he made a fast decision. Farkas was unarmed, but he slung an arm around his throat
and broke his neck with a powerful jolt. It was a futile, unnecessary effort, the mer was as good as
dead anyway.
As I snapped back into myself it was like another strike of lightning, stronger than everything
before, ripping me apart and knotting me back together, the shock jolting physically through flesh
and bones and making me scream. I was whole and alive, and it hurt.
The enthrallment was broken, and with it the mental connection that had brought me here. In the
end, the dragon just wanted to kill me like all the others, had thought his power larger than mine.
And like all the others, he had underestimated me. And still, despite all the dragons that had died
by my hand before, all the souls that fuelled my own strength, this was a loss I had to mourn.
Because he had taken something with him, even if he wasnt able to best me. It was over, I had
survived, and still I had lost something essential the nave illusion that being Dragonborn was
somehow comparable with being a Companion. But this wasnt a deed or a task, something I
could finish and get over with. Being Dragonborn defined me, was imprinted into my core. I had
known it before, everybody had told me that as Dragonborn, I had the soul of a dragon. I had
known it, but it had taken this experience to make me grasp what it really meant. My soul wasnt
human, and I would never feel like just a girl again.
In this moment, curled into a ball, I felt hollow and numb and not human any more.
A shadow cowered in front of me, blacking out the flickering of the flames from the braziers and
in piles of rubble and bones littered over the floor.
Qhouri? Farkas asked, his hand reaching out and flexing around my shoulder, you alright?
A shudder ran through me, his question so innocent, hesitating, full of concern and curiosity. He
had no idea what had just happened.
He shook me, and I jerked out of his grip with a groan. I couldnt endure this now, this closeness,
his touch.
Sister?
Dont call me that, I hissed, turning my back to him. I didnt want him to care. His face fell into
hurt incomprehension.
What happened, Qhouri? Are you injured?
I didnt answer. He knew I wasnt wounded, that there was no blood, no remains of the fight but a
few scorch marks and blisters and the tingling in my muscles from the shock magic. And the
feeling that I teetered on an edge, strung up to a degree that it took only a breeze to let me topple
into the abyss that gaped before me. The abyss that was me.
I just wanted him to leave me alone. But he didnt, hunched motionless behind me, nothing but
silence between us.
Im sorry I wasnt there, he whispered finally.
Slowly I turned to my back, stared blandly up into his soot-covered face. Doesnt matter. We
live, after all.
What happened, Qhouri?
I averted my eyes. He wanted my soul for himself.
A gasp was his answer, and a trace of fear appeared in his expression. It filled me with strange
satisfaction. He? He pointed at the crumpled heap of bones that had been Nahfahlaar. He
wanted your soul? He was the one who called you?
Nausea shook me when I fought myself into a sitting position. He called me, yes. And he called
me sister too, I said, all the disgust and self-loathing I felt in my voice.
Gods. And you believed him? You let him? he asked incredulously.
Of course I did. He was right, after all.
He narrowed his brows. What do you mean, he was right?
I rolled my eyes. He was a dirty, undead, insane traitor, but he was also kin. Brother.
But he tried to kill you!
So what? I snapped. Havent you listened to Arngeirs lesson? We strive for power and
dominance. Thats what we both did, and I was stronger. Not your training, not my own skill
just the godscursed power of this godscursed soul of mine.
Utter horror stood in his face. Thats not true. Dont say that. Youre not
What? A monster?
No! He gripped my upper arms in a grip so firm that it hurt. Qhouri! Gods, he was in your
head and messed with you! Why do you believe him?
I ripped away from him violently, shoved him back so hard that he barely held his balance. The
way he shrugged off what had been an epiphany for me as messing with my head, it was
humiliating. And it only proved his ignorance. I am not insane, Farkas, I pressed out between
gritted teeth. He didnt mess with my head. But I learned something I needed to know!
And what in Oblivion could a dragon teach you so important thats not another way to kill him?
That he and I are alike.
He jerked back. Youre nothing like that! Youd never Gods, youre no dragon! He spat the
last word with utter disgust and his hands reached out, stroked over my arms and came to rest on
my shoulders. We have to get out of here. Let me take you home, he said lowly, his voice
imploring. As if he was pleading with me to come to my senses.
No! I yelled, shrugging him off brusquely. I needed Rahgots staff to get to my feet, my head
bursting in throbbing, stabbing pain that made my eyes tear, but I forced myself to stand straight
and not to shiver when I looked down on the man who knelt before me. He only waited for the
opportunity to get back into his role as my protector.
Thats what you want, isnt it? Thats how you like it that you can drag me out. To have me
dependent on you. Your brother is at least honest when he calls me a failure, but you you like to
see me weak.
The way his face fell in shock, it made my chest clench with satisfaction and guilt. I was not
weak, and hed have to learn it. Most important was to prove to him and to myself that I was not at
his mercy.
Thats not true, he whispered with a pained expression, I never meant
No? I snapped at him, who had to play around with that bloody mask and got himself caught
by some bloody mages? And now you wanna take me home? I bent down with a groan and
slung my pack over my shoulder. Go home, Farkas. Get your priorities straight, go to Morthal
and make things right with your family. And let me for once do something on my own. I felt his
gaze between my shoulder blades as I stumbled through the cavern, but he did as he was told and
didnt follow me, stayed frozen to the spot.
I didnt know how, but I made it back to the sanctuary, put on the wooden mask and entered the
hideout in another time and space I had claimed for myself, this gift of a refuge where no one was
able to follow me. I sought shelter and escape from everything that had happened, and the solitude
and quiet enveloped me like a warm cloak, cosy, soothing and mind-numbing. Hours or days
later, I didnt know, I woke from dreamless sleep or unconsciousness, I didnt know either and I
didnt care, every muscle and bone aching, dried blood, scorch marks and layers of dirt on my
skin, starving and thirsty. And I was still alone when I finally took off the mask and returned to the
ruins. For a moment I had expected Farkas to be there, to have waited for me, but of course he
didnt. He had no reason to do so.
A touch of guilt gnawed at my conscience when I remembered how I had pushed him away, but I
didnt let it get to the surface. I had relied on him and his unfaltering dedication for far too long
and far too heavily, not only on the strength of his sword arm, but on the way he believed in me.
To know that I could always fall back on him had kept me from believing in myself.
I just hoped that he had indeed gone to Morthal, reunited with his brother, his daughters and their
mother, made things right with them. He should have gone there right from the beginning,
shouldnt have fought with Vilkas. Yes, I had been afraid to come here without him, but that
shouldnt have detained him from doing his duty towards Jonna and his daughters. That he risked
all these bonds for me had let me feel gratitude before, although I didnt understand his decision. I
still didnt understand it, and now it made me question his motives.
Because he hadnt experienced what I had, and he lacked the understanding of what had
happened with me. He had to learn that I wasnt like Ria, that I wasnt the frightened,
overchallenged girl any more I had been when I came to Jorrvaskr. I wasnt weak not even
when I thought I was.
I washed myself with melted snow, stilled my thirst and ate from the dry rations in my pack, then
returned to the cavern with the dragons skeleton. A cautious approach wasnt necessary,
somehow I knew that nothing lived in there any more, but I had to search the caves for the
remains of the Thalmor, perhaps find out what insane plan was behind all this. I wanted to know if
they really thought they could control a dragon, if Nahfahlaar had betrayed them as much as me,
or if they had really made a deal their help in catching the Dragonborns soul for him in
exchange for his service. Speculations as insane as scary.
But I found nothing substantial in the things the Altmer had left behind, only the large amounts of
supplies they had stored away proof that they had obviously been here for quite some time and
planned to stay even longer. The cave system went deeper into the mountain, but they had
cleansed it of draugr, skeever and spiders, and there was nothing for me to do or to discover
nothing but another Wordwall that provided me with the strange ability to slow the current of time.
I knew at once that this Shout would be a powerful weapon.
It was eerily quiet around me when I finally left the complex, nothing audible but the howling of
the wind between the broken walls, but Labyrinthian had lost its terror. I had freed the ancient city
and myself from the horror lurking inside. A strange calm settled into my mind when I reached the
Shrine of Akatosh where we had spent the night before. Last time, I had prayed to the god, for
guidance and luck, the strength to survive and his blessing. I didnt pray now. The blessings of the
Divines were indistinguishable from a curse, that much I had learned, and I wouldnt risk to be
granted another gift.
I came back to Whiterun two days later and during the first heavy snowfall of the winter. What
had pierced my skin with sharp tiny needles of ice up in the mountains had become thick, wet
flakes clinging to the fur of my cloak and wetting the fabric beneath, the frigid wind going through
marrow and bone. But when I stumbled through the gates under the sympathetic gazes of the
guards, I had made a decision, and instead to return to Jorrvaskr, I headed straight for the temple.
I had to be strong for myself, not for the sake of others, and I had to be able to help myself.
Vilkas lessons had only had one effect: to make me realise over and over again how much I
didnt know, how little I was able to do on my own and how useless all my endeavours were.
Now I would ask for a lesson that would teach me something practical and useful. And it would
drive Vilkas into madness when hed find out.
The thought coaxed a mirthless grin on my face.
Danica rushed towards me as soon as I entered the warm, brightly lit room, concern in her face.
Usually the Companions only came to the temple in the rare case when they were injured too
severely for potions and Tilmas considerable healing abilities.
I gave her a calming smile. You have a moment, Danica?
Her eyes darted through the room, to the cots with injured people lining the walls. Barely a bed
wasnt occupied, many of them with soldiers in ragged armours. The skirmishes between the
Imperial army and the Stormcloak rebels became more frequent and fierce lately, and the priests
made no difference between the factions when the wounded were brought to them. But she
nodded and led me to a small table.
I straightened myself and came straight to the point. I want to learn your magic, Danica.
Restoration. I think it would be useful.
She eyed me astonished. I understand the Companions are no friends of magic, she said
hesitantly.
Im not only Companion. And I want to broaden my horizon.
She smiled at my brusque request, the urgency in it, but her gesture to the large circle of the room
was regretting. The pain and injuries gathered here took all her attention.
Perhaps you can, perhaps you cant, child. I will teach you, but I need your help first. Whiterun
needs your help first. We have a shrine, but this isnt a temple any more. To bring Kynareths
grace back, we need to bring back life to the Gildergreen.
I could barely hide my surprise. The large tree in Whiteruns centre hadnt been green for many
years. It was dead. But on the other hand, it was Kynes tree, Kynes symbol. When the Divines
meddled into mortal affairs, everything was possible. No one knew that better than me.
As she filled me in about what she had found out about the origins of the tree and the vague
possibility she saw to save him with the help of its ancestor, the holy Eldergleam tree, one of the
eldest beings of Nirn, I realised that this was perfect. What I needed most was a break from
everything, from the Companions and their never ending work, from my shield-siblings, especially
the twins, and most of all from the dragons.
This was something entirely different, and it was perfect. For once, I would do something useful, I
would do it all on my own and prove that I could.
The streets of Whiterun were quiet and empty when I left Jorrvaskr early in the morning, not even
Heimskr was up yet, and the guards at the gate just nodded tiredly when they let me out. Only
Kodlak knew that I had to take care of something and that Id be away for a few days.
I sighed a breath of relief when the gates shut behind me. I definitely needed some time alone with
myself, and I had to relearn to rely on my own strengths and nothing else. But it was strange to
travel alone again, especially as I tried to avoid any settlements.
It were the small things I missed most. Steps crunching the snow beside me, the tent already
standing when I finished gathering firewood, the noises others made in their sleep. Of course I
could do without, like I could do without someone helping against wolf packs, someone cooking
for me or keeping watch while I slept. But I was used to all of this. The silence of my first night
alone was nearly more frightening than an assault out of the dark would have been.
In a way I retraced the last months of my life on my way to Orphan Rock where I would retrieve
the sacred dagger we needed to get the sap from the Eldergleam. I crossed the dense woods of
Falkreath Hold where I had spent the time after Helgen, before I met that injured elf. A bear had
settled in the remains of my old camp, but I had left nothing behind that was worth keeping
anyway. But I dispatched the new inhabitant, wanted to spend at least one night at this place, if
only to get a feeling what had changed since then. Much more than just the season.
