Eyes on the Future: 1. Witnesses

eotf_01_witnessesHis name was Harrald, he was the son of Falkreath’s smith, and he was the man of my dreams. At the age of 12 he was already nearly a man, and he was strong, strong enough to blow the bellows at his father’s forge for hours on end. He had fiery red hair that stood in spikes into all directions when it was sweaty and neatly combed when he came for a visit with his mother. He had freckles on forearms and on the bridge of his nose and the most beautiful green eyes that never dared to look at me and my sister without him blushing to a bright pink.

He was cute and manly and perfect, and I wanted to marry him.

My sister agreed with me. Of course I would have killed her if she had dared to utter a single word of critique about my chosen one. But we agreed most of the time anyway, and she found him wonderful too. And cute, manly and perfect.

Now I wanted to kill her for being like me.

We didn’t fight often, my sister and I, and when we did, it was usually because one of us claimed to be better than the other at something we thought we both had to excel at. As a rule, these quarrels were decided by an arbitrament of our parents and only made the inferior party try harder.

But this was different. This was serious and something our parents were never allowed to know. Our futures hang in the balance, after all. When we yelled at each other how he would suit her much better than me and how he could only love one of us and that he was mine – or hers – forever, we were careful to be out of earshot. When we didn’t yell at each other, we didn’t speak at all. And for the first time, we refused to sleep in the same bed.

All this went on for a whole horrible week, and it was the first time that I felt alone. My little stubborn 10-year-old self only didn’t give in because she nursed the firm belief that she’d never be alone as soon as Harrald proposed to her and that she’d never need her nasty selfish sister again.

Until my mother took us both by the ears and gave us an angry roasting.

“He will marry none of you sillies,” she snarled, and I was as dumbstruck as my sister that she knew that we were on bad terms to begin with, and further that she knew what it was about. Dumbstruck and incredibly humiliated. “That boy has three sisters. You really think he’d marry a bickering hag that can’t even get along with her own? You should be ashamed!”

That evening we crawled under the same blanket again, and I felt guilty and relieved and not alone any more. And when we giggled and laughed and apologised to each other, we came up with the perfect solution, wondering why we hadn’t thought about it earlier. He’d just have to marry both of us.

But Jara was dead three months later, and I forgot about Harrald. Marriage stopped being something worth striving for, the silly dream of a silly child.

When I asked Farkas now if he’d marry us both if she were here because once we had decided that this was the way it had to be, he took the question seriously.

“No.” He answered my smirk with a stern gaze. “I would love her as your sister and as my sister-in-law. I would adore her, because she would be a lot like you. But she wouldn’t be you, and I would never love her like I love you.”

Marriage wasn’t something to strive for. It was something that happened when someone else had become an integral, unique, indispensable part of a life.

“Ah, someone’s happy again,” Aela teased when we finally emerged tightly embraced from the living quarters. “I already thought a sabrecat broke into your room tonight, Qhouri.”

“You know I need my porridge to be happy,” I grinned at her. “And thanks for the worry, much appreciated, but I know how to defend myself.”

Farkas just barked out a laughter and brought his mouth to my ear. “You wanna tell them?” he whispered.

I thought for a moment, then shook my head. “Not yet, please.”

“Why not? Why don’t you want them to know?” he asked that evening, when we were finally alone. More than once I had to nudge him into silence over the day, when he made the impression as if was about to burst.

He had set me straight with his outbreak, and no doubts were left. I wanted to marry him because it meant something and felt right. But the thought to make it official, to tell the others and set the inevitable machinery of preparations and arrangements in motion made me cringe inwardly.

“You know what will happen if they do?” I gave him a slightly desperate grin.

“Yeah. All hell will break lose.” A cheeky smile appeared on his face. “Kodlak will instantly start to make the invitation lists. The girls will fight over the colour of their dresses, Tilma will plan the menu and Torvar where he can hide you after the kidnapping.”

“Kidnapping?” I shrieked.

“Yeah. The bride is kidnapped sometime between the wedding and the wedding night. And the groom has to redeem her.” He looked as if he looked very much forward to it.

I groaned with distress. This was even worse than I had anticipated. When he saw my face, his grin faded.

“What’s the matter, Qhouri?”

“I don’t wanna be a spoilsport.” I lowered my head and shrugged. “I mean… I wanna marry you. But does it have to be with so much fuss? To have a party like that, as long as… you know. And the preparations alone would take weeks.” I didn’t want to waste so much time, and considering that our honeymoon would consist in a chase after an artefact that could easily drive me insane, I couldn’t bear the thought of having to feign careless frolic. But what I wanted was probably irrelevant.

