Chapter 33 – Epilogue –
Saphira remained true to her word.
It took a few weeks, but Eragon and Murtagh managed to secure as single ship that would take a small crew back across the sea. With the spells of the Ancient Language, the riders enhanced the ship's strength so that it might support the weight of a dragon, if only briefly. Saphira could not leave Middle Earth with her offspring still so young, and they could not make the long journey. And besides, she had made a promise to Smaug. And Eragon did not want to leave her side again, so it was decided that Murtagh would travel back across the sea with Thorn. Their mission was to return with the Eldunari and the Eggs from the Vault of Souls.
But it turns out that he wouldn't go alone.
The winter snows were in force in the north-east, and they had feared that the ice would keep the ship stranded and unable to sail. But luck had been with them, for the waters still flowed. Murtagh and his crew had been wrapped in furs against the bitter chill, as well as his unlikely travelling companion in the woman Brielle. As she had no family left and no home, she devoted herself to his service. It turned out that she was an educated woman, so she took to handling all of Murtagh's paperwork. Murtagh himself could've done the work, but decided to humour her, it seemed.
They gathered at the shore, and Eragon had embraced his brother and whispered words that Saphira did not pry to know. Though she felt Eragon's loss already. She and Thorn had said their goodbyes. It was strange, for she'd once counted him as an enemy, yet he was perhaps the closest thing she thought that a dragon could have to a friend. Thorn had even said goodbye to her children, who had all come to see him as an older playmate. Before the departure of the vessel – which had been named The Dragon's Breath – Eragon had handed Murtagh four scrolls to hand to each of the races back home in Alagaesia. Murtagh had nodded, and taken them with care. And then they'd sailed away.
It would be several weeks more before they would return. And in that time, Eragon and Saphira were kept busy. They travelled into the Grey Mountains, even once coming to the Withered Heath. Saphira had found a quiet fascination when she had discovered the place of Smaug's birth. Few drakes of any description inhabited the place now, and none had dared to challenge her. But she'd found it, the cave from his memories. There, she had paid her respects to the mate that had suffered, and his mother who had sacrificed.
They journeyed on, until they'd found the perfect spot in the very heart of the Grey Mountains. No civilisation was anywhere near them for hundreds of miles. The air was filled with winds that were good for flying. Caves and rock fissures made for suitable nests and homes for dragons. And wildlife of all shapes and sizes traversed the mountains, for perfect hunting. And so it was there that Eragon and Saphira made their mark, to start rebuilding their lost order.
They had started small, gathering materials, and laying the foundations for a hall. Then, Eragon had harnessed all the knowledge he possessed from weeks studying ancient scrolls with his mentor, Oromis. And so, in the Ancient Language, he had sung to the stone. He called forth to it and asked it to rise up and build him a decent hall to start with. It had drained him, and he'd learned to only use a little bit at a time after that.
What would be the Main Hall was only half complete when they received word that Murtagh had arrived back across the sea. They had met him, and were most surprised when he returned not alone: another dragon rider was with him.
And not just any rider, but Arya, riding a green dragon whom she had named Firnen. He had been the last egg Galbatorix had had, and now he had finally hatched. He'd been born in the months since Eragon had left, and Arya had raised him in the forests of her people in secret until he was large enough. Now he was just over six months old, a mature male. Arya and Firnen had come to see Eragon, and to name him the official leader of their order. To Eragon's utter disappointment, however, she announced that she would not be staying. She'd decided to leave to cross the sea and to return to her homeland to safeguard Alageasia whilst the others trained the next generation in Middle Earth. Saphira had felt Eragon's disappointment, but knew that it could not be helped.
Murtagh had returned with good news. Eragon's letters had been to each of the other races, informing them that in order to bring unity to all lands, he had decided to allow all races to have a representative to become a dragon rider. Dwarves and Urgals were to be conducted into the spell that would bind their people to the ancient pact, and it had been a success. Murtagh had left two eggs in Alageasia to be passed between the dwarves and Urgals until it had found a suitable rider. The rest, he had brought back to Middle Earth, along with the Eldunari.
It had been good to reunite with Gleadr, Saphira realised, as well as the other Eldunari that had helped them in defeating Galbatorix. They had immediately both rejoiced to see her and scolded her for her foolishness. But then they'd learned of the existence of her hatchlings, and could not contain their joy. Once Saphira had shared her memories with them, they had marvelled at the tale. They were anxious about a wild dragon that was hostile to their order living so close, but had resigned themselves to her judgement.
In those few days, Saphira found herself shadowed every step by the green, Firnen. He was excitable. He had never seen a dragon before Thorn, and then had never seen a female before Saphira. He followed her everywhere she went, attempted to speak with her, hunt with her, learn from her. In all honesty, she'd been flattered, if a little irritated. Once she'd had to resort to aggression when he'd thought to follow her back to her nest where her hatchlings denned with her. He'd backed off a little after that. But she knew he meant well, and so didn't begrudge him his excitement. He was amusing and eager to prove himself. She liked him. At one point, she thought to herself that perhaps in another life, she might have been a mate to Firnen. But not now. Now, she found him to be childish and lacking when compared to the majesty of her previous mate.
