Straag Rod: Book 1, Part 1, Chapter XXXII


    Vilkas was waiting for them just inside the gate; squinting his eyes in the sunlight.  It was not difficult for Äelberon to read the relief on Farkas’ twin’s face when he saw the both of them. He understood. He was very glad to be home. Home… Jorrvaskr truly was home now. The first real home he had known in many, many years.


    “Glad to see both of you in one piece!” Greeted Vilkas, clasping Äelberon’s forearm; shaking it vigorously.


    Äelberon gritted his teeth in pain as he shook back, but damn it, he shook back.  Vilkas offered the same for Farkas, but Farkas tightly embraced his brother instead. Äelberon did not blame him.


    Vilkas gazed at his brother tenderly for a moment before breaking eye contact to address Äelberon, for the show of affection was unusual for Farkas. Vilkas could tell that it was not an easy trial, he knew Farkas. “I take it you have the fragment? You were successful?”


    “Aye, Äelberon is carrying it.” Farkas answered, not expecting the flood of emotions upon seeing his brother to hit him so hard and he sighed.


    “Äelberon?” Vilkas’ eyebrows shot up in surprise, “But Farkas, Wuuthrad! It is dangerous for the Elv—“


    “We know.” Nodded Äelberon, “But it is my trial, therefore my burden to bear.” He extended his sword hand and Vilkas could see that dark, drying blood and a clear fluid seeped slowly in spots through the leather and fur lining of his gauntlet. The liquids that accompany blisters and burns. “I carried it with honor.” He had been unable to heal since touching it though; the pounding in his head was too intense for him to focus his magicks and his sword hand still smarted from the fragment’s burns. It had burned him through his gauntlet. The potency of the enchantment was unlike anything he had ever seen.  Ha! He would gladly retrieve fragments with honor for his Shield-Siblings, but if Wuuthrad was ever whole again, he would hope they would do the wielding. He turned to Vilkas. “What is next, my brother?”


    He saw Vilkas shift a bit. The Nord was clearly uncomfortable. “Let’s walk.”


    The three warriors walked through the market square, Koor following close behind, gazing at his Master, his tail wagging. They paused at the sapling and Vilkas gestured for Äelberon to sit. “Farkas and I need to go into Jorrvaskr.” Vilkas looked down, “You cannot come in with us. We need you to wait outside. Um… I’m sorry.” Vilkas averted his gaze again and crossed his arms over his chest. “This is not what I want, but—“


    Äelberon waived his hand and nodded. “Say no more, Vilkas, I understand. I truly do. I will wait here.”


    He removed his pack and set it upon the bench. Then he removed his helmet, setting it next to his pack as he slowly sunk on the bench with a heavy sigh. Vilkas frowned, it was plain the fragment had caused Äelberon discomfort, yet he bore it anyway. He hoped Skjor and Aela would be bloody satisfied. The husky settled to take a nap at his Master’s feet while the Elf sat back and began to pull his hair from his cuirass; frowning a bit when he tugged. Farkas turned to his brother, his tone impatient. “Are we going then? I got a lot to say.”


    “Yes brother, we go now.”


    Farkas and Vilkas turned to head up the steps to Jorrvaskr. Farkas turned back one more time to look at Äelberon before he turned left to join his brother at the Underforge. He was unbinding his hair; his bearded face looking extremely worn while his fingers worked to remove the leather on his top-knot.  Farkas grew very sad, he knew exactly what his brother was doing.


    “Come brother,” Vilkas gestured towards the Underforge, “The Circle is waiting.”


    Farkas nodded and continued with his brother.



    Äelberon sat cross-legged upon the bench and held the long, thin string of leather in his hand, fingering it delicately, his silver white hair blowing gently in the breeze, the pounding of his head greatly reduced. It was over two hundred years old, and a public symbol of his devotion to his Order.


    It was all he had left from his Homeland. When he bound his hair, all around knew that he served Auri-El with great pride and love. But... he sighed heavily and he could feel his face lengthen. He had let a lycanthrope live.


    To do so is to invoke the Wrath of Auri-El.


    The show of mercy was in accordance to his faith, of that there was no question. But, it was a lycanthrope; a demon, a servant of Hircine, and his Order also demanded that the servants of the Daedra be destroyed. Two important tenets of his faith now openly contradicted each other and it troubled him deeply. It was his Shield-Brother. They had saved his life. Did they not deserve his love too? He put his hand to his forehead. “Oh Auri-El why am I here?” He whispered to himself. “What is my purpose? If it is solely to rid the world of evil, then why did you not bestow upon me a heart of stone to make my job easier? All that I know is that I have broken one of your tenets as I fulfilled another and I am now sorely grieved.”


    He squeezed the leather tightly in his hand, his emotion building. No, Auri-El did not give him a heart of stone, but because of his compassion, he had violated one of the tenets of his faith and it was a transgression that demanded penance. As he gathered his hair loosely at the nape of his neck and bound it with the leather, he whispered softly.


    “Lord Auri-El, I am no longer worthy to display the public symbol of your service... but I will always be your devoted servant and your hand of mercy.”



    The rest of the Circle were overjoyed to see Farkas, but their faces quickly grew serious when they saw the stern expression on their normally easy-going Shield-Brother. He took his place among the Circle and glanced at Kodlak Whitemane. The Old Man nodded. “Well Farkas? What have you to say?”


    The young Nord only scowled, his silver grey eyes glinting with a hardness that surprised them. Skjor shifted his gaze to Aela and she shrugged her shoulders. Did the crypt go that poorly? Farkas sat down and looked up at his Shield-Siblings, his tone gruff as he spoke. “I think you need to sit down, I got a lot to say about the Elf sitting under the Gildergreen sapling.”


    The Circle sat and listened to their Shield-Brother, though Skjor’s body language was still defensive as was Aela’s. “I’m no good with words.  I don’t have Äelberon’s way with ‘em. Never have, never will. But I always speak with my heart, and that’s what I’m going to speak with now.”


    He turned to Vilkas.


    “I forget sometimes that Äelberon’s very old. He doesn’t seem it ‘cause Ysmir’s Beard, he’s as strong as a bear, and has a lot of energy for an old Elf, but other things make him old. His knowing, for one. Vilkas, he knows more about Wuuthrad than any of us do. Put me to shame. Put us all to shame. He knows about a lot more than that too.  I think he memorizes books. He would talk about the sculptures in the Cairn and the books we found.” Farkas grinned, he knew his brother and could see his twin’s building excitement. “You need to go with him to a tomb, I sometimes got annoyed because I don’t have the head for that sort of thing, but you’d love it.”


    “Are you only going to talk about books, Farkas?” scowled Skjor.


    “Don’t interrupt me, Skjor.” Farkas shot him a hard look and Kodlak could not suppress a chuckle, making the Veteran glower. It had been indeed good to pair Snow Bear with Farkas, for the Elf’s way was rubbing off on the boy. He was showing maturity. Farkas cleared his throat, now satisfied that he had Skjor’s attention.


    Aela shot the Veteran a look and shook her head. He was stewing. She read him so well.


