The Companions eyed Iriella keenly, she certainly looked the part alright. She had donned her best armour, a set she had crafted herself out of various different hides and a few thin plates of iron to protect her arms, legs and chest. Her hooded cloak with fur lining gave way every now and again to the sight of various daggers and other weapons she kept about her person, including her beautiful sword. Her hair had grown somewhat and now hung mostly down her back, apart from the section from the top that she had tied away from her face with a leather band. Skjor held out his hand and she shook it, eyeing him nervously. He placed a hand on her shoulder and looked at her with his one good eye.
“I’m sorry,” he said softly, and she withdrew her hand and drew herself up to her full height. She was quite tall for a woman, and most found her an imposing figure. Skjor was not intimated by her in the slightest, he removed his hand from her shoulder.
“I know.” he replied and motioned toward the hall where the others were watching this little exchange with interest. It was very rare to see someone square up to Skjor. This woman must be very brave, or uninformed. “You are welcome here, Iriella of Windhelm, you are among friends,” he continued, and she followed him into the hall.
The babble of noise had started up again quietly, she looked around and caught sight of the man who looked like Vilkas, he nodded and raised his tankard in her direction. She returned the nod and looked back to Skjor.
“Come.” he said, “The Harbinger will be wanting to meet you, he’s been expecting your arrival.”
“How?” She asked incredulously.
“Beats me.” he replied, and he led her over to the far end of the hall, toward a set of stairs leading down to the lower level. There was a large array of weapons on the wall, and an empty mounting block that looked like it should house a weapon of considerable size.
“Wuuthrad.” Skjor said, without looking back at her as he descended the heavy wooden stairs.
“So, the stories were true.” she murmured, her father had told her great tales of the mighty axe wielded by Ysgramor himself, forged from his own tears of ebony. The blade was said to be missing, shattered in the Second Era, when a necromancer tried to steal it. Taking a lingering look at empty block she followed Skjor down the stairs. Through a heavy wooden door was a long, wide, tunnel-like corridor made of stone, with what looked like various sleeping quarters off either side of it. Rugs and tapestries hung on the walls and a large table was stationed on the right just as they entered. A Dunmer sat at the table drinking a mug of ale, he nodded to Skjor and looked Iriella up and down, as if surprised to see a newcomer in what was clearly the living area of the famous mead hall.
Faint voices could be heard from the end of the corridor, and in the dim light Iriella’s sharp eyes picked out two men sitting at a table together in the far-right hand corner.
“But I still hear the call of the hunt.” She recognised Vilkas’ voice and felt her shoulders tense. Another, older voice that she did not recognise replied.
“We all do. It is our burden to bear, but we can overcome.”
“You have my brother and I, obviously but I don’t know if the rest…” Vilkas tailed off as Skjor and Iriella approached.
“New blood.” Stated Skjor, and stepped aside to reveal Iriella, with a pointed look at Vilkas, he left her standing in front of him and an older man before retreating into one of the nearby rooms. The older man looked at her with a faint eye of recognition, Iriella did not recall ever seeing him before. He was an aging Nord with long grey hair, kept out of his face by two thin braids. He had a full grey beard, and a deep red symbol on the right-hand side of his face below his eye, which looked like some sort of warpaint. His eyes were piercing blue, much like Iriella’s own, they softened as he appraised her. Eventually he spoke;
“I see we have a new shield-Sister,” he began, his voice was clear and modulated. “That is why you have come, is it not?” Iriella took a deep breath before replying rather a little flatly,
“It is.” she remained standing square, with her hand resting on the hilt of her sword. Vilkas scoffed quietly, and the older man looked at him sharply before turning back to Iriella.
“Here, let me have a look at you,” He rose slowly, and she took a step back. She was a little in awe of this wizened warrior, what was it Skjor had called him? The Harbinger? He peered at her, and finally he smiled. “Yes, I think so, a certain strength of spirit I feel.” his voice was filled with warmth, and Iriella relaxed for a moment or two.
