The first thing she thought of, after she rushed out of Dragonsreach to head for the western tower, was wiping that smug look from Vilkas’s face with the news. There was a petty niggling inside her that made her want to run straight into Jorrvaskr and drag him from his bed so he could see the dragon he didn’t believe could possibly be there. And then she thought of Farkas, how much it would thrill him to stand against a dragon, but there wasn’t time. She followed Irileth and the other guards through the gates, racing across the field toward the tower.
That was her third thought, as she strung her bow with shaking fingers and aimed it at the great beast burning everything in its path from overhead. Its flames brushed close to her armor more than once, and she watched as it swooped down to grab one of the guards in its mighty maw, snapping the poor man in half before tossing his torso skyward and gnashing down to swallow what was left of him.
Her arms were so tired, she didn’t know how she managed to unsheathe her blade and charge forward when the dragon landed, but even more surprising was the vigor with which she swung up onto its back and smashed the pommel of her sword down hard on its skull, a loud crack sounding in the night as its neck waved in attempt to shake her loose. The great beast wavered a little, its body rocking back and forth as it tried to regain its balance, which gave her the perfect opportunity to slam her sword down through its skull.
Vilkas would have been proud, she thought, then shook that thought from her mind. He probably would have found at least three ways she’d done it all wrong.
The dragon groaned and trembled, and from above she watched its serpent eyes flaring with disbelief just before it fell with a great thud that sent dust and clods of earth spraying down around everyone nearby. Luthien slid off the back, ignoring the scrape of its thick scales against the bare skin of her hands.
“Is it… really dead?” someone said behind her.
“I’m not getting close enough to find out.”
And then it happened. The world wavered just a little before her as it had done in Bleak Falls Barrow when she’d came upon the wall, her feet stumbling as her whole body swayed against its massive power. Even more so than the strange word wall in Bleak Falls Barrow, this new whirlwind of power swept through her, tingling in her blood until her entire body felt warm and soft, as if she might melt right into the ground where she stood.
“Could it… could it really be? I’ve heard rumors, old stories about the Dragonborn, but I never thought…”
“The Dragonborn. You just absorbed that dragon’s soul into your body. Can you speak the words of power, like the warriors of old? Can you dragonshout?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Luthien’s head felt like it was swimming without the rest of her body.
“Try to shout.”
She didn’t know what the guard meant, but after a few others chimed in and told her to search inside herself for the power that must be there, she steadied herself and closed her eyes. She drew in a deep breath, summoning the word of power they claimed the Dragonborn could speak. It swelled up inside her like a strange fire, and when she shouted the word, “FUS!” everyone in front of her staggered back several steps, as if the power of her voice had moved them. She felt drained, as if all her life force had left her for a moment.
“You are the Dragonborn!” the guard cried.
“Do it again!” another pleaded.
“No,” Irileth put a hand on her shoulder. “I don’t know what just happened, and I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to try it again. Not until you know what it is inside you. I need you to head back up to Whiterun and report this to the jarl. Let him know the dragon has been slain.”
She staggered away from the tower with her head in a cloud. She’d never felt so exhausted in her life, and as if Jarl Balgruuf knew this and wished to torment her, he seemed to go on and on for hours about what a great service she’d done for him. He wanted to make her a thane of Whiterun, and offer her property in the city when she was ready to settle down, but until then he gave her a housecarl all her own. But it was her asking him about the strange sound she’d heard on her way back to the Wind District, that rumbling of voices that felt like it shook the entire world, that had taken the most time.
Balgruuf said he didn’t know if she really was Dragonborn, but if it was true, the Greybeards in High Hrothgar would want to see her. That rumbling had been them, calling out to her. If indeed, she was the Dragonborn, they could show her how to use the voice…
It was enough to make her head feel heavier than it already was, and her body ached so bad she was about to take up residence on Balgruuf’s floor. When she was finally on her way out, her new housecarl approached her at the door, but she didn’t know what to say to her when the woman proclaimed, “I am your sword and your shield.”
