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Selene left the palace with a plan to head north, but she wanted to stop in and see Farkas first to visit, particularly so she could meet Blanche. And who knew? Maybe they could help with the mystery of the disappearing sun. A letter she had received from Farkas said his wife was “real smart.”
She walked purposefully through the deserted streets of Windhelm to Hjerim. When she knocked on the door, there was a lot of scuffling inside, along with a few giggles and whispers. The door opened a crack and a small, dark face poked out. “‘Hello, who’s there?”
Then a fair, big-eyed face appeared. “Oh! Visitors!”
Both disappeared, leaving the door ajar, and Selene could hear them calling something about “a pretty lady with a ring in her nose” on the porch. Somewhere, a dog started barking. No one came back to the door right away; but there was a little movement, and a small, white fox peered its pointed face out and looked up at Selene.
Selene’s face lit up, and she knelt to say hello, but the fox scuttled away.
“Put on your helmet!” one of the children piped. “It’ll scare her off if she’s a bad guy!”
“I don’t think she’s a bad guy, Sofie.” The door opened, and there was Farkas, sweet and cheerful as ever. “Selene!” he beamed.
Selene reached up and threw her arms around his neck, hugging him warmly, and he picked her up and swung her around. “It’s good to see you, you big lug,” she said when he put her down. “Did I see two kids and a pet fox? You’ve been busy, my man!”
He looked at her blankly for a moment, and then said, “Oh! No, we adopted them.”
She didn’t bother to tell him that of course she knew that. She simply knelt down and cooed at the fox, which had peeped out from behind his leg. “Come here, sweetie. Let me say hi to you.” The fox shied away, fear permeating its scent, so she just waved at the two children who were also peering out from behind their da, realizing she recognized one of them.
“Well, hello, Sofie.”
“Hello,” replied the little girl who had once sold flowers on the cold street near the Windhelm docks. “I remember you. Da, this lady used to buy flowers from me all the time.”
Selene stood back to full height and regarded Farkas. “I was in Windhelm and thought I’d stop by for a visit. I hope it’s not a bad time.”
“You’re here about the sun, aren’t you?” he asked earnestly.
Selene nodded. “Ulfric sent for me. So . . . can I come in?”
“Oh, yeah, yeah.” He stepped aside and held the door for her. The fox scampered over to Sofie, who picked it up and snuggled it with a little smile, eyes never leaving Selene.
Farkas strolled cheerfully inside, holding Selene’s hand not unlike a child would. “This is a great place . . . Sofie and Lucia—the girls, that’s their names, y’know—are always hunting around for other secret doors, since Blanche took over the wardrobe.” He smiled shyly. “I can’t think of a way to thank you and Brynjolf.”
“We were glad for you to have it.” Selene squeezed his hand. “We certainly didn’t need it. Besides, I gave your brother a house for his wedding; it was only right to give you one too.” Sofie brought the fox over, and Selene scratched it behind the ears. “I used to have a pet fox too. Her name was Liska.”
“What happened to her?” Sofie asked, her eyes getting a little bigger.
“She found a mate and went off to have babies.”
“Oh, good.” She breathed a sigh of relief. “I thought you were going to say she died.”
“No, I’m glad I didn’t have to go through that. It would have made me so sad.”
Hjerim was expensively appointed with high-quality furniture and exotic rugs. Dotting the walls here and there were weapon plaques, most holding an ebony or dragonbone weapon; several of the weapons held unique etchings and designs, always the glow of enchantment, and all were just out of the girls’ reach. Mannequins displayed many different types of outfits, often with a cloak. The myriad scents wafting through the house hinted at stew, mead, sweets, blood, animal skins, and weapon oil. It was a warrior’s home—even the girls were armed, sporting ebony daggers on their belts—and though it couldn’t be called cozy, it had an air of comfort and happiness about it. There were books everywhere; almost every horizontal surface had at least one or two books resting on it. The titles ranged from Immortal Blood to A Kiss, Sweet Mother to The Book of the Dragonborn. There were even some titles in other languages.
“Farkas, who is it?” a voice called from the kitchen as a slim Redguard appeared in the doorway.
Farkas all but bolted for the woman and took her hand, tugging her toward Selene. “My friend, the one I told you about. Come on, you should meet her.”