    “Yeah, we fight, but lore masters are important too. With Äelberon, you get both. He bested you and my brother fair and square in the Training Circle and you still doubt him? Well, don’t doubt anymore, Skjor. He wields a shield better than Stonearm, a bow better than Aela, and a sword better than you. I saw it with my own damn eyes. But, he can also capture the sun in his hands and with it, he fried draugr to Oblivion. Ha! It makes a sound just like Tilma frying venison chops in bear fat!” His Shield-Siblings laughed at the image.


    “But is he an honorable fighter? Or does he take all the glory for himself?” asked Aela.


    “Aela, don’t misunderstand me, he can be an arrogant Son of a Bitch sometimes. But on the battlefield, when times are rough, a kinder Elf you’ll never meet. He’s not a pushover, but he knows how to laugh, even at himself. He treated me with respect; no insults, no ‘icebrain’ ever came from his mouth, and I did some pretty stupid things in that Cairn. He let me have my day in battle and we quickly formed a team; the three of us really, for his husky also held his own.” He grinned at the Huntress. “You would’ve been proud of Little Moon Brother. He did real well. Äelberon knew my strength was to get in up close, so like you and I do when we fight together; he used ranged attacks, always having my back. Even once when he was poisoned by a spider’s spittle and became blind, he didn’t run off and heal himself, he risked his life to kill the one that was attacking me. He shot it blind, Aela, using my voice to direct his aim! But, he did something else too. As I fought, he would use magic on me; to make me stronger and heal my body.”


    The Old Man raised his eyebrows, surprised at what Farkas had said and even more surprised at the sheer amount that was being said. This was the boy who usually grunted his way about Jorrvaskr, laughing and joking, but now he was articulate in a way that betrayed far more intelligence and observation than they had ever given him credit for.  “So he does not only heal at the Temple, but in the battlefield as well? A noble class indeed, for they often put themselves in harm’s way to heal their fellow soldiers.”


    “Yeah. It was definitely like that, Kodlak. Whenever he did that, he left himself open to attack.”


    “So,” Continued the Old Man,”It seems that there are no longer any doubts as to his worthiness. Are we all in agreement?”  Skjor, Aela and Vilkas nodded, though he could still see that Skjor still was hesitant. He turned to Vilkas. “I think you can bring him in now and we can induct him. Tilma prepared a fine feast and it is time to cele—“


    “I’m not done yet.”


    They turned to Farkas; their faces puzzled. “You’ve said more than enough, Farkas. I don’t have any more objections. Aela and I are satisfied, right?” Skjor turned to Aela and she nodded.


    “No, Skjor, you need to hear the real reason why Äelberon needs to be our Shield-Brother.”  Kodlak stared at the boy, he was so serious, what had happened in that Cairn?  “It happened in the second room. There was a gate trap and Äelberon got himself locked in it so I could then get him out. He’ll explain it better later because it just confused me. Well, when he was telling me how to set him free, he suddenly stopped and loaded a bolt, telling me to turn around. I was surrounded by Silver Hand.”


    His Shield-Siblings froze.


    “Äelberon tried to hit them with his crossbow through the gate, but it kept bouncing off the bars. He was crying out my name and shaking the gate as hard as he could to get to me; to save me. I could feel the transformation coming on…”


    “No,” Whispered Vilkas.


    “I don’t know if it was the silver weapons or my armor snapping off that let him know, but I’ve never heard anyone scream ‘no’ like that in all my life. Almost like he didn’t want what was about to happen, to happen. I turned my head to face my Shield-Brother as I felt the Beast Blood take me. What I saw struck fear into my heart, for I knew that I was looking into the blazing eyes of a demon hunter truly blessed by the Divines, no, not them, I don’t think he believes in them. Auri-El, that’s the name of his God. Shor’s Bones! I actually preferred the Silver Hand to the wrath of my own Shield-Brother.” He sighed, shaking his head to clear the memory.


    “What were the Silver Hand doing at the Cairn, Farkas?” Pressed Kodlak. This was unexpected.


    “Dunno, probably wanted the fragment. They killed the scholar, Harbinger. He’s dead. Slit his throat.”


    “Damn. Did you take care of them?”


    “Eventually, we both did, but that’s not important now. I know it is, but I really need to finish.”


    “Alright, lad, but we will all need to discuss this later. Go on, Farkas.”


    “So, I took care of the Silver Hand in the chamber and then did something stupid and smart at the same time.”


    “Stupid and smart?” Questioned Vilkas.


    “Aye, I went into the other room and released Äelberon from his trap, and as I stood in the other room, feeling the Beast Blood leave me, I heard a battle cry that made me feel such fear. I knew he was going to kill me.”


    See, this is exactly what I mean!” Raged Skjor as he turned to Kodlak, “Fuck! Do you realize the danger you have put us in?” Skjor started to stand up. He was done with this meeting, but Aela could see the conflict all over his face.  


    “Sit down NOW!” Bellowed Farkas, his brows furrowed, the sudden outburst surprising everyone. “I’m not done here yet!”  Skjor was taken aback by the force of Farkas’ words and with a nod, he sat back down. He almost looked relieved. It was a strange expression and Farkas found it difficult to remain angry with him, though his first few words were still rather clipped. “So I was sayin’... I did something stupid and smart at the same time, right? After that terrible battle cry, I waited and heard nothing afterwards, and after an eternity of nothing, damn it, I decided that it was going to be him or me.”


    Even the Harbinger could not suppress a gasp of shock. Killing another Shield-Sibling? They fought, they squabbled, and they even betrayed each other, but to kill, to murder a Shield-Sibling? Not since before they enacted their Neutrality policy, when Shield-Siblings fought in opposite sides of war. They could not bear it and they stopped. You did not murder a Shield-Sibling. Never. “Farkas...” Began the Old Man, but the young Nord didn't allow him to finish his thought.


    “You are everything to me, my family. I was here since I was a whelp. I wanted, I wanted to protect you, so, yes, I had it in my heart to kill my own Shield-Brother. I understood then why Skjor felt the way he felt. He only wanted to protect us too.” He suddenly hung his head low, his hair partially covering his face, still damp. “I will carry the shame of my weakness for a long, long time.”


    Vilkas put a hand on his brother’s shoulder. “Go on, brother.” Vilkas reassured.


    Farkas nodded, though there was now an uncharacteristic weight to his tone. The experience at the Cairn had aged him. Something the Elf did moved him profoundly. “I stepped into the chamber, holding my breath, as I slowly picked up my great sword from the pile of Silver Hand. I saw him. His back was turned and he was sitting against some rock work. I don’t think he even heard me approach. He was fingering a crossbow bolt in his hand, and I was so tempted to strike him down, but I couldn’t.” He turned to Vilkas, his silver eyes rimmed red and bloodshot. “He had saved you from a giant. He could’ve ridden away, but he didn’t. I couldn’t kill him in cold blood, so I put down my sword and sat next to him, and that’s when I saw them.”


    “Saw them?” Asked Aela.


    “Äelberon's tears. He was weeping and I felt for him, because I saw the struggle in his eyes. While I trembled in the other room, thinking only about how I was going to kill this demon hunter, he fought a war with himself for my life, Aela. Two hundred years of training and service versus forty days with a bunch of drunken warriors in a Mead Hall.”  Farkas took a deep breath and leaned back against one of the altars of the Underforge, his eyes weary. “He then looked at me and told me that he remembered that I had cradled his head in my hands while he lay dying and he could not bear the thought of killing someone who had showed him such kindness. All I did was hold his damn head, but to him, it was more.”