When I passed the ruins of Helgen, I imagined to smell smoke and ash in the air, even after so
many months. Somehow, this place marked the turning point of my life, perhaps even more than
the murder of my parents or my escape from Cheydinhal. The dragon who turned the former
striving village into a heap of crumpled stones, never rebuilt and left to be a hideout for bandits
and thugs, he had also turned my life upside down. Not that I had had much of a life before, but
anyway had he appeared to save me? But why should he save me, the Dragonborn, his greatest
enemy? Or did he come to save Ulfric Stormcloak, like so many people thought? I couldnt
believe it was simply a coincidence, but in the end, this was just another unanswered question in a
pool of so many others.
I had to restrain myself from loosing myself in these questions, from pondering too much about the
past. There had been so many chances where things could have easily turned out entirely different
to reason about a what if for every single one of them would take me nowhere. And I didnt
want to start to doubt the few deliberate decisions I had made. To help Athis. To join the
Companions. To go to High Hrothgar and accept this destiny I couldnt escape anyway, whatever
it would turn out to be. I couldnt know what these decisions would mean for my future, but I
didnt even want to. Better to turn my attention to the present with the Eldergleam tree I had to
deal again with something supposed to be older than mankind, perhaps even more ancient than the
dragons.
I knew what awaited me at Orphan Rock, Danica had told me about the horrible magic of the
hagraven witch that resided there, the rituals they performed against themselves and against nature.
I hoped Farengars amulet would protect me. What I wasnt prepared for was the savage fight
going on in the camp of the mages who served as the hagravens slaves, their servants or victims, I
didnt want to know. But obviously they had come too close to the nearby Stormcloak camp, and
the soldiers were dead set to clean them out. But in contrary to me, they had obviously no idea
what they marched into, those young men with their light armours and simple steel swords. They
were many, but they didnt even get close through a barrage of lightning and fire. I hid on a rock
above the cruel scene and watched in horror.
In the middle of the hollow soared a single rock, littered with bones and half-rotten limbs, some of
them distinctively human, some fires blazing in rusty iron bowls and emitting an awful stench.
And in the centre lingered the most dreadful creature I had ever seen. On first glance only a
woman, an old woman considering the bent back and the shaky steps with which she moved. But
her hands were twisted into ravenlike claws, her back and shoulders covered in black feathers
instead of tunic or skin. She sent a never ending chain of fireballs into the approaching soldiers,
splitting their lines apart and setting men, trees and earth ablaze. I knew this was my target, but as
soon as my first arrow hit her, the bushes around me started to burn as well. She easily divided her
attention between me and the troops below, and the best cover would serve me nothing if I was
roasted alive. I had to retreat, upwards between the rocks where it was much harder to hide, but at
least they wouldnt burn as easily.
It took endless minutes until I finally sensed that the attention of the hag had turned away and I
dared to approach again. I was far too used to a shield-sibling storming in front of me, serving as a
distraction and giving me opportunity to deal my strikes from behind. This time, I only had one
more try, or Id suffer the same fate the soldiers below me endured. At least they kept the other
mages at bay.
This time my arrow hit her right into the chest, and the creature stumbled backwards with a hateful
screech, but she recovered herself with astonishing strength and tenacity. But I shouted back, not
caring that I was revealed to the participants of the fight below me.
FUS RO DAH!
Still regaining her balance, my Shout caught her by surprise, and finally she dropped silently
down the cliff, her black feathered arms spread like useless wings. But her absence was noticed
immediately. The mages froze in place for a moment, a desperate wail sounding through the
valley, and their resistance was broken. They were obviously more than simple servants, their will
somehow tied to the hagraven, and it left them when she was dead. In the ensuing chaos it was
easy to sneak over the trunk that connected the solitary rock to the walls outlining the basin.
Nettlebane, the dagger I had come for, stuck in the corpse of a spriggan.
After the deed was done, I vanished back into the wilderness. The Stormcloaks would want to
find out who caused the death of the hagraven, and they had certainly heard my shout as well. The
last I wanted was to declare myself in front of a bunch of rebels. The dagger I had retrieved was a
strange thing, a weapon nothing alike I had ever seen before. Actually, I didnt think it was even
usable as a weapon; the blade was made from something like black glass, the edge polished to a
sharpness able to cut through stone and metal at least it left a deep cut in my thumb before I even
knew I had touched it. But it was also so fragile it would probably break with the first strike. I
wrapped it in thick layers of leather and stored it deep inside my pack.
Now that this immediate task was dealt with, I felt reluctant to return to Whiterun at once. The
Gildergreen tree was already dead for so long, it could certainly wait for a few more days, and Id
simply presume the right to enjoy my newfound freedom a bit longer. Some people would
probably call me crazy for enjoying to be out in the wilderness alone in the middle of winter, but I
didnt care at least as long as the weather held, a snowstorm or worse would force me back
anyway.
After the first few days in my old camp it felt a bit like coming home not like coming home to a
place like Jorrvaskr, but like coming home into my own self-consciousness. Into the awareness
that I was able to survive all on my own. That it was nice to have others around, that I didnt have
to be afraid of them and could enjoy friendship and camaraderie, but that Id always be able to rely
on my own skills if the sky should decide to collapse.
And that a lot of things were so much easier when they were not laden with relationships, with
demands, dependencies and liabilities.
I savoured my solitude wholeheartedly, especially as I knew it wouldnt last long. For the time
being I laid some traps for the occasional rabbit or whatever they would catch and had a good time
hunting wolves and foxes, sneaking on game and crafting some items Id never use again.
But when I found my traps plundered for the second time, my hunting instinct awoke. I didnt
want to worry if whatever attacked my rabbits would perhaps some day find the courage to attack
me as well.
Well, it wouldnt. A pitiful whimper alerted me long before I reached the spot where one of my
traps was hidden under a bush, and the bundle of multicoloured fur that had entangled itself in the
leather cords watched me approach from brown-speckled eyes that looked so forlorn I couldnt
help but smile. The dog wasnt much more than a whelp, and the way he chewed on the strangled
skeever showed that he was simply hungry, not aggressive. It was a curious sight with its floppy
ears hanging low beside the long snout, the scabby fur strangely hued in various shades of brown
and grey and sable and with a large white fleck at its rear.
Been too greedy, hm? I greeted the creature when I knelt down beside it, just to feel its teeth in
my ankle too weak to pierce the leather of my boots, though.
That skeevers yours already, little hunter! I felt his heartbeat calm down a bit when I scratched
the fur in his neck while cutting the ties, also to have a tight grip on him should he decide to
attack. He was small and certainly no challenge, but I didnt want to hurt him, and the last thing I
needed was an infection from an animal bite. He barely moved when I had freed him, letting me
check for injuries not that I could have done much about it, but he seemed to be in good health.
No wonder, my prey had fed him well.
Now off with you, Snowback. After a pat on the back I expected him to vanish into the wood,
but he didnt. He just sat there and watched me, his short tail wagging slightly.
The following days were a constant struggle between my attempts to ignore him and his efforts to
attract my attention. He never came too close, but he also never left my view. His ways to ruin my
hunts were as manifold as foolproof, a yelp in the wrong moment, the movement of a falling leaf
letting him rush off through the brushwood or a subtle smell catching his attention, but there was
no chance to shake him off. Obviously he had nowhere to go, and the loyalty in his odd eyes
when I threw him some bones or leftovers from my meals was heartrending. After the third night I
woke with him cuddled to my feet, searching shelter and warmth against the light snowfall,
whimpering in his dreams. The smell of wet dog reminded me of Jorrvaskr. It was time to go
home.
The thought let my heart sink. How could it be that I found peace only when I was alone with
myself? Jorrvaskr was home, and I wanted to return, I missed it. But there was also so much anger
and hassle waiting for me there, some of it just annoying, some outright terrifying. And most of it
was tied to the twins, to Vilkas hostility and the way Farkas made it even worse with his way to
cluck over me like a mother hen.
I had been a bitch to him in Labyrinthian, I realised this now, and I would try to set things right.
But he would also have to realise that I was able to take care of myself, that I didnt need him as
much as he thought, and most of all that every minute we spent together made his brother only
more unbearable something I was not gonna risk.
At least I could leave Snowback at the stables for the one night I planned to stay in Whiterun, but I
was tired, wet and frozen to the bones when I entered Jorrvaskr, just to be greeted by grey eyes
hard as stone and flashing with anger. As if he had waited for me right behind the door.
Somehow, it wasnt really a surprise.
Where in Oblivion have you been?
I groaned. Not your business, Vilkas. Dont pretend you worried. Kodlak knew Id be gone for a
bit.
Yes, for a few days, not for nearly a month! You cant just vanish for weeks when you have
obligations to fulfil here!
Even a blizzard in my little camp would have been more comfortable than to come back to this, to
this demanding, accusing, possessing look on his face. I reached the end of my tether.
Shut up. It hasnt been a month, and Ive been busy. Youre not responsible for me, you dont
order me around and Im entirely capable to take care of myself. I know you still like to pretend
that Im the whelp who needs the guidance of his superiors, but it gets tedious. Get over it,
finally.
He grabbed my forearm in a bruising grip when I started to descend the stairs to the living
quarters. The situation was frightening familiar, but this time, I wouldnt back out. Not again. He
needed to learn that werewolf or not, member of the Circle or not, he didnt have the right to push
me around.
Do not touch me. My voice was calm, and I didnt turn away from his furious gaze. After
some endless moments, he let go, but he braced himself against the wall on both sides of my head,
his breath hot on my face.
I dont care if youre a dragon, Akatoshs chosen or Talos incarnate, whelp. If you wanna be a
Companion, you will play by the rules. And the most important rule is that you dont leave a
shield-brother behind. Never. Understood?
Divines. Of course Farkas had told him about the events in Labyrinthian and what I had said to
him. And of course Vilkas didnt understand it any better than his brother.
I didnt leave him behind! I said defensively. We parted after the job was done. Neither your
brother nor I need a nanny!
He doesnt, no. But you?
I shoved him away roughly. It only proves my point when he comes whining to you just because
I dont wanna be pampered by him any more, I snarled. Gods, Im sick of your attitude. Both of
yours! To my astonishment he took a step backwards, stood before me with his arms folded over
his chest, a condescending, triumphant smirk on his face. And his eyes flicked away from my face
to a point behind me.
When I turned and followed his gaze, my eyes met with Farkas who stood like frozen at the foot
of the stairs, and the bottomless sadness, the anger and deep disappointment in his expression
struck me to the core.
And then the door slammed shut and he was gone again.
You will regret this, Qhourian. I swear you will. Vilkas last words were a soft, venomous
whisper.
And for once, he was right.
Once I had accused Vilkas to have severe hubris issues, but now it seemed I was nothing better. I
knew I had been a bitch in Labyrinthian, far too absorbed into myself and how I felt to care if I
hurt someone else. It didnt even make a difference that it was Farkas, I would have lashed out
against everyone.
But to remember his face right now caused sour bile to rise in my throat. I hadnt been aware that I
had hurt him deeply enough to grant such a reaction from both of the twins. I hadnt been aware
that I was even able to hurt him so deeply. And now he refused to talk to me. I knew he was in his
room, I heard him shuffle and pace around, but he gave no sign of acknowledgement when I
knocked and pleaded with him to open door and finally whispered my apologies through the
wood that shut me out.
I couldnt force him. And I had promised Danica to leave for the Eldergleam sanctuary next day.
Bad conscience clenched into a ball of dread in my stomach at the thought to leave this behind
with no opportunity to clear it up, but there was nothing I could do.
The hall was quiet in the evening with most of the Companions away, and I was glad that I didnt
have to endure any more confrontations. I sought as much solitude as possible in Jorrvaskr and
buried myself on a small table in a dark corner of the hall, trying to keep myself distracted with the
boring accounts about some ancient battles in the Jerall Mountains. Until Aela dropped down
beside me. And it was impossible to ignore Aela the Huntress when she didnt want to be ignored,
even if she didnt say a word.