“Master! You cannot seriously be considering accepting her!” Vilkas spluttered and was immediately silenced when the grey-haired man raised a gnarled hand.
“I am no one’s master, Vilkas.”
“Apologies, Kodlak,” Vilkas looked contrite but his tone held underlying mirth, “No one knows her, I’ve seen her in Riverwood a few times but-”
“Why should that matter?” interrupted Kodlak, his voice a little louder, and more commanding this time. “Sometimes the famous, they come to us,” he paused and looked back to Iriella who was trying to keep her temper in check. She really did not like this Vilkas at all. “Some come to us to seek their fame,” the old man continued, “It really makes little difference, the only thing that matters is what’s in their heart.” He smiled warmly at her once again.
“And in their arm.” Scoffed Vilkas quietly.
“Last I checked there were empty beds in Jorrvaskr for those with a fire burning in their hearts,” Kodlak said, scolding Vilkas who set his mouth in a mulish line and folded his arms across his chest. The old man turned back to Iriella “How are you in battle, girl?” he asked, eying the hilt of her sword.
“I can handle myself.” she responded, feeling her anger bubbling up in her chest again. The ageing harbinger laughed heartily.
“Is that so?” She nodded and mirrored Vilkas, folding her arms defiantly. “Very well, Vilkas will test that mettle,” he turned to Vilkas who was looking at him in surprise “Well, go on, out to the yard, see how strong her arm is!” Vilkas rose, resigned.
“Come on then. Let’s see what you can do, He made his way up the corridor and turned back, “Well? Are you coming? Surely you’re not going to miss out on an opportunity to take a swing at me.” he gave her a wicked grin and sauntered off. Seething, she followed him.
He led her up the staircase beneath the missing axe, and out the heavy oak doors to the back of Jorrvaskr, into a yard surrounded by a stone wall. There was a seating area under a large wooden roof, held up by thick, ornately carved, wooden pillars. Some training mannequins were lined up against the wall. He walked out into the courtyard and drew his sword. Iriella dropped her backpack and removed her cloak, before deliberately unsheathing her wolf sword.
“Alright, the old man said to have a look at you, so why don’t you take a few swings at me, so I can see your form. If you have any.” he sneered at her resting himself easily into a defensive stance.
“I wouldn’t want to hurt you, Milk-Drinker.” she sneered back and stalked toward him with her sword raised up at eye level, pointing it towards him, just like her father had shown her many years before.
“Hah!” Vilkas scoffed, “I’m pretty sure I can take whatever you throw at me!” Anger swelled in her chest and she lunged gracefully at him, whirling around and changing direction at the last second, knocking him off balance. He regained his footing almost instantaneously and raised his sword to match hers, stepping lightly to the side as they circled each other. “Not bad.” he grimaced and parried her next attack smartly. She lunged at him again and again, never quite manging to catch him, everywhere her sword fell, his was there waiting to meet it. The clanging of metal rang out in the courtyard, attracting the interest of one or two of the other Companions, who had come outside to observe. Among them was the big dark haired nord, who had nodded to her upon her arrival, he stood with his arms folded, watching the two of them impassively.
They fought for some time, Iriella becoming angrier and angrier with each swing, determined to make this sneering Nord pay for his comments. She struck again and again with renewed fury at each parry. Breathing heavily, she raised her sword up again after another failed attempt, a lot of her hair had escaped its band and she looked more feral than usual, Vilkas was infuriatingly unruffled. He suddenly stood upright and laughed, she relaxed her stance a little but kept her sword raised.
“You’ve got fairly decent form; you may make it yet.” He chuckled and turned to leave. Anger exploded inside her and she launched herself at him once more, yelling as she did so, quick as lightening Vilkas parried the blow and then knocked her off her feet, she fell backwards landing hard on the stone. Sprawled on the floor she reached out for her sword, which had clattered noisily to the ground beside her. Vilkas put a large booted foot on her wrist and she looked up at him angrily.
