Eragon woke from his healing sleep to see Angela looking down on him. "I do believe you're a little overqualified to be a nurse," Eragon told the witch point-blank. "I forgot you were in Tronjheim."

"I like to be where things are happening. After our fascinating meeting in Teirm, I figured things out with the Varden were about to heat up and packed bags and came to Tronjheim. You might have seen me out in the field if you cared to look. I tend to cut a striking figure."

Eragon nodded. "Well, at least you weren't healing a bisected back this go around."

"Oh, is that what Durza left you with in that other future? This time I think he just left his sword. Arya recovered it from the battlefield. It's Elvish make, and apparently you're in need of a blade."

Eragon nodded. He looked to the side and saw he was in his usual bed in the Rider quarters above Isidar Mithrim. Durza's rapier was indeed lying on the ground, laid with care within reach of Eragon upon waking. The blade would feel like a glorified knife to someone Eragon's size. Still, it was Elvish steel, and that made it priceless as far as he was concerned.

"Where is everyone?" Eragon asked, sitting up and noting Solrmbum in human form crouched in the corner.

"Doing what men do after a bloody battle. It's been less than a day. They tucked you away when you passed out on the battlefield after earning the name Shadeslayer. Very nice touch, by the way, physically ripping out the heart. Makes it rather hard to miss, unlike an arrow or sword, yes?" Angela peered around. "Is Saphira coming? I wanted to ask her a question myself."

Having been in contact with her mind since he fully regained consciousness, Eragon wordlessly let her landing outside the cave speak for itself.

Saphira flapped her wings to clear the dust raised by her landing and poked her head in to stare at Eragon. Never worry me like that again. I died a thousand deaths when your mind went blank. I feared the worst.

Eragon kissed her nose. "You know I can't make that promise. But I promise to involve you more directly with the next Shade slaying."

Saphira shuttered. Don't even joke. Turning to eye Angela, Saphira regarded the witch. You had a question for me?

"Yes, Brightscales. I was wondering if you might give me your True Name. I'd prefer to have the full set for Rider and Dragon," Angela asked brightly.

Saphira narrowed her great blue eyes. If I do, will you reveal the secret of your longevity?

"I'll give you a hint, at least," Angela allowed.

Saphira rolled her eyes and told Angela her True Name. Now speak.

Angela seemed to savor the sound of Saphira's Name. "Quite beautiful. Well, fair's fair. I was there when the Ancient Language gained its power. That's all I'll say."

Eragon's mind raced with that piece of information. The Grey Folk! I thought they were all extinct. They're basically elves that lost their magic. If she was there, she's the oldest living thing in Alagaësia apart from Rheunön.

How interesting. I'm more concerned about you. Are you sure you should be standing this soon, little one?

Eragon rolled his eyes. "One case of magical exhaustion and you turn into a mother hen. I'm perfectly fine. Just spent too much energy too fast, is all. Won't happen again. I'd do it again."

Saphira sighed. I know. You'd walk unwarded through Dragonfire to protect Arya or save her from harm. Love and insanity seem to have an awful lot in common.

"You'd be surprised how many of my old students agreed with you on that front," Eragon mused. "Now, I want to see Brom, Murtagh, and Arya. Then I need food."

Saphira faithfully let Eragon mount her and she flew out into the battlefield, which was mostly deserted at this hour. Cleanup hadn't started yet so soon after the battle. The runners sent to recall the evacuating civilians likely hadn't even reached their destination yet. Eragon did find Murtagh, Thorn, Arya, and Firnen though, walking through the field of corpses. All four visibly perked up at the sight of Eragon. "Brother!" Murtagh shouted, coming over to wrap his taller yet younger sibling in a hug which Eragon eagerly returned. Murtagh wasn't prone to emotional displays so this brief moment of vulnerability had to be savored. Arya got a beaming smile that nearly struck Eragon dumb at its sheer beauty.