I sighed. Whats the matter, Aela?
Youre playing with fire, sister.
I know. Literally, I snorted.
She was not amused. We worried. Im not sure what you have to prove but you should stop
challenging him.
I just stared at her. She had really come to rub even more salt into my wounds?
I know Ive been a jerk. But what am I supposed to do if he doesnt even speak with me?
For a moment she looked confused, but then a small grin quirked her lips. Not Farkas. Vilkas.
Vilkas? He was my smallest problem at the moment.
Yes, Vilkas. Stop being a pain in his ass.
Aela, please. Vilkas never worries about anyone but himself. And perhaps his brother, when it
suits him. When he says hes worried, he actually means that he doesnt trust me to take care of
myself. And it was him who told me that all of Jorrvaskr just circles around my job.
Aela turned to me and took the book from my grip. She wouldnt let me out, it seemed.
Listen to me, Qhouri. I know hes a jerk. I know hes difficult and a terrible egomaniac. But
believe me, he cares deeply for the Companions and for all of us. Please, dont let this argument
escalate. Part of the problem is that youre both stubborn as mules.
I had to grin. Yes, the times when he couldve broken me were over.
Yes, he cares for the name and the honour of the Companions, and for history and tenets and
glory. And perhaps for his brother, perhaps for you, but certainly not for me. Hes a pain in my ass
too, you know?
Hes just not used to somebody talking back. At least, she didnt seem so convinced any more
that all of this was solely my fault. Or that it was my job to end it.
But Ive done nothing to challenge him! I wanted to learn from him! But he used it every single
time to show off and put me down. Thats not caring, sorry to say that. And its also not caring
that he falls back on silly threats when somebody dares not to cower before him! Gods, its as if he
used all that brain just to be as insufferable as possible!
I didnt want to become so agitated, I really didnt. But my blood boiled. Aela looked at me with
an odd, lopsided smile.
One could say the same of you.
My anger deflated in an instant, receded into tiredness, sadness and shame, and I buried my face in
my palms when I felt blood rushing into my cheeks.
No, I mumbled, Im just an insufferable fool. I shrugged helplessly, searched her face for
answers she wouldnt give. Not even if she had them. I dont know what to do, Aela. He doesnt
speak with me, and I have to leave in the morning.
She arched a surprised eyebrow. Again?
I nodded. I promised. But not for long, only a few days.
Perhaps its for the best that youre out of the way for the moment.
Sometimes I think itd be best if I was out of the way completely.
She leant forwards and laid a slender hand on my wrist. No. But this constant fighting has to
end. Her face was deadly serious. Youre a Companion, Qhouri. Nothing will change that. But
like it or not, youre more than that, and we all have to deal with it, even Vilkas who sees himself
constantly challenged by you and your attitude and your friendship with his brother. Farkas has
the least troubles with this, and he wont be angry forever, we both know that. But most of all
youll have to deal with it yourself. You have to decide whats important to you and what youre
willing to give up for being Dragonborn.
I lifted my eyes to her, all my fears written into my face. And what if I have to give everything
up? What if I dont have a choice?
You have already made some choices, and theyre final, she said with a light smile. Youll
always be one of us, and youll always have a home here. Dont forget by human standards,
youre not the only one in this room who is a bit weird. Not by a long shot.
A bit weird. Her flippant remark made me smile, and a wave of relief washed through me as she
held my gaze calmly.
You know to top it all, this whole mess in Labyrinthian gained me nothing. It was completely
futile. Again.
Nothing at all?
I shrugged. I got a name, but thats all. And I have no idea if its relevant.
Well, youll find out.
I sighed, but gave her a feeble smile. Thank you, Aela.
She stood up, laid a hand on my shoulder. Sleep well, sister. And safe travels.
An End to all Evil
Chapter Notes
See the end of the chapter for notes
Was it possible to encounter a tree?
It was. The entrance to the sanctuary cave was small and unmarked, and I nearly missed it in the
long shadows of the evening sun. But everything changed when I entered Kynes Sanctuary.
The journey here had been exhausting, Snowback and I had made the whole trip in only two
days, with a short nights rest at Wilhelms inn in Ivarstead. I had been in especially foul mood
when I left Jorrvaskr, still owed to my conversation with Aela. It had taken some time until the
true meaning of her roasting had sunk in, and to hear that Snowback had given Jervar a hard time
at the stables only let my anger boil hotter.
Vilkas was simply jealous, and it was my fault? Was she going crazy? Was he going crazy?
Id gladly give him all these damned dragon souls, my own and all the others I had gathered, cut
them out of me with a wooden spoon and present them to him on a silver tablet if I could. Here,
take them, and have that nice little destiny on top. All for free. Perhaps the dragons and the beast
in you will tear each other apart. And Farkas by all Divines, that was even more insane! Yes, we
had gotten along fine with each other, but Farkas got along fine with everybody. And I had even
managed to screw that up. Damned Vilkas, did he have any idea what it meant to be a twin? Did
he have any idea what he meant to his brother? That it was something nobody could take away
from him and certainly not I, even if I wanted?
What a fool. Moron. Thankless jerk. Icebrain!
Snowback had to pay for my fury. I threw a twig he had to retrieve until he turned on his back in
front of me, his heavy panting begging for a break.
Sorry, cutie. I fondled the fur behind his ears, earning a content whimper. At least youre
reliable. You are, arent you? These speckled eyes were simply adorable.
In the end, he was the perfect distraction from my anger. If he was to be more than just a funny
companion, Id have to train him to follow my commands, he had to learn to stay quiet, to stay
where I wanted him to and not to let himself distract by every small noise or movement he spotted.
I had never trained a dog before and no idea how to start, but somehow I had the feeling that he
was eager to learn, that he wanted to please me, and with some chunks of dry meat as reward we
soon started to see the first results, although it was heartbreaking to see his gaze when he followed
the stay command for the first time.
And now we had reached our destination, I wore Kynareths amulet around my neck, and as soon
as the scents, breezes and sights of endless summer hit my senses, everything else simply vanished
and fell off my mind.
The summer greeting me was a summer the harsh land outside had never seen. The golden light
flowing in from huge gaps in the cavern ceiling couldnt be of natural origin; the sun was already
setting, impossible the bit of remaining light poured in like that. The cave was huge, I could barely
see its outer walls, and it was filled with life. The glory of life. The essence of nature.
I stood at the entrance like a child, struck with awe, and let the mild breeze caress my face.
Snowback sat beside me, nearly motionless, and didnt even whimper. I saw flowers I had never
Snowback sat beside me, nearly motionless, and didnt even whimper. I saw flowers I had never
seen before, everywhere, strewn over the meadows which covered the ground like vivacious
carpets, and trees, even larger than the ones I knew from the dense woods around Riften, over and
over studded with blossoms, their petals floating through the fragrant air.
It took me a moment to realise another oddness it was quiet. Not absolutely quiet, I heard the
breeze of the wind in the trees and the gurgling of flowing water, but many of the typical sounds
of nature were missing. No rustling in the brushwood. No birdsong. No wolves howling, no foxes
barking, no bear growling. Not even the faint noises which were so often overheard, the buzzing
of bees and whizzing of midges, the squeaks of mice below the earth. This place contained
absolutely no animal life beside Snowback and me and some more people I saw in the distance.
The centre of the landscape was formed by a hill, a waterfall pouring down into a small lake on
one side, the other framed by a lawn that stretched onto a steep cliff. Below it, a narrow path
wound through the whole cavern alongside a crystal clear creek. It was the only path to the centre,
to reach the no, this wasnt just a tree. It was an entity. Something breathing, thinking, being, so
much more than a mere plant. The Eldergleam stood on top of the hill, sheltered by water and
rock, struck by a single beam of light which made his everlasting blossoms gleam. It was the
centre, but I felt it was also the source of this refuge. A spirit of life nothing could disturb, the most
beautiful, the truest personification of Kyne I had ever seen.
Slowly we made our way along the path. I felt the pull towards it, but couldnt help to stop every
few steps and admire the view. The diversity of life around me, of shades of green was incredible,
and the closer we got to the central clearing, the smaller I felt. This place was a living treasure for
every alchemist, but even the thought to pick a single flower felt disgusting. Destruction of that
kind, of any kind had no place here.
The mystical silence endured even when I reached the large space in front of the tree. A young
man lay backwards in the grass, motionless, perhaps sleeping, perhaps meditating. A Nord woman
approached me.
Welcome to the sanctuary, child, she addressed me calmly and with a gentle smile. Kynareth is
with you.
The goddess was present at this place, that I felt. But was she with me? The woman sounded so
certain but I carried Nettlebane in my pack, the cursed blade, dark magic made to hurt this
miracle. I had come to steal. I wasnt so certain that the goddess was with me.
Now it was obvious that Danica had spoken true it was impossible to simply approach the
Eldergleam. Its roots lay bare, thicker than my thigh and smooth like polished stone, entangled in a
huge knot covering the whole hill. There was no way to overcome this barrier, no way but the
thought of the grim blade made me shiver.
Undisturbed I lay on my back and looked up to the magnificent sight, stayed like that for hours,
entranced by the slow movements of the branches above me, by the play of light and colour
between leaves and blossoms. Slowly the calm and peace around me seeped into the restlessness
of my mind and erased all questions and uncertainties. A feeling spread through me I had never
felt before: unconditional trust, completely irrational and unavoidable. I gave myself into the hands
of the goddess, because she embraced me with her presence.
Perhaps I fell asleep, perhaps I just daydreamed, but when I opened my eyes again I knew what to
do. I had to try it, at least.
I got rid of my armour and pulled the light rope out of my pack before I slung it back over my
shoulder. My vertigo would prove useful for once. Snowback lay motionless in the grass, only his
eyes following me.
Only when I stood at the bottom of the hill and tilted my head into my neck to look up where I
had to go I could assess the deed I intended a deed I was glad to do, for Kyne, for the
Gildergreen, for Danica and Whiterun, for myself. I would not hurt this tree, not even scratch it. It
was impossible to do so. When I started to climb, I felt the gaze of the priestess in my back, but
she didnt try to hold me back.
Hours later, I was on the verge of giving up. To throw the rope over a root, pray that it wouldnt
slip off the smooth wood, tie the ends together, climb up to the next halt, untie the knots and start
all over again my whole body trembled with exhaustion, fingers, arms and shoulders aching
from the unaccustomed endeavour. But I felt as if the presence of the tree watched my meagre
attempts, judged my perseverance and tenacity, and did so with sympathy and favour. Every time
I looked up I found the strength to clench my teeth once more, to bite back the curses when the
rope ripped my palms open, the raw flesh soaking the thin leather of my gloves and the fibres of
the rope in blood. I wouldnt give up.
When I tumbled over the edge of the cliff, I felt nothing. Nothing but pain and relief, the
whisper of the leaves above me soothing coiled nerves and muscles like a lullaby. For endless
moments I lay motionless on the grass, my legs dangling over the abyss I had mastered, panting
for breath and waiting for the flaring pain in my shoulders to subside.
And when I finally opened my eyes, I stopped breathing with amazement, and they filled with
sudden tears of joy. Directly in front of my face, exactly where Id fallen down, grew a sapling. A
beautiful, perfect miniature of the miracle above me.
It was Kynes gift, and I was allowed to take it with me.
I left Nettlebane in a hollow at the trunk. There was probably no safer place in the world to keep
the cursed blade.
Divines, what happened? Danica rushed towards me when I entered the temple, bruised and
battered, limping and weary.
My whole body hurt, and I groaned.
Got into an argument between a dragon and a giant, in Honningbrews backyard. The good
news is, the giant won before the dragon could burn it down. The bad news is that he wasnt
amused at all about my help. Thankless bastard.
I dropped down on one of the benches and held my gloved hands in front of me. Pull, please.
Fast.
The leather and the raw flesh of my palms had blended into a mixture of blood, fabric, torn skin
and searing pain during the last days, and the fight I got into shortly before reaching Whiterun
didnt help either. When the stiff gauntlets tore off my bruised flesh, ripping the oozing wounds
open again, my scream must have been audible up to Dragonsreach.