He looked at me for a long time. “You want us to run off.”

“No! I know we can’t do that. They’d kill us.” My hands clenched in my lap as I sighed in defeat. “Perhaps… we can convince them to keep it small?”

“I don’t want to keep it small. I want a feast we’ll never forget, bigger than the one we had for your initiation.” I groaned in distress. Of course that was what he wanted, no way he’d exclude his family from his own wedding. And all the people that stood in any kind of relationship with the Companions, from the Jarl to the market vendors, from important clients to friends and associates from all over Skyrim. That I was so uncomfortable with the fuss all these people would make was pretty selfish anyway.

But he gave me a gentle smile and took my hands in his. “But it doesn’t have to be now. Perhaps you’re right. Perhaps this isn’t the right time for something like that.”

“I thought you don’t wanna wait until I’ve used the scroll.”

“I don’t, and I won’t. But when we go to Riften, it’s okay when it’s just you and me.”

I stared at him with wide open eyes. “You’d really run off with me?”

“Of course, if that’s what it takes to make you marry me.”

“I’d marry you even if we had to invite all of Whiterun and Morthal. I hope you know that.”

“Yeah, I know. And that’s what we will do. Later.”

I felt a mountain lift off my mind and my mood. “I love you.”

“That’s good,” he chuckled with a broad grin. “Because when we come back with the rings, everyone else will hate us.”

We both knew that the vows in the Temple of Mara wouldn’t change much between us, if anything at all. But the following days were a bit like the time we spent together on our journey to Northwatch Keep – a time that only belonged to us, full of anticipation. We both enjoyed to have this secret, something just between the two of us, and to keep it to ourselves. We did a couple of odd jobs, I tested my new fighting abilities against him and was smeared into the chinks between the cobblestones, much to his and our siblings’ neverending amusement, and we spent the evenings in the Mare or at the comforting fire at home.

And we went out hunting, the first time ever we ran together and I didn’t have to be guarded and guided. Now I knew what I was doing, and it was amazing. Where Aela was fierce, aggressive and heedless, Farkas’ wolf was more like the man – determined and incredibly efficient, but also always attentive for his partner. And where Aela liked to play with her prey, to wound it and chase it until it had to give in, Farkas hunted solely for the kill, and he was satisfied when he got it.

The simple thrill of the chase and the kill, the scent of fear and blood, the wind in our furs, driven only by the most basic urges – this was part of our bond, only deepened by the experience. When we howled our triumph at the moons and everything but an answering pack of wolves fell silent, frozen with terror, I was one with my mate and the world around us.

“Hm,” he said as we lay in the grass at a small pond where we had washed ourselves after changing back, “it’s better to run in a pack. Much better than alone.”

I enjoyed the deep satisfaction of having fed, the subtle pain of the change still lingering in my bones and my senses still acutely aware of all the sounds and smells around us.”I’ve been with Aela lately.”

“I know.” He turned to me, searching my face. “And I’ve run with Vilkas.”

My breath hitched, but I had nothing to say to that. On the one hand, I was curious what had happened between the twins over the last weeks. On the other hand, I didn’t want to know. I didn’t want to get involved with him, and it wasn’t my business.

“I’m glad, Qhouri,” he said lowly. “I’m really glad how it all turned out. I know Kodlak thinks you’ll regret it… but it feels right. This is what we are.”

Yes, it was. Perhaps it was unnatural and the result of dark magic, perhaps it made us less human than others, but it wasn’t evil. Nothing that gave such fulfilment could be evil. We were man and beast, split characters and souls, but we were also able to deal with it. We weren’t evil. Just different, and I refused to feel guilty about it.

“Perhaps Hircine was right. Perhaps we’re strongest as a pack.”

“Yeah, I think he was.”

And that meant that Vilkas belonged to us. Even if wasn’t here, even if I never met him again – he belonged to us, on a level so deep that it was impossible to tear him away.

Unless Kodlak found the cure.

“What will you do… if Kodlak is successful?”

He was quiet for a long time, rolled to his back and stared up at the stars. But his hand searched for mine. “I don’t know,” he said finally. “I don’t dread Hircine’s reign. In the end, this is a decision each of us has to make for himself.”

“We will make it together.”

“Aye.” I nearly missed his words, they were so quiet. “But I meant it, Qhouri. I meant it when I said I belong to you, in this life and in the next.”

