After the trip to Ansilvund, Vilkas started assigning Rowan more jobs, and before long, she was just as productive as the rest of the Companions. She still had trouble with the sword, but she didn’t let that stop her if she needed to use it. She did everything she could to avoid using it and improvised when she had to, but she did it, and Dagur could no longer say she wasn’t pulling her weight. That still didn’t mean they got along. He was always berating her for something or another, and she finally got tired of it and started defending herself.
What started off as sharp retorts eventually led to arguments, and one afternoon in the spring, it finally led to blows. Rowan was sitting in the mead hall, listening to Njada expound on the benefits of using a shield, a chore that always left her in a bad mood because the older woman’s testiness was contagious, when Dagur walked up to her chair and dropped a dress in her lap.
“You left this in the bath. Again.”
He was right about this one. Rowan was messy; it was one of her worst habits. But she would be damned if she’d apologize to him. “So you went out of your way to come in here and give it to me when you could have walked ten feet and put it in the laundry?”
“It’s not my job to clean up after you.”
“It’s not your job to give me crap every time you don’t like something I did, either, but you still do it.”
“Oh, gods,” Njada groaned.
“You know, if you spent half as much time training as you did bitching at me, you’d be a better fighter.”
“Huh, this coming from a lass who wields a butter knife better than she does a sword!”
Rowan threw the dress at him and launched herself out of the chair. She swung a fist and connected with his jaw, and blood flew as he snarled in pain.
“Get him!” Njada urged as others started to gather around, egging one or the other on.
Fists up, Rowan and Dagur danced around each other, throwing punches and the occasional kick.
“I’ve had it with your shit!” Rowan cried as she threw a jab.
Dagur blocked and landed one of his own, staggering her. “And you think you can take me. I’m the biggest and the strongest, little one.”
“You don’t get to call me ‘little one,’ you big piece of horker dung. And you might be bigger and stronger, but I’m quicker.” To prove her point, she brought her foot up swiftly and kicked him in the ribs.
Dagur let out a painful grunt, but he managed to catch her leg before she got it away. He jerked hard, and Rowan fell to the floor. He straddled her and went to throw a punch, but Kerr pulled him off.
“She’s down. Let it go.”
“Aye, such a big man, beating up on a girl,” Rowan sneered.
“You started it! Kerr, let me hit her, just once more.”
“No, brother.” Kerr stepped in front of him, blocking his access to Rowan. “Let. It. Go.”
“Gods damn it!” he growled as he backed away.
Kerr turned on Rowan. “‘Such a big man, beating up on a girl’? Are you serious? You’re better at hand to hand than he is, and you did start it.”
“It was a taunt. And apparently it worked.”
Kerr rolled his eyes and walked away.
* * *
The next morning, Vilkas found Rowan in the main hall just after breakfast. “Retrieve Dagur and bring him to my office,” he instructed.
“Because the three of us are going to have a little chat. I heard him say he was going into town. Now, go.”
Rowan gave an exaggerated sigh and got up from the table. She left Jorrvaskr and made her way to the Plains District, where she asked Mila Valentia if she had seen him.
“He’s in General Goods,” said Mila.
When Rowan stepped into the store, she found Dagur in quiet, earnest conversation with Coranil. They stopped speaking the moment she came in.
“That wasn’t suspicious in the least,” she quipped. “What’s going on, lads?”
“Mind your own business,” Dagur retorted.
Coranil shrugged apologetically but didn’t contradict him.
“Vilkas wants to see you and me in the office,” she told Dagur.
“I’ll be there in a few.” He started to turn back to Coranil.
“He said now.”
Dagur rolled his eyes and said, “We’ll continue this later?”
“Of course. You know where to find me. Rowan, will you be at the Mare this evening?”
“I’ll be there.” She followed Dagur out of the store and through Whiterun.
“I didn’t know you two were still seeing each other,” he said.
“Mind your own business,” she snapped, spitting his words back at him. Then she shrugged and admitted, “Not as much. He’s away a lot these days, and he won’t talk about where he goes. He’s keeping something from me, and I don’t like it.”
