Yes, another update after months of inactivity. Fans of Empathy, thank shadowed breath for my unexpected update. She helped give me the necessary prod to complete the half-finished draft of this chapter that's been sitting on my computer for who knows how long. Yes, I know the majority of it is filler, but it provides character development and enough time for Saphira to mature before moving on to the real goods.
Disclaimer: The Inheritance Cycle is not mine, which means all the contents of this story is the free writing of an author that wishes she had written Eragon before Chris Paolini did. -sighs- Ah, well. But all OCs and other original material, including Cassius Phillipsson and Asmara Lynnsdaughter belong to me.
Nasuada had had it with Saphira. The blasted dragon had nearly tripled in size from when she had entered the world, and she had barely hatched three weeks ago! Her frame had begun to build up from its original flimsy state, beginning to pack on muscle after the difficult travel until her frame resembled her legendary kin from the old stories more and less like some akward winged lizard. Her stubby spikes and horns had begin to grow to become more proportionate to Saphira's form, and her teeth and claws had hardened and sharpened into lethal weapons against prey. Even now her head reached up Nasuada's waist, and the young woman had no doubt her she-dragon would reach a riding size far sooner than she had earlier anticipated.
Unfortunately, Saphira had grown far too large to be a passenger upon Glen. While the gelding had lost his initial wariness of the she-dragon, he would never let her perch upon her back in a thousand years. Traversing the mountain terrain was difficult enough for him with only Nasuada astride him, having sharp claws digging into his poor rump would only aggravate matters further. Not to mention how the toll on Nasuada had been immense. Having Saphira wrapped about her body like a mutant serpent was downright painful now. Her tremendous weight left the young woman with pains in her back, and marks on her delicate flesh she feared permanent.
Sighing, Nasuada once again inspected herself in the small spring she and her two animal companions camped by. While its surface provided in image poor in quality compared to the polished mirrors she had kept back in her personal quarters at Tronjheim, the reflection it cast back at her provided her more than enough information on her current appearance.
Weeks of hard travel and short rations had changed her face. Fat had been stripped of her cheeks, giving her and angular and hard appearance that shockingly reminded her of the panthers that lived in southern Surda. Her black hair, no longer sleek and shiny because of daily pampering, was curled and ragged like some kind of fur. Too agitated to allow it to hang freely about her, Nasuada simply kept her unmanageable mess securely done up in a tight bun. While in the mountainous cavern of Farthern Dur and away from true sunlight, Nasuada's dark skin had paled slightly. Now after hours underneath the basking sun, it had turned into an almost ebony color. Only those that knew her best could recognize her as the pampered and high-class noble lady she had been less than a month ago, free of the hardship of travel and the enormous burden upon her shoulders.
Grunting in frustration, Nasuada tugged shamefully at her clothes. They were more ragged than she, all of the garments she had managed to smuggle during her flight from Tronjheim dirtied from her wandering and torn and ripped in some areas. Due to the haste of her escape, Nasuada had neglected to pack the thread and needle necessary to darn and repair such damage. Her clothing, which even the plainest had been of obvious value, now looked as if they belonged more on a beggar than she.
As if I'm any better than one now, she thought dryly to herself. Saphira and I are fugitives from everyone in Alagaesia. Should we attempt to seek sanctuary from any of them, we are to be captured and turned into weapons, mere pawns to those who consider themselves above us. I can not go anywhere without the risk of being recognized and possibly apprehended.
Which made the plains their only true choice for freedom over their own destinies, the only destination that ensured their long-term survival. Between the Empire, Surda, Du Weldenvarden and the Hadarac Desert, those scarcely inhabited lands truly belonged to no one. The small villages and settlements scattered about it probably would never had heard the rumors of a new Rider, never would suspect her to be wanted by King Galbatorix himself.
Not to mention how Nasuada could probably steal fresh clothes from blissfully oblivious villagers there. The few dwarf settlements she had sneaked by were on the look-out for mysterious thefts or sightings of dragons or dark-skinned women and would alert any suspicious activity to the Varden. Besides, dwarf's clothing was too small for her tall and slender human body.
