Eyes on the Prey: 14. Brothers

eotp_wp_014_brothers

Every stranger entering the Moorside Inn next morning would have just seen an utterly ordinary family having the first meal of the day together. Parents chatting about everyday problems like parents do it everywhere and have done it forever, the children wriggling about in their chairs, eager to finish and get out into the autumn sun. It looked so normal, and Farkas looked so rooted, so content as he sat there amidst his family, in his simple clothes, unarmed and unpainted – I wasn’t sure what to make of it.

But his face lit up when I entered, my pack already slung over my shoulder and geared to leave. “Qhouri, there you are! Come on, sit down,” his hand pointed at the chair beside him. I felt uncomfortable. Jonna’s whole posture wasn’t unwelcoming, but it also made very clear that this was her territory, and that I was only tolerated. That unlike Farkas, I didn’t belong here.

The girls broke the ice. “Why do you wear armour for breakfast?” “Have you really slain a dragon?” “Are you a soldier?” “Do they spit fire?” “Have you found treasures in your travels?” Their innocent curiosity was as cute as overwhelming. Farkas stopped them with a laugh, urging them to let me eat and giving me opportunity to look at them more closely for the first time. Oh yes. No one but he – or his brother – were in question for this fatherhood.

Farkas’ daughters were simply enchanting. Their dark skin, though several shades lighter than the one of their mother, and the long black curls flowing around their faces clearly showed their Redguard heritage. But they were big for their age, at least as far as I could estimate, with a lean but sturdy build, and their eyes… these silver-blue eyes shining out of their dark faces were absolutely unique. Farkas-eyes, in a big wide saucer version. Adorable. He would have to watch over them quite closely in a few years, when they’d have grown up to rather exotic beauties.

I didn’t want to linger too long, the way back south would take several days at best, and I wanted to get as far as possible on the first. But… it was just too comfortable to sit in this small round, with the kids keeping us busy, asking questions about our travels, Jonna and Farkas trying together to keep their bursting vitality in check. I wasn’t sure if there was a true peace agreement behind this exhibition of harmony or if it was just a truce, but I could see that Farkas was more relaxed than I had seen him for a long time. The warmth, the solidity of the situation spread over and into my own restlessness. After all, this was what we fought for. It was good to be reminded.

“Farkas, don’t you have to pack?”

Jonna’s words surprised me. “What do you have to pack? Didn’t you want to…”

But he just stood up, laid a hand on my shoulder and left with a smile. “See you later, ladies!”

“And you two, out with you, Agni and Virkmund are already waiting. And leave the mill workers alone, that’s no playground!”

Now I felt awkward, alone with the woman. She stared at me as if she wanted to explore – and judge – the core of my being. The silence between us seemed endless.

“He never even considered not to leave with you today, you know?” she said finally, refilling our tankards with tea. “Just as he didn’t even consider not to go after you yesterday when the Jarl told him that you were out fighting bandits. That’s probably just how it is… no, please don’t say anything. I can’t help it, and you can’t help it either. I need to get some things off my chest, and I either say them now or never.”

I swallowed my answer, but I knew my thoughts were easily readable. Relief that Farkas would come with me. Remorse that he’d come with me.

“I’m not happy with… all of this. Before you two appeared, I just got used to the situation. It’s not easy to grow children as a woman alone, in a small village like this. People talk. And in my job, you become… fair game for some men, it’s become even worse with all the soldiers passing through recently. But that’s how it is, and I deal with it.

“But… I still had my dreams. I always wanted nothing more than a real family, a loving husband and a bunch of children to care for. Falion and I, we grew up without parents. He’s always taken care of me, since I was a little girl, and he hasn’t stopped till today. That’s why he is so… stubborn, when it comes to me. He always thought he has to protect me. But I never abandoned this dream, and until now, it was tied to Farkas. I couldn’t help it, he’s the father of the two most precious gifts of my life. I loved him for it, for them, I still do, and I wanted nothing more than to live and raise them together with him. But every time he visited us, it’s always been clear that he would leave again. And then I hated him for it. Not only because he doesn’t want to settle down here with us, but because… he doesn’t love me. Not like that. There was a time when I wanted to make him just as miserable as I felt. I knew I couldn’t force him to choose me, but at least I wanted to force him to choose – between his life and his daughters.

