Selene walked through the door into a sprawling room with a fire pit surrounded on three sides by a big, U-shaped table and space at either end of the hall for socializing or resting. The crowd gathered at one end didn’t appear to be resting, though; they were watching a fight. Then again, maybe this was how the Companions relaxed. Njada duked it out with a male dark elf as the others egged one or the other on. They were pretty evenly matched, but it appeared Njada had the advantage. Selene watched the bout, which carried on for several minutes, until a rough-looking Nord noticed her and came over.
He was about fifty years old, and he’d seen his share of battle, as was evidenced by a nasty scar on his face and across his blind eye. He was downright scary as he looked her over critically and grimaced. “You lost?”
“I was told to see Kodlak about joining the Companions.”
“Don’t get your hopes up.”
“Don’t jump to conclusions.”
“Kodlak is downstairs. He’s a good judge of character; perhaps he’ll see something I don’t.” He turned his back and continued watching the fracas.
Selene looked around for stairs, but she didn’t see any. She caught sight of Farkas, who was standing across the room, watching her instead of the fight. “Stairs?” she mouthed silently.
He pointed to the south end of the hall, and Selene found them and descended. At the bottom, she walked through a door into a long, wide corridor. Vilkas sat with an older, gray-bearded man in an office at the end. He was confiding to the man about problems he was having with “the blood.” When he noticed Selene, he stopped talking.
The older man, whom Selene assumed was Kodlak, looked up and said, “A newcomer to Jorrvaskr. What can I do for you, my dear?”
“I would like to join the Companions.”
“Would you, now? Let’s have a look at you.” He looked her over, nodded, and said she had strength of spirit.
“Master, you can’t be considering allowing this one to join the Companions.”
“I’m nobody’s master, Vilkas, and we can always use new members. A test of strength won’t hurt. Take her out to the yard and see how she does with a blade.”
Vilkas sighed and nodded, then got up and bade Selene to follow him.
“What was that?” she asked him as they walked down the corridor. “Last night you encouraged me to come to Jorrvaskr.”
“It’s my job to be skeptical. Kodlak looks for reasons to let you in; I look for reasons not to. So don’t give me any.” He stopped at the door to the stairs and studied her. He almost seemed to be smelling her. “I must admit you seem pretty tired,” he said finally. “If you need to rest, we can do this tomorrow.”
“Don’t coddle me, Vilkas. I think I have one more fight in me before I collapse.”
“One more? Lass, I’m beginning to think you’re as bad as Njada.”
“For your information, I spent my day doing battle with draugr and dragons, not snot-nosed bullies.”
Vilkas furrowed his brow. “D-did you just say dragons?”
“Didn’t you hear? A dragon attacked the Western Watchtower.”
“A dragon!” he repeated, placing a hand on the door as if to hold himself up. “They were talking about the one that destroyed Helgen last night at the Mare, but I didn’t hear much and thought it was just a tall tale. Now I don’t know what to think. How…how can it be?”
“I don’t know; it just is. I went out with Irileth and some guards and killed it.”
“Irileth. Gods damn it!” he snarled, pounding his fist on the door furiously.
“It’s just like her to conveniently forget to tell the Companions the city is in danger. She didn’t have us informed because she didn’t want us to take her glory.”
“If it makes you feel any better, I think I’m the one who got the glory on that one.”
A bit embarrassed, she told him about absorbing the dragon’s soul and the Shout.
He stared at her for a long moment, probably trying to decide whether or not to believe her. “Well, well. Yesterday it was giants; today it’s dragons. Let’s see how you do with a man wielding a sword.”
“After all that, I don’t know if I can handle a regular person.”
Vilkas chuckled and opened the door for her.
It was just a quick sparring match, and Vilkas was a far better swordsman than Selene could ever hope to be, but she held her own. He finally sheathed his sword and said, “You need training, but you’ve got a good arm. You can stay, but to us you’re still just a whelp.”
“That doesn’t sound good.”
“We all have to prove ourselves. Here. Take my sword up to the Skyforge for sharpening. And be careful with it. It’s probably worth more than you are. I need to go tell Kodlak about the dragon. Damn that Irileth.” He stalked away, muttering and swearing.
Eorland Gray-Mane was at least seventy years old, but he was nearly as muscular as some of the Companions, having worked the Skyforge all his life. The crotchety blacksmith was just leaving when Selene reached the forge, but he reluctantly made time to take Vilkas’s sword.
“I must get home,” he said. “My wife is in mourning and I’ve left her too long.”
“Our son is missing. Reports all say he is dead, but Fralia does not believe them. She mourns because it is right to do so, but she is convinced he still lives.”
“Surely there’s a way to find out.”
Eorland didn’t reply, just grunted and picked up a shield that was leaning against the forge. “Since you are going back to Jorrvaskr, can you take this shield to Aela for me? I stayed late working on it; she should have it this evening.”
“Of course.” Selene took the shield and headed back to the mead hall. She found Aela shut away in a room in an intimate conversation with Skjor, but she gratefully accepted the shield.
