Disclaimer: I own nothing but the plot and my thoughts, the rest is all C.P.'s. No money is being made from my writings.
About the story:
This story developed along with my fascination of Arya. I know that some see her as the picture-perfect Mary-Sue, but I really think that this isn't the case. Indeed, her perfection that is shown to us is, in my opinion, only the outside. We don't know what's going on inside her.
What is her drive? What pushed her to become that near-perfect fighter, which even with elfin abilities must have taken countless years of training? What was it, that made her go against the wishes of her mother and queen? What forces her to be always so completely in control, of the events and herself, more than any elf we've met?
I tried to answer these questions, and to give reasonable explanations of her character and her behaviour, and in the end, I decided to write a story about it – I let Eragon ask those very questions, after he realized that, in order to get closer to her, he had to understand her; and so we will be discovering, along with him, Arya's past bit by bit; and delve into the contradictory nature of her, that he will come to love.
And so, this is the tale of a love against all odds, a strange, imperfect love, so very un-elfin like, and ideal by no means... just as both of them are not perfect, but flawed. It is something, that by any logical reasons shouldn't have the right to exist; and yet it does, and their love may just prove to be strong enough to weather all storms.
That will be the main focus of the story, although it, obviously, will have a real plot – after all, Alagaësia doesn't wait for Eragon to understand Arya, there is an evil tyrant, who couldn't care less about that.
Eragon has many promises to fulfil – Elva, Katrina, the return to the elves… all that will be there. I'll throw in a twist or two, and at times the story might be quite sad. We'll see how far I take things. I hope you're with me?
Here's now the longest chapter ever in the history of Eragon fanfics (as far as I know). Enjoy!
Edited for spelling and grammar and reposted.
Silence reigned in the clearing by the Menoa Tree. Not one word was uttered from the elves that formed what would have been a perfect circle around a pile of wood, were it not for a short section of it missing; clearly intended to take in one more person.
From the darkness of the forest into the twilight of the clearing emerged a male, taller than the others. He carried himself with pride, but his light blue eyes were dulled in sadness. At his belt gleamed a magnificent blade in the colour of a rose quartz, though it was made of steel.
He headed straight to the open spot and hinted a bow at two elves on his left, where one was noticeably smaller, a little child, even by non-elfin standards. His muttered words in the Ancient Language were barely audible.
"Queen Islanzadí. Princess Arya"
The former acknowledged it scarcely, only as he took his last step she nodded shortly.
The circle was now completed; she raised her fingertips and from them sprang green fire in a flash; it hit the wood in the centre and set it ablaze at once.
The flames rose quickly, higher and higher into evening's sky; and only when the fire consumed the wood and the elf, Arya understood what Queen Islanzadí had announced one week ago in bitter grief: Evandar was dead. He would never come back, she would never see him again.
The elves that formed the ring intoned a song together; it praised a heroic battle, spoke of a proud warrior and mourned his death. The hauntingly beautiful melody wavered in the clearing and seemed to fill it; and even the flames moved with the music.
Arya's young face mirrored the feeling expressed in song, like with all the other elves, her heart was heavy with grief as she listened to the singing; and tears ran over her cheek, fell down onto the ground and moistened the grass.
Late into the night the ceremony went, but she found solace in the shared sorrow; and at the end of the night her green eyes burned into the darkness with new resolve, strong as the legendary elfin-iron forged by Rhûnon: she would learn to fight. When she was grown, she would be better than anyone else, as good as Evandar was. And then she would finish what he had started.
As if in response, the wind picked up; northerly, strange for this time of year. It told of changes that were going on and of those that were still to come; so far-reaching and deep that not one fortune teller could've predicted it.
Arya's face was expressionless as it was so very often, a blank mask, regal and composed. She stood perfectly still, tall and proud, every inch a warrior, in the line of the procession that had followed the four bearers, one for each corner of the white marble slab that supported King Hrothgar's body. She had her arms at her side, and, as Eragon noticed, her black hair was held back by one of her leather strips. It shimmered softly in the light of the torches.
At times like these, he wondered. She was hard to read, but after two journeys together he prided himself in the fact that he could notice the smallest signs and interpret them, like now; she stood just that tiniest bit straighter than usual, just as she had when they first met Islanzadí… she felt uncomfortable being here. But why?
Think about it, Eragon, came Saphira's voice. You know she hardly expresses any emotion. And now she's here, between the weeping dwarves? Of course that would make her uncomfortable!
You may be right, Saphira, Eragon pondered, but then, why is she that way? I know she can be different. What makes her behave that way?
That I don't know, Little One. You remember Angela's words? I agree with her, I doubt there's anyone who knows exactly where Arya is coming from, other than herself. You yourself may very well be one of those few that know more than what they see.
Saphira hummed to him quietly. You don't plan on doing something foolish, do you? Like going to her and start asking countless personal questions about her behaviour? If she wants to tell you, she'll do so of her own accord.
No! Saphira, I have learned better than that.
She eyed him shrewdly. Well, at least you have learned from your mistakes. That's more than some people achieve. Half a year ago, I wouldn't have been so sure you would have answered that way.
The bearers, all carrying the hammer with the twelve stars, symbol of the Dûrgrimst Ingeitum, were treading solemnly into the alcove in front of them. Here, the dwarven king would be entombed later, here would he be sealed into stone with sacred rituals no outsider was allowed to see. The drums boomed louder, the noise coming from all around him. Next to him, a dwarf let out a lamenting wail.
Eragon sighed. I just wish I could understand her.
Why? You don't have to understand everything.
Eragon was silent for a while. You know the answer to that, Saphira. We had that conversation before.
He thought about what had happened since the battle.
He had woken out of his trance-like state he spent his nights in, ever since the transformation on Agaetí Blödhren, to the steady drip-dip of water droplets pelting his tent. It had begun to rain.
As it was still very early in the morning, he simply laid there on his cot and listened to the sough of the rain. He had nowhere to be, and Saphira was hunting. The wind flipped a loose part of his tent back and forth. Muted voices drifted over to him. Laughter, yelling. The metallic clang of steel meeting steel. Somewhere someone was sparring. He didn't move.
He imagined the land under the rain, heaven itself crying for all the so seemingly senseless deaths, for all the blood spilt, for all those who lost a friend, a brother, a father; tears washing away the blood and grime, washing it clean. But nothing could wash away the memories. Scenes of the past flittered through his mind, snippets of pictures, memories… A long journey through a desert, shared jokes, sparring matches, a friend, a brother in all but blood… and then he lost him, somewhere in the dark mazes beneath Farthen Dûr.
Only for him to return - no longer the person he once called his friend, but through some twisted sense of irony as his real brother… and he had to kill him. No, it was easier to think of him as lost - the Murtagh he knew died in the first battle, and what remained was simply a hostile rider, nothing more than a nameless face, a number on a paper, to be killed, if the victory was to be theirs. It was the only way he could cope.
Seconds turned into minutes and minutes into hours. In his mind, flashes of pictures from the day before replayed.
It is mine by right of birth.
Let me go!
You and I, we are the same, Eragon. Mirror images of one another. You can't deny it.
Let me go!
Morzan was our father… Zar'roc should have gone Morzan's eldest son, not his youngest… Morzan was our father… You can't deny it…
He shook his head wildly, trying to ban these thoughts. He was grateful that he didn't sleep and therefore didn't dream anymore. Otherwise he'd surely have nightmares throughout the night. But this way, there had been only odd pictures, fractures of the happenings in the battle, drifting in and out, never staying for long and somewhat dulled.
