Learning to Live
Summary: After having a near-fatal accident in the small town of Aroughs, Murtagh has a chance encounter with fate. Can a blind, young outcast show him what it means to live while he shows her the world through his eyes?
Disclaimer: Anyone who has read my stories before should know that I am not Christopher Paolini, though I have been called Mrs. Paolini (and Mrs. Hedlund for some odd reason lately…). Oh, well! I still don't own anything from him!
A/N: Hey, everyone. Some of you (if not all) are probably wondering where Morzan's Legacy is. Well, don't worry. That will be on soon! I'm doing another transition story to help me out, but I really like this idea so I'm making it more than one chapter long. Oh, and for reference, Aroughs is a real place in Alagaesia. I looked it up on the map in the Eldest book. Hope you enjoy!
Ch. 1: The Lighthouse
Murtagh looked down the hill at the small town of Aroughs, watching as the people hurried through the streets to take care of what they needed to do. A large, ancient-looking lighthouse stood at the very edge of the town on a small hill, the waves of the sea crashing up against it. He found himself feeling mildly surprised that it hadn't already collapsed into the sea. It didn't look very sturdy.
He heard a light footstep behind him, and the Rider looked into the forest that they had just come out of. A small group of soldiers from the Empire had accompanied him on this errand that Galbatorix had assigned him to. They were supposed to get supplies for the army, like extra armor and weapons, in case the Varden should attack again. Murtagh turned completely to face them. "Tie up your horsed to one of the trees." he commanded. "Thorn will watch over them."
"Yes, Master Murtagh." the soldiers said, securely tying the reins to the nearest tree before heading down the hill toward the town. The Rider inwardly cringed as they walked past him. They had called him that too many times for one day…
A deep feeling of anger radiated from behind him, and Murtagh looked up at his dragon. Watch the horses?! Thorn demanded. Murtagh, you can't expect me to stay behind to watch the animals! I need to keep an eye on you since danger normally finds its way to you!
Murtagh laughed. Thorn, you're the best horse-watcher that ever lived! No one would dare try to steal them from you! he exclaimed, running his hand along the red dragon's scaled neck reassuringly. Besides, I can easily contact you if danger's around, and you can come immediately. But it's only a simple errand. What could happen?
Thorn growled softly as he watched his Rider walk toward the town. He had the horrible feeling that something would happen while Murtagh was in Aroughs… and he would somehow be involved. But it could have been his anxious mind…
Then, Thorn looked up at the gray sky as the wind slowed down and then picked up again as it changed direction. Near him, the horses grew restless and they whinnied nervously. The red dragon's eyes narrowed when he knew what his senses were telling him. A storm was coming.
Murtagh walked down the crowded street, his dark eyes searching for the armory. Galbatorix had assigned him to pick up his powerful new sword that he had placed an order for a week ago, and he would trust no one else for this job. The Rider sighed. He hated working for Galbatorix, but unless the king died, he didn't see how he could be free from his control anytime soon…
As he continued to walk, Murtagh noticed that everyone was staring at him as if they were either afraid of him or angry at him. Some quickly moved out of his way when they saw they were in his path while others looked like they could throw whatever they were holding at him. The Rider knew that he couldn't really blame them for their harsh feelings. He had gotten a reputation since he began working for Galbatorix… a bad reputation…
Suddenly, he stopped when someone ran into him from behind. Murtagh angrily turned to face whoever it was, but he stopped in confusion when he saw a girl about seven years of age sitting on the ground at his feet. She slowly raised her head, and the Rider inwardly flinched when he saw her glazed over eyes. Instantly, he knew that she was blind.
"I'm sorry." Murtagh muttered, quickly regaining himself. "May I help you up?"
The girl thought about his words for a moment, then nodded. "I'm sorry for running into you."she replied as she extended her small hand out. "I wasn't paying attention to where I was going…"
Murtagh reached his own hand out and gently took hers. "That's all righ-!" he began, but was cut off when he felt something probing at his mind. The feeling started when their hands touched, and now all of his memories were swirling, almost as if they were being read…
Quickly trying to ignore the feeling, the Rider pulled the young girl to her feet and let go of her hand. As soon as they let go, his mind returned to normal. The girl was looking up into his eyes with her unseeing ones, and Murtagh realized that she knew he was a Rider. She knew who he was…
"Thank you."the girl said, looking away. Then, without saying another word, she walked past him and disappeared into the crowd. Murtagh looked after her, wondering who the young girl was…
"Don't mind her, Rider."a gravelly voice warned from behind him. "She's an outcast in this town."