When we entered town one evening after an unspectacular bandit wipeout, Farkas pointed at a small cottage next to the Warmaidens smithy.

“It’s for sale,” he said casually.

“Yeah, I know,” I said, “Adrianne told me. I hope for her that someone nice moves in.”

His elbow gently prodded my ribs. “We could, we’re nice enough,” he said with a smirk.

I stopped in the middle of the street, staring at him. “What? Buy it?”

“Aye,” he grinned, “I’ve spoken with Provenicci. You want it?”

By. The. Gods. The man was crazy.

“What, and leave Aela alone with the whelps? You’re crazy, Farkas.”

He grasped my hand and led me to the stairs of the cottage, beckoning me to sit down beside him. “You’ve got to think of yourself once in a while, Qhouri. If you want a home for yourself, you’re gonna get it. It’s not that we’d move to Markarth.”

It wasn’t that I didn’t want a home of my own. Of course I was happy in Jorrvaskr, but the idea to live with him like every other next-doors couple – it had something strangely appealing, because it was something so normal. Under different circumstances. If there weren’t things like ancient Dwemer kingdoms, maddening Elder Scrolls and worldeating dragons to think of.

“And what’s the use of a house that stands empty most of the time? Do you have time to tend for a garden?”

He raised his hands. “Hey, it was just an idea!”

He was so adorably enthusiastic, I hated to disappoint him. He just meant well – whatever he had said, he believed in our future and wanted to build something up, with as much normality as possible. Even if it was just an illusion. But I couldn’t afford to lull myself into such soothing, treacherous dreams, even if it was more than tempting.

“I don’t wanna leave Jorrvaskr, Farkas. It’s my home, and… I can’t settle down yet, not like that. We have already our rooms there, isn’t that enough?”

He nuzzled his nose against mine. “Of course it’s enough. A bunk in the dorm would be enough if I can share it with you. Just forget this silly idea.”

But I didn’t. I admired his confidence and trust, even if it seemed naïve from time to time. Perhaps his ideas weren’t so silly at all – to build something that was worth working and fighting for. Perhaps I wasn’t crazy when I climbed the steps to Dragonsreach myself to speak with the Jarl’s steward.

In the end, we really left for our extended journey to Blackreach and told no one. Or nearly no one. Once again, it was impossible to keep a secret from Athis, and he left me no choice. On our last evening in the Mare, the mer shooed Ria out of her chair beside me and claimed it for himself. And the way he looked, I knew beforehand that it’d be impossible to fool him.

“Spit it out,” he said with a boyish grin, “you’ve got more on your mind than just hitting Falmer and Dwemer toys.”

I hid my tinged cheeks in my tankard. Gods, that mer was as attentive as obtrusive.

And it was pointless to deny. “Not your business,” I grunted into my drink.

“Ah, a confession!” he laughed and ogled over to Farkas. “Shall I ask him?”

“Athis… don’t be so nosey. And if we had? So what?”

“Because…” he drawled, “your exceptional mood lately and the way you two are glued together speaks volumes, and I don’t like it at all when you keep secrets from me. Especially not the good ones. It’s good to see you so happy, and I wanna know why.”

“I’ve every reason to be happy after all that hassle with Vilkas!”

But it took more to shake his determination. He just shook his head, his crimson eyes sparkling. “It’s not because of Vilkas. You were calm and relieved when you came back from Rorikstead. Now you’re giddy like a little girl.”

I looked at him over the brim of my drink. I wanted to tell him. It was silly, but I wanted his… approval. I wanted him to tell me that it was right. He was something like my safety line, after all.

Some fresh air would help me to clear my head, and I beckoned him to follow me.

“Promise you’ll tell no one,” I said sternly when we had settled outside on the stairs, the nightly breeze fresh on my heated face. Summer wasn’t over yet, but the harvest had begun, the days became shorter and the nights cooler.

Athis nodded, and I had to suppress a fit of giggles. Partly because of the mead, but mostly because I suddenly realised that what Farkas and I were about to do was really, really ridiculous.

“We’re heading out for Alftand tomorrow, but we’re gonna make a little sidetrip first.” The mer looked expectantly. “To Riften.”

His strong brows furled in confusion. “Riften? What in Oblivion are you searching in that rotten…”

He paused, and I saw him think, and then he started to laugh. “Gods, Qhouri, are you serious? You’re gonna …”

“Shhh,” I hushed him, “Athis, hold your tongue!”

