It was dark and Iriella had no idea of the time when they finally arrived back at Jorrvaskr. Farkas was sporting a rather un-flattering bump on his forehead, and Iriella’s arm was covered in blood from getting caught during the fight with the draugr, though she had not noticed it at the time, she was starting to feel the pain now. Farkas was limping slightly and Iriella helped him up the stone steps. Looking up she saw Vilkas waiting for them, arms folded across his chest.
“What happened?” He started, making his way down the steps towards them. “What did you do to my brother, Red?” Farkas was tired out and leaned heavily on the both. Iriella’s eyes flashed angrily, had she not been so tired she would have felt that familiar bubble of temper that she often felt around Vilkas; but she was so worn out she could barely respond.
Inside they were greeted by the others, though their initial looks of elation turned to concern when they saw the state of them. Chairs were dragged over to the fire pit and the two shattered souls ushered into them, with mugs of ale being handed to both. Iriella leaned back in her chair and sipped the ale, it tasted so good. She had not realised quite how parched she had been, and her stomach started to grumble. Hot soup and bread brought over by Tilma was soon devoured, feeling a little more replete Farkas raised his hand to stop the babble of questions being thrown at them.
Aela, now seated at the table with Skjor was first to speak,
“So, come on? What happened? You both look awful by the way” she added with a grin. In spite of herself, Iriella grinned back.
“I don’t know what you find so funny” Vilkas was pacing behind the table. “Never have I seen my brother return from anywhere looking like this, you were meant to be watching his back!” Iriella felt her temper return and she opened her mouth to retort but stopped when she felt a hand on her shoulder. She turned and looked over at Farkas, who had now risen from his chair.
“Stay your anger brother.” He commanded of Vilkas, surprising everyone. Keeping his hand on Iriella’s shoulder he continued; “If it were not for my shield sister I would not be here before you, I would not have made it through the Cairn alone.” The room was silent. Even Vilkas, his eyes wide in disbelief remained quiet and said nothing. “You ask what happened brother, we will tell you.”
It took almost half an hour for Farkas and Iriella to recount their expedition. Iriella noted with some interest that he skipped the part where he had shifted into his beast form. She suspected that as there were non-circle members of the Companions in the room, he would need to keep it quiet, so she said nothing of it herself. The others butted in with questions here and there, keen to know exactly what had gone on. Vilkas remained stony faced until they had finished.
“It seems you pair have had quite the adventure.” He sneered.
“That we have.” Farkas agreed good naturedly despite his brothers’ cold disposition.
“Got anything to show for it?” Vilkas asked, his eyebrows raised enquiringly. Iriella reached down and opened her pack. Delving into its contents she pulled out an object wrapped in cloth. Holding it up for everyone to see she removed the wrapping and held aloft an ornate piece of the ebony blade.
“By Ysgramor…” Skjor murmured, his one good eye wide with surprise. “You found it; it was there…the scholar was right.” Farkas nodded and limped to the barrels at the side of the room to refill his mug. Aela reached forward to Iriella,
“Can I see?” She asked, and Iriella handed her the fragment. Aela studied it before handing it to Skjor, who inspected it closely.
“It’s the real thing alright.” He confirmed after some moments, and then handed it back to Iriella. “You should take it up to Eorlund, in the morning.” Iriella nodded and put it back in her pack. Farkas had returned to his chair and was now removing his greaves.
“Tell you what,” Aela began, looking pointedly at him, “I swear I will never make fun of you for wearing heavy armour again.” She grinned and raised her mug. “To our shield siblings!” She toasted and the rest of the room erupted in whoops and cheers.
“To Iriella.” Farkas raised his mug to her and put his hand to his chest. “You fought well.”
“We both did.” She returned the gesture and felt her cheeks pink as Ria bounded over and clapped her on the back, followed quickly by Aela and some of the others. Only Vilkas did not join in the celebration. He sat scowling before leaving the room and heading down to his quarters.
The festivities carried on until quite late into the night, ale and mead flowed, songs were sung and there was more joy in the great hall than there had been in some time. Even Kodlak had graced them with his presence, he’d congratulated Farkas and Iriella on a successful quest and looked over the fragment himself. Eventually the horde grew tired, good nights were bidden and beds were filled. Only Iriella, Farkas and Aela remained. Aela looked around the room, checking they were alone. Leaning conspiratorially across the table she looked expectantly at Farkas.
