An Orphan’s Tale Nine – For Kodlak

Chapter 9 - Headless Witch

Although Farkas kept his room at Jorrvaskr, he spent most of his free time at Breezehome with Selene. Once in a while, he even referred to the house as “home.” She stayed cautious, still of the belief that something would happen to ruin all the good in her life; but for the moment, she was happy.

Selene never knew where Aela got it, but the Huntress came up with information on the Silver Hand on a regular basis, and the two of them embarked on a quest to avenge Skjor. By the first day of spring, they had routed six hideouts and killed no less than thirty Silver Hand. On some level, Selene felt what they were doing was wrong, but every time she entered a lair and saw half a dozen werewolves being tortured or already dead, her vigor and righteous anger was renewed, and she cut the Silver Hand down without mercy or regret. When uncertainty reared its ugly head, she talked to Farkas, who was all for her mission.

“I told you before. It’s us or them. If they weren’t so bloody cowardly, they would attack Jorrvaskr in a second.”

Though Vilkas still didn’t talk to her much, she managed to get his opinion as well, and he was as bitter as always. With grim determination, he said, “Every one of them has to die. Don’t think for a moment you’re not doing the right thing.” It was the only positive thing he said to her for months.

First Seed gave way to Rain’s Hand, and the beginning of the month lived up to its name. It rained for five days straight. The moat, fountains, and waterfalls around Dragonsreach overflowed, and all the excess water ran down to the Plains District, turning the marketplace into a soggy mess. Arcadia’s Cauldron and Belethor’s General Store flooded, and at times, the townspeople had to slog through two or three inches of water to get where they were going. Jon Battle-Born joked about buying a boat just to get across the circle to the Bannered Mare.

One morning when the rains were finally letting up and the sun was emerging, Farkas told Selene that Kodlak was looking for her. She made her way through Whiterun’s puddled streets to Jorrvaskr and went downstairs to the Harbinger’s office.

“Sit down,” he offered amicably.

“You wanted to see me?”

“I’ve been concerned about you and Aela.”

“We work to avenge Skjor’s death.”

“Skjor’s death has been avenged many times over, and you’ve shed far too much blood in the process.”

“I’m sorry, Kodlak, but I beg to differ. You haven’t seen the Silver Hand’s lairs. It’s not just us; it’s all werewolves, and what they’re doing to them is monstrous. Not only have we avenged Skjor, but we’ve ensured they won’t ever harm another werewolf.”

Kodlak nodded and sat for a long moment before speaking. He looked tired and thin, as though he hadn’t been eating. His wolf armor, which he still insisted on donning every day, hung on his body as if it were mounted on a mannequin.

“What does the beastblood mean to you, Selene?” he asked her finally.

“Well, Vilkas says it’s a curse, and Aela says it’s a blessing.”

“But what does it mean to you?”

Selene shrugged. “I guess I think it’s both. It’s inconvenient and frustrating, but it’s also liberating. There’s so much to deal with in human form; it’s nice to set real life aside and escape into beast form, forget all that for a while.”

“I remember when I felt that way,” he mused fondly. “The hunt is intoxicating. But as I grow old and ill, my mind turns to thoughts of Sovngarde. Do you know how the Companions originally came to have the beastblood?”

“Again, it depends on who you talk to. Vilkas says curse; Aela says blessing.”

“It is different to everyone. Many years ago, one of my predecessors made a deal with a coven of hagravens to make us stronger in battle.”

“And they made him a werewolf.”

“He did not know the change would be permanent.”

“But it worked. We are stronger in battle.”

“But at what cost? We are bound to Hircine, daedric prince of the hunt. When we die, we will be taken to his Hunting Grounds, never to see Sovngarde. I have spent my twilight years looking for a way to avoid Hircine and make it to Sovngarde, to find a cure from the beastblood, and I believe I have found it at last. The Glenmoril witches’ magicks made us into beasts, and only their magicks can cure us. We must take the head of a Glenmoril witch and cast it into the brazier in Ysgramor’s tomb to release our inner wolf spirit, and then we must defeat the wolf.”

“I’ll bring you a head, Kodlak. I’ll get Farkas and leave today.”

“No, child. You must do this alone. There are five witches, enough to cure everyone in the Inner Circle.”

“But Kodlak, I don’t want to be cured. I know Aela doesn’t want it, either.”

“The choice is yours, of course, but at least you will have the choice. Go now, and don’t tell anyone where you are going.”

Selene didn’t understand why Kodlak wanted to keep the mission secret, but she did as he asked. She did, however, tell Farkas she was leaving. The Companions occasionally went on covert missions, so it wasn’t uncommon for them not to be able to tell the others the details. Thus, when he asked where she was going and she told him she couldn’t say, he was satisfied with the response. Before she left, she made sure she had plenty of healing potions, as well as some potions to help her resist fire—five witches, five potions. After the fiasco at Orphan Rock, she’d had Farengar enchant a pair of boots with a fire-resist spell; but she wanted to be fully prepared.