He mercifully lowered his voice. “You know that no one will ever forgive you for this, don’t you?” His angled face crinkled with amusement when I shrugged helplessly.

“Yeah, I know. We’ll make good for it later.”

“But why? Why not make it… official?”

“It’s… a bit difficult. All the arrangements for a proper wedding would just take too long. The others would go crazy, I daren’t even imagine what the girls would get up to. And… I’ve got to get through that blasted Scroll thing first before I can think of celebrating. Let’s see first if I’m still able to do anything at all after that.”

I leant against the wooden railing, Athis squatting in front of me, slowly rocking back and forth. “It was Farkas’ idea, am I right?” I just nodded, and he laid his wrists on my shoulders. “Yeah, thought so. He’s a good man. Are you happy?”

“Yes. Yes, I’m happy, and I wanna marry him. I just wish… everything were a bit easier. A bit more normal. He has a hard time with me. I know it, but I can’t change it, and that hurts.”

Athis smiled. “He adores you, Qhouri, and he has a back broad enough to lean on. And not only literally. Don’t forget to enjoy what you have now, will you?”

We spent a moment in silence, and I simply enjoyed his company. That I had told him of our plans filled me with a strange relief. With the journey ahead, all the dangers and uncertainties waiting for us, it could easily be the last of these moments… and we were both aware of it, although none of us dared to say it out loud.

The door to the inn clapped and broke the mood, followed by a low chuckle from above. “Don’t wanna disturb…,” Farkas said, looking curiously down on us, “but I’m heading home. Better get some sleep if we wanna head out early.”

Athis rose with a laughter and offered a hand to help me up. “Sleep, eh? And I just thought I could get your woman another mead.”

“No way I’m gonna miss out on a free drink!” I pressed a fast kiss on Farkas’ cheek. “Don’t wait for me, love,” I whispered into his ear before I grasped Athis’ wrist and drew him back into the inn, where warmth and stories and companionship were waiting for us. I wanted to drink and sing and celebrate with them, enjoy the time we had together. Enjoy what I had now, like the mer had said.

Our journey to Riften was cursed, as if the gods wanted to test our perseverance. The difficulties started with a new group of outlaws that had settled in the infamous Valtheim towers, in Ivarstead we were greeted by a dragon sitting on top of the barrow, and another one attacked while we made camp at the shores of Lake Honrich.

Another assassin tried to kill me, but now I wasn’t dependent on Farkas any more to notice him in time. To drive my sword through his guts filled me with deep satisfaction. Too bad I ruined the armour of the Khajiit, I would have liked to see Farkas in that tight-fitting outfit. But this time we also found an assassination contract in one of his pockets, signed by someone called Astrid. I didn’t know what I liked less, to be called a poor fool or that someone had gone through the hassle to perform a Black Sacrament to get me killed.

And when we thought it couldn’t come worse, a Thalmor patrol got in our way. The Rift was Stormcloak territory, but the Justiciar and his lackeys marched along the main road as if it belonged to them. When we approached them, they were harassing a farmer who either used too much space with his carriage or didn’t show the deference they thought they were entitled to. The poor man knelt beside his cart with a sword at his neck while one of the soldiers was busy freezing the load of cabbages into a solid block that would turn into worthless mush as soon as they thawed.

The mer with the sword was the first who died to my arrow, and the others were no match to Thu’um, Skyforge Steel and beast senses.

After all that, Riften was still the same rotting, reeking fishhole it had always been, and the warm summer days had made the overall stench of decay and rot even worse. Or perhaps I just didn’t notice the smell as intense during my former visits.

None of us wanted to stay here longer than necessary, but if we had imagined we could just stroll into the temple, get married and be off again, we were grievously mistaken.

Of course we needed the rings – that was the easiest part, there were several vendors specialised in wedding bands, and we chose the simplest matching gold rings we could find, only let them engrave on the inside with our names.

It was the priest in the Temple of Mara that really strained my nerves. We entered only to make an appointment for the ceremony, but he held on us for hours with a longwinded, solemn speech about his goddess, the importance of love, what the temple did to spread her gift – and that he’d gladly accept any help in funding his work, of course – and that no couple in Skyrim should live without her blessing.

It wasn’t what he preached, it was the way he did it. So… incredibly pious. Completely detached from everyday’s life and with no real interest in the personal circumstances of the people who had to call upon his service. More than once I was tempted to cut him short and just tell him that we were both already claimed by a Daedric Prince.

