Author's Note: This is just my own way of releasing some feelings caused by the revelations at the end of Eldest. Don't get me wrong, I really liked it a lot.
Murtagh twirled his new sword, his expression bitter. It was heavier to hold than his usual hand-and-a-half, and heavier still on his heart for its legacy: blood red as the blade itself. He resisted the urge to itch the scar on his back and twirled the sword again, trying to grow accustomed to its weight and strange grip. For all his talk of inheritance it didn't feel right in his hands.
You are sad, little one, Thorn observed. He was curled up, head resting on his front legs and tail wrapped about him, and watching Murtagh through squinted eyes. Any wounds he had sustained from the battle had been healed by his Rider's magic, but he was still quite exhausted.
Don't call me that, Murtagh snapped, not looking at him. A great puff of smoke left Thorn's nostrils, but in an amused sort of way. It hadn't taken him long after hatching to discover that goading Murtagh was a most entertaining means of passing the time.
"Sure," Murtagh snorted out loud, sensing Thorn's mood and deliberately cutting off their mental connection, "Go ahead and have fun while you can. Do you honestly think Galbatorix is going to believe we couldn't overpower Eragon? I don't need to be a fortune teller to know that our fortune holds little but extensive torture and more unbreakable promises. See how much fun it is then—"
Murtagh! Thorn cried, suddenly alarmed. He reared up, preparing to defend his friend, but it was too late. A man clothed all in black had leapt out from around a boulder, delivered Murtagh a sharp smack to the back of the head, and wrenched Zar'roc from his grip all in a matter of seconds. Murtagh cursed under his breath. His irritation with Thorn had caused him to close off his consciousness and he hadn't sensed the stranger coming. Still, he decided, he's no match for me.
Us, Thorn snarled, prowling forward to stand beside Murtagh and obviously preparing himself to spout an impressive jet of flame.
"Peace, Murtagh. And you, Dragon," said the stranger in an abnormally calm tone. He was garbed primarily in long, black robes, but gold armor glinted beneath them. A similarly gleaming helm guarded his head and concealed most of his face.
"His name is Thorn," Murtagh informed him through clenched teeth. He was annoyed to find the stranger's mind completely impenetrable. "Give me my sword back and we might decide not to kill you."
"What's my other choice?" the thief asked pleasantly.
"We'll kill you and take the sword anyway," replied Murtagh angrily, relaying the message Thorn had given.
It was not an empty threat. And Murtagh, with all his armor and hardened eyes, side by side with the large, snarling dragon, created a fairly menacing picture. But the stranger was not alarmed. He swung up his arm and held the sword blade-down behind his back as if he intended to use the deadly weapon to reach an itch, or perhaps engage Murtagh in a game of 'keep away'. The boy felt his own patience wearing thin, and wondered which he would use of the handy thirteen words he knew to kill him.
Wait, warned Thorn, oddly. Murtagh waited.
"I'm sorry for whacking you like that," announced the stranger, sounding truly sorry indeed. "I'm afraid I just couldn't help it. My real intention was to return Zar'roc to its rightful owner."
Murtagh bristled. "Which is me!" he yelled, "That sword was my father's. That sword is rightfully mine, not Eragon's. I am Morzan's eldest son!"
"Are you?" wondered the stranger. He swung the sword around and sheathed it through his belt in a fluid motion—it seemed much more natural in his grip. Then, more slowly, he reached up to pull off his helmet, revealing his identity at last.
Murtagh felt his knees weaken from shock, but refused to stumble. Instead he took a few steps back, finally leaning heavily against Thorn's side.
"It can't be!" he exclaimed, shocked. "It's… YOU!"
Eragon stumbled outside the tent, urging his mind away from dreams. He'd been woken suddenly moments before by a sudden cry from Saphira. He hadn't been able to interpret her meaning, and naturally assumed she was being ambushed by an unpredicted foe. He ran around the tent to where he knew she had fallen asleep before, cursing the fact that he hadn't grabbed a weapon but certain that what little rest he'd gotten would enable him to do some magic. Enough to knock some one out, anyway, and adrenaline tended to double both his physical and magical strength when Saphira was threatened.
What is it? What's wrong? he called out to her fearfully.
But, he soon realized, Saphira was not being attacked. She wasn't even in trouble, as far as he could tell. Her back was to him, as if she couldn't take her eyes off what was before her, and he realized that some one else was with her, an oddly familiar consciousness that was too well guarded for him to identify.
