Straag Rod: Book 1, Part 2, Chapter XVIII: Brother's Betrayal

  • 2nd of Sun’s Dawn,


    He needed to relieve himself. Badly. And his mouth was very, very dry, like he had swallowed a whole tub of tundra cotton or something. But the bed felt oh so good. Warm… But he needed to relieve himself and Tilma was going to kill him if he did the alternative. With a heavy groan, eyes still closed, Farkas slowly propped himself up on his right arm, and his left hand groped insided a basket he had next to the bed. He always kept a few in there. It helped. He smiled when his hands closed over the familiarly-shaped object. The bottle of mead.  He pulled the cork out with his teeth and spit it upon the floor. The mead was cool and felt good in his mouth, his thirst temporarily quenched.


    Alright, one problem is definitely solved.


    The chamber pot was easy enough to find and Farkas sat up on the bed, grimacing when his bare feet touched the cold, stone floor. Damn cold snap. He quickly opened one eye and then shut it again. It was directly ahead, about seven paces. He stood up and stumbled the required seven paces, lifted his nightshirt, and then took aim while he sipped  his mead. He smiled when he was precisely on target.


    Ha! Take that Aela!


    He didn’t even have to open his eyes anymore. As he held the bottle, he scratched his stubble and let out a relieved sigh and then a burp before he lowered his nightshirt. Second problem is solved. He yawned loudly and then stopped, blinking.


    Where was the dog? Usually the Koor was roaming Jorrvaskr at this time. Äelberon let him out when he finally got around to sleeping. Elf kept crazy hours and sometimes he didn’t even sleep. He was going to have to open both eyes now, wasn’t he? Shit. Farkas opened both eyes and blearily scanned his quarters. No dog. Hmm.


    That was strange, he was expecting the dog. The Altmer was a creature of habit, he liked routine, discipline, all that. It was something that could definitely be off-putting at times, but in this particular instance, Farkas didn’t mind. He liked Koor. The little moon brother practically belonged to everyone in Jorrvaskr and it was nice to have the animal around. His master too, Farkas smirked to himself. He yawned again and stumbled outside his quarters, his feet heavy with sleep. He looked to his left. The door was wide open, yet there was no Elf sitting at his desk with his beak in a book, no apple cores, and no dog warming his big white feet. Maybe sleeping? He couldn’t see the bed from his position. Now he was curious, rubbing his eyes to clear his vision, he walked to Äelberon’s quarters and poked his head inside.


    “Hey, Albee,” way to get him mad at you, Farkas, you call him that, “you awake?” Nothing. Farkas scratched his neck and walked inside. “Albee, Albee, Albeeeeee….” He whispered. The bed was empty and Farkas frowned. That was very strange. Unless he was out on a job or slaying dragons, Äelberon was always in his quarters by now. Either propped up against the bed reading, or sleeping with the book resting on his chest. Was he in the Mead Hall? His silver armor was on the mannequin. He didn’t want to go all the way there, but now, he needed to know. Part of being a Companion, at least to him, was always know where your Shield-Siblings were, always have their backs. Farkas yawned again and shuffled towards the Mead Hall, still working on his mead.


    The Mead Hall was completely empty. Well damn, where are you? You are a big, white Elf and I can’t find you? I’m not that drunk and I don’t think you can cast those invisibility spells. Farkas turned around and walked back down the steps to the living quarters. Time to wake up Vilkas?


    No, he could figure this out on his own and Farkas gave it some thought. Where would the Elf go at this time of night if he wasn’t sleeping. Then it hit him,


    Bannered Mare. That friend of his was there, the one who visited. The Redguard. Ketaka, Kootopie, something like that, Farkas didn’t really pay attention. Vilkas was the one who was hanging on every word. Now he’ll read every book on Hammerfell.


    Farkas shuffled back to his quarters and quickly dressed himself, slipping on some trousers and a woolen shirt and then some boots. There was a hole in the knee of his trousers, but he didn’t care. He sat at the edge of the bed and listened, letting his inner Beast take over. A pressure built in his chest as the Hunt called him and and he didn’t like it, but he needed to be sure. He closed his eyes and took in deep breaths, like how Skjor had taught him in the early days.


    Heartbeats, many, different rhythms, flooded his senses and he shook his head to fight the desire of the Hunt that now crawled into his brain. The images of blood and lust. He rubbed his face and shook his head, no, old Man doesn’t want that now, concentrate. Kodlak and Vilkas’ hearts were discernible almost immediately, slower from slumber, and he could feel the whelps, Vignar, Brill, and Tilma too, but no Aela or Skjor, no dog, and no Äelberon.


    I guess he did go to the Bannered Mare. As for Aela and Skjor? He wasn’t stupid, contrary to popular belief.  They are probably banging in the Underforge, he thought as he entered the Mead Hall again to head out.   


    “Hey, Vilkas.”


    Vilkas felt a weight on his bed, knew his brother was breathing right above him, could smell the mead and his familiar stink from across the room, but his response was to just snore louder and maybe, just maybe, Farkas would go away.


    “Vilkas.” Farkas repeated. “I know you’re awake, I can hear it beat faster.”


    He responded by covering his head with one his furs, exposing his armored boots. So that is why you’re so sore, ah shit.


    Farkas chuckled. “Ysmir’s Beard! You bloody slept in your armor again.”


    “Go. Away.” Vilkas growled, turning around to face the other direction.


    A shove to his shoulder told Vilkas that his twin wasn’t so easy to give up. “We need to talk.”


    “No talking, sleeping.” He murmured.