“The old man was right; you do have the fire in you,” he leaned over her before removing his foot and picking up her sword. “This is a magnificent piece.” he said, holding it up to inspect the wolf-head hilt. “It’s elegant, dangerous…two things you are clearly not familiar with.” He turned toward her still lying on the floor; before she could protest, he leaned down and grabbed her hand, hauling her to her feet as if she weighed nothing more than a feather. “You may have a beautiful instrument, and you may have some form,” he said, his eyes darkening. “But you’re still a welp and for now, you’ll do as we tell you, new blood.” He removed his scabbard containing his sword and handed it and her own sword to her. “Make yourself useful and take this up to Eorlund to be sharpened.” She looked at him in disbelief as he turned to walk back inside. “Be careful with it!” he called back without looking, “it’s probably worth more than you are!” The door slammed behind him.
“Don’t mind Vilkas,” the big black haired nord said quietly from where he had been watching “Eorlund is up at the Skyforge, it’s just-”
“I know where it is.” she cut in rather rudely and the big man held up his hands in defence.
“Hey, I was only trying to help.” he said kindly before retreating into the hall. Iriella fumed as she re-sheathed her sword and pulled on her cloak. Had she made a mistake coming here? She didn’t feel like she was among friends at all, for a moment, she missed Riverwood. Alvor and his kindly forthright ways; Faendal, besotted with Camilla and ever looking to see the good in anyone. Her face fell and she felt tears brimming in her eyes. No, this was the only way she was going to get the help she needed, she would have to stick at it. Though one more beating like that from Vilkas’ would probably land her in trouble. He was a lot stronger than she had foreseen, he could really have hurt her, maybe even killed her if he had wished. She gathered up her hair and replaced the leather band before strapping her pack back over her arms. Picking up Vilkas sword she groaned under its weight, how anyone used heavy weapons was beyond her, they were so cumbersome and needlessly long.
She made her way up the path to the right of the hall, toward the steps leading up to the Skyforge. The familiar sound of rhythmic clinking as metal struck metal could be heard once she reached the bottom. Taking a deep breath, she ascended and arrived at the forge to find the great blacksmith hammering a piece of metal on the anvil. She cleared her throat to signal her arrival and he stopped and turned to look at her.
“Well well, what brings you here?”
“Vilkas sent me,” she held out the sword “with this.”
“I see, so you’re the newcomer. I wondered when you would be back” He took the sword and put it down next to the grinder and picked up a piece of rag which he used to mop his brow. “Something on your mind, Iriella?”
“No…yes.” she shuffled agitatedly. She liked this old blacksmith, he reminded her of her father and as such she felt able to unburden herself. “Is that going to be my job now? Running errands?” The big man twinkled at her
“Oh, don’t you worry, they were all whelps once, even Vilkas. Though he may not like to talk about that too much.” He fondly remembered Vilkas as a young boy, coming up to the forge with Kodlak’s own sword for sharpening and he smiled kindly at Iriella. “Don’t always feel the need to do as you’re told, no one rules anyone in the Companions.”
“No one? But I thought Kodlak…”
“There have been no leaders here since the days of Ysgramor, Kodlak is an advisor for the guild but each and every man or woman is his or her own.”
“When did you join the Companions?” Iriella sat on a nearby low wall and Eorlund put down the rag and picked up his hammer.
“Me? I’m not actually a Companion myself,” he scratched the back of his neck with his free hand and grinned “none of them knows how to work a forge, it’s been my honour to serve them for many years. This here is the Skyforge,” he gestured toward the mighty fire pit before him “Best steel in all of Skyrim, in all of Tamriel comes out of this forge right here.” he said proudly.
Iriella stood to leave, though she wasn’t quite sure where she would need to go.
“I have a favour to ask of you.” Eorlund said as he retrieved a large shield from a holder on the wall.
“Didn’t you just tell me not to do as I’m told?” Iriella asked with a sly grin.
