Disclaimer: Eragon was written by C. Paolini. All named characters belong to him.

Warnings: Not happy. Apart from that, it's slash, meaning one man loves another man. If that disgusts you, go away.


General: This is the counterpart to Shattered and it's, logically, also based on Autumn Bliss with quite a few references to the plot… Reading only this really doesn't make any sense. And it ends right where I intend to start with the sequel for Autumn Bliss.

Hollow: This is the first time that I am using the present tense, which was confusing at times, yet Murtagh wanted it that way o0. I knew when I wrote Shattered that at some point I would have to let him speak, too. I've learned, however, that it's a lot easier for me to write about him, not doing it from his perspective.

Appearance: As always, looks (only those) as in the movie. Eragon is not an elf. I'm sorry that I'm differing from the canon there, but I simply can't stand it. I'm most definitely not a fan of a Larry-Stu Eragon (someone tell CP, please?).


What can I say in my defence? Nothing, really.

I lie on my stomach in a meadow of high, yellowish grass, close to the precipice, overlooking the valley. Or rather, I should be overlooking the valley. In truth I stare at a ladybug close to my face, crawling along the stalk of a cornflower in the direction of the sun, defying the strength of gravity. Everything is silent, except for the usual sounds of a hot and lazy late summer day: crickets are chirping, every now or then a bird calls out for a fellow and whenever there is a strong breeze, the grass around me rustles.

I look up to estimate the time and observe that it is midday, with a sky almost cloudless. Everything further away than half a mile flickers, the heat messing with my eyesight. I try to focus and after a while I can make out a herd of wild horses in the distance, slowly coming into my field of vision. There is a mighty chestnut stallion circling the group, proving to the onlooker to whom the mares belong.

There are places in Alagaësia that are almost overrun by people, but those places are far away. Here I am out in the wild, alone at least for the moment, among creatures undisturbed by what is going on in the world.

Many say I can hardly be distinguished from the predators that also roam the wilderness. They say this because they are afraid of these animals, and of me, yet I like the comparison. Those species are glorious, I think, they move with grace, they hunt with a plan, and they strike mercilessly. However, they never kill without reason. Perfect role models.

Especially the wolves that live in this area are often associated with me, as their fur is very dark. The people make the sign against evil if they see them – or if they see me, but fortunately that hardly ever happens. I stay by myself, it is definitely more safe that way and I have always preferred it, annoyed by the presence of other humans. Until Eragon came along, of course, but he does not count. He is not comparable to anyone.

I simply don't get it, though. Wolves. The most social and loyal animals I know, valuing their pack above all else, defending a wounded friend, raising the pups together. They do everything for each other. Just as I would for Eragon. Nobody wants to believe this, although it is true. I would readily give my life, my soul, my everything to see him safe. In fact that is what I do these days, fortunately it has not cost me too many sacrifices yet. Or has it? I guess it depends on the perspective.

I still have all of my four limbs, my head is still in its place, and I still wield my sword, defeating all I want to defeat. And whenever I get too lazy to fight, or some other circumstances force me to, I have my magic to help me out. They say it is as exertive as accomplishing the same thing with your hands, but I say they are wrong. Maybe it is just me, but using magic does not cost me much. Usually I only think of what I want to happen, and it happens, and I do not feel much different.

No, I am intact. More precisely: I look intact. Because nobody can see inside. Nobody is allowed to see inside. Eragon may, of course, but him I will never name in one breath with other people.

Yes, I did want to protect him. That is always, always, my motive and has been from the first day that I met him. And so, when my presence started to harm him, and more was sure to come, I realized that the dream we were living was not an option for the future. So I left.

Or I should say that I tried to leave. Because somehow I am always with him. Every waking hour I think of him, whenever I am asleep he is in my dreams. I cannot see anything blue without thinking of his eyes, I cannot see gold without remembering the touch of his hair in my hand, and I cannot, for one second, forget the sound of his voice. I can hear him laughing merrily in the wind, I can hear him, thoughtful, when all is quiet; and when I am with people, which happens rarely these days, I cannot refrain from thinking that they all sound horrible. Shrill, or harsh, or penetrating, depending on who is speaking. Nothing can compare to his voice. Never.