Soon Arya left, and Murtagh and Thorn helped Eragon and Saphira in the building of their new home. Within the next weeks, the main hall had been built, with liveable quarters made for the riders, as well as a vault beneath to store the eggs and Eldunari. To celebrate, Murtagh had asked Eragon if he would wed him and Brielle. And he had.
And so their renewed order had started from humble beginnings, but grew over time. The riders slowly added to the keep until it soon became a fortress worthy of its purpose. Saphira and Thorn patrolled the skies, and even often ventures further south into the lands of mortals in order to offer their aid in small skirmishes. They wanted to build trust between the free peoples and dragon-riders. But it was slow, and the people were not ready to forgive and forget so easily.
Saphira was also the one in charge of the care of the eggs, both wild and bound. Each day she would spend a small time with them, and care for them all, nursing them in her warmth and singing to their minds with her songs. When Alageasia sent the riders that had been chosen, she gained new recruits but lost two or three more bound eggs each time for the return voyage across the sea. She and Thorn taught the new dragons and instructed them on the ways of their species and their order. With each new recruit, the fortress and their forces grew. Yet it moved Saphira's heart when she would be reunited with a dragon who's egg she had sung to, and he or she would remember her voice, her memories, her songs. As it had been foretold, she truly was the mother of her race.
Strangely, the wild eggs did not seem to want to hatch. Saphira did with them all that she had done with her own eggs, yet they were stubborn and refused to emerge. The Eldunari had said that they would come out in their own time. But Saphira had a small suspicion that they were waiting for her. Perhaps the wild eggs would not come to their adoptive mother until her latest hatchlings no longer depended on her?
At this point, it had been a year since their birth, and still her hatchlings were not full grown or mature. Saphira reasoned that they took more after their father's breed as they slowly grew, which was frustrating for each of them as they watched younger dragons grow faster than them to adults whilst they remained young and tender. But their mother didn't mind at all. She savoured every night she spent curled up beside them, every time they needed her for food, or just longed for her comfort. She cherished every moment.
Thorn kept his promise to her, and helped her and provided for her as her mate would have done. He had matured and grown himself over the past year, and became more confident and stable. The other dragons looked up to him as a fatherly figure, as the elder male. Saphira knew Thorn would have liked that. But she could not see him the way he might have wanted. She knew that though once the quarrelled as enemies, he secretly longed for her as a mate. But she quietly refused him. Even after a year… her heart belonged to another.
She thought of Smaug often in that time. Some days she would look out onto the horizon and think of him, and wonder if he was still inside the Lonely Mountain, or if he had set himself free and was attempting to find her. Some nights she remembered his touch, his coils and wings around her, the feel of his body on hers. In those moments, she longed for him.
Despite not being as quickly grown as Alagaesian dragons, her children were not as slow to mature as the drakes of Middle-Earth. Smaug had told her that his breed took thirty years to reach maturity, but she knew that her children would be faster than that. By their second winter, her children were large enough to learn how to fly. Saphira spent days training them. They'd taken to the air straight away, but she'd spent those days hardening their muscles, and building their endurance. They relied on her still, to stabilise them and guide them in the air. But to see their joy and getting their wings finally, it had made Saphira's heart feel that it would burst out of her chest and spread wings of its own.
Then, she had daringly taken them south. On a specific route, she took them far south and east. It had taken them a few days, as her children were not ready for long flights day and night. But eventually they'd found it. A scorched land where nothing grew around a solitary peak. They did not cross over into its borders, for the owner of this land had been charged to defend it from all intruders. But they had still circled around, hoping to get one glimpse. And from the shadows of the mountain, Saphira had thought she'd seen a pair of fiery eyes burning fiercely with pride as they watched the family fly past… Saphira had thought she'd weep, and trumpeted her call to the sole occupant, which her children echoed. The protector had answered them, and so with hearts filled with bittersweet happiness, the family had turned around and left.
And so in this life Saphira raised her children. Once they had their wings, she taught them slowly to hunt, to swim and fish. They were all rather rusty at first, with Mithriel taking the worst of the teasing as she failed the most, much to her displeasure. Aurye was best at fishing, his snapping mouth an advantage. It took several months before they could perfect their techniques and continue their training with Saphira, before they started to hunt successfully. And once they were able to feed themselves and explore the world around them at their leisure, they grew almost twice as fast.
Saphira had then taught them the ways of their people, at least from what she knew. Calvar, Mithriel and Aurye had the best education imaginable. They were taught by thousand-year-old Eldunari, as well as the various scrolls and books that had been collected in the new library of the Rider Order. Saphira had even shared with them selected memories of their father's past, which they treasured. She taught them aerial-combat, courtship, customs, all to prepare them for the day they left her forever.