While Danica tended to my wounds, she couldnt suppress the question burning in her eyes any
more.
How in Oblivion did that happen? And do you have it? Did you get the sap?
No, sorry. Her face fell into disappointment, until she saw my smirk. But I have something
better. I wiggled my bloody fingers in front of her face. You didnt think Id come back with
empty hands after this? Carefully I drew the sapling from my pack, stuffed into a pouch filled
with soil from the Eldergleams roots. It had survived the journey apparently unharmed, just a bit
wrinkled, and the priestess face lighting up in unadulterated, incredulous joy when I handed it to
her was worth all the trouble. She held the little tree in her cupped palms, careful and reverent.
Kynareths grace has come back, Qhourian. You have brought it back. This is a debt Whiterun
wont forget.
A pleasure, Danica. I answered her smile equally bright and relieved. To have experienced the
Eldergleam, to be deemed worthy of its blessing, that was more than enough reward. And I hoped
she would pay me with something more valuable than treasures or honour.
She eyed me curiously. You really wanna learn Restoration?
I nodded. Of course. Examining the tender new skin of my palms where her spell had mended
the flesh, I laughed shortly. Would have been useful to have it earlier.
She led me into a quiet sideroom, closed the door behind us and told me to get comfortable and
relax, and she grinned bemused when I took her literally and got rid of my armour until I sat in
simple pants and tunic before her.
In the end, it wasnt as mysterious as I had feared. And she was a good teacher.
You see, every healing process comes with a cost, a cost of power that either the injured person
or the healer has to pay. When its a healer, it simply goes faster because a lot of power can be
spent all at once. Its not the same as the strength you need to wield a weapon, but you will see
that its use is quite similar, and it isnt less exhausting. The main difficulty is to gain access to this
pool of power.
We started with the most basic spell, only able to heal minor injuries, but we agreed that it would
be most useful.
Danica was patient and took her time, she practised with me how to breathe, how to concentrate to
tap into this pool of power inside of me, encouraging me with her certainty that everybody had it
and was able to use it with enough practice. That it was more a technique than an art. The moment
I finally found it and the first sparkle of a warm yellow light appeared in my palm, caressing my
own bruises, I was so excited that it faded away in an instant, and Danica laughed at my childish
pride.
Yes, thats it. Her smile was warm. Now you need to practise, practise, practise. Its like
training with a weapon, you will see how it becomes easier over time, and how your own power
and experience will grow. Her face became stern. But theres also a danger to it, and you should
know about it.
I regarded her curiously. A danger? What danger can lie in healing?
Being a healer is demanding, she explained, perhaps more demanding than to cause pain,
and believe me when you fail, it can be worse. When you fail as a warrior, you get yourself into
trouble. But when you fail as a healer, someone else will suffer for it. She searched my eyes.
The greatest danger for a healer is to overestimate himself. It has happened that healers killed
themselves because they went beyond their own limits.
I found my first practice target right after I left the temple. At the foot of the stairs to the
marketplace was a commotion, Carlotta and Fralia had left their stands and hunched over a small,
wailing bundle. When I joined them, I saw that it was Mila, Carlottas daughter. The woman
looked up to me, rocking the weeping girl gently in her arms. She tripped and fell down the
stairs. It looks worse than it is, she said.
Anything serious? Shall I take her to Danica? I asked. She couldnt leave her stall now, not with
customers waiting to be served. The insufferable Nazeem groped her cabbages impatiently.
No, no. Just a few bruises.
I knelt down beside them. I knew the girl well, when she didnt help her mother, she and her
friends came sometimes to Jorrvaskr to watch us spar and train. And because Tilma always had
some sweets for them. But now she didnt even deign to look at me, pressing her swollen,
tearstained face against her mothers chest who mumbled soft consolations and stroked the back of
her head. The childs pants were torn and soaked with blood from a bleeding scratch on her knee.
Let me try something, I mumbled, rolled up the ragged leg and cleaned the shallow wound with
a wet cloth Fralia had brought in the meantime. And then I closed my eyes and evened out my
breath, searched for the power and knowledge I had just discovered. Only the quiet sobs of the
girl broke through my concentration, and somehow, strangely, it helped to feel her pain to channel
the power into the spell I had learned.
It was overwhelming to make the golden light appear, direct it to the wound and to see how it
worked. The bleeding stopped, new, tender skin closed the wound and, most importantly, the pain
subsided and the girl turned her head and watched me from huge, wondering eyes. Carlottas jaw
was slack with amazement.
Youre a healer?
No, I laughed relieved, Danica taught me only this one spell so far. Thought it would be
useful. Thanks for letting me practise, Mila. I stroked the girls cheek, and she rewarded me with
a feeble smile. I stayed with them while Carlotta served her last customers and packed up her stall,
and when she asked me if Id like to join them for dinner at the Bannered Mare, I obliged happily.
Somehow, I wasnt particularly in a hurry to return to Jorrvaskr. And sometimes, it was good to
deal with people who were normal, who lived a normal life with normal troubles, and get away
from warriors, werewolves and dragons.
But of course I couldnt escape for long, and my short reprieve was over when the door to the inn
swang open and let in a crowd of loud, blundering, boisterous people who made straight for the
large table in the back corner, waving and cheering to Hulda and the other guests. My siblings. All
of them. They didnt have to order, the inn-keeper knew anyway what each of them liked.
Athis, Torvar and Ria came over to our table, but when I made no move to join them, they left us
alone and occupied their usual places. Only when Carlotta and Mila finally left after I had thanked
them heartily for the meal and gotten a sweetroll from Hulda for the girl to take home, I didnt
know what to do. I couldnt just leave, not with all the Companions gathered here, it would have
looked odd. But to join them as if nothing had happened was odd as well.
But it was only that, a bit odd, and the good, content feeling that had filled me since I left the
temple, the knowledge that I had accomplished something that was good and useful, it still
lingered in my mind and made me brash. And when the maid held a tankard full of foaming ale in
front of me and told me with a grin that it was from Athis and that Id only get it if I came over, I
laughed out loud and took my usual place between Torvar and Ria after punching the mer into his
shoulder.
Drinking with my siblings was no solution, but it was an escape, at least as long as I ignored the
wall of laughter and boisterousness and utter presence at the other end of the table, consisting of
Skjor, Hrongar and the twins.
Gods, did they really have to be so loud?
It was impossible to ignore this cluster of Nordic masculinity, and as much as I tried to relax and
forced myself not to think of all the unfinished business that had gathered with me on this table, it
came up again with every sideways glance, closing in on me without ever making contact, like an
itch under my skin.
I felt watched and ignored at the same time. By Farkas, every time I tried to catch his gaze, tried to
make him understand that I wanted to speak with him, wanted to apologise and pull down this
wall of hurts and misunderstandings that had built itself between us, he turned away brusquely, his
attention solely on his mead or the conversations around him. By Vilkas, with unveiled scorn, his
gaze boiling with such unbridled anguish that it was me who turned away every time our eyes
met. But it was as if he searched it, obtrusive and insolent, as if he wanted me to feel trapped. And
by Aela, with the stern scrutiny of the huntress assessing her prey, learning it, knowing it. I felt
bare and vulnerable under her observation, as if she had figured something out that escaped me.
I felt like prey. And all that helped was drinking, even if it washed away the warm sense of
accomplishment I had wanted to preserve so badly.
The Companions did what they were best at, especially when they were gathered like this: brag
and drink, and both of it excessively. Perhaps even more excessively than usually. I didnt know
any more, were they always so blustering when they were together? Were the jokes always so
bad? Hadnt everybody heard those exaggerated stories at least a dozen times?
And Mikael, the terrible bard with the soft voice had made it his special mission for this evening to
make me suffer, unable to resist to play that atrocious Dragonborn song over and over again, as if
he got paid extra for every time he tortured me with it.
Believe, believe, the Dragonborn comes.
Its an end to the evil, of all Skyrims foes.
Beware, beware, the Dragonborn comes.
An end to all evil. What a sick joke.
Torvar. The blonde Nord lay more than sat in his chair beside me, in his usual state, but he was
available. Do me a favour and tell Mikael, if he doesnt stop playing that bloody song Ill send
Skjor.
With pleasure, sister! His smirk showed that he wasnt too drunk to enjoy a bit of mischief, but
Skjor shot me a sharp, disapproving look.
We dont run around and hit people just because they do their job. Divines, did nobody know
how to take a joke any more?
I know, Skjor, but you would if I paid you for it, wouldnt you? My grin was only a tiny bit
malicious.
Anyway, the bard stopped his play abruptly in the middle of the line on getting the message,
earning outraged complaints from the other patrons. But even Ragnar the Red was better than that
constant reminder of something I didnt want to think of. And even less did I want to think of the
first time I had heard it, during the harvest festival at Jorrvaskr, a feast that had ended ultimately
disastrous. Only the memory churned my stomach with a feeble feeling of foreboding. Something
else I had to drown in mead. Or at least try to.
Thank you. Come on, have another drink with me, I mumbled when Torvar was back. He was
a fine guy. Not the deadliest fighter, not the brightest spark, but reliable, friendly and so
comfortably average. So comfortably unambitious. He was content if he had a bed of his own, a
set of gear, three warm meals a day, enough to drink and the occasional roll in the hay. No further
obligations, no further claims. Not so bloody complicated. His confused face when I leant my
head against his shoulder escaped me, but his arm curling around mine did not, nor his bearded
chin on my head.
I heard him mumble something and straightened myself, just to feel him tighten his grip.
You know, youve always been my favourite
He stopped when I glared at him. If you say drinking buddy now, Ill kill you. Slowly.
His blue eyes didnt look half as dull down on me as I remembered them. Well but
shield-sister doesnt fit either. His grin was smug and childish and intimate.
I snuggled against his chest, his chuckle vibrating under my head. Oh yes, because thats what I
am. Your shield-buddy. Or drink-sister. Or whatever I held my empty mug under his nose.
Better do something about that.
At your command, MLady! He tried to mimic a salute with a fist to his chest while he shouted
his orders to Hulda and forced me into an uncontrolled giggle. His thumb stroking the skin of my
neck was warm and rough and calloused, just like the whole man.
At the moment, youre most of all a pretty plastered favourite drinking-buddy of mine, and
unfortunately Im still too sober to take advantage of that. Fool that I am.
You would never take advantage of me, Torvar. You know Id shout you to pieces.
Aye, thats true. Im easy to scare, especially by a womans voice. And I cherish my life far too
much to take the risk. He leant over to clink his tankard on mine, a boyish smirk on his lips. But
I wouldnt fight if you took advantage of me, you know. Im very compliant in that regard. Even if
some people at this table look as if theyd like to test their blades on my neck.
Your necks strong enough to deal with that. Honestly, I didnt care. I felt hazy and warm and
comfortable where I was, listening to scraps of conversations that didnt concern me, his fingers
casually stroking my shoulders.
Qhouri?
Hm?
Ive never seen you like that before. So cuddly. And I wonder
He didnt speak on, and I turned my head to see his face. Torvar?
Forget it. Told you Im a fool.
I poked him in the chest. Coward. Say it.
Is it he blushed. I had never seen him blush before. Is it because its me, or because you
just need a broad shoulder to lean on?
I hid my face in my drink. Why did everybody always have to ask questions I didnt want to
answer? Why did I make him ask?
Youre a fine guy, Torvar. And your shoulder is perfect for the moment.
He was quiet for a second, but then I heard his good-natured answer. And youre a fine lass. He
nuzzled his nose into my hair. At least I can tell my grandchildren one day that I spent a night
with the Dragonborn in my arms.
My laughter was as sour as the taste in my mouth, I hid the sound in a long gulp. Drinking was
better than talking. Much better.
A commotion at the other end of the table startled me from my half-drunken daze, and a fast look
revealed that the inn had nearly emptied and our round had become smaller in the meantime as
well, Skjor, Athis and Njada gone. But the Jarls brother was still there, and he had brought a
friend with him, an elder man with long, greying hair neatly tied back in his neck and wearing a
heavy armour similar to Hrongars. Both were equally deep in their mead as all of us, chatting
amicably with Skjor and Ria.