Turning away from her reflection the tiny mountain pool, Nasuada watched the antics of Saphira.
Since her hatching, the sapphire-scaled she-dragon had steadily been gaining control of her wings. As a young hatchling, Saphira's flight appendages had been too large for use, and it took all she had just to weakly flutter them. Over the weeks her body had caught up, and she began flapping and stretching them to strengthen and master control over her wings.
Saphira was now perched up high in the branches of a pine tree, gazing up at the sky with a mixture of apprehension and excitement rolling off her in anxious waves. For the past few days her itch to conquer flight had been unbearable, and she acted upon that instinct whenever possible. Climbing up trees and leaping off them at every opportunity to do so, the blue she-dragon was determined to remain airborne, no matter the scoldings she received from Nasuada for suck reckless behaviour and disregard for personal safety.
So far, Saphira's heroic efforts had yielded only a few brief glides along with some chaotic hovering and a lot of denting and scratches on her formally pristine hide from where she had suffered painful collisions with the ground. Her companions had long since wised up to her pattern of failure. Sensing a dragon would crash onto his back if he did not pay careful attention, Glen serenely grazed as far from the tree as his rope would allow him to. Even Nasuada supervised from a distance, but nevertheless gave her dragon all the help and encouragement a human whose feet had never left the ground could offer.
Unfurling her wings, Saphira ventured to the far edge of the branches, the precipice between safety and that unknown void tantalizingly just out of reach. Fluttering her extra limbs nervously, she bent down into that familiar crouching position, preparing to hurl herself into the air once again.
Noticing something for the first time, Nasuada focused intently on her dragon's wings. The left one beat slightly faster than the right, throwing off whatever rhythm Saphira may have had. Though the motion was barely visible, the young woman didn't doubt such a small thing could disturb the progress of a young and inexperienced flier not yet accustomed with her wings.
Speed up your right wing, Saphira, she thought at the sapphire dragon, taking great care to keep her mental voice gentle and patient. Nasuada's mission was to properly instruct the little creature, not further hinder her by adding additional pressure. The left one is beating faster, and is thus screwing you up. Make them beat in tandem and I assure you'll be soaring with the eagles in no time. Unless Nasuada was wrong and this valiant venture resulted in another painful fall, but the young woman did her best to keep this negative tidbit of information all to herself.
Correcting her error, Saphira once again threw herself into the air. Immediately she began to plummet down to earth, flailing uselessly against the invincible force of gravity. Nasuada watched with bated breath, furiously praying to Gokukara and every other god she knew of to allow her dragon to succeed.
Perhaps a divine being did hear her desperate pleading, for Saphira's rapid wings caught a fresh gust of breeze, tossing her back up into the sky. Surprised, the she-dragon faltered for a moment, then adjusted to the sensation of flight. Dozens off feet off the ground, she escalated ever higher and whirled wildly about, until she was a haphazard little dot in the great blue heavens.
Nasuada laughed, out of disbelief and joy, beaming as the unexpected miracle. Saphira may have resembled a drunken duck gamboling chaotically up in the air far more than a majestic soaring eagle, but she was flying. The same irritating little bundle of scales that had hatched for Nasuada was airborne, unfettered by the confining shackles of gravity most animals were forced to adhere to.
Enjoying herself, Saphira whirled and twisted about on fresh wings, exploring this unfamiliar territory that would one day be her domain. Connecting her mind to her Rider's, she shared her emotions of surprise and indescribable ecstasy, the liberating sensation that flight gave her. Together human and dragon reveled in this milestone, savoring in the unforgettable experience.
Giddy from the vicarious emotions she was receiving from Saphira, Nasuada laughed and spread out her arms as if they too would catch the wind and send her soaring up to be with her dragon. Closing her eyes the young woman did not fight against the feeling of being pulled out of her body. Saphira wanted her to see what she truly viewed instead of just getting her emotions. It was like the time Saphira had warned Nasuada about the Urzhard, only this time the experience was one of exhilaration instead of a distress call.
