Chapter One

Murtagh stood as straight as a board as Galbatorix's dark black eyes scrutinized his pained face. Murtagh counted the seconds that slinked by, but Galbatorix just sat on his throne like chair and stared him down with carefree indifference. A knowing smile pulled at his lips while beads of sweat pounded down Murtagh's face.

"I want to know, Murtagh," Galbatorix said while examining his fingernails, "why it is that you stand before me, completely unharmed, yet young Eragon is not. Please, I have all day, tell me a tale worth hearing." Even though he seemed untroubled, Galbatorix was pursuing a war upon Murtagh, trying to break the protective layer around his mind.

Murtagh bit back a sharp reply. One wrong remark and he would surly pay. The assault on his mind doubled in intensity, and Murtagh collapsed onto his knees consumed by the pain. Galbatorix's playful smile turned into a full grin as he tilted his head to the side.

"I'm waiting…" His voice echoed into the large throne room.

He couldn't tell, he wouldn't tell. If Galbatorix knew why he had let Eragon escape, because he was his brother, Murtagh didn't want to know how he would be punished. What had possessed him to let Eragon go? Why had he let himself go? Did he think that there would be no repercussions?

"Murtagh!" Galbatorix's anger swelled and the attack on Murtagh's mind became unbearable. It was as if a mountain had crumbled onto his mind alone. Such utter suffering was tearing him apart. His eyesight began to blur until he went almost blind.

Murtagh's withering body twisted and turned on the floor. He clutched at his hair pulling on it. Finally, unable to contain such a torture, he curled into a ball to wait it out.

Murtagh! Thorn cried as he sensed his agony, Murtagh, what is it? The dragon roared from his cell. At their arrival Galbatorix had the two separated; Murtagh hadn't seen Thorn since.

No! Murtagh screamed mentally, knowing that if the connection lasted much longer Thorn would soon feel his pain. Severing his link with Thorn, Murtagh returned his gaze to Galbatorix bitterly.

"Stop this," Murtagh muttered, gagging on his blood.

"Oh," Galbatorix chided with a horrible smirk on his face, "so you're going to make the rules? You seem to forget one tiny thing: I own you!"

As he snarled the last words Murtagh felt his body being thrown back a few feet. Galbatorix's fury overwhelmed Murtagh, and he rolled away desperately trying to escape his wrath. It was useless, though. Galbatorix had risen from his seat and stooped after Murtagh, dark eyes gleaming.

"I do so love these little talks we have, Murtagh. Perhaps, you will be kind enough to continue?" Galbatorix asked as though he were discussing the weather.

Murtagh rolled onto his side so that he didn't have to look at Galbatorix. Cynical laughter filled the room. "It is pointless to refuse. Give into me now, before I am forced to use a more, shall we say, unpleasant approach."

Murtagh's silence was quite obvious. The annoyance in Galbatorix's face was just a clear. Biting his lip, Galbatorix signaled to one of the two guards standing erect at the doors. He left deftly only to return with a dish full of crystal clear water. Galbatorix took the dish and propped Murtagh up before it.

"Come, let us see how proficient you are when it comes to scrying."

Murtagh considered refusing, but decided it would be best to just give in to such a trivial request. "Who, my lord?"

"Hmm, how about...Thorn?" Galbatorix watched Murtagh intently, waiting for a wavering of stamina.

Murtagh just took the bowl. With a few whispered words the water formed a picture. At first, Murtagh just observed as impassively as possible. Thorn was hunched over in a dungeon, chained to a wall by neck and legs. Every once and a while a cloud of hot steam would emit from his nostrils. Thorn was still too young to breathe fire. It hurt Murtag to watch, but even the slightest sign of weakness would be a signal to Galbatorix.

"I would warn Thorn to be careful, Murtagh," Galbatorix counseled. "He is, after all, a juvenile dragon, and he is also very alone. Who knows what might happen were he to be attacked."

Murtagh's eyes widened at the implied meaning. His thoughts reached out to Thorn, but they were too late. A black shadow swept over Murtagh's view. Shruikan was upon Thorn in no time. The red dragon, as brave a fighter as he was, was reduced to cowering in the corner of his cell, whimpering at the might of the black dragon. Murtagh forced away the aches in his body. He couldn't let Thorn endure for his stupidity.

"You wish to speak, Murtagh?" Galbatorix knew much more then he lent on.

Summoning all the courage that he possibly could, Murtagh gazed up at Galbatorix regretfully. "I failed to capture Eragon, my lord. He was a formidable opponent…"

The retelling of his failure was one experience Murtagh did not wish to ever have again. Galbatorix listened with such a look that words failed Murtagh once or twice. He retold his duel with Eragon, his brother's defeat, even Eragon's weaknesses, the secret of their birth, and finally, of his younger brother's convincing argument. When the tale was finished Galbatorix just sidled back to his seat. Murtagh waited for his punishment.

