A strange mood had smitten me when we left Narzulbur, that dreadful kind of mood that made every breath a fate-altering decision. The mood in which I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders and acquiesced with a sigh into carrying it around. A strange mixture of determination, masochism, self-pity and an inflated ego.
It was not possible to hang on such a mood for long with Farkas around.
He recognised it, and he understood, we had both seen the same horrible things, after all – and drawn the same conclusions. But while Alduin shadowed my thoughts, he retained the very sane opinion that nobody could move along more than a few steps with the weight of the world on his back.
In contrast to me, he didn’t feel guilty for things that couldn’t be changed. He knew very well what he was capable of, but he knew even better that many things were beyond his power. In opposite to me he saw what could have been done, while I just saw what should have been done. He saw that I didn’t really have a choice but to go on that stupid trip for that stupid gauntlet – nobody knew that the dragon would attack, and it was an honour offered by the Chieftain himself. I just saw that I should have disregarded this offer because it was undeniably silly and that I should have been there.
I easily felt this pang of guilt that stuck in my stomach like a poisoned dagger. I could have saved lives if I had been faster this day. I could have saved even more lives if I had done what was necessary long ago, if I hadn’t been so afraid to use the Scroll. So many months wasted, so many lives the dragons had taken in this time.
Farkas was the one who reminded me that, Dragonborn or not, some things were not in my control. That not everything bad happening in the world was my fault, and that I had the right to be afraid. That I also had the right to fall in love and to care for my friends and family and to be happy. That there was a life beside the Dragonborn duties, and that I not only had the right to live this life, but that it was essential. Nobody could be a world-saving hero all the time. Nobody could bear that burden for long without replenishing his energies.
Determination was supported, and a small share of self-pity was allowed. But masochism and an inflated ego had to go, and they were brushed away by the demands he made of me as his wife, as a Companion, as a simple human. And by the way he cared.
He brought me back down to earth and lifted my spirits by turning my mind back to the present, in his own, unmistakable way. He didn’t even have to try, he didn’t have to force a faux cheerfulness on me. It was just his way to deal with things, even with things as horrible as the destruction of Narzulbur.
And so he insisted on making camp early after this terrible day and told me if I wanted his fabulous rabbit stew for dinner, I’d have to hunt them myself. Nasty slippy little buggers. And when we reached Windhelm next afternoon and I just wanted to get some supplies and go on, he outright refused.
“Call me a wuss, but no way I’m gonna miss out on the last real bed for weeks. And a hot cider. And that fabulous bard they have in Candlehearth.” He wagged his index at me. “And if you plan to spend the night in jail again, don’t expect me to lift a finger for you!”
He drew me to the inn, paid for the night, shot a frightening bad-boy-look at the keeper when she dared to ask me not to cause any trouble this time and made for our room.
“Get out of your armour,” he said with a grin, already unbuckling his own and leaving the pieces in a messy pile of bones, steel and leather. Fresh water from a pitcher was poured into a bowl, and he rubbed eagerly the warpaint from his face before he rummaged first through his own pack, then through mine and drew out some simple clothes. He shot me a prompting glance over his shoulder when he saw that I was still fumbling with my cuirass. “Get going, we don’t have all day!”
“We don’t have all day for what?” I asked suspiciously, watching his impatient behaviour slightly confused.
He slipped into a pair of lose pants. “We’re going shopping. Incognito,” he grinned.
It felt weird to stroll through the city in ordinary clothes, without the familiar weight of the armour on my shoulders and Dragonbane at my hip. I felt vulnerable, especially as we were both armed only with unobtrusive daggers, Farkas’ tied to his belt, mine hidden in its sheath on my boot. But it also felt awesome to blend into the crowd, without looks and whispers following us, without attracting any attention.
But nevertheless I had to tell myself several times that it was safe. Windhelm was crawling with Stormcloak soldiers, and no Thalmor or assassin would dare to attack us inside these massive walls. The occasional pickpocket or bothersome drunk – we’d still be able to deal with them, even without gear that was meant to handle dragons.
After we visited the alchemist, the fletcher, the blacksmith and the grocer and got all the supplies we’d hopefully need for our journey into the unknown, Farkas bought me a crème treat and himself a sweetroll that we consumed on the stairs to one of the shops, just watching the comings and goings around us. Nobody even gave us a second look. Just an ordinary couple, resting after their purchases.