Flying high and free on her own wings like mighty-elder-dragons past, she gazed down upon the little ant-figures below. Mother-Rider Nasuada and bothersome-horse-Glen were tiny smudges beneath her, no larger than the insects she toyed with. She felt no fear or nervousness for her flight for she was where she belonged, her rightful-sky-domain. Here she was the powerful-queen.
Not wanting to stop, she flew ever higher, until her weak-flutter-wings burned in exhaustion. For a moment she hovered high above all else, wanting to convey the image she saw to her Mother-Rider.
Beyond the barren brown-and-red mess of towering-mountains was a small-greenish-smudge on the horizon. Information from her endless-memories told her these were the unending-antelope-grasslands. There few humans lived, for it was an empty-wild-realm pefect for hiding. Perfect for herself and Nasuada, for they were running away from the countless bad-people that wanted to raise them like the slaughter-pigs, as Mother-Rider said.
Nasuada grinned, heart almost singing with joy. Saphira was flying free up in the heavens where she belonged. Her back and flesh would no longer be plagued by the burden of a heavy and sharp growing dragon. Now their challenging journey in the wilderness of the Beor Mountains was almost over. The plains were within sight, perhaps only a few days' travel away. There would be no more need for riding only at night, or having to hide away during the day like nocturnal animals or criminals.
We're going to be free, Saphira! she crowed enthusiastically to her she-dragon. Soon the entire world will be ours for exploring without having to worry about being hunted down by those elves or by fierce and territorial wild animals!
And really, thanks to the strength of their bond and the endless volley of emotions they shared, Nasuada wasn't that surprised when she received a response to her rhetorical statement. Part of her actually wandered what had taken so long for her soul-partner to answer.
No Mother-Rider, Saphira corrected her, voice bubbly from the unbridled joy of flight. We already free.
Asmara Lynnsdaughter was no stranger to hunting down and capturing and/or killing wanted fugitives. Vollargrind was the gateway between the Empire and the wild territories of the east, home to only dwarfs and a motley crew of rebel rousers. Oh, and there were the occasional tribes of Urgals and human nomads wandering about the Hadarac Desert, but she didn't tend to count those groups too small and primitive to be considered threats to her or her people.
Magic ran in the family, an uncanny talent for all things magical that was partly responsible for the excelling of her own abilities. Along with that knack, unwavering and fierce loyalty and the insatiable thirst for challenges flowed strong in her line. Her ancestors had been among the few trusted with Galbatorix's personal business, charged by the King himself to hunt down and dispose of the rest of the Riders and dragons cowering away from the world. Her great-grandfathers and grandfathers had pursued those few survivors, had slayed the world's last dragons and impaled their swords through the treacherous breasts of Riders that had tried to shelter amongst normal humans.
Though she had been born to her father a daughter instead of a son, her old man had not allowed petty matters such as gender to interfere with him training his sole heir to his numerous secrets. He had taught Asmara the family trade, for she had inherited all of the qualities that ran strong in their line. But Asmara had a ruthless streak all of her own, a useful quality that had helped her ascend the career latter far faster than her father had.
Of course, while being stationed at Vollargrind provided her with all the action necessary to satisfy her blood-thirst, she was literally posted in the middle of nowhere. When the war between the Varden and the Empire really took off, it would move westward swiftly. Those damned rebels would waste no time on the eastern outposts bordering Galbatorix's kingdom and would instead charge right toward the key cities surrounding Urubaen. And of course Asmara would be stuck away from all of the excitement of war, trapped at boring little Vollargrind.
Asmara didn't make her aspirations at becoming one of the Black Hand a secret. They were the elite of the elite, a bunch of master magicians and magic-users that spied and assassinated personally from the King. They received their orders and swore allegiance directly to Galbatorix himself.
