Wearing her lighter, softer leather armour, Iriella made her way up to the hall, a great babble of hearty chatter and someone strumming a lute could be heard as she ascended the stairs. The hall was full, she felt suddenly insignificant, no one noticed her arrive. She sat at the corner of the long ‘U’ shaped table and picked up a piece of bread and some chicken from a platter in the middle. Iriella thought she would never fit in here; she had gone so long without any family apart from Rune she just didn’t know how to interact with people who were already so tight knit. She’d lived in Riverwood for some years before she was finally accepted as one of their own, and that was partly because of Rune; and now he was gone. She had never felt so alone but she knew what she needed to do. Hate it as she may, this was the only way she would get to enact her vengeance on the Silver Hand.
She jumped suddenly as someone slapped a septim down on the heavy table next to her, she looked up to see Vilkas.
“For your thoughts.” he motioned to the septim. She looked at him puzzled, and he chuckled. “You’ve never heard of that saying?” She shook her head and remained silent. “It matters not.” he swung his leg over the bench and sat next to her. He slid a tankard of ale towards her. “Drink up.” he motioned to the tankard and took a swig of his own drink. “Unless you’d prefer some milk.” he grinned wolfishly at her and she glared at him as she picked up the ale. Draining it in one go she set it down on the table in front of him and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand in a most un-ladylike manner. Vilkas stood up and grinned again. “You do have a stout heart, Red.” and he actually tugged on one of Iriella’s wayward locks of hair before sauntering off towards Skjor! Farkas put a hand on his brothers’ shoulder, momentarily stopping him in his tracks, before they continued to walk together.
“You might try easing up on her.” he said, when they were further across the room.
“Pah, these new bloods,” scoffed Vilkas. “They start at the bottom, just like we had to. She’s got a temper and a half that one, she will need to keep it in check if she wants to get on here.”
“All the same, Vilkas, there’s no need to antagonise people so.” Farkas said gently.
“Ever the diplomat, my brother.” Vilkas clapped his hand on Farkas’ shoulder and they continued towards Skjor. “I know you worry about people’s feelings, but that woman has none I tell you. I’ve seen it in her eyes, she may be a fiery red head on the outside but inside she’s cold.”
“People are only cold inside when they’ve been turned on by life or circumstance.” Farkas replied, and as they got further away their voices were lost in the chatter. Iriella sat quite still, her shoulders tense. Where most people would have been out of earshot, she was not. Iriella had abnormally sharp hearing, as well as eyesight, and she had heard every word.
She finished her meal in silence, no one approached her, not even Ria. She began to feel very homesick, she wondered what everyone was up to in Riverwood. She imagined most of them would be sat in the sleeping giant, finishing mugs of ale and talking about their own quaint little comings and goings. Not sat around sneering at women, assuming they are cold hearted just because they weren’t throwing themselves about the place such as the likes of someone like Carlotta. She surveyed the room. Ria was talking to two men she didn’t know, another nord woman was chatting with an elderly woman, this must be the cook that Farkas mentioned. Farkas, Skjor and Vilkas occupied a table and the Dunmer she had seen before was playing a lute in the corner of the room. A rather drunk looking Nord was talking with the only other person she recognised, Vignar Grey-mane. An aging Nord who was well dressed and always accompanied by his manservant, who was sitting down next to them reading a book and smoking from a long-stemmed pipe. Kodlak, was nowhere to be seen, though she supposed he didn’t frequent the hall all too much. Her thoughts lingered on him, he looked as though he had recognised her when he had laid eyes on her for the first time. She racked her brain trying to think if she had seen him somewhere before but could not find any memory of him.
Presently, the rear door leading out to the courtyard opened and Aela entered carrying a deer over her shoulder. For her size she must have been pretty strong to lug that thing back from wherever she had caught it Iriella thought to herself as she finished her ale. Skjor came forward and took the beast from Aela, the two gave each other a knowing look and he left, presumably in the direction of the kitchen. Aela greeted Farkas and Vilkas and collected two mugs of Ale from one of the barrels along the side of the room. She crossed the room towards Iriella, her gait was almost a prowl, like Rune used to, thought Iriella.
“Mind If I join you?” She asked as she took a seat on the bench next to Iriella, sliding her a mug of ale in a similar fashion to Vilkas. Iriella was about to reply that the question was rather pointless as she was sitting down anyway without waiting for an answer, but she held her tongue. She wasn’t in the sleeping giant anymore, this wasn’t Faendal asking one of his rhetorical questions. Besides, she liked Aela, there seemed to be no nonsense with her, what you saw was what you got. Of course, she was bound to have secrets, who didn’t? Iriella managed a smile and shuffled over a little on the bench.
“Here’s to a new shield-sister.” Aela raised her mug and Iriella mirrored her.
They sat in silence for a little while, Iriella sensed there was something the other woman wanted to say.
“You can just ask.” she said eventually with a wane smile. Aela took a swig of her ale and turned toward her.
“You’ve lost your companion, haven’t you?”
“Well, you don’t beat around the bush.” Iriella muttered. Resigned, she turned toward Aela, she knew she would have had to talk about it soon, at least it was with Aela and not someone like Vilkas.
“Never was one to coat my words with honey.” Aela smiled grimly.
“A woman after my own heart,” Iriella took a swig of ale before continuing, “Yes, he’s gone.” Aela leaned forward and put her hand on Iriella’s shoulder.
“I’m sorry my friend, my heart, it does hurt for you so.” she murmured softly.