    Farkas suddenly looked up. “Remember that day? When he first came? He almost died that night, yet he still showed more heart than any other warrior I have ever seen. I remember no one slept that night he lay at the Temple. Not even you, Skjor.”


    “No, I didn’t sleep, you’re right.”


    “You liked him then, didn’t you? When he fought Vilkas?”


    “I always admired the skill, Farkas.”


    “Bullshit. You helped feed him water when he was sleeping just like the rest of us. That’s more than admiring skill. Why did you do it? I don’t think you ever wanted to hate him. Even for what his People did you in the Great War. They tortured him too, Skjor.”


    “I know.” Skjor knew, though Farkas. How? 


    The Veteran’s reply was distant and his gaze was somewhere else. Being led in chains by one with white hair and long black Thalmor robes; a demon conjurer among them. Sadistic and cruel. Hearing that bastard laugh as the eight-pronged lash cut into his flesh. Watching the Thalmor drink that heavy blood red wine of his, his sneering thin lips stained against that pale golden skin when he held that hot iron to Skjor’s eye, blinding him with the heat. The cruel laughter.  And then the screams from those thin lips when Skjor managed to escape his chains, taking the very hot iron that took his own eye and taking the eye of his captor. The remaining soldiers left that monster for dead. 


    That was the reason why he gave the Elf water. None of the others recognized those scars, but Skjor did. The lash. Äelberon had felt its sting as well, his back littered with those same clusters of eight. Aye, some stories were too dark for the Mead Hall and the Veteran knew that the Elf had suffered terribly under his own People.  “He’s seen shit that would kill our souls.”


    Skjor then looked away and bit his lip. Aela wanted to go to him, but no, not now. Later... “I’m alright, go on, Farkas. I want to hear it.” The Veteran sighed.


    “So you see, at Dustman’s Cairn, Äelberon truly became my brother, because of what he didn’t do, not because of what he did. If that makes sense.” Farkas looked at his Shield-Siblings.


    “It does.” Replied the Veteran with a nod.


    “I really want you to know what Äelberon did today, for me, for all of us, because I think it’s important that you understand. He didn’t just get a fragment of Wuuthrad today, he did a lot more. He’s a warrior, he’s a scholar, but he’s also a priest. We all know that. He wears his hair like one and he does those prayers of his. Day and Night. He’s been a priest longer than any of us have been alive. He takes his Order seriously; no women, no drink, he helps Danica at the Temple, does good things for a lot of people. Damn! He even gives bandits the option to ‘yield’! Who even does that?  But, I know he violated his Order today by letting me live, and I know that’s bad for him.” Farkas shook his head in disbelief, his emotion building again. “We’re werewolves. Whether we think it’s a curse or a gift, we still bear the mark of Hircine. We represent everything that his Order seeks to destroy, and yet his love for me as his Shield-Brother and his mercy outweighed two hundred years of service to his own God. Two hundred years!”


    His voice broke at the last phrase and tears started to run hot down his cheeks, as he took a deep breath. “You can throw his smarts and his battle prowess out the damn door, and I’d still count him as one of us, because the kind of sacrifice he made for me today?” Farkas wiped his eyes with the back of his gauntleted hand and growled to compose himself. “Well, that’s what makes somebody truly a Companion. Not any of the other shit.”


    He stood up and nodded, clearing his throat, “There, I’ve said my piece. Make whatever decision you want, but to me, Äelberon’s one of us. He was the moment he walked into Jorrvaskr on that stormy night.”


    There was not a dry eye in the Underforge after Farkas’ words and the Circle was silent for a time before the Old Man finally cleared his throat, sniffed, and spoke, his voice moved. “I think we know what needs to be done.”


    And the members of the Circle began to filter out of the Underforge. Farkas remained standing for a moment and Vilkas smiled and walked to his brother, putting his hand on his shoulder. “I’m glad you were the one who went with Äelberon to Dustman’s Cairn. Any other Shield-Brother, including me, would have failed him, but not you, Farkas, not you.”



    “Don’t eat that!”  


    Äelberon quickly looked up from his book; the green apple right at his lips when he heard Farkas’ voice.  The Nord sat next to him on the bench under the Gildergreen sapling. It was close to sunset and there was a nip in the air.


    “Have you been here this whole time?” Farkas took the apple from Äelberon’s hand and tossed it into the air, catching it. The Elf scowled, his stomach growling loudly. He had not eaten since the Cairn.


    “No, I went to the Hall of the Dead and spoke to Andurs about Erratuim. He then sent me to Bjorlam. We have the cart tomorrow to head back to the Cairn, pick the locks for the chests, and retrieve Erratuim’s body for Andurs to prepare for transport and burial. Andurs will contact Erratuim’s family in Cyrodiil.” Äelberon gestured with his eyes toward his apple. “Am I going to get that back? I am hungry.”


    “Good that that’s taken care of.” Farkas responded, completely ignoring Äelberon’s question. He moved the binding of Äelberon’s book to read the title. “Oh yeah, that Sancre Tor book. Any good?” He asked.


    Äelberon turned to the Nord and sighed. He was starving. “Yes, it is a good book,” He answered, his voice a bit impatient. He put it down and extended his armored hand, opening and closing it quickly, beckoning for the apple. “Now am I going to get that back? I had been saving that apple, Farkas. It is just the right temperature.”


    “I don’t think Tilma will want you to ruin your appetite, so if you don’t mind, I’ll hold it for you.” He patted his stomach and grinned. “Just wait and see what the old woman’s cooked today! I think she knew.”


    “Knew what?”


    “That somebody’s gonna be inducted into the Companions tonight. Been in the kitchen all day, while you and I were at the Cairn.” The two warriors shared smiles, though Äelberon noticed a certain weight behind the youngling's eyes now.  “Yeah, she’s way smarter than some members of the Circle, I think.” Farkas gave Äelberon a pat on the shoulder. “I gotta go on ahead. I have to say some lines, all formal and the like, and I need to make sure I know ‘em or Vilkas will knock my head this side of Dragonsreach. He’s a stickler for that sort of thing. You can head on over whenever you’re ready.”


    “Lines, eh?”  Äelberon smiled slyly, those eyes of his twinkling, and Farkas, one of the bravest of the Companions was suddenly bashful.


    Should he ask? “Yeah, any tips? You’re always so good with words and stories.”


    The wise Elf looked at the Nord and his expression was kind when he spoke. Äelberon put his hand on his chest and pressed. “Speak always with your heart, Farkas, and your words will never fail you.”


    The Nord then hung his head, his face glum. “What is wrong, brother?” Äelberon pressed.


    “I’m sorry.”


    “Sorry? For what?”


    Farkas sat next to him again, and looked down, holding the apple on his lap. “Your hair, I know why it’s unbound. It’s my fault. Are you no longer a priest? Did I take that from you?”


    “Oh Farkas,” Äelberon sighed, “look at me.” The young Nord looked up slowly; his pale silver eyes meeting the Elder’s as the Elder shook his head gently; the Nord was so very young.  “You took nothing from me. On the contrary, you and your family have given me much.” He lifted his hand and fingered a silver-white tendril, “It is only hair…” That reassured the Nord and Äelberon could see him lighten up again when he got up.  Äelberon then smiled and his red-orange eyes danced again with mischief.  “I am still very much a priest, so you and siblings better watch yourselves and keep the sinning tonight to a minimum or you shall know my Divine wrath. Milk bottles will be tossed to keep you in line.” 


