A thousand years to the day since he had become a Rider, Eragon watched the sunrise.
He thought about all he had accomplished in his long life, the failures, the victories, the joy, the heartache. His name was told around campfires with the reverential tone reserved for heroes and gods. They called him Shadeslayer, Kingkiller, Father of Riders. And while he was all those things, there were other names that could be applied that fit much better, but less than a handful of people knew them. Bromson, student of Oromis, nephew of Garrow. And there was one epithet he thought most appropriate, especially since it was one he'd inherited from his teacher.
Osthato Chetowä. The Mourning Sage.
Mourning: the state of missing, regretting, or longing for something or someone that was lost. Sage: one revered for their knowledge and wisdom. Yes, Eragon thought that fit him best.
So many things could happen within just one year, and Eragon had experienced hundreds of them. And while he had only to look around him to see all he had gained and built, he still felt like he had lost more.
After all, not many could say they had lost an entire homeland.
It had taken a year from the time they'd set out on the Talita to find a new home for the dragons. They had sailed down the Edda and reached the sea within a fortnight. But faced with all that empty horizon, the party had hesitated. They did not want to set out aimlessly in a direction and end up starving or completely lost. So they had stuck to the shoreline, going North. Looking back, Eragon suspected Blödhgarm and the other elves of voting to go that way instead of South was because it was the same direction as their beloved forest. For months they had sailed, keeping an eye peeled for any sign of land beyond Alagaësia. When the air turned so cold even Saphira complained and they began to see nothing but ice and rocks on the shore, they turned around to go back the other way. It took weeks to return to where they had started, and weeks longer until they rounded the very corner of the continent, the last of the Beors standing in defiance of the glittering ocean.
Resigned that they would indeed have to leave all they had known behind, Eragon and Saphira had once again flown up into the atmosphere, protected by magic, hoping to spot some land in the distance. It was not until they were high enough for Eragon to once again see the curvature of the world that they spotted anything but Alagaësia and blue water. Armed with a heading, the Talita had struck out into waters unknown, to find and land in a place that might never have seen any of the five races.
The journey took two months, but they would later discover a good voyage took only three weeks from Hedarth. The delay was due to how far they were from where they should have started, and uncommonly bad weather. Eragon had heard of harsh storms that blew out from the ocean to batter the southwest of Alagaësia known as hurricanes. But nothing could have prepared him for the elemental fury that had battered the Talita for a full week. Never-ending rain, wind so fierce that Saphira was afraid to fly, lightning constantly flashing adding another deterrent, and the waves driven to truly incredible heights and frequency by the rage of the sky. It was only by the power of the Eldunari and the proficiency of the crew's magic that no one had died. But they had been worn down, their sails and rigging all but ruined, and most supplies lost overboard. The elves had been forced to eat fish or starve, and every meal had held the air of a funeral. Saphira had found it all very amusing, often making a point of gnawing on a shark in the waters next to the boat and watching the elves recoil at the sight of the blood and the grimaces they had as they chewed.
But finally, they docked at an island almost twice as large as Vroengard. An island with vibrant forests, clear lakes, and a volcano at its heart that Saphira had always regarded with both wonder and the slightest trepidation. She'd never imagined finding a substance too hot for her scales to withstand, but lava did the trick. When prompted to name their new home, Eragon had simply, even unimaginatively as he was later accused with mirth, named it Nest.
They had sent word to those they'd left behind that they had found their new home. Thankfully, one of the elves was skilled with cartography, and was able to send an updated map showing what lay to the east of Alagaësia, Nest at the edge and drawn to scale. Within months, the first of the new Riders sailed over on great ships of elven make, big enough to support young dragons that did not have the strength to fly the whole way. They would dock at a rudimentary town the elves had begun to sing from the trees. Over the years, human, dwarf, and Urgal riders added their own influence, their own magic making them capable of architectural feats that would have required a hundred craftsmen of their own kind. Now it was a grand city, build for and by the Dragon Riders. It had grown to almost a league in diameter, in part due to the sheer scale of the streets, designed with dragons in mind. Eragon always felt pleasantly amused to see a dragon walking down the street as if they were just another horse. Given it was as much the dragons' city as their Riders', it had come to be known as Ristvak'skul, or Place of Scales.
In time, each of the 217 eggs meant to revive the wild dragons hatched, two or three at a time. Every single one was looked after and tended to by Saphira alone, unwilling to let Eragon or the others help and so make them 'soft'. And while she would always be foreign to them due to her bond with a human, every dragon came to respect her, some even calling her Mother despite the fact she'd never laid. And so, in addition to Brightscales, Saphira became known as Mother of Dragons, companion to the Father of Riders. What was ironic was that in all his centuries, Eragon had never beget a child either. And yet beneath his patient care, each of the first 26 of the New Order of Riders came to see him as a second father.
The first century was spent establishing themselves on Nest, introducing the wild dragons back into the world, and training the first generation of riders. Eragon found his true calling in teaching; however skilled he was in battle and the art of killing, he could not say he enjoyed it. But seeing a student's eyes light up as they learned something new, watching them progress before his eyes due to his own influence… he couldn't have believed how good it felt until he had experienced it firsthand. And he learned how bittersweet it was to have to bid them farewell when their training was complete, returning to Alagaësia to help maintain the peace so desperately won. Some elected to stay and make Nest their new home, but most respected their sacred duty to protect their homeland.
And then came the first conflict. The Ra'zac eggs Galbatorix had hidden hatched and kept themselves hidden, breeding in the darkness, until they grew to epidemic proportions and tried to sweep over all of Alagaësia. In what came to be known as the War of Bats, the New Riders proved their mastery of the air as they downed the Lethrblaka, while the armies of Man, Dwarf, Elf, and Urgal faced their offspring, insect-like and designed to kill. Eragon witnessed it all from the comfort of Ristvak'skul, watching with heart in mouth as his students faced their first true trial. When he spotted a green dragon amongst them, he felt his heart clench in pain that surpassed any physical wound he'd ever known, even Durza's scar.
Still, Eragon remained steadfast in his decision to never return to Alagaësia. His students brought him stories, letting him know his name and feats had only grown in his absence. The Shadeslayer Rider, who had fought alongside Nasuada and Orik and Roran Stronghammer, who had slain the Mad King with a single spell. As much as he didn't want it, Eragon had power in the hearts and minds of the people. And that power terrified him. He still recalled that horrible unsettling feeling when he'd been offered the throne, and realized there was nothing stopping him from taking it. The very idea of that kind of authority, that power, that ability to ignore any's will but his own, terrified Eragon. And that fear outweighed all the pain that his self-imposed exile brought him. Even as his very being ached when his scrying showed him a glimpse of the Elf Queen and her emerald partner, he reminded himself he'd made the right choice. Besides, Angela had foretold he'd leave and never return, and he'd learned to pay attention to what the witch said.