"Thank you again for… saving me. I had no idea Durza was there," Arya said after the brothers finished their embrace.

"He acted just as you predicted. I just happened to be waiting for the moment he appeared while you got lost in the combat," Eragon stated.

"Don't diminish this, Eragon. You're a Shadeslayer now! No matter what else you do, your name is already going down in history." Murtagh reached up on tiptoe to clap his shoulder.

"Yes, well, that's neither here nor there. It's just a name to make me sound more intimidating," Eragon minimized. "So, where's Brom? He wasn't up there when I woke up."

"I believe he's meeting with Ajihad for a post-battle briefing in Ajihad's office," Arya said clearly.

"Sounds important. We should probably join in. Come on!" Eragon made for Tronjheim, ignoring how blood mixed with the dirt to create the worst kind of slippery mud. Everyone who saw the three Dragon Riders bowed and changed direction. Apparently they'd earned an aura of intimidation during the Battle. Eragon led them by rote to Ajihad's office. The guard checked inside and soon let them all in.

Ajihad was still wearing his bloodstained armor, as was Hrothgar, Jörmundur, Orik, with the notable exception of Brom who'd been safe the whole battle while coordinating the Varden's magicians against the Urgal's."Are we interrupting?" Eragon asked facetiously; they wouldn't have been permitted entrance if Ajihad hadn't wanted to see them.

"Not at all, Eragon Shadeslayer. I would have summoned you for this meeting, but I understand your ordeal necessitated you get some immediate rest." Ajihad said with a proud smile on his face. Not one that could beat out Brom's, though. The old Rider looked positively giddy.

"Consider me rested. I heard you were reviewing the order of battle and figured you'd want to know what happened with your Riders and Durza," Eragon said, coming up to the table with Arya and Murtagh flanking him almost unconsciously.

Hrothgar twirled Volund and asked "Then speak, Shadeslayer. Explain how you performed this miracle," the dwarf king said in passable Common though he had an unmistakable accent.

Eragon shrugged and described the hours of fighting one Urgal after another before sensing Durza materializing. "It all came down to a handful of seconds, really. I cast a spell that… either sped me up or slowed everything else down. Then I walked up to the drajl Shade and ripped out his heart."

"Bare-handed?" Jörmundur asked incredulously.

Flexing his bicep, Eragon said "These muscles aren't for show. Yes, I ripped his heart out bare-handed. You all saw what happened afterward. I believe I passed out shortly afterward. I understand the Urgals behaved as I said and retreated."

Ajihad nodded. "Yes. Hrothgar and I were just debating whether to commit the resources to scavenging them from the tunnels. Last thing we need is a Urgal infestation lingering under Tronjheim."

Eragon winced at the word infestation. "Now that Durza isn't controlling them, they'll realize what he was doing. Forcing the clans to work together is unnatural for Urgals. They just might end up sending an envoy to join the war effort in exchange for revenge against Galbatorix."

Ajihad blinked, clearly considering the 'radical' idea. His second-in-command had strong opinions. "Absolutely not! The men would mutiny rather than serve alongside Urgals!"

"The enemy of mine enemy is my friend," Hrothgar mused. "It goes against my teeth, but it might be wise to consider such an offer if it ever comes. The Urgals were a terrifying enemy; imagine them as allies."

Orik and Jormundur both all but stuck out their tongues in revulsion. Ajihad just nodded and moved the meeting back along.

When they were done, Ajihad sighed. "There's nothing like the meal right after a battle. I say we break the casks and celebrate our victory and survival!"

"Hear, hear," Brom called out.

Ajihand led the whole lot of them to the nearest banquet hall, filled with shell-shocked and silent men still in their armor.

"Men! Let us feast! For the Varden has just won over its greatest ordeal to date!" Ajihad called.