    Farkas laughed and disappeared up the steps into the Mead Hall, a spring to his step. Äelberon then allowed himself to slip into sadness again, his hand continuing to finger the tendril, his eyes downcast. It was more than just hair…


    They did not understand, and he would never burden them with such things. Koor laid his head upon his Master’s knee, his blue eyes gazing up sadly. He snorted softly. “Ah my dear Koor, you do understand.” Äelberon rubbed his ears with his gauntleted hand. He stared at his gauntlet.


    The armor…


    Should he still even wear it? He let out a ragged sigh. He had violated the Order of the Vigilants too, but it was the Order of Auri-El that he belonged to, and his punishment fell under their tenets. The hair was the penance, and by the Gods, it was certainly enough. He already felt naked without the top-knot, the lack of pressure on his scalp at this time of day; unsettling. Of course, he released it from its bindings every night, and rebound it every morning; a daily ritual of devotion to Auri-El and mental centering that he took very seriously; and one that could no longer be done, at least not in the same way.


    Aye, this was exactly the punishment he would have received if he had committed such an infraction in the Isles, and the humiliation would be keenly felt, for the People would know and he would face their stares. Disgraced. A priest still, but disgraced. Shunned. He was luckier in Skyrim, for they knew not the customs of his People, but he knew them and it was enough. He squared his jaw and looked straight ahead. He knew though that if the choice was presented again and again and again, he still would have done the exact same thing. The tenets grossly contradicted each other and he made a choice based on what he felt was right in his heart. It was all he could do. He had no regrets and Tyranus of all people would have understood the struggle.  Yes, he would continue to wear the armor for he would not go back on his promise to the Vigilant, no matter his own flaws. 


    “Bah!” He suddenly whispered aloud as he pounded his fist upon his thigh, “You cannot attend your own induction with such a long face! There is time for dark thoughts later, Old Mer.” He squeezed Koor’s left ear affectionately. “Come, boy. Let us go join our siblings and be merry, for I know we both can smell the venison from here.”


    Koor barked and the two walked up the steps to Jorrvaskr as the sun set on the horizon, casting the sky in shades of orange and red. He looked up and could see Masser and Secunda, and the stars beginning to emerge. It was going to be a lovely night. He thought briefly about taking the time to wash, but decided against it. It would have been a very Elvish thing to do. He knew how Nords were. Seeing the battle scars, the wounds, the dust and dirt of battle… it was important to them. They wanted him as he was. He would bathe later.


    Äelberon walked into the Mead Hall and saw no one at the great tables, but he smelled the food. Oghma’s tits! The woman had outdone herself and his stomach was crying in agony! It was Vilkas who greeted him as he made his way around the tables.  


    “Are you ready?” The more scholarly twin asked.  Äelberon nodded and Vilkas stooped to pet Koor, laughing when the husky licked his face. “And this one, is he ready too? “ Vilkas turned to the husky, and Koor howled. “Aye he’s ready.”  Both warriors laughed and Vilkas turned to Äelberon. “Follow me… Shield-Brother.”


    Outside in the courtyard, the tables were bursting with food; cheeses, fruits, sweet rolls, honey nut treats, kegs of mead, bottles of wine. He grinned, for at one table stood quite a few bottles of milk, a jug of steaming water, satchels of canis root tea, a giant bowl of green apples, and honey nut treats.  But apples and tea be damned tonight, for he was going to help himself to the large venison roast that smoked in the center table, its skin crisp and fatty at the same time. Gods, he was going to die.


    They were all there; sitting at the wooden tables of the courtyard; Athis, Torvar, Stonearm, and Ria. Vignar and Eorlund Grey-Mane were also present, sipping mead. Tilma had her hands to her mouth, her old eyes tearing with joy, and Brill had put his arm around her, comforting her.  “There, there old woman, your favorite is getting his due...”


    Vilkas went on ahead to join his siblings at the Training Circle while Äelberon walked slower, savoring the effort his family had gone through for this day, rubbing his chin and letting out a heavy sigh. Damn it! Now was not the time to weep like an old woman!  He had to blink a few times to mask the sting of his eyes, for he was deeply moved. He did not deserve this. Koor yowled and nudged his thighs, guiding him down the steps. He squared his shoulders, assuming his full height and entered the Training Circle. He still glowed from his healing aura, his armor reflected the light of the courtyards braziers, and upon his shoulders was his snow bear cloak, the heavy fur ruffling in the evening breeze.


    Aye, thought Kodlak Whitemane, nodding slightly while Äelberon approached, now there stands before me the great Snow Bear from my dream.  Yes, the Elf would get his new name today. Even the hair was as it was in his dream, gathered at his nape instead of the top-knot. It suited him, thought Whitemane, for he was never as rigid as the top-knot he wore. Ha! He wasn’t the only Whitemane anymore. Good, Jorrvaskr needed more elders.


    Whitemane’s chain of thought was broken when Äelberon knelt upon one knee, taking his siblings aback. No one had ever knelt before during an induction. It was a noble gesture and betrayed his more ancient ways.  Äelberon drew his katana and set the point lightly upon the ground, his right hand grasping the hilt. Upon his left hand, he bore his steel shield. Then he bent his silver head low in a display of humility and respect. “My Shield-Siblings, judge me today as you will, for your brother now kneels before you.”


    Kodlak Whitemane stared for a moment and smiled. As humble as he was the day he arrived. By Ysmir, a great heart beats in that chest! “Rise then, Äelberon Snow Bear, and stand tall among your Shield-Siblings. Rise at the new name I give you today, for you are indeed like the great bears that dwell Skyrim’s Frozen North; brave, fierce, and true.”


    Äelberon slowly stood and sheathed his weapon. A new name, he thought. He liked it. 


    “He’s got the arms of one too!” Shouted Stonearm raising her tankard, and the crowd laughed.


    Kodlak sighed, seems this wasn’t going to be the serious ceremony he had intended. Snow Bear’s siblings would see to that. He cleared his throat loudly and the group settled down. Kodlak Whitemane then raised his hands to the air and in a great voice addressed the Circle and the Companions gathered at the courtyard.


    "Brothers and Sisters of the Circle, Companions of Jorrvaskr, and our loyal friends, today we welcome a new soul into our mortal hold. Äelberon Snow Bear has showed his valor, has challenged…” He smiled a knowing smile at Äelberon and they exchanged nods. “And…” The old Nord paused, his voice thickening a bit, “And by Talos, he has endured.” He cleared his throat and continued.  “Who will speak for him?”


    Farkas stepped forward and stood tall as Whitemane brought his hands down. Speak from the heart, Farkas took a deep breath. He was ready. "I stand witness for the courage of the soul before us."


    His voice broke a bit, it sounded hoarse. Shit!  Damn it, he didn’t want get all misty already. Farkas bit the side of his cheek. The ceremony required a sword and shield and he was a little unaccustomed to having two things in his hands, but they were the weapons Äelberon had. It was custom. At least he didn’t have to carry a bow. That would have been ridiculous.


    "Would you raise your shield in his defense?"