In the past, they had declined her offers to join. According to them she was not 'prime material for the job'. Ruthlessness that proved invaluable in Vollargrind would only make her prone to hurting those around her and attracting unwanted attention. Impatience that had won her targets time after time would serve only to mess up assassination plots and alert the people she spied on. Not to mention how her large and imposing looks were anything but inconspicuous.
Hmph. As if such rejection would stop Asmara Lynnsdaughter from getting what she desired.
Hunting down dragons and their pesky Riders was in her blood. That idiot Cassius had unwittingly given her all the information she desired, the lucky opportunity she would not hesitate to take to get into her master's favor. Galbatorix had craved the she-dragon's hatching and a new Rider to train for decades. Asmara could hand both to him, on a silver platter if he so wanted.
If Asmara's experience with fugitives and rebels even partly applied to this strange pair, then Lady Nasuada and her precious little dragon had fled to the plains in the center of the realm. Outcasts of all kinds flocked their, seeking a haven on the grassy lands where no one could judge or persecute them. Rogue Dragon Riders would probably be no exception to that unwritten rule. Quarry that was trying to elude their sought shelter there as well. Little did they realize that on the plains there was no large towns or forests to hide in or how apparent their prints and signs were to a keen-eyed huntress. Or how the dry grasses provided the perfect trap to flush prey out with one quick 'brisingr'.
Asmara had planned her strategy out the moment she had first heard the good news from Cassius. While the cocky fool went to inform Galbatorix of this unexpected series of events, she would have already gone off in search of her prey. Apprehending an infant dragon and an air-headed noble with no battle skills or no idea of her formidable magical abilities would make easy targets. Then she would personally deliver them to Galbatorix, and graciously except his offer to join the Black Hand.
By dawn, Asmara was ready and raring to go. Ordering her inferiors to gather her usual supplies and tack up her favorite horse hours ago, Istal was fully prepared for travel. The stallion was a giant warhorse, red as the flames he had been named after. Large and too heavy for swift gallops, many wandered why Asmara would use a slow mount when her prime profession was pursuing fugitives and rebels. But what was the use of sacrificing power for speed in a horse when all it took to halt her prey was a simple spell? Istal was bred for battle, and sheer instinct kept him from rearing away from a fight and made him charge right into it. Could the other horses at Vollargrind do that without constant prodding?
Nodding dismissively to the man that held her horse, Asmara ascended into the saddle. Urging Istal into a brisk trot, the magician departed her base at a steady pace. What was the use of tiring her horse out before the real excitement began?
Guiding Istal with only one hand, the other was kept on Thringa's hilt at all times.
While her ancestors had hunted down the surviving Shur'tugal, they had collected their swords as proof of their Riders' deaths. All of the weapons were of superb craftsmanship, enchanted to be indestructible and impervious to the forces of time and erosion. Most of the weapons had been turned over to Galbatorix, for the great King liked to keep remembrances of his 'conquests'. A few of the best swords had remained in the family, as trophies for their hardest battles or most satisfying accomplishments.
Thringahad been one these swords. Named for the ancient language word for rain, such a passive name seemed a poor title for such a deadly weapon. Nevertheless, the unconvential name fit. The blade itself was a soft gray, like clouds before a rain shower. The hilt was in the shape of a blue dragon. Its cross-guard were the extended wings while its body and curled tail formed the grip of the hilt. The miniature dragon's hilt was tilted upward, mouth open as if to unleash a torrent of fire into the air. Only instead of flames, its jaws held a large sapphire that made up Thringa's pommel.
Intricate detail aside, the blade was long and slender, met for swift strikes that could slip past formidable defenses where larger blades could not go. Such a blade did not suit Asmara's fighting style, but she made Thringa work for her. There was no way in all of the seven hells would she pass up such a beautiful and effective weapon to just gather up dust in her family's vaults.
Aye, would it be poetic irony when this Lady Nasuada was incapacitated by the same blade that had once been used against Imperial soldiers and wielded by a great Rider of eld. (Asmara had long since forgotten the name of Thringa's supposed original master, but she could safely assume her great-grandfather had great difficulty defeating him.)