“These days I’ve learned that this will never happen. I don’t have the right to force him, and I have to think of the girls – they deserve to know their father, it’s not that they have to be ashamed of him. But mainly because I’ve seen you both together, and heard how he talks about you. Yes, I know, you’re not… whatever, and I believe you. But everybody can see how close you are. Oh, I’m still mad at you, because whatever you say, you share so much more with him than I ever did or ever will. But you also opened my eyes about this. That even if you were killed by a dragon today, it would change nothing for me. There’s no good to clench to silly dreams which will never come true.”

She took a deep breath.

“What I wanted to say, actually: Whenever Farkas comes to visit us, you’re welcome here too. And I wanted to ask you to… look after him, please. You’re on a dangerous road. Please watch over him.”

The usual cheerfulness was missing from him when we finally left Morthal, his face set and unreadable. I remembered the last moments. I stood apart, not wanting to disturb as Farkas was occupied with his daughters. “Take care of each other, will you?” he whispered into their ears when he finally set them down, their thin arms slung around his neck. He hugged Jonna closely, their foreheads leaning against each other and whispering something, but then he followed me out of the town and didn’t look back.

I felt a weight lifting from me when the last building vanished behind us. I envied him. He had an ability to make himself at home wherever he came, to root himself in places, to be content with the moment that escaped me entirely. It felt awful to know that I had ripped him away from one of these places again, but I was relieved that we finally left.

Relieved, but not relaxed. Not as relaxed as I had been with him before all this, and he wasn’t either.

Somewhere during the last days we had lost the lightness in our dealings, the easygoing companionship. For the first time we had fought and yelled at each other, but that wasn’t the problem – the problem were the implications of this argument. Jonna’s speech had disturbed me deeply, because although she spoke mainly about herself, it entailed so much about my shield-brother… and about me. She didn’t know me, we had met only for a few minutes, and still she had come to the conclusion that we were closer than they had ever been. I asked myself what he had told her that she got this impression. If he compared her with me.

She had compared herself with me, and it scared me. I didn’t want to be close. Not like this… not like the mother of his children. And I didn’t want to think of him as a man, as a lover or a father. Men were dangerous. Brothers were not.

“Qhouri?” His quiet voice ripped me out of my thoughts while we trotted eastwards along the street.

“Hm?”

“Are you still mad at me?”

Gods… such a simple, innocent question, and I didn’t even have an answer to that. I raked my fingers through my hair. “No,” I said curtly.

The silence built between us, he went a few steps behind me, and my shoulders tensed under his stare.

When I felt his hand on my shoulder, I yanked violently out of his grip, my gaze directed to the ground.

“What is it?” he asked softly.

“Stop that staring!” it broke out of me, “she has no reason to be jealous!”

A small smile curled his lips. “Of course she has. We spend time together, slay dragons, see places no one has seen for ages, experience incredible things, have lots of fun… of course she’d like to take your place. Except the dragons, perhaps.”

“But we’re not…”

He became serious. “She’s not jealous of you, Qhouri… she’d feel the same towards Aela or Ria if they had been here with me.”

I pressed my lips into a thin line. “But not towards Vilkas or Skjor.”

His face closed down. “That’s true. And it’s stupid.” His jaw was tight. “I’m sorry, Qhouri. I didn’t want you to get involved in this… I really didn’t. I know I made mistakes… and I’m sorry you have to deal with this now. That people think we sleep together and Falion called you a whore.”

I took a step away from him. “That’s not the problem, Farkas. For the longest time, people knew that I fucked every man who was important enough to my master. That they assume now that I sleep with you… that’s something I can live with.”

I turned on my heels and resumed my march along the road. He didn’t understand. Of course he didn’t. It was his carefree, lighthearted attitude that made it so easy to like him, even to trust him… how could he understand me? How could he understand that he was the problem, not what people thought about me?

We walked quietly for some minutes, but then I heard fast steps behind me, and suddenly he stood before me like a wall, stopping my walk. His hands came up to my shoulders, his grip firm and determination in his face, the same expression he had worn when he had gone to confront Jonna.

“I wanna get this out of the way, once and for all. Listen to me.” He clenched his teeth. “It’s over, Qhouri. No one will ever again touch you without your consent. You won’t be forced and you won’t be abused, never again. And you don’t have to live with it when someone calls you a whore. Because you aren’t. You’re a Companion, and you deserve the same respect as everybody else.”