    Farkas raised his shield; his look now serious. He was going to do this! “I would stand at his back, that the world might never overtake us!" He bellowed proudly. He didn't care if they heard him in Dragonsreach. 


    "And would you raise your sword in his honor?" Kodlak continued.


    Farkas then raised his sword and pointed it towards Äelberon. "It stands ready to shed the blood of his foes as he has shed the blood of mine!"  That got a look from Vilkas. Nope, not what was supposed to be said, but it was what he felt and his twin didn’t look angry.


    "And,” The Old Man smiled, ah he was going to blow it himself and Farkas was doing so well too. “Would you raise a tankard… of milk in his name?”


    The Courtyard erupted in laughter and Farkas took some time to compose himself before he answered. The Old Man was making jokes now too? Farkas shot a look at Äelberon and the Elf didn’t seem to mind one bit. Farkas took a deep breath.


    "I would lead the song in triumph as our Mead Hall reveled in his stories!"


    Torvar suddenly stood and hollered; the mead in his tankard spilling a bit as he rose. “Shame Farkas is tone-deaf!  You’ll drive our Snow Bear back into his cave with the shrieking!”


    More laughter.


    “You’re no bard either, Torvar!” Farkas shot back. Vilkas glared at his twin for disrupting the ceremony. What would the Elf think? Farkas shrugged at his brother, “What?”


    Vilkas crossed his arms over his chest and scowled. “Farkas!” He whispered harshly.


    Skjor was scratching the back of his neck and fighting his laughter.  Aela rolled her eyes. Kodlak shot Äelberon a knowing look and chuckled as he shook his head, walking towards the old Elf. The Old Man leaned in close and whispered. “Snow Bear, you still sure you want in on this very dysfunctional family?”


    Äelberon laughed and winked at his grey litter mate, whispering back. “I would not take them any other way, Old Man.”


    Kodlak resumed his place in the Circle and waved his hands to quiet the crowd. He then turned to the Huntress. “Aela, it is time.” 


    She approached Äelberon slowly, in her hand a small earthen bowl of red paint. She stood upon her toes and whispered in his ear. He had to be at least 42 pertans, maybe more, for her to feel so small next to him. “Your Order allows this?” She gestured to the paint. “We do this for our new siblings, but if it is not allowed, I will respect your Order. Farkas told us what you did. We know what you gave up for us. We know you now do penance for your Order, I'm so sorry.”


    “Aela…” He whispered; his tone gentle, “No apologies are ever needed. It is allowed and I am more than honored.” He looked down at the paint and smirked.  “Bright red, eh?” 


    Aela nodded and smiled as her feet slowly fell flat again. She studied his face for a moment, waiting for the inspiration to strike her and their eyes locked.  Red was the color she immediately saw for him. Red against his paleness.


    Fire in the snow.


    She then boldly dipped her hand into the paint, palm down and proceeded to cover his mouth, some of his right and left cheek, and his nose with her hand and pressed. The paint was a bit cold and he chuckled through her palm as she held it there, letting the paint seep into his skin, while his Shield-Siblings watched. After a few moments, she removed her hand from his face and stepped back. She looked at him for a while; her silver eyes meeting his again and she spoke, her voice now fierce. “May you never be silenced, my silver brother. And may your foes always know the thunder of your voice and the sting of your bow!”


    When she finished, she again stood on the tips of her toes and gently kissed his bearded cheek. The softness that dwelled underneath her ferocity revealed in a very tender moment. Her kiss, the sweet gesture of a sister’s love. She then took the paint and regarded Koor who was sitting on his haunches, wagging his tale, excited for his Master. She walked to the animal, putting fresh paint on her thumb and with it, drew a straight, vertical line upon the husky’s forehead. She then stooped to the dog and whispered softly to him. “And may the path to your prey always be straight, Little Moon Brother.”


    He licked her face and let out a long howl, his muzzle to the sky. Äelberon smiled, for not one, but two Shield-Brothers joined the ranks of the Companions today. Koor would be gloating for days. Aela gave Koor a final ear rub and resumed her position back at the Circle, nodding to Kodlak, who again raised his hands to address the Companions of Jorrvaskr. "Then this judgment of this Circle is complete. Äelberon Snow Bear’s heart beats with the fury and courage that have united the Companions since the days of the distant green summers. Let it beat with ours, so the mountains may echo and our enemies may tremble at the call!"


    Then all the Companions raised their weapons to the air and in a cry that could be heard throughout the streets of Whiterun, they shouted.





    “No, no, no, NOOO! I cannot, Tilma, I cannot possibly!” Äelberon said, shaking his head vigorously and waving his hands as he sat heavily upon one of the benches at the courtyard.


    Gauntlets and weapons were long laid down near their chairs. Hands were bare and washed, wounds now healed, and much eating and drinking had been done. Too much.


    The Companions erupted in laughter, while the brazier fires danced and crackled in the crisp night air. Tilma had placed another bottle of milk and a bowl of freshly made honey nut treats upon his table. And she was grinning as she did so. The milk was ice cold and he could see the honey oozing from the still warm treats. He let out a heavy sigh and furrowed his eyebrows as he considered his options. He had sinned enough today, of that he was certain. But… he did retrieve a fragment of Wuuthrad. Surely, he was deserving to indulge… a little? 




    He shook his head, he would burst his cuirass for he was stuffed. He spied the table opposite and saw Torvar and Athis exchanging whispers and shifting their eyes toward him. Were they betting on him again? He wondered what Athis had bet, the Dunmer always won. 


    “What’s the matter?” Asked Skjor, leaning towards the Elf, “Can’t handle your milk?”


    Äelberon laughed heartily and the two brothers leaned on each other, unable to control their latest bout of laughter. Äelberon turned to Skjor and shot back, a big grin on his face. “Well! I can handle my milk better than you can handle your mead!”


    The Nord threw back his head and laughed. “I’d love to see you try!” The Nord dared.


    “I love a challenge!” Äelberon took the bottle of milk and raised it. It met Skjor’s mead bottle with a crash, splashes of milk and mead flew in the air and mixed when the bottles hit. The two warriors took large gulps of their respective drinks, and then with a loud thud and refreshed sighs, they put the bottles down upon the heavy wooden table in unison. Äelberon shot a knowing look at Athis, as the Dunmer gleefully collected money from a sulking Torvar. The two Elves exchanged nods, the Dunmer had better start splitting the proceeds with him...


    “How many is that?” Skjor asked as he scrunched up his face, feeling the effects of the mead. He opened his eyes and blew out a gust of air.


    Äelberon turned to the Nord and crossed his arms over his chest, proudly nodding. “Bottle number seven, you?”


    “Same,” Came the Nord’s slurred response while he patted the Elf on the shoulder. “I’m gonna drink you under the table, Elf.”


    Äelberon leaned towards Skjor and narrowed his eyes, grabbing a honey nut treat, the honey warm against his fingers. The sugar was going to kill him… Gods! What he really wanted to do was strip down to his tunic and breeches and walk around with bare feet, but he was not nearly coordinated enough now to tackle the many buckles and fastenings that held his armor together. The sugar buzz needed to die down a little for that to happen. And then there was the chainmail.


    Damn chainmail.


    “Ha! That will be the day...” Äelberon goaded, taking a large bite of the treat.


