When he came to, it was daylight. And Fenrir was tied to a tree, staring into the face of a very angry looking Nord. She had night-black hair, tangled, and pine green eyes, bloodshot. She looked like she hadn’t slept in a week. Though the girl was beautiful and young - not possibly past her mid-twenties, she was not exactly the most comfortable person to wake up being glared at.
“Is he awake?”
Fenrir’s eyes darted to the figure behind the girl, the one who must have spoken. Now that they were up close, Fenrir could better appreciate the Nord’s build. He was tall and muscular, with dark hair and black war paint on his eyes that made them appear bruised. He wore wolf armor. Companion armor. Uh-oh.
“Aye, Vilkas. And if he doesn’t cooperate, he’s going to regret opening his eyes.”
The elf fixed his attention back on the girl, frowning at her threatening remark. “I’m guessing I’ve done something to upset you?”
“Done something!?”” Vilkas moved forward, his hand on his sword. The girl held an arm up to keep the warrior back. Fenrir wasn’t impressed by the gesture, but Vilkas seemed to have enough respect for her to hold himself back. At least, physically. His remark was still critical and brusque, “Äne, he knows perfectly well what he’s done! How dare he act like a fool!”
“Vilkas”, Äne said forcefully, “Do you not respect my leadership enough to trust that seek restitution for this outrage?” From the quiver in her voice, Fenrir could believe she was telling the truth. He also got the feeling the two warriors had had similar conversations like this, before.
Vilkas recoiled as if her words stung, “Forgive me Harbinger. I spoke out of turn.”
Wait, Harbinger? Fenrir’s eyes narrowed. This girl was the Harbinger of the Companions? What kind of madness had possessed Kodlak for him to name her his heir? She was either way too easy to underestimate or a good enough liar to have deceived the most discerning man in Skyrim. Fenrir wasn’t sure which one he’d prefer was true.
Äne accepted her shield-brother’s apology with a slight nod. Then she honed in on Fenrir. “So, are you a thief? A spy? A murderer? ...All three?”
“You went to all this trouble to capture me and you don’t even know what I am?”, the elf scoffed. Perhaps he wasn’t in the best position to speak so freely, but since he had no clue what they were accusing him of stealing, spying, or murdering, he doubted even the meekest response would grant him an ounce of sympathy.
The Harbinger’s eye’s narrowed, “Don’t play games with me, Bosmer. Is Farkas alive?”
She seemed to be considering breaking his nose. The electricity in her eyes made Fenrir wonder if she wasn’t as well controlled as he’d previously believed. “Vilkas’s twin.”, she explained, “My… shield-brother.” Whatever Äne had been about to call Farkas, Fenrir was certain it hadn’t been “shield-brother.” He pretended not to notice.
Intrigued, Fenrir risked a question. “He’s missing?”
It was clear Vilkas wanted to say something brutish, but Äne didn’t acknowledge her comrade’s clear irritation. Pacing back and forth in front of Fenrir, she explained, “Yes, for some weeks now. He left to investigate rumors of a marauding gang in the Rift, and didn’t come back. Two days ago, we received this note.” Äne pulled out a tightly rolled scroll from the her satchel on the ground and held it up with a flair, as if trying to impress upon Fenrir that she knew he had seen it before. “A ransom, demanding I turn myself in if I wanted Farkas freed.”
Fenrir scowled, “You think I’m a member of these… what, mercenaries? Why? Because I’m a wood elf?”
“You’ve been trailing us since sunset. You would have me believe it’s coincidence?”
“Right, I would have no reason to wonder what you were up to, wandering around the Rift in the middle of the night.”
There was a moment of silence as they studied each other, sizing up the force of each other’s will. Fenrir didn’t like how Äne’s feral green eyes seemed to stare right through him. Being blind on his left side, it was harder for him to achieve such an intimidating look.
Fenrir grew tired of the silence relatively quickly, and was the first to speak, “Look, even if I was some Silver Hand who had it out for you and your shield-siblings-”
“I said nothing about the Silver Hand.”, Äne’s eyes narrowed, “What do you know of our feud with them, Bosmer?”
“My name is Fenrir.”
“Tell us what you know.”
Fenrir sighed, “I know they’re werewolf hunters… mostly they keep to themselves, stay away from decent folk. For some reason, they don’t like you very much. I think I’m beginning to understand why.”
Her fist rammed into his face, hard. He wasn’t entirely surprised by the response, but the force of the impact caught him off guard. For a moment, his vision went black when the Harbinger’s knuckles collided with the middle of his face. He could taste blood. She was definitely stronger than she looked. The dragonhide gauntlets Äne wore didn’t exactly soften the blow, either.
The rage he felt at being treated so roughly was tempered by his better sense. If he lost control now, he might as well be signing his own death warrant. If living in the wilds had taught him anything, it was patience. “I’m... not a Silver Hand, if that’s what you’re thinking”, he managed to snarl, blood trickling from his nose and lower lip. Nothing could be farther from the truth, he almost added, but held himself back.
Vilkas treated their ears to several choice words that Fenrir decided it would smarter not to respond to. He glared up at Äne, “Look, I’m no friend to whoever took your shield-brother. I promise.”
“What is the promise of a mer like you worth?”, Äne asked.
Fenrir met her gaze, “I doubt anything will make it worth much to you. If you’ve already decided I’m the enemy, there’s no way for me to make you my friend.”