Still, he didn't feel overly rested, but it was better than nothing. He was still wary from the exertion the day before, but he forced his thoughts not to linger; it would only lead to things he didn't want to think about. Not now, better yet, not ever.
He had accepted the fact that he was the son of Morzan, just as he understood, on a conscious level, that Garrow was a thousand times more his father than Morzan ever could be, but that didn't mean that he was comfortable with that thought; and he did his best not to spend more time pondering about it than what was absolutely necessary.
Of course, it didn't work very well.
The flap covering the entrance of the tent moved, and dim, grey daylight filtered through the opening into the semi-darkness inside. A sapphire-blue snout soon followed, glistering wet from the rain.
What are you doing, Little One?
Eragon was jerked out of his thoughts.
Nothing in particular, Saphira. Thinking. Listening.
He didn't elaborate and Saphira didn't pry, though he could tell she was curious. He'd had his shields up, to not be continuously assaulted by the countless stray thoughts from everybody around him, and had blocked her until now. He knew he was being incautious, but he didn't care.
Well, good, she said. All that water rinsed my wounds, and now that the rain has stopped, they're some sort of half-dry and starting to itch. Do you feel strong enough to heal them yet?
Eragon leapt from his cot.
I'm so sorry, Saphira! he cried. Here I lie, thinking only about yesterday's battle and its consequences for me, while completely forgetting you. Of course I'll heal them -
Saphira hummed gently. It's quite alright. You needed some time alone to work through everything that has happened… just don't spend too much time on it. Remember what Arya and Nasuada said; you are not Him, and neither are you His father. You are a good man, Eragon; both of them know that, and so do I.
Of course she would realize what I was thinking about, Eragon thought, and added: Still, it's no excuse to completely forget about you. I promised I would heal you, and I'll do so now.
He began to move in the direction of the entrance, as Saphira said: Don't fret, Eragon. If the wounds would've been mortal, I'd have reminded you. They aren't that grievous.
She changed the topic and flicked her tongue as a teasing note entered her tone. And before you head outside, I suggest you put something on - we can't very well have a Shur'tugal being seen running around half-naked, now can we?
Eragon stopped with one hand at the opening, standing dumbfounded for a moment before he too started to grin. He was indeed still clad the way he slept, meaning almost not at all, and he was thankful for Saphira's successful attempt at lightening the mood.
Indeed. That wouldn't do at all.
Quickly, he cleaned himself with a few words in the Ancient Language, before throwing on one of the spare tunics he brought with him from Ellesméra. It wasn't anywhere near as comfortable as a warm bath in his tree-home back at the elves' capital, but it would have to do. In any case, it was more than what any of the soldiers had at their disposal, but then again, he wasn't a soldier, but a Rider, and had to set an example.
He went outside into the overcast day and took a moment to critically inspect Saphira's wounds, and was thoroughly shocked at her state. As she'd said, with the exception of Thorn's bite at her tail, they were neither deep nor dangerous, but the great amount of them made it look almost gruesome. As she had been outside in the rain all the time, they looked fresh and raw.
Dozens of broken arrow shafts stuck in the membrane of her wings, which were frayed at the borders, where the arrows had been torn out. Long gashes ran along her front legs, and there were countless other superficial wounds scattered all over her body. And the bite at the end of her tail had nearly severed it there.
Saphira! cried Eragon. How could you even fly with your wings in that state? Now I feel really bad!
I manage, Little One. Just heal them now, and everything will be alright.
Eragon started to pull a shaft out of her left wing, then muttered: "Waíse Heill."
He repeated the process over and over, and bit by bit the holes in her wings disappeared, and the translucent membrane rippled and stretched until it was just like it should be.
Saphira stretched her wings, and turned her head to take a look at them. That is better. Do you think you could now work on my tail? I need it to balance myself.
Eragon moved at once to her tail-end and frowned, as he looked at the half-crusted bite. Under the flesh the white bones could be seen. They were partly broken, he would have to mend them first. He was once again glad that Oromis had had him read the countless scrolls about anatomy.
He felt a little tingle of magic, and knew that the bones where once again whole. Now he had to use a more complex spell, one of the ones he had memorized from Oromis' ancient texts. The muscles and tissue knitted itself back together, and shortly after the bite was gone from Saphira's tail.
Then he moved on to the other wounds. It took quite some time to heal them all, and by the time he was finished with the last one, he felt again a little strained.
Thank you, Eragon. I feel as good as new.
What should we do now? Eragon asked.
Well, I suppose we could head over to Nasuada to see whether she has something to do for us, Saphira answered. She'll have to plan the next step of the Varden, and might want our input. Other than that, if we want to fly to Helgrind to rescue Katrina, we have to tell her, and don't forget that Jeod wants to hear our story, and, of course, we'll have to try and heal Elva.
You're right, Eragon agreed. Well, let's go, then.
They moved through the lines of tents in the direction of the centre of the encampment, where Nasuada's pavilion was erected. The rain hadn't made the Burning Plains a more cheery or comfortable place to be, rather it made it all the more dreary and turned the ground into a tenacious, slippery mud.
He had once again opened his mind, and touched all living creatures, but other than the men and women from the Varden and Surda, there was nothing there. No plant, no deer, not even the tiniest ant, simply nothing - just miles and miles of dead soil. Even at the Hadarac Desert, there had been more life. But while at the Desert the loneliness felt calming and peaceful, here it felt unnatural and wrong. He couldn't wait until they'd leave this place.
During their short walk, every soldier they met stopped at what they were doing and bowed respectfully. The cries of 'Hail, Shadeslayer' preceded them, so as they arrived at Nasuada's tent, she was already waiting for them.
"Come in Eragon, " Nasuada said. "Did you both rest well?"
"As well as can be expected, I suppose," Eragon answered. "I've never used that much magic at once before, and I think it'll be at least another day until I'm back to my normal strength, but still, I feel better than yesterday. Well enough to heal Elva, in any case."
Nasuada nodded, as Eragon followed her inside. "She has a tent next to Angela's, you may visit her whenever you like. But first, did you already eat?"
Eragon shook his head. "Saphira did, but not I."
"I thought so. Be invited to join me at the table, in this case."
Eragon bowed. "Thank you, my Lady."
"Oh, none of that, Eragon. Save it for when there are other people around."
Eragon grinned. "As you wish, my Lady."
They seated themselves at the table which had been cleared of all papers, and began to eat. Between pieces of fruit Eragon told Nasuada about Roran and Katrina.
"So you want to go and rescue her, together with Saphira?"
"I promised Roran I would do it, and take him with me. The Ra'zac were also responsible for the death of Garrow, our father; that's another debt that has to be paid."
His face grew hard during his last words. Nasuada eyed him carefully.
"Well, I can't see why you wouldn't be able to go, eventually; but you might have other obligations before that. We are going to discuss our plans for the future here at noon, I will add that topic to the list. You must realize, Eragon, that you're not only duty-bound to me, but also to the elves and the dwarves. I dare say Arya and whoever is chosen from the dwarves to represent them has to say something in that matter."
Eragon nodded. "Of course. You were merely the first person I met since my talk with Roran, and I would have brought up that point on my own, if you were not going to do it."