The War of Bats was eventually won, and the world was reminded of the glory and power of the Dragon Riders. A golden age came in, or so Eragon heard. His days were spent training each new crop of Riders, dealing with the headaches of keeping Ristvak'skul maintained, and helping Saphira with any conflicts among the wild dragons. Centuries passed in this manner. Over time, as Ristvak'skul grew and developed its own culture and history, more and more of his students chose to stay. They in turn helped to train new Riders sent from Alagaësia, giving Eragon more free time, which he spent primarily lost in books and scrolls brought in from the mainland. Though every morning he performed the Rimgar and made a point of sparring with both new recruits and old masters, making sure he didn't lose his skills should the need for him to take up arms ever arise. And Saphira ever continued to grow, until she could settle some disputes among the wild dragons with nothing but pure size and intimidation. Most of the original crew of the Talita stayed, though occasionally taking trips home to visit.
And then, 713 years since Eragon had left Alagaësia, tragedy struck. A brash Elvin Rider, whose name was obliterated at the sheer horror of her crimes, became a Shade. Eragon remembered, through the haze that surrounded any magic that affected memory, that she had been both curious and reckless, a dangerous combination. When she'd returned to Alagaësia, she had taken down a rogue sorcerer and become curious about the practice of summoning spirits. She had delved too deep too quickly, and her body was lost to the power of the evil being of the ether. What was worse, the spirit seized control of her dragon as well through the bond. The dragon, a male with scales of sunshine yellow and a particularly gentle temperament for a dragon, had turned albino and skeletal, with eyes black as pitch. And the first act of this new Shade was to raze Ellesmera to ashes, with no survivors.
Eragon and Saphira had given a double-voiced roar of rage and sorrow at the news that their mates had died. However long they had been apart, the love had never died, smoldering like a coal in their hearts through the intervening years and distance. They occasionally exchanged letters, but Eragon could never bring himself to scry her with a mirror and converse. It would hurt too much to see the woman he loved and know he'd never have her, bound as they were by duty. But now he never could. She was gone.
When Eragon learned that one of his own had done the deed, he had been filled with a hate so intense that even Umaroth and Glaedr had hesitated to speak to him. With barely a word of command to his former students, now Elder Riders in their own right, Eragon had donned his armor, grabbed the many stores of power he had built over the years, and flew with Saphira to home.
In the end, Eragon wound up staying true to Angela's prophecy: he never set foot on the soil of his homeland. He never left Saphira's back. The flight home took only three days, Saphira's massive wings eating up the leagues, vengeance lending her strength. When they landed at Hedarth, now a bustling port for the Riders, Eragon had only stayed long enough to glean any new information from the unguarded thoughts of the townsfolk. Then Saphira was off again, the years' worth of energy Eragon had hidden in various jewels allowing her to ignore hunger and fatigue. But their prey proved elusive. She seemed to determined to burn all of Du Weldenvarden to the ground. City after city fell, thousands of Elves dying to fire and the blackest of magic. But this Shade was cunning, vanishing without a trace after each attack. Most likely slinking through the forest beneath the leaves to avoid notice by other Riders from the air. Eragon and Saphira paid no heed to other Riders calling out to them, or attempts to be scryed by the leaders of the current kingdoms, or even the calls of the Eldunari able to reach his mind all the way from Nest. Eragon used every hunting trick he'd ever known and every spell he could conceive to track down the Shade, aided by Saphira and her impeccable instincts and own insights.
And so it was they managed to catch the Shade as she attacked Silthrim. Saphira had torn at the corrupted dragon, who proved unnatural strong despite its comparatively diminutive size. Meanwhile, Eragon had dueled the Shade with magic and arrows. The Word proved oddly ineffective, since it was not the elf casting the magic but the spirit acting through her, and since Eragon did not know the Name of the spirit or the proper word for whatever it was, he could not place a proper binding. And while he could tear down any wards she cast, she could raise new ones almost as quick, and the chaotic nature of draconic combat ill-afforded any opening. It was only when Saphira managed to all but tear off one of the Shade-dragon's wings and sent it spiraling into Lake Ardwen that Eragon saw his chance. With Brisingr alight and guided by magic, Eragon cast it at the Shade like a spear, sending the burning blade straight into her heart.
And so Eragon became a Shadeslayer twice over.
All told, the nameless Shade Rider had destroyed Ellesmera, Osilon, Kirtan, Nadindel, and part of Silthrim. Over half the Elven cities, including their capital. The Elves suddenly found themselves the smallest of the races, with less than five hundred of their number drawing breath. The songs of despair were said to be heard all the way from Eoam. Eragon heard all of this later. After defeating the Shade, he had gone into a fugue state, sitting lifelessly in the saddle as Saphira had flown them home, stopping only to feed herself after her ordeal. When they finally reached Nest, he had slept for four days. When he awoke, he was badgered by Eldunari, his students, and the magicians of the leaders of Alagaësia, demanding he explain himself and what exactly happened.
His and Saphira's only answer was "Avenging my love."
No true punishment was ever given, for who had the authority to punish the Father of Riders? Eragon learned that he'd never reclaimed Brisingr, that it had sunk into the depths of Ardwen after the Shade's body had exploded into spirits as Durza had. He felt it appropriate. He was determined to never take up a blade again. He'd had his fill of war and suffering, and there now existed no reason great enough to motivate him otherwise.
It was a decade before he could bring himself to teach again, and Saphira five before she could bring herself to open her mind to him fully again. In the end, they returned to something like 'normal', but it was clear to all that knew them that something was missing, some integral part of their character they'd never noticed until it was gone.
Almost three centuries passed, and the world moved on as it must. Eragon learned of new lands discovered across the western sea, of fantastic beasts and weapons that none had ever seen, of cities rising and falling, but he did not care. His whole world, his purpose for living, was the training of his students. He had given everything to the Riders, and he would give them all he had left. Some days, his duty was all that got him out of bed in the morning. That, and the thought of Saphira. She was too proud and strong to take her own life, and he would not burden her with losing him as well.
And that was what brought him to looking out the balcony of Ristvak'skul's highest tower, after a millennium of bearing the gedwëy ignasia.
We have been together a long time now, have we not my dear? Eragon sent out.
The view from his balcony was suddenly blocked by a single gleaming blue eye. Despite the height of the tower, which was surpassed only by Tronjheim, Saphira did not need to strain her neck to look inside Eragon's room. She was now larger than Shruikan had ever been, despite his unnatural growth. New riders who sailed in at dawn or dusk mistook her for a second mountain on the island.
That we have, little one. That we have.
They knew each other so well that they hardly even needed to words to communicate their thoughts at this point. Eragon closed his eyes and basked in the thread (more like a tapestry at this point) of love, tenderness, protectiveness and mutual loss and comfort that was their bond.
Do you ever wonder about what would have happened… if we had chosen to stay? he asked.
I might as well wonder what would have happened if I had hatched for Roran, or when Aiedail will rise in the west. What has happened has happened, and no magic or feat can change that. She hummed in her throat, a sound that probably reached the docks at the other end of the city. I miss them too, little one. But we cannot bring them back. No more than we can bring back Brom or give Glaedr his body back.
Eragon was too weary to cry at that point. It is different, when they are taken instead of lost. I do not mourn Roran; he lived a long and good life, and he died with his family. But her…
I know. As I know it does not matter that you had so little time together; she was the only one for you. Just as… Firnen was the only one for me. But it does no one any good to brood, least of all yourself.