Smirking at the primal feelings of enthusiasm the feeling of the hunt brought up, she and Istal headed out into the world.
Out there was her ticket to glory.
Gathered around a fire some days later, Nasuada strained to study the map in the dying light of dust and give its information to her dragon. The violet sky showed it was nearing the end of twilight, and that it would soon be time to pack up their belongings and be on the move once again. But for now, plotting the next destination was their priority.
"Saphira, how much further do you think we have to travel until we reach the plains?" The dark-skinned woman looked up, turning to her sapphire she-dragon. Since mastering flight, Saphira's growth in both size and knowledge had been positively explosive. She had surpassed Nasuada's height and her human Rider now had to crane her neck upward to look her dragon in the eye. Not to mention how her vocabulary and mastery of the human language expanded in leaps and bounds.
One or two more night's travel, the she-dragon answered. Seems no more than that, Mother-Rider.
Nasuada groaned, unable to contain her exasperation. "How long are you going to keep calling me that? My name is Nasuada for the countless times and I am merely your Rider. Were I your mother, I would be ten times this size and have an unending appetite for meat."
Snorting, the sapphire creature rolled her eyes. Not unending, merely starving. Her head turned to glance at Glen, who was resting under a tree, and once again Nasuada felt Saphira's hunger raise its headd. Let me eat Glen-horse. You will soon be able to ride me.
"No, you will not eat Glen. He is a horse Saphira, an animal men use and value. Eat as many rabbits and deer and antelope as you must, but only take domestic beats under the direst of circumstances. Fugitives we may be, but we won't resort to pilfering expensive supplies from poor farmers that need those animals far more than we do."
Ignoring Saphira's grumbling, Nasuada turned to her map, her only one that offered any information about the plains. Many of the settlements were too small to be listed on standard charts, but one of the maps in Dominance of Fate offered a more detailed view of the area. But how reliable was a map that was older than herself? Half of these villages could have been destroyed by Urgals or some natural disaster or raiders, or its people could have moved on to other areas? Ah, well, the map was at least worth trying. And Saphira would be able to spot any tiny towns and villages long before Nasuada could.
"I believe we're leaving the Beor Mountains down by their western end, Saphira. That means we're near Surda, but if we keep to its borders we should be all right. Closest to us is a little place called Grasspool. Compared to some of the other settlements on this map, its size is considerable. I can stop there and purchase some food other than the meat you catch and perhaps some hardier clothes designed for such wear and tear."
And a saddle, Saphira chimed in knowingly. I am too sharp for you to ride on without protection.
Aye, Saphira was right. Nasuada had found that out the hard way when she rubbed her hand down those damned scales the wrong way and had ground most of her skin off. Imagine what riding would do her clothes and legs. Ah, she didn't even want to think about it!
Nasuada had originally contemplated using Glen's saddle on Saphira, but the she-dragon was too large for that to be a viable option. The cinch would soon not be able to fit around her. She would have to collect the supplies necessary to craft one of her own, one that could fit Saphira for a while, even through her rapid growth spurts. It would resemble a horse's saddle, but with a few key adjustments. There would have to be more straps to keep Nasuada from falling off, and some sort of collar around Saphira's neck to prevent the saddle from sliding off if the she-dragon went into a sharp dive.
"Right, that too. If they don't offer such supplies, I can try to risk a trip to Petrovya. Its a Surdan city, but not too far into the country. Most likely it will possess the supplies the little plains' villages do not have. Perhaps they even have beginner's spell books!"
From the information Heslant the Monk had included in Dominance of Fate, the connection between Riders and dragons eventually granted the Shur'tugal with amazing magical abilities that far exceeded those of normal magicians and sorcerers, rivaling the prowess of the gifted elves. Nasuada had been too afraid to use the spells listed in the massive tome, for fear they would be too complicated for her and would suck her body of all of its energy, but she still wanted to learn magic. Her arrows and her puny dagger would only provide her so much protection against those that hunted her. And there was no way she would rely on Saphira to defend her for the rest of their lives.