“Ah, that was good,” I groaned content and gave him a grin. I could never eat a crème treat without giggling, especially not when he watched me with a particularly lascivious leer as I licked the remains of the creamy sweet filling off my fingers.
His shoulder nudged gently against mine. “I should get you out of your armour more often if it relaxes you like that,” he chuckled.
“Hehe. I don’t care what I wear as long as you keep these coming.”
“Who knows, perhaps we’ll find a Dwemer pastry shop in Blackreach. Perhaps it’ll even still work.” He laughed and stood up. “Come on, there’s one more shop we have to visit. We can take all this stuff to the inn first, though.”
He led me into the alleys of the Grey Quarter. I hadn’t been there before, just heard about it, but the slum was even worse than I expected. Dark, filthy and moist, most of the houses in various stages of decay, the cobble pavement full of gaps and covered with filth and grime. The few Dunmer we met eyed us with open suspicion and hostility, and after my experiences with Galmar Stone-Fist’s brother I couldn’t blame them. At least Farkas seemed to know where he was going.
The store we entered at the end of a dark, narrow alley was a paradise of junk. A small room that was crammed full with shelves and cupboards, all of them stuffed with stuff. Incredible amounts of stuff, most of it worn, used, broken or simply useless, shelved into an unsorted chaos. I looked around in awe.
But Farkas approached the shopkeeper as if he knew exactly what he wanted. “Revyn Sadri?” he asked. When the man nodded, he stretched out his hand in a friendly greeting. The Dunmer ignored it, a gruff frown on his face.
“What do you want? I don’t deal with Nords.”
Farkas didn’t lose his friendly demeanour. “We’re friends of Athis from Whiterun. I guess you know him? He has recommended you if we’re in search of… something special.”
As soon as he had mentioned Athis’ name, the mer’s face lit up, and his posture lost its hostile stiffness. “Athis? Of course I know him! My, that guy has made his luck. And you’re friends of him? Companions too? Excellent, excellent!” He shook the offered hand enthusiastically and gave me a beaming smile. “What are you looking for? Something in particular?”
Farkas laughed at his eagerness. “Well, we have a whole household to furnish. If you just show us what you have in stock, I’m sure we’ll find something.”
Revyn Sadri was apparently the only importer of original wares from his homeland far and wide, especially the rare varieties from the mostly destroyed island of Vvardenfell, and he led us into a small backchamber to present his treasures.
I didn’t believe my eyes. He had the most beautiful tableware, made from opaque, shimmering blue glass or perfectly glazed dark red clay, wonderful carpets and blankets woven in the intricate ornamental designs of the Ashlanders, books with the history and legends of Morrowind, extravagant silken tunics and dresses from Mournhold that seemed to flow through my fingers. There were potions and alchemical ingredients I had never seen and instruments for a kind of music I had never heard before, raw pelts and treated leathers from animals I couldn’t even imagine, armours of adamantium and a strange material gained from the shells of giant insects. Even his glass weapons were much harder and lighter than the ones we knew in Skyrim.
I felt like a kid in a candy shop when I turned to Farkas. “That’s not fair. You know I’m broke,” I mumbled.
“Yeah, but I’m not, and my coin is your coin,” he laughed and bent down to me. “That’s my wedding gift. Originally I wanted to get you something special for your room in Jorrvaskr when Athis gave me the tip. But I’m sure you’ll find something for Breezehome as well.”
Revyn Sadri made the deal of his life that day. We bought dishes and carpets and blankets and a lot of other stuff we’d need for Breezehome. I took one of these beautiful daggers for me and a pair of awesome chitin gloves for Athis. He would love them. And in the end, Farkas laid one of those silken dresses on top of the pile of our purchases, dyed in shades of blue and cyan that seemed to come directly from the aurora over Whiterun and adorned with silvery embroidery. My face grew hot when I held it against myself, watched by both men. With that cut, more slits than seams, it wasn’t worth to be called a dress.
“I won’t wear that!”
Farkas watched me, leant against a shelf with his arms crossed over his chest, and looked very content. “Oh yes, you will,” he grinned smugly, “and only for me.”
Two dead bodies in the ice-covered depth of the ruin, one old and frozen, one freshly slain. The last remains of life other than ours in this endless abyss of lifeless, ice-covered machinery. The promise of hidden treasures had lured them inside, deceived them with the strange, ancient beauty of this place and finally caused their demise.
We were treasure hunters too.