Now, five years since their birth, Saphira knew that that time was coming soon. She'd bonded with each of them over her time being their mother. They were now as big as each of the bound six-month old dragons, though no-where near as big as her or their father. Saphira had continued to grow over those five years as well, after all.
She smiled as she lay sprawled in her cave and watched as her young surrounded her. Calvar sat at the edge, ever vigilent. Aurye lay at the back of the cave far from his older brother, studying his latest trinket. And Mithriel was beside Saphira, grooming herself to perfection.
Their father would be so proud of them, Saphira thought. She had kept her word to him, for his offspring had become wild and fierce. They did not submit to the Rider Order or any mortal race in Middle Earth, they roamed far and wide now and ate what they pleased. Mithriel was as beautiful and just as strong as her namesake, for she'd been gifted with a fierceness in battle that rivalled even her mother. Calvar was brawny, and was easily one of the strongest built dragons Saphira had ever seen; yet despite this he showed a great curiosity for learning, especially of the Rider Order and History. He even seemed interested in visiting his Mother's homeland in the future. And Aurye was clearly his father's son. He already had a love of jewels and all precious things, and yet his temper had evened out as he'd matured. Compared to his father, he was considered mild.
Saphira looked upon her children, each a perfect creation. She loved them without question. Yet she knew they were growing up fast. They were not yet ready to leave the nest completely. They still had a few more years before full maturity would hit them, and they would leave. Once they did, Saphira did not know where they would go, and she honestly didn't know if she would see them again afterwards. They were wild creatures, and it was never wise to keep a wild thing in one place. It saddened her to think that they might be gone from her one day, but in them was her legacy. They would bare their own offspring, teach what she had taught them, and her line would live on in them. And when they eventually passed, she knew she would have adoptive sons and daughters to care for in the wild eggs still dormant in the vault. Whether by birth or taken in, she would still be the mother of dragons.
Dragons would roam the world again. The riders would keep the peace wherever they were. Some, who had completed their training, had returned to Alagaesia to police the land there. Over half had stayed in Middle Earth. They all knew that darkness was not done with this country yet, that evil that Saphira had felt possess Smaug a long time ago was still out there. They all knew this, and they all knew that when evil reared its ugly head, they would ride out on the winds of war and fight for the free people.
But that was a story for another time.
Saphira lifted her head from her heavy thoughts, a sudden desire snaking through her body. She stood, her wing brushing Mithriel's. Her daughter chittered in question, though the mother crooned in reassurance. The bond between family was so great that sometimes not even words were needed. She walked to the edge of the cave, and brushed her side along Calvar's. He snorted his comfort. Saphira nodded to her hatchlings, before she launched herself into the sky.
Alone, with only the bitter wind to keep her company, Saphira lifted herself into the furthest reaches of the sky. Not until the cold stung her flesh and the air grew too thin to breathe, did she level off. She deposited herself onto the top of a mountain at the edge of their safe haven, and looked out.
The world was spread before her. Into the distant horizon until not even she could see any further, lay fields and forests and realms and kingdoms. If one were of a fanciful mind, they might think to reach out and hold it all in the centre of their palm.
But her eyes were only for one thing. She looked out, and far away, saw the silhouette of the Lonely Mountain in the dusty light of the dawn. In that mountain, far, far away, she pictured Smaug, laid atop a bed of the finest jewels and gold, his eyes closed in dreams. She wondered if he thought of her as much as she thought of him. She remembered him then. His fierce eyes, his cunning mind, his words of power and passion. She remembered how he'd touched her like no other ever had before or would again. He had been her mate; the mate she'd always longed for. He'd shown her the meaning of being wild.
And as she stood there remembering, a breeze tickled her throat, like a butterfly's kiss. In that gentle touch, she thought she heard a whisper of his mind, a subtle call that tugged at her heart. And she smiled. A bond did not have to be literal, to run just as deeply in her heart, and would do forever more.
She was bound to him. Bound to her mate. Bound to the dragon.
Author's Note: So, here we have it. The end of a long journey.
It has been rough, especially these last few months. But I'm glad that we all finally made it to the end at last. I know that a lot of people would like a sequel. But unfortunately, I won't be writing one. I always pictured this story as a stand alone. And I wanted to leave it more open-ended so that each of you could have your own interpretation of how this story might have continued in the Lord of the Rings cannon.
I just want to say a huge thank you to all those who have supported me and been with me. Whether you've been there since the beginning, or come in later, I wanted to thank each and every one of you for your love and support of me through this story. Even when I was at my bleakest, you guys helped me through it. This story would have died a long time ago if not for you guys. Thank you.
And so, now, I go to the West, and bid farewell to this story as its sails lift to pass it into the Grey Havens.
It has been an honour, my friends.