Final part of the teaser. There are clues to the sequel if you look close enough. Oh, and a little extra something for paradise lost and anonymous.
The short walk from the city gates to the farmhouse was pleasant enough. The weather was still warm for the middle of fall in the Rift and had just enough of a nip in the air to keep a person from sweating. Rune covered the distance in only a few minutes, his arms loaded down with ledgers and scrolls, most of which had plans drawn out over them, detailed layouts of some of Skyrim's wealthiest homes. Brynjolf had told him earlier that morning to that they were delivered to Isith by lunch time. Brynjolf was going for a drink and, for some unimaginable reason, everyone else had volunteered Rune to be the one to take the plans to the guild master.
When he saw her, she was seated outside, her legs criss-crossed under her as she reclined back in the sunlight. Two small figures were tumbling about her, one fair and one dark and both with mops of unruly waves atop their heads. Rune could hear the children squealing and shouting as he approached. They seemed to be playing some sort of game of tag in which the girl, Sif, was chasing after her brother. The little girl was hardly a match for the boy, who nimbly evaded each clumsy lunge. He was going to be quick on his feet, much like his mother. The girl, Rune realized with a smile, would likely take after her father. She'd be a fighter, no doubt about it.
But the boy would always outrun her. And, right now, she was none too happy about it.
Sif plopped down beside her mother with a sniffle, rubbing a grubby hand over her nose as she buried her frustrated little head into Isith's shoulder. The child peeked up long enough for her quicksilver eyes to spot Rune as he was coming up the path. He grinned when Sif smiled over at him and threw the girl a happy wave that he knew she would appreciate. As he suspected, she squealed and pointed him out to her mother.
"Mama, Uncle Rune is here!"
Bram, the boy, stopped his cartwheeling long enough to call out a lisped greeting to his new visitor.
The thief did not try to fight the smile that spread from his lips of its own accord when he saw Isith look up and motion him over with a jovial wave. There was no awkwardness in the gesture and she appeared genuinely happy to see him.
"Rune!" She smiled at him warmly. "What brings you out today?"
Rune half-heartedly looked down at the load in his arms. "Brynjolf wants you to look over these numbers. Some plans, too."
Isith's grin faltered and she pulled a face, her nose wrinkling with reluctance. "The man just can't give me a day off, can he?" She sighed and patted the ground beside her, saying, "Very well, sit them here. I'll take them inside in a few minutes. Oh, and make yourself comfortable. Or, you know, as comfortable as you can be with two children hanging all over you."
Her words were cue enough for young Bram to tug at Rune's sleeve just then. "Sit by me, Uncle Rune! Pleassse!"
With a shake of his head, Rune grinned and ruffled the boy's black hair before dropping down across from Isith. He joined seconds later by Bram, who was looking infinitely excited to have one of his favorite thieves sitting at his side.
Rune couldn't take his eyes off Isith as he watched her look lovingly upon her son. There was a light in her eyes that he had rarely been privy to except for the few times he had seen her with the children. Sensing Rune's eyes on her, she glanced over at him and offered him the smallest of smiles, well aware that he had caught her in a very un-Dragonborn moment. Rune had the grace to blush before looking away into the trees.
It was little Sif that broke the peaceful silence, her chipper voice cutting through the air loudly enough to startle everyone.
"Mama says that we can get a hound. Y'know what I'm going to name, Uncle Rune?"
Rune said that he didn't. He was certain he was about to find out though.
"Dog," the girl said matter-of-factly with a short bob of her head.
"Nuh uh!" Bram scowled over at his sister. "That's not a name! We're going to name him Dragon. 'Cause mama kills dragons."
The girl's cherubic features tugged together as she narrowed her tiny eyes on her brother. "But he's not a dragon! He's a dog." She gave a little huff and added, "Besides, mama's not going to kill the dog. If we named him Dragon…" The girl shuddered before continuing on with her impressive scowl.
