Dedicated to my beta, who demanded I write het before his brains melted from overexposure to slash. You're welcome, baby. =D
Disclaimer: I do not own Eragon and make no profit from writing this.
The first thing Nasuada thought when she saw him was Oh my god.
Murtagh looked like pale tragedy with blood crusted on his skin and torn clothing, dark hair obscuring his eyes, and scars decorating his white skin in raised welts. He hung limply between two soldiers. At first she thought he was unconscious; then he raised his head. Resignation and bitterness showed in the shadows under his eyes and the lines in his face.
A soldier hurried towards her from across the ruined courtyard. He sidestepped blackened rubble and torn cobblestones, avoiding the dead soldiers and pushing past the live ones. "The inner castle has been seized, Lady," he said as he reached her. "The king is dead. I, I saw it, m'lady – his body, all white and – and Rider Eragon standing over him, cool as hellfire, just – the king is dead! We, we won."
Murtagh slumped in his captors' arms. Nasuada could see his lips move silently in protest or prayer. "We won," Nasuada said, dazed. Blood rushed to her head; her thoughts felt like they were crawling through molasses.
They had won. The king was dead. Murtagh was a traitor. They had won. Murtagh had lost, and they had won.
Wounded soldiers around her stirred. Others lifted their heads. Prisoners being rounded up by her soldiers looked at her in disbelief. "We won," she repeated more loudly. She raised her arms and stepped up onto a block of rubble. "We won! Send word to the others, to my generals, to the city," she shouted. "Tell the king's men of his defeat – tell them to lay down their arms! Tell them it's over, we've finally won."
In between her words, there lay an echo only she could hear. Murtagh lost.
He bowed his head and didn't say a word.
"Murtagh," she said, desperate, "say something."
He sat before her, his hands bound in front of him. Fury was defined in every inch of him, helpless frustration that she longed to sweep away but couldn't. She couldn't help him unless he let her, and he would not. But she could try – yes, she could try, she would try. Before everyone else, she couldn't say such traitorous things, but in private she didn't have to pretend to hate him. "Murtagh," she said again, voice shaking, "you've only got five days."
Murtagh scowled and shook his head.
"You're not defeated yet," she insisted. "Come on, talk to me! Tell me, Murtagh, tell me you were forced to betray us. Your trial is in five days – say you didn't want to fight us. I'll defend you. All you have to do is say the words."
Nasuada groaned and hurried out of the tent. She would convince him eventually; she had to.
That was before she knew the real reason he wasn't speaking to her.
"That isn't possible."
"What do you mean, it's not possible? Of course it's possible, or it wouldn't be a problem."
"You can't keep a spell going if you're dead, it goes against – "
"Are you suggesting King Galbatorix is still alive, then?"
"If he cast a spell and it's still going, he has to be alive. Since he obviously isn't, there can't be a spell. The traitor Murtagh is simply pretending."
"Pretending to be mute?"
"This is ridiculous. Even if King Galbatorix were capable of casting a spell able to continue after his death, why would he permanently silence his own warrior?"
Nasuada sighed and rubbed her temples. "Quiet, both of you," she told the two magicians.
Murtagh's room was far from comfortable, but not quite a true prison cell; he was lucky. Most of Nasuada's advisors had tried to get him thrown in the darkest, dampest hellhole they could find. Traitors were never well received.
"Three days," she told him.
He sighed and didn't open his eyes. He lay on a straw mattress near the wall, washed and wearing clean (if rough) clothes. There was a kind of resigned acceptance about him now.
"Tell me," she said. "Tell me, Murtagh. Our magicians can feel the silencing spell on you – did Galbatorix put it there just before he died? Just nod or shake your head, Murtagh. That's all I need – I'll believe you. Tell me."
Murtagh didn't look at her.
"Your trial is in three days," she insisted. "We need to break this spell!" She moved closer; he didn't flinch away. His hazel eyes, raging with disquiet, met her gaze. Ever so lightly, she touched his cheek – the slightest brush of fingertips, and he shivered. "Who did this, Murtagh?"
Murtagh smiled bitterly. He brought his hand up to his face, where her own hand touched; gently, he pulled it away and held it. He held her gaze for a long moment, then pushed the hand away and gestured for her to leave. The meaning was clear: I like you, I just don't want your help.
Nasuada stared at him, hard. "This is ridiculous," she snapped. Frustration boiled over; she slammed the door when she left.
Nasuada sighed and tried to block out the sound of the two magicians arguing again.
"The idea that King Galbatorix would silence his own warrior is ridiculous."
"Hardly! It could have been revenge, or punishment; perhaps it was symbolic of preventing Murtagh from speaking out against him."