Something glitters in the distance and I stop wondering. Should they finally be here? My heart begins to race all of a sudden and I scold myself. Even if Eragon was with them – something that is likely but not necessarily the case – we would not meet. With a lot of luck I might see him from the distance, hiding myself, as he has always been able to feel it if I looked at him. No one I ever heard of has an intuition like he does.

No, I would stay unseen, as that is something I have become a master at.

What if he is not with them? I would need Thorn then, we would have to travel fast and far, as there are not many other possibilities where he could be. But I am sure he will come. I know him. At times better than he knows himself.

I squint and scan the horizon again and the excitement begins to fade. I can see nothing. Or at least nothing that does not belong there. Whatever caught my eye, it had seemingly not been of human origin. There is only the long valley with a small creek running through it, a few, crippled trees, and the wild horses, of course.

Peaceful. Beautiful. Nature in all its glory, actually.

I wonder if it is a good day to die. They say you lose consciousness quickly while falling. I am very close to the precipice, after all.

An angry scream rings in my head and it feels like it is going to burst. Apparently my dragon is close enough to sneak into my mind.

Murtagh! Stop it! Gods, he is angry.

Hello, Thorn. Didn't know you're back. I hear him land somewhere behind me, covered by the rocky mountains. Did you see anything?

No, answered the low voice that I am so used to. There was a small troop of empire soldiers further to the East, but they were at their ease. I can tell he has hunted, I feel his teeth sink into the raw meat of some game, I sense the satisfaction that the taste offers him.

The few people who have known me well in my life have always said that I am over-observant. I think they are right, I do indeed pay more attention to my surroundings than others. But it has kept me alive all these years, so I do not intend to change anything about it. Why should I in the first place? Due to this ability, or peculiarity, I still remember Eragon as if I had left him only yesterday. I see him kneel in his room, bare from the waist upwards, his eyes fixed on me, pleading. I hear him, panic in his voice, begging for me to stay. And I watch him break when he realizes I mean it.

I broke, too.

Leave it alone. Thorn is annoyed. I do not care. He has been this way for months. Maybe I am bothering you, Rider, but what am I supposed to do? Wait happily for my death as long as those crazy suicide thoughts stay in your head? I don't think so.

You know that I can't kill you. I am so tired of this argument. I do consider occasionally to end my life, yet I always quit the second I remember my dragon.

But yourself, that's not much better. Who is supposed to look out after little Eragon then? The Varden? I hear him snort in my mind and grimace in response. I do not doubt the Varden's intentions to keep him safe, I only doubt their capability. And I know I am right. So in reality it is not only Thorn's and my life that is at stake, it is always also his.

Can't let that happen. I know that ending it is only alluring in my dreams, not in reality. My life is worth less these days than it has ever been, because when I was younger, I always knew what I was living for. I had goals that I wanted to reach and so I braced myself, closed my mind and sometimes my eyes and did what I had to do. I still have a goal now, true, it is not even selfish, and there is some sort of satisfaction whenever I am able to protect Eragon.

But on the inside I am hollow. I am only functioning, not feeling.

I thought it was fitting to leave my heart with the only person that has shown me that I have a soul, I am worth something. Yet the single most effective weapon to break all my shields, Eragon, is continuously absent. This makes some part of me - sometimes smaller, sometimes bigger - wish that the enemies I fight will manage to overpower me one day. Take the responsibility away from me. I always expect a sword to pierce my torso, a dagger to cut my throat. And if it happens, I hope they will leave me enough time to enjoy the moment. Free at last.

I am prepared, and I am waiting.

The valley is still peaceful and quiet, and I am beginning to believe that I have been wrong. Thorn? Once you're done eating, could you take me some distance to the west? I know they must be there somewhere.

Gladly. He likes me on his back. Likes to be in control. And if I ever jumped off him he would just catch me. He is an extremely able and skilled flyer. I know that, he knows that.

Two hours later I am crouched in a small crevice and cannot help but think that sometimes life sucks. I am just talking about trivial details here, as one does start wondering how unfair it can get at one point. I have decided to go on, to devote my every waking hour to Eragon's safety, then why this? I can feel a rock poking in my back and my right leg is already numb from the position I am in. More than uncomfortable. And from somewhere Thorn's laughter is drifting into my head. Great.

But they are close now, I can sense them.

