Note: it wasn't until I got to Riften that I realized that the name Mara was already taken. I'm going with that her parents wanted a child who embodied the spirit of love and compassion when they picked her name out.
Mara grunted as she hauled Vilkas’s sword up the sloping trail. “I had expected joining the Companions to be more…” Her foot slipped on unfamiliar terrain in the dark and she bit back a curse as she struggled to keep the blade from scraping the ground and ruining the metal. “Glamorous.”
There was a deep laugh up the road ahead of her. “Every day can’t be about killing giants or trolls, lass. We’d get bored otherwise.” A man held aloft a torch and illuminated her way. “You must be the new blood I’ve heard about.”
She gave him a grateful tilt of her chin as she made her way up to the top. Holding the sword close to her chest, she looked at the forge in front of her with wide eyes. “By the gods,” she breathed. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything more impressive.”
“Few have. It’s been said that the Skyforge has been here long before Whiterun and Jorrvaskr were even thought of.”
She pulled her eyes away from the fires and the nearby grindstone, her heart aching against her ribs at the familiar sights. “I was told to deliver this to you,” she said, her eyes falling once again at the hammer casually propped against the anvil.
“I see that Vilkas has already started foisting deliveries onto you. Best be prepared girl; once the others see that you’re doing this, they’ll be wanting you to do everything from taking broken items to me to cleaning their armor.”
She scowled. “So I’m to be the errand girl?”
The man shrugged. “Only because you’re new. Everyone here was a whelp at first; they like to give the newcomers a taste of what they had to do before. It should die down within a few weeks, two months at worst. I’m Eorlund Gray-Mane. As you can see, I tend this forge.”
“Mara. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Ah, you have manners. I don’t mean to say that the others don’t, but a tip for the newcomer; don’t show them off too much. Then the jokes about licking boots and backsides will start up and they’re hard to put down with words alone, if you get my meaning.” Eorlund studied her, noting the new-looking scrapes against the knuckles of her right hand. “Though by the looks of it, you won’t have much trouble letting your fists do the talking for you now and again.”
“There was a fight when I came in. Is it always like that?”
“Oh? Was there blood?”
“None that I could see.”
“Ah, then that was nothing more than a friendly sparring match, no likely over a spilled flagon of mead or some other such nonsense.” He held out his hand to take the sword, noting how her arms were beginning to shake from holding it aloft for so long. “I haven’t scared you off yet?”
She stood up straighter. “No. It’ll take more than a few fistfights and trips to and from here to do that.” She tilted her head and looked at the weapon critically. “Though I have to wonder just why Vilkas sent it to you. It seems perfectly balanced and only needs a minor sharpening, which is something he could have done himself.”
“But then that would take away the thrill of sending you to act as his lackey, would it not? Yet you do have a good eye – have you been around weapons much?”
“My father is…” Mara’s breath hitched. Everything had happened so rapidly; she hadn’t had much time to catch her breath, let alone allow herself to think about her parents. “Was. He was a blacksmith. The way my mother often told it, I was his assistant as soon as I was old enough to know better than to crawl towards the coals.”
“From where do you hail, Mara?”
She swallowed, trying not to think about the smoke and the heat. “Helgen.” She desperately tried not to think about her family home engulfed in flames, or about the familiar black leather apron covering a lifeless body draped protectively across the body of a woman. Clearing her throat, she gestured towards the forge. “He had a small stall, nothing as grand as this. Steel ore was hard for him to come by often, but iron was plentiful. By the age of three, I was buffing shields and by the time I was nine, I was set the task of forging iron daggers of my own.”
Eorlund was often thought of as a hard man, but he had a secret weakness for women in distress. That same weakness hit him as he watched Mara stare longingly at the tools of his trade, her face set in a wistful expression. “Well, I’ll tell you what. Those meatheads down there will more than likely give you more work to haul up here than I could ever do on my own. I might run this forge, but I also make weapons and armor for a living. Since you have experience – and you do have experience in repairs, yes?” He nodded his head when she told him she did. “Then you may come here and help out with anything I think you can do on your own. It’ll keep my workload lighter and keep you out of Jorrvaskr. Out of sight, out of mind and all that.”
Mara liked that suggestion. “I do believe we have a deal,” she said, holding out her hand.
Eorlund was pleased by the firmness of her handshake, slight calluses created from years of hard work scraping against his own. He was also pleased to see that the loneliness that had flitted behind her eyes had eased somewhat, and that in its place, she had a look of determination. Aye, she’ll fit in here well, he thought with a smile. Setting Vilkas’s blade down, he took up a shield. It took very little to convince her to deliver it to Aela, which he was grateful for. He longed to be home to comfort his dear wife. Taking up his torch again, he walked with Mara down the path, parting ways at the front of Jorrvaskr. Farkas and Aela happened to be coming up the stairs, Aela holding a torch and Farkas carting a small keg of ale atop one of his broad shoulders. He couldn’t hear the conversation from his vantage point, but the body language of the two Companions told him everything he needed to know. He wagered that Aela would be gruffly ordering Mara about for a week before adding in pointers here and there in her no-nonsense manner while Farkas would be his usual self and attempt to make her feel welcome as best as he could.
Eorlund had to shake his head at the boy. Farkas was one to speak only when he had something to say, and he'd had plenty of things to say in the hours before Mara had finally made her way up to their hall. A giant, Eorlund. This girl came out of nowhere and landed a killing blow on a giant. She said that she would think about joining us. Even Aela admitted she showed skill with an axe. Do you think she will join or was she only joking? By the fifth retelling of the tale, Farkas had all but spun the story around so that Mara had been the one to goad the giant into battle and he and the rest of their scouting party had merely stumbled up upon her as she looted the corpse for valuables.
He’d also described Mara as having hair the color of sun-warmed wheat, which had made Torvar throw his hands up in disgust and suggest that Farkas be kicked out of the Companions so he could pursue his true calling in Solitude at the Bards College. Eorlund had known Farkas ever since he had been but a boy and he had never heard him speak so complimentary towards any woman before. It was something to keep an eye on, that was for certain.
He stifled a chuckle as Farkas proved him right, struggling to hold the cask on his shoulder aloft as he attempted to open the door for Mara. He listened as Mara’s quiet laugh floated down the stairs and watched as she ducked underneath Farkas’s arm and held the door open for him to pass.
“Yes,” Eorlund mused, turning away and heading down towards his own home. “She’ll fit in quite nicely here.”