Weeks passed, Iriella settled into life in the Companions as much as she could. She still ate mostly alone, did her jobs alone, and spent most of her free time either by herself or on occasion with Tilma, helping her out with her chores or just keeping her company. She liked the old woman; she was talkative without being intrusive and she genuinely cared about all the Companions. She had been very grateful for the gift Iriella had left in the kitchen for her. It had been some hours before she had returned to the room and discovered the box with her name on. Looking around curiously she had opened it, to discover it was full of cocoa beans. She had known immediately who had left it there and had made sure to thank Iriella when she had returned later that afternoon. Iriella had refused any payment and told her it was a gift and would hear no more of it.
One morning she was sat in the hall listening to Tilma telling her about growing vegetables as she was peeling carrots. Iriella was oiling the leather straps she used to carry things like scabbards and other belongings as the old woman talked. Aela came up the stairs and made a beeline for Iriella.
“Ah, there you are.” Iriella looked up expectantly, assuming Aela had another job for her to do. She’d become quite a reliable individual when it came to roughing up people that the Companions had been hired to remind that immoral behaviour was not tolerated.
“Who needs sorting out this time?” She grinned, Aela smiled back at her.
“Skjor wants to see you, you’d better get to him, I wouldn’t keep him waiting.”
“Skjor has work for me?” Aela nodded. This was new, Iriella only ever got her jobs from Farkas or Aela. She could probably have gotten some from Vilkas too, but she avoided him as much as possible. Skjor only gave out jobs once you were ready to take your trial or after you had passed it; this was of course, according to Ria, who had not yet been selected to take her trial, but had done so much research into being a Companion she was a fountain of information about the guild.
“I’ll um, go see what he wants then.” Iriella hung the strap she had been oiling over the back of her chair.
“I’ll watch them for you and put them in your quarters when they are dry” Tilma said kindly, seeing Iriella’s dubious look at the thought of leaving her things out for someone to take. She smiled at the old woman graciously. Aela laid a hand on her shoulder.
“Good luck.” She murmured sincerely. Iriella wondered what she was letting herself in for as she made her way down to Skjor’s quarters.
The door was shut, so she knocked.
“Come in.” Skjor’s voice was clear and commanding.
“You wanted to see me?” She asked him, wondering why her heart was beating a little faster than usual. Had she begun to care about this trial?
“Ah, Iriella. I did, it seems your time has come.” He motioned for her to sit in one of the wooden chairs at the little table. Sitting down opposite her he leaned forwards with his hands folded in front of him. His good eye boring into hers. Feeling a little uncomfortable she mirrored his actions, though not leaning quite so far forward herself. “How much do you know about Wuuthrad?” He asked, surprising her.
“Well, I know of the legend, as much as anyone else I suppose.” She responded truthfully.
“Then you’ll know the axe is in pieces.”
“And you’ll know that the honour of the Companions demands we try to locate these pieces.”
“I assumed that much.” She replied. Skjor sat back in his chair.
“Last week, a scholar came here. He claimed he knew where a piece of Wuuthrad can be found. Now he seemed a bit of a fool to me but…”
“We will need to see if it’s true.” Iriella guessed correctly. Skjor nodded.
“There’s a place northwest of here called Dustman’s Cairn; some old Nordic barrow I believe.”
“I’d be honoured to go find it.” Iriella said, almost surprising herself. Skjor’s eyes widened a little.
“There’s a fine line between licking my boots and respect, Iriella.” Her face darkened and he grinned at her. “Do well, however, and you’ll be counted among the Companions. This is your trial.” She nodded and rose to leave. “Farkas will be your shield sibling for this so go find him and let him know if you have any questions. Oh, and try not to get him killed.” He added with a wry smile.
“I shall return him to you in one piece, I give you my word.” Iriella grinned back before leaving the room in search of Farkas, feeling glad it was not Vilkas who had been assigned to be her companion.