I stood stiffly in his grip, caught in his unrelenting stare. And then a breath broke from my ribcage I wasn’t aware that I had held it, the tension releasing all of a sudden.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered, “I didn’t mean to…”

“I know what you meant,” he interrupted me. “You’re scared and angry and you think that I’ll treat you like I treated her… careless and selfish. I know it’s my own fault. I do not know how to make up for it… I can just ask you to believe me that even an icebrain like me is able to learn, and that I respect you. As a warrior, as a shield-sister, how you cope with this Dragonborn stuff and with everything you’ve left behind. And I will have your back as long as you need me.” A single muscle twitched in his jaw, but his pale gaze burnt into mine. “Trust me, sister. Please.”

I bit my lip. I didn’t know if it were only his beast senses, but he looked through me and understood, perhaps better than I did myself. The feeling that I had to guard myself against him was driven by fears that were not real… and again I had underestimated him. Never had I felt disrespected by him. Not once.

“What did she mean… when she said we’re close?”

He cocked his head. “I’m not sure. That we look after each other. That we’re a good team.” His smile was soft, and he tugged a braid behind my ear. “And we are. You’re just not used to someone looking after you.”

He turned and gave me a light push before he removed his hand from my shoulder. “Let’s get going. It’s far too late already, we gotta get through that Labyrinth.”

We resumed our march, side by side now and in companionable, comfortable, truly relaxed silence. Now we had really left Morthal behind, at least for the moment. Shooting him a sidewards glance, I had to smile when I remembered how we had met for the first time and how I had panicked. We had gone a long way in these few weeks since then.

Sometimes I thought I knew him quite well in the meantime, but then something happened, and his reaction left me flummoxed. He was a simple man with so many facets. His fierceness in battle, the beast always lurking directly under the surface, feeding him his instincts, but the man nevertheless always in contact with his sibling, attentive and protective, never losing control. His keen loyalty to his pack, family and friends without expecting anything in return. His open, honest, sometimes blunt attitude that let him voice things that would have been impossible to talk about otherwise. His humour, always flaring up when least expected, revealing his sense of absurdity and silliness. And his naïvety, sometimes, when it came to the… more complicated human interactions. Like now, with his family. And when it led to helplessness and confusion, he fought through it like he fought through every obstacle, unafraid to be hurt.

But he caught me staring and pouted. “You’re making fun of me. Again.”

It made me laugh. “No. Just thought how scared I was when we first met. Everything hurt, and I didn’t know where I was and then you turned around the corner…”

“It’s my job to be scary,” he grumbled, but then he gave me a feeble smile. “I could smell your fear. I don’t like when people are scared without reason.”

I gave him a lighthearted grin. “I’m not scared any more.” I paused for a moment. “And better like that than otherwise. I would’ve never set a foot into Jorrvaskr if I had met Athis or you just… accidentally.”

He gave me an odd look. “Accidentally? In the Mare, for example? What do you think would have happened?”

I chuckled. “Nothing, of course. I would’ve gaped at you from afar and you wouldn’t even have noticed.”

He grinned cheekily. “No, I don’t think so. Imagine a totally ordinary girl having an afterwork drink… and a totally ordinary group of Companions storming the Mare to blast themselves off Nirn.” His grin became mischievous, his eyes sparkling with roguish laughter. “Perhaps we would have met at the counter, and I would have jostled into you and sloshed your drink over your dress. And of course I would have bought you a new one or three, and we would have talked and drunk together and perhaps danced to one of those ballads these bards always play to get things going. We would have had fun, and then you would have somehow landed in my lap, and we would have drunk some more, and you would have whispered naughty things into my poor dizzy little brain.”

I blushed at the suggestiveness in his voice, but his grin was so impish that I played along. “Is that what totally ordinary girls having an afterwork drink do with a group of totally ordinary Companions?”

“Aye. I must know, after all,” he said, nodding with utter conviction.

“And then?”

He bit his lip to remain earnest. “Then? Oh. Then I would have gifted you to Vilkas.”

My jaw fell to the ground with a dull thud. “You would have done what?”

“Yeah.” He gave me an exaggerated once-over, but his wolfish gaze was completely ruined by the snicker he couldn’t suppress. “No. Definitely not my type, far too tall and not cute enough. But Vilkas likes women he can work himself out with, and you would’ve been too drunk to recognise the difference anyway.”

He took in my dumbfounded expression with a roaring laughter, patting my back roughly. “Silly questions get silly answers, Qhouri.”