And a girl had wedged herself brashly between the brothers, one of Huldas maids, a cute little
thing with long blonde braids and rosy cheeks. She giggled about something Vilkas had said and
wriggled around on his lap, his hands on her hips. But she leant over to Farkas and whispered
something into his ear, her arms around his neck. Or perhaps she was nibbling at his earlobe while
his brother pressed against her from behind, I couldnt tell, but the scene made me grin.
It brought back our conversation after we had left Morthal and how we had been able to laugh
about it. How he told me that he would have gifted me to Vilkas in the unlikely case I ever found
myself where she was now. His light-hearted cheekiness had broken the ice back then, and I had
been so incredibly relieved that we had been able to clear our problems up. And even if this
wasnt the case now, all this was nearly painfully ironic and we had no reason any more to laugh
with each other this girl was perfect for him, tiny and cute and so adorably eager to please.
Vilkas should just gift her to him.
But Farkas was obviously reluctant to join into the fun, despite her efforts, leaning back in his
chair as far as possible and clenching his hands around his mug even when she scooted closer to
him and offered him a generous view into her low-cut neckline. Only when Vilkas leant over and
spoke lowly to him, his head shot up in an involuntary reaction and locked on my face. His
expression froze, became hard and cold and full of anguish, a look nearly hateful and so full of
disappointment that my smile shattered into icy shards that pierced into my soul. A second later,
his face closed into forced indifference that was completely alien on him.
I shouldnt have shown my amusement. And the sudden fear that we had really lost it, that there
wouldnt be any more laughter and cheekiness and clearing up clenched my chest in an icy grip.
Vilkas observed his brother with clinical attention, a gaze sharp like a falcons while his hand
inched higher, pushing up the girls skirt, wandering along her thigh. She didnt mind, but focused
her own attention entirely on Farkas.
And he reacted, finally, put away his drink and pulled her closer, his eyes still fixed on my face,
gnawing on his lip while his hands stroked her back and flexed around her backside. And then she
whispered something in his ear and finally caught his attention, his gaze tearing away from me and
focusing on her cleavage, darkening into something between desire and despair as he buried his
face in her neck.
More than once I had seen my siblings make use of one of the private rooms in the upper floor,
and not just to sleep off their inebriation. More often than not, these flings led to light-hearted
teasing afterwards. Especially Torvar was famous for coming back to Jorrvaskr just in time for
breakfast, with a confident swagger, dark rings under his eyes and a sated grin on his face. It had
never bothered me. It had never concerned me.
Things like this happened all the time, and this girl wasnt a girl at all, she was a grown-up woman
who knew exactly what she was doing, confident and practically sparkling with the awareness of
her own attractiveness. I didnt know her name, but she wasnt new in the Mare and obviously
more than acquainted with the men, and there was a familiarity between her and the twins that
made clear that this wasnt the first time she had their attention. She was no victim.
And still, now she was, she wasnt even aware of it, and it made me nauseous. Vilkas hands
touched and stroked her methodically and with apparent practice, and still, in this moment, she
was only a piece of flesh he used to show off, a token in a game instead of participant. His
attention was fixed on his brother and on me.
It was ridiculous. And disgusting. And somehow, I couldnt stop watching, caught in a morbid
fascination of this blatant display of mutual seduction as much as in the nagging feeling that this
wasnt what it looked like, that I was another participant in this weird, scary game they played. Or
just another token, and I didnt know the rules.
Vilkas voice was low enough that I would have missed it if I hadnt paid attention. You seem
quite interested, Qhouri. He never called me Qhouri, seldom called me anything else but
Dragonborn, knowing exactly how much I hated the title. A false smile spread over his face, all
teeth and cold eyes when he saw that he had made me blush. Wanna join in? Im sure our Lina
here wont mind. He stroked the girl mechanically, like a doll.
It was so easy and so low. This was the game he played? Torvars arm around my shoulder
tightened, but I only produced a contemptuous grin. He wanted to provoke me with sex? Me?
Laughable. Pitiable.
Interesting offer, Vilkas. But I think Ill abstain for now.
You know, he drawled slyly, one elbow propped on the table and his chin in his palm, the
other arm still slung around Linas waist, you should have some fun from time to time. It would
do you good. Perhaps it would thaw you a bit.
A growl formed in Torvars chest, not so drunk at all. It made me grin even broader. I didnt even
know that he was able to make such noises, and I grabbed his wrist to calm him down. Torvar and
his protective side he was so cute.
But I have, brother. You know for fun, I prefer pleasurable company. Like that Hagraven a
few days ago. That encounter was hot enough.
In the meantime, our exchange had the attention of the whole table, Aela looking worried, Ria
anxious, Hrongar and his friend curious and Farkas imploring. Even Lina had realised that she
didnt get the attention she deserved and looked confused from face to face.
But I saw nothing but Vilkas any more, our eyes locked and everyone else blanked out, and for
the first time I understood that what connected us was indeed not just dislike, misunderstandings
and distrust, but pure, blank, mutual hate, quivering between us like a thread that was stretched to
the point of breaking. It even didnt matter any more why. When something sinister and cruel
crept into his features, it didnt come as a surprise.
And what was your prize?
My breath caught in my throat. He wouldnt dare but of course he would, his intention clear,
and I couldnt escape. No escape, never, I had always known it. And although I knew he could
see the dread that coiled in my stomach, smell and feel it and Aela and Farkas could as well, I was
able to accept the inevitability of this blow. I removed Torvars arm from my shoulder and let go
of his wrist, sat stiff and numb on the edge of my chair, clear-headed and expectant.
Vilkas Aelas voice was calm, but carried a clear menace. A menace our Master-of-Arms
ignored, still leaning relaxed on the table and lifting his mug for a long gulp. His voice could have
been nearly gentle, if it wasnt so vicious. So venomous.
Tell me your price, Dragonborn. He licked his lips. We can afford you, you know? Farkas
spends all his coin on women and mead anyway, he doesnt need much. And I promise we wont
pamper you.
The thread was torn. His words shred the threads that connected me with the people around this
table all at once, the whole cobweb of screwed relationships that had always been far too
complicated a pattern for me to understand. Only now I realised how frail it had been, and now it
was too late.
Some things were impossible to leave behind, and Vilkas had stripped me effortlessly of
everything I had become and achieved since Helgen and reduced me to the naked core. To the life
I had lived before, that had formed me, everything else only a pathetic disguise.
Everything seemed to have slowed down as if I had bent time to my will with a Shout. It was
eerily silent around me, no one saying a word. No one said a single word for me. Vilkas gaze
was still locked on my face, a pleased and merciless grin, making sure that I got his message. And
I got it and accepted his victory with a slow nod. Perhaps this was all it had been for him a game
against the Dragonborn he had to win at all costs, negotiation just as little an option as surrender.
But I wouldnt negotiate anyway. He was waiting eagerly for my reaction, and I rubbed my palm
over my face before I turned my attention back to him.
Youre selfish, Vilkas, I said lowly. Why only Farkas? Why not include all your brothers? I
stared into his face, my expression as frozen as my soul. Dont worry I could take you all. And
if you want, I will even call you master. For an extra, of course.
I watched intently as the complacent grin slowly dripped off his face and he swallowed heavily,
his Adams apple bobbing. I wanted to clench my hands around his throat and press until the
movement stopped. I had the power to do so. He had won because he had made the rules of this
little game, but he wasnt stronger than me. Not any more, and his triumph was hollow.
No? I shrugged. And I thought you like to share. Just as well. Lina will have to do then.
The icy wind that hit me when I closed the door behind me blew the tension from my body that
had kept me upright, all of a sudden, and I only made it to the stairs leading up to the Gildergreen.
I didnt have the strength any more to climb them, I didnt know where to go anyway, and so I
just leant heavily against Carlottas empty market stall, trying to find a thought in the emptiness of
my head that would lead me further. When warm hands pulled me back into a broad chest,
Farkas arms closing around me and his forehead resting on my shoulder, I leant instinctively into
his warmth and the familiar scent. I hadnt been aware that I shivered, and for a moment, I wanted
to crawl into this safety, hide from the world and cry my eyes out.
Qhouri It was this single, muttered word that woke me from my stupor, making me break free
from his embrace with a violent jerk. There was no safety, nothing to rely on, just delusion and
deceit. Spinning around, I found the others forming a half-circle around us, Torvar, Ria and Aela.
Suddenly so protective, my siblings. Protective, as helpless as me and so completely useless. I
wanted to scream my fury at them, but I didnt. Instead I pressed my pack against my chest and
tried to barge through them.
Aela took my wrist in a firm grip, grey eyes stern and serious. Dont go now, Qhouri.
And why not? I snapped, why should I stay? You know this one time I would have needed
someone in my back, sister. Only this once. And you did nothing.
She chewed on her lip. Youre right. This has escalated. But its not too late to fix it.
It is not my job to fix it, Aela, and its not yours either. The only one who really needs fixing is
currently rutting his brain out, with a girl that probably pretends for herself that he is his brother.
The choked, raspy sound Farkas let out was strangely satisfying.
What will you do now?
I shrugged. Ive a job to do.
At least speak with Kodlak. He will speak with Vilkas too. She gave me a strange look.
I straightened myself. This was ridiculous, she knew just as well as I that there was no solution.
Listen, Aela this is pointless. I dont know why Vilkas acts the way he does, its not my
business, and you know what? I dont care. But I know that he wont leave me alone and that I
have to protect myself because no one else does it for me. And next time, I would kill him. I took
a deep breath and turned to Ria. Be careful, sister. Perhaps youre the next in line when Im not
available any more. She looked horrified.
This isnt about Ria, Aela said sharply. Its about Vilkas and you. And Her voice trailed
off.
And what?
Her eyes flitted to Farkas. My laughter was mirthless.
That stupid promise he made and his stupid entitlement that Farkas has to hold his hand through
every stupid decision he makes? Yes, I know about it. Its his problem, and his alone. And most of
all isnt it an excuse.
No, it isnt. And he will learn that he cant go on like this.
Suddenly, I felt incredibly tired. There was still this nagging feeling that I missed something, that
something was hidden in this mess that I should see and take into account, but I couldnt bring
myself to care. Vilkas wouldnt learn, and the only way to solve it was to split the knot in halves,
even if it left only shreds behind. And it was something I had to do on my own, because none of
them would do it for me.
I cant go on like this either. Im sorry.
But this is your home. Farkas words were only a whisper in my back as I went past them, but
there was so much forlornness in them that it made me stop and look back. He looked as tired as I
felt, deep lines of exhaustion and sadness written into his face, and when our eyes met and he
reached out and touched my cheek hesitantly, I leant into the touch. His palm was warm and
rough and calloused, and I knew the man behind it was not. He was hurting, and he showed it to
me because thats how he was and he couldnt help it although I had caused this pain.
Walk with me, I said softly, and he came and went quietly by my side, through the gates of the
city and to an empty watchtower where we were protected from the icy wind and had a
breathtaking view over the plains, bright with a thin layer of snow under the flickering lights of the
aurora.
I already ran from Whiterun once, remember? I leant against his shoulder, and he had slung his
cloak around us both. It wasnt so much different. It was also Vilkas who made me go then.
But you came back.
I chuckled. Aela threatened to bring you to force me. I thought better not to take the risk.
Im glad it worked.
I turned around, searched his face. It wont work any more. I know now that youre not
dangerous.
His eyes darkened. But you think Vilkas is.
I dont know. Yes. He scares me, but most of all I cannot let him do this, Farkas, but I cant
fight back either, because then we would kill each other. Perhaps it would be easier if I understood
him, but I dont. And its probably not my business anyway. But I cant go on like this.