But that would’ve been not only inappropriate, it would have felt like a betrayal of our own tradition and our identity. We still were both Nords, raised in the belief of the Nine Divines, and they were important. Mara’s blessing was important, no matter what a mess my – and in a lesser regard Farkas’ as well – spiritual affinities were.

But it was the priest’s casual farewell before he finally let us leave that left us completely stunned.

“See you tomorrow then. Don’t forget the rings, and tell your witnesses to be on time.”

“Witnesses?” we gasped in unison, staring bewildered first at the robed man, then at each other.

He looked confused at our obvious agitation. “Yes, witnesses. You need two of them. You certainly have some friends or family to accompany you on your great day, don’t you?”

Eh… no. We didn’t have witnesses. And we had no idea where to find them at such short notice.

What a stupid rule. As if it wasn’t enough that every single couple in Skyrim had to make its way to Riften, no, they had to drag others along? My anger and lamenting when we were back at the tavern didn’t help us in the slightest, though.

“Perhaps we should just hire someone? Or kidnap? Gods, I sense a business here. Professional witnessing, for lost souls like us who just wanna get over with it,” Farkas mumbled into his mead.

“You just wanna get over with it?” My voice had a shrill edge to it, a sign that I started to get nervous.

But he leant over and covered my hands with his. “Of course not, Qhouri. But I want… a ceremony that means something, something that is about us and not just some hollow rites. Not that ridiculous priest who has no idea who we are, and not such silly…”

There was a movement where it didn’t belong. I leaped out of my chair and over the narrow table, my fingers clenching tightly around a neck before he could finish the sentence. My victim was locked in her crouched position behind Farkas, nimble fingers still stuck in his belt, blue eyes glaring at me in silent rage. A small, slender Nord woman writhed in my grip, with lanky brown hair framing a face that seemed to be twisted into a permanent scowl. A scowl that now changed into a snarl when Farkas stood up and towered above her while she struggled against my grasp.

“What was that?” he asked threateningly with a false, toothy smile.

The way the woman growled at him showed that she was at least no coward. “Nothing! Let me go!”

Slowly I let her stand up, one hand locking her wrists behind her back, the other holding a dagger to her throat. The inspiration struck me when she was trapped between us, her eyes glaring daggers despite the humiliating situation she was in.

She wore an armour I had seen before. A broad grin spread over my face.

Farkas watched me curiously. “You look far too bloodthirsty for this simple thief,” he said with a smirk.

We spoke over her head, and in the meantime the scene had attracted the attention of the whole inn. Not that anyone dared to intervene.

I grinned at him. “She’s no simple thief, dear. And perhaps she’s the answer to our problem.” The confusion that spread equally over the faces of the thief and the Companion was priceless. “Wait for me here, please. I’ll take her home, and if we’re lucky she gets us what we need,” I said to Farkas before I drew the woman out of the inn, his puzzled look following us.

Despite the dagger at her neck she was still reluctant to keep quiet. “Where are we going? You’re just a blasted stranger!”

“Not as strange as you think, thief,” I sneered, increasing the pressure of the blade to her skin. Only when we made our way directly to the graveyard she gasped lowly, giving away her surprise, and her shoulders slumped forwards in defeat when I activated the hidden mechanism in the small mausoleum to open the back door to the Thieves Guild.

“Let’s go home, girl,” I whispered into her ear before I forced her to climb down the ladder without letting her out of my grip.

As soon as we emerged from the entrance, the scraping of stone against stone from the hidden panel was replaced by the noise of unsheathed weapons. A bunch of thieves left whatever they were doing in the large room and formed a half-circle around us. I searched for a vaguely familiar face, but unfortunately there was no one amongst them I had met during my first visit. I wasn’t so foolish to underestimate these people, and I knew it was a risk to come down here as a stranger with one of their sisters in crime under my thumb. They’d intervene with my first careless step, and so I stopped cautiously right behind the doorstep, holding the woman in front of me.

But before I could open my mouth and ask for Brynjolf or Rune, the door at the back of the room opened and the redheaded thief rushed in, axe and dagger brandished. It seemed someone had been faster than me and called him from the Ragged Flagon. As soon as he saw me, a lighthearted grin settled on his face, the tension in his steps released and he lowered his weapon, beckoning his fellows to do the same.

“Lass!” he said with a broad smile, “you can’t just come in and have a drink with us, can you? You need to make an appearance!”

“Good to see you too, Brynjolf,” I laughed relieved at the man and his jovial greeting, “but your sister here presented me with an opportunity I just couldn’t pass on.” Finally I lowered the dagger from her throat, but I didn’t let her go. Not yet.

