IV: At His Mercy
'As usual, you're wrong,' Aela says. She sits at the campfire they've made, scrutinising the end of an arrow.
Farkas sits hunched. 'I caught something.'
'The Harbinger doesn't count.'
He reaches for a bundle behind him and throws three rabbits, tied at the ears, at the space in front of her crossed legs.
'Those are what I hunted before I found the Harbinger.'
Vilkas pushes aside bushes and marches towards the fire. His thick brows are furrowed, and his mouth is a thin line.
'Why am I the last to know?' He snarls. 'Ria told me she'd seen Farkas carrying someone who looked like the Harbinger.'
Farkas looks up, gazes at his brother, and then looks at Aela, frowning. 'I told you to find Vilkas.'
Aela puts the arrow down. 'Where were you? I couldn't pick up your scent anywhere in - '
'Where's the Harbinger?' His glare is as pointed as a dagger.
You want to talk, want to let them know that you're right there, but your vocals don't respond to your commands.
You see them. They're right in front of you. But you realise from where you're standing on all fours, you're looking down on them.
You try to turn your head to the side but it's fixed facing forwards. You're on all fours and then you realise. You are stuck in the form of a wolf. Not just any wolf, a stone wolf.
The statue of Hircine looms next to you, his stone hand forever pressed to the flank of your neck.
Farkas scrabbles onto his feet without saying a word, walks off and Vilkas follows him.
There's a scream lodged in the back of your throat.
You feel a hand smooth the fur on the top of your head.
The Daedric Prince is no longer stone. His head, obscured by the stag mask, is tilted down towards you. Though you can't see his eyes you know they are fixed on you.
There's a voice. It speaks in a language you think might be Daedric. Then you realise it's your own. You ask Hircine to let you go. You ask him what he wants.
He strokes your ears, pushes them down flat.
The first rays of the morning sun highlight the flanks of his deer dappled legs.
The world blurs.
You open your eyes and see the wooden beams and cladding of Jorrvaskr, the crimson red banners.
'I don't know,' Vilkas says. 'I don't speak Daedric.'
Vilkas sits on the side of the bed. He cups your chin with his rough hand.
He opens his mouth and then snaps it shut again. You stare at each other. He doesn't remove his hand.
'Are we even sure it's Daedric?' Farkas says.
'If Aela says it is, I am inclined to believe her,' Vilkas says, without looking away from you. He rubs his thumb against your cheek. 'You had us worried wolf pup, where has your mind been wandering?'
When you became Harbinger you and the Circle enforced 'Kodlak's Law'. Despite the name, it isn't a law, but guidelines on how you and The Circle think The Companions should continue to be managed.
It goes like this:
Foremost, no new member of The Circle or The Companions will be given Hircine's blood.
Secondly, those that wish to be cured will be helped in all ways possible. Likewise, all those that wished to keep the blood are allowed to do so. Neither will receive criticism for their choices.
Thirdly, all those shunned by the world because they carry Hircine's blood are to be welcomed into The Companions, providing they retain their minds whilst in beast form. If they seek a cure, help will be given. If they wish to keep the blood, respect will be given.
Fourthly, and most important of all, The Companions should strive with their best intent to return The Companions to the way Ysgramor intended.
All of this should be kept in mind with remembrance and utmost respect for Kodlak Whitemane.
'We should keep this between ourselves,' Vilkas says, and Farkas nods.
You've told the twins about your venture into the woods. You've let them believe it's because you're having a hard time not giving into your beastly nature.
'I know what it's like,' Farkas says. 'But we should refrain from telling anyone else. It's hard, but we have to set an example. Give them something to follow.'
Your stomach somersaults at Vilkas' usage of the word 'we'.
He uses you for his own gain. The words intrude upon your mind causing the somersaults to end in mid flow, and a void to open in the pit of your stomach. The words are not said in your voice, but Hircine's.
The void in your stomach expands. Your heart quickens, and your hands are clammy. You recall the warmth of Hircine's skin, the rise and fall of his chest as he had stood behind you, and your skin tingles.
That couldn't have been real.
You don't tell the brothers about Hircine.
And the wolf? Who had that been. You look at Farkas. No, he'd been the one who'd found you. Vilkas then?
Vilkas' presses a damp cloth against your forehead. You recoil, and Vilkas stops, his hand hovering in midair.
'What's wrong?' Vilkas says. 'Are you in pain?'
Why the unkind words in the beginning, and now the concern? Could a person change so quickly with genuine feeling?
Damp hair clings to your face. Taking a bath has cleared the fog from your brain and comforted your aching muscles. Meanwhile a mug of mead has washed out the taste of stale blood.
You sit on one of the steps that lead up to Jorrvaskr. The mead hall sits behind you.
When you first saw Jorrvaskr you thought it looked like a giant had taken a boat and turned it upside-down. Later, Eorlund told you that, Jorrvaskr had indeed once been a longboat.
You watch the branches of the Gildergreen sway, the recently sprung pink leaves, tremble in the early afternoon wind.
You twist your fingers in your hands.
You're putting off the inevitable because you're not sure how to tell them that you intend to leave. Therefore, you decide the best way to do it is to not tell them.
The scar itches and you rub your hand over it. You want to know more about it. What it means. Maybe a mage would know?
A sweetroll dangles in front of your face. You turn. Farkas looks down at you.
'Aela disputed whether I had actually caught the rabbits,' he says. 'But I took the sweetrolls anyway. A deals a deal.'
Farkas bends and you shift over to give him room to sit. Even when sitting he resembles a mountain.
'Sometimes Kodlak would sit right where you're sitting and watch the tree with pink leaves. He said the Harbinger before him used to do the same. Must be something in the people that make all Harbingers alike.'
You stiffen, tell him that you and Kodlak are aren't alike.
'Vilkas used to say the same about me and him.' Farkas bites into his sweetroll. Crumbs tumble from his mouth and tangle in his beard. He wipes them away with the back of his hand.
'When we were pups, some of the children picked on us because we were twins and alike. Vilkas never liked that. Then one day I lifted one of the bullies up and thumped him. After that Vilkas said he was proud to be my brother.'
You stretch your legs out in front of you. There's nothing you can say to that except tell Farkas that sometimes his brother can be an idiot.
'It's alright,' he balances the half eaten sweetroll on his knee. 'I know you're leaving. Something to do with the mark on your arm. I saw it last night when you didn't have any clothes on.'
You look away, feel your cheeks go red.
'Don't worry,' he says. 'It isn't anything I haven't seen before. Though you're a lot more sightly, that's for sure.'
You can tell from the tone of his voice that he's smiling.
You don't know how Farkas knows you intend to leave. What you do know is that he's far more intelligent than most give him credit for.
He asks where you'll go. You tell him you know a mage from the College of Winterhold who is currently lodged in Windhelm.
'When you've found whatever answers you are looking for,' Farkas says, 'come back to us. Your friends are here.' He gets up, leaves you with two more sweetrolls and walks off.
You leave your horse tethered outside of the woods.
It's curiosity that has brought you back. That and to retrieve your clothes, because you'd rather spend money on weapons and food for travelling rather than replacing garments. But as you draw your sword, step across fallen logs and push brambles and branches aside, you remind yourself that it was curiosity that killed the Khajiit.
The woods are hard to navigate. Your memories of time spent as a wolf are vague.
You're about to give up, head back to your horse when you spot what you're looking for.
A thought occurs to you. It's like someone guided you here, as if someone wanted you to find your clothes.
They're in a pile on the floor.
On top of them is the bleached white skull of a stag.
A/N: New story in the series coming soon ;)