Several times that day as they journeyed, dragon shadow passed over their backs, sometimes just one, other times two, as the beasts left their home, perhaps in search of their fallen brother. Ducking into cover, their bodies so close she could smell the musty scent of sweat and leather on his skin, Ulfric’s hand would lift to rest on her shoulder as if he were holding onto her when he craned his neck to watch their great, scaled bellies pass overhead.
“My father had a pack of warhounds when I was small, and Galmar and I used to play at dragonslaying. We would chase the hounds around the yard with our wooden blades, yelling out dragon shouts we made up to drive back the beasts.” He nudged her to move forward again, once the dragon had passed. “Before Helgen, dragons were just a legend. They seemed so vulnerable and small in my imagination, but now…”
“Now they are real?” She glanced back over her shoulder at him and he nodded, his eyes wider than usual as he secured his footing behind her and waited for her to progress.
She had expected the ice to thicken as they scaled the pass, but the higher they drew to the mountain’s peak, the warmer the air grew. Clear water trickled down the rock in rivulets, making for slick stone Luthien lost her footing against several times. Ulfric’s strong hands were always there to catch her before she stumbled backward, gripping the waist of her armor and holding her steady until she righted herself again.
The passage began to widen, almost into a direct road that led straight to the lair of the beasts, and when she caught sight of an abandoned shack in the distance, she wondered how long it had been since Northwind Summit had provided safe haven to the miners who’d once dug deep into the belly of the mountain for ore. They were able to keep their footing once they reached the old road, but there were few trees and Ulfric muttered to her that he worried the dragons would spot them in the open and roast them where they stood if they lingered too long on that path.
Luthien agreed with a nod, and they headed left, into the alcove that led into the mine. It was only midday, the trek up the mountainside taking less time than she’d calculated, and the dragons had yet to return from whatever havoc they were wreaking on the world below. They ducked left, sneaking into the shack just beyond the exit from the mine. Slipping into the structure, Luthien slid her back down the furthest wall to keep her eye on the skies and Ulfric lingered in the right corner beside her.
She could hear the distant chant of a dragon word wall calling out to her soul, but she couldn’t answer, not until the dragons were gone and it was safe. It had been a long time since she’d come across a word wall and learned a new shout. Master Arngeir had once told her there were dozens of them scattered all across Skyrim, and she had only barely begun to scratch the surface.
Thinking of Master Arngeir brought Hundr to her thoughts, and she closed her eyes a moment to call his precious face to mind. Surely Farkas had arrived at High Hrothgar already, delivered the child unto the Greybeards and begun making his way back home again. He’d said she would know where to find him when she was ready, but she didn’t know when that day would come. Part of her was ashamed she hadn’t realized during those long months he was absent that it had been Ulfric keeping Farkas away from her all along.
He’d clearly shown his jealousy before they were even married, flexing his possessiveness with her when she’d admitted that her heart still ached with grief for Vilkas. Ulfric had told her he wished she’d come straight to him after Helgen; she would have always been his then and he would never have had to share her with another man. In the end, she supposed it had been her own fault, stoking the fires of his jealous heart every time she spoke of Farkas. Her brother in blood and battle, her best friend, she and Farkas had been through so much together and they shared a bond unlike anything she could ever share with her husband. Even Vilkas had commented more than once on the closeness she and his brother shared, but it had never been like that… had it?
She’d always known how Farkas felt about her, and early on she’d entertained a few thoughts about the possibility of a future with him, but it had never gone beyond thinking. Even after Vilkas was gone, she knew she could never be the woman Farkas wanted her to be. She would never know if she’d gone to him out of some strange need to fill the void Vilkas’s death left inside her, or not, and she could not do that to him.
Even still… Ulfric had no right to do what he’d done.
“I don’t know if I will ever forgive you,” she broke the silence, not glancing over her shoulder at him. She could feel him staring at her, those sad forlorn eyes boring into her, pleading with her to look at him, but she didn’t.
“I hope one day you will,” he murmured. “That you will see I only did the things I did out of love for you.”
She wanted to laugh. “You don’t love anything or anyone but yourself, Ulfric.”
“That’s not true,” he insisted. “I love you, and I will prove that much to you before all is said and done.”
“Is that why you’re really here?” She finally looked over at him, her eyes narrowing as they met with his. “To prove yourself to me?”
“I’m here because you need me,” he said. “And I want you to believe in me, to know that even though I hurt you, I can be the man you need me to be.”
“The man I needed you to be disappeared the day he gave our unborn child to the Greybeards.”
There were so many things she wanted to say to him then, most of them probably best left unspoken, but she never got to say them because the heavy flap of wings cracked against the sky as the dragons made their way home to Northwind Summit. The smaller of the two settled just outside the shack they were waiting in and the other perched atop the word wall calling out to her.
Drawing her mind to the task at hand, she turned quietly into the wall, peering through the cracks in the wood at the enemy beyond those walls. She didn’t think… no, she knew she couldn’t take on both of them at once, not even with Ulfric fighting beside her. She needed to find a way to separate them, take them on one at a time, but as she listened to them grunt and growl, their heavy footsteps shaking the ground beneath their feet as they settled in, she didn’t think either of them was just going to take off anytime soon.
Think, she told herself. Think. Of all the magic she knew, all the shouts, there had to be something she could employ to distract them. Maybe if she cast her fire atronarch near the trees, it would be enough to busy the one on the ground while she and Ulfric attacked the one on the wall. If she handed Ulfric her Staff of the Familiar, he could cast another distraction, but she didn’t think even two conjurations would be powerful enough to hold both dragons back once they moved in to attack.