You know that he didnt mean it, dont you? What he said
I turned my head, stared incredulously into his face. Of course I know that. Im entirely aware
that Vilkas would rather fuck a skeever before hed take me. But what he really meant what he
really wanted to tell me is even worse. A short, bitter laughter broke out of my throat. Perhaps I
should have just nailed him down on his offer. And make him pay afterwards. It would have
been the worst punishment, especially if he had to perform in front of you and Lina. Suddenly I
wanted something to drink. Badly. interesting arrangement he had in mind there I
mumbled.
He became stiff, a shudder running through his body. Youre not serious.
I chewed on the inside of my cheek. No. It was a joke. I would never fuck your brother in front
of an innocent little girl like Lina. The shock on his face made me giggle.
Not funny.
At least youre not mad at me any more.
Ive never been mad at you.
But I hurt you. Im sorry.
Youre a bitch and Im a fool. We know that already. I gave him a relieved smile and leant my
head against his shoulder, glad he let it go so easily. His chin rested on top of my head. What
have you been up to during the last weeks?
Looked for a new Gildergreen.
What?
Danica asked me to. And Im glad I got the chance to help. It was awesome.
And you were successful?
I nodded. Have you ever been to Eldergleam Sanctuary?
In Eastmarch? No. Passed by, yes, several times. But never been in there.
You should visit it next time. Its incredible.
The Gildergreen thats a big deal for the temple. And the city. Hope she paid you well.
I grinned. See, and thats why she didnt ask greedy mercenaries like the Companions.
He chuckled. Does that mean she didnt?
No. I got I looked curiously up to him. You got a wound somewhere? A bruise, or a
scratch? Every Companion usually carried some injuries in various states of healing around. I got
a questioning look, but he rolled up his sleeve and presented me a cut right above his elbow,
covered only by a sloppily tied bandage. Dagger, he shrugged, bastard paid for it.
Of course he did. I closed my eyes and tried to force out the spell and to focus it on the torn skin
and flesh. It had been easier with Mila, because the girl had directed me with her tears to the cause
of the pain she felt. Farkas was completely unfazed by the injury, though. It certainly hurt him, but
not enough to pay attention.
And when the golden light finally appeared in my palm, he literally jumped back and tore his arm
from my grip with a yelp, startling me so hard that it disappeared instantly.
What is that? he gasped.
I gave him a patient look. A healing spell. Dont tell me youve never seen one before.
He breathed heavily. Of course I have. Its just why can you do that?
Danica taught me. It was my payment. And its useful, I said defiantly.
Its magic. He swallowed. You could have at least warned me.
Its a healing spell, Farkas. It does no harm.
He looked warily at his arm, as if he feared the wound had miraculously disappeared. Potions
and salves are perfectly fine. Or needle and thread. He shot me a sideways look and couldnt
suppress a lopsided smirk. If you really wanna make Vilkas freak out, you try that with him.
I gave him a wry grin. Dont worry. Should I ever find myself in the predicament of your brother
bleeding out in my presence, Ill gladly leave him alone.
And promptly we were back at the beginning. He searched my eyes while he rolled down his
sleeve, and when he was finished, he took my hand and buried it between his palms. I dont want
you to go, Qhouri, he said quietly. Youre right, this has to end. But well find Ill speak with
him. He has to see Its not only the two of you. If he goes on like this, he will tear us apart. And
himself too.
He was so serious, and so convinced that there was a solution, somewhere in this messed up knot
that was the Companions, and that wed only have to take the time and patience to untangle it.
And at least in one point he was right, and Aela was too this wasnt only about Vilkas and me,
and even a clear cut wouldnt solve everything.
And it was so typically Farkas that he wanted to protect his family and his brother and me at the
same time and put himself in the middle of it, no matter if he knew beforehand that it would tear
him apart.
I nodded slowly. Okay. Ill speak with Kodlak. I gave him a twisted grin. But I dont want to
stay in Jorrvaskr tonight.
Its your home, Qhouri.
Aela had said the same, but I wasnt so certain. Not in that moment. I just need a door I can shut
behind me. With a lock. On the inside.
He swallowed. You can have my room, he said finally.
Your room?
Yep. It has a lock.
And you?
Ill sleep on the floor. Or in the dorm, whatever you want. I have to get up early anyway, got a
job tomorrow.
I watched him pensively. Why do I let you pamper me again?
His boyish grin flared up. Because youre just a girl, and every girl loves to be spoiled from time
to time.
I shoved him so hard that he nearly toppled down the steep ladder. Ill sleep on the floor. And
dont you dare to snore.
Of course he did, if only to annoy me, and it reminded me of the nights we had spent together
outside, when I had watched over his sleep. We should find an opportunity to do that again. He
was already gone when I woke, but I had a bowl with fresh water that was still warm, a piece of
soap and a clean towel waiting for me. A not so subtle reminder that I reeked after spending days
and nights in my travelling clothes, and it made me smile.
Sometimes, it felt good to be spoiled.
Chapter End Notes
This took far too long again, and I dont know how often Ive written, rewritten,
erased, overhauled and revised this chapter. It has driven me nuts, and Im still not
entirely happy with it, but now we can finally come to the finish of the first part.
The Child
Chapter Notes
Warning tags apply.
See the end of the chapter for more notes
Somehow I ended up on this carriage.
I had been on a carriage already once, in the company of strangers, assigned for my own
execution. It didnt feel so much different back then, when I had no idea where it would lead me.
Lead us. Now I had no idea as well, only that our destination was Solitude.
There had been a courier, hurrying in and out of the empty hall with a few coins extra he stuffed
hastily into his belt, a small, wiry man like all the couriers that came to Jorrvaskr every day. Tilma
weaselling down to the Harbingers quarters, carrying a parchment and a cup of tea.
And then there was shouting and slamming of doors and sudden, dreadful silence downstairs, and
I cowered in my chair, the porridge suddenly a lukewarm lump of bitterness in my mouth that
grew and expanded and made me choke, because it were Vilkas and Kodlak yelling at each other.
I hadnt known that Vilkas was back. Somehow I had thought I could prepare myself, gather my
thoughts and have breakfast before I went to our Harbinger and speak with him because I had
promised. I had thought I could make myself believe it would help to explain myself like I had
done it already once, and he would know what to do. He would give advice. I had thought that
perhaps he would bring some sense into this mess. He was the Alpha, after all.
But Vilkas had beat me to it, and I blanched when Tilma told me that Kodlak wanted to see me
at once -, no smile hidden in the deep wrinkles of her face.
The men sat across of each other in Kodlaks chamber, Vilkas in the place where I had felt so
safe. The tension that quivered through the open door and the corridor was like headwind,
impeding every step I made through the long aisle.
Standing outside the room, I heard the constrained murmurs that werent meant for my ears. Or
perhaps they were.
Youre not my master, Harbinger.
No, Im not. A dark voice, firm and calm. Im nobodys master. But you see the necessity as
well as I.
where is my brother?
Shouldnt you know? Didnt he tell you? There was a pause, too long for a casual question, and
an edge in that dark voice, a short reprieve before the strike came, carefully aimed and calculated.
Havent you always been your brothers master, Vilkas? He didnt give the man opportunity to
answer, turned his gaze to the door. Come in, Qhourian.
The fury in Vilkas face ached in my bones. Shriekwind Bastion, I mumbled, my mouth dry as I
stepped into the room. The air in the room was stale and too hot, reeking of too many too strong
potions and sickness in old sweat, and I couldnt not say it. Farkas had told me last night where
todays task would take him, when I was curled into my bedroll, his pillow under my head, and he
wanted to talk and I didnt. Vampires. Hes with Skjor. I bent my head. Harbinger. My
breathing was shallow.
Qhouri. And the way he said my name, the calm in these deep grey eyes, the way he looked at
me, acknowledged me it made me relax against the doorframe. I could trust him. He didnt want
me any harm.
When he told me sternly what he had already told Vilkas before that a little boy had been
kidnapped and that he needed Vilkas and me to rescue him I believed him, although everything
in me screamed in defiance, my palms grew sweaty and I had to steady myself against the wall
while trying to discern what this meant. But I believed the old man that we had to go, that no one
else was available, believed him that every hour counted and that he needed us both and together
for this job, Master-of-Arms and Dragonborn.
Somethings strange about this, he said. Its just a little boy. And his parents have nothing to
press from them.
Abductions like this happened, and the Companions had gone more than once on such rescue
missions, but usually the victims were either relatives of wealthy merchants or nobles to extort a
ransom, or they were held captive to press a competitor. In both cases, the prisoners werent in
immediate danger despite the general ruthlessness of the gangs that were usually hired to execute
these jobs, because a corpse lost much of its worth in such dealings.
But this case was different. The boy was the son of a farmer in Dragon Bridge, and no one there
possessed anything that was worth this kind of effort. And the fact that the kidnappers didnt hide
in a cave or old ruins, but resided in an open camp on the desolate shores west of Solitude left
another bad taste. Something was very wrong.
I need you to do this, Kodlak said sternly as he pointed out the location on the large map on his
desk. And then he looked from Vilkas to me, his will tying us together, forcing us to acknowledge
the mere presence of the other.
It was rare that Kodlak took personal interest in our daily work at all and even rarer that he
allocated jobs by himself. We both knew that it wasnt only competence, real or surmised, that
made him do it now.
I lowered my head under his scrutiny. He believed that we were Companions enough to make this
work, that we had something beyond our resentment. He believed this to be a chance. It was hard
not to believe him.
But we were all our own masters, and he wouldnt force us.
When I raised my gaze, I had clamped down on this feeling that itched under my skin, something
between vague unease and blank terror. Vilkas met my eyes with ostensible calm, a single muscle
twitching in his jaw, his intent obvious. He wanted me to make the decision and refuse, expected
me to act on my instinct and take the blame.
Seeking confidence in the quiet serenity of our Harbinger, I straightened myself. I couldnt let him
do this. I wouldnt let him take this last bit of control from me. Well see it done, Kodlak, I said.
In half an hour, at the stables? For a moment he sat like frozen, but then he nodded slowly and
stood up to leave.
Kodlak laid one hand on his shoulder, muscles tensing under the touch. Do whatever possible.
Whatever necessary, he said gravely. Vilkas span around on his heels, defiance flaring over his
face, through his whole posture before he reigned himself in. But Kodlak held his eyes, a silent
duel of composure and patience against flaring temper under iron control, Harbinger against
Master-of-Arms, father against son, until he lowered his head.
As you wish, Harbinger.
Vilkas stood stiffly in the doorway, apparently eager to end this meeting, but Kodlak didnt yet let
him go. Instead his other hand came down around my shoulder, heavy and warm, connecting us.
Rescue this child. And when youre back, come to me.
Rescue this child. The order became my anchor during this unbearable journey, during the endless
hours on the wooden bench of the carriage, every muscle aching from the never-ending rattling of
wooden wheels on cobblestone. I didnt know how to endure those days with that man, the close
proximity, the long travel hours, all the daily arrangements that came with it. This wouldnt be an
easy job, nothing like storming a bandit camp or animal den and wiping out everything that lived.
Nothing we could take all the aggression and frustration that quivered between us out on. That
would have been easy.
But we had to rescue a child. We had to work together, with plan and strategy. We had to rely on
each other. Perhaps this child, scared, alone and abused, would make it possible. If nothing else,
this was something we shared, with the victim and with each other.
It would take two days until we reached Solitude, one and a half if we travelled through the night.
Long hours, endless hours in deadly silence, with no company but my own thoughts. Vilkas was
no company. Not a single word was passed between us, none of us had anything to say. Only his
eyes found me, occasionally and only for a second. Fleeting gazes, distant and casual and still
protruding into my personal space. As if I were the object of an experiment he had to supervise, or
it would go awfully awry. A wry twitching of his mouth, unreadable.
Vilkas started to sharpen his sword when we passed the Western Watchtower, the ruin and the
crumpled bones of the dragon like an accusation. Something defensive was in the line of his back
as he bent over his weapon, stiff and rigid, but the movements of his hands were like a caress.
I tried to retreat, tried to shut him out, didnt care that I cowered in a corner of the bench with as
much distance as possible, curled together like a wounded animal with my knees pressed to my
chest. But there was nothing I could retreat to, the dry rasping of stone on steel scraped the skin
off my nerves, and I hated myself that I let him unsettle me like this. Hated myself even more that I
sat on this carriage just because Kodlak wanted me to and because I thought I had to prove my
own free will.