I wonder again whether he will be with them. I think so, as travelling this region is dangerous business and he is the best they have. Often only seeing him drives enemies away, and if they stay and fight, he kills them. All of them. Always. No prisoners anymore these days, and that is one of the things that worry me. How much of my Eragon is still in the shell that looks like him? I do not know.

I am deeply scared by those battles he fights. He is cunning and capable, true. He is of my kin, after all. Yet he has changed so much. I have seen him enter combat, not caring, leaving shield and friend behind, simply mowing down whoever is in his way. He does not take any precautions. He has been hurt so many times; whenever I see him I see new scars, too. He carries them like a proof of his death wish. Or at least that is what I think he is doing. It has only been mere luck – and his soul mate, the blue dragon – that have prevented any serious harm. He would embrace death just as I would, I am sure of it.

That is why I am always ahead. Collecting scars myself. Trying to prevent battle from reaching him. There would be no point existing if he was not around anymore – at least somewhere.

For the thousandth time I ask myself if leaving him has been the right choice after all. By doing so, I have managed to protect him from harassment and mistrust and he has kept the full support of the Varden. I do not run from responsibility. I had, truly and full-heartedly, thought that it had been the best choice. Which is all I can say to defend myself, honestly. Because now I think that perhaps we should have taken a different course.

It matters not what will kill us in the end; it only matters how we have spent the time beforehand.

All of a sudden I can hear voices and pay attention, at the same time reaching out with my mind. The Varden. Approaching from the north. I cannot tell yet how many there are in total, as the numbers are increasing steadily.

I wonder briefly how well I am concealed. Most have reached the conclusion that I am not with the empire anymore – unbelievable how long it has taken them, idiots – yet the way they whisper my name among each other sends shivers down everyone's spines. Including mine. True, it does no good that whenever some scout gets a glimpse of me I am covered from head to toe in blood. But I cannot help from getting dirty fighting for them, clearing the path they are about to walk on. Therefore they think I am some kind of monster and I always have to take to my heels in such situations.

A fierce roar has the hairs on my neck stand on end. Not Thorn. He is about a mile away and will not show himself, and I know his sounds too well.

No, this was Saphira heralding her coming. My pulse speeds up. She never leaves Eragon's side.

The first soldiers are coming into sight and I start scanning their lines. I do not see him yet.

Suddenly there is a shadow darkening the sun for a second and I look up. She has grown since last I laid eyes on her and moves with a grace unknown to my red beast, who is all about power and strength. Her blue scales glitter and shimmer in the afternoon sun as she begins to sink lower and lower, looking out for a place to land. Saphira. I still consider her my ally, and if she knew… No, I may not contact her. She will tell her Rider, no matter what. Speaking of whom… I watch her come closer. There is no one on her back. So he is on foot then.

On horse, the logical part of my mind corrects me only seconds later. I have spotted him. My breathing speeds up, heart beating insanely and I actually feel sick. Eragon.

He has just appeared on top of the ridge next to my little hiding place, in company of a young woman I do not know. I dug my fingers into the rock on both sides of me. They get a little bloody. As if I cared.

My life. My love.

My chest tightens and I have to swallow hard. He is so beautiful. This forces a smile to my unwilling lips as I remember how he corrected me once, saying men were not beautiful. He was so wrong; he is the living proof of that. True, he has changed. He looks haunted these days and I notice an angry scar along his chin. It does not matter to me. Beautiful. Or should I say handsome?

I strain my ears yet cannot hear him, there is too much noise everywhere. I can tell from his mimics and gestures that he is talking harshly to the woman and soon she leaves his side.

Today is the third time that I have seen him since I left. Not once has he laughed. Eragon, my source of happiness, the light in my darkness, the one whose optimism has carried the hopes – and successes – of a whole nation, has stopped laughing.

He rides past me, only about twenty yards away. With all my power I tear my gaze away, and none too late. Out of the corner of my eyes I see his head turn my way. I press even deeper into the crevice; the sharp rock in my back will most definitely cause me a major bruise. He may not see me.

My fear is unfounded. He furrows his brows, shakes his head and pinches the bridge of his nose. Then he urges his horse forward.

The Varden come to a stop a little distance away, next to the blue dragon that is already resting on the bare ground. There are about eighty of them, men and women, travelling light. It seems that they have gone far, they look exhausted and even my love is yawning. With quick hands they build a few fires and take off their horses' saddles and bridles.