Murtagh turned to look behind him, and he saw an elderly man looking back at him. His wrinkled hand was holding tightly onto a wooden cane as he limped closer, and his long white hair flowed smoothly down past his shoulders, covering his right eye. "Why is she an outcast?" he asked. "The only thing that I could see that people could discriminate against is that she's blind."
The old man laughed at his words. "If that were the case, lad," he muttered, brushing his hair aside, "I'd be an outcast too."
Murtagh gasped when he saw that the eye that had been covered up was glazed over and unseeing while the other was a light blue and could see the world. The man then moved his hair back so that it was covering his blind eye. "Now, before I tell you the story of the little lass, tell me your name, Rider, so that we can be on friendly terms."he said. "My name is Dera."
"Murtagh."the Rider replied, unsure if he could trust this man. Still, his curiosity about this young girl was strong…
Dera sighed as he situated himself in a more comfortable position. "Her name is Anastasia."he explained. "She has been blind all her life since she was born that way. The lass grew up with loving parents and an older brother to idolize, so she was raised right. Her family was very close.
"But then, about a year ago, we had a terrible storm. It was just as bad as the one we're about to have today." The old man paused as Murtagh looked up at the sky. Black, threatening thunderclouds were rolling in.
"Anyway, her parents and brother were heading to another town by boat when the storm hit. Anastasia was left behind since they weren't going to be gone long. Each day, against her caretaker's wishes, she would wait in the lighthouse for her family to return." Dera continued. "The lighthouse is very special to her.
"The storm was terrible. The waves were very rough and high, and rain was pelting from the sky. Still, Anastasia waited for her parents and brother to return. She refused to believe that anything happened to them, even though no one could survive a storm in waters like that. She continued to wait, but no one came.
"Ever since then, she has been unruly and a troublemaker. No one has been able to control her, not even her caretaker, and that is why she is an outcast. She is untamable and wild, and everyone shuns her because of her behavior."
"And no one knows what happened to her family?" Murtagh asked.
"Not for sure, no." Dera answered quietly. "Most think that they died in the rough waters of the sea that day. But others have a glimmer of belief that they could have made it to land before the worst of the storm hit, and that they are still alive and waiting to return." The elderly man sighed as he paused for a moment. His clear blue eye left the Rider and traveled over to the old lighthouse. "The poor lass has waited at that lighthouse every afternoon for a year."he muttered, sadness in his voice. "That's probably where she was headed when she ran into you."
Murtagh remained silent as he thought about the story of Anastasia. She's not an outcast.he thought as he looked at all of the people that walked around him. She's just misunderstood. His dark eyes landed on a woman who looked furious when she saw him. She stopped in front of the two men and forcefully kicked dirt and dust up at Murtagh.
The Rider coughed as he tried to get the dust out of his stinging eyes as she walked off. As am I.he added to himself, disgruntled. He concentrated on his magic and muttered, "Adurna." (water) A few water droplets appeared in his hand, and he rubbed the moisture on his face and his eyes to get rid of the dust.
Dera laughed as he watched him. "Don't worry, lad."he said lightly, clasping him on the shoulder. "I don't think too many people will want to do something like that to anger a Rider."
"They'd better not…" Murtagh muttered, stopping the spell. "It was great talking to you, but now I'm afraid that I must be going. I have to get something important."
"The feeling is returned, Rider." Dera replied, shaking Murtagh's hand. "Now, concentrate on doing that errand for the king, and leave thoughts of Anastasia out of your mind. She'll be fine."
Murtagh nodded and walked away from the strange old man, heading toward the armory. But he found that he couldn't take Dera's advice. The mystery of Anastasia remained in his mind.
"What do you mean the sword is not complete?" Murtagh asked. "King Galbatorix put in a special order for it seven days ago! I need it immediately!"