– * –
At noon, Eragon was back at Nasuada's furnished tent. Arya followed soon after, and after that, Orik. He looked tired and mournful.
"I am sorry for your loss, Orik," Nasuada said softly.
"Aye," mumbled Orik, while taking a seat at the table. "He was a good king. I -"
He shook his head. "No matter. We are here to discuss the situation and our plans. I will speak for the dwarves, since that was Hrothgar's last order. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean much, at least as long as there is no new king."
Nasuada inclined her head. "As I feared. But we will come to that. First, the results of the battle…"
She quickly summarized, once again, the battle of the two armies, and Eragon's battle with the new rider.
"Scouts I sent after the remains of Galbatorix' troops reported that they regrouped and now are marching back to Urû'baen. It seems that Galbatorix wants to plan his next move carefully, which gives us some time."
Orik looked decidedly unhappy. "And time we will need. But what good will that do us in the end, if even Eragon couldn't stand against this treacherous new rider?"
Eragon pondered this. "I wouldn't say I don't stand a chance -"
Arya, who had remained silent until now, spoke up. "But didn't you say yesterday, that even with our spellweavers, you would be hard pressed to defeat him?"
Eragon smiled thinly. "Yes. That I said. However, in a sword-duel, I could best him. The reason I lost was that I was already exhausted, and he arrived well-rested. I believe that if I had not been as weary as I was back then, I would've had a chance, at the very least. Whatever he is now, he isn't an elf."
"Well, that is good to know," said Nasuada. "Now, for the current situation - many of the council's members are inclined to use the victory to press our advantage - in other words, they want to march to Urû'baen as soon as possible. I, on the other hand, don't think that would be wise - the time has not yet come."
"I would agree", said Orik, "even more so, as you would have to do it without the help of the dwarves. As it is now, the very first thing we have to do is to carry Hrothgar's body back to Farthen Dûr, to entomb him, and then select a new king - for both, all the dwarves are needed, so no one will remain here."
"We cannot count on the dwarves, until they have chosen a new king," Arya said. "Even then, it is not sure whether the new king will support our cause or not."
"Is that true, Orik?" Nasuada asked, but it seemed she had known it all along.
"Aye. It much depends on which clan will provide the new king, of course, but it is hard to predict. Some clan chiefs may want revenge, but others may come to the decision that we already lost too much to continue fighting, and that Galbatorix may leave us alone, if we do the same in return. Even our king cannot act completely against their wishes. "
"Let's hope it doesn't come to that," Nasuada said. "How long do you think until a decision is made?"
"It could take anything, from a week up to a few months. It all depends on how fast the clan chiefs are able to agree on one of them; and before that, we have to choose a new grimsborith of Dûrgrimst Ingeitum."
"So we have to wait…" Nasuada sighed. "It would be a high risk to attack the Empire as it is, but to do so without the dwarves would be foolish."
"In any case, we should wait until our warriors are ready to attack the Empire," Arya added. "It would help spread Galbatorix' forces."
"So it is a good thing, that Galbatorix has decided to retreat for the moment," Eragon concluded.
"It would seem so," Arya said. "What will you do, Argetlam? I was under the impression that your training has yet to be completed."
"I will resume it, once I am no longer expressively needed here," Eragon replied. "As it seems, that may very well be sooner than I thought, but since Saphira is able to fly in a few days from Ellesméra to Surda, we can always return fairly quickly. However, as I mentioned to Nasuada before, there is something I must do."
He proceeded to explain, once again, about Roran and Katrina.
After he finished, Nasuada said: "As I told you, I don't see a problem; the Ra'zac are faithful servants of Galbatorix, and you would to us a great service if they were killed. I fear, however, that it will have to wait - I would like for you to attend King Hrothgar's funeral, as my delegate; and considering that you actually are a member of one of their clans, it would also be something that honour dictates."
Orik agreed. "Some may not like it, but even more would be offended if you were absent."
Arya had listened silently. She didn't show any sort of reaction, but Eragon thought he heard a tiny difference in her voice, once she spoke.
"I will accompany you. First to Farthen Dûr, as it is my duty as an ambassador for our people to be at the funeral, but also later on your journey to Helgrind."
It wasn't a request, but a statement, and Eragon lifted his eyebrows and opened his mouth to speak up, but a look he received from Arya stopped what he was going to say.
Instead, he asked: "But wouldn't it be faster if we were just two people? Saphira can carry three, over short distances, but if we manage to rescue Katrina, we would be four, which would be too heavy for her."
Arya glanced at him. "I do not think that your cousin should travel with us to the Ra'zac's lair. He has done an admirable feat in leading his town all the way to Surda, but still, he is no warrior, and even if he was, he would still be human. I am much more capable than him, and if Katrina is dear to his heart, as you said, it might prompt him to act rashly and without thinking in a situation in which all our lives could depend on the right choice."
Nasuada frowned a little at what sounded presumptuous, but Eragon knew that Arya was simply stating a truth, as was her way.
"I understand that he would like to come," she said a little more gently, "and that you would like him to come, too, but I urge you to consider my advice."
Did you listen, Saphira?
Aye, Little One, and I think, just as you do, that Arya is right. Two persons is the most I can carry if we are going to have a third one on our way back; and any other way of traveling would slow us down immensely.
Eragon sighed mentally. Yes, she is right. However, Roran will not be pleased - first, we cannot leave a soon as he'd like, and then, he won't even be with us…
We'll convince him together, Eragon. After all, it is better than anything he could have hoped for - a Rider and an elf coming to Katrina's rescue.
Well, I hope he'll see it that way, Saphira, Eragon replied doubtfully.
Out loud, he asked: "Do you think we both will be enough against all of the Ra'zac and possibly the Lethrblaka?"
"It should at least be enough to rescue the woman," Arya answered after a while. "We don't know how many Ra'zac there are, so we might have to elude them instead of killing them, but I think we should be alright. Also, the Lethrblaka can operate in a sensible way only outside of the mountain, where we have Saphira, so they shouldn't pose an advantage too great on their side either way."
Eragon nodded. "That sounds reasonable."
"Then it is decided," Nasuada said. "The Varden will head back to Surda, while you go with the dwarves back to Farthen Dûr. After that, Eragon and Arya will set out for Helgrind, and we will have to wait, for a new king of the dwarves to be selected, or until Galbatorix makes his next move."
She sighed. "Not what I would prefer, but it seems, we have no choice. Please be careful, Eragon; and you too, Arya, we need you both."
"We will return to Surda with Katrina," Eragon said strongly. "After that, if there is still no new development, Saphira and I will most likely continue onwards to Ellesméra."
Nasuada's troubled face lost a little of its anxiety. "I do believe you will return, Eragon. I have faith in you and Arya. If you cannot do it, no one can."
She pushed her high-backed chair back, and stood up abruptly. "Well, it seems we have exhausted our topics for today."
Eragon, Arya and Orik stood up as well. As they turned to leave, Nasuada spoke up again. "A word, if you may, Eragon."
Curious, Eragon turned again, and waited, until the others had left the pavilion.
"Oh, nothing serious," Nasuada waved away his concerns, which must have shown on his face. "I just happened to hear that your people from Carvahall are planning a little feast; food, music, the likes; you would know better than I how they celebrate. They would be glad if you joined them."
Eragon stared at her, wondering. "Why wouldn't they ask themselves? It sounds like they asked you to as me!"
Nasuada grinned. "It would seem that your new look and status are just a little bit intimidating, if you understand what I mean."