I watch Eragon get some food and settle down a few feet away from a fire, close to Saphira, leaning against a boulder. He looks tired.

Suddenly his head shoots up. "Here!" he calls, loud enough for me to hear. I have to force myself not to jump up, not to run to him, not to hug him tightly to my chest. I have not heard his voice for months. My love! I crane my neck to see whose attention he is trying to get and my blood freezes. I see a young man walking over to him, smiling brightly. That man has black hair and is dressed in dark colours. This cannot be.

Eragon greets him with a soft smile and my heart not only misses a beat, it stops beating altogether. There is someone he greets like this?

The dark-haired sits next to him and they start chatting animatedly, my love having lost his impassive attitude. He breaks his chunk of barley bread into two and shares it with the stranger, who in return hands him a wineskin. The atmosphere is warm and relaxed, both clearly enjoying each other's company.

Something I did not know still existed bursts inside of me.

I scramble backwards, not caring too much if I can be heard, and once I am out of sight I start to run. Part of me hopes they have put sentries in my way, sentries that attack first and ask questions later. I try to suppress my animalistic instinct of survival and keep my hands away from my sword hilt while running. Sentries who are fast enough to take advantage of this, to strike me before I attack them.

There are none.

Soon my reawakened desire to die fades out, and once I am left running with nothing else to occupy my mind, I start contemplating.

In those long, lonely nights when I cannot sleep – and I do not sleep much, never have - I do indeed imagine Eragon to be with someone. Just physically, though. In my imagination I have seen him with a guy, I have seen them have sex, have actually heard my love during the act. Men have urges, I am the first to admit.

In my worst fantasies, they are not doing it in a dark alleyway, quickly in between a meeting or before supper, always quietly and rushed so no one would notice; no, in my worst fantasies they are spending a night together. Taking their time. Kissing. Touching. Stroking. In the room that used to be ours. Eragon would lay on the left side of the bed, as always, turned towards a faceless person at his side.

My strides slow down and I can hear my own laboured breath. My lungs are burning. I am not far from the place where Thorn and I planned to meet in the morning, yet he is not here right now. Thorn? I climb slowly up a steep flank of a mountain, realizing in the last second that I would provide a perfect silhouette against the setting sun. Not for a human eye to see, no, but for a dragon's.

So the worst I have come up with so far is that maybe sometimes Eragon acts on his urges, and perhaps even getting very intimate with someone. But never, not once, has the thought crossed my mind that he might actually find another person.

Yes, I know what I have written in my letter. I pretended I was prepared that he would give his heart away another time in his life. But I realize now that it had been a lie. I am not prepared. I have not even thought about it. He is mine. I am his. That is all there is to say. Or to feel. At least that is what I have always taken for granted.

I come to a full stop and wonder what to do next. I have not felt this way for years. Helpless. Undecided. If so, he's happy, the rational part of my mind tells me, that is what you always wanted, isn't it? However true, I do not want to hear it. He still needs your protection, it rambles on, especially these days where he enters battle as if there's no tomorrow. I press my hands against my ears, wanting to kill all thoughts. There are things that I cannot deal with.

Thorn? I cry out and pray that he is near. Yet there are no traces of him, neither in my surroundings, nor in my head.

Who is the man that shared the meal with my love? I do not want to think about it, but it is impossible not to. Varden, so much I know, but what else? I could feel something shift inside of Eragon when the dark-haired approached him, it was as if part of the light was rekindled. By someone who vaguely resembles me.

Thorn! Please, my friend, be near. And sure enough, something brushes my consciousness. I can tell he is coming in from the south and start walking towards him. I hope he is being careful as well, as for Saphira it is a lot easier spotting my dragon than spotting me.

There is small gap opening up in front of me, and before I even notice that I am not paying attention, I am slithering down. I do not have time, though, to be mad at myself for my untypical carelessness, because at the bottom of the chasm brambles are defying the rough countryside. I end up lying on my side, one side of my face and my hands scratched bloody by the thorns. And as I am not wearing any armour at the moment, my clothes are pierced in many places, too.

Pain, sweet pain. I have missed you.

I roll on my back, ignoring the new stings, and begin to laugh. Not out of humour, as I see nothing funny about the situation. I just laugh at the mess that I have become, and even in my ears it sounds shrill and insane.

