"So how well do you know this Sinding guy," Areas asked as he rode up beside the Breton, "are you sure he's trustworthy?"
"I'd stake my life on it," she replied curtly, "like I said, he owes me big time."
Nodding, the Nord merely glanced at the steel war ax hanging on her belt, "Is that Skyforge steel?"
"You've been to Whiterun?"
"I was born there," he chuckled, "my father is Jolgar Bear-Heart."
Surani glanced his way in surprise, "I know Jolgar! My father was good friends with him."
The Nord's eyes locked with hers, "Your father wouldn't happen to be Astien, would he?"
Suddenly, Surani reached forward and pulled the hood away from Areas' face, "I knew I recognized your name. Wow, I haven't seen you in years."
Areas nodded, pulling his hood back into place, "You've certainly grown. Last I heard, you were married," his eyes drifted down to the Amulet of Mara draped around her neck, "did I hear wrong?"
He noticed her stiffen, suddenly avoiding his gaze. Instead of answering, she urged her horse onward. Ingmar, who had been listening quietly, glanced back at the group's leader noticing a faint glimmer of tears in her eyes.
Areas sighed, realizing he had struck some sort of nerve.
"Way to go," he turned to see Avon chuckling, "not even to Riverwood yet, and you've already pissed off our leader."
"She's not pissed," the Nord rolled his eyes, "just upset."
As the group came upon the small town of Iverstead, Surani pulled Wolf-Storm to a stop, "All right, let's get moving. I want to make it to Riverwood before sundown."
The group pushed on, passing the townsfolk quietly. A young Nord woman watched the procession parade by, eyeing each member curiously. Avon sent a wink her way, earning himself a groan of disgust. As the horses slowly left the village behind, Surani picked up the pace. Wolf-Storm was happy with the new speed, yet snorted as her rider continued to hold her back.
"Say kiddo," Ingmar glanced back towards Fyermir, "what was it like, having the Dragonborn as your father?"
"Yeah," Avon nodded excitedly, "are the legends true? Was he really seven feet tall? Could he really kill a dragon just by looking at him?"
"What are you, five?"
A small smile played at the young Dragonborn's lips, "My father was a noble man. He believed that everyone belonged in Skyrim, not just the Nords. He used to tell me how he wished he participated in the war against King Ulfric. He thinks he might have made a difference."
"Doubtful," Fyermir snorted, "there was no stopping Ulfric. There still isn't."
Ignoring his sister, Areas turned towards the young boy, "I believe your father was right."
Ingmar nodded, his eyes clouding with tears, "I miss him."
Surani glanced at the back of the boy's head, giving him her own sad look before wrapping an arm around his front and hugging him gently. Instead of pushing her away, he accepted the hug gratefully by wrapping his own arms around hers.
"Have any of you ever lost someone close to you?"
A startled silence befell the group, causing them to glance between one another uneasily.
"I lost my mother," Areas's soft reply caused Fyermir to whip her head in his direction, "at the Battle of Whiterun."
"You mean the slaughter of Whiterun," Surani snarled, not turning the Nord's way, "we lost so many innocents that day."
Ignoring the Breton, Areas continued, "I was sent there to help defend the hold against Galmar and his soldiers. I was just given my orders to defend the Jarl when I saw my parents trying to help the Companions rescue civilians. I wanted to help, but I had my orders. Galmar...he sent an arrow at my father. My mother stepped in front of it. She didn't even know she had died; the arrow went right through her head."
Shadowmere's snort of discomfort caused Areas to notice he had been pulling tightly on her reins. He relaxed his arms, holding his breath to try and calm his anger.
"My father killed Galmar that day. Can't say I was sad to see him die."
Fyermir's rugged breath caused her brother to glance over at her, "I-I was supposed to lead the troops that day instead of Galmar. I refused."
"Why," her brother snarled, "couldn't face us after you abandoned the family to follow Ulfric."
"I made my choice!"
"You made the choice of a lovesick little girl!"
The group fell silent once more. Avon glanced between Rasha and Kashna before clearing his throat.
"I didn't know either of my parents for very long. My dad was a Dark Elf and my mom was a Wood Elf. We lived in Windhelm, and you can imagine it wasn't the best place to be. My parents were falsely accused of being Thalmor spies. Instead of waiting for an investigation, a couple of Nords decided to take matters into their own hands. I watched as they killed my parents in cold blood. They couldn't even defend themselves; the bastards had bound their hands."
Fyermir avoided the elf's glare, "Did you ever find out who did it?"
"They never left the house," he snarled, "they were going to kill me next. Didn't want to leave any witnesses, they said."
"They killed the family of an unstable Elven mage. What do you think happened?"
Kashna reached over to pat his friend on the shoulder, his cloud filled eyes trying their best to appear focused on him.
"Thanks big guy," he nodded, "I needed that."