Alftand was located high in the northern mountains, a bare desert of ice and snow, lifeless except for the occasional frost troll, snow bear and the everpresent ice wraiths. Once the climate here must have been gentler, but now the ruins were nearly completely swallowed by a huge glacier rolling down the mountainside, and only the tips of the highest towers still revealed their location.
An empty camp outside already hinted at the dread inside. It was abandoned, the remains scattered around, the fires long dead. Someone simply hadn’t come back. We searched through the tattered tents with our weapons ready, but found nothing that indicated the fate of their owners. Farkas lifted an eyebrow.
“Cautious. They can only be inside.”
Alftand’s upper levels were covered in ice just like the outside, but that didn’t prevent the mechanical spiders and automatons to go against us with their ancient routines of lightning attacks and poisoned darts. And we found the remains of the unlucky band of adventurers – the occasional deeply frozen body, remains of interim camps, long extinguished torches which had thawed the frozen shell of walls, pipes and grates and left nothing but glassy puddles of ice on the floor that made our progress just more difficult.
The Khajiit brothers were just the first we found. One of them had been dead for days or weeks, his frozen body giving no clue about the time that had passed. The other, still speaking with the corpse, lost deeply in the madness of Skooma withdrawal and loneliness, accused us of thieving and died to our swords.
These Dwemer ruins had a way to drive people mad with their constant movements, the noises echoing through the hallways, the plethora of deadly traps and the ubiquitous artificial life. So different than a normal muddy cave or even a tomb where only the dead and some skeevers shuffled around. Even if they were clearly ruins and abandoned for eras, they always made the appearance as if their former owners had just left. As if they’d come back every minute. As if the next room would be bustling with life.
Turning around a corner we faced a long aisle that was lined by suspicious tubes protruding from the walls high above our heads. Each of them would release a mechanical spider when we came closer.
“How do they do that? How do they know we’re here?” Farkas asked under his breath, already readying his sword. He hated the eight-legged automatons nearly as much as their living counterparts.
I shrugged. “No idea. Perhaps our bodywarmth. Or the pattern of our steps.” I beckoned him to take the lead and nocked an arrow. “Go on, we can’t avoid them anyway.”
The deeper we pushed forward the warmer it became, the icy covers receding and releasing shimmering metal, huge pipe systems that were warm to the touch and whole rooms shaking from the vibrations of hidden, but still working contraptions. Our way went steadily downwards, from hall to hall, past living quarters and rooms full of moving, stomping, steaming machinery, through huge metal doors that opened far too easy and far too noiseless.
Another lever, and when the wings of the gate slowly swung inwards, the stench overwhelming our nostrils let us jerk back. Farkas saw me blanch and lowered a soothing hand on my shoulder. “Quiet,” he whispered, “they hear every sound.”
To know about the horrible fate of the Snow Elves didn’t make it any easier to encounter their descendants. The Falmer evoked an irrational horror in me, vile, evil, twisted creatures, fighting in the darkness with poison and deceit. We had bought every single bottle of antidote the alchemist in Windhelm had in stock.
This hall was a pit, bottomless and much darker than the rest of the ruins, lined at the outside by a narrow ramp and intermitted by small platform that held their crude huts. We heard more than saw, restless shuffling, silent shrieks and hissed answers, the clicks of the chaurus’ chitinous pincers. And we smelled this stench that sent goosebumps down my arms. The foul stench of crushed, rotten mushrooms mingling with the acrid, poisonous evaporations of the deathly creatures at the bottom, the moistness from their eggnests and a sour odour of sweat.
It was the stench of hate against every living soul coming from outside, and we had to go through it.
I pressed myself against the wall, trying not to peek into the abyss when we started to descend. Cold sweat pooled above my brows. We weren’t quiet enough – Farkas was never really silent, and I heard my own pants – and we recognised the shift in the noises below us. The notion of an alert. But we crept forwards, undisturbed, until we reached a collapse where the ramp was destroyed, leaving a gap impossible to cross. We had to jump down onto the next level, where the body of an Orsimer woman lay in a puddle of blood on a heap of broken stones.
We still contemplated our options when the first arrow whizzed past my ear and hit the wall behind my shoulder. Dropping down to present a smaller target, Farkas turned to me with a growl, his eyes showing the familiar golden tint. My body responded unconsciously to the signals of its mate.