Blanche was a pretty woman, though her cheeks were bony and a bit sunken. Her chin was slim, her nose was sharp, and her jaw and cheekbones were firm and prominent, but her brow was soft. Her figure and carriage suggested a strong litheness, sure footing, and a past involving weapons, though she wasn’t carrying one at the moment. Her skin was a dark bronze, but her hair, which was cut to chin length and smoothed back out of her face, was snowy white. Her war paint was also white, striping down her face over each eye, with a smudge that looked like a thumbprint on her forehead. Her eyes were a striking brandy color that gleamed in the candlelight, and they rested on Selene with a strange sort of curiosity, reserved but not afraid.
The color of Blanche’s eyes stirred something in Selene she couldn’t recognize. There was something about this woman she should know, but it was just beyond her reach. She sniffed her surreptitiously, and even her scent was odd. It reminded her of something . . . someone . . . but she couldn’t place it offhand. That being said, she didn’t sense any malice in the woman, and she made Farkas happy, so that was all that mattered.
“You are Selene, then,” Blanche said in a strange, broken accent, her voice low and even but not unfriendly. “It is good to meet you.”
“I’m glad to finally meet you, too. I’m so sorry Brynjolf and I couldn’t make it to the wedding; I’m afraid we were up to our ears in ash at the time. I’m glad to see you’ve settled into the house. I love what you’ve done with it.”
“I think you more than made up for your absence with it, yes. It was very generous of you.”
Sofie tugged on Farkas’s tunic. “Da, you put my books up on the shelf and now I can’t reach them! Can you help me?”
Farkas nodded. “You girls can get acquainted while I go help Sofie.”
“So, then,” Blanche said as Farkas followed Sofie out of the room. “What brings you to Windhelm? It can’t be the weather or the amiable population.” She turned and headed back into the kitchen as if she expected Selene to follow. Selene was light on her feet, but this woman glided so smoothly that her head didn’t even bob with her steps. She had also apparently been preparing some stew, and she proceeded to add some carrots.
Selene wandered in after her, picking up Immortal Blood and paging through it absently. “I love this book; it’s one of my favorites. I’m a big reader, too. I got a little too involved with Hermaeus Mora recently, and Brynjolf likes to say it was my own fault because I love books so much. Turns out that opening some books gives you more than you bargained for. I have to admit, though, his realm of Apocrypha was an interesting place. Dangerous, but interesting. Most of the buildings are actually made of books.”
“Hermaeus Mora, eh?” Blanche nonchalantly tapped her ladle on the side of the pot. “I never trusted that one. Too much like Clavicus Vile. Still useful from time to time, but I wouldn’t want to be on his bad side.”
“Well, fortunately he loves me at the moment. I’m his ‘champion,’ although I’ve never done anything directly for him, or even agreed to. I just hope it doesn’t come back to bite me on the arse.”
“I wouldn’t care much to be on his good side either, myself.” She added some herbs to the stew and stirred. “But Daedra will be Daedra.”
Selene put the book down on the table. “As for your question, I was summoned to Windhelm by the High King to see if I can help deal with this sun—he said the sun just vanished from the sky! Were you here? Did you see it?”
“Oh, all this sun-vanishing business. Mm-hmm, I saw it while I was out hunting. Certainly . . . unusual, wouldn’t you say? And the king thinks some elves are responsible or something, yes? Anything to excuse his prejudice against them.” She set the stew to cook and took a seat on the hearth, warming her hands by the fire.
“He wants to get at the truth, no matter what it is,” Selene responded, trying to keep annoyance out of her voice or start on a rant on how Ulfric was trying to do better but changing one’s ways wasn’t always easy. The fact that Blanche’s assessment was spot-on didn’t help the matter. “Oh, gods, I hope Hermaeus Mora’s not involved in this. We were speculating that it seemed like the work of a Daedric Prince, and I can see him doing something like this just to get my attention.”
“Daedric Prince indeed. I would guess Nocturnal, but there was a little too much red in the sky for that. Molag Bal, maybe, since Coldharbour is reputed to have a sky similar to whatever struck Eastmarch. I don’t know what the point would be, though.”
“It wasn’t Nocturnal, even if Galmar did try to blame the spell on thieves. I would know if it was her.” Selene sat down in a chair nearby. “So, Blanche, what do you do? I know you’re a Companion; what’s your specialty?”
Blanche rubbed her hands together and then opened them to the fire again. “I’m a fair shot with a bow, and weapons themselves are not foreign to me, thanks to the Companions. Still, I much prefer magic. I also work with the arcane; if you ever need something enchanted, bring it to me and it will be done. For a price, of course.” She fixed her calm, orange eyes on Selene again. The light of the blaze reflected off of them, and almost seemed to turn them into small flames themselves. “And what about you, Stormblade? What do you do?”