    “It’s important.”


    His head felt like it was going to explode like a fire bolt. Drank too much, he knew it, but he enjoyed Kematu’s visit, spent some time speaking to the Redguard about his homeland. It was interesting, but he overdid it with the mead. Drank too much too fast and was so engrossed in the conversation with the Redguard, that he forgot to eat. And now his hammering head was telling him how big of a mistake it was.


    “Vilkas.” His brother’s voice was like a spoon scraping the bottom of an iron kettle and his mind wasn’t focused enough to filter out his enhanced senses, so it just hurt. He’s not going to go away until you answer him.


    “What?” He moaned against his bed.


    “Äelberon’s not here. Neither are Skjor and Aela.” Vilkas turned around and stared at Farkas with bloodshot eyes.


    “You woke me up for this? Are you fucking kidding me?” He whispered angrily. “Farkas, we know where Skjor and Aela go. The only person who doesn’t know is the Old Man. And Äelberon is older than all of us put together, I think he’s entitled go where he damn well pleases. Now go back to bed, damn it.” And Vilkas threw the blanket over his head again. “Why are you dressed anyway?” He lowered the blanket a tad and turned a bit again to face his brother, raising his eyebrows. “Unless you want to go to the Bannered Mare?”


    His head hurt, but it wasn’t anything that a bottle of mead and a maid in his arms couldn’t fix.


    “Just came from there.”


    “Ram’s Head then?” Vilkas asked. Whiterun is a city with several options...


    Vilkas furrowed his brow when he saw his brother put his face in his palm. “No, not that, I’m being serious, Vilkas.”


    “So am I.”


    “No, listen. If Äelberon’s gone where he pleases, as you say, he’s gone buck naked because his armor is still here.”


    Vilkas let his hand fly, striking the back of Farkas’ head. “So he goes everywhere in his armor? You dolt! Who does that?” And Vilkas immediate winced at his words when his brother pulled the blanket from him.


    “Apparently you do.”


    “Clothes, Farkas, he’d be in clothes. Check the Bannered Mare.”


    He felt his brother yank him so he could face him, the action making the stones in his brain rattle against his skull. “Don’t you listen?  I told you, I was just there. He isn’t there.”


    Vilkas bolted upright in his bed and stared hard at his twin.


    “Aye, now you’re awake.” Farkas replied, crossing his arms over his chest. Vilkas scratched his head.


    “Well, where the Oblivion would he go?” Vilkas shrugged, but then he quickly nodded. “Temple?”


    Farka shook his head. “Been there too.”


    Vilkas’ eyes widened. “You went inside?”


    “No, no, no, just peeked my head in and didn’t see him. It’s not like he’s hard to miss.  I then checked anywhere where I could check without scaring anyone in the middle of the night. Checked with that mage in Dragonsreach, because that crazy bastard doesn’t ever sleep, but no, Äelberon’s not there being a mage and all that. I checked the Hall of the Dead, though I don’t know why he’d go there. I even checked Drunken Huntsman--”


    “How’s Jenassa?” Vilkas asked.


    Farkas went bright red and Vilkas knew he had been busy, smelling faint traces of the Dunmer mercenary’s scent in Farkas’ clothes and skin. “She’s fine.” His twin shook his head and continued with his previous chain of thought. “But nothing. Asked around too.”


    “Jenassa?” Vilkas chuckled, leaning back casually against his elbows. You could definitely pay her a visit again...


    “No one knows where he is.” Farkas emphasized, giving Vilkas a glare.


    Vilkas let out a gust of air. Where else would Äelberon go? He tilted his head to the side. “You check Ram’s Head?”


    Farkas’s face contorted in shock. “Shor’s Bones, Vilkas! He’d never go there. That’s no place for a priest.”


    “He’s saltier than we think.” Vilkas smiled slyly. Maybe you’ll get your hangover remedy after all. He put a hand on his brother’s shoulder. “Well, we have to exhaust all possibilities.” He raised his eyebrows and smirked. “Don’t you think?” He paused his playfulness when he saw his brother’s face. “Farkas?” He smiled, “I’m joking.” He narrowed his eyes. “You’re really worried.”


    “Yeah, so I had some fun with Jenassa, alright? But it’s like he’s not in Whiterun, Vilkas. And I can feel it in my gut. Something’s off. Like disturbed.” His twin rose from the edge of Vilkas’ bed. “We should tell the old Man.”


    Vilkas frowned, rubbing his head to clear it. “No, we should check the Ram’s Head first,” he paused and then the back of  his hand struck his brother’s gut. “Stables.”




    The Nord nodded while he sat up in the bed. “We see Queen Alfsigr, we’ll know he’s somewhere in Whiterun. We don’t see the horse and if he’s not at the Ram’s Head…” His face sobered up and he stood, giving Farkas’ shoulder a squeeze. “We’ll solve our own problems.”




    “We go find him. Ourselves.


    “You mean not tell Kodlak?” Farkas asked.


    “Why? Come on Fakras. We’re not whelps. We can slay giants, we even help with dragons. Finding a large white Mer in Whiterun isn’t going to pose a problem.”  



    The twins exchanged worried glances and both had no idea how they were going to do this. Farkas was scratching his chest nervously, his face troubled and Vilkas found himself hesitating to even open the stone.


    Their search revealed no trace of Äelberon. Ram’s Head yielded nothing.  It was now time to be concerned, Vilkas thought as he began to see the stars fade along the eastern horizon. Tilma would be up soon, if she wasn’t up already, and they needed to finish.