“Perhaps he’s keeping it from you to protect you.”
“Protect me from what?”
Dagur shrugged. “Don’t know.”
They arrived at Jorrvaskr and went down to the living quarters, where they found Vilkas sitting in the office.
“Have a seat,” he told them.
Rowan sat in the chair by the desk, and Dagur pulled one out of the side room.
Vilkas glared from one to the other and demanded, “Why can’t you two get along?”
“Save it. Before you start pointing fingers, know that you’re both to blame.”
“I’m sorry for my part, Uncle,” said Rowan.
“As am I, Harbinger.”
“Apologies are all well and good, but what about next time? If you apologized every time you disrupted the mead hall, you’d be in here every day. The Companions are brothers and sisters. We watch each other’s backs. But that’s hard to do when we fight amongst ourselves.”
“Njada said she and Athis used to fight all the time,” Rowan pointed out.
“Aye, they did, until Kodlak Whitemane sent them out on several missions together.”
“What?” they cried out in unison.
“We’ve received a request to take care of a Forsworn problem. The tribe at Deepwood Redoubt has been causing a lot of trouble in the area, ambushing travelers, raiding nearby settlements, and abducting people. The activity has stepped up from their normal mischief, and our client wants the tribe cleared out.”
“Deepwood Redoubt,” Dagur echoed. “Coranil mentioned them today.”
“Did he, now? What did he say?”
“He—uh, just the same thing you said, that they were causing trouble.”
“How did he know that?”
“Guards and travelers talk a lot, apparently.”
“Well, you two are going out there and eliminating the problem.”
“Just the two of us are going to take out a whole tribe?” Rowan asked.
“I have every confidence that it won’t be much trouble for you. You’re ready for this, Rowan, and it will teach the two of you to learn to depend on each other. Maybe if you’re forced to work together, you’ll learn to get along.”
Dagur glared at Rowan, then turned back to Vilkas. “Any advice on how to do that?”
“You know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Use that knowledge to work out strategies, and watch each other’s backs. Neither of you are in charge; you’re equal partners. Work it out.”
“When do we leave?” Rowan asked.
“First light tomorrow.” Neither of them responded right away, and he prodded, “Go. Prepare yourselves.”
They walked out of the office, groaning. When they were out of Vilkas’s earshot, Dagur turned to Rowan. “We might be equal partners, but I have more experience than you, so you will do what I say.”
“Dagur, if you have advice, give it, and I’ll heed it. But you’re not going to order me around. Uncle is right. If we can’t work together—together—we’re going to get ourselves killed. You may be a big dummy once in a while, but you’re not an idiot. You know I’m right. I’ve been in and out of dungeons, redoubts, and bandit camps in the past few months, and I’m not as incompetent as you think I am—or as I used to be. You have to give me a chance.”
“Fine. Just don’t do anything to get us killed.”
“I’m not going to do anything to get us killed! Damn, you’re pig headed!”
* * *
Rowan went to the General Goods Store to tell Coranil she had a mission and wouldn’t be at the Bannered Mare that evening, then went home to prepare for the trip. Dolff went back to finish his conversation and find out more about Deepwood Redoubt.
“Vilkas said there had been abductions,” he told the elf.
“Yes, but not just travelers off the roads for their rituals. Key individuals were kidnapped, a few of which were tortured, questioned, and later released.”
“They released them? That’s unheard of. Any idea what they were interrogating them for?”
“What do you mean by ‘key individuals’?”
“Unfortunately, just that. I wasn’t told who they were or what sorts of questions they were asked. So Vilkas is sending you in to clear them out, eh?”
“Aye. That’s not the real problem. The problem is, how are Rowan and I not going to kill each other?”
“Dagur, do you know why you dislike each other so? You’re just alike. You’re impetuous, ambitious, charismatic, both with something to prove, both with too much knowledge of the other’s past.”
“How do you know that?”
“Because I pay attention. Rowan may seem flighty at times, but in truth, she’s smart as a whip and very capable. Just exercise as much patience as you can with her.”
Dolff breathed a heavy sigh. “This is going to be a disaster.”