"Speaking out again–? All he had to do was order Murtagh to stop! Silencing him – "
" – telling you, it's symbolic – "
"Symbolic? It's impractical! A spellcaster can't use magic if he can't speak. King Galbatorix wouldn't have cast a permanent spell that would have made his warrior useless."
"According to some theories, it's possible to use magic without speaking."
"They're just theories. More like rumors, actually. And besides, even if it were true, who's to say Murtagh can do it?"
She wasn't sure why she kept going back to Murtagh. Comfort, she supposed. He would listen so carefully; it was either genuine interest or a damn good acting. Either way…
Later that evening, Nasuada received an unpleasant surprise.
"You must understand our concern, Lady Nasuada," said the stooped councilman. "Really, we hate to ask you to sacrifice something so personal, but we must think of what is best for our people."
"I am to be queen," Nasuada said, voice level and calm. "Correct?"
The nine council members murmured in agreement. "Yes, yes, of course," he said. "You will just be… sharing your power. You will still be queen, you will just be…"
"Married," Nasuada said.
"As soon as possible, for your sake," he said. "You are young, my lady. You have had only a taste of politics, and have no idea how tiring running a kingdom can be. And others…" He hesitated, then smiled gently. "Forgive me, but you are young and beautiful. People – other people, of course – will see this as weakness. Dangerous people, who would try to kill you and take your throne before you have heirs. A husband will protect you and give you children. You won't have to worry about silly things like grain prices or drought."
"Of course," she said politely.
The old councilman patted her encouragingly. "Wonderful. You'll see, my lady, how stable your kingdom will be under an experienced husband. A very experienced one, if I do say so myself." He looked rather proud of himself.
Nasuada nodded. "Yes, I see. But who is to be my husband?"
The old councilman smiled again and took her hand.
Nasuada calmly excused herself, went to her rooms, and threw the nearest chair through a window.
"The problem with men," a friend had told her once, "is that when you get married, you're nothing. It doesn't matter if you're a peasant or a princess, whatever power you had is now his. They get everything, and you never get it back unless he dies without giving you a son. The only way out is death. For one of you, anyway."
After that had been said, Nasuada had begun to question how her friend had been widowed four times when all of her husbands had been so young and healthy. It was odd, really.
Some good did come out of the arrangement, though. Cheered by their success, the council had been easy to persuade that Murtagh, silenced and therefore unable to use magic, was not dangerous and would be allowed to move about the castle as long as he was escorted. She brought him up to her rooms that night and sent away the guards.
"They think I'm a child," she ranted, pacing the length of the room. "They think I'm not capable of managing the kingdom! I helped my father lead us for years, I led by myself for months, and they think I'm some kind of – some kind of blonde twit."
Murtagh raised his eyebrows.
"Yes, I know it's a stereotype, but it's true," she said breathlessly. "Oh, god, this is… this is horrible." She collapsed on the seat next to him. "They think I'll just put up with this!"
"I hate it," she said disgustedly. "I can't even talk to someone about it. Well, except for you." She glanced at him apologetically. "No offense. It's just, I'm sick of people using me, and you don't. I mean, you can't, but that's not the point. You don't even try to."
It was comforting, talking to him like this. Nasuada, almost married, tried not to think about it too much.
"Ease up, my lady," murmured one of her ladies-in-waiting (what was her name?). She continued brushing Nasuada's dark hair. "So tense on your wedding day!"
"Sorry," Nasuada said. She kept her voice level. "I'm a bit upset about all this."
"Why?" The lady-in-waiting (Julia, was that it) sounded genuinely surprised.
"Just pre-wedding nerves," Nasuada replied, voice tight. Pre-wedding nerves… ha! Rage chilled her to the bone. They thought she wasn't capable. They thought she'd put up with this.
They were wrong.
The brush caught in her hair. "Sorry – " Julia began quickly.
"I'm not a child," Nasuada snapped. She yanked the brush away and sent the girl out of the room in tears. Shaking, Nasuada began to comb her hair herself. She would protect herself and her kingdom, no matter what the cost. She would just have to prove that to the council.
"What can I do?" she asked Murtagh. She, in her wedding gown and jewelry, clearly didn't belong in his cell, but she had to talk to someone who would listen; someone who understood what it was like to obey an order they loathed. He had been enslaved by an evil king; she would be married in only an hour. It was the same thing, really.
Predictably, Murtagh didn't reply. He just looked at her, eyes strangely soft, when only days ago they had been bitter. Silence had gentled him. His gaze swept up and down her slender form, finally focusing on her face.