Though she didn’t have a shield-sibling on this mission, Selene was never truly alone. Liska tagged faithfully along behind her as she hiked southwest through Whiterun and Falkreath Holds. Her constant companion gekkered merrily at her as they walked, curled up next to her when they camped, and brought her mice for breakfast.

“Stupid animal,” Selene groused as she picked her latest gift up by the tail and flung it into the woods. “You’re a fox, not a cat.”

“Wow-wow-wow-wow!” Liska replied.

“Oh, sure. You always say that.” Selene chuckled to herself. “You know, I used to have conversations with a dead guy who never answered. Now I have them with a fox who never says anything but ‘wow.’”

After two days and nights on the road, Selene and Liska finally arrived at the cave that housed the Glenmoril Coven. The entrance was hidden in a nook in the side of a mountain at the very western reaches of Falkreath Hold, difficult to find and hard to get to. The outside of the cave was decorated (if one could call it that) with animal skeletons and spriggan taproots. An empty cauldron rested at the base of a dead tree, and two braziers lit the entrance.

A rotten, putrid odor emanated from the cave, and Selene cringed. If it smelled that bad out here, what would her enhanced sense of smell be subjected to after she went in? She stepped away from the cave and breathed in fresh air, steeling herself for the onslaught. She didn’t want to be slain by some hag because she had to stop mid-battle and throw up due to the stench. When she was confident she could do what had to be done without losing her lunch, she turned to Liska and said, “You stay out here, little one.” Then she drew her bow and stepped into the cave.

Selene thought about the hagraven Vilkas had killed at Orphan Rock. They’d had no end of trouble with that one, and now she was facing five. She figured the best way to fight them was to shoot from the shadows and avoid a stand-up fight. She just hoped they weren’t all together.

If she believed in luck, she would have said it was on her side. As she emerged from the entrance tunnel into the first room, she saw one of the Glenmoril witches standing at a cauldron, stirring whatever disgusting mixture she was working on. She was alone except for a frostbite spider that meandered around the cavern, and Selene had a clear shot. She ducked back into the darkness of the tunnel and downed a potion; then she drew her bow, pausing long enough for the spider to crawl farther into the room, and released the arrow. It hit, and the hagraven screamed and dropped to the floor. Selene resisted the urge to say, “Shh!” Fortunately, it seemed the only one to take note of her distress was the spider, who came running and died quickly as Selene’s next arrow pierced its body. She drew her sword, went over to the witch and pulled her up by the greasy, tangled hair. Inky black eyes stared blankly up at Selene as she hacked the head from her body. “One down, four to go,” she muttered as she stuffed the foul head in her bag.

The next three and their familiars were relatively easy, each of them alone in a room off a dark tunnel and out in the open.  Selene almost regretted wasting her fire-resist potions. The last one, however, was problematic. She crouched on a platform behind an arcane enchanter, which was nestled between two trees and surrounded by large, wooden spikes. There was no easy way to get a shot from the tunnel, so Selene drank her last potion and drew her bow, stepping cautiously into the room. The familiar, a feral skeever, attacked her instantly, and she had to use the arrow to kill it. The fracas alerted the hagraven, who started down a short slope toward her. She was able to get another arrow nocked, but she didn’t get a good enough draw before shooting; and though the witch flinched at the pain, she wasn’t badly injured. Selene dropped the bow and drew her sword.

“The beast returns,” the hagraven croaked with her hands raised, magic pulsing in her palms. “You belong to Hircine now.”

“Ha, and what about you? Where you will go when I kill you?” Selene dodged the fireball the witch lobbed at her and moved in closer, swinging hard, and caught her in the left arm. The hagraven shrieked and sent another fireball at Selene. The potion finally came in handy, because this one hit. It still hurt, but it didn’t do the damage the one at Orphan Rock had done. Mostly, it just pissed her off. “You’re done, bitch!” she snarled as she shoved her sword at the hag’s ribs. It sliced into her flesh, and blood spurted; with a final cry, the witch dropped. Selene paused a moment to catch her breath, then reached for the hagraven and chopped off her head; but it appeared the witch wasn’t done yet. She suddenly stood up, headless, her arms out as if for balance. “Sweet Kynareth!” Selene cried as she swung her sword again, all but cutting her in half. This time, she stayed down.

With all five heads safely in her sack, Selene looked around for any loot she might sell. She picked up a few potions, soul gems, and ingredients, then headed for the exit. Once outside, she took a deep, cleansing breath, relieved to finally be away from the fetid reek of the cave. Liska came up to her, cooing joyfully, and Selene said, “You won’t believe what happened in there!”

She told Liska about the hag who refused to lie down as they headed down the mountain, the vixen not understanding a word she said but gekkering sympathetically nonetheless. She also told her about the familiars. “That’s a really neat idea,” she claimed. “I wonder if I could tap into that magic somehow and make you a familiar. I’ll have to talk to Farengar about that. Ha, Vilkas and Farkas’s heads would spin around if I started using magic!”