The heavy-set man running the armory shrugged. "I'm sorry, Rider, but I haven't had the time to complete it."he answered. "You'll have to return next week."
Murtagh sighed and put his head in his hand. He knew that Galbatorix would punish him for not bringing the sword back with him when he returned…
"This storm turned out to be quite something, didn't it?"the man suddenly muttered, looking out the window.
Murtagh's dark eyes traveled to the window and saw that the wind had gotten stronger and a heavy rain had begun to fall. "Yeah."he said in agreement. "It will be great traveling back in this weather."
The man sighed. "I wish you luck on your journey, Rider."he told him. "Or, you could wait out the storm here in Aroughs until it blows over."
"Maybe…" Murtagh mumbled. In truth, he would prefer it that way. He didn't want to be heading back to Uru'baen anytime soon…
Suddenly, a flash of lightning pierced the sky. Murtagh's eyes narrowed when he heard people screaming from outside, and he quickly ran out of the armory. The Rider saw that the people who were on the street were running toward the small hill that the lighthouse stood on. Murtagh followed them, and quickly found Dera in the crowd. "What's going on?" he asked, having to raise his voice so he could be heard over the howling wind and the crashing waves.
Dera turned to look at him. "Anastasia is in that lighthouse."he answered, his voice fearful. "Look at how high the waves are rising."
Murtagh's eyes traveled to the lighthouse, and he saw the sea's waves crash into the building. The force of the wind made the collision even harder, and the Rider could have sworn he heard a small crack. Then, making up his mind, Murtagh began to push through the crowd of people as he headed toward the lighthouse.
"Lad!" Dera shouted after him, worried.
Murtagh didn't listen to his concern. Ignoring the cries of protest from the crowd, he entered the ancient lighthouse. He looked around at the dusty, dim first floor, and since he didn't see any sign of the young girl, he headed for the wooden staircase nearby. "Anastasia!" he shouted, anxiously looking around for her. "Anastasia!"
The Rider looked around the second level which felt even less sturdy than the first, and he sighed with relief when he saw the girl sitting on the window sill, looking with her unseeing eyes out at the raging sea. "Anastasia." Murtagh said gently, extending his hand out toward her. "Come on. We must leave."
Startled, Anastasia turned her head toward him. "What are you doing here, Rider?" she asked. "No one dares come in here except for me! Everyone else is too heavy!"
Dread flooded through the nineteen-year-old, but he tried not to let it show through in his voice. "Come with me now, Anastasia."he answered, his worry increasing when thunder echoed in the gray sky. "This storm is forceful. We must leave."
Anastasia looked away from him, her expression hard. "I'm going to wait for my family like I do every day."she told him defiantly. "No storm is going to stop that."
Murtagh sighed as he lowered his arm. He could tell that this young girl wasn't going to come with him without a fight. What could he tell her? Her parents were probably dead, and the same thing would happen to them unless they left?
Then, the lighthouse creaked as it leaned to the side. Murtagh cried out in surprise as he crashed to the floor, shocked that the wood was holding his weight. The motion, however, did not surprise Anastasia. "Don't worry, Rider."she muttered. "That happens all the ti-!"
Suddenly, another flash of lightning pierced the sky and struck the lighthouse, causing the roof to catch fire and cave in. Murtagh looked up at the last second before heavy boards and pieces of stone landed on top of him, knocking him unconscious. One of the boards near his head was ablaze from the lightning, but was quickly put out by the heavy rain that pelted him.
Anastasia gasped and covered her mouth, her unseeing eyes on Murtagh's limp form in horror. "Rider! Rider!" she screamed, kneeling down by his side as she tried to push some of the rubble off of him. "Wake up! Please!" She was dismayed to see that he didn't respond to her. Between her coughing because of the heavy smoke, Anastasia rested her ear on Murtagh's chest for a moment, relieved to hear that his heart was still beating, though it was getting fainter…
Then, she gasped and raised her head when the lighthouse jerked violently, the force of the lightning strike causing it to weaken. Suddenly, she heard a loud noise as the poles supporting the ancient lighthouse snapped in half. Anastasia clung tightly to Murtagh's body and buried her face into his chest as she screamed… the burning lighthouse falling off the hill and heading into the rough sea.