His lips moved. She didn't need to hear the words to know what they were – do what you have to.
She hesitated. "Thank you for listening," she murmured. Slipping closer, she brushed her soft lips against his cheek – tiny but slow. When she hurried away, leaving a puzzled guard in her wake, Murtagh was left staring after her thoughtfully.
Smiling was hard when there was a vial of poison hidden in your sash. Nasuada tried anyway; it came out forced. Her only true smile of the evening was one of relief at the end, when her new husband raised a thin hand clutching his wineglass and proclaimed a toast to his reign.
The first sip wasn't enough to kill him, but the second was. When he toppled to the floor, choking, Nasuada calmly rose out of her seat and explained that she was a queen, not a puppet.
They dared not accuse her of murder. She was queen, after all, and royalty executed their subjects all the time; the only difference was that she had done it herself, and the person in question had been king for about five minutes. No big deal.
It was dark outside when, at last, she hurried down the stone steps to the dungeon. It was even darker there, lit only by torchlight. Guards stared at her in surprise, and she shrank from the touch of those who tried to stop her. "Open it," she ordered sharply when she arrived. The guard fumbled with the key, fit it in clumsily, and yanked open the door. "Leave," she snapped, and stumbled into the cell.
Murtagh stiffened in shock and confusion when she tumbled into his lap and arms. He didn't move an inch. "I killed him," she whispered desperately. "Oh, god, I killed him."
Slowly, gently, she felt Murtagh's arms wrap around her. She clutched him, clung to him, sobbing into the rough fabric of his shirt. "I didn't even know him," she choked out. "Oh, god, I didn't… just didn't want to be c-controlled. Please, you know, you understand – having to obey someone you hate – you would have done anything to resist him – you would've killed him, too – "
Murtagh, bit by bit, relaxed. After a few moments he began to stroke her hair, speaking soundless and meaningless words. When he kissed her, gentle and wanting, she could feel his answer against her lips. Yeah, he said. I would've done it too.
The wonderful thing about Murtagh, Nasuada decided, was that he didn't need to talk about it later.
For once, Nasuada found herself actually interested in the magicians' argument.
"He was forced into betraying us to the king."
"You keep saying that, but repetition doesn't make it true. Prove it, you fool."
"King Galbatorix made him swear magically binding oaths of loyalty! "
"Prove it. Prove it. How do you know he was forced?"
"He said – "
"Oh, he hasn't been saying much lately."
"He's mute. He can't talk."
"Maybe because he knows that if he speaks, we'll use truth spells on him and interrogate him. Then he wouldn't be able to lie to us about 'oaths' and 'spells' – all his little deceptions would come crumbling down."
"He's not pretending to be mute!"
"Oh, that's right. The dead King Galbatorix silenced him."
"Who else could have?"
Nasuada frowned thoughtfully.
The whispers began when she gave Murtagh a full, public pardon – exactly what she'd been advised against earlier – and allowed him to move into a room next to hers with a door in between them. At that point, Nasuada figured the entire castle knew, but gossip didn't matter. She was their queen, their lovely queen, who had led them through strife and helped them overthrow King Galbatorix before she'd even been crowned. Her council, who would have once insisted on Murtagh's removal, was silent.
She was no puppet, no fool, no weakling; a few drops of poison had proved that. No one tried to stop her when, casually over dinner, she asked Murtagh to escort her to her quarters after the meal was done.
He didn't protest, just watched her with quiet eyes.
Later that night, that mask of tranquility shattered as they tumbled into bed. Even later she collapsed in his arms, sweaty and sated under the thin covers. Soothingly, his hand massaged hers, and his lips moved soundlessly against her neck. Silence no longer mattered. She could tell what his words were, even if he didn't speak them.
"Murtagh," she murmured against his skin. "Who did this to you?"
The same words she'd asked him two days after his capture, ones he'd stubbornly refused. He blinked at her, raising his eyebrows, then smiled wryly. "It wasn't Galbatorix, was it?" she insisted. "The magicians said. It made you much less useful to him, he wouldn't have done it. So who…?"
Hesitation and struggle showed in his eyes. Then, slowly, firmly, he tapped a finger to his own chest.
You would have done anything to resist him.
"Oh," Nasuada said, dazed. "Oh… okay."
Murtagh pulled her closer and didn't say a word.
Alright... just to clarify for anyone who didn't get it... Murtagh silenced himself. He was unwilling to continue serving Galbatorix, but was also unwilling to commit suicide. So he chose a third (very risky) option - he made himself useless. His still had a dragon, which meant he was still valuable to Galbatorix - valuable enough to keep him alive - but much less valuable than before.