Farkas jumped down the gap with a powerful leap, the man with the power of the beast, and let out a deafening roar while still falling. He didn’t change, but he made use of his wolf, and I followed him, reached into the well of instincts that was at my disposal, sharpening my senses and reflexes.
We were at an advantage because we could hear and smell good enough, but we could also see them, the horrible figures with their sickly pale grey skin, twisted faces and scarred, blind eye sockets. But we were only two against what felt like an army. I leaped onto the pile of stones and kicked the corpse of the unlucky adventurer down into the pit. The hectic clicking of the chaurus’ pincers proved that they appreciated the gesture.
The Falmer were spread over the ramp, only a few of them coming for us with vicious black swords and clubs, but many of them firing from afar.
“Keep moving,” I yelled at Farkas, but he did it anyway, already in a frantic fight with three of the enemies. I stayed behind him, took out the archers, not caring for a mage at first who had taken cover in one of the crude huts. Poison was more dangerous than lightning, but the bolts hitting me let my limbs convulse, each impact sending spasms down my spine and obscuring my aim. Farkas more sensed than saw what was happening, two dull thuds proved that he made short work of his foes and shoved them down into the darkness before he leaped down the ramp and after the wizard.
I heard his triumphant roar when I passed him, rushing down towards the bottom, the faint blueish glow from the egg piles guiding my way. The chaurus breeding area was separated by clawlike gates, vicious looking tips fitting together like the fangs of a dragon. Behind them, we saw the movements of the huge, pitch black insects, their pincers dripping with poison.
“Can’t we just leave them behind?” I pointed at the gate. “I don’t wanna go in there. These things creep me out.”
“It’s just big bugs,” Farkas grinned, “and no, I’d rather not leave anything living behind.”
They weren’t just big bugs. They were huge, their monstrous heads nearly on eye-level when reared up for attack, scuttling towards us with aggressive clicks, ready to tear into flesh. Farkas stormed in, sword raised to pierce through the brittle shells and shield ready to protect him against their bites.
The moment I let my arrow fly against the last of the creatures, his pain-stricken roar echoed through the cavern and let me freeze. He had fallen to his knees and dropped his weapon. A corpse lay in front of him, but one of the creatures clung to his back, the sound of its legs scratching over the bones of his armour nauseating. It had fallen out of a kind of nest, a wet shimmering tube glued to the wall high over our heads and taken him by surprise, giving the chaurus he fought against opportunity to deal his attack.
And now he knelt hunched into a ball, jerking convulsively to shake the beast off. Greenish droplets trickled down his cheeks and neck, leaving red marks and ugly blisters behind.
Bugs didn’t spit acidic poison.
“Hands off,” I yelled at him, stabbing frantically into the shuffling mess before me until I felt Dragonbane’s tip slip between the plates of the carapace and it finally collapsed into a heap to the ground. I impaled the thing on his back and shoved it away. Farkas writhed on the floor, his whole body spasming, trying desperately not to touch the injury in his face. And he wailed in pain. I had never heard him scream like that, in such blinding agony, and I had seen him with many injuries that on first glance seemed much more lethal.
He looked terrifying, the acid etching into the raw flesh of his face, his left eye milky and unseeing. I knelt on his chest, trying to keep him stable and to lock his spasming arms, and fumbled my water skin from my belt.
“It hurts,” he whimpered, “my eye!”
“I know,” I said, curling my hand into his neck, “don’t touch. ‘t will be better soon.”
I whispered soothing nonsense while I carefully washed away the liquid, cleaned the wounds with a shirt torn into strips and rinsed his eye until we were out of fresh water, and slowly I felt him relax, felt how he forced himself to deepen his shallow breath and not to flinch at the touch of my fingers. When I helped him to sit up and handed him the antidote, he gulped it down in one go, directly followed by a healing potion. The draughts and a touch of my healing spell left only tender, sore scars in his face, the newly formed skin soft to the touch.
But his left eye was blind, and when I fastened a clean cotton strip and around his head to cover it, sheer terror was written into his face. Because it didn’t make a difference if it was covered or not.
“Will it… heal?” He stood on wobbly legs, weak from shock and pain, and his voice was shaky.
I touched his face gently and gave him an encouraging smile. “I don’t know. We can just hope, but it will take time. We’ll see the healers in Winterhold, I’m sure they can help you.”
His fingers palpated along the bandage. “Divines, that hurt.” His voice was low, and he looked so incredibly helpless. As if he was ashamed to show such weakness. I took both our packs and drew his arm over my shoulder.