Cheers filled the room, and the dead air was soon alive and pulsing. Knowing better than to let the dragons get drunk, Eragon firmly forbid they have more than a taste of the blackberry mead that was rolled in. Thorn didn't like the aftertaste, but Saphira really liked the taste of alcohol. They enjoyed simple but warm food over the drinks, and the night passed in a blur of toasts and willful rejection of the horror waiting in the fields outside.

The next day, nursing hangovers, Eragon and the other Riders helped with the clean-up as much as they could, despite the crews insisting they didn't need to trouble themselves with such menial tasks. The second day, the civilians returned and a sense of life returned to Tronjheim as fathers got to clutch their children and kiss their wives. Ajihad almost had a fit when he discovered Nasuada had stuck behind and disguised herself as an archer. Eragon left that matter to the father and daughter.

On the third day after the Battle of Farthen Dur, Eragon was on high alert. The Twins were dead, and Ajihad had decided to leave the fleeing Urgals unmolested. There was absolutely no reason why Ajihad should die on this day, barring cataclysmic levels of bad luck involving a hidden heart defect or other health condition Eragon was unaware of. Luckily, the day passed like any other after a major battle. Eragon didn't truly relax until he went to bed that night, and even in his dreams he stayed tense until midnight came and went.

Ajihad summoned the Riders to his office on the fifth day. Eragon, Saphira, Murtagh, Thorn, Arya, and Firnen (who was now the size of a large dog) stood arrayed before the leader of the Varden. Ajihad eyed them over, missing nothing.

"You three will soon head for Du Weldenvarden to complete your training. Brom will stay with me to run Du Vrangr Gata. I understand that you can communicate with his mind no matter how far you travel away, allowing us to maintain regular contact, yes?"

"That's true," Eragon stated firmly.

Ajihad rubbed his chin. "Before you leave, I have both a favor and some advice to ask of you."

"Name it," Arya said cooly.

"I ask that you all declare fealty to the Varden. And I ask if you have any advice for when the Varden moves to Surda after you leave."

Eragon clapped his hands. "I'll swear fealty to you, not the Varden as a whole. I trust you, but not the Council of Elders. And my advice would be to set up Du Vrangr Gata as a source of income and a counterintelligence ring."

Ajihad raised a brow. "I'll agree to that. And how do you mean?"

"Galbatorix has a ring of magicians that have sworn loyalty to him in the Ancient Language, the Black Hand. They have agents in Surda. Have Du Vrangr Gata focus on hunting them out when they're not producing the Varden's major tradable good," Eragon explained.

"Which is?"


"... Lace?" Ajihad had a baffled expression.

"Lace is expensive, but it's simple as breathing to weave it with magic. By selling inexpensive lace in Surda and throughout the Empire, the Varden will amass a fortune all its own rather than borrowing from the dwarves or Surdans," Eragon asserted.

Ajihad rubbed his chin. "I never would have thought of that. I don't think any man would."

"Sometimes it's productive to get in touch with your feminine side," Eragon said lightly. He felt a tad guilty for taking credit for Nasuada's brilliant idea, but with Ajihad the leader of the Varden instead of her, someone needed to alert him to the major money-making idea. Lace had been the backbone of the Varden's finances in the future past.

"Thank you. Now, you should be aware that Hrothgar is sending Orik as a representative of both the Varden and the dwarves to monitor your training."

Eragon nodded, pleased that his friend was coming along. "That is not a problem."

Ajihad turned to Arya. "Arya, I'm aware your relationships with your own kind are… strained to say the least. But on behalf of the Varden, I entreat you to convince Queen Islanzadi to start supplying aid to the Varden again. We're going to need every little bit to win this war, we can't afford to stay divided."

"I will deliver your message," Arya said flatly, her whole expression closing off at the thought of asking her mother for help on any level.

Her mood hadn't improved two days later. There had indeed been an assembly of all the Varden and the three Dragon Riders had sworn fealty to Ajihad. Then they'd had one final night in the safety and comfort of the cave beds. And then they were meeting before the dawn at the gates of Tronjheim. Eragon was just packing Holcomb's saddlebags again when Orik arrived. He clutched a helm in his hands.