She found him outside the back of Jorrvaskr sat with Vilkas at one of the heavy wooden tables. Both men looked up at her, Vilkas gave a lazy smile and got up.
“Watch my brother’s back, Red.” He clapped Farkas on the shoulder and sauntered back inside before Iriella could reply. She glared at the door after he had disappeared and then turned back to Farkas.
“Don’t let him get under your skin.” He said kindly, “He’ll come around, he just doesn’t take to new blood all that well.” Iriella snorted and Farkas laughed. “Anyways, I guess you’ve been to see Skjor?”
“I have, and I am to accompany you to Dustman’s Cairn.”
“Accompany me? I think it’s me who is accompanying you, this is your trial.” Iriella felt exasperated,
“If this is my trial then why do I need anyone to come with me?” Farkas grinned and rose,
“Because I need to see how honourable you are.”
“To report back to Skjor?” Farkas nodded and started putting his gauntlets on to cover his thick forearms.
“Go get yourself ready, we will leave within the hour. Bring everything you need for a fight.” Iriella nodded and went down to her quarters to change.
As she was tightening the thick leather strap of her scabbard there was a knock at the door. Aela appeared smiling warmly.
“I just wanted to wish you luck.”
“Thanks.” Iriella didn’t really know what else to say.
“You’ll be fine, just follow Farkas’ lead and watch his back, you’re bound to run into some sort of trouble.”
“Wouldn’t want it to be too easy, now would we?” Iriella grinned and pulled on her cloak. Aela laughed heartily and clapped Iriella on the shoulder.
“You will do great, you’ve the heart of a bear, and I know you’ll do your boy proud.” She raised her fist to her chest and bowed her head. “Fight well, or die well.” She left the room and Iriella stood alone once more. She checked she had all the weapons she would need; she’d opted for her sword and two short handled axes that sat on her back. They were not a matching pair, one had been given to her by Alvor, and the other had been her father’s. She stood for a moment in silence,
“This is for you, Rune.” She murmured softly and stood for with her head bowed. Finally, she took a deep breath and pulled her bright red locks back away from her face and secured them with a leather band. She was ready.
Iriella made her way up to the hall. Farkas was stood talking to Skjor, they turned and appraised her.
“You’ll do.” Skjor gave a small smile and motioned for them to leave. “Fight well.” He saluted them as they moved toward the door. Farkas pulled open the door, Iriella felt a hand on her elbow. She turned to see Tilma, she was holding out a small brown cloth bag.
“I know you haven’t packed any food in with all that weaponry.” She smiled at Iriella and shoved the back into her hands. “Something for the road.”
“Thank you, Tilma.” Iriella bowed her head and they left Jorrvaskr.
Making their way out of the city they headed West. Iriella had seen little of the Western side of Skyrim, having spent most of her time in the North East. She’d been in the Rift in the South East for a while but had never really ventured past Whiterun.
“How Far is it?” She asked as they trudged over the grassy landscape.
“Few hours on foot. You tired already?” Iriella opened her mouth to retort but caught Farkas’ smile. She really was going to have to learn to joke with the others if she was ever going to fit in here. The wind picked up a little and the long grass rustled around her knees. A fox jumped out from behind a rock and scampered off into the distance. Looking up and behind them Iriella could see the huge mountain, that Riverwood sat at the base of. It was quite a sight to see it from this distance, there were no trees nearby, only rolling plains of grassland.
“The Throat of the World.” Farkas stated, having spied Iriella looking at the mountain. She nodded in ascent and turned back to their path. “Not some place I’d ever like to go.” Farkas said simply,
“Too cold, too many steps, it’s not for me.” She did like the way Farkas seemed to see everything in black and white, the way he didn’t beat around the bush but was not rude at the same time.
“You prefer warmer climes?” She asked, eying the ground carefully so as not to trip over a root hiding among the grass.