There was nothing more relaxing than to share a laugh with him. And to punch his shoulder hard enough to make him stagger.

The first sight of the field of ruins called the Labyrinthian was as breathtaking as dreadful, a foreboding sense of doom already setting in as when we approached. The circular valley was embedded high into the mountains, rocky slopes rising steeply on all sides and accessible only via a narrow path we had climbed in the dimming light. And it was called Labyrinthian for a reason. Below us extended a maze of dark, grey arcs, buildings, stairs and ramps, partly intact, partly crumpled to mere heaps of stone, so large that the other side wasn’t visible through the low clouds and the snow.

I didn’t want to go down there.

Idgrod had advised us to track through the ruins during the light of day – it was chaotic and dangerous, populated by trolls, beasts and perhaps even worse, but it was still the fastest way to cross the mountains cutting Hjaalmarch from Whiterun Hold. And the weather changed for the worse the higher we got.

“Can’t we stay here for the night?”

“No, no chance. We need at least some shelter. This,” Farkas pointed to the clouds, “will become a blizzard soon. We’re not prepared for that. There will be plenty of cover down there, in the worst case we can sit it out in one of those domes.”

Gods. I didn’t want to spend the night in a city of the dead.

He was right and reasonable of course, but an irrational fear made me shiver. I knew this wasn’t even the real labyrinth the place had its name from; that was located underground, below our feet, and we didn’t plan to enter it. I had seen enough of these Nordic tombs to know what could lurk inside, had visited and explored and cleansed them. They had never evoked that unexplained terror I felt facing these silent stones.

Farkas felt nothing of it, though. “Come on, let’s proceed as long as there’s enough light left to see where we go.” He knew of my horrible sense of direction, essentially non-existent as soon as I had to go without sun, moons and stars to help with orientation. I knew how to help myself, turning always left when in doubt and trusting that every cave had an entrance and an exit, but that wouldn’t help in this stonen chaos.

Of course we got lost, and fast. The whirling snow around us made every orientation impossible, and all the arches and walls looming above us like petrified giants looked so absolutely the same we lost track of where to go and where we’d already been in mere minutes. When even Farkas had to admit that he had no idea where exactly we were, much less where to turn next, I hurried for the opening of one of those circular domes that usually served as an entrance to the underground. We would have to ride out the storm and the night here, on the broken, shattered ground of an ancient tomb.

There was nothing to prepare for the camp, we didn’t even have the means to make a fire. I dropped down on my bedroll, hunched up against the wall, knees to my chest, and tried to calm down and to prepare for the coming hours. It was probably just the wind pelting through vents and openings evoking these hollow howls, but for my tingling senses the sound carried something clearly evil with it. I felt the freezing cold slowly crawl into my bones like a living being, gnawing at my flesh, leaving me numb and deaf and ready.

I didn’t know when it started, if it started at all or if it had been there all the time. The ground below me, unsolid, caverned and populated with unnamed beings began to tremble, gently, nearly impalpable, as if something slowly broke free from the depths, crushed the earth like the shell of an egg. It was a soothing motion, cradling my body and my mind. As if something made itself known and came to fetch me, lure me down there, with a subtle promise of warmth and stability and rest. My own shivers became one with the movement that could be a breath or the slowly drumming beat of a heart measuring time in millennia, not years or hours. I could feel it as well as I could hear it, the whisper that roared through my dazed brain.

“Dov… Ah… Kiin!”

A Shout that echoed through the ruins or just a whisper in my mind, I didn’t care. Dragonborn. Soul of a dragon. Blood of a dragon. Child of a dragon.

I was nothing, and all of this.

There was more, more words and more meanings, and I wanted this knowledge more than I had ever wanted anything before, a desire and yearning that poured through my veins. I wanted to understand them. I wanted to understand him, he who called out to me, wanted it more than my freedom, my power, my humanity. I would give it all up for this power and this knowledge, freely and gladly.

But he was gentle as he called to me, tender like the brother that he was. A true brother, master of the Voice, forgotten, discarded and lonely, deprived of his soul, trapped down in the bowels of the earth. He gave to me what he had to give like a gift, words and wisdom from the beginning of time, freely and fondly. And he took from me only what I could do without.

Soul of a dragon, soul of a human. Immortality is knowledge, mortality is life. He called to me, my eternal brother, the stones around us his bones, the freezing wind his breath, my breath the soul he wanted for himself. Soul to be shared, soul to be given, ready to be devoured. Not knowledge, but life. Knowledge for life.