"Eragon Shadeslayer, mine uncle has an offer for you," Orik began.

Eragon plucked the helm that bore the crest of Clan Ingeitum and set it proudly on his brow. "I would be honored to be adopted into your clan. What do I have to say?"

Shocked at how casually Eragon had accepted, Orik nonetheless led Eragon through the adoption ceremony. When it was done, Eragon was officially part of a dwarf clan despite only having dwarf bones. Though some would argue their stone bones were their defining trait.

"Why does all the interesting stuff always happen to you?" Murtagh asked half-playfully, though not completely hiding a pang of jealousy.

"You say interesting, I say complicated. I couldn't possibly refuse the offer, so I took it. I already know how to talk like a dwarf, I'll learn how to behave like one later." Eragon laid his hand on his older brother's shoulder. "Let me bear all the responsibility. You just enjoy the freedom of being a Dragon Rider without any politics mucking things up."

"Shadeslayer speaks true, Murtagh. There are a great many 'strings' attached to this adoption. Some might just start a Clan War over this gesture. Leave that headache to Eragon here," Orik said, hiking his full pack.

Having said their goodbyes last night, the party of four humanoids, three dragons, 136 Eldunari, and two horses made for the tunnel that would lead them to the nearest dwarf town to the north. They passed long days in the darkness broken only by the light of red Erisdar. Arya and Eragon saw clear as day and helped guide Orik and Murtagh through the relative gloom. The atmosphere of the tunnel didn't encourage much conversation.

A good week later, they emerged into the outside air. Orik in particular breathed deep of the fresh mountain air. "My home is under stone, but I don't understand those hermits that abandon the outdoors altogether."

"It's their decision to make," Eragon answered. "Now, remember, we're here in Tarnag as Ûndin's houseguests. He's the one that will give us the resources to ford up the river toward Du Weldenvarden. Murtagh, with all my love, just sit still and look pretty next to Thorn. The dwarves and dragons have the oldest feud in Alagaësia, and the Dragon Riders are a failed concept to most of them after Galbatorix and the Forsworn. Saying or doing the wrong thing, even by accident, could cause an international incident between the Varden and the Dwarf kingdom."

"Mouth shut, got it. Just as well, if everyone's going to be speaking Dwarvish," Murtagh said, scratching Thorn on the top of his scaled head.

"Arya, I trust you to carry yourself with grace, just keep in mind you're no longer the elvish ambassador, you're a Dragon Rider," Eragon told his lady love.

"I'll do my best to remain courteous," Arya said with an ironic grin.

They set off down the path. They hadn't gone far when a dwarf riding a giant billy goat appeared before them. "What clan? Who passes?" The scout called out in a bass rumble.

"Orik, Thrivk's son, and Eragon Shadeslayer of Clan Ingeitum. Also the Dragon Riders Murtagh and Arya. We are Ûndin's house guests," Orik stated in his native tongue.

The guard spread his arms. "Then you may pass." With that, the scout jumped away on his unique mount.

"What the blazes was that thing?" Murtagh asked under his breath.

"Feldunost, one of the five species unique to the Beor Mountains," Eragon answered promptly. "The others are a giant wolf, an even bigger bear, an enormous boar, and flying serpents that are pale mockeries of dragons."

They reached the gates of Tarnag, the first outdoor dwarf city Murtagh had seen if you didn't count Farthen Dûr and Tronjheim. They were met by two clan chiefs of the River Guard and clan Quan: Ûndin and Gamnel.

Both seemed taken aback when the party of Riders approached. "So the rumors were true. All three eggs, hatched for the Varden. The gods are smiling on us," Gamnel said reverentially.

Ûndin treated them like they were visiting family. "Please follow through mine city to mine home."

The clan chiefs and their party maintained a stream of pleasant small talk as the party progressed through the tiered structure of the city. At the penultimate highest level, they turned left rather than going up one more tier to Celbediel, the great Dwarvish temple.