After closing his eyes and meditating on the matter, Galbatorix responded. "I can see why you were nervous to retell your failure. I am not devoid of sympathy, Murtagh. I understand why you let you brother go. You love him, and I think, you thought I would do him harm, but I assure you that is not my intent."

"Come and sit." Galbatorix beckoned to Murtagh to sit beside him. "I must admit, I expected better control over your emotions, but you are young." Murtagh flinched, preparing for a beating. "I hope you will see my opinion in the matter wisely."

"Eragon is surrounded by people who wish to control his abilities, to use him. The elves have taught him only so he will serve them, and when this war is done, what then? They would abandon him. The Varden is simply making him into a mascot. But don't you see? I will teach him, in return I will want a few favors, but after that, he is free! I could give him everything he ever wanted. Those he is with, they are nothing."

"Murtagh, do you agree? Am I asking too much? I think that your fear of me confused you, and that is to be expected. Trust me though, I am a Dragon Rider, I think I would know what is best for him. You know how I feel; I want to rebuild the Riders! Your brother and his dragon are the key. And the truth, if we die, where will the dragons come from? Ours are the last, and Eragon is bound to kill us. It is madness, if he does as the elves and Varden want then he condemns the race of dragons to extinction."

Murtagh always found himself somewhat lost when Galbatorix spoke to him. His voice was a sweet song that trilled from a bird. It drew him in and transfixed him. When it was evident that Galbatorix was not going to punish him, Murtagh gave in to the sensation. How grateful he was to this man.

Galbatorix understood him! Eragon was his mortal foe, but still his brother. Murtagh couldn't help but want to protect him, and Galbatorix knew it. The King was forgiving him for failure, it was too good.

"Your brother is confused, Murtagh. You know it, I know it, but the problem is that he doesn't. Eragon needs your help Murtagh." Galbatorix took Murtagh's hands. "Those rebels have brainwashed him. It's our duty, as Dragon Riders to help him. Please, Murtagh, help me to help him."

"You won't hurt him?" Murtagh couldn't hide the question.

Galbatorix smiled sadly. "Never intentionally. Every now and again he might need some incentive to study or learn, but after everything those elves taught him, it must be expected."

Murtagh shook his head up and down. "I am sorry I have failed you, my lord."

"You never fail me, Murtag." Galbatorix chimed. "Now, run along and fetch Thorn. You two deserve a long nights rest after all your escapades on the battle field."

Murtagh bowed his head and dashed out the door. Galbatorix shook his head back and fourth. He is as pliable as his father. A few fancy words and he's mine.

The same with the little red one, Shruikan chuckled. It will be the younger brother you'll have to work on. Murtagh was so starved of love that you taking the place of his father was simple child's play, but Eragon needs a beating.

Don't be so harsh, my friend, Galbatorix snickered. Remember, he is so confused!

You are wise, but do you not worry that Murtag will see your affection for what it is? Shruikan asserted.

No, I think Murtagh will continue to serve me. The more care I show him the more he believes. Also, I imagine, he wants his brother, and I am offering to help him.

Speaking of the Runt Rider, Shruikan said using the name he had given Eragon, how do you plan to take him?

Eragon and his dragon are right where we want them. Galbatorix sent a messenger to seek out one of his servants. Separated from everything he needs. The elves are far enough away that if we attack our little boy Eragon will be simply too late.

I do not think that we have the power to destroy the elves just yet, Shruikan grumbled.

No, you're quite right, we don't, but we do have the power to take from them something I long for. A vision of an elf passed over his minds eye.

You think that you could capture her? I highly doubt- The conversation ended asGalbatorix started when the doors opened.

"You called for me, Master?"

A woman entered the throne room. Her eyes flashed with minor annoyance as she stalked forth. Red, glimmering hair swung back and forth dramatically. Adorned in a simple flowing gown, the woman bowed to her master thoughtfully.

"Oh, yes," Galbatorix chuckled, "I have just the thing to tend to that aching of yours, Illena."

Illena's eyes sparkled hoping what she had always wanted was coming true. "You do?"

"How would you and that partner of yours like to tie up a loose end for me?" Galbatorix knew the answer before she said it. Illena had been locked up in his tower for who knew how long. It was time to introduce her to the world.

"Oh, oh Father what is it!" Illena cried, overjoyed.

"Daughter," Galbatorix said soothingly, "I want you and Fang to bring me something. It will be hard-pressed to find, and undoubtedly, well protected. Still, you have spent all your life under me learning. It is time to test you."

"Give me anything, I will find it," Illena immediately replied.

"I want you to go to Ellesmera, enter unseen and undetected, and fetch for me a certain person there. She will be most hard to find and apprehend, sadly, you can not kill her." Galbatorix grinned at his daughter's amazement.

"Who?" Illena was practically bursting with anticipation.

Galbatorix chuckled warmly. "The Queen, of course."