“I’m not trying to be rude, or anything. I’m exhausted… what was your name again?”
“Lydia, my thane.”
“Right, Lydia. I’m exhausted. I will come by and see you tomorrow.”
“Whatever you wish, my thane.”
My thane, she thought, heading down the stairs. She could tell that was going to get old real quick.
It was so late by the time she made it back to Jorrvaskr, she didn’t expect to find anyone still awake, but Vilkas was there alone, a cup clutched loosely in his hand and his gaze locked on the fire in the center of the room. He looked up when the doors closed behind her, startled from the depths of his thought, and though at first she thought it was a smile toying with his lips, it quickly turned downward and he looked away.
“You took my brother on some side job with you today and didn’t tell anyone where you were going.”
“Farkas offered to come along,” she said. “He didn’t think it was a good idea for me to head over there on my own, and I accepted his offer. Turned out he was right. I would have never come back from there alive if I’d gone in by myself.”
“If something had happened to him…”
“Nothing happened to him. Maybe you hadn’t noticed, but your brother’s a grown man. He can take care of himself.”
She thought for a single second she’d quieted him, his eyes squinting in the firelight into two angry slits, the corners of his lips tightening until there were distinct stress lines around his mouth, and then he started to push away from the table and rise to stand. He took a few steps toward her and she felt a sudden urge to back up, but he didn’t. “My brother may be a grown man, but he’s still my brother. You might not have noticed, but he follows you around like a lost little puppy, waiting for you to throw him a bone. You make him reckless and stupid…”
“I don’t make him do anything!” She held her ground, though she really wanted to back away, and then stepped forward until their faces were just a breath apart. “And if I hear one more person call him stupid, I’ll crack their skull myself, brother or not. None of you give him any credit for anything, and you of all people should be ashamed for the way you treat him.”
That did shut him up, his lips moving but no sound coming out as he found himself backing up as he tried to think of something clever to say. Nothing came.
“He had my back out there today like a true friend, and I am grateful for that. You’re right. Maybe we should have told someone where we were going, I get that, but to insinuate that I made him come along, as though I was purposely trying to get him killed…”
“That isn’t what I said. You’re twisting my words.”
“Just like you twisted my intentions into something they never were.” Shaking her head, she turned her body right, toward the stairs. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m tired. I just spent the last few hours defending Whiterun from a dragon attack and I’d like to get some sleep.”
Vilkas let her go, not saying another word as she walked away and headed down the stairs into the bunkhouse to drop onto the first empty bed she came to with a raging sigh. After everything that had happened that day… the draugr, the dragon, finding out she could shout because she was some Dragonborn, whatever that was, all she could think about when she laid down in a huff and jerked the thin blanket up over her body, was Vilkas.
Every muscle in her was tight with fury, every thought in her mind glared red and angry until she felt like she would explode.
Just thinking his name to herself made her want to scream. Who in the name of the Nine Divines did he think he was?
She slept, though not well, and found herself up just after the sun the next morning and out in the practice yard to hack away at dummies with her sword before anyone else had stirred. Every strike rattled through her arms, into her bones, but it made her feel better. After a while, she put her sword away and wrapped her hands, punching at the dummies as she thought about Vilkas. His smug face, his arrogant tone, his stupid, stupid… “Gah!” she growled, hammering her tight fist into the dummy’s painted, straw face and ignoring the burn in her knuckles.
“Fierce,” an appreciative female voice said from behind her. “I like a woman who’s not afraid to get up at the crack of dawn to take out her frustrations on a dummy.”
Luthien took a step back and glanced over her shoulder to see Aela standing there with her hands on her hips. “I didn’t think anyone was up yet.”
“I like to get up early sometimes and head out to the woods to hunt. I came up to see if Ria wanted to come out with me, but she’s still asleep. So, how about it? Are you game?”
“Sure,” she shrugged. “I know where there’s a bear den that’s just begging to be cleaned out. What do you say? Wanna go take some of those frustrations out on a living creature and put some food on the table at the same time?”
“Okay,” she agreed.