“What did you get yourself into, Sapphire?” Brynjolf eyed the woman curiously. I answered for her.

“She tried to steal from… a friend of mine. You should teach your fellows to leave us Companions alone, it’s not worth the risk. If he had caught her, she’d be dead by now.”

“And how do I know that you’re Companions?” Sapphire’s snarl was dripping with hate and frustration.

I smirked at her. “That’s your problem, isn’t it?”

But Brynjolf chimed in. “That was really stupid, Sapphire. Even if you don’t know the Dragonborn, you better learn to estimate people. Just look at this armour.” His gaze wandered to my face. “Will you let her go?”

“Wouldn’t have brought her here if I wanted to pass her to the guards, would I?” I chuckled. “No… I need your help, Brynjolf, and I hope we can make a deal. Her freedom against a bit of your precious time. Just one hour, from you and one of your fellows, and I’d prefer Rune if he’s available. Nothing dangerous, nothing illegal. Just one hour.”

Now it was his turn to look surprised. “And I so hoped you just wanted to have a drink with me, lass.” He shook his head in feigned disappointment. “What exactly is it you need us for?”

I finally loosened my grip around the woman’s neck and released her wrists. “Honestly, I’d prefer to discuss that in private. And I’ll take on your offer.”

We found Rune in the makeshift tavern I already knew, the young Imperial greeting me with a pleased, lighthearted smile. After we settled around a table, I took a deep breath.

“Okay, guys. Promise you won’t laugh.” I looked expectantly at the men. Rune just nodded, curious but sympathetic, but Brynjolf already suppressed a snicker. Oh my, he’d have so much fun with me.

“My problem is… I don’t know anyone in Riften but the Jarl, her steward and you. Not that we’re close, but… our last business has gone quite well, hasn’t it?”

Brynjolf just nodded. “Out with it, lass. Don’t put us on the rack.”

“Well… okay.” Suddenly I was nervous, my hands clenching around my mug. “The thing is, I’ve an appointment tomorrow morning. In the Temple of Mara, and I only learned today that I need to bring two witnesses. That’s where you come in.”

My expectant look was answered first by cluelessness, then a slow understanding, then bewilderment and finally by a booming laughter that earned us very curious looks from the people lingering at the bar.

“Okay,” Brynjolf drawled after he had wiped the tears from his face, “let me get this straight. You marry tomorrow?”

I nodded. This wasn’t funny. And yet, it was. At least for him, I had to concede.

“And you’re alone in Riften?”

“Yes. We didn’t know about the stupid witness rule.”

“Who’s the lucky one?”

“Another Companion.”

“He’s the one Sapphire tried to… unburden?”


“And where is he now?”

What was this, a cross-examination? But if I couldn’t convince these guys to help us, we’d have to cancel our own wedding. My grin was slightly twisted.

“Waiting in the Bee and Barb. Couldn’t quite bring him here as well, could I?”

“No, you couldn’t, and I appreciate the consideration. But Rune can. Get him here, lad. If she’s gonna marry him, he’s trustworthy enough.”

I groaned. “Is that really necessary?”

But Brynjolf just smirked happily and shooed Rune away. “Oh yes, Dragonborn. Yes, it absolutely is.”

I should have known that Brynjolf would exploit his advantage, with the situation as embarrassing for me as it was amusing for him. The Dragonborn had to beg a bunch of thieves to help her with her own wedding. I didn’t even dare to imagine what Athis would have to say to this. Or Aela. Or Njada.

We sat awkwardly with our meads, the silence between us only interrupted by my nervous tapping on the wooden surface of the table and Brynjolf’s occasional snicker.

“Gods, lass, why?” he finally burst out with another roaring laughter.

“Why what?”

“Why are you in this incredibly silly situation? I mean, you know half the world, and you come to me?”

I sighed. “No, Brynjolf, I don’t know half the world. Half the world knows me, that’s a subtle but important difference.” I propped my chin in my palm. Perhaps this whole idea wasn’t as brilliant as I had thought. “You know, we just want to marry. Without effort, without long preparations, without the attention we’d get if we announced it. And so we basically just ran off.”

“Hm,” the thief mused, “pretty sneaky, to keep something like that to yourself. If I didn’t know any better, I’d ask you again if you wanna work for me.”

He really managed to make me laugh. “Oh, I can be very sneaky when it matters. Farkas though… not so much.”