Eragon shook his head. I will never understand how you made peace with the… hollowness. But then, you have always been the stronger of the two of us.
I will be strong enough for both of us, if I have to.
There was a knock on the door, but Eragon wasn't surprised. He did not keep his senses fully extended as he had just after leaving for Surda, all those years ago, but neither was he ever fully cut off from the world. When he was young, the sense of weightlessness, of being lost in a sea of other thoughts, had unnerved him. Now, he felt uncomfortable if he didn't feel life other than his own.
"Enter, Zarik," Eragon called out flawlessly in the tongue of the Urgralgra.
The door opened and a Kull hunched a little to enter Eragon's chambers. Zarik was the second Urgal Rider in history, and the first Rider to decide to stay on Nest with Eragon rather than return to Alagaësia. In many ways, he was Eragon's second-in-command, and one of his oldest students. They'd known each other long enough that the nature of their relationship had shifted from one of teacher-pupil to friendship, though Zarik to this day had troubles relaxing from his almost worshipful respect of Eragon to speak plainly to him. Eragon sometimes marveled that he had gone from hating Urgals irrationally to having one as his closest companion. More so than Blödhgarm even since the elf, for all the time they'd known each other, simply didn't know what it was to be a Rider.
"Ushnark, I bring news from Du Fell Eldrvarya. Hrûnel has found something she thinks you should see."
It was interesting to hear the Ancient Language and a Dwarvish name between the guttural language of Urgals. It reminded Eragon that he had actually accomplished something in his life, uniting the races as never before with the inclusion of dwarves and Urgals into the pact with the dragons. If nothing else, that would serve as a concrete legacy.
Eragon nodded. "I shall not keep her waiting then. Best of luck training Sílvan later."
Zarik grumbled under his breath. Sílvan was a particularly headstrong elf, barely twenty, who took great personal issue with having an Urgal for an instructor. Despite the fact that the Inter-Clan Games proved a major success at taming their warlike nature and that they'd had centuries to mature from the influence of dragon magic, they were still regarded as the roughest of the races. Which is why an elf, one of the Fair Folk, and young and arrogant enough to think his was the only opinion that mattered, felt insulted to have to learn from one. The other Elders had offered to take over for Zarik, but the Kull refused. He seemed to take the boy's belligerence as a personal challenge.
Eragon, without a trace of fear, leaped from his balcony. He used magic to slow his descent, and was gently caught in the air by one of Saphira's claws. She placed him down on her shoulder, and he walked over to wrap his arm around a spike thick as a tree trunk. She had long since outgrown any saddle they could possibly make. When they flew together, it was like this, or with Eragon magically stuck to her scales like glue.
It took barely ten minutes to fly from Ristvak'skul on the shore of Nest to the Burning Mountain at its heart. In the millennium they had been on Nest, it had only erupted thrice. But each time was well-remembered. The wild dragons that nested nearby had to flee lest they be melted by the lava. Hot ash made the air stink and burned to fly through. Once, when the wind blew it towards Ristvak'skul, they'd had to evacuate the city onto ships and sail away. Still, for all the danger, the wild dragons kept gravitating back towards it. Saphira told him that there was something fundamentally appealing about a heat that could melt rock to a dragon. The wild dragons, who had developed a bit of an oral history over the many years, told stories to hatchlings that the Burning Mountain was an ancient dragon who had fallen asleep and never woke up.
Saphira reached for her shoulder, and once Eragon told her he was secure she lowered him to the ground. There he met a pink dragon and female dwarf.
Hrûnel had been on Nest for just over a century. She was the most feminine female of any race Eragon had ever met, taking great joy in flowers, sewing, and cooking. She was eternally bubbly and optimistic. It clashed heavily with the personality of her dragon, Voldorzada, which meant 'Endless Love'. Despite her flowery name and bright coloring, she was the single dourest and most morose dragoness to ever fly. Oddly enough, they suited each other, two extremes balancing each other out. Voldorzada had learned of the dwarves' love of stone and tunnels from her Rider, and had decided to try it for herself. She had taken to digging into and around the base of the Burning Mountain. Hrûnel constantly fretted, afraid her dragon would unearth a vein of magma and suffer harm, but supported her dragon's desire regardless.
"Hrûnel, you sent for me. What is it you have discovered?" Eragon asked, switching to Dwarvish. He'd made a point of learning the languages of the other two races he'd added to the ancient pact, so there would be no question of bias or preference by forcing them to speak Common or the Ancient Language. He'd even attempted to have Saphira teach him the language the wild dragons had developed for themselves, but his throat simply couldn't reproduce the sounds, and they mostly communicated with raw thought in any case.
"Oh, Farthen, have you eaten yet? You seem a little peaky," she asked with genuine concern. Though she called him 'father', Eragon often felt that Hrûnel acted like she was his mother, and a smothering one at that.
"I had some bread, yes. Now please tell me why you have summoned me so early in the day."
"Ah, sorry. Well, Voldorzada was digging through the night, stubborn beast. She happened upon something very curious, and I thought it best that you investigate. You know more about magic than any man alive, after all."
Eragon had some doubts about that. Rhunön was much older, and had survived the Shade since she lived far enough from Ellesmera she hadn't been caught in the destruction. And one had to wonder about the werecats. But after a millennium of study and teaching on the subject, keeping up with all recent research and doing some of his own, he certainly had a better grasp of gramarye than the average practitioner. He turned to the dragon. "What is it you found? You think it is magical?"
The rose dragon replied mentally, in Dwarvish as well. It is magic, teacher. Raw magic in its purest form. I came upon a natural cavern, a bubble in the earth, and in it was a pool. I thought nothing of it, but then I felt the very air begin to thrum. There is power in that water, teacher. It glimmered every shade of the rainbow, though there was no light but the glow of the stone I softened with my fire. The longer I stayed, the more intoxicated I became. I left before I did something foolish. Strangely, I cannot sense it now, no matter how I strain. Nor did I before I breached that cavern. It is very strange.
Eragon pondered what she told him. A source of wild magic, here? He had never felt anything in all the time he'd been there and called it home, and his reach and sensitivity was such he could detect microbes from Nest to the shores of the Western Continent if he applied himself. But then, magic played by its own rules. He debated just leaving it be, but he was curious. Besides, it was something new, and he'd had precious little of that for a while.
"I shall look into this cave. Where is the entrance to the tunnel?"
Voldorzada indicated a hole in the ground, at an angle from where she had literally crawled into the stone. Given her size, impressive if still tiny compared to Saphira, Eragon would have no problem just walking to the cavern.
Be careful, little one. Saphira cautioned.
Aren't I always?
Her snort sent a plume of flame long as a bow's range into the air.
Casting every ward against harm he could think of and keeping his senses sharp, Eragon descended into the tunnel.
The floor was uneven and odd from the wake of Voldorzada burrowing through it. But that was nothing for the elven grace gifted to him by the dragons, which had only improved as he had grown into his body and came to know exactly how it worked. The light from the surface dimmed quickly, but his eyes still saw through the dark as if it were lit by Erisdar. When even that light faded, Eragon conjured a werelight with a thought. It grew steadily warmer the deeper Eragon went, but he paid it no attention. When he estimated he had gone half a mile down, albeit on the winding path of the dragon's tunnel, he spotted light ahead.