"I know your pain, my friend," he replied, his throaty voice filled with pain, "I have also lost my entire family in one day. I miss them terribly."
"In Narzulbur, it is custom for the chief to have multiple wives. My mother was the third wife of my father. I was the youngest out of all his children. My eldest brother, the firstborn son of his first wife, killed my father in the duel to decide a new chief. And he cast me out."
"I may have been the youngest in my litter," he chuckled, "but I was the largest by far. No one in the stronghold towered over me. My brother perceived this as a threat."
"Rasha does not understand the ways of the Orc," the Khajiit sighed, "but Rasha will not question your ways. Rasha only hopes you will see your family again one day."
"Thank you," Kashna nodded, "and you, my friend, have you ever lost anyone?"
"Rasha has not," she shook her head, "Rasha has mother, father, and little brother back in Elsweyer. Also have mate and cubs in Riften."
Surani glanced her way with sad eyes, "Oh, you are a mother?"
The cat gave a dreamy sigh, "Yes. Rasha has little Julanza and Rakasha. Rasha hopes they are not causing father too much trouble. Those cubs always seem to find trouble."
The Breton gave her companion a small smile , guiding Wolf-Storm around a corner to continue down the road.
"Well Breton," Fyermir sneered, "it's your turn. Who have you lost?"
"Fyermir," Kashna gave the woman a stern, empty gaze, "she does not need to tell us. Sometimes, the past is too painful to recall."
"I was married," Surani's voice surprised the group, "he had come to Whiterun to start a fur trading post. He was so sweet and smart. I loved hunting with him. He'd use any excuse he could to come into Jorrvaskr and see me. One day, he finally asked me to marry him. How could I say no," she chuckled, wiping away a happy tear, "we built a house just outside of Whiterun. My daughter was born in that house."
"You're a mother," Areas asked, raising an eyebrow, "what is her name?"
Surani sighed, her head lowering to the point where it brushed against the back of Ingmar's, "It was Fern. She was the most beautiful thing you ever saw. She loved to sing and dance, and she was great with animals."
"So what happened?"
"They were taken from me," she said, holding back a snarl, "by vampires."
"Vampires," Fyermir shared a gaze with Areas, "they don't travel to Whiterun very often; too sunny and not too many places to hide. What were they doing there?"
"I was given the task to kill their leader," she said, "it was to be my first job as Harbinger. I did kill the leader, but the members of the coven who had survived did not take too kindly to that. They killed my husband, drained him dry, and they took Fern. I never saw her again."
Ingmar said nothing as the Breton once again wrapped her arm around him. Instead, he hugged her arm tightly. She smiled, laying her head on top of his.
The group traveled in silence for the rest of the day, the roofs of Riverwood appearing in the distance just as the sun began to set.
"We can get a room at the inn," Surani said, "we'll start out in the morning."
"Don't waste our money," Kashna chuckled, "I have some friends here who would be more than happy to lend us a room for the evening."
Giving him a confused glance, the Breton nodded and allowed the Orc to take the lead. As they entered the village, a large group of children rushed towards the horses.
"Kashna! Kashna is back!"
"Kashna," Faendal waved as his friend approached his small hut in the back of the village, "I did not expect to see you again so soon, my friend. Who are they?"
"They are my companions," the Orc replied as he pulled his golden horse to a stop, "we needa place to rest for the night."
"Well, you know you are always welcome at my place," the elf nodded, noticing Fyermir's armor, "are you in some sort of trouble, Kashna?"
"No," he smiled, "Faendal, these are my new friends; Areas, Fyermir, Avon, Rasha, Surani, and the child is Ingmar."
Gazing at the young boy, Faendal glanced between Areas and Surani, "You two have a very handsome son."
Surani froze mid-dismount. Areas, who had pulled off his hood, also froze as his cheeks became a dark red. Fyermir burst into a fit of laughter, earning her a glare from her older sibling.
"H-He's not ours," Surani said quickly, "and he and I are not...together."
"Oh," the Elf cleared his throat uncomfortably, "I just assumed...you know...he looks a lot like you two."
"It is a flattering thought," Areas nodded, trying to avoid Surani's gaze, "but it's just not possible."
"And why not," Faendal chuckled, "wouldn't you say she's attractive?"
Avon watched the scene before him unfold with a large smile on his face. He wondered how deep of a hole Areas would dig for himself.
"Of course she is," he replied, "but I've known her since we were children."
"And? That's the best kind of relationship."
"This isn't a relationship! It's just a-"
"Enough chit-chat," Fyermir snapped as she unsaddled Asufir, "I'm starving."
"I was just about to go hunting," Faendal nodded, picking up a nearby bow, "anyone care to join me?"
"I'll go," Avon nodded, slinging his own bow onto his back, "I need the exercise."
As the two Elves disappeared, Surani hurried Ingmar inside. Areas avoided her entirely as he followed Rasha into the small house.