Rune and Isith both watched the exchange with identical expressions of amusement. It was like watching puppies play tug-o-war, one never quite beating the other.
When the children had stopped bickering about the dog they didn't yet have, Rune leaned over the distance to the place where he had dropped the pile of ledgers and scrolls. He was well aware of Isith watching him as he fished through the mass of papers and parchment. Finally, he found what he was looking for and sat back with a pleased aha! In his hand he held a stained, travel-worn letter. The pale brown of the parchment was dirtied from the time and distance it had been in delivery. The wax seal was still bound tight and unopened.
"I almost forgot," Rune said, handing the letter over to Isith who accepted it gingerly, "This found its way to the guild yesterday evening. It's for you."
Isith turned the letter over in her palm curiously before reaching an impatiently nudge from the child at her side. Her mother gave her a sidelong frown before saying, "Patience, Sif. I hear it's a virtue."
With sound parental advice like that, Rune didn't see where anything could go wrong. Still, he remained silent as he watched Isith tug open the letter. Her good eye flitted back and forth over the paper and moments later her face was filled with such exuberance that Rune and the two children all found themselves smiling back at her.
Isith's voice rolled from her mouth with happy laughter. She smiled at him and asked, "Do you know who this is from, Rune?"
It was a rhetorical question and Rune simply waited for the answer. Isith scooped Sif up in her lap and motioned from Bram to come join his twin. When both children were situated, Isith held the letter out for them to see.
"This is from your Uncle Vilkas," she was absolutely beaming as she spoke, "He's your papa's twin, just like the two of you."
Bram's eyes lit up and he leaned in to study the handwriting more closely. As he looked, the boy muttered, "Papa says we've met him but I don't remember." He glanced at his mother. "What's he like?" he asked.
"Rune knows him," Isith glanced back at the thief who was patiently sitting across from her. Her lips quirked, eyes flashing, and she asked "So, what's ol' Vilkas like, Uncle Rune?"
Rune flinched under the wide-eyed gaze of the two children who were staring at him expectantly. It had been nearly two years since he had last seen the man in question. Then again, he supposed Isith had directed the question to him for a reason. She rarely spoke of her fellow Companion these days, though for what reasons, he did not know. He supposed that she missed Vilkas in her own way. They had been close, often seeming to have more in common than she and Farkas – be it their tempers or flightiness. Given her extended absence, it had to have been well over two or three years since the last time Isith saw him, a longer time at least than Rune himself.
Rune fumbled for words, not wanting to sell the other man short to his niece and nephew. "Vilkas was a…good man. Very brave and just as smart it seemed. He was a good friend to your mother." He looked to Isith then. "What was it the Companions said about him and Farkas?"
Isith gave the children in her lap a soft pinch so that they turned their attention to her. With a fond smile on her lips, she explained, "They said that your father has the strength of Ysgramor and Vilkas has his smarts."
"Where is he now?" Little Sif asked, cocking her head to one side as she tugged at the letter.
"He left for Morrowind when you were just babes. His letter says that he's in Hammerfell now, though it was written some time ago." An unmistakable look of worry glossed over Isith's face before she could hide it; Rune's trained eye was quick enough to catch it.
"Is he well?" the thief asked.
Isith hummed to herself, glancing once more at the letter. "Seems so. He makes no mention of returning home, though."
Rune fought the urge to reach across the space between them and place his hand on hers. Instead he tried to offer her what comfort he could through his caramel brown eyes. He met her gaze and held it there. "The man was a true Nord, through and through. None of them stay gone from Skyrim too long. He'll be back."
Isith pursed her lips, lost in her own thoughts for a brief moment before shaking herself and folding the letter back into the neat square shape in which it had arrived. She brushed the children off her lap and stood, dusting herself free of any grass and dirt that happened to cling to her linen trousers.
She offered Rune a hand and he clasped his fingers around her wrist, silently enjoying the warm skin under his touch. She went to brush off his shoulders and her movements were noticeably more restrained than they had been a few nights earlier in the Bee and Barb. Her fingers were friendly and gentle as she worked over his armor but nothing beyond that. There was no trace of the intimate familiarity that he'd felt when he'd kissed her in his arms.
