Kudos and thanks to reviewers of Chapter Eight:
Agent047, Saransano, EvilBunny101, 3rd Class Rockstar 89, ayraelf, dR.dReAmEx-23Q, Canadian-Girl14, luvthefluf, .atrum.angelus.forevermore., Nelarun, SilverSkulblaka, Jujubee, and alfalfa7
Fight or Flight
"What is Galbatorix planning?"
"I don't know, why don't you ask him?"
Caitrin had made futile attempts at blocking out the sights and sounds in front of her. She knew that Murtagh's sarcastic replies weren't doing much for his cause, but that was Murtagh. The seemingly endless interrogations had centered around the same thing. They wanted to know what Galbatorix was planning.
She dared a quick glance at Murtagh's form when she heard the captors saying they had finished. The marks made by the whip left angry red streaks almost parallel to the scar he had already. She looked away almost instantly, blinking back an onslaught of tears. He gave a low groan as they heaved him to his feet and dragged him back to his cell.
"Perhaps you will be more cooperative the next time we meet, rider!" the large man spat out. The heavy iron bars slammed shut with a metallic sound and the lock grated closed. Caitrin could hear Murtagh's harsh breathing as he tried to catch his breath.
"You fool," she whispered, her voice still breaking with the threat of tears. She huddled close to the wall and pressed her face against it, as if it would take her closer to him. "Why couldn't you have just told him and dealt with Galbatorix later?"
"Because Galbatorix would have had to punish us, severely," he answered, then joked, "and it's not so bad, really."
"He can't kill you, though, can he? He needs your dragon," Caitrin replied, ignoring his attempt at humor. Murtagh replied seriously.
"But he can kill you. And he would. It sounds awful, but you could be replaced. I won't let that happen," he promised her.
Caitrin closed her eyes and let the tears come, wishing that the impersonal, apathetic stone wall between them was gone.
Caitrin opened her eyes blearily, waking from a fitful sleep, to the sound of Crab clanging a wooden spoon against a bucket. The harsh, strident tones made her head pulse with pain. The sound was getting nearer.
"Wake up! Wake up, the lot of you! Filthy, conniving criminals that you are..."
She looked into the light in front of her to see Crab's beady eyes peering at her from between the bars. His mouth was open and grinning toothlessly.
"Morning, missy. You'll be on your best behavior for the king now, won't you?" he said, then walked away without another word.
Caitrin narrowed her eyes in suspicion and wondered what he meant. He bestowed a similar greeting to Murtagh, and Caitrin could hear him mixing insults and compliments in one sentence as he did with her before he moved on.
Leaning back against the frigid wall behind her, Caitrin tried to figure out what Crab meant by his statement. Had he meant something about the king coming to see them? Surely not.
"The king, eh?" she heard Murtagh's voice. "This might be to our advantage."
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"We can bargain with him. We'll exchange Galbatorix's favors for our release, promise not to make any more trouble against Surda... something like that. What do you think?"
"I think you're insane. I highly doubt that the King of Surda will visit us down here anyways, and if he did, do you think he would actually believe us?" she said.
"Yes, that's what I thought," came her smug reply.
A few hours later, after they had received their daily meal, light filtered into the dungeon from down the row of cells. They could hear countless guards assembling. Moments later, a strong voice rang out and reverberated off the walls.
"Make way for the king!" a harsh voice yelled. Caitrin could hear Crab's small cry of protest as his precious ring of keys were ripped from him and he was pushed aside.
"So, no way the king would come see us?" Murtagh's taunting voice asked. Caitrin smiled, even though she had been wrong. It was good to see Murtagh in such high spirits even after their ordeal.
The heavy, booted footsteps drew nearer. There were perhaps an entire brigade of soldiers accompanying the king for protection.
"Do not say a word, let me do the speaking," Murtagh said firmly, but quietly enough so that only she could hear. She bit back her retort on his "bargaining plan" and stayed quiet. Anticipation welled up inside her as they grew closer and closer.
A cluster of guards appeared, but moved to the side to allow a heavily decorated man step from within their ring of protection. His skin was dark, and his cloak was made of the finest silk, shimmering in the dim light the torches provided. His hair was to his shoulders, held back by a gleaming gold coronet. He had an imposing figure, tall and broad, blocking out all the light as he stepped forward.
"You are Galbatorix's Rider?" He asked, his voice deep and pleasant, though still firm and commanding.
There was no reply from Murtagh.
"Where is your dragon? It is red, is it not?"
She could almost feel Murtagh's displeasure at the statement. Obviously they had been spied upon when Thorn had appeared around them, and they hadn't even known it. However, the king seemed to be tiring of the one-sided conversation.
From behind the king, a man stepped from within the cluster of soldiers. His eyes, narrowed and snake-like, leered at her as he stepped into the open. His dress was similar to the king's, though less richly decorated. He appeared to be some kind of adviser or councilor.
"My lord, have you not noticed the rider's companion?" the man asked. His voice was slippery, every vowel and consonant slid off his tongue as though coated with honey. Caitrin returned his stare, never looking away.