* * *
They set out early the next morning, riding in tense silence for most of the day. Just as they turned north, they were attacked by a group of bandits. Rowan stood back and shot while Dagur went toe to toe with them, swinging his twin blades like a whirlwind and slicing his opponents to ribbons. One of the bandits charged Rowan, and she dropped her bow and drew her sword, hoping to the divines she didn’t screw up. Her assailant only had a dagger, and she managed to kick the blade out of his hand. After that, killing him was easy. For the next one, she wielded both the dagger and the sword.
When she killed the bandit, she looked up to find Dagur watching her. “What? What did I do?”
“Have you ever practiced with dual swords?” he asked.
“No, Uncle said I couldn’t do that until I was proficient with one.”
He walked up and handed her one of his swords, then picked up a shield one of the bandits had dropped. “Attack me. And don’t forget we’re using real blades! I don’t want you cutting my arm off.”
Rowan took a fighting stance and attacked, and they sparred for a few minutes until Dagur stood back and said, “Amazing. You fight better with two blades than with one. You’re actually not bad.”
“What’s the punchline?”
“No punchline. With practice, you’ll come to be much more proficient.”
When they looted the bandits’ bodies, he picked up a steel sword for Rowan. “Carry this with you,” he told her, “and we’ll practice some when we set up camp.”
Rowan regarded him with a furrowed brow. “Why are you being so nice to me?”
“I’m not being nice. I’m being practical. The better you fight, the less likely you are to get me killed.”
They talked more as they traveled because Rowan had lots of questions about dual wielding. They practiced when they stopped for the night, and then before they left the next morning, and Dagur said she was already showing marked improvement.
“Just don’t go thinking you’re a master,” he said as they climbed their horses and set out.
“I won’t. I’m not the overconfident type. Dagur, thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” With that, he actually smiled at her.
Rowan didn’t like the way her heart skipped a beat when he smiled.
* * *
They approached Deepwood Redoubt, a stony ruin set into the mountainside and accessed by dozens of stairs, from the north. Three sentries stood outside the structure, and Rowan took them out from a distance before they even knew she was there. Farther up, Dagur fought and killed another Forsworn who was working at an altar with some potions, snowberries, and a severed skeever head.
An iron door opened into an icy cave that led to part of a Nordic burial ruin. They fought several Forsworn near the entrance, and Dagur was badly injured when he got into a tussle with one of them in the middle of a pendulum trap. The swinging blade nearly severed his arm, but he was quick enough to slip out of the way and prevent the worst of the damage. As it was, the gash was deep and bled freely, but they didn’t have time to sit down and treat it properly. Rowan used a Healing Hands spell, and Dagur drank a potion in the hope of staunching the flow of blood until they could find a safe place to stitch it up.
Farther into the ruin, after stepping around myriad traps and several frost runes, they opened a door onto a narrow, covered bridge, where they were attacked by two Forsworn. Rowan shot one of them but missed the other completely, and she stood there swearing at herself while Dagur stepped around her and engaged him, only using one sword because of his arm injury.
“I never miss!” she whined. “What in Oblivion?”
“Don’t be so cocky,” Dagur said over his shoulder as he dodged a swing from the Forsworn’s blade. “I thought you said you weren’t overconfident.”
Rowan folded her arms and stood against the door jamb. “I think it’s working with you. You intimidate me, make me nervous.”
“You two shut up!” the Forsworn snarled.
“Mind your own business!” Dagur shouted back. He thrust his sword into the belly of the Forsworn, who died with a groan; then he turned back to her. “You can’t let me make you nervous, Rowan. You’ll get us both killed. Besides, I thought I was being nice.”
“You think that doesn’t make me nervous? I keep waiting for you to rip my head off. Or I’ll screw up somehow and really give you an excuse.”
“You’re insane, do you know that? You’re doing fine, better than I would have expected. I’m not going to rip your head off.”
“Oh, sure, you’re just saying that to give me a false sense of security.”
With that, he smiled, and her heart skipped that same beat. “Is it working?”
“Not remotely. Let’s move on.”