    The tables again shook with their siblings’ laughter for the conversation between the two older warriors was ridiculous and uncharacteristic of the two former enemies.  Kodlak Whitemane put his hand to his face and slowly shook his head, which was also spinning with too much drink. He was on number five. It was going to be a rough morning tomorrow.  


    Those two…


    No better than merrymen tonight with their mischief, jokes, and pranks and they were a bad influence on their younger siblings. The worst was when that Bear of an Altmer started making an apple float around the courtyard with his magicks before Skjor pulled at his hair, making him lose his concentration and drop it into Vilkas’ tankard of mead with a splash, causing the young Nord to chase both around the courtyard tossing apples in retaliation. But Kodlak didn’t care. Those two, his greatest pride as Harbinger, for they were his best warriors, and finally, finally, they were getting along. As if a river burst from the confines of a dam, they finally allowed themselves to feel true friendship for each other. He knew the seeds for a deep friendship were already there, for the two shared similar experiences, but there were such struggles along the way, especially with Skjor.


    Kodlak knew Skjor had wanted to like Äelberon from the beginning, for the Elf was a great warrior, easy-going, and had a dagger-sharp wit, but first he saw Thalmor, then demon hunter. Kodlak understood, Skjor had been absolutely correct to be concerned and his own ambivalence and treatment of Äelberon did not help matters.  Skjor and Äelberon knew nothing of his dream, and he wanted to keep it that way.  When he heard Farkas’ account of the Cairn, the normally taciturn Nord had wept in both relief and guilt. His sincere kindness was the best apology Äelberon could have hoped for and the two now seemed to be making up for lost time. Skjor had only acted in the best interests of the Companions. Yes, Kodlak thought as he watched the pair laugh and talk, as if they had been friends for many years, Skjor would make a fine Harbinger one day for his struggle with Äelberon showed that he could understand and see beyond race and into a person’s heart.


    A Harbinger needed to do this. He knew that now. Not so much in the beginning.


    He watched them as he sipped his mead, barely paying attention to Vignar and Eorlund while they discussed politics. Stormcloaks, Imperials; it didn’t matter to him, though he knew that Äelberon did not agree. Old Bastard would challenge the Neutrality policy down the road, but not today. No today, the Old Mer didn’t even discuss politics. No, his topics of discussion were far cruder. Kodlak leaned slightly forward, his bushy grey eyebrows furrowing.


    Oh, those two were planning more mischief, for Äelberon was fingering the cork of Skjor’s mead bottle with his right hand, while Skjor leaned against him whispering. Kodlak could not make out their words, but they were planning something and their target was Aela. She was sitting cross-legged on top of the opposite table, talking with Stonearm and Ria, rubbing Koor’s ears as the dog’s tongue lolled in appreciation. The dog was sitting on a bench. Hmm, already enjoying his new status, thought the Old Man. Aela had her pensive look, she wasn’t enjoying the conversation. Confounded, he hated his position at the table, for he could not hear their words either. All he could hear was Vignar and Eorlund! War, war, war! He would need to move soon.


    Stonearm leaned towards her Shield-Sister, her expression sly, "I've heard some rumors... about you and Skjor."


    Aela scowled, the lot of them were drunk tonight and the drunk ask stupid questions they shouldn’t be asking. She shot back at Stonearm, making Ria uncomfortable. She’d apologize to the Imperial later.  "And if you want to keep having ears, you'll pretend you didn't."


    Njada looked surprised and she exchanged glances with Ria. Njada was feeling the mead hard tonight, so why not ask? Ha! None of them would remember a damn thing tomorrow morning anyway! Besides Skjor was not the only attractive man in Jorrvaskr, the twins had their charm, and then there was the Priest… at least for an Elf, he wasn’t terribly ugly. He was very tall and certainly built well and while the face was a bit worse for wear, it wasn’t unattractive. The nose was noble and the jaw firm, and he seemed to lack Athis’ strange facial bumps.  Getting rid of that ridiculous top-knot helped; made him look more Nordic, less Elvish.  Those god awful pointy ears were now no longer visible. Supposedly he was celibate, but lots of people claimed to be celibate. UGH! She was definitely very drunk. "Is it not allowed?" Njada pressed, teetering from her own inebriation.


    Aela groaned, there was no escaping today, as she continued to rub Little Moon Brother’s ears. At least he didn’t ask stupid questions. Neither did his Master. She was not going to say anything. She didn’t have to. It was none of Njada’s business. "It's not exactly forbidden, but even so...”  She crossed her arms over her chest and stared hard at Stonearm and Ria, her tone growing fierce, “It's not true. So that's that."  And with that, she resumed rubbing the dog’s ears, while the two women began to walk toward the twins, Torvar, and Athis, leaving her alone.


    “You know I think I like you more than most people…” She whispered to the husky and was rewarded with a head butt, making her laugh aloud.


    By Hircine, whenever she laughed, he melted and he turned to the Elf. She was definitely at the wrong side of the courtyard. He would fix this… with a little help, he smirked. “Well, Can you hit her?” Skjor whispered, a grin on his face. “I think, maybe I might be too drunk.”


    The Elf turned to him, narrowing his eyes. “Might be too drunk? You could not hit a mammoth with this thing at twenty paces. Aye, I can hit her.” Äelberon leaned closer and whispered, “Where?”


    “The shoulder.” Skjor chuckled. He wanted the Elf to aim lower, but they were in public.


    Äelberon raised his eyebrows and gestured to the Huntress with his eyes. “Are you sure? It will make her mad…”  Aela's temper was legendary. Äelberon often enjoyed watching the red-haired Nord intimidate her Shield-Siblings with only a glance, as she did with her two sisters just now. She had such fire. 


    “I can handle her.” Skjor retorted.


    Äelberon shot Skjor a knowing look, he was half-smiling and he suddenly stopped fingering the cork. The Nord was quite drunk and had let that slip. Aye, Skjor liked playing with fire and Äelberon had observed their interactions long enough to know what was going on. “I know.”


    Skjor was taken aback by the Elf's words and he could feel the heat creep to his face. What exactly did Äelberon mean by that? “What do you mean? What do you know?”


    “Skjor, I may be celibate, but I am not stupid.” He resumed fingering the cork, “But why all the secrecy? Is it not allowed?”


    “There are no rules against it, but…” The Nord slightly cast his head downwards and mumbled, “It is still very new.”


    “Ah, I see,” Äelberon nodded, turning to Skjor, “On my honor, brother, I will say nothing. The shoulder then?” He smiled.


    “Aye, you can still shoot straight on seven bottles, right?”


    “Ha! Far better than you!” Äelberon eyed Aela’s shoulder and took aim, his fingers poised to flick the cork. He drew in his breath and was about to let the cork fly…


    “Don’t miss!” Leaned in Skjor.


    Äelberon let out his breath and clutched the cork with his fist, pretending to glower at the Nord. “Confounded, Skjor! Never talk to a marksmer when he has his eyes on his target! By the Gods, I will not miss if you do not hiss in my ear!”


    Skjor leaned back, his hands raised. “I’m sorry, I’ll let you work your magic then…”


    “It is magic indeed.”