“This isn’t a command, call it a courtesy helping out an old blacksmith if you like,” he smiled back at her, handing her the shield. “I’ve been working on this for Aela, my wife is in mourning and I need to get back to her, if I go into that mead hall they’ll keep me talking for hours and I need to be getting home, I’d be very much obliged if you would take it to her for me.” Iriella took the shield and nodded before asking;
“Which one is Aela?” The old man laughed.
“I forget you’re not familiar with them all, but don’t worry, you will be. Aela is the nord with red hair like yours, wears blue warpaint on her face.” Iriella remembered seeing her some weeks back at the Pelagia farm where the giant had attacked.
“I’ll take it, thank you, Eorlund.” She started to make her way down the stone steps when he spoke again,
“I’m sorry about your pup.” she turned back to face him; how did he know? She nodded graciously and remained silent. “Be careful of vengeance, young Iriella,” the blacksmith warned. “It gives us drive, but not always in the right direction.” He turned back to the forge, Iriella slipped quietly down the steps wondering what he had meant.
Iriella made her way back into Jorrvaskr puzzling over Eorlund’s warning. She was greeted by a pretty, dark haired woman, Imperial by the look of her, she thought.
“You’re new?” she gushed, a little too enthusiastically for Iriella’s liking.
“Yes.” she replied, then not wanting to be rude she added, “How long have you been in the Companions?”
“Me? Oh, I’ve only just joined, I mean, it’s been a few weeks but I’m learning the ropes. It’s so nice to have someone else new to talk to!” She smiled brightly and extended a rather slender looking hand, which Iriella politely shook, noting that her own hand was much bigger by comparison. “I’m Ria,” she continued to beam.
“You’re a Nord? You look so similar to Aela, is that her shield?” So many questions, Iriella really was not used to people being this friendly. Oh well, she would have to just get used to it!
“Yes, I’m a Nord, and yes, this is Aela’s shield,” she saw an opening to leave. “I had better return it to her.”
“Of course, of course! Don’t let me get in the way,” Ria stepped aside and put a hand on Iriella’s shoulder “So lovely to meet you, maybe we can talk together soon? Properly?” Iriella, not knowing what to do agreed that would be pleasant. Not seeing Aela in the main hall she presumed she would be downstairs and made her way into the living quarters.
She wandered down the large corridor, Kodlak was no longer seated at the table and the Dunmer had left the table near the door. Her sharp ears heard the sound of voices in one of the rooms further down, so she stopped outside to listen for a moment. Recognising Aela’s voice from the farm she stepped into the room. Aela and Skjor both turned to her and she suddenly felt very nervous.
“I hope I’m not interrupting,” she said as coolly as she could manage. “I’ve brought this down from Eorlund for you.” Aela reached out and took the shield, swinging it around onto her back in a swift and practiced movement. As she fastened the strap across her chest, she kept her eyes fixed on Iriella.
“Thanks, I’ve been waiting for this.” her voice was a little higher pitched than Iriella’s, they really were very similar in appearance, though Iriella was a lot thicker set, and her hair wasn’t nearly as well kept. Aela looked as though she could handle herself well enough, but she was a lot more ‘feminine’ looking. “Wait…you’re the one from the farm, with the giant?” Iriella nodded politely and Aela chuckled softly “So, the old man thinks you have some heart. Good. It will be nice to have a shield-sister to hunt with.” she gave Iriella a wink.
“You know her?” Skjor raised an eyebrow
“Not yet, this is the nord that killed the giant.” Skjor gave way to a low whistle.
“Giant killer? How did your training with Vilkas go?” Iriella felt her cheeks pink, of course he would have told them all what a thrashing he gave her.
“I heard you gave him quite the run for his money,” Aela chimed in briskly “not may whelps last more than a minute or two against Vilkas, I hear you fought him for at least twenty!”
“I wouldn’t let Vilkas hear you say that,” Skjor grinned “He’s still smarting from it, he’s not used to anyone being able to go toe to toe with him for that long. Especially not an untrained whelp.” Untrained whelp indeed! Iriella felt that familiar bubble of temper but seeing the glint in Skjor’s one good eye she realised he was teasing, and she allowed herself to grin at him.
