"Stanotte ho saputo che c'eri: una goccia di vita scappata dal nulla. Me ne stavo con gli occhi spalancati nel buio e d'un tratto tutto, in quel buio, s'è acceso un lampo di certezza: si, c'eri. Esistevi…"
Oriana Fallaci , "Lettera a un bambino mai nato"
The small house made of bricks and straw was simple but decent, not different from the others which composed the village of Carvahall in the far North of Alagaësia.
The right place to stay hidden, isn't it, sweethearth? or to hide…
The stranger moved to the door then stopped suddenly, only a few step away from it. The wailing of a baby had stricken his ears.
In that very moment, although he was so deeply tired, his face lightened and from his eyes, which suddenly had become bright, fell an only tear that, lonely, rush to hide itself within the bushy beard.
Overwhelmed, the man closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
The crispy morning air went extremely slowly in and out his lungs, incapable though of calming down the demons moving inside his soul like a mad vortex.
Thousands of thoughts kept piling up in his already exhausted mind.
someone in the house was singing.
it was a very soft and sweet voice, he thought, with an odd sense of nostalgia
… the loving voice of a mother…
You'll never know the joy of hearing Her voice,
of feeling the touch of a caress from Her
and it's only my fault
… only my fault, my son
Shaking himself out of his torpor, his hand slipped out of his mantel to pull the cedarwood door, which opened squeaking faintly.
He was aware of it: from the very moment he had discovered the truth, a deep and foolish desire of seeing him has become stronger than the prudence which had always guided him.
Only once… he said, mainly to convince himself, ignoring deliberately the possible consequences of that action.
Softly, he entered the house: in the right corner of the roomthe fireplace was lightened and not far from it there were a cradle with a lying baby.
Noises came from the nearby room, indicating the presence of at least another person but the man seemed not to care.
He went instead directly toward the cradle and the baby and, getting near them, his steps became slower and slower while an odd sensation, like having butterflies in the stomach, made him slacken his pace… finally, as he reached the cradle, peeped out and saw him, all his doubts got swept away by that unique vision: two huge brown eyes were wide open, smiling at him.
Without any fear, the baby stretched out his chubby arms toward the stranger, making noises:
Do you know who I am, little one?
The man asked silently, moving his hands toward the baby's face, letting one of those tiny candid hands grasp his finger… that gesture, which should have cost all his efforts, was followed by a series of little joyful cries for having been successful.
The man was so taken by the moment, that he did not perceive that the noises coming from the room nearby had suddenly ceased and that in the meantime a woman had faced him, pointing a huge kitchen knife.
"Keep away from my son!" she menaced, her voice trembling, her eyes wide with fear.
Without arguing, he stepped back, raising hands as a gesture of surrender, but kept glancing the baby.
"I mean no harm" he reassured her.
Meanwhile the woman had reached the cradle and, without stopping pointing the knife at the intruder, he manage to take the baby with her free arm and hold him tight.
"Come on, Eragon, shhh, don't be afraid, here I'm" she whispered softly, kissing his brow. Seeing that the baby wasn't hurt, she turned to the stranger again.
"Would you please go away, now?" she said harsh, "Go away and never come here again" she repeated, holding both the knife handle and the baby tighter.
"I can't, madam, I have to check some things first" he answered simply. His tone had no hint of menace.
"To check? Check what?"
She looked at him suspiciously, watching the stranger attentively. She was wrongfooted by that answer but the man did not care.
"Believe me, I mean no harm neither to you, nor, above all, to him" he answered, giving a quick glance to the baby.
"I hope so, for you own sake… because if you only dare to lift a finger against us, my fellow citizens won't let you leave unpunished, I assure you".
"I won't forget it" the man said making a little bow. "Selena had told me about your … fighting spirit".
Their eyes met for a brief instant, leaving the woman stunned: those eyes had been so full of sadness and pain but also full with a big hope. They were the eyes of someone who had been stripped of everything, but who was able to find in his tragedy a new reason to live.
Marian knew them very well: they were just like the eyes of Selena, Garrow's sister, when she came in tears asking them to take her newborn baby and look after him… the same baby she was holding right now.
"Who are you, stranger? Where are you from?" she asked: now she feared that the man in front of her could have been the baby's father.
Immediately after, another terrible thought came up in her mind: Selena had been very careful not to talk about him, avoiding all the efforts Garrow and she had made to discover his identity. Both of them thought there should have been some important reason behind that silence… having broken it, could only mean that something had happen to Selena.
"I cannot answer your questions, madam, without endangering you and all the inhabitants of this village… so I beg you not to insist".
"Selena disappeared, didn't she? Just tell me that".
The man hesitated a while before answering "Yes".
The knife dropped from the woman's hand.
"Did you come to take your baby with you?" she said putting the other hand, now empty, on the baby's nape.
"No, I am not going to take him away from here"
Marian took a deep breath, relieved by that news. If at the beginning she had been very doubtful about the decision of keeping the baby with them, now the idea of losing him made her feel sick.
"Selena and I couldn't have wished anything better for our… our son…
… with me, he wouldn't be safe".
"Garrow and I shall look after him as he were our own son… and my Roran will be as an elder brother for him".
She tried to reassure him.
An embarrassing silence fell between them, echoing all the questions and the words which, they both know, would have never been uttered.
Marian moved first. Without notice, she neared the man and put little Eragon in his arms. He took the baby, a bit clumsy.
"Here you are, put a hand on his nape…" Marian encouraged him, then stepped back.
"Garrow has gone fishing with Roran…" she added sadly, "They won't be back until this evening… up to then, you can stay with him, none will bother you".
He cradled the baby for a while, trying to get into his head the features of his child as much as he could.
"That's very kind of you but I cannot stay longer…"
But I shall come back, Eragon, I swear. One day, if it is fated, you will be able to call me "father" but not now…"
He put the baby back in Marian's arms and added:
"…but before I leave, I want you to promise not to reveal anything about our conversation, I shall bind your promise through the Ancient Language".
Hearing that, she stiffened and looked at him as if she was seeing him for the first time.
"It's for the sake of us all, Marian".
She nodded, reluctantly.
She repeated the words he told her and closed the door behind the stranger, feeling that something unavoidable would have happened in the future, something which had just been sealed.
Looking at that man, who was now far away, had left her uneasy, a feeling which lasted the whole day. When her husband and son came home she breathed an unusual sigh of relief.
"Any news?" Garrow asked, kissing her brow.
"Nope" she lied.
"That's good, isn't it?"
Hearing his husband's reassuring tone, she lifted her face and whispered in his ear: "I am glad you're home, you two".
* * *
Many years had gone by since his last visit, but Carvahall was still the same.
Everything was as he remembered, everything but a detail…
That house she had visited many years ago was no more owned by Garrow's family… when his wife Marian had died, he had decided to move outside the village, in the farm where he worked, bringing his son Roran and his nephew Eragon along.
The whole village told them not to go there: it was too far away, what if they would have needed some help? But Garrow was so proud, he didn't want to listen to reason.
Registering the news in case he would have needed it, he rubbed his hands and asked:
"I'll take the house, if you accept me".
From the small crowd of villagers who had gathered to know the stranger, a tall and sturdy man stepped forward and talk on behalf of the others.
"Unless you're a robber or a bandit… Everyone is welcome in Carvahall… What's your name, stranger? An what are the services you can offer?
A smile appeared on his lips, parched after the long travel.
"Call me Brom, Brom the Storyteller".
* * *