Truthfully, he was glad for it. Children were perceptive little creatures, hers seeming especially so. Yet Rune knew that not even the most careful of eyes could have detected anything more than friendship between the two adults.
Isith stepped back from him and tucked the letter into her vest. As she did, she told him, "Farkas'll want to see this. Will you come with me and the children to take it to him?"
Rune could do nothing to stop the way his brows rocketed to his hairline. "Are you sure-"
Isith held of a hand to hush him and kept her voice quiet as she replied, "You know where he is staying, Rune. I cannot go alone. I…would appreciate having someone there."
The thief gave her one of his trademark soft smiles, a gesture he knew she had always welcomed. "Then how could I possibly refuse?"
After he and Isith had gathered up all the ledgers and scrolls and locked them away in the house, they set off back down the road for the city. The children each held one of Isith's hands, tugging her in dizzying circles as they walked. She laughed right along with them until they reached the city gates and she whispered to them to behave and keep their voices down. They obeyed, proving to be most adept at faking good behavior. As he followed them, Rune couldn't help but wonder if Isith had been the same way in her youth.
Riften was busier than when Rune had left its walls earlier that morning. Its market was bustling as the entire city milled about the streets and waterways. The air smelled strongly of fresh fish, hauled in from the lake just a few hours earlier. A few unfamiliar faces dotted the market stalls, likely travelers or merchants from other holds. The thief's keen eyes made note of one in particular. Her traveling clothes were unremarkable compared to the rest but her features caught his eye. He could not quite tell her race, though she was clearly Mer. The poor thing was looking utterly lost, he could tell as much even from where he was standing. He would have helped her but Isith tugged him through the crowd and soon the traveler was forgotten.
When Isith finally stopped long enough to take a good look around, Rune asked, "Do you think Farkas may be out? Perhaps he's not…you know, there." He was reluctant to be any more specific as he glanced at the children who were doing their best to stay close to their mother amid the unknown crowd.
Isith cut her eyes at him and shrugged. "We can only hope."
A few more brief seconds and Rune spotted the target in question. Speak of the daedra and he shall appear. Well, Rune acknowledged, it wasn't exactly the most fitting metaphor for the towering Companion across the market but it would do. Farkas stood near the blacksmith's forge, his back to them. From what Rune could tell, the man was alone. He nudged Isith and pointed silently to her former lover across the way. The emotions that flitted across the woman's scarred features in the brief second her eyes found him were too numerous to name.
"He's alone, then?" Her voice was hopeful as she craned her neck around to scan the area around Farkas.
Rune looked down at her uncertainly. "Looks that way, guild master. Should I wait here? I can watch the children."
"No, Farkas would not – wait…" She paused just as Farkas hefted the blade that was strapped to his back over his shoulder and handed it over to the blacksmith. Her eyes narrowed on the blade and she murmured, "Grimsever…"
Rune winced. The venom laced in the single word surely felt comparable acid and broken glass in the woman's throat. Even the children seemed to have noticed as they turned their bright eyes up toward their scowling mother. Thankfully, being a few feet lower than the crowd, they had yet to spot their father and remained unaware of what had put their mother in such a sudden mood.
Isith turned to Rune and all the apathy he was certain he would see in her face was missing. She simply looked…wrong. Broken like a porcelain doll that had suffered a jagged crack through its pretty features. Her one green eye was wide, the brow above it tilted down in misunderstanding. She shook her head, trying to clear away whatever thoughts had invaded, and Rune felt his heart twist.
He stepped closer to her and whispered, "I'll take the letter to him, Isith." He held his hand out to her only to be refused.
"No," she hissed, "He can come get it himself."