Eragon stepped out of the tunnel into a natural cave, having to jump a little from the tunnel to the floor. The place was maybe a hundred yards at its widest point, and vaguely oval in shape. It was free of stalagmites or stalactites, the whole smooth, with no breaks from floor to wall to ceiling. It was indeed almost like a bubble within the rock.
At the far end from where Eragon entered, there was a pool of what looked like liquid light. Every shade of the rainbow glinted and glittered in a dazzling iridescence that lit up the cave bright as the noonday sun.
Eragon was struck dumb. It was so beautiful… so wonderful…
Eragon? Asked a worried voice, somewhere far away.
He stepped closer, becoming more and more entranced by the pool of light the closer he got. He imagined he saw flashes of faces and places and words in the liquid flickering, but he could not truly see them through the awesome color and sheer brightness.
Eragon, what are you doing?
Eragon frowned and swiped at his ear, as if swatting a fly. What was that voice? It was trying to distract him from the light, and he didn't want to be. The light was perfect. It was glorious. He wanted nothing more than to look on it forever, perhaps even to touch it…
There was a deafening roar within his head and the ground above him began to shake, but the oldest Rider paid it no heed. He fell to his knees and hunched over the light, it becoming impossibly more brilliant the closer and closer he came, as if welcoming him. Unthinking, he reached out his palm. The light just beneath his palm became predominantly silver, as if reflecting the mark on his palm that proved he was a rider.
Little one, don't!
The voice meant nothing to him. With the desperate hesitance of one about to touch something too beautiful for words and afraid they might tarnish it, Eragon inched his hand closer to the surface of the light.
The moment he broke the surface, his world was ice and fire and lightning and darkness and pain and pleasure and fear and exhilaration and falling down, down, down…
Eragon returned to consciousness slowly and with great pain. His head was somehow both numb and splitting with pain. His whole body felt heavy and weak, almost as if he were drugged. His right hand tingled and burned as if from poison. And his whole sense of bearing and awareness felt oddly unbalanced, as if he had lost a limb but in his mind only.
What had happened? Had he drunk himself to excess? He only did that on the anniversary of her death and that had been months ago. Had he been attacked? He trusted his students, but there had been dissent before. Nothing on the scale of Galbatorix, but it was foolish to think that in a thousand years there would not come at least one Rider who resented his power or position. But if the attack was successful enough to incapacitate him, why was he still alive at this point?
Wearily, Eragon reached out with his mind. The act came with an odd ache, as if he were straining some overworked muscle. But he could still manage, so he hadn't been given the drug to suppress magic by fogging the mind. He sensed two sleeping humans close by, a dragon hatchling, and about ten miles away a collection of sleeping humans numerous enough to be either a small town or large military contingent. What disturbed him was that none of them felt familiar, and there were far too people for it to be Nest. Where was he?
There was a warm bump to his nose. With effort, Eragon managed to open his eyes.
He became convinced that something was very wrong. His eyes weren't working properly. The room was almost completely dark, despite the clear moonlight shining through a window. Textures were muted, edges unclear, and in all it was just less than he was used to. Compared to his usual clarity of sight, it was almost like being blind. Still, he surveyed his surroundings with the ease of long practice, searching for danger and gathering information on his surroundings. A bed with a single pillow, a dresser, a nightstand, a bookshelf filled with bits of rock and roots, simple trinkets. Solid wood floor, a closed door.
A small squeak caught his attention and he focused right in front of his nose. Curious blue eyes stared back at him. The hatchling he'd sensed was right in front of his face, still sticky from the yolk of the egg. Its thoughts were too young and unformed for Eragon to assign a gender, but the sapphire blue of its scales reminded Eragon of a particular dragoness.
Eragon wet his lips and spoke. "Hello, little dragon. Do you know where we are?" Eragon furrowed his brows in confusion. His voice was hoarse and rough, and yet much higher-pitched than he expected. He sounded like a teenager.
The dragon just quirked its head, the truth of the Ancient Language making his meaning clear but the hatchling too young to understand. Then it projected an overwhelming sense of hunger into his mind.
Eragon frowned. How long since it had hatched? It should have been fed immediately. For that matter, what was a dragon hatchling doing with him in this strange place? Eragon was very confused, still in pain, and he felt muscles tense as the situation settled in his muddled brain. Too many things didn't add up. How had he gotten here? If he was a prisoner, why wasn't he bound? If not, why could he not remember coming here?
The dragon bit his nose and projected hunger again, uncaring about his mental turmoil compared to its empty belly.
Eragon sighed but couldn't help a small grin. He managed to heave himself up into a sitting position, every movement feeling wrong. His limbs were too weak, his body heavy and unbalanced, and his proportions felt off, as if he were reaching for something close by and it was suddenly an inch further away. He looked around the room for some form of nourishment for the dragon, and spotted the shell of an egg the same color as its scales.
The dragon had hatched in that room? How odd.
Reaching over, Eragon gathered up all the fragments, trying not to let any of the goo clinging to the inside spill. When he had them near his hand, he picked up one and offered it to the dragon. It looked from the piece to him uncomprehendingly, then once again projected hunger, this time squeaking.
Eragon sensed one of the nearby humans bristle, and he immediately broadcast calm and peace, sending him back into sleep. If it was a guard, he didn't want him checking up on him. If he was a host, he didn't want to wake him at night. And if he were somehow just as clueless as Eragon, he didn't want to have to explain his presence and that of a hatchling. Looking back at the dragon, Eragon pondered. Most wild hatchlings instinctively ate their shell for their first meal. Some dams made sure a fresh carcass was nearby for them to gorge on, but even then the hatchling got a taste for the yolk after cleaning their wings and finished off the rest before moving on to meat. This one seemed oddly picky.
Thinking quickly before it could make noise again, Eragon broke off a bit from the fragment he'd offered and, the dragon watching him, placed it in his mouth. He tried to express appreciation and satiety, even though it was just a slimy bit of diamond-hard calcium.
Somehow managing a skeptical expression with its young face, the hatchling reached out and opened its mouth to bite off a bit of the shell he still held out with its fully-formed teeth. Eragon sensed no real pleasure as it chewed, but its belly rumbled again and it decided that food was food. Eragon patiently fed it each fragment, until it was licking at his fingers to get the last of the yolk.
Eragon smiled gently, warmth feeling his heart. He always felt somewhat parental around young dragons, even though most he met were either wild and liable to attack if not restrained by their parents or already bonded and thus had someone to take care of them totally. A vague stirring from the long, long halls of his memory arose. His first time feeding Saphira, it had been two strips of stolen jerky, which he had hesitantly given her as if approaching a snake.