It almost sounded like a challenge, but Selene was determined to like Blanche, so she decided to give full disclosure. “Please, call me Selene. The titles make me uncomfortable. I’m an archer, first and foremost; I’m pretty good with a sword too, thanks to your husband and his brother. I’m the best at hiding in the shadows, and that and my sense of smell have gotten me out of a lot of scrapes. I’m usually good at figuring out puzzles, but I think this one’s going to be tough. I know Nocturnal pretty well, and I have to admit nighttime is preferable for thieves, but this just doesn’t feel like her. I don’t know much about Molag Bal, though. I plan going to the College of Winterhold and seeing if anybody there knows anything. You’re a mage; did you go to the college? Have you met Urag, the librarian? Sometimes I think that orc knows everything.”
She stopped herself and chuckled. “I’m babbling. Sorry about that. It’s just . . . I’m not . . . I’m not usually this clumsy at conversation.” Selene decided to cut the bullshit and just tell her. “Your eyes glow. It’s disconcerting.”
The corners of Blanche’s lips twitched into a brief smile. “They do that.” She turned away from the fire and folded her hands. “It seems we have quite a bit in common, then. I did go to the college, and still do when my travels take me past.” She paused. Although no expression crossed her face, it was obvious from the look in her eyes that her wheels suddenly turned several gears. “I have a few things to do in Winterhold. We could travel together, if you like. When were you planning to leave?”
Selene was briefly taken aback, but in truth, she was pleasantly surprised. Blanche still made her uncomfortable, but her curiosity was greater than her apprehension. Besides, not only was she married to one of Selene’s dearest friends, she was a fellow Companion and therefore her shield-sister. She deserved to be given the benefit of the doubt.
“Of course,” she said with a cautious smile. “I had planned on leaving immediately and camping on the road, but if you need to discuss it with Farkas and get packed, we can leave tomorrow morning.”
“This won’t be the first time I leave on short notice. He keeps the place in order well enough on his own—” As if on cue, Farkas blundered past the door with Lucia on his back, his hair fixed into a big braid and tied with a bow, at which Selene laughed fondly.
“—usually,” Blanche finished. “We can leave this evening, if you want.”
“Sure, tonight is fine,” Selene replied, still chuckling. She dearly loved that man. “Do you have a horse? I’ll need to borrow one from the stables. I usually just walk everywhere. Makes Ulfric crazy.”
“Yes, I—” Blanche blinked. “You walk everywhere? Why?”
“If I’m in a rush or have a lot of gear to carry, I will get one, but in normal circumstances, they usually prove more trouble than they’re worth. For one thing, every time I buy or steal a horse, it gets killed by bandits. When I came to Skyrim, I had a pet fox, and foxes and horses don’t mix well; it was always something. Also, more often than not, I go off-road so I can stay hidden, and a horse isn’t really conducive to that. Besides, I lived on my own growing up and spent most of the time in the wilderness, so I’m used to that kind of thing. That being said, I don’t mind riding. They know me at the stables, so it won’t be a problem to borrow one.”
“I see.” Blanche suppressed a little chuckle. “Most of the horses in this land are tragically docile, I’ll give you that.” She got to her feet. “Would you like any of this broth before we go? It will keep you warm on the road, I promise.”
“Aye, thank you.” Selene accepted a bowl and took a mouthful. “Sweet Mara, this stew is delicious!”
While Blanche went to prepare for the trip, she took the opportunity to catch up with Farkas and get to know the girls.
“Are you and Mama going on a long trip?” Sofie asked as she shoved a spoonful of stew into her mouth.
“Hopefully not too long. I have a little one I want to get home to, too. She’s just a year old.”
Lucia’s face lit up. “A baby? I love babies. We keep telling Ma and Da they should have a baby, but they just grumble and say they can’t right now. Well, when can they?”
“We will when we say, not you,” Farkas retorted, a spoonful of stew stopping halfway to his mouth.
“Could you bring your baby next time you come to Windhelm?”
“We’ll see,” said Selene. “I know she’d love to have a couple of aunties to play with. Or maybe you all can come to Riften and see us.”
“Uncle Vilkas says Riften is a den of thieves,” Sofie informed her. “I told him so was Windhelm, if you know where to look. . . . Is it a den of thieves?”