But she had already turned away with the children at her side. Rune spared one last glance at the poor fool by the blacksmith before following after what used to belong to the other man. Isith cut a path to the temple and through its well kept lawn until she reached the small shrine of Talos in the back. Only then did she let go of the children's hands. She encouraged them to go and play, even going so far to disguise her melancholy by bending down to pick a flower for Sif that she tucked into the girl's white-blonde hair. The children ran off, though they stayed close enough to remain in sight without having to be told.
Rune came to stand by Isith and found that he could not quite bring himself to look at her. He took a steadying breath before asking a question he already knew the answer to.
"Do you really still love him that much?"
It did not hurt him to acknowledge what he knew to be fact. He had always known, even when he had taken Isith in his arms nights before. His guild master had simply been lonely and hurting and he had known as much. He could not bring himself to expect anything more from her.
"Always, Rune." Isith did not look at him as she spoke. She continued, "I miss him every day. It was never supposed to be like this. I didn't do the things I did to have this happen." She shook her fist at the ground and suddenly looked more fragile than Rune had ever seen her. She looked like a heartbroken young woman with not even the faintest shadow of the warrior he knew her to be showing from her in that moment.
The way his heart had turned in his chest a few minutes earlier was nothing compared to the way he ached for her now. He has seen firsthand what she had been through. He understood how hard the Dragonborn had fought to have a chance at the happy family that lay just out of her grasp. He also understood that she believed it was a dream that had forever escaped her.
Since the first night Farkas had left the little farmhouse, he had watched as his guild master gave up the fight little by little. It was as if, for all her mighty strength, the blow the warrior had dealt to her heart had been simply too much for her to carry on. It had felled her just as surely as a blade to the chest. Isith had fought against gods and dragons, pushing and pushing until she had won in the end. But when it came to the father of her children, the man she had agreed to marry, she just lay down and took what was handed to her.
"Why?" Rune asked her suddenly.
Isith turned her eyes to him. "Why do I love him?"
Rune shook his head and frowned down his nose at her. "Why is he not with you now?"
"Because he is with her."
"Is he?" Rune snapped, taking on a tone that he had never used against his guild master and friend. "Or do you tell yourself that he is, Isith? Do you know? I don't know for sure. No one knows for sure. People whisper of how the Dragonborn was set aside for some autumn-aged harpy with a chip on her shoulder."
Isith hissed at him and jerked her hand at the children playing a few yards away. What for, Rune did not know. The children knew well enough that there was trouble between their parents. After all, they divided their time between Isith and Farkas whenever Isith could not keep them. And when they were with Farkas they were also with that other woman. Neither of them had yet to speak a word about her.
"Isith," Rune sighed, his voice softening. He reached to place his hands gently on her shoulders. "We all saw how happy you were when you returned to us after those years away. Farkas…the lad looked as if he could finally breathe air again. He wasn't ready for it when you left –"
"I had to, Rune! Skyrim is at war!" Isith was on the verge of sounding like a snarling wolf. "I went to fight to help keep this land safe for my family. As the Dragonborn, I had to. It wasn't about the honor or the redemption in fighting for the Empire. It was about ensuring that my family knew peace." Her gaze turned to the ground suddenly and she muttered, "I couldn't make him understand, Rune. Now the thing I was fighting for lays shattered at my feet."
She looked up once more when she felt Rune's fingers under her chin, nudging her solemn visage into view. "Hey," he murmured with a faint smile, "I understand. Everyone but Farkas and that man-woman he's living with understands."
The woman before him scowled and turned her face away. "Do you think he loves her?" she asked quietly.
Rune sighed, his breath catching in Isith's long hair and rustling it around her cheek. "Isith, I'm not even sure if there is even anything between them. They're both warriors. Like attracts like. Perhaps it is simply comforting to him to have a steady presence that reminds him so strongly of you."
Isith's scowl deepened. "You just called her a man-woman, Rune."
The thief chuckled and shook his head. "You know what I mean, guild master. Warrior woman, is that better? And I'll have you know that I've spent many a night wondering around the city and not once have I seen Farkas and that warrior-woman strolling about arm-in-arm, gazing at the stars."
