I knew she'd supposedly killed and absorbed the soul of the dragon that attacked the western watchtower before I officially met her acquaintance. And I knew that she'd told me she and Delphine had taken down the dragon that'd attacked Kynesgrove (despite that Dar'Zahyla had been thrown halfway down the mountain for her trouble). And I'd heard countless tales from her time spent wandering Skyrim on her own, with every hushed story I'd heard of her dragonslaying prowess growing more and more unbelievable.
I had, of course, dismissed nearly all of these tales as I heard them. It was easy to believe anything you heard about the last Dragonborn of lore when you'd never seen her. But I knew her better than anyone. She might've made for a decent warrior, but a dragonslayer on the level of our ancient heroes? Hardly. I was so fiercely protective of her because I knew what a dense child she could be. That she hadn't been killed by one of those damned overgrown lizards yet was little more than sheer luck.
Of course, it was much easier to believe when you'd seen things with your own eyes, too.
We were en route to Karthspire when Dar'Zayhla suddenly slowed her horse to a halt. I'd ridden a good few yards ahead before I realized, and when I did, I simply sighed and veered my own back around to see what the problem was. She was sitting straight up in her saddle, motionless but for her ears, which swiveled back and forth in a peculiar manner I'd never seen from her before. Her emerald eyes were wide but unfocused, pupils constricted to razor-thin slits in the bright midday sun.
Something was wrong.
"My Thane, wh—" She held up a hand to silence me. Her head turned a scant inch to the left, ear cocked towards the mountains that towered up over us.
"Did you hear that?" she asked distantly, voice barely audible.
"Hear w—" I stopped myself that time. I heard it: the absolute silence here in the valley. Normally at this hour, the birds would be whipping up their obnoxious chatter, a fox might be rustling around in the bushes for food, goats would be bleating to one another on the cliffs of the Jerall Mountains to the south, but now... nothing. All I could hear was the distant rushing of the Karth River to the north and the nervous pawing of our horses below us.
I bit absently at a patch of dried-out skin on my lower lip. "...It's far too quiet." I'd wager a sabre cat, as those fearsome things tended to quiet anything around them, but they didn't usually approach travelers on the roads... A bear, maybe? ...No, they usually announced their presence with a great deal of ruckus.
Dar'Zahyla simply shook her head, slowly sliding down from her mount to sink her booted feet into the dirt. She slowly lifted her head up towards the mountains to the north, eyes scanning the jagged peaks with some trepidation. "It is," she agreed faintly, "but that is not what Khajiit meant."
She absently held her hand out to help me down to the ground myself. I didn't need the assistance, but I warily took her hand anyway. My feet had only just touched the ground when Dar'Zahyla gave both beasts a sturdy smack on the rump with a wordless shout. They both started in shock and bolted.
"My Thane!" I barked, irate. I might've been sworn to her, but that was simply an idiotic move, and one I couldn't comprehend.
Dar'Zahyla looked up at me with wide eyes, pupils still dark slits in her vivid eyes. " Shh, " she rasped, voice soft again as she pressed a callused hand against my mouth. " Listen. "
I pried her hand off, altogether irked, but I obeyed, straining my ears for absolutely nothing, as far as I could tell.
Except... this time it wasn't just the silence. As the dust settled back on the road from the horses' retreat, I could hear the echo of... something ringing out over the mountains. Even just the echo seemed to shake the earth, sending pebbles at our feet clattering and making the mountains groan. I inched closer to Dar'Zahyla instinctively, my hand falling to the pommel of the elven sword at my hip.
The valley went dark, then. My Thane's eyes flicked immediately upwards, and I was close enough to see her pupils dilate sharply. In an instant she grabbed me about the waist, and all I heard was a hissed " Wuld! " before we were knocked half a mile down the road—as the spot we'd just stood erupted in flames with an unholy shriek.
She'd knocked the wind out of me as I hit the ground, but that didn't stop me from leaping back to my feet, wheezing and choking beside her as I stared in disbelief at the giant brown, leathery beast that circled overhead. Dar'Zahyla merely whipped her warhammer from its holster, her lips drawn back in a feral snarl. I yanked her back under the thick foliage of the tree, keeping us both hidden.
"Are you crazy?!" I hissed in her ear. "You can't go back out there alone!" And I needed a moment to get my breath back.
"Lydia." The strangeness of my name on her tongue made me look at her. Her eyes were focused on the dragon above us, her grip tight on her weapon. The fur on the back of her neck was lifted, bristling sharply, and her fangs glistened wickedly in the sunlight. She cast a severe look at me, feral and furious, and nodded sharply. "Bring it down."
