Disclaimer: Murtagh and everything else in this story with the exception of "Tamara" belong to Christopher Paolini. None of it's mine, I just play with it a little.

A/N: Reviews are appreciated, especially those with constructive critisism. I promise not to bite anyone who tells me about the things they DON'T like or think need editing. Happy praise-filled reviews also make me warm and fuzzy inside, so thank you for those as well.

"Take the girl." Galbatorix ordered curtly.

"No!" shouted Murtagh, lunging forward as a pair of guards dragged a flailing Tamara to the center of the cell. A third soldier backhanded him roughly and sent Murtagh sprawling against the wall of his prison. He was on his feet again in a flash.

"Restrain him!" barked Galbatorix. Two of his men seized Murtagh's arms and pinioned them behind his back as they forced him to kneel. Galbatorix approached Tamara saying, "my guards tell me that you care for this girl Murtagh…" He reached up and stroked her cheek with the back of his hand and Murtagh jerked against his captors' hold.

Smiling wickedly, Galbatorix turned back to the son of his late captain and observed carelessly, "she's a bit homely though is she not?" Murtagh growled deep in his throat, still straining to break away from the guards who held him. "Well, to each man his own I suppose," Galbatorix shrugged. He snapped is fingers with a sharp crack and the hairless twins appeared out of the darkness behind him.

"It would seem that my magicians cannot break you," Galbatorix commented, lips curling into a horrible mockery of a smile, "but perhaps they can break her instead."

"Leave her out of this!" Murtagh ground out, thrashing furiously against his captors so that a third man was forced to come to their aid. Finally, Murtagh bowed his head, panting and seething with the knowledge that there was no escape.

"Look at her Murtagh," Galbatorix demanded softly, and a guard gripped his hair, dragging his head up.

Tamara's eyes were wide and her lip trembled. Tears stained her cheeks and Murtagh could see that she was shaking. The girl was terrified. "Let her go Galbatorix" Murtagh snarled, "she's got nothing to do with you and I."

"Oh but I think she does," said the king. "You can free her Murtagh. Swear your loyalty to me, and she will be forgotten. Fight me, and she will suffer." A cold fist of fear closed around Murtagh's heart, but he said nothing, only scowled at the king, desperately trying to think of a way out.

"Choose Murtagh, or I will choose for you," the king warned.

Murtagh stared into Tamara's face, heart and mind racing with indecision. He knew what he would have to do if he swore himself to Galbatorix. Innocents would die. His sword would maim and kill those he fought for and those he had fought alongside. He might even have to kill Eragon. He knew, knew deep in his bones that if he gave himself over to Galbatorix, the man would mold him into his father. The thought of it made him sick. His entire life, Murtagh had strived to be as different from his father as humanly possible. He would be forced to become the man he loathed.

And yet, if he refused, innocents would still die, people would still suffer. He would be unable to do anything, locked down here beneath the earth. He knew there was no way out of this dungeon unless he left it wearing Galbatorix's colors. These things had all occurred to him before, during his own torture. Now he had Tamara to consider. She was not some abstract stranger who would die if he said no. She was here before him. He'd spent weeks huddled in her arms against the nightmares and the hurt. She knew his pains and his joys just as he knew hers. Before she even knew him, she had worked to alleviate his pain. Now he owed her no less. He could not subject her to the tortures that he had endured. He would serve Galbatorix for her.

Tamara saw the decision in his eyes. "No!" she whispered. Then louder, "I won't be the reason Alagaesia falls to this madman! I won't be the reason you fall to this madman! Refuse him Murtagh!" Despite her obvious fear, Tamara's voice was firm and her face set in hard lines. Murtagh just stared at her, his heart twisting with uncertainty.

Seeing that Murtagh was being swayed by her words, Galbatorix jerked his head, signaling one of the twins to step forward. The hideous, hairless man clasped Tamara's head between his palms and began to mutter strange words. Tamara shuddered at the touch of his cold flesh, but did not try to shrink away. She held Murtagh's gaze steadily. The twin closed his eyes, and for a moment, nothing happened. He frowned, and abruptly, Tamara's face contorted in pain.