“Aye. Not a place you want to flaunt your coin purse.”
“Silda always said she would teach me to pick pockets. You know how to pick pockets too, don’t you, Miz Selene?”
“Enough of that,” Farkas grunted, his silvery eyes casting a warning glance in the child’s direction.
“Sofie, I think you’re trying to get me into trouble,” Selene quipped.
“I wouldn’t have to try. Da says trouble just finds you.”
Farkas blushed. “That wasn’t what I said.”
“Uh-huh. You said she’s really strong and a good fighter and it’s a good thing because trouble finds her wherever she goes.”
“When Rowan gets big enough to talk, watch what you say,” the big man advised Selene. “You never know what’s gonna get repeated.”
“At least it was something nice you said and not something bad.”
“But I would never say anything bad about you, Selene. You know that.”
Blanche came into the kitchen, packed and ready to go. She had armed herself in mage robes and a hood, but her boots and gloves were dragonscale, and she had strapped a bow to her back. The bow was unusual, vaguely elven in style but white-gold in color and carved in smooth curves. She also brought two quivers of elven arrows, also bleached white. Her apparel and weapon were a stark contrast to the basic black of Selene’s Nightingale armor and bow, the only real break in Selene’s all-black theme being her quiver of arrows, which were made of dragon bone.
Farkas got up and wrapped his arms around Blanche, kissing her softly and whispering in her ear. Blanche seemed uncomfortable with the overt display of affection, but she didn’t protest, and she took a moment to stroke his cheek. She kissed her children goodbye, was smothered in hugs from everyone, and after Farkas gave Selene a bear hug, they left the house.
“I’m glad you don’t mind traveling at night,” Selene said as they strolled through the streets of Windhelm. “The sun disappearing is bad for everyone, but I have to admit I’m more comfortable in the dark.”
“That makes two of us. I’d rather stay inside than hunt during the day. I don’t know about you, but I always feel exposed in daylight.”
They reached Windhelm’s stables just before sunset, where Selene borrowed a chestnut colt named Brann. She gaped in awe at Blanche’s horse—a black mare with eyes that gave off a spooky red light. The mare peered at Selene, sizing her up. Selene offered a hand, and after a moment the horse decided she approved and pressed her nose against her palm.
“Your horse is fantastic. And unusual, to say the least. Where did you come by her?”
“Oh, she was a perk from an old guild I was in,” the Redguard replied casually as she rubbed her hands along the horse’s shoulders. “I could ask the same of your armor. Very . . . nightly. It’s no wonder you like being in the dark. Your body would be nearly invisible if it weren’t for your face.”
“Oh, I have a hood for that part. I just never wear it unless I’m actively trying to hide.” She mounted Brann and settled in as Blanche did the same. “This is the armor of the order I’m a part of. It’s not exactly a religious order, but it’s essentially the same concept. We have a mission to fulfill, a temple we’re sworn to protect. Unfortunately, I can’t say anything more than that; we’re sworn to secrecy. . . .” She changed the subject. “So tell me about your bow and arrows.”
“They’re elven make, for one, but you probably knew that.” Blanche touched the quiver on her hip. “These arrows are blessed; they cause sun damage, which is about the same as being touched with a hot coal.”
“The ones on my back are poisoned. The bow itself is very old, carried in the past by some elven figurehead. It’s one of my favorites. Your bow isn’t so commonplace either, is it? Is that a fire enchantment?”
“Aye, it is. Fire is my specialty, I guess, although my sword does shock damage—well, that and extra damage to dragons if I ever fight them up close. I also have two daggers hidden in my boot, one with fire and one with shock. The bow was actually a gift from a dear friend. It’s also very old, but I’m not sure how old. It has served me well.”
A twinge of—was that fear?—crossed Blanche’s scent, but it cooled quickly. “Why fire? Is it a reference to dragons, or . . . ?”
“I once read a story about a man who fashioned his armor in the semblance of a bat because bats frightened him. He basically became the object of his fear, and it made him more intimidating. Fire scares the oblivion out of me. I’ve been burned more times than I can count, and most of my left shoulder is pretty much melted. Brynjolf has been burned pretty badly, too. I guess I use it for the same reason—plus, it’s effective against almost any enemy.”
“That’s true. Still, I—” She broke off, suddenly more alert and drawing her horse up short. “Wait.” After a long pause, she murmured, “We’re being followed.”