    “Are you sure you want to do this?” Farkas asked.


    “We’ve been everywhere.” Vilkas explained, putting a hand on the Underforge’s stone. “Allie isn’t at the stables. Jeek is, but Allie isn’t. And the guard said Skjor took her. Why would he take Allie? This is the only place left to search before we leave the city.”


    They even stopped again at the Bannered Mare, interrupting the old Redguard’s drinking to ask where Äelberon was. They were old friends after all, from the end of the Great War, from the Mer’s time in Hammerfell supposedly. If I see a friend I haven’t seen in almost twenty years, I would want to spend time with them again. So he asked Kematu, who looked them in the eye with those strange, strange eyes of his, a small mysterious smile playing on his ebony features, and said:


    “Buzzards do what buzzards do.” The Redguard explained. “He is cleaning, son, and may his feet step lightly under the gaze of the gods.” What he added later made Vilkas even more bewildered. “If they do not abandon him… Now leave me be.”


    Then he resumed drinking, Saadia on his lap, but his mood was much more somber. Buzzards? Vilkas had no idea what he was talking about.


    “Maybe Skjor and Aela are just hunting.They still do that, you know.” Farkas offered, bringing Vilkas out of his speculation.


    “Aye, and you know the old Man doesn’t like it.” Vilkas leaned closer to his brother. “He wants a cure. We want a cure.” He frowned. “What they are doing is an affront to that.”


    “It wasn’t last year.” Farkas shook his head, rubbing his eyes. “I’m just confused. We were happy, weren’t we? A pack? How can something be right before and wrong now?”


    Vilkas felt the hesitation in his heart and he turned away from his brother. “Don’t you want your own soul again, Brother?” He asked quietly, his eyes on the stone.


    Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Farkas flinch and bite his lip, his skin going blotchy in the way that it does when he is trying to process something that’s hard emotionally. “I don’t know. I guess.” Vilkas quickly turned his head and glared at this brother. “I mean yes, yes, I do, of course, but-”


    “But what?” Vilkas insisted with a lowered voice, totally aware that he was being intimidating.


    “I dunno. It was just easier last year.” Farkas sighed, his back finding the stone. “No dragons, no bullshit. And he didn’t know...”


    And ‘he’ meant Äelberon.  


    “Kodlak wants his own soul again. I want mine. And you.” He let his features soften with a reassuring smile and moved a hand to clasp Farkas’ shoulder. “You want it too, but I understand you, your good heart  also wants Skjor and Aela to be happy as well. And they will be.” Vilkas nodded. “Once they are cured. And with our help, Äelberon will find one. I trust him, Farkas. People are thrown together for a reason and this priest has walked into Jorrvaskr for precisely this reason. Which is why we need to find him.” He gave the door a push and it began its weary roll to reveal the Companions’ dark secrets.


    The stench that greeted them as they entered was overwhelming and Vilkas’ smile quickly morphed into a frown as he hurried down the corridor that led to the main chamber, followed closely by Farkas. When they entered the main chamber, Vilkas could hear how Farkas sucked in his breath.


    “That… is a lot of vomit.” Farkas gasped, walking towards it.


    “Where are they?” Vilkas asked, scanning the room. He had expected to find them.


    Farkas knelt by the vomit and smelled, wrinkling his nose in disgust, but Vilkas saw his brow furrow, as if he was processing the smell. Tracking, something he had not seen Farkas do in a long, long time. “Hey! Come over here. I think this vomit’s Äelberon’s.”


    Vilkas rushed over. “What makes you say that?” he asked, his own nose trying to figure out the myriad of smells that came from the dried vomit. And then he stopped, his eyes going somewhere else.


    “Cause I smell two things underneath all that funk, apple pie and canis root.” Farkas explained, sniffing again, his eyes watering a bit. “Oh shit that reeks, but yeah, and milk, there’s milk in there too. Yeah, it’s definitely his.”


    Gods, thought Vilkas, Farkas was in utter denial, spending his time smelling vomit instead of staring at the obvious. The fountain. There is only reason why Äelberon would vomit canis root. One reason…


    Vilkas walked slowly to the fountain and peered inside.  It was full of blood. He inhaled deeply, trying to suppress the flood of memories that came with its scent, the acute pressure in his chest, the keen desire to hunt. He shook his head to clear his mind. “Aela…” He whispered, accepting the truth now, understanding the scent, the blood, and what it meant. He remembered smelling it himself when she was his forebear. And then again when she was Farkas’.  


    Farkas looked at his brother. “What? What about Aela? What happened?” He asked, getting up  to join Vilkas at the fountain.


    “Don’t you remember, my Brother?” Vilkas asked. He then chuckled bitterly, shaking his head. “I knew this would happen. I knew when I saw their faces after Kodlak told us what he wanted.”  


    “What? What about Kodlak?” Farkas questioned, but Vilkas couldn’t think on it now. He could feel his blood begin to boil.  


    “You just couldn’t let the old Man find his peace, could you?” He growled, growing louder, pushing with all his might against the fountain to try knock it down, to end Hircine’s pull somehow, but the stone didn’t yield. It stayed there, like a blood-soaked mockery of his condition. He pushed at it again and again, yelling, feeling the pressure build in his chest.  The desire to tear everything in his world apart.


    “Vilkas!” Farkas cried, trying to pull him away, but all Vilkas wanted to do was beat the stone to death. They took him. Aela and Skjor took him. Their only hope.


    “Don’t you see? They made him!” Vilkas screamed, turning. He grabbed Farkas by the shoulders, shaking him because he had no other outlet for his rage. “They made him! They turned him! Why? WHY!”