I scarcely had time to process the order before she'd darted back out into the road, into that thing's line of sight. The dragon immediately dove for her, foot-long fangs bared as it sought to swallow her whole. Dar'Zahyla, however, stood her ground, digging her heels in like I taught her to ground herself, and unleashed a mighty roar of her own, shaking the mountains with the power of her Shout—and the beast was knocked back . I'd never believed it, but—she'd Shouted, and the dragon was knocked oblique, smashing it into the side of a nearby cliff. Dar'Zahyla barreled towards it, lifting her hammer in preparation, but the dragon had recovered and taken to the sky again by the time she reached it.
Then I understood. She didn't need my protection here.
She just needed the dragon on her level.
The thought scarcely had time to cross my mind before I'd drawn my bow, nocking a steel arrow to the string and drawing it back. The dragon was flying erratically at the moment, trying to find the best angle to spit flames at the speedy Khajiit on the ground, but it had to settle eventually. I just had to... practice some patience.
"For Whiterun," I snarled under my breath, and loosed the arrow.
The dragon screeched, its head recoiling as the steel found its target, sinking into the ridge under its eye. It hovered for a long moment, shaking its head viciously, trying to dislodge the arrow. Scalding dragonsblood splattered the ground, hissing on impact. I grinned wickedly, drawing back again.
A second arrow punctured the fleshy joint where its wing met its body, sending the dragon careening to the side. Another earth-rending Shout from my Thane slammed the mighty beast into the dirt.
It spat and snarled and screeched before it finally got back on all fours, boiling spittle drooling from fangs the length of my forearm. I abandoned my bow, drawing my blade as I scrambled to assist. Dar'Zahyla rushed it on her own, baring her own fangs, hammer glinting in the sunlight—or rather in the firelight, as the dragon screamed out a ball of flame from its gaping maw, directly at the young Khajiit barrelling towards it—
I didn't have time to think, or devise a proper plan of attack towards keeping my Thane alive. That's the only explanation I had for charging the dragon's skull and leaping feet-first, smashing both heavy steel boots directly into its temple and rolling away from those teeth the instant I hit the ground again. It was just barely enough to halt the stream of fire and knock the great beast senseless for half a second. But it was enough.
With the fire dissipated, Dar'Zahyla had a clear shot. The orichalcum head of her warhammer whipped into the dragon's cheek, snapping its head to the side with a crack that echoed through the valley. Then, with more nerve than I thought her capable of, she leapt, landing square on the beast's head.
It bucked its head, screeching furiously, but Dar'Zahyla dug in, grabbing one of its horns to keep her balance. She flipped the hammer in her grip and swung down with the opposite side, the spiked end of the hammer sinking into the vulnerable flesh between its scaled plates. The dragon's shriek of pain accompanied several spurts of scorching flame, and it was all I could do to hold my shield to take the brunt of it.
Dar'Zahyla snarled something out that sounded like a crack of thunder, sending a sharp, deadly spasm through the creature's armored body. She slammed a booted heel into the dragon's forehead and brought the blunt of her hammer down between its eyes, cracking through the skull and spattering blood and flesh.
The dragon's death throes nearly dismounted her, but she cocked her hammer in, wedging it firmly in place till it laid still. She knelt, then, gasping for breath, grasping her warhammer in both hands to keep from collapsing.
A deep thrum ripped out from the dragon's carcass, reverberating reverently through the valley, and light from somewhere within it cracked through its scales. It grew brighter, brighter, blinding me, and a gale roared through the valley, raising dust and whipping about my Thane's kneeling body.
And as suddenly as it had started, it was silent.
When I'd blinked all the afterimages from my eyes, my Thane still shimmered yet in the daylight, soaked in dragonsblood and kneeling over its pristine bones.
She stood slowly, scarcely wavering.
My breath caught.
That was her, then, I knew, and it struck me silent in awe—here she was, standing before me: mane whipped in the wind, powerful figure armored in ancient dwemer metal, weapon drawn and ready, the scourge of the skies dead at her feet, blood of the ancients dripping from her teeth, the Voice of the Dragons in her throat, a Dragon's Soul in a Nordic tale in a Khajiit's body... my legend, my Dragonborn, my life, my love, my Thane—
And all I could do was kneel as she stood before me.
"Lydia?" There was some shock in her voice at the uncharacteristically humble gesture, but how could I feel anything but humility now, standing before her?
"My Thane," was all I could whisper in return. The Dragonborn, the Last Dragonborn, was here, and she was mine , and I had not a damned thing in the world to offer her but myself: my loyalty, my fealty, my sword, and my life. And she could have it. Any of it—all of it. She already did, but gods, did she know?
" Lydia ," Dar'Zahyla spoke again, in a gentler, understanding tone this time. She reached out a hand to me. I took it, pressing a trembling kiss to her bared, bloodied knuckles, hoping fervently that the reverent message translated through the silent gesture. She didn't move.
I looked up at her. Her eyes were wide and wondering, viridescent and radiant amidst the thick coat of blood that soaked her face. And, somehow, I could tell she understood.
A shaky grin touched my lips, and I was certain that my awe echoed through my words.
"Honor to you, my Thane."