As he thought on the memory, something about his surroundings struck a similar chord. Weren't they just a bit familiar? Eragon looked from the straw poking out the bottom of the mattress to a particularly gnarled root in a place of pride in the center of one of the shelfs. A mad idea to explain his situation came to him. He'd have discounted it immediately if he'd been any younger than 500, but after seeing a memory of a flying machine from one of his students that visited the court of Surda he'd learned to always keep his mind open. The world had infinite mysteries, and people who looked at something and deemed it impossible simply failed to understand just how little they understood.
Still, best to verify this somehow instead of blindly accepting it.
"Manin," he muttered, casting a simple remembering spell as he strained to recall his room when he'd lived with Garrow and Roran.
The image came to his mind, clear as day. And it matched the room he was in perfectly. He shifted focus to the night Saphira hatched, and again everything in his mind's eye and physical eye agreed. Right down to the phase of the moon visible through the window and the shape and positioning of limbs, scales, and spikes on the blue hatchling that was now nuzzling into his hand, radiating contentment at being full.
Eragon cancelled the flow of magic, feeling oddly drained for a spell that used less energy than it took to chew an apple.
Eragon turned over his right palm. His gedwëy ignasia was there, but it was pure white, without the silvery sheen. The mark was only like that when it was less than an hour old. And his palm still tingled and burned.
Eragon reached out with his mind, still feeling weirdly strained in doing so, and gently delved into the minds of the two sleeping humans in the house.
Katrina, hair like the sunset, coming towards me with a smile and nothing else—
The farm dead, the soil fallow and the animals starving, the accusing faces of his family at his failure to provide for them—
Eragon gently withdrew, knowing without a doubt the identities of the two men.
Speaking the Word, Eragon made a simple command to magic itself. "Remove any illusions that are placed upon me."
A beat, and the scene remained unchanged.
There was an adage among the elves, those who favored logic and reason above messy emotion, but still open to the idea of things they could not understand. "Once you have eliminated the impossible whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."
Eragon was back in his childhood room. His body felt weak and strange, as if his mind and body were in disagreement. There was a blue dragon in his lap who was identical to his own the night she hatched. Garrow and Roran, long dead, were sleeping on the other side of the wall. He was not under any magical illusion or trick. He was not dreaming, or even having a premonition, for he had full control of his actions and had felt pain when the dragon had bit him. And since he had no way of proving otherwise, he assumed he wasn't dead and this was the afterlife.
That left only one possibility.
I'm in the past.
It took centuries of discipline to not scream.
A thousand years of work and progress, gone. Every sacrifice, every struggle, every victory, swept away. Conversely, so was every loss, every failure, every mistake. The simple fact was that it was gone. Unwritten. The tapestry unwoven and the threads free to make something completely new.
A seductive thought came to him. He could stop her death. He could stop Brom's death. He could stop every death of those he cared about. His own wisdom caught up with his childish musing. He could just as easily lose them all, and many more besides. If this wasn't a temporary phenomenon, then he had to act with extreme caution.
Eragon considered everything he knew. He wasn't bound by causality; he'd changed something by feeding Saphira a different meal, and he hadn't been wiped from existence. His body seemed to be that of his 15-year-old self, so it was just his mind that was sent back. There was a possibility that he had entered an alternate timeline and everyone was waiting for him back in 'his' future, but Eragon could conceive of no magic that could send him 1000 years into a very specific future out of infinite possibilities. He didn't understand how he could have been sent back.
Eragon strained his aching head, refusing to use magic again since his reserves seemed to be feeble. Slowly, he recalled flying to Du Fell Eldrvarya and hearing tale of a source of wild magic. He had a vague impression of light and falling and a screaming voice, but nothing after. Hmm, so he had been enraptured by the magic, just as Voldorzada had almost been. Perhaps her natural dragon magic, the most powerful of all, had given her more resistance than him.
Whether the pool of light was designed to send those that touched it into the past or that was just some random result of him foolishly touching raw magic, he did not know. As to why it had brought him to this specific moment, maybe it was because it was his gedwëy ignasia that had made contact, or again maybe it was coincidence. Eragon wondered if this was simply an illusion that not even the Word could dispel and it would end as soon as Saphira reached him and pulled his hand out, likely to eat him in fury afterwards. It was an amusing thought, but just as fantastic as him being permanently back, like a message in a bottle through the flow of time. He would act on the assumption that he was truly back, and his every action had permanent consequences.
So… what to do now?
His thinking was interrupted by a sudden wave of exhaustion. He almost fell over and crushed the dragon – Saphira – beneath him. He decided all this could wait for the morning. He needed time to process all this.
Cuddling the hatchling to his chest, Eragon looked down at it as his mind quieted. This wasn't his Saphira. His Saphira could have fit the whole house in her mouth, and had spent a millennium getting to know him. Though identical in body, she might never be the same in mind, life shaping her differently than last time since it probably could not be the same if he tried, chaos effect being what it was. After a moment of ruminating, Eragon decided he didn't care. Saphira was his dragon, whatever form she might take, and he was her Rider.
"You might not be what I remember," he promised sleepily, "but I'll love you just as much as I ever have."
Eragon didn't even feel the binding of an oath. It wasn't an obligation. It was just a statement of fact, and he wouldn't renege on it under any circumstances.
He emerged from sleep with a sense of disorientation. He'd forgotten what it was like to rest without remaining aware of his surroundings. The total loss, the complete submission to his dreams, was almost frightening.
He opened his eyes, trying to rise to full wakefulness as soon as possible. The light of the rising sun stung his eyes, the reason he was up so early. It shone through the window, peaking over mountains too short to be the Beors. Saphira, barely as big as his forearm, sat on the bedpost regarding the dawn.
Eragon regarded her, shining like a living jewel in the light. It was true then. He was truly back. Back before Galbatorix had fallen, before the war to overthrow him had truly even started. Back before anyone he ever loved had died. Back when he was nothing but a farm boy with a knack for hunting.
Well, he was more than that now. He retained all his memories, centuries of knowledge and wisdom and training. He was as far from the ignorant boy he had been as a scholar from an ant. His body was pitiful compared to what he was used to, but he knew the methods to make it stronger. He had dedicated his life to teaching, and it would be simple enough to follow his own lessons. And he still had magic. He was unsure exactly how much power he had or how efficiently he could use it, but he was still able to manipulate the world with naught but his will and words in a language he could speak as if it were his native tongue. Oromis had warned him that speaking the Ancient Language as well as an elf would take a lifetime, and Eragon had had several lifetimes to practice.
So, he could do more now than he could have before. But the question was, what exactly would he do?
Eragon's first thought was to find Brom. He was intelligent, wise, and much more in touch with 'current' events than Eragon. And as his father, and a former Rider besides, he was the least likely to turn him away. And, provided he handled it delicately, Brom would be at least willing to hear Eragon try to explain how he was from literal ages into the future.
So, a trip to Brom was a must, preferably as soon as possible. But what to do with Saphira? He couldn't leave her here. Roran and Garrow would have an apoplexy if they discovered a dragon in the house, and Eragon wasn't sure he could introduce her in any way that wouldn't lead to panic. Until he could work out exactly how to reveal the fact that he was a Rider, let alone from the future, it was best to leave them in blissful ignorance. Eragon debated leaving her in the forest, as he vaguely recalled he had done the 'first' time, but he wasn't comfortable with that. Unlike last time, he hardly thought a hatchling a defenseless animal. However, he was reluctant to have her away from him. He loved her. It wasn't the love for a sister, or a daughter, or a spouse, but it had elements of all three. He was her Rider. And feeling how innocent and carefree she was made him feel protective. He didn't want to leave her alone for a long stretch of time for the sake of keeping her secret. So what did that leave him?