The cold engulfed me like a flame, my heart beating the peaceful rhythm of the nameless, the frozen earth becoming my refuge. The earth itself thrummed my name, like a whisper, like a screech, like a Shout.

“Dov… Ah… Kiin!”

“QHOURIAN!”

It was my name too, and my shelter shattered. There was white, nothing but endless, blinding white. The cold became viscid, sticking to my bare skin, and I struggled, fought to feel or to see or to smell, anything but this horrible, ceaseless, eternal void. I screamed and heard nothing, cried for deliverance, but there was no one to spend it. I had lost my senses, and nothing was left.

The sudden pain came in a single strike, and when a part of me hurt it didn’t matter which one, finally there was something. Embracing the pain, whimpering for more, and more of it came. Pain, in my back, on my arms, on my cheeks, blows that shattered the ice with their gentle force and thawed my flesh. Merciful strikes, turning into strokes like needles, piercing my skin and making blood flow again. And finally darkness, peaceful, faithful darkness. No more eternal white, my senses were back.

He had carried me, away from the treacherous, broken ground of the tomb, through the snow and the lightning, as high as possible. How did he know?

“How did you know?” My voice was hoarse like the cracked glass under my skin. But I heard myself speak.

Eyes like the sky, so lost, so tender.

“I had to hurt you.” His voice, indistinguishable from the thunder rolling around us.

He shivered violently, a different tremble, alive, aware and ashamed, but he didn’t let go. Didn’t let me go. Hands hard and strong like steel held their relentless grip on my mind.

“You stay now. Or I’ll do it again.” Heavy puckered brows, black lines against pale skin, snowflakes on the lashes. Another brother’s breath, warm and soothing and persuasive. He breathed for me through the darkness, persistent and stubborn, and he was my shelter until the light was back.

I was a mess, senses not working like they should. Vision blurred and oversensitive, hearing without understanding, voices I didn’t understand… but at least I knew something was wrong. I was held tight, pressed against a familiar black chest, claws in my skin, fangs glittering above me. The plains drifting past in a flurry, green and brown and blue. No more white, and finally I could sleep in safety.

And then I was warm and safe again, sounds and scents around me familiar.

“Not sure if I’m still jealous. Fire and ice are okay, claws and teeth are okay, but this? This is scary.”

Scary, yes. He had no idea. Eyes the colour of freshly shed blood, darkened with concern. He lay beside me in that bed with the familiar wolfish smell, head propped into his palm, his legs entangled with mine. Another brother, not tender, but protective. I didn’t remember anything but the endless nothing.

“I don’t want to lose my mind, Athis.” Speaking hurt. My throat felt as if I had coughed glowing coals. Perhaps I had.

“Oh, I’m sure it won’t go far. Too much madness going on here, if I were a mind gone crazy I’d feel quite comfortable here. But if I find it, I’ll bring it back.”

I turned to the side, and he moved over, released me. Always cold fingers on my cheeks, tugging some lose streaks behind my ear, scratches on his bare arms. He followed my gaze.

“Good to see you back, sister. Stay a bit longer for now, won’t you?”

“How often did you save my sanity yet?”

“As often as necessary. It’s fun.” His eyes sparkled.

“Doesn’t look like that.”

“Oh, it’s nothing. We took turns in guarding you, Aela and I. Just had to keep you from hurting yourself… and you’re in good shape, you know. It was a bit like brawling, but Njada is worse.”

“How long have I been out?”

“Two days since Farkas brought you here. Before that – don’t know.”

“Where is he?”

“Just came back from Riverwood. Said he needed to fetch something.”

You are crazy. All of you.

Farkas’ steps were faint, fatigue nesting deep in the lines of his face as he entered my room – his room -, the horn in his hands. It was beautiful, although it didn’t fit to any animal I knew, carved with ashdyed glyphs and runes. Ancient, dead signs. So much trouble for such a tiny thing.

“She didn’t want to believe that I’m the Dragonborn.” His chuckle was gentle.

“As if you hadn’t enough souls to carry around. Who is she?”

“Delphine, the keeper of the Sleeping Giant. I know her for… don’t know, ages already, and her face was priceless when I wanted to rent the attic room. Which doesn’t exist, by the way. It still took a bit of… persuasion. She didn’t tell me what exactly she’s doing there and why she stole the horn, but she’s certainly no common inn-keeper. And of course she still wants to see you.” His grin was lighthearted.