What she needed was a way to get that dragon on the ground as far away from the Summit as possible, and as she rested her head against the wall behind her, she flipped through all the information she’d stored in her mind over the last four years. Spells, shouts, tactical maneuvers… And then she remembered.
There was a shout she learned at Shearpoint, while she and Farkas had been traveling all across Skyrim in search of the staff of Magnus. They’d nearly died battling the dragon priest buried there, but the shout she’d learned had been well worth their efforts in the end. She’d used it numerous times in the deep crypts, drawing draugr away from their footsteps and sending them in search of them elsewhere so they could more easily sneak through to their destination.
It would be risky, but it might just work.
Swallowing against the nervous itch rising in her throat, she drew in a deep breath and focused her energy. Ulfric reached over to nudge her, eyebrows furrowed in question when she glanced over at him. She lifted her finger to her lips and then shouted, her voice echoing off the distant canyon as if she’d bellowed from far away. “ZUL MEY GUT!”
The dragon on the ground stomped backward, and for a moment she feared he’d heard where that voice had originated from and was about to unleash heavy fire on the shack where they hid, but then the dragon on the wall bellowed out, “Dovahkiin.”
“Dovahkiin,” the dragon on the ground agreed.
The words they spoke to each other didn’t make sense to her, but it was only a few seconds before the dragon on the word wall lifted off into the sky to investigate, leaving behind his smaller brother for her and Ulfric to attack.
She waited until the dragon was little more than a smear of flapping wings on the twilight sky, and then she unhitched Wuuthrad and charged out of the shack, rushing forward with a battle cry that caught her enemy off guard. As he whirled around to face him, she sunk her blade into his hind leg, and he let out a furious cry of protest, swinging his tail to throw her off. She yanked back, the force of dislodging her axe stumbling her backward, but Ulfric ran in with his sword raised high and his voice at the ready.
“FUS RO DAH!” The words clapped like thunder off the stone behind them, the dragon startled by the sound as it braced itself against Ulfric’s unrelenting force, claws dug into the earth to hold it steady.
Even if it didn’t send the dragon flying backward as it did most other foes, it stunned him a little, giving Luthien time to pick herself up and resecure Wuuthrad in her hands. They attacked again, together, driving the dragon to the rim of the summit with heavy blows. The power of her voice was still not strong enough to shout again after she’d thrown it across the canyon, but Ulfric’s voice had recharged. The dragon’s back feet struggled against the crumbling rock at the edge, but it couldn’t hold on when Ulfric unleashed his force again, sending the stunned beast backward with just enough edge that he went flailing over the mountain, screaming in rage before his heavy body crashed into the stone, spine breaking under the power of his own weight.
“That’s one,” Ulfric grinned over at her as he stepped back from the edge of the Summit.
As soon as it shuddered its last exhale, the life force inside it spiraled up the mountainside, pouring into her body until she shuddered and shook it off.
“Don’t get too cocky,” she said, jerking her gaze toward the stream of fire raging toward them from the sky. “Big brother is back, and he doesn’t look happy.”
The heat of his flame rushed out at them in waves as they staggered back, away from the cliff and toward the word wall behind them. The closer they drew, the louder those chanting voices grew inside her until she almost couldn’t resist them anymore. But she had to; she had to face the monstrous, golden-winged beast that had just landed in front of her, streams of flame rushing out to meet her as she ducked behind her shield to block it.
She couldn’t see Ulfric through the wall of fire, but she could hear his might voice echoing above it, the ring of hard steel on scale as he distracted the dragon from its task with heavy blows from the left. It struck the ground with its tail, rearing its might head back to draw in another breath, but Luthien had her voice back, and she shouted out to meet his strike with breath of frost as she bellowed, “FO KRAH!”
“Ha! You’re bleeding, dragon!” Ulfric laughed. “Maybe you should fly away and see to your wounds.”
For a moment, she thought it was going to take his advice, sweeping its heavy wings down to push off the ground as she unhitched her bow and lined the tip of her arrow with its throat. She’d forgotten she’d poisoned the arrow, and even though it was just a weak stamina poison, the dragon raged when it pierced through an opening in his scales. A droplet of blood spattered down on her forehead, dripping over her brow as she strung another arrow, Ulfric standing across from her doing the same.
Her second arrow missed the mark, but Ulfric’s tore through its wing, lodging in the central joint and making it scream. It circled back around, rocks tumbling down the mountain with the force of its landing just in front of them. It swished out its tail at her, the heavy hit denting the chest of her armor and making it hard for her to catch her breath as she grappled to stand again. She grasped for Wuuthrad and charged in, swinging wide, but just barely cleaving away a layer of heavy scale and drawing blood.
Ulfric circled around back, his axe sinking into the dragon’s haunch while he drove a one-handed blade into its belly, dragging downward as it writhed and bellowed in protest. Turning toward him, it opened its mouth to scorch its attacker where he stood, but Luthien hacked Wuuthrad down into his neck, severing through thick scale. She yanked back and brought the blade down again, hammering away at the same wound with such fury and force she’d completely severed its head with her fourth strike. The massive, horned head fell first, body teetering on unsure feet before tilting left. Ulfric backed out of the way just in time, a spray of blood and stone clinking off his armor as the dragon fell.
“Damn you to Oblivion,” he cursed, kicking its corpse for good measure.