She grabbed her bow and followed Aela down through the quiet streets of Whiterun and past the sleepy guards at the front gate. The morning was quiet, and she could hear the birds calling to each other in the trees as they walked. It made her feel peaceful and calmed the frayed edges of her nerves, making her instantly glad she’d come along.
“I heard about the dragon attack last night,” Aela said. “You were there?”
“I’ve never hunted dragon,” she chuckled a little to herself. “Probably because until a few days ago, they didn’t seem to exist anymore. But I’d like to, one day. Was it big?”
“I watched it tear a guard in half and gulp him down still screaming as a river of blood rained down on everyone below.”
“That’s fantastic.” Her face lit up with awe. “Not for the guard of course, but you know what I mean. Nevertheless, I wish I’d been there.”
“It was definitely something I’ll never forget.”
“So, is that why you were up so early this morning, hacking and slashing? Got a little dragon rage burning under your skin?”
“No, I don’t know. Maybe.”
“Well, whatever it was, you certainly looked like you needed to get out of Jorrvaskr for a bit. Wait, let me guess… Vilkas is giving you a hard time?” When she didn’t answer, Aela laughed. “I should have known. Just ignore him. He’s… a good guy. A little uptight sometimes, but he means well and he’s fiercely protective of that little brother of his, even if Farkas is almost twice his size. Right now you’re just a whelp in his eyes, but once he gets to know you, gets used to having you around and feels like you’ve proven yourself, he’ll grow on you.”
Luthien highly doubted time, or anything else for that matter, would ever make Vilkas grow on her, but she didn’t say anything about it. Instead, she geared up her mind for the hunt, falling quietly into Aela’s footsteps as they scaled the mountainside searching for sign of bear scat and markings.
A pack of wolves came in, teeth bared and snarling, but when Aela turned her eyes on them, they yelped and ran back in the direction they’d come from. Luthien stepped back and looked at her, marveling at the unspoken display of power and muttered, “Talos,” under her breath. “How did you do that?”
“Maybe I’ll show you someday. Come on, the den’s up here.”
There were three of them, a mother and two cubs that were probably no more than a year old. Aela took out the mother with her bow, but the sharp growl of their mother falling alerted the cubs and though they were smaller, it didn’t make them any less vicious. Luthien steadied her aim and drew the arrow back, taking down the female cub while Aela dropped the male, but as they approached the found the female still alive, trying to claw the arrow from its stomach. Aela shot at close range, her arrow going right through the cub’s skull and putting it out of its misery.
“Nice work,” she grinned over at Luthien. “You show skill with a bow, but you could use a little more practice.”
“Maybe you could show me a few tricks.”
“Definitely, but for now, I’ve got a little New Blood work for you.” Her eyebrow arched up, green eyes glowing in the stark black paint across her face. “Gut and skin all three of these and get as much meat from the cubs as you can carry.”
“All right,” Luthien nodded.
“Find me back at Jorrvaskr when you’re done and we’ll have Tilma make a big pot of bear stew for dinner.”
“Wait, where are you going?”
“I’m not done hunting.” Her grin lit up her whole face, and then she darted further up the hill, the sound of her already quiet footsteps soon become nonexistent until Luthien found herself alone there with their kills.
She’d never skinned a bear before… well, truth be told, she’d never skinned anything and she had no idea what was she doing. She carved out choice cuts of meat though, wrapping them in the cloth of the Stormcloak Cuirass she’d worn all the way from Helgen, and packing them into her satchel until she could fit no more inside. The skins were nicked, parts of the fur torn through from her blade, but she carried all three of them down the mountainside for Aela to inspect anyway, knowing she had more to learn than just fighting skills if she wanted to make it in the world on her own.
By the time she made it back to Whiterun, she was covered in sweat and dried blood and she smelled worse than the bearskins she carried, but she realized as the guards held the gate open for her to pass through that she hadn’t thought about Vilkas since earlier that morning. A slow smile dawned on her lips as she ignored the stares of the villagers when she passed by and headed up to Jorrvaskr with a feeling of pride in her heart.