This Delphine, I remembered her from my trip with Athis to Bleak Falls Barrow, an elderly, unremarkable Breton woman. “She made it alone through Ustengrav?” I asked sceptically. “Must be something very different from a common innkeeper, if you ask me.”

“Yeah. Seems like everybody has his secrets nowadays. I think the note I stole from your pack was convincing, in the end. If you’re not the Dragonborn, the real one won’t find it either, so she gave me the horn, and at least now we don’t come with empty hands when we go back to the Greybeards.”

High Hrothgar, yes. I needed to go there, and as soon as possible. She would have to wait, as well as all the other riddles awaiting me.

Whatever had happened in these cursed ruins, it was too big for me and my fragile human wits. Nothing in the world was worth my sanity, and this hole in my mind, this absolute lack of remembrance… to say it drove me crazy would be inappropriate, probably. Whatever had happened, there had to be a reason for it, why there, why then. A trigger. Perhaps I could protect myself if I knew what caused it. I knew – next time, if there was a next time and if I was equally unprepared, perhaps I wouldn’t come back. Perhaps nobody would be able to bring me back, not even Farkas. The Greybeards had to help me, had to teach me, there was nobody else but them. I needed to understand. But I knew how much he hated that place.

“You will come with me?”

He gave me a small smile. “I’d like to, yes. I wanna know too what happened with you. It was… scary, you know?”

“Not only for you.” A shiver shook me. “I remember nothing. Only that there was… something… or someone calling out to me. And that you carried me back.” I paused for a moment. “I’m not sure if I wanna know what it was. Just if I can protect myself.”

“I daren’t even imagine how it must scare you. But… holing up and doing nothing won’t help, Qhouri. We’re Companions, and I am your shield-brother, and we will overcome this. This fear and these mysteries and every single bloody dragon daring to threaten us.”

He was so full of confidence, it was easy to believe that he was naïve, that he underestimated the challenges and dangers I would have to face. But he wasn’t, he had fought a dragon with me and somehow known what to do in the Labyrinthian. If he was naïve, I was too.

I gave him a weak grin. “Every single bloody ugly heap of scales?”

He laughed and yawned at the same time. “Aye. And I’ll even climb these horrible 7000 steps to this awfully boring cloister with you again. You sure you don’t wanna send me to Oblivion instead? That would probably be more fun.”

I straightened myself with a groan and swang my feet to the ground. “No. But I’ll leave you to your rest now, you look as if you need it.”

But he pushed my shoulder gently back against the pillow. “Stay here, Vilkas is out on a job and I can take his room. You think you can travel tomorrow? Athis and Torvar have a contract in the Rift, we could accompany them till Ivarstead.” I nodded, thankful that I didn’t have to get up. It felt good to be pampered for a bit. Although I wasn’t injured, every muscle ached as if it had been struck by lightning, and I was incredibly tired.

He stood up and turned to leave, but I held him back, swallowing nervously. There was something I had to get off my chest first. “Farkas… I’m sorry. For yelling at you, in Morthal. I was… unjust and rash. Sorry.”

He blushed, his hand already on the knob of the door. “It’s okay,” he mumbled. “You were right, after all. In a way.”

“No, I wasn’t. I was prejudiced.”

Now he turned to me, his face serious. “I’m glad you were there with me, Qhouri. This whole matter… it has killed me for years, and nothing would’ve changed if you hadn’t been there now. And…” a small grin quirked his lips, “better you than Aela. She would’ve killed me.”

“You will have to tell them if you wanna bring the girls here.”

“Yeah. Only Vilkas and Kodlak know so far. But it’s about time.”

“You’re no coward, brother.”

“If you say so.” He cracked a feeble smile. “Sleep well, sister.”

====================================

“You bastard! That’s cold!

“Don’t tell, really?” The Dunmer with the fiery red eyes managed to present a look of utter innocence.

The two men, honourable, widely acknowledged and often dreaded warriors, armed to the teeth and adorned with their usual warpaint, rolled through the first real snow of the year like little children. Like very boisterous little children. Torvar shook himself like a whelp after an involuntary bath, the snowball Athis had shoved below the hood of his cloak slowly melting into his armour.

“I wish there had been snow in Morrowind when I was a kid,” the mer chuckled, “your loss I have to make up for it now. ‘t will just sober you up!” The bearded man growled and darted after the smaller Dunmer, but Athis was far too agile to let himself catch. “Told you, all that steel just weighs you down!”