They were headed for Ûndin's mansion when a trio of veiled dwarves blocked their path. The leader began to spit filth about the Dragon Riders and the insult of having the beasts in their holy city. When he caught a glimpse of the seal on Eragon's helm, he lost his shit. "He was made a member of Clan Ingeitum! Curse Hrothgar and all…"

"Either declare a clan war or get out of our way," Eragon spoke flawlessly, to most of the listening dwarves' shock.

The dwarf huffed. Pulling out a silver ring, he plucked three beard hairs and entwined them around the ring. Then he threw the ring away, spitting after it. Ûndin and Gamnel visibly tensed.

Translation? Murtagh asked his brother.

The entire clan of the Tears of Anhuin just dedicated its every resource to my downfall. Up to and including a violent death, Eragon answered.

Wow. Now I really am glad you're the one who has to handle this shit.

Even when they were safely in the walls of the mansion, the clan chiefs seemed disquieted. "If hosting me will cause any strain or trouble, I'll happily sleep in the mountainside until it's time to leave," Eragon offered his host.

Ûndin shook his head firmly. "Nonsense. I will not allow some antiquated fool to ruin your idea of dwarf hospitality. I pledged mine honor on seeing you safely on this leg of your journey. I intend to do just that."

Later that night, a great meal was hosted in the courtyard so the dragons could participate. Nagra, the giant boar of the Beor Mountains, was served as the main course. Murtagh and Arya were content to eat their portions and let Eragon do all the talking.

Eragon was keeping them interested with a 'hypothetical' discussion of a dwarf Rider. "The real key would be whether brings made from stone can ever be comfortable in the air."

Gamnel nodded, fascinated. "You seem to already know the legends of your new adopted people. All the same, I promised Hrothgar to give you a tour of Celbediel tomorrow."

Eragon nodded and turned to Arya with his mind. Yes, it's a massive waste of resources dedicated to muttering into the air for help. But even if you find it stupid, you can't disrespect an entire culture out-of-hand.

Let us agree to disagree on that front, Arya demurred in her head.

The next day passed with Eragon taking his tour of the Dwarves main temple, admiring the enamel mosaic as much as he had in his first life, perhaps more so now that he knew most of the history depicted. The visit was cut short by trouble caused by the Tears of Anhuin. Eragon spent the rest of the day locked safely behind Ûndin's walls.

Before dawn the next morning, they snuck through Tarnag and made it onto a raft, along with seven dwarves assigned to ensure they made it to the elves safely.

Two weeks later, they reached the edge of the woods, and the elf outpost of Cerris. Arya walked boldly into the woods and called out in the Ancient Language "Come out from hiding, my friends, for I have returned."

In a blur indistinguishable through the leaves of the trees, four elves dropped to the ground and began to laugh and dance around their princess. The sheer fey beauty of the scene was enough to make Murtagh a little lightheaded. Eragon had the tolerance of more magic in his blood to dilute the effect.

Holcomb and Tornac were sent back with the dwarves, no good for the coming trek through the magical forest. Eragon and Murtagh adjusted their packs and saw Arya break free of her dancing countrymen to cuddle Firnen, who was somewhere between quite a large dog and quite a small horse. The elves all gaped when Arya showed her gedwëy ignasia to confirm.

"Oh, what a joyous occasion! Three Dragon Riders have come to our border! The trees will dance and sing with joy!" The leader, Lifaen, called out in joy. He seemed ready to play music or recite poetry, and the other three didn't seem far behind him.

"This is nothing like how I expected the elves would be," Murtagh whispered to his brother as Arya made arrangements for two to stay at Cerris and two to escort the three Riders through the enchanted forest.

Eragon nodded. "Arya is very… out of touch with typical Elvish culture. She's forced herself to live like a Man for decades. She just needs help rediscovering her roots. Then she'll be… not exactly like that, but much more relaxed," Eragon asserted as the elves indeed pulled out instruments and began to play around the fire.