    “Just watch…watch and learn.” Äelberon took aim again, his eyes narrowing as he took in his breath. The cork flew across the tables and its target was true. Kodlak grinned, the Nord and the Altmer were back to their pranks again. Aela felt the impact on her shoulder and saw the cork fall to the table. She knew where this came from and she turned in their direction. The warriors turned quickly away from her gaze; Äelberon was scratching his head as he looked up, and Skjor was whistling. They were not even trying to hide their guilt. Kodlak shook his head. Worse than merrymen today!


    And she took the bait. 


    She was coming, cork in hand, Koor following close behind, his belly bursting with venison, frustrated as to why his ear-rubbing was so rudely interrupted. She sat at the edge of their table, as was her custom, and placed the cork at Äelberon’s place. He looked up at her, his red-orange eyes twinkling in the firelight.


    Yes?” He purred, the voice full of mischief. Skjor bit his lip hard to keep from laughing. Äelberon’s tone of voice was perfect.


    “I believe this is yours.” She pushed the cork closer to him. This priest had a naughty streak.


    “Oh no, you are wrong, it is not mine.” He replied, taking a casual bite of his honey nut treat.


    “I saw you flick it.” She accused.


    “It is not my cork, Aela, I swear.” He shoved it back towards her. “There is a far easier way to figure out who this cork truly belongs to.” She was puzzled briefly at Äelberon’s strange words, and then both warriors saw that she understood the Elf’s riddle, for she picked up the cork and gave it a whiff; her pale eyes downcast. She suddenly brought them up when she recognized the smell.




    She tossed the cork up in the air and caught it, smiling at its true owner, her eyes dancing the firelight, and he smiled back. Kodlak stared intently, what was this subtle interplay? He glanced around, no other had noticed it. Äelberon slowly and loudly stood up, groaning with effort and turned to his husky. He knew too.


    “Come you old Snowberry, no more ear-rubbing for you!  It is time you walked off the venison, and your Master walked off bottle number seven, and Auri-El only knows how much sugar!” Koor howled in protest and snorted. “Eh, no lip!” He pointed to the dog, “If we do not do this, trust your old Master, we will regret it when we wake up in the morning. Now UP!”


    Hmm, thought Kodlak, the Elf was attracting attention to himself, away from Skjor and Aela. The Elf picked up on things so quickly, it was impressive. “Wait!” Cried Kodlak, slowly standing to excuse himself from Vignar and Eorlund with a polite nod, “You have room for one more on your little walk? I also do not wish to regret tonight’s decisions when I wake up.”


    Äelberon turned to the Harbinger and their eyes locked for a moment before he nodded. “Of course, Harbinger.”


    Their Shield-Siblings stopped and looked up, but Kodlak waved his hand, his pale eyes twinkling, and his cheeks ruddy from drink and laughter. “No, no, no! The party is not over yet! Enjoy, my Shield-Siblings and make merry for the night is still quite young. Do not stop simply because your two old litter mates need to take a break!” He grinned and gestured to the Elf.  "Come, old Snow Bear, let’s away and talk of things none of these whelps would be interested in. Of warm hearths, soothing tea, and aching, brittle bones.”


    Äelberon smiled as he put his hand on the Old Man’s shoulder and they walked away from the courtyard, down the path under the Skyforge toward the city.



    The night was cool and clear, well lit by Masser and Secunda and countless glittering stars. The chill caused Äelberon to draw his cloak closer about his shoulders. Their walk was slow and Koor yawned while he kept pace. The Old Man broke the silence first, the steam escaping his lips as he spoke. “Last time we walked together, Snow Bear, I took a swing at you.”


    “I had said hard words. I expected the swing.” Äelberon replied.


    The Nord sighed and turned to him. They had stopped at the well, it was deserted. Kodlak traced the stone with his hand. “Well boy, you’re one of us now.”  Äelberon laughed, but the Old Man had read the slight bitterness in the laughter.  Those eyes were not laughing.


    “Well, not quite.” Was the Elf’s answer.


    “Yes, you’ve been allowed to know some secrets before your appointed time.”


    “Secret? Kodlak, lycanthropy is no light matter.” He leaned towards the Old Man and whispered, “If the Whiterun authorities ever learned of this...”


    Kodlak clasped Äelberon’s forearm. “You wouldn’t?”


    The concern was heavy in the Old Man’s voice and the Elf met his gaze, shaking his head. “No, no, Kodlak. Of course I would not. You have my mercy and my silence, which is why my hair is currently unbound.”


    The Old Man looked down and sighed. “Is it permanent?”


    “No, but there is no Arch-Curate in Skyrim to tell me how long my penance is. He Himself will have to let me know when it is finished.”








    “Signs, dreams… He will tell me in time. In the meantime, I pray.”


    “I am truly sorry. Farkas was very clear about what you did for us today. He spoke well, I was prouder of him today than I have ever been. He showed strength. Skjor too. I am glad things have been mended between the two of you.”


    “I never wished it to be broken in the first place, Kodlak, but I am glad that Skjor is now comfortable around me. That he no longer fears me. I do not wish to be feared by my own family.”


    “They no longer fear you and some never did. I did not fear you.”


    Äelberon’s face darkened, he had been wondering when the evening would turn dark again. He knew the Old Man had wanted words immediately after the ceremony, but the party quickly started and Äelberon had hoped in the back of his mind that whatever it was, it would wait for the morning. He had enjoyed the night, but pure joy was a thing for the young, and he was no longer young and neither was the Old Man. So while the younglings reveled, the grey litter mates talked of more bitter things. Äelberon rested his hands upon the stone well and looked down, his silver-white hair moving with the gentle breeze. “At the Cairn, Farkas told me it was just the Circle.” He began.


     “Yes, it’s true. Not every Companion, no, only members of the Circle all share the Blood of the Beast. Some take to it more than others."


    Äelberon turned to the Old Man and leaned towards him and smelled him, inhaling deeply. He was such a fool to have not noticed it. Too busy with his own struggles. They were right there. The scent plain as Tilma’s apple pie. Damn Bleak Falls Barrow. How the Oblivion was he going to hunt Vingalmo, if he could not even smell a family of werewolves living in one Mead Hall?!


    You are rusty, you old demon hunter.


    “How long has it been since you have given in to the beast, over two months, yes?”


    By Ysmir, thought Kodlak, he could tell this just by smell? Perhaps it was a blessing that Snow Bear was a demon hunter. “My last was on the first of Sun’s Dusk.”


    Äelberon gave him a hard look. The Old Man had incredible fortitude. “That is a long time to go between transformations. Are you alone in this?”


    “No, Vilkas and Farkas had pledged to refrain from giving in with me.” By the Gods, thought Kodlak. To finally be able to talk to someone who knew what he was going through! “Vilkas suffers for it, I think, but Farkas seems remarkably fine, though he did slip at the Cairn.”


    “Fine?” The Elf retorted, “You are not fine. The lot of you drink like fish. I make no joke when I say it takes me quite a while to count the bottles in the morning. The thirst, it is part of it. I hear it is unbearable.”


    “The mead helps… a great deal.”


    Äelberon kicked the well slightly with his foot and shifted positions, putting his weight on his right hand. He turned again to Kodlak, he had more questions.  “And Skjor and Aela? Do they then feel Hircine’s pull stronger?”  Aye, Äelberon was now wearing the familiar hat of the demon hunter. Ask questions, learn about the target’s habits. That he was asking this of his own family saddened him to no end. It was a bitter, bitter twist of fate.