The curse of our driver startled me into attention.
We had just passed the remains of a carriage, the wood burnt to ashes, three bodies scorched
beyond recognition lying between broken dishes and charred food and clothes. One of them was
too small to be an adult, the tiny corpse lying beneath one of its parents in a last embrace, still
grasping the remains of a toy.
Dragon, the driver exclaimed, pointing at the victims while urging the horses to greater speed. I
wish someone would do something about these bastards. Its becoming worse daily. I didnt need
his explanation. The image burned behind my closed lids. More expectations, more accusations.
I lied to myself when I thought that Vilkas was the only problem, that everything would be fine if
we only came to terms with each other. His hostility was only a symptom. The dead end I had
manoeuvred my life into towered before me like a massive wall, I was right on track to crash
straight into it and still gaining speed. No way to turn, no way forwards, no way back.
The trip to the Eldergleam Sanctuary had done me good, but it had been only a short escape, and
nothing had changed. I still didnt know how to go on, how to fulfil all these demands. With the
Greybeards, I had accepted to be what I was. It all seemed so easy then. I could deal with myself,
with these powers, the dragons and their souls. But I couldnt deal with the ridiculous expectations
of the people around me.
For Vilkas, the Dragonborn was a mythical hero, infallible and mighty, something like Talos or
Martin Septim, and every time I had asked him for help, for his knowledge or advice, I had failed
this image. The way Athis acknowledged me as the Dragon of the North and Aela pointed out
that being not entirely human wasnt so unusual with the Companions it was more scary than
reassuring. For all of them, I was always Dragonborn first and shield-sister second.
Its an end to the evil, of all Skyrims foes. The melody tumbled in an endless, tantalising loop
through my mind. People believed in these lines.
A faint, fleeting brush of fingertips against the back of my hand brought me back to the present
and made me jerk with sudden alarm.
Dont. A quiet murmur. I stared into Vilkas face that was startlingly close suddenly, eyes cold
like the depths of a glacier, a breathless contact before he lowered his eyes to my arm that was
slung around my knee. I had scratched open a wound and peeled off the slough from the shallow,
scabbed lesion without recognising what I did, and a single drop of blood ran down to my wrist
and stained the leather of my pants.
The tip of his finger hovered as if he wanted to wipe it away.
Gods, what in Oblivion is your problem? I barked, set on edge by his intrusion. As if the whole
atmosphere wasnt itchy enough.
But he didnt retreat, his glare and proximity nailing me to the spot. A shiver ran down my spine.
Have you slept with him?
The question came calmly, nearly casually, and still it caught me completely off guard. Have I
with whom?
My brother. Have you fucked him? You still reek of him. I was speechless.
Divines. Of course I did, I had spent the night in Farkas room with my head on his pillow.
Cursed werewolf senses. For a moment I wanted to laugh out loud due to the sheer absurdity of
the situation, but I restrained myself. This wasnt funny. Not at all, and he was dead serious.
And thats your business how?
His lips curled downwards, full of malice. He tends to sell himself short.
This was ridiculous. I managed to give him a condescending grin. Perhaps he was desperate after
you ruined his fuck with Lina last night. Perhaps he just needed some stress relief. Perhaps we
both needed some stress relief.
I held his gaze defiantly, and his guard went down in shock, only for a single moment, and I could
look behind the faade and into the shadows behind his eyes. And beneath all the disgust and hate
we felt for each other, there was fear. Pure, bottomless fear, and this discovery, the knowledge that
I was able to hurt him as deep as he hurt me, it flared in a rush of power through my body.
Your brother isnt one of your whelps. And he certainly doesnt need you to allocate him his
women.
His hands clenched and unclenched around his knees as if he had my throat between them, but the
iron control was back, the veil of contempt I knew so well. His voice was a threatening growl.
You will not hurt him.
I closed my eyes shortly, breathing deeply to calm myself. I couldnt allow that this got out of
hand, as much as I was tempted to dig in. Its not your business. For all I care be a pain in his ass
when we get back, but I dont have to answer to you.
The glare I got was murderous, but then he retreated abruptly, settled back into his corner and
stared into the distance, his fingers clenching around the hilt of his sword. Fury radiated from him
in waves even I could sense.
I watched him pensively. He was a mystery to me, always had been, and everything I knew, from
Farkas and from my own manifold dealings with him, was like a puzzle where the parts didnt fit,
no matter how I turned them. Sometimes he was so damned pushy it drove me mad, as if it was
his right to dig into my life with his paranoia and control mania, while these barriers around him
were always there, fences he used to reign himself in and keep everyone else out. Everyone but
his brother.
I wondered what he was afraid of. If he really feared for Farkas.
And I wondered where all my anger had gone, why his accusations didnt hurt any more, why I
didnt try to make him see his mistakes. He really believed I slept with his brother and used him
for whatever. With Farkas! Who had never come closer than I was comfortable with. Not once,
and what he did in the privacy of his quarters didnt affect me. I wasnt his type, after all. The
mere idea should make me furious, or at least embarrassed.
But I was neither, rather felt like being trapped in the eye of the storm, the laden silence between
us seeping deceptively into my mind. The balance was frail, held together only by the task before
us, and a breath, the twitch of an eye, a single word would topple it. Anticipation was all that was
left.
I laid my forehead on my knees and tried to doze the hours away. At least he had stopped
sharpening his sword.
Vilkas refused to rest, only jumped off the carriage when we took short breaks for the horses to
feed and water them, stretching his muscles and pacing impatiently around the wagon, and when
night fell, he told the driver curtly and against his protest to take a nap while he took the reigns.
We reached Solitude late on the second day, stiff, frozen to the bones and tired out.
But neither of us had stocked up on necessary supplies in Whiterun, and as we had no idea in
what condition wed find the little boy, I had to make up for this omission, even when Vilkas
marched off westwards as soon as the carriage stopped at the stables. He erred if he expected me
to follow him like a dog on a leash.
After the necessary procurements, he was gone too far to catch up. I didnt know if hed march
through the night or make camp, didnt know either what exactly he planned when he reached our
destination. And so I went on until I couldnt see where to set my feet any more, spent a few hours
in a shivering, half-attentive doze and reached the brigands camp just before dawn. Vilkas was
already there, lying behind a narrow dune, his footprints in the wet sand along the shore visible
from miles away.
I was glad to have found him. All that counted now was the fight before us and the fate of the boy
we had to save.
He didnt deign to recognise me, even when I dropped down beside him, his attention solely on
the activities in the camp. The place wasnt as badly chosen as we had thought the wreck of a
cargo vessel lay on the beach of a small peninsula, broken in halves, the stern with its large cabin
providing excellent shelter. The weather had changed to our disadvantage, after the clear night a
cold, pervasive sleet had begun to fall. That meant that only very few of the residents lingered
outside, a couple of guards patrolling the outskirts, two more men in a makeshift tent made from
raw pelts. We didnt know how many of them were in the cabin, and when wed have to find out,
we would have to face them all at once. And we didnt know where the little boy was held
perhaps in the cabin itself, perhaps in one of the lower decks, as at least some parts of them lay dry
as well.
Vilkas didnt move, didnt speak, just stared, but I noticed the strain in him. The way he gritted his
teeth, how his unsteady gaze focused on the scene below us, the tension in his muscles and how
he carefully avoided to acknowledge my presence that was more than just anger or annoyance,
and it was more than the excitement before a fight.
Lying motionless on the wet, frozen sand made me shiver soon, and the bleary daylight slowly
banishing the darkness from the eastern horizon didnt spend any warmth either. We had to attack,
now that some of them perhaps were still asleep or at least not fully prepared for combat.
Should we get going?
The man shot me an indifferent glance, as if he was astonished that I was even there. No. A
small, empty vial dropped in front of my face. You know what that is? At least he talked to me
now. The flask was pretty, made from a purplish glass and similar to those Arcadia used for her
rare fragrances and oils, but I had never seen this certain type before. I shook my head.
Skooma. Found it on the shore. Ive watched them long enough to know that theyre addicts.
He crawled backwards out of the viewing range of the guards, then made for a group of narrow
trees that would hide us and still provided enough of an overview not to be surprised.
You will have to learn about it before youre of any use in this fight. I didnt react to his
challenge. All I knew was that Skooma was a drug and illegal.
Skooma is a stimulant. It forces the user into a short-time high of strength and euphoria, the
duration is dependent on the level of habituation. When the effect dwindles, the addict will fall
into a state of self-hatred and lethargic aggression until he gets the next dose. Im sure you know
how that feels. He watched me like a skeever in a snare, emotionless and neutral.
We both know, Vilkas. His words werent able to hurt me, not any more. My reaction made
him lift a single brow. Yes, I knew how self-hatred felt, and he knew it too. But now was not the
time for petty taunts.
We have two problems with this group. First, they take their first dose of the day for breakfast,
which is exactly now. No way to overwhelm them in that state. Second, skooma addicts are
absolutely unpredictable, and not only during their highs. Their kidnapping of the boy was
probably only an accident, and its equally possible that hes long dead.
People fighting on skooma are faster and stronger than everything you have encountered so far.
They lose their reason, and theyre not easy to defeat one against one, but as a group theyre
worse than a pack of sabrecats. Insanity combined with inhuman strength and speed, thats
nothing we can prepare for. Before we attack, we must know if the boy still lives and where he is
to be able to protect him. And thats your job.
Thank the Divines that I had brought frost protection potions. The camp was only guarded on the
land side nobody expected an approach from the sea. I felt the cold when I got rid of my armour,
and slid into the icy waters, but it didnt affect me I could have walked naked all the way to
Winterhold and back, and the temperature still wouldnt have matched the frost inside of me. All
that mattered was the challenge and the child. After circling around the guards I could easily
swim to the wreck and climb onto the stern unseen. From the inside of the cabin I heard laughter
and snoring and some people yelling at each other, but I also heard the muted weeping of a childs
voice. It seemed the boy was still alive, tied or shackled to the wall I pressed myself on.
Despite the potion my teeth chattered violently when I came back to our hiding place. Vilkas
didnt show any reaction when I slid out of the dripping tunic and breeches and changed into dry
clothes, but he also didnt turn away. I didnt mind, his coldness made me nearly sigh with relief.
There was nothing personal between us. We were like scissor blades, forced to join to fulfil a job.
I could just hope it would be enough.
The boy still lives. Hes tied to the back wall. The lower deck seems to be empty. The relieved
exhalation behind me was a surprise.
The hours passed without a word. There was nothing to discuss. After some hectic activity in the
morning even the camp seemed to have calmed down, nothing moved but the slow pacing of the
guards.
Vilkas froze when the scream of a child broke the silence, highpitched and terrified, and I grabbed
my bow and nocked an arrow purely out of instinct. But before I could make a decision, he ran
past me with a feral roar, the fury that had boiled and grown beneath his controlled coldness for
hours and days finally erupting.
But we had no strategy and no plan. We were aware that we werent used to fight with each other,
to the others fighting style, to our mutual weaknesses and strengths. All we had was our goal, the
determination to save this boy from the destroyed childhood that we shared. Nothing else mattered
when our first arrows flew, taking out the guards.
Like predicted, this was nothing like any fight I had ever encountered. I was used to being
outnumbered and to opponents larger, stronger and faster than me, but this was chaos. These
people were out of their mind, no caution or thought in their attacks, even a dragon was more
predictable. They moved lightning fast and tripped over their own feet, their hits so strong that
they were impossible to block, but they werent aimed carefully, striking at everything in their
way. Their eyes were bleak and glazed, showing neither wrath nor fear and no indication of their
intents. And they didnt feel pain. It was worse than fighting undead.
Vilkas greatsword met the onslaught of the first three attackers all at once, tore through armour
and flesh, leaving not much for me to do than to prevent that our enemies encircled us and to
chase them back into his wide strikes. He fought with the same desperate, heedless aggression as
them, let the fury consume him. For a moment I was certain he would lose it and change, let the
beast take control over himself, but it didnt happen at least not visibly. But I saw the golden
glimpse in his eyes, heard the howl coming from his lips, recognised his predatory gaze. He was
the hunter, merciless and efficient, and everybody else was prey. Everybody including me.