Orik shook his head. "Mad. Elves are mad."

They got through the evening meal, which being cooked by elves naturally had no animal products. Murtagh grit his teeth at eating like a cow but Eragon stared him down.

The next month passed with them making steady if winding progress to Ellesmera. There was a small incident when they were too near a city when the Elves had their yearly restoration of the forest's magic. Murtagh and Orik had to be restrained lest they run off into the woods and never be seen again. As for Eragon, who could tolerate the magic of the chorus, he still had many… randy thoughts featuring Arya in a variety of positions that he would keep secret to his dying day.

Once they reached the outskirts of Ellesmera, complete with a meeting with the old elf at the border, they stopped hiding. Eragon, Murtagh, and Arya walked confidently through the elvish city, which was formed so harmoniously with the surrounding environment that it was difficult to say where nature left off and magic began.

The elves came out to marvel at their passing, or more accurately the passing of Saphira, Thorn, and Firnen. The benefit of over a month surrounded by elves was Murtagh had made real progress with his fluency. He still had to think through each sentence, but listening was manageable so long as the speaker wasn't too fast.

They made it to Tildari Hall, entering to find Queen Islanzadi on her throne with the elvish nobles seated on their own thrones around the room.

Arya walked stiffly forward when Eragon stopped. "Queen Islanzadi. I have returned home. I hope you see that my health leaves nothing to be desired, and that you will reinvoke the aide towards the Varden once again."

The Queen, who really had a strong resemblance to her daughter, grabbed her by her shoulders and embraced her. "Oh my daughter, I have wronged you!"

While Murtagh gaped at that little tidbit, Eragon was translating for Orik. Orik hissed. "Barzûln! She was the princess this whole time? No wonder the Queen ceased aide when she was kidnapped."

Arya stood stiffly in her mother's embrace. "It is pointless for me to forgive you, for you will never acknowledge you ever did any wrong. All the same, I accept your concern for the gesture it is,"

Islanzadi pulled back. "My daughter, I have died every day waiting to hear you were safe. Can you not find it in your heart to offer me forgiveness?"

Arya sighed. "Let us simply start over from the beginning. Greetings, Queen Islanzadi. I am Arya, Rider of Firnen. Behind me are Eragon Shadeslayer, Rider of Saphira Brightscales. And Murtagh, Rider of Thorn. And Orik, the dwarf ambassador. May we have your blessing to host us while we engage in the training to become fully-fledged Dragon Riders?"

Islanzadi wasn't giving up that easy. "If you do not forgive me as a daughter to her mother, I will cast you from the city and never allow you entrance to the halls of Ellesmera!"

There was muttering from around the room. Arya stood stubborn a minute longer before her shoulders sagged. "I accept your apology, mother. I am glad the rift between us can be healed at long last." Arya all but chewed those words over before spitting them out.

Islanzadi nodded. "Then may you and your companions always find safe passage and a restful bed in Ellesmera!"

Murtagh muttered as applause went around the room "That's pretty extreme just to get someone to agree with you."

"Islanzadi doesn't often not get her way," Eragon whispered to his brother. Then he walked forward and pressed his fingers to his lip. "Greetings, Queen Islanzadi. May good fortune rule over you."

She mirrored the gesture and replied "May peace live in your heart."

"And may the stars watch over you. I am Eragon Shadeslayer, Rider of Saphira. I am the leader of us three Riders."

Islanzadi eyed Arya curiously before returning her piercing gaze to Eragon. "You bear a hard name, Eragon Shadeslayer. One we only once have bestowed upon our children. I would very much prefer to hear how Arya went from lost near Ceunon to here before me with a dragon beside her."