“What?” He asked, looking confused.
“Oh, come on, the Silver Hand where there and you only fought two of them?” She sat back and folded her arms, one eyebrow arched. Farkas shifted nervously in his chair. “See!” She gestured towards him triumphantly. “I know you like you were my own kin Farkas.” The big Nord sighed resigned.
“Yeah, you probably do.” He mumbled. “Alright, guess I better come clean.” He recounted the real happenings in the chamber where they had encountered the five bandits. Aela listened and gave way to a low whistle.
“And you still had his back after that?” She turned to Iriella, who nodded silently. Aela smiled, “I’m impressed, you held your nerve and got the job done.” Iriella blushed and looked at her hands in her lap. “And, you kept it quiet.”
“Thank you for that.” Farkas rose, wincing a little as he straightened his legs. “I am going to be sore tomorrow.” He grinned and gave them both a small salute. “See you in the morning, great hunting with you Iriella, get some rest.” He made his way slowly down to the sleeping quarters.
Aela drained her mug and turned to Iriella, her eyes shining.
“I’m so proud of you.” She said warmly.
“Thanks.” Iriella looked a little forlorn and Aela tilted her head to one side.
“I am, I’m sorry. It’s been many years since I made anyone proud, really proud I mean.”
“I’m sure your boy was proud of you every day.” Aela smiled. Iriella shifted a little.
“I’m not sure, he saw me at my worst I guess.”
“And yet he adored you, I could see that.”
“Your wolf-sense?” Iriella joked and Aela looked a little embarrassed.
“It’s a gift, but the old man, he doesn’t like it much. Believe me when I tell you we appreciate you not telling everyone about Farkas.” Iriella looked at her steadfastly.
“Aela, I know I don’t quite fit in here, or anywhere for that matter. I don’t make friends well, I’m not warm or friendly to most people. I have a vile temper…” She paused and pushed her bright red locks out of her face before continuing; “But one thing I am not, and have never been, is a snitch. My father taught me long ago that trust is earned and not given. Farkas asked me not to tell anyone, and I keep my word.” Aela looked a little taken aback.
“I think that’s the most I have ever heard you say in one go.” She grinned and got up. “I’m turning in, get yourself some rest, you’ll need it for tomorrow.”
“Sure, tomorrow you complete your initiation.” The trial! Iriella had completely forgotten about it.
“How will I know if I passed?”
“You got Farkas back here in one piece.” Aela said wickedly and Iriella grinned.
“Well, almost.” She added and laughed. Aela clapped a hand on the table twice and sauntered off toward the stairs. At the top she turned back,
“Hey, Red?” Iriella groaned inwardly at the nickname.
“Yes?” She tried not to sound petulant.
“I think you’ll fit in just fine here.” She gave a wink and jogged down the stairs, Iriella heard the door shut and smiled to herself.
Looking down to inspect her injury she was suddenly aware of someone watching her.
“You’ll want to bind that.” Vilkas crossed the room and retrieved a jug of water and a cloth from the kitchen. “Here, this should still be warm, the fire has not yet gone out.” He placed them on the table in front of her and she looked up at him.
“Why so considerate?” She asked haughtily, picking up the cloth and washing her arm. After ridding her skin of the dried blood, a neat but angry looking cut remained.” Vilkas leaned over to inspect it.
“I figured. I’m not the sort to cry over a cut, Vilkas.” Iriella stained to keep her temper. Vilkas’ gaze softened a little,
“Look, I’m sorry I was so quick to think you had gotten Farkas hurt.” Iriella stared at him curiously.
“He sent you up here to apologise, didn’t he?” Vilkas looked at his feet and Iriella picked up her pack and rose to her feet. “An apology that’s forced, is no apology at all.” She turned to leave.
“You’re right.” Vilkas called after her. Turning back to him she replied,
“Look, you don’t feel you should be sorry, I get that.” He opened his mouth to reply and she silenced him, raising her hand. “I’d have thought more of you if you’d told me you’re not sorry.” With that she strode off down to the sleeping quarters without looking back.
“Goodnight, Red.” Vilkas murmured to himself.