A commotion at the edge of the tavern proved me right. My beloved betrothed emerged from the entrance right behind a Rune who looked so relieved as if he just escaped from prison. And Farkas, fully clad in Dragonbones, warpainted and with the Skyforge sword at his side wore the most frightening scowl he could muster. Brynjolf’s eyes grew wide when he saw him duck through the doorframe.

“Remind me not to anger you, lass,” he whispered, but the cheerful smile didn’t leave his face when he stood up and offered the Companion a greeting hand.

Farkas ignored it though and looked expectantly at me. With a barely visible sparkle in his eyes, where the warpaint crinkled in his laughlines. People who didn’t know him would have probably taken his stare as threatening.

“Don’t tell me you’re serious, honey,” he said in his deepest, most rumbling voice, “what in Oblivion do you expect to find here?”

The hushed chatter at the bar and the other tables had deceased entirely in the meantime, everyone listening to our exchange. I could feel the tension in the air.

“The solution to our problem, love,” I answered with my sweetest smile. “You know, these guys aren’t as good in solving other people’s problems as we are, but they’re better than nothing.” Brynjolf’s annoyed grunt was my little revenge. “Let me introduce you, dear.”

I turned to the thief. “Brynjolf, this is Farkas, Companion from Whiterun and member of their inner Circle.” I took his hand. “And this is Brynjolf, second in command of Skyrim’s Thieves Guild. And I think you already met Rune, also known as Thalmor-slayer?” I smiled at the young man who gave me a relieved grin.

“Yeah, so to say. He nearly killed me! Perhaps I should have changed out of this armour?”

“Once bitten, twice shy, boy,” Farkas rumbled, nodded curtly to Brynjolf and drew me into a corner. “Are you crazy? What in Oblivion are you doing down here? This rathole is even worse than everything you told me!”

“I’ve asked Bryn and Rune to be our witnesses tomorrow, and he insisted on sending Rune to fetch you. You have a better idea? What did you think I’m doing here, have a stag party?”

His agitated stare slowly turned into something else, but instead of the furious roar even I expected in the meantime, he started to grin. Broadly. “Qhouri, thieves? Seriously? For our wedding? And what about my fabulous kidnapping idea?”

I shrugged, glad how relaxed he took in the situation. So far, at least. “These guys are okay, Farkas. Yes, they’re sleeky little bitches, but… they’re okay. And fun.”

His fingers drove through his hair. “Gods, and I just wanted a quiet little ceremony, only for the two of us.” He sighed deeply, but I saw that he didn’t mean it. “You’re aware that you and I and all of the Companions will never hear the end of it if this little arrangement ever gets out of these sewers?”

I chuckled. “If I cared what others think we’d be in Whiterun now and busy signing invitations for at least half the hold’s population. Let’s just get this over with, okay?”

His eyebrows rose high, but then he lowered his arm around my shoulder and led me back to our table where he sat down without further ado. “Okay,” he turned to Brynjolf, “what do you say, thief? As much as it hurts to admit, it seems I need your help if I wanna make the Dragonborn a respectable woman. Do you accept the honour to attend our wedding?”

He didn’t look hurt. Not at all, quite the contrary. He was wary, and he certainly didn’t trust our hosts entirely, but he was still able to appreciate the situation as what it was – something hilariously screwballed.

Brynjolf smirked openly at Farkas. “You know, Companion, honour isn’t exactly our core competence. Not like it’s yours. But now that you’re here, I feel a certain… responsibility for the lass. I’ll be at your disposal if you convince me that you’re the right man for her.”

“Brynjolf, please!” My consternation only coaxed another laughter from the redhead, but Farkas just relaxed in his chair and sipped at his mead, his gaze strictly on his vis-à-vis, and I had the distinct feeling that something was going on between the two men. Some kind of communication that went beyond words. Something… male. Creepy.

“If her word isn’t enough… see, it has taken me months to convince her. No idea how to convince you now in a matter of hours.”

“Well, that’s a start. At least you’re persistent. You’re gonna need it.”

“Brynjolf?” My voice was dangerously calm.

“Aye, lass?”

“How often have we met so far?”

He thought for a moment. “Once, as far as I remember.”

“Exactly,” I scowled, “and what gives you the idea you know what he’s gonna need?”

He raised both hands. “I think I know you good enough, lass. Or you wouldn’t be here now.”

“No, you don’t,” I huffed, “so stop pretending, okay? Don’t forget, this is supposed to be a deal.” My gaze wandered over to Sapphire who stood at the bar, glaring at us.