    His brother’s eyes were wide and he struggled against Vilkas’ shaking. “What? I don’t know?!”


    “You knew, didn’t you? You knew?” Vilkas snarled, still shaking his brother.


    “What? No! I don’t understand. No! No! I don’t know what’s happened. I’m with you! Vilkas don’t be crazy, think!” Farkas pleaded, trying his best not to answer Vilkas’ shaking with blows of his own.


    Vilkas roughly broke from his brother and threw himself against the wall, feeling the pain surge through his shoulder. “You lie!” He moaned, feeling the grief wash over him as he slid to the floor. “You lie…”


    It was a pain that he didn’t understand, a betrayal. Was it by force? Did they force him to take Aela’s blood? Vilkas thought frantically, trying to understand. Äelberon was a priest, devoted to Auri-El in a way that was almost - Vilkas’ heart felt like lead - in a way that was almost beautiful to behold.  Pure. The way he said his Tenets, the way he believed, his goodness towards others. He was so white, like a light so beyond their darkness. He could go up against Molag Bal himself and not be tempted. What he did to uphold honor. What he had sacrificed.  


    He remembered Kodlak telling them his wishes last Sun’s Dusk, but he knew the Old Man had changed much earlier, since Fiona left. Her refusal to join their circle had opened Kodlak’s eyes to their eventually damnation, only they didn’t know how to proceed, where to look. Then Äelberon came, a priest with deep knowledge of their affliction... and deep compassion. He remembered they night they met, how he mocked the Mer’s weakness, his age, his illness, only for the Mer to show a spirit that defied his dying body as he struck him with his shield.  And then he learned the Mer, through their conversations about books, about magic, about the ways of the world, opening Vilkas’ eyes to something beyond the hull of old Jorrvaskr, showing him the great sea that lay beyond. Äelberon was supposed to be the light that would lead them out of their darkness of their curse! It was impossible to comprehend that he could… that he could now be one of them. He felt Farkas next to him, also on the floor, and his brother’s hand found his shoulder.


    “Vilkas,” he began, his voice raw, “I swear on my soul, that I didn’t know.”


    “Why?” He heard himself repeat over and over again, his eyes darting around the room, as if the walls would yield the answers. “Why would he do this to us?”


    “Maybe we need to ask him.” Farkas answered.


    Vilkas nodded to himself and he gave his brother a look that he knew made his twin shrink a little. “They forced him. I know they did.” He hissed. “She forced him.”


    “You don’t know that. Wait, Aela? You’re talking like a mad man. Aela’s our sister, his sister.” Farkas shook his head. Still in denial, my brother? Well, women are whores and cock will do anything for pussy. He remembered, remembered her walking into Kodlak’s room, years ago, he remembered. She was married, said she loved another, yet she found Kodlak’s bed. And now, with Aela, the cycle was repeating. Skjor was a good man.  She somehow convinced Skjor, seduced him, and then they brought in Äelberon.


    No, no, could not be, she forced him, forced to take her blood. Or they killed him. Yes, they killed him, Vilkas tried to rationalize, because Äelberon wouldn’t. That’s what it was, he vomited because he refused and then Aela and Skjor killed him and dumped him somewhere. No, don’t be a fool, Vilkas, he’s seen the skies burn with Dagon’s fires, seen thousands of bloated bodies in seas of blood. He’s told you those dark stories, he wouldn’t vomit for a little blood in a font. So, he took it.


    Only Fiona had ever refused and the pack drove her out. Vilkas shook his head, was Äelberon indeed weaker in spirit than Fiona? Could it be possible?


    “I can’t believe he would do this,” his voice was a growl, “to us. To his family. To himself.” Vilkas pressed his forehead against the cold stone. “How is he going to cleanse us now? How can we find the cure if he’s damned too?” Vilkas groaned and turned his head to face his brother. Never in his life had he seen Farkas look so weary, so old. His face was blotchy and his eyes were red-rimmed.


    “I don’t know.” He whispered as if all the strength had been robbed from him. Farkas rubbed his stubble, deep in thought and he too sagged against the wall of the Underforge. “There has to be a reason.”


    “She’s a whore.” He snarled.


    “Vilkas!  She’s our sister. Please, don’t be like that. It’s ugly. Old man wouldn’t want you talking about her like that--”


    “Don’t you understand what we’ve lost?” Vilkas exploded, unable to restrain himself any longer. “We are damned, Farkas! Hircine will claim us. Since Kodlak, it’s all I can think about. And she took it away!”


    “No, I don’t understand these things like you do, brother. I’m not smart. But I do know this. We need to get up, leave this place, and we need to tell the old Man.” His eyes welled with tears, which he clumsily wiped with his shirt sleeve, his other hand tugging on Vilkas’ arm. “Come on. We need to go.”


    “He’s dead, Farkas.” Vilkas said hoarsely, unable to remove the anger from his voice. It was so much better to feel the rage. He hated Äelberon, hated Skjor, hated Aela. He knew, deep down that there would be treachery, because it was what the Daedric Princes always nurtured.  “He’s dead to us.”


    “Don’t say that.” Farkas snapped, pointing at his brother. “Don’t you dare say that. There has to be a reason, Vilkas.” He slowly rose, using the wall for support and he reached, pulling at Vilkas’ pauldron, to raise up his brother.  “So pull yourself together. We can’t talk to the old Man looking like this. You need to think,” his voice broke, “you need to be the smart one, because I don’t understand why this is happening.”