“Come on. Let’s get you out of here, okay?” He just nodded, his gaze set to the ground.
But it wasn’t so easy to get out. The way back was blocked by the collapsed ramp, and the way forward by more enemies, more Falmer creeping in the shadows, more Dwemer automatons springing to life in the least expected moments. Farkas gritted his teeth and followed my lead, but his movements were clumsy and precarious, and when he was nearly impaled by a spike trap because he didn’t see it in time, I told him to stay behind and let me clear the way. It would take some time until he got used to have only half of his field of view.
When he started to stumble along and was nearly pushed off a ledge by a moving piston, I decided to find a place to rest. Without fresh water it was the worst decision possible, but we didn’t have much choice, and so we settled in a small, secluded chamber we could at least bar from the inside. Farkas fell asleep without eating as soon as I had placed our bedrolls on the cold stone, clinging to me for warmth and safety.
The patch had to be ripped off after a few hours of rest, sticky with blood, tears and the oozing from the sore flesh beneath it. When I covered his healthy eye with my palm, he saw nothing. Not even a shadow, just blackness. To see him tense and clench his teeth, trying desperately not to freak out on this loss of sensation nearly made me lose control. He swallowed heavily when I took my hand away.
“How does it look like?”
I had to be honest. “Not good. Sore. But the eye still waters, I think that’s a good sign.”
He nodded slowly. “Yes, perhaps. It also still hurts.” It didn’t look as if he believed in my words.
I drew him to his feet. “Come on, you really have to get out of here. I need water to clean it.”
If I had known how near we were to the exit I would’ve brought him out of these cursed ruins and spared him this night of pain and thirst. The next huge golden gate led us into a big circular room, void of anything but two beautiful golden statues, shimmering metal figures more than twice the size of a man, their bearded faces the same as the many similar busts that decorated the whole place. If this was what the Dwemer of old looked like, they had been a handsome race.
One of the statues lay broken and crumpled in front of its pedestal, but the other still stood proud and tall, overlooking the room and the broad staircase leading to the next door.
Until we approached and it awoke with a quiver and a hiss of steam. Of course it wasn’t just a statue. Nothing in these ruins was just decorative.
“Back off,” I yelled at my companion, but Farkas didn’t react. Instead he drew his weapon, his stance alert and ready to attack. Fool.
The colossus stomped towards us with earthquaking steps, his arms raised and the massive metal fists ready to smash every intruder into a smeary heap of pulp. But this thing wasn’t just an intelligent oversized cudgel. Suddenly an arm shot forward, and the fist released a blast of hot steam that would have cooked us alive if I hadn’t shoved us both out of the way with raw force. I felt the hot vapour stream over my shield when I buried Farkas beneath me.
For a moment we were a petrified, uncoordinated tangle of limbs, but the next step of the Centurion let the metal ground tremble, and I sprung into action. The time for heroism and risks was over, none of us would get near this thing.
“YOL TOOR SHUL!”
My trusted Dragonfire. Dwemer metal could withstand it, at least for a time, but when the water supplies the behemoth used for his steam blast vaporised all at once, he simply exploded under the pressure and decomposed into a pile of dented scrap.
“Fine,” I glared at Farkas, “what was that? I tell you to back off, and you get ready to fight? You wanna kill us both now?”
Gods, he looked so contrite. But he’d have to come to terms with the fact that at the moment, he was more risk than help.
He raised his hands in a gesture of helplessness. “I’m sorry, Qhouri,” he said lowly, his gaze at his feet, “that was stupid, I know. But I’ll have to unlearn to have your back first.” His expression showed nothing but self-contempt and despair.
My anger blew away like the steam in the air when he dropped his forehead on my shoulder, his back trembling. I lifted my hand to his charred cheek and stroked the tender skin. “Hey,” I said softly, “don’t you dare. I need you in my back. But right now you’re gonna let me have yours, okay?”
We stood like that for several minutes, and I held his stiff, rigid body until I felt him relax. A deep sigh escaped him when I tucked a sweaty strand of hair out of his face. “Thank you,” he said quietly, “I’ll do my best.”
I made a few steps away from him. “Stand there. I gotta show you something.” I foraged through my pack and drew out an apple. “Do you see me?”
“Sure.” He looked slightly confused.
“You see what I have here?”