Eragon shook his head. "Well, I'll see how I feel after healing Elva. I promised her I would do it as soon as possible…"
Nasuada looked at him fondly. "A noble sentiment; but I really think you should go. It may do you some good, take your mind off the war and all the other unpleasantries. You deserve a bit of time off, and I just might decide to come by as well."
"I'll keep that in mind, Nasuada."
He went to the entrance of the pavilion a second time, and walked outside. To his surprise, Arya had waited for him, next to Saphira.
As Eragon and Saphira walked in the direction of Angela's tent, Arya followed them and began to speak.
"I needn't remind you once again that I'm not a helpless human female, for whom anything more than cleaning a house might be deemed as dangerous?" she asked in the Ancient Language.
Eragon knew at once what she was speaking about and grimaced, as he answered in kind. "No, that wasn't what I intended to say back in the tent. Quite in the contrary, I know what you are capable of, and I feel honoured that you would wish to join me. I was merely going to inquire as to why."
Arya seem satisfied, and her expression became the tiniest bit softer. "Queen Islanzadí has sent twelve of our finest spellweavers to help you and protect you, if that should be necessary. But they have yet to arrive, and since I am the only elf available, I am to be your guardian in their stead. As such, I would do my Queen an ill service if I let you go on such a perilous journey alone."
"So you want to come because that is your duty?" He almost managed to keep the bitterness out of his voice, but Arya flinched, as she apparently picked up on his tone, and said nothing.
The walked for a while in silence, until Eragon remembered the message he received.
"Queen Islanzadí expresses her affection, by the way. She says, you are sorely missed in Ellesméra."
Arya's lips were pressed together even more tightly, if that was possible. Only when they reached Angela's tent, Arya stopped next to the now empty cauldron, and turned to face Eragon.
He gazed into her green eyes, and for a moment, there was a little spark there, as opposed to its normal cool calmness.
"What I said, back in Ellesméra, the last time we met… it still holds true. But don't you see, Eragon, this truth has two sides - while I cannot see you as anything more than a friend, you are just as certain nothing less to me. I just…"
She faltered and sighed. "I would very much like to accompany you, if you want to have me, and I will gladly give you the aid of my sword and magic, should you ask for it."
He stared at her, trying to discern if she really meant what she said, but she emitted only genuine concern and the will to help him, and he accepted it thankfully. They were indeed rebuilding their friendship, and he felt as if he had gotten a part of himself back that had been missing for quite some time.
"Thank you, Arya," Eragon replied sincerely. "I truly couldn't think of anyone I'd rather have at my side, while fighting any kind of creature."
Arya looked at him with a strange expression he couldn't fathom. Her soft, melodious voice was barely above a whisper, when she answered. "Thank you, Eragon. For it is something that I rarely -"
"What is it now?" The entrance to the tent was ripped open, and Angela stuck her head outside. "I told you last time -"
Then she saw Eragon and Arya. "Oh, it is you. I thought you were that witch, Trianna. She kept bothering me -"
Arya stood rigid, gazing at her impassively as she interrupted her. "Eragon is here to heal Elva," she said in a clipped tone, switching back to the common tongue. "He will do so now."
Angela seemed unimpressed. "Well, it's about time. I finally got around to writing down the end of my rant, lest I forget it - you may read it at your leisure, Eragon."
As neither moved, she cried: "Well, what are you waiting for? Come in, she's inside."
Eragon and Arya followed her into the tent, while Saphira merely stuck her head through the opening, and spoke to Eragon.
And now you see.
See what, Saphira?
Arya, of course. Compare how she spoke with you to how she speaks to other people - like Angela here and think about the difference. Think about what she says, and how she says it, if you still have doubts whether she considers you a friend. Only with you she is that open, and only when you two are alone.
You're right, Saphira. I just… I wonder, how long it is going to last this time.
Eragon gazed at the many herbs that were strung on cords to dry, every which way above his head, while moving to the back of the tent, where Elva sat on a cot. The herbs filled the air with a peculiar scent, somewhat bitter, but also sweet, though it didn't bother him too much. It reminded him of the Spine in summer.
As long as you use your head and can keep your feelings to yourself - just like Arya said, back in Ellesméra. And if you can't do it for yourself, do it for her sake. Didn't it cross your mind that you might very well be her only friend within next few hundred miles?
Eragon stopped dead. Angela looked him curiously. I - she - but surely she must have other friends?
He could almost feel Saphira giving him a hard nudge. And who, pray tell, should that be? One of the soldiers, perhaps, that look like they would like nothing better than to tear off her clothes? Or maybe Orrin, because she likes to listen to his confused theories?
"What is the matter, Eragon?" asked Angela, with Arya standing silently next to her. "Did you forget what spell you wanted to use?"
Eragon shook his head and looked her, then at Arya. "Just something Saphira said."
You're right - again.
Of course I am, Saphira said, a little teasingly. I always am. You should know that by now.
Then, she was serious again. Just try to actually be a friend, and don't get stuck in your infatuation again.
I'll try, Saphira. Maybe I really should go to that feast Roran is preparing tonight; it might help me forget a little…
Quite. And now go and heal Elva, they are looking funny already.
"Well, how are you going to do it?" asked Angela.
"I thought the best way would be to do the same blessing again, only this time with the right wording, since my original intention was to shield her from harm. That is a direct counter to what she is experiencing now, and if I put the right intention behind the words, they may even completely reverse it."
"You think?" cried Angela. "You tried thinking before, and look where it got you! And what's it with this 'if' and 'may' business?"
"Err… Angela, I couldn't very well try it on someone beforehand, could I? But I'm quite sure it should work, I learned a lot during my time in Ellesméra."
Angela grumbled something about useless blockheads, but didn't say anything further, as Arya agreed that it sounded reasonable.
Eragon prompted Elva, who had listened silently, to lie down on the cot.
"I think I will put you to sleep before we begin," he said to her.
Now, as she was about to be relieved of her curse, she seemed nervous, but after a short time, her usual stoic appearance returned. She looked slyly at Eragon and Arya, before a wicked smile tucked at the corner of her lips.
"Before you begin though, and take away your gift, Rider, let me give you the information of your potential doom. I ask: If you gave your heart away, and received nothing in return, what is it that remains? And if you got something, and then lost it - where would be the difference?"
Arya stood as rigid as before, and Eragon stared at Elva. "I'm afraid I don't understand."
Elva's violet eyes stared right back at him. Suddenly, there was a foreign presence in his mind. He recoiled from it, as it was so vastly different from anything he had encountered before, be it human, urgal, dwarf or elf; it felt spiky and cold, like an icy claw, and he didn't like it at all.
And then he heard her voice.
I know what troubles you, and I know who the cause of it is. So know this: After some time, I had felt everybody, as everybody experience at one point or another feelings of pain or discomfort, be it physical, or, like in your case, mental - I receive them equally, day and night. There's nobody who has never had a bad feeling, because they all have feelings - nobody, that is, except the elf. Make of it what you will.
And with that she closed her eyes, and the presence disappeared.
What was that, Saphira!
Eragon stood shakily next to the cot, thoroughly shocked.
I dare say that was Elva, Eragon. She certainly is an unusual child.
Did you understand the meaning of her words?
Saphira hesitated. I think I might. But I won't tell, you have to figure it out for yourself. It concerns you, and you only, and it would not be right if I told you.