“I hear you gave Vilkas quite a go,” she remarked. “Do you think you could take him in a real battle?”
“Doubtful. But I wouldn’t make it easy on him.”
“What do you do?” Skjor asked her.
“I’m an archer and a brawler. I’m pretty good at hiding, too. I’m okay with the sword, but I could use some training.” She neglected to mention that she was a fabulous thief. Somehow she didn’t Skjor would be impressed with that.
“Sounds like you and Aela will get on well.”
“You look exhausted,” said Aela. “I’ll have Farkas show you where you can get some rest.”
“Farkas!” Skjor called.
Farkas appeared in the door a moment later. “Did you call me?”
“Of course we did, Icebrain,” Aela sneered. “Show the new blood here the dormitory.”
Selene followed him out the door and down the hall.
“I’m glad you decided to come here,” he said. “I hope you stay.”
“I’ll stay awhile. I mentioned that I was on my way to Riften, but I decided to see what you were all about.” She wondered to herself whether she had meant the Companions in general or Farkas specifically.
They arrived at the dorm. “I don’t think anybody is using that bed in the corner. Get some rest, and tell Tilma when you’re ready to wash up and she’ll have one of the other whelps bring some water for a bath. Come see me tomorrow, and I’ll have work for you.”
“Thanks, Farkas.” He nodded and walked back down the hall, and Selene went to the bed in the corner and stretched out, glad no one else was around at the moment. She ached straight to the bone, but her body wasn’t the only thing that was tired. Her brain was overloaded, and socializing was the last thing she wanted to do right now.
Dragonborn. Thane. Companion. It was enough to make one’s head spin. It was her own fault, of course. She’d had the opportunity to flee Skyrim, but she had chosen to open the door to Jorrvaskr. Now she was committed. Well, not totally committed; she had told Farkas she’d only stay awhile. She could get out if she wanted to. But being Dragonborn wasn’t just a job or a title. It was who she was, what she was, and she knew in her heart there was no denying it, no ignoring it, and no running from it. Whether she dealt with it here or ran away to Cyrodiil, she would have to come to terms with it sooner or later. The woman with Farengar had said dragons had returned. Dragons, plural. Selene had realized there were more than one today at the watchtower, but it only now sank in that even more would come her way. For now, at least, she had a place to rest, to catch her breath, get some training, and maybe find some peace.
Peace. That was a laugh. Selene wasn’t even sure she knew what the word meant.
As she started to drift, she said a prayer to Kynareth, asking for the next day to please, please, be less eventful. She was asleep almost before she finished the prayer.
* * *
The next day was uneventful, as was the day after that and the next few weeks. Selene went on several missions, usually alone but occasionally with a shield-brother. The fox followed her everywhere, eventually even into town, and Selene started calling her Liska. After a while, Kodlak gave her permission to keep Liska in the mead hall, and most everybody seemed to like her. Even Njada would scratch her behind the ears or pick her up and hold her in her lap. Liska was the tamest fox Selene had ever seen, and she began to realize she had been someone else’s pet before, probably from the time she was a kit.
Selene spent a lot of time training with the senior members. She wouldn’t have thought she needed archery training, but Aela helped her increase her skill immensely. Vilkas and Farkas trained her with the sword, often working together to help her practice fighting multiple opponents. She tried training hand-to-hand with Njada, but the sessions usually turned into real brawls, so they decided to just avoid any sort of combat with each other for the time being. Instead, she worked with Athis, the Dunmer Njada had been fighting when Selene had entered Jorrvaskr for the first time. She also did a lot of drinking. After all, she did live in a mead hall, and after a hard day of training there was always good food, mead, and friends to socialize with. Although Selene didn’t get really close to any of them, she did enjoy their company. She even had a nice, drunken heart-to-heart with Njada (“Oh, I love you!” “I love you, too! Let’s not be enemies anymore.” “Okay, you’re my best friend!”). Although when they sobered up they were still far from best friends, it was good not to feel alone for a change.
She never showed it outwardly, but Selene nurtured a healthy crush on Farkas. When he wasn’t badgering her relentlessly in the training yard, he was sweet, thoughtful, and generous with praise and encouragement. Some of the others teased him about not being smart, but he didn’t seem all that unintelligent to Selene. He didn’t talk well, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t a lot going on in his head. He just didn’t feel the need to share it.
Everything about living at Jorrvaskr was great except for Vilkas and Skjor, who insisted on calling her a whelp, and most of the time they treated her like one as well. Vilkas ordered her around, and Skjor criticized everything she did, even down to the armor she wore and how she did her hair. It seemed she couldn’t do anything to please them, and it got on her nerves. She complained to Farkas once when they were on a mission together and he asked how she was fitting in.
He shrugged. “I wouldn’t worry about it,” he said. “They just want you to be your best. Besides, it’s a rite of passage.”
“Farkas, he complains about my hair for Kyne’s sake!”
“It’s really long, and you wear it in a ponytail. It’s beautiful, but it makes a good handhold for an enemy. Vilkas and Skjor actually think quite a lot of you. Most of the other whelps don’t even get to go on missions yet.”
