Eyes on the Prey: 13. Morthal

eotp_wp_013_morthal

Even when I opened my eyes everything stayed black, and I couldn’t 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 didn’t change me, didn’t 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 didn’t 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 didn’t 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 couldn’t 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, I’m aware that you just argued a dragon to death, but this won’t work with me, so don’t even try. What’s so frightening about this inn that you don’t even dare to enter it?”

His expression became harried as he sat down beside me. “The keeper.”

“What does that mean, you’re afraid of the innkeeper?”

“Well, not exactly afraid. But… I don’t want to meet her. And when she realises that you’re here with me, she won’t help you either! I’m sorry…”

“And why not? We’d pay for her services, for Kyne’s sake!”

“She doesn’t like me.” He looked so contrite, his look pleading not to ask further that I didn’t insist. But I decided that I didn’t like this woman at all. Farkas was clearly one of the nicest, friendliest and most amenable men I had ever met. We didn’t even want to beg for help, only buy a meal and perhaps some potions and rent a room. I couldn’t believe that whatever had happened between them could be so serious to deny him such an ordinary deal.

But all this mess didn’t 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 couldn’t just go somewhere else. Perhaps the idea to visit the Jarl and hope for her gratitude wasn’t that bad at all.

“You dare to come here? After all you’ve 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 Jarl’s court mage wanted to murder him on the spot, and I wasn’t sure if I found this reaction to his presence alarming, annoying or amusing.

The Redguard standing beside the throne of the Jarl didn’t 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. What’s going on here?”

“That bastard, he has …”

But Farkas cut in curtly, straightening his stance with a groan.

“Jarl Idgrod, it’s an honour to meet you. I’m 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, we’ve seen a dragon nearby recently, it even catched some goats. No people so far, fortunately. You say it’s 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, he’s not worth your attention!”

“Falion, please. I don’t know what’s going on between you and our guest, but if there’s a dragon skeleton lying around somewhere in my hold, it certainly hasn’t been there yesterday, or I would know about it. Don’t be silly.”

She turned to us.

“Farkas, please explain. Why is there only a skeleton? Don’t think I’m 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 she’s the Dragonborn. She absorbed his soul. It’s hard to believe if you’ve not seen it for yourself, but… there’s not much left after it.”

Farkas faltered, his face ashen from the pain and the long standing. The Jarl finally reacted. “Please, sit down. I’m sorry I didn’t 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 don’t want to hear a word! These warriors have done us a great service, all of us, and they deserve our gratitude. They’re 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.

“It’s… it’s 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! It’s 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 didn’t 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 hasn’t told you till today, he certainly doesn’t want to now. Not sure why, but… how long do you travel with this guy already, Qhourian?”

“A few months. And he’s the best companion and shield-brother I ever had!” I added stubbornly. It was more weeks than months and I didn’t have much comparison… but she didn’t 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 man’s past holds a secret. Not a very dark secret – in fact, it’s quite pretty -, and not a very well hidden secret, but a secret nevertheless. But now that you’re here it will probably be revealed anyway, so let’s 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, she’s the keeper of our Moorside Inn. Her brother is very protective of her, but it seems that once he hasn’t been attentive enough. I believe your Farkas here is the father of Jonna’s little girls.”

This was… as the meaning of Idgrod’s 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 that’s why you didn’t want to come here?”

He groaned, but he nodded in confirmation. Cold sweat formed on my temples.

“I’m 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. “It’s not like that…” he mumbled, but I interrupted him.

“It’s not like that?” I yelled, “you dare to? It’s always like that, you fuck around and we can deal with the outcome! And I wondered why she doesn’t like you, when it was you who abandoned her! Honourable Companion my ass, as long as you can stick your dick into someone you don’t care a shit!”

I jumped up and paced through the hall although every single muscle protested, not looking at him. I couldn’t 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 that’s 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 don’t have a father?” I didn’t 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 don’t care,” he said lowly. “It’s not true that I don’t care.” Only resignation and sadness were in his voice.

“And why in Oblivion…” I shouted at him, but Idgrod’s 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 don’t need his explanations. He’s 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.

“Don’t 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 didn’t concern me, after all. This Jonna was a grown woman, and whatever had happened between them, it wasn’t my business. It had just confirmed what I knew anyway.

“Let me explain. Please.”

“I don’t 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. It’s 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 don’t want your explanations. It’s not my business anyway.”

“But it’s not like that. It’s not always so easy. Please… just listen,” he said imploringly. It’s not always so easy. As if I was naïve 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 haven’t used her. Yes, we slept together, but… it has just happened. You can blame a lot on me, but not that I used her. I’d 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 didn’t want it, we both didn’t 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 couldn’t! She’s been wonderful, and perhaps I even loved her that night, but I couldn’t 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 they’re precious enough to do anything for them, but… they’re better off with their mother here! Falion hates me, and perhaps he’s right, but he acts as if I’m running around and impregnating everything with a pulse and a skirt. Jonna knows that’s not true, and she knows that I care and I try to support her, but I just can’t live the way she and Falion want me to. I told her I’d marry her if she didn’t force me to leave Whiterun, but she said that this is her home and that Jorrvaskr is no place for children, and now she doesn’t want to see me at all unless I stay… and I haven’t 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 wasn’t my business, after all. He would have to live with it, not I.

“Qhouri?”