"I was not notified there was a companion," he remarked, anger entering his voice. He shot a glare at Crab, who cowered farther into the darkness of the dungeons. The king moved to stand in front of Caitrin's cell. He reached for a sconce on the wall and removed the torch, bringing it closer to the bars to bring light into the dark cell.
Caitrin winced and shielded her eyes. The light was too much, it burned her eyes painfully after several days of no light at all. She faintly heard an order being shouted as keys were tossed towards her cell. Moments later, she heard a rusty hinge squeal as the door to her cell was hauled open. A towering man covered in gleaming armor stepped into the small area and gripped the back of her clothing, pulling her to her feet. His grip remained strong as she was led into the hallway outside her cell.
"And you are?" the king asked. He stepped closer, putting a hand beneath her chin and tilting it up towards him. Caitrin spit at his feet and jerked her head from his grasp.
The soldiers immediately moved into position at her sudden movement, swords drawn and ready. The one standing behind her had his blade at her neck. She bit back fear at the feel of the cold steel on her skin. From over the king's shoulder, she caught sight of Murtagh. His thoughts entered her mind easily.
The king smirked, turning to look at Murtagh, and then back to Caitrin.
"The young lovers, I presume? Perhaps there is truth to your story, eh?"
"Sire, perhaps we might try and question her instead of the rider," the adviser said. The king looked at him for a moment, then nodded in agreement.
"If he is the rider, then you are the infamous assassin, am I right?" he began. Just as she was going to reply with the wrong answer, she felt pain beyond anything she had ever experienced pulse through her skull. It felt as though someone was reaching into her mind and gouging out the memories. Lights flashed in her vision, and she felt herself swaying. The adviser stood off to the side, his eyes locked on her.
"It appears Tiernan was unsuccessful in breaching the rider's mind, but I assure you, he will be most efficient in gathering information from yours," the king told her. He backed away, surveying her. The soldiers holding her were forced to prop her upright as she lost strength in her legs.
She wanted to die. Images and scenes were pulled out in her mind as if from a wheel, replaying every event she could ever remember. Colors blurred and people's faces came into focus at random. She saw her father, his face contorted in fear. Next, Galbatorix sneered at her from his perch on the throne. As the pain deepened, Murtagh's face came into view. He was laughing. She recognized the scenery around them from when her horse had made his return. That had been the day they kissed...
As soon as the word was mentioned, Caitrin felt a numbing peace settle over her mind. The burning beneath her scalp cooled as the intruder retreated hastily. She looked to the king, to see what had made him cancel the 'interrogations', and felt a surge of adrenaline at what she saw.
Murtagh had the king in a headlock and one of the soldiers' swords at his throat. The door to his cell behind him was destroyed, and several soldiers lay motionless on the ground.
"Let her go," Murtagh commanded. When no one moved, he pressed the sword closer, causing a trickle of blood to escape. The men behind Caitrin immediately broke their grip. She stumbled a bit before she stood upright and went to stand next to Murtagh. His hard gaze swept over to the adviser.
"It's not polite to rummage through people's minds," he said. The adviser remained expressionless. Murtagh bent his head a little and closed his eyes. After a second or two, he looked up and shouted something in the ancient language. The remaining soldiers fell lifelessly to the ground, including the advisor. They were left alone in the dungeon hallway, except for the king.
"You," Murtagh said, jerking the king into a closer grip. "You will tell me where the armory and the stables are."
"Have you killed them?" The king asked, ignoring his question.
"Why does it matter when you're the one about to be killed?" Murtagh replied. The king, surprisingly calm considering the situation, shrugged nonchalantly. Murtagh growled in anger.
"Don't kill him," Caitrin said, putting a hand on his arm. "That's all we need following us now, the death of Surda's leader on our hands."
"I wasn't going to kill him," Murtagh answered, his mind working furiously.
"Good to know," the king said. Caitrin glared at him.
Murtagh sighed before uttering another spell. At the words, the king fell limply to the dungeon floor, his ornamental armor clattering on the stones.
"He's asleep," Murtagh said before Caitrin could respond. "Come on, I have a good idea of where the armory is."
Long Author's Note Warning
I'll not regale you with ludicrous excuses about the absence of this chapter. I'll simply tell you, it was writer's block. My beta, Agent047, is currently on vacation (in fact she left today, before I finished writing this) so I apologize for mistakes. I'll have her check it when she gets back. The next chapter is in the works, and I won't give you a time estimate on that, seeing as I gave one to a reviewer and it ended up being two months later (sorry SilverSkulblaka!).
In other news, if you're into online games, I suggest you join Vroengard Academy if you haven't already at (vroengard academy . c o m). Just fill in the spaces and place in browser. You create a name, take the trials, and get placed on a team. The rules will explain the rest, it's not hard at all. It's Eragon based, featuring everything from the books. I'm on team Skolir, in case you do join the site and are curious.
Please review! I'll understand if you're mad and don't want to. Thanks for reading!