“I have an announcement to make!”
The mead hall was filled for dinner, but the Harbinger’s 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 wouldn’t be here any more as well if not for the… persuasive skills of some of our members. But it’s 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 hadn’t spoken with him since the night in the Underforge – no, actually since the day after Dustman’s 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 didn’t engage in the everyday chitchat and hadn’t 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 wasn’t something trivial, but it wasn’t 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, you’ll 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 can’t go in those rags!”, I exploded.
“All of you, stop it! Athis, you promised nothing would change with this, but now I feel like I’m gonna be ritually slaughtered! I will stay as I am, wear my usual armour, and let’s 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 didn’t 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 Jorrvaskr’s 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 didn’t know who’d be the third. And I didn’t 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 didn’t 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 doesn’t 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 hadn’t moved, but when our eyes met, he held my gaze with burning intensity. Even Kodlak’s face showed surprise. This wasn’t 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 wasn’t 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 wouldn’t 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 couldn’t 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 Whiterun’s 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. “I’m 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 didn’t flinch back, felt his warmth and took in his scent. It was familiar… and it was just a moment of peace and tranquillity. We didn’t have to talk – not now, not yet.
It was a glittering, joyous, glorious night. Although I didn’t accept by far every tankard that was offered, I felt the alcohol rush to my head far too soon, but it didn’t 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 Ria’s flute rose again over the noise. I couldn’t remember when I had split my sides laughing the last time, but when Athis’ and Njada’s dance first led to an argument about who stepped on whose toes first, then a wrestle with both of them trying to crunch the other’s 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.
“It’s… it’s awesome!”
“Yes, it is, but don’t get too attached to it,” the mage smirked. “This is a soulgem, filled with the soul of a mammoth. It’s powerful, and I will enchant whatever you want with it and show you how it works. How it is supposed to work.”
I didn’t have to think about it twice. “Could you make me an amulet? With protection against magic?”
“A necklace? Of course… but that’s 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, I’m sure you can do incredible things with this and all these ideas are great. But… if you have to destroy it, I’d 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.
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. “I’m 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. You’ll get there, you show potential. Sooner or later Farkas will have to carry you to bed, I promise.”
No, he wouldn’t, 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 didn’t 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, Whiterun’s 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, wasn’t 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 Tilma’s 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 weren’t 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 wouldn’t be able to hit anything smaller than the Jarl’s 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 he’s just at the western watchtower where one of my patrols tries to distract him. Not sure how successful they are, but we mustn’t let him come near the walls!”
It’s 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 wasn’t the same that had destroyed Helgen, this one’s 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 it’s entirely impossible to predict where they will be the next moment, let alone chase them.
Second lesson: Cover is crucial. They don’t 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 it’s possible to target them for more than a second, it’s in fact quite easy to hit them. Especially their wings. They’re 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 didn’t 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 didn’t see any progress – he had to be spiked like a pincushion with all of us firing at him in a similar manner, but it didn’t 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 wasn’t 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 wasn’t 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 didn’t rise as high any more, and a dragon shadowing the sun only a few feet above my head was something I’d 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 wasn’t prepared when he finally fell, nobody was. His roar became a screech, but he didn’t 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.
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 Malacath’s 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 didn’t 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 didn’t 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 wouldn’t have cared. But everybody did, unfortunately. When I proposed that Irileth should rather sooner than later check Honningbrew’s secret mead recipe for any hallucinogens, she wasn’t amused at all.
And the skeleton. Yes… this was something that was still there, the enormous twisted and bleached bones lying at the watchtower’s 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 Y’ffre’s 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 you’re 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 didn’t take me seriously, and it didn’t 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 wasn’t 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 didn’t 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 dragon’s 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 didn’t 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, that’s something you have to ask someone else. Akatosh, for example.” At least he didn’t show this ridiculous awe I met everywhere.
“Honestly, I think a visit to the Greybeards is not the worst idea. They’re probably the only ones who can help you any further, unless of course you want to find another dragon to teach you directly. They’re the masters of the Thu’um, they’ve 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 didn’t 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 I’d 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 doesn’t 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 wasn’t 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.
“I’ve thought about it, Qhouri, and I won’t let you go through this alone. After all, I’ve some experience with weird soul stuff.” Perhaps he wasn’t as reconvalescent any more as I had thought.
“Oh, and while we’re at it, we could get rid of those thugs in the Valtheim Towers, the Jarl has a bounty on them. If you don’t mind, of course.”
Of course I didn’t 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. “I’m jealous, you know that? If these Greybeards weren’t something so incredibly Nordic, I would’ve volunteered to join you. Promise to take me with you next time, that’s 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 weren’t 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 wasn’t as ferocious as I had feared though, his opponents obviously too astonished that this easy victim wasn’t 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 didn’t have a chance while we didn’t 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. “They’re even more useful with a distracting meatshield.”
He growled in faux anger. “Meatshield? Meatshield? I’ll 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 didn’t try really hard.
“Meatshield, you’re 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 I’d 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 didn’t follow me. “Get us some firewood, whelp. I’m 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.