Gods, I couldn’t bear this helplessness in his face. As if he expected me to fix this mess. I sighed. “It’s 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 can’t. You had some comfort and warmth for a night, and she has to deal with the result. That’s a fact.”

“But I do care! I want to care for them, I wanna spend time here or take them to Jorrvaskr when they’re a bit older, if only she let me! Gods, they’re 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 wasn’t 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, “she’s not, and your sister isn’t 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?” Falion’s 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.

“You’re a coward, Farkas,” I snapped, “I can defend myself. I don’t need you to protect my honour. What does that mean, you want to care? Who cares if it’s not so easy? If you really wanted, you’d 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 didn’t 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 wasn’t even sure why I made this effort… all this wasn’t my business, after all.

It wasn’t 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 wasn’t always so easy. And who was I to judge?

“What is your problem? If I understood correctly, you didn’t 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.

“You’re a hypocrite, Falion. Your sister hasn’t been raped. She slept with him on her own consent.” That at least I believed him, Farkas wouldn’t abuse a woman. The mage’s 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 didn’t try harder, but I didn’t say it out loud.

“Of course he won’t 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 didn’t expect.

“Gods, you’re really a pitiful creature. You see a man and a woman travelling together, and your spoiled mind makes up everything else. Surprise, Falion: Farkas won’t 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. “There’s 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 didn’t 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 wasn’t 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 wasn’t only his fault… it never was only one person’s 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 didn’t 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? I’d 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 couldn’t withhold my curiosity. He answered my questioning look with a sigh and a helpless shrug of his shoulders.

“It’s… difficult. At first, she just wanted to throw me out. Can’t blame her. If I were just a bit better in… explaining myself! I told her that I’m sorry that I haven’t 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 you’re no coward.”

He drove anxiously with his hands through his hair. “You should have told me earlier. I’m not sure if it isn’t already too late to fix this mess… I really want to see them grow up. But Jonna… she’s 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. I’m 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, you’re the woman who’s keeping the father of my children away from his family.”

This wasn’t a good start, definitely. The dark alto sounded… well, at least it didn’t 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 wasn’t returned.

“It’s an honour to meet you, Jonna.” I didn’t know what else to say. The atmosphere was definitely below freezing.

The woman didn’t return my greeting. She didn’t even offer us a place, and her scrutiny was piercing.

“I don’t care if you’re 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 didn’t turn on the spot and left because Farkas let out such a piteous groan. But I wouldn’t argue with this woman.

“Would you jump down my throat the same if I was a man, Jonna?” I asked calmly. “No, you wouldn’t. Your jealousy is ridiculous, I have nothing to do with this mess you two managed to get in. You know what I don’t care about? I don’t care what you think of me.

“Just to make a few things very clear: First, I didn’t 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, he’s my shield-brother, not my lover. He may or may not marry whoever he wants, I don’t 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 won’t, 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, it’s 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 Jarl’s offer of a quarter for this night still stood.

I broke my fast alone, Farkas nowhere to be seen and Idgrod already busy. I didn’t know if it was a good or a bad sign that Farkas had not spent the night in the Jarl’s 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 you’re bored. What’s the matter with your companion?”

“I’d rather not know,” I snickered.

She gave me a lighthearted grin. “I’ve sent Falion on an errand today to keep him out of the way. But if you’re 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. I’m 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. Idgrod’s men were well trained and geared, much better than our enemies, but they defended their miserable lives with a brutality and tenacity we hadn’t 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 wasn’t used to this kind of fight, and I couldn’t 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 didn’t I pay enough attention and slipped in a muddy puddle, felt my feet move away in directions I definitely didn’t 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 wouldn’t 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 doesn’t 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? I’ve been looking for you, and when Idgrod told me where you’ve gone, what did you think I’d do? Wait for you with an ale at the fire while you’ve all the fun out here? I knew you’d need me.” Don’t get used to that pretentious smirk, brother. But I had to admit, he wasn’t 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 they’re told, everyone on his own. You two – you don’t 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.”

“It’s just a matter of… experience,” Farkas answered. “We’ve been through many fights together, you get used to each other. It’s how we Companions do things. We never go out alone, but we’re seldom more than two of us. We’re used to be outnumbered, and it’s 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.

“Don’t 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 don’t 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. “It’s not quite such a mess any more, Qhouri. I’ve been with the girls yesterday, and we’ve 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 that’s good, isn’t it? I mean… have you sorted things out? Found a solution?”

A hint of sadness flitted over his face and replaced the happiness. “I can’t 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 I’m not here all the time. And… I can just hope that’s 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 didn’t 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 you’re not… that we don’t… ” Now his ears glowed in a bright red.

I regarded him pensively. “It doesn’t matter what people think, Farkas. And now you go and share some time with your family, but I’d rather stay at Highmoon.”

“Okay.” He seemed relieved. “I’ll see you tomorrow then. How about breakfast together? Or do you have another bandit raid scheduled?”

“No, I’ll 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.”

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2 thoughts on “Eyes on the Prey: 13. Morthal

  1. —The woman didn’t return my greeting. She didn’t even offer us a place, and her scrutiny was piercing.

    “I don’t care if you’re 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.”—

    Poor Qhouri, that is a harsh environment for sure. I’m surprised she didn’t chew off her own leg to get out of there.

    • Well, yes, it’s more than awkward, and it’s not her business, but she’s learned in the meantime not to let herself get insulted. Not even for her companion ^^

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