“How do you think you would fair against him in a real fight?” Aela asked suddenly. Iriella’s grin vanished as quickly as it had appeared.
“I uh, don’t really care for boasting.” she said quietly, this was fairly true, Iriella knew she could handle herself well enough but in light of recent events she did not feel like she had much to boast about. Her father had always told her never to let her guard down. In her mind’s eye she saw herself sat on the floor beside the fire. Rune as a puppy, curled up next to her snoring softly. Her mother was singing to herself in the kitchen; Her father sat in his chair with his pipe, “It’s easier to be beaten when people know your weaknesses, Iriella. Even more so if they know your strengths, because they will learn to work around them.” His voice rang around her head, she was pulled from her reverie by Aela speaking once again;
“Ah, a woman who lets her actions speak for her,” Aela grinned clapping Iriella on the back; “It’s good to have you as one of the family, you must be tired and hungry. We’ll get Farkas in here, he can show you where to sleep.”
“Farkas?” Skjor raised his voice and called towards the door. “Farkas? Are you there?” Presently the thick set nord appeared in the doorway, he almost filled it with his large frame.
“Did you call me?” His voice was calm and husky, it reminded Iriella of Alvor, and she felt a pang of homesickness.
“Yes, ice brain,” Aela said good naturedly, “Show the new blood where to rest her head.”
“New blood?” Farkas raised a paw like hand and scratched his head as if thinking very hard. “Oh, I remember you, from Pelagia, knew I’d seen you somewhere before. I’m Farkas,” she shook his hand and he turned away, motioning for her to follow him. “Come on, I’ll show you where the whelps sleeping quarters are.”
Iriella followed Farkas back up the corridor, and off into one of the side rooms. There were several beds, each with a chest at the foot of it; some small tables and cupboards lined the walls and there were some shelves containing books and various ornaments.
“Skjor and Aela do like to tease me,” Farkas said lazily “but they’re good people, we’re always challenged to be our best here.” Iriella liked Farkas, he seemed like a gentle giant. All the same she wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of him! “Pick a bed that doesn’t have anyone’s gear by it and fall in when you’re tired. Have you eaten?” Iriella shook her head, she supposed it was quite late, she realised for the first time in some hours that she was hungry. “There’s food upstairs in the hall, just make sure you contribute whenever you can. Tilma will keep the place clean, she also cooks so just drop any spoils from hunting in the kitchen and it will be appreciated.”
“No problem, nice to see a new face around here, I hope you stay, this life… it can be rough.” He looked as though he were lost in thought for a moment before rousing himself “Anyway, just drop your gear off and come up to the hall, the others will be eager to meet you properly I’m sure.” Iriella removed her cloak and Farkas eyed her wolf sword. “That’s a beautiful weapon, can I see it?” She removed the scabbard and handed it to him, he took it and held it up admiring it.
“It was a gift, from a friend.” she said quietly as he peered at the exquisite craftsmanship.
“You can make friends then.” he murmured with a sly smile.
“What do you mean by that?” she asked a little sharply, he handed her back the sword and grinned
“Don’t be angry, I was only joking. I’ll see you up in the hall, welcome to the Companions.” She nodded to him and he turned to leave. As he reached the doorway, he turned back towards her “Oh, before I forget, come to Aela or me when you’re settled if you’re looking for work. You’ll need to make a name for yourself, once you have done a few menial jobs for us either Skjor or my brother Vilkas might have something for you.” He left the room and she was alone. So that’s why they looked so similar, they were brothers. It seemed an odd match, Farkas seemed as stoic and kind as Vilkas was rude and impatient. She hoped fervently that she did not have to deal with Vilkas too much over the coming weeks. The man had a knack for making her lose her temper and it would not do to cause a fracas here. She turned her thoughts towards food and started to put her belongings into the chest and cupboard next to the bed.