Eragon settled in for the long haul and began to tell the whole story. The FULL story, given he was speaking in the Ancient Language. Waking up after being displaced in time. Training, killing the Ra'zac, saving Yazuac, making for Teirm. Opening the Vault of Souls, working the impossible spells with the aid of the Eldunari and the radioactivity in Dorú Araeba. Finding Murtagh, saving Arya, flight across the Empire, arriving at the Varden and the Battle of Farthen Dûr. And then a quick recap of the trip here to Ellesmera from Tronjheim.

Islanzadi kept her mouth closed as he spoke. She sighed and hung her head at the end. "Truly, it was foolish to cut myself off from the world. I could have seen all this as it happened if I'd scryed as I should have."

Eragon bowed. "There's no point in wailing and gnashing our teeth over the past. What matters is what we do going forward from this moment on."

Islanzadi nodded. Then she addressed Orik in Common. "Master dwarf, you've been awfully quiet. Have you any messages to add to those your charges have relayed?"

Orik set his shoulders. "Only a plea on behalf of Ajihad to rejoin the war effort, and a vow that I may serve the task assigned me by mine king while I'm here."

"My quarrel with the Varden is as dust in the wind. I'll resume the usual aid immediately. And of course, you will be our most honored guest as the Dragon Riders commence with their training here."

Clapping, Islanzadi switched back to her native tongue and decreed "My daughter is safely returned, and the Riders are resurrect. This calls for celebration! Light the cooking fires and open the casks. May all the city celebrate this joyous occasion!"

In a blur, they were back outdoors, seated at a massive table made from still-living stumps. Saphira, Thorn, and Firnen had the seats of honor opposite the queen, with Murtagh seated to the right and Eragon and Arya seated to the left. The Riders had the novel experience of people paying more attention to their partners than themselves. The elves all but begged to feel the draconic touch of a mind on theirs.

Eragon gently extended a tendril of thought to Arya. If I grew up with that, I'd abdicate and run away from home too.

Arya got a bittersweet smile. I don't doubt she loves me as fiercely as any mother should love her daughter. It's just that it's never her fault. It's always someone or something else.

Eragon took a swig of faelnirv, the elvish spirit and shuddered at the strength of the brew as it burned through his veins. So you and Murtagh will start training with Oromis and Glaedr tomorrow. And I can begin digging up the brightsteel from the roots of the Menoa Tree. Hopefully since I'm not in a desperate hurry like last time, I can avoid angering her.

You really forged all the blades for the New Order yourself? Arya asked as she enjoyed a dozen different melodies jumbled together.

I was curious after Rheunön possessed me to forge Fire. I started out as a basic student, but I eventually built my way up to swords. Once we found reserves of brightsteel on Nest, I tried my hand at it. The results were not of her quality, but they functioned for their purpose. None of my students ever complained to wield one of my swords.

Arya took the flask from Eragon's grip and took a deep draft. A thousand years to study… you could master every pursuit. And it sounds like you tried. Why the constant search for a new hobby?

It helped me not to think about you, Eragon confessed.

Arya stiffened, but not as much as she would have before the faelnirv. I owe you my life twice over. First for rescuing me from Durza in Gil'ead. And again for during the Battle of Farthen Dûr. And I am far from seeing you as just a child. In point of fact, I consider you the most pleasant man to talk to I've ever met.

The truth of her thoughts were guaranteed by the Ancient Language. Eragon marveled at the track this conversation was taking. Okay. So what does that mean? You changed your mind about waiting until after the war?

No. But… the Blood-oath Celebration is coming in a few months. We elves go mad then. Perhaps in the madness… we could meet and… explore possibilities.

Eragon hardly dared to believe his luck. I would very much enjoy that. I'll count the days. Until then, be a diligent student for your teachers.

Their intimate chat ended with the arrival of the food. They ate and drank to their heart's content. Then Islanzadi led Eragon, Murtagh, and Arya to three different treehouses meant to house Riders back in the golden era of the old order. Eragon climbed the half-remembered staircase and settled in to sleep, Saphira curling in her own little bed on the floor. He dreamt of Arya, and what 'possibilities' they could explore.