Eragon wanted to argue, but he had to heal Elva. He pushed Elva's strange words back into a corner of his mind, and put her to sleep.
Are you there, Saphira?
Of course I am.
He felt her powerful presence in his mind, and then lifted his hand, placed it upon her silver, star-shaped mark on Elva's forehead and started to speak the blessing again.
"Atra gülai un ilian tauthr ono un atra ono waíse sköliro frá rauthr."
He fixed the goal of working against Elva's plight firmly in his mind, it would be the main intention behind the word sköliro, 'shielded'. He felt the rush of magic leaving him, but this time, something returned - the icy claw was back, gripping him, twisting and roaring against the magic he tried to apply. It didn't want to leave, and his magic depleted even faster. Soon he had to draw upon Saphira's reserves.
Then the voices came. It was like a thousand people standing around him, all crying out to him in need of help, but they were strangely muffled. The icy coldness receded bit by bit, and the magic warmed him, turned hotter, nearly burning him - and then it was over.
He collapsed next to Elva.
Eragon! Are you alright?
"Need… to lie down."
He didn't feel the pillow that was moved under his head, as he fell into a deep sleep.
– * –
Eragon woke with a start. That hadn't been one of his normal trance-like states; he had completely lost consciousness. He looked around the dusky tent. In a corner, Angela was busy cutting something. Without turning around, she said: "Oh, good, you're awake. Drink this."
She filled something in a mug, and put her cuttings inside. Then she walked over to him. Eragon took the drink, and took a few sips. He felt his strength slowly returning.
"What time is it?"
"Oh, somewhere in the late afternoon," she answered satisfied. Then Saphira poked her nose into the tent.
Eragon! You're awake!
"You stood almost an hour over Elva, glowing and whatnot." She crinkled her nose. "But at least it seemed to work - she awoke for a short time and has been sleeping quite peacefully since. Arya had to leave for something or another, but she has been coming by every now and then. Mysterious folk, those elves. Especially Arya, I doubt there is anyone other than herself that understands her completely."
I think it did work. I felt it receding in the end, said Saphira. Whatever it was.
Eragon stood. "Where is she now?"
"In her tent, next to mine. Look at her, if you like, but don't disturb her."
Eragon went outside and into the tent to the right. It was much smaller, but just as dim. On her cot sat Elva, eyes wide open in wonder. She looked just as she did before, but she didn't seem so tense anymore.
"How are you?"
At that moment, Angela bustled into the tent. "Eragon! I told you not to wake her!"
"But she was -"
"How do you feel, Elva?"
"Oh, it's alright," she told them offhandly. "I still feel the pain of those around me, but only if I concentrate on it, and without being able to determine the exact cause. And I don't have the urge to help everyone anymore. So there, I'd like to thank you, Eragon."
Angela stared at him disgruntled. "It's better than nothing, I suppose. Will you be alright, Elva?"
"Oh, yes. Don't mind me. Really, I've been able to sleep peacefully for the first time since we first met, Shadeslayer"
So something of the old Elva was still there, Eragon thought.
"Well, you heard her. Out, out!" Angela pushed Eragon out of the tent. "And do mind what you say, the next time you try to bless some unfortunate child that is unlucky enough to cross your way."
Eragon grinned. "I promise, I will, Angela."
He went to Saphira.
I think I will rest some more, until it is time to meet Roran and the other people from Carvahall. I am still tired.
As you should be! The battle was only yesterday, and today, you used a lot of energy, again.
Well, at least Elva is better, Saphira, Eragon said, as they reached his tent. Wake me when it is time?
Sure, Little One. You just sleep.
– * –
The flames of the crackling bonfire rose high into the black-blue sky, in which the first stars could be seen. People sat in small groups next to the fire on wooden benches, talking, laughing, and generally being happy and joyous.
They were all there - Horst, with both of his sons, Albriech and Baldor and his wife Elain, Fisk and Isold, Morn and Tara, Loring and his sons, Gertrude, Birgit, Thane and Calitha, and many more. All of Carvahall, with only few exceptions.
Saphira was laying next to the fire, contently humming a deep tune, the flickering flames making her scales shine. Eragon was sitting together with Jeod, a bit apart from Roran, Horst and his family. He had promised the merchant the story of Brom's death, and now he had the opportunity to tell it. He spoke about his ill-fated trip to Dras-Leona, about the Ra'zac and how they wanted to find them, only to be ambushed by them in return.
"When they fled, one of them hurtled a dagger towards me. Brom, he… he just jumped in front of me. There was nothing I could do…"
Eragon trailed off. After all this time, it still hurt. Jeod placed his hand on his arm.
"As much as it pains me to say it, there was nothing you should have done. Brom made a choice, and decided that your life was worth more than his own. And I think the same. You are the future, Eragon, and that night, Brom gave his life to ensure its continued existence. I thank you for telling me this."
There was a long silence. Both men were lost in thoughts, until Roran came over.
"Hey! What's got you all quiet? You ought to celebrate, but instead you sulk! Come over!"
Jeod shook his head. "You're right, Roran. I apologize, Eragon. That story was not the best way to raise your spirits, I shouldn't have asked."
"Nonsense, Jeod. It was the least I could do for you."
"Well, now that this is settled," interrupted Roran, "come over and have some something to drink. It's the last barrel of Quimby's winter ale - I could barely convince Morn to part with it for the occasion."
He pushed a tankard into Eragon hands, and they sat down next to Horst and Roran. Soon enough, Eragon felt most of his worries slip away, as he joined the light talking, listening and laughing like the others over a story with more than questionable truth that Morn told. It was just like he remembered from Carvahall, the people, the stories… it seemed as if nothing had changed.
Others joined them, like Thane and his wife, and their oldest children, Cally and Tares. They clapped him on his back.
"It's good to have you back Eragon, even if you look like one of those elves. It's just like the old times, is it not?"
Others laughed and nodded. They lifted their tankards to him, and Morn began another story, just as far fetched, and of course, with him as the brave hero.
A bit of dismay came over Eragon. Did they think of his transformation as something that wasn't right? He liked his new features, and was sure he'd never want to go back to like he was before that night of Agaetí Blödhren, even without his scar.
Cally looked at him admiringly. "You're telling us much, if the night is long and the ale plentiful, Morn, but I bet Eragon could come up with stories just like that and be telling the truth!"
The others laughed again, and even louder as Morn said: "I'll have you know that I was telling the plain truth all the time!"
Loring yelled over: "Aye, just like that time when you told us you wrestled with an Urgal until you defeated him and took his horns to hang 'em inside your old tavern, and we later found out that it was Fisk who found him first - already dead!"
More laughter erupted, and Morn grumbled good-naturally.
"Well, then, go on, Eragon," Morn encouraged him. "It seems those sticklers prefer listening to you."
"Yes, do tell, Eragon," said Cally. "You simply must have experienced the most amazing things. Did you really fight a Shade?"
Eragon didn't really want to talk about himself, but the others cheered and pleaded, and so he began to tell them about his fight with Durza in Gil'ead, though he left out Arya. It didn't feel right to bring her up, somehow. His audience gasped and applauded at times they thought the story to be thrilling or exciting, but Eragon's heart wasn't in it. They made it sound so heroic, but that wasn't what it had been like.
As the night went on, they drank more, and ate, though Eragon received many looks as he passed over the meat. Roran couldn't understand it.