Get out, fool. With a loud thump Thorn lands on the edge of the chasm, his golden eyes glaring down at me.

I laugh some more. I would if I could, but I can't. Help me, please. I look up at my friend and gradually turn serious, marvelling at his appearance. The red scales glow in the last rays of the sun, his huge body sturdy as a rock. He looks like a creature from legend. I raise my hand and watch the blood trickle down its length. In this light it is as red as my dragon. The red bond. Stronger than anything, except the other bond that rules my life. The blood bond.

I grunt and try to get up, suddenly mad at myself for my weakness. Then Thorn uses some of his unconscious magic and renders me immobile. His giant claws pick me up gently and with a few powerful beats of his wings I am up in the air. However, the second I am above solid ground he drops me unceremoniously and painfully. I land on my back and every ounce of air leaves my lungs. For a short second I feel paralyzed.

I'm sorry for picking you up so tenderly. Didn't mean to get your hopes up for a kind treatment. He settles next to me in such a way that I face his backside.

Thank you, my dear, I grumble, shooting angry glances at my personal nightmare. Thorn ignores me, not seeing anything, of course, but I know he can feel it. Instead he heaps up a pile of dry coppice and breathes on it, lightning a little fire. I roll slowly on my stomach and begin crawling towards it. Was that necessary?

Sure. You're slowly but inevitably losing your mind. Thorn lies down and watches me healing the wounds on my hands and face.

You're exaggerating. I pull at my shirt and check my chest, noticing it to be dotted in red spots where the thorns have reached my skin. I'm just…not too well, but you know that and you know why. Could you look at my back, please? I turn around, close my eyes and let my mind go blank, and in an instant Thorn and I are connected, turn into one. I open my eyes again, yet this time I see through those of my friend. Ouch. I look horrible. Thank you. I return to my own body and try to reach my back with my hands to heal it. I am not the flexible type of person. Eragon, on the other hand, is…

You're welcome, and please spare me another tirade of details of your former sex life. He closes his eyes and lets out a puff of smoke in a rather dramatic manner.

I ignore that comment. The thought had stolen itself into my mind unintentionally anyways. He's here, Thorn.

I know, I sensed Saphira earlier.

I hear the regret in his voice, and bury my own misery temporarily. If I wanted to, I still had some of my kind to talk to and to interact with. Thorn has nobody. The two dragons had become very… I am not sure. Yet they liked and valued each other a lot. I know I tend to be egocentric in the whole affair, often forgetting my best friend. He suffers, too.

I am sorry, Thorn. I wished for you that life was different and that the consequences I have to face would not affect you.

Thorn opens his eyes and looks at me, unconditional love surfacing. Rider. All hard on the outside, yet such a sweet hatchling inside. For me it was a friendship ending, for you it was your life.

Not able to produce a fitting response, I do something only Thorn and Eragon have ever been a witness of, with the difference that my dragon does not need words along with it: I open my heart. He gets to experience all of my thoughts and feelings, how much I care for him as well as what I have seen and concluded today.

Although, as for the feelings, my love has never needed words, either.

Oh. Thorn is attentive now, watching me return to my current usual self. He is with somebody? That is… not good.

No. I shake my head and stare down at my hands. I don't know for sure, but there was a change so noticeable in him. Thorn, the freak looks like me! All of a sudden I am choked, the realization of what I have seen only now fully dawning on me. There is someone Eragon looks forward to seeing. Probably someone he kisses tenderly. Someone who holds him at night, a shoulder to cry on if he is still crying. Someone he makes love to, not sex, no, love. Someone that looks like me…

I jump up, disregarding my aching body. There is a lump in my throat that will not go away and my vision blurs. I stumble over to my dragon and sit down next to him, leaning my head against his scales.

I truly don't want to sound like I have no heart, Thorn's voice is very soft, but given the circumstances he might have done the right thing, no?

"Thorn, please!" Is that even me who is talking?

Don't cry, young one. Thorn nudges me lightly. It doesn't suit you.

I grimace, realizing that there are tears streaming down my face.

You know as well as I do, he continues, that if he saw any possibility at all of you coming back, he would never even think about it. But you made sure that this possibility is not a realistic one in his life. You told him to go on, didn't you? I'm sure he didn't want to. All we know proves that. But I'm also sure that Arya, Nasuada and their little friends have talked him – reasonably - into continuing, fighting, saving this country. So he has done what was needed to keep himself going.