A while later, they walked out an iron door and into a majestic vale. They stood in an elevated yard across a valley from a labyrinth of arches, stairs, and stonework that led up to an imposing tower. A river ran through the vale, complete with waterfall.
“By Ysmir, that’s magnificent!” Dagur gasped.
They worked their way slowly and stealthily down the hill toward the ruin. Rowan was impressed with just how quiet Dagur could be in his heavy wolf armor, and she gave him pointers here and there, helping his stealth even more. She looked for a place to snipe from as they descended the slopes and shelves, but there was nothing. They would have to make their way directly up the path in full view of the sentries, who were posted on battlements jutting out from the main platform.
They drew their bows and managed to take out two of the sentries before they were discovered. Dagur dropped his bow and drew his sword, then screamed a battle cry and charged into the camp. Rowan hung back, shooting Forsworn from a distance. Between the two of them, they took six Forsworn out in just a few minutes, although not without injuries of their own. Rowan took an arrow in the shoulder, and Dagur’s arm wound broke open. Fortunately, there were no more enemies in the immediate vicinity, and they were able to duck into a tent and stitch each other up.
Although he was surprisingly gentle, Dagur seemed unduly nervous when he stitched her shoulder. “Your hands are shaking,” she noted.
“Well, we might not be the best of friends, but you’re still gorgeous, and you’re half naked. But hopefully I won’t skewer you. W-with the needle.”
Heat rose up in Rowan’s cheeks, and she just knew she was blushing furiously. He certainly was. She didn’t know which affected her more, the fact that he thought she was gorgeous or that he was willing to make himself vulnerable like that. In any case, she was too embarrassed to respond, and when he was finishing treating her shoulder, she slipped uncomfortably back into her cuirass.
They looted chests and dressers in the camp and turned up six sets of elven armor and an elaborately trimmed gray robe of a type neither of them had seen before. The armor was too cumbersome to carry, but Rowan placed the robe, which emitted a faint glow of magic, into her pack. Perhaps Coranil would recognize the style of the strange robe.
Up a flight of stone stairs near the tower, they encountered the briarheart. The Forsworn chief charged Rowan from the side and snatched the bow out of her hands, flinging it far out of reach. He swung his blade, which was inset with a dozen sharp animal teeth, and she dodged and pulled her swords. Even with one blade against her two, the briarheart’s experience won out. His attacks were brutal, and he did a lot of damage to her side and left arm before Dagur made it over to help. Her shield-brother killed the briarheart, then set her down to stitch her up.
Again, there was a lot of blushing and shaky hands on Dagur’s part. For Rowan’s part, she was upset that she had done so poorly in the fight and that he’d had to rescue her.
“I have to practice more,” she muttered. “I was almost killed because I have trouble wielding a damned sword. And the fact that you had to come and save me must just be wonderful for your ego.”
“Aren’t you used to this yet? This is exactly what Vilkas was telling us. I’m not going to put you down because I had to rescue you. I’m just glad I was close enough to get over there before he killed you. Look, Rowan, I’ve . . . been rough on you, and I’m sorry.”
Rowan’s eyes narrowed. “Who are you, and what have you done with Dagur?”
He chuckled. “I haven’t been fair to you. I never even gave you a chance until Vilkas forced me to. I can see now how wrong I was.”
“It’s just because I’m gorgeous and half naked.”
“Will you please just forget I said that?” he growled. “I’m trying to make amends here.”
“I know, and I’m sorry. Okay, apology accepted. You know Uncle is going to be insufferable when we tell him his dastardly scheme worked, right?”
In the briarheart’s tent, they found a list of twenty names, some of which had been marked through. They also found several piles of bloody clothes in a nearby tent. Dagur placed the list in his pack, and they went up another set of stone stairs and entered the tower.
The first chamber was a dining room, in which they found three witches and a hagraven, who disappeared the moment they entered. They killed the witches and stepped into a side room, which had been set up as a torture chamber. A handful of cages, both on the floor and hanging from the ceiling, dotted the room, along with several torture implements and apparatus. A man, naked and dead, lay strapped to one of the contraptions. They also found another of the ornate gray robes, which Rowan stuffed into her knapsack.