Murtagh could only watch as tears began to roll down Tamara's face. He knew it would only become worse, and he hated himself for letting them do this to her. Galbatorix's gaze was riveted on Murtagh's face, gauging his reaction as Tamara's body tensed, the muscles in her neck standing out like cords. Murtagh ground his teeth., unable to tear his eyes away as she bit through her lip and drops of blood, almost black in the dimly lit room, rolled to the corners of her mouth and dripped down her chin.

"More!" hissed Galbatorix, and Tamara shrieked in agony. Murtagh bellowed with rage and fought his captors with all his strength, desperately trying to reach her.

"Your pledge to me is all it takes to end this rider," reminded Galbatorix lazily as Tamara writhed and screamed. When Murtagh fought still harder, not bothering to respond to the king, Galbatorix glared at the twin. The bald man dug his fingers into her hair and Tamara's knees gave. Only the guards were holding her up now. Her screams began to take on a terrible hoarse quality.

"ENOUGH!" Murtagh raged, shaking all over. He didn't care what it took anymore. He'd do anything to stop the cries that rent his soul. "I'll swear!" His voice cracked and his shoulders drooped as he made the declaration.

Galbatorix smiled to himself. He had found the young man's weakness, exploited it, and gotten exactly what he wanted. He waved a careless hand and the twin stepped back. Tamora hung limply in the grasp of her captors, whimpering softly.

"Now," said Galbatorix, "there's a good lad." Murtagh didn't even look at him, his eyes were still riveted on the girl's limp figure. "You will swear to serve me, King Galbatorix, as your only lord and master." When Murtagh remained silent, Galbatorix prompted, "say the words!"

"I don't know them." Murtagh ground out.

"Then listen well boy, and repeat exactly what I tell you" ordered the king. "Look at me!" Slowly, painfully, Murtagh dragged his eyes from Tamora and looked into Galbatorix's face. The king voiced a long train of words in elvish. Murtagh hesitated another moment, and glanced back at Tamora. Then he said, "Release her too, promise not to harm her, and I'll swear your oath."

The king chuckled. "You would make demands of me now?" Murtagh was silent. The king nodded brusquely, "Very well, she means little to me." In the ancient language, he promised to give Tamora over into Murtagh's keeping and not to harm her again.

"Now it is your turn," he reminded Murtagh, "must I repeat the words to you again?" Murtagh ignored him, his gaze on Tamora once more and spoke the words exactly as Galbatorix had said them. The king laughed, clapping his hands together. "Wonderful! I'm glad that you've finally seen sense young Murtagh. I will make you the greatest rider of this age." He looked at the men holding Murtagh and said, "release them, they can do me no harm." The guards stepped away from Murtagh and those supporting Tamora let her drop to the floor. The king turned and left, taking all but one of his men with him.

Murtagh was across the room in seconds, kneeling beside Tamora. She was shaking violently and flinched at the sound of his boots. His voice the softest of murmurs, he began to speak comforting nonsense, knowing from experience that she would need something safe to latch onto. Aware that even the lightest touch would hurt her, at least for the next few minutes, Murtagh resisted the urge to pull Tamora into his arms and rock her like a child.

Eventually, wanting to make her more comfortable than their cell would allow, Murtagh beckoned to the man Galbatorix had left behind. As he had expected, the man jumped to do his bidding. He was Galbatorix's pupil after all. The man had maintained a discrete distance until that moment; now he stepped close enough for Murtagh to address him in a voice soft enough not to disturb Tamora.

"Where is my room?" demanded Murtagh. He said it less harshly than he could have, well aware that if he ever wanted to escape Galbatorix's hold, he would need allies. Alienating the guards seemed a poor choice.

"I can show you the way sir," offered the guard respectfully. Murtagh nodded curtly, and stooped to gather Tamora in his arms. She whimpered pitifully as he lifted her, but did not open her eyes.

The man led him out of the cell, and down a long corridor lined on both sides with similar cages, some empty, but most full. Murtagh looked into the faces of the prisoners as he passed, memorizing the faces of potential allies. Guardrooms were positioned at regular intervals along the hall, and Murtagh strove to learn the faces of the guards as well as those of their sheep. Many of the men he recognized from his imprisonment, some were completely alien to him, and still others he recognized from the battles he had fought with the Varden. He saw a man with a badly healed scar on his face that he could swear he had inflicted himself. He marked the man well as a potential enemy.