My friend is right, yet it feels like I am in the chasm again, a hundred thorns digging into my flesh. It hurts. It hurts so much. I want him happy, but… I'd rather be back in the king's cell. Physical pain I have learned to deal with, learned to embrace, this is… well, as I am not afraid to die, there is not really a comparison to what this feels like.

Perhaps, I notice my dragon hesitating and cautious, perhaps you should follow his example.

I look up at him, not believing what he has just said. I can never, Thorn, I cannot even imagine-

Wait. He interrupts me unaffectedly. I do remember other times, and I also remember what you have told me about your lifestyle before I hatched. I am not talking about love here, and I am not completely sure if that is what the blond has found. I am only thinking of distraction, to keep you on track and-

No! I study his expression and find confirmed what I had already guessed. You don't even mean it. The mere thought of what he is proposing is foreign to me. True, there was a time when I took everyone I met, man or woman, into my bed and had my fun. Rescuing Eragon, though, has changed all that. Those days, when the greatest miracle took place in front of my eyes and he fell in love with me just as I fell in love with him, have altered my life in more than one way. I have been celibate since last I have seen him, and thus is the way I will die if I never see him again. Thorn knows that.

I don't mean you any harm, Murtagh. I just think that it might take some tension away, and give your mind some rest. But, Thorn prevented me from correcting him, I understand it does not work that way for you.

It doesn't. I appreciate your concern, but I am his. Always will be. My heart and my soul, never mine again, I add silently, yet without regret. He is worth it.

Then, young one, I must inform you that you have made the wrong choice in the first place. Thorn has said this before, more than once. Tonight it has another quality to it. There is no doubt left.

I stare into his eyes and feel my heart beginning to race – again. The tears have long since dried, my body not used to producing them in quantities. His statement has stirred something buried within me, something I always try to suppress. The undying wish of going back. Claiming what is mine. Becoming whole again.

Obviously encouraged by me not protesting loudly as I have done before, my dragon pushes on. Consider it for once, Rider. You are miserable, he is miserable. Although that is truly an understatement, but I don't want to spend hours on describing the wretched state you're in. None of you is doing what you should, which, I think, is saving this country from the madman. And as long as you're not putting effort into it, the rest of this world stays miserable, too.

I find myself paying rapt attention. I do not want to, yet a spark of hope has come to life inside of me. What if?

Whatever consequences you fear, even if it meant all of the Varden turning away from their Rider – it can't get any worse than it is these days.

Thorn is reasoning away now, but I am unable to stop him. Every word is balm on my wounded soul, nourishing the dream I have not dared to dream until now.

You two… there's the blood bond. And there's Saphira and I. I am convinced we can achieve more than what is accomplished today. By the way, those cute little Elves might be on our side, too. You know how they're far more able to decide rationally than the Varden. And they are open-minded in terms of relationships, your love-

My love, Thorn, I have to correct him, this being the tender spot in the scheme developing, the spot that makes me nauseous, my love is… Well, my love has not changed, as you know. But I'm not sure about his feelings anymore.

You've got a point, Thorn reluctantly admits. How will we ever know, though, if we stay hidden and secret?

We won't… I get up again and stroll out of the pool of light of the fire. The night and the darkness are my allies, and as I merge into them I weigh up possible futures.

I cannot keep up this way of living forever, that much I know. One day my attentiveness will slip and he will get hurt in earnest. Moreover, the country is not in a good state; Thorn is right saying it can get no worse. And the brother I got to know so well during our time of seclusion would not shy away from people opposing him. He is braver and stronger than they all give him credit for. I do not think he would ever shy away from setting a wrong right.

I sink to my knees in the dark and breathe in the clear, soft air of a summer night high up in the mountains.

I am the greatest liar I have ever heard of. Those reasons are good, but they are not mine. I want to go back solely because of my love. Because of me. Because of us. I am selfish. I do not care.

Murtagh… My dragon is only a whisper in my head. We will not rush things. We will think this through. I can actually hear him smirk saying the next sentence. Which means that you should go to sleep now. You need to rest.

Sleep? Where? In this comfortable bed of rock and stone?

Rider… are you making a joke? Evident disbelief.

Three weeks. Three weeks since that significant day on the high plateau.