    Kodlak Whitemane was at his heavy desk, going over his notes for his proposal, his plan, to Jarl Balgruuf.  Reading it a final time to make sure there were no errors, murmuring the words softly to himself to see if it read well. He smiled as he read, it was good to be back in the thick of things.


    For too long he had languished after his dream and he could admit that. He let the darkness of his predicament seep into his soul. He stopped searching for jobs for Jorrvaskr to thrive and the boat under his command was suffering for it. The roof was now leaking, the doors screaming for oil in their joints.  But then the old Mer stumbled in his doorstep on a stormy night, bringing dragons with him.


    Dragons, Kodlak mused. Great creatures, powerful, but he watched with pride as Jorrvaskr answered Whiterun’s second call for aid.  The first at Whitewatch Tower had resulted in disaster, dead, injured, but the second dragon? Some property damage and far fewer deaths. And the difference?




    Snow Bear was surely extremely capable, but he needed help, and that assistance would come via the Companions. If a bounty came, Kodlak would ensure that the Companions received it, not the Dragonborn. No more Snow Bear traipsing off alone to fight them. It was unwarranted, he was too old, and it would give his fellow Shield-Siblings glory. Kodlak smirked, besides, old Mer, you may be Dragonborn, but who is Harbinger?


    It is most decidedly I.


    Whitemane knew that Snow Bear had -  well, not been lying,  it isn’t in his nature to lie -  but he was hiding something since he returned from Lost Tongue Overlook. Sure, he told a grand tale of slaying three dragons in three days, and yes, he was an incredible warrior, that was never questioned. That something, however, was fished out of Skjor later when he had a hushed conversation with the Veteran about the future of Jorrvaskr, how the Veteran would need to be ready.  Äelberon had broken his back. You nearly died, old goat, and frankly, I need you alive. I need the white knight of my dream because he, you, Snow Bear, will bring me the cure, which is my dream. I need you for Sovngarde.  And the proposal to the Jarl would guarantee it.


    He set his quill down, satisfied and rose from his desk, wincing when his knee throbbed in pain. Fucking snow, fell the whole night, he thought, rubbing the protesting joint as he made for his bed, pulling up his best trousers, his best shirt. He had already bathed earlier this morning and trimmed his beard. His wolf armor was set upon the bed ready, freshly oiled after the dragon attacked Whiterun.


    A knock on the door got Kodlak’s attention. “Enter.” He commanded.


    “Oooo, so we have that voice today, do we?” She sauntered in, as if on cue, her lined eyes immediately finding what was on the bed. “Seeing the Jarl then?” Tilma took a sniff and smiled knowingly. “Aye, you bathed, seeing the Jarl.” The old woman then sat at the edge of the bed, smoothing out her skirts and Kodlak caught a flash of amethyst out of the corner of his eye and smiled. She had put the thimble Snow Bear gave her around her neck on a chain. ‘Tis a sweet gift, he admitted to himself. Hmm, perhaps you should swing past the shops and bring Hulda something… Tilma cackled. “Going to compare cocks?”


    Kodlak gave her a look, shaking his head.  “Try not to tear me down too much, Tilma, but aye, more than likely there will be a spot of that.” She pushed his shoulder and they were silent for a few moments, as truly good friends can often be, before she reached quickly for the proposal, snatching it. He just sighed, crossing his arms over his barrel chest because it was Tilma and she had to have her damn nose in everything. Damn busy body. He watched her read, saw her scrunch her face and narrow her eyes while her other hand tried to win her never-ending war with her frizzing grey hair.


    “He’s not going to like it.” She said, setting the proposal on the desk when she finished reading. “He’s not a wolf, Old Man. Never ran with a pack, he’s been alone far too long...”


    “I don’t care, he needs to learn to run with the pack. My pack.” Kodlak emphasized, causing her to frown. His featured softened and he rubbed the old woman’s thin shoulder. “At least until the cure is secure. Then the old grumpy bear, eagle, dragon, billy goat, whatever he bloody is, can do what he damn well pleases, but until then...” He turned Tilma to face him and sighed. “Don’t you want to see this finished?”


    “I do, more than anything, you know that.” Tilma answered, echoing his sigh with one of her own. “I just don’t  understand. Why not just be honest with him, Kodlak, tell him why you want to protect him?” She shrugged. “He’s a good Mer and has only ever been kind and honest-”


    “Has he?” Kodlak raised his eyebrows.


    “His tenets. His stories. His actions.  To me, they tell me exactly who he is.”


    “That simple, eh?”


    “I think so. Deep down.”


    “But do we really know anything about him? Has he volunteered his past, save memories of golden seas, nectared flowers, and childrens’ stories about Wild Elves with beads in their hair?” Kodlak shook his head and waved his hand when he saw her open her mouth to protest. “We know he’s suffered, the Oblivion Crisis, yes, but he closes himself off, Tilma, we know this.”


    “Because you don’t ask him.” She looked at Kodlak. “Do you only want the one thing from him, Old Man? Is that all?”


    “Don’t be a fool, old woman. That’s not true. He’s my friend, my brother. It’s not like that.” He put his arm around Tilma and gave her shoulders a squeeze. “Now, old woman, my armor.”


    It was his way of telling her that the conversation was now over and she understood, but not before she gave him a look that told him she didn’t approve. I’m not using him, he tried to tell her with his eyes, but she was already busy. He stood and she began lifting the pieces to fit them onto his body, while he helped her by holding them in place as she fastened them. The oldest squire in all of Tamriel.