Settling on a course of action some might call reckless, but he would insist was decisive, Eragon got up. He searched for boots and laced them on. Then he investigated the drawer for another shirt. Finding it, he turned to regard Saphira. He occurred to him he hadn't even named her yet.
"Dragon," he said gently. She turned to him. Reaching out so she could hear the words in her mind as well and feel his sincerity, he said "I am your friend. Your name is… Saphira. I am… Eragon. I mean you no harm. Please, come here." Eragon hesitated to use their true names. He wasn't sure if hers was the same as it was when she first discovered it, and they simply didn't have time for them to say his in full.
Tilting her head, she regarded him for a moment before nodding. Then she hopped from the bed to glide to his feet.
Gently, with a great deal of disagreement on her part that he did his best to silence, he wrapped her in the shirt until not a hint of blue was showing. She didn't like being blinded and bundled up, but he managed to calm her with soothing thoughts and letting her see through his eyes. She froze as soon as he gently pulled her into his mind. It occurred to him that he might have overwhelmed her. Despite her ancestral memories, she was as good as an infant, and his was one of the oldest, most powerful minds in the world. But he doubted it would do her any harm as long as he did nothing to purposefully hurt her, and if it kept her docile than it was for the best.
Struggling more than he could believe with the bundle in his arms, Eragon quietly opened the door and slipped through the sleeping house. The layout was completely foreign, but he found his steps carrying him through it with confidence. He would have to explain his absence when they woke up, but that would come after he managed to discuss things with Brom and was hopefully more settled.
It was bracingly cold, a fresh layer of snow laying on the grass. Eragon made sure he was holding Saphira comfortably, then set out down the tracks already made. He was shocked at how clumsy he was. Whether it was because he was still readjusting to his body or he really used to be this ungraceful, he couldn't tell. Still, he tried to move with as much haste as he could. The fewer people saw him on the way to Brom's, the less suspicion there would be. He was sweating by the time he reached the outskirts of Carvahall, a fact that galled him. Even before he'd taken up the sword, he'd gone hunting and done hard work on the farm. Surely he had more endurance than this.
Saphira stirred in his arms, the novelty of his sight wearing off. He felt how uncomfortable she was being supported by his bony arms, and she wanted to stretch her wings fiercely. He pacified her as much as he could as he tried to reach Brom's house without drawing attention. He was guided more by the weight of the man's slumbering mind than actual memory. Eragon made sure his touch was extremely light. He didn't want him to wake and expect attack. That would just complicate what was sure to be a difficult conversation in the first place.
Eragon made it to the door of the 'storyteller' without spotting a single soul. The only ones awake were Horst, on the other side of town, and one or two wives up early to start breakfast. Raising one hand to knock on the door, and embarrassed at how Saphira's weight almost proved too much for him, Eragon tried to rouse Brom without waking up the rest of the street.
The moment he felt the mind sharpen, Eragon retreated behind his own walls. He made one more knock, then prepared himself to see his father as best he could.
He was ill-prepared when the door opened and a head of silver hair above narrowed eyes regarded him. He felt his heart skip a beat as he saw his first mentor living and breathing before him. Now that he knew to look, he noticed they had the same chin, and there was something about the set of the eyes that was familiar, even after his transformation. Eragon felt his throat choke up. He had buried this man. He had never gotten to know him as anything but a teacher.
Brom spoke sharply, breaking him from his trance. "What is it, boy? Why have you woken me at this hour?"
Eragon gulped. Words seemed to have escaped him. Finally, he managed "I need your help."
His father frowned. "What could be so important that could not wait for a more reasonable time?"
At that moment, Saphira discovered an opening in his prison and stuck her head out a sleeve. She shook her head, enjoying the fresh air now that it wasn't filtered through rough cloth, and regarded the stunned man before her curiously.
Eragon felt some of his sense return, and couldn't help the dry wit that colored his tone. "Can you let us in soon? She hasn't had breakfast yet."
Looking as if, well, a dragon had shown up at his door, Brom widened the door and ushered them in. He closed it almost as soon as Eragon cleared it, and he slid closed a solid deadbolt. With rote movements, the man maneuvered around scrolls and books that overflowed from the writing desk and chairs of the room to the fireplace. As he did, Eragon carefully freed Saphira from the shirt, her spikes often catching on the cloth. She leapt from his arms as soon as she was free, regarding everything with both childlike enthusiasm and the unconcerned air of a cat. Eragon strongly urged her not to touch any of the delicate paper, but left her free to wander.
Brom managed to get the fire lit and hung a kettle over it. He retreated further into the house and returned with a raw steak and a loaf of bread. He laid the meat carefully before Saphira, who fell upon it with all the voracity of a hungry predator, and split the loaf in half and offered one to Eragon. Eragon chewed slowly, grateful after the underestimated ordeal of carrying Saphira, and watched Brom warily. They ate in silence, and by the time they'd finished the bread the kettle had begun to whistle. Brom lifted it and dropped a few leaves into it. Then he procured two mugs and poured the steaming tea into both. He offered one to Eragon, and took a sip. That done, he set it carefully atop one of the piles of books surrounding his best chair in front of the fire. He took out a pipe and packed it with what Eragon knew to be cadmus weed, and lit it with a nearby tinderbox.
Only after a deep drag did he finally speak, indicating a still eating Saphira with his free hand. "Explain." It was not Brom the storyteller that spoke, but the Brom whom had founded and led the Varden.
Eragon decided to start with just the facts of history, before mentioning his own unique circumstances. "About… three weeks ago, I was in the Spine. The egg appeared in an explosion, though I didn't know what it was at the time. It was obviously magic, and very pretty, so I thought I could sell it."
Eragon noticed the anger flash in Brom's eyes. He couldn't blame him. Even pardoning his ignorance, it was almost a crime to treat a dragon egg so callously.
"Sloan wouldn't take it when he heard I found it in the Spine. I held onto it until the traders arrived. The jeweler… Merlock refused it as well. I brought it home and kept it in my room. Last night, she hatched."
Brom breathed deeply from the pipe, looking between Eragon and Saphira as if he couldn't believe what he was seeing. "You think she is female?"
Eragon hid a wince. He shouldn't have known that. Then again, he was here to tell Brom everything. "I know she is."
Brom narrowed his eyes at him. "What makes you think you know anything about dragons? And why bring her to me, in any case?"
Eragon braced himself. He was about to make Brom as confused and disconcerted as he had been last night, if not more so. "I came to you because you are my father and a Rider."
Brom choked on his smoke, his eyes widening until Eragon could see more white than blue. Saphira looked up in confusion. She sent a questioning feeling to Eragon, wondering what was wrong with the one that brought food, and he assured her she was okay. Mollified, she tried to finish off the last bits of red beef, though her belly was already swelled with her feast.
