Years later, as she huddled over a mug of mead, she would reflect on the smell.
It was the first thing she had noticed, here. Arriving. Whatever the hell, or Oblivion, had happened. The tang of pine sap, her ears immediately going numb from the 'brisk' breeze (warm, almost summery air, Solaf had teased her) the abrupt copper smell of blood. Like pennies in her mouth.
Later, it had been the stench that had almost knocked her over, the warm and all too soon welcome stench of civilization. Cows, goats, horses, people...excrement was everywhere. Ripening in the sun, squishing underfoot. Later, with the hard found painful wisdom she was slowly absorbing the more she lingered here, she would look for it, look for the shit, the pebbled droppings of elk and deer and the more substantial spoor of bear and sabrecat lion.
Shit meant life. Shit meant food.
And food was life. Everything here in Skyrim revolved around it. The lowliest farmer scratching in the permafrost to the highest land owning noble lived by it.
Lived by nature's law laid down by shit, food and blood.
It was, she grimaced as the mead slid thickly down her throat (too thick, like soup, she'd never get used to it) the beginning.
The smell was the start, the first clue that golly, Toto wasn't in Kansas anymore.
There had been a fire. Warmth, smoke, s'mores, smiles. Bryce's grin; god, she'd never get tired of her husband's eye-crinkling smile...so white bright against the dark natural tan of his skin. Hot hands on her waist, around her belly, snaking into her pants, covering her mouth when she made too much noise. It wouldn't do to wake up the soft lumpy sleepers in their mylar sleeping bags huddled around the firepit.
She fell asleep later as well, in his arms, lazily counting embers as they glowed white, flaking out like stars into the blackness...
A rough voice interrupted her woolgathering. "Done then? Let's keep moving."
Sniffing, she pushed the almost drained mug of mead away and turned to face Vilkas, the Companion. His smell was blood too; blood and salt and steel. Today, the steel was tempered with the herb green of elves ear and frost mirriam.
Days like today, she particularly enjoyed his smell. Days spent foraging and sunbathing were always preferable to the darker, albeit necessary evil of killing bandits, cave trolls and other monsters that went bump in the night. Grinning, she paid Hulda her gold for the mead and left The Bannered Mare, motioning for the Companion to follow.
"Sure you can handle this?" God, the sky was a glorious blue today.
"Aye," he frowned as she flashed him a brilliant, toothy white smile and pushed open the creaking gates. Skipping down to the meandering cobbled path that led to the tundra plains, Sigrid Farstrider, formerly Sarah Ferguson, hummed a tune for no ones pleasure or understanding but her own.
...mmm, weeee're off to see the wizard, the wonderful wizard of Oz...
The skeever brained s'wit was laughing and dancing down the road like a Khajiit acrobat high on skooma.
He had to admire her fortitude, Vilkas admitted to himself as he readjusted his pack and hurried along after her. Last night had been a bad night. Her eyes had that telltale white edge around them as she had knocked back ale after ale, trading jokes and lewd stories with the other Companions. Only the subtle tremors of her hands gave her away, but he knew where to look. They had been together long enough that he could ward off the worst of the fits, the cries she let out at night. Hopefully distracting her with the calluses on his fingertips, he would touch her...alter her dreams to something more pleasant.
Then her cries would turn to a different sort.
Nights like that, he remembered unwillingly the beginning. Literally stumbling across her, he had blinked stupidly in the dank cave upon seeing the torchlight shine, gleaming like mirrors in her too-wide eyes. And no matter how much ale he drank or how many years had passed, he would always recall with perfect clarity the bodies of her family scattered like broken dolls upon the cave floor.
Death and blood and beginnings.
It was how he thought of it still. There had been the beginning, and then everything that had come after. The end of his life, as he had known it, and the start of something wonderful and new and raw...with an outlander who had been Sarah who was now Sigrid.
The necromancer had been adept, but not expert; the bodies of adults and (he shivered in rage) children few enough that he might have lingered in that no name cave even longer practicing his foul spellwork. Had Vilkas taken the other job, the one in Eastmarch, he might have missed Sarah. Sigrid.
Even a milk drinking fool would have been taken aback at the ferocity, the single mindedness of her vengeance. Grime covered and giggling, she had taken Aela's proffered dagger to remove her bindings and had stabbed what was left of the necromancer until his face was a red pulp. Chest heaving, she had glared at all of them as Aela cautiously led her out of the cave to a stream to wash up.
It wasn't until his watch in the early morning that he really looked. He might have the soul of a wolf, but he was still a man. Even Aela's eyes had lingered on the shine of her hair, the plumpness of a woman who had the good fortune to never miss a meal. The pure, unblemished whiteness of her skin.
No one, he reflected later on, had that type of flesh untouched by sun or snow. Fear prompted him to examine her as she slept fitfully for signs of vampirism, but his nose could find nothing but fear, shock and rage wafting from her. Not until his senses confirmed that she, it (whatever it was) was of mankind that the awareness of lust made itself known again to him.
Blinking in the starlight, he had masterfully reigned in his feelings. She was likely a noble brat, likely 'adventuring' and all too happy to pay a finders fee to be returned to her hold.
He remembered refusing to count the smaller, burlap covered bodies that waited, all too patiently, stacked against the fir and spruce. He had counted them thrice already.
Watching her stroll down the path, singing that jaunty tune that made not a lick of sense, Vilkas readjusted his sword.
...And followed his woman. The Dragonborn.