The she-dragon yawned, not sharing her Rider's enthusiasm. Grow some claws and fangs, she advised wisely. You can not lose those.
Shaking her head in bemusement, Nasuada marked the page and closed Dominance of Fate. "I'll keep that that in mind." While Saphira dozed lightly, her Rider gracefully rose to her feet and began to gather up and stow away all of her belongings. As a final precaution, Nasuada slung her quiver and bow on her back, strapping her dagger to her belt. Undoubtedly she would require more effective weapons in the future, but for now they should suffice. Untying Glen and saddling him, Nausada was at last ready to set off. Mounting her horse she called to Saphira, "Come on, you lazy lizard! We're wasting moonlight."
Rather reluctantly, the sapphire-scaled she-dragon clambered to her paws. Blowing out the fire she had helped to kindle, Saphira nodded in affirmation. Rising into the air with only a small fraction of her intial clumsiness left, she lead the way while Nasuada urged Glen to follow.
Thank Gokukara, the dark-skinned woman thought, unable to contain her wince of fear when the chilling howl of a Shrrg sounded somewhere further up in the wilderness. Soon we'll be out of these damned monster-infested mountains and out onto the safety of the plains. There Father will not dare hunt for us, nor will the Empire be aware of our existence. So long as Saphira avoids attracting the attention of Surdans, we can also avoid capture by their unfortunately skilled cavalry.
Since Nasuada had not bothered to completely shield her mind off from her dragon's, Saphira heard this musing and how her Rider connected the word 'calvary' with horses. Of course, she would never allow an opportunity to add her own input to a conversation, even rhetorical thought, go to waste.
If this calvary should hunt us, can I eat them? she asked hopefully.
Rolling her eyes, Nasuada refused to answer and allowed Saphira to discover the answer to that particular question by herself.
Next chapter: Nasuada reaches the little Surdan village of Grasspool. However, she and Saphira are the unwitting prey of Asmara. Will they be caught by the soldiers and dragged home? Or will Asmara catch them and drag them to Urubaen in chains? Or will it just be another filler setting up the real action?
1. Why is Saphira talking so strange?
Contrary to what Paolini would have you believe, not even dragons speak in coherent sentences the moment they begin to talk. Saphira is slowly learning the human language, though is vastly aided by Nasuada's impressive store of knowledge on plenty of subjects. During the later part of the chapter she is considerably older and smarter than she was at the beginning, but still learning the human tongue and how to control her wings.
2. Why is Nasuada taking so long to cross the Beor Mountains?
I am not sure how long it took Eragon and Murtagh to reach Farthen Dur in the book. Since they had an adult Saphira to help and a need to race against the clock to save Arya, I'm guessing they didn't stop to linger. Why did it take Nasuada almost a month to reach the plains when her canon companions made the journey in a fraction of the time? One: the Beor Mountains are larger than the Himalayas. It would take more than a few days to cross them. Second: Nasuada is not cutting directly through them to reach the Hadarac Desert. She is going on a longer journey south-east, where the Beors meet the plains around the eastern edge of Surda. Three: I want Saphira to grow up a little before we reach the plains and the real action of the story.
3. What is with Thringa the Rider's sword? Will it be of any importance to Nasuada later on?
Thringa is important people, as is its special appearance. I won't say who Thringa belonged to just yet, but it isn't just pure coincidence Thringa seems perfectly suited for Nasuada. (Like how Murtagh conviently had a red dragon and his father's red sword or how Brisingr was magically able to catch on fire -.-')
3. Where in the name of Gokukara is my Murtagh?
Murtagh will make his appearance soon, I promise! Better yet, the majority of that chapter will be told in his point of view. Remember, this story is both MurtaghxNasuada and SaphiraxThorn. What kind pairings would those be if our lovebirds didn't get to meet soon? Although, thatfirst meeting won't happen until a few chapters after meeting Murtagh...