We have been busy, Thorn and I, roaming the country day and night. Now I have it all mapped out. If we have to leave the Varden – and I will bid them farewell if anyone so much as whispers a protest against my brother – I know where we will go. What action we will take. I have a plan, and I know my plans are good. Only once have I been wrong and today I am here to correct my mistake.

The town is buzzing with excitement. I wonder briefly whether I have missed the date of a holiday or some important news, but think no more of it. I imagine that all the people are celebrating my upcoming reunion, and it is a wonderful fantasy. My heart picks up the rhythm around me, and I let myself be carried away by the masses. Disguised and hooded I pass though narrow alleys and open market places unnoticed, heading for the palace in the centre of Aberon.

About half a year ago I left Eragon. I saw him break down after that. Saw a sadness overtake him that I never knew existed in my brother. And I noticed the change. Once he knew I was gone for good it had come rapidly.

It was all my fault. The more I thought about this in the past weeks, the less I understood. There was a time when I picked him from the claws of Death, when every fibre of his life depended on me. How it was humanly possible to accept the odds that he returned to that state I do not know. Or maybe that is the answer: it had not been humanly possible. Nobody uses the term 'human' to describe me. But apparently a demon is able to send Eragon straight to hell. I swear to myself that from this day on, I will do everything it takes to kill that cursed part of me.

The people are pressing on and on, and taking a closer look around I see they are mostly wearing what must be their best garments. I force my way out of the stream and to the side, catching my breath in the shadow of a small stall which sells... pastries.

Finally I get my senses back together and logic kicks in. In wartimes like these, pastries are in fact only sold on high feasts. I observe more peculiarities. All the women and girls have ribbons in their hair, the street looks clean and there are garlands of some sort on the fronts of the houses. And just what is everyone else's business in the palace today?

Warily I start moving again, but I start smiling once more shortly after. I could at least be a bit generous. This is a truly great day. I should grant the others happiness as well.

I am back, my love, I am coming.

The pace has slowed down noticeably, and I am almost there, one of the hidden passage leading to one of the back entrances of the palace already in sight. I feel like pushing everyone to the side and running there, yet curiosity wins. I turn towards an old man on my left and introduce myself as a stranger, asking about the reason for the festivities.

"You havena heard, lad?" He stares at me in bewilderment. "It's a wedding day if I have ever seen one. Town's been celebrating for days."

"Has it?" Unusual for a wedding, normally that happens only if… "I did not know the lady Nasuada was so keen on binding herself." Who could she be with? I am sure this marriage is taking place out of rational motives, to form a new alliance perhaps.

The man laughs heartily, showing his nearly toothless mouth. "But she is not, no, not our dear lady."

Somehow I overhear him, mind still spinning with guesses. "I didn't know there are any men out there at the moment. I mean those that would form good allies. Or is there love involved?" The thought amuses me, it is so unrealistic. I try to see ahead of the crowd, if anyone I know is showing in front of it, but even standing on tiptoe does not help. The leaders are not present yet.

"Aye, it is rumoured there's love involved. But you're wrong. We all were wrong," he snorts and then giggles. "Even I. Well, old age doesn't protect you from making mistakes, let me tell you that. Seems he likes women, after all."

I freeze and then turn rigidly towards the man again. "Excuse me?" My voice is only a whisper, yet an urgent one.

"Don't say you didna know. Or have you come to court him? I'm sorry, lad. Half a year ago I would have bet on you having a chance, with a pretty face like that and all. Now I woulna anymore."

I shake my head, slowly, the shock almost preventing any movement. "You… you are not saying this is Eragon's wedding, are you?" It seems like all the noise around me, all the chattering and singing, reaches me through a haze, the sounds hushed and unclear. At the same time it looks as if the sun has darkened, my surroundings turning gloomy as my world falls apart. The man's voice, though, I hear distinctly, cutting like fiery swords into me.

"Aye. Our Rider is getting married today. And pretty she is, I've heard, with hair like gold and a voice sweet as honey and…"

Whatever he is saying next is drowned by the blood rushing to my ears and by my own frantic gasps for air. The people and houses start spinning around me, faster and faster. In the back of my head I hear Galbatorix' evil laughter. My brother… my Eragon… my love. This is your goodbye, then.

After that I remember nothing. There is only the hollow shell that once was me.