As they moved through the corridors, they began to hear a strange chant wafting through the air. The next room revealed two more witches and the hagraven, who vanished again, but not the source of the chants, which sounded to Rowan more like simple grunts than actual words. They killed more witches and looted several chests as they went through, but whenever they encountered the hagraven, she disappeared. And there was always blood, gallons of it everywhere, as if they had bathed in it.
They finally came to the source of the chanting, and Rowan gasped in delight. It was a Word Wall, and the chanting was for her! The chants grew louder as she approached and focused on one word as it lit up before her. Blue light streamed out of the wall and surrounded her, filling her with warmth and sound as the word echoed in her mind: Tiid.
Rowan squealed and jumped with glee.
“You’re . . . Dragonborn,” Dagur said with awe.
“I never knew for sure before now,” she replied. “But even though I know what the word means doesn’t mean I can use it. I can translate it—it’s Tiid, which means Time—but I don’t understand its meaning well enough to use it in a Shout. I’d need to kill a dragon or talk to Mama for that. There’s more to it than just knowing the word.”
“Why your mother?”
“She was able to gift Ben and me with her understanding of Words of Power by just opening her mind to us. When you learn a Word of Power, it becomes part of you, and you pour everything you have into the Shout. It’s hard to explain.”
“My da can Shout, you know.”
“Aye, I’ve heard. Did he never teach you?”
“No, and for pretty much the same reason you just said. He understood it well enough to use it, but not enough to teach it. He said he’d had to study for years just to learn the few words he knows. It was always amazing to him that your ma could learn them so easily. I still don’t really understand it.”
“I guess you’d have to learn a word to understand.”
“Maybe you could teach me.”
Rowan shrugged. “I could try. But by the Nine! I have to write Mama and tell her about this! She’s going to be so excited. Or dismayed. It’s hard to say. She had a rough life when she was younger. But then again, she had the World-Eater to worry about and all that. And the civil war. By the time I was born, all that had settled down, I guess. Ooh, and I have to write Ben too.” She giggled and leapt into the air again.
“Well you’re certainly excited.”
“I am! I may have to go to Riften just so I can learn the word from Mama.”
“Or maybe we’ll find a dragon.”
Rowan suddenly stood very still and the smile dropped from her face. “I don’t know how I feel about that.”
“I don’t know. Being an archer—and Dragonborn—you’re probably well suited to fighting dragons. How old was your ma when she fought her first dragon?”
“I think nineteen or twenty. But there aren’t that many dragons left now, at least ones that cause trouble.”
“Well, are you ready to continue, Dragonborn? We have to come upon this hagraven sooner or later.”
“Of course. But don’t call me ‘Dragonborn,’ or I’ll start calling you Dolff.”
They found the hagraven outside the tower on a high balcony. Rowan exchanged projectiles with her, and she ducked several fireballs and swore when her hair got singed. Dagur finally charged in and impaled the witch on his sword. He cringed as he peered down at the twisted body.
“Ugh. Nasty creatures. That’s the worst stench I’ve ever smelled. Do you think she’s ever had a bath in her life?”
Rowan didn’t answer. She was standing off to the side, looking at a chest that stood across a wide gap by the waterfall. There was no easy way to it; the wall was too sheer to scale and the distance was too far to jump.
“I think we’ll have to let that one go,” he said mildly.
Rowan looked up him and grinned, her eyes sparkling. “Would you like to see a Shout I do know?”
“What do you—wait!”
“Wuld nah kest!” Her body shot across the gap, across the waterfall, and stopped on the snowy knoll beyond it. She could hear Dagur shouting at her from the other side, but the waterfall was too loud to understand what he was saying. She turned and smiled at him, then looted the chest.
But when she got ready to go back, she realized her mistake. Going across was easy because her destination was lower than her origination point. But if she went back the same way, she would Whirlwind Sprint herself right into the sheer wall.
“Hmm. Didn’t think that one through.” She looked at the rocks on the slope heading down to the first level and nodded. It was steep but not too bad; she could make it. “I’m going to climb down on this side,” she called to Dagur, using hand motions in case he couldn’t hear her. “Meet me at the bottom.” He nodded, and she started a careful climb down the rocks as he went back through the tower.