“Yeah, an apple. I’m hungry.” A small grin curled his lips, the first for hours.
I laughed at him. “Catch it if you want it.”
I threw it straight into his direction, and the apple flew past his head, Farkas’ hands clapping together far behind. He gasped in shock.
“See,” I said, “not only do you not see what happens on your left side, you also can’t estimate distance and speed of moving objects any more. That’s what you’ll have to relearn.”
The way his body tensed it was obvious that helpless frustration was short of boiling over. His voice was a rumbling growl. “Gods, I’m completely useless. A cripple. I’m really gonna get us killed!”
I grabbed his shoulders in an effort to get him out of this mood. “Listen to me and stop this nonsense. You’re not useless, you’re just injured. And even if you lose the eye, you will learn. Your senses and your brain will adapt. It will just take some time, and until then I’m gonna help you for once.”
“But… I feel so…” He was lost for words.
I shook him. “Helpless. I know. And you are, for now, and that’s why you better do what I say. Tell me, was Skjor useless?”
“Skjor? No. Of course not.” He paused for a moment. “Oh.”
I smiled at him. “See? Nobody would have dared not to take him seriously just because he had only one eye. He did fine, and you will too. And apart from that, it’s far too early to panic. Let’s wait what the healers in Winterhold say, okay?”
“How do you know all this?” Finally he managed to show me a small quirk of his lips.
“Have you never spoken with Skjor how he got this injury?”
“Gods, no. He never liked to speak about his time in the War.”
“Well, I was curious, I asked him and he told me. One evening in the mare, after a couple of meads,” I grinned.
The next gate was finally the last. It opened as noiseless as all the others and led us into the last room of these blasted ruins, a huge dome with a platform in the middle and another gate in the back, framed by some pillars. And between these pillars, we heard voices. Angry voices shouting at each other, one male and one female, and the sounds of a fight.
I looked at Farkas who stood behind me, peeking over my shoulder. “Whoever they are, they cheated!” I whispered, “how in Oblivion did they get past that giant?” He just shrugged.
We didn’t interfere as the fight continued, and they slowly made their way towards the central platform, but finally a Redguard woman turned out victorious. She stripped the weapon of her enemy and leant curiously over the strange device in the middle of the room.
Farkas shuffled in my back. “Friend or foe?” This time it was my turn to shrug. We’d see.
I nocked an arrow and stepped out of the shadows. The woman froze, then turned with a yell and charged – foe, obviously. She died with the arrow through her throat.
The attunement sphere from Septimus Signus fit perfectly into the mechanism in the centre and revealed an endless, pitchblack staircase into the depths. This had to be the entrance to Blackreach. And it would have to wait.
Because the gate in the back led to a platform that went upwards. All on its own, after we switched a lever. I didn’t want to know how it worked, but we got out where we got in, near the abandoned camp of the unlucky treasure hunters, in a small dome that had been locked from the outside. Now from the inside we could open the door, and Farkas started to laugh hysterically when he stepped into the bright daylight.
“We should have taken one of your thieves with us,” he hiccuped between snickers, “or you have to take lockpicking lessons with Brynjolf. So much less trouble if we’d been able to open this damned door right from the beginning!”
It was only noon when we left Alftand, and we just took the time to start a small fire and melt enough snow to quench our thirst and clean Farkas’ wound. The eye was clotted by a sticky mess of dried tears and oozing blood, but at least the blood seemed to come mostly from the sore skin around it that was again ripped open when I removed the patch. He held perfectly still when I let the lukewarm water trickle over his eyeball, and he said that it didn’t hurt as much any more.
We made some simple tests – the injured eye still moved synchronous with the healthy one when he looked at something, and the pupil still reacted slightly to light and darkness. And when he covered both eyes for some time and then jerked away the palm on the left, a broad, genuine smile crept into his features.
“It’s lighter, Qhouri! I can’t see any shapes, but I can see that it’s lighter out here!” The happiness over this small glimpse of hope shone from his face.
To see him smile like that was like a sunrise, and all at once it broke the tension of worry and concern that had built up over the last day. I threw my arms around his neck and kissed him deeply, and his hands palmed my face, his thumbs wiping away the tears of relief. “Hey,” he whispered, “what happened?”
“Nothing. I just missed your smile,” I sobbed and felt silly, especially when he pulled me closer to comfort me.