The Harbinger’s eyebrows narrowed, “… Indeed.”
Somewhere in the distance, a wolf howled. From the pitch, the elf recognized the call as a summons. Fenrir also noticed that both of the Companions seemed to grow suddenly more on edge. Äne cast Vilkas a meaningful look. He gave Fenrir one more angry glare, before turning and vanishing into the forest, hand on his sword hilt. Fenrir could hear the heavy-armored footsteps clanking through the underbrush long after Vilkas was gone. It was clear the man knew nothing about stealth. It must have been the girl who had taken Fenrir by surprise. He felt his pride smart at the thought.
Äne didn’t seem inclined to make any kind of conversation in the absence of her friend. She kept her eyes trained on Fenrir, no motion going unnoticed.
Fenrir decided now might be his best chance to escape. Even if Äne was a superior warrior, all he had to do was transform into his Wolf form and he was home free. No man or mer could match the speed of a werewolf. And rope binds were useless against the primeval strength of any werebeast. “You think the Silver Hand are behind you’re friend’s disappearance?”, he asked, hoping to make her lower her guard.
“You tell me”, Äne retorted.
Fenrir rolled his eyes, “Alright, humor me. Before you masterfully deduced that I’m a werewolf hunter who has it out for your guild and wants you dead… were the Silver Hand the only group you suspected?”
“...No.” Äne answered carefully. “In fact, I didn’t believe the Silver Hand were behind it at all.”
“None of the activities matched the Silver Hand I knew when Kodlak was Harbinger. They don’t plan kidnappings - they don’t take prisoners. They certainly don’t send ransom letters. But that doesn’t mean I will pretend they could never be behind it.”
“I guess not. Who else could it have been?”
“Certainly not common bandits. Ruffians aren’t smart enough to do anything like this.”
“Your Farkas is one man. I group of bandits-”
“Would still never be a match for him!”, Äne snarled. “You did not know him.”
“Fine”, Fenrir straightened his back against the tree and tried to roll his shoulders. His hands were falling asleep after so long in binds. Plus, the blood from his nose and lip had dried now, and it was beginning to bother him. “What about the Forsworn?”
“In the Rift? Don’t be ridiculous.”
“You’re the one who didn’t want to cancel out any possibilities.”
“And you’re the one who’s being interrogated, not me”, Äne reminded him, though perhaps with less of an edge to her voice than she would have had before.
“Okay. Imperial soldiers then.” Fenrir had meant it to be another ridiculous accusation. The Companion’s were known to all of Tamriel as a guild of neutral warriors, sworn against mixing themselves up in political affairs, except when the word of the Harbinger was sought out for an unbiased opinion. The Imperial legion would have no reason to want anything to do with the guild. Besides, it would be hard enough for a group of soldiers to enter Skyrim, now that the Fatherland had broken away from the Empire thanks to Ulfric’s civil war. But apparently Äne had been seriously considering the possibility.
“Why not send the ransom to Ulfric directly? That’s what I keep asking myself…”
Fenrir raised an eyebrow, “What does the High King have to do with anything?”
“You’re not very well informed”, Äne pointed out bluntly.
A woodpecker’s rapid pounding echoed through the forest. Äne’s gaze flittered to the direction of the sound, as if it might conceal a threat. Then she seemed to check herself, and with an untroubled gaze that Fenrir noticed was forced, the Harbinger sat down cross legged and let her hands rest on top of her knees.
Now!, thought Fenrir, abandoning his self-control and letting the beast within loose. His auburn hair rippled and spread down his body, darkening to a black chestnut as it went. Pain exploded from his chest as his ribcage, heart, and lungs expanded, and his fingers stung like he’d reached into burning coals as his fingernails morphed into grotesque black claws. His spine elongated, and and thick tail coiled out behind him. His ears began to rise up along his head as his jaw snapped out of place and stretched into a sharp-fanged maw like that of a wolf. A savage roar erupted from his throat as all of his senses sharpened and the thick three-strand ropes that had held him snapped like they were made of twine.
He shook his body out of of the limp strands and rose to his full height before casting a wild glare at where Äne stood. Fenrir now towered over the Nord war-maiden. She had not drawn her sword. Though she looked surprised, he could smell no fear on her. It didn’t matter, they would never cross paths again; Fenrir was free. He leapt towards the thickest area of the woods, where men could not easily follow.
His one good mahogany-red eye saw more in beast form, even by itself, and his reaction speed was unmatched as adrenaline flooded his system, making it easy for him to move at breakneck pace through the undergrowth. Call it arrogance, but Fenrir was certain he was no longer in danger. He didn’t bother to look back for signs of pursuit, which is why he didn’t anticipate the sudden, jarring impact that struck him like a bear from his blind side.
He felt claws dig into his hide. They had to be claws, they were too sharp to be arrows, and too well placed. He kicked hard with his hind legs and tried to spin around, but the momentum of his attacker sent them both catapulting through the dirt. He roared, trying to figure out what was fighting him. He could make out black fur and the scent of wolf. Slashing indiscriminately, his claws hit the other beast somewhere close to its bone, and it recoiled. Its weight removed, Fenrir leapt to his feet, fangs bared. Crouching on all-fours before him was another werewolf, one that he recognized with a shock of disbelief and horror.
Her fur was night-black, her eyes were a feral green.