Selene hiked for several miles before making camp. After the fight, her beastblood was itching to get out, so she shifted to her beast form and hunted before returning to camp and trying to get some rest. It was a long night. Her blood still boiled from the fight and the hunt, and the urge to mate was excruciating. She hadn’t shifted to beast form without making love with Farkas afterward since her first full moon, and her body ached for his touch. Somewhere toward morning, having only gotten about an hour’s sleep, she finally said, “Screw it,” and broke camp.

She stayed at the inn in Riverwood the next night, exhausted and not close enough to home to stick it out any longer. Selene had been fortunate to have good weather on her trip, but the next morning was overcast, with distant thunder heralding an oncoming storm. She and Liska started out for Whiterun, moving as fast as they could in the hope of getting home before the rain. But it wasn’t just the ominous sky that worried Selene. As she neared town, a terrible sense of foreboding came over her. The pack was in distress; something was very wrong.

It was just starting to sprinkle when they got into town. Liska stopped at the door to Breezehome and gave a short bark, and Selene let her into the house before continuing on up to Jorrvaskr. She smelled blood when she entered the market district and sprinted up the stairs to find half the town standing around the Gildergreen, looking up at the mead hall. Aela and Torvar stood over two dead bodies at the top of the hill.

“What happened?” Selene asked as she climbed the steps.

“The Silver Hand,” Torvar anwered.

She ran past them and threw open the door to the mead hall to find Vilkas standing in the doorway.

“Where have you been?” he asked, glaring daggers at her.

“I was doing Kodlak’s bidding.”

“Well, I hope it was important, because it means you weren’t here to defend him.”

“Vilkas, what happened?”

“The Silver Hand. They finally had the courage to attack Jorrvaskr. We were able to fight them off, but the old man, Kodlak…”

“Oh, no.” She stepped around Vilkas to find the Harbinger lying dead on the steps with Farkas and Njada sitting next to him. “Farkas?” she started.

“Leave him alone,” said Vilkas.

She turned back to him. “Anybody else?”

“No, but they made off with the fragments of Wuuthrad. You and I are going to get them. And we’re going to slaughter every Silver Hand between us and them.”

“Okay. I need to stop at Breezehome first and—”

“We go now.”

“I have several heads weighing me down, I need to let Liska out, and I’m down to a couple dozen arrows.”

“Liska stays here.”

Anger surged within Selene, and she closed her eyes and took a deep breath, trying to maintain control. When she was confident she wouldn’t shout, she said, “Fine. But I can’t leave her in the house for several days, now, can I? I’m going to have to bring her up here.”

“Well, make it fast.”

She bent down and kissed the top of Farkas’s head, then turned and left Jorrvaskr, Vilkas trailing behind. She stopped at the Skyforge and bought arrows from Eorland before heading home. Lydia was sitting at the kitchen table, eating lunch.

“How’d it go?” she asked, but she immediately sensed the tension in the air and excused herself. “I’ll just go to the barracks for a while.”

“We won’t be here long. You can stay.”

“You should go,” Vilkas told her. Selene turned to glare at Vilkas, and he met her eyes aggressively.

“Okay, Lydia,” she relented. “Give us a few minutes.”

When her housecarl was gone, Selene said, “Vilkas, why are you being like this?”

“You should have been here. It’s early. You stopped, where, in Riverwood? You could have made it home last night.”

“Believe me, if I’d known what was going to happen, I would have. But you can’t blame me for Kodlak’s death just because I spent the night on the road.”

“Watch me.”

“You’re being unreasonable. In fact, you’ve been unreasonable a lot lately.”

His scent was already permeated with anger, but fresh rage flooded through it and his face turned red. “Oh, no! Don’t make this about me.”

“Isn’t it always about you? You’ve been angry at me since I became a werewolf.”

“This has nothing to do with you being born into the fucking pack! It has to do with you not being where you should be. Had you been in town, you’d have been here instead of Jorrvaskr, and you still wouldn’t have been there to defend him.”

“Well, what about you, Vilkas?” she shouted. “I might not have been there, but you were. Why couldn’t you defend him? I’d say you’re more to blame than me.”

With lightning speed, Vilkas’s hand lashed out and backhanded Selene across the face hard enough to spin her around. She stood there, her back to him, immobilized with shock and dismay, her cheek smarting and her eye throbbing. Had it been most anybody else, she would have turned around and attacked, fists flying. But Vilkas, once her closest friend, knowing what had happened in Cyrodiil and smacking her anyway just as the Imperial soldier had done, broke her heart. She gasped, and tears welled in her eyes.

“Selene—”

“You need to go now,” Selene said without turning around.

“Selene, I’m—”

“You need to go now,” she said more forcefully.

Without another word, Vilkas turned and left the house, and Selene crumpled to the floor and sobbed.

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