But we could have spared ourselves the trip to Winterhold, because the College healers were useless. Absolutely useless. The Breton mage who called herself Mistress of Restoration Magic examined Farkas’ eye carefully, just to declare in far too many inscrutable, longwinded, elaborate words that there was nothing she could do. That the burned iris would have to regenerate naturally, and that she couldn’t make any predictions if it would heal completely and how long it would take.
The longer her lecture took, the more I wanted to smash my fist into her pretty face. Pretty, but oh so incredibly useless. Instead I smashed it into the wood of the door after she had left our room, so hard I nearly broke my knuckles. “Bloody shit,” I growled in a choked voice, punching the door over and over again, “cursed Daedra, what a godsdamned crap!”
Farkas sat on a chair, his forehead buried in his palms. At least the healer had given him a leather eyepatch so we could get rid of these sticky cotton bandages. He sighed deeply. “Shouldn’t I be the one to freak out now?”
I turned sharply, ready to yell at him and only bit my tongue in the last moment. Divines. He was the injured one, he was in pain and didn’t know if and when he’d be healed. Was I really such an egoistic bitch that I thought of nothing but my own matters? Yes, I was.
“Hey, come here,” he said softly, but I just shook my head frantically, pacing through the room.
“I know what you’re gonna say, and I don’t wanna hear it!” Now I did yell at him. “I don’t wanna hear that you can’t come with me to Blackreach. Don’t you dare to say that you’re a burden and that I should take someone else. Keep your fucking common sense to yourself!”
“Qhouri, please… be reasonable.”
“I’m tired of being reasonable!” My forefinger pointed accusingly at him. “Gods, we’ve only just married! I’m tired of counting the days and hours every time we’re together. I just wanna be with you, is that too much to ask?”
His head jerked up, brows furrowed. And he shouted. “Shor’s balls, woman, you think I’m happy about this?” His thundering outbreak, totally unaccustomed from him, let me stand rooted to the spot.
But it was over as soon as it began, and his slumping shoulders clearly indicated the same helplessness I felt. “Come here, please.” When he reached out and drew me onto his knees, I let my angry resistance go.
“I’d get us killed down there, Qhouri. I’m useless as a shield-brother at the moment, and it will take weeks or months till I’m fit again. You heard the healer. I’d allow nobody in my condition just to clear a bear den with you, and we’ve no idea what awaits you in Blackreach.”
My forehead dropped against his. “But I need you. For so much more than just to shield my back. I can keep you safe!”
He shook his head, a sad smile on his face. “I want nothing more than to come with you, explore this place and find this friggin’ scroll, you know that. But it’s not gonna happen, not now.”
“Then I’ll wait till you’re okay again,” I said stubbornly.
“Months, Qhouri? Really?” His one-eyed gaze pierced into mine. “Do you have so much time?”
Holy Kyne. The images of Narzulbur flashed through my mind. If I delayed this task even further now, if I wasted even more time… there was no excuse. Not any more.
“How can you be so damned reasonable? Why don’t you tell me that you won’t let me go down there without you?”
His smile didn’t reach his eyes. “Every time I try to forbid you something you threaten to kill me, remember?” He hid his face in my neck, muffling his voice. “I know you, Qhouri. You have to go on now. And I won’t hold you back.”
I buried my hand in the tresses of his hair. He never looked so vulnerable as in this moment.
“I’d throw apples at you, all day long. And scare you from behind until you sense me coming.”
His smile was thin. “You can’t scare me, I always know when you’re near. Doesn’t work with friggin’ machines, though.”
“So, that’s it then? We return to Jorrvaskr, and I ask around who of our siblings has time to search through this blasted kingdom with me? Perhaps I should just go alone. Didn’t even manage to keep you safe, after all.” The bitterness in my voice was unmistakable, and Farkas held me at arm’s length, his face deadly serious.
“Don’t you even think about it. It was my own stupidity that brought me into this mess, and I already feel horrible enough. To think about you alone down there in the darkness where no one knows what lurks around… I’ll tie you up and carry you to Jorrvaskr myself if I have to, Companion.”
It was a tired, silent dinner we had that evening, and I just ate enough to calm my growling stomach before I retreated. I felt my wolf pace through the chambers of my mind, scratching the thin walls and begging to get released. Frustration and anger did that to her, and I felt itchy and restless. But instead to let her run through the snowy wilderness or calm her with some sour ale, I lay tired, shivering and wide awake, fighting nausea and nervousness.