"What happened to you Eragon? It is good, healthy meat! You used to hunt all the time in the Spine to fetch it for us, why won't you eat it anymore?"
Eragon shook his head. "You wouldn't understand. It is something that happened during my time with the elves."
Roran stared at him strangely, but let it go.
Eragon felt warm and comfortable. He moved lazily on his bench, not quite as controlled as he had been when the feast had started. Fisk took out his wooden flute, and began to play some of the old songs everybody knew. Soon the all sang along, and the first couples started to dance next to the fire. Cally stood up as well, and pulled him up.
"Let's dance, Eragon!"
Eragon felt himself pick up the well-known tune easily, and danced with Cally next to the others. Her dark blonde hair flew behind her; she was the only girl in Carvahall with this particular colour, just like Albriech, and many of the young men in town had tried to win her heart.
Eragon himself had looked at her more than once, as was only natural with her well-rounded form, but she hadn't spared him a second glance, and he had been content with the knowledge that his imaginations were just that, as she was several years older than him, and would have held no interest in a mere boy.
Her light blue eyes sparkled in the light of the flames. Fisk played a slower song, telling from the love of two people a long time ago, and she moved closer. He felt her warm breath on his neck, the touch of her hands, and her bosom pressed against him.
It was a nice feeling, he decided. He could get used to it. Saphira snorted next to fire, but, thankfully, didn't comment. The music picked up in speed, they whirled faster, turning their surroundings into blurry shapes that faded away. Everything was a haze, everything but the girl in his arms, pressed against him; he felt flushed, hot, her body radiating just as much heat as his own; almost burning.
Everything seemed so far away, unimportant; nothing mattered but here and now, nothing but their dance, their closeness. And then, she tilted her head, and captured his lips with hers. He was almost too stunned to react, and for a time did nothing; he felt her soft mouth, kissing him; felt himself kissing her back.
She smelled like some wild flowers, he thought, as he clumsily tried to respond to her actions. It was a nice smell … but something wasn't right. Another smell came unbiddingly to his mind; crushed pine-needles; another person, slim, with black hair instead of blonde, green eyes instead of blue… and it was this person that kissed him, it was - not. No, it was not.
She wasn't her. Never her. Couldn't be. No one could.
He abruptly broke the kiss, and turned away from her, almost pushing her backwards, tripping, ignoring her questions. He stumbled past Thane, who was currently debating with some other villagers about the war, with more ale and beer. He was quite red in the face.
"…of course the elves won't come! They haven't come until now, so why should that change? And it's better that way, if you ask me… can't really trust those creatures - where have they been all the time, while here people were dying under that tyrant of a king, I ask you? The further away they are, the better. We're better off without the lot of them, that's what I say, and we don't need their magics - no good has ever come from those who could wield it.
"The one we have here is more than enough for me, always indifferent, no reactions whatsoever, not even when she saw the half-burned body of old Sart, may he rest in peace! I tell you, it's unnatural! So you see? They don't care! And really, their males are supposed to look the same as that thing does - no honest man should look like that, with their pointy ears and whatnot."
Then he noticed Eragon and thumped him on the back. "Present company excepted, of course. You aren't really one of those anyway, you're our Eragon."
Eragon felt a cold fury building up in himself as he heard Thane talking like that about Arya, but after all his training, he managed to restrain himself.
"I am an elf, thank you very much!"
But Thane had already turned back again to the others, who nodded to his words, and didn't hear him. Eragon couldn't take it anymore. He had to get away. Away from here, away from them. He broke into a run, and his feet carried him through the warm night, past the fire, away from the people dancing, singing and laughing without a care in the world; faster, faster, as fast as he could run, as far away as he could get.
He arrived at the banks of the Jiet River that flowed slowly through its bed. He collapsed onto the sandy ground, and stared into the swiveling darkness in front of him; his thoughts scrambled and confused.
He couldn't have said how long he laid there, but after some time, the view of the steady stream of water that passed him soothed his troubled mind, calmed him, and he righted himself, staring only at the water, using it to meditate, until he felt at peace at last. He looked up into the clear sky, listening to the sounds that drifted over with the warm breeze - the playing of a flute and the other typical noises of celebrating.
Singing, laughter, happy talking, the thumping of two tankards, filled with Morn's ale. It was near, he could see the bonfire clearly, but it could have been just as well miles and miles; it was there, but is wasn't for him.
There was an invisible wall separating him and the others, and he had been too blind to see it before. A fool he had been, thinking that he could forget about what he was, even for a short time, and pretend that everything was like back in his blithe childhood days. That part of his life was over, once and for all; he couldn't bring it back through whatever means, and all that remained of it were his memories.
Now his status set him apart from his old friends, and it didn't help to pretend that nothing had happened. He didn't blame them, for it was not their fault; he was the one who had changed, above and beyond any imagination. They simply didn't, couldn't understand his new life, they had no idea what it was like, had no idea of the many things he experienced away from them that shaped him into what he was now.
No, the Eragon they had known had left the village, never to return. But strangely, that fact didn't hurt as much as he would have expected it to; it was, as he had told Saphira before - everything he was now was inextricably linked with her, and he wouldn't miss his connection with her for all of Alagaësia. Even now, he could feel her presence, sleeping, dreaming.
No, whatever the cost, he liked who he was now. And that was an elf, and a Rider.
His mind detected a new presence, coming up behind him. It was Cally. He sighed. With his anger at Thanes ignorance and insults at Arya, he had almost forgotten about her. It was another sign. He had liked her once, back in his last summer at Carvahall, before he had found Saphira's egg, had admired her, and dreamt about her - but now, that was gone.
They, like with all the others, had grown apart, in nary a year. He didn't belong anymore, their behaviour seemed strange to him at times, and he was sure, they saw him the same way. His time at Ellesméra had changed him so much, and most noticeable was not the new body, but the way he thought and acted.
And whenever he now tried to recall how he had felt, back when he had still been in Carvahall and looking at Cally, Arya always pushed away the picture of Cally in his mind.
He couldn't get her out of his mind, as hard as he tried, not even for a woman like Cally, beautiful by any human standard and whom he had liked once. Whenever Arya was concerned, there simply was no comparison. Everyone paled in his mind beside her.
"What are you doing here, Cally?" he asked without looking up.
She had been near him for a while now, and jumped at the sudden words.
"Oh! Eragon. I didn't think you knew I was here; you startled me."
She took a seat beside him on the bank of the river, and looked at him. "I had a good time tonight, Eragon."
He didn't face her, but continued to stare ahead. He would have given everything for simply being able to ignore her words, but the meaning was clear.
His thoughts drifted back to another starry night, to another two people sitting together in the darkness near a stream, and he almost laughed at the bitter, bitter irony of his next words, sounding so very alike, only now, he was the one saying them.
"I'm sorry, Cally. I can't give you what you seek."
"Why not?" she demanded. "Is it someone else?"
"Cally, I -"
"It is that elf, isn't it? I can tell, the way you look at her. You shouldn't raise your hopes; she is incapable of feeling anything. Either way, she wouldn't be good for you - always running headfirst into the battle, really, no decent woman should behave that way! You need someone to take care of you, to be there for you when you return home, and not a - an Amazon like that!"
Eragon had stiffened during her words. They sounded just like the things Arya had said and yet - while sitting here, next to the river in the darkness, and listening to them now, again, he suddenly knew, with indubitable clarity, that they were both completely wrong.