Everything after “beautiful” was a blur, but Selene realized she’d better make some sort of response. “I know. Torvar bellyaches every time I go out and he doesn’t.”
“You’re a better fighter than Torvar, more experienced, even though you’re younger.”
A distant howl drifted through the air, and Selene’s heart skipped a beat. Liska, who had been following, barked a sharp alarm and darted behind a rock.
“Did you hear that?” Farkas asked.
“I did,” she murmured, barely above a whisper. “Kynareth protect us.” Tears threatened her eyes as the next howl came closer, but she blinked them back. She had known the day would come when she would see another one, and she’d had weeks to prepare and improve her skills. Besides, Farkas was with her.
Farkas’s jaw dropped as the dragon came into view over the next hill. “By Ysmir. I didn’t want to believe it.” He drew his bow and nocked an arrow, and Selene did the same.
“The scales are softer and sparser on the underside. And its head, of course.” She moved off the road toward some boulders so they would have a place to duck when it started to breathe fire. Farkas followed.
The bow trembled in Selene’s hands as the dragon flew over them, screeching and howling. She saw Farkas’s chest heave; he was just as scared as she was. Then again, who wouldn’t be? When it came close enough, she loosed an arrow and quickly pulled another one. The arrow missed, as did Farkas’s, and the dragon took a breath and Shouted.
They ducked behind the rock to shelter themselves from the flames, but there were no flames. Instead, it breathed a spate of frost and snow. It was uncomfortable, but at least they could fight through it. They shot another round of arrows at it. Selene’s arrow hit, but Farkas missed.
“I’m shite with a bow,” he complained. “If we can get it on the ground…”
The dragon’s howls changed, and Selene knew it was injured. Blood trailed behind it as it wobbled, dipped, then recovered to soar back into the sky.
“Another arrow or two should do it,” she said. When the wyrm flew back over, it stopped and hovered, preparing to spray more frost at them, and Selene took careful aim. She managed to lodge the arrow in the shoulder joint, rendering its right wing useless. It screamed and dropped to the ground.
Farkas drew his sword and approached the dragon, as did Selene. He took several swings at the monster, and it retaliated by snapping viciously at him.
“Don’t get so close to its teeth!” Selene cried. She dashed around to the dragon’s right side and stuck her blade in the meaty part of its chest, then noticed that Farkas had managed to climb up on its head and straddle its neck.
The creature shook its head desperately, trying to throw Farkas off, but he held on tightly with his knees. “You will not defeat me, Grohiik!” the dragon growled, but it shrieked in agony as Farkas planted his blade through its nose and pinned its mouth shut.
With one more jab from Selene, the dragon gave up and fell dead. Farkas removed his sword and climbed down just in time for it to burst into flames.
This one was a female, and her name was Komeytniidaaz. Her fear and frustration spread through Selene like a cold chill, even as the warmth of the flames covered her body. She stood and stared at the carcass for a while, communing with the dragon, embracing her. As Komeytniidaaz’s essence faded, she whispered her name again and then reduced to a vague presence at the back of Selene’s consciousness.
She looked over at Farkas, who was staring at her, eyes wide, and her heart sank. It was going to be like this every time she absorbed a dragon’s soul: the stares, the wonder, the reverence. She didn’t want that kind of attention, especially from him. “Please don’t look at me like that.”
“I’m sorry. It’s just…it’s true.”
Selene nodded. “It’s true. But stop it, okay? I’m the same person I was an hour ago.”
Farkas closed his eyes and shook his head to clear it. “Of course, you are. I won’t do it again, I promise. Let’s get going, whelp.” He even went so far as to mess up her hair, and Selene slapped his hand away playfully, untied the ponytail and put it back up.
“I’m not cutting my hair,” she muttered.
“Okay, but when some bandit grabs ahold of it and flings you across a cave, don’t come whining to me.”
Selene flipped her middle finger at him, and he laughed. She pulled a bone and scale from Komeytniidaaz, in addition to a ruby and about fifty gold pieces, and then they went on their way. Liska came out from behind her rock and sniffed at the skeleton, then followed, cooing and gekkering.
“What do you think all that means?” Farkas said, nodding to the little fox.
“I’m sure she’s telling us how great we are,” Selene replied.
As they walked along, Farkas began to chuckle.
“What’s so funny?”
“Vilkas likes to say he’s killed one of every different type of creature in Skyrim. Well, not every one.”
“And you’ve killed one that he hasn’t.”
“He’s not gonna believe us, you know.”
“Somehow I don’t think it’ll be long until he sees a dragon, himself.”
“You think there are more?”
“I’ve killed two and seen one other. I doubt there were only three.”
“What’s it like?” he asked curiously. “Absorbing its soul, I mean.”
Selene sighed sadly. Things wouldn’t be the same now. No matter what he said, Farkas would no longer just be her shield-brother, her adolescent crush. He would be one of those who looked at her like she was different, which, she guessed, she was. She had been alone since Ben’s death, and with the Companions, she had thought she might have found a home, a family. But as Dragonborn, she knew she would always be alone.