The smirk the redhead shot me was taunting, but Farkas wasn’t as easy to unnerve as I. In fact, he seemed… far too consent with this conversation and where it was leading. “But he’s right,” he said calmly, “no one knows better than me how stubborn you are.” He turned to Brynjolf. “You wanna know what happened when I proposed to her?”

That was going too far. Far too far. I rammed my elbow into his ribs, and he jerked away with a surprised yelp. Not that it hurt him through the cuirass, though. “Be careful what you spout off, or you can marry him tomorrow,” I said between gritted teeth. And pointing a finger at Brynjolf, I added, “and you stop acting like my father! By Ysmir, this is ridiculous!”

Both men looked decidedly innocent. “But we’re just getting a little acquainted, lass.” Brynjolf’s pout couldn’t hide his amusement.

“Exactly. I just wanna know who’s by my side on the most important day of my life.” Puppy-eyes! He dared to show me his puppy-eyes now!

“May I remind you that he hasn’t even accepted that honour yet?” I glared at them, the thief and the Companion, two men who should be like cat and dog. If anything, this encounter should have taken place with drawn weapons between them, not with tankards which were empty in the meantime. I expected hostility and suspiciousness, not this… creepy camaraderie. What in Oblivion was going on here?

Brynjolf finally crossed the line when he reached over and patted my cheek with a slack, leathergloved hand. “I just need a little more persuasion. How about you let us talk and get us some fresh drinks?”

He caught the slap aimed at his face midstrike, as if he had expected it, and burst into a mischievous laughter. His iron grip pulled me half over the table, my face red and hot with fury and embarrassment.

“Is she always so fiery?”

Farkas watched the scene seemingly entirely unimpressed. “No. Sometimes she sleeps.”

This was enough. I broke away with a jerk, took a deep breath and forced my expression with conscious effort into a twisted smile. “Okay, guys, I’m able to admit when I made a mistake. From my side, this deal just died.” I turned to Farkas. “And you either come with me and help me kidnap someone, or you can find someone else for tomorrow. Sapphire seemed quite… attached to you earlier.”

The sudden discomfort on Brynjolf’s features was just a short triumph, though. A heavy arm slung around my waist before I even turned away completely, and Farkas pulled me against my struggling resistance into his lap, locking my wrists in a gentle grip.

“Relax, girl,” he mumbled into my ear. “That guy likes you, and I think he starts to like me too. You really think I’m gonna make him jealous with things that’s not his business?”

“And that’s reason enough to humiliate me like that?” I hissed, pushing against his breastplate. With meagre success.

“You don’t need me to defend yourself,” he chuckled, “and you’re too cute when you’re so mad.” I could feel his smirk against the skin of my neck before he lifted me like a puppet off his knees and back onto the chair beside him. “I’m gonna get the drinks, okay?”

“I’m not cute!” I yelled after him, still furious and unconcerned of the people around us. He just shot me a boyish grin over his shoulder, and suddenly I couldn’t be angry any more. If anyone was cute, it was him.

Farkas looked entirely out of place, but by no means awkward between all the thieves when he made his way through the tavern and addressed the barkeeper. It was fascinating, his ability to make himself comfortable wherever he came. He simply knew when he could afford to let his guard down, even if it was in a den of thieves. And what surprised me even more was his laidback way to deal with these people, to get intuitively at their good side. At the moment, he was definitely more relaxed than I.

“Lass?” Brynjolf’s voice got me out of my thoughts. “Did he really call you cute? And you let him live?”

“Oh, he knows my revenge will be horrible,” I giggled, and the thief joined in my laughter.

“I like him, you know. Not quite what I expected from a Companion.” His low chuckle was bare of any mischief now.

I laughed. “Jorrvaskr is a mead hall, Bryn. What do you think we’re doing all day long, save maidens from bandits, polish our swords and wait for Ysgramor to give his orders from Sovngarde?”

He tilted his head. “Well… yes. Something like that, I suppose.”

“Yeah, that’s the crux with legends. We may be thousands of years old, and we may not take some jobs other mercenaries would do without thinking, but we’re not dead.”

“No, you’re certainly not, and neither is he.” He pointed at Farkas. “And the way you look at him… I think we’ll have a fine wedding tomorrow.” His smile was broad and genuine.

“Thank you, Bryn,” I said relieved, “just promise you won’t tell anyone.”

He grinned. “Even if I wanted, who would believe a thief?” He raised his hand. “I promise, your little secret won’t leave this room.”

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