Eragon felt a ram come at his thoughts. He repelled it with a bit more difficulty than he expected from a mind a tenth as old as his, making Brom find nothing but a constant string of him thinking 'I am your son, Eragon' in the Ancient Language. The probe retreated, and Brom looked as if someone had struck him in the gut. The pipe fell from limp fingers, spilling ash across the floor. He looked at Eragon with confusion, disbelief, even a little fear, but also the slightest bit of hope.
"How?" he asked in a thin voice, his body somehow both tense with anxiety and loose with shock.
Eragon sighed. "It's hard to explain. I barely understand it myself. If you will let me, I'd prefer to show you." He added on in the Ancient Language "I swear not to harm you if you consent to allow me into your mind."
Brom stared at him for several tense minutes. Saphira came over and poked at Eragon's knee. He absently scratched her head, never taking his gaze from Brom. Finally, with a wariness that was almost palpable, the former Rider nodded.
Eragon reached out with his mind and met Brom's. He saw and felt him stiffen in surprise. Brom's mind was formidable, strengthened by almost a century of unwavering resolve to destroy Morzan and Galbatorix, thrumming with the power of a wise if not particularly strong magician, still touched by the echo of a dragon's thoughts and magic. It was akin to a sturdy bonfire, worn down with age, but still bright and hot and worthy of caution.
In comparison, Eragon's mind was the sun.
His head was filled with so many memories and pieces of knowledge that he couldn't handle them all at once, tumbling and flowing over and within each other like currents through the ocean. Like the mind of an elf, his thoughts sang with music, but it was more like a full chorus and orchestra than a haunting soloist like her mind had been when he'd felt it last. The notes were slightly discordant, his mind still not fully in sync with its new host, but they spoke of his power and age. And every inch was touched by the trace of his own magic, greatly diminished but still potent, and the lingering influence of 'his' Saphira's mind and bond, that of the Mother of Dragons.
Sure that the link was stable, and hoping Brom was not struck too dumb to see what he was about to show, Eragon again said "Memory" as he had last night and dove back to the beginning of his journey.
If flowed smoothly and continuously, like a fairth given motion and sound. Realizing what Saphira was and hiding her away in the forest. Caring for her in secret, coming to Brom in search of answers. The Ra'zac coming, and Saphira kidnapping him in instinctive fear. Returning to find the house destroyed and Garrow dying, and the horrible deathwatch. Swearing vengeance for his uncle, and Brom revealing himself to know Eragon was a Rider and offering to help him in his quest. Following the trail of the Ra'zac through Palancar Valley and beyond, the horror of Yazuac, learning magic after his first accidental use. Discovering the flask of Seithr oil and shifting course for Teirm. Meeting Jeod, Angela's prophecy and Solembaum's advice, breaking into the castle for the records. Confronting Brom on the way to Dras-Leona and learning of the Varden, reaching the city of the Ra'zac, discovery and flight, Brom injured and Eragon saved by a boy named Murtagh. Brom's death, after revealing part of his history and his parting words, which to this day Eragon had never used. His dreams of her, Saphira revealing a Varden contact and the decision to go to Gil'ead. Capture, rescue, the temporary loss of Durza and the recovery of her. Fleeing across the desert, then sprinting even faster through the Beors after being shown the way to the Varden. Being saved at the gate from Urgals, seeing Tronjheim and Farthen Dûr, meeting Ajihad, the battle against the Urgals and the confrontation with Durza. Being saved by a being who called himself the Mourning Sage, discovering the wound on his back.
Eragon could see that Brom was already overwhelmed, but he continued on. Now that he'd started, he found there was something strangely therapeutic to reliving his life, looking on all his past with new eyes. He showed Brom more. The ambush of Ajihad, the loss of Murtagh and the Twins, Ajihad's funeral. Traveling to Du Weldenvarden, meeting the elves, finally reaching Ellesmera to discover her true origins and meeting Oromis and Glaedr. Training for months, realizing the folly he'd done with Elda, the changes wrought on him at the Blood-Oath Celebration, confessing to her and being rejected. Learning the plight of those they'd left behind and making for Surda. The battle of the Burning Plains, Murtagh's reappearance, the death of Hrothgar and the horrible confrontation where he lost his sword and his peace of mind. Reuniting with Roran and learning of all that had befallen Carvahall in his absence, swearing to rescue Katrina.
Storming Helgrind, defeating the Ra'zac with great effort, rescuing Sloan and figuring out his true name. Making back for the Varden, finding Tenga and his ramblings of the 'question', running into her, the night they talked and he made her a flower transformed by spirits that appeared and thanked him for slaying Durza. Lifting the curse he'd placed on a babe, gifts of gold, the battle the day of Roran's wedding and realizing Murtagh was somehow stronger than him and the twelve spellcasters of the elves combined. Traveling with Orik and Nar Garzhvog, witnessing the politics of the dwarves, the coronation and the repair of the Star Sapphire. Returning to Ellesmera, learning of Brom's true history and the Eldunari, forging Brisingr with Rhunön. The siege of Feinster and battling a Shade yet again, with her defeating it, feeling Oromis die and Glaedr lose his body, revealing the truth to her and Nasuada as they planned how to retake the Empire.
Seizing Belatona, the alliance with the werecats, singing to Hope through the night. Sneaking into Dras-Leona, capture and the threat of being eaten by Ra'zac spawn, being saved by Angela and Solembaum. Confronting Murtagh and Thorn, Nasuada's kidnapping, becoming leader of the Varden. Seeking out the Vault of Souls, learning his true name, discovering hope and salvation. Marching on Urû'baen, confronting Galbatorix and Shruikan in the throne room, horror as it was made clear he had discovered the Word, the Name of Names (Eragon carefully hid the actual word from the memory. He trusted Brom, but not with that power. He barely trusted himself with it.) Murtagh realizing his Name had changed, stripping the mad king of his defenses, Eragon defeating him by making him feel all the pain he had caused, protecting them all from his final strike with the power of the Eldunari. Nasuada becoming Queen, searching for a safe place to rebuild in Alagaësia and realizing there was none, uniting the races before resigning to leave, his last meeting with her and learning she was also a Rider, and that both their love and that of their dragons' was doomed. Leaving Alagaësia and fulfilling his oldest premonition.
Eragon skimmed over what came next, only making sure Brom was aware of the passage of many years. Discovering Nest, building Ristvak'skul, cementing his place as Father of Riders over centuries of teaching, losing her, learning how to continue on, a curious discovery one morning, his madness as he entered the cavern and saw the liquid magic, a moment that defied even the power of Eragon's spell to truly recall, and finally waking up back where it had all begun.
Eragon released the spell, and almost passed out as he became aware of the drain on his resources. He dimly realized that it wasn't just that his body had less energy, but it wasn't used to channeling magic yet. It was like firing from a glass cannon. He shakily reached for his tea, now stone cold. Eragon saw that the sun was now high in the sky, and Saphira had grown bored and knocked over all the books. She now curled in front of the sputtering fire, feeling a little hungry again already. She seemed to have already grown visibly.