    A ritual practiced between the two of them, a ritual that hid his age from all the others. Earlier last year, she -  the only other person awake in the wee hours of the morning until Snow Bear came along - came running to the sound of his armor dropping, his hand no longer able to close over the fastenings like they once could. It scared him, because he had always been so strong. No wolf wants to be weak in front of his pack. She seemed to see the look on his face when she arrived in his quarters, saw the armor on the floor and his hand waxen from the numbness, so she helped him and he carried on through the day as if nothing had happened, she keeping his secret. He wasn’t going to turn into Vignar; an old man constantly huddling from the cold, complaining about his aching joints, his bad back, while he ate softened food and reminisced about what he once was. Kodlak didn’t feel like that yet and the dragon had proved it. He fought just as hard as his younger Shield-Siblings, struck as many blows.


    Kodlak’s hand had since recovered, the numbness from that fateful day when he dropped his armor only temporary, but she still helped him, turning it into their morning ritual. A ritual that reminded Kodlak of what he never wanted to become.




    She gave his armored chest an affectionate pat and looked up at him. “There you are, every bit Kodlak Whitemane, Harbinger.” Tilma, brushed some of his hair from his shoulder and chuckled. “Even brushed it. Feels nice.”


    “Well, he wasn’t the first in Jorrvaskr with pretty white hair.” Kodlak smiled naughitly.


    “Hulda is going to faint.”


    “She should.”


    “Sundas was yesterday, you know.” The old woman teased.


    “I know, I need to make it up to her for missing.”


    “You old scoundrel.” Another pat and then she walked a bit a way, her eyes on the various weapons he had on display in his quarters, obtained from his many adventures. “So, which one are you going to carry today?”


    Kodlak Whitemane flashed Tilma a grin and rushed forward to where it rested against a desk. He channeled his strength and picked it up, his eyes on the eagle’s head that formed the Hammerkopf. He swung the weapon and loved the heavy woosh it made as it passed through the air. “I feel like a hammer today.” He said, swelling with pride. “Besides, if they don’t agree with my plan...”


    Tilma crossed her hands over her chest and nodded. “You can convince them the old Nord way. You can bash their heads in.”


    “Exactly.’ Kodlak chuckled and they both made their way out of his quarters, one hand on her shoulder to guide her, the other on the shaft of the warhammer.  


    “Breakfast before bashing?” She asked.


    “Of course! Can’t bash heads on an empty stomach. Besides, I can smell that you’ve been in the kitchen already.”


    “I’m always in the kitchen.” She laughed, patting his gut while they walked. “Need to keep the lot of you fed.”


    “Is that where you left the old Bear? Better be careful, old woman, I’ve seen him rob you of food, a handful of something here, a bite of something there, like a sneaky fox.” He smirked and nodded. “Never in my days have I seen someone try to pack in that much food-” Kodlak paused his words. Feast or famine, he guessed. He had a feeling the Elf lived by that rule and Jorrvaskr was a period of feast for the old Mer, at least, he must think that way. Feast, until the next famine comes. Kodlak felt a twinge of guilt, but put it out of his mind, choosing to focus on humor. “I can see that belly of his growing.”


    Tilma looked at him, her expression suddenly serious. “He wasn’t in the kitchen this morning.”


    Kodlak’s brow furrowed. “Not in the kitchen? But he’s always with you when he’s at Jorrvaskr. You cook, his beak is in a book, like it’s been that way for over a hundred years, even though he’s only been with us since Evening Star. I can hear you two chattering away when I enter the Mead Hall.”


    Tilma shook her head, and he saw her brow crease. “He didn’t come today. I didn’t hear him today. I usually do.”


    Whitemane steered Tilma towards the Elf’s quarters and that’s when he noticed- or rather didn’t notice - the twins’ snoring. “Shor’s bones! Twins up already? That never happens.”


    “Aye, that’s another thing.” She nodded, pulling away. “I think they want to speak with you. They’ve been waiting.”


    Kodlak laughed. “Waiting? Vilkas? Farkas? And if he isn’t in your kitchen, where is Äelberon? I was thinking he should come with me today, Skjor too, so we’ll need to clean him up a bit. Will take the two of us, I think. What I am going to propose is important and I need both the Dragonborn and Jorrvaskr’s future present. Besides, I also need to ask the Jarl about Feast of the Dead, see if he’ll let us go. It’s when I want to name Skjor.” His face turned thoughtful and he used his hands to paint a scene while they walked. “Right there, as the names are being named, in Ysgramor’s ancient city, he taking his place in front of me in the Palace of Kings. I think it’s time. I can focus then on the cure, with Snow Bear. Our legacy. We weren’t able to go last year...”  


    He knew that she was steering him towards the twins, who were sitting at a table that was in the wing where Aela and Skjor’s quarters were. He smirked as he saw them. Definitely hungover. Ysmir’s beard! Especially Vilkas, looked like he had been sick several times already. “The High King was barely cold, Jarl Balgruuf was justified in his concern.” Tilma pointed out, continuing their conversation.


    “I understand, Tilma, I was there, remember-” He banged on Skjor’s door. “Veteran!” He barked. “You up? Need you ready. Oh, and make yourself extra pretty, we’re going pay old Balgruuf a visit. You can swap Red Ring stories!” He could feel the twins wincing at his loudness, but he was enjoying it a little. His own hangover wasn’t nearly so bad. The powers of warm milk and a bit of temperance, lads.


    “He isn’t there.” Vilkas said quietly from his chair, his eyes sporting very dark shadows.