When they met at the bottom, he grabbed her by the arms and glared into her eyes. “Are you out of your mind? You could have been killed!”
“I’ve done that a million times, Dagur.”
“Did you do it before you made sure there was a way back? What if there was no way to climb down? You’d just be stuck up there, and I’d have to figure out a way to get you out.”
“You’re right; that was really stupid of me. But how fabulous was it! And I got over a hundred gold pieces and a jeweled necklace out of that chest. Well worth it.”
“To you, maybe. I aged twenty years watching you fly across that chasm.”
“Twenty? That would put you at, what, thirty-six? You don’t look a day over thirty.”
“Don’t do that to me again.”
With a chuckle, Rowan said, “Oh, I probably will. You ready to go home?”
He hesitated for a moment, and Rowan wondered if he was considering picking a fight, but then he said, “Aye, let’s get out of here.”
* * *
Dolff wanted to be angry with Rowan after her stunt, but just like everyone else, he was finding it hard to stay mad at her. That alone frustrated him. He had enjoyed hating her. But maybe he would enjoy getting along with her. He had to admit he’d had fun on this trip. They fought well together, and once they had started getting along, they’d had a lot to talk about. Coranil was right: they did have a lot in common.
When they arrived in Whiterun, they went to Coranil’s to trade, and when the Altmer saw the gray robes, all color drained from his face.
“Where did you get those?” he demanded.
“At Deepwood Redoubt,” said Rowan. “Why? What are they?”
“Was there anyone there who was not Forsworn?”
“Anyone else? Rowan, were there any elves?”
“The Forsworn are usually Bretons, aren’t they?”
But she didn’t. She folded her arms and glared at him, lips pursed.
“We didn’t see any elves,” Dolff told him. “They were all Bretons.”
“Why is this so important?” Rowan snapped angrily.
Coranil’s expression softened, and he even went so far as to come around the counter and take Rowan in his arms. “I’m sorry, my dear. Forgive my tone.”
Dolff did his best to ignore the pang of jealousy he felt as Rowan reached up and wrapped her arms around the elf’s neck.
“I forgive you,” she said, “but you didn’t have to be so mean. Just ask nicely next time.”
He kissed her forehead and turned to Dolff. “Are you certain, Dagur?” he asked more genially.
“Fairly certain, although we did find some elven armor. Why?”
“Because those are Thalmor robes.”
A lump the size of Windhelm formed in Dolff’s throat. They couldn’t be. Coranil was mistaken. That, or the robes were just twenty-some years old. But they looked fairly new.
“No wonder you got so upset,” Rowan said. “Are you certain?”
“Oh, yes.” He let her go and went back around the counter. “I’ll purchase them from you, of course.”
“If they mean that much to you, you can have them.”
“No, they’re valuable, so I want to pay you for them.” He gave them 600 gold for the two robes, in addition to a couple hundred for the other items they had to sell.
“What are you going to do with the robes?” Dolff asked.
“I’m not sure. I just know that I want them here.”
They settled up, and Rowan and Coranil made plans for later; then the two Companions left the store.
“Six pieces of elven armor and two Thalmor robes,” Rowan mused. “You should tell your father.”
“Aye, I’ll send him a letter.”
She stopped at the bottom of the steps leading up to Jorrvaskr and regarded him with concern. “What could it mean, Dolff—Dagur?”
“Careful!” He lowered his voice to a whisper. “Da has always been paranoid about the Thalmor, expecting them to invade at any moment. Perhaps his paranoia wasn’t so farfetched.”
“Gods, I don’t even want to think about that. Has there been any evidence of it up to now?”
“It’s hard to say. He has people keeping watch all around Tamriel, but I can’t tell if it’s real evidence or if it’s just his paranoia. Maybe I’m too close to it. And I probably shouldn’t be telling you this while we’re standing out here in the middle of town.”
“You’re right. Come on, let’s go tell Uncle his evil plan to make us get along worked.”