We had to reach the child, had to find our way into the cabin. Vilkas stormed ahead, broke with
sheer strength through a barrier of three fighters blocking the door. In the small moment I had to
get an overview of the situation, I saw the tiny body shackled to the wall, his arms stretched
beyond their limits and only his toes reaching the ground, shrill, panicked yells piercing the air.
Two men at the back wall, clad in similar steel plate, identical mohawks, identical warpaint, both
armed with huge, magically glowing warhammers. They dropped their vials after a last sip and
unsheathed their weapons in identical motions when the Companion lunged for them.
The three at the door pressed me into action while the scene in the back still bound my attention.
Frantically I tried to block erratic blows, hit a womans head at the temple while ramming the edge
of my shield under the chin of a Redguard, heard and felt bones breaking twice. But the man came
up again despite his destroyed jaw, I bowed towards him, crushed his Adams apple and windpipe
and felt at the same time the tip of a blade pierce my shoulder from behind. I was lucky, it should
have pierced my heart. From the corner of my eyes I saw Vilkas push the tip of his sword into the
gap between a cuirass and a pauldron, dispatching one of his attackers. My arm became numb and
the weapon fell from my grip, and spinning around I tore the shortsword of the man who had
attacked me from behind from my flesh, felt it scrape along my shoulder blade. The bandit facing
me laughed maniacally when I fell with a scream, laughed when I hammered my shield into the
backs of his knees, still laughed when he tumbled into my lap and I slit his throat with his own
sword.
Pain and dripping blood from a cut above my brow blurred my vision, but I needed to get up. The
hilt of a warhammer and Vilkas huge sword were crossed in a duel of strength, drug against
beastblood, directly in front of the boy. But the limp body lying in the corner behind them was
stirring again despite the stab wound in his side, the first man Vilkas had brought down. He
should have been dead but wasnt, inhuman, artificial strength guiding him into another attack. He
forced himself to his knees and to his feet, blood-dripping hands clenched around his enormous
weapon, forced himself into a last attack with a brutal roar, bloody foam at his mouth. A deadly
steelen weight swung in a wide circle, aimed for Vilkas head.
I didnt have time to think. WULD!
I shot forwards, shoving the Companion out of the way of the hammers head. The squishing
sound of the boys skull when it crushed like an eggshell, blood and brain on my face, in my
mouth, everywhere.
NOOO!
The world moved on in slow-motion. We were a tangle of limbs and steel, Vilkas beneath me,
yelling and struggling and shoving me away while I crashed a throat with my heel and broke a
neck with my weight. He impaled the last man from behind, the huge body of the warrior
embracing the small one of the child for a moment in a macabre hug before it slid to the ground.
Suddenly it was quiet, nothing audible but the wind howling around the wreck and through the
gaps in the planks. I felt strangely light-headed when I took the scene in, the corpse of the boy, the
corpses around us. We had failed. It didnt go into my head. Everybody was dead, but the boy
the golden light flared up, unasked, unbidden, tickling in my palm as my fingers flexed around the
gory mass that had been the tear-stained, frightened face of a child only moments ago.
Vilkas weapon fell from his grip, I heard it clank to the floor behind me.
You killed him.
No. My own tears made me blind.
You killed him!
I kept the spell up, panting, crying, until the meaning of his scream dropped slowly into my mind.
The light between my hands died down as I propped myself against the wall, one corpse between
my arms, another lying at my feet. Kodlak had told us to do everything possible. To do everything
necessary, and still we had failed.
You could have prevented this, Vilkas, I whispered under my breath. It wasnt my fault. It
couldnt be my fault, not again. I wouldnt allow that he blamed me for saving his fucking life.
You could have saved him. But of course your stupid promise is more important than a life. I
paused for a moment, with closed eyes, my forehead leaning against my arm. Gods, your brother
is so much smarter than you
Only because I chose to turn my head, the stab wound in my shoulder searing up with sudden
pain, I could watch him break. Understanding crept into his features when he grasped what I had
said, what I knew, and the protective layer of his self-control shattered all of a sudden. A thousand
fragments nothing would mend, not even the blood he would spill now.
A strangled sound came from his chest, and the backhanded slap of his gauntlet left deep gashes in
my cheek before it clenched around my throat.
You know nothing. Desperate, furious, mindless bloodlust in his face. He pressed me against
the wall, trapped and covered me with his weight, his hand clenching around my throat. Just like
that first time, after the harvest festival, the only difference now that hed strangle me. And that no
one else was here to stop him.
My hands around his wrist, fighting against him with every bit of strength I had left, did nothing. I
didnt have the breath to scream or to shout, panic and pain numbing my senses.
My nose broke with a sickening crunch when he crashed his forehead into my face. And then the
steel of his free hand pierced cold and sharp into my flesh, under the waistband of my pants,
ripping, shredding the leather away, and I went limp in his grip.
No. Just kill me. Not this. Please.
You will not take him. A manic grimace of hate and despair, the movements of his hand erratic,
the other tightening around my throat. You cant you dont have the right!
He screamed when the dam broke and his body was on mine and claimed it, flesh against flesh, a
bare weapon, ready to destroy. He didnt even hear my strangled, wordless begging.
You know nothing!
Blinding pain kept me conscious although my vision tunnelled from lack of air, and I watched
him, heard him pant and cry against my skin, his face hidden in my neck that he still didnt let go,
felt the frantic bucking of his body into mine and his fingers tearing through the skin of my back in
long, bleeding scratches, as if he searched for something to hold on to. You will learn, he
whispered, and it was as if I observed us from somewhere outside, detached from my body and
mind.
It didnt matter who had killed the boy, someone had to pay the price, and this was the deal. One
life for another, one soul for another. Nothing was left, no will to survive, no belief, no hope. Just
pain, hate and humiliation.
It felt familiar. I should have known.
Release into the darkness only came when I heard the howl of a wolf on the run.
When the mind is barred against reality and the soul is shred to pieces, instincts still keep a body
alive. I woke between corpses and there was blood everywhere, oozing from the wounds in my
face, shoulder and back and running down my thighs, but I washed it away with fresh snow,
frozen to the bones, because I didnt want to stain the furs I wrapped myself into. Only my
instincts and the skooma kept me going, made my feet move, step by step along the icy coast until
I reached the road. My mind was closed down against the cold, the weather, the injuries and what
had caused them, shut down from the world, but somehow my body survived through the snow
and the agony.
I cursed him for it, for every breath, every searing pain and every sign of awareness when the first
half-conscious thought broke through. When I woke up on a haypile in an empty box of
Solitudes stables, between horses and the mules of the carriage drivers. The wounds and scars
were new, and they marked a stranger. When I saw my own charred face for the first time, a
blurry reflection in a bowl of water, I hid my eyes beneath a layer of coal. Fridrika, the wife of
Solitudes stable master told me how they had found me, how I went berserk despite the injuries
when her husband tried to carry me away, how it was impossible to take me into the city and to
the temple. The healer hadnt been able to touch me.
I knew myself well enough. Even if I wanted to, wanted so badly to dive into the darkness and
never rise again in those half-aware moments, I knew Id never be able to harm myself. I would
carry on like I had always carried on, somehow. It was just one more closed room, one more key
thrown away, one more period of my life I wouldnt be able to touch again. I was used to it. Walls
that had become brittle, walls I had torn down in moments of weakness and trust, they were
rebuilt, more solid than ever.
I would not go crazy. Never again. Again, it was time to leave everything behind.
I didnt answer their question, blocked off the intrusive inquisitiveness of their curiosity without
bothering to be polite. No, I didnt want to speak with the guards or the Jarl or a priest. No, I
didnt think anyone else was in danger, and I left the strangers care as soon as I was able to stand
on my own feet again, took nothing with me but the old clothes they had clad me into and an iron
dagger I stole from their workshop. To survive in the wilds with less than necessary, to endure
cold and pain and hunger was a simple necessity. It didnt affect me. My body was just an empty
shell with nothing left to care for.
I travelled through the frozen land, stole what I needed, avoided the travellers on the road that led
me southwards. They were few and far between anyway. To reach the little camp in Falkreaths
pine forest was like coming home. Here I had started over already once, all on my own. Here I
had found back to myself and left Cheydinhal behind. Here I had nothing to think of but to keep
myself alive, and here I would leave Whiterun and Jorrvaskr behind as well.
Destiny had pushed me out of this seclusion and forced me to get in contact again, to form bonds
and establish trust. It had been a mistake. It had been just another lesson. Once I had sworn that
my soul was mine alone, that I would never serve, never obey again. Now I was Dovahkiin, a
woman with the soul of a dragon. But it was still mine. I would never again give it away.
I starved, and I froze. Not much game was out for the hunt during this time of year, even if the
dense forest sheltered me from the worst of the blizzards and snowstorms. My traps stayed empty
most of the time, and the brittle bones of rabbits and skeever were useless to make arrowheads of
them. A lone wolf roamed around my camp for days, scraggy and famished. Even my simple
knife was sharp enough to kill him when he caught himself in one of my snares, too weak already
to break free. He didnt snap at me any more when I approached him, and his eyes told me that the
deliverance from his agony was mercy. Wolf eyes, their shine so frightening familiar. They
haunted my sleep afterwards.
But I ate him regardless although his old, stringy meat tasted horrible like the meat of all predators,
his mangy fur became blanket, cloak and armour all in one, his sinews the string for a new bow.
I lived off the land, ate frozen berries, roots and nuts I stole from the squirrels storages. An empty
beehive from last year was a feast, the leftover honey used to sweeten the tea I made from willow
bark, the brew the only means to ease the manifold aches that came with constant starvation. I ate
everything, but most often I ate skeever, the vermin active even when everything else was dead,
sleeping through the frost or had fled to the south. Their furs became mittens and footlets, I ate
their meat, cooked their carcasses into a broth and sucked the marrow out of their bones.
I was weak, but I lived somehow, and hunger and cold kept me from thinking. The future only
reached to the next day, and every day I survived brought me further away from my past.
One morning, when I woke with a familiar weight on my feet and they were warm for the first
time in weeks, I felt nearly something like joy. I didnt know where he came from or how he had
found me, but to have Snowback around was no burden although now I had to bring him through
as well.
The seclusion of my camp surrounded me like a soothing shell, with only the dog as company,
faithful, reliable and grateful. Hunger and cold were our constant companions through these
wintry weeks, until I could count every single rib of my friend through his mangy fur, until my
own cheeks were hollow, my lips charred and bloody and every little bruise took weeks to heal. I
didnt care any more for the magic I had learned. I had given up to be useful. But we fell back into
the old familiar routines as if Id never been away, defended our home against the wildlife looking
for easy prey, and somehow I kept us alive.
Hunger and cold were accepted, they belonged to me, they were part of my existence. There was
nothing else left. I did not look at the brightly lit windows in the distance, their invitation wasnt
meant for me. I did not miss the warmth of a fire, a door to close behind me, someone elses steps
in the snow or the sound of a voice. Not even my own. Nothing disturbed the silence around me
but Snowbacks occasional whimper. The hunters that roamed the forest during the summer
months were gone, riding out the frost and snow somewhere warm and safe, perhaps together,
perhaps with their families. Often I spent days without hearing anything but the rustling of a
falling leaf and my own breath.
The only sound sometimes disturbing me was the odd roar of a dragon thrumming through the
sky. It rang like a bell, a booming blast of power, but I never saw them, sheltered from the
vastness of the sky and the land by the woods around me, and their voice blew away on the wind
if I waited long enough. They never stayed. They never hunted near me. They were as guarded of
their souls as I.
My soul was as frozen as my surroundings, sturdy and stable like a glacier. I did not intend to
thaw it ever again.
Chapter End Notes
This is the end of part 1, as Q. has for now safely reached the rock bottom of her
journey. From now on, it will go upwards.
Both ways. Through the snow.
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