    “Good. Mean’s he’s up and all Snow Bear and I have to do is make sure he looks pretty.” He gave Tilma a pat on the rump. “See to my breakfast, old woman.” Kodlak eyed Vilkas and Farkas. “And I’ll see to these two woe be gone pups.”


    Kodlak took a seat opposite Vilkas and next to Farkas as Tilma headed off, mumbling to herself. He caught the words ‘bad moon rising’, but shrugged it off. She was extremely superstitious.  He gave Farkas a friendly shove. “Had a rough night, eh lads? Let me guess, it’s either Jenassa or Ram’s Head.” He gave them a wink. “Or perhaps both?”


    “Master…” Vilkas said, and Kodlak knew there was ‘apology’ written all over his voice.


    “Though I’m sure Snow Bear’s already counted the mead bottles on the floor. Damn Altmers.” His eyes focused on Vilkas. “You know, he can cure hangovers. Why not go see the old Bear, Vilkas, I’m sure he’d fix you up?”


    “Master.” Vilkas repeated. “He isn’t here.”


    “What do you mean, boy?” Kodlak asked, setting a hand on the table. He leaned back on his chair and studied the twins carefully. “Probably hunting. He runs off like that, probably with the Bosmer brothers, decided to join them early in the morning, I imagine. He enjoys fresh air, keeps his muscles moving, takes care of himself, eats soundly, which...” He glanced at them, noticing now how haggard they were and a frown found his features. “You know, we fun him for it, but I sometimes see the merits of him forgoing drink. Lads, you don’t look well.  I advise, as your Harbinger, to cut the hard living, just a little.”


    Farkas scratched his stubble and stared at the table. “It helps.” He finally said, his voice barely a whisper and Kodlak sighed, only now aware of the twins’ heartbeats, the pressure. It was something he had to ignore every night too, but they were younger. The young always feel it more.


    He let his features soften. “I know it does, son. Helps you forget what we are.” Kodlak placed his hand on Farkas’ shoulder again. “But, we’ll find a cure. I promise.”


    “No we won’t!” Vilkas lashed out, suddenly rising from his chair. It fell backwards to the floor, making Farkas’ face go even longer. Kodlak looked around, leaning his head to see if others were in the Living Quarters, if others had heard. No, all were up in the Mead Hall. “We’ll belong to him, all of us!”


    “Vilkas.” He said in warning, but he stopped when he saw the lad’s face, saw how he trembled. Boy is afraid. Why?  Kodlak’s hand fell from Farkas’ shoulder and he leaned closer to Vilkas. “Boy, what is it? Why do you say that?” He shook his head. “Snow Bear, will help us. I have faith--”


    “He’s one of us now.” Vilkas cried, banging his fist on the table, his eyes brimming with tears.


    Kodlak rubbed his eyes, shocked by Vilkas’ outburst. “Shor’s Bones, boy, don’t break the furniture. Redecorating. That’s old Snow Bear’s job.” He tried to add with a knowing wink, but Vilkas’ face made him stop. He raised his arms. “And, well, of course he’s one of us, he’s a Companion. A Shield-Brother.”


    “You don’t understand.” The lad raised his eyebrows and Kodlak, as brave as he was, had to look away from that stare. “He’s one of us.” Vilkas repeated, looking utterly defeated, hanging his head. “He is one of us...”


    Whitemane’s eyes found Farkas. “What don’t I understand, Farkas? Why is your brother acting like the world is ending?”


    “We just come from the Underforge, Harbinger.” Farkas started and Kodlak couldn’t deny that a sick feeling was building in his stomach at the mention of the word. He had not been in there since the day Snow Bear learned of their affliction. When they debated whether or not to let him stay.  “We found the old Mer’s vomit. We found blood. It’s Aela’s.”


    “Is she wounded?” Kodlak’s eyes widened.


    “In the font, old Man, in the font.” Vilkas growled an agitated clarification. “Their smells are all over it.”


    He is one of us, Vilkas’ words then hit like the warhammer Kodlak had rested on his lap. He felt his mouth go dry and for a second, his heart skipped a beat. He blinked, understanding what the words finally meant.


    “No.” He said, shaking his head. “No.” He repeated. “He is a priest. His tenets. You two are very wrong.”


    “He betrayed us.” Vilkas hissed. “She betrayed us.”


    “Now, you don’t know that, Vilkas.” Farkas countered, moving his hand as if trying stop Vilkas. “We need to find them, and we need to ask him ‘why’.”


    “Where’s Skjor?” Kodlak suddenly asked, feeling himself stiffen in his chair, feeling… so many things at once. Anger, hurt, sorrow, worry, understanding now that what Hircine wanted, Hircine always got, the patterns repeating. Repeating since Terfygg himself. A never-breaking circle of Curses. The Circle-Cycle of the Companions. A cycle he was part of.


    He thought a Priest of Auri-El could break it, that Äelberon was beyond the temptation of the Daedric Lords, that he was so pure, so white, that they could not touch him, would not touch him. But he saw the way the Mer looked at Saadia while they celebrated at the Bannered Mare, how the white skin flushed red at their teasing, the jealousy, the want in his dragon eyes, and Kodlak then understood.  Sex drives everything and Hircine knew that, oh how he knew that. After all, sex is the great hunt, is it not? The pursuit? Ending with the capture-rapture. Did she part her legs for him, like she did for Skjor? Whitemane released a bitter chuckle, understanding that he, the cheater, had now been cheated. The chuckle became a full-blown laugh. You can never escape what you’ve done, old Man, never! “Aela’s blood?’ He asked. He laughed again, making the two brothers look hard at him. “Aela’s?” He repeated, brooding. “Where is Skjor?” He repeated, not bothering to hide the anger in his voice anymore.


