Chapter One

The Sun Also Rises

The moon was high above her in the sky, making its slow crawl through the night air. She spared a glimpse at its progression before urging her aching, tired calf muscles into motion again. Legs pumping, her lithe little feet pounded the sand soundlessly, heart thumping like the drums of Ellesmera on the festival nights.

Her eyelids slid closed over her emerald eyes, her heartbeat urging her to quicken her gait. This was what she needed – to run, to run and to think without the stench of death stinging her nostrils.

Arya Drottningu was unsure how far she had run, but the moon was nearly sinking behind the plains of sand by the time she paused. Falling to her knees, she glanced upward at the moon, allowing herself a moment of weakness. The Battle at the Burning Plains was over, but much was still to be resolved. The elves had yet to arrive, Hrothgar had to be taken back to Farthen Dur to be buried, there was the issue of the third dragon egg, not to mention Roran and his people had joined them, and…

Arya's eyes closed as she lay back on the sand, feeling the cool granulates against the bare skin of her arms. And there is Eragon, she finished mentally with a sigh. She shifted slightly, the kid leather of her sleeveless jerkin whispering with the motion. The boy was trying his damnedest to appear nonchalant, as if he did not care so much for her anymore. But it was in his eyes. He truly adored her…

And what do I do in return? She thought to herself scathingly. I ignore him, pretend he does not exist; pretend that I do not notice his feelings. But what right does he have to push and push and demand I let him in? He is but a boy! …And he is Alagaesia's savior.

She felt a presence coming toward her, one of unsound mind and wavering constitution. She glanced over at her left hand, where the presence was indecisively teetering from one pair of legs to another. Her hand twitched, a small movement of finger, and the animal was suddenly alert. The scorpion at her hand raised its tail, readying to strike.

Arya wanted to lash out at the thing with her power, to scare it the way she had been scared during the battle… But she knew better than that. This creature did not know how she suffered; did not know her life. It was simply trying to live the only way it knew how.

Just like Arya.

Sickened by the thought, Arya moved her hand away from the scorpion, throwing the invertebrate into confusion. She was living the same way she had lived for years; pretending not to let the thoughts or hatred of others bother her, pretending that she was mentally ready for everything… and most of all, pretending as if her life held some special value.

"We are so alike, you and I," she murmured to the scorpion as she gently touched its hazy mind, urging it to go elsewhere. It turned on its little legs, making its way in the other direction.

After an hour of watching the moon wane, Arya sat up. She ran a hand through her long hair, shaking grains of sand out of it, before getting to her feet. She turned toward the West, inhaling the fresh scent of oncoming morning. Once again, she burst into a sprint – this time, however, she was not running from her life. She was running to it.

The camp was alive with movement by the time Arya returned. The men standing on guard duty followed her body with their eyes; Arya pretended not to notice. These men had not seen women outside of herself, Trianna Angela, and Nasuada for a long time. She could allow them a few moments' glance. After all, many of these men fought beside her in the battle, covering her and helping her in her mission to protect their small rebellion.

She had only been in the camp for about two minutes when a young, fresh-faced human sentry approached her. "Lady Drottningu?" he asked. Before she could answer, he bowed deeply to her. "The Lady Nasuada requests your presence."

"Is it a private meeting?" Arya questioned, already anticipating his ignorance as to the subject matter of Nasuada's conference. It was not as if common sentries were told the matters of Rulers and such.

He surprised her, however, by murmuring, "Rider Eragon is there, as well, and I remember seeing his dark-haired cousin with them."

Arya nodded. "Thank you. I will be there presently." She watched as the sentry bowed again before turning back to his duties. Arya took a deep breath, steadying herself. She resolved to be cheerful from now on; if not cheerful, then at least more pleasant than she had been previously.

When she entered the large tent, however, her thoughts seemed to cease for a long moment. Nasuada's eyes were red and puffy – no doubt from a long night of crying – but her composure was absolute. Eragon was more collected, yet sadness shone on his face like a beacon, accenting the worry lines that traced his tanned brow.

He stepped away from the table he had been leaning on and Roran, previously unnoticed, stood quickly. Where his cousin bowed, Eragon placed his fingertip to his lips, murmuring, "Atra esterní ono thelduin," without much conviction.

Arya sighed. She wished to tell him that these things were hardly necessary, but remembered her vow to herself. You will be positive, Arya. Remember?

Touching her own fingers to her mouth, she returned, "Mor'ranr lífa unin hjarta onr."

Arya did not wait for Eragon to finish with, "Un du evarínya ono varda." Instead she turned to Nasuada, forcing a small tweak of her lips. "You called me, my Lady?"

Nasuada nodded, her royal brow creasing as she regarded the elf's sudden lightheartedness. "Yes. I have been informed that Eragon and Roran plan on leaving early with Orik for Hrothgar's funerary preparations. I wish for you to go as and Elven delegate. Roran can represent the humans and Eragon shall go in my stead. I have some troubling things to… clean up," she mumbled, wincing at the bad phrasing.

"What?" Eragon asked, looking shocked. He turned his confusion to Arya and then back to Nasuada, as if pained. "Nasuada… you told me nothing of this."

She sighed, glancing over at him. "Eragon, I cannot tell you anything other than what has been said. Things have happened here that… have no explanation. I need to look into it. I decided it would be best for me to do so without so many people milling about and under my feet." She sighed again, whispering, "Do understand, I want nothing more than to attend the funeral." She laid a hand on Eragon's shoulder, seeing the small flare of anger in him. "Give my regards to Orik and the others."

Arya, too, was shocked by this sudden change in the Ruler. What was so important that she must miss the funeral of the Dwarvan King? Arya decided it best not to question her motives, for it seemed Eragon wanted the pleasure of that all to himself. Instead, she turned her attention to Roran.

"Cousin of Eragon, walk with me for a moment. Those clothes look ill fitted and ripped. We cannot have you looking so if you are to attend a funeral." Arya caught the sudden look of heated jealousy that passed over Eragon's face, only to quickly be replaced by indifference. Arya averted her eyes, feigning ignorance.

Roran looked surprised to have her, an elven princess, speaking with him. "I… I was told that I would receive clothes in Farthen Dur."

"Nonsense," Arya murmured, turning for the flap of the tent. "We must have you cleaned up. Come along then." She glanced back at Nasuada, giving a curt, small bow. To Eragon, she pressed her fingers against her lips, wishing him a silent farewell.

She and Roran left the Varden Ruler and Rider to settle their differences in private.