    The Old Man’s face grew dark. “Yes they feel it more.”


    He could tell from the tone that the Old Man did not approve. “Ah, that certainly explains why they are often gone at night.”  Though Äelberon was positive they were involved in more gentle pursuits as well. He wondered if Kodlak knew that, but now was not the time to press, he needed to ask a far more important question, and Äelberon again stared hard at the Harbinger. “And which direction are you being pulled, Kodlak Whitemane?”


    Always a priest, thought Kodlak. "Well, I grow old.” Began the Nord, “My mind turns towards the horizon, to Sovngarde. I worry that Shor won’t call an animal warrior as he would a true Nord warrior. Living as beasts draws our souls closer to the Daedric lord, Hircine. Some may prefer eternity in his Hunting Grounds, but I crave the fellowship of Sovngarde."


    Äelberon rubbed his beard. “You seek a cure then?”


    "Yes, but it’s no easy matter.” Kodlak waved his hand and shook his head. No, this was Snow Bear’s night to rejoice and be happy, not to be burdened with the troubles of an Old Man who was paying a hard price for a mistake made when the lust of life still burned hot in him. “But you don’t need to share the worries of an old warrior. This day is to rejoice in your bravery—“


    Äelberon cut him off with a wave of his own hand. Ah, ever the challenger, the Old Man smiled.  “No, Kodlak, this day is to help you.” He gestured to the sky, “For it is now the twelfth and you and I are finished with parties. I know of many cures if the lycanthrope has not yet undergone their first transformation, but the lycanthropes of Jorrvaskr have undergone many, and it will be far more difficult.”  Äelberon crossed his arms over his chest and bent his head, deep in thought.  “In Cyrodiil, there used to be a coven of witches who could cure both lycanthopy and vampirism in their advanced stages, the Glenmoril Wyrd, but they were gone from this world long before I arrived in Cyrodiil during the Void Nights. There is also the Silvenar…”  He dismissed the notion with a quick wave of his hand, “but that is exclusively for Bosmers...and immersion in Hist sap..." He shook his head, sighing, "None here are Argonian...”


    He looked up and faced Kodlak. The Old Man looked so troubled and Äelberon’s face softened, “Do not fret, Kodlak, I will help you find the cure. I will pray on the matter, as I say my Tenets tonight.”


    “What will prayer do?” The Old Man was somber.


    “Clears the mind, the soul. Prepares us for trials ahead. You think if I pray, He will give me the cure?” He chuckled, “Auri-El is not your watered-down Divines, Old Man. He is a hard God, a flawed God who repented Himself and then showed us The Way. He will not reveal things so easily, but prayer will open my mind.” He put his hand on Kodlak’s shoulder and the pair began to slowly walk back to Jorrvaskr.  “I had a choice, you know, when I finished at Dragonsreach that first night.”


    Äelberon’s expression then turned thoughtful and for the first time in a long while, Kodlak Whitemane felt young. Those luminous eyes were so far away when he spoke his next words. To Kodlak, they were ancient eyes, he didn’t know why, but they looked ancient to him. “We have so few choices in life. We are denied choice, by circumstance, by our People, by the very Gods even, so when I am presented with choice, I take it, Kodlak.”


    He made a quick motion to grab at something that blew in the air, closing his hand to a fist and he watched his fist for a moment, transfixed. “I take it, and I cling to it, like a leaf in Autumn’s chill clings so desperately to that barren tree before finally releasing itself. To give in to its fate. To leave itself to the fate of the winds. But that night, I had a choice, and I took it.”


    “And what was the choice, Snow Bear?” Kodlak watched as the Elf slowly opened his hand and a single, green leaf from the Gildergreen sapling rested on his palm for a moment before the breeze took it towards Jorrvaskr and the Elf smiled.


    “Aye… that was it. The very same.”


    “What was it?”


    “The choice. Sometimes the wind knows exactly where to bear you.”


    “And the choice?” The Old Man pressed.


    “The choice, my choice… to take the warm, soft bed of the Bannered Mare or to take the hard bed of Jorrvaskr. It was to be my death bed, Old Man; I did not want to die quietly. I wanted to die with some measure of respect, earning my place at Jorrvaskr.”


    “That I know, and that you did.” Smiled the Old Man.


    “And I did not die.”


    “No, you didn’t. Do you think, though, that you made the right choice?”


    They both watched the leaf swirl in the night breeze until it finally came to rest, upon Jorrvaskr’s double doors, making the Elf smirk.


    “Aye, I did; for the both of us.” Äelberon replied.  The Old Man grinned and gave him a pat on the shoulder before opening the doors to head inside the Mead Hall. Äelberon lingered for a moment and looked back upon the Gildergreen sapling, watching the breeze rustle its branches, making petals fall. His words seemed to give the Old Man comfort and on that he was glad, but he knew deep down that it was not truly a choice, for he remembered his very words on that night as he walked towards Jorrvaskr.


    Auri-El, I leave my fate to you…


    Choice, sometimes, is the most bitter of illusions.


    Straag Rod Book 1 ToC

    Chapter XXXI    Chapter XXXIII  


21 Comments   |   ilanisilver likes this.
  • Ebonslayer
    Ebonslayer   ·  November 14, 2015
    Aelberon can become much worse than drunk Nords sometimes can't he. We need to see much, much more of this around the Companions.
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  October 29, 2015
    And also, Farkas isn't wearing steel like he does in Vanilla, leaving him with exposed skin, he's wearing Wolf Armor with a helmet, so those little shard of ice may not cause much damage at all. Yeah, I think ice storm will work. Albee gets nailed with th...  more
  • Karver the Lorc
    Karver the Lorc   ·  October 29, 2015
    I imagine that Ice Spikes are really the most dangerous spells if we´re thinking realisticaly. So Ice Spike could be a bane of main characters
    Yeah, Ice Storm seems more likely option. Frost resistance should deal with it rather nicely, though I im...  more
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  October 29, 2015
    Thanks Karver.   Yeah, that scene where he's slamming the gate is...  Even Koor was afraid of him and that dog loves him.
    I'll have a reread of that section and think about taking a different approach. It was a section that bothered me too, thinking...  more
  • Karver the Lorc
    Karver the Lorc   ·  October 29, 2015
    So this time I´m commenting after 6 Chapters. I´m getting old...
    I was curious how you´re going to handle the Albee learning that Companions are werewolves. And you certainly surprised me. That moment when Albee was ramming that gate and those momen...  more
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  October 28, 2015
    Yep, should be interesting. 
  • Rhoth
    Rhoth   ·  October 28, 2015
    Fun chapter. Should be quite interesting when Aelberon is offered the chance to become a werewolf.

    I liked how you portrayed Farkas. Much more interesting than the one-note Legend of Zelda homage that he is in-game.
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  October 4, 2015
    I know! Book 1 has four parts though, so you've still got some reading yet. I am glad when you're caught up. I know it's been a lot. 
  • Exuro
    Exuro   ·  October 3, 2015
    Teach an old dog new tricks, eh?
    Better hurry, I might actually catch up on reading lol.
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  October 3, 2015
    You're right he's a bit different in that he's had culture and parental influences for 243 years. It's the super, super cool thing about writing about someone so old and then slowing going back and filling in their history. He did utter that prayer though...  more