“Mine hurts too.” Iriella admitted quietly. Bloody hell she couldn’t cry, not here!
“Time comes for us all.” Aela said sadly.
“You lost someone?”
“You don’t miss much do you?” Aela smiled. It was true, Iriella spent much more time watching and listening than she did talking. Aela pushed a stray strand of hair away from her face and lowered her voice. “My mother, she was a companion too. All the women in my family have been, right back on the family tree as far as Hrotti Blackblade. I spent most of my time hunting in the woods with my Pa when I was younger, you know, getting ready for my trial,” She took another swig of her ale and looked a little mournful. “Anyway, one day I came to the hall and there had been a bandit raid. She gave as good as she got but they took her and two others down. They died with honour, but she didn’t get to see me pass my trial. She’d have been so proud.” She gave way to a heavy sigh and finished her drink. “So that’s it, been hunting and fighting alongside my shield brothers and sisters ever since.”
“And your father?”
“Oh, he lived to a fair old age, unfortunately he disturbed a bear when he was hunting a deer. He made it back, but the wounds were too bad, he died a few days later.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.” Iriella did her best to sound less hollow than she normally did.
“It is the way of life, I have more than enough family here. Vilkas, Farkas, the old man, Skjor…” Her voice carried much more warmth at the mention of Skjor’s name.
“You two are…?”
“By Sithis there really is nothing to be kept from you is there!” Both women laughed and finished their drinks.
“Another?” Iriella found herself asking
“Why not?” Aela handed her the mug and pointed her in the direction of the barrels. “Go for the one on the right, that’s mead, much nicer than this stuff.” she made a face and Iriella grinned as she went to get them some more drinks.
They sat and talked for some time, regaling each other with tales of hunts and bandits. Aela listened with great interest as Iriella told her about the time she’d spent in the Rift working for Maven Black-Briar. It was long past midnight, most of the other Companions had turned in, save for Vilkas, Skjor, Farkas and the two women. Presently Skjor got up from his chair and crossed the room over to them. He nodded to them both and looked enquiringly at Aela.
“I’m going out.” he said, matter-of-factly. Aela nodded with a smile and turned to Iriella.
“I will go with him; did you find a bed to sleep in?” Iriella nodded.
“Do you need help?” she asked, knowing full well the answer would be no, but deciding to offer anyway.
“We’ll be fine.” Aela replied with a wink.
“You’re sure? At this hour?” Aela started to say something then stopped, she looked up at Skjor who was fastening a gauntlet. He gave her a wary look and shook his head, before walking over to where he had hung his cloak.
“I can’t explain. Not yet. Aela hissed quietly, never taking her eyes of Skjor. Iriella nodded and the two of them rose from the bench. Vilkas and Farkas were making their way towards the stairs.
“Take care Aela.” he nodded to her and she returned the gesture. “You’re not taking Red with you, are you?” he chuckled and ambled off downstairs.
“Red?” Aela looked puzzled.
“I think it’s the hair.” muttered Iriella, remembering her earlier ire at him tugging on one of her wayward locks. She hoped that wasn’t a nickname that would stick. Aela laughed heartily.
“Already making a name for yourself,” she grinned and put her fist to her chest, before bowing her head. “Good night, Red.” she laughed, and walked over to join Skjor.
Iriella chuckled in spite of herself and made her way down the stairs behind Farkas. Iriella turned off towards the newer members sleeping quarters and Farkas turned and bid her a good night before making his way down the corridor. The higher-ranking members of the Companions such as himself, Vilkas, Aela and Skjor had their own private quarters. His room was adjacent to Vilkas’ and he could already hear him snoring softly through the door. As he readied himself for sleep his thoughts turned to the newcomer.
He did not know what to make of Iriella at all. Vilkas had made his thoughts on the girl perfectly clear, he thought she was all fire on the outside but nothing underneath. Farkas was inclined to think differently, having watched her interacting with the others it was true she did not show much emotion. He thought that was more likely because she kept her feelings under lock and key, as opposed to not having any. At any rate, it would be interesting to see how she developed, he liked having new blood to bring on. Of the higher-ranking members he was usually the one to spend time with the new ones, coaching them, taking them out hunting or on jobs and just generally providing support. Not that the others didn’t, but he felt that of late, the other three seemed to have less time for the newcomers – what little of them there had been and spent more time out hunting, especially at night. He could go with them “but I like my bed too much.” he chuckled out loud to himself as he lay down and closed his eyes.
Iriella was in her own bed, wide awake. Was this plan of hers going to work? She thought about her talk with Aela, the two of them were similar in so many ways, not just in appearance. What secret was she hiding? Not the relationship with Skjor, something else, something darker. Iriella got the sense that they weren’t going out at night to hunt to spend some time together, they were up to something alright. That would have to wait. She needed to get to the Silver Hand. What was it Skjor had said? “let’s just say we’re not the best of friends.” Surely if there was a long-standing rivalry between the two that was her best option? For a short time, she had considered joining the Silver Hand, to try and take them apart from the inside, but she’d quickly vetoed that idea as foolish. Not that this idea was much better, but it was definitely the safer option. She would be more than likely to just get killed if she had tried to join them, the only way they would want her now is with her head on a pike. She shivered at the thought, and then felt a moment of sadness. Was that Rune’s fate? Eventually she fell asleep. She awoke a few hours later thinking someone was sat on her bed, but there was no one there, weary from nightmares of Rune and bandits, she fell asleep once more. The ghost wolf settled on the end of her bed, keeping watch over her as she slept.