    “All three are missing, Harbinger, little Moon Brother too, and Allie.” Farkas said quietly, closing his eyes. “We should go look for them. Vilkas doesn’t want to, but I think--”


    “Skjor is missing?” He asked. Farkas didn’t answer. “Farkas!”


    “Yes, I told you.”


    Kodlak didn’t want to think on the possibilities, so he clenched his jaw.


    “Do we look for them?” Farkas asked again.


    “No. Let them find their own way back.” He replied, his words so icy that both brothers looked at him now, shock on their faces.  


    “But you can’t!” Farkas yelled. “You can’t do that. What if they’re in trouble? They are our fami--”


    “The Old Huntsman is their family now.” Kodlak said darkly, feeling like he wanted to explode.  “They made their choice and it seems Äelberon of Dusk has made his.”


    “Snow Bear.” Farkas said quietly, though he wasn’t looking Kodlak in the eye anymore. “His name is Snow Bear. You yourself gave him that name--”


    “He’s not a bear!” Kodlak finally released the emotion that had been building, rising from his chair and letting the hammer fall to the floor. He pointed a finger at the older twin. “Äelberon’s a snake, Farkas, a betrayer in the grass. Only hard scales under those pretty white feathers of his!  Like Orkey who cheated the Nords of life. He knew we wanted the cure! He knew! We spoke of it! He knew how we suffered to not give in! And yet he goes and does this?” He felt the pain of the last words keenly. The plans he had. Skjor as Harbinger, leaving he and Snow-no, not Snow Bear now. He was no longer white, but dark like the rest of them…  


    “Which is why we need to find him and then ask--” Farkas started.


    “No!” He roared. “He has become a beast! Betrayed his brothers. Brothers who are trying to find a cure! He has dismissed us for his own selfishness!” He leaned closer to Farkas, roughly grabbing the collar of the younger Nord’s shirt and he lowered his voice, threatening. “And if I hear of you leaving the city.” He snarled. “You are no better than he is. You understand me, boy? You leave to look for him, you betray me, your Harbinger,” he cast a glance at Vilkas before facing Farkas again with narrowed eyes, “and you betray your brother.”



    Chapter XVII * Straag Rod Book 1 ToC * Chapter XIX


8 Comments   |   A-Pocky-Hah! and 7 others like this.
  • A-Pocky-Hah!
    A-Pocky-Hah!   ·  July 7, 2018
    That feeling when you trust someone not to make the same mistake as you once did, only to know they made that mistake anyways.
    Yeah... it hurts, and I think some people could relate to this in their daily lives with their friends and family member...  more
    • The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      That feeling when you trust someone not to make the same mistake as you once did, only to know they made that mistake anyways.
      Yeah... it hurts, and I think some people could relate to this in their daily lives with their friends and family members. I w...  more
        ·  July 7, 2018
      Well, what I really wanted for the Companions was to portray a family. And yeah, while families are awesome, they are not without conflict. It makes them very relateable rather than just have Kodlak be the wise old adviser, or Farkas and Vilkas just the b...  more
  • Ebonslayer
    Ebonslayer   ·  July 6, 2018
    and his left hand groped [inside] a basket he had next to the bed.

    Usually [Koor] was roaming Jorrvaskr at this time. (was "the Koor")

    Now he’ll read every book [in] Hammerfell.

    “Why? Come ...  more
    • The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      and his left hand groped [inside] a basket he had next to the bed.

      Usually [Koor] was roaming Jorrvaskr at this time. (was "the Koor") ...  more
        ·  July 7, 2018
      I'll try to fix the typos, Ebon, thanks for pointing them out. Considering I cranked that out in a day or two, not too shabby. 

      And yeah, Albee is in a bad situation and this section of Straag is the start of some seriously dark ...  more
  • The Sunflower Manual
    The Sunflower Manual   ·  July 6, 2018
    This sounds a bit weird, but I like how there's always ups and downs to Aelberon's relationship with basically everyone around him. It makes that turbulent life of his much more... grounded? Dynamic? Realistic, even? And here is probably a new low with Ko...  more
    • The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      The Sunflower Manual
      The Sunflower Manual
      The Sunflower Manual
      This sounds a bit weird, but I like how there's always ups and downs to Aelberon's relationship with basically everyone around him. It makes that turbulent life of his much more... grounded? Dynamic? Realistic, even? And here is probably a new low with Ko...  more
        ·  July 6, 2018
      Yeah, I mean I don't always get along with the members of my family, there are fallings out between friends.And people often have one set of expectations for a person, but what happens when you don't adhere to them. Tilma's words were wisest in this chapter. 
  • Karver the Lorc
    Karver the Lorc   ·  July 6, 2018
    It is interesting how they take it so personally, as a betrayal. But that's the nature of people, no? You make certain plans, involving other people playing some kind of role in them, just as Kodlak wanted to push Albee around like a pawn, and when he doe...  more
    • The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      Karver the Lorc
      Karver the Lorc
      Karver the Lorc
      It is interesting how they take it so personally, as a betrayal. But that's the nature of people, no? You make certain plans, involving other people playing some kind of role in them, just as Kodlak wanted to push Albee around like a pawn, and when he doe...  more
        ·  July 6, 2018
      Thanks, I definitely wasn't going for that Grandpa image here. I don't think Nords would admire that. They'd admire a warrior with prowess instead.