The game became fierce soon, like everything these guys did. Snowballs flew from every direction, we shoved each other face first into the white splendour and chased over the undisturbed white landscape, our laughter resounding widely over the plains… until Athis hit one of the patrolling guards on the road right in the back. The man stumbled and turned with an impatient curse, but facing the grinning, panting warriors around him he obviously didn’t know how to react. I squared my shoulders, suppressed my heavy breathing and a snicker and stepped forward.

“Sir, I must apologise for these… louts.” The indignant cough behind me made it even harder to remain serious. “But you know how they are… hard to keep busy with meaningful work, especially as you and your comrades keep the area so admirable clean of everything they could take their spirits out on. I’ll see that they blow off steam on something else.” I presented him my sweetest smile, which was instantly ruined by Athis’ giggle.

“Are you sure they don’t have a… more general problem with discipline and respect?” The guard replied, his smirk visible even under his helmet.

“Yes, Sir, unfortunately you’re right. I know it’s hopeless. That’s why they’ve become only Companions instead to join the honourable troops watching over our lovely hold!”

The guard snickered. “Okay, I will leave it at this, citizens. For now! Be on your way.”

I didn’t even have time to reply when I felt myself tossed over a broad shoulder. Farkas held me only with an arm slung around the backs of my knees, and it didn’t bother him the slightest that I pummelled his armoured back until my knuckles hurt.

“I think we will show this lady first hand how the Companions deal with matters of discipline and respect, Sir. We have our methods too.” His voice trembled with choked laughter.

The guard laughed out loud and waved a jovial goodbye. “Oh, I’m sure you have. See you in the Mare, guys!”

I struggled the best I could, less in hope to break free but to make it for Farkas as unpleasant as possible to carry me further. He was definitely not impressed.

“Hey! I just saved your backs, you brutes! He would have let you rot in jail till… tonight, at least!” Now I cursed that we weren’t more in a hurry. My own fault that the Valtheim Towers just waited for us, cleared and ready to provide the shelter for the night.

“Okay guys, any ideas? What are we gonna do with this dear sister of ours now? By the way, Qhouri, you’re quite heavy for a lady!”

“Yes I know, that’s because I always have to carry around all this stuff to save your precious behind when you’re in the mood to call a dragon names. If you want a damsel, try Athis!”

“The way she looks it’s the worst punishment when you just take her around like that. Like a flour sack. How’s the perspective from there, Qhouri?” Torvar bowed down to me, and I managed to punch him in the face. He deserved the black eye he’d get. “Sister, I had no idea you’re so fierce! What do I have to do to make you let it out more often?” His grin was smug. “And why does Farkas look as if he knew?” That was Torvar – always more bark than bite.

“Don’t carry it too far, Torvar. You don’t wanna make me angry. You have no idea what happens when women like me get angry and start to shout!”

I felt more than heard Farkas’ laughter rumble beneath me, and I couldn’t help but to join in. It was silly, and it felt good to be silly for once. But he knew when a joke was over and finally set me down, holding on for a moment longer than necessary.

“Stop carrying me around!”

An amused smile crinkled the corners of his eyes. “Whelps who don’t show their elders the respect they deserve have to bear that they’re treated like whelps.”

I frowned at him. “You’re messing with a dragon, puppy.”

“But I’d never dare to. Dragonling.” And with a swift motion he shovelled a handful of snow into my face, blinding me for a moment. Athis had laid the snowball into his outstretched palm just in time, and the mer doubled over from laughter when I squealed in shock, the icy water dripping under my armour and drenching my tunic.

Farkas jogged along the road, looking back over his shoulder with a mischievous grin. “Get going, whelps, or no bedside story tonight!”

He would regret that. And no stamina-restoring necklace would save him.

I shoved Athis roughly away, he stumbled into Torvar and both landed on their behinds.

“WULD!”

The Shout let my fly forwards with the speed of an arrow, the impact on Farkas’ armoured back forcing the breath from my lungs, not very elegant but efficient. He toppled over with a startled yelp and slid prone into a snowdrift, and with me kneeling on his back he wasn’t able to get up again. Not with his head buried in snow, coughing and cursing.

I leant forwards. “Don’t mess with dragons, brother,” I whispered into his ear.

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2 thoughts on “Eyes on the Prey: 14. Brothers

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