Brom took a great heave of air, gasping for almost a full minute as he seemed to return to himself at last. He gripped the handles of his chair so tightly his hands turned white. His eyes turned glazed and breathing slowed. Eragon recognized the signs of meditation and left him to it. It was maybe an hour before Brom emerged, Eragon discovering the larder and feeding Saphira lunch in the meantime while he chewed absently on a hunk of cheese.
"Oh, my son," the older in body yet younger in mind breathed. "You have been through more than I can possibly understand."
Eragon shrugged. It was his life. He regretted parts of it, but he would never deny it was his. "I survived. And it seems my wyrd to endure it all again."
"Indeed." Brom seemed to consider his next words carefully. "The elf woman you loved… was she Arya?"
Eragon flinched. Hearing her name was like a knife to his heart. He couldn't even bring himself to think it in the privacy of his mind. A tentative hope reminded him she was alive, but his long denied heart reminded him that it hardly meant their love could work out this time, or that it would even bloom on her part. "Yes." Eragon scoffed. "As you told Saphira to tell me, fate seems to enjoy toying with our family in that regard."
Brom winced. "Yes, it would appear so."
Eragon felt wrung out. His body still trembled from the effort of his spell, and his mind felt strangely blank. He felt it would take some time and many hours of meditation for the effects of reliving his life to settle. A large part of him called out for comfort, but centuries had taught him how to weather on without it. But just this once, he felt like succumbing to it.
"I don't know how to ask this… but can you hug me?" Eragon asked.
Brom seemed surprised, but his face settled into a curious, tentative hope. "Really? You're an older man than even I am."
"An old man in the body of a boy, whom has never felt his father's embrace. Not that age should matter; I'm human, and sometimes I'm not strong enough to handle things all on my own. I think that holds true for every race, even the dragons." Eragon looked at the young Saphira, remembering all the times that she'd confided in him, that he had shouldered her worries and concerns, just as she had done in turn for him whenever he had needed it.
Brom seemed to debate with himself for a moment. Then he stood, walked over, and pulled Eragon up into his grasp. Eragon felt warmth radiate from the old but still strong arms, smelled the unique scent of Brom that came off his skin and clothes, felt that white beard tickle his cheek and ear. He brought his arms up to hold his father even closer. He realized he was sobbing, and was powerless to stop it. What strength he had left seemed to drain away, and he almost collapsed. But his father held him, gently lowering him to the ground and continuing to hold him as his emotions broke free of his control. Eragon felt wetness in his hair, and realized Brom was crying as well, albeit silently.
They held each other for a priceless time. It was broken by a worried squeak, and the sensation of something ramming their sides. Eragon turned to see Saphira looking at him, their bond sending confusion and worry. She did not like to see him cry.
Eragon chuckled wetly. "Peace, Saphira. I will be okay."
She backed off, satisfied, and turned to investigate the kettle.
Brom hadn't yet let go. "You named her Saphira?" he asked, an old pain in his voice.
Eragon laughed, but it was bittersweet. "It was the only name you gave me that she liked."
"It suits her."
They sat there in silence, recovering from the emotional moment. They kept their arms around each other, neither wanting to be the first to let go. The choice was stolen from them when Saphira knocked over the kettle and sent water spreading across the floor.
With an oath, Brom surged to his feet with speed that belied his apparent age, reaching to save the books and scrolls near the spill. Wiping at his eyes, Eragon reached for the shirt he had transported Saphira in and used it to mop up the water. If possible, he felt even weaker than before, but his heart was light.
Once they had saved the valuable texts, the returned to their seats. Eragon picked up Saphira and had her curl in his lap. Her favorite 'spots' proved to be the same, even at this size, and Eragon soon had her humming beneath his hand. Brom recovered his pipe and relit it. Once he'd had a few good puffs, he blew out a cloud of smoke and seemed to settle into a mood of contemplation.
"So… what is it you will do?"
Eragon sighed. A part of him had hoped that Brom would take authority, but that was foolish. His was the greater experience, and he knew more details. Brom was there to be a sounding board, not the strategist himself. "This is what has to be done. I need to get back in shape, both physically and magically. The Varden must be alerted of my existence. A… Arya must be saved from Gil'ead. Murtagh must be found." Eragon saw Brom's lips twist and felt his face harden. "He's my brother, a fellow Rider, and nothing like his father." That cut his father to the quick. He indicated for Eragon to go on. "The Ra'zac must die. Durza must die. Galbatorix must die. Ideally, the elves should be alerted, the Eldunari recovered from the Vault, and the eggs of Thorn and Firnen freed from Urû'baen."
Brom spoke up. "That will have to wait for after the war. It's suicide to sneak into Urû'baen a second time, and the eggs are protected by Galbatorix's wards. If he has access to these Eldunari as well as a century of growth from the Fall, I doubt all the magicians in Alagaësia could overpower him."
Eragon shook his head. "You forget; I know the Word. I can undo those wards with a single sentence. The only challenge will be getting the energy to transport them from a safe distance. That might have to wait until after we open the Vault."
Brom frowned. "If those eggs vanish from beneath his nose, Galbatorix might ride out from Urû'baen himself."
Eragon frowned. "There is that to consider. But he's never seen me. If he tried to scry the eggs, he wouldn't see me. If I did it alone, from far enough away, I might be able to outrun him."
Brom shook his head. "Let's not get ahead of ourselves. Having three Riders against Galbatorix would be a godsend, but not at the cost of the one we have."
Eragon smiled grimly. "I'd forgotten the burden of being the only one. It's quite… restricting."
Brom shrugged. "And yet, you must bear it. You must wage this war a second time, and you are a precious asset to the cause."
Eragon nodded. He thought carefully for a few minutes. "How does this sound for a general plan? I stay here and train myself and Saphira until the Ra'zac arrive. By the time they do, you, Saphira and I should be ready to face them. We travel afterwards to Teirm, so Jeod can send a message and be alerted to the Twins' sabotage. We take a boat to Vroengard, where Saphira and I open the Vault. We travel to Gil'ead, rescue Arya, and kill Durza. With him dead, the Urgals will be freed of the spells on them and should turn on the Empire. We meet up with Murtagh, maybe retrieve the eggs, and make for the Varden. We have the army mobilize and make for Surda, we rally the elves, and retake the Empire."
Brom frowned. "I'll agree to the route we take; it reaches the most objectives in the least amount of time. Killing Durza is a gamble; I don't doubt you could do it, but we can't predict how the Urgals will react. They could just as easily stay their course to invade, or run wild through the Empire and injure hundreds. I advise against getting the eggs, no matter how far away you are. The invasion most definitely has to be worked out more. And just how do you plan on finding Murtagh? He came to you, if I recall correctly."
"There's a form of scrying that can pull back from the target to show the surrounding area. Zoom far enough out and I can track him with a map."
Brom nodded. "Very well. That just leaves one question: how do we get back to Garrow's farm?"
Eragon regarded the bustling town outside the safety of Brom's house. "We might need a… distraction."
And that's where I'll leave it. I wrote the bulk of this years ago. I'm just now deciding to post it. Hope you all enjoy.