That wasn't what he wanted nor was it what he needed, and it would certainly never serve to make him happy. He thrived in Arya's company because she challenged him, in so many ways, because she intrigued him, and because she could take care of herself - and any lesser woman wouldn't do at all. It was more than an infatuation, it was a central point of his being.
"Cally, you do not understand - I am not the one you knew in Carvahall anymore, I am a Rider now, and I am an elf - I am going to live forever, whereas you will grow old and eventually die, and that shall never change. You should look for someone that is more suitable, don't lose yourself to something that cannot be."
And that was another point, he thought. Even if he would have loved her, a relationship would have been doomed from the start, for he would outlive any and all human, and so eventually be alone again. But she seemingly hadn't listened, as she continued.
"It isn't just. How could anyone ever stand next to that elf? So beautiful and flawless, no human could ever compare! You raised a claim so high that no one can hope to measure up against it. No one can even begin to match her."
Eragon gently laid a hand shoulder, and brushed away a few tears that slowly made their way down her young face.
"I am sorry, Cally. Never think that it is you. You are young and beautiful. Someday you will find a man worthy of your affection. But it is not I. I have lost my heart already, so you never stood a chance."
He swallowed and stared straight ahead, ignoring the burning in his eyes. "Your last words speak true; more so, than you will ever know."
He stood up, turned, and walked away from her. In the distance he could Saphira's shape approaching, he waited for her, until she had caught up with him.
Saphira nudged his side.
Is everything alright, Eragon?
No, not quite.
Why? You had a good time tonight, as far as I could tell, and that girl seemed like she could make your night even better -
I turned her down. He gave a mental, hollow laugh. Maybe now I know what Arya felt, the night I asked her.
What? Why? Did you do it because of me? I wouldn't have minded her; she was a nice girl.
No, it had nothing to do with you, and everything to do with me.
You didn't do it because of Arya, did you?
Eragon didn't answer.
You did? Oh, Little One, why would you do that? Saphira cried sadly.
Can you not stop thinking about her? All it serves is to make you miserable. You know what she told you, she couldn't have possibly been any clearer in her words. Can you not simply choose another one?
Eragon slumped to the ground and leaned himself at Saphira's body.
What other choice do I have? Whom should I choose instead? There is no human that will ever live as long as I do, if we manage to survive this war. And then, I don't belong into that world, I am not a human anymore. So if I don't belong with her and the elves either, I… I've got no place to be. Tonight I realized that. I tried, Saphira, really, I did, but it is just no use…
He felt the tears well up in his eyes and threatening to fall.
We have grown apart so much, the people from Carvahall and I. They don't really understand me anymore, and it is the same in return. And Cally… I liked her, but now, when I touch her, I think about Arya's skin. When I kissed her, I thought about kissing Arya. No, Saphira, it is as she said: no one can measure up against Arya. She is the only one I could ever love, and yet, if she is the only one I cannot have, then I will have no one.
You will always have me, Eragon. I love you.
I know Saphira. I do, too.
Saphira felt helpless, it was the only thing she could say, and it felt so utterly lacking. She curled her wings around Eragon, as he cried for a long time, tears running down his elfin face, falling through the air and splashing onto the ground, until he eventually drifted into his trance-like state of sleep. She pondered sadly what she could do to help, but came up with nothing.
– * –
The first rays of light crept over the horizon and lightened the Burning Plains. Saphira stirred, and nudged Eragon.
Wake up, Eragon! The dwarves are leaving today, and we have yet to tell Roran about our change of plans.
Eragon slowly emerged from under Saphira's wings and stretched himself. He felt quite terrible, if he was honest. Yesterday's happenings were far from being remotely alright; the realizations looked just as bad in the morning as they did the night before.
It was Arya. Only her. Always her. He felt torn between what he wanted, even though he knew he could not have it, and what he had - the friendship with her, that was only just on its tentative way back to normality.
Normality. He gave a hollow laugh. Nothing was ever normal, when it came to him. He was tempted to throw all caution in the wind, and try once again - because -
You love her, don't you?
…Yes, Saphira. Yes, I do.
Saphira nudged him sadly with her snout.
Oh, Little One. I wish so badly there was something I could do to help you, but I don't know what, and my only advise will bring you even more pain… Remember what I told you yesterday. You can't show her those feelings, it would make her uncomfortable, and you would lose even her friendship.
I know, Saphira.
He had to push his feelings away, he would manage, somehow. He would not endanger their newly build friendship. Arya needed him as a friend. He would give her that, at least.
Dried traces of tears wee visible on his face. But life had to go on, it always did. To much depended on him, he didn't have the time to be miserable. He stood, rigid, in the air of the new dawn, and schooled his face into an unmoving mask. No one had to know that he wasn't alright.
We should head back to our tent first thing; I need to make myself presentable. After that we can look for Roran.
They walked back to the encampment, which luckily, with the exception of a few soldiers standing guard, was still asleep; though not for long, as today the Varden would start striking their camp, packing things to head back to Aberon. So by the time Eragon reemerged from his own tent, everything was quite busy.
In front of his tent stood Roran, looking anxious.
"Eragon! There you are. We didn't get a chance to talk much, yesterday - did you speak with Nasuada about Katrina already?"
Eragon looked at him uncomfortable. "Aye, that I did. But you may not like it."
"Why not? What did she say?"
"I will not be going to Helgrind -"
At once, Roran looked furious. "Nothing less than what I should have expected from someone like you. Apparently, your word means as little as Galbatorix'. Thane was right -"
At this moment Saphira pounced on him.
Never compare Eragon to that traitor. And never insinuate that a Shur'tugal like mine would go back on his word. Whether you may like it or not, Roran Stronghammer, Eragon has more duties to attend to than just this one. If you would have let him finish, you would have known that already!
She barred her teeth over his face and projected the word directly into his mind.
It's alright, Saphira, Eragon told her. I think he got the point.
Saphira slowly let up on Roran, who remain wide-eyes with his back on the ground.
"Saphira doesn't take to kindly to insulting either her or me. Now, as I wanted to say, I will not be going to Helgrind right now, because I am to represent Nasuada at the funeral of Hrothgar, the fallen king of the dwarves, which will be held at their home in the Beor Mountains. After that, I am free to travel wherever I like - including Helgrind."
"But the Beor Mountains -" Roran struggled to recall the map "- they are located in the exact opposite direction, are they not? It would be a great circuit!"
Eragon shook his head. "It is of no matter, Roran, because I will be flying all the way on Saphira's back. She is faster than any horse, we will be able to reach Katrina in a few days time, even from the Beor Mountains."
"But - but -"
"And that is the second point. I'm afraid you won't be able to come with us."
"What? Eragon, I -"
Eragon raised his hand. "Hear me out, Roran. Saphira can only carry two people, three at most. Arya is going to accompany me, as is her duty, so if you would still wish to come, we would have to use horses, which would take weeks to reach Helgrind. It is either that, or Saphira, Arya and I."
Roran visibly slumped. "I promised myself I would rescue her. All the way from Carvahall to here, it was what was driving me onwards; it was the very reason I left Carvahall in the first place, Eragon! And now you tell me I cannot help with her rescue? It would mean that I have failed!"
"I am truly sorry, Roran. And I don't think you have failed, quite in the contrary. What you've done has never been done before, leading an entire village across a whole country! That alone is a remarkable feat. And in doing so, you reached us - we will do our best to get her, Roran, I promise. You've got a dragon, her Rider and an elf on your side; I don't know another man that could claim the same. You haven't failed at all."