Isith scuffed her boot against the ground, toeing the dirt at Talos' feet. "Maybe they prefer to stay inside," she mumbled, her scarred bottom lip jutting out in a way that was pitifully reminiscent of her daughter's best pout.
"Maybe, maybe not. You should ask Farkas, Isith. He doesn't act like a man who is happy from what I've seen. He looks just as lost as you do. Granted, he has been less destructive about it." His last words weren't meant as a pity jab at her recent interest in making alcoholism into a sport. He meant them as the honest to goodness truth.
The woman finally conceded, "I suppose you're right. It's just so damn hard."
"Not as hard as the fight you fought to get this far."
Isith snorted and scowled. "Says you."
Satisfied that there was no reason to pursue the topic further, Rune turned from her and caught sight of the children. He hummed to himself at what he saw, smiling. "It looks like your children may be out for a pet cat rather than a dog, Isith."
He drew her attention to the twins that had found a friend. A large cat, larger than any house cat Rune had ever seen, was rolling around the children's dancing feet. They petted the animal's smooth fur, squealing happily as the silky dappled coat brushed against their fingers. The creature looked up as if it sensed the two new pairs of eyes on it and stared back at the adults through impossibly crystalline eyes that were the exact color of light emeralds.
"What a strange beast," Rune said, more to himself than anyone else, "I have not seen it around here before."
"Nor I," Isith acknowledged, "It's pretty though."
Just as quickly as the cat had joined the children it bolted off suddenly, slipping nimbly around a corner bound for the market and out of sight. Both the children whined at the loss of their newest companion and trudged woefully over to their mother. Isith nudged their chins up as they came to stand in front of her.
"Aw, none of that now. Smile for mama."
Bram was the first give her the halfhearted grin she asked for and was only joined by Sif when Isith playfully tugged at the girl's ear.
With the little ones somewhat placated, she said, "Why don't you two go with uncle Rune for a little while? I have to take care of something." Before the children could reply, Isith bent down and whispered something into their ears. Rune could have sworn he heard the words "con" and "sweet roll" before his guild master straightened once again. This time the children wore no trace of their earlier frowns. They both latched onto either side of him, twining their little hands in his.
Sighing, Rune shrugged just once before saying, "It's not my fault if they learn to pick locks while you're gone, you know? Brynjolf has been insisting."
Isith answered him with a fair imitation of a scowl. "You even think about it, Rune, and I shall never speak to you again."
"Bah, an empty threat," the thief grinned. "Now," he said, "Go take care of the lad, will you? Tell him there are others threatening to whisk his woman out from under him if he doesn't get his head on straight."
Isith smiled at him one last time before turning. "You're too good, Rune. The best man in this whole forsaken country."
He had watched her take only a few steps from him when he saw her pause again before turning and throwing him a wink. He barely caught her words, too quiet as a gust of fall wind picked up and blew against them suddenly. He heard enough to know what she said though.
"Thank you for everything, Rune."
Now, onwards to the sequel!
NOTE: I've recently joined the folks over at Archive of Our Own. It's less restricted and, well, just different than . Plus it took me, like, six months to get accepted so yeah, I'll be frequenting that site a lot.
But I was just going to tell you all that I've decided to DRASTICALLY overhaul MLOT and it'll be posted there (cause has all these no-no's that I don't wanna deal with). MLOT and the sequel will be combined to form a larger way more epic-ly cool story with two different arcs (the Dark Brotherhood and the sequel arc). I plan on adding more background for characters, more interactions between Isith and the DB, and other changes that I really can't list. It's a lot folks. Oh and the last few chapters and the ending of MLOT will change.
It won't be up for a while, though, so don't go looking for it yet. Just a heads up. I'll remind ya'll later with the sequel. Here's the site if you'd like to look around though: archiveofourown .org
I don't know if the link will work but you get the idea. Just go look around under fandoms.