“I just don’t like the thought of climbing all those stairs, just to be frozen at the top and turned away by the Grey priests.” She smothered a giggle.
“You mean the Greybeards?”
“Yeah, whatever they’re called.” He shrugged good naturedly as the landscape started to climb a little. Rocks and bushes became more frequent, even the odd tree dotted here or there.
“I like the cold.” Iriella thought out loud, Farkas looked at her surprised.
“Just used to it.” She didn’t want to explain that when it was cold, she’d been used to huddling with Rune for warmth, and it was when she felt safest. Farkas nodded and seeing the tension mount in her shoulders he thought it best not to ask questions. There would be plenty of time for her to divulge details of he past to her new companions if she so wished. He was not about to force it out of her. Besides, in all honesty he thought to himself, he didn’t really pay much mind to what others had done with themselves previously, Farkas lived for the now and the immediate future.
Their journey took them over more of the hold’s grassland, up small hills and back down, weaving between rocks at some points and following a well worn and overgrown path at others. Eventually they came across another rise, almost perfectly circular with what looked like some of the old standing stones at the top.
“Well, here it is.” Farkas motioned with his paw like hand, “Not much to look at is it.” They climbed the rise and looked down into a dugout hole lined with stone, some stone steps winding their way around the edge and down to the floor. A Door led into the wall, there were some pots, crates and other random objects scattered around the edge of the circle. Farkas leaned down and picked up a piece of cloth at the top of the steps, raising it to his nose and inhaling deeply. “Bandits.” He murmured, Iriella wasn’t sure if he was talking to her or himself, so she stayed quiet, her hand resting on the hilt of her sword. There was a slight chill in the air here, and it was eerily quiet, as if wildlife avoided the area.
Farkas rose and dropped the scrap of cloth. “Not more than a day old.” He grunted and drew his sword. “We must be careful.” Iriella nodded and drew her own sword as they descended the steps into the pit, the entrance to the Cairn. The door opened surprisingly quietly, it gave the impression of an old door that would make an almighty creak when being opened, such as the one in the tower near bleak falls barrow. They moved inside to the entrance chamber, a few sarcophagi lined the walls, all of them open with human shaped figures lying at the base of each.
Closer inspection showed them to be decaying bodies, strangely there was no smell, these corpses must have dried out decades ago. Iriella thought she caught a faint smell of wolf but dismissed it, there couldn’t be anything down here save for the odd bandit.
“Freshly killed.” Farkas had been crouched over one of the bodies.
“Fresh? But they’re dried out?” Spluttered Iriella, half thinking Farkas had lost his mind.
“Shh” he cut her off sharply then added in a lower voice, “These are Draugr, they’re dead before they’re killed again.”
“Walking corpses.” Iriella raised a sceptical eyebrow. She’d seen a fair bit in her time but the walking dead? Farkas nodded, looking deadly serious. He went back to checking the chamber, Iriella walked over to the large table in the middle of the room. She picked up a book “The battle of Sancre Tor” She murmured, turning it over in her hands and looking at the back of the cover. She jumped as Farkas removed the book from her hand and put it back on the table.
“Normally I’d tell you to read it, you could learn a thing or two about long swords in there, but this is not the time, or the place.” She sensed his unease and readied her weapon once more, if a place like this gave someone the size of Farkas cause for concern she supposed she should respect his judgement.
Moving through the door into a twisting corridor they kept their weapons ready. The corridor had alcoves dotted along it, presently they came across one right on a corner. In it stood one of the Draugr. Upright, motionless with its arms crossed over its chest.
Farkas reached out a thick arm, stopping Iriella in her tracks, he motioned for her to be quiet as they picked their way around the Draugr. Iriella could not help feeling Farkas was being a little paranoid, she was sure that those creatures were dried out and dead, how could they possibly be able to move? Iriella was about to find out that even things that were already dead could move, and they were soon to be in a lot more trouble than they had bargained for…