Roran sighed. "I see that I won't be able to change your mind. And you are right, you, Saphira and your elf are an impressive force to be sure. If you cannot get Katrina, than nothing short of an army can. I just wish that I could be there as well."
Eragon put his hand on Roran's shoulder. "I know. But you'll see, we'll be back before you know it."
Roran nodded. "Can I - can I see her, again? What you did last time we were in your tent?"
Eragon moved inside the tent, Roran followed him and watched as Eragon filled a little water into a bowl and murmured: "Draumr kópa."
Once again, the shimmering liquid turned black and revealed after what to Roran seemed an endless time Katrina, still slumped against the invisible wall of darkness around her, although this time she was awake. She looked straight up at both of them.
"She looks at us!" exclaimed Roran. "Do you think she can tell we are watching?"
Eragon shook his head. "No, she wouldn't know. It's just a coincidence that she's looking in this direction."
"Oh well," sighed Roran, "at least she is still alive. Thank you, Eragon."
Eragon let the spell fade, and the water turned clear again.
"We have to pack out things, Roran; the dwarves will leave sooner than the rest of the Varden."
Roran gripped his arm tightly. "Then stay safe, Eragon. And get to Katrina quickly, as fast as you can."
"I will, Roran. You'll see."
Roran nodded and left the tent.
Well, that went remarkable well, all things considered, thought Eragon.
After I pounced on him.
Well, yes. That too.
Saphira snorted. If I wouldn't have done it, he'd still be yelling. And you have to admit, his expression was quite funny.
It was, admitted Eragon, while gathering the few things he had actually unpacked from Saphira's saddlebacks to put them back in.
That doesn't mean you're allowed to jump at every person you met, only to have a look at their faces, though.
…not? What a shame.
But even the shared joke did little to raise his spirits. Eragon finishes his packing, just as Saphira outside told him that Arya and Nasuada were approaching.
Nasuada carries something.
He emerged from his tent with the saddlebacks, and looked curiously at the piece of cloth, that covered whatever Nasuada held in her hands.
"Oh, so you're a packed already", said Nasuada relieved. "I wasn't sure… and I had no opportunity to tell you, I didn't find you yesterday night - wherever have you been? I was looking forward to a dance with you, on that feast of Roran's, but you had already left…"
Arya imperceptible raised an eyebrow at her words, but neither noticed.
Eragon looked uneasily past her, after her reminder of last night.
"I was with Saphira," he said at last.
Nasuada looked at him strangely, but didn't ask further questions.
"Well, in any case, the dwarves are ready to leave - and I have come to say good-bye and give you a parting present."
She lifted the cloth, and unveiled a sword and a scabbard. The silver scabbard was adorned with a different coloured metal, dark plant-like stems that twined around it, twisting and winding, but the sword itself was plain, simple steel that shimmered the lightest shade of blue in the sun.
He took it and swung it in an arch, testing its balance. It felt good in his hand, and even if it was no match for the agility that Zar'roc provided, it was far better than what he had seen on most soldiers.
"It was my father's," Nasuada explained softly. "I know that it is not much compared with the one you've lost, but since you need a sword, I thought you might like this one, at least until you get a new Rider's sword."
Eragon gasped. He could very well see her father in this sword. No needless embellishment, rather a well-balanced weapon, sharp and deadly. Just like Ajihad himself had been, uncomplicated and direct, but hard, if he needed to be.
"Nasuada, I cannot accept this, if it was you father's! What if I lose it, or it gets broken somehow? I would never forgive myself!"
"Nonsense, Eragon. You need a sword, so you might as well take this one. I have my own, and I've got other things from father, and in any case, he doesn't live forth in keepsakes and trinkets, but in our memory. I'm sure he would have wanted you to have it."
"Well, if you are sure…"
"I'm quite sure, Eragon."
He slit the sword in its scabbard, and fastened it on the belt of Beloth the Wise, which he had put on. It felt good to have a sword back in place, even if it wasn't Zar'roc. Somehow, he had felt a bit naked without one.
"So then it is time to say our farewells," Nasuada said. She seemed undecided for a moment, but then grabbed Eragon and pulled him into a hug.
"Fly safe, Eragon, and take care of yourself. We - cannot lose you."
Eragon returned the hug awkwardly, another reminder of last night. "We will, Nasuada."
She let go of Eragon, and turned to Arya and Saphira. "You too."
Arya nodded, and Saphira thumped her tail onto the ground.
Fear not, Nasuada, we will return.
Then Eragon quickly strapped the saddle and the saddle-bags onto Saphira, and the three of them set out to where the dwarves were gathered. Orik was already waiting. He still looked mournful, but better than the days before, and didn't say much, other than giving the signal to leave.
Saphira and Eragon had decided to fly together, since it had been some time since their last flight - well, two days, to be exact, but that was long enough in Saphira's opinion. Eragon mounted her, and they took off into the clear sky, finally away from the wastelands of the Burning Plains; flying slow meander, like the Jiet River glittering in the sunlight below them, as they followed the army of the dwarves and Arya.
– * –
It took them the better part of a week to reach the Beor Mountains, and just as long to arrive at Farthen Dûr. The second part of the journey was spent almost completely underground, which was natural for the dwarves, but Saphira didn't like it overly much. Even so, nothing extraordinary happened during that time; the dwarves were amazingly fast, considering their height, but of course Saphira could have been much faster, had she been flying.
As they were part of the procession that had been assembled for Hrothgar's last journey, though, they reached Farthen Dûr together. Weary from the long period in darkness, Eragon gratefully climbed early into the bed in the rooms that had been provided for him, without really noticing the beauties of Tronjheim, to be ready for the funeral the next day.
The proceedings were just as Eragon remembered them from Ajihad's funeral. He had put on his festive attire that had been laid out next to his bed. The body of King Hrothgar had been robed into luxurious garments and laid on a white slab of purest marble, and the procession continued into the depths of Tronjheim, accompanied by the deep drumbeats.
The cold air moved. He shivered in the darkness and glanced at Arya again, standing next to him. He valued her friendship more than anything, and she, too, seemed happier than before, at least at times. During their travelling to Farthen Dûr, they had shared many pleasant talks, and he enjoyed her company.
He was somewhat proud of the fact that he had managed to keep his feelings concealed. He was learning to control his emotions; it would be helpful in many situations, especially in battles. Arya seemed to appreciate his efforts, and it would make many things easier. His thoughts drifted to the next day. Tomorrow, they would set out for Helgrind, Arya, Saphira and he. He was looking forward to it, because while he had liked Hrothgar, and was a member of his clan, he felt out of place at this funeral.
It would good to be outside, flying, fighting together, just the three of them. He was looking forward to it. But inside, a part of him felt cold, as if he was slowly dying.
The next chapter is titled "Flying", but I really don't know when I'll come round typing it, as I have other projects as well. Still, in the meantime you can always review – there are many things in this chapter, foreshadowing, hidden and not-so-hidden, that are waiting to be discovered – so you should have enough to write about… please?
Most things revolve around Arya, of course; we are seeing her from more than one perspective – and sometimes it is those that are away the furthest, that are able to see most clearly…
On another note, I know that I have been neglecting my C2 Eragon/Arya group, but I just might find some time in the near future to look through the new fics and add a few of them. Look out for it.