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 shouldn’t let him harass me. On the other hand, although I knew I could rely on his support, I didn’t want to bring him into this situation, to be chafed in a quarrel that wasn’t 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 Jarl’s housecarl greeted him proved that he had in fact excellent connections to the palace.
As soon as I entered Farengar’s quarters, the question if and how to confront Vilkas and the others had taken care of itself; the whole Circle had gathered around the mage’s 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!”
“I’m sorry…,” I muttered, “I’m just bringing the Dragonstone.” I placed the heavy disc on Farengar’s desk and was already half through the door again when I heard Kodlak’s voice.
“Qhourian, wait. We’ve 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 wouldn’t 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? Couldn’t 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 wouldn’t let him exploit me. And I wouldn’t 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 didn’t really care for his brother. He didn’t really care for anybody, it seemed. He just cared for himself, his injured pride and his reputation, but I wouldn’t 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 didn’t 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 wasn’t all my fault, but nothing would have happened if I had simply left Jorrvaskr as soon as I was able to. But I didn’t, 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 didn’t 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 didn’t 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 didn’t matter. I barely noticed when he approached, his index tracing my wrist and his breath hot when he whispered in my ear.
“I haven’t seen you dance. Don’t you enjoy the music? I could play something… special. Something special for a beautiful lady.”
No answer was as good as approval. I didn’t 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 didn’t matter when his whisper became moist. “Why so sad, my pretty? Let me play for you…”
It didn’t matter when he turned my face to his lips, his eyes sparkling with the excitement of conquest. I watched myself with an astonishment that didn’t make it any more into coherent thoughts. It didn’t matter, he’d do anyway what he wanted, and I was just too tired to do anything against it.
But it also didn’t matter when he was suddenly gone.
“Take your dirty hands off her, filthy rat!”
Blood gushed out of his nose when Skjor’s 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 Mikael’s chair, “I don’t even like blondes. My saviour. Drink with me.” I held my tankard up to his chest, the sticky liquid sloshing over my wrist. He didn’t budge, and I pouted at him. “You don’t 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 didn’t look dangerous. I thought he looked funny with his one eye and these silly stripes over his face.
I took Mikael’s 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 didn’t matter. He wasn’t dangerous.
“Hulda, which one’s 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.
He came in as I tried to drown the mammoths in a gallon of a horrible concoction Hulda sold me as hangover tea. It didn’t taste much better than rotten skeever, but mammoths can swim. And giants can too. He didn’t look funny any more as he dropped down on the chair opposite of me. Only angry, tired and sad.
I didn’t 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 you’ve been right. He thinks his soul was torn apart, and he will try to mend it. It won’t 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. He’s 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 don’t 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. It’s an experiment I’d 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 don’t 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 Farengar’s 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 daren’t 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. It’s a battle of man against wolf, every single time, but it’s a battle Farkas can’t win in his current state. That’s why we’re all here.”
He took a deep breath, worry flitting over his face. And over Farengar’s. “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 can’t 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, I’m not sure. But you’ve been with Farkas when it happened. Your face is perhaps his last conscious memory – if he still has something like memories at all. It’s not much more than a guess, but it could help him to come back when you’re around, when he can sense that you’re 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 didn’t 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 hair’s 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 wasn’t 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 didn’t smell any bloodlust in them, just determination. There were others in the cave – familiar, not prey, but also not pack. He wasn’t 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 didn’t 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 didn’t show any reaction, lay motionless as I stroked along his long jaw – I didn’t know if I had expected one. I felt more than saw Skjor release him and rise to his feet, and still he didn’t 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 didn’t leave his twin’s 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 wasn’t 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 wasn’t the place any more where fate had simply dropped me. It wasn’t 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 didn’t like me, and I didn’t 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 he’d 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 shouldn’t 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, I’d 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 didn’t 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 wasn’t 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…”
“Don’t be silly. You know that’s 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 didn’t 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 didn’t 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 didn’t even need physical violence to get his way. That everybody would not only anticipate, but fulfil his wishes without question.
But I wasn’t 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 I’ll 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 can’t!”
“But he’s right, Qhouri,” Aela’s 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 wouldn’t let me back out again.
I wanted to scream my rage out over the plains and breathed heavily, trying to calm myself. I looked through him, and I wouldn’t let him force me to do anything I didn’t want. He was right in only one point: that I had to make a decision. And I would. Right now.
When I felt Aela’s 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 wouldn’t 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, “don’t try to stop me.”
Suddenly his features relaxed, and a small smile quirked his lips. A real, nearly gentle smile. “I won’t,” he said lowly, “unless you’re going to tell him goodbye.”
“You wish!” I hissed, “no, I’m gonna…” His smile deepened, and the meaning of his words dropped in. “What?”
He shook his head, and the smile flashed into a grin. “You’re far too easy to rile up.” He took a deep breath. “I meant what I said, Qhourian. That I want you to stay. And I’m sorry.”
“You’re gonna apply for membership?”
“Yes.” I straightened my shoulders.
“Good. I’d like to talk to you. In private and in earnest. If you don’t 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 wasn’t the Vilkas I knew. The bastard. I held his eyes wearily. “You don’t 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.
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 brother’s judgement,” he said finally. “Sometimes he’s 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. “I’m not entirely sure yet what exactly his reasons are, but… you have probably recognised already that it’s nearly impossible… no, that it’s entirely impossible to keep secrets in Jorrvaskr.”
“Yeah, obviously,” I snorted.
“I didn’t 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 didn’t 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 can’t 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 wasn’t your business, Vilkas. It still isn’t. 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 you’ve made a decision.”
“It’s about time,” I said with a weak grin.
“What happened with Farkas, it wasn’t your business either. You weren’t supposed to see all this, to experience all this… but you did. And you seemed a convenient culprit. But you weren’t, 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. We’ve 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 hadn’t 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 don’t remember it… but Farkas does, and that’s why he lost control.” Now his eyes turned back to me, bright, clear and determined. “I’ve 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. It’s nothing I can make up for, but you shall know that I’m aware of it. And that I’m sorry.”
“I know you were afraid for him.”
He clenched his teeth. “Yes. But that’s no reason to…”
I interrupted him. “I know how you felt, Vilkas. How you feel when it comes to your brother.”
I wasn’t sure if it was smart to be so blunt with him. But he had taken this step, and it hadn’t 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 don’t, because I was only ten when I lost my sister. But I know how it feels to have a twin.”
“You’re a twin too?”
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. You’ve no idea what you’ve gotten yourself into. And There’s more to come. You know nothing so far.
I didn’t trust him. I didn’t believe him that he told me all this without calculating, even if he seemed genuine now. Vilkas didn’t do anything without ulterior motives, and it wasn’t that we had become best friends forever all of a sudden. But he didn’t trust me either, not completely, and with that we were on par. At least we had something like a basis now.