Saphira, he said menacingly, readying himself for battle, Step aside.
She didn't argue, nor did she have any sort of comeback or comment at all which was unusual enough that Eragon should have gotten some kind of hint. What he was about to see was truly shocking.
For although it was the dead of night his newly keen eyes could see the other man quite clearly. He recognized his mind now too, and it was no wonder it held such strong barricades. Knowing he wasn't mistaken, Eragon still rubbed at his eyes comically, trying to force himself to see past what couldn't possibly be anything more than an illusion.
"Yes," said the man. "It is I."
Hearing his voice is what really did it for Eragon. He sat down hard, right on the ground, and stared, his head spinning. This day couldn't possibly get any weirder.
It's… it's good to see you, Brom, Saphira said directly to him, in a similar turmoil herself but with more sense than Eragon currently possessed.
"Is that Zar'roc?" Eragon wondered dreamily, reaching out as if to accept the blade. Brom sighed, a resigned sort of look on his face, and came to sit down beside his young once-charge.
"Aye," he said, "But I'm afraid that with the way things have turned out, I might have use of it yet."
"Oh," said Eragon sheepishly. He had been oddly happy about the idea of getting his sword back—it had seen him through much. But if Brom didn't want him to have it anymore… But how was Brom even wanting anything?? He was dead! Dead and buried in a tomb of diamond!
"Not that I wouldn't want you to have it," Brom added gently, "If I were really dead. I'd rather you have it than our miserly, evil-after-all brother. It's always the middle child… No, no, Eragon, rest assured I would definitely give it to you."
"Our brother?" Eragon gaped.
"Um, well, yes," Brom muttered sheepishly. "Sorry I didn't mention it before. You see, I'm actually Morzan's eldest son."
He watched bemusedly as Eragon tore to his feet and set about pacing sporadically, occasionally shooting angry or wondering glares in his direction. Saphira appeared equally unsettled, and Brom knew that the two of them were engaged in a fierce mental conversation.
You can't be, Saphira said after several minutes. Eragon continued to pace around, now muttering under his breath. Oromis told us about your past, she continued reasonably. He told us about you and Morzan… you were both young at the same time… students together! He can't possibly be—
"Ah, well you see," explained Brom, not unkindly, "Oromis wasn't lying. He was just, as elves are wont to do, not revealing the whole truth. Morzan and I were students together, and for the longest time neither he nor I knew of our relation to each other. It all comes down to a little mishap involving time travel, funny story really—"
Eragon, at this point, had had enough. "What?" he snapped. "WHAT?? You're telling me this NOW?? Do you have any idea what's happened to me today SO FAR? I killed like, hundreds of people, THEN found out there's another Rider, who turned out to be MURTAGH, who wasn't actually as DEAD as we all believed, and THEN it turns out he is not only EVIL, but my EVIL BROTHER, because my as-of-before-unknown FATHER was actually MORZAN. Not to mention RORAN is not only still alive, but he dragged the ENTIRE VILLAGE of Carvahall to join the rebellion, and then SINGLE-HANDEDLY changed the tide of battle for us! And now THIS? Now YOU'RE ALIVE and ALSO Morzan's son??" Was anyone truly dead, he wondered almost deliriously. He looked around, blinking wildly, half expecting Ajihad or even Garrow to run up at any moment. "And," he added hysterically, "You can't just throw in the concept of time travel this late in the series! It's already past the second book!"
Brom had remained admirably calm throughout this rant, allowing an obviously frustrated Eragon to let his feelings out. "Why not?" he asked, all the same. "I can think of at least one series that didn't introduce time travel until the third book, and if you ask me it was an idea sadly not explored to its fullest. I mean, why not just go back in time and kill Tom Riddle—"
Eragon turned on his heel, heading back toward the entrance of his tent.
Little one—Saphira called after him, but he didn't pause his stride. Instead he waved a hand without turning around and announced, "I'm going to bed!"
It was even darker inside the tent, but Eragon almost immediately felt calmer. He looked toward the comforting sight of his cousin sleeping peacefully (apparently all the shouting hadn't woken him up, but he had good reason to be exhausted) before sinking down on his own cot.
"Eragon?" Roran murmured sleepily, "That you?"
"Yeah," said Eragon, pulling his boots off.
Roran sighed peacefully. "This day couldn't possibly get any weirder," he murmured, "First seeing you, alive, and a Rider, and then—"
Post A/N